Actions

Work Header

companion accompanied by profit (or in layman's terms, friends with benefits)

Work Text:

Emma wakes to a face full of familiar dark brown hair, a tingling arm she definitely slept on, and the tips of her fingers flirting just under the hem of her bedmate's satin camisole.

 

She grins, cozy and content and well rested. It’s still early and she should probably get up and commandeer the shower before Regina wakes and bars herself in the bathroom for a full hour getting ready, but she doesn’t want to.

 

Instead she closes her eyes and nuzzles deeper into the back of Regina’s head, until her nose drags down into the skin of her neck. 

 

Regina smells strongly of sleep and the remnants of her fancy perfume here. It makes something in Emma so warm she slides her hand up, until her arm is resting against Regina’s ribs. She’s careful not to grope Regina in her sleep, even though the temptation is there, fueled by memories of the night before.

 

Emma sighs, pushing herself into Regina’s backside just to get closer, somehow. Regina doesn’t react but for a tiny unconscious shiver, still breathing rhythmically on her side.

 

After a few lost minutes of rubbing her thumb against the smooth curve of where Regina’s abdomen meets her breast, her other arm goes painfully numb. She shifts to kickstart her circulation and grimaces as pins and needles run through her. Course this is when Regina sniffles, the sound always a prelude to her waking. Emma can imagine the way her eyelashes flutter, even though she can’t see her face from their current position.

 

“Morning sleepyhead,” she says sweetly, hand now flat and moving in soothing circles against Regina’s stomach.

 

“Hmm.”

 

Regina is barely human when she wakes and Emma thinks it’s the absolute cutest. “Hey, wanna play hooky and stay in bed?”

 

She gives Regina a moment to decipher her words. 30 seconds later Emma is rewarded with a quiet undignified laugh Regina would never admit came out of her mouth, which brings a wave of satisfaction surely to  jumpstart Emma’s good day. 

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Regina murmurs.

 

Emma frowns theatrically, props herself on her elbow so she can see Regina’s face. Regina’s resistance means Emma has to commit to the bit and they both know it. “Come on, would it kill you to miss one day of work?”

 

Tiling her face, Regina gives Emma a patented look of derision. It makes Emma grin.

 

“It’s ridiculous because it’s Saturday, Emma.”

 

“Right, so you wanna hang out?” It’s a moot question, seeing as they have a dinner party to attend later. Emma wonders when the last time she didn’t spend the entire weekend with Regina was, and finds she doesn’t remember, and doesn’t care to.

 

The mattress bounces slightly as Emma collapses back into it, prompting Regina to roll to face her. Her expression is blank when usually, after a night like the last and a morning of their familiar banter, Regina is all innuendos and coyness.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing, I’ve got a bit of a headache, that’s all,” Regina says, moving to rest on her back. Emma’s lie detector pings, but if Regina’s reluctant to share, Emma is patient enough to wait until she’s ready to talk.

 

“I’ve got aspirin,” Emma offers.

 

“I’m meeting Mal, later.”

 

Regina faces Emma, locking eyes with her over the chasm of their pillows. Emma blinks at her and Regina looks away.

 

“Really? I thought, and let me just quote you directly here, ‘Mal is a dragon and I hate her and I’m going to stab her with a sword?’”

 

“You said that, I said we broke up amicably,” Regina reminds her, smiling at the ceiling. She starts to shuffle out of bed, letting the sheets pool as she sits on the edge of the mattress and adjusts her top.

 

“Sure, and that’s literally the only reason I didn’t egg her house,” Emma responds, turning to watch Regina do some weird breathing exercises. The regal grace of her back draws Emma’s fingers to the notches of her spine, but Regina is on her feet before Emma can reach out.

 

She watches while Regina slowly stretches. “You gonna tell me what shenanigans you get up to tonight?”

 

Regina’s back cracks, but it must not have felt good, because she looks disappointed. Emma gives her a sympathetic smile.

 

“Right,” Regina says, leaving to take the bathroom first.

 

 

 

 

After a shower which lasts all of 5 minutes because Regina’s expectedly used all the hot water again, Emma enters her kitchen to find Regina has somehow conjured a whole ass frittata out of the nothing in her fridge. 

 

Drawn along by the wonderful smell like a cartoon character floating towards their beloved, she makes her way over quickly, damp feet slapping against the floor. Regina would usually tell her not to stomp around like an ogre, but today she’s silently concentrating on the stove.

 

Emma stops short of barreling into Regina’s back. She wraps an arm around her waist and squishes her face into the bend of Regina’s neck. She likes being close to Regina all the time, but especially when she spends the night.

 

The scent of clean apples greets her, because Emma makes sure to stock her incredibly expensive salon grade shampoo after one too many instances of Regina being cranky because she couldn’t wash her hair with Emma’s “pedestrian head and shoulders 2 in 1.”

 

“Smells good,” she says, and doesn’t really know if she’s talking about the food or Regina. 

 

Regina hums and leans ever so slightly into her arm.

 

When they move to eat, Emma’s determined not to breathe until every slice of eggy goodness is in her stomach. 

 

She peers covertly at Regina as she shovels food into her mouth. There’s a mood in the air; A certain kind of fine mist which sometimes permeates Emma’s apartment when Regina gets sullen for no apparent reason.

 

There are no disapproving looks or teasing snipes about her eating habits. Nor is Regina responsive to the game of footsie Emma is attempting.

 

In fact, Regina hasn’t done much but take some dainty bites of Emma’s speciality; her famous edible toast. 

 

These kinds of mornings are usually spent differently, quietly chatting over breakfast while Regina blushes and pretends not to. Emma chews and feels more than hears Regina sigh. She hasn’t finished what’s on her plate before she’s up and moving into Emma’s bedroom.

 

Moments later she’s exiting in last night's clothes, pulling down a sweater she must’ve left on a different occasion. She doesn’t say much as she moves past Emma to put on her shoes, but Emma makes a grab for her wrist before she can get too far away.

 

“Come here,” she prods, gentle, and Regina complies. 

 

As soon as she’s within hugging distance, Emma’s got her arms around her middle, cheek pressed against her stomach. Regina sighs again, the one where she’s pretending to be exasperated by Emma’s childish behaviour.

 

Then she presses a pacifying kiss against the top of Emma’s head, softly says, “Bye Emma,” and leaves.

 

Emma watches her go, slumps back into her chair, and hopes whatever’s got Regina down passes.

 

 

 

 

As soon as Ruby finds out Emma is alone, she invites herself over to pregame Zelena and Mary Margaret’s dinner party because, “Emma, it’s Zelena and MM trying to throw a joint dinner party and if we’re going to die tonight we better be drunk for it.”

 

She’s definitely not wrong, but when met with Emma’s questioning, “So this has nothing to do with Mulan being away this week?” Ruby had simply hung up.

 

Now her beloved foster sister is on her couch, sculling beer at 1:30pm as if the purported party isn’t scheduled for 7 in the evening.

