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I'ma be under the mistletoe (with you)

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Emma Swan doesn’t like Christmas. It’s not like she’s, against the idea of it, not really.  (No God had ever helped her out, so she’s more of an atheist than not). It’s just that, she’s never really seen the point of it. People go out and buy either a) expensive gifts in the hope of buying the affection of whomever is to receive the gift or b) go to a bargain box and grab a crappy gift for five bucks because their either too lazy or too uncaring to think about a gift properly.

Then, a day or so later, all the unwanted gifts end up either thrown away or put up on eBay to make a quick buck so the receiver can go and buy something that they actually wanted.

That didn’t mean Emma was against all of Christmas. People tended to give more generously around this time, perhaps sensing that they needed to make up for their year of indifference to the needy. The group homes had always had a big feast (donations coming in from do-gooders) and workers would sometimes deliver used items as presents for the kids. One year Emma got a bicycle, until one of the older kids bullied her off it and got a puncture in the tire so it was useless.

It also meant that shops were crowded, and if she were clever, she could sneak a few items and bolt before anyone even realised she was there.

So, there were pros and cons to Christmas.

Pros being there were lots of people about, usually more food (and good food) and people tended to be more generous around the holidays, even in the group homes.

Cons being it was cold, and her clothing didn’t keep her warm, the music started mid-November and lasted right up til December 24th, and she never really received any presents. There had been that Christmas with Neal, shortly after they first met where they both stole each other something small (Neal snatched a few make-up items and Emma stole a more expensive bottle of scotch) and they’d huddle together in the back for warmth.

Of course, one thing led to another and then nine months later Henry was born. She doesn’t regret how it happened (though maybe she would have liked her first time to have been in a bed and not in the back of a car). They’d been drinking, not enough for her to lose her sense of self, but enough for her to be warm and tingly. It was hardly the first time they’d drunk, and she’d been drunker around Neal before, but it was cold, and they’d been lying there together talking and then he’d kissed her.

She’d kissed a few times in her past, but never trusted anyone to go all the way, but with Neal… she had. He was like her. They were kindred spirits, or so she had thought.

He’d been patient with her, gentle and kind (though had she known her body better it would have been a more pleasant experience) and she’d enjoyed it. It had stung a little, her body hadn’t been completely ready as she was still nervous and shy, but he’d waited for her to adjust and then they’d continued. What she did blame him for (on account of his older age and experience- and let’s face it, group homes weren’t exactly forthcoming on sexual education) was her pregnancy. Emma didn’t know any better.

She sorta understood the basics of it, kinda of, but she hadn’t put one and one together and concluded that she should probably be on birth control. It wasn’t something she was familiar with; it wasn’t on her radar. It should have been something Neal thought about, though. Not that she entirely blamed him either (and she’d never, ever exchange Henry but seventeen was so young, too young) as he was a man and society never told him to worry about such things, but he was older and more experienced. If he were entering into their physical relationship as a partnership, he should have thought about it and maybe mentioned it.

She might have gotten pregnant that first time, or maybe it was the times afterward. Neal hadn’t been the most adventurous of lovers, nor the most generous. He was gentle and kind and patient, but he took care of his own needs first, leaving Emma to fend for herself with an emptiness and aching in her she didn’t know how to fix. He tried to accommodate her, but he wasn’t all that familiar with women either and their fumbling’s were somewhat clumsy and inexperienced.

So, yeah. Christmas wasn’t the best time of year for her, and that was even before she found her way to this supposedly sleepy little town where nothing happened. Oh, how wrong she’d been.

Storybrooke was truly like nowhere else in the world, in all of them. Emma still didn’t really understand how it all worked, how all the pieces fit together, but she’d learnt to roll with it. The town churned on year after year, though occasionally there would be some catastrophe that would make her doubt for just a moment, but then Regina would show up and everything would be peachy again.

Her first Christmas in Storybrooke had been…. The best she’d had up until that point, even with her ongoing battle with Regina. Mary Margret of course loved Christmas, and had made Emma help her with decorations and all sorts of baking (which Emma tasted more than helped with after her flatmate realised she was atrocious in the kitchen) and she’d brought Henry a comic book or two and driven past 108 Miflin to try peek into a window. She’d been feeling empty and skittish, ready to run again but Henry had made her stay, she couldn’t let him down again. Plus, she wouldn’t give Regina the satisfaction.

She’d kinda been hoping Henry would run away to her over the break, but apparently even mad at his mother Regina’s food and gifts had kept the boy near her. Emma had burnt with jealousy over it. Though she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be Henry (and have the home and mother and gifts and food and traditions) or have him the way Regina did (their traditions, his company).

Henry had told her about the tree he and Regina got every year, and how they’d decorate it together, make cookies to give to Santa, and all the Christmas and holiday things that Emma ached to have as a child, but were given to Henry so readily. She had wanted that for Henry when she gave him up and looking back on it now she knew just how spoilt the kid was and wondered if he even realised how much he was loved and spoilt.

The Christmas after that had been just her and Henry in New York, and it had been great, but also felt a little empty at times (and she knew why now). And after that there had been the mess with Zelena and their journey to Hell, so this was technically her first Christmas with her family, all of it.

It was kinda daunting.

She had so many more presents to buy (and then some she thought she might have to buy for because how awkward would it be if they got her something and she didn’t have anything for them?) and then there was the entire custody sharing and who was hosting the family meal.

Family dinner was sorted. Her parents were hosting Christmas dinner, arrival expected around four onwards, with presents and then food, she guessed. She wasn’t sure how their merged family dynamic would work, but it was a first for them all, so at least she wouldn’t be alone in her uncertainty.

Custody wise… Henry was scheduled to be with Regina over the week and weekend (their custody agreement basically involved Henry spending a week with each of them, and dinner once a week with them both and maybe something on the weekend as a family) so Emma would be alone. But it was Christmas, so she doubted she’d be alone for very long.

As it was, she had about two weeks to pick presents. Her dad was easy to buy for; he’d been eyeing a new pair of work boots, and her mother had mentioned needing some new pens and the like for her classroom, so Emma had just gone out and brought her new stationery and bits and pieces to brighten her classroom.

Neal was a baby, he wouldn’t even know what was going on, but she got him a cute onesie and some toys and tried not to think about it.

Henry was sorted; buy the kid a new videogame and some new shoes he was after.

She had brought something little for Ruby, who was basically her best friend but anything alcoholic and the wolf was down. For Granny’ she’d brought a voucher for her new planter boxes out the back of the diner, as well as a more exotic cookbook for her to try.

That left Regina.

Now, she knew that Regina was getting her something because all she had to do was bribe ask Henry to tell her.

He didn’t know what Regina had got for Emma (it was already in a pile and nicely wrapped, ready to go under a tree that was getting picked this weekend) but he knew his adoptive mother had gotten his birthmother something. (Actually, she’d gotten all the family something. Henry had sent her a picture of the presents piled in the corner and Emma had wanted to know which ones were hers, and why she couldn’t open them now.) And that meant that Emma had to get her one, and not because Regina had gotten her a present. She was going to get Regina one anyway, but now there was extra pressure.

What could she possibly get the woman who had conquered entire kingdoms, ruled with an iron fist, and wielded deadly magic, and then had multiple zeroes in her bank accounts?  Emma didn’t know, but she knew she needed to get Regina something meaningful, something thoughtful. After all, Regina was her friend. Her best friend, and she’d never really had one of those, but she thought Regina qualified. They’d done the impossible for each other, sacrificed all that mattered for each other, and there was no one else in any realm who Emma trusted more than Regina, who she felt saw her more than Regina.

She was her best friend, and, yeah, maybe lately she was starting to question some of her actions around Regina, but that was a something that she wasn’t willing to name yet. She was only just starting to think about it now, but Regina had just lost Hood (good riddance!) and Hook had wanted to stay in the underworld with Mila, so now wasn’t really the best time to question her… thing…. With Regina.

But it was fine. She could wait the fourteen days until Christmas when she was finally allowed to open them, and besides. She was being kept busy. Storybrooke had been quiet since they’d returned from the Underworld (thankfully) and her big house was lonely on her weeks without Henry, so she tended to take more shifts at the station and sleep at the Loft with her parents. David didn’t mind it, it let him spend more time with the child that he had kept. And she wasn’t bitter about it still, she wasn’t. It was just hard.

Snow had set in a few weeks ago, so she spent a lot of time overseeing the operations of cleaning the streets (Regina had that running like a well-oiled machine. Operators were given routes on different days, with spare staff in case one of them was sick or unable to make it. And the machines were routinely checked over the year, and fired up a month or so before winter, testing them before the snows set in. It was well planned. All Emma had to do was make sure it was getting done).

And it seemed that even with fairy-tale characters, domestic spats happened around the holidays. It was a stressful time for all, so she understood but that didn’t mean she liked having to deal with it. In a perfect world everyone would get along and they wouldn’t hurt each other, but she knew the impossibilities of that. (Though during the curse, there hadn’t been a single record of theft, abuse, assault, or violence of any kind. Mind controlling the populace into being zombies apparently kept crime at a low).

All in all, it was looking to be a good Christmas. She just… needed to figure out what to get Regina. It wouldn’t be too hard, right?

~*~

As it turns out, buying a present for someone who had everything they wanted and more money than Emma, meant that finding the right present for Regina was really, really hard.

Two days after finishing wrapping all the presents for everyone else and she still was nowhere near finding something for Regina. She’d gone shopping the day before, dutifully following her mother to every store while Snow pushed the pram and carried her brother, as Emma carried the bags.

