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The first thing that occurred to Emma, as she felt an unwelcome consciousness intruding into her exhausted brain, was that she could smell coffee. It was not that the aroma itself was so unusual, but it did raise the question of where the hell had she fallen asleep? For some sadistic reason, the baby, in the last week, seemed to have taken a particularly violent dislike to that specific scent, leaving Regina ashen and queasy at even the barest hint. And therefore, as much as it pained Emma, and sent her running to Granny’s on a daily early morning basis, all remnants of the beverage had been temporarily removed from the mansion. Which again, raised the issue of where the hell was she?

Stretching out a hand, her fingers met what felt like paper, and maybe a pen. Crap. That explained why her pillow felt so hard, and not at all like the downy comfort she had become so quickly accustomed to after a few weeks in her current living situation. What time was it?

Unwilling to face the answer to that just yet, Emma wracked her brain for what she must’ve been doing when she managed to finally pass out. The initial terror of returning from the wild goose chase, which her gut knew with a hundred percent certainty was Cora’s handy work, only to find Regina’s cell abandoned in the kitchen and the woman herself nowhere to be found, was still vivid in her mind. Plus, her stress levels had only increased seeing the discomfort the other woman appeared to be in on her return; both physical, and it had seemed, emotional. Even without her super-power, it would have been obvious to Emma that Regina was withholding something. Ignoring the realisation that, with anyone else, the feeling probably would have come with a side of distrust, she was unable to shake the gnawing concern that Regina was somehow gearing up for another round of the self-sacrificial bullshit that she still seemed to think she owed the town, and was going to try and take on her mother all by herself. A fear that, once she’d ordered a pizza for herself and Henry, and roused a weary Regina from her nap and convinced her to go to bed, had left her completely unable to settle herself. Which at least more or less explained, what had brought her to her current predicament.

Her senses beginning to filter back, Emma felt the growing realisation that she was no longer alone. Blearily lifting her head from her desk, she blinked in her surroundings until her unfocused gaze met a familiar pair of concerned blue eyes.  

“Hey, dad.”

“Good morning.”

The amusement in David’s tone was clear as he reached over, untangling a paperclip that Emma belatedly realised was dangling from a stray curl of hair that had worked its way free.

“What time is it?” The question was more of a croak, and Emma cleared her throat, groaning at the effort.

“Almost seven.”

The cheerful grin he flashed at her was at odds with his answer, and Emma could feel her scowl growing. At this, his expression moulded into one of concern and he smiled hesitantly.

“What’s up, kiddo?”

Too tired to dredge up her most recent disappointment with her parents, which seemed like an even greater effort with the genuinely kind look on her dad’s face, Emma sighed, rubbing a hand over her face.

“I just wanted to go through my notes from yesterday, try and see what we could’ve missed.”

Despite her best efforts, a yawn escaped, and David vanished for a moment, reappearing with a steaming mug of coffee which he placed on her desk, dragging over a chair to sit on the other side.

“I know you’re worried.” He paused, catching her eye. “We all are. But we will track her down, honey.”

Emma could feel her exhausted brain registering, but the words slipped out before she could filter them.

“I’m just scared that she’ll….” She groaned, realising that with the understanding nod of her father, it was too late to do anything but carry on talking. Ignoring the strange relief that washed over her, she picked up the coffee mug, scraping a nail around the rim without taking a sip. “I mean, she’s already managed to get to Henry once.” David was watching her patiently. “And it’s just not good for Regina and the baby. She’s got enough going on already. It’s not fair that she has to deal with this crap too.” She huffed in frustration, dumping the mug back down with a little more force than intended. Moving more quickly than she would have given him credit for, David leaned over, sweeping up the stray papers as the dark liquid sloshed over the desk, giving her a supportive smile that for some reason made her swallow heavily.

