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Third time is (sort of) the Charm

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Sometimes, two people look each other in the eyes and they’re done for. They know they belong together, and they’ll tell their friends, “this is the girl I’m going to marry one day.”

And sometimes, it takes two people years to figure it out because they’re too stubborn, too scared, or too caught up in their own world to see what’s oh, so clear for everyone else.

This story is about the latter pair. It’s about two people who hate each other at first sight, but who might have more in common than they originally think. It’s a tale about two women who, in normal circumstances, would probably never have met, but sometimes fate gives a little shove into a particular direction.

Let’s start by introducing our key players. Meet Regina Mills. At the start of this story, she’s twenty-one years old, just about to start her fourth year at NYU. She’s returned home for summer break but really can’t wait to go back to New York. Her mother is constrictive, manipulative, controlling, and in general, the worst, if you ask Regina. Regina had really wanted to go and study journalism, but her mother had forbidden it and had steered her towards law, instead - a direction Regina secretly loathes because her mother wants it, but her mother’s influence reaches far and wide, and if Regina ever wants to leave Storybrooke, she must obey her mother’s wishes.

The relationship between Regina and her mother is strained, at best. Cora Mills is a control freak and loves to control her daughter the most. Wardrobe choices, pressuring, even bullying her into participating in political events with her - Cora has been mayor of Storybrooke for as long as Regina can remember - deciding who she should be friends with, even approved boyfriends - Cora wanted to have a say in everything that happened in Regina’s life. “We have a status to uphold,” she would always say. Cora’s interloping didn’t always work, but it had led to Regina resenting her mother for only wanting to keep up her own appearances. The only way to be defiant was within certain boundaries, which is why she befriended Tina Bell, the daughter of a very rich, influential woman who Cora despises - but because of that family’s status, there’s not much Cora can do about it. Tina hung out with Regina for that very same reason - Blue hates Cora with the same passion. They lost touch when Regina left for New York, but they meet up occasionally when Regina is at home. 

Enter Emma Swan, an eighteen-year-old rebellious, runaway orphan, who left her last group home the moment she graduated high school. Her experiences with being abandoned at the side of the road when she was just a few days old and bouncing between foster homes and orphanages until she was eighteen, have hardened her. The only thing that’s really stuck with her - except for several unprocessed traumas she carries with her - were the words of a social worker who, after her third time running away from a foster family, encouraged her to at least stick around long enough to finish high school.

She took that to heart, and she did. And the moment she got that little piece of paper, she stuffed it in her worn-down duffel bag and left Boston. It took her a few weeks to end up in Storybrooke, and when she got off the Greyhound with her last money she wanted to snatch something to eat at the local supermarket.

Only, Storybrooke is small and outsiders get noticed. When she tried to stuff a candy bar in her pocket, the store’s owner had accused her of stealing and it was Tina Bell who rescued her. 

See the common ground, there?

Now we’ve established the key players, let’s start at the beginning when Regina meets Emma.

It happens when Regina parks her Mercedes next to the park. She’s really looking forward to leaving this town because a few weeks back home with her mother is intense and leaves her with pent-up anger and a lot of frustration. She longs for the freedom that New York gives her, even though her mother has eyes everywhere. 

It’s a pity that she’ll have to spend the first ten hours (including breaks) of that freedom with the person that’s currently eating her best friend’s face. Regina wrinkles her nose in disgust as she watches the scene in front of her. The blonde is literally all over the place and Regina rolls her eyes a couple of times before she loudly scrapes her throat to draw attention.

“Oh! Regina, you’re here!” Tina giggles, breaking away temporarily from the blonde’s lips with a flustered face. “It’s so kind of you to offer Emma a ride to New York.”

A waterfall of blonde curls tumbles over her shoulder as the woman jerks her head around, shoots her a smirk, and nods at her. Regina stares into the greenest eyes she’s ever seen and she frowns when her heart skips a beat. She’s just startled, she tells herself. 

“I didn’t,” Regina huffs, slightly distracted, and blinks to regain her focus. “You decided that all for me.” 

It’s true. Tina had contacted her, said that her girlfriend was also going to New York and that it was probably easier for them to travel together. Regina had wanted to protest but before she could say anything, Tina had said, “Okay, that’s settled!” and Regina had been like, “ Fine .” So that was that.

Tina rolls her eyes and waves impatiently. “Emma, this is Regina. Regina, Emma.” 

“Hi. Nice to meet you,” the blonde says with a playful smirk around her lips. Emma turns back to Tina, who grabs her face again and presses their lips together passionately and Regina rolls her eyes again , because really - and smashes her fist against the horn. 

Emma and Tina jump apart and Regina sweetly smiles an apology. “Sorry. I slipped.” She gets out of the car and pops the trunk, so Emma can get her duffel back in. Emma stuffs it inside and puts a plastic bag on the back seat. Regina frowns disapprovingly, but doesn’t mention it.

“Nice ride,” the blonde says before Tina snakes an arm around her waist and pulls her in for a goodbye kiss. Regina huffs, rolls her eyes once more and tries to ignore the untasteful sounds they’re making as she slips behind the wheel. Some people are beyond disgusting, she thinks.

“I’ll call you when I get there,” Emma says with a purr, and Tina laughs. 

“Call me halfway. I’m gonna miss you.” She pouts, and Regina scoffs. Really, why Tina lowers herself to this behavior is beyond her. Sure, she’ll admit that the blonde is attractive but such a public display of affection? No. Regina is a bit more refined. 

“I miss you already,” Emma says breathily, giving Tina one last peck on her lips before she reluctantly lets go, rounds the car, and drops down ungracefully in the passenger seat. Regina can’t help but shake her head with a scoff as she turns the key and the car starts humming. With a final wave to Tina, they pull out. Emma turns around, waves at the figure that is quickly becoming smaller until Tina is out of view, and falls back into the seat. 

“So,” Regina says as soon as the park is out of sight and Emma drops back in her seat, “You didn’t go to school here, did you?”

“Nope,” Emma says. “I hitchhiked here after finishing high school and met Tina. And I decided to stay a little while, but now I’ve got to go back.”

“Oh. Okay,” she says, and it’s beyond her why Tina would pick up a street rat.

Actually, she’s still not really sure why she is bringing said street rat along. “Can you drive?” she asks disdainfully.

“Don’t have a license, but I can,” Emma shrugs while stretching her limbs.

“Then I’ll drive,” Regina snorts, eyes flashing to Emma’s legs before she focuses on the road again. No way someone without a license is getting behind the wheel of her Mercedes, no matter how well they say they can drive. “It’s going to be a road trip of over 7 hours and there will be breaks every 2 hours. So it’s going to take us around 10, which means we should arrive there late this evening.”

Emma doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in her schedule and leans over to the backseat. Regina frowns, annoyed. How impolite. The young woman rummages through the plastic bag she placed on the backseat moments before, can’t reach what she’s looking for, so dives in further, which leaves Regina talking to her ass. Uncivil, but then again, it confirms her earlier suspicions that Emma doesn’t have manners at all. She’s brazen and obtrusive, and Regina dislikes her already. “There’s a map on the visor that I’ve marked to show the locations where we can stop.” Emma returns to her seat, looks at the map but doesn’t take it, buckles up again, and chews on a grape.

She offers her a grape, too, but Regina declines, a lip curled up in disdain. “No. I don’t like to eat between meals.” Emma shrugs, a tiny smile around her mouth, Regina sees from the corner of her eyes, and she tightens her hands around the steering wheel while clenching her jaws together. This girl is pushing all the wrong buttons without even saying a lot - she completely rubs Regina the wrong way.

And then, after Emma chews meticulously on a grape, she spits out the seed - against the window. Regina’s eyes widen and she’s horrified by the incident, and Emma seems startled, as well. “Sorry,” she says, a little sheepishly. “I’ll roll down the window.”

“You can also just stop spitting them out of the window,” Regina snaps. Ill-mannered, obtrusive, and disgusting. She really doesn’t know what Tina sees in her and is definitely going to ask her about this idiot the first time she gets to a phone.

“What, you’re going to keep them for me until we reach a trash can?” Emma drawls. “I can put them here, on the dashboard, if you like, but it’s all organic material, you know.” She places one chewed-out seed at the dashboard and ugh, gross. Regina’s eyes widen in revulsion. Not going to happen.

“Fine. Spit them out,” she concedes with a murmur. Emma grins smugly, happy with the tiny victory. And to Regina’s dismay, she continues to spit the seeds out of the window during the first half-hour of their trip. She feels how the frustration inside her is building up steadily and wonders if she can survive the next nine hours without exploding in anger or strangling the woman next to her.

Emma, on her end, finds she likes to rile up the stuck-up girl next to her. Regina is dismissive, elitist, clearly privileged, and as someone who’s never had a lot more than the clothes on her back, she can’t stand the entitlement of her kind of people. 

But hey, Tina had said that Regina was one of her best friends and it would save her a lot of time and especially money to go to New York if they would drive together. So here she is, in a car with a person whose kind she dislikes. 

Tina. Emma smirks fondly, her mind wandering for a bit. Tina is a beautiful, rich girl - the exception to the disliking rule, Emma thinks - who’s trying to defy her parents by going out with a juvenile delinquent - at least that’s what her mom had called Emma to her face when Tina had brought her home to an enormous mansion. Tina’s mom, always distinguishably dressed in blue - God, did she even know people called her Blue behind her back - had wrinkled her nose in disdain when she’d seen Emma. And Emma, who never really had a problem by irritating the crap out of obnoxious rich people, had slipped her arm around Tina’s shoulders and had smiled smugly while pressing a kiss against Tina’s temple. Tina had beamed up at her and her mom had nearly choked on her outrage. Emma’s lips curl up in a satisfied smile when she thinks back to that fine moment.

She really liked Tina but knew it couldn’t last - not just because of their very different backgrounds, but also because Emma is a restless runner, incapable of establishing emotional connections. People leave you. People eventually betray your trust, that’s all that Emma knows, so it’s better to leave them first before they abandon you. So, when she told Tina she really should go to New York because she had a job offer waiting for her there - a blatant lie - Tina had said that her bestest friend Regina would drive there, and she told her that she had asked Regina if Emma could ride with her.

It’s obvious that she hadn’t really asked, because the woman seems enormously unhappy with the situation. Emma shrugs. She’s been unwanted her entire life, so she’s really used to the feeling. And she knows the type, too - elitist, stuck-up, condescending, a little like Tina’s mom. Pulls up her nose for anything that doesn’t meet her poor little rich standards, thinks she’s better than half the world while she hasn’t seen anything of it yet. She suppresses a scoff.

“So,” Emma asks, wanting to break the silence, slowly chewing on another grape, “Tina says this is your fourth year in New York. Any recommendations?”

“Recommendations?” Regina says, a little surprised because of the sudden question, while she curls up her nose in disgust as Emma spits out another seed. Emma smirks. She knows she’ll continue to do this until all the grapes are gone, even if it gives her a stomach ache, just because it annoys the crap out of the rich girl behind the wheel. Ruffling Regina’s feathers is going to be her favorite pastime the next couple of hours, she smiles.

“We’ve got more than nine hours to kill before we hit New York,” Emma shrugs. “Better talk about something .”

“I fear that I don’t have a lot of recommendations,” Regina says stiffly. “I don’t go out much. I’m there to study. Not to party.” Her voice is dismissive - maybe she is telling the truth about her life, or maybe she’s just not eager to talk about it. Emma doesn’t really care, she just looks at Regina. Her outside is beautiful. Regina has thick, dark brown hair, stiffly braided over her shoulder. She has dark brown eyes, laced with dark, long lashes, a straight nose, and beautiful, full lips. 

Her inside, however, sucks big time.

“Well, that’s boring,” Emma decides, as she lets her eyes slide over the small figure sitting next to her. She sees how Regina tenses, as if she can feel she’s being watched. “What are you studying?”

“Law.”

“Even more boring.” 

“I wanted to become a journalist,” Regina confesses then, and it’s a piece of information that Emma hadn’t suspected - and Regina seems a little surprised by her own admission. “But Mother decided otherwise.”

“You let your mother dictate what you should study and who you should be? That’s fucked up.”

Regina turns her head towards Emma, and Emma sees how her eyes flash. “You don’t know anything about my life. And you definitely don’t know my mother,” she snaps.

“Yeah yeah,” Emma snorts. “Poor little rich girl, running from your mom. Got that already.”

“From where I’m watching, you’re running just as hard,” Regina retorts sharply, and Emma nearly chokes on her grape by that rightful observation. She decides not to engage and instead, pops another grape in her mouth and chews meticulously. Sees how a tiny muscle in Regina’s jaw moves and is a little fascinated with it.

“So,” Emma slowly says, after spitting out another seed which forced her to look away from Regina's features, “you want to be a reporter. So, what, you can write about other things that happen to other people?” 

Regina blinks, casts her a dignified look. “I want to tell real stories, stories that matter. I want to… change things,” she says, before turning her eyes on the road again. 

Emma tilts her head and her eyebrows nearly disappear under her hairline. “Change what things?”

“Change lives,” Regina confidently says, an idealistic smile tugging at her lip. 

Emma carries a lot of pent-up hurt and frustration about her youth, her foster homes, her shitty life in general, and she can’t really believe that she’s hearing that a stuck-up rich girl declares she can change lives by just writing a little piece of paper. It’s all too easy to release all that frustration at this very moment, as yet another woman who has no idea what she’s talking about pretends to have the answers for the shitty lives of people like her. Rich people are selfish, Emma bitterly thinks. Spoiled and out of touch with the reality of how the rest of the people live their lives. “What is it with you rich bitches and wanting to change the world?” she snarks.

“Excuse me?” Regina retorts sharply and Emma is happy to enlighten her.

“You have those idealistic, condescending views on the rest of the people, feel that because of your background, because you’ve got money for a decent education, you know better than everyone else - no, you feel that you’re better than everyone else,” Emma says, but her voice grows more agitated when she continues. “What is it with this need to want to tell everyone what’s good for them and what’s not? What the hell do you know about the real world, anyway? You don’t even live in it! The real world is hard and cruel and you’ve got to fight for your spot. You’re not going to change anything just because you want it to happen or write an essay about it. Because the system is a big bureaucratic machine and you’re just going to be a little cog in the wheel and nobody’s going to change fuck just because you want it.”

Regina is stunned into silence for a few moments after this outburst and doesn't really know how to reply to it. The silence between them is heavy for a few seconds.

“For the sake of argument, what happens after?” Emma asks, calmer now. “After you’ve... changed and educated the world?” Her tone is mocking, and Regina's eyes flick from Emma back to the road, her brow furrowed. The uncertainty in Regina’s posture is new, but welcome after the condescension of moments before. “After you’ve educated the world, then what? You’re going to win the Pulitzer? Be the best of the bunch? You strike me as wanting to be the best of the bunch. All work, no play, right. But then what? What’s your life gonna be?”

“I-”

“Suppose you live your whole life and nothing happens?” Emma goes on, “You never meet anybody because you live for your career, you never become anything, and finally you die one of those New York deaths, where nobody notices for weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway? You wanna spend all your life worrying about other people and never living your own?” She shoots another seed out of the window, a little more aggressive than before.

Regina throws her a disbelieving look. It’s frustrating how easily Emma shoots down everything she is, everything she wants and does, in an instant. Emma accuses her of being condescending, but honestly, she shows some pretty condescending behavior of her own. And she concludes that she detests Emma with a passion that could light a thousand suns. 

Emma raises her eyebrow, decides she despises Regina and her elitist, obnoxious ways. Someone should teach her a lesson on how the real world works, she thinks, and it’s not like Emma has something else to do right now, anyway. 

“Tina mentioned you had a dark side,” Regina huffs after a few seconds of silence. 

Emma smirks and takes it as a compliment, as Regina shifts uncomfortably. “That’s what drew her to me,” she lazily replied, stretching her arms above her head, watching Regina’s reaction from the corner of her eyes.

“Your dark side?” There’s a look of disbelief on Regina’s face, but she doesn’t turn her head to look at Emma. However, she does follow her movements from the corner of her eyes.

“Sure. Why, don’t you have a dark side?” Emma takes her in, the way she’s sitting regally behind her wheel. Back straight, hands-on two and ten at the wheel. Pure perfection, she sarcastically thinks. “No,” she answers her own question, “you’re probably one of those cheerful people, who dots their ‘i's with little hearts.”

Regina looks outraged. “I have just as much of a dark side as the next person,” she huffs.

“Oh, really?” Emma shifts, so she can watch both the verbal and nonverbal responses of the woman sitting next to her. Regina has this vein on her forehead that comes out when she’s agitated. Her jaw tightens whenever Emma says something Regina dislikes. And she’s crushing the steering wheel with her iron, white-knuckled grip. 

“When I read a new book,” Emma tells her with a corner of her mouth raised, “I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, at least I know how it ends. That, Your Majesty, is a dark side.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Regina retorts with a huff, her mouth downturned and a frown on her face. “And you know nothing about me. You’re not my friend. You’re my friend’s girlfriend and that’s that.”

“Does that bother you?” Emma sits up a little straighter and tilts her head a little, genuinely curious about the answer. The thought that that ’s why Regina has been a stuck-up bitch, unsettles her strangely enough.

“What does?”

“That Tina’s gay? That I am?”

“Don’t be an imbecile,” Regina snorts, and then, with a hint of pride, she adds: “I identify as a bisexual woman, myself.”

Emma blinks at the words - no, at the tone. As if she’s the queen of fucking everything. She snorts. “Well, good for you. Congrats,” she snipes back. She smirks when she sees that the scowl on Regina’s face is back. Really, if she frowns more, her face will never straighten out anymore. She’ll have those wrinkles etched in her forehead forever.

“Are you always so annoying?” Regina huffs. “Your parents must be so proud of you.”

Emma’s surprised when anger flares up, deep inside her belly, because usually, she shrugs off any mention of her parents easily. Not now, though. “Maybe they would’ve been if they hadn’t ditched me at the side of the road when I was a baby,” she snarks, a lot sharper than she intended to. Her words echo in the small space of the car before an uneasy silence settles between them.

“You’re an orphan?” Regina then says, a little quieter than before.

“Yes. And don’t you dare pity me,” Emma stiffly retorts. Regina doesn’t say anything, and now, it’s Emma’s turn to be pissed off and she doesn’t even know why. It’s not that she isn’t used to conversations like these - say, like, every time she’s ever stepped into a new group home, foster family, or school. It’s hardened her, but right now, it feels raw and bloody, like a bandaid has been ripped off of a festering wound. Emma feels vulnerable, and when she does, she lashes out. “You know, there comes a time you wish you’d tried harder with your mom. Be happy that you have one.”

Immediately, Regina raises her chin. Tightens her grip around the wheel. “You don’t know anything about me or my mother,” she says rigidly. “You don’t know anything about how it’s like to be raised in the spotlights, how it’s like when your life is completely dictated by others, with everything you do carefully analyzed under a microscope - and every time you did something that raised eyebrows, being punished for it.”

Now, it’s Emma’s turn to fall silent for a few seconds.

“Actually, I do,” she murmurs. Because in fact, she does know how it feels. Maybe not the spotlight part, but her life too, has been dictated by others and she, too, has been punished for deemed inappropriate behavior. Regina turns her head and so does Emma and for a few seconds, they share a gaze of understanding. 

But it’s hitting too close, and Emma can’t deal with that, and she shakes her head. “Who would’ve thought we had anything in common, right?” she grins.

“I’m nothing like you,” Regina snipes back, but there’s no vitriol in her voice this time - in fact, one of the corners of her mouth curls up briefly, and Emma smirks.

“Well that’s a relief,” Emma lightly retorts, and they resume their bickering.

 

~*~

 

The banter between them goes on for the next couple of hours as the miles and hours pass, but for some reason, it’s a little lighter now. And when they run out of personal things to insult - or more like, tease - each other with, they take their refuge to pets. Regina’s horse specifically when she accidentally mentions she has one, so Emma can again pull out the rich bitch card. Music - Regina mocks Emma with her preferences of angry rock music and is refusing to expose her own taste. Movies - though they both have to silently admit that the other has good taste, as they both seem to like the classics. Regina because those movies are classics and they’re refined, Emma because well, there was never any money to go to the movies, but one of the group homes she stayed in had a huge collection of movies from the sixties and older, and she can probably recite them from front to back.

Still, the truce is fragile and is easily broken while they bicker over a movie. Regina’s high horse is back, and for some reason, it annoys the crap out of Emma, even if it’s about something as simple as Ingrid Bergman’s practical - in Emma, snobbish - decision in the ending of the Casablanca movie.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Casablanca, married to a man who runs a bar.” The disdain is back in Regina’s voice, and she turns off the engine and pulls the keys out of the contact. 

“That’s very snobbish of you,” Emma says, one eyebrow raised. “You’d rather be in a passionless marriage?”

“I’d rather be the first lady of Czechoslovakia.” Regina lifts her nose a little, and ugh, of course, she would. Regina turns a little, grabs her bag from behind her chair.

“Czechoslovakia doesn’t even exist anymore,” Emma snorts, and she catches Regina’s surprised gaze. She furrows her brow. Emma’s not stupid and has always been interested in topography because there are all these places she wants to go to. Even Europe. A runner like her, she’s got to be prepared, right? “Regardless, you’d rather do that than live with a man you’ve had the greatest sex of your life with, just because he owns a bar and that’s all he does?”

“Yes,” Regina immediately answers, chin raised as she checks her appearance in the mirror. “And so would every woman in her right mind. Women are very practical. Even Ingrid Bergman, which is why she gets on the plane at the end of the movie.” she adds with one raised eyebrow before she starts rummaging in her bag. Emma watches her touch up her dark red lipstick before she throws open the car door, and nods at her as if she’s just won a battle. Emma shakes her head at Regina’s practicality. It’s very obvious that the woman hasn’t had many sexual encounters, or in any case, none very great if she would make such a calculated decision. A grin escapes her, but she schools her expression as Regina looks up, disturbed. “What?”

“I understand,” Emma simply says.

“What? What do you understand?” Regina says irritably.

“Forget about it.” Emma lightly waves it away and turns, before she starts to make her way to the diner.

“What? What is it?” Regina says, a little agitated now, voice rising as she speeds up to fall into pace with Emma who’s pulling the door to the diner open. 

“Obviously, if you’re making that choice, you haven’t had great sex yet.” She turns and stalks inside, and leaves Regina baffled, fingers curled around the door.

“Yes I have!” she cries out in outrage, and Emma shrugs with a grin plastered on her face.

“No, you haven’t.”

“It just so happens that I’ve had plenty of good sex,” she barks after her before her eyes widen. 

The diner suddenly falls silent and everyone inside is raising their eyebrows or frowning and someone’s even snorting at her, and Regina’s cheeks redden instantly. Embarrassment heats up her body and she lowers her head which causes her hair to fall in front of her eyes before she quietly slides into the booth that the waitress has pointed out to them.

“With whom?” Emma casually asks, while checking out the menu.

“What?” Regina asks, agitated.

“With whom did you have this great sex?” Her green gaze finds her own above the menu, and god, her eyes are sparkling with mirth. 

Of all the… does this woman not have any decency? Regina is irritated to the core, still flustered, and she grabs one of the menus herself, but the words aren’t making sense because her head is racing and her heart is pounding. She can’t understand why Emma says things like this. For a few hours they had something that resembled a truce, but she feels exposed and embarrassed by this - this obnoxious asshole. She narrows her eyes at the blonde, who stares back with… something that borders on genuine curiosity. Or maybe she’s just a great actress.

“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer,” Regina murmurs.

“Fine, then don’t.” Emma doesn’t seem interested anymore and directs her full attention towards the menu, and it riles Regina up even more. How can she simply let this drop right after Regina’s made a fool out of herself in front of an entire diner? Emma hasn’t even apologized for putting Regina in that situation!

“Daniel Coulter,” she murmurs, and Emma looks at her from over her menu, slightly surprised that Regina doesn’t drop the subject. 

“You did not have great sex with Daniel Coulter,” Emma says with a laugh.

“Yes, I did,” Regina whispers furiously, not wanting to draw attention again. This woman!

“No, you didn’t,” Emma smugly counters. “I’m not saying he didn’t like you or even love you, but Daniels generally are boring. They play it safe. When he grows up, he can do your income taxes, or maybe a root canal.” Her green eyes shimmer again and Regina knows she shouldn’t let this woman get to her. Desperately tries not to react, but it’s nearly impossible as Emma continues and ugh, it’s her own damn fault. “Sex? Not so much. It’s the name, you know. ‘Do it to me, Daniel! You’re an animal, Daniel, let me come.” Emma raises an eyebrow and Regina once again thinks about how much she detests the woman sitting opposite her. Fury bubbles under her skin, and she slams down the menu on the table, ready to tell Emma to walk to New York, but then, the waitress is there to save the day.

Emma is quick to order a large cheeseburger, double fries, and a large coke. All the grease in the order causes Regina’s nose to wrinkle. Disgusting but then again, she snorts, it suits her. And then, the waitress turns to her, and she smiles politely. There’s still this tension knotted in her stomach, but the waitress can’t help the insipid moron who’s sitting opposite of her.

“I’ll have the chef’s salad, please, with the oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie a la mode.” The waitress writes it all down. “But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberries instead of vanilla if you have them. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.” She smiles at the waitress - did she just roll her eyes? - and then turns her eyes back to the menu. 

“Not even the pie?” the waitress asks, and Regina raises her eyebrows at her.

“No, just the pie. But then, not heated.” She turns back to Emma, who simply stares at her, wide-eyed. “What?” she says, a little puzzled.

“Nothing, nothing.” Emma simply shakes her head and easily returns to their subject of conversation. “So, why’d you break up with Daniel?”

“He moved away to the other side of the country,” Regina says neutrally. She’s always suspected that her mother had something to do with it, but Cora never admitted to it. Regardless, the fact remains that she’s never seen him again after she just turned seventeen, and it broke her heart into a thousand little pieces.

Nothing that Emma Swan will understand. And she’s certainly not going to elaborate on her sex life, which was pleasant as it was, thank you very much. Regina isn’t a virgin anymore.

“That sucks.” 

Regina looks up and - wait, is that a little sympathy in Emma’s eyes? But when she blinks it’s gone. She makes a sound somewhere in between a scoff and a hum of agreement. Silence settles between them, and suddenly, Regina feels a little awkward. She doesn’t know why exactly - maybe it’s because she hasn’t mentioned Daniel in ages. She loved him, and then he was gone. It still stings a little. 

Fortunately, they’re saved by the waitress who brings their orders and they eat their food in relative silence.

It is like there’s a new cease-fire during dinner. They are silently consuming their food, and Emma has to say that it’s not all that bad - neither the food which is awesome, nor the company, who’s sunk in her own thoughts and is methodically eating her food. Between bites, chewing, drinking the coke, Emma quietly observes Regina. She is willing to admit to herself that she finds Regina attractive, especially now some rebellious curls have escaped that tight, prudish braid of hers and playfully frame her face. It makes Regina’s appearance softer. More accessible. She studies her through stolen glances until the check comes and Regina looks up, catching her gaze. It is too late for Emma to simply look away and she smiles lopsidedly.

“What?” Regina says, sharply, “Do I have something on my face?” Suddenly self-conscious, she touches her cheeks, grabs a napkin, and bats the corners of her mouth.

“No. I was just thinking that you’re a very attractive woman,” Emma says in a matter-of-fact tone. “Tina never told me how attractive you are.” 

“Thank you,” Regina says, but her back stiffens and her mouth downturns, which makes Emma frown. “And maybe she doesn’t think I’m attractive and that’s why she hasn’t told you.” Regina is clearly not amused with the turn of the conversation and leans a little backward as if she wants to create more distance. Emma shakes her head in exasperation. For god’s sake, she’s giving the woman a compliment but Regina makes it look like she’s being insulted.

“I don’t think that’s a matter of opinion,” Emma retorts with a raised eyebrow, rather serious now. “Empirically, you are attractive.”

“I’m surprised you even know that word,” Regina snaps back, her cheeks delightfully pink, and is highly irritated for no reason at all. Emma snorts in disbelief. There’s no need to be so weird about it, right? “Tina is my friend,” Regina then says pointedly, and it feels like an accusation of sorts. She gets up, grabs her bag, and turns, heads straight for the exit.

“So?” Emma quickly throws a few bills on the table to pay for her own meal and follows Regina, who briefly looks at her in disbelief, but Emma really doesn’t follow.

“So, you’re… going with her,” Regina scowls.

“So?” 

“So, you’re coming on to me!” Regina snaps as she pushes open the door to leave the diner, strides towards the car, away from Emma.

Wait, what? Emma’s brow furrows in confusion. “I’m - no, I wasn’t!” Emma exclaims and follows her, instantly on the defense and frankly, outraged that Regina would think such a thing. “Can’t I just say that I find a woman attractive without it being a come-on?” Regina purses her lips, doesn’t say anything, and marches to her car. 

“All right,” Emma says, giving in because they still have two hours ahead of them, and pissing Regina off is something else than making her feel super-uncomfortable and that wasn’t what she’d wanted. She’d just wanted to give the woman a fucking compliment. “Fine. I’m sorry. I take it back, okay? I take it back.” She yanks open the door to the passenger's side. 

“You can’t.”

“Why not?” Emma exasperates.

“Because it’s already out there!” Regina cries out in outrage.

“Oh, so what are we supposed to do now? Call the cops, it’s already out there!” Emma snorts loudly, lifting her hands to the sky in frustration. This woman!

“Just. Let. It. Lie,” Regina says, voice low, emphasizing every word. She’s almost growling. “All right?”

“Okay!” Emma raises her hands, palms forward as a sign of surrender. “Great. Let it lie. Fine.”  She steps into the car, and Regina does the same. 

The latter pulls the key’s from her pocket and pushes it into the lock a little more violently than necessary and she silently apologizes to her car, gently taking the wheel, squeezing it lightly before turning her head to Emma. 

“We’re just going to be friends, for Tina’s sake,” she sharply says. If she had the choice, she would probably have left Emma here at the sleazy hotel to fend for herself, but that’s not how Regina was raised. She’s started something, and now she has to finish it. Besides, this place isn’t something she wishes on any woman, all by herself.

There's a silence weighing on their shoulders as Regina pulls out of the parking lot and hits the road again. But after a few seconds, Emma remarks, “You realize that we can never be friends.”

Regina sighs and rolls her eyes, but she can’t help but ask, “Why’s that?”

“What I’m saying is… and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form,” Emma says hastily, hands already up in a yielding manner, “is that people who are attracted to each other can’t be friends, because the sex always gets in the way.”

Regina nearly chokes on her breath. “In which delusional fantasy do I find you attractive?” Regina barks, but Emma just hums, lifts a corner of her mouth and Regina can’t look at her because she has to watch the road, but her cheeks are flushed from the boiling anger she carries inside about the blatant assumption. Sure, Emma has the prettiest eyes she’s ever seen and yes, she’s noticed the way her hair topples over her shoulders and cascades down her back and that she slouches a little, but that doesn’t mean she finds her attractive. That’s just… genetics. An empirical observation, she wryly thinks.

“I think a lot of people are beautiful. I don’t want to have sex with all of them,” Regina retorts vehemently. 

“There’s a difference between thinking someone’s beautiful and being attracted to someone. 

Everyone that finds you attractive wants to have sex with you. And so do you. It’s biology. And therefore, you can never be friends with the people you find attractive because stuff always gets in the way. Not really.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Yes, you do.”

“That basically means that you can only be friends with people you find unattractive?” She shakes her head in disbelief.

Emma smiles lazily and stretches her legs and arms over her head. Unwillingly, Regina follows the movement from the corner of her eyes before she focuses on the road ahead again, definitely not interested in how Emma’s muscles flex and how her shirt spans over her chest. And Emma replies with a soft, slightly hoarse chuckle that makes a shiver run down her spine. “If your libido’s up for it, you’d probably want to do them, too.”

The implication that Regina would ever just… fornicate like that, is too absurd to grasp and she blinks rapidly. The audacity . “What if I didn’t want to have sex?” she says, a little prudish.

“Doesn’t matter,” Emma answers seriously, “because the attraction is already out there and then, any kind of friendship is already doomed.”

Well,” Regina murmurs, “If you feel like that, I guess we’re never going to be friends, then.” And frankly, she doesn’t even care. She didn’t want to be friends with this god-awful woman in the first place.

