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Gay Christmas

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It has to be perfect.

Well, obviously.

As though she has ever accepted anything less from herself. She gunned to be the youngest person to make partner at one of the most prestigious law offices in Boston, and she did so quite successfully. When she decided to be a mother, with or without the support of a partner, she succeeded at that too - much to the dismay of her own. And when, after a few years of balancing motherhood and law, she decided to move to a smaller town to raise her son, she had her sights set on getting into local government. And it isn’t difficult to see how that turned out.

She’s now Mayor of Storybrooke, with a modest amount of municipal power and a beautiful home for her small family. She has checked all her boxes, she’s achieved essentially all of the goals she has set for herself. Her house is immaculate, her checkbook is balanced, her lipstick is always in place. Her son wants for nothing. 

And yet.

And yet in spite of all of this, she does indeed appear to be failing at something. Well, perhaps there are one of two areas of her life that could use some attention, but the one she is setting her considerable focus on is Henry. Because for whatever reason, try as she might, she cannot get her son into the Christmas spirit this year. Granted it’s a little early in the season, they’re still in November. Still, Henry usually can’t wait to get the holiday started, his love of what he likes to call “Christmas Magic” typically cannot be constrained to December alone.

But not this year. Thus far he has refused to help her hang the Christmas lights out front. He would have nothing to do with arranging the wreath on the door, or decking any of their various halls. She can’t even get him to eat any of the seven different holiday-related baked goods she has made - from scratch. She’s come at him from every angle with as much Christmas cheer as she can muster, and he has dodged her time and again. But this has only strengthened her resolve, and she will be damned if he doesn’t sit down and engage in some very serious merry making. 


She just has to add some more garlands to the house, perhaps. Maybe buy a few more scented candles, and some lights for the bushes in the yard out front. Yes, she will make it perfect, and then her son will smile at her in that way that makes her heart light up, and she won’t have to stay up at night worrying that she is a failure of a mother because she can’t seem to get her son to enjoy what is normally his absolute favorite time of year.

As she walks into their kitchen and sees him pushing away the hot cocoa she’s just made for him with organic, fair-trade Belgian chocolate, she finally snaps. It is Christmas. “Henry Mills,” she sighs with exasperation, walking up to him with hands on hips. He looks up at her from where he’s watching the snow fall softly on the front lawn, something that would actually have been a picturesque moment if he didn’t insist on looking like someone had just drowned his kitten. “What has gotten into you?” she demands, sinking into the seat across from him.

He looks up at her with sad eyes, his sprinkling of freckles popping against his pale skin. “What do you mean?” he asks innocently.

She reaches across the table and grasps his thin fingers in hers, taking comfort in the warmth of his small hands. “Is there something wrong?” she asks cautiously, so afraid of the answer. It’s her, in all likelihood. Of course, what else could it be? She must have done something, said something. Her mind starts to spin with a myriad of possible failings. Her mother had told her she would never be able to do this alone.

“No, not at all,” he smiles gently, and the flurry of thoughts swirling in her brain start to settle just a little.

“My boy,” she says softly, reaching out to brush the hair out of his eyes. He’ll need it cut again soon, it’s growing so fast these days. And so is he. Her stomach clenches at the look on his face as she takes a breath and probes a little further. “There must be something to have you looking like this. You normally love this time of the year,” she adds with a hint of accusation. But honestly, what is the point in being a mother if you can’t imbue your child with just a hint of maternal guilt from time to time?

He sighs, squeezing her fingers a little. “I’m just...worried about something. Something Miss Blanchard said.”

Regina’s lips press into a dangerously thin line. Of course, of course that insipid teacher of his has filled his head with some nonsense that is completely derailing the joyful holiday season she has meticulously planned. “What has she done now?” Regina asks softly, doing her best not to allow her thinly veiled anger to seep through her words. 

“Oh, nothing bad, mom,” he answers hurriedly. At ten, Henry has definitely learned to read her well, much to her irritation. “She just said that the holidays are a time for sharing with others, with friends and family. You know?”

Regina furrows her brow, her hands sliding back across the table to cross over her chest defensively. Well. She can’t see this going anywhere comfortable. “All right,” she answers warily, bracing herself for what she thinks might be coming. Questions like “why doesn’t grandma ever come for Christmas?” or “can we meet my real parents?” or something equally gut wrenching.

She watches her son glance out the window thoughtfully, his eyes tracking the lazy trails of snowflakes as they gather on the grass out front. “I was just thinking about that, I guess. And I mean, I have friends. And I have you,” he adds hastily. “ don’t really have anyone but me,” he turns back to her, his face troubled.

“What?” she says softly, her eyes widening with surprise. Whatever she was expecting, it was not this. But that is one thing about being a mother to Henry that she has always loved the most - he never fails to surprise her, usually with his innate kindness and empathy, something he absolutely did not inherit from her. This is definitely a trait stemming from nature, rather than nurture, of that she is sure.

“Well, it got me thinking,” he pauses, clasping his hands on the table before looking up at her. “Aren’t you lonely, mom? Shouldn’t you have someone? 

“Wh- I have friends, Henry, I’m not exactly a recluse,” Regina scolds. Henry raises his eyebrows. “Okay fine, I have a friend, but Zelena has the presence of at least three people,” she quips. “And aside from her, I have several acquaintances, I’ll have you know.”

“One friend isn’t a lot, Mom,” he explains seriously. “And Zelena drives you crazy half the time.”

“More than half,” Regina corrects. ”But so does everyone else.”

Henry sighs wearily at her and she puts her hands up in a gesture of surrender, allowing him to go on. “Anyway, I was more meaning...Don’t you want to be with someone? You know, like to date?”

Her mind is spinning, and she grips the kitchen table lightly with her fingers, trying to ground herself as her world lists just a little. These are thoughts she has had many times in the quiet hours of the night, long after he has gone to bed. Something she rarely lets herself think about or consider for long. Something she absolutely did not expect to hear coming from the mouth of her ten year old son. 

“Henry, while I appreciate your newfound concern for my love life, I am doing just fine, you really needn’t worry about that,” she answers as calmly as she can, though her palms are sweating lightly at the sharp turn their conversation has taken.

His eyebrows pull together quizzically. “You mean, you do have someone?”

This is, of course, not at all what she means. What she means is “I am fine and let us never discuss my love life or lack thereof ever again in our lives,” however it’s clear he’s mistaken her meaning. The look of hope on his face is gutting her, and so she does the only thing she can think of. 

She lies. 

Quite a lot.

“I -well if you must know, yes, there is someone special I’ve been spending time with.” She can feel her heart starting to race as the words spill from her mouth. How far from the truth they really are is actually quite tragic if she’s being honest, which of course, she isn’t. 

“Like who?” he asks suspiciously.

God, why must her son be so kindhearted? Not to mention so detail-oriented? Why did that idiot teacher of his have to fill his head with this inane chatter about friendship and sugar plumb goddamned fairies? She clasps her hands in her lap, taking a breath as she races to think. Because the issue is, she knows her son, and if he thinks for a second that she’s unhappy then he is never going to let this go, and his entire Christmas will be overshadowed by his worrying for her and her failure to form any sort of meaningful romantic relationship. So all she needs is a name. 


He’s watching her curiously, and she blurts the first name that comes to mind.


“What?” Henry asks, eyes squinting with disbelief. “You mean Sheriff Swan?”

“Yes, of course,” she replies hastily, knowing that if she is to survive this conversation with any credibility intact, she needs to think very fast. The thing is, she has no earthly idea why Emma’s name was the first on her lips. They spend much of their time arguing heatedly about just about everything, the latest topic being Emma’s unyielding demands for a new squad car. Though if she’s being honest, while Sheriff Swan is often a thorn in her side, she does happen to be one of the few genuinely kind people Regina knows. She’s also quite intelligent, however loath Regina is to admit that one. 