“It’s ok to be worried about them, Em. Some would even say normal.” Stretching back to grab some tissue from his own desk, he began mopping up the mess, his gaze never leaving his daughter. “But we’re all here to look after Regina. She’s family.” His eyes twinkled, and Emma found herself relaxing. “But I value my life, so please never repeat that to Regina.”

“Thanks, dad.” Emma rolled her neck, grimacing at the cracking of the fraught muscles. To her relief, David simply nodded.

“So, why don’t you go drink your coffee, instead of throwing it everywhere, freshen up and then we can go back through everything we know, and make a plan, ok kid?”

Ignoring the prick of tears that had begun burning, Emma picked up the mug, taking a hefty swig. With a final nod, David pushed himself to his feet, squeezing her shoulder lightly before quietly leaving her to her thoughts.

-/-

“I just don’t get what she was doing?”

Letting the Sharpie drop from her fingers in frustration, Emma took a step back, attempting to survey the scene that they had been re-constructing on the station conference table for the better part of three hours. David, to his credit looked almost as frustrated as she felt, as he too took a step away to stand by her side. For a moment they both took in the newly decorated map of Storybrooke, which was beginning to resemble a slightly morbid craft project more than a town plan. Red string, hooked around drawing pins, revealed the likely order in which the magical chaos had ensued, and alongside each pin were polaroid photos of the coinciding incident, or at least its’ aftermath. Making a mental note to introduce her dad to some of the more current police procedurals that Netflix had to offer, Emma forced herself to focus, hoping that if she could just clear her mind, some kind of pattern would subconsciously make itself known to her. But instead, all she could see was a totally random mess. Ok, so route planning probably wasn’t going to be big on the agenda of someone who could ‘poof’ themselves any place they needed to go. Yet, Cora was clearly up to something and from what she knew of the woman, albeit mostly from the meticulous daughter she had created, she did not seem like one who liked to go with the flow. There was clearly a plan. But, what was it?

By what Emma could only assume was some small miracle, despite a couple of minor scrapes, no-one had been badly injured by any of the magical incidents that had been springing up all over town. Although, seriously, Little Shop of Horrors was not so fun in real life. Yet, between carnivorous plants eating through the butcher’s shop then promptly dying, a flock of demonic birds, with a strange resemblance to pterodactyls, destroying an abandoned farm on the outskirts of town before mysteriously vanishing and perhaps most disturbingly from her childhood nightmares, several sightings of a giant shark, which apparently became invisible upon anyone looking too closely at it, circling the bay by the docks for almost an hour before disappearing in a loud, and extremely gross explosion for no particular reason, and taking out at least three fishing boats in the process, it had been a long and, even by Storybrooke’s standards, creepy afternoon. And whilst Emma by no means had Regina’s understanding or knowledge of magic and its uses, she could tell, if only on instinct that the displays they were seeing were the work of one individual. And whether it was her natural magic, or plain gut instinct, she knew it was Cora. However, the why was still alluding her.

Even in the midst of the chaos, she had realised that the whole set up was too absurd to be anything but a distraction. Yet after reassuring a family who lived only a block from Mifflin Street that their chairs being repeatedly stacked on top of their kitchen table by an unseen presence, was totally nothing to worry about, she’d had a certain urge to get back before dark. That she’d then spent an embarrassing amount of time checking that in no way could she hear knives scraping against pipe work anywhere in her vicinity, was a decent indication, that if Cora was simply messing with them, she’d done a fairly impressive, if slightly retro, job. But again, why? Pointless, if kind of terrifying, magic shows were not Cora’s thing. There had to be another reason why she’d wanted the citizens of Storybrooke distracted for an entire afternoon. And where had Regina disappeared to? What if Cora had…

“Emma?!”

“Huh?”

Blinking Emma turned to see David watching her with the same look of concern from earlier.

“You ok?”

“I’m fine, dad.”

At his momentary smile, she flinched, knowing that she had subconsciously used the title, as she so often did to distract Snow and David from digging any further into certain moods. If only to assuage her own guilt, she returned the expression, pointing at the map.