 

“I miss Mulan,” Ruby laments, staring morosely at the tv.

 

“I know, we all know.”

 

Ruby pouts at her and Emma pats her thigh and offers her the chip bowl. Ruby and Mulan have been together for 3 years now, which sounds plain unrealistic to Emma, who’s had one serious boyfriend in high school before she learned what lesbianism was and never tried to commit again.

 

Mulan and Ruby are still as obsessed with each other as the day Mulan accidentally kicked a soccer ball at Ruby’s head, so romance probably isn’t dead (discounting a few very dead brain cells from Ruby’s mild concussion), just not in the stars for Emma. Well, good .

 

“Where’s Regina?”

 

Emma shrugs. So Regina isn’t with her one Saturday afternoon, she’s not going to die from it. Probably.

 

“Not here.”

 

Ruby gives her a pointed look, scrambling up to sit on her haunches and lean into Emma’s space. She’s like a hound for blood when she’s bored. Emma suddenly misses Mulan too. “Why?”

 

“Because this isn’t her apartment?”

 

Ruby rolls her eyes and points at the watch sitting prettily and, admittedly, out of place on her scratched up coffee table.

 

“Figure 1.”

 

“What? A lady can’t buy herself a nice watch? Try to upgrade her wardrobe?”

 

“This has cost-more-than-the car-you-own energy, it’s definitely Regina’s.” 

 

“Don’t talk smack about the bug or you’re not allowed in the bug, she has feelings, you know.”

 

“And this? And that?” Ruby asks smugly, pointing at various objects in their purview to prove her point. 

 

A thin gold chain which would clash horribly with Emma’s yellow hair spooled in her empty fruit bowl of all places, a deep bloody expensive red scarf looped around the handle to her linen closet, and a metal tube in the shade of Vendetta sitting on the little table in her hallway in front of the mirror Regina often uses to freshen up her lipstick. 

 

Inanimate objects now mocking Emma with Ruby’s permission.

 

Finally she stops at the hideously chic camisole and short sleepwear set folded neatly on top of Emma’s covers, ready for Regina to return to them tonight. Her fault for leaving her bedroom door open, Emma thinks wryly.

 

“She’s with Mal.”

 

Ruby leans back, eyes filled with curious worry. “Want to talk about it?”

 

“Talk about what?” Emma asks, genuinely lost. Ruby looks hard at her for several awkward minutes, like she’s trying to figure out the hidden message in Emma’s confusion. 

 

Narrowed eyes slowly begin to grow wide with realization Emma is not privy to, and Ruby shakes her head. She startles Emma with a loud joyless laugh as she jumps back on the couch, then she just sits there and snorts. “Okay then, idiot.”

 

Emma blinks owlishly at her. “You sound just like Regina, since you’re apparently obsessed with her.”

 

“Mulan and I-“

 

Emma rears back, making sure the disgust on her face is broadcasting at maximum volume. “Ew Rubes, Regina is not going to be your third.”

 

Ruby screams her laugh this time and proceeds to throw a handful of bottle caps at her. 

 

 

 

 

Mary Margaret freaks out over ice, which in the grand scheme of joint parties between 2 people who have an antagonistic relationship at best, really isn’t so bad.

 

Emma eyes the unnecessarily large clock on the wall. It’s 7:15pm and Regina’s yet to arrive. 

 

In Zelena’s large living room, Ruby is howling with laughter at something Elsa’s said while Marian and Kathryn chuckle and sip their respective glasses of wine. Mary Margaret’s taken to doling out rations of ice cubes while Zelena gleefully mocks her for it, and Sabine is in the middle of what looks like a riveting discussion with Jacinda about teaching the second grade.

 

Stepping away with a swish of her empty glass, Emma moves to fix herself a drink. Mary Margaret watches nervously as she approaches, trying to suss out how much ice she’ll waste. 

 

A friendly thumbs up from Emma seems to do nothing to reassure her and only makes MM narrow her eyes suspiciously. Emma scans the room for a suitable partner to share a grievous look with, only to realize she’s really just looking for Regina, who is not there to roll her eyes at MM’s anal ice hoarding.

 

Her shoulders fall, and she sulks.

 

When she returns to Marian updating the gang on her latest dating misadventures, Ruby is there to give her an annoyingly knowing eyebrow raise.

 

So Emma volunteers to go get ice.

 

Mary Margaret practically cries with gratitude and Zelena just gruffs. Everybody knows she agreed to this venture just to torture MM, but Emma needs to get rid of this restlessness — plus she’s sure Zelena will find something else to persecute Mary Margaret for.

 

Walking is the best option, because the nearest bodega is only a few minutes away and parking is an absolute bitch in Zelena’s upscale area.

 

There’s an expensive looking car idling at the curb in front of the expensive brownstone when Emma returns with her quarry. It fits right in the neighborhood, but Emma has only ever known one person confident enough to drive an ostentatious bright red maserati around town.

 

She squints against the heavily tinted windows, watches as shadows engage in conversation before the blonde in the driver's seat reaches over to wrap a hand around the side of the passenger's neck.

 

Emma can’t see Regina’s reaction in the dark but she doesn’t twist out of Mal’s reach. They speak to each other for several more seconds before Mal leans forward and presses a long kiss against Regina’s cheek.

 

Then Regina’s mouthing something while stepping out of the car and Mal is saluting before zooming away in a mess of fumes. 

 

Emma settles back to reality at the roaring of the engine. She approaches loudly, having stood at the turn of the sidewalk watching in accidental secrecy. She holds out her bags of ice in silent explanation when Regina notices her and gives her a questioning look.

 

“Have fun?” Emma asks, purely because Regina hasn’t texted her all day but to tell her she was going to be late. Emma is not going to admit she thinks she deserves to be a little petty.

 

Regina looks at her for 2 seconds too long, and then just shrugs. 

 

“Did she do something? Cause I’ll kick her ass anytime,” Emma threatens, swinging her bags of ice around dangerously. Regina grabs Emma’s wrists to stop her, pulling her arms down before one of them ends up with a black eye.

 

“Mal has a third degree black belt, Emma,” she replies. Her tone is dry but her eyes are sparkling, amused by Emma’s deliberate stupidity.

 

“I could take her,” Emma says confidently, puffing her chest out proudly.

 

Regina stares until all the air leaks out of Emma’s lungs. She smiles at Emma’s goofy grin, runs her hand up until it’s around Emma’s arm, and squeezes in a way Emma can feel in the pit of her stomach. “I’m sure you could, darling.”

 

She pulls Emma up the steps to the front door as Emma proudly gloats and nudges Regina’s shoulder so they bounce against each other as they ascend. 

 

Before Regina can dig out her key or Emma can ring the bell, the door swings open much too forcefully.

 

Zelena stands at her doorway with her hands on her hips, posturing like the witch Emma knows she descended from.

 

“You’re late,” she remarks, chin tilted up.

 

“Do you want your ice or not?” Emma says, pulling her bags up for inspection. 