Snow loved shopping for everyone, and she had found little things for people Emma didn’t even know her mother knew, but that was just her nature. To give things. She was thoughtful like that. Nothing called out to Emma, though she did find a knickknack for the station, and she was left feeling slightly stressful about it, because Regina probably got Emma an awesome present, but Emma couldn’t even think of something her friend liked.

Today she was joining Regina and Henry out at the Tree Farm, apply named. Michael Tilman, because he’d been a woodsman in his prior life, had been gifted the role of Christmas Tree connoisseur, and had a block of land out the edge of town where he managed his side business.

There was a track off the road, trees in grids of various age, and then there was a shipping container near the end, as well as a truck which he used to transport the trees if needed.

The Benz was already at the end park, with a half dozen cars, and people were walking across the turn-around loop with little care for Emma and her car and she rolled her eyes at them.

Christmas made people think nothing else mattered except tinsel and fairy lights and presents. And not friendly yellow beetles that might run them over if they didn’t get out of the damn way.

Regina was leaning against her car with a mug of something in her hand, Henry looking around with interest and Emma got the feeling that he had been instructed to wait for her.

She drove the car around so she’d be able to leave and parked on the curb, making sure two wheels were on the gravel so she wouldn’t get stuck in the mud.

She didn’t worry about locking the Bug and strode over to her son and his mother.

The scent of pine was strong, almost too strong, but the bite of the wind was carrying away much of the smell, so it wasn’t overpowering.

Henry’s hair was getting long, almost flopping in front of his eyes and it reminded her of Neal and her heart panged briefly. He was well bundled up, with a scarf and mittens, and he nearly bounced when he saw her.

“Hi, Emma!”

She waved and let her eyes track past her son to his birth mother.

Regina’s hair was as long as it had ever been, past her shoulders and curling slightly in the weather, strands of it blown out of place by the wind. She was wearing a black coat she wore frequently when it was cold and had long black pants on. Emma’s heart did a little happy wriggle at seeing Regina, and she squashed down that ‘something’ to be addressed later.

She looked warm, and Emma briefly wished she hadn’t worn her jeans. The wind was nipping at her skin through the fabric.

“So, are we gonna get a tree or what?”

It was her first year picking a tree, a real tree. She’d gone to work one day and come back to the Loft to find her parents had been out and got a tree and decorated it while she was gone. That had hurt, and she’d retreated to her room. Not that it resembled her room much anymore. There was a bed, sure. But most of the additional space had been taken up by baby toys and clothing.

And she understood. Emma had her own house, a house she was meant to share with Killian, but that hadn’t worked out well and he had stayed in the Underworld, so she was alone again. But it would be nice to have her own space, except her house always felt so lonely and empty. The only times she stayed there was when she had Henry, she had to give the kid some stability after all, otherwise it was at the Loft or on one of the bunks at the station.

In New York they hadn’t been able to get a real tree and had instead brought a small fake one and covered it in tinsel and lights, and before that she’d never picked or decorated a tree. Mary Margret had done it while she’d been at work the first year as well, so Emma had been feeling some mix of emotions when Henry had invited her tree shopping.

It was a tradition for him and Regina, Emma knew. Her memories of that false year in New York, plus the kid had always talked about it like it was just something that happened, not realising how lucky he was. A tree every year. How cool was that?

So, she was feeling pretty good about being invited. Nervous, sure, but thankful to be invited into this tradition.

“Yip!” Henry grinned and raced across the track, a little unsteady on the gravel and dodging puddles.

There was signage showing which trees were available for selection and then Michael would cut it down for them. Regina always paid him to deliver the tree, as she couldn’t fit it in the Benz and would never have it on the rooftop. Unfortunately for Emma, it wouldn’t fit in her beetle either.

“Miss Swan,” Regina greeted regally and stepped away from the car, leisurely following Henry.

“Hey, Regina. Thanks for the invite.”

The mayor inclined her head, every inch of her painfully regal and polished, as though she belonged in a winter catalogue.

“Henry told me you had no plans to get a tree of your own,” the mayor offered, stepping widely over a puddle.

Emma grimaced and avoided Regina’s eyes. It didn’t matter that a tree symbolised everything Christmas was, and what Emma had never had, did it? And besides, the kid would be with Regina for the end of this week and then spend next week with Emma, and then the week after was Christmas. She didn’t see the point in having a tree when she wouldn’t be home, and she said so.

When she finally lifted her eyes to glance at Regina, the brunette’s eyes were knowing, and Emma’s eyes darted away, certain Regina had seen right through her.

The tree would be there for a week. Covered in lights and tinsel, and then what? Ignored for the rest of the time? It wouldn’t matter that Henry was with her for a week when the house would be empty over Christmas. There was something symbolic there, Emma was sure, but she didn’t want to get into it.

Regina hummed but didn’t comment. Ahead of them Henry was ducking under the barrier and walking between trees, running calculating eyes over every available tree.

There were criteria, Emma learnt. Height, width, colour, thickness of branches, how straight the tree was, all important things to take into consideration, Regina told Emma as they trailed along behind their son, making a note of the trees he seemed to approve of before moving on to the next.

Eventually he had two trees he couldn’t decide on. Emma had peered at them both thinking it were one of those ‘Spot the Difference’ puzzles in magazines, only with no differences, because they looked exactly the same. When she said so she was met with identical glares and held her hands up in surrender.

“Okay, sorry. Sheesh.”

“Picking the perfect tree is very important, Emma,” Henry told her, sounding a little disappointed.

“Which one, Mum?”

Regina had appraised his choices too, circling them both with a critical eye and nodding in satisfaction. “They’ll both do. Pick one.”

Henry turned to Emma. “I can’t pick. You pick one, Emma.”

Feeling the weight of responsibility, like her burden as Saviour only more important, she stepped around the first tree. It was big and green and bushy. The leaves were vibrant and alive, and it was solid and straight. She nodded and then strode off to the next tree, sliding past another family who was standing nearby and debating their tree.

She walked around this tree, not sure what she was looking for but feeling the responsibility all the same. Besides, they were both good trees, so all she had to do was pick one.

“This one,” she said eventually, and Henry beamed.

“Awesome! Good choice!”

The praise lit her chest, even though it was minor. She liked making Henry happy.

“Alright. I’ll go and speak to Mr Tilman. You guard the tree,” Regina said, suddenly turning fierce eyes on Emma.

Emma straightened and clapped her boots together, giving her best impression of a salute. “Sir! Yessir!”

Regina’s eyes narrowed and Emma gulped. “Yes Ma’am!”

Henry seemed to take the job very seriously, because he stepped away from the tree and eyed everyone around them with suspicion, as though they would take the tree from them.

No one would dare, not while Emma was here. And certainly not knowing that it was Henry’s tree. Everyone knew who Henry and his mothers were, no one would dare.

Regina soon returned with Michael, who had a chainsaw and googles, and he ordered them to step back while he cut the tree. Part of her mourned the tree, but she was more excited to see it in Regina’s living room.

“You’ll deliver it after five, yes?” Regina confirmed with Michael, who had one of those cards tied to a piece of string with Regina’s information on it and was wrapping it around the tree trunk.

He grunted out an affirmative and the trio thanked him and walked back to the car.

Henry was happy with their choice, talking about previous years trees and which tinsel and light combination was the best. Emma just tagged along, feeling a little out of her depth, but happy to be included.

It was also tradition to go to Granny’s for hot cocoa afterward, and Emma was invited there too.

Afterwards the trio made their way back to Miflin. Regina teleported there as she’d driven her car home and then teleported to the diner while Emma took Henry, and she was there examining the tree in front of her door when they returned.

“Henry,” she ordered briskly, and Emma stood to the side as Regina slid into control and Henry obeyed readily. “Go and clear the corner of the living room, I’ll get the bucket and rocks.”

Henry gladly ducked into the house while Regina’s eyes turned contemplative on Emma.

“You can get the tree inside, Miss Swan,” she instructed, and Emma blinked at her, but Regina was already striding towards the garage, leaving Emma alone on the doorstep with the large tree.

She looked down at it and grimaced. It was big and round and looked like it was heavy.

But she was expected to carry it inside, and she didn’t want to let either Mills down, so she bent down and tried various positions until she was confident she’d be able to lift it.

It was heavy, weighed one end, and the branches prickled, but she staggered up the steps and quickly scurried through the house, certain Regina would forgive her for her shoes as she was a little busy right now.

Henry had pushed the chair in the den to the corner and was in the middle of moving the presents to the couch when Emma came in under the door frame, having to change her angle a little and drag the tree in through the space.

“Hold on Emma,” Henry said, and he was quickly placing the parcels on the couch. Emma’s arms were starting to get tired, but she braced them and waited. And waited. “Be right back,” Henry said and bolted through the other door of the living room and Emma grunted.

The tree really was getting heavy.

Regina came up behind her, Emma could tell, and she tried to shuffle to the side to get out of the way but couldn’t go too far. And she’d left a trail of pines across the wooden floor, she was certain.

The familiar taste of Regina’s magic swept through the room and Emma watched as the large white bucket Regina held flew across the room to rest in the corner but out from the wall.

A few stones followed and then Emma was gestured across the room. She was thankful, her arms were burning, and the needles were starting to stick to her.

She managed to heave it into the bucket and then held the tree upright while Regina placed the stones around it, making sure it was stable.

When she was satisfied, Emma was allowed to step back, and she did so with a huff. “That was heavy,” she complained and rubbed her arms. Some pines were stuck to her, and she was sure her skin was red with it.

“You have magic, Emma,” Henry pointed out, and he’d found a box of something and was carrying it into the room.

“Why did you just use that?” He asked and set the box down on the table and then scurried from the room again.

Emma gaped after him.