“What do you see?”

David appeared to think about the question before shrugging. “Whoever, or wherever, Cora got her inspiration from has pretty classic taste in movies.”

“Not bad for a guy who spent more than two decades in a coma.” Emma quirked an eyebrow, but her tone became serious. “But what else? I mean, it’s random, like too random.”

David nodded. “You think it’s to cover up what she’s really doing here?”

Running a hand through her hair, Emma sighed. “That’s what really scares me.”

There was a moment of hesitation, before an arm reached out pulling her into a tentative side hug.

“Look, I know your mom and I still don’t always see eye to eye with Regina, but like I said earlier, she’s family and you trust we’ll do whatever it takes to keep her and the baby safe, right?” When Emma found herself unable to respond, David tightened his grip for a moment before releasing her and offering another smile which gave her more reassurance than it probably had any right to. “Look, we’ve done as much as we can here. Why don’t you head off and spend some time with Regina and Henry, and I’ll let you know if anything else comes up, ok?”

Feeling both the pull of exhaustion, and an even greater pull, which she wasn’t going to examine too closely, to see for herself that Regina was in fact safe and well, Emma grumbled, but nevertheless headed to her desk to collect her keys and phone. As she turned to leave, David was still pouring over the map, adding yet another piece of string to their trail. When he caught her staring, he gave a her an encouraging wave, shooing her in the direction of the door. With a final sigh, this time of relief, Emma headed home.

-/-

“Regina?”

As she tiredly fumbled with her key in the lock, Emma’s heart leapt into her throat at the commotion she could hear coming from the kitchen beyond. The noise wearing on her already frayed nerves, it took several attempts before she finally navigated the mechanism, pushing open the back door, and recoiling almost immediately at the black smoke and acrid smell that filled the air. This time her voice held a note verging on panic.

“Regina?”

The sounds came more into focus, and with genuine bemusement, Emma realised that it was more a chain of expletives which she was genuinely surprised that the other woman, so often old-fashioned in her choice of language, even knew, let alone could use in such an inventive fashion.

“Regina!”

At that the room fell silent, and with the wave of a hand outlined through the fog, the smoke started to clear, revealing an irritated Regina holding a dish that contained what appeared to be the charred remains of some sort of pastry.

Attempting to contain her amusement, guessing it wouldn’t end well for either of them, Emma smiled. “You ok?”

A familiar look of disbelief flashed across Regina’s features for a second before she seemed to deflate, her shoulders dropping.

“It would appear I can no longer even stay awake long enough to make pie.” At Emma’s genuinely sympathetic expression, she softened. “But other than that, I’m just excellent. And not that I’m not happy about it, but why are you home so early?”

This time it was Emma’s turn to look sheepish. “I think my dad took pity on me and figured I’d be more use home with you than trying to help him figure out Cora’s little game from yesterday.” She yawned widely, before shrugging in embarrassment. “And that.”

“You didn’t sleep.”

It wasn’t really a question and Emma didn’t dignify it with a response. Instead she shrugged off her jacket, hanging it over the back of the stool next to her, noting the slight flinch from Regina as she mentioned Cora.

“I just wish I could figure out what her plan is.”

As if she’d now steeled herself against any further reaction, Regina simply nodded, placing the still smouldering dish on the counter and indicating to Emma to follow her, a move that Emma made gratefully as the stench of cremated fruit was beginning to make her throat burn. As they headed toward the den, she could see the tell-tale sign of blankets laid out on the sofa, a sure sign that Regina’s fatigue was as she had suspected, greater than she had been willing to admit. Seeing Emma take in the scene, the other woman straightened her shoulders once more, moving around the couch to stand by the fireplace, as if the simple act of sitting down was an admission of weakness. Too exhausted to call her on it, Emma sank down into the cushions, twisting slightly so she could see Regina as she continued to think aloud.