 

Zelena ignores her, as always, and turns her probing gaze to Regina. “Did I see Maleficent drop you off? I thought she might try to trap you underneath her, you know, because dragons love to hoard treasure?”

 

“Hello Zelena, I haven’t even gotten inside yet,” Regina says with a roll of her eyes, already resigned to the third degree.

 

“Just know Mary Margaret and Marian saw exactly what I saw and will likely already have speeches lined up.”

 

Regina looks at her sister in frustration, brushes her hair behind her ear just for it to bounce right back, and says, “I could go home right now.”

 

That gets a cackle out of Zelena, who moves to clutch Regina’s arm before she can even think of making good on her threat.

 

“Now where would the fun of that be?” Zelena says, aggressively pulling Regina through to the foyer.

 

Emma receives nothing more than a helpless and exasperated look before the sisters disappear into the house. 

 

Left standing in the entryway, Emma grunts when she realizes her bags of ice are melting onto her shoes.

 

 

 

 

“You and Regina dating isn’t going to hurt the group, Emma,” Mary Margaret says out of the blue, dumping a bag of ice into the strainer in the sink. She frowns when only a few handful of ice cubes remain. 

 

Emma is in the middle of ripping open a second bag for her and looks over to MM staring morosely as she transfers the ice into a decorative bowl. 

 

“Excuse me what?”

 

Mary Margaret sighs warily, her hands pink from the cold. “We’re just saying you don’t have to hide anything from us, we love you,” she answers sweetly. She makes sure to look Emma in the eyes as she’s speaking, as if Emma doesn’t know MM would give away her favorite birdhouses for her.

 

Emma clears her throat just to buy some time and dumps her bag. “Who’s we?”

 

“Us.”

 

They watch the water drain away to leave even less ice than their first bag. Yikes.

 

“Collectively? Like a hive mind? Do I have to pass a test to gain access?”

 

MM ignores her very fun inquiry diversion and shovels the second batch of ice over into its final destination, frowning at the meager half bowl. “The point is we wouldn’t care and it’s not as if you don’t already act like it.”

 

Emma laughs nervously. So maybe she touches Regina a little too much in public, but she can’t exactly help herself when Regina is in her orbit. Her hands seem magnetized to the small of Regina’s back and perhaps she finds it comforting to rest her hand against the nape of Regina’s neck, thumb and middle finger gripping the sides until she can see faint impressions. She’s had no complaints so far. 

 

Not that Regina is exactly subtle either, always ready to land a hand on her thigh, giving her a reassuring little squeeze whenever she can sense Emma floating into space.

 

She often doesn’t even notice she’s reaching out for Regina until they’re already touching, and then it’s weirder to pull away, so she never does.

 

“Regina and I aren’t dating.”

 

“Emma,” Mary Margaret admonishes. She’s using a tone of voice Emma just knows works with the kids she teaches in grade school.

 

“I’m being absolutely serious right now,” Emma says, cutting into their final bag. It’s practically a water balloon. 

 

Emma carefully upturns the plastic into the strainer while Mary Margaret looks at her strangely, no longer completely consumed by her quest. She knows Emma well, knows when she’s telling the truth or fabricating elaborate fictions just to run away. 

 

MM looks actually taken aback when she realizes Emma is being honest.

 

“I… Really?”

 

Emma shrugs. “Why would I lie to you?” 

 

“Oh, well… Ok then.”

 

Emma scoops up the remaining ice cubes and throws them into the bowl. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you guys are forming telepathic links without us, Regina is gonna be so pissed at you,” she says, walking towards the door.

 

Mary Margaret rushes to block Emma’s exit, much more flushed over a joke than Emma could’ve anticipated. “Emma, no! She still hasn’t forgiven me for telling on her and Daniel!”

 

“Wasn’t that like, 20 years ago? And isn’t he a bronie now?” Emma asks with a raised brow. MM looks on the cusp of a conniption, face turning red to match her hands.

 

“Exactly!”

 

 

 

 

The party winds down past midnight. Jacinda and Sabine left an hour ago, citing responsible adult schedules. Marian is holding Ruby’s phone up on facetime with Mulan, who is getting passed around to her friends now that Ruby’s passed out mid-sentence and relinquished her tether to her girlfriend.

 

As per the norm, Emma’s been stuck to Regina’s side nearly the entire night, regaling her with tales of her and Ruby’s afternoon. She mentions Ruby’s sudden infatuation with her and laughs hard enough to nearly fall over at Regina’s reaction to possibly being the unicorn to Ruby and Mulan’s relationship.

 

Now her watch is ticking rapidly to 1am and Regina is nowhere to be seen. She says goodbye to Mulan and hands Ruby’s cell to Elsa, who plops down next to the phone owner's prone body and points the camera at the small pool of drool forming on a couch cushion. “You sure you want this one?” Elsa asks in jest.

 

Emma laughs her way into the hallway when she hears Mulan’s tired, but extremely fond, “Yes, I want this one.”

 

Zelena practically dragged Regina to the kitchen for drinks well over 15 minutes ago. Since there’s been no screeching or visible bloodshed, Emma can only assume they’ve gotten into one of their infamous sibling stare-offs.

 

Emma doesn’t want to get into the middle of that kind of violent ESP, but she also really wants to go home with Regina. She gingerly walks down the warmly lit hallway towards Zelena’s extremely shiny, incredibly underused kitchen, pausing just outside the pale green double acting doors. 

 

Zelena’s contractors definitely ripped her off, because she can clearly hear the conversation taking place on the other side, even if she can’t see them.

 

Is it eavesdropping if Emma is standing there, poised to push the door open and grab Regina for a quick escape, when they just start talking about her like she’s not in the vicinity?

 

“You need to stop telling everyone me and Emma are together,” Regina says sternly. Emma freezes at her name, her hand retracting to hang uselessly by her side instead.

 

“Aren’t you?” Zelena jeers.

 

A sigh so aggressive the sound rings clear through wood, and then the sound of glass hitting Zelena’s marble countertops. Regina is clearly not happy about Zelena’s response. Emma can clearly imagine the vein in her forehead popping.

 

She knows her and Regina have been less than careful about what they have going on, but they’ve always had an intense connection, even before their friendship became physical. No ones been the wiser since their relationship escalated over a year ago, so Emma listens in, because she hadn’t known Zelena knew. 

 

When they first met in college, Regina hated her with a passion which made no sense to anybody but herself. At first Emma didn’t understand what she’d done and how to undo it, now she knew she was the antithesis to everything Cora wanted for her girls. Regina resented her for her freedom when she was still desperate to impress her mother. It was unreasonable, but no one was going to tell her that.

 

Emma gets sad even now, thinking about lonely girls trapped in big houses. 

 

With time, their friends inevitably found each other and became their friends, and it became impossible for Regina to avoid her. Even harder to avoid was how Emma was so intrinsically drawn to Regina. It would manifest in teasing, just to rile Regina up and get her attention. Regina’s focus felt warm even when she was being mean. Being childish like this was unlike Emma, to resort to schoolyard tactics to get a cute girl to look at her. 