“Guess not.”

And Regina is both annoyed and relieved that Emma drops the subject and that the ride will only take them only a little over an hour. And when they finally hit New York, Regina is grateful to see the skyscrapers ahead, and proud of herself that she didn’t leave Emma at the side of the road or that she hasn’t killed the blonde and dumped her in a ditch somewhere.

She navigates to the designated drop-off point for Emma, parks, and they both get out. 

“Well, thanks for the ride,” Emma says, taking the duffel bag from the trunk and swinging it over her shoulder while holding the plastic bag in her hand. 

“Yes. It was... interesting,” Regina says, hands at her waist until Emma extends her free hand for Regina to shake.

“It was nice knowing you,” Emma smiles, and she tilts her head and lifts one eyebrow. Maybe she’s daring Regina not to take it, but Regina won’t lower herself to that level and grabs the offered hand. They’re both a little surprised when they feel the softness of each other’s palms and something’s tingling under their skin, so they both quickly withdraw and step away from each other. 

“Have a nice life,” Regina says while moving back to the passenger's door. Emma turns one last time, shoots her a smirk.

“You, too.”

And that’s where their first meeting ends. Regina absolutely loathes Emma for insinuating everything that she has during their road trip, and Emma finds Regina an obnoxious, stuck-up bitch that isn’t worth a second thought, and soon, they’re a distant memory in each other’s lives. 

Chapter Text

So, Regina and Emma part ways, but it’s not the last time the two of them meet. They meet again, about five years after their first encounter. A lot happens before that happens which shapes both their lives, so let’s have a look at what happens in their lives before they see each other again.

Emma, who has a knack for attracting bad luck, manages to get into trouble and does so the minute she leaves Regina’s car. She tries to steal a car - a yellow Beetle - which, apparently, is already a stolen vehicle - and she gets caught red-handed by Neal, the guy who had initially stolen the car, and who proposes to team up for a little while and Emma thinks, why the hell not. It’s not like she has anywhere else to be. Besides, not being alone for a while also doesn’t suck. And they make a pretty good team for a while, shoplifting their way between food and supplies. In a drunken moment, she even has sex with him, but ugh, gross . It’s a one-time thing and never again. And the feeling is mutual.

After a little while, Neal asks her to pick up something from a locker at Grand Central Station, while he scores their next meal. She shrugs, agrees, goes to the train station, opens the locker. Before she even gets the chance to wonder what Neal’s deal is with watches, she is arrested on the spot. Of course, the watches are stolen, and of course, Neal is nowhere to be found. And of course, the cops don’t believe her when she tells them that the watches aren’t hers and that she was simply here to pick them up for a (so-called) friend.  

Even her pro bono lawyer, Robin Locksley, with a condescending air that resembles Regina’s, doesn’t believe her and wants her to plead guilty - she’ll have a record, but it saves her time in prison. Outraged, she refuses, and her sorry ass lands in jail for two years. Had she listened to him, it would’ve been a year, but her sense of righteousness had gotten in the way, as had his patronizing behavior that she simply couldn’t stand.

To make matters even worse , her drunken one-night stand with the asshole first class that set her up to get caught has major consequences. She finds out she is pregnant on the very same day that said asshole sends her the key to the yellow bug as a peace offering, two days before Christmas but, of course, doesn’t leave a return address. So without any means to contact him, she can’t even tell him that she’s going to give birth to his child.

Imprisoned and pregnant, without a place to call her own and very little chance of building a steady life in this godforsaken city, she realizes she is in no shape to take care of a child, her child. It hurts her more than anything anyone has ever done to her to make the heartbreaking decision to give up her baby, to repeat the circle that had been her own life, but she doesn’t want her child to be in the dark about why she gave him up, so at eight months pregnant, she writes him a letter, places it in an envelope alongside a picture of his ultrasound, and implicitly tells the social worker that he should not be given the envelope until his tenth birthday. She wants him to know that she wanted to give him his best chance and that she just couldn’t be that for him. And she wants him to know that she didn’t just cast him away as her own parents had.

When he’s born, she turns away from him, doesn’t want to hold him - not even look at him, fearing she’ll decide she wants to keep him anyway. She squeezes her eyes shut as his cries make her shudder and everything inside her screams she needs to be with him but she knows she can’t. And her heart is shredded to pieces when his wails grow softer while he’s being carried away.

She makes him a desperate promise. That she’ll do better. So that, when he opens that letter mailed to him in ten years, she will be a better person. If he ever finds her, she won’t be the person she was before anymore. She’ll be proud of herself. And maybe he’ll be proud of her, as well.

So she grits her teeth and does her time, gets out, finds a place in a halfway house, and is determined to get a job. She lands a waitressing job with the help of a job coach, Lily Page, recommended to her by her parole officer. It sucks, but it’s something, and she’s determined to make it work. Surprisingly, talking to Lily helps her to plow on. It’s hard work, her nearly-permanent frown makes it harder to get tipped generously, but she does it.

And then she meets Cleo, who turns out to be a bail bonds person. She only finds that out after Cleo catches a bail jumper in the diner she works in, and the excitement of the catch and the chat she has with Cleo, afterward, settles her mind: this is what she wants to do for a living.

When she tells Lily, the job coach is skeptical, but Emma is determined. She’ll be good at it, she argues. All she ever did was run away and hide. She knows how runners think. Lily still has her doubts but sees Emma’s fire, so she agrees to help her, and together they set out to turn Emma’s dreams into reality.  

Emma has a record and is wary by nature, but Lily is good at what she’s doing and has a lot of contacts that help her find opportunities. She helps Emma find opportunities and coaches her in her interviews. Emma, who is never happy when people tell her how to act or what to do, needs a while to let Lily help her this intensively. She doesn’t trust people, but this woman doesn’t give up on her - for the first time in her life she has someone in her corner. Someone who knows her raw history and doesn’t flinch, doesn’t walk away. It makes her heart flutter.

It takes a few months, but then finally, after four months, Emma lands a job as a bail bonds person. With her first salary, she takes Lily out for dinner - it feels like a date, she realizes, cheeks flushed. And when Lily kisses her on the way back home, she knows it didn’t just feel like one, but it was one.

Emma falls in love - head over heels. It’s a feeling that she has never experienced before, but it feels so right. Her heart jumps up every time she sees Lily, every time she hears her voice. She never would have thought this was possible for someone like her but it is . Lily is the one, she knows. And after a little over a year, Lily proposes to Emma. 

Emma, overjoyed and drunk on happiness, says yes. Despite the path she’s taken, at 23, Emma is proud of what she made of herself and for the first time in her life, she’s genuinely happy, and that has everything to do with the wonderful brunette on her side.

On the other side of the city, Regina’s path in life has definitely been easier than Emma’s. She continued her law program, but although she is never, ever going to admit it to anyone, her road trip with Emma gave her a mission. She decides to focus on family law because she really does want to make a difference and becomes a vocal advocate for kids in foster care. She studies with so much devotion that she graduates magna cum laude but much to her mother’s chagrin, Regina doesn’t accept any of the very generous offers from law firms throughout the country. Instead, she chooses to work for a small firm that takes a lot of social cases and she balances her paid work with a lot of pro bono jobs. 

And when she represents a small boy, Henry - (goodness, that is her father’s name too) who has been bouncing around between foster homes for almost two years, she doesn’t need to think twice and applies to be his foster mother. She’s young, so it raises some concerns about her dedication. They throw out all sorts of ridiculous claims like maybe it’s just a fling, or maybe she is too young, or maybe she won’t be able to balance motherhood with her working life - men never have to deal with this crap, she seethes -  and all of it makes her even more determined to make it work and provide a stable home for a this precious little brown-haired, green-brown eyed boy. 

And she does. Surprisingly enough, it goes smoother than she thinks. Because when she takes little Henry home to her mother for Christmas - a little hesitant, given their troubled history - the boy is welcomed with open arms. Regina, baffled, honestly doesn’t know what’s gotten into her mother. Maybe age has mellowed her, maybe after her final term as mayor, she doesn’t have anything else to do,  but Cora instantly adores her foster grandchild, and even more surprising, it brings Cora and Regina closer together (and she really doesn’t think about the words one Emma Swan once said to her about maybe trying harder with her mother). 

Cora steps up as the best grandmother ever. And after a little while, Regina finds it in herself to forgive her mother bits and pieces of her childhood and eventually agrees to transfer to the office in Portland while moving back to Storybrooke, where her mother offers to babysit her foster grandson whenever Regina needs to travel for work.

A year later, Regina files the papers to adopt little Henry, just before his third birthday. And not long after, she meets a man with the same ideals as her own - he also stands up for people when they can’t - and falls in love with him after a few dates. Life can’t be better.

So yeah, Emma and Regina have forgotten all about each other, even though Regina might sometimes recall that absurd road trip that gave direction to her life and, indirectly, led her to her son. 

And it’s maybe a strange coincidence - if you believe in it, that is - that Regina and Emma run into each other, around five years after their first meeting. At the airport of all places. Regina passionately says goodbye to her new boyfriend, ready to go back to her son and mother when Emma rushes by, her bag in her hands, wanting to catch the next plane to Portland, Maine, because that’s where her next bail jumper currently is. 

From the corner of her eyes, Emma sees someone familiar. Someone she hasn’t seen in a long time and wishes she would never have seen again, and her hackles raise immediately. 

Robin Locksley.

The lawyer who handled her case of the stolen watches. The man that one time, in the interrogation room, had even exasperatedly said, “Just tell them the truth, Emma.” She snorts. With the knowledge she has now, she definitely would’ve asked for a different lawyer. 

And somewhere deep down she wants to show him that she did, in fact, clean up her act, all by herself, thank you very much because he hasn’t been of any help when she needed him most. That even though almost five years ago, she was a mess, she isn’t one now. She knows, deep in her heart, that Locksley never believed she’d be anything else but a repeat offender. 

If she shows him, she might even start to believe it herself, too. 

She hates herself a little for wanting, no, needing the recognition. Like, if someone else validates her rise to even some remote success, it will be even more true than it already is - especially if it’s someone who never believed she could. Like herself. Because sometimes she still has to pinch herself that it all worked out the way it had. And, she grins to herself, that the ugly duckling has finally grown into a swan. 

She gives in to temptation, walks a few steps back, and parks her carry-on next to her while waiting for Locksley to finish slobbering all over his girlfriend. She snorts. Young love - it has to be. She waits, watches them until she gets a little queasy in her stomach until a set of dark brown eyes find hers and the woman he’s been kissing pulls back, wide-eyed. She looks familiar, but Emma can’t really place her. She’s a very beautiful woman, Emma can’t help but notice. Her dark-brown, shiny hair is cropped to above her shoulders and shines, and the makeup around her eyes makes her dark brown eyes even darker. The pink shade on her cheeks is adorable, Emma thinks. The woman frowns and taps Robin on the shoulder, nods at her.

When Robin turns, Emma’s lips curl into a tight smile. “Robin Locksley,” she says confidently. “Remember me? Emma Swan.”

There’s a wrinkle lining his forehead - more wrinkles than nearly 5 years ago, she sees. He wasn’t that good-looking before, and time has definitely done a number on him. “The watch-thief you so generously helped pro bono?” she helpfully adds with only the slightest hint of sarcasm, and now, his face changes in recognition. 

“Emma!” Robin sounds surprised. “Yes. Of course, I remember. How are you doing?” He reaches for the hand Emma extends. “It’s good to see you out. What are you up to these days?” he says, and he sounds exactly like he did five years ago - it’s the same condescending, I’m-better-than-thou-tone he’d used on her back then, and it makes the tiny hair on the back of her neck rise. 

Emma feels the eyes of the woman next to him on her face and she frowns a little, eyes flicking to the woman next to him, who quickly turns her eyes away. So rude to stare. “I’m with a small firm. Um, police consulting,” she says quickly. The brunette by his side twists her fingers nervously. She’s hiding something, Emma knows from experience, but her eyes flick back to Robin’s face.

“Well, what are the chances,” Robin grins at her. “Remarkable. But I’m happy to see that you’ve cleaned up your act and chose the right path this time.” Yep. Asshole first-class, reporting for duty. She smiles tightly and lifts her chin a little, and then, Robin seems to remember that there’s someone next to him. “Oh! Emma, this is Regina. Regina Mills. Emma, I handled her case.” 

Regina nods stiffly, and Emma smiles back, while something in the back of her head pings repeatedly in recognition but she can’t exactly place it. “Nice to meet you,” she nods at her, before reaching for her suitcase. “Well, I got a plane to catch.” 

Robin smiles, and she nods at them both. There’s another tug of a memory somewhere in her brain as if it wants her to remember something, but she needs to move and doesn’t have time to ponder about it, right now. She lifts her hand in a final wave, yanks at her small suitcase, and hurries away to the gate. 

Regina, on the other hand, remembered Emma right away. One moment, you’re kissing your boyfriend goodbye, and the next you open your eyes and you stare into the bright green eyes of your nemesis from years ago. She nearly choked. What are the fucking chances of that? 

Emma, Regina finds, hasn’t changed one bit. Well, maybe she looked a little older, but the blonde sounded just the same. Her eyes are the same sparkling green, and the messy, blonde curls, she hates to admit, made her stand out right away. It doesn’t even surprise her that she ended up in jail. “You represented her?” she asks Robin.

“Hm,” Robin nods, absentmindedly. “She stole a bunch of watches from a jeweler and hid them in a locker at Grand Central. She was arrested when picking them up and was adamant that she didn’t steal them, but nobody believed her. It was obvious that she was lying. She did a few years in prison. Never heard anything about her after that.”

Regina sighs, runs her hands through her hair a few times, to straighten it out. Robin’s hands have tousled it a little. “Thank god she couldn’t place me,” she murmurs, as she turns back to Robin.

He blinks in surprise, then frowns. “You knew her?”

Regina nods, and can’t help but roll her eyes at the memory. “I drove from Storybrooke to New York with her, five years ago. It was the longest day of my life.”

“What happened?” Robin asks, suddenly interested.

“She made a pass at me, and when I said no because she was going out with a friend of mine…” She stops a little while to remember the name and frowns when she can’t find it in her memory. What a good friend she is, she inwardly snorts.

“And then what?”

She scowls. “Then, I told her we could be friends, for my friend’s sake. And she said we could never really be friends because she’d said earlier that she thought I was attractive and she told me that once people find each other attractive, they can never be friends anymore.” It still sounds insane.

“That’s ridiculous,” Robin says with a snort.

“That’s what I said, too.” Regina smiles, happy that he agrees with her on this and then, he grabs her arms and pulls her back into the embrace that was broken off so abruptly, moments before. 

“I’ll miss you,” he murmurs, and she eases into his embrace. “I love you.” Her heart leaps up, and her breath catches in her throat as their lips meet. It’s the first time in their four weeks together that he’s said these words, and she breathes the same words back. She walks on clouds towards the gate, a radiant smile plastered on her face and she doesn't care if she looks goofy.

Of course, her mood doesn’t last, when she finds out that Emma Swan is in the seat behind her, and internally, she groans before she quickly pulls out her earbuds. Maybe she can ignore Emma - the flight is short and it still doesn’t seem that she’s been recognized. Emma doesn’t even acknowledge her. Good. Very good.

As the plane takes off, she finally relaxes into her chair and closes her eyes for a bit. She can’t wait to tell Henry that the adoption has been finalized this morning and that they’re going to be a real family from now on, and hopefully, Robin will soon join them in Storybrooke.

A soft hand on her shoulder startles her and she half-expects it to be Emma, but no, it’s a flight attendant and she almost sags in relief. How pathetic. “Would you like something to drink?” the flight attendant asks, and Regina looks up with a polite smile.

“Do you have any apple cider?” she inquires. 

“We do,” the flight attendant smiles.

“No - wait. Can I have some apple cider with a pinch of lime - not too much, just a pinch, on the side?”

“Oh my God,” she hears someone chuckle behind her and Regina closes her eyes in despair. Shit. “Regina Mills, right? I thought you looked familiar, but now, with your side dishes, I am certain.” Emma leans over, notices that the chair next to Regina isn’t taken, and smiles widely as she gets up and drops down in the vacant seat next to Regina. Really, without asking? Regina rolls her eyes and huffs impatiently.  

Emma doesn’t seem to notice and observes her intently, which makes Regina a little squirmish. “You were a friend of… what’s her name?” the blonde asks, a frown on her forehead while she tries to remember.

“Tina. Tina Bell,” Regina answers stiffly, relieved that she finally remembered right before she boarded the plane. “I can’t believe you can’t remember her name.” Emma doesn’t have to know that she had difficulties remembering, as well. 

“Yeah, well, a lot has happened in between,” Emma murmurs. Regina looks up because of the tone in Emma’s voice that’s nothing like the defiant, brazen, annoying girl she was five years ago And there’s a guarded look in Emma’s eyes that tells her that Emma’s life hasn’t been easy after they went their own ways. Both Emma and Robin have already told her bits and pieces of Emma’s time in prison, but she can’t help being a little curious.

“You mentioned being in jail?” She doesn’t want to pry, but for some reason, can’t really help herself. 

“Prison. 2 years.” There’s more to the story, Regina can tell, but she doesn’t push. “Someone who I trusted, who I called my friend, betrayed me. Had me pick up his stolen watches, and I took the fall for it. Funny thing is, I told everyone I couldn’t have stolen them in the first place because I was in Storybrooke around that time, but nobody believed me.”

Huh. Regina’s eyes widen. “Nobody checked?”

Emma waves impatiently. “Honestly, Regina, would you have? A street rat like me claims she was hours away at the time of the initial robbery? That must be the truth right?” She snorts, narrows her eyes, and for a few seconds, there’s that sense of hostility Emma radiated at the beginning of their road trip. But then, Emma pinches her nose, breathes deeply, and turns her green eyes back to Regina.

“Anyway. What happened to Tina?”

Guiltily, Regina turns to the flight attendant who hands her the drink, and replies quickly: “I have no idea.”

Emma raises her eyebrows, then scoffs in disbelief, as she happily digs her nails into the subject to move away from the previous one. “You have no idea? You were really good friends with her. The bestest, I recall Tina saying,” Emma says amused, and Regina feels flustered. “You were mightily offended because I gave you a compliment and you accused me of cheating on her.” Ah, there’s a little of that youthful spirit Regina detested during their road trip. She’d hoped that Emma wouldn’t have remembered that particular bit, but now it’s clear that she does. 

“You dated her,” she counters dismissively.

“And was it worth it? The sacrifice for a friend that you don’t even keep in touch with?” Dramatically, she reaches for her heart.

Regina snorts unladylike. “Swan, you might not believe this,” she says with an eye roll, “but I never considered not sleeping with you a sacrifice.”

“Fair enough,” Emma says, raising her own glass for a sip. “You were going to be a journalist. How did that work out?”

“Stuck to law. I’m an attorney now.” There’s pride in Regina’s voice and Emma’s lips curl up in a smile. 

“Well good for you. And you’re with Robin. I see the common ground.” There’s a tone in her voice that Regina can’t place, and Emma doesn’t want to elaborate. A little… disapproval? It stings a little, even though Regina really doesn’t need Emma’s.approval. “Young love, am I right? Three weeks?” Emma asks.

Regina tilts her head in surprise at Emma’s close estimated guess, and Emma smirks as she nods slowly, brow furrowing slightly, and she eyes her warily. “A month. How did you know that?”

Emma grins knowingly. “You take someone to the airport, it’s clearly the beginning of a relationship. Because eventually, you stop taking them, and then they say, ‘how come you never take me to the airport anymore?’ And then you’d have a fight over that.” She shakes her head and folds her hands together in her lap.

Regina blinks rapidly and stares at the blonde next to her. Shakes her head in disbelief about the word flood that comes out of Emma’s mouth. “It’s amazing,” she snipes darkly. “You look like a normal person, but actually, you’re the angel of death.”  

Emma doesn’t even blink at the remark - in fact, she flashes her a smirk as if she’s proud of it. “Are you going to marry him?” She bluntly asks next, and Regina can’t help but scoff at the blatant intrusion of her privacy. The audacity.

“We’ve only known each other for a month,” Regina retorts stiffly. “And neither of us has expressed a desire to get married, right now.” She has her son, Henry, to think about now, first. “Besides,” she snipes, “what do you know about relationships?” 

“I’m getting married,” Emma simply says, and she sips her drink as Regina’s head jerks into her direction, eyes widened in surprise. 

“You are.” It’s somewhere between a question and a statement, and Emma nods slowly, a radiant smile on her face that has Regina’s heart skip a beat and she hates herself a little for it. “Who is she?” Regina asks curiously.

“Lily Page. Job coach. I’m keeping my name.”

“I can’t... You’re really getting married?” Regina laughs in disbelief, and Emma seems a little offended. 

“What’s so funny about that?” she frowns.

“I recall a discussion about a dark side. I don’t know, getting married is so… optimistic of you,” Regina chuckles, feeling strangely unsettled and she’s irritated that she doesn’t know why.

Emma shrugs, still a bit miffed. “Well, you’d be amazed what falling madly in love can do for you,” she counters.

Apparently. There’s a short silence between them, in which Regina desperately searches for words. “Well, I have to say, it’s wonderful to see you embrace life in this matter.” It’s as if Emma having a relationship lifts a tension off Regina’s shoulders and she doesn’t quite know why. Maybe there was still this fear that Emma would try to hit on her, again? They’re five years older - and wiser, hopefully - now, but Regina doesn’t quite trust her. Or maybe, a voice lisps inside her mind, maybe she just doesn’t quite trust herself, but she shrugs it off abruptly.

“Yeah,” Emma grins. “Plus, you get to this certain point in life where you get tired of the whole thing.” Another sip.

“What whole thing?” Regina wants to know because she really can’t help herself, and one look at Emma tells her that Emma knows it, too. 

“The whole life of a single gal, thing,” Emma elaborates. “It’s just nice to come home to someone, you know? Not having to get to know someone because it’s so tiresome. Having to explain your life, getting to know one another, what he or she likes to do, eat, and how they like their sex.”

Regina, who’s just taken a sip of her apple cider, chokes on it and spits it out through her nose. Emma quietly takes another sip and calmly offers her a napkin, green eyes shimmering in sympathy and mirth. It’s maddening .

The flight is short but feels like the longest in her life, and when the pilot announces the landing her shoulders sag in relief. She thinks she gets away from Emma by getting up as soon as the plane taxis to the gate and hurries out, but of course, Emma’s right there when they’re waiting for their suitcases. Just her luck. 

“Staying over?” Emma asks, and Regina sighs deeply.

“Going home,” she retorts.

“Oh, you live in Portland now?” Curious green eyes flick over her face and Regina shifts uncomfortably.

“Storybrooke.”

“Back to Storybrooke, after you tried so hard to run away from it?” There’s a smile on Emma’s face. She’s right, it does seem odd, but even after all these years in New York, Storybrooke is still home. And Henry brought her mother and her closer together. 

“Yes, well” she simply answers, not really wanting to elaborate on the why’s. “Things change.”

“That, they do,” Emma hums in agreement, and Regina is shocked that she does. “Want to grab a coffee or something?” 

Regina gives her a pointed look, and Emma shrugs a little sheepishly. “You know, just as friends.”

"I thought you didn’t believe you could be friends once you found me attractive.”

“I never said that,” Emma replies with a frown, and Regina scoffs.

“You most certainly did. On the ride to New York.”

A wrinkle appears in Emma’s forehead until yes, she remembers, and she relents. “Okay, yes. I said that. They can’t be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people. Then there’s no more pressure, right?” But she immediately shakes her head after. “No, that doesn’t work either, I guess. Tina proved as much, right? So, maybe no coffee.”

Emma’s smile is slightly wistful and a shiver tickles over Regina’s spine. She steps away from Emma the moment she spots her suitcase. 

“Emma?” Regina says, one eyebrow raised.

“Yeah?”

“Goodbye.” Regina steps forward towards the baggage claim, grabs her suitcase, and swings around so quickly that she nearly loses her balance. Of course, Emma notices, and of course, she chuckles softly. Regina raises her head, turns her nose up in the air and with all the dignity that she has left, and leaves the airport with Emma Swan’s laugh still ringing in her head, even after she’s found her car. She doesn’t know why, but Emma Swan always manages to unsettle her and she hates it. She hates that someone can do that to her. And she thanks the gods in the sky that she will never have to see the woman, ever again.

 

Chapter Text

Little does she know, she’s all wrong about that. But it takes a little while - another five years, to be exact. If anything, they are consistent. And again, lots happens in between, in both their lives. Everything can change within heartbeats, paths twist and turn and lead you into different directions, and some words can shatter your life in mere seconds.

Shortly after their second encounter, Emma marries Lily and for the first couple of years, it’s bliss. For the first time in her life, Emma truly feels that she is settled down. She loves Lily, loves her job, loves her life for the first time in forever. And Emma is doing so well, actually, that two years into their marriage, she takes over the company from her boss. Her need to prove to both herself and everyone else that she’s not a revolving door criminal, nor that she’ll ever be one, finally comes to rest, at least for a little while. She’s successful at what she does, is proud of what she’s accomplished, and is determined never to slip and fall back into her old behavior. 

It’s that very resolve that makes her miss the first signs of cracks in her marriage. Lily isn’t happy. Well, she’s happy that she’s helped Emma back on her feet, but Emma’s away a lot as well, chasing bail jumpers all over the country. She’s made a pretty damn good name for herself over the years. Her wife, however, doesn’t get as much attention. It’s both their faults, really. Lily loved having a project, loved helping Emma get on her feet but when she finally didn’t need help anymore and thrived on her own, there wasn’t much for Lily to do. Especially when Emma took over the business and got even busier, being gone from home more and more, Lily grew frustrated and lonely. 

She never says a word, until it is too late. 

Emma, on her behalf, knows she is traveling a lot but as she now provides most of the income, thinks Lily is okay with their status quo. But then, suddenly, almost overnight, even, she’s flying home after catching yet another bail jumper and finds Lily sitting on the couch, asking for a divorce.

Stunned to the core, Emma’s thoughts whirl as a familiar feeling of despair and abandonment washes over her, claws at her throat and screws it shut tightly, and she desperately tries to convince Lily to think about it, to not make life-altering decisions overnight.

Lily concedes. The next day, she gets back to her, saying they should try a trial separation but perhaps they can plan dates. Reconnect again. But it feels more like a peace offering than something that Lily truly wants.

Emma refuses. Don’t you love me anymore? she asks her, voice desperate, and Lily answers quietly, I don’t know if I ever did. It stuns Emma into a brief silence, when the punch of betrayal knocks the air right out of her, before the first fight erupts, because How could you, Lily? Lily cries back, You’ve never been able to devote yourself to this relationship and it gets messier from there. 

And it’s only an hour later when Emma finds out that Lily’s been planning to leave for weeks already but didn’t have the guts to tell her and when she finally does, it’s right before the movers knock on their door in their New York apartment. Apparently, Lily’s found a new apartment, already, too, and it only piles up on Emma’s heavy heart, filled with rejection and pain of yet another person leaving her. 

Late at night, when Emma's a little drunk, Emma follows Lily to her new apartment - she isn’t a bail bonds person for nothing, tracking is what she does for a living - only to find out that Lily isn’t just divorcing her, but is actually moving in with her new girlfriend. Across the street, seeing their silhouettes draped around each other, she feels bile rising in her throat as she realizes that Lily offered to date her while moving into her new girlfriend’s place. Happiness is an illusion, she bitterly thinks. It’s always a matter of time before it shatters. And yet, there’s this nagging voice in the back of her head that Lily might be right. That she’s damaged goods, not able to commit herself to someone completely. Always protecting a part of herself because people always go away. 

Well, isn’t she right about that, she exasperates, wiping the angry tears brusquely from her eyes. She’d do good to remember it the next time a pretty girl bats her lashes at her.

Her heart is broken. Even worse. Shattered into a million tiny shards that prick into her chest every time she inhales a fresh breath of air. Lily has lifted her up, made her a better person, and Emma loved her as well as she could, but now, it feels like her ex has kicked her right back to the curb she originally found her on. She feels worthless, close to nothing, and vows that she’ll never put her heart at risk ever again. God, she can’t even remember another time she’s cried that much, or well, maybe once, when the wails of a newborn boy grew softer as he was being carried away from her.

She can’t stay in New York anymore. The memories of the city are driving her to insanity and maybe it’s time for a change, anyway. So she sells her company (which she gets a pretty penny for, thank you very much), stares at the New England map and her eyes wander to the tiniest dot on the map, towards a smallish coastal town. And when she googles said town, she finds a vacancy for a deputy sheriff position and well, that must be a sign, right? The change will do her good, she thinks after her application has been accepted. Not long after, she steers her yellow bug over the town line and she smiles as she passes the sign Welcome to Storybrooke for the first time in over ten years. It’s as if she breathes a little freer here - but maybe it’s only the fresh, ocean air. And the chances of ever running into Lily here are close to zero, which is a very good thing. It makes Storybrooke the best place to heal her broken heart and lick her wounds.

In said Storybrooke, Regina’s not doing much better, relationship-wise. While she sits in the outside area of the best bistro in town, looking out over the park, her best friend Kathryn laments over her boyfriend David, who’s also, by the way, currently married to the most boring and cheerful woman that’s ever set foot on this planet. She suppresses a sigh - for heaven’s sake, he’s probably never going to leave his doe-eyed wife. Regina plucks at the napkin absentmindedly. She’s heard the story too many times already and doesn’t understand why witty, wonderful Kathryn would want to settle for someone she will never have, meanwhile contemplating her recently single status.

Robin packed his things and left a few days ago after irreconcilable differences emerged that they couldn’t overcome. Basically meaning that Regina was finally ready for the next step - marriage, more kids next to Henry - and Robin saying that he just wasn’t the marrying kind and that he rather kept helping the kids who couldn’t fend for themselves than placing one of his own in this fucked up world. Maybe she could get behind the latter part because somewhere, he has a point, so she suggested adoption, instead. There’s enough love to go around, she told him, but he flat-out refused. You have a demanding job too, and one child already makes it more difficult, let alone two.  

She’d knitted her eyebrows. Do you  think Henry’s difficult? she’d asked with a low voice, a tone signaling that he should choose his next words carefully. Robin had slowly backed out of that conversation, but it had made her wonder how he really thought about her son. Before she had maybe already started to think about the three of them as a family but now, she wasn’t so sure.

Regina suppresses a sigh - she doesn’t understand. From the very first moment they met, he knew that she was adopting Henry and that process was finalized very early in their relationship. After moving back to Storybrooke and relocating her work to Portland, she’d been in New York plenty of times for work and conferences and well, for him, until it was he who suggested that he’d move to Storybrooke to be with them. 

It was also he who had told her that she should run for Mayor after he learned that her mother had been Mayor for years on end. You’d be so great at it. And imagine what you could change. Well, maybe not a lot because Storybrooke is just a tiny dot on the map, but it was the only time that Cora actually agreed with him. She’d campaigned, and had won, and here she was, Mayor of Storybrooke. Henry had cheered for her during her inauguration, and Robin had told her that he couldn’t be prouder. Cora had congratulated her while shooting daggers at Robin because well, that’s what she did best.

Cora hadn’t liked Robin much, Regina remembers with a tiny smirk around her mouth. For god sake, Regina, he’s a houseplant. Doesn’t have anything to add to your life except for standing still and looking pretty. If that’s what you want, there are much cheaper options. She’d also called him an appendix that needed to be surgically removed, arm candy, had openly wondered in his vicinity why he looked like he was constipated all the time and some more colorful insults. 

Wistfully, her mind travels to her mother. Cora died last year. Ten years ago, she’d never have believed anyone who would have told her that she would miss her mother after her death, but Regina really does. Henry misses her too, she knows it. He was so afraid of forgetting his grandmother that she bought him a book, to write down everything he can remember about her. He hardly lets the book out of his sight, these days.

After Cora’s death, Robin moved in with them. It was easier. In fact, Regina thinks that's exactly what he was. Easy. Robin wasn’t a difficult person. A little… dull, even. She flashes her eyes up at the sky, thinking her mother was right all along but she’s never, ever going to admit that out loud. Ever.  

“You were lucky,” Kathryn tells her, interrupting her train of thoughts. “You snatched away the last decent man and the rest of us have to entertain ourselves with the leftovers.”