“I mean, it had to have been a distraction, right? Because, seriously, how else do you explain a ten-foot marshmallow dude stampeding Main Street. Wait, was that even Disney…” Seeing Regina’s expression change to one of mild confusion, she tailed off. “And her magic. I don’t know, it just seemed really strong. Like we were meant to be able to tell it was her. Even I could sense it.”

At this, Regina’s eyes narrowed, and she looked at Emma curiously. “You think she was trying to draw attention to herself?”

Feeling like Regina had something more to add, Emma waited. However, instead, she fell silent, clearly considering something, yet somehow choosing not to share it. The lack of sleep and emotional rollercoaster of the last few days, probably not helping, Emma couldn’t help but feel her frustration start to bubble to the surface.

“Well, if anyone would understand what her game is, it should be you.” Emma detected the flash of hurt on the other woman’s face before her brain could send the message to her mouth. “I mean the whole toying with people was kind of your thing too, right?”

Instead of offering a verbal response, Regina seemed to recoil at the words, taking a step back until she was practically standing on the hearth. The reaction hitting Emma like a punch to the gut, she exhaled, instinctively taking a step forward to close the gap.

“Shit! I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I really am an idiot ok.” She reached for Regina’s hand, relieved when she didn’t pull away, despite the strangely haunted expression her face had taken on. “I’m not saying you’re anything like Cora, ok. You know that right?” Emma could hear herself sounding increasingly desperate, but she needed Regina to understand. “You have done so much good here, and I get that mom-daughter relationships can be messed up. I just meant that you know her better than anyone and are the best person to figure out what she wants, so we can fix this, like we fix everything else, together.” Regina was yet to reject her, but she seemed frozen, and Emma’s fear that she’d done something irreparable only grew. “And we need to fix this because I need to know that you’re safe, that you and our kid are safe. Because if anything happened to you…”

Unsure what else she could say, she let her words fade. Regina remained silent but her skin had taken on an unhealthy pallor and Emma could tell that her breathing was becoming increasingly shallow. As her eyes darted wildly around the room, Emma felt her own chest ache in empathy.

“Regina?”

“Can’t breathe.” The words were choked and desperate.

Emma let her thumb drift to her wrist to rest on her pulse point, confirming what she suspected, that her heart was hammering wildly. With a calmness that she still didn’t feel, she sought out Regina’s face forcing her to retain eye contact.

“Regina, you’re ok. I promise you. But you need to listen to me.”

Realising Regina was now fixed on her as if she were a lifeline, Emma offered a reassuring smile, squeezing her hands briefly before letting go, desperately trying to recall the more useful parts of the advice she’d spent several late nights googling after the incident in the study.

“Do you want to keep moving or do you need to sit down?”

“Dizzy.” The word was quiet but clear.

Emma nodded. “I’m going to move you so you can sit on the sofa, ok?” When the only response from the older woman was a gasp for air, Emma steered her back gently pushing her down into a seated position and propping up as many cushions as she could reach behind her. Crouching down to remain at eye level, she carefully balanced on the balls of her feet. “That’s great. Ok, I know it’s hard, but can you try and take a deep breath for me.” Emma breathed in through her nose holding it for a moment then exhaling. Watching her intently, Regina attempted to copy, holding the breath for a second as beads of sweat started to form. Unable to hold it, Emma watched, her heart clenching as Regina’s breathing became more rapid still, tears now filling her eyes. “Sshh, you’re ok. I promise. You’re doing great. Let’s try it again.”

-/-

Glancing at the clock on the wall, Emma was painfully aware that almost twenty minutes had now passed, and Regina seemed no closer to having gotten her breathing under control. Whilst she now knew that in theory a panic attack could last anywhere up to an hour, she was quickly realising that reading this information on the internet and watching someone she cared very deeply for struggle to breathe were two very different things.

Her own worry growing, alongside the gnawing guilt which had taken up what felt like a permanent residence, Emma swallowed, deciding to take the tack which seemed to have recently served her well when it came to Regina Mills and follow her instincts.