“Yes, why didn’t you use magic?” Regina finally turned from the tree and looked at her while Emma blinked and shrugged.

“I didn’t know I could!”

Regina said nothing, just looked at her a moment and then rolled her eyes, but it was fond, if Emma was reading it right.

Regina’s eye roll was sufficient for Emma to get the message and her cheeks warmed. You idiot, went unsaid.

“Is it straight?” Henry asked as he came back in, placing the box next to the other on the table and appraising the tree with his hands on his hips. He looked so much like Regina in that moment that Emma’s heart spun a little.

Regina stepped back to eye it, and Henry was taller than she was now, but the way they both cocked their heads in unison, their posture, was almost the same.

Regina flicked her fingers, and the tree maybe straightened a little, but Regina seemed satisfied, and Henry was keen on decorating, so dove for the boxes.

“Come and pick a decoration, Emma,” he ordered and was already rummaging through the box. “We each pick one and it goes on the top.”

Emma remembered this tradition of him and Regina’s, and part of her wanted to be part of it, but the other part of her knew it was their tradition, not hers. Regina’s memories of a decade of Christmas’ like this, not Emma’s.

Regina was watching her though, eyes looking through Emma and seeing her, and instead of talking about it, Emma did what Emma did best and avoided it. She approached the table cautiously, feeling skittish but not wanting Regina to call her on it, and investigated the box.

The box next to it was full of tinsel and lights, but this one had coloured baubles and little decorations to hang from the branches. There were a few stars, a few painted cardboard ones which she carefully set aside, noting the date in clumsy childish writing with a pang in her chest.

Henry had selected a bright blue and gold star, but it wasn’t just a five-pointed star, no. This one looked like it had twenty or thirty points on it, in every direction.

“This is my favourite,” he said and held it up, so it spun a little. It was very pretty.

“Which one is your mums’ favourite?”

Henry shrugged. “She always makes me put up the ones I made when I was like, four,” he said, and he was pulling out the balls and setting them in coloured piles on the floor.

Emma glanced at Regina, who had curled up on the couch and was watching Henry with an achingly soft expression, and when she looked over at Emma that expression remained. Emma swallowed. Sometimes she forgot how pretty Regina was, but then it would hit her, and she couldn’t breathe.

Dragging her eyes away she investigated the box again. A silver snowflake caught her eye and she dug it out, twisting it in the light as Henry moved to the tinsel and lights and began to untangle them, though it wasn’t hard. Regina, when she had packed the decorations away, and rolled them into a cord and kept them separated with Velcro ties.

“Don’t forget the music,” Regina reminded, and Henry gasped and spun, diving back into the box, and bringing out a little Santa, maybe thirty centimetres tall.

It had a plug with it, and he scampered across the floor near the tree to plug it into the socket. Emma looked in the box and pulled out a multi-box, sliding it across the floor to Henry, who beamed at her and plugged it into the wall.

A switch later and the Santa was dancing from side to side as Christmas music emerged from a speaker beneath him.

It was cute. A little corny, but cute and she couldn’t help but smile at it as ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ squeaked in the room.

“We’ll start with the bottom,” Henry said and there was apparently a system to this too. Tinsel first, but with enough room on the branches for the lights, and then the baubles. Their star or picked item would go on last, and Emma obeyed Henry as he ordered her to hang all colours across the tree.

She glanced to Regina from time to time, but the mayor was content to just watch, a soft look in her eyes and a partial smile on her lips as Henry’s enthusiasm seeped into the room.

The tree was an absolute cacophony of colour. Tinsel of every colour and shade thrown across the branches, and the lights plugged into the socket almost reminded her of Vegas. Then the baubles came on. Emma was almost worried the tree might be in danger of tipping over, but Henry was a pro, and by the time he stood back and admired his handywork you could hardly see the green of the tree, though the smell of the pine filled the room.

Regina rose and walked to the box, picking out the decorations that Henry had made as a child, just like he had said she would.

Emma, glancing around at the needles on the floor, waved her hand and vanished them. Regina met her eyes and nodded her head slightly in thanks as she moved from the box and to the tree. There were only four decorations, looking like very badly coloured circles, but Regina was gentle as she slid them onto the branches.

Emma’s heart twisted. Henry had made those for his mum because he loved her, and Regina had kept and treasured them for years. The love in this room was almost overwhelming and her throat grew tight.

She should probably leave. She wasn’t part of this family, not really, even if she wanted to be so desperately.

“Time to put the star on,” Henry said, and he was looking at Emma (up at her, thankfully. He had a bit more growing to do before he reached her height).

Emma, being the tallest, was then dragged onto a chair and forced to attach the star to the top of the tree. It bowed dangerously under the weight at the top of the branches, but a whisper of Regina’s magic and it was steady and upright.

Henry handed her the snowflake she had picked, and she was tying it next to Henry’s, and then she looked for Regina’s one. It was shaped like a teardrop, gold with red and she hung it next to Henry’s, opposite Emma’s own.

Then she accepted Regina’s hand to help her down from the chair.

The three of them glanced up at the tree as ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ echoed from the Santa, who’s mechanical dancing was able to be heard under the song.

“That looks pretty good!” Henry was enthusiastic and Regina slung an arm around him, pressing a kiss to his temple.

Emma, feeling like an outsider gave him a squeeze and met Regina’s eyes over Henry’s head.

They were glowing, like the always did when looking at Henry, full of love and warmth, and that achingly soft look remained as she stared at Emma a moment.

The unease in Emma’s chest settled. Regina wouldn’t let her be here if she didn’t want her here. Or at least, she amended not without making Emma feel very unwelcome. But she didn’t feel unwelcome at all, instead she kinda felt like she was at home.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ after all.

~*~

Cookie making in the Mills household was a highly organised and systematic affair. The butter had been set to room temperature since early this morning, and there was a half dozen bowls ready. There was a mixed on the bench, already plugged in and ready to go, a carton of eggs next to vanilla essence and bags of chocolate drops, and bins of sugar and flour and a little pottle of baking powder. Everything was ready, including her own apron.

Bemused, Emma accepted the apron that had been thrown at her (it had a chicken on the front of it) and wound it around her waist.

“Emma, you’re on measuring duty,” Henry ordered, and he even had his own little chefs’ hat on his hair, though how he’d managed to get a sprinkle of flour over him already she didn’t know.

Regina was in front of the oven, crouching down to check the temperature and then she was turning.

She was as dressed down as Emma had ever seen her, and considering she’d spent the past three days at the mansion, which was saying something.

After her week with Henry, the house had been painfully lonely, and she’d been sleeping on one of the spare cell beds at the station when Regina had come by for some paperwork. She’d looked at Emma (who had been having a pleasant dream involving a bakery and a beach) and had just… stared straight through her.

Emma had squirmed under the appraisal, but it might have been because her blankets had parted to reveal her bare legs and Rudolph socks and couldn’t meet her eyes.

Regina had that way of just…looking through her, and she didn’t want to make it any easier for the brunette.

“Did something happen to your bed at home?” She had enquired, dropping her folder on David’s desk, and raising her brows.

Emma shrugged, muttered something about being too tired to drive home and had left it at that. Then like, four hours later Henry was messaging her and telling her he wanted her to come and be with him over the rest of the Christmas week.

Emma had been helpless to refuse, though knew he had manipulated her into it, cheeky little shit. Though he clearly got his subtly from her, Regina was more subtle. Emma’s favourite meal had been on the table that night and the guestroom had been made up. And it was decided.

Emma would stay at the mansion over Christmas week, ending indefinitely. It had been an open invitation, though Henry had told her to just move in after their second night together. They’d been playing boardgames (Regina was a card shark, who knew?) and then watched a movie, and it had been warm and confusing and felt like home.

She’d commented about how nice it had been, and both Mills had agreed, with Henry adding that she should move in, ‘cause it wasn’t like she was sleeping at her place, and her room at the loft had all of Neal’s things in it.’

That had taken some unpacking- that Henry knew she wasn’t staying at her home but wasn’t asking her why and was just accepting it. Regina had tried to catch her eye, but she’d avoided it, and it wasn’t like Regina had agreed with Henry. She’d just said that Emma was welcome to stay as long as she wished. Which, wasn’t exactly an open invitation to move in. Still. Life was good at 108 Miflin.

The smell of pine was moving through the house, and today they’d be baking cookies. Because it was Christmas Eve, and Santa needed his cookies. Somehow the logic escaped Emma, but she would be getting cookies out of it, and she got to see Regina in tight exercise pants and a sweater she nearly drowned in, sleeves rolled up to her elbows and with fluffy bed socks on.

She looked painfully soft and sweet, especially with her hair tired loosely at her nape and with an apron reading ‘world’s best cook’ on. Emma’s heart had done that twirling thing it was starting to do around Regina, and she’d been conscripted into service.

“You’re on the butter,” Henry instructed, and he was carefully measuring out some flour, tongue peaking at the corner of his lips.

Butter. Emma could do that. “How much?” she asked as she washed her hands and dried them. Near the butter was a small cutting board, a knife, and one of those baking scales.

“One hundred and fifty grams, “Regina replied, and she had her own workstation at the corner, while Emma and Henry were taking up the entirety of the kitchen island.

“What are you making?” Emma asked as she cut the butter and weighed it on the scales.

“Never you mind, Miss Swan,” Regina replied, and she was rolling out some dough and Emma licked her lips. Whatever it was that Regina was baking, it was bound to be delicious. All Regina’s food was.

Emma weighed the butter and passed it off to Henry, who proceeded to mix it with his sugar and directed Emma to put the baking powder with the flour and mix it.

“How many are we making?” Emma asked as she looked at the assortment of decorations and cookie cutters.