Regina smiles tightly and lifts her coffee to her mouth. “Robin and I broke up,” she tells her, then quickly takes a sip of her steaming hot coffee. Immediately, Kathryn falls silent. Her friend’s eyes grow wide as she processes this new information.

“When?” she asks after a few seconds.

“Three days ago.” 

“You waited three days to tell me?” Kathryn shrieks, looking slightly offended, but then her gaze turns sympathetic and her eyes grow wide. “You must be so upset!” She extends a hand to grab Regina’s and she appreciates the gesture, welcomes the never-ending support, but needs to set something straight right away.

“I’m not that upset, Kathryn,” she tells her friend with a small smile. “Robin and I… we’ve been growing apart for quite a while. And I’m 32 years old and deserve better.” She smiles at her friend and there’s nothing insincere about her laugh.  “I’ve had a few days to get used to it, and honestly, Kathryn. I feel alright.” 

Kathryn snorts in disbelief. “Right.”

“I am .” Regina’s tone is sharper now, and she withdraws her hand. “It was a mutual decision, as much mine as it was his. We had some insurmountable differences and it made us see that we’re not fit for each other.”

Kathryn ponders her words for a second. “Still,” she says, “He’s an asshole because you’re my friend and you’re right. You do deserve better.” And somewhere deep inside, it pleases Regina that her friend always has her back and she smiles in appreciation. 

“Well, if you’re over him, I can fix you up with someone else.” Kathryn winks. 

Regina frowns. Okay, having her back is one thing, setting her up with someone else is entirely another. “No.”

“Ah, come on, Regina,” Kathryn pleads with her. “Setting you up will at least take my mind away from my own misery.” She sighs dramatically and lifts a hand to her forehead.

“No,” Regina dismisses it. “I have no interest in any new relationship right now. I have Henry to focus on.” Her nearly eight-year-old adopted son, who also needs to live without a father figure now, but who, strangely enough, is as okay about Robin leaving the house as she was. She wonders what that means. “If I would meet anyone right now, it would just be… a rebound anyway.” She nods, to confirm it a little extra. “Not dating material. And honestly, I--,” she continues, but she sees she’s lost Kathryn somewhere along the story. Her friend stares over her shoulder. “What?”

Kathryn casually leans over the table, her chin resting on her hands. “Someone is staring at you,” Kathryn whispers. Her blue eyes twinkle and Regina’s back tightens immediately.

She carefully turns her head and when she catches sight of the person staring, an old, yet familiar feeling of dread washes over her, followed by a whirlwind of thoughts. You’ve got to be kidding. Here? Now? Her? How? Regina can’t wrap her head around it and needs to look again to convince herself that it’s not her imagination running wild.

It’s not. It really is her . She’d recognize those blond curls and shining green eyes anywhere.  “I know her,” she murmurs back, a little disdain in her voice as she turns her head back to Kathryn, who eyes her suspiciously, and snorts. “You’d like her. She’s married .”

“Who is she?” Kathryn curiously asks, her gaze flicking between her friend and the stranger. She is clearly interested in this sudden turn of events. Storybrooke is a small, provincial town where barely anything ever happens, so new people? News of the day. Of the week, probably. The month even. Especially when she’s as handsome as this one. 

Regina sighs, knows she can’t get out of this explanation. “Emma Swan. Does something with police consulting.” She impatiently waves her hand as if it isn’t important and longs to change the subject, but Kathryn continues to stare at the woman behind her, and if Regina’s honest with herself, she can’t help but wonder why Emma is in Storybrooke anyway. A thought enters her mind - is she looking for Tina, maybe? Tina left Storybrooke years ago with some sailor, much to her mother’s chagrin. Occasionally, Regina hears from her. She’s doing pretty well somewhere in the Caribbean, is the last thing she knows. “I have no idea what she’s doing here.”

“She’s cute,” Kathryn says, shamelessly staring at the blonde and Regina rolls her eyes. “How do you know she’s married?”

“Last time I saw her she was getting married,” Regina answers.

“When was that?”

“Five years ago.”

“So she might not be married anymore.” Kathryn’s lips curve into a sly smile and she folds her hands together. 

“Kathryn,” Regina chastises, “Emma Swan is a horrible person.”

“Is she now?” Kathryn stares at the blonde woman with renewed interest, tilts her head a little, and Regina rolls her eyes before she scoffs. 

“Also, she never remembers me.”

“Regina Mills.”

Regina nearly chokes on her breath. The voice is much closer than she’s anticipated and she jumps a little, sending an accusing glance to a very smug-looking Kathryn. “I thought it was you,” the blonde says, a tiny smile lining her features. 

Emma looks the same, albeit a little older and more tired, maybe. Her eyes are still bright green, but there’s a clouded gaze in them that makes Regina frown just a little. From the corner of her eyes, she sees how Kathryn slips away from her chair. Traitor. “How are you?” Emma asks. It sounds almost tentative which is so out of character that it touches something inside of Regina.

“Fine.” It’s supposed to be dismissive but as Emma doesn’t move, she remembers that Emma never really knew when she was being dismissed. Regina rolls her eyes and huffs impatiently. 

“How’s Robin?” Emma then wants to know and Regina waves the name away.

“Fine. I hear he’s fine.” Another dismissal that Emma either blatantly ignores or just doesn’t register. What is it with this woman and boundaries?

Emma tilts her head, pushes her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. The movement makes Regina’s eyes flick over Emma’s appearance and she scolds herself for even looking. “You’re not with Robin anymore?” the blonde inquires.

“We just broke up.” Regina’s voice is stiff and it indicates she doesn’t want to talk about it.

“I’m sorry,” Emma murmurs and instantly, her face falls. She takes a step back, too which, to Regina, feels completely out of character for her and it makes her curious as to why that is. 

It looks like Emma wants to turn and move away, and that’s good, Regina thinks, but she finds herself asking, “How are you, Swan? How’s married life?” 

Emma is silent for a few seconds, and Regina sees how her gaze dims even further. “Not so good,” she finally answers with a smile that’s shaky at best. “I’m in the middle of a divorce.” Her voice is small, the answer is unexpected, and Regina’s stomach squeezes for her - a physical response that’s just as unexpected as Emma’s tone.  

“Oh. I’m sorry.” And a pang in her chest surprises her a little - she really feels sorry for the blonde. 

And there they are, Regina sitting at the table in the cute bistro with its terrace looking out on the park, abandoned by her best friend and looking at Emma, who’s standing next to the table with her hands stuffed in her jeans, and a closed expression that indicates that maybe this too, isn’t a subject Emma wants to talk about. Emma looks so forlorn, her posture screams loneliness and Regina is surprised that at this moment, there’s nothing left of that witty, infuriating girl she met driving to New York, or flying from New York to Portland once. Despite her original dread of seeing Emma yet another time - fate is cruel - she doesn’t have it in her heart to send her away.

They’ve seen each other twice. The first time was about ten hours. The second time around four, tops. Both times Regina couldn’t wait to get rid of her, and maybe, before their conversation really started, she’d wanted to hold on to that thought. But now, as all the fight has seemed to have left the blonde, Regina realizes that despite all the resentment, Emma’s also always challenged her to think differently. She would take a subject - anything - and would twist it so violently that Regina was forced to rethink her own stances on the matter. Until now. Emma’s nothing more than a shadow of her old self and Regina can’t help but motion Emma to sit down.

She sighs as Emma complies, not really knowing if this really was the best decision to make. And she has to say, she’s a little surprised that Emma sits down a little… unwillingly. Before, Emma would have never had any problems with personal boundaries and especially, with crossing them.

“So,” Regina says when Emma sits, “back in Storybrooke?”

“Yeah,” Emma says, a tight, lopsided smile on her face. “Change of scenery, you know? After…” The smile disappears. “I’ve applied for a deputy sheriff position and I guess they deemed me a good enough fit to try it out for a month.”

“Oh.” Regina frowns a little, both because of Emma’s face falling again and the position Emma’s going to fill, which means she’s going to stay for a while. “No more police consulting?”

“I owned a bail bonds company,” Emma replies. “I sold it when I left New York.”

Regina nods in understanding. “We’re going to see a lot of each other then, I guess,” she says, a tight smile on her face, not really sure how she feels about that. 

“How come?” There’s a curious glint in Emma’s eyes now and hell, she’s going to find out soon enough as it is anyway.

“Because I’m the Mayor.” Emma’s eyes widen in surprise, and then the smile does reach her green eyes.

“Ha. That doesn’t surprise me, actually. Well, good for you. You’re probably awesome at it.” Normally, it would raise Regina’s shackles but Emma’s tone is so sincere, that she just can’t take it as an insult. Hm. Maybe Emma Swan has grown mentally and emotionally. 

They sit and eat quietly, and surprisingly they feel something like sympathy for the other. It might also have something to do with the bottle of wine they nurse over lunch, which gets Regina a little more talkative than she maybe should be, as she lifts the veil on the history and her breakup with Robin. “I adopted a son, almost six years ago. And I wanted more children, maybe even marry. He didn’t. Said he wasn’t the marrying kind and,” she snorts in disbelief, “said my job was already demanding and so was one child.”

“Wow, asshole,” Emma snorts too. “We’re not in the middle ages anymore.”

Regina nods. Wine or not, she’s surprised how easy it is to talk about Robin and her break-up with Emma. “We talked about it for a long time, decided that these differences are too hard to overcome, and he left my house and the town a day after. And the thing is, I-I feel really fine. I am over him. I mean, I really am over him.” 

She produces a small smile as Emma studies her face with slightly narrowed eyes as well as she can, given her own slightly intoxicated state, and Regina adds, “He gave me all that he could give, and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I made the right decision. I did the right thing.”

“Well, you sound really healthy,” Emma finally offers and Regina nods. Yes. Yes, she feels good. She really does. And it has nothing to do with the unexpected company.

After lunch, Regina says she needs to go and there’s only the tiniest spark of irritation when Emma nods and follows her, because of course, she does. “I need to go that way, too,” she says with a tiny smile. It might be true. Storybrooke isn’t very big and there aren’t a lot of roads to follow. “Guess you’re stuck with me for a little longer.”

Regina rolls her eyes, but she isn’t really aggravated. The wine probably helps. “Did you find a place to stay, yet?”

Emma shakes her head. “I’m in the B&B now, but it’s usually not too hard to find one.” She smirks, and some of her old fire returns. For some reason, that relieves Regina. Given, Emma’s natural state might not be the state that Regina handles the best, but at least Emma feels more comfortable. The blonde shrugs. “Anyway, an apartment is really easy. Just read the obituary column of the local newspaper. Hey, is Sidney Glass still running that one?”

Regina chuckles. “Yes, yes he is. But why the obituary column?” She is somewhat amused. 

“You find out who died, go to the building, and then you tip the doorman. What they could do to make it easier is to combine the obituaries with the real estate section,” she shrugs.

“That’s dark.” Regina shakes her head, and Emma chuckles.

“Dark side, remember?” she smirks, green eyes twinkling, and it draws a chuckle from Regina. “But, hear me out. You’d have ‘Mr. Klein died today, leaving a loving wife and two kids, and a spacious, three-bedroom apartment with a wood-burning fireplace.” She draws it out in the sky and Regina actually has to laugh out loud. Shakes her head, because it caught her a little by surprise. No - she’s surprised that she actually has a genuinely nice time with Emma Swan. The idea alone should aggravate her, but it doesn’t. Maybe they’ve both grown.

“The thing is,” she retorts, accepting that she likes the conversation, “that probably works in New York. Here, we don’t have people dropping dead every day. However, we do have places for rent. that you can check out. Also listed in the paper that Sidney Glass still writes.” She raises one eyebrow.

“Hm. Of course.” Emma quickly throws a glance into Regina’s direction, who catches it. Regina smirks, and Emma returns it. It’s like a silent understanding, an agreement of sorts. They both came out of a relationship, need to move on alone (in Regina’s case, with a child) and that maybe forges a connection. That must be it, Regina muses, but she’s still unsure if she really wants this connection. Emma unsettles her in a weird way, and at the same time, she’s mystifyingly drawn to her as well.

“You know,” Emma says then, “The first time we met, I really didn’t like you that much.”

“I didn’t like you, either.” Regina huffs, having no problem admitting that. 

“Yeah, you did,” Emma smugly retorts. “God, you were just so uptight, back then. You’re much softer now.”

That idea about maybe forging a connection? Regina bristles, blinks, scoffs. “I beg your pardon?” she huffs outraged. “So, what, why are you coating a compliment as an insult? Or is it more the other way around?”

Emma laughs, and shrugs. “Fine, you’re still as hard as nails.”

Outraged, she snaps, “I just didn’t want to sleep with you and you had to write it off as a character flaw, instead of dealing with the possibility that it might have something to do with you .” Regina hasn’t used her sharp tongue in a while, not even with Robin, and she finds herself surprised that she actually enjoys it.

The blonde smirks and nudges Regina’s elbow with her own. “What’s the statute of limitations on apologies?” she asks, not seeming apologetic at all.

Regina tilts her head as they continue walking, and then narrows her eyes, while a tiny smile ghosts around her lips, “Ten years.”

“Oh, that means I’ll be just in time, then,” Emma quips. Their eyes meet, and Regina sees that Emma’s features have relaxed and she realizes surprised that she really likes that. She blinks as little wrinkles appear around Emma’s eyes, her maturity making her much more attractive than she once was fresh out of high school, and she turns away with a warm feeling in her belly.

And she doesn’t know if it’s that feeling or something else but she surprises both Emma and herself by saying, “Would you like… having dinner with me and my son, sometime?”

Emma pulls up one eyebrow. “Are we becoming friends now?” And she holds her breath as she waits for a response because she would really, really like that very much. 

“I suppose so,” Regina says after a small pause that seems to last forever. “And it’s the nice thing to do. You’re new in town - again - and the new deputy sheriff, too. As the Mayor, I should officially welcome you to the town.”

Emma laughs a breathy laugh, and because she’s Emma, she can’t help herself and jabs her elbow in Regina’s side, which makes Regina wince. “You know,” Emma winks, “I think you’re the first attractive woman I’ve not wanted to sleep with, in my entire life.”

Regina snorts, casts a sideway glance, and rolls her eyes, then shakes her head in resignation. Emma just can’t help herself, can she? “That’s wonderful, Swan,” she sighs with a hint of exasperation, and they continue their walk until their ways part at the Bed and Breakfast.

 

~*~

 

Emma does get that dinner invitation, and more than one, too, especially because Henry and Emma easily connect and Henry keeps asking about his mom’s new friend. Regina can’t help but notice that Emma bonded more with her son than Robin ever had in the five years they had been together. Sometimes Regina ponders if she’s made the ride decision with that dinner invitation because she’s seeing Emma even more than she thought she would, but she can’t really say no to Henry. Emma has this easy-going nature - well, if you’re not Regina, at least - that draws people towards her. 

And she won’t ever admit it out loud, but maybe Regina’s also a little drawn to her because she’s a refreshing addition to the town. Regina loves Storybrooke, but she believes that this town life was a little dull up until Emma showed up. And after a few dinners with a lot of eye rolls, snarky comments, and cynical insults to both sides, she notices she actually looks forward to their encounters. It helps that Emma also inquires after Henry, who is her pride and joy, so she immediately scores bonus points.

It’s the start of a friendship that neither of them has anticipated, but one that both can really use at this point in their lives. It helps them deal with processing their recently broken relationships, even though Regina is coping much better than Emma. Emma, who still has raging fits and days of crying, especially on weekend days when she doesn’t have any plans and is stuck in her own head too much. 

On the upside, Emma does find an apartment rather quickly which keeps her mind off of Lily. And so, she keeps herself busy with putting furniture together. Regina and Henry help her settle in. It’s nice to have friends nearby. Emma wonders why she has waited so long to return here. Storybrooke might be a boring town and work-wise, the most exciting thing she’s done is rescue a cat from a tree, but it’s much friendlier than any of the places she’s lived before. She really likes Henry, Regina’s son, and it’s pretty convenient that Regina’s such a great cook because Emma can prepare her own meals, but it’s always tastier when someone else makes them for you. And in return for all the free meals, Emma offers to watch Henry when Regina has sudden meetings or is being called away for town business. 

Maybe they both have grown up, Emma muses as she watches Henry play Mario Kart. Maybe this really is the right time for them to connect in the way that they now have. When she told Regina that she really disliked her the first time they met, she wasn’t lying. But there’s more to her than she once knew and it is still fun to rile Regina up a little because let’s face it, Regina is still a little stuck up and is still a little spoiled, but her heart is in the right place. And she looks forward to their meetings, their lunches, their outings with Henry to the zoo or the museum.

But when she’s alone, in the apartment, she feels the loneliness settle in her bones and she wanders aimlessly through the two bedrooms and the living room. She feels the tug in her chest, while the feelings of abandonment and rejection wash over her like a chill that she can’t shake, leaving her shivering. The nagging voice in her head eats away at her and she usually manages to push it away quite well, burying it with brazenness and wit, but it just as easily surfaces once she’s got enough time to spiral.

She’s never, ever going to marry again, she thinks and feels a heavy weight crushing her stomach. She wasn’t a good enough wife. She failed her marriage. Lily was her world, her rock, and now, she’s gone. She wasn’t able to keep her happy. And yeah, maybe there are always two sides of the story, but the fact remains that everyone always leaves and part of it is probably her own fault because, as Lily said, you’re not completely with me. Not really.  

Lily’s probably right. There was always a part that Emma wasn’t willing to open up, and she wonders that if she had, would Lily still be with her? Or would she have left, no matter what? Would Emma have even been able to open up that part of her that she keeps locked up, for her self-protection? Her head starts to hurt from thinking about it, but she’s saved by a young child who, despite being adopted, resembles Regina to a fault, in both appearance and character.

“You wanna join me?” Henry asks, and she’s grateful for it.

“Sure, kid,” she smiles at him as she drops next to him on the couch, “Be prepared to get your ass kicked. I’ve got no mercy.”

“You’re on!” 

Not surprisingly, Henry wins most rounds, but Emma manages to claim victory a couple of times as well before his mother comes back home.

It’s only later that night, alone, in her new apartment, that the dark thoughts return, and she shakes her head. She turns on the tv to try and get the negativity out of her head for tonight because she sleeps lousy as it is already, and smiles when she sees what’s on. Without thinking, she grabs her phone, taps in a message to Regina. Turn on your tv. Channel 11.

I can’t believe you remember this, Regina replies after a short while. Emma grins.

Of course, I do, she swiftly types back. You’re still telling me that you’d be happier with Victor Laszlo than with Humphry Bogart?

She drops on her couch, grabs a blanket, and snuggles up under it before her cell phone rings. She grins as she puts it on speaker.

“When did I say that?” Regina asks her.

“When we drove to New York,” Emma says.

“I would never have said that,” Regina huffs, and Emma can clearly picture the indignant look on her face. The one that says “Swan, you’re wrong,” better than any words ever could. And Emma lets it slide as the movie plays and they both admire the black and white images moving on the screen. 

“Do you sleep at night?” she suddenly asks Regina. 

“Why?”

“Because I don’t. I really miss Lily.” It just slips out, but it sets her thoughts in motion once more. Does she really miss her ex-wife? Maybe what she misses is what Lily represented. A house. A home. Suddenly, she regrets bringing Lily up and she tries to change the subject. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just coming down with something,” she murmurs. “Last night, I was up at 4 in the morning watching Miami Vice in Spanish. I… I don’t know. I’m not well.”

“Well,” Regina slowly says, a little tentative. “I went to bed a little after Henry last night. Around nine. I haven’t done that since… the third grade.”

It’s a relief that Emma can comment on Regina’s schedule, take the pressure and attention off of herself. “Well, that’s the good thing about depression. You get your rest,” she says with a straight voice.

“I’m not depressed,” Regina vehemently retorts, and Emma shakes her head with a chuckle as she absentmindedly follows the film’s moments. Her eyes wander over her walls, to the bed, and her fingers tighten around the blankets, briefly looking at the empty spot next to her.

“Do you still sleep on the same side of the bed?” she then asks Regina.  

There’s a short pause. “I did, for a while,” Regina slowly answers, “but now, I’m pretty much using the whole bed.”

“I wish I could do that,” Emma sighs. “It still feels weird when my legs wander over to the other side.” Another short pause. A sigh. “I miss her.”

“Well, I don’t miss him. I really don’t.” Regina’s voice is firm. Emma almost believes her.

“Not even a little?” Emma wishes she could have some of that. But Regina doesn’t answer that particular question straight away.

“You know what I miss?” Regina finally sighs, “I miss the idea of him. Not him, per se.”

Emma thinks about those words. “Maybe that’s… that’s what I miss, too. Or maybe not.” Emma feels lost. Lost in the misery that’s the loneliness of her life. Friends are great, but at the end of the day, she is still alone with her issues, her thoughts, the feeling she’s never going to be enough. Not for the parents who cast her aside. Not for the foster families she lived with and who always sent her back.

Not for her son, out in the world somewhere. She knew she did the right thing, giving him up. She was in no position to take care of him and she really, really wanted him to have his best chance. By god, she hopes she gave it to him. Lily helped her recover, helped her back on her feet after she got out of prison, lost and alone. And ditched her as soon as she found someone less broken. Not enough for her, either, and she feels the burning sting behind her eyes.

“Oh, last scene,” Regina murmurs, breaking her train of thought, and Emma shakes her head as she sees the woman saying goodbye.

“Oh, Ingrid Bergman,” Emma softly says, desperately wanting to change the subject. “Now, she’s low maintenance.”

“Low maintenance?” 

Emma can picture Regina pulling up her eyebrows with that question. Feels how her lips curve into a smile as she hums into the phone. “Yeah,” Emma says matter-of-factly, relieved that Regina lets her explain, which allows her mind to drift away from the dark subject. “There are two kinds of women. High maintenance and low maintenance.”

“And Ingrid Bergman is low maintenance?” Regina inquires. Emma hums affirmatively. “And which one am I?” Regina then wants to know.

“Oh, you’re the worst kind,” Emma laughs, and she means it. “You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.”

Regina huffs indignantly. “I am not high maintenance at all.”

“Goodness, woman. ‘Waiter,’” Emma mimics Regina’s voice by lowering hers a few tones, “‘I’ll begin with the house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing. I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side.’” She smiles. “On the side, is a very big thing with you.”

There’s a pause of a few seconds and Emma wonders if she maybe went too far, when Regina, sounding a tad resigned, answers: “Well, I just want it the way I want it.”

Emma chuckles. “I know. High maintenance.” They watch the final part of the movie and Emma sighs. Saying goodbye is her least favorite part. It also means that she really needs to go to bed and try to get at least some sleep before dawn.

As if she can read her mind, Regina asks quietly, “Will you be able to sleep?” 

“If not, I’ll be okay,” Emma tells her. “You go to sleep, you’ve got a kid to take care of in the morning.”

“Hm. Take care of yourself, Emma.” Regina’s voice is gentle, and it warms Emma’s broken heart a little. It’s nice to have someone around who cares. 

“You too.” And maybe, she will be able to sleep a little tonight. Regina took some of the darkness away, Emma thinks, as she closes her eyes and feels the sleep press heavily on her mind. At least for now.

Chapter Text

Over the course of a few weeks, their blooming friendship, strongly willed into being by Henry, solidifies into something firmer. It’s crazy, Regina sometimes muses, how well Emma fits in her life right now. Maybe it helps that they both went through a break-up and have developed a sort of kinship in a way. It’s also been a comfort knowing that they can just be themselves, and don’t expect anything from each other. Regina, even though she’s still quick to scoff, roll her eyes, or throw exasperating looks, actually likes Emma’s quick wit. Admittedly, Emma’s paperwork sucks, and the sketchy writing style is unreadable so they do clash work-wise, but it’s nice to have someone to talk to who hasn’t known her since she was running around in diapers. It’s refreshing.

For Emma, it’s as much a surprise that they connect so well. She’s never had real friends because the group homes she’s been in didn’t really allow that to happen and neither did foster homes. In the past years, the only real friend she’s had was Lily and well, they all know how that failed miserably. Anyway, this is a whole different level of connecting, Emma feels and even though she’s reluctant in the beginning to share - a force of habit -, she does acknowledge that what they share is important. And she’s never afraid to test Regina’s limits, much to Henry’s delight because it often involves a lot of silliness that’s so out of character for his mom that he laughs his head off every time Regina reluctantly engages.

“Now you try it,” Emma says with a smile, challenging Regina with her eyes. The brunette scoffs while casting an annoyed look at the sky. They’re in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland because Henry really wanted to see Bigfoot. Before Regina knew it, Henry invited Emma along so here they are, strolling after Henry while the kid is bouncing between them and the hair samples of the Abominable Snowmen and Yowie. To entertain them both, Emma’s put up a funny voice that makes Regina snort and Henry laugh. Henry mimics the voice, perfects it after just a few tries before they both turn at Regina. Henry puts up those frustratingly convincing puppy eyes and Emma simply quirks an eyebrow at her, challenging her to back out.

“No, no. Repeat after me. Henry, a little help with your mom, please?” And the boy is more than willing to aid Emma - little traitor. Two pairs of eyes lock firmly on the unwilling mayor.

“Say pepper.”

“Say pepper, mom.  Like this.” He distorts his face and says, “Pepper,” in a voice that is more nasal than ever, and, alright, she will admit that it is funny. When they do it. Not her.

“No.” Her tone is final.

“Come on, Regina.”

“No.”

“Please?” Two pairs of puppy eyes and shiny teeth resembling Simba and Nala from The Lion King gaze up at her and Regina feels her firmness waver. Damnit.

“No.”

Emma turns to Henry and bends over. “I think your mom’s a bit scared that she can’t,” she whispers loud enough for Regina to hear. Henry grins conspiring as she scoffs. 

“I am never,” Regina huffs, and then caves with an impatient sigh. “Fine. Pepper .” Her ‘funny’ voice doesn’t even begin to resemble either Emma’s or Henry’s.

“Not like that, mom. ‘Pepper.’” And Regina rolls her eyes, annoyed, and tries again, she really does. But she’s failing and she really has enough of this game and she’s about to give up but then, Henry is satisfied with her pronunciation. He bounces off in the direction of the next gallery, and Emma can’t help but grin at Regina. 

“I’m proud of you,” she says, maintaining the funny voice that makes Regina roll her eyes once more. “Hey, would you two like to go to the movies with me, tonight? Gone With the Wind is playing.”

“Do you expect me to repeat that in that stupid voice?” Regina scowls in disbelief.

Emma laughs. “No. Don’t repeat,” she says, voice normal again and eyes glittering. “Just answer.”

“Oh. Oh.” Regina’s face relaxes in relief and then falls as she remembers what her plans for tonight are. “Oh, I’d love to, Emma. But I can’t.”

Emma quirks an eyebrow. “What? Do you have a hot date?” The look on Regina’s face tells her enough and her face changes into a more serious expression. “Really?”

“Yes.” Regina shuffles, a little uncomfortable and her eyes flick through the gallery. “Kathryn set it up. I was going to tell you about it, but, I don’t know, I… suppose I felt strange about that.”

Emma blinks and her eyebrows disappear in her hairline. “Why?”

“Well, because we’ve been spending so much time together.” Her eyes flick through the exposition room and her insecurity is so adoringly cute that Emma can’t tease her about it. And maybe it’s also a little cute that Regina wants to take Emma’s feelings into account but there’s no need because they are just friends. Besides, Emma loves that Regina is ready to move on after that asshole Robin.

“Well, I think it’s great that you have a date,” Emma smiles widely and gently touches Regina’s upper arm. 

“You do?” Regina’s not entirely convinced, Emma can tell, because there’s a crease in her forehead that doesn’t relax.

“Yeah! It’s good for you to get out there again,” she says sincerely. “And it’s great that you’re ready for it again.”

“Mom! Emma! Hurry up, You’ve gotta come see this!” Henry waves frantically at them from the next gallery, and they both laugh at his antics.

“Word of advice, though, Regina,” Emma says, a twinkle in her eyes. “Though I love your pants suits, you should wear a skirt. You look absolutely stunning in skirts.” 

Regina’s cheeks flush a little, and she doesn’t know what to say beyond a soft, “Thank you.” Then, while she moves towards the next exposition room, she says in passing, “You should get out there, too. It’d be good for you.”

Emma immediately shakes her head. She feels the familiar wrenching in her stomach - It’s not that she doesn’t want to date, but it’s almost like she would betray Lily if she did. It’s stupid, she rationally knows, because her divorce was painfully finalized a week or two ago and it’s over, but it doesn’t feel over. “Nah, I’d rather not,” she says. “But I’ll be happy to babysit Henry if you want.”

Regina shakes her head. “Kathryn’s taking care of that. You should find yourself a, what did you call it? A hot date, too.”

“I don’t know-”

“It’s a date, Swan. Not a marriage proposal.” Regina raises an eyebrow. “Now who’s scared?”

Emma snorts. It’s an outright challenge, she knows that. And maybe Regina is right and maybe she should just try and have a date, and at least see how it feels. She doesn’t have to commit to anything, right? “I guess… it could be fun,” she reluctantly agrees, and Regina smiles at the small victory.

“You’re not backing out of this one,” she sternly says. So after the museum when they go and visit a playground so Henry can get rid of some of his excessive energy, Regina urges Emma to install Tinder on her phone and they both check for possible matches. And, Emma has to admit, there are a few really attractive women that like her back, that can hold a conversation on a chat and so, even before Henry has tired himself out, Emma too, has a date for the evening. 

And Emma makes Regina promise her to spill all the dirty details of her date during lunch the next day while promising to do the same.

 

~*~

 

“It was the most uncomfortable night of my life,” Emma laments the next day, stuffing fries in her face. Regina sighs deeply as she pushes around some of her salad around on her plate, as she shakes her head over both the way Emma eats and her words. 

“You eat like a child,” she says disapprovingly. “And you know what they say… the first date is always the worst.”

“Look who’s talking,” Emma retorts with a scoff, grabbing more fries and stuffing them in her mouth in the exact same way that had Regina respond before because petty or not, she still likes annoying Regina. Now, it only results in an eye roll. “You only had one date, too. How do you know it’s not going to get any worse?”

Regina scoffs. “He was fifteen minutes late, had two hickeys on his neck, and had the audacity to order for me. I turned it around and ordered for him, instead, and then he said jokingly, ‘aren’t you the bossy one?’”

Emma laughs in disbelief. “Really? Ouch."

“Yes. Really. ” Regina shakes her head, pins a piece of salad on her fork, and lifts it to her mouth. “So I told him to go order for his hickey instead and I left.” It draws a laugh from Emma before she picks up another fry.

“Well, in his defense, you are bossy. High maintenance, remember?” she grins, raising an eyebrow at her friend while motioning to the Caesar dressing on the side of her plate. 

Regina chews on her salad and waves impatiently, lifting her eyes to the sky. After she swallows, she inquires after Emma’s date. “Tell me about yours.”

“Well, actually, we started out fine. Elsa’s a great girl, looked like her photo, and even sounded like I pictured her. She talked about her family, her sister specifically for a bit, and then she mentions where she went to college - and it’s the exact same college Lily went to and I just panicked.” Emma shudders at the memory. It was embarrassing. “I don’t know what happened. My heart started to pound, I was gasping for air like a fish and sweating all over - it wasn’t pretty. I just had to leave the restaurant.” The experience had been horrifying. Emma never really had troubles with keeping her emotions in before, but apparently, there was some pent-up shit that had chosen that exact moment to gush out and she’d done the only thing she knew in those situations - she ran. She’d been crying when she fled the restaurant and sunk on a bench nearby, drowning in misery.

“Oh.” Regina’s brow furrows in sympathy. “I’m sorry that happened.” She reaches over and squeezes Emma’s hand. “You know, it might be months before we’re actually able to enjoy going out with someone new. Or - or go to bed with someone new.”

“Oh, but I did,” Emma says, immediately. Regina withdraws her hand, and Emma folds her own together, as she goes over yesterday’s memories.

“What?” Regina frowns.