But while she’s admitting things, she has to concede that Emma is quite funny too - even if it is usually at Regina’s expense. And she’d be remiss if she didn’t also consider Emma’s rather disarming good looks, not to mention her extremely toned body. Mind churning through this rapid assessment, she’s starting to realize that there are in fact quite a number of reasons why Emma’s name had been at the top of her list. Perhaps this is precisely why she’s previously refused to ruminate on the subject at all. 

“But you’re always calling her a pain in your -”

“I know perfectly well what I’ve called the sheriff, Henry, thank you very much,” she replies curtly, shifting in her seat. Henry has regularly borne witness to their biting comments to one another during his attendance at the bi-monthly town meetings, so she can well understand the confusion she sees on his face. While of course her son is not wrong in pointing out the fact that she and Emma regularly exchange barbed comments, what he likely doesn’t understand is that over the years their shared bickering has become a rather comforting and familiar thing to her, something that for better or worse she has come to rely on. 

“Henry,” she says, folding her hands calmly on the table. “People - relationships - are complicated. Maybe it seems as though the sheriff and I are regularly arguing with one another-”

“And throwing stuff at each other,” Henry adds dutifully.

“Yes dear,” Regina replies with pursed lips. “And that. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t care for one another. We’ve worked together since we moved here, nearly five years now. Who and what we are to one another has evolved,” she finishes, and as she does she realizes with sudden certainty that what she has just said is true, at least for her it is. She highly doubts Emma Swan gets any fulfillment out of their bickering, but as Emma will never have to know about this if she plays her cards correctly, that is of little importance.

“Huh,” Henry replies, nodding thoughtfully. He pulls the cup of hot chocolate towards himself. Regina feels a minor thrill of triumph at this small victory as he lifts the mug and takes a deep sip. “So, are you two serious?” he asks, setting the mug down and cradling its warmth in his small hands. It’s this display of his accepting of anything related to the holidays - at last - that gives her the courage to answer his startlingly adult question.

“Who on earth have you been talking to?” she muses. 

“I watch TV,” he shrugs. She regards him with equal parts amusement and despair as he takes another sip of hot chocolate. “So, are you?”

“I don’t know,” Regina answers, shaking her head as she looks out the window. The flurry of snowflakes outside make her feel dizzy, or perhaps it’s just this truly surreal conversation. At the ludicrous idea that Emma Swan would ever be in a serious relationship with her of all people. “It’s still fairly new I suppose, Henry,” she adds. 

“Okay,” he nods, finishing the last of his drink. Regina feels her spine start to relax as this emotionally tumultuous conversation appears to be coming to a merciful close. She lets out a small sigh, closing her eyes for a brief moment of relief, as he gets up to rinse his cup and place it in the dishwasher. Unfortunately, this second of respite leaves her wholly unprepared for Henry’s beaming face as he turns back to her and says, “I’m really happy for you mom. You deserve this.” 

He walks over to plant a sweet kiss on the side of her stunned face before announcing he’s going to finish his homework, leaving her to sit in silence in the kitchen. The sound of distant Christmas music emanates from his room, and she feels a burst of joy mixed with a truly wretched amount of guilt at the situation she’s gotten herself into. Her dark eyes track the flurries of falling snowflakes outside the window as she tries to think just how exactly she’s going to get herself the hell out of it.

“You have got to be kidding me. You rejected my request again?”

Regina sighs, looking up from her desk to see the sheriff barging into her office with an expression of outrage on her face. She’s wearing a dark brown leather jacket, her badge clipped to the waistband of her jeans in open defiance of Regina’s many requests for her to dress in uniform. Granted, she has no actual authority over Emma or her colleagues, though both offices are housed in Town Hall.  But all requests from the county for anything related to the city’s budget have to go through her, and she uses that to her advantage whenever she can, which is frequently. She notes that Emma’s hair at least is regulation, pulled back in a ponytail that swishes with every irritated movement of her head. “What the hell did I do wrong this time?” Emma demands, brandishing the rejected request forms in the air before letting them fall heavily to Regina’s desk. She watches their descent before bringing her eyes slowly back to the fuming woman in front of her, shifting slightly at the ripple of excitement her presence elicits. Game on.

“Can I help you, Sheriff Swan?” she asks calmly, sitting back in her chair. Her hands come to rest on the arms of her chair, sharp red nails on display.

“Do not give me that right now Regina, I spent forty-five minutes on that proposal and I bet you didn't even read it,” Emma accuses, planting her palms flat on the surface of Regina’s desk and glowering at her. Unfortunately for Emma, with her golden curls and her big, pretty eyes, she isn’t exactly capable of looking menacing. If anything she looks like an irritated Disney princess. Regina quells the urge to grin like a cat, but only just.

“Of course I read it,” she replies calmly, moving to stand. Emma’s current position leaves her shirt gaping open just a little, and Regina finds she can no longer trust herself to maintain healthy eye contact. “I was unfortunately forced to reject it when it was brought to my attention that you were using an outdated version of the request form. We can only process the latest version of any document, you understand Sheriff Swan.” She walks around her desk, reaching for a file resting on the top shelf of her cabinet. She has the uncanny sense that the heavy weight of Emma’s gaze is on her body as she stretches to pull the files down, but when she turns around the sheriff’s eyes are clamped firmly on her face, blazing delightfully. “Here, I’m happy to furnish you with a newer version so you can try again.”

Emma reaches out and takes the packet suspiciously, her eyes flicking over the form. The white, clean light from the snowy landscape out the window is washing over her face, giving Regina the perfect vantage point to watch her admittedly lovely expression change from suspicious to infuriated. “This was amended yesterday,” she growls.

“Yes, that’s correct,” Regina replies, leaning on her desk, dark eyes sparkling.

“Regina,” Emma lets her eyes close, her head falling back in defeat. “The tailpipe of my car is literally dragging on the asphalt. The car maxes out at 20 miles per hour, only one of the windows opens anymore, and the windshield wipers only seem to work when I’m travelling east.” She opens her eyes, her arms crossing defensively. “What if I need to respond to an actual emergency?” She steps closer to Regina, using the few inches she has in height to her advantage. “What if I need to come to your rescue someday?”

Regina snorts haughtily, though it’s mostly to cover for the fact that Emma towering over her is making her neck flush with heat. “Are you saying you’d actually come, in that instance?”

Any hint of teasing in Emma's expression disappears as she responds seriously, “Of course I would.” Her eyebrows draw together with what appears to be concern, and the comfortable thrill Regina was enjoying in the midst of their usual bickering fades as their gazes meet. “Did you really think I wouldn’t?”

Regina had only been teasing, of course, but seeing the concern on Emma’s face is nothing short of heartwarming. Regina feels her expression soften. “Of course I know that you - oh god, what is he doing here?” Regina interrupts herself with horror, distracted at the approach of a small figure outside. 

Emma spins in place, one arm thrown out protectively as she shields Regina from an unknown entity. The gesture is not at all lost on Regina, but unfortunately she has no time to process it because she’s in the midst of trying to quell what feels like a heart attack. “Wait a second, isn’t that Henry?” Emma asks, turning back to Regina with an incredulous expression. Regina finds herself distantly annoyed that the sheriff still manages to look beautiful even when she’s gaping like an idiot. “Since when are you afraid of your own kid?” She snorts, leaning on Regina’s desk with crossed arms. “Did he commit a felony? You need me to take him to lock up?”

Regina has barely registered any of Emma’s ridiculous banter, her mind churning with how to proceed. The issue at hand is that she had very much planned on keeping Henry far, far away from the sheriff of her town until after Christmas, at which point she would break the news to him that their relationship had ended. No harm done, except to her nerves perhaps, and a festive holiday season besides. 