“We normally do about six batches,” Henry said, and he added his egg and vanilla to the butter and sugar.

Emma gaped. “What?!”

“We go and take them to the orphanage,” Henry said, as though it was no big deal and Emma spun around to stare at Regina’s back.

Regina tensed under the appraisal.

“Mum gets Granny to make them a full roast meal and then we take the cookies and presents over later,” Henry continued as though he had no idea what Emma’s heart was going through.

Regina rolled out her dough with enthusiasm that it didn’t warrant, still avoiding Emma’s eyes, a tight line to the fabric across her shoulders.

“You can come, if you want,” Henry offered and then called her attention back to him. “Hey, we’re ready now. Do you want to mix it?”

Tearing her eyes from Regina’s back was a herculean task, but she managed it, and got a wooden spoon started to mix.

“I had one of these broken on my leg once,” she said conversationally, trying to break the tension she could feel in the room, though only she and Regina appeared to be aware of it.

The rolling pin clattered into the splashback and Emma twisted to see Regina’s back rigid as she reached for the rolling pin.

“Really?” Henry appeared interested, and not horrified. Emma glanced back at him. This boy, this innocent and loved boy had probably never had a hand raised against him, he could never understand, but Emma had a feeling his mother did.

She was regretting her candour now, perhaps she should have thought of something else to say to break the tension. But it wasn’t that bad, was it?

“What’d you do?”

Emma shrugged. “I can’t remember,” and she couldn’t. She could only remember the sting of the wooden spoon on her leg and the red welt it had caused. It hadn’t been the worst. Other kids had had it much worse, and Emma had gotten off lightly.

“Well. I can assure you, that that wooden spoon won’t be going anywhere near your leg,” Regina grit out, and she was mad, Emma could tell, but she wasn’t sure where Regina’s anger was directed.

She ducked her head and kept mixing. Henry glanced at her and measured out the chocolate chips and slowly the tension receded.

Emma mixed them in and contemplated how much trouble she’d be in if she stole a piece of mixture but had a feeling Regina had eyes in the back of her head and would know.

Henry popped out to the bathroom when the first batch was in the oven and silence descended over the kitchen. Emma measured out the next hundred and fifty grams of butter and then.

“The first time I had alcohol- and not just a sip of my fathers- mother was displeased,” Regina said slowly, and Emma slowly turned. Regina had her back to her and was doing something with her pastry and a tray, back as rigid as a statue.

Emma was quiet a long while, the mixed the only sound between them, waiting for Regina to continue but she didn’t. “What did she do?” She asked, heart hammering, because she’d met Cora and knew that any of her punishments for a young and innocent Regina would have been…awful to say the least.

“I wasn’t drunk,” Regina continued as though she’d been waiting for permission. “But I was happy, me and the son of man mother was doing business with. She was,” and Emma heard Regina swallow. “Displeased.”

Emma’s stomach bottomed out. There were so many words unsaid in that singular word.

She turned the mixer off and poured the next lot of flour and baking powder into the bowl, picking up the wooden spoon and preparing to mix it.

“She-she made me drink until I was vomiting blood… I never touched that alcohol again,” Regina said, and Emma nearly snapped the spoon in half she gripped it so tightly.

Regina’s back was still towards her, but her body was rigid, shoulders hunched, and yet her voice was light and airy, as though she wasn’t discussing something horrific in her past and was instead commenting on the merits of homemade pastry over brought.

Regina,” Emma finally managed to rasp past the lump in her throat and Regina had stopped whatever she was doing with her dough.

There was a thumping which announced the arrival of their son, and Emma reluctantly turned back to her mixing, knowing that Regina wouldn’t want to discuss it with Henry present, if she were open to discussing it at all.

Emma’s stomach was in knots, and she looked back at her mixture, angrily scraping the flour in and mixing it ferociously.

She’d known Regina hadn’t had it easy as a child, but she hadn’t thought it was like that. It made her wonder what else Regina had gone through, but then she realised she probably didn’t want to know. She’d learnt her lessons with time travel, but if Emma heard more of Regina’s childhood, she’d be sorely tempted to find Cora and break her fist on the woman’s face.

Still, it also left her in awe of the woman behind her. She had faced so much pain and suffering, wrought her own fair share it was to be noted, but still found time to bake cookies for orphans and arranged presents and food for them at Christmas time. What a beautiful woman.

With Henry’s return, the atmosphere in the kitchen brightened, and they chattered and laughed as they made batch after batch of cookies, and then when the first lot were done, they stated to decorate them using icing and sprinkles.

It was an important business too. Henry had to show her how to ‘properly’ decorate a cookie Santa (an outline of icing around each part of him (head, body, legs) and then fill it in slowly). Emma waved Henry off and said it still tasted the same and promptly bit the head off the cookie.

Henry’s horrified cry caught Regina’s attention and she spun around. The cookie was delicious, and Emma was enjoying it when she realised that maybe, just maybe, she should have waited.

“We can’t have any until they’re done,” Henry whispered in hushed awe, glancing over Emma’s shoulder to his mother and looking like he was both impressed with Emma and terrified for her.

Emma gulped, cookie suddenly dry in her mouth and slowly turned to face Regina.

Regina, whose eyes were glinting like coals, fathomless as hellfire, and Emma quickly placed the rest of her cookie on the bench, eyes wide.

If she hurriedly wiped her hands on her apron and used her sleeve to brush crumbs from her mouth, well, who could blame her.

“No cookies until we finish, Kid,” Emma squeaked as she went back to icing a Christmas tree cookie, feeling the burning at her back.

Henry looked at her, expression contorting before he smoothed it out in a valiant effort.

When the cookies were cool and iced, and their meal was prepared (something delicious in the crock pot which started to smell amazing about an hour ago) they were bundled from the kitchen and to shower and change. Then, the family ready, they gathered the containers of cookies (with enough left for Santa tonight) and crammed into Emma’s Bug. It was getting cold, and weather predictions suggested a ‘white Christmas’, though Emma wasn’t so sure.

Stopping in at Granny’s, Regina paid for the sizable roast meal she’d ordered and made sure it would be delivered on time, and then they were going to the orphanage.

In the years since the first curse broke (and she was defining time by how many curses there had been, how sad was that) the orphanage had only increased in size. There were dozens of kids there now, ranging in ages, and the town did the best they could with them, and as the mayor cared greatly for children, they had food, clothing, and an education. Still, Emma always felt uneasy with group homes like this.

Regina got out the car first, sliding her seat forward so Henry could clamber out and reach back in for the cookies, and Emma just sat staring at her steering wheel.

There was a truck nearby and a man and two younger men (clearly sons) were loading sacks of presents off it and walking them into the house.

Henry followed them, balancing the cookies carefully.

Regina hovered by the open door. “Emma? Are you- do you need anything?”

Emma shook herself from her thoughts and exited the car, walking quickly around the side to the path to the door.

There were toys on the lawn, an attempt at soccer which had been abandoned, and she could see art on the walls through the windows.

Not sure how to feel she stuck close to Regina as they walked up towards the door. It was loud and bright inside, and not just because of all the art stuck to the walls, and the mound of shoes at the door.

Emma kept a hand at Regina’s back in case she tripped, but the mayor navigated the shoes with ease.

A toddler ran past them, shrieking as an older girl chased him with grabbie fingers, teasing.

Laughter soon followed.

Emma’s heart hammered.

Regina cast her a glance, gently brushed her fingers along the back of Emma’s hand (which absolutely did not make her jump and her skin tingle) and then set off through the house.

Emma, feeling a little lost, wandered.

It wasn’t like the homes she’d been in. It was clear that the people here cared for the children and had a budget to make sure of it.

SpongeBob was playing on a television, and a few kids were drawing over in the corner while one was building a stack of wooden bricks and knocking it over with glee.

She wandered to the next room, one that had mats and cushions and couches in it, with bookshelves and was probably a quiet time room.

Feeling weird, she moved to the next room, eyes darting down the hall, and she saw Regina and an elderly woman speaking together. Attention caught, she watched as Regina reached into her purse, pulled out a pad, bent over the desk and wrote something down.

Emma stalked forward, unbearably curious, but following the magnetic pull that Regina always seemed to have over her.

Regina straightened and peeled the paper off and handed it to the woman, who placed a hand on her heart and nodded slowly.

Regina’s lips twisted into a smile, and she put the pad back into her purse and Emma was stunned. From what she had seen, it looked like Regina had just written the orphanage a cheque.

Well…. That explained why this home was in such good condition. If the former Evil Queen, and the mayor was a benefactor, the people running the place had better not be treating the kids poorly and pocketing the money. Emma didn’t want to image what Regina might do to them if she found out and wished that Regina had been around when she’d been in the group homes. Regina wouldn’t have stood for any of their nonsense and lies.

Henry emerged from wherever he had been, glitter in his hair and laughter in his eyes, and he said he was just grabbing some presents before vanishing down the hallway with one of the other boys.

Emma’s heart ached for a completely different reason, almost erasing the turmoil she was feeling at being back in a place like this. Regina had done this. Regina fed and clothed these children, gave them an education, brought them presents at Christmas time, baked them cookies, and brought her son along. Her son who was happy and loved and more than willing to give some of his time (and cookies) to children who had none of what he did.

Not for the first time, Emma wondered at how big Regina’s heart was. When she was around Henry or when she’d done something like she had today, it was almost impossible to believe she was the same woman as the one from Henry’s storybook. This woman was so bright and beautiful it sometimes hurt Emma to look at her, it certainly made her heart do that twisting wriggle it did when she saw Regina. So maybe that ‘something’ was an actual thing she should probably address.

A boy pushed past Emma, nearly tripping but he righted himself and went barrelling through the door and into Regina’s legs.