 

It was a crush Emma thought a quick fuck would fix, similar to most every time she became fixated on someone in her life. Eventually she wore Regina down through dogged kindness and maybe one instance of honest drunken groveling which may have involved bodily presenting Kathryn to vouch for her character. 

 

She remembers the way Regina studied her and the moment Emma knew she’d gotten through to her, how Regina smiled at her for the first time and changed her life. They were inseparable as soon as Regina gave them the chance. Sex with Regina became fuzzy background noise for Emma, something unimportant in the face of growing what Emma knew was going to be an incredibly special relationship for her.

 

Besides that, there was always someone vying for Regina’s attention in college, and well past it too. Mal was only one of many, if not the most recent of Regina’s paramours. Everyone including Emma knew Regina loved commitment and hand holding, romance and long term plans being integral to Regina’s love.

 

Which is why their first time still surprises Emma. So many years into being Regina’s best friend (despite Mary Margaret insisting she is Regina’s bestie) and cuddling on the couch had been only comfort, until Emma kissed her one night without thinking at all.  Everything had spiraled from there. She’d woken up the next morning after the best sex she’d ever had with Regina wrapped around her. That entire morning Regina barely spoke 5 words to her, chewing on her lip like she’d ruined everything.

 

It was Emma who took her hands because she couldn’t bear the thought of Regina leaving her over a mistake, who said they could pretend it never happened, asking if they were going to be okay. Regina looked reluctant to say anything at all, and her quiet thinking lasted for so long Emma had no choice but to kiss her again. If they’d already jumped into the deep end together, they might as well enjoy it after all. It was just sex,  Emma made it clear with as few words as possible, because Emma wasn’t built for long term and Regina knew her better than anyone else. 

 

Emma could justify Regina’s agreement to her terms easily enough. Regina could have fun with someone safe who she knew wouldn’t hurt her while her search for something permanent continued. Nothing had to change, and truly, nothing did.

 

If the little intimacies of their friendship were now physical, no one had to know but them.

 

Except Zelena, apparently.

 

“Zelena! Stop meddling!”

 

“I only meddle because I love you, you know.”

 

“I do, but there’s nothing for you to fix here.”

 

“So you’re just going to go your whole life entangled in a friends with benefits situation that makes you hate yourself?” Zelena snaps.

 

Emma’s limp hands ball into fists when she hears the words leave Zelena’s mouth. Emma makes Regina hate herself? Emma would rather hurl herself directly into the pits of hell then do whatever it is Zelena is accusing her of doing.

 

“Emma does not make me hate myself, quite the opposite, and don’t tell me you’ve never done something like this before,” Regina says defensively, always going to bat for Emma even in her absence. 

 

“Of course I have, the superior Mills genes mean we have a duty and right to be respectable slags and you’ve had more monogamous long term relationships than I approve of, but this isn’t that,” Zelena says, the clicking of her heels bringing her closer to Regina. “Emma is your best friend and no matter my opinion of her, I think it’s in her right to understand when she’s hurting you.”

 

Emma’s heart squeezes in her chest, so tightly she feels like her body is rejecting it all together, like she’s going to throw it right up. 

 

“Zelena, leave it alone,” Regina says, sounding so tired it makes Emma choke back a gasp.

 

Zelena’s voice has gone much softer now, more like the older sister who tried her best to protect Regina against their mother. “You don’t think it’s wrong when she toys with your feelings, acts like she loves you, treats you like her girlfriend then goes off and does it with somebody else?”

 

“Emma isn’t interested in commitment, I knew that from the beginning,” Regina shoots back. Her quavering voice is almost foreign to Emma, who knows just how strong Regina is.

 

Zelena scoffs. “I’d rather you date Mal again then do whatever it is you’re doing right now.”

 

Regina lets out a tiny wet laugh, and Emma reaches up to touch her cheek, recognizing her own face, damp with tears. 

 

“You hated Mal.” 

 

“I hated her egotism and that her house is nicer than mine, but she was good to you,” Zelena says without an ounce of shame. If Emma was in the right state of mind and not on the verge of a breakdown, she’d roll her eyes. 

 

“She wants to get back together, forgave me after everything I put her through.”

 

“And you?” Zelena asks, sounding genuinely curious. There’s a stretch of silence that has Emma press a little closer to the door, suddenly desperate to know Regina’s answer.

 

Another sigh, before Regina calmly says, “And I love Emma.”

 

She sounds resigned to it, to loving Emma, like it hurts just to say it. 

 

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Regina,” Zelena says in response. There’s the sound of glass hitting glass and then two sets of heels moving quickly towards the door Emma is realizing she is on the other side of.

 

The muscles in her chest are so tense at this point it hurts physically when she hurriedly dives into the dark powder room under the stairs, closing the door with a quiet snip. She listens to herself breathe harshly against her hand, the other pressed against the ache in her heart, and watches two shadows pass under the door. 

 

She barely has time to try to relax before a rhythmic tapping approaches from the same fraught direction. Emerald green suede Louboutins stop themselves right in front of the bathroom where Emma is hiding, the pointed tips facing the door.

 

“I expect you know what to do here,” Zelena says to her, before turning to walk back to their friends.

 

 

 

 

Emma goes home alone. 

 

She doesn’t even say goodbye to anyone, just grabs her jacket and high tails it out of there. 

 

In her apartment she paces the length of her living room over and over again, trying to make sense of everything she overheard.

 

Regina loves her, she knows that, but Emma can’t lie to herself anymore than she apparently has for the last year. Regina is in love with her, and Emma is the worst person in the world for what she’s done.

 

Not only is she breaking Regina’s heart by having sex with her and claiming no strings attached, she’s hurting her best friend and acting like she has no hand in it.

 

Of course Regina would never be okay with casual sex, she knew that. She’s always known it, from the moment their friendship ignited, she knew Regina wasn’t going to sleep with her and continue being just her friend. It used to run in the back of her mind all the time, reminding her to stay the track.

 

Almost a decade of taking and taking Regina’s friendship and being better for it, she’d forgotten why she couldn’t be with Regina in one second and ruined them in one fell swoop. 

 

Her phone buzzes in her pocket and it’s the subject of all her thoughts, worried about her.

 

Did you leave?

 

She’s crying before she can respond, pathetic tears tracing the same trails from earlier. Emma sits heavily on her couch with her phone in her hand and lets herself cry big heaving sobs for what feels like hours. There’s no relief in it.

 

She stares at her and Regina’s messages through blurry eyes, swallows against the stone in her throat. She knows she doesn’t have much of a choice. To stop hurting Regina, she has to stop being selfish, even if she wants to continue, she has to put a stop to it before their relationship is completely unfixable. 