But now Henry has shown up at her work, something that is far outside of his usual routine, and her plan is unraveling further with each passing second. She rounds on Emma, her mind a quick series of calculations, weighing her son's happiness against her own humiliation. At the look on her face, Emma’s teasing smile quickly dissolves. “Uh, are you okay?” she asks nervously.

Regina stalks towards her with such predatory grace that Emma’s eyes widen, her body freezing like the most vulnerable animal at the watering hole, and draws in a quick gasp of air as Regina’s lethal red fingernails grasp the collar of her completely non-regulation jacket. “Listen to me very carefully, Sheriff,” Regina hisses, their bodies so close she can feel Emma’s badge biting into her hip. “For the next ten minutes, you and I are dating one another, do you hear me?”

Emma blinks at her in disbelief, her mouth dropping open a little. Their faces are so close that the parting of her lips sends a rush of warmth through Regina’s body, but the sound of distant footsteps is rapidly becoming not so distant at all, so she shakes Emma hard enough that a lock of hair escapes her ponytail, falling into her wide, green eyes. “I said do you hear me?!”

“Yes, but since you have apparently lost your goddamn mind I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Emma hisses, her faculties returning to her. Her breathing has become heavy, the fingers of one hand wrapped tightly around Regina’s hip to steady herself from this unexpected mayoral onslaught. 

“There is no time to explain right now, just,” Regina tosses a glance over one shoulder, the sound of Henry checking in at the desk reaching her ears. “Just do this for me,” she hisses, turning back to meet Emma’s bewildered and somewhat hunted expression. “Do this for ten minutes and I will review - really review - your squad car application.” The truth is, she’s already ordered Emma a new squad car. Weeks ago in fact. She is not in the business of having city employees driving around in deathtraps, and Emma’s very well written and completely reasonable request was granted the first time she submitted her application. Regina has simply been toying with her because it’s extremely entertaining to do so. And because, childish though it may be, it means Emma is forced to come and argue with her about it on a regular basis. But as Emma is still under the impression that she will be driving around in that godforsaken jalopy for the rest of her career, she will happily use it as a bargaining chip. 

Emma’s eyes are searching hers, likely trying to find the trap in this, but there is absolutely no time, and Regina takes a step closer still, so close that she can feel Emma’s chest rising against hers with every breath. “Emma, please.” 

There’s a knock at the door before the sheriff has the chance to reply, and Regina releases Emma’s jacket and takes a healthy step back as the door opens and Henry’s small face appears. “Hey mom, I was wondering if - oh, hi Sheriff Swan.”

Regina’s eyes narrow as she sees right through this thinly-veiled attempt at recon. She should have known her son’s curious nature wouldn’t allow him to stay at a distance from his mother’s potential partner for long. He certainly knows her schedule, and that she and the sheriff have meetings twice a week at regular times. Regina finds herself deeply relieved that Emma’s ire had caused her to arrive for their meeting a few minutes early, otherwise she would have been caught completely off guard. “Henry, is everything all right?”

“Oh yeah,” he answers, stepping further inside and shutting the door behind him. His face has that sneaky look to it that tells her he is absolutely up to something, and her palms are starting to sweat - a theme for this holiday season, apparently. “I was just going to tell you that I’m hanging out with Grace at the library for a bit after school today.”

“Great,” Regina replies quickly. “Do let me know when you need a ride home, all right?” She steps forward to usher him out as fast as possible, but Henry clearly has other plans because he ducks to the side and turns to face Emma.

“Well, since I’m here,” he adds mischievously, and a spike of adrenaline shoots through Regina’s veins. “I just wanted to tell the sheriff that I know. About you two,” he clarifies. “And I think that it’s great.”

He beams at Emma, whose spine appears to be collapsing on itself in an attempt to become invisible. Realizing that her hunched posture is doing nothing to remove her from the situation she’s in, she glances at Regina with wild eyes. Regina is unfortunately not in a place to render aid, mostly because she is currently using all of her willpower to have the earth open beneath her 4 inch heels and swallow her whole. She is acutely aware of the fact that Emma hadn’t promised she would go along with anything, and that she is in the perfect position to deliver Regina a rather humiliating blow, one that would absolutely declare her the definitive winner of their years-long competition to best one another - at what, she was never quite sure. 

Emma’s eyes land on Regina’s, holding her gaze for what feels like an eternity. Regina sees something shift in her expression, sees the sheriff swallow heavily before turning back to her son and saying, “Well I’m really glad that you’re okay with it, Henry.” Regina feels a riot of relief and utter humiliation course through her, sagging back against the desk for support.

“Of course,” he nods. “I mean, my mom hasn’t been on a date like, ever, so it’s a little weird but it’s good-weird, you know?”

Surely death by a thousand cuts would be preferable to the last five minutes of Regina’s life. She puts a hand over her eyes for a brief moment of respite, absolutely refusing to look at Emma right now. “Yeah, kid, that makes sense. Change can be weird, but it’s not always bad.” Regina can’t help but notice the gentle way that she’s talking to Henry, something she’s noticed the sheriff do before. She seems to genuinely enjoy it when he stops by to talk with her at town meetings, her eyes lighting up in a particular way. Which typically causes Regina to light up in a particular way. 

“Exactly,” Henry agrees. “Hey, since I know now, maybe you should come for dinner with us some time soon?” he adds hopefully.

Regina drops her hand from her face in horror. Oh dear sweet god, no. “Henry,” she says in a strained voice, “I’m sure the sheriff is far too busy for that right now.”

“Are you?” Henry asks pointedly, his eyes locking on to Emma’s face. She glances from him to Regina, clearly trying to get some sense of what it is she’s supposed to do. But Regina can’t exactly give her a signal under Henry’s watchful eye, and she honestly isn’t sure what she wants Emma’s answer to be in the first place.

“Uh, no, I’m not too busy,” she says after a few moments of panic. “That would be great, if it’s okay with your mom.”

 Henry rocks back on his heels with excitement, his sparkling eyes turning to his mother. “Is it, Mom?”

She hesitates for the barest of seconds, but the look of open excitement on his face, excitement for her no less, is too much for her to say no to. “Of course,” she hears herself say. “How’s Friday, Sheriff?”

“Good, yeah,” Emma nods, an unreadable expression on her face. Regina can only assume she’s waiting until she can flee, and she certainly can’t blame her for that.

“Okay,” Henry smiles. “I’m heading to the library, so I’ll see you Friday!” He throws them a casual wave as he exits, the door closing with finality behind him as a rush of silence follows in his wake. 

Regina can’t bear to look at Emma Swan right now, her eyes fixed on the floor as she crosses her arms over her chest defensively. She braces herself for the teasing to begin, for the demands to know just what in the hell she thinks she’s doing. Instead she feels a gentle hand on her arm, and looks up to see Emma watching her with something akin to concern in her eyes. “Hey, okay?” she asks softly.

The question, so wholly unexpected, pulls the breath from Regina’s lungs. “I’m fine,” Regina replies in a half-whisper, although nothing could be further from the truth. She feels as though she needs to lie down in a dark room for perhaps 28 years or so to recover from the last ten minutes. When Emma doesn’t say anything further she attempts to pull herself together, drawing herself to her full height and smoothing her hands down the front of her dress. “Well,” she says primly. “I suppose I owe you an explanation.”

Emma shakes her head, shoving her hands into her pockets in a characteristic gesture. “Listen, it’s fine, you don’t owe me anything,” she answers quietly. “Except a new squad car,” she adds with a hint of a smile. The gentle teasing allows Regina to relax a fraction, finding herself on familiar ground. 