“Miss Regina,” the boy grinned a toothless grin and tugged on Regina’s hand, who let him pull her away. “Come see my picture.”

Emma pushed off the wall with her hip and trailed after them, heart thumping in her chest so powerfully she thought it might burst out. The boy led her through to another room, one with large tables and small chairs, and lots of paint stains on the tables and cubbies.

“This is my family,” the boy was saying pointing at his painting and pointing out all his foster siblings and the matron of the orphanage.

“It’s lovely,” Regina replied, sounding sincere even though the kid’s art was probably just a mess of squiggles and colour.

“I’m sure they appreciate it and being in your family.”

“Everyone needs a picture,” the boy agreed, proudly looking at his art and a thought went off in Emma’s brain like a gunshot.

Of course! That was what she could do for Regina! It would be more meaningful than the bottle of (admittedly expensive) perfume she’d got her for Christmas. It would take some planning, and probably all night, but Emma just might be able to manage it in time. No. She would manage it in time. Regina deserved it.

~*~

Emma let out a long sigh and flopped down on the couch, splaying her legs and slouching forward.

She’d spent the rest of the night working on her secret projecting, popping out to see her mother and going to the store, and then returning and shutting herself in her room until dinner. She’d come down for the pulled pork sliders and devoured four of them before returning to her room and her project.

Regina seemed amused if not a little confused, but Henry had seemed disappointed, wanting her to play another game with him, but she couldn’t. She was busy. She only had the night to do this for Regina, and so needed to get it done. She could play games with Henry later, tomorrow even, if she wasn’t so tired.

Her fingers were cramping after so much used after so long, and she was pretty sure she was gonna get blisters, but she didn’t care. Right now, she was just taking a break because Regina had asked her too, not that she wasn’t thankful to have one. Her body was sore from bending over so much, and her eyes had been straining for so long, and then there was her hands and fingers. But she thought she was making progress. Still, she wasn’t about to rest until she was done.

Only Regina had called her, and Emma always came when Regina called. So now she was sitting in the family room, the light from the Christmas tree and the fireplace casting the room into orange and flashes of blue, green and red. At least the Santa had stopped singing when Henry went to bed.

Emma had spared a few minutes to come down to watch Henry carefully pick his cookies for Santa and leave them near the tree for him, as well as the carrots for the reindeer. He’d even left a bowl of water for the animals, and of course milk for Santa.

She’d thought he was too old for this, but the glare both Mills’ have given her when she suggested it had her throwing her hands up in surrender, though she had to ask Regina if Henry still believed in Santa or not.

He didn’t, for the record, he just loved the magic of it, and Regina was helpless to deny him it. The Truest Believer after all.

“Don’t sit down,” Regina said, emerging from in the house with a can of…

“Is that fake snow?”

Regina looked at the can and grimaced. “Yes?”

“What do you need that for, you’re a witch,” she said but reluctantly got to her feet, following Regina’s finger quirk with a groan. Though watching Regina walk away from her certainly sweetened the deal.

She followed Regina through the house and to the back lawn, stopping to pull on her boots.

“Go and get the hose, will you?” Regina asked and she left the can on the porch and walked down towards the garage, glancing up at Henry’s silent window and entering.

Emma did as commanded, utterly bemused, but realising that she’d follow Regina anywhere. It wasn’t a new feeling, but acknowledging it was, though she wasn’t quite ready to name it. She shivered as the air hit her.

Emma stomped around the side of the house and pulled the hose out, dragging it across the lawn. It was cold outside. She hoped they weren’t gonna be too long.

Regina had returned and was eying the grass critically and then nodded. In her hands she had giant boots. Emma blinked and tugged the hose closer.

“Spray the hose in two parallel lines,” Regina ordered, and Emma obeyed, confused but starting to realise what was happening.

The fake snow stuck to the wet grass and when she lifted the hose away, it left a… sleigh track.

Oh.

She quickly did the other one, and then Regina was placing the boots on the grass and getting Emma to cover them with the fake snow, making a footprint on the grass leading away from the sleigh.

“We didn’t have a chimney, so I had to improvise,” Regina told her, breath puffing before her, and Emma’s heart grew warm.

Together the two of them made a few more boot tracks up to the doorstep, and then Regina took the carrots. It took her some work, and Emma just stared at her, heart feeling too full for her chest, as Regina bit out an inhuman shape into the carrots and left some carrot crumbs around them. She tipped the bowl of water over some, and then they both returned to the house.

It was warm inside, as warm as Emma’s heart, and she trailed along behind Regina as she returned to the family room.

With a wave of her hand, a half dozen presents appeared under the already overflowing tree, and then she walked over to her liquor cabinet.

“Want to help me drink the milk and eat the cookies?” She offered and Emma was already nodding, not that Regina could see her.

Regina returned with two glasses of amber liquid and Emma took her glass as Regina poured the milk into the glass, turning it golden in the bottom, and then took the rest of the milk. She even took a cookie, which Emma would never have guessed.

Emma hummed as she sipped the Baileys and milk. It might put her to sleep, but it would have been rude to deny Regina, and she wanted this evening to last longer, wanting to stretch it out until it lasted forever, that ‘something’ hovering at the tip of her tongue.

“It’s nice doing this with someone else,” Regina said after a long comfortable silence and Emma glanced away from the tree to look at her, properly look at her.

Regina’s hair was down and softly curling at her shoulders, and she was curled up at the corner of the couch, legs under her, arm along the armrest as she sipped on her drink. She’d already finished her cookie (Emma ate the other two) and the amber light from the fake fireplace made her glow.

Emma’s breath caught and she stared, unsure of what her expression was saying but having a feeling it might be ‘something.’

“When he was little, I used to tie bells to the broom and stand outside his window,” Regina wasn’t looking at her, she was looking at the fire, through it into the past. “He’d rush from his room and down the stairs to come find me and I’d run through the house to get to the kitchen or study before he got there.”

Emma could picture it, heart almost overflowing with love. A small Henry, maybe four or five, lying in bed and hearing the bells outside his window, and rushing from his room and down the stairs to look for his mother. His mother who was probably trying not to pant in the kitchen, the broom hidden out of sight, as she encouraged her son to go back to bed, that Santa wouldn’t come if he was awake.

Regina would pick Henry up, say how big he was getting, and carry him up the stairs and tuck him in, whispering, ‘I love you, My Little Prince.’

“Emma?” Regina asked, voice low and worried and it was only then that she realised she was crying. Because that was a memory she was feeling. The overwhelming love that Regina had for their son rivalled the light of the sun, and Emma was in constant awe of it.

“You’re all I could have dreamed for him,” she choked out, emotion threatening to consume her, but she had to get this out, had to share it least it sweep her away.

“When I gave him up, I dreamed that he’d find a family like you, and I am so glad, so thankful that he found you. That you found each other,” she swallowed and wiped at her eyes, throat tight.

“You are the best mother I could have ever asked for him. You love him so much and I just-“Emma cut herself off, lifting her shoulders in a shrug, because what words were there to convey how Regina made her feel? How the love Regina had for their son made her feel?

She sniffed and just looked across at Regina, the pain in her fingers fading, the aching in her back receding, all that was left was the warmth in her chest, the dancing of her heart.

How could she explain how she loved Regina for that (and other things, maybe, but she wasn’t ready to name that ‘something’)?

But Regina met her eyes and nodded slowly, just once, a slow incline of her head as though all of Emma’s thoughts and feelings were cast into words and shared across the space between him.

“Wait here a moment,” she requested, voice soft and hesitant but she rosed to her feet and left the room, taking the air in it with her. She’d always had that talent when Emma had been around. Able to suck the air from the room with her absence, and it left an empty feeling as soon as she left. Emma never liked it. She felt anxious and jittery until Regina came back, and then she could settle again.

It didn’t take long for Regina to return, and when she did, she held a slim file in one hand.

Emma was curious but curious enough to ask, Regina would tell her when she was ready.

Regina was always composed, it was something Emma had first noticed when she came to town, and she had taken great delight in tearing those walls down and exposing the vulnerable and scared woman beneath them, but now she was more sensitive to Regna and her needs. She could tell that Regina was nervous about something, hesitant and oddly shy, but Emma couldn’t place why.

Still, it roused something within her. Regina needed her and she would answer her call. Straightening, she placed her feet on the ground, ready to go slay a dragon, or fight an army, or-well, she didn’t know, but she was more than ready to do whatever it took to make Regina seem less vulnerable.

“I don’t really know-” Regina cut herself off, arms curling around her belly and almost damaging the folder before she held that arm away from her body.

“I was lonely when I adopted Henry,” she said, sounding a little guilty, or maybe ashamed, and her shoulders were hunched in on themselves. Emma’s heart thumped and her fingers twitched with the urge to do something, anything to ease Regina’s burden.

“And he came into my life, and he was just-” Regina was quiet, wordless but Emma completely understood. Their kid had thrown her life upside down and inside out, changing it completely but she wouldn’t change it for the world.

“This isn’t your actual Christmas present,” Regina said and slowly placed the folder on the table, “but it- if you want, it’s yours. We don’t have to talk about it, we can just- forget it, if you don’t want.”

Emma was really, really confused but willing to wait, she’d probably wait forever if need be.

“If you don’t want it,” Regina said, a glow in her eyes, “leave it on my desk in the study.”

Brow furrowed Emma reached for the file and flicked the tab open.

Heart hammering, because what could possibly make Regina so nervous and unsure to offer as a gift, she slid the paper from the file.