 

Can you please come over? I have something to talk to you about

 

Emma watches as Regina types and types and types, then stops, and finally,

 

Of course, I’ll be there in 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

The beginning of the end feels the worst, like going up the tracks on a roller coaster, knowing you’re climbing just to fall. Maybe some people enjoy the ride up, Emma certainly has, and maybe that’s what makes the descent that much harder.

 

Regina knocks and looks distressed when Emma opens the door. To be fair, Emma’s been crying on and off for the last 45 minutes. She expects she looks like a red eyed, sniffling heartbreaker.

 

“Emma, what’s wrong?” Regina asks, immediately shifting into mother hen. She cradles Emma’s face, love and worry shining bright at Emma. How could she not have known, when Regina never really bothered to hide it at all?

 

Emma looks away, turns around so she can get through this and have a chance of saving them.

 

“Do you want to sit down with me?” 

 

“Have you been crying?” The concern in Regina’s magnifies as she catches the sorrow in Emma’s voice. Emma moves and lowers herself onto the couch, watches Regina take careful steps towards her, and asks again, “Just please? Sit down with me?”

 

Regina sits, brows still furrowed. She keeps her hands to herself this time, like she knows Emma’s spooked and can’t be touched right now. A swell of pain follows with how well Regina loves her. 

 

“You’re acting strange, is everything okay?” Regina asks. 

 

Emma tries to smile in response, to reassure Regina, but it feels off, and she knows Regina can tell. 

 

She lets it fall away and says, “Yes, just, I need to talk to you.”

 

“Okay, I’m listening.”

 

“It’s about us,” Emma says, practically squirming in her seat. 

 

“What about us?” Regina asks carefully. 

 

She looks ready to take on an army, lips pursed and spine straight. What belies her anxiety are the strong corded muscles in her neck, straining and twitching against her will. Emma swallows hard, and can already feel her resolve starting to melt.

 

“I don’t think we should be sleeping together anymore,” she says solemnly, looking at her fingers in her own lap, the way they’re held together tightly enough for the twists of her skin to turn white.

 

A drag of stunned silence lasts long enough for Emma to take it back, and she almost does.

 

“I— Did I—“ Regina stutters. Regina never stutters. She seems to curl into herself, her shoulders hunching, sounding small and vulnerable when she asks, “Did I do something wrong?”

 

“No, no! Of course not,” Emma reassures desperately. The urgency in her voice makes her recoil. “I just don’t think it feels right anymore.”

 

She’s lying and she still wants Regina to call her out. When Emma collects enough courage to look at Regina, it’s to find her face blank, walls higher than a castle. “If that’s what you want,” she says in a steady voice.

 

Emma says, “It’s what I want,” even when it’s not.

 

“I think I’m going to go.”

 

“Regina, you can stay,” Emma pleads. Please stay, Emma wants to ask. She wants to kiss it better and away, but that’d be a level of cruelty Emma doesn’t think she’s capable of, despite everything.

 

“It’s okay, Emma, we’ll talk later.”

 

“Okay,” she utters helplessly. Regina doesn’t look at Emma at all as she swallows and stands. Panic grips her so suddenly Emma is almost afraid she’ll drown, frightened to death by the idea of Regina leaving and never coming back.

 

She moves to touch Regina, just to have Regina look at her. Selfishly, — because what is Emma if not self- motivated — she still wants Regina to reassure her they’ll be fine. She wants to believe they’ll talk soon and it’ll be like they never crossed a line in the sand. 

 

The tips of Emma’s fingers barely brush the delicate skin of Regina’s wrist before Regina pulls her arm away sharply. 

 

The pain of being rejected by Regina stings less than the pain she sees reflected in Regina’s gaze as she looks down in surprise. Is she astonished by her ability to pull away from Emma, or just shocked Emma reached for her at all? Either way, it twists the tendons in Emma’s chest in agony.

 

Regina holds the arm she yanked away against her chest, like she doesn’t know what to do with her own limbs. 

 

She won’t meet Emma’s eyes anymore as she takes a step back, then turns and practically runs to the door. Emma is hurting Regina just by being in her presence, and she can’t do anything but let Regina walk out of her apartment, maybe even out of her life.

 

Regina doesn’t look back, because why would she? She’d only see Emma, sitting on her couch, dropping her head into her hands as she cries and cries and doesn’t know how to fix any of it.

 

 

 

 

A week without Regina’s morning texts and Emma is bereft.

 

It’s more than just texting, obviously. Regina is the first person Emma wants to tell about nearly everything, and she finds herself reaching for her phone to let Regina know about a mundane or silly something dozens of times a day, before realizing she really can’t. 

 

Their friends are starting to notice. Ruby and Mary Margaret send each other worried looks over brunch when they think Emma is preoccupied, and of course the only person who doesn’t show up is Regina. Emma secretly hoped maybe she would when the group invite rolled out, which is why she’s left her cave to begin with.

 

Worst of all, Regina’s absence seems to shine a light directly onto Emma, who is sad and stressed enough as is, without Zelena openly glaring at her. It’s at least enough to confirm everyone’s suspicions that something is amiss.

 

Mulan is the only one brave enough to remark on the weird tension, and she downs her afternoon beer like a champ before throwing out a subtle, “Did I miss an episode of the Real Housewives: Emma and Regina?”

 

Unfortunately for Emma, everyone chooses to ignore Ruby’s bright eyed squeal of, “Babe! Are you finally watching RHOBH like I’ve been begging?” to fix their attention on her instead. She melts into her seat and takes a chug of her first glass of endless mimosa.

 

“Kind of, I guess,” Emma murmurs. She keeps her eyes downcast, because she honestly can’t take all this scrutiny when Regina’s not there to lessen the impact. 

 

“You guess?” Jacinda asks skeptically and Emma stabs at her pancakes and says, probably unconvincingly, “Just an argument, we’ll be fine.”

 

“I don’t think so,” Zelena snarks, low and mean, lips hidden behind her glass of white wine.

 

“Do you have something you’d like to tell the class, Zel?” Marian asks, obviously unimpressed with the underhanded remark. 

 

“Me? Not at all, Maid Marian” Zelena responds. Her tone shifts and she looks at Marian from under her lashes as Marian rolls her eyes fondly at the old nickname. It sounds suspiciously like flirting and nobody bats an eyelash at that , probably because Zelena and Marian have been flirting on and off for the last decade.

 

Kathryn clears her throat awkwardly and helpfully supplies, “Regina’s phone hasn’t blown up at lunch all week, so what’s up?” 

 

She’s lucky enough to work at the same law offices as Regina and have lunch with her whenever she wants. If Emma ever got desperate enough, at least she’d have an in. 

 

She’s not quite there yet, even though she hasn’t heard Regina’s voice in 7 days. The thought makes her absolutely miserable, and she can’t bear the pressure of all these questions when she barely has any answers for herself. 

 

She’s never been one to make a scene, but Emma cuts her eyes at the table and practically shrieks, “Everybody get off my case! This is between me and Regina so maybe back off!”

 

A table of women blink at her, surprised into silence by her outburst. Emma’s well known for being hot-headed, but never with her friends and never because they care about her well-being. 