She scoffs gently, moving a little closer. This time Emma doesn’t shrink from her like she’s about to be maimed, and it helps ease the tension in her spine a little further. “It’s all right,” Regina replies, fixing her gaze on the window outside, focusing on the flurries of snowflakes gathering on her windowpane as she summons the courage to talk. “I do think an explanation is in order, even if it is a humiliating one,” she admits. She looks back at Emma, who is watching her with an expression she doesn’t know how to read. “First of all, I should preface this by explaining that Henry is very passionate about the holiday season. He thinks it’s rather magical. But this year he hasn’t been able to enjoy any of it because he’s..." She pauses, taking a breath before gritting out the words. "Concerned for me.”

“Concerned?” Emma asks, leaning back on the desk. “In what way?”

A wave of embarrassment crashes through Regina’s body at confessing her pathetic situation to the one person she would least like to know. “He’s concerned that I’m...alone. He thinks that I barely have a social life, and no love life at all to speak of.”

Emma nods thoughtfully, and a quiet settles between them for a few long moments. “Well, do you?” she asks at last. “Have any of that, I mean?”

Regina glances up at her, a barbed comment ready on her tongue. But at the look of calm on Emma’s face, god help her, she finds herself responding truthfully instead. “No,” she sighs. “I don’t. I suppose you of all people can understand that I’m not exactly easy to get along with.” Emma smirks but wisely says nothing. “If you’d met my own mother you’d understand, believe me,” Regina retorts. “I suppose I gave up on finding that kind of thing a long time ago. I chose to focus on other ambitions. It never occurred to me that Henry even considered the matter until he approached me yesterday. He was concerned that I would be alone and unhappy for the holidays, and that was making him unhappy, so…”

“So you told him you were seeing someone.”

Regina nods, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Things got out of hand rather quickly.”

“Yeah,” Emma nods, smiling ruefully. “I guess he’s not exactly the kind of kid to take anything at face value.”

“No he is not. I had intended on letting him think that you and I were....”

“Boning?” Emma responds, her eyes sparkling.

“Must you be so incredibly vulgar?” Regina huffs, though several vivid images rip through her mind. 

“I think you know that I must ,” Emma responds, grinning wolfishly as she mimics Regina’s intonation. Regina is about to tear her to pieces just for the fun of it when she remembers the situation they’re in. The realization is also starting to dawn on her that Emma is quite possibly riling her up on purpose because she knows it will give Regina some sense of control, but she cannot allow herself to think that Emma Swan would do such a thing for her. 

“In any case,” Regina continues with a warning glare. “I had intended on telling him that I was ending things with you after the holidays were over. So there wouldn’t be a pall cast over his favorite time of the year.”

“You were going to break up with me?!” Emma sputters, hands clamped over her heart. “Harsh.”

Regina glares at her but doesn’t take the bait, as she must now ask Emma for even more than she has already. “Well now you know what the situation is, for better or worse,” she huffs. “And while I know I’m not exactly in a position to ask anything further of you, I’d like to request that you not disclose this to anyone in town council. I don’t need anyone else knowing how ridiculous I really am,” she says with bitterness. 

“I won’t,” Emma replies solemnly. Her hand twitches as though she’s about to reach out to grasp Regina’s, but she lets it fall to her side. “And by the way, you’re not ridiculous. If anything, this just shows that you’ll do anything to make your kid happy.” She shrugs. “I think it’s actually pretty sweet.”

Regina swallows, ill-prepared for the compliment, not to mention Emma agreeing with her about something. “Sweet?” she scoffs. “I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘insane.’” She runs a hand through her hair with a sigh. “Listen, I will tell Henry you can’t make it to dinner after all. And I will explain that we’re not seeing each other anymore,” she adds. “He’ll get over it. I should have told him earlier but apparently I briefly lost touch with both reality and all sense of good judgement.”

“Oh,” Emma replies, her face sobering a little. “I mean, yeah if you want to do that of course, but…” she tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Well, I could still come,” she offers, shoving her hands back in her pockets as she meets Regina’s incredulous gaze. “If you want,” she adds nonchalantly. “This stuff is just - it’s  important, you know?”

“Christmas?” Regina asks curiously, her eyes searching Emma’s face. 

“What? No,” Emma shakes her head. “I hate Christmas,” she adds distractedly. “Family, I mean. Good memories.” She has a faraway look in her eyes, and Regina finds herself wanting to know just what it is that Emma Swan is thinking of. “Henry is an amazing kid,” she says, in a confessional tone, her eyes returning to the present moment. “And if he’s going to be upset or worried about you this year, I don’t know,” she shakes her head. “I just think that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to keep on pretending. For a little while.”

Regina is staring at the sheriff in disbelief, completely unsure how they’ve arrived here, in a place where Emma Swan is not only agreeing to pretend to be in a relationship with her, but actually arguing the point besides. There’s something hollow in her expression that Regina doesn’t like, a fierceness that belies her words. She thinks this may have meaning for Emma beyond just giving Henry a good Christmas, and so instead of doing the sensible thing and putting an end to this ridiculous facade, she finds herself stepping into Emma’s space for the second time today and asking her, “Are you sure?”

Something slides in place behind Emma’s eyes, and she looks like herself again. The mischievous and irksome woman that Regina has come to know, and begrudgingly admire. “Yeah,” she shrugs, a crooked smile planted on her face. “Why the hell not. ‘Tis the season, right? Besides, maybe he’ll make a believer out of me,” she jokes. Her words are light as she pushes off from the desk and reaches behind Regina to pick up her rejected squad car request. “I’ll leave this in your capable hands,” she winks, pressing the papers into Regina’s arms. 

Regina takes them with irritation, holding them to her chest as she watches Emma head for the door. “Oh and Mayor Mills,” she adds casually, looking over her shoulder with a mischievous grin that has Regina’s heart rate picking up ever so slightly. “Do your very best not to fall in love with me, okay?”

Regina’s outraged sputtering follows her into the hall as she makes a hasty exit, the pages of her request narrowly missing her head as they hit the door frame on her way out.

Well, this is an unmitigated disaster.

Or at least, it will surely turn out to be. Regina has no earthly idea how things could prove to be anything less, given the ridiculous situation she’s gotten herself into. With Henry holed up at the window seat, nose buried in a book as the snow continues to fall, she is trying to focus on her no-fail shepherd's pie recipe. Normally cooking soothes her, following a recipe precisely and methodically has calmed her frantic mind on many occasions, but tonight no amount of mise en place can possibly prepare her for the painful evening to come.

How in god’s name she has allowed herself to get into this mess is absolutely beyond her. She is a grown woman, not to mention the head of this household, and yet somehow she has allowed her ten year old son to corner her into this preposterous scenario. Furious with herself, and not a little irked with Henry, she glances up from chopping potatoes to see him watching her with such loving warmth in his eyes that her own nearly fill with tears.

Oh, yes.

That would be how this whole thing came about. 

She returns his smile warmly and continues to prepare dinner, her eyes nervously glancing at the clock every so often. Emma is due to arrive at six, and with only fifteen minutes shy of the hour, Regina slips out of the kitchen and upstairs to check her makeup. Not that it matters, of course. She’s already lost face with the woman beyond any kind of redemption, but she’ll be damned if she does so with lipstick on her teeth. How she is supposed to face Emma at their next meeting at town hall is something she can’t even begin to fathom. Smoothing down her blouse, she does a final survey of herself. Good enough.

The doorbell rings and she meets her own dark eyes in the mirror for a brief moment of courage before turning on her heel to head downstairs. Henry is pulling open the door as she’s halfway down the staircase and she pauses in surprise as Emma enters into the foyer, smiling wide while Henry ushers her inside. She’s wearing dark jeans and a thick cable-knit sweater, her rather glorious hair, usually tied back for work, is tumbling over her shoulders like something out of a Disney film. As Emma glances up, large eyes landing on Regina frozen on the stairway, she finds herself a little breathless. “Hey,” Emma greets her, dimples prominent on her face.