There was the Storybrooke logo and a letter with a signature at the bottom, and then there was a paper with various boxes and ticks. A letter each from Deputy Nolan, and Dr Hopper, and then three signatures. Archie’s and her fathers as witness’s, and Regina’s, as legal guardian, passing along guardianship to Emma, if she wanted it, as well as a signature from a judge.

Regina,” she rasped, heart threatening to leap from her throat.

“You gave me Henry,” Regina said simply and reached down to press a gentle, gentle kiss to her forehead. “I think it’s only right that I do the same.”

Emma couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think past the pounding in her chest which was screaming about that ‘something’ she couldn’t name.

The bolded letters called back to her, and she barely registered Regina walking away, wishing her goodnight as the clock in the hall struck midnight, and outside it began to snow, as she looked down at them.

ADOPTION APPROVED

Emma had given Regina Henry, and now Regina was returning the gift. She was offering joint custody, legal, joint custody. Henry was already theirs, but now (if Emma wanted it) he would legally be theirs. All she had to do was sign.

And maybe Emma was starting to realise that the ‘something’ she felt when she was with Regina was something special, just like their little family.

~*~

She wasn’t sleeping when Henry’s shout cracked through the silence of Miflin, no, she was wide awake (having had three or more double shot coffees from Regina’s very expensive Italian coffee machine) and working on her gift, but it still started her and her arm went shooting across the page.

Glaring at the line, she waved her hand and erased it, glaring at the empty spot for a moment before another shout caught her attention.

Standing with a groan and stretching, she wandered over to the door, massaging her hand and opened it.

Henry raced back into his room from Regina’s, grinning.

“Emma! It’s snowing!” He called in glee and vanished into his room.

Emma, who had realised it got cold around two this morning, blinked after him and heard a disturbance at Regina’s door.

“Merry Christmas!” Henry shouted from his room, and she shouted back the same.

The mayor appeared a few moments later, pulling on her customary black coat. Her hair was sleep tussled and Emma’s heart twirled in her chest as Regina brushed sleep from her eyes.

She paused in the doorway when she saw Emma, affection chasing surprise across her face and Emma just stared at her, certain that ‘something’ was written all over her face.

“Will you join us, Emma?” It wasn’t very often that Regina used her name and Emma shivered, casting a glance over her shoulder to the desk and the gift she had there.

“I will in a minute,” she said and ducked back into her room. She’d brought a few things over from her place when she’d moved in and stored them in the guest room wardrobe and while she would like to join her son and his mother out in the snow, she had Regina’s gift to finish.

She was out of practice, so it was taking her much longer than it should have, but she really wanted it to be finished by this evening when they would be having dinner with her parents.

She could hold off giving Regina her present until then, but it needed to be finished.

Henry came around the door and grinned at her, already in his thick pants and bundled up looking like a fluffy ball with legs, and his customary scarf.

“Are you coming?”

She stared at him, at his eager face and she couldn’t say no, and knew that Regina wouldn’t begrudge her a delayed present, not if it meant Henry would be happy.

“Give me a second,” she promised, and his grin lit his face, more happy with her coming to play with him in the snow than it was Christmas Day.

His feet thumped down the steps and she heard Regina calling out to him ‘no running in the house,’ and a ‘sorry Mum!’ before she heard the door faintly shut.

Emma dressed quickly and jogged down the stairs, tried but wanting to spend some time with her son.

Regina was in the kitchen in front of the expresso machine, looking at it quizzically.

“Were you up all night?” She enquired as Emma walked past. She halted and rubbed her head awkwardly before remembering she was wearing a beanie and then shrugged.

“Yeah?”

Regina’s eyes followed her as she passed through the kitchen and out into the patio. Henry was already patting down snow into a round shape and she called back to Regina as she put her boots on.

“Hey, the kids making a snowman. Do you have anything for it?”

Regina called an affirmative and Emma jogged down the steps, feeling the cold air hit her in the chest when she inhaled.

She crouched down next to him and started to scoop the snow as well, thankful her gloves were waterproof.

It had snowed heavily overnight, enough that the back garden had a thick coating of snow, and Regina was bundled when she finally emerged from the house, a steaming mug in her hands. She was content to lean against the house and watch them, though she did place a hat on the patio as well as a carrot.

It was a shame that Henry wouldn’t get to see the sleigh tracks or the footsteps, but Emma knew it had been something he had seen many times before, and her chest grew warm as she cast a glance at Regina.

She’d spent some of the night, or early morning, thinking about Regina’s gift to her. She knew without a doubt she’d accept it, after all, she was offering Henry. She was worried about what might change, though, the adoptive mother offering the birth mother adoption of their son. What would Henry want? Would he change his name? How would they work it? She was unsure but also eager, so very eager, because part of her had always felt disconnected from Henry, a decade of prime development would do that to a person, and maybe this could prove that she wasn’t going to leave him again. It was far more complicated than that, of course, but she understood his fear.

In the end she decided she’d talk to Henry after Christmas, her and Regina could sit down with him and make sure it was okay and then go forward from there. She was actually a bit excited for it. They could be a family, a proper family.

She cast a glance at Regina again as Henry packed the base of the snowman tightly and then started to work on the middle.

Did it matter that her image of ‘family’ and ‘home’ now had Regina in it (and not like she had always been in it, as part of Henry, but part of Emma, as part of Emma’s happiness) as someone who was constantly at her side? Not really, Regina would be in her future, regardless of her role, Emma was certain. She didn’t want to think about it not being a possibility.

She turned back to helping Henry form the middle of the snowman and then they started on the head. Regina had vanished inside the house somewhere around the middle of the middle ball, and Emma missed her already, but she and Henry were having fun, occasionally tossing bits of snow at each other. Her nose was cold, and she was glad she was wearing a beanie, but she was starting to feel the chill.

Henry scampered over to the patio while Emma formed the head of the snowman, carving out some eyes in what she hoped was a horizontal line, and he came back with the hat, carrot, and some buttons for the eyes.

He slammed the carrot into the face while Emma tried to work the buttons into the socket holes she had made. After that, all that was needed was his top hat, and Henry tilted it roguishly before standing back with a little nod.

“He needs arms,” Henry commented right as Emma was thinking it, and two large forks appeared next to them, a swirl of purple magic being reflected in the snow.

“Thanks mum!” Henry shouted back at the house and jabbed the long forks into the snowman’s sides and set back to admire their handiwork.

“Awesome!” He and Emma shared a high-five and Emma felt Regina’s presence before she heard her.

They admired it a moment before Henry side-eyed her and Emma had the presence of mind to duck before he was scooping up some snow and throwing it at her.

“Why you little!” She ducked down to grab her own ball and then it was on, and she was chasing her son around the garden as he hollered, their laughs ringing out.

Eventually she caught him and tackled him to the ground. He groaned and cried out when she carefully put some snow down his shirt, and he kicked out at her, but they were both on the ground and now covered with snow and giggling for it.

“That looks lovely, Dear,” Regina commented and they both grinned at her from where they lay in the snow near their creation. “But come inside before you catch a cold.”

Regina helped Henry up and he unwrapped his scarf, laid it across the snowman’s shoulders and then trudged through the snow towards the house. Emma just laid there looking up at Regina, haloed by the morning light and she shivered. It was starting to snow again, just lightly as though the weather wasn’t quite sure about it.

A few snowflakes caught on Regina’s hair and Emma’s eyes skirted over them, returning to her face and her glowing eyes.

“You too, Emma,” she said and held out a hand to help Emma up. She could have taken advantage of Regina and pulled her down into the snow, and her grip tightened as though she might do it, Regina’s eyes flashing in warning, but she didn’t want to ruin a good morning. She let Regina help her up, though stumbled forward slightly into Regina’s body.

This close she could feel Regina’s warmth and her body was greedy for it, inching closer, and she could count Regina’s individual lashes.

She looked fresh like this, cheeks flushed from the cold, face devoid of makeup, faint lines at her eyes and the scar at her mouth more prominent when she licked her lips.

Regina’s eyes were like glowing golden suns in the white landscape around them. The snow was falling in earnest now, but neither made to move, their hands still clasped together, and Emma might have been worried about frostbite or something if not for how hot Regina’s hand felt in her own.

The mayor’s eyes drifted over her face slowly, but Emma wasn’t sure what message her face was screaming at Regina, but she was sure it was something along the lines of ‘you’re so pretty,’ and we have ‘something unique, or maybe even special,’ and maybe even ‘I love you.’

Her hand trembled as she raised it and gently, ever so gently, brushed a snowflake from Regina’s skin. Regina inhaled sharply, body still and making no move to run away as Emma’s hand grew bold, tracing along Regina’s jaw and running down her neck. She kept her touch light, aware of her wet gloves and Regina’s warm skin.

The mayor wasn’t wearing a scarf but her jacket was zipped up tight so Emma couldn’t go much further, but she didn’t need to. Her intention was fairly clear, she thought as she tiled her head and leant in slightly.

Regina’s air puffed out before her, but she didn’t move, her eyes went wide and they darted between Emma’s searching, but she didn’t pull away. Emboldened Emma leant in further, intent in her eyes and their noses brushed (and Regina’s was colder than her own. How was that possible? And how was that knowledge so charming?) and she could feel the warm gust of Regina’s breath on her lips, it made them tingle.

For a moment time froze around them, and all Emma could focus on was the heat curling in her chest, the slightly frantic fan of breath over her lips and the pounding of her heart. This, this was what she wanted.

She slid her head forward minimally and Regina didn’t move away, and she almost, almost pressed their lips together when Henry shouted from the house.

“Mum! Do you know where my socks are? The elf ones? I can’t find them!”

Regina pulled away and turned back to the house, and the chill of the air hit Emma in the chest so sharply she winced. She took a partial step back, not wanting to crowd Regina, and not wanting to be directly in the woman’s face when she turned back to her.