 

She grits her teeth and wishes with a desperation bordering on helplessness that Regina was here with her. She looks down at her lap. There’s no hand on her thigh to settle her, and she feels like she could run right now and never look back.

 

“How about we leave Emma alone and talk about Mulan’s new reality tv obsession?” Mary Margaret suggests kindly. Ruby loudly agrees while Mulan denies all claims, and Emma shoots MM a grateful smile when the conversation moves on.

 

 

 

 

After brunch, Marian eyes her as they take their time saying their goodbyes. Across the table, Ruby brings her thumb and pinky up to her ear and signals at Emma to call her later. Without waiting for a response, she shoots Emma an air kiss and throws herself at an already standing Mulan.

 

Then suddenly, it’s just her and Marian, and they look at each other in understanding before Emma nods towards the exit. 

 

In silence, they walk companionably for several minutes before Marian stops her with a smile in front of a charming little coffee shop.

 

“Regina and I love this place, wanna grab a coffee and flush out all of that alcohol?”

 

Marian barely drank her one glass of sangria, but Emma is still burping up vodka bubbles, so she nods.

 

They settle down near the large storefront window, Emma with her hot cocoa and Marian with her espresso, and they both spend a moment just watching traffic pass.

 

It’s gentle prodding when Marian asks, “How are you, Ems?”

 

Emma says, “Fine?” and doesn’t mean to sound so unsure. Brunch wasn’t more than 20 minutes ago, so they both know she’s lying. When Marian arches an eyebrow at her, she breaks like a wave.

 

“I messed up,” she admits.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Marian asks kindly.

 

“Not really.”

 

Marian nods sagely, says, “Then we won’t,” like that’s even an option.

 

She lifts her cup to her mouth and waits Emma out with skill, and Emma stares until she can’t take it anymore and blurts out, “I really hurt Regina and I tried to fix it but I just hurt her worse.” 

 

She shrinks back after and watches Marian absorb the information. She doesn’t say anything, just gives Emma another questioning look, so she tries to explain, “I did the right thing but I did it wrong because Regina hasn’t talked to me in a week and I don’t even know how she’s doing.”

 

“Do you want to know?” Marian asks, pity shining in her eyes. Does Emma want to know ? It’s been a whole fucking week. She’s desperate for any news on Regina.

 

Marian gives her another sympathetic smile, says, “She’s miserable but she’s doing what she needs to do, because she’s Regina.”

 

“We were having sex,” Emma says, apropos of nothing. She winces at her own big mouth and Marian… just looks at her. “That was supposed to be surprising,” Emma says dumbly.

 

Marian’s responding chuckle is warm and friendly, though the words after are not. “Not to anyone with eyes and ears, Em, but I can pretend if you want.”

 

Emma claps her palm to her forehead and leans back in her cushioned chair. “You can’t tell anyone.”

 

“Everyone knows,” Marian retorts.

 

Emma falls back in, sliding her elbows onto the table. She hasn’t once shaken Marian with what were earth shattering revelations to her, so she decides to go for broke. “You can’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you,” Emma says very seriously.

 

“Not even Zelena?” Marian asks. Emma shakes her head. “Not even Zelena,” Marian repeats, and Emma nods.

 

She takes a steadying breath, because she hasn’t even said the words to herself since the night she heard them. “I overheard Regina say she loves me.”

 

Not an inch of shock shows on Marian’s face. In fact, she looks as unimpressed as ever as she drawls, “Is that news for you, Emma?”

 

“Yes! You know me, I can’t do anything long term, I can barely commit to a gym membership!” Emma squeals. “I told Regina we had to stop last week and she hasn’t spoken to me since, she hasn’t even returned any of my texts. I tried emailing her and Tink literally told me to schedule a consultation.”

 

Regina’s secretary’s specific words in the very short email were actually as follows:

 

She has an opening in 3 months time. (I’m so sorry, Emma!)

 

Emma’s not even surprised at the answer, though she had to try. She would know, Regina tends to inspire lifelong loyalty.

 

“So you found out Regina has romantic feelings for you and you don’t have them for her.”

 

Marian isn’t asking her a question, just stating facts Emma’s given her, but the confirmation gets caught in Emma’s throat. 

 

She looks at Emma like she can see right through her and says, “You look like you might need to rethink that, Emma.”

 

It strikes Emma into speechlessness, so they sit in silence once again, this time uncomfortable only on Emma’s end. She watches Marian consider the pastry display before she turns to consider Emma instead.

 

“If it helps any, you keep telling everyone you can’t commit and that you’re not made for it, but anyone with a heart can tell you’ve been committed to Regina for years, so what’s really changed now?”

 

Emma opens her mouth to respond, to validate the narration she’s always had of herself in her own mind. Marian calmly sips from her demitasse and watches her implode.

 

She doesn’t really have anything to say, after all.

 

 

 

 

Except she does, so she calls Ruby.

 

30 restless minutes later, there’s a red streak in booty shorts at her door.

 

“Do you think Regina and I are dating?” Emma bellows with her hand still on the door knob. Ruby is clearly taken aback at the greeting. Her expression morphs from confusion to distaste.

 

“Ew, who yells?”

 

“Ruby!”

 

Fists against her hips, Ruby gives her glare and says, “Emma, invite me into your home and get me your most hydrating beverage because I walked here and Mulan is always telling me I don’t drink enough water.”

 

“Do you?” Emma asks as she finally lets Ruby in. She passes a cold water bottle from the fridge to her. Ruby grimaces as she cracks the cap and starts gulping.

 

“Eight glasses is a lot, okay? And my bladder is so s—”

 

“Ruby, focus.”

 

Ruby rolls her eyes, settles herself on one of the barstools lining the counter and watches Emma lose her mind in her kitchen.

 

“Yes? Why did you think I wanted to have a heart to heart with you when Regina was spending the day with her ex?”

 

“I don’t know!”

 

“I just thought you were being shy about it? But we all knew,” Ruby states. Emma pulls at her hair, fingers pressing against her scalp as she paces the short length of her kitchen.

 

“Everybody keeps saying that!”

 

Ruby watches her patiently, eyes tracking her movement from the archway to the far wall and back. “No offense, Em? But it’s starting to feel like you’re the only one who didn’t?”

 

“This isn’t how it works! I can’t be Regina’s girlfriend,” Emma exclaims, pausing in her marathon just to look wide-eyed and in disbelief. Ruby raises an eyebrow at her, a look so similar to Marian’s from earlier that Emma draws back. 

 

“Why not? I’m pretty sure she’d say yes.”

 

Emma shakes her head because no one seems to understand, and she can’t seem to convince anyone of the truth. “I don’t love her like that.”

 

“You don’t? Then what’s all this?”

 

“What?”

 

“This,” Ruby says, sweeping her hands around the apartment, much like she’d done the week before. She doesn’t point out anything specific this time round, just makes Emma take in her own living space, and continues, “Most parts of your life revolve around Regina, they have since you begged her to be your friend. What I’m not understanding is why you’re so scared of this, Emma. You’ve been dating for years, doofus.”