Images of last night’s happenings fizzle into Emm’s brain, and she hums contentedly. “I um, went to bed with her. She followed me outside and calmed me down and she hugged me and it felt nice, you know? And we went to her apartment because it was closest and, you know. She was kind and understanding and… well. Stuff happened.” She smiles a bit sheepishly at Regina, who stares at her in disbelief. “You were right. It’s not marriage. It’s just fun, especially with someone like Elsa who also, it turns out, wasn’t looking for something fixed. And, I have to say, it was rather comforting as well and we both got something out of it once I got over myself. I might even do it again.” It’s the truth. Elsa was what she needed last night and apparently, that also counted the other way around. And when she got up and left early in the morning, there wasn’t some sappy, uncomfortable goodbye. Just the acknowledgment that what happened was okay and nobody was left feeling hurt. She liked that, with no strings attached. In fact, she could get used to that.

Regina just stares at her with wide eyes, skepticism shining in her eyes. “I’ve created a monster,” she mutt ers while slightly shaking her head.

“Sex doesn’t have to be about long-lasting relationships all the time, Regina,” Emma says, rolling her eyes. “You should try it once. Who knows, you might even like it.” However, the words are accompanied by an exaggerated wink, so it doesn’t sound condescending at all, and Regina sighs, shaking her head in exasperation. 

“I think I’ll leave that particular bit up to you.”

 

~*~

 

So, that’s where their dating adventures start. Regina has Kathryn as her personal matchmaker and Kathryn’s choices vary from absolutely horrible to somewhat nice, and Emma comments on all of them, always firmly rooting for Regina even though she likes to comment on Regina’s behavior, too, because let’s face it, that’s just fun.

Emma, too, starts dating more frequently - she has become a fervent swiper and sometimes lets Regina join in the fun. Coincidentally, most of her dates take place on the same days as Regina’s dates. It’s also convenient, she says when Regina makes a comment on it. “That way, we both have something to talk about during lunch,” she says with a bright smile. Regina is not so sure but leaves it be. She has to admit that it’s somewhat of a relief that Emma’s also putting herself out there because honestly, she’d felt a little guilty at first. She worries about Emma on a regular basis, and it seems at least that she’s doing better.

And after her dates, Emma is always there when she wants to complain about a date demanding a kiss, groping assholes, guys with foul breath, high-pitched voices like Spongebob, or any other criteria that aren’t right for Regina. One of them even had the audacity to call her his girlfriend, ten minutes into the date (and Emma had laughed so hard about that one, right before she offers to punch him in the face). Sometimes, Kathryn hooks her up with a girl, most of them blondes - according to Kathryn, it’s a coincidence. One of them talks about her nails for at least twenty minutes which makes Regina wants to pull her own hair out in frustration, another one blatantly tells her she expects Regina to pay even before they ordered food (Regina walks out on that one), and has one date that’s actually nice, but there’s no spark so it’s not going to happen. In all honesty, she’s getting a little annoyed. Frustrated, maybe, or exhausted. In any case, she doesn’t like dating much and those failing dates also make her a little self-conscious. 

It’s partly why she likes to interrogate Emma about her dates. It distracts her from her own miserable, non-existent love life. And Emma, though she sticks to her word and doesn’t seek anything remotely long-term, has a lot of colorful and sometimes comical tales about both her dates and her newfound sex life.

Sometimes Regina snorts in disbelief, like that time Emma told her that she made a woman meow. Regina didn’t believe her, so Emma ended up mimicking the sound which made Regina even more skeptical. No woman would ever make a sound like that, she had huffed, but the smug look on Emma’s face made her conviction falter. She still doesn’t believe it. She thinks. 

Another reason she looks forward to their exchange of failed dates adventures is that it’s refreshing to have a conversation partner that isn’t constantly lamenting her married boyfriend’s antics (Kathryn) or talking comic books (Henry), despite the conversations are tacky on occasion. Sometimes, Regina still can’t believe she’s actually talking about this with Emma. But Emma’s dates are so far from what she would do herself, so way outside her own comfort zone that she finds herself intrigued, too. She would probably never just date to hook up, so maybe that’s why it interests her so.

Finally, she wants to know because sometimes, she worries about Emma. She knows Emma can hold her own, but she suspects that Emma might distract herself with these one-night stands from really getting over Lily. Once, Emma has said that she never wants to commit to another long-term relationship again because they always lead to misery and pain. Regina knows that Emma is hurting but it’s the only thing that she doesn’t allow Regina to help her with. She’s suggested therapy, but Emma has dismissed that idea right away. “I’ve found my therapy,” she’s winked at her while following a blonde woman with her eyes. Regina snorted, rolled her eyes, and dropped the subject.

Emma does tell her that some of the women she hooks up with might not be looking for just hookups. “I do tell them I’m not in it for the long run,” she says, “but I guess some of them get their hopes up anyway. That’s not on me. I’m honest from the start.” She picks up two fries, studies them, shrugs, and stuffs them in her mouth.

Regina hums noncommittally, as her eyes slide over the interior of the unfamiliar diner.

Christmas is around the corner and when Regina told Emma she was going to Portland to pick up some gifts for Henry, Emma asked if she could come, too, because, in her very serious words, “the kid needs a kick-ass present.” Regina agreed and Emma jokingly called it yet another road trip - Regina shuddered slightly - but here they are, on their way back, the Mercedes stuffed with too many gifts, in a diner for early dinner. Henry’s staying over at his friend’s place tonight, so there’s no hurry to get home.

“Don’t hum like you disapprove,” Emma says, but her face doesn’t wrinkle into a frown. “I can’t help it that they all fall for me.”

Regina snorts. “Who do you think you are? Their orgasm-goddess?” Sarcasm drips from her voice, but Emma seems to take it as a compliment and grins smugly.

“They never complain.” 

Regina shakes her head. Sometimes, she just can’t with this woman’s attitude. Sometimes, it’s like they’re right back to ten years ago. They look a little older, but inside, Emma’s still a child. And why, for the love of everything that’s holy, do they always end up talking about sex in diners? Unbelievable, but Regina doesn’t back away either.

“So,” Regina says, “How does that work with these women? You just… get out of bed and leave?”

“Sure,” Emma says, corners of her lips up. 

“Explain to me how you do it,” Regina says - no, demands vicariously. “What do you say? You tell them upfront, in all honesty, that you’re looking for a hookup?”

Emma hums in confirmation. “I tell them that they shouldn’t expect anything else than that. I’ve already told them so in these chats, but I want to be fair. I’m just there for a nice evening. It quells the loneliness for me, and for them. And not all my dates end up in my or their beds.” Regina quirks an eyebrow, and Emma admits, “Most of them do, yeah. They simply can’t resist.” She smiles smugly while stealing fries off Regina’s plate before the latter can slap her hand away.

Regina wrinkles her nose. “You’re awfully full of yourself.” Emma grins and for some reason, Regina really wants to smack her in the head and wipe the smile from her face. Her stomach knots together and she doesn’t really know why. Their conversation is… getting to her in a way it never has before.  There’s a funny feeling settling in her lower belly which she can’t place, but it makes her want to lash out. “You know,” Regina snorts, tone bordering on biting, “I’m so happy I never got involved with you.” She waves away the word with an impatient gesture of her hand, feels unsettled, all of a sudden, and she’s not handling it well.

Emma’s brow furrows - she doesn’t get where this is coming from and she watches Regina’s face carefully. She hasn’t said or done anything differently from the previous times they’ve talked about her dates - or Regina’s for that matter. “Hey. They’re having a great time, I promise.” She confidently takes a bite from her burger, but Regina’s brow furrows even more.

“How do you know?” The look in Regina’s eyes can easily be described as disgruntled and Emma doesn’t understand what’s going on with her.

“What do you mean, how do I know?”

“How do you know if they….” Regina waves in the air again with her fork before stuffing it in her mouth, disabling herself to speak.

Emma observes her with a light snort, and now it’s her turn to roll with her eyes. “You’re a grown woman, Regina,” she says. “You can say orgasm. Yes. They all had orgasms when they had sex with me.”

“Hm.”

“What, ‘Hm’?”

“How do you know they weren’t faking it?” Regina’s glance is now bordering on defiance but, okay, two can play that game, Emma decides. No way she’s going to let Regina get to her.

“I’m a woman,” Emma says. “I know when someone’s faking it because women are the expert fakers. But really, there was no need to fake anything.”

“How do you know?” Regina asks again, leaning forward, and Emma refuses to lean back.

“I just do.” Emma looks smug, catches Regina’s gaze. “Why, you have experience with faking orgasms while having sex with women?”

Regina narrows her eyes but holds Emma’s gaze. “Most women, at one time or another, have faked orgasms - even with other women,” she says haughtily, “So statistically, someone will have faked one with you. More than one, probably, given your quite impressive number of sexual encounters.” There it is, the condescending tone that comes up whenever Regina’s irritated, and it riles Emma up.

“You don’t think I can tell the difference? Because believe me, I can. I’m not going to have this discussion with you. You really don’t know what I’m capable of and you will never find out, so back off.” Emma’s done with this, feels aggravated and a little hurt in her pride, maybe, and the next minute, they eat in silence.

Emma’s not very good with silences, especially not when they weigh on her shoulders after a fallout like this one. So she sighs deeply, takes a bite of her cheeseburger, chews a few times, opens her mouth to say something, and then, suddenly, Regina moans deeply.

Emma nearly chokes on her cheeseburger. Her eyebrows shoot up, and she tries to keep her gaze even but can’t help but blink in surprise. A soft puff of air escapes Regina’s lips as her eyes fall half-closed. She wets her lips with the tip of her tongue and Emma finds her eyes glued to Regina’s mouth before the brunette releases another soft moan and takes her lower lip between her teeth. When her eyes open, she locks her gaze with Emma’s, and Emma swears Regina’s eyes darken - she swallows thickly. The food’s good but not that good, and Emma’s poor, confused body and mind need time to catch up with what’s happening.

Another sigh escapes Regina’s throat, followed by a long moan. Then, she whimpers, shifts in her seat, and exhales a shuddering breath. “Oh,” she breathes, almost surprised as her eyes momentarily widen before they fall shut and she raises a hand to her hair, digs her fingers in it. Curls them into a fist. “Oh-oh god,” she gasps, breath stuttering. 

It takes a short while for Emma’s slow brain to catch up to the fact that Regina isn’t actually having an orgasm, because her body is very much responding to Regina’s passionate displays. It’s not real, she tells herself - no, Regina’s faking an orgasm in a very, very public place. And Emma can’t help but stare at the sight in front of her, eyes glued to the expressive face opposite the table. Regina is a very attractive woman and goodness, she is very good at what she does because Emma can feel the arousal pool between her legs as Regina’s soft moan grows louder and her words, first barely recognizable as such, become audible. “Oh, yes. Yes, right there,” Regina breathily whines, as she throws her head back in her neck. Emma’s breath catches in her throat, her cheeks flush as she crosses her legs under the table, unable to look away. 

Emma’s not the only one staring now. Everyone’s looking at Regina with wide eyes, some frown, but all fascinated, like Emma. Flustered but unable to look away, Emma feels how her belly responds. Her skin tingles. She’s looking at pure pornography across the table and it takes all of her willpower not to shift in her own seat. Her heart rate goes up and its beat is pounding in her ears. Fuck. She fights off the urge to slip her hand under the table to press against her own core. 

Regina writhes on her chair and gasps loudly. “Oh!” she cries, and a breath catches in her throat. Biting her lip, she moans loud and long as a shiver runs through her body, as she rocks on her chair - Emma’s fingers itch to help Regina come at this point. “Oh, God, please, don’t stop,” she whines, and whimpers and she groans with her eyes half-closed, a look of pure ecstasy on her face as her moaning intensifies. Her breath goes faster, her chest heaves with tension, and Emma almost wills her to come. “Yes, there, yes - o-oh! Oh! Don’t stop - please- ” Her voice is higher-pitched than ever as she cries out, “Yes, yes, yes! Oh God, yes!”, grasps the table’s edge with both hands, and then she shudders violently, “O-o-oooh-” she gasps, breath ragged and stuttering while she slowly, very slowly comes down from her fake high. Her fingers relax, she breathes in deeply, raises an eyebrow at a very flustered and aroused Emma, because good God, who wouldn’t be turned on by that show, and takes a bite of her salad. With the goddamn extra dressing on the side.

Emma snorts, shakes her head, and takes a bite of her own cheeseburger while she’s trying to calm down her own elevated heart rate and takes a large gulp of her water to cool down her insides, while she can hear a woman across the diner say to the waitress while pointing at Regina, “I’ll have what she's having.” She chokes on her water and it results in a coughing fit, while Regina calmly finishes her salad and only raises an eyebrow at her. And while she gasps for breath and blinks the tears from her eyes, there's only one thought echoing through her mind.

Holy hell. If that's fake, what does the real deal sound like?

 

~*~

 

Maybe they both expected things to get a little weird between them after that specific event, but it doesn’t. Not much, anyway. Regina does take a step back from inquiring after Emma’s dates, though, because despite her earlier interest, it doesn’t feel very right anymore after her most recent outburst. Besides, she’s momentarily exhausted Kathryn's list of eligible people to date, much to Kathryn’s chagrin and Regina’s relief. And also noteworthy, Emma is a grown woman and doesn’t need Regina to look after her.

Emma doesn’t experience it as Regina drawing away from her but more a change in subjects they talk about. Besides, with Christmas around the corner, Emma grows a little quiet and it’s so out of character that Regina asks if she is all right - or actually, she asks if Emma needs help putting up her decorations because her apartment is void of anything Christmas and okay, maybe Regina pushes a little - and she is surprised that Emma’s eyes water at the question. 

So Regina takes her out for a walk because that usually makes her feel good. It’s cold, and the sky is overcast which probably fits Emma’s mood, Regina thinks, and they walk in silence until they reach the docks. When they sit down on the benches, looking out over the harbor, she waits until Emma finally starts talking and when she does, she reluctantly shares a story about how Christmas never really was a great time for her. 

Regina’s heart goes out to young Emma when the blonde begrudgingly paints a picture of Christmas in foster care, or in group homes with barely any decorations or gifts or sometimes even food. She describes how there were years in which she wandered the streets on Christmas Eve, envious of the people behind the windows around their trees and with all the food. “It was different with Lily,” Emma finally says, eyes on the ground. “Those were good years. We made our own tradition. Now… I don’t know.” She folds her fingers, twists them around, and stares out over the ocean without seeing anything. Regina lifts her gloved hand, brushes her fingers against Emma’s lower arm, but the blonde doesn’t respond. Wind plays with her hair as she softly sighs while her shoulders slump. There’s more, Regina can see, and she quietly waits until Emma’s found the right words to tell her.

“I found out that I was pregnant around this time,” she then murmurs and it completely catches Regina off guard - of all the things she had expected Emma to tell her, this isn’t one of them. And immediately, there are so many questions invading her mind and she has to force herself not to spring any of them on Emma. Instead, she takes Emma’s hand and wraps it into her own, shuffles a little closer for support until her side completely touches Emma’s. The blonde draws in a shuddering breath and exhales just as shakily.

“I had a son,” Emma whispers, and her voice is nearly blown away by the wind, but Regina hears it anyway. “In prison. I gave him up for adoption.”

Silence falls over them again.

“Why?” Regina then quietly dares to ask, and Emma sighs. Her head lowers, her hair falls in front of her face.

“I was in prison,” she says again as if that explains everything, “I had a record. No house, no money. The only thing I was good at was running away. I wanted to give him his best chance. He deserved a real mom, not…” Her voice stutters slightly. “Not someone like me who couldn’t take care of him. I would’ve ruined him.” The self-loathing is evident in her voice and Regina desperately wants to make Emma feel better but doesn’t know how. And maybe she can’t, but at least she can give her some support and let Emma know she’s here. She slips her arm around Emma’s waist and Emma softly sighs, before she slowly lowers her head against Regina’s shoulders. “I wrote him a letter, too,” she said, her tone miserable. “He should receive it when he turns ten. It’s a little embarrassing maybe, but I was eighteen at the time I wrote it. Nineteen when I gave birth. I hope he’ll forgive me one day and I hope, I so hope that he had a better childhood than I did.”

“I’m sure he has,” Regina quietly offers, gently squeezing Emma’s waist. And they sit there for a while, looking out over the boats until their feet and faces go numb with the cold. 

When Regina suggests they should head back, Emma withdraws a little. She seems a bit flustered, or maybe it’s just the cold. But Regina watches her like a hawk and doesn’t let her pull away.

“You’re going to celebrate Christmas with Henry and me,” she then decides - Emma doesn’t get a say in this. The blonde protests weakly, but it’s more pro forma. And so, in the end, they don’t decorate Emma’s apartment but as it’s only two days before Christmas, Regina orders her to grab some clothes and to set up shop in her guest bedroom. She won’t take no for an answer and honestly, Emma doesn’t really want to say no in the first place. And when Christmas comes, they have an all-out traditional Christmas with baking Christmas cookies, making Christmas pancakes on Christmas Day while Henry squeals and opens his presents, and Emma and Regina share an exasperated look. Henry, too, has a gift for Emma and she’s surprised, but so touched. “Best Christmas ever,” Henry sighs happily while lying spread out in all the wrapping paper on the living room floor, basking in the moment.

Emma quietly agrees.

Hell, it almost feels like family and maybe they are, Emma muses after Regina’s fantastic home-cooked Christmas dinner. It was a great day. And, as she nurses her glass of wine while she looks out of the window, as she lifts her head to watch the starry sky, she allows her thoughts to wander, wander to places it normally isn’t allowed to go, and silently wishes that her son, wherever he might be, has had a great Christmas too.

 

~*~


One of the perks of having a friend like this is always having a date when you’re actually not dating anyone, they both agree. After Christmas, there’s another event coming up - New Year’s Eve, and as Mayor and deputy sheriff, they’re both expected to make an appearance at the town’s official New Year’s Eve party. Neither of them is in the mood to date in the week between Christmas and New Year, so they decide to be each other’s dates.

It works out really well. There’s no pressure, and nobody’s asking questions which is nice, but unsurprising because Storybrooke isn’t the biggest of towns, and most people know that they’re friends anyway. “We should do at least one dance together,” Emma grins after a couple of drinks, a lot of conversations - both political and informal -, as she drags Regina onto the dancefloor. She knows how to dance - one of her foster mothers knew how and taught her the basics and it’s like riding a bike, right? 

It turns out it’s not really the same but Regina winces only twice when Emma steps on her toes, and keeps an impressively straight face during the other times. “Sorry, sorry,” Emma murmurs as the music slows and their movements do so, as well. 

“Despite you crushing my toes, I really want to thank you for doing this together with me,” Regina smiles at her, and Emma shrugs and laughs back. 

“That’s okay. And next New Year’s Eve, if neither of us is with anybody, you got a date.” Her eyes are shining in the festive lights and Regina feels tiny wings flutter inside her belly. 

“Deal,” she answers, and Emma pulls her a little closer. “We even get to dance cheek to cheek,” she chuckles and Regina laughs, too, but their voices die as their bodies find their rhythm, move in unison. Regina feels the warmth of Emma’s hands on her shoulders, the warmth of her breath on her neck, and suppresses a shiver running down her spine. They really are dancing cheek to cheek now and she’s never really noticed how soft Emma’s skin really is. She breathes in deeply, which causes her chest to expand against Emma’s and it fills her lungs with a scent specifically Emma, so maybe that wasn’t the best of ideas.

Maybe she just drank too much wine tonight, she thinks absentmindedly as she lazily exhales against Emma's neck. She feels a ripple go through Emma’s body - does that mean anything? She feels a little lightheaded, tries to breathe evenly to force her rapidly beating heart into submission but she can only feel Emma’s warm body pressed against hers. The velvet-soft cheek against hers. Her eyes flutter closed. The bubbles are going to her head and Emma’s her friend, but this… she doesn’t know. It’s nice. Maybe too nice, but she doesn’t care. At this moment it’s simply Emma and herself and she allows herself to revel in it.

“Ten seconds to New Year!” one of the partygoers shouts and they immediately separate as if they’ve burned themselves, but not before catching each other’s gaze, and neither of them looks away. They both are a little flustered, but it’s the warmth of the venue, the alcohol, and they’ve been dancing a lot, so it must be that, right? Emma breaks the gaze. “Want to get some air?”

Regina nods, and while the crowd is counting down from ten to zero, Emma grabs her hand, leads the way, and pushes the door open, desperately in need of some cold to cool her down. 

When they step out, the cold air takes her breath away but at least she’s breathing again, and she shivers as she pulls Emma further outside onto the street, where more people have gathered. And when the clock hits zero, and people around them are kissing each other, Emma lets go of Regina’s hand as they turn towards the crowd to observe how people are celebrating the new year together. Friends hug, lovers kiss, some longer than others, and the moment is suddenly awkward. There’s a tension lingering in the air that wasn’t there before, and they both don’t know what to make of it.

Regina doesn’t really know what has happened just now, but she’s fiddling with her fingers before she presses them flat to her stomach to ease the churning emotions in her belly. She looks up, a little insecure, and finds Emma’s face, void of emotion, simply staring back at her. And then, something shifts in Emma’s gaze, her mouth pulls in a lopsided smile and she says, “Happy New Year.”

Regina breathes in with a smile of her own, intensely relieved that Emma looks like the old Emma again, and steps forward with open arms. “Happy New Year,” she says, smiling back, and they reach over, hug each other, and Emma pats Regina awkwardly on her back before she kisses her on the cheek. Regina’s skin is tingling as she returns the favor, forcing herself not to linger with her lips on Emma’s cheek for too long. 

What the hell just happened? They both aren’t sure, blame it on the booze, the moment, the New Year, but even though they don’t say it out loud to each other, they agree on one thing: This is not good, and something needs to happen to fix this.

 

~*~

 

Three weeks into the new year, they plan a double date. Emma, who’s taken up running as one of her New Year’s resolutions (and it also helps to get rid of some excessive anxiety and quiets her running mind) in the morning, has found a running buddy in Frederick. They accidentally meet in the park, and after literally running into each other a couple of times, they decide to run together. And Emma never believed a man and a woman could just be friends but apparently they can, when at least one of them is gay. And when she finds out that he’s single, Emma is convinced that Frederick is perfect for Regina. 

On her end, Regina insists that her friend Kathryn is perfect for Emma - in fact, she has expressed multiple times how attractive she finds Emma. It’s the perfect scenario, right? 

Besides, Regina thinks as she and Kathryn are walking over to the restaurant, her friend really needs to break it off with this married guy who’s never going to leave his wife. And Emma - well, she knows Emma. They both deserve the best and they both are the best, otherwise, they weren’t friends with Regina anyway, so it’s a match made in heaven.

Emma, too, thinks that Frederick is perfect for Regina. Aesthetically, they are both beautiful people - they would make a very hot couple. Fred might only be a high school gym teacher, but he does all sorts of volunteering projects for children which she believes that Regina will be a fan of. 

Only, Fred isn’t so sure he actually needs a woman in his life. “I finally am comfortable with where I am in my life, and with the fact that it’s just me and my work, and my projects,” he says. “If she’s so great, why aren’t you taking her out?”

Emma shakes her head immediately. “Because we’re just friends.” 

Fred looks at her pointedly. “Look, I know the mayor, and she scares me a little,” he confesses. Emma stares at him, blinks, and then she bursts out in laughs.

“Really? She’s hot and she has a great personality,” she says after she’s caught her breath again. He doesn’t look convinced. And honestly, when their double date is finally happening, Emma’s less and less convinced that this was a good idea.

Regina looks actually bored with Fredericks conversations and she knows he is really trying and she sees how nervous he is, and Kathryn, who she’s already met once, is nice, but she can only talk about her work as a lawyer and wtf, she even talks about a guy she’s been seeing but who’s married. A glare from Regina has her return to the subject of her work, and Emma groans inwardly. “I do some pro bono work,” Kathryn says at one point, “you know, especially with youth programs that get stuck in the administrative mill. They shouldn’t have to deal with that, and should just focus on their programs, instead.”

“Oh! Which programs?” Frederick perks up, and Kathryn turns her head.

“Well, there’s one softball team that had the IRS on their back, and I fixed it.” She looks rather pleased, and Frederick's face flushes.

“Oh. I think that’s the team I’m currently coaching,” he says, beaming.

"You are?” Kathryn’s mouth turns up at that pleasant surprise. “I didn’t know!” And before Emma knows it, the both of them are discussing youth programs they volunteered for and Emma and Regina insecurely look at each other for a bit, baffled with what’s happening. And then, Emma smiles because it’s actually pretty funny that both their dates are more interested in each other than in their actual dating partners.

Regina’s eyes crinkle. And neither of them are surprised that after dinner, Kathryn hails a cab and invites Frederick over, but only after reassuring themselves that both Emma and Regina are okay with it. They shoo the pair away.

“Well,” Regina snorts after the cab leaves, “that went well. At least he’ll hopefully make Kathryn forget about her married guy.”

“Fred’s really nice,” Emma says, grinning. “He just might do exactly that.” And Regina laughs at that and maybe this is exactly what they needed to take this weird tension off because it’s suddenly less awkward between them now that they can focus on Frederick’s and Kathryn’s antics.

 

Chapter Text

Kathryn does forget her married guy and is completely infatuated with Frederick. Regina hears all about it during their biweekly lunches. Her friend has fallen hard, swoons over every itty bitty detail, and though Regina loves that she’s found him, especially loves that Kathryn hasn’t gotten her hopes set on David anymore, she can’t help but get a little annoyed with her lengthy odes to Frederick. It’s new, she has to remind herself and for once, a healthy relationship.

Emma has it easier with Fredericks' side of the story, mostly because they only see each other while taking their morning laps around the park. It doesn’t leave a lot of time to talk, but she can tell that Frederick’s over the moon for her. He gets all flustered when Emma drops Kathryn’s name and, because she’s Emma and likes to tease, drops her name quite often. It’s sickenly cute, and she’s happy for him.

As for the uneasiness between Emma and Regina - the life event of their friends getting together does wonders to the uneasy feelings that lingered between Emma and Regina. The new love in their vicinity seems to take the pressure off the awkwardness between them as they laugh and remember their double date going awry - what are the chances? And in that alleviated pressure, Emma is convinced that the uneasiness was caused by all the emotions over the holidays. Relieved that those are over, Emma manages to settle in the friendship again like before.

Regina has more difficulties coming to terms with what happened between them, but as Emma returns to her old self, she finds it easy to just… go with the flow, perhaps. She’s relieved that the tension has lifted, even though there’s this lingering nagging feeling in the depth of her stomach that sometimes makes her nauseous when she’s in Emma’s close proximity. It’s something that has to wear out, she believes, and she ignores it as the months progress.

It doesn’t surprise either of them a lot that it takes Frederick and Kathryn less than six months to move in together. “Why waste time when you know that this is going to be forever?” Kathryn tells Regina, and maybe she’s right, Regina muses. Kathryn is in deep, gets these doe-y eyes whenever she talks about Frederick and has said with a sigh that he really is her true love. It’s bordering on disgusting.

And so, Regina, Henry, and Emma find themselves in a department store, looking for a housewarming gift. It’s the beginning of July, and the weather is scorching hot. They drive all the way to Portland for it, because it has bigger and fancier shops, according to Regina, and their friends deserve the best. Emma agrees. Henry tags along this time, too, and Emma enjoys his presence in the stores because at least now there’s someone who values her taste.

The department store they visit is the best. Emma knows department stores, but this one seems to have been stuffed with all the crazy things nobody would ever need, yet they are so much fun to try out with Henry. Both she and the kid can’t help but touch everything they pass and it has Regina’s eyes rolling continuously. Emma glees when she sees a small basketball hoop with a backboard “What about this one? Frederick will love it!” 

“Honestly, Emma, would you ever see Kathryn slam-dunking?” Regina scoffs.

Emma wrinkles her nose. Maybe not. It would be a funny sight, though.

“Can I have it, instead?” Henry’s puppy eyes are fixed on his mom, and she smiles while ruffling his hair.

“No, sweetheart. Not today. We’re here to buy a gift for Frederick and Kathryn, remember?” she says, running her hand affectionately through his hair.

His face falls, and he tries it with a pout, but it only takes a glance from Regina to make him stop. 

“Hey kid, you can put it on your birthday list, and you know, I’d totally give it to you then if I can play with it, too. Or,” Emma whirls around, “Maybe I’ll get it for myself. Or for the sheriff’s station.” Her gaze brightens at the idea.

“Don’t even think about it,” Regina scoffs. 

But Emma’s already dropped the ball and has reached for something else. “Look at this!” It’s a hat, with a fan, and Regina stares at her in disbelief. 

“What’s that?”

“A battery-operated pith helmet, with a fan.” She drops it on Regina’s head and Henry laughs. 

“You look silly, mom,” he snickers, and Regina scowls.

“Tell me why this is necessary in life?” she says, folding her arms, and it has Emma shrug before she takes off the helmet.

“I don’t know,” Emma says, already distracted again, “But it looks cute on you. Oh. Oh!” she squeals, putting the helmet back at the table and bouncing to another corner of the store. And when she gets there, she switches on a machine, grabs the microphone, and says: “Regina, please report to me.”

Regina whirls around and looks in horror at the karaoke machine that's been set up to try out. Henry bounces over to Emma. Well, she guesses she can never tell Henry that things in the store are there to look at, only, and not to touch - Emma’s efficiently ruined that, forever. Because of course , Emm needs to try it out because that’s just how she is. 

“This is the greatest,” Emma grins in the microphone as she turns to the machine. “Look! It’s got a hard drive with a lot of songs and there’s a little screen that’ll project the lyrics for you. Here! it has Bon Jovi, you know that song.”

“Living on a Prayer?” Regina scoffs, but Emma nods enthusiastically as she selects the song and the music starts. Regina’s eyes wander the store, but nobody’s really paying attention to them, and she sighs deeply as Henry cheers for her. Emma’s not going to let this one go. So when Emma starts singing, the first refrain, Regina rolls her eyes - her eye muscles have improved greatly today - and steps closer. “We've got to hold on to what we've got- “ Regina falls in, slightly off-key and Henry’s giggling and beams at her and that’s almost all that she needs. Almost, because then she notices Emma isn’t singing and hell if Regina’s going to do this all by herself. She looks up, annoyed, feeling as if she’s being tricked and if there’s something she hates, it’s just that. 

But though she maybe suspected her to gaze back with a quirked eyebrow and a smug smirk, Emma does nothing like it. Instead, she’s frozen to her spot and her face has turned sickly pale, as she stares at someone further away. Regina frowns, motions Henry to come closer, instinctively protective of her… well, she wanted to say family, but Emma isn’t just that. But she’s a dear friend, and Regina is a lioness when it comes to her family and friends.

Henry looks worried. “Emma?” he says, eyes wide in concern, and Regina slides her arm around Emma’s waist because she looks as if she’s about to pass out. She follows Emma’s gaze with narrowed eyes.

“What is it, Swan?” she murmurs quietly, and a ripple goes through Emma’s body in response.

“It’s Lily,” Emma croaks, her eyes fixed on the woman a little further away.

“Lily?” Regina frowns, taking in the woman ahead with renewed interest.

“She’s here,” Emma says, voice flat, “and she’s coming right towards me.”

Regina fixes on a woman with dark, nearly black, smooth hair, and there’s someone next to her - a beautiful blond woman. There’s a smile on Lily’s face as she stops in front of Emma and Regina and Regina feels strangely protective as an awkward moment of silence lingers between the four. Five. Henry presses himself against Regina’s legs as he looks up in distrust. 

“How are you, Emma?” Lily says, a small smile on her face.

“Fine,” Emma says, face stony, void of any emotion. “I’m fine.” She almost sounds like a robot. There’s nothing left of the teasing, playful woman Regina has come to know and value, and it wrenches her heart. 

Lily’s eyes crinkle before she remembers there’s someone else next to her. “This is Ashley Cinder,” she introduces the woman. The woman she’s holding hands with. “Ashley, this is Emma Swan.” They fleetingly shake hands before the awkward silence settles over them again.

“Oh,” Emma shakes her head. “This is Regina Mills. Regina, this is Lily Page, and, uh, Ashley. And, uh...” Her gaze travels down, and Henry hides a little further behind Regina’s leg. “Henry,” she adds with a wave of her hand.

Regina smiles stiffly. So, this is the woman who’s hurt Emma, almost beyond repair. It causes an instant dislike, and she suppresses the urge to hiss at her. Or, less animalistic but more violent, to punch her in the face, but that would set a bad example for her son.  “Nice to meet you,” she drawls, and then there is another uncomfortable silence. Tension radiates off of Emma in enormous waves and Regina wants to make it better. Tightening her grip around Emma’s waist and Henry’s shoulders, she stares at Lily, who starts to shift uncomfortably under her piercing gaze. Lily looks away from Regina and her gaze lands on the arm around Emma’s waist, and something inside Regina is pleased as she sees the arm wrapped around Emma. Mine. Not yours.