“Your washing basket,” Regina called back to the house, and she flicked her eyes back at Emma, more curious than appraising, and then she began to walk back to the house after a long, glancing look.

“I’ll start breakfast,” she said gently, the wind catching her words and dragging them back to Emma.

Feeling dejected and confused, Emma watched her go, heart thumping painfully. Regina hadn’t pulled away though, hadn’t slapped her in disgust or called her a slur (not that Regina would ever, she was far too noble for that) so maybe the rejection wasn’t a rejection. Maybe it was just a… we’ll pick this up later sort of deal, faint hope curled in her chest

At the door Regina turned back to her, head tilting slightly in question and Emma was moving before she heard the words. “Aren’t you coming?”

As though Emma wouldn’t follow Regina anywhere, as though Regina couldn’t now know the reason for it.

~*~

Today had been the best Christmas she’d ever had, not that the bar was overly high, but it was still the best she’d ever had.

An early morning after a night kept up, followed by time playing in the snow with her son and then a delicious breakfast cooked after they’d been outside. 

Emma had gone back to her project for Regina while Regina had worked on the Christmas turkey. Dinner was with her parents at the Loft, but after sampling some of Henry’s leftovers from the year before, Emma had demanded that Regina make the turkey, no matter where they were having their family Christmas.

Snow had been a little disappointed she didn’t get the chance to make the whole meal, but Emma also thought that her mother was relieved that she didn’t have to take care of the most important part of the Christmas meal. And let’s be real, the smells coming from downstairs certainly made Emma sure that Regina’s position as best cook in Emma’s life was going to be proven once again.

Snow and Charming were taking care of drinks and the other sides for dinner, Emma knew there would be potatoes and carrots and a salad or something. Henry was off playing the new video game that Emma had gotten him (both she and Regina had given Henry a gift after breakfast, but most of his presents would be given with the rest of the family) so Emma didn’t have an issue with slipping away to work on her project.

It was taking longer than she’d thought it would, she was painfully out of practice and she really wanted to get it right. She’d even had to use her magic once or twice to erase a line her eraser couldn’t remove, but she wanted this to be as genuine as possible, as real as possible.

Her fingers were pretty much cramped and holding her pencils was taking a toll on her, and she had taken a few pills for the pain of drawing over popped blisters protected by plasters, but she was almost finished.

She didn’t want to give it to Regina while her parents were around, she would give it to Regina tonight, but as she pushed away from her chair to get ready for dinner, she was satisfied with what she’d achieved.

A whisper of magic, now that her present was complete, and the pain in her fingers eased, though she had to stretch them out a bit, grimacing as they cracked, and the hot water eased her discomfort.

They’d gathered in the foyer and teleported to Snow and David’s for the evening meal. It was a good afternoon and evening, with lots of food and cheer and laughter and Emma felt so loved the whole time.

Highlights had included Regina’s dress, Regina cuddling her little brother while he gazed at her in awe (a feeling Emma well understood) seeing Henry happily open all his presents, hearing Regina laugh when David had opened his gifts from her (all sheep themed) and properly understood the implication behind the gifts, him being a former shepherd and all. He’d been a good sport about it, laughing with her and then promptly choosing to put one of the movies on. It was called Black Sheep, and it was awful. After they’d eaten and were well on their way to a food coma, David had insisted they watch it, Regina especially as she’d been the one to give it to him. She’d also brought him a very nice pair of work boots in addition to the Shaun the Sheep DVDs, and a very suggestive apron, the implications of which that flew right over Henry’s head, thankfully. He didn’t need to know anything about a farmer and his sheep.

Snow had also loved her gift from Regina, a hand-carved wooden work desk with lots of compartments for all the new pens and scissors and glues that Henry had brought her. Her mother liked to make cards and keep her classroom full of colour and glitter, so she was very thankful for her gift.

Regina had also liked the perfume Emma had brought her, had smiled at her sweetly and Emma’s heart had cartwheeled, and then carried on.

All in all, it had been a very good day and now that she was home, at Miflin, she was feeling sleepy and tired but there was one more thing she had to offer Regina.

Henry was in bed, tucked away after a hot chocolate, and Regina was in her office, so Emma slipped upstairs for her gift.

It wasn’t perfect and the longer she looked at it, the more she saw the lines and shading that she didn’t like, but she knew she couldn’t spend any longer on it. She’d never get it perfect in her eyes, so she had to be content with what she’d managed.

It had been years, after all, and she was proud with what she had achieved with so little time and so little practice.

She trotted down the stairs, her gift kept securely in her hand. Regina knew that Emma was up to something, she was curious but content to let Emma carry on, which was refreshing. Her mother would pry, her father probably wouldn’t notice, but Regina just let her be, trusting she’d be told if she needed to be.

She and Emma were good like that, capable of fitting together with ease, seamless. They’d had their ups and downs, but everything they faced they’d come out stronger and closer for it.

There was no one Emma trusted more than Regina, there was no one who saw her the way Regina did, and she felt sure that Regina felt the same way about her. They were Henry’s mums, a team, Emma and Regina.

It was why she’d come up with the perfect gift for Regina.

One of the first things she’d noticed about Henry, and Regina by extension, was how many pictures were in the house. It was tidy, almost obsessively so, as though it were a show house, but in the private areas of the house, the hallways, the family room, there were pictures. Everywhere. Pictures of Henry, and pictures of Henry and Regina.

Back when she’d first come to Storybrooke she’d been jealous, jealous of Henry and his childhood and his house, and his mum who had given him everything. He was clothed, with new and nice clothing, he was fed, well. He had healthy meals and almost all of them were home-made, with high quality ingredients. He had everything provided for him, and the pictures in the house showed that he was loved.

Of course, Emma didn’t see those pictures at first, she was barely allowed into the house and only saw what Regina wanted her to see on the surface. Routine. Structure.

But further into the house, there were pictures. Dozens of pictures. Henry as a baby, right up to now, only the more recent pictures had Emma and the Charming’s, the small family slowly expanding.

Regina wasn’t in many pictures, Henry had always been the focus, but there were a few of both her and Henry, beaming at the camera. And Emma, who had always longed for a family of her own, had wanted what was shown on those walls. A happy childhood, a loving mother.

Now she was older, she knew better, but she still wanted that family, wanted the home. She had the family, and the home, even if it didn’t look like she’d ever thought it might look like. Her kid, his mother, her parents who were younger than her, and a baby brother, as well as a woman who challenged her at every turn, but protected their small family with everything she had. She was happy it looked like it did though, she didn’t need anything more than what she had. Though there was that ‘something’ she felt for Regina, which she was pretty sure she could name if pressured to do so, but she wasn’t ready to share it just yet. Besides, the only people it mattered to was her and Regina.

The fireplace was on a low setting, warding off the chill and Regina was curled up on the chaise with a book and bottle of wine Snow and Charming had gotten her.

Emma wasn’t quite sure how to start the conversation and for a moment she just stared at Regina.

While she watched Regina reached for her glass, took a sip, and then set the glass back on the coffee table. As she returned her hand, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and turned the page, eyes leisurely stroking the words.

She was dressed down since their evening. She’d stored the leftovers in the fridge, done some more tidying of her kitchen with Emma’s help, and then retired to her study. She must have changed her clothes at some point, she was now wearing fluffy socks, and soft looking maroon pyjamas, and to top it off, she was wearing glasses.

She looked painfully soft, achingly beautiful and Emma was content to linger in the doorway and just stare at her.

Regina sensed her after not too long and glanced up over the top of her book and lifted one devastatingly attractive brow in question.

“I um,” she hesitated and edged forward into the room, keeping her gift facing her so that Regina couldn’t see it just yet.

There was lots of things she wanted to tell Regina, but Regina had summed it up perfectly well the night before. ‘You gave me Henry,’ Regina had said, as though that summed up everything. And it did. Henry was everything to them both, and they’d both given him to each other, they’d both given the other the world. How fitting was that.

“I didn’t know what to give you but, um, I know that none of you, none of you from the Enchanted Forest, have any picture of your pasts or any of your family and I- I know how important that is to you.” And truly, family was everything to Regina.

“So I, um, I made you this,” she slowly offered Regina her gift.

Regina hesitated and sat her book down, unfolding her legs and rising slowly and padding across the floor to Emma, who had shuffled forward slightly.

She was almost afraid to see Regina’s reaction, so she kept her head lowered but lifted her arm.

“I’m a little out of practice but… I wanted you to have-“ she swallowed and kept her eyes lowered.

Regina let out a sharp gasp as she saw what Emma was offering, the portrait of Henry Sr, Regina’s father, that she’d spent hours working on, and Emma’s eyes obligingly settled on her face.

Regina was a lot of things, but one of them, one thing that her enemies and allies could both agree on even if they agreed on nothing else, was that she was lovely to look at. Regina Mills was beautiful. At times Emma was certain her beauty had been a curse, but it was something that couldn’t be denied. Regina was beautiful. And the expressions that crossed her face as she understood what Emma had made for her, was truly something else.

There was confusion and then surprise, which softened into a pained longing, and she let her eyes flutter closed. Emma’s heart twirled, and then began to pound when water pooled at the corner of Regina’s eyes.

 “Regi-na,” she finished as the brunette stepped froward and threw an arm around her neck, pressing in close while holding her gift out from their embrace with her other hand.

As though guided by another, a puppet on a string, Emma brought her arms around Regina, slipping one down to her lower back and the other pressing between her shoulder blades.

She let out a contented sigh, aware that this was the first time she and Regina had been so close, physically at least. Emma was pretty sure that Regina knew her better than anyone ever had or ever would, and this was just another chapter in their relationship.