“Good evening,” Regina answers, making her way down the stairs. “I hope you found the place all right,” she offers a little stiffly. Henry’s eyebrows furrow and she recalls with alarm that of course Emma is already supposed to know where they live, given that they’re dating. 

“Oh, you mean in the snow?” Emma asks smoothly, her eyes full of mischief. “Yeah, it was no problem.” She leans forward swiftly, placing a gentle kiss on Regina’s cheek. The smell of her, something masculine and warm, the feeling of her chilly nose brushing against Regina’s skin causes her to draw a sharp breath in. 

She quickly gathers herself as Emma slips out of her coat, handing a bottle of white wine to Henry. “You mind putting that in the fridge, kid?” she asks with a smile. 

“Yeah, sure!” Henry agrees, his face already lit up at the sight of the two of them side-by-side. Regina is quite certain that she may die of a combination of guilt and humiliation at any given moment, but she still manages to drag her eyes to Emma as her son runs into the kitchen.

“Sorry about the kiss, should have asked you first,” Emma says quickly in a hushed voice. 

Of course, Regina notes with chagrin, the first time Emma apologizes to her in five years it’s for kissing her. “It’s fine,” she waves a hand dismissively. “And thank you for covering for my idiocy,” Regina adds.

“No problem, I’m quick on my feet,” Emma replies with an obnoxious wink that sends a painful jolt of emotion through her stomach. “Besides this is a tiny town and you’re the mayor, of course I know where you live.”  

Henry rushes back from the kitchen at breakneck speed. “Come on, Sheriff, dinner’s almost ready,” he tugs on her sleeve and pulls her in the direction of the kitchen. 

“I think you can call me Emma now, Henry,” she says warmly. “I mean, at least while I’m off duty.”

“Okay, Emma,” Henry replies, pleased with the offer. The two of them strike up an easy conversation about hockey and Henry’s school as Regina puts the finishing touches on dinner. She brings the shepherd’s pie and salad to the table and notices with no small amount of satisfaction that Emma’s eyes widen as she sets the steaming dish in front of her.

“Whoa, that smells amazing.”

“It’s Henry’s favorite,” Regina replies with a soft smile. 

“Well I think it’s about to become mine,” Emma answers honestly. Regina finds a surprised smile, a real one, pulling at her lips, and she quickly turns to uncork the wine so Emma doesn’t think she’s a simpering fool. She pours a glass of juice for Henry as he politely serves the three of them.

“So - how long have you and my mom been dating?” Henry asks, shoveling a large amount of shepherd’s pie into his mouth. 

Emma glances at her quickly, eyes sparkling, and Regina feels a sense of foreboding. “Oh, not super long. I think it’s about what, three months, right babe?”

Regina glares at her, the pet name somehow both thrilling and infuriating at the same time. “I believe that is correct, darling ,” she replies with a hint of sarcasm, sipping her wine. She notes with surprise that Emma’s eyes seem to darken at her words. 

“Did you ask out my mom?” Henry asks, glancing from his mother to Emma.

“Henry, that is hardly -” Regina chastises before Emma cuts her off.

“Oh, it’s all right. Actually, your mom asked me out,” Emma begins, and Regina absolutely does not like the look of mischief blooming on her face. “She basically confessed she had a huge crush on me since, like, forever, and asked if I’d give her a chance. It was super cute,” she adds with an affectionate smile to Regina, who is clearly seething. 

“That doesn’t really sound like my mom,” Henry replies dubiously.

Regina’s chest swells with affection for her son, who knows her so well. However, if she is going to pull this off, she supposes she will need to go along with Emma’s rather colorful version of events. “Well, Emma is paraphrasing a little, but I did indeed pursue her. And I am so very glad I did,” she smiles, kicking Emma swiftly in the shin under the table. Emma, to her credit, barely winces as she takes the opportunity to wolf down half of her dinner. 

“I actually kinda thought you had asked her out because you’re always staring at her and stuff,” Henry says to Emma with a smug grin. “Sorta seemed like you had a crush on her or something,” he adds, taking a sip of juice.

Emma’s eyes have widened in alarm, and oh how very sweet this moment is. Regina watches with extreme satisfaction and a healthy dose of disbelief as Emma’s cheeks color, squirming uncomfortably in her seat. “What? As if,” Emma snorts, though the color of her cheeks leave room for a hearty amount of suspicion. 

“Yuh-huh,” Henry argues, his cheek full of mashed potato. “During the last town meeting you didn’t even see me raise my hand to ask a question because you were staring at my mom for like ten minutes . And I was a concerned citizen,” he adds, pointing his fork at her with accusation.

Regina’s eyes snap back to Emma at this particular revelation, and she almost has it in her to pity the woman as she appears to be wishing the floor would open up and swallow her whole. Regina takes a demure sip of her wine, smirking as she watches Emma’s attempts at recovery. “I -” she sputters. “Whoa, hey, you have short arms okay? I obviously just couldn’t see you. And what ten year old goes to town meetings, anyway?”

“Um, the mayor’s son?” Henry replies with a shrug, his words muffled around the large amount of food in his mouth. Regina has to admit his point is sound.

“Henry, what have I told you about talking with your mouth full,” she chides, though she is smiling so wide as she says it that he hardly takes the chastisement to heart. “Now quit putting Emma on the spot. If she wants to deny her earlier feelings for me then that is no concern of mine,” Regina adds lightly. “I think it’s rather cute, in fact.”

Emma, clearly needing to save face, decides to double down. “You know what else is so cute? All the love letters your mom wrote me to win me over. She admitted she used to daydream about me coming to her rescue, which is kind of embarrassing but also just so adorable.” She smiles affectionately at Regina, reaching across to grasp her hand and subtly wrest Regina’s butter knife out of the death grip she has on it. Given the fact that everything Emma has teased her about thus far has been devastatingly true, Regina isn’t even certain which of them she wants to use it on.

“Gross,” Henry wrinkles his nose in distaste. 

“Well, that will teach you to ask personal questions about your mother’s love life,” Regina scolds. Emma’s fingers are still wrapped around her own on the table, and she finds the feeling to be irritatingly distracting. Her fingers are so warm, her grip so reassuring somehow. She glances across the table at Emma, the candlelight warm on her face, and as their eyes meet Emma’s features become a little more solemn. She clears her throat and removes her hand from Regina’s, going back to her dinner. 

“Perhaps we can change the subject,” Regina offers, taking a deep breath to soothe the absurd butterflies in her stomach. “Why don’t you tell Emma about your project at school?”

With the snow falling outside, the surprisingly easy conversation, and the candles Henry has lit adding a warm glow to their faces, Regina genuinely forgets for a little while the rather odd circumstances that have brought them together. Though it has only ever been the two of them for so very long, it feels natural to have Emma here. It feels right to have that third seat filled, another presence at the table. That is, until her son completely abandons her.

“Well, I’ll let you two have some time together,” he says brightly, clearing their dishes from the table and stacking them obediently in the dishwasher. 

“You what?” Regina asks, a jolt of panic rocketing through her veins. This was never in her plans. She was to have Emma over, feed her, and send her home without further ado. 

“Well, you should hang out without me, you know, talk about grown-up stuff,” he shrugs. “I have to finish my homework.”

“I thought you said you didn’t have any homework,” Regina argues through gritted teeth.

“Did I?” Henry asks innocently. “See you later, Emma!” Henry waves.

“Later, kid,” Emma nods, leaning back with her glass of wine. 