“Well,” Lily says, plastering a smile on her face, “See you.”

“Yeah. Yeah, see you,” Emma says back automatically. “And uh, nice to meet you, Ashley.”

The pair turns and leaves, and Lily wraps an arm around Ashley’s waist and Emma inhales with a shuddering breath. Regina wants to wrap her into a hug, but there’s this look on Emma’s face that makes her hesitate.

“Emma,” she softly says, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah - yeah, I’m wonderful,” Emma says robotically, blinking and snapping out of her funk. She steps away from Regina as if she can’t handle the touch. “She looked weird, didn’t she? Really weird?” 

“I’ve never seen her before,” Regina says earnestly, “But I guess…”

“Yeah!” Henry chips in helpfully, regaining his voice now that Lily and Ashley have disappeared. “She really does look weird. She has these witch fingers.” He curls his fingers to demonstrate claws. “And black witch hair And, uh...”

Emma smiles at him, but Regina sees that it doesn’t reach her eyes.

“Yeah, trust me. She looks weird. Especially with the legs.” 

And she falls into silence, sinks into her own thoughts and not even Henry can cheer her up. Her son turns to her, looks confused about what just happened. She gently squeezes his shoulder.

Everything in the store has lost its charm because of Lily’s appearance, and Regina leads Emma to a plant store instead. But there’s a frown on Emma’s face - one that Regina hasn’t seen in months now. Emma’s normally vibrant green eyes are even a little pale right now and she doesn’t want to go into the store. Henry, sensing that something’s really wrong, wants to stay outside with Emma but Regina knows she needs time, so she tells him Emma will wait for them, and she really needs his help to find the perfect plant for Kathryn and Frederick. It gives her ample time to explain to Henry what’s happened. “Emma loved Lily very much, sweetheart,” she tells him in the store, lowering herself to his height. “And when Lily left her, Emma was heartbroken. It still hurts her when she sees her.”

Henry’s eyes are thoughtful. “I don’t get it,” he then says.

“What, dear?”

“Doesn’t Lily love her anymore?” 

Regina’s heart squeezes. “I don’t know. I guess she doesn’t.”

“Why?”

Well, isn’t that the million-dollar question, Regina snorts to herself. But before she can say anything, Henry continues, “How can someone not love Emma? I do. You do.”

Regina smiles at these innocent words, but something inside her shifts and she feels her cheeks flush a little. Henry is right. She cares deeply about Emma. Hates to see her hurt. She does love her, as a friend, and maybe she shouldn’t think about it for too long right now. “We do,” she murmurs, as a tiny shiver runs down over her spine. “And maybe Emma needs to be reminded that there are still people who love her.”

Henry smiles brightly. “Okay. I will.” He hugs her quickly, before turning to the section of plants behind them. “I like the one with flowers.” 

Regina looks at the plant he’s pointing out to her and tries to make sense of the churning emotions inside her stomach in the meantime. 

When they leave the store, plant-with-flowers in their possession, they find Emma at exactly the same spot they left her, sunk in thoughts. Henry quietly takes his place between them, slips his hand into both his mom’s and Emma’s, and it seems to pull Emma from her thoughts. There’s a slight crease in her forehead when she blinks at Henry first, and then looks up, and Regina can almost feel her own heartbreak for her.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Regina quietly asks.

“Oh, I’m fine. It probably had to happen at one point but I’d never expected to see her here in Portland. She must be here for the weekend on a city trip, maybe? Or, I don’t know, maybe she moved here with her girlfriend? Anyway, it happened. And now I’m fine.” Emma is rambling, and there’s a tightness around her mouth that instantly tells Regina that she’s not fine. Not at all. Feelings are raging just below the surface and Emma’s keeping them inside, the way she always does - it’s taken her months to really open up a little beyond the superficial jokes. When she finally did, she shared a story about giving up a child for adoption - Regina can’t imagine the other things she has holed up inside the darkest corners of her soul. Emma’s front is all teasing and smiles, but there’s a whole world behind those bright green shimmering eyes that she keeps to herself.

Regardless, Regina knows better than to pry. It’ll come out when it does, and she’ll be there to catch Emma when she falls. She knows it’s going to happen in a little while, but for now, she lets it rest. Besides, Henry is with them, and the last thing she wants is for him to witness Emma falling apart.

Smiling down at her son and tugging them along, back to the car, she decides to keep a close eye on Emma, to be there when she needs her the most. Because that’s what best friends do.

 

~*~

 

The explosion comes a few days later, when they help Kathryn and Frederick move into Kathryn’s home - it’s bigger than Frederick’s tiny apartment and, Kathryn tells them with a conspiring wink, there is plenty of room for little copies of themselves. While they’re unpacking some of the boxes, the new living arrangements bring about some tensions due to Kathryn not liking some of Fred’s furniture, and they start bickering about it, which touches Emma’s nerves in a way it probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t seen Lily in Portland. Now, she feels tense, has some half-distorted flashbacks from dividing furniture from barely a year ago, and she turns her back on the pair and on Regina, who raises her hands and bluntly tells them to figure it out on their own, and that she’s not going to pick sides over a coffee table.

Emma grits her teeth. Memories flash in her head, and misery settles in the pit of her stomach. Lily and her- they had these fights over nothing. Would they still have been together if they wouldn’t have? She sighs, feels a headache coming up, and rubs the bridge of her nose. Behind her, the bickering over the stupid coffee table continues, and she just wants to scream at them. Jesus fuck, who cares about the fucking table in the first place? If they can’t even make decisions about a piece of furniture, then what the hell are they doing together in the first place?

She snorts and turns her back against the window. Faces the couple in the room with a tightening muscle in her jaw, while Regina’s busy unpacking a few plates, ignoring their bickering.

“You know, it’s funny,” she says with a calm voice, not smiling at all, but something in the tone of her voice silences everyone in the room. “Lily and I, we started out like this. We had blank walls. We hung things. Picked out tiles and everything. And then, you know what happens?” Her gaze flicks from Fred to Kathryn and back. “Then, you find yourself, six years later, singing Livin’ on a Prayer in front of fucking Ashley.”

“Emma… this might not be-” Regina starts tentatively and wants to touch her arm, but Emma yanks her arm away before Regina reaches her.

“Yes, I think right now is the perfect time to talk about this,” she barks back, narrowing her eyes, “because I want our friends to benefit from the wisdom of my experience.” Her words are sniding through the suddenly silent room as she whirls around. Kathryn steps closer to Frederick, and he slides a protective arm around her waist. “Right now, everything's - is great, right?” Emma says, a dark look on her face. “Everyone’s happy , everyone’s in love . And that’s great - just great.” She stalks through the room, throws her hands up in the air, paces up and down. “But you have to know that sooner or later, you’re going to be screaming at each other about who’s going to get this, this…” She looks in the closest box and grabs one of the plates Regina was just unpacking, “this plate. And it’s cheap but it’s going to cost you a thousand dollars in fucking phone calls to the legal firm of That’s Mine, And This Is Yours.” She stuffs the plate back into the box, rougher than she should, but it doesn’t break. 

“Emma-” Regina says, a frown on her face. 

“No.” Emma’s head snaps up and her eyes are a mixture of pain and fury, as she snaps at Regina before she turns to Kathryn and Frederick again. “Just make sure that you take fucking notes on who’s bringing what into this relationship, otherwise you’ll fight over the things you don’t even like right now. Like this, this hideous coffee table.” She swirls around on the heels of her boots and marches out. Slams the door behind her.

Tears prick behind her eyes as she remembers how Lily and herself separated in the end. Fighting. Hating each other - or at least, Emma hated Lily. Hated her for plotting the escape from their marriage. Hated herself for putting up a fight when they had to divide their assets because all she wanted was Lily to hurt as much as she had hurt herself. Emma fought because she was so hurt after finding out that Lily had just moved in with someone else - she wouldn’t be surprised if it had been Ashley all along - that she had argued about everything. 

In the end, Emma had simply given up. Had told Lily to take whatever she wanted because frankly, Emma didn’t care. Because there was nothing left to fight for. She had left the apartment with nothing more than her duffel bag and some trinkets. Good riddance, too, because in the end, everything would have reminded her of her failed marriage, anyway.

And she was wounded, abandoned, hurt, and had gone back to Storybrooke where she’d once stayed briefly, where she could lick her wounds and maybe, maybe start a new life. She thought she had, but then she saw Lily and she knew she hadn’t come even close to moving on.

She knows she’s projecting, but she can’t stop it. Despair bubbles under her skin, her eyes sting with unshed tears, her heart pounds loudly in her ears until it becomes an impenetrable wall that blocks out all the other sounds. Heaving in the fresh air once she’s outside doesn’t even help and she hates, hates, hates that Lily still has this effect on her - that even after a year, just the mere sight of her breaks her into a million pieces. 

She drops down on the bench in the front yard of the house and sighs, trying to get her shaking breath under control. It hurts, but she also knows she needs to go back in and apologize. In a bit, she promises herself, while she buries her face into her trembling hands. and she inhales deeply through her nose. Out through her mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Tries to get herself under control. Slowly. Steadily.

Somewhere she registers the door going open. Someone leans against one of the pillars next to the porch. Regina, she instinctively knows. Always Regina. She sniffs. “I know. I shouldn’t have done that.” She can’t bring herself to look up. Doesn’t know what she’ll do if she does. Shatter, maybe. Or anger.

“You shouldn’t have,” Regina says, and even though she’s just confirming what Emma just told her, it stings in all the wrong ways. She clenches her teeth. 

“Thanks for the motivational speech,” she snaps. “You can go now.”

Regina looks to the sky before she folds her arms, gives Emma her space but doesn’t go away either. This gesture shows Emma how much Regina already knows her because she really doesn’t want to be touched right now, not when she’s desperately trying to keep her emotions in check. And that comforts and scares her at the same time because nobody’s ever known her that well. And people always leave at the first signs of trouble. It kicks in her survival instinct of pushing people away before they leave on their own. 

“I’m not going,” Regina says. “I know you’re hurting, but you’re going to have to try and find a way of not expressing every feeling that you have, every moment that you have them. Kathryn and Frederick can’t help any of this.”

It touches something deep inside because she knows, she knows, that eventually, Regina will leave and she snorts. “Oh, really?” She folds her own arms as well. A defiant gesture. Building up her defensive pose. Bracing herself for the inevitable back being turned on her.

Regina seems so collected. Unaffected. All the fucking time and at this moment, Emma can’t stand it. She jumps up. “Well, the next time you’re giving a lecture series on social graces, would you let me know? Because I’ll sign up.”

She starts to stalk away from the house because it’s always better to walk away first, but Regina calls out after her. “Hey! Where’s this coming from? You don’t have to take your anger out on me.”

“Oh,” Emma bites back, “I think I’m entitled to throw a little anger your way. Especially when I’m being told how to live my life by Miss Perfectly Composed.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Regina plants her hands on her sides.

“I mean,” Emma snaps, red-hazed and all restraints gone, “Nothing bothers you. You never get upset by anything . Does anything touch you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Regina snaps back. She turns and starts to walk back to the house. See? Everyone walks away, the voice in her head lisps viciously . And Regina should because Emma drove her to it, but it still hurts. Still, Emma can’t let this go, isn’t done yet, and part of her is angry with Regina for proving Emma right and she can’t have that. So she turns on her heels. Follows her back towards the porch.

“Why not? I am right. You never get upset about Robin. I never see that back up on you. How is that possible? Don’t you experience any feelings of loss? How can you not hurt?”

Regina stops dead in her tracks and swirls around. “I don’t have to take this from you,” she bites back, poking a finger towards her. “Stop being an asshole, Swan.”

“If you’re so over Robin, why aren’t you seeing anyone?” Emma presses on to walk behind her until Regina stops dead in her tracks and turns around. 

Regina scoffs. “I see people,” she defends herself with a raised voice. “I’ve dated tons of morons-”

“See people? Have you even slept with one person since you broke up with Robin?” Emma aims to hurt, aims to get an amplified response from Regina for just once . Sure, Regina can be prickly and impatient but she’s never fallen apart as Emma has. All the anger she felt for Lily moments ago is now being redirected full-on towards Regina and she knows it’s unfair but she can’t help it and she can’t stop either.

And she succeeds.

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Regina snaps in outrage, her eyes blazing with fury. She takes a step forward, right into Emma’s personal space. “To prove I’m over Robin because I fuck somebody?” She snorts. “That’s your m.o.! Swan, you’re going to have to move back to New York because you’ve slept with everybody in Storybrooke and the wide surrounding area and I don’t see that turning Lily into a faint memory for you - how is that working out for you?!” Emma blinks rapidly - maybe she hadn’t expected this raging fight back from Regina, but Regina’s not done yet. 

“Besides, I will make love to somebody when it’s making love, not the way you do it - like you’re out for revenge like you want to hurt Lily. Newsflash, Swan, you’re never going to because she has moved on and you, clearly, haven’t, so you’re only going to end up hurting yourself - and the people who do care about you.” Regina’s chest heaves and Ema feels the ragged breath on her face. Regina’s eyes shimmer with rage and pain and hurt, and Emma’s caused all of them.

Regina's words hurt her as much as Emma’s have hurt Regina. Because there’s a validity to Regina’s words that she’s never wanted to acknowledge. She stares at Regina, and Regina stares back, not going to back down. Their chests heave with fury, their fists clenched, jaws tightened. 

And she’s still here, despite all the garbage Emma unloaded on her. She hasn't walked away.

She lowers her gaze as that realization strikes and the fight leaves her body. Sadness, guilt, and overwhelming shame remain. Accompanied by the realization that Regina’s right. She has been trying to punish Lily for leaving with her sexcapades. And in the process, she’s wanted to hurt the only person who really matters these days - she punished Regina, too - just to see if Regina would stick around, or would abandon her, as well. 

But Regina’s still here. And Emma feels like an asshole.

“Are you finished?” Emma asks, her voice still a little higher pitched than before.

“Yes,” Regina sharply says, folding her arms in front of her chest, still not backing down.

“Can I say something?”

“Yes,” Regina repeats, and for a moment, there’s a tension in the air that’s different from anything else that’s ever been between them and Emma exhales a wavering breath.

“I’m sorry.” She feels a little lost. “I just…” She can’t find the words, her shoulders slump. And she doesn’t know who takes the first step forward but the next thing she knows is that Regina’s arms are around her shoulders and hers are around Regina’s waist. She buries her face in the crook of Regina’s neck. “I’m really sorry,” Emma murmurs again, barely audible. “I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

“No. You shouldn’t have,” Regina says near her ear. And then they stand there for a few minutes, holding on to each other like the world is going to end when they let go and maybe it will, because to Emma, Regina’s like a lifeline right now. A few tears leak from her eyes, which are quickly absorbed by Regina’s hair and she chokes on her breath twice, which only causes Regina’s grip to intensify. The warmth of Regina’s body, her closeness soothes her nerves. Calms her down enough until she has herself back under control. Because Regina’s right. Now is not the time or place, but they’ll talk about it later.

 

~*~

 

They do talk about it - it’s their first big fight, after all, and neither of them is willing to give up their friendship. Emma reveals bits and pieces of her life with Lily but mainly about their rather ugly divorce - an ugliness she’s had a big part in because she wanted to hit Lily where it hurt the most until she didn’t, anymore.

Regina listens and doesn’t interfere. She has worked long enough with children in the system that she’s recognized Emma’s abandonment issues from miles away. It is why Emma responded so fiercely to Lily’s betrayal and the divorce, she thinks - and it’s also why it wouldn’t have been a good idea to have Emma walk away. Maybe, in the end, this is what Emma needed - a fight to prove that not everyone is going to leave her when things get bad. 

She also has some explaining to do. Regina talks about her relationship with Robin. How it was… predictable. “In a good way,” she adds, but Emma just looks at her with a hint of disbelief in her eyes. She can’t blame her. But with Henry and her position as the town’s mayor, she doesn’t know if she could’ve handled an unstable, flighty partner next to her, she says. Emma chuckles a little at that. “Have you met me?” she murmurs, and then she looks a little flustered. “Not that we have a relationship, of course,” she hastily adds, “But we do spend lots of time together.”

That is definitely true, but Emma doesn’t feel like a burden she has to take into account, at all, Regina assures her. Neither was Robin. Robin was entirely different. He was like a rock, always supporting her, always there to keep her steady, make the right decisions, and she knows she probably could’ve been happy with him. Could’ve grown old with him, even. But he just couldn’t commit. Didn’t want a family. It wasn’t her, he’d said. He just wasn’t the marrying kind. So that was that. He was her rock until he wasn’t anymore.

Emma doesn’t say anything but she has a skeptical look on her face. “I really loved him,” Regina says, and she means it. Did it feel a little like rejection when he said he wasn’t the marrying kind? That he didn’t want to have any kids of his own? Of course. But she also knows that pushing someone into having a life he doesn’t want makes both parties miserable. And that’s why she’s made peace with it. 

It does make her think about her future. What she wants out of it. She still wants a family. And maybe, maybe Emma was a little bit right and she hasn’t given it her all. She has always been reluctant to date, and perhaps so much that she hasn’t given her nicer dates a chance.

So, she starts dating again. And surprisingly, after yet another couple of horrifying and boring dates, she finds Marian, someone she’s known since she’s adopted Henry because she was the one who inspected her house in the first place. That’s good, very good indeed because Marian likes Henry and kids in general. And she’s beautiful. The entire opposite of Emma, both in character and in appearance. Her skin is a shade darker than her own, and her dark curls reach until midway through her back. Almond-shaped dark brown eyes are usually shimmering with life, and Regina feels really drawn to her. It might not be love, yet, but it’s… promising, maybe.

Emma, too, starts to date again. More serious, this time. No more one-night stands. Regina sometimes fears that Emma won’t be able to open up and she knows it’s not her problem, and she knows that in the first few dates it’s not even a necessity to tell people about your past, but Regina can’t help it - she always looks out for Emma. Wants the very best for her. Wants her to have her best chance in anything she does or undertakes. And then, Emma asks Ruby, the girl from the diner, out, around the same time Regina has her second date with Marian. 

She has to get used to the idea for a little bit though, but objectively speaking she has to admit that the two of them are a good fit. Ruby had her own problems in the past with fitting in and had lost both of her parents when she was a child, so Regina knows they can probably relate to each other’s past, and could possibly form a bond strong enough to move on from there.

Regina doesn’t know why that particular idea makes her stomach feel heavy. Maybe it’s because she and Emma have been spending so much time together, both with Henry and without, that it’s going to be tough to cut back on it. And she hopes that Henry will understand that Emma might spend less time over at their house. So far, Emma isn’t really cutting back on their time together, but she knows it will happen eventually, in the future.

 

~*~

 

Henry is celebrating his ninth birthday in August and of course, they’re all invited. They’re all family, Regina thinks, and her son deserves nothing but the best. So after her private party in the morning - and she can’t help but secretly appreciate Emma for dropping by and giving Henry the basketball hoop with the promise she’ll play with him after school -, she ends up having a birthday party she never would have expected before. 

The birthday boy beams when Emma shows up with Ruby, who he really likes. Marian arrives a little later, and Kathryn and Frederick show up as well. Henry talks their heads off, gloats at all the presents he receives, and seduces all adults but Regina and Kathryn into basketball matches outside in the garden.

They have dinner with the seven of them, they play Pictionary (much to Regina’s chagrin because she can’t draw even if her life depended on it, and because of it, her team loses bigtime) and after Henry’s bedtime - oh, he protests because he’s nine now, and big enough to stay up late - they have drinks but there’s this awkward feeling to it with all these new relationships together in one room. But this is them moving forward, and it’s going to work, even if it takes all of Regina’s sheer willpower to do it. She smiles at Marian and Marian returns it before she laces her fingers with Regina’s and it’s nice, even though it still feels foreign at the same time.

She can’t help but gaze at Emma and finds her leaning into Ruby on the couch, and the brazen brunette is playing with Emma’s hair and whispering something in her ear. It makes Emma laugh. Emma looks happy - happier than she’s looked in weeks, months even, and that’s a good thing, Regina thinks. Emma deserves happiness. She’s had a tough life, that much Regina knows from the bits and pieces Emma has confessed to in several conversations and phone calls. 

And she knows Ruby - knows the diner quite well. Regina visits often, and not just because they serve the best coffee in town. Henry loves the food so they go there at least once a week. Ruby is feisty, all smiles, fun and, Regina has to admit, sexy. If she is honest with herself, Emma and Ruby have a great click. They do make a cute couple. And yet, there’s something stirring in Regina’s stomach as she watches them goofing around and there’s a sting in her chest area that she can’t explain other than that she’s going to miss their intensive time together.

A soft hand on her arm pulls her out of her thoughts and she turns to see Marian’s gentle eyes. She smiles as she remembers Emma’s reaction when she’d told her she would take Marian on a second date. Emma hadn’t been surprised that Regina’s first real date would be with a woman, she’d grinned. She’d made a few lame jokes about it and after she’d met Marian for the first time, had declared that they were a great fit. And then, she had started to date Ruby shortly after. It’s weird how life can suddenly change, Regina muses.

Kathryn and Frederick leave first, and Ruby and Emma soon after. It leaves only Marian and a passed-out boy upstairs. “I’d offer to bring you home, but,” Regina says, and Marian’s eyes crinkle as she smiles. 

“No need. I took the car and I’ve only had one wine. Time to relieve the babysitter.” Marian, too, has a small son. But even if she hadn’t, Regina knows she probably wouldn’t have Marian stay the night. 

For a second, the moment is a little awkward but then Marian leans over a little, an expecting look on her face, and Regina smiles softly, cups her face, and gently presses their lips together for a few seconds. Marian’s lips are soft and the kiss is really nice. Marian sighs softly before she pulls back. “Good night, Regina,” she murmurs, and Regina nods. 

“Good night,” she softly replies. Waits until Marian gets into her car and drives away before pressing her fingers against her lips. It really was a nice kiss.

When she turns and closes the door, she gets a phone call.

And that phone call destroys her.

 

~*~

 

Emma’s night did also have an unexpected ending. After their triple date night, she and Ruby left right after Regina and Marian. She had smiled at Ruby as they made their way to the B&B which was on route to Emma’s apartment, anyway. And then, all of a sudden, Ruby had said that she’d really liked their dates, but that this wasn’t going to work.

Emma was stunned, a little offended, but strangely enough, not hurt or heartbroken. And when she’d asked Ruby why, the brunette had smirked. “I don’t think we’re the right fit, Emma,” she said. 

“How do you know? We’ve only had a few dates, right?” Emma frowned, feeling a little hurt.

Ruby had turned her head and had this annoying all-knowing smile around her lips. “I think the future has other plans for you,” she then said cryptically as they reached the B&B. “Still, I would really like us to stay friends. I like hanging out with you.” 

“You can’t make it any clearer than that, huh,” Emma muttered, a little chagrined, and Ruby smiled a toothy smile.

“Nope. You’re gonna have to do that all on your own,” she winked.

“Fine. I want to stay friends, too,” Emma said, and Ruby chuckles. And before Emma knew it, Ruby had pressed a kiss on her cheek and walked away, hips swaying. Emma snorted. She just got dumped, but for the first time in her entire life, she’s actually… okay with it and that tells her more than enough.

So when she gets home, she drops on the couch, brow furrowed, because what the hell does that mean? What the hell does Ruby mean with the future having other plans for her? She shakes her head. Stares at the wall in front of her until her eyes are starting to sting from fatigue, and she decides to call it a night.

It’s barely past midnight, but Emma has an early morning shift on the next morning, so maybe it’s wise to at least try and get some hours of sleep. So she moves to the bathroom, starts to brush her teeth, and is almost done when her phone rings. She smiles as she spits out the toothpaste. It’s not odd that the phone rings at these hours. Even though their late-night text exchanges and calls have become less frequent these past months, doesn’t mean that they’ve ceased to exist.

“Hey!” she says before she grabs a towel. “I was just brushing my teeth. What’s up?”

There’s a silence at the other side of the line. Then, breathing. Something similar to a sob. Alarm bells go off in her head and her body tenses as if Emma immediately is on high alert. “Regina? Are you okay?”

Another short silence. A sigh.

“Are you alone?” Regina’s voice is quiet, trembles. Emma is wide awake, morning shift all but forgotten. 

 

“Yeah. Yeah, it’s just me. Ruby just-”

And she hears another suppressed sob which cuts her off, and then a small voice says, “Could you maybe come over?”

“What’s the matter?” Emma has never heard Regina cry before so it must be bad. The worst. “Henry - is Henry okay?” It’s the worst-case scenario if he isn’t and her heartbeat picks up.

“He’s getting married.”

“Henry?” For a moment, Emma is puzzled, hasn’t got a clue what’s going on.

“Robin.” 

Oh. Oh. Her honest mistake forgotten, Emma hurries out of the bathroom. “I’ll be right there.” She grabs her jeans and quickly throws a shirt on. Grabs her jacket from the chair she left it on and is out of the door within two minutes, phone clutched between her shoulder and her ear as she slides behind the wheel. Regina’s still on the line but there isn’t a lot to say, but for some reason, it’s important to keep the connection. Emma steps on the gas.

And when she pulls up, she sees movement behind the still-lit windows. Before she knocks, the door’s already opened.

Regina is a mess, Emma sees with a shock, observing the messy hair, the red-rimmed puffy eyes, and the red spots all over her face. Regina’s make-up, always so perfect, is smeared out all over her face and especially under her eyes. The mascara is running in lines over her face and you can see where Regina’s wiped her tears away, too. “I’m sorry for calling you so late,” Regina says, desperately trying to get her trembling voice under control, and a fierce protectiveness washes over Emma. 

“That’s all right,” Emma says softly, and she spots the box of Kleenex on the table next to the door. She grabs it, and holds it up in front of Regina. “Here.” And she doesn’t say anything as she follows her friend into the kitchen. Regina starts to pace up and down, sadness and anger fighting for dominance on her face. Emma fidgets with her fingers, wanting to reach out for her but knowing she should give Regina space to talk. When she finally does, Regina’s voice is soft with a soft tremble.

“He called me. Wanted to know how I was doing. Fine , I said.” Regina scowls, and Emma smiles. She knows that tone. Regina goes on. “And he was fine too. And he started this, this small talk.” 

Regina sinks down on one of the bar stools at the kitchen counter. Quietly, Emma walks around it and heats the water to make her some tea, while Regina impatiently waves with her hand. “A story about his office being a mess because his secretary’s away. It was as interesting as watching a snail cross a tile, and that’s when I told myself that I was really, really over him. And I couldn’t believe that I was ever remotely interested in any of this.” She swallows, and stares ahead without seeing anything, cheek resting on her palm. 

“And then he says, I have some news.” The muscles in her jaw start to work as she violently pulls a Kleenex out of the box. “She… she’s a paralegal. Works in his fucking office. And they’re marrying because she’s fucking pregnant .”

Emma, who’s barely ever heard Regina curse, looks up. Finishes making the tea and pushes it towards the woman, who’s trying very hard to fight back tears. One slips out anyway as she pulls the mug closer, but then she roughly rubs the tear from her cheek and plants her elbows on the counter. Buries her face in her hands. “He never wanted to marry. All this time, I’ve been saying that he didn’t want to get married. He didn’t want more kids. But the truth is…” She swallows, and a silent sob rakes through her body as Emma rounds the counter to be close to her best friend, “The truth is, he just didn’t want to marry or have more kids with me.”

Emma tentatively places a hand on her shoulder, and Regina looks up. “He didn’t love me,” she whispers, voice breaking. Her eyes fill up with tears again, and she blinks rapidly. Emma’s fingers curl around Regina’s upper arm, firmly, to ground her.

“If you could take him back right now,” Emma asks softly, “would you?”

“No.” Regina’s eyes are indignant when she half-sobs, half-snaps. “But why didn’t he want to marry me? What’s the matter with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you!” Emma immediately says firmly. 

“I’m difficult,” Regina snaps as she blows her nose in a Kleenex before throwing it on the counter, grabbing another one to rip to shreds.

Emma smiles at her with affection. “No. You’re... challenging,” she offers.

“I’m too structured. I’m completely closed off,” Regina counters vehemently.

“But in a good way,” Emma adds soothingly, gently tucking a strand of dark brown hair behind Regina’s ear. 

“No. When is that ever good? I drove him away.”

“He doesn't deserve you,” Emma quietly says, gently cupping her face. “You’re way too good for him.” Her arm slips around Regina’s shoulders and she pulls the emotional woman close. 

“Come here,” she murmurs as Regina struggles a little bit before complying, then buries her nose in Emma’s neck. And as Regina silently weeps for everything she never had, Emma whispers soft words in her ear that it’s going to be okay while stroking her hair. That she’ll get through this, and that Emma will always be there for her. She presses soft kisses on Regina’s hair, rubs soothing circles over her back until the silent sobs become less frequent. Until Regina breathes deeply a few times, then withdraws a little.

Emma leans over and gently kisses her cheek. “It’s going to be okay,” she insists, stroking Regina’s hair from her face. “I promise. And I’m here. I’m always here.” Regina hiccups, looks at her for a few seconds before she closes her eyes and another tear rolls over her cheek and Emma can’t do anything else than pull her close.

It’s a short hug, before Emma sighs, cups Regina’s face, and kisses her forehead. A sigh escapes Regina’s lips as she lowers her head for a second.

Emma steps away, sliding her hand up and down Regina’s arm. Regina’s gaze is vulnerable when her eyes find hers, and a breath catches in Emma’s throat. “Please don’t go,” Regina quietly says. 

She can’t do anything else but nod as Regina raises her hand, catches Emma’s fingers, and laces them together. Then, she gazes up again, mimics Emma’s gesture from a little earlier and frames the blonde’s face, and presses her lips against Emma’s for a chaste kiss as a thank-you. It’s sweet and so soft, nothing more than a caress of their lips, but it sends a jolt of excitement through Emma that settles in her core. 

When Regina pulls back, she looks surprised, as well. Her eyes are wide, her pupils large, expressing stunned shock and Emma realizes she probably mirrors that exact look. But neither of them moves away, they just silently stare at each other. And then, Regina’s eyes flick to Emma’s mouth and slowly leans in again while Emma holds her breath. She releases it with a shudder when their mouths touch. Regina softly captures Emma’s lips before she tentatively runs the tip of her tongue over Emma’s lower lip and Emma is suddenly dizzy, feels a little drunk, and inhales sharply. Regina takes it as a confirmation and kisses her more firmly as her hands slide from Emma’s waist up to her shoulders. 

A moan escapes Emma’s throat, and she feels how Regina’s fingers curl into her shoulders in response. Her head is spinning as her hands slip into Regina’s hair, pulling her closer and when Regina whimpers softly, she deepens the kiss with a feverish need. Opens her mouth, finds Regina’s velvety tongue with her own. Heat explodes in her stomach and her heartbeat pounds in her head as a mewling sound escapes Regina’s throat. Emma’s brain malfunctions, effectively shutting off the blaring alarm bells. “Regina?” she breathes against the brunette’s lips. She doesn’t know what she’s asking, only that she must but Regina nibbles on her lower lip, and Emma whimpers in reply. 

“Kiss me.” Regina sounds breathless and she pulls Emma between her legs. Her hands wander to Emma’s back and slip under her shirt. Restlessly, Emma presses closer, happily obliging to Regina’s needs, while Regina’s fingers disappear in her jeans as their lips find each other again. God, Regina’s lips are divine. Addictive. Emma never wants to stop kissing her.

Emma’s breath chokes in her throat when Regina starts kneading her ass. “Oh,” Emma whispers, feeling slightly drunk from arousal and arching into Regina’s touch, and Regina smirks against her lips before she claims her mouth and demands access with her tongue. Emma grants it willingly as her own hands slide down, impatiently fidgetting with the buttons of Regina’s blouse, opening only the first few, and then pulls it out over Regina’s head, briefly tearing herself away from those full, hot lips. A shiver of pleasure zings through Emma’s belly as she takes a moment to take in Regina’s nakedness. Beautiful. Perfection, she reveres. She lifts her hand, gently brushes her fingertips over Regina’s smooth skin and explores the muscles moving under her touch, smiles at the shiver that ripples over Regina’s back in response.