Rising to her feet she carefully maintained eye contact, smiling gently. Lowering herself onto the sofa next to her, she slowly reached out a hand. Regina nodded in silent consent and Emma closed the gap between them, one hand rubbing gentle circles on a trembling back, the other gently stilling a shaking knee.

Inhaling slowly again, she was relieved to see the action mirrored, this time with greater success. “That’s it. And again.” Her eyes remaining fixed with Regina’s, Emma repeated the action for several minutes until the other woman’s breathing was more or less in sync with her own. Not breaking the eye contact, she reached around the older woman, grabbing one of the blankets still in their pile from earlier, loosely wrapping it around Regina’s still trembling frame. “See you’re ok.”

Gratefully accepting the additional warmth and her breathing now almost under control, Emma could see the exhaustion in the other woman’s face. Shifting closer still, she wrapped an arm carefully around her shoulders, holding the blanket in place, the other hand tenderly squeezing Regina’s which remained folded in her lap. As she turned to look at her, the trust in her eyes took Emma’s breath away, and she found herself tightening her grip whispering fiercely. “See, you’re ok, I’ve got you.”

At the thought, Emma was only mildly surprised to feel her surroundings dissolve and reform to reveal once again Regina’s bedroom. Smiling almost shyly, she guided her down onto her side pulling the covers around her and seating herself back on the edge of the bed. For a moment Regina looked like she was about to speak but Emma smiled softly smoothing a hand through dark hair. “Sshh. You don’t need to say anything, just try and rest, ok.”

Regina’s eyes already closing, Emma barely caught the mumbled “so tired” that escaped from the bed.

“I know.”

Brown eyes fluttered open for a moment; the anxiety clear even through the exhaustion in them. “But what if….”

Emma smiled softly, the hand in Regina’s hair stilling for a moment, the words spilling out without hesitation. “I’m not going anywhere.” Her hand recommenced its soothing motion. “Just close your eyes and rest.”

Regina’s eyes were already drifting closed, as she snuggled into the pillow settling onto her side in the position that Emma had come to realise signified sleep. As she did so the covers shifted leaving a smooth back exposed. Absently reaching out to pull her shirt back down, Emma’s fingertips brushed the bare skin. Feeling strangely guilty, she went to pull her hand away until she heard the relaxed sigh from the other woman at the contact. Driven purely by instinct, she placed the flat of her hand on Regina’s back letting her fingers trace soothing patterns on the warm skin. At the sensation, the exhausted woman let out a content sigh, and Emma was amazed to feel her relax under the touch. Suddenly unable to pull her hand away, she watched in awe as Regina’s features slackened, the previous signs of worry slipping from them, her breathing becoming deep and steady as she finally felt safe enough to succumb to sleep.

-/-

The click of a door latch below made Emma startle from the strange trance she seemed to have fallen into. Crap. Henry. The kid had picked up the well-intentioned, if not slightly over-protective, habit of coming home at lunch to check on his mom on days he knew that she had stayed home while Emma was at work. And as normal, his timing was perfect, or not as the case may be.

Torn between an almost painful reluctance to leave Regina’s side, but not wanting to Henry to wake her up accidentally when he inevitably came upstairs looking for her, Emma lifted herself carefully from the bed. She froze for a moment as Regina stirred at the movement before shuffling over to settle in the spot that Emma had vacated, her breathing evening out almost instantly.

Leaving the bedroom door open just enough so she could still hear any disturbance, Emma slipped out of the room, meeting Henry as he rounded the top of the stairs. If he was surprised to find her home and coming out from his mom’s bedroom in the middle of the day, he didn’t show it. Instead he raised a concerned eyebrow as Emma put a finger to her lips, motioning him in the direction of his room. However, her constant glances in the direction of Regina’s semi open doorway did not go unnoticed, and instead of going into his room, Henry stopped outside, leaning against the wall and giving Emma a hard stare.