The kitchen door swings shut behind him with finality, and Regina’s eyes fly to Emma’s, who is watching her with amusement. “Well, you certainly had your fun.”

Emma grins, tipping her forehead. “I did, thanks.”

Regina sighs, leaning back in her chair. “I suppose it was the least I could do, considering.”

Emma sips her wine, eyes searching Regina’s face. “I got to hang out with a cool kid and eat really good food. I’d say it was a pretty even deal on both sides.” Regina’s stomach clenches with the unexpected compliment. “So listen,” Emma continues, and Regina has to work to keep her face from falling. Of course she’s had second thoughts, it only makes sense, she’ll just have to - “We should probably come up with some rules for this, right? Guidelines or whatever?”

Regina’s eyebrows raise with a mixture of relief and surprise, and she lifts her own glass, gathering her thoughts as she takes a sip. “Such as?”

Emma blows out a breath. “Well, like for instance, how long should we do this for?”

“Hmm,” Regina muses. “I suppose it wouldn’t do to ruin Henry’s New Year either, so how about sometime after that?”

Emma snorts. “Nothing like getting dumped to start the year off right.”

Regina chuckles into her glass. “Well, if it helps I’ll allow you to dump me. It only seems fair.”

“Very big of you,” Emma concedes, eyes sparkling. “On what grounds?”

“Oh take your pick,” Regina sighs. “Argumentative, irritable, prone to throwing things…”

“But those are all my favorite things about you,” Emma smirks. Regina’s eyes widen at the comment and Emma rubs the back of her head, cheeks flushed. “Anyway, I’m sure I’ll think of something. Okay so, we keep it up until the New Year. What else?”

“Well, perhaps we should try to keep this between us,” Regina offers. “It would save future awkwardness if we don’t have to feign breaking up with one another for the rest of the town in addition to my son.”

“Good thinking,” Emma replenishes their wine glasses, hair rushing over her shoulder. Regina has the strongest urge to tuck it back behind her ear, though Emma does it herself a moment later. “Keep it quiet,” Emma confirms. “What about boundary stuff?” she asks, watching Regina over the rim of her wine glass as she settles back in her chair. “I assume to sell this we will have to touch each other a bit.”

Regina’s stomach clenches yet again. “Yes, I suppose some demonstration of affection is warranted,” she admits coolly.

“Wow, so romantic. I don’t know how you’ve managed to stay single,” Emma comments dryly.

Regina swats Emma on the knee, stifling a laugh. “Holding hands is fine by me,” she confesses. In all honesty she’d be fine with a good deal more than that but she certainly won’t be the first one to admit it.

“That’s it? Seventh graders see more action than that!” Emma snorts. 

Regina scoffs. “What exactly would you like me to say, Sheriff Swan, that you can grab my ass?”

Emma bursts out laughing and the sound fills Regina’s chest. “I mean, who knows? I might have to maintain our cover,” she replies, wiggling her eyebrows ridiculously. 

“On exactly what occasion would that be called for in front of my son?” Regina retorts, raising an eyebrow. 

Emma shrugs. “What if you slip and fall, and I have to -”

“You know what?” Regina interrupts. “You get one. Use it wisely. Let’s move on.”

Emma’s eyes light up with mirth. “Okay but seriously,” she sits up a little, resting her elbows on the table. The gentle light from the candles Henry has lit warms her face with a soft glow. ”Should I put my arm around you? Show you all my PG moves? If you think you can handle the Emma experience that is,” she adds with a smirk.

Regina rolls her eyes. “I think I’ll manage just fine,” she replies dryly, though the thought of Emma putting moves on her is making her chest flush with heat. “PG touching is appropriate. And kissing on the cheek is fine by me. What about you?”

“Yeah, all that is good,” Emma nods. “I’ll give you a freebie ass grab, too,” she winks.

“I think you may be enjoying this too much,” Regina does her best to glare, though she notes that Emma’s smile only widens.

“You’re right,” Emma admits. “I should act like I’m suffering more, or the kid will never buy it.”

“Now you’re getting it,” Regina smiles softly, sipping her wine. She realizes that it’s been a long time since she’s had this much fun, laughed this much. She hadn’t expected it to be this easy, though she supposes they have known each other for years. She wants to be a little afraid, to be suspicious at the warmth and camaraderie Emma is displaying tonight in between their typical needling of one another, but it isn’t coming to her as easily as it usually does. “Will you tell me something?” she finds herself saying.

Emma’s face becomes a little guarded as she shrugs. “Maybe. Depends what it is.”

Regina nods, nervously sweeping her dark hair out of her eyes. Emma’s watchful gaze tracks the movement, listening closely as Regina poses the question.  “Why are you doing this for me?” she asks softly. “Really. I haven’t made your life easy. And I don’t think any squad car would answer for that.” It can’t possibly be that Emma is willing to do this for her simply because Regina asked her to. Could it really have been that simple, all this time? It isn’t possible, she tells herself. 

Emma twists her wine glass in her hands thoughtfully for a moment before she answers. “Because I’m not in the business of ruining a sweet kid’s Christmas, first of all.” 

Regina is watching her closely as something flickers in Emma’s expression. She leans forward, drawn to Emma without realizing. “And second?”

Emma opens her mouth and closes it, shaking her head a little, almost at herself. “And second, I really want to drive a car that doesn’t have a Destiny’s Child tape jammed in the tape deck, okay? There’s only so many times a woman can listen to Survivor without losing her mind,” she grins. There’s a forced quality to her smile though, a tension to her shoulders that tells Regina that isn’t everything. But then she’s not entitled to everything. 

Emma clears her throat. “Anyway, I should probably head out.”

Regina glances at the clock, surprised to see it’s nearly nine. “Right, of course,” she agrees, standing as Emma takes her glass to the kitchen sink, rinsing it carefully. She packs a container of dinner for Emma to take with her, bringing it to the hall as she’s pulling on her things. “Thank you for coming,” Regina says sincerely, pressing the warm container into Emma’s hands.

“Thanks, and thank you for dinner,” Emma replies softly. She watches Regina for a long moment before she steps forward slowly, reaching out to grasp the side of Regina’s face with warm, gentle fingers. Regina’s eyes widen, heart hammering in her chest as Emma leans in and presses a soft kiss to the side of her face, her long hair rushing against Regina’s neck. They’d agreed on this, yes, but Regina hadn’t expected it even in the absence of Henry, and she finds her mind rushing with the possibility of what else could happen when it’s just the two of them. Emma pulls away, the bridge of her nose skimming Regina’s jawline, and it would be so incredibly easy to stop her, to grasp her chin and pull their mouths together. The temptation is overwhelming, Regina’s fingers curled into fists at her sides as she battles against her own will.

“Goodnight, Emma!”

She starts, turning around to see her son waving from the top of the stairs. “Night kid,” Emma waves back. “See you later?” she says more quietly to Regina. Regina can’t find words, disappointment and self-loathing making her throat constrict, so she nods with a tight smile and watches Emma step out into the freezing night. Of course Emma was only kissing her because she knew Henry was there. Of course it was all for show. That’s what this is all about after all, isn’t it? 

That’s all it will ever be.

“So let me get this straight. You and the sheriff are pretending to date so your kid can have a happy Christmas.” Zelena shakes her head, cheeks flushed in the chilly air. “I’m sorry, did I wake up in a Hallmark Movie this morning?”

Regina groans, both in admission to the insanity of her current life situation, and in frustration with the laces of her ice skates. She wrestles her foot into the first skate, feeling like her ankle may shatter in the process. “Would you keep your voice down, for the love of god?!” Regina snarls, pushing her hair behind her ears so she can lace her skate. Even though it had been her own idea to keep this idiotic facade to themselves, she’d caved as soon as she’d run into Zelena this morning. The reality of what she’s committed to felt like too much to bear alone, although now that her loud-mouthed neighbor has gotten wind of things, she’s realizing she should have suffered in silence. 