There’s heat in her belly, lava in her veins, and God, Regina is beautiful in her pants and bra, but, Emma believes, she’s probably even prettier without. So she lets her hands wander to her back and easily unclasps the bra with two fingers.

Regina smirks and raises an eyebrow and her doing that while void of any clothing is so, so hot, Emma discovers. Desire jolts through her body as she lets her hands wander over Regina’s sides, her belly, and then up, up to the undersides of her breasts. She palms them reverently, slowly rubs the nipples with her thumbs. In response, Regina arches her back right into her. Emma hums contentedly. Regina’s breasts are super-sensitive and knowing that is suddenly very important. The moan escaping from Regina’s throat makes her clit pulse with want. She craves to touch her more, but Regina leans back a little. 

 

“I want to see you too,” Regina whispers, breathing shallowly, and Emma doesn’t mind complying with that request. She lets go of Regina’s breasts - a little reluctantly - and then quickly loses the tank top and the bra. She waits, one, two seconds, as Regina’s eyes hungrily flick over Emma’s chest. 

Regina raises her hands. Draws circles around Emma’s breasts before she leans over quickly, and takes a nipple into her mouth while kneading the other breast, and Emma whimpers - heat sizzles down her spine. Her knees buckle and she grasps the kitchen counter for balance as Regina sucks, licks, and softly bites in the sensitive area. “Jesus, Regina,” she whines as her stomach clenches and sparks of electricity run from her breasts straight to the sensitive parts in her lower belly.

Regina chuckles darkly, throatily, and it sends even more shivers down Emma’s body, after which they race up over her spine again and down once more to her very core. Her body’s on fire, her hands wander restlessly over Regina’s body as she captures her lips once more. Sucking in Regina’s lower lip, she hears the woman moan and it’s the hottest sound she’s ever heard. 

Her hands run over Regina’s back, slowly wander to the front and to the button of Regina’s slacks. She doesn’t stop kissing those plump lips while she opens the pants expertly and when Regina automatically lifts her body from the barstool, Emma pulls both the slacks and Regina’s panties down in one swift movement. 

She tears herself away from Regina’s lips to watch her, sitting naked on the barstool and her breath catches in her throat as she takes half a step back, ignoring the dissatisfied noises the brunette produces. Regina’s a beautiful woman, she knows that already - has known it since the first time she got into that car for an eighteen-hour road trip. And now, she gets to touch it. She gets to worship it. She gets to taste it. A shiver of anticipation shudders through her. “God you’re so beautiful,” Emma whispers, and she leans over to press a kiss on Regina’s chest. Her breasts. Her nipples. Emma licks, experiences the touch of tongue on skin, and shudders with pleasure. Regina’s breath chokes and Emma feels her hands on her shoulders, on her neck, buried in her hair. Emma can’t think anymore - she just feels. Just does. Everything she does is only about Regina’s pleasure. She lowers down through her knees until she sits on them and with a content hum, decides that these barstools are the perfect height for what she’s about to do. Regina’s wet folds are inviting her and that alone is sending bolts of electricity to her center - the anticipation is almost enough to push Emma over the edge right then and there. Want is throbbing in her clit, her chest, her head - but it has to wait. Her hands slip around Regina’s thighs, grab her hips, and Regina’s soft “oh” makes her hum in pleasure. She kisses Regina’s belly. Her navel. Her sides, lower belly, before she lets her mouth wander to the inside of Regina’s right leg.

Regina hisses as Emma runs her tongue over the inside of her thighs and Emma smiles when she feels Regina’s hands on her head, her fingers weaving through her hair, trying to guide her to where she needs her most. “Patience,” Emma murmurs, softly biting in the inside of Regina’s thigh and Regina bucks slightly, whines softly.

Emma can’t think - her brain has shut down completely as she scents Regina’s arousal. Her hands travel lightly over Regina’s upper legs, and she feels a shiver of anticipation running through Regina’s body. Regina’s fingers restlessly massage Emma’s scalp and she sighs, she moans, she groans and oh, those sounds escaping Regina’s throat make the heat build-up in Emma’s lower belly, too. She feels intoxicated, exhilarated, and so aroused and she really doesn’t want to let Regina or herself suffer much longer.

She looks up and catches Regina’s misty eyes as the brunette frowns. “Don’t stop,” she says, and her voice is raspy and much lower than Emma has ever heard. Electricity trickles up and down Emma’s spine as she throws her a lopsided smirk before lowering her head once more.

She presses a kiss to the top of Regina’s slit and enjoys the sharp intake of breath coming from above, and can’t suppress a hoarse chuckle against the skin, which makes Regina’s hip buck. “Emma,” Regina hisses, and Emma chuckles softly against Regina’s skin. It makes the brunette twitch and hiss and okay, no more torture. Emma runs her tongue flat and firmly through Regina’s soaked folds and is rewarded with a lengthy “Ooh,” and it has her hum in content in reply. Emma is swiftly becoming addicted to Regina’s uniquely salty taste as she licks, sucks, and swirls her tongue around Regina’s clit. Regina’s fingers restlessly wander over her head as she moans and her breath stutters, before she buries them into Emma’s blond curls, instinctively pressing her closer to her center. Emma abruptly stops and looks up, and Regina’s fingers curl further into Emma’s locks in a reflex that breathes frustration. “Patience,” Emma repeats with a soft chuckle.

“S- So-,” but Regina doesn’t get the chance to finish her apology because Emma attacks her most sensitive parts again. The sharp hiss escaping Regina’s lips goes straight to her own core, heats it up like a volcano. Her tongue dips inside Regina before it’s being replaced with a finger, as her mouth travels upwards again to her most sensitive bud. Regina’s soaking wet and Emma revels in it, feels like this is heaven. It doesn’t get any better than this. The tension inside Regina is building - her walls start to contract around her finger. “Em-” Regina chokes, rocking her center softly against Emma, who slowly adds another finger. Her fingers slide in and out of her soaking wet entrance and her tongue matches the movement as Regina wraps her legs around Emma’s shoulders to keep her in place. Regina whines and chants Emma’s name softly as her movements become more erratic, and, “Oh! Oh, god - Oh-” And with a cry, Regina explodes. Her body contracts wildly around Emma’s fingers, she shakes violently and slams her hand into the kitchen counter, so she doesn’t fall off the bar stool.  Emma gently laps up every trace of Regina’s arousal, until Regina pushes her away roughly, too sensitive to the touch, her body still convulsing with the aftershocks of her orgasm. “Emma,” she gasps, slightly wheezing as her legs go limp and her shoulders fall forward. Emma quickly gets up and smirks slightly when she collects Regina into her arms to keep her upright. She presses her tightly against her naked chest, a satisfied smile on her face as tremors continue to run through Regina’s body until Regina’s ragged breathing slows and her heart rate returns to normal. Regina leans her forehead against Emma’s chest.

“We should take this upstairs,” Regina murmurs and Emma hums in agreement. Her jeans are painfully chafing against her own core, and - She frowns as the reality suddenly sets in.

“Henry-”

“A cannon wouldn’t wake him right now,” Regina chuckles, and the sound sends another ripple of arousal through Emma’s already heated body. 

She nods, lets her fingertips slide over Regina’s arm until she reaches her hand. “Can you walk?”

“If you help me,” Regina smiles softly, a little flustered but her eyes are shining brightly while lacing her own fingers with Emma’s. “My legs feel like jelly.” Emma helps her off the barstool, leads her up the stairs into the bedroom - pausing only twice to exchange hot kisses - and then rids herself of her own jeans before turning around to face Regina.

Regina pushes Emma toward the bed, and Emma willingly drops onto the mattress while Regina quickly follows. Regina crawls over her, planting kisses along the way, hands wandering over her flat belly, fingers splaying on her chest, nails running over her entire torso. Light touches are alternated with nails grazing and her neck gets the same treatment until Emma is squirming into and away from her touch. Her skin is sensitive and on fire wherever Regina’s hands touch her, and soft sighs and whines escape Emma’s throat, soft pleads to encourage Regina’s hand further down. Inside, fire rages in her belly, sending sparks to her limbs that ultimately find their way back to her sensitive spots.

Emma hisses when Regina licks and nips her earlobe while her hand disappears between her legs. Her fingers spread her folds gently and, “Oh,” Emma says, the sound between a groan and a sob as Regina’s fingers circle her clit and go further down. Her head is pounding, electric jolts make her limbs tremble uncontrollably as her hips buck against Regina’s hand.

This is it - it isn’t going to get better than this, Emma faintly thinks as Regina’s fingers dip inside the heat she’s caused. She’s so, so wet and she’s aching for a swift release - and she isn’t getting it. 

Regina’s finger slips out, and Emma whimpers in protest. Her entire body is pounding with the need to orgasm. Provokingly slow, Regina slides two digits in again. In and out, and it’s turning her blood into lava and at the same time, it’s so frustrating because Emma needs more, so much more. It’s torture, but Regina is discovering, exploring, and is in no rush to drive Emma over the edge. Emma’s back arches, and she presses her center into Regina’s hand, adjusting to the movement. She rocks her hips against Regina’s hand and tries to move the pace up, tries to dictate the rhythm.

A raw chuckle sounds in her ear, sending another jolt of arousal to her already tortured center. “Patience,” Regina purrs with a smirk, and Emma hates her a little for using her own words against her. Mutters a halfhearted protest or maybe an insult, but Regina’s not offended and just continues what she started, slowly but steadily, as a heavy ache settles low in Emma’s belly, one that needs to be satisfied, relieved, and Emma squirms, lets out a dry sob.

“It's too-- too slow,” Emma wails as a tremor ripples through her, and Regina shifts a little, places her thumb on Emma’s clit, and Emma’s breath chokes. She’s so, so close already, but Regina’s merciless in not allowing her to climax. It’s like all her nerves are tensed to the max and she really, really can’t take much more. Another whimper escapes her throat, begging for more. 

Regina’s breath is unsteady, too, her warm breath on Emma’s neck, uttering soft words Emma can’t understand and Emma is desperate for a release, digs her toes into the sheet as another shiver runs through her body. Her hand restlessly wanders to Regina’s, who isn’t bothered by it, and continues her slow thrusts at a steady pace, while her thumb draws lazy circles around her clit and she can’t, can’t take this anymore. “Please,” she whines, white flashes in her peripheral view. “Please, Regina, please.”

And then, Regina nips in her neck, whispers, “Come for me,” and softly bites into Emma’s pulse point and Emma yelps, lets out a cry, and crashes over the edge like she’s never done before. Her body convulses and arches off the bed as the waves of her orgasm crash into her, which causes Regina’s fingers to slip out and Emma lets out a whine that borders on a sob. Regina cups her mound, allowing her to ride out orgasm against her hand, and holds her tight. She whispers soft words in her ears while Emma’s breath hitches and chokes and shivers race throughout her body. It takes a while before she relaxes in Regina’s arms - it’s almost as if the touch to her over-sensitive skin is temporarily too much. But she inhales, exhales, repeats, and eventually, after what seems to be ages, her breath calms down while her mind is trying to catch up. 

Regina rises a little, leans on her elbow, and looks down on Emma, which makes Emma’s brain shut down immediately again. There’s a strange glance in her eyes, one that Emma doesn’t immediately recognize. Regina lifts her fingers, licks them off slowly while looking at Emma with hooded eyes, and Emma whimpers while her lower body contracts almost painfully, and she shifts in anticipation. “God, that’s hot,” she murmurs.

Regina smiles, leans down, and presses a kiss on her lips. “Hm. You are,” she murmurs, and Emma tastes herself and oh, this night is far from over, she knows, as another tingle zips down her body. She returns the smile and quirks an eyebrow.

“Give me two minutes, and then it’s your turn again.”

 

Chapter Text

Of course, the happy bliss can’t last. After their needs have been satisfied and Regina falls asleep, exhausted, Emma lies awake as she slowly starts to realize that they’ve made a gigantic mistake. She is confused as to what this all means, hates herself for not being able to control her… urges. How is this going to affect their relationship? 

She swallows. Emma has vowed never to fall for everyone ever again because it hurts too much, and this night is maybe not exactly falling for her best friend yet, but the balance has shifted vigorously and she is on edge. Regina sleeps peacefully in her arms, her head on Emma’s shoulder, her leg wrapped over her waist and her arm over Emma’s chest - for some reason, Emma never thought Regina was a cuddler - while Emma stares at the ceiling. Desperately tries to make sense of what’s just happened, what it means, if it means anything beyond Regina’s need for comfort because let’s face it, Emma’s used sex as comfort more times than she can count.

But then again, that was never the best, most amazing, mind-blowing sex of her entire life before. Shit! The dread is building in her stomach and she wants to scold herself, bump her head against the wall, knock some sense into her thick skull as punishment for fucking things up so royally. She’s crossed a line and she can’t undo it. Bad, Emma. Not to mention that Regina’s dating Marian and that seems like a promising relationship, and Regina hasn’t even heard about Ruby breaking up with her. So technically, that makes them both the other woman, right? Emma’s thinking herself in a downward spiral, one conclusion even worse than the other. She’s good at that. Dark side, and all, she bitterly scoffs.

The thing is, Regina isn’t a woman for a one-night stand. From what they’ve talked about, she hasn’t even slept with anyone since she and Robin broke up. And Emma clearly isn’t long-term dating material. She doesn’t settle - no, doesn’t want to settle. That’s also what she realized last night, walking alone after Ruby broke up with her - Emma wasn’t hurt at all. Actually, she was relieved. She doesn’t want to be tied. And sure, Regina wanted what happened last night as much as Emma did, but she might also want something more, something that Emma is simply unable to give.

So she doesn’t sleep. Doesn’t move for a very long time, until Regina shifts a little and releases her. It is half-past five in the morning and Emma takes the opportunity to quietly slide out of bed and gather her clothes - she remembers that both her bra and shirt are still in the kitchen. Talk about embarrassing. Besides, Henry will probably wake up soon, too. She needs to get out of the house as soon as she can before things get even more complicated with the kid asking if they had a sleepover or worse - he isn’t stupid.

Regina doesn’t start to process anything until she registers the bed cooling down and reaching for someone - no, reaching for Emma, her mind hums satisfied - but she frowns as she reaches a half-cold bedside. When she realizes that Emma’s snuck out of the bed, it’s like standing in a cold shower and she’s abruptly pulled from her post-orgastic haze and peaceful slumber. Her mind starts to race immediately. Processes what’s happening at lightning speed, resulting in an imminent headache. Regina hasn’t had sex for a long time and hasn’t slept with any of her dates. This is the first time since she and Robin ended things and even before that it had been… well. Quite some time, to be honest.

So it isn’t a surprise that she feels something like regret. Regret, or perhaps the same dread Emma’s been experiencing half the night. Because when her mind is working properly again and she fully realizes what’s exactly happened, she is horrified. Emma’s history of hook-ups, Regina’s own accusation of those being punishments against Lily fresh on her mind, the realization that she might have just done the same thing to Robin -- it leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, and god, she feels a little dirty, especially when she remembers Emma saying she usually leaves early in the morning and finding an empty spot next to her. 

But Emma isn’t gone yet. She’s standing at the footboard, buttoning her jeans. 

“Where are you going?” Regina’s voice sounds raspy and her eyes flash towards the alarm clock - 5.30. “It’s so early.” When Emma doesn’t say anything and nerves creep into her system, she asks, “Did you sleep at all?” She gets up on her elbows while dread solidifies in her stomach. 

Emma avoids her gaze. “Sure,” she says, but Regina can spot the lie from a mile away, “a little. And I’ve, um, got to go.” She shrugs offhandedly, and continues quietly, “I don’t know what time Henry usually wakes up, but I should be gone before that. I need to… to go home. Get a shower. Fresh clothes before I go to work. And so do you.” She hesitates two seconds - two seconds that feel like two minutes - before she rounds the bed and closes the distance between them. Regina’s eyes rake over Emma’s naked chest and a now-familiar heat surges in her lower belly - she hates her treacherous body a little for it - before her gaze flicks back to Emma’s eyes. She swallows. Emma’s gaze is distant before she turns her head away. and Regina’s fingers itch to pull her close.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll text you, okay?” she murmurs. “Maybe we can get dinner later at Granny’s? With Henry?” It sounds almost dutiful. There’s a stiffness in Emma’s words, a distance that Regina hasn’t heard before. Emma leans over, presses a gentle kiss on Regina’s forehead - a gesture she’s done so many times before, but it was just friendly and feels so, so off now. Forced. Almost as if it’s a gentle blow-off, a goodbye. And when she withdraws, she offers Regina a lopsided grin. “See you later,” she murmurs before she slinks out of the room. Like a thief in the night.

Regina’s heart squeezes painfully, and it suddenly feels as if she can’t breathe. As if someone’s put a chain around her neck and the more she struggles, the less air she’s getting. What’s happened? God, what had they been thinking ? She raises her hands and she’s hardly surprised to see that they’re trembling, before she buries her face in them, anxiety raging through her body. This was a mistake. Emma looked hurt, uncomfortable. And she has to admit, she feels exactly the same. 

She tries to replay the start of the night after Emma arrived to see where it had gone wrong. Remembers her tears, her demise, asking Emma to stay. Her own initiation of the first kiss. Demanding Emma to kiss her after. She winces in embarrassment. It’s her own damn fault. She wanted, no, she needed comfort. And suddenly, she gets where Emma was coming from when she told her the stories of her dates. About wanting a distraction, maybe wanting to punish Lily - no, Robin, in her case. What does that mean? Was Emma nothing more than comfort to her?

And was she nothing more than a willing hook-up for Emma?

She swallows thickly, raises a hand to her throat and she feels sick. Suddenly restless, she gets up, drags her body to the bathroom and after she’s turned on the shower, she looks into the mirror. 

Despite her insides being in turmoil, she doesn’t look any different, apart maybe from the now distressed look in her eyes and the worried wrinkles in her forehead. And wait- she leans closer, turns her head a little. Is that a hickey? Her eyes widen almost comically as she observes the dark spot at the base of her neck.

It is. Her cheeks flush. It's a reminder of what came to pass last night. She runs a frustrated hand through her hair and grabs a fistful of it in the process. It hadn’t been her intention to have sex with her best friend when she called her. She really was upset about Robin when she had picked up her phone and had felt worthless because her life with him, all these years, had been a joke. She felt betrayed and apparently, she did have some pent-up anger and grief about their relationship, which then had all spilled out the moment he dropped his big news.

Asshole. And the worst thing? Sex with Emma, although undeniably the best she’s ever had, hadn’t relieved the pain she had felt because of Robin’s betrayal. In fact, it has only intensified it because now, she finds herself an idiot on top of it all. A dull ache settles in her stomach. Her mind races and she suddenly feels a little sick. She needs to have someone tell her that everything’s going to be alright and that’s usually Emma, but for obvious reasons, she can’t call her. 

Her next option is Kathryn, but after she gets out of the shower, it’s still only 6 AM, and - fuck, she doesn’t even care. She checks her messages because maybe Emma sent something. 

No. Nothing. Her heart clenches.

And it distresses her even more. She angrily taps Kathryn’s name. Listens to the dial tone until it goes to voicemail. No, she really needs her friend right now and tries again. Hates how she sees her own hands shaking. “Pick up,” she barks into the voicemail with a cracking voice, before she ends the call and redials again.

The third time, Kathryn does pick up. “Your house better be on fire or you or Henry close to death, because otherwise, I swear to god, I’m killing you myself,” Kathryn growls with a voice thick of sleep.

“I slept with Emma,” Regina blurts out, waves of despair washing over her again, rubbing her face. She hates that it affects her as it does.

Kathryn immediately is awake. “You what?” she squeaks and Regina hears a muffled voice in the background. Squeezes her eyes shut as she hears Kathryn say something to Frederick before Kathryn goes somewhere a little more private.

“Tell me everything,” her friend demands. 

“It’s terrible,” Regina murmurs, as she runs her hand through her hair and paces up and down her bedroom. She can feel the tears sting behind her eyes. “She came over last night because I was upset that Robin was getting married and having a child. And then before I knew it we were kissing and… we did it.”

There are two seconds of silence before Kathryn laughs merrily, and it’s not quite the response Regina was expecting from a supportive best friend. “Jesus, Regina, finally . I thought it’d never happen. You two belong together!” She sounds chipper, and her voice becomes a whole other level of interested as she starts her inquisition. “How was it? Was it hot?”

Oh, god, yes, it was, but that’s not the point and she’s definitely not going to discuss details with Kathryn and she disregards Kathryns final words for now. “It was… good. More than good. And then… it wasn’t,” Regina murmurs. Her brain shows her flashes of how good it was and she feels her cheeks flush in anticipation. She hates that her own body responds immediately.

“Good? Just good? What, why?” 

“It was… never mind. She just left and I’m… I don’t know. Embarrassed.” She rubs a hand over her face. “It was a mistake and I feel horrible and I wish I could undo it but I can’t.” Tears sting behind her eyes. Regina hardly ever cries and she wishes she could blame it on the emotion she felt after Robin called, but she knows she can’t.

There’s a short silence on the other side of the line. Then, Kathryn sighs in sympathy. “Do you want me to come over?”

“No,” Regina sighs. “I just… I don’t know what I want.” Suddenly, she’s even more upset. “I’ll just tell her that we made a mistake, and I hope I get to say it first.” That suddenly feels very important. If she can be the one saying that this all was a mistake first it might soothe her already battered ego and insecurities because then, she doesn’t have to hear Emma say it. 

There’s a pause at the other side of the line, and it’s so quiet that she thinks Kathryn may have hung up on her,  but then, she sighs. “Isn’t there any way in which this can work out for the both of you?” Kathryn says softly. “You have chemistry, she puts up with all your quirks, she adores Henry… What’s not to like?”  

Regina sighs. Misery settles in her stomach. “She’s still over the moon for Lily. All she ever does is find rebounds and I just… I don’t want to be one of them.” Her voice breaks. “I wish I could just rewind the entire night and not call her, but…”

“You can’t,” Kathryn finished the sentence. 

No, Regina thinks after she’s ended the call. She really can’t go back. And what’s worse, she doesn’t know how to fix it. 

And it’s all because well, she’s just realized that she might be in love with Emma Swan - the woman who has practically re-invented one-night stands for not having to connect to anything or anyone. 

 

~*~

 

Emma’s uncomfortable. Dutifully, she texted Regina to invite her and Henry for dinner because that’s what she has promised, but it feels so awkward that maybe she wishes she hadn’t. She’s ruined their comfortable friendship with sex - hot, mindblowing, insanely crazy sex - and all her instincts tell her to run, run, run and never come back.

It’s what she does, she bitterly thinks. Whenever something good happens in her life, she’s bound to destroy it eventually and run, leaving a trail of destruction behind. It’s like the fucking blueprint of Emma Swan’s entire life. Sometimes she’s argued with herself that it wasn’t really her fault, that there were mitigating circumstances, but this time, it definitely is. There’s nobody else to blame but her.

The entire day she’s stared blankly into space, replaying the night before over and over. Thinking that she should’ve done something different. Maybe comfort Regina over the phone. 

She runs her hand through her hair. Look at the wonderful mess you’ve made, she scolds herself.

But even though Emma might be a runner, she also cares for Regina and doesn’t want to see her hurt, or lose her, and she really wants to try and fix this because Regina’s genuinely the best thing that’s happened to her in her entire life and she really values her friendship too much to just skip out on her. So tonight, she has to find a moment - preferably when Henry’s otherwise occupied - that she needs to tell Regina that they’ve made a mistake and that it isn’t going to happen again. And then, they can all go back to normal and forget it ever happened, right?

God, she thinks while rubbing her eyes, she really wants things to go back to the way they were yesterday. 

And fate is with her tonight, because when they arrive at the diner - Ruby’s giving her a wink as if she’s been let into a little secret - Henry spots his classmate Grace. “Mom! Can I go sit with Grace and her dad?” His ears turn light pink and Regina lifts her head to look at Emma, who shrugs.

“Only if they are fine with it,” Regina tells him a little reluctantly and he bounces over to ask. Grace’s dad, Jefferson, looks up and gives them a thumbs-up. Emma guesses that settles it. She leads Regina to the last booth so that there’s no chance of anyone overhearing what she has to say, and her palms are suddenly sweaty. She’s anxious about what’s to come. Hopes she doesn’t say the wrong thing. That Regina doesn’t take it the wrong way. She wipes her hands on her pants and swallows as she slides into the booth, facing the door, and Regina takes the couch opposite from her. There’s a tightness in her chest that hurts because of her anxiety. 

“The usual?” Ruby comes over with a smile, and Emma sees how Regina flinches a little. Shit, she hasn’t even told Regina that Ruby broke it off. Now, Regina looks even more guilty than she already did and Emma desperately wants to make it better.

“Yes, please,” Regina says a little stiffly. “Emma?” Brown eyes find green and Emma just nods, before Regina turns back to Ruby. “Henry’s sitting with Grace and Jefferson, can you take his order, too?”

“Sure,” Ruby smiles, as she steps away from the table. “Coming right up!” She stalks away to Henry, and Emma follows her with her eyes to avoid looking at Regina. But she can’t keep staring at Ruby, because this is important, and so, she musters up the courage to look at Regina’s face and takes a deep breath.

“It was a mistake.”

Emma blinks as she hears her own words coming from Regina’s mouth. She’s wanted to say it, but Regina beats her to it, and a weight falls off her shoulders. She exhales in relief, her shoulders sag as the majority of the tension leaves her body. She falls back against the booth.

“I’m so relieved that you think so, too,” she replies with a sigh and flashes Regina a quick smile. Regina isn’t smiling, however - in fact, her face falls. A light feeling of shock settles in her stomach. Regina said it first, right? She wasn’t imagining it? Or is she thinking -- “I’m not saying that last night wasn’t great,” Emma quickly adds because she doesn’t want to downplay any parts of the amazing night they shared together.

“It was,” Regina says with an even voice.

“Yeah, it really was,” Emma agrees immediately, a little concerned about the flat tone. “It just… never should’ve happened.”

“I’m so relieved you agree,” Regina says, her tone of voice hasn’t changed. It’s… robotic. Emma frowns. Regina doesn’t sound relieved, and their silence after is awkward which makes alarm bells blare in her head. Emma avoids looking at Regina’s face and she just wraps her hands around the glass of water in front of her, and Regina just sighs and does the same. Now what? Emma chews on her lip, tries to think about something to talk about, but can’t think of anything remotely light enough to change the mood. The air feels heavy around them, presses on her shoulders as the awkwardness between them intensifies with every breath. 

Fortunately, Ruby saves them by bringing their food and, at the last minute, Henry changes his mind, and decides to sit with them anyway. And that’s good because Emma is starting to feel slightly miserable. Usually, Regina and she have conversations or banter over the tablecloth, about the dishes, about what Regina wants on the side, about anything, really, but now, every time she starts a subject, it seems cold and detached. 

So, Emma directs her attention to Henry, asks him about school, and teases him lightly about Grace - and he gets this adorable shade of pink on his cheeks again. Regina sees it too, and she smiles fondly as Emma leans over and ruffles his hair. For a second, it almost feels normal. They’ll get through this, right? As if nothing happened. They’ve both admitted that it was a mistake, so there’s that. Now, they need to move forward, away from all of this awkwardness. 

The only thing is, admitting something is a mistake doesn’t make it go away. With Regina’s realization that she’s falling for Emma, but wanting to give her time to process her divorce, and Emma’s blindness to what is going on right in front of her, they start to drift apart. 

In the following weeks, the cracks in their foundation aren’t mended - quite the opposite. Emma, who really doesn’t want to hurt her friend but doesn’t know how to make it better either, doesn’t understand how Regina can declare their night together a mistake - a glorious mistake, to say the least - and then basically, not get over it. She decides it’s better to give Regina some space and thus, starts to avoid her. And Regina, who’s wrestling with feelings and realizations over what it might not have meant to Emma, wants to protect herself and desperately tries to get over it. Tries to forget. But she can’t. And though a part of her longs to reach out to her, wants to try and talk about maybes and what-ifs, she can’t because Emma is pulling away, and it hurts.

So, they don’t talk about what really matters, and over the course of the next month after Henry’s birthday, they are doing their very best to stay out of each other’s way which is not easy to do in a small town like Storybrooke where everyone knows each other. The texts exchanged between them decrease and come to a full stop when both of them run out of things to say. No more late-night calls. No more lunches together. No more home-cooked meals at Regina’s place.

Despite not wanting anything to change, everything has, and declaring it a mistake doesn’t make a damn difference. Perhaps because they filed it away as a mistake, they are now stuck in some weird, uncomfortable limbo that they can’t get out of.

Regina takes Marian out on another date, but she has to admit that it’s not working out. It doesn’t feel right, not in the least because of the additional guilt about what’s happened between her and Emma. And Marian, sweet, caring, understanding Marian, accepts the gentle blow-off with a graceful nod of her head. So there Regina is again, alone and more miserable than before, but it has nothing to do with Marian and everything to do with Emma. Emma, who turns out to be a master at avoiding and hiding. She sometimes sees her at a distance or professionally, when she comes to hand in the sheriff’s paperwork. Most of the time Emma leaves that with her secretary, too. 

If it weren’t for Henry, who deeply misses Emma’s visits to the mansion which increases Regina’s feelings of guilt and misery, they most likely wouldn’t have seen each other at all. But he insists that Emma joins them for trick-or-treating at Halloween. Henry has even convinced Regina that Emma needs to come over early because she really, really needs to play basketball with him so he can show her his new moves.

Of course, Regina caves. In fact, neither of the women can say no to the pleading eyes of the boy, and that’s why Emma finds herself all dressed up at the mansion’s porch, softly knocking on the door with a heart pounding in her throat. She straightens out her costume, as far as that’s possible - she’s dressed as Rey from Star Wars because she knows Henry loves it. He’s once told her that Regina likes it too, but she’s sworn to secrecy. Maybe that was also a reason to choose this particular outfit, but she refuses to acknowledge that.

It only takes a few seconds before the door swings open. “Emma!” Henry cries out and throws himself into her arms. She can’t help but laugh when she stumbles a little backward as she catches him. He’s dressed in black, complete with a cape and a helmet clasped in one of his hands, and she laughs again when she realizes that their outfits match - he’s the cutest Darth Vader she’s ever seen.

“Easy, Darth,” she grins. “You’re getting heavy!” She tickles his sides and he shrieks and tries to squirm away from her.

A movement catches her eye and automatically, she looks up and her mouth falls open.

Holy crap. All the air gets knocked out of her lungs in one instant. She blinks as heat shoots up from her lower belly to her head, her blood starts to boil and her heart pounds rapidly, its sound ringing in her ears. 

Before her stands Regina, in the most impressive, most beautiful dress she’s ever seen - it’s black, decorated with purple and black lace. The tight corset is decorated with jewelry and the cleavage leaves little to the imagination (especially when you already know what’s underneath, Emma swallows) and a high collar, that stands upright. The dress is masterfully embroidered with a masterfully created pattern and the entire dress gives her a regal attitude. The skirt is wide, probably puffed up with underskirts or petticoats - my goodness, she looks majestic. Regina’s hair is put up in a complicated-looking bun, her eyes are dark and heavily made-up, lips are carefully painted a deep red. It’s straight from a fairy tale. Emma can’t help it - her eyes rake up and down over the costume until they land on the very impressive cleavage. Holy crap. 

Emma gulps, and coughs, feels how her cheeks redden and she sweats in her Rey costume. “So, what are you supposed to be?” she asks Regina as a greeting, and to her horror, her voice sounds hoarse. She quickly clears her throat. “A fairytale princess?”

“No,” Henry laughs before Regina can answer. “She’s the Evil Queen. You know, from Snow White?” He rolls her eyes as if he can’t believe that she can’t make that out. 

“Of course,” Emma says, trying to swallow away the lump in her throat as she looks up and meets Regina’s eyes. Despite her looks, she doesn’t seem very evil. She looks at her, a little hesitant. Is Regina insecure? She definitely shouldn’t be. “You look amazing.” Her voice still sounds crooked. “The weird-ass mirror was so wrong in declaring Snow White prettier than you,” she grins, because damn, it’s true. There’s a hint of a smile around Regina’s lips now and her cheeks color lightly in the prettiest shade of pink. Emma shoves her hands in her pockets - or she wants to, but her costume doesn’t have pockets. She gestures to herself, with a little awkward wave of her hand. “I’m, uh, Rey.”