“Ok, what’s going on now?” Worry filtered into the expression. “Is mom ok?”

The conflict between not wanting to scare the kid but knowing she probably shouldn’t lie to him must’ve played out on her face, as Henry’s voice became more urgent.

“Ma.”

Sighing, Emma turned, dropping her head back until it thudded against the wall. The unexpected jolt brought her back to the present and she met her son’s eyes purposefully.

“She’s fine, Henry. She just had, um… a panic attack, I guess is the best way to describe it.”

“Another one?”

The shock in Emma’s expression had no hope of staying hidden.

Henry, sighed, seemingly torn between frustration that Emma was playing dumb, and concern that she may genuinely have no clue what he was talking about.

“She had one the other week, right?”

Still struggling to follow the conversation, Emma nodded mutely.

Henry returned the motion, his expression growing more serious still.

“I guessed she had, as she seemed like she did last time.”

“Last time?” Emma choked out.

Henry’s voice slowed, as if he was explaining something to a small, and not particularly intelligent kid, and Emma was torn between taking in the information and telling him that being a condescending little shit was not the best trait for a lanky teenage boy. Hearing Regina’s scolding voice in her head, she chose to simply listen.

“I think she had them after Grams killed Cora the first time. At least I think that’s what they were. I know she went to see Dr Hopper and then she seemed better, and then, Neverland happened…” he shrugged. “And then we were all gone. And when we remembered mom, and everyone, I was really worried about how she’d been, when she didn’t have us around. But I spoke to Grams who promised they’d been looking out for her and making sure she wasn’t alone, and…”

He trailed off, looking up at her and when he spoke, he sounded so like his ten-year-old self that Emma’s heart clenched painfully in her chest. “Is she gonna be ok?”

As he dropped down to sit on the thick carpet, Emma waited for only a second before sitting next to him, knees drawn to her chest, mirroring his position. At the look of concern etched on his face she had the sudden urge to hug the kid, but instead ruffled his hair as she had done when he was younger.

“She will be, Hen. You and I will make sure of it, right?”

“But how do we help her?”

Henry was watching her closely; the little kid suddenly replaced by the more empathetic young man he was gradually starting to become. It was a pertinent question, and Emma knew that a placating response was not going to cut it. Which would have been easier to handle if she actually knew the damn solution herself.

“To be honest, kid, I kind of wish I had a better answer for you on this one.” Emma shrugged, winding her braid around her hair and meeting her son’s eye.

“I think all we can do is keep just trying to be there for her and letting her know that it’s ok with us if she’s not always ok.”

Henry appeared to consider the response carefully before accepting it, continuing to look Emma dead in the eye, as he nodded thoughtfully. “She needs to know how much we love her.”

Before she could respond, he was back on his feet, at a speed that made Emma’s body feel every minute of its thirty plus years, and his expression was back to one of teenage inertia.

“Ok, so I’m gonna head back to school before mom wakes up and freaks out that I came home on my own.” He paused for a moment, looking Emma up and down before casting a quick glance in the direction of Regina’s bedroom. “I’m really glad you’re here, ma.”

And with that he was gone, leaving Emma, as now seemed like a regular occurrence, wondering what the hell had just happened.

-/-

As brown eyes fluttered open, Emma took a quick glance at the clock to see that over an hour had passed since their son’s unexpected interruption. After which, she had briefly toyed with the idea of going downstairs and attempting to clean up the morning’s pie massacre, yet she instead found herself back perched on Regina’s bed, watching her sleep. Whilst she’d tried to tell herself it was purely because she had promised Regina she would stay, she was finding it harder to ignore the realisation that no part of her actually wanted to leave. A truth made all the more obvious by her hand which of its own accord had again began trailing gentle patterns on smooth skin as Regina watched her drowsily for a moment.

“Hey.”

The older woman smiled softly. “Thank you.”

Ignoring the guilt that she could feel bubbling in her chest, Emma returned the expression. “How are you feeling?”