 

Emma can’t argue back, because Ruby is right. Even the decision to rent this very apartment stemmed from Regina living only a 15 minute walk away, so how can Emma deny any of Ruby’s knowing accusations? 

 

She is dumbstruck again. “But I—”

 

Ruby shuts her down. “Hey! Stop talking yourself out of a good thing,” she yells. Ruby is good at loving Emma aggressively and Emma is good at never knowing how to respond. 

 

Emma’s lips clamp shut. She must look as dazed as she feels because Ruby sighs and holds her hand out expectantly. “Give me your phone because I’m sweating and you’re definitely paying for my uber home.”

 

 

 

 

Emma’s been in the shower for much too long.

 

It’s one of her thinking spots and she really can’t stop reflecting about her relationship with Regina. To be fair, Regina hasn’t left her mind the whole week, or if she’s being honest with herself, the last 10 years. 

 

So she’s been hopelessly unhappy without Regina, does that mean she’s in love with her best friend? Can’t it mean friendship to want to spend most of her free time with a person? To miss their sultry laugh that turns goofy and loud at a drop, and their lip scar from a childhood incident involving Zelena and a cat, and the forehead vein you know they’re self-conscious about?

 

She loves Regina, that’s a truth she can admit as readily as the sun rises every morning. She loves Regina so much her life is dull and listless when Regina is gone. She hasn’t had to deal with this kind of yearning for 10 lucky years, not since Regina brought contentment to her just by being around her, until Emma ruined it all.

 

She can’t let go and she knows it, so what does that mean? She knows at this moment even if her life moved on, Regina would always be missing, and Emma would always be aware of it.

 

And if it’s physical, then Emma could go and have any number of one night stands. When she thinks about it, it’s been more than a year since she’s been with anybody but Regina. If she really wants to dig deep, it’s been a lot longer than that since she’s thought of anyone else in that capacity at all.

 

She misses Regina with a soul-deep ferocity, can barely imagine a full life without her, and can’t have sex with anyone else.

 

God, it’s barely a revelation, more of an acknowledgement than anything so dramatic. 

 

She is in love with Regina, probably has been since she first laid eyes on her and imprinted without comprehending any of the following raging emotions.

 

Regina is monumentally out of her league but she somehow got the girl anyway, just to let her own refusal to understand her feelings get in the way.

 

Ruby and Regina and a lot of other people are right, she is an idiot.

 

She’s out from under the spray in a second, shutting it off and toweling herself dry with speediness and no precision. In minutes she’s decent and out the door running.

 

It’s a 15 minute walk but an 8 minute run. Emma is choking and way too hot when she arrives, ringing the doorbell then banging on the door, calling Regina’s name.

 

Lights come on and Emma steps back just as Regina opens the door. 

 

She looks so beautiful, standing under the glow of the foyer light, bare lips puckered in worry. Emma takes the chance to drink her in, Regina is in her ridiculous robe and her hair is sticking up like Emma knows it does when she’s been laying in bed. 

 

“Emma.” Regina looks uneasy and Emma realizes she must look somewhat alarming, with wet hair she couldn’t find time to brush through and sweat glistening on her face.

 

“Hi, can I come in?” Emma asks, swallowing the saliva building in her mouth. She’s out of breath with one hand on her hip, trying to stay upright.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Emma tries to stand straight, which winds her some more. She’s really been slacking on cardio lately and it’s showing at the worst time, but Regina looks so worried about her and it means she still cares, right?

 

She grins, feeling the warmth of Regina’s attention for the first time in too long. “Yeah, I just maybe ran when I should’ve driven? Can I please come in?”

 

“It’s midnight,” Regina states reluctantly, not moving an inch.

 

“I know, I’m sorry, I just need to tell you something.”

 

“Can you tell me here?”

 

Emma frowns and of course it isn’t going to be easy, but Emma won’t be cowed now. “I know I can’t ask you for anything right now, but Regina, please?”

 

“Come in, Miss Swan,” Regina sighs, pulling the door open wide enough for Emma to walk through. 

 

Regina hasn’t called her by her surname in a number of months, always pulls it out when Emma is confusing her. She can’t possibly know how much pleasure Emma derives from it. 

 

It gives her a little bit of bravery, and Emma stands with her hands in her pockets when Regina turns after closing the door, staring her down.

 

“I love you,” she says with no preamble.

 

Regina doesn’t let any emotion peek through at first. She smiles sadly, then gently shakes her head. “Emma, we’re going to be okay, I promise, I just need some time to—”

 

“No, I mean I’m in love with you.”

 

Emma smiles too, the oh-shucks-did-I-say-that? kind of smile which would annoy Regina on anyone else, but only ever endears Emma to her that much more. Emma seems to be the exception to many things in Regina’s life.

 

She runs a frustrated hand through her hair, because Emma wants her to stay and will say anything and give anything for someone not to leave. Regina won’t have Emma lying to herself, submitting herself to a godforsaken life just so Regina won’t go. 

 

“No you’re not.”

 

Emma’s eyes flash and her temper is about to rocket but it’s her fault. She’s the one who gave Regina a week to weave conclusions from her behaviour. She can only try to tell the truth and hope Regina understands. “Yes I am, and I’m sorry, okay? I’m really sorry I was so shitty to you—”

 

Regina wraps her arms protectively around her waist, pressing her back against her front door. Emma almost reaches out to soothe her on instinct.

 

“Emma stop, don’t do this. You don’t have to do this,” Regina says, looking at Emma helplessly before turning her gaze to the hallway over her shoulder. “Zelena told me you overheard our conversation. I understand. I know you and you’ve been nothing but upfront and I just… set myself up.”

 

Emma blinks at her. “That’s not fair.”

 

“Emma.”

 

“So you’re not going to believe me when I say I’m in love with you and want to be with you, but I have to believe you when you say you love me and reject me? How is that fair?” Emma clenches her fists, looks askance at a damned ugly painting Regina has up the wall so she won’t burst into tears at the injustice. 

 

She’s always loved the fantastical landscape of an imagined Oz hung next to Regina’s downstairs bath. She loves even more that Regina will never take it down even though she thinks it’s an eyesore, because Zelena painted it for her (as a joke really, but Emma’s never to tell on penalty of death).

 

“Emma.”

 

She hangs her head. “Stop saying my name like that.”

 

“Like what?” Regina asks. She sounds as defeated as Emma feels, and they stand on opposing sides of Regina’s foyer, trying so hard to mend a break which shouldn’t have broken them at all. 

 

“Like it’s hard for you when you’re the one who’s saying no,” Emma says. She’s crying openly now as she looks up at Regina, unable to hold back tears any longer. Regina looks stricken when Emma keeps talking. “I’m sorry. I’m going to spend a long time saying sorry because I really fucked up and I miss you so much it’s driving me insane. I pick up my phone every hour to tell you something stupid and then realize you probably don’t want to hear from me right now, and that hurts like hell. I thought about you getting back together with Mal and I forced myself to be okay with it, because I always thought I was the person you had fun with until you found your soulmate.”