“I can see that.” Regina’s eyes flick over her costume and for a moment, Emma believes that she sees a hint of appreciation - for her, or for the costume? It’s gone before she knows it. “We’ll leave around four. Make sure you come inside to eat something beforehand, so we don’t go out hunting for candy on an empty stomach.” Her tone is more formal than usual. It suits her outfit, but the distance in her voice somehow stings a little.

“Come on, Emma, let’s play basketball!” Henry, impatient with the adults, grabs her hands and drags her away. Emma tears her eyes away from Regina and grins at Henry’s determination. Maybe it’s the break she needs to get herself together again.

They play several games, and Emma notices he’s really become better at it. Compliments him about his progress and he beams up at her. God, she’s really missed him - she hadn’t factored him in this equation - and makes the best of their time together. She challenges him to a best-of-five match - Jedi against Vader - and lets him win by one game, after which Henry says he’s hungry. Of course he is, but Emma has to admit, so is she. So they go inside - Henry first, Emma after him, a little reluctant. She still doesn’t know what to think of Regina and how she should respond to the ever-present tension that clouds them these days. 

Henry turns back at her when they reach the kitchen. “She’s made apple turnovers, they’re really good. And you know, fit for an Evil Queen.” He grins.

“Is she going to poison us?” Emma says, only half-joking.

"Depends on your behavior today, ‘Rey’,” she hears behind her and it makes her jump - Regina’s entered the kitchen behind her, and how the hell can she be so quiet with a dress like that? Emma’s gaze flicks over Regina’s appearance once more and is determined not to stare, but she has trouble tearing her gaze away from the impressive dress and, uh, cleavage. She manages with great effort (and is secretly proud of it), sits down at the kitchen coun ter, and looks at Henry, instead. It’s a much safer option, she thinks while trying to get her quickened breathing under control. She fidgets with her hands in her lap, trying to keep her cool.

Regina, who’s checked on them from time to time, smiles at them. This is Henry’s day - he loves Halloween - and he’s beaming at both her and Emma. And when she puts a plate with the apple turnovers in front of them, he grins up at her and Emma looks up with a grateful smile and for a few seconds, it’s as if nothing happened between Emma and her and god, their smiles are almost identical when they look at her like that. As is the way they both wolf down their turnover and are ready for a second one within seconds. She swallows thickly, fondly rolling her eyes. Emma still eats like a child. Some things, apparently, really don’t change, and for a moment, she basks in the familiarity of it.

Regina eats only one turnover, after which they take Henry out for trick-or-treating. The awkward feeling between them is the new normal now. It’s like this is how they are supposed to be these days. Regina resents it. She observes the way Emma goofs around with Henry - their Jedi swords out, and it brings a bittersweet smile to her face.  As they walk the streets, she watches Henry bounce up at the doors, and hears him shout, “trick or treat!” while Emma chats with the people who open the door for a little bit. Her heart aches with all the love she feels for him - and her, she sighs with a wistful smile.

And when Emma looks up and holds her gaze for a little longer, something changes in those green eyes, and Regina, never forgetting how Emma’s rejection made her feel - even though she was the one who first declared their… physical closeness a mistake - feels how the smile freezes on her face. Her heart squeezes painfully as she sees how Emma withdraws - both physically and emotionally.

Emma takes her leave soon after, thanking them for inviting her along but she really has to go home now. Part of Regina wants to stop her. Wants to say that it was a mistake to call it a mistake. Wants to… but no, she can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them. And so, Regina continues to yearn for something she can’t allow herself to have. 

And Emma, on her part, sighs wistfully - it was almost like before, until her mind got away with her. They almost looked like family, she thinks, and she can’t. She can’t give Regina the impression that it was more than it was. Glorious, hot sex between two very invested women. She still wants to be friends. That’s all she can give, all that she has to offer. But in Regina’s eyes, she saw something that she can’t put her finger on, but that something told her that friendship is not in their cards. Something fundamentally changed in that cursed night and it’s frustrating, maddening. 

So they keep avoiding each other, but everyone knows that avoiding a problem won’t make it go away. On the contrary, the problem becomes a festering, infectious wound, that you desperately try to keep wrapped up in bandages, but if you don’t treat it, it’ll get worse and worse. And that is exactly what’s happening between these two stubborn ladies. 

And it happens halfway through November, over two months after their night together, two weeks after Halloween, on the day Frederick and Kathryn tie the knot. Frederick and Kathryn have known each other for less than a year, but they’re certain that theirs is true love. And, as Kathryn points out, why wait if you know something so sure? She throws a knowing glance in Regina’s direction when she says it, but Regina blatantly ignores it. Of course, both Emma and Regina are invited, and even more than that, Regina is Kathryn’s maid of honor and Emma is Frederick’s best woman. This means they find themselves standing opposite each other when the obviously in love couple exchanges their vows and it’s so romantic that even the ever-realistic Regina is about to cry. She looks up with wet eyes, meets Emma’s gaze; looking for her is still such an automatic gesture, that breath catches in her throat as their eyes meet. Emma’s mouth curls up in an almost-smile, maybe one lined with a little bit of sympathy, and Regina’s eyes crinkle in return. But then, Emma’s gaze clouds over and she looks away. It makes it awkward instantly and Regina shuffles uncomfortably. 

Both of them breathe in relief when it’s over.

God, Regina thinks, she needs a drink. Maybe more than one. But Henry, who’s granted the very important task of being the ring bearer, is bouncing around the reception too so, unfortunately, she can’t get wasted. Instead, she sits with him, compliments him on how dapper he looks in his tailored suit, as she fixes his tie and he beams up at her. Her heart overflows with love for him as he sincerely tells her that she looks beautiful, too.

And then, when the first dance is announced, they both look at the newlyweds floating away on their first dance. Kathryn’s never been so happy before, Regina muses, as she follows the pair. Sees how their love radiates off of them and it’s infectious, she thinks, as other couples join them and seem to genuinely enjoy themselves, as well. She looks at them, a little wistfully and god, jealous, but refuses to let her gaze wander in search of a certain someone. She’s not going to do that to herself. “Say, Henry,” she says, “Would you like…” And her voice dies, because during her observation, her son has bounced off to a friend near the buffet. She sighs, shakes her head with a slight smile, as she folds her arms in front of her chest.

“Nice ceremony, huh?”

Startled, she looks up. She hasn’t paid attention to Emma since the last time she spotted her at the other side of the dance floor, but maybe she should have. She looks amazing - she wears a dark suit with a white blouse, no tie, her blond hair pulled back in a high ponytail and the curls fall down her back like a waterfall. She pushes her hands in the pockets of her pants, and there’s a melancholic look on Emma’s face as she, too, watches Frederick and Kathryn dance. A melancholy for entirely different reasons, Regina figures, as she wonders if this brings back memories from Emma’s own wedding. Her divorce to Lily, maybe. Her insides clench when she thinks of it. Jealousy doesn’t suit her, and she hates that she feels this way.

“Hello, Emma,” she stiffly answers when she realizes she hasn’t answered the question yet, she adds, “Yes, it’s beautiful.” 

And it’s like there’s nothing more between them but awkward silences these days, she thinks miserably, but hey - Emma tries, at least. And for that, Regina’s grateful. Even though she’d probably be even more grateful if Emma would’ve stayed on her side of the dancefloor because a tight knot forms in her stomach and this wedding somehow make it even more painful. Makes her yearn for something way out of her reach even more.

“How have you been?” Emma inquires dutifully.

“Fine,” Regina automatically replies and she almost flinches at the dismissive tone of her own voice. She can’t help it. She’s right back where she once was with Emma. Eleven years ago in a car. Six years ago in an airplane. 

Something flashes in Emma’s eyes but it’s gone too quickly for Regina to read. “So, uh, how’s Marian?” Emma asks a little tentatively, and Regina’s head turns so fast that she’s surprised it didn’t give her whiplash. 

“I don’t want to talk about this,” she says firmly. She knows Emma and Ruby aren’t dating anymore but she has never told anyone about her and Marian breaking up, as well. Not right before Kathryn’s and Frederick’s big day, because she wouldn’t be able to undergo all the sympathetic glances. Not because of Marian, but because of something - or someone - else entirely. 

“Oh. Why not?” Emma sounds a little off, and suddenly, it aggravates Regina. Because Emma has no right to any of this information.

"I don’t want to talk about this,” she snaps. And she turns and walks away.

“Why not?” There’s despair in Emma’s voice now and they both know this isn’t about Marian or Ruby anymore. It’s all about them. “Why can’t we get past this? Is this thing forever going to stand between us?” 

Regina whirls around. Dismissing it as a thing pierces a hole in her heart. “Forever?” she scoffs. “It just happened!” She doesn’t know why Emma needs to pick out this godforsaken ceremony to talk about their… well whatever it was but it’s highly inappropriate and she just can’t hear her say that it was a mistake again.

“Two months ago,” Emma cries out, and when heads turn in their direction, she lowers her voice and hisses with a hint of exasperation, “We need to get past this. I miss you. I miss us. The way we were.”

A constricted sound escapes Regina’s throat as she turns again and marches away. Emma follows her closely and it hurts, hurts so much. Tears sting behind her eyes, her nails dig into the palm of her hand. Emma wants to go back to the way things were, and Regina knows that they never, ever can. That simple - or maybe not so simple after all - realization scorches her soul. Makes her bitter, frustrated, no, angry. She’s angry with herself, angry with Emma. Angry with the fact that everything always has to be so fucking difficult.

When she’s outside, she turns so quickly that Emma almost bumps into her. “You want to act like what happened didn’t mean anything,” she barks the accusation. 

“I’m not saying it didn’t mean anything,” Emma protests vehemently, hands raised in a defensive gesture. “I’m saying, why does it have to mean everything?” The despair in her voice makes Regina choke on a sob she can’t allow getting past her throat. 

“Because it does ,” Regina cries out, her heart aching because god, it is the honest truth. She wants it to mean the world. Part of her hopes that Emma’s just deflecting because it means something to her, and she’s just scared. And the fact that this might not be the case eats away at her and she wants Emma to hurt as much as she hurts, so she lashes out. “And you should know better than anybody because the minute that it happens you walk right out of the door.”

“I didn’t walk out!” Emma counters, blinking rapidly at the accusation.

“No. Sprinted is more like it,” Regina scoffs bitterly.

“But we both agreed it was a mistake!” Emma protests and she raises her hands in a defensive pose.

“The worst mistake I ever made,” Regina snaps because she’s hurting and she needs Emma to hurt as well. And judging by the way Emma’s gaze turns into something darker, she knows she has succeeded.

“What do you want from me?” Exasperation lines her voice, once more, and something snaps inside Regina.

“I don’t want anything from you.” Regina’s tone is lined with vitriol, and Emma responds accordingly. Her gaze darkens too, anger burns in her gaze.

“Fine! Fine. But let’s just get one thing straight,” Emma shoots back with the same venom now, anger creasing her forehead, “I did not go over there that night to make love to you. That is not why I went there.” She swallows, clenches her teeth, and barks at her, “But you looked up at me with those big, weepy eyes. ‘Don’t go home tonight, Emma. Kiss me, Emma.’ What was I supposed to do?”

Regina’s eyes widen and she staggers back, her hand flat against her stomach - it’s a firm punch below the belt at a moment when she thought it couldn’t be possible to be hurt anymore. “What - what are you saying? That you took… pity on me?” she stammers.

Emma blinks, seems a little taken aback. “No! I mean -- I was -”

Fuck you, ” Regina snarls, and before she knows it, her hand is raised, and she slaps Emma across the face. The sound echoes in the silent hall, is deafening in both their ears and Emma covers her reddening cheek with her own hand. Her green eyes are wide and hurt but fuck, so is Regina. She is fighting to hold back her tears, and she turns and flees back inside the venue.

Emma follows her inside two seconds later, her hand still on her reddening cheek. And when they enter, when Regina presses the door to the venue open, both still furious and hurting and at the same time, stunned with what just happened between them, they catch Frederick’s first words of his speech. “I’d like to propose a toast to Emma and Regina,” he says with a wide smile and he catches their eyes easily when they enter, “because if Kathryn or I had found either of them even remotely attractive, we would not be here today.”

Everybody’s looking at them and they just stare back sheepishly, but Frederick’s toast makes them laugh and everyone applauds them and raises their glass. They both smile tightly at the crowd in front of them. 

Regina finds Henry and stays at his side for the remainder of the speeches, her insides in turmoil, despair, and fury and an all-encompassing sadness brimming right below the surface. Emma’s words still ring in her ears and it only intensifies the pain inside. Well, at least she now knows. She was nothing more than a pity case. She swallows her heartbreak.  Determined to avoid Emma for the re mainder of the evening, she sticks with Henry, and talks with anyone who will listen, thus forcing Emma to leave her alone.

And Emma, on her part, feels like the biggest asshole in the world and even though she wants to apologize, she can’t find the right moment. Regina sticks with Henry and Kathryn and surrounds herself with people. She was upset and had really just wanted to explain that she hadn’t wanted to take advantage of Regina in her fragile state and that it just basically happened . But she was emotional, too, and Regina’s closed posture had gotten under her skin and she had just blurted it out because that’s what she does . Ruining good things is second nature. And when things get tough and she feels she’s about to be ab andoned, she just pushes people away first. That’s what really happened. 

It’s not what she wanted to do. She misses Regina. She misses her friend to whom she can say anything. She misses the late-night calls. She misses Henry and their almost family dinners and their friendly banter. She misses them . Together. They were almost like family and she misses it all. And it’s her own damn fault that she doesn’t have it anymore.

Chapter Text

After a few days of beating herself up over what happened, Emma knows she needs to apologize. Over Thanksgiving, which she’s spent alone with a take-out meal from Granny’s, she tells herself to get over herself and make it better. Because worse than taking it out on herself is the idea that Regina is hurt and that she is the cause of it.

The weekend after Thanksgiving she calls Regina. The call goes straight to voicemail. “Hi. Hi, it’s me. Um. Emma,” Emma says, and she feels like an idiot. “The holiday season is about to start and I thought I’d remind you that, um, this is the season of charity and forgiveness?” She swallows, presses the palm of her hand against her forehead, and continues a little insecure, “And, though it’s not widely known, it’s also the season of groveling. So, uh, if you felt like calling me back, I’d be more than happy to do the traditional Christmas grovel.” She wrinkles her nose, slightly embarrassed by herself and her word vomit, but she really, really wants to make this right. “So, uhm, call me back?”

Regina doesn’t. 

And honestly, Emma can’t really blame her. She gives her a couple of days because well, maybe Regina just needs time to listen to her voicemail, but after four agonizing days, Emma decides to try again.

Again she reaches Regina’s voicemail. “Hi. Hi, it’s me again. I really want to talk to you.” She sighs, and apprehension settles in her stomach. “The fact that you’re not answering leads me to believe you’re either A, not around your phone. B, around your phone but don’t want to talk to me. Or C, you desperately want to talk to me but are trapped under something heavy. If it’s either A or C, please call me back.”

Regina doesn’t call back, and it leads to the only conclusion Emma can make, and that is that Regina really, really doesn’t want to talk to her. And that thought makes her stomach drop. She continues to beat herself up over it, over and over again. She had something good. She had a friend for the first time in forever. But somewhere inside, there’s always this nagging voice that eventually, people leave. And if they don’t do it on their own, Emma’s stupidities and insecurities are more than capable of driving them away before they have the chance to hurt her.

She’d tried it once, with insults, with anger, and Regina had stuck around, they had made up.

This time, she hasn’t. Something’s broken between them, and Emma’s not sure that there’s still something to mend.

And Emma can’t really blame her. Because the things she said at the wedding? That wasn’t how she had wanted them to come out. Emma had just wanted to find a way to say that she really didn’t want anything to change between them, but the words were harsh and so, so off, and fuck, she had hurt Regina so badly. She chokes on an angry sob but refuses to cry. Deal with it, she tells herself. This is on you. So Emma suffers in silence. And when Regina doesn’t call her back after her latest pathetic attempt at polluting her voicemail, she takes the hint. She’s not going to be like some stalker who can’t take a fucking message. 

A few days pass. December has arrived, the shops decorated with reds and silvers and Santas and Emma feels the familiar dread of the Holiday season creeping up on her. Last year was different. The exception to the rule. She remembers baking cookies, putting up a tree, Henry’s delighted smiles, and cries while unwrapping his gifts.

“Hi, Emma!”

That same delighted smile beams up at her from behind her sheriff's desk. Emma blinks, feels as if she’s waking up from a dream, or maybe she’s still dreaming, and her heart rate shoots up instantly. “Henry!” she cries out in surprise, “What are you doing here? Is everything okay? Is your mom-”

“Not here,” he says quickly, a lopsided smirk on his face as if he’s really proud of himself. “She doesn’t know I’m here. I am supposed to be at school but I skipped classes.” There’s a smugness radiating from him which she recognizes instantly because she’s seen it in the mirror so many times. He’s proud of himself. For skipping school. Something she was once widely familiar with, too.

“Why would you do that?” She gets up from her chair and takes her red jacket. “Come on, kid, I’m bringing you back to school.”

“Only if we can talk.” He doesn’t move, and Emma only finds out that he stays behind after she’s almost at the door leaving the station. Defiantly, he pushes his hands in his pockets and tilts his head. Now she sees herself again, Emma laments, combined with the stubbornness Regina has shown over and over again.

“Yeah, kid, sure we can,” Emma says, shaking her head at his stubbornness. “In the car. Come on.” Henry hesitates for a second, and then he steps forward slowly until he’s reached Emma. She looks at him, a little curious. “What do you want to talk about?”

The answer comes swift and without hesitation. “Why you’re not coming over anymore. I miss you.”

Oh. Shit. She nearly trips over her own feet. She missed Henry too, but she never stopped to think that he might be bothered about the current status quo, as well. She tries to swallow a lump in her throat away. “Um. Okay,” she says, a little reluctant. She doesn’t know what Regina has told him, and she doesn’t want to overstep, so she needs to tread carefully.

Henry follows. “So why aren’t you coming over anymore?” he then bluntly asks, and the question stops Emma dead in her tracks.

“That’s maybe a question you should ask your mom, kid,” Emma replies carefully. She softly squeezes his shoulders, and he looks up at her with a frown, the hurt swimming in his gaze and it pierces straight into her heart. She wishes there was a way to make it easier for him and her self-loathing doubles when she realizes how much her sudden absence has affected him, too.

“I did,” Henry tells her with a shrug. “But she avoids the question or says it’s complicated and for adults but I’m not five anymore.” He inflates his chest to look a little taller and despite everything, it makes Emma smile as he continues. “I know that you were in a fight,  but just make up. That’s what I always do.” There’s a slight frown on his face now. “Mom always says there’s nothing you can’t come back from if you just take the first step and I just don’t understand why you don’t.” He folds his arms defiantly in front of his chest. “So why don’t you?”

Emma sighs, places her hand gently between his shoulder blades to guide him to the car. “It is complicated,” she says and he huffs, rolls his eyes - and now, he looks exactly like Regina and it aches in her chest. “Listen, I… I said some really bad things, Henry, because I was angry, and… sometimes, when you are angry, you say things you don’t mean. And afterward, I realized I was wrong, and I wanted to apologize. I tried calling her. I’ve left messages. But I think I really messed up and I think your mom needs time to forgive me.” It’s an awkward conversation to have with a nine-year-old, especially when it’s about his mom. But she needs him to understand that this is on her, and not on his mom. She would much rather have him angry with her than for him to turn his back on Regina.

“Mom can be hard-headed, yeah,” Henry agrees and Emma suppresses a snort. “But keep on trying. I know she wants to talk to you because she’s sad. She tries to hide it, but I can see it. What happened?”

“None of your business, kid,” Emma says firmly, as she reaches the bug and fastens Henry’s seatbelt for him. “But if she wants to call me, she’ll call me. I’m done making an idiot out of myself.” The last comment is more for herself than for Henry, but he nods as if he understands.

“Can you still come to play basketball with me? And will you still be over for Christmas?” He looks at her with those huge puppy eyes and oh, how she wants to confirm that she will, but she simply sighs, a few seconds of silence lingering between them. 

“I don’t know, Henry,” she finally answers quietly, “Just… I don’t think I will. Don’t get your hopes up.”

She drops him off at school, sees how he walks away with slumped shoulders. Everything in his posture screams that he’s not satisfied with the answers he’s got, and boy, can she relate. 

Anyway, she has to let Regina know that Henry’s skipped school, needs to tell her what they talked about, so she sighs and picks up her phone. And despite everything, her heart skips a beat in anticipation, wondering if this time, Regina will pick up. She bites her lip, stares at the phone in her hand. Her thumb gently strokes the name and it starts calling right away, and her soft gasp seems to echo inside the car. It rings. And it rings. And then -

Voicemail. She hadn’t expected anything different, but still, feels how her stomach drops. “Hey, Regina. Um, no weird voicemails from me this time. I just dropped Henry off at school. He’d skipped classes to talk to me about, uhm, why I wasn’t coming over anymore” She sighs softly. Hates the little tremor in her voice. “I told him it was on me, it’s my fault, and he shouldn’t take it out on you. And… he asked me if I’d come over for Christmas. I told him probably not. He wasn’t really happy about it and… Well, I guess that’s it. Don’t be too hard on him. Bye.” 

Hanging up is the only thing stopping her from an ongoing ramble. She throws her phone at the passenger's seat, grabs her steering wheel, and bumps her head against her hands. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Breathing out slowly before she turns the key in the ignition and feels how the bug comes alive below her, and then she drives back to the sheriff’s station.

And then, just before she pulls up at the sheriff’s parking lot, she hears her phone vibrate. She quickly shoots a glance into the direction of the passenger seat and nearly steers her car into the parked police car in front of the station as she sees who’s calling.

Regina.

It’s like all the air is knocked from her lungs instantly and heat spreads from her stomach to the rest of her body. She slams her foot on the brake, yanks the key from the ignition, and takes a dive for her phone. And then, she hesitates for a second. She stares at the name, heart pounding in her ears, swallows, and then swallows again because there’s a lump in her throat she can’t get rid of. Then, she blinks, and answers. 

“Hey! Hey, I just left a message and-”

“Hello, Emma.” Regina’s voice sounds distant and Emma immediately slams her jaws shut. “I heard your message. Thank you for bringing Henry to school. I will talk to him.” The sentences are short, almost like they’re rehearsed. “That’s all that-”

“No wait, don’t go. Please .” She squeezes her eyes shut, but she just needs to keep the conversation going. 

There’s a second of silence. “What do you want, Emma?” Regina sounds tired now and Emma’s heart squeezes.

“I… I, um, just want to say that I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Regina answers, and then, there’s silence, a silence that weighs like a heavy burden on Emma’s shoulders. The air is thick with so many things she wants to say and there are so many thoughts whirling inside her head, but she can’t get them out. She’s never understood the phrase that silence can be deafening, but she gets it now. “About everything,” she softly adds, because she doesn’t know how to voice anything else now that she finally hears Regina’s voice for the first time in almost two weeks.

There’s a slight choking sound at the other side of the line. And then, Regina murmurs, “I have to go.” 

These four words seem so final that Emma panics. “Wait! Wait a second. Please! ” she cries out, and she’s met with silence. No dial tone. Regina is still there, and she hastily searches for something to say. “Um, what are you doing for Christmas? Or, or probably not Christmas, but maybe for New Year’s? Are you going to Kathryn and Frederick’s party? Because I don’t have a date…” She knows she’s rambling, but she can’t stop. “And if you don’t have a date, well, we always said that if neither of us had a date, we could be together for New Year’s and it could, you know-”

“I can’t do this anymore, Emma.” Regina’s voice is quieter now but she might as well have been screaming, and Emma is immediately quiet. She opens her mouth to say something in return, but Regina doesn’t give her the chance. Firmer, she adds, “I’m not your consolation prize. Goodbye.” And then she breaks the connection.

Emma’s heart plummets through the floor as she numbly slumps against the driver’s seat, all the energy leaving her body.

It’s over.

 

~*~

 

So there they are, their lives in shambles. And the weeks after their phone call, they try to keep themselves busy. Try not to think about the other. 

But it’s hard. Regina feels awful, has a constant feeling as if she’s getting ill but she isn’t. The queasy feeling in her stomach isn’t from a flu bug. It just doesn’t want to go away. Because as much as she hates Emma for treating her like a pity case, as much as she hated the voicemails - the silence she now experiences is worse. Her heart shatters over and over again and she takes the weeks before and after Christmas off. It’s self-protection, she tells herself. This way, she definitely doesn’t have to run into the person who gives her heartache. 

It’s ironic, too, she laments. At the start of this all, she was upset with Robin having a child and marrying, but the way she felt back then is nothing compared to the heartache she feels now. She never gave Robin her all. She was in love with the idea of him, with the idea of a family. Never with him. 

Emma’s a different story. It hurts way, way worse. It hurts, she miserably thinks, probably like the way Emma hurts over Lily. And it’s all-encompassing and soul-wrenching and it's worse because Emma will never be able to return her feelings. Will never be able to see more in Regina than someone to spend time with - as a stand-in for the woman she can’t get away from her ex. The thought is devastating and shatters her heart every time she thinks it, and the holidays only seem to amplify her emotions.

As for Emma, she feels the finality of their last phone call weighing heavily on her shoulders. She feels numb. She goes through the motions, even gets the ugliest tree she can find because she feels sorry for it, and toasts at it come Christmas Eve. She has plenty of time to think about how she got here. Lily, she thinks. Lily was the reason she grabbed her things and fled to the tiny town of Storybrooke. Lily, she now realizes, is nothing more than a faint uncomfortable feeling in her chest, because there’s another hurt that’s replaced it. A hurt that she doesn’t want to understand because it feels like when she does, she’ll have to get up and leave town again and she’s not ready to do that.

Christmas comes and goes. At the Mills mansion, traditions are being celebrated, gifts are being unwrapped, but it feels mechanical. At Emma’s loft, Christmas is celebrated with whiskey, old movies on the tv, and wistful memories of bickering over the classics. The hangover the next day feels exactly like being the asshole friend she’s been to Regina all this time and while she stuffs her head with painkillers and water, she again can’t blame Regina for not wanting to have her around.

New Year’s comes quickly enough thereafter. A day prior to the party, she sees Henry at the supermarket. “Hi, Emma!”

She pushes her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “Hi, kid. Are you ready for New Year’s Eve?”

“Yeah!” he beams at her, “We’re going to Kathryn’s and Frederick’s party! Are you gonna come, too?” He looks up at her with pleading eyes and feels her heart squeeze. God, she loves this kid. “No, Henry, I’m not. I’m not in the partying  mood this year so I’m just going to curl up on my couch and watch tv.”

“That sucks,” he says, nose curled up in a gesture that she also always does, and she smiles.

“It’s not. It’s actually quite nice.”

“No it’s not,” Henry counters, “It’s super boring and lame and you can do it all the time and New Year’s Eve is only once a year.” He looks at her as if she’s gone mad - and maybe she has. “And don’t you want to see the fireworks?”

“Henry,” Emma chastises gently, and he shrugs. He doesn’t like that she’s not going, obviously, but Emma’s not going to cave. In the end, he huffs and rolls with his eyes, very Regina-like, turns and marches off. Emma watches him leave, with a wistful sigh.

So, she finds herself at home on New Year’s Eve. And she tries to lift her own spirits by telling herself, what’s so bad about this? She’s got the tv on, is watching the New York celebration at Times Square with the big ball about to drop, and has a lot of chips and comfort food at her disposal. She sighs as her facade is about to falter, tries to suppress the depression lurking inside, and tries to think happy thoughts. Tomorrow this will be over and maybe she really, really needs to think about packing up again. She overstayed her welcome. Regina doesn’t want her here, obviously and maybe it’s been a mistake coming here. And she’s heard Boston is really nice, so maybe it’s a good idea to pack the bug and go. There’s nothing left for her here.

At the party, Regina isn’t doing much better. She dances dutifully with a few people but finds herself annoyed with most of the attendants but smiles anyway because she’s the mayor and she can’t fall apart. “I can’t believe I let you drag me into this,” she tells Kathryn at a spare moment of quietness. She looks over at Henry, who dances with Grace, and okay, he’s the only adorable thing in this entire imbecile party. 

She’s talked to him about Emma. That they’re in a complicated situation right now and that’s why she isn’t here. He’s been grouchy about it, but she hasn’t caved. She told him she’d answer the phone when Emma would call again, but Emma hadn’t. Not after Emma had broken her heart into tiny pieces when she had listened to Emma’s suggestion for New Year’s Eve.

Regina’s a hot mess, she can admit that to herself, and she knows that it’s going to take a long while to get over this. She doesn’t know when exactly she’s fallen in love with Emma, only knows that she has, and knows that she never wanted it to happen in the first place because they were doing so well as friends. 

The man she’s dancing with is laughing at his own joke - if nobody’s going to, you’ve got to do it yourself, she thinks with a silent groan, and she plasters a fake smile on her face as if she’s heard everything he’s said before. She can’t do this. Can’t be here and pretend that everything’s all right. But she also knows she can’t drag Henry away from the party. At least one of the Mills family is having fun, she sees as he’s dancing with Grace, and she can’t take that away from him. Apart from feeling miserable, she’s also felt guilty about her own mental state for weeks and though she tries to hide it, she knows that he knows that something’s wrong.

“I’m going to get some air,” she tells Kathryn after the dance and her friend smiles sympathetically. “It’s almost midnight. Maybe you should wait.”

“I’m not.”

“Alright,” Kathryn sighs. “Do you want company?”

Regina firmly shakes her head. “No, thank you.” And with that, she turns and heads for the doors.

 

~*~

 

Emma is restless. So maybe staying inside isn’t going to cut it at New Year’s Eve, she thinks. A walk is better. Besides, the streets are quiet because everyone’s either at parties or celebrating at home and they’ve reached their destination, so close to midnight. And that’s good. Very good. It gives Emma time to think about her plans and good intentions for the new year. And say goodbye to the quiet streets of Storybrooke. Again.

She hears a giggle from across the street and sees a man and a woman in an intimate embrace and for the first time in a long time, she feels jealousy. That, right there, is what she wants. And she doesn’t have it. Maybe she had it once, but it’s been long gone. Dead and buried after Lily left her.

She shakes her head, wanders further over the street, passes only a few people on her way, all arms around waists or shoulders and it’s sickening. It makes her feel nauseous and she knows it’s just resentment and that it’s all her because that, that genuine happiness, that’s all that she wanted with Regina.

Emma stops walking and blinks. Regina . Her breath stops momentarily.

Not Lily .  

She blinks again, understanding dawning way too slowly.

“Fuck.” And then, when she looks up, she realizes where she stands - the same spot where Regina picked her up 11 years ago to start their road trip to New York - Emma running towards the darker parts of her past, Regina to study. 11 fucking years. A sob escapes her throat. She remembers the conversations they had back then. How young and naive they both were. 

“You realize of course, that we could never be friends.”

“Why not?”

“No lesbian can be friends with a woman she finds attractive. She’ll always want more.”

“What if they don’t want to have sex with you?”

“Doesn’t matter. Because the sex thing is already out there. So the friendship is ultimately doomed. And that’s the end of the story.”

“Well. I guess we’re not going to be friends, then.”

“Guess not.”

But they had become friends. And more than that - the realization hits her like a hammer and slams the air right out of her lungs. She should’ve heeded her own words

She feels dumb and blind. Has tricked herself into believing that she values Regina’s friendship too much to ruin it, not realizing that there’s always been more than friendship and she’s been too much of a stubborn donkey to realize - because she’s afraid.

Emma swallows. Thinks about Boston. Is she really willing to let it all go because she doesn’t know how to say the right things? And if she does, will she be able to forget Regina when she’s in a different city, after she’s run away again?

Because if she’s really going to Boston, it means that she’s running. Running away from feelings she’s not ready to face because they scare her, because they make her vulnerable, because they can hurt her and she’s just recovered . Emma has run so many times and it made life better for her, but right now, she knows it won’t solve anything. 

Not this time. She might have recovered from her first heartbreak but the second has been more subtle, chipping off bits and pieces of her heart. 