Regina was small, smaller than Emma had ever thought she was, especially with how Regina carried herself and how her presence filled a room, even when she didn’t demand its attention, but she fit perfectly within her arms. It was painfully cliché but as she rested her head against Regina’s, she felt peaceful, happy, her chest dancing happily.

“Thank you,” Regina whispered after a long moment, but she made no move to pull away and Emma wasn’t sure she wanted her to leave. Inhaling deeply, she lowered her head, nuzzling into Regina’s silky soft hair utterly content with the world.

“I think your gift takes the cake,” she offered in response, squeezing her arms slightly and she almost heard Regina’s eye roll. Still. All Emma had done was spend a few hours drawing a picture of Regina’s father from a still from Snow White’s memories, Regina had given her Henry.

Not only were the adoption papers sitting in her room waiting to be discussed with their son, Regina had also (on top of a new leather jacket) given her a photo album of Henry’s childhood. But it wasn’t just any photo album. The pictures moved, kind of like the photo albums of Harry Potter, and if Emma touched them, she’d be magically transported back into that memory, feeling what Regina felt, seeing what Regina saw. Regina had given Emma her memories of raising Henry, and there was nothing in the world, in any of them, that Emma could ever do that could make up for it. But she’d be damned if she didn’t try.

“It’s not a competition,” the brunette offered, breath fanning across Emma’s skin, rousing the fine hairs in its wake.

“But if-“

“But if it was, you’d win,” Emma finished and felt Regina’s lips curling into a smile, pressed as they were against her skin. She swallowed.

She wasn’t sure how long they stood in the centre of the room holding each other, but eventually Regina pulled away, her eyes on the pencilled drawing of her father. Emma had thought it could have used some improvement, she was rusty, but the way Regina looked at it was as though Emma had handed her the stars.

After a long moment of Regina staring at the portrait of her father and Emma staring at Regina, she lifted her eyes. For a moment Emma considered glancing away like she normally did when Regina caught her eye, but instead she held them, certain that the something she felt around Regina was written all over her face.

She might have been self-conscious or embarrassed, but how she felt about Regina was not something to be ashamed of, it was to be celebrated. While she didn’t want anyone gossiping about her business, she wouldn’t be ashamed of how she felt about Regina, about her feelings.

“Regina,” she began softly, voice a whisper and the portrait vanished from Regina’s hand in a lazy swirl of smoke, dark eyes watching her carefully. The lights from the tree were sparking blue and red in the mirror of Regina’s eyes and she drew strength from them. Christmas was a time to be brave and bold, right? That’s what all those holiday movies said, right?

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she continued quietly, as though speaking any louder would break the peace between them, shatter the contended quiet that had taken over them both since Emma had come back into the room.

“I don’t want to pressure you or anything or force you to feel- and I don’t expect anything to change because that’s not what I want but I just needed to let you know that I, um,” she hesitated and fell silent, swallowing dryly.

Regina was gazing up at her patiently, expression soft and eyes burning with a gentle flame.

Emma was nervous, very nervous but she knew that no matter what the outcome was, Regina would have her back. Their relationship might change at first, but at its core they were intertwined and unbreakable, they’d been through so much and nothing could shake them, not even the potential fallout from this.  Whether Regina returned her love or not, she knew that Regina loved her, just as she loved Regina. She’d just also managed to fall in love with the brunette as well, which, really only made sense when she thought about it. How fitting, how fairy-tale like that the Saviour and the former Evil Queen came to care for each other, to love one another, brought together by an incredible boy who loved them both.

“I like you, a-a lot,” she said quickly before her courage left her. She was brave enough to confess her truth, brave enough to lay her soul before Regina, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t vulnerable in doing so. Her desire to tell Regina the truth, to let her see the way Emma felt about her only just bet out the fear of being so vulnerable to her. Instinct told her to protect herself, experience warned her to be cautious. But this was Regina. Regina wouldn’t reject her, even if she didn’t feel the same.

“I like you to, Emma,” Regina said with some amusement, a quirk to her lips that instantly caught Emma’s eye before she tore her gaze up to meet Regina’s.

Regina liked her. That was great. No, really! But obviously Regina liked Emma, she invited her into her house, cooked her breakfast, offered her Henry. Regina obviously liked her, but not in the way Emma was meaning it.

What was she, twelve years old? She was a grown ass woman, and she could tell another grown ass woman she was in love with her damn it. She took a steadying breath.

“No, I mean. I- I-“ and how did she tell Regina how she felt about her. She could just say ‘I love you,’ but there were two ways that could be taken, and she cursed the English language for its inarticulate words.

“I don’t like you-“ she began and then quickly back tracked, seeing Regina’s brow twitch. “Wait, no. That’s not what I meant.”

She let out a sigh and shook her head. “Regina, I-“

“Emma,” Regina said softly, and she lifted her hand. There was a sprig of green leaves with little white flowers on them and she stared a while as Regina gestured with a finger and it rose into the air, blooming and growing until it spread across the ceiling.

“What?” She whispered and watched as a branch of it grew to dangle above their heads.

“Mistletoe.”

Regina’s voice was quiet, as quiet as her own as though she were afraid to break the spell over them both. It took Emma a moment to realise what Regina had said.

Mistletoe.

Mistletoe.

Mistletoe…. Like…. Actual mistletoe?!

She glanced back up at the plant and then back to Regina’s face hurriedly, like one of those bobblehead figurines.

“What? But you?” And Emma had spoken English all her life, and she had a fair grasp of it, and her lexicon was broad. It wasn’t anything like Regina’s, but she managed, but she couldn’t seem to focus much more beyond mistletoe and what it connotated.

Regina let out a little sigh and shook her head slightly, but her lips were curled.

“Are you gonna kiss me or not?” She asked, lips slightly parted into smile that had, on occasions in the past made Emma’s heart twirl and her stomach drop.

Kiss? Emma’s mind was focusing on the word. On Regina. On kissing Regina, but thankfully her body reacted.

Later, much later, she’d replay the moment in her mind and linger on every second. On the warm gust of air that hit her skin, the way Regina tilted her head in silent request, the fragrance of her perfume, the glowing of her eyes, the satisfied curl of her lips and then… and then the way a tension inside her eased as though it had never been there.

Regina let out a contented sigh, turning her head slightly to slot their mouths together, boldly flicking her tongue along the seam of Emma’s mouth and she whimpered.

On instinct her hands went to Regina’s sides, and she tugged her closer, pressing their bodies together as she willingly, eagerly, let Regina into her mouth. Regina’s fingers tangled in her hair, the other hand skirting across her shoulders as though unsure of where to settle, wanting to take in as much of Emma as possible.

Emma shared the sentiment. As though a dam had broken, she was desperate for Regina. Her taste, her scent, her touch. She wanted all of her, after having been held back for so long.

Regina let out a soft sound, and it was as though a switch had been flicked and Emma pressed forward with intent as Regina’s tongue flicked across the root of her mouth. Her breath left her in a shaky exhale and a bolt of something powerful struck her in the belly.

“I love you,” she pulled away from Regina’s mouth to pant into the scant space between their lips. “I’m in love with you,” she pressed her lips back to Regina’s, already addicted to her.

“I know,” Regina took Emma’s bottom between her teeth and tugged. An answering swoop hit Emma at the base of her spine and her hands contorted on Regina’s hips, digging into the fabric to get closer to her skin.

“You-you know?” And, well, if Regina knew, then why hadn’t she said anything? Made a move? Because Emma would have been 100% down with being seduced.

“I was waiting for you,” Regina mouthed at her neck, dragging her teeth suggestively and then biting. Emma’s gasp turned into a rumbling moan and Regina soothed the mark with her tongue.

“And its rude to keep a queen waiting,” Regina sucked enthusiastically on her pulse point in reprimand.

“I’m sorry I kept you,” Emma’s voice was breathy, light but she didn’t care, and Regina lifted her head, the frantic energy between them calming for a moment.

“I won’t keep you again,” Emma murmured staring into Regina’s eyes, and she was beautiful like this. Hair mused, lips swollen, lipstick smudged, and her pupils bled into black.

Regina smiled and Emma’s heart cartwheeled. “Good,” Regina breathed, and her eyes fluttered closed for a moment before her head fell sightly forward and the two pressed their foreheads together, breathing the other in.

“And I’m in love with you too,” Regina added, and Emma was certain that the ecstasy burning through her bloodstream was what people talked about when they spoke of Christmas Magic, because she knew that if she bottled it and sold it, she’d be the richest woman alive.

A deep, contented sigh left Emma’s lips and she loosened her desperate hold on the woman in her arms.

“I love you,” she kept her voice soft, trying to change from the frantic energy of before, turning from the desire burning in her blood in case that was all Regina thought she felt for her. There was desire, God yes, and if their kiss was any indication of how the two of them would be in bed, then she’d be a very happy woman for the rest of her life, but there was always more to her feelings for Regina, and she needed Regina to know that.

“I love you too,” Regina repeated, and she was stroking the back of Emma’s neck, rousing the fine hairs there, the other arm slid around her back, keeping her close. Not that Emma had plans on leaving, nuh uh, not her. There was no place she’d rather be, except, maybe, naked in Regina’s bed with the woman she was in love with pressed against her and panting into her mouth.

The thought sent fire roaring through her bloodstream, the molten energy between them igniting once again as though magic had filled the room with it. Maybe it had, she’d have to check in with Regina about that later.  

She pulled away, desperate need rising within her and as she dove back to Regina’s eager mouth the lights from the Christmas tree winked merrily at her and Emma’s heart sang.

So, yeah. Maybe Emma Swan does like Christmas after all.