 

Regina’s mouth opens in stunned silence and Emma grasps the opportunity to tell the truth she hopes gets through to Regina. “But what if I’m your soulmate?” she asks.

 

Regina presses her lips back together and practically scoffs. “Soulmates don’t exist.”

 

Emma presses on, takes a step forward because they’re getting somewhere, she can tell. “But if they did, wouldn’t I be yours? Because everyone in the world is certain you’re mine, and I think they’re right.”

 

“We’re not going to fall apart because I made some bad choices, Emma,” Regina says, always ready to be a martyr. Her arms have fallen away to her sides and she’s looking directly at Emma just as Emma closes the distance one step more. 

 

“You are being so stubborn, Regina, and guess what? I knew you were going to be like this because I know you just like you know me.” Emma smiles ruefully. She’s shocking herself with her confession just as much as Regina, but it feels right and hard won, and she’s not going to stop until Regina tells her to. “Believe me, I've been in love with you for years and the biggest mistake of my life was having you and acting like it didn’t matter because I was scared you would realize I’m not good enough for you.”

 

Regina’s heated glare is vicious when she bites out, “Don’t be an idiot.” Yet she still softens as Emma confidently eliminates the remaining space between them. Emma slides her hands over the tops of Regina’s shoulders, feels the tension fall away as she holds Regina’s arms.

 

“Do you believe me?” Emma asks. Regina stares at her for a long while, while Emma waits and waits. 

 

Eventually, she allows Emma to lean her forehead against hers and let’s their hands tangle together. As soon as they make contact, Emma feels Regina release a satisfied sigh she tries to stifle, but it’s too late, and Emma is smiling so wide her cheeks are sore. 

 

The relief from the week-long ache in her chest feels like flying. Regina smiles tremulously. Her eyes sparkle when she mutters, “Yes, I suppose I have to.”

 

“Are you gonna let me kiss you?” Emma whispers, moving back just to stare at Regina’s lips. There’s a smirk hiding behind a challenging look. Regina sighs melodramatically, says in the most falsely cool tone, “If you insist.

 

Emma lurches forward to capture Regina’s lips mid-monologue. Regina anticipates her, doesn’t startle at all, and opens up under Emma so perfectly Emma can only hold her tighter. She tastes the same as she has in the last year, warm and soft, and there’s nothing to relearn but everything to savor. 

 

Emma kisses Regina into the door again, makes sure to pad her head with her hand so she doesn’t give Regina a concussion. She pulls a dirty trick, gently pulls Regina’s hair so she groans as Emma disconnects their lips and says plainly, “Girlfriends, okay? That’s what we are, exclusively.”

 

Regina blinks back at her, and laughs hoarsely in Emma’s face. She reaches up to place an affectionate palm on Emma’s cheek. Emma leans into the gesture and Regina’s voice is fond enough to make Emma cry again as she concedes, “Yes Emma.”

 

“Will you tell Mal to back the fuck off then?” Emma pushes her luck. Regina gives her an unsympathetic look that has Emma sheepishly murmur an unrepentant, “Sorry.”

 

Regina clasps Emma’s face in her hands, bringing Emma’s attention back to her eyes. They’re crinkled in happiness and Emma melts into the arms holding her up. 

 

“Believe me, Emma, Mal isn’t close to competition,” Regina reassures her, and Emma knows in her heart it’s true. 

 

“I know.” 

 

The adrenaline carrying Emma to this moment ebbs away and Emma is practically a puddle on the floor. She needs to say it again before she drains right through the floorboards.

 

“I love you,” she tells Regina, grinning at the truth of it, then she realizes something else. “You’ve never actually said it to me, you know.”

 

Regina looks at her like she’s a circus act, but her smile is full of love and promise when she says, “Emma, I am more in love with you than I could’ve even imagined possible.”

 

Emma beams, nodding lazily like she hadn’t been crying at the thought of Regina not feeling the same less than 5 minutes ago.  “Cool. I mean, same, obviously,” Emma finishes lamely.

 

Regina rolls her eyes hard, pushes Emma’s clavicle softly so they separate. Emma pouts at her, leans forward to kiss her again and meets the hard wood of an antique front door instead.

 

Regina's laugh reverberates down the hall, free and joyful. Henry the cat watches them warily from the top of the stairs as Regina leads Emma up by hand and Emma loudly whines about needing to be kissed better.

 

 

 

 

Zelena’s smugly sipping her whiskey sour with Marian perched on her lap. Nobody pays them one bloody mind when they’re on again, whatever that means to 2 adults who’ve obviously been into each other since they were teenagers. 

 

Emma will have to get on that. Well, once Zelena stops making fun of her, maybe. 

 

“You have me to thank for all of this,” Zelena states, ignoring Marian’s snort and Emma’s creased brow. She clarifies, “If I hadn’t had that conversation with Regina like the best older sister I am, you wouldn’t have gotten it together at all.”

 

Emma makes a show of laughing out loud, then glowers. “You told Regina to get back together with Mal.”

 

“Reverse psychology, I was always on your side,” Zelena says with narrowed eyes just as Regina enters the room. 

 

“Zelena, stop torturing Emma, please,” she says, sitting close to Emma on the loveseat. Emma thanks her as she passes over her drink and wishes Regina would sit on her lap like she would if they were alone. A hand lands on her thigh, fingers curling into her inner thighs, and Emma stops pining for closeness she can have.

 

“I’m just making sure everyone knows where we stand,” Zelena says tersely.

 

The doorbell rings and Ruby’s muffled screaming shakes a laugh out of Marian. “You should stand to answer the door.”

 

Zelena gives her the stink-eye, stands without warning so Marian purposefully tumbles onto the floor. They’re bickering as Marian follows Zelena to the door and Emma looks over to Regina smiling serenely at the scene playing out.

 

The distant sounds of their friends clambering indoors and shucking off jackets as they hug and kiss urges Emma to collect this moment for just her and Regina, before their loved ones descend and force them to explain themselves. 

 

She moves to press a hand against the side of Regina’s jaw, thumb brushing cheek as she turns Regina’s eyes to her. 

 

“Ready for the inquisition?” she asks quietly, and kisses Regina before she can teach Emma anything about the Spanish inquisition. Emma knows Regina will make her stop as soon as her lipstick might get compromised, but she still lets Emma kiss her softly, up until Emma’s tongue makes an appearance.

 

“I love you,” Emma says, happiness clinging to her like a second skin.

 

Regina smirks, presses another kiss to Emma’s willing lips, then says, “I love you, too.”

 

“I knew it!” Mary Margaret yells, appearing in the doorway to point a finger at them. Their bubble falls away as their friends march in to coo and caw over them. 

 

Emma stays close to Regina and holds her hand tight.