I’m not your consolation prize.

Oh - what has she done?

Suddenly, it’s like she can’t breathe. She doesn’t want to forget Regina. All this time, she was thinking that she was incapable of opening up to someone again but she never realized that she already had . Regina crept under her skin, into her heart, into her life. And all this time, she’s fooled herself into believing that what happened between them was a one-time thing they could get past and she has been so frustrated that Regina couldn’t do just that - not realizing that she, also, wasn’t able to put it aside. 

It was just easier to pass it on as something Regina couldn’t deal with, rather than to realize she shared the same sentiment. Her cheeks are aflame, and it’s not because of the cold. She’s ashamed of herself. Has hurt the most important person in her life because she was too blind to see.

And she’s determined to fix it -- the right way, this time.

She turns on her heels and starts walking. Speeds up until she finds herself running. Anticipation rages through her system as she rounds the corner into the direction of Kathryn’s and Frederick’s spacious house. Adrenaline urges her to go onward and she doesn’t slow down.

There’s something she desperately needs to say to Regina and this is going to be her last try. 

But she owes it to herself to try. One more time, she tells herself, and if she embarrasses herself, then so be it. She runs, runs, but she’s not running away - on the contrary - and when she passes the clock tower, she sees it’s two minutes to midnight.

 

~*~

 

“Mom! Are you coming inside?”

Regina looks up and wraps her shawl around herself. “Not just yet, Henry,” she says with a tiny smile. “But you go in there. The party’s waiting.”

“Yeah, but, it’s almost midnight.”

Regina swallows and closes her eyes. The thought of not kissing someone at midnight is suddenly unbearable but she’s not going to tell her nine-year-old that. But he comes closer and wraps his arms around her waist. 

“If you’re not going inside I’ll stay out here with you,” he murmurs, “because there’s nobody I want to wish a happy New Year more than you.” 

Her sweet, beautiful boy. Tears spring in her eyes as she tightly wraps her arms around his shoulders. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I’m so happy to have you as my son,” she says with a choked voice, “And things will be better, I promise.” As a response, he tightens his grip around her waist even further. 

“I love you, mom,” he murmurs in her dress. She buries her nose in his hair and breathes in his shampoo, as she faintly hears someone running towards them - until their footsteps come to an abrupt halt. 

They both look up. 

And there’s Emma, hair messy, eyes wide, panting heavily - her breath forms puffs of white clouds when she exhales - and Regina’s treacherous heart skips a beat. Her jaw tightens, hates how her body responds upon seeing the determined look on her face. The sparkle in her eyes.

“Emma! You made it!” Henry says cheerfully and he flies over to her to hug her. She complies immediately as he latches onto her waist and laughs softly, hugs him tight and breathes in. And out. And when Emma reluctantly releases him, he looks from her to his mom and back, and he smiles. “I’ll be inside. There’s only a few seconds left until midnight so you should hurry!”

Before Regina can stop him, he storms back inside. Traitor, she thinks with a sigh, before she stiffly turns towards the blonde, who has now folded her hands together and fidgets with her fingers. She lifts her gaze to meet Emma’s, and the determined flicker in her green gaze makes her breath stutter. Eyes locked, she can’t look away. 

Emma’s nervous, Regina sees, and, to her own aggravation, so is she. She really hadn’t expected Emma to show up. “Emma, what-”

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” Emma blurts out, never the subtle one.  “and the thing is, I love you.”

Regina’s heart sinks, and she feels how tears prick behind her eyes. “What?”

“I love you.” It’s a simple answer, and for a moment, Emma’s gaze falters. Her eyes flick around, to the door, and back to Regina.

It’s too much, too much for Regina to handle right now. Tears burn in her throat, sting behind her eyes - it is unreal, unfair. “How do you expect me to respond to this?” she says, a tremble in her voice which she desperately tries to suppress but she can’t, and she hates it. She hates how much effect Emma has on her. Hates how she can fill her with hope one moment, and crush it to pieces the next. 

“How about you love me, too?” There’s a hopeful glance in Emma’s eyes that breaks Regina’s heart, but she just can’t do this anymore. These past few months, her heart and her dignity have been hurt too many times.

“How about, I’m leaving?” Regina shivers, but it’s not from the cold. It’s from the intensified version of lingering dread that has lived in her stomach for nearly five months now. She turns and heads to the door through which Henry disappeared not even a minute before and pushes the door open.

“Doesn’t what I said means anything to you?” The crowd inside starts to count down and she faintly registers it, but she can’t step through the door. Not when the despair in Emma’s voice is paralyzing her.

“I’m sorry, Emma,” Regina says, and she feels how her eyes fill up with tears of frustration and heartbreak and the knot in her chest tightens painfully, to the point that it makes it hard to breathe. “I know it’s New Year’s Eve and I know you’re feeling lonely, but you just can’t show up here, tell me you love me and expect that to make everything alright. You don’t get to do this to me anymore. It doesn’t work that way.” Her voice breaks.

“Well, how does it work?” Emma cries out after her as Regina reaches for the door and there’s a sense of hopelessness in her voice - the same hopelessness Regina feels raging inside. 

“I don’t know, but not this way.” She pulls the door further open and the crowd inside has reached zero, and they’re wishing each other Happy New Year already. She wants to get to Henry, Kathryn, bury herself in their love and after, she wants to curl up and cry about everything she can’t have but most of all, she needs to get away from Emma.

“Then how about this way?” Emma shouts after her, agony in her voice and Regina stops again when she recognizes the panic lining it. “I love that you get cold on a summer day. I love that it takes you an hour to order a sandwich. I love that you’re rolling your eyes at me whenever you think I’m nuts. I love the vein that pops out on your forehead whenever you’re upset.”

A shiver runs up and down her spine. Regina swallows thickly at the emotional outburst and turns towards Emma. She wants to say something, but Emma isn’t done yet. A little more controlled, she continues, “I love that after I spend a day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes, and I love that you’re the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night.” She lifts her arm, wipes her eyes with her sleeve and Regina sees that Emma’s hands are shaking. Like hers. “And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve.” Emma’s eyes are puffy now, red-rimmed and she gives up wiping the tears from her face, and she takes a tentative step towards Regina, which makes a helpless butterfly flutter in Regina’s stomach. “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

The crowd inside is cheering, but Regina hardly hears them. She feels betrayed and hurt and it’s the most beautiful confession of love that she’s heard in forever and there’s so much pain that she really doesn't want to forgive Emma this easily. She sees a tear rolling down Emma’s cheek and she hasn’t even realized that her own tears are flowing now, as well.

“That’s just… like you, Emma,” she says, a hint of resignation in her voice and her breath chokes as Emma steps a little closer. “You say things like that and it’s… impossible for me to hate you.” Her voice breaks.

Emma slowly releases her breath and her hands go up, as do Regina’s, who curls her fingers into fists as Emma steps into her personal space. Places her fists against the blonde’s chest as if she wants to hit her, but she doesn’t, and she feels how Emma’s arms tentatively wrap around her shoulders. “And I hate you. I hate you so much,” she declares with a voice shaking with emotion, halfheartedly hitting her on her chest. Emma bows her head and Regina’s breath stutters as she feels Emma’s warm breath on her cheek. She shivers, then grasps the lapels of Emma’s jacket. Her eyes flick between Emma’s eyes and her mouth, which curves into a careful smile before she leans in and covers Regina’s mouth with hers.

Her blood sings, her skin tingles and she’s home as Emma’s arms slide around her neck, before her hands make their way to Regina’s face and cups her cheeks. Her touch is like velvet - smooth, soft, rich, and she basks in the feelings that she’s pushed away for so long. God, she’s missed her so much. 

Something blooms inside Regina’s chest. A seed, growing into the tiniest vine that promises hope and warmth and family and love. Because yes, she loves Emma, she admits to herself as her hands travel up and bury her fingers in Emma’s hair. She tastes the salt of her own tears on Emma’s lips. Kisses them away. “I hate you, but I love you so, so much more,” she whispers and Emma’s breath hitches before she claims Regina’s lips again. Regina’s breath hitches as Emma presses her closer and she can feel the heat radiating off the blonde’s body.

“Yuck. Also, finally,” a voice says behind them and it makes them jump apart instantly. Henry’s standing in the door’s opening, a big grin on his face. Regina’s hands fly to her hair to smoothen it out, flustered but oh, she feels so much better than a few minutes ago. And Emma chokes out a laugh, motions him to come closer.

“Come here, kid,” she tells him and he doesn’t need to be told twice as he launches himself into her arms. Family, Regina thinks, dizzy with happiness as Emma presses their foreheads together and ruffles Henry’s hair as he wraps an arm on both their waists and squeezes them together. 

She’s home, and for the first time in forever, she feels like she’s running towards something, instead of running away from it. And while her heart swells with love for her family, while she softly wishes them both a happy New Year, she kisses Regina again - and it’s a kiss full of promises for their future.

Chapter Text

The story doesn’t quite end there yet. Because it takes some time to talk things through - and they do more than talk during these sessions. It takes a while for Regina to voice all her hurts, all her insecurities, and it takes time to believe that Emma’s vicious words were just that - vile words. Regina feels everything so deeply that it sometimes physically hurts Emma to hear Regina talk about what Emma put her through. Never again, Emma whispers in her ear.

And Emma, on her behalf, talks about not being able to see what was going on right in front of her face all along. Says she really hadn’t been aiming for it but it just happened sneakily but boy, is she happy that it did, even if it took her forever to realize. And then, she can’t help but smugly say that she’s been right all along. 

“How come?” Regina says. She’s been lying comfortably in Emma’s lap, Emma’s fingers playing with her hair and it nearly makes her purr in contentment but when they pause, she looks up. 

“Well, I told you a long time ago that we would never be friends.”

Regina rolls her eyes but doesn’t move. Tilts her head a little, urging Emma to continue the massage and she sighs happily as Emma complies. “We were friends for a long time,” she disagrees.

“I told you the sex thing would always get in the way.” She frowns. “The one time I didn’t want to be right. We were doomed from the start.”

Regina sighs as Emma’s fingers stop again. There’s a frown on the blonde’s face. “Sometimes the thought that I screwed up and that I might’ve been too late hmpff-”

Regina springs up quickly from Emma’s lap and presses her lips against Emma’s to stop the words from coming out. Emma sighs, relaxes, and wraps her arms around Regina instead.

“Your dark side came out,” Regina murmurs against her lips, eyes shimmering, “And I think I found a very effective way to shut it up.”

Emma smiles lopsidedly, nuzzles Regina’s nose. “I guess so. But I-” Again, Regina leans in and Emma gives up. There’s more time to talk later. Much later.
 

 

~*~

 

In the months following, Emma stays over so many times at the mansion, that at some point during dinner, Henry asks if she has already moved in. Emma’s eyes widen comically and Regina chokes on a piece of broccoli. Emma, who recovers quicker, helpfully pats her back. “Henry,” she says with a shaky voice once she’s regained her breath. 

“What?” He looks between them and grins. 

The women exchange a glance over his head, and then Regina slowly adds, “Would you… like if Emma moved in?”

“Yeah, she’s cool. And she’s great at video games and she likes comic books and basketball and, I mean, you love her right?” Henry shrugs as if it’s the most logical thing in the world, but Regina knows that it’s not that easy. They haven’t talked about it, even though Emma spends most of her time here, and it is a big step forward in their lives. 

But it would also be a potential vulnerability for Emma, and Regina doesn’t know if Emma’s ready for it. 

“Emma, you don’t have to…” Emma’s gaze falters a little and Regina shakes her head immediately. “Listen, I’d love to have you here permanently,” she softly says, “but it’s your choice. Or... we can do a trial, something like that? And we can also hold on to your apartment if it means you’ll be more comfortable.” She feels vulnerable and sees it reflected in Emma’s eyes for a few seconds. Then, Emma’s gaze brightens and the fire in her green eyes takes Regina’s breath away.

“I don’t need a safety net with you,” she whispers, leaning over and gently tucking a lock of hair behind Regina’s ear. “And I’m honored that your kid wants to share his video games with me.” She flashes him a smile, and he nods seriously. 

“They’re still mine, though,” he warns her.

“Henry,” Regina chastises, but Emma laughs. 

“I’ll share mine if you share yours,” she winks, and just like that, the deal is settled. 

Emma officially moves into the mansion in May and all stays the same - it’s like she’s always lived there. 

 

~*~

 

At the beginning of August, a week before Henry’s tenth birthday, Regina receives a letter from the adoption agency and it unsettles her greatly. She’s snappy, throws herself at the birthday preparations, and Emma and Henry don’t know what’s wrong. She’s been in a bad mood before and usually, it helps to stay away for the first few hours and then make her talk about it later. However, this time, it doesn’t work. Henry is worried, and Emma promises him that she’ll talk to her. 

“Out with it,” she demands after Henry’s gone to bed, and Regina’s unloading the dishwasher with more force than necessary, causing the plates to rattle. “Something’s been bothering you all day and these poor plates don’t need to suffer because of it.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she snaps.

“Maybe not,” Emma counters, not giving in because she knows it’s not because of her, “but you’re going to.” She steps closer. “Let me help,” she softly says.

Regina glares at her, and Emma readies herself for an outburst, but then the brunette closes her eyes and sags against the kitchen counter. “You can’t,” Regina says, and she curls her fingers around the kitchen counter. “Social services sent me a letter. For Henry. Apparently,” she shakes her head and continues with bitterness in her voice, “his birth mother wrote him a letter that he is to receive on his tenth birthday. I don’t know what to do with it and I have no idea what is in it. Do I read it? Do I even give it to him?”

Emma inhales sharply. Heat flashes through her body and her face flushes, and she opens her mouth to say something, only to find that she can’t. Suddenly, nausea sweeps through her and she’s dizzy. Black spots cloud her peripheral view. The air is suddenly thick and her nostrils flare, desperately trying to get in oxygen.

“Emma, are you okay?” Regina says, startled at the unsuspected reaction. Emma lightly shakes her head to clear up her view and drops on a barstool. 

“I’m, um. Yeah.” She frantically searches her memories. They celebrated Henry’s birthday last year. She hadn’t really paid attention to the date, or maybe she had thought it was a coincidence. “Henry’s birthday is August 11, right?”

“It is.” Regina frowns. “What’s going on?” She comes closer. “It’s like you’ve seen a ghost.” She lifts her hand, fingers investigating Emma’s face, feeling her forehead. 

Emma lets her. Tries to get her racing thoughts in order but her head feels like it’s going to explode as the details come back. Her son was born on August 11. Almost ten years ago to the date. She wrote him a letter. This is no coincidence and she frantically searches her brain for clues. How could she have missed them? Inhaling a stuttering breath, she closes her eyes and needs to fight her instincts to bolt. Her ears are ringing and she doesn’t hear what Regina is saying.  

And then, Regina grabs her shoulders. “Emma!” she cries out. Emma shakes her head. 

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she breathes, and it’s evident that she’s not. She’s sweating, her skin feels clammy and she closes her eyes. “Give me a minute.”

“You’re not fainting on me in the kitchen, dear,” Regina murmurs, and tugs her up to her feet. “I’m getting you in bed. We’ll talk later.”

Oh, they’re definitely going to, Emma thinks, shaken to her core. There’s a conversation they need to have soon, but she has no idea how this is going to turn out and if Regina will even believe that it is a total coincidence that both Henry and Emma showed up on her doorstep.

 

~*~

 

“We need to talk.”

Regina looks up from her paperwork. She’s at her office at city hall and she blinks at Emma, who’s standing on the threshold with a frown on her face and her hands in her pockets. Oh. This doesn’t look good. Regina sits up straighter, dread settling in her stomach.

“About what?”

“That letter Henry’s about to receive.” Emma’s eyes nervously flick through the office before landing on Regina again. Tension radiates off of her and she wants to get up, wants to round the desk and go towards her, but Emma steps forward and raises a hand. “No, please sit. You’re going to want to sit for this.” 

Slowly, Regina sits down again. “You’re scaring me, Emma,” she murmurs. Agony nags at her stomach and she grabs a pen to keep her fingers busy. “What’s going on?”

Silence follows, and she sees Emma swallowing thickly, eyes shifting everywhere before she bows her head and twists her fingers nervously. And just when the silence becomes too hard to bear, Emma’s shoulders slump and she whispers, “I uh, think I might be the one who’s written it.”

Regina frowns, and it takes a few seconds before she realizes what Emma means, what she is actually saying, and she slowly rises. “ You’re Henry’s birth mother?”

“I think?” There’s a guarded look on Emma’s face. “I swear I didn’t know. But the letter - his birthdate -  I just didn’t link it together and I…” She waves helplessly.

Regina stares at her. Her heart rate picks up, and she swallows thickly. She has noticed similarities between Emma and her son. The way they wrinkle their nose. The way they run their hands through their hair. The way they have these almost identical smiles sometimes, and the way they eat their food - Emma’s like a child, Regina sometimes fondly thinks. But maybe it’s more like her child is really Emma’s and that’s why.

Emma’s right. She needs to sit down, and she drops back in her chair. “What do you want?” She sounds defensive and she hates it. She loves Emma. And yet, there’s this teeny tiny sliver of betrayal lurking around the corner. Did she know before? If so, why hasn’t she said anything? 

“I don’t want anything.” Emma sounds defensive, too. “I mean, if I am really his birth mother… I…” She waves her hands helplessly in the air. “I gave him up, I’m not his mom.” She struggles a little. Tries to find the right words. “You are. I mean, has he even ever expressed his want to find his biological mom because if he hasn’t, maybe you should let it rest. Don’t give him the letter. He’s happy with you.” She shrugs. “I just... I don’t know.” She shifts her weight from one foot to the other.

Regina narrows her eyes. Presses her hand flat to her stomach. “So… you don’t want him to know?” She hates that there’s a wave of relief cleansing her worries inside. All right, so maybe she does believe that Emma didn’t know any of it. She looks far too distressed to act this out.

“I... no. I don’t know, Regina,” Emma cries out, frantically shaking her head. There’s a helplessness in her voice that makes Regina want to take her in her arms and kiss it better, but she knows she can’t. “It doesn’t matter what I want. It matters what you want. I’ll tell you what’s in the letter and then you decide what to do.”

Regina looks at the wide eyes, the haunted expression on Emma’s face, and she nods slowly. Emma sighs, drops in one of the chairs opposite the desk and she tells the story about her pregnancy in jail, something that Regina has heard bits and pieces of over the last year. Tells her that she wrote her baby boy a letter, telling him why she had to give him up. Telling him she wanted him to have his very best chance. “The system has never treated me very well,” Emma says with a croaking voice. “And I wanted him to know, should he end up in the same situation, that I tried to do the right thing. But… He has found a great mom and he did get his best chance and I don’t want to undermine that for either of you and if you want me to go away I’ll-”

“Emma.” Regina’s sharp tone shuts Emma up and the green eyes flicker with worry and fear. As if she’s bracing herself for what’s to come. Old fears resurface. Rejection. Abandonment. And Regina, even though she is worried for her son, can’t let her go there. “Do you want him to know?”

There’s a pause of a couple of seconds that feels like minutes. Emma’s shoulders drop, and she lowers her head. Shakes it lightly. “What if he resents me for giving him up?” she says, voice tiny, and Regina’s heart goes out to her.

“What if he doesn’t?” Regina counters gently.

“We have a great thing going on here,” Emma vehemently says. “We don’t need to change it. It doesn’t need-”

“Emma, stop. Please.” Surprisingly, Regina suddenly feels really calm, as if she’s been here before. She has. Emma has the tendency to run away from everything that has the possibility to hurt her - if she does it first, she has control over it. 

It’s why they almost lost each other, and she can’t let that happen again.

“Henry deserves to know the truth,” Regina softly says as she rounds the desk and kneels down in front of Emma, placing her hands in hers. “And I won’t say I’m not worried because I am. I am worried about what it means. About what he is going to think, or do. I’m worried about us. But ignoring it is not going to make it go away and Emma…” She pauses, waits for Emma’s reluctant gaze to meet her own. “We are strong together. We’ll get through this together. All of us.”

Emotions whirl in those green eyes - worry, agony, fear, but Regina also sees hope, right before Emma closes her eyes and sighs softly. She nods. And Regina exhales and hopes she made the right decision.

 

~*~

 

They sit down with Henry when he comes home from school. Emma is a nervous wreck. She looks at him differently now. Tries to spot her own features in his face, or maybe Neal’s, but she doesn’t see anything. She paces up and down the room as he sits down next to his mom, and he frowns as he follows her with her eyes. 

“What’s wrong?” he says, and his eyes widen. “Emma’s not moving out, is she?” he asks, alarmed. The question is so absurd that Emma stops dead in her tracks and barks out a laugh of surprise.

“I sure hope not,” she then says, because her heart plummets and frankly, she doesn’t really know what’s going to happen. 

Regina looks up at her sympathetically, before turning back at Henry. “Sweetheart, there’s something I have to tell you.” And Regina takes his hands into hers, tells him about the letter that has arrived from his birth mother and that it was written even before he was born. “She wanted you to receive it on your tenth birthday.” She takes it out of her pocket. Hands it to him, and he takes it automatically from her.

Henry’s gaze flicks between the two, and his gaze is suddenly guarded. “Will it change anything between us if I read it?” he asks warily.

“Not necessarily,” Regina answers.

“What if she writes she wants me back?” His eyes shine defiantly. “I don’t want that.”

“She can’t take you back, sweetheart. You’re legally my son.” Her eyes flick to Emma, pauses, and then adds. “She has no rights over you.” It’s the truth, Emma knows, plain and simple, and maybe it’s because she’s slowly getting used to the idea of Henry being her son and she knows she really doesn’t have any rights, but the words sting a little.

“I don’t need to read it. You’re my mom.” His words are heartfelt. Pushes back the letter in Regina’s hand.

“I’ll always be your mom,” Regina smiles, and when Emma’s eyes meet hers again, Emma sees some relief. As if she maybe hadn’t thought that that was how it was going to go. Emma smiles curtly. Regina’s a great mom and she really couldn’t have wished for a better mom for her baby boy. “But,” Regina continues, repeating the words she told Emma earlier, “ignoring it isn’t going to make this go away. You don’t have to open the letter right away, and I can keep it for you if you want to until you’re ready.”

Henry stares ahead, without really seeing anything. “What would you do, Emma?” he asks, suddenly grabbing Regina’s hands again and clinging to her while looking up at Emma. Emma’s heart aches. “You’re an orphan, too. Would you want to know?”

Emma closes her eyes for a second. “Yes,” she whispers. It was the reason why she wrote the letter in the first place. Because she never had a clue about who her parents were and she had wished for them to show up so badly.

They never had. 

She scrapes her throat. “Yes. I would want to know the reason they gave me up.”

“Does it matter why? They didn’t want me.” Henry raises his chin, and Emma’s heart drops again. There’s a lot of that going on. Blood is pumping frantically through her body. She opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes out at first. 

And then, hoarsely, she says, “Yes. It matters.”

“There’s something else we need to tell you,” Regina says, focusing on her son again. “The letter was why I felt cranky yesterday because I thought I might lose you.”

Henry frowns. “Why? You’re my mom. Not the woman giving me up.”

Emma’s knees buckle and she needs to sit down. Chooses the armchair at the other side of Regina, so she can act like a buffer.

“And I always will be. But when I told Emma about the letter I got, we found out something.” She gently strokes his hair out of his face. “Did you know that Emma once had a baby boy, Henry?”

He shakes his head and turns her head to Emma. “I didn’t. Where is he?” He blinks when a sudden thought enters his mind. “Is he... dead?”

“No,” Emma hastily says and then sighs, accepting that this is really happening and she can’t let Regina do everything. “He is very much alive. I… for a long time, I didn’t know where he was,” she continues. “I gave birth to him when I was in prison. And I decided to give him up for adoption.”

There’s a short pause in which Henry tries to process.

“Why were you in prison?” he frowns and Emma can’t help but smile because he’s almost ten and prison probably sounds mighty interesting.

“Someone accused me of stealing watches,” Emma says, eyes flicking to Regina, who nods almost invisibly. 

“And did you?” Henry tilts his head.

“I, um, well, someone asked me to pick them up from a locker in a train station. I didn’t know they were stolen, but the police caught me with them.” There’s no way on earth that Emma’s ever going to tell him that this rat’s bastard who set her up fathered him. “And they thought I stole them.”

“Oh. That sucks.” There’s a hint of sympathy in his eyes - ever the believer. Emma’s heart squeezes. 

“It really did,” Emma agrees, as she shifts in her seat. “I found out that I was pregnant soon after hearing my sentence. And I decided…” Her voice wavers and her chest tightens upon seeing his trusting green-brown eyes and it’s almost as if she can’t breathe. “I-- I had no place to stay on the outside, no job, no money. So,” she breathes in deeply, “I wanted him to have his best chance because I felt that was clearly not going to be me.”

Suddenly, Henry’s eyes grow guarded and he sits up a little straighter. “What are you saying?” His voice sounds sharp and Emma feels goosebumps stand up over her entire body as she swallows. There’s no turning back now.

“There’s a decent chance that I’ve written that letter all those years ago,” she all but whispers, waving a helpless hand at the letter.

Henry stares at her with an unreadable face and she is cold, so cold. Wraps her arms around herself and tries to rub herself warm. She’s unable to look at them, wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection she might see in them. And then, with a sudden movement, he snatches the letter and stands up, leaves the room quietly, leaving the two women who look at each other with worried eyes.

 

~*~

 

“I’ll go talk to him,” Regina says after a few minutes. She’s gone to the kitchen and made some tea for Emma. She’s worried. Emma’s face is pale and she’s wrapped her hands around herself as if she’s protecting herself from hurt - which is probably exactly what she’s doing.

“No. I should do it,” Emma quietly says. Wondering if that’s the best idea, Regina hesitates for a second. But Emma looks up and smiles a little wryly, her gaze clear. “If you hear a lot of yelling, then please do interfere because you’re way better equipped to deal with a hurt boy than I’ll ever be.” She tilts her head and frowns. “Or maybe check in five minutes anyway, because he might’ve strangled me in the process and is trying to hide my-”

“Emma.” The gentle scold shuts Emma up immediately. “He’s ten.”

“Yeah. Okay. Right.” She gets up. Rubs her hands on her jeans, as if her hands are clammy and she has to wipe them off. And then she leaves the room with a defeated pose. Well, Regina muses, at least Emma hasn’t run away. And hasn’t tried to drive either Regina or Henry away - on the contrary. She’s going to him. And that, in Regina’s mind, is definitely progress.

She sighs when she hears the creaking of the stairs when Emma goes up, anticipation coursing through her body. She wishes she could help her, but also realizes that this is something Emma needs to do alone. And when Emma is upstairs, silence falls over Regina. There isn’t any sound. No yelling. No cries.

Regina tilts her head to see if she can pick up any sounds, but it’s quiet. Her heart beats rapidly in her chest. It’s not just Emma who’s nervous. As much as she would like to treat it as a little bump in the road to their future, can she really trust that it is only that? Henry is a clever boy, but this situation is highly unusual and incredibly coincidental, and Regina doesn’t tend to believe in coincidence.

She is restless and paces up and down in the living room until she can’t take it anymore, and heads for the stairs. She climbs them with a soft tread, doesn’t want to announce her presence just yet. Emma needs a chance to figure this out on her own. She hears a soft voice murmur ahead - definitely hers. Regina’s heart flutters.

“... of my life.”

There’s a silence as Regina stops right outside the door, and she can’t help herself - she peeks around the corner. Henry sits on his bed, his head bowed, the letter crumpled in his hand and a few pictures next to him, and Emma sitting a little distance away, fingers twisting in her lap.

Another pause. Regina’s heart hurts for them both. “Did you cry? When I…” His voice faltered and Emma sighs. 

“I couldn’t stop. You know that feeling that you open a tap and the water starts running and you can’t shut it down again?” A few seconds of silence. “Well. That was me. I cried for days and there wasn’t a day I didn’t think that I made a mistake.” Regina holds her breath, feels the familiar sting of tears behind her own eyes as she hurts for both Emma and Henry.

“So… you did want me?”

“Yes.” The answer is short and simple. “I just didn’t have the means… couldn’t give you what you deserved.”

A few seconds of silence, before Henry’s meek voice sounds. “Are you going to take me back?”

Emma inhales sharply and Regina fights the urge to do the same - it’s the same thought Regina had when she first learned of it all, and the answer, even though she already knows it, leaves her in agony. But Emma’s response is swift and clear.

“Your mom will forever be your mom. I’m never going to do that to either of you - even if I could, because I gave up my rights” Her voice sounds definitive and Regina exhales shakily, but Emma isn’t done yet. “I love you, kid, even before I knew about any of this, and I’m honored to be in your life, but I understand…” As strong as she sounded moments before, Emma’s voice falters now.

“I know this is a lot to process,” Emma softly continues after a short pause, “It was for me, too, when I found out. And I understand that-”

“If you hadn’t given me up,” Henry whispers, cutting her off, “do you think we’d ever met mom?”

There’s a pause and when Emma raises her head to look at him, Regina pulls back, not wanting to be seen just yet - but as eager for an answer as Henry is. “I don’t know, kid. Maybe. Maybe not. Our lives would’ve been completely different, probably.”

“Then…” Regina hears a rustle of paper. “Maybe… maybe do you think that this was how it was supposed to happen?” 

“What do you mean?”

“If you hadn’t given me up, I’d never had mom. And you wouldn’t either.” Henry sounds thoughtful. 

“I… I guess that’s true.” There’s a hint of surprise in Emma’s voice. 

Regina closes her eyes and releases another breath she didn’t even know she’d held back. She is proud of them both.

“Emma?”

“Hm?”

“Do you still want me?” Regina’s heart breaks for him, and she holds her breath as she waits for Emma to reply - which she immediately does.

“Kid, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t - even without all of this I’d want you.” Emma sounds adamant about it. Regina hears how Henry chokes out a sob and can’t take standing outside anymore, so she makes her presence known by stepping inside the room. Emma looks up, and Regina sees how Henry has closed the distance between them, how Emma’s arms are firmly wrapped around him and how he’s buried her face in his shoulder, with his own arms tightly wrapped around Emma’s waist. Emma swallows, smiles a wobbly smile despite her red-rimmed eyes, and god, Regina feels so much love for them both. She quietly sits down on the other side of her son and raises her hands to touch both her girlfriend and her son. “What if,” Regina murmurs, catching Emma’s green gaze and holding it, “what if Emma would be your other mother, Henry?”

Henry sits up, face red and blotched because of his silent tears, and looks at Regina. And back at Emma. Regina’s eyes flick between Henry’s and Emma’s gaze and goodness, she’s never been so sure in her entire life. Emma belongs with them. “Would you?” Henry says, still a little caution in his voice, as he directs his gaze to Emma.

She gives him a lopsided smile, just as cautious as he is. “If you’ll have me,” she simply says.

Henry wrinkles his brow and nods. “Does that mean you’re going to marry us?”

The two women look at each other, wide-eyed, startled by the question.

“Um-”

“We-”

“I -”

Regina’s heart pounds in her throat and she swallows thickly. Then, still holding Emma’s gaze, she clears her throat. “Would you?” No matter how far they’ve come, she knows how hurt Emma was by her divorce, and honestly, she wouldn’t be surprised if Emma wanted to wait. Nevertheless, nervous butterflies flutter in her stomach as she waits for Emma’s answer. “I mean if you want. I’d understand if you-”

“Well,” Emma interrupts, clears her throat and swallows, eyes shining and smiling a little wobbly, “I did tell you once that I wanted to share the rest of my life with you, and that I’d like that to start as soon as possible, right?” Her breath is shaky.

Henry looks at her and frowns a little. “So, is that a yes?”

“Yes, Henry,” Emma says, but her eyes are fixed on Regina, and there’s a determination, a certainty that takes Regina’s breath away. “I’ll marry you.” And with Henry lodged firmly between them - between his moms - Emma wraps her arms around them both, grins through her tears while Regina can’t keep it entirely dry either, and pulls her close for a kiss that seals that answer.

The first time they met, they hated each other. The second time they met, Emma didn’t remember Regina. The third time they met, they became friends. They were friends for a long time, and then they weren’t. And then, they fell in love (neither of them is ever going to admit that maybe, just maybe , a tiny little bit of that love was already present during their very first encounter in the car) and finally, became a family.