Zelena cackles to herself as she cradles her thermos of coffee, a knit beanie over her red curls. “Well I have to hand it to you, you’ve gotten closer to the sheriff than I ever did, and not for lack of trying.”

“You what?” Regina drops her skate in surprise. Zelena is the closest thing that Regina has to a friend these days, and while the redhead is something of an open book, even after being neighbors for five years she still manages to surprise Regina on occasion. Regina had attempted to keep her at arm’s length when they had first moved in a few houses down, but Zelena had ignored every social nicety and continued to show up on Regina’s door step at regular intervals with her baby on her hip, for better or worse. Mostly for better, as she had turned out to be fiercely loyal, funny, and dependable as they come. Currently, though, it is most certainly for the worse. “You asked Emma out?”

“You’re damn right I did,” Zelena retorts, watching her daughter Robin skate across the rink with Henry. They’re both in the community center skating lessons together, something that Regina had foolishly forgotten when she had asked Emma to meet them after Henry’s practice. “She’s got that butch-cop energy I love, plus she’s something of a ten.” She glances to see Regina gaping at her and rolls her eyes. “Oh calm down, this was ages ago, long before I knew that you two were locked in some bizarre mating ritual. I would never encroach on your territory, darling.”

Regina growls as she hauls on her other skate. “We are most certainly not -”

“Oh save it,” Zelena waves a hand at her, not even deigning to take her eyes off her daughter on the ice. “I know damn well you pull that woman’s pig tails on a daily basis because you’re too scared to tell her that you’re deeply in --”

“Hey,” Emma interrupts. 

Regina’s eyes widen as her head snaps in the direction of the sheriff’s voice. Emma is standing a mere two feet from her, hands cradling two cups of hot coffee. “Thought you might want something to warm you up,” she gestures with the steaming cups. Horror-struck at the mere thought that Emma might have overheard Zelena’s loudmouthed comments, she gapes at Emma for a few long seconds, fruitlessly scrutinizing her expression, before choking out a reply. “Oh, that’s…”

“Unprecedented?” Emma smirks.

Regina feels the tightness in her chest ease. Surely Emma wouldn’t be joking with her if she’d heard Zelena’s accusations. Accusations that Regina is starting to admit to herself with abundant horror are true, given that there are five iterations of squad car applications on her desk to prove it so. If that isn’t the bureaucratic version of pigtail tugging she doesn’t know what is. “I was going to say kind,” she responds, reaching out for the cup. The warmth of the coffee seeps into her palms, and she allows the feeling to ground her before she completely spirals out. “Thank you,” she adds, sipping at the beverage.

Emma’s face softens into a pleased smile that warms her even more thoroughly than the coffee does, much to Regina’s dismay. “Hello, Sheriff Swan. I’m here too,” Zelena adds helpfully, the grin on her face nearly feral as she takes in the two of them.

“No you’re not. The lesson is over which means you are more than welcome to take your leave at any time,” Regina offers.

“Hey Zelena,” Emma adds with a tight smile. Clearly Zelena’s attempts at wooing the sheriff were memorable. “Uh, I’m gonna go grab my skates,” Emma adds, jamming a thumb in the direction of the lockers. Regina nods, setting her cup down to finish lacing her own. She can feel Zelena’s gaze burning into the side of her face as she yanks on the laces with a grunt. 


“Oh nothing,” Zelena replies airily. “Merely enjoying the show. Which of you will turn out to secretly be royalty, I wonder?” she sighs dramatically to herself. “These Hallmark movies always have to have some vague monarchy involved.”

“Would you stop?” Regina hisses. “I realize I’ve put myself into a completely idiotic position but at this point the only way out is through.”

“Through marriage to the undercover princess of a distant kingdom, yes indeed,” Zelena adds thoughtfully. 

Regina’s deep growl of frustration is lost in the chaos of fifteen children clamoring their way off the ice. Zelena is mercifully swept away by her equally loudmouthed offspring, who immediately demands to be fed, as Henry makes his way to Regina. “Hey mom,” he smiles warmly, his nose red from the cold of the outdoor rink. 

“Hello my boy. Not too tired to skate a little longer, I hope?” she grins as he pecks a kiss to her cheek. 

“Nope, I’m looking forward to it,” he replies with a dimpled smile, and she realizes that he’s being completely honest. Not many ten year old boys are this invested in spending time with their mothers, surely. She catches sight of Emma striding toward them in hockey-style skates with a level of confidence that is both surprising and somewhat unfortunate, as she has some idea of how this is going to play out.

“Hey kid,” Emma ruffles Henry’s hat askew and he laughs as it falls over his eyes. “You ready?”

Henry nods, straightening his hat. “Yep. You good, mom?”

“I think so,” Regina nods, stepping forward carefully. 

“Whoa, hang on,” Emma halts her with a hand on her shoulder. “Who tied those skates?”

Regina crosses her arms, eyes narrowing. “I did.”

Henry shoots Emma a look of warning which she reads loud and clear, and then promptly ignores. “Right, yeah, you did a great job. But how about I tie them so you don’t break an ankle?”

“I hardly see the problem,” Regina argues, but Emma is already bustling her back to the bench. “I think I know how to tie laces, Sheriff,” she says archly. 

“They’re different than shoes, Regina,” Emma scolds. “They have to be tight or you’ll hurt yourself.” Regina’s eyebrows raise at the lecture, watching Emma’s deft fingers rush over the laces, tightening and tying them with practiced ease. She meets Henry’s eye who shrugs with a somewhat impressed look on his face, whether it’s with Emma’s boldness at ordering her around, or her knowledge of skating equipment, she’s unsure. But the sight of Emma knelt at her feet, head bowed with concentration, is not something she thought she would see today, and she’s most definitely not prepared for the rush of heat that it produces in places she would rather not have it. “There, try that,” Emma announces, unwittingly pulling her from her spiral.

She reaches down to help Regina to her feet, strong hands on her biceps. Standing, Regina is momentarily distracted by Emma’s proximity, the dusting of freckles on her cheeks, before her irritation takes the forefront at the notable improvement in the way her skates feel.  They’re far more secure, her ankles protected. She glances at Emma haughtily. “It’s a small improvement, I suppose,” she concedes.

Emma rolls her eyes. “That means thank you,” Henry interprets. “And that she likes it.”

Emma’s eyes light up as Henry makes his way to the ice, clearly loving the way that Regina’s nostrils flare with anger. “You two are not going to become a united front, do you hear me?” Regina scolds, allowing Emma to drag her to the edge of the rink. 

“Hey, talk to the kid, I just work here,” Emma laughs, helping Regina gingerly onto the ice.

“You what?” Regina asks, clinging to the edge of the rink for dear life. 

Emma skates backwards with confidence, clearly at home on the ice. “I’m the volunteer coach for peewee hockey.”

Regina has no idea how this information escaped her notice, but she finds the knowledge to be disconcertingly heartwarming. She watches Emma and Henry race around the rink, smiling and laughing, Emma at times weaving around Henry or skating backwards as they chat. If she weren’t already strapped to thin strips of metal and teetering on a sheet of ice, she might still feel like the ground was a little unsteady beneath her feet. After a couple of laps they slide to a halt in front of Regina. “Are you just going to cling there this whole time?” Emma asks with a smirk. 

“She doesn’t know how to skate,” Henry offers helpfully.

“I most certainly can skate,” Regina argues, raising her chin stubbornly. “It’s the stopping I still have a little trouble with.”