Regina’s brow creased for a moment as she brought a hand up to pinch it slightly.

Emma watched with sympathy. “Headache?”

Regina nodded slowly, “a little.” Clearly annoyed with her own perceived weakness, she frowned.

At the action, Emma finally dragged her hand away from the other woman’s back, instead reaching up to comb her fingers gently through thick hair. At the loss of contact Regina shivered. Suddenly hyper-aware of every response, Emma reached out securing the blanket around her before turning her full attention back to her.

Regina paused for a moment before sighing resignedly. “I think I also feel a little nauseous and for some reason am chilled to the bone”

Emma smiled sympathetically. “Do you think you can sleep some more?” Her hand found its way back into the other woman’s hair, sweeping it tenderly away from a pale face.  Seeing the hesitation flash across Regina’s face, Emma’s limbs were moving before her brain had chance to catch up. Rising abruptly, she rounded the bed, pushing the covers to one side and clambering in, shuffling until her front was flush against Regina’s back and gathering the older woman to her. Wondering, a little too late, if this was a boundary too far, she was surprised when she felt the weight of Regina shifting to settle more firmly against her, a relaxed sigh accompanying the action.

Unable to contain it any longer, and easier to say now Regina couldn’t actually see her, the “I’m sorry” was out of Emma’s mouth before she could control it.

Regina stilled for a moment, and Emma held her breathe, hoping that she had either slipped back into sleep or hadn’t heard her.

“Sorry?”

Of course, she was never that damn lucky.

“I shouldn’t have said that stuff about Cora… and you.”

Regina was silent for a beat. The “oh, Emma” was so soft that she almost missed it. “You know you didn’t cause this?”

Unable to respond in a way that didn’t make her sound even more pathetic than she was already feeling, Emma opted for a noncommittal grunt. Closing her eyes, as if the action would allow both herself and the entire situation to disappear, she felt a gentle pressure on the hand that she belatedly realised had found its seemingly natural position on Regina’s stomach. Realising she was not getting off the hook on this one, she sighed.

“I just want to help.”

The weight in her arms shifted and as she dared to let the world back in, she found dark eyes watching her seriously.

“Emma, you have no idea how much you just being here helps.”

Feeling the sudden intensity, Emma shuffled so she could at least stare up at the ceiling and pretend the other woman wasn’t somehow peering directly into her soul.

“I just wish you didn’t have to go through all this crap. It’s not fair. You don’t deserve it.”

Emma was aware she probably sounded like a slightly petulant child, but the comfort of the decadent bed, not to mention the warm body against her was making it increasingly difficult not to surrender to her own exhaustion, and her filter, if she really had one to begin with, was at a solid zero.

“I think you will find many who would fundamentally disagree with that statement. And rightly so.”

The conviction in Regina’s gentle tone made Emma’s heart physically ache. Without thinking, she reached out an arm, snaking it under the other woman’s shoulders and pulling her closer.

“Well they can go screw themselves, ‘cos they don’t know you.”

Regina was still for another moment and Emma felt a hint panic edging through her exhaustion as she realised she was pretty much holding her. Starting to release her grip, she was surprised to instead feel Regina shifting more securely into her, laying her head on her chest and letting out a slow breath. Giving into the intense rush of protectiveness that flooded through her at the action, Emma tightened her grasp, feeling Regina sink into her further, her hand twisting itself into her shirt and holding on. As her brain fumbled for words of comfort, Regina’s breathing slackened, and the solid weight of her head slotted perfectly under Emma’s chin grew heavier. Letting her fingers drift down the exposed arm clutching her, the overwhelming need to protect the woman in her arms only grew as Regina let out a contented mumble, burying herself further into Emma and visibly relaxing. Emma watched in awe as she felt the moment her body settled, and she slipped into the solace of sleep. Knowing that, for the moment at least, Regina was comfortable and safe, Emma finally allowed herself to follow.

TBC