Emma chuckles warmly, her arms crossing. “Come on, we’ll show you. Won’t we Henry?” she elbows Henry who nods enthusiastically. So much for not teaming up against her. Emma holds out her hands and Regina eyes her warily before reaching out and grasping Emma’s fingers. “Bend your knees a little more, you look like a giraffe learning to walk,” Emma notes with a grin. Regina growls at her indignantly, but follows instructions. She finds the advice immediately makes her feel more sturdy, which annoys her deeply. 

“There you go,” Emma nods with approval. The soft warmth of her voice makes Regina’s stomach flip. Emma’s fingers are wrapped around her own, towing her like a toddler around the ice, teaching her the basics of breaking. It’s quite a lovely afternoon, the air cold and crisp, but sunny too. The setting sun is igniting Emma’s hair, warming her face with its golden hue, and Regina finds herself thoroughly lost in the moment. They do a few laps until Regina actually feels for the first time in her life like she’s in a little control on the ice, able to come to a wobbling stop. Emma releases one of her hands and moves to skate next to her as Henry races laps around them. 

“Have I graduated from toddler to preschooler then?” Regina remarks with chagrin at their new formation.

“Something like that,” Emma smiles, her dimples deepening. It isn’t lost on her how good Emma’s hand feels in hers, how inexplicably normal. She certainly wishes it were lost on her, though. “So tell me, why exactly did you propose a skating outing when you don’t know how to skate?” Emma asks with a teasing lilt to her voice.

Regina huffs, glancing at Henry’s beaming face as he races past them with a wave. “Well I usually loiter by the exit and Henry checks in every few laps. I figured you could join me in holding on to the rails for dear life, but clearly I had no idea I was inviting a ringer to the mix.”

Emma chuckles. “Why cling to the edges when you can learn to skate instead?”

“Because I don’t fall down when I’m clinging to the edges,” Regina replies bluntly. 

Emma glances at her, eyes lit up in the setting sun. “Well, that sounds pretty boring. I mean, sure falling sucks but otherwise how else are you going to learn?”

“Learn to do what?” Regina muses. “Injure and embarrass myself?”

Emma rolls her eyes. “Learn to get back up, dummy,” she chides. “And from there, I don’t know, maybe relax and have some actual fun? Do you ever do that?” Only when I’m arguing with you. Regina shoves the thought aside. It’s true that she’s never been good at just relaxing and letting her guard down around others, except for Henry. Though she has fairly good reasons for that. 

Regina holds her gaze, thoughts skimming over her choices in life. She’s certain Emma is expecting a snarky response, but instead she finds herself admitting the actual truth. “I suppose I don’t, really. But I’m starting to think that I’d like to.” She tears her gaze from Emma’s, and the look of pleasant surprise on her face at Regina’s honest answer. As she looks away, her eyes land on a streak of red as a teenaged daredevil whizzes into their path. Startled, Regina jumps a little, only to remember that she is most certainly not in a position to be jumping right now. She instantly loses her balance and pitches backwards, Emma valiantly tries to stop her fall but only gets yanked down on top of her for the trouble. 

Regina’s outstretched wrists smash painfully on the ice as she tries to break her own fall, legs tangled in Emma’s as they land in a heap. The sheriff is half lying on top of her, hair spilling over Regina’s chest as she groans and pushes herself up on an elbow. “Ow,” she hisses, wincing. “You okay?” she asks, eyes scanning Regina for an injury. 

“I’m fine, but that teenaged maniac certainly won’t be when I’m finished with him,” Regina snarls. She gingerly sits up only to find Emma’s face inches from hers. 

“Cool your jets, Madam Mayor,” Emma chuckles, moving back a little, her knees bracketing Regina’s. “He wasn’t even that close to you.”

“Not that close?!” Regina protests. “He nearly killed me!”

“Okay, Nancy Kerrigan,” Emma smirks. “I’ll make sure to ticket him for speeding on the way out. Now seriously, did you hit your head?” she asks, reaching out to palpate the back of Regina’s head. Only having Emma leaning over her with a look of caring, fingers sliding through her hair, is not something Regina is prepared to tolerate. 

“I’m fine,” she says breathlessly. “Just my wrists, if you must know. They took the brunt of both our weight, since you insisted on landing on top of me.”

Emma scoffs, choking out a laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding me, you pulled me on top of you as I was rescuing you heroically.”

“Oh is that how you rescue women? Perhaps I should review your department protocols,” Regina snipes. “Because my wrists certainly don’t feel like they’ve been rescued so much as pummeled.”

“Would you like me to kiss them better, your majesty?” Emma counters. Before Regina can answer, Emma grasps her arms and pulls them towards herself, pressing a gentle kiss to each of the inside of Regina’s aching wrists. The feeling of Emma’s warm mouth on Regina’s freezing skin, the sight of her lashes resting on freckled cheeks as she closes her eyes, is enough to pull the breath from Regina’s lungs. She only hopes that Emma can’t feel the rapid pulse in her wrists beating wildly against those full lips. “There,” she says smugly, Regina’s hands still cradled in her own. “All better?”

Regina knows she’s intentionally being a brat, her eyes full of mocking, but the truth is her wrists do feel better. In fact her whole body is thrumming with heat, her lips parting with about a half-dozen things she’s forcing herself not to say. Emma’s smile fades just a little, her eyes widening a fraction before Henry’s face appears behind her shoulder. 

“Mom! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart,” Regina reassures him. “Just a little spill.” She allows Emma to help her to her feet, dusting herself off. “See? No harm done.”

“Do you want to go in?” Henry asks, his face still full of concern.

“Why don’t we do a few more laps and then warm up with some hot chocolate?” Emma suggests. “Better to move a bit after a fall so you don’t stiffen up.”

Regina nods. “Of course,” she says to Henry. “A few more laps.” Emma takes her hand again and she hates the comfort it brings her as she wraps her fingers tightly around the sheriff’s. 

“If I see that hooligan I’ll make sure to body check him for you,” Emma says playfully. 

Regina laughs softly as they start to move together around the ice. “How gallant of you, knocking over children.”

“Who says chivalry is dead,” Emma grins. The light has started to fade, and as they meet eyes the Christmas lights circling the rink flicker on, washing them in reds and greens. Regina finds herself smiling at Emma, at the lightness of the moment. “Feeling better?” Emma asks, pulling her gaze from Regina’s.

After a quick self-assessment Regina finds that movement does indeed help, all hint of pain gone from her aching limbs. “I am. And you?”

“Oh I’m pretty good at taking spills on the ice, no harm done,” Emma waves a hand dismissively. “See what I mean now?” she asks, the Christmas lights sparkling in her eyes. Regina raises her eyebrows in confusion as Emma looks at her again with a soft smile on her face. 

“Falling isn’t so bad.”

The winter air is so crisp Regina’s chest aches a little as she walks towards Henry’s school, sturdy boots crunching in the packed snow. The sun, already beginning to lower in the sky though it’s barely three o’clock, is lighting up the snow capped streets of Storybrooke, making it look like a glittering, picture postcard. Henry loves the holiday season, but Regina has always loved winter for the season itself. She loves the way the cold makes her feel alive, she loves waking up to snow blanketing the world, the stinging in her cheeks as she comes in from the chill. This year she feels a little different though, a little more special than most. But she won’t allow herself to consider why that is, her mind skating briefly over the thoughts before moving on to safer places.

The sound of a delighted shriek pulls her from her thoughts, and she looks up to see Henry running towards her with his scarf trailing behind him like a cape, knit hat sliding back on his head. Two other young boys and a girl are giving chase close behind him, but scatter in all directions at the sight of Regina. “Mom, catch!” he squeals, tossing her something that glitters brightly in the late afternoon sun. She reaches out instinctively and catches it as he dashes past her, looking down to see a stellate brass badge in her palms, the words Storybrooke Sheriff’s Department emblazoned across its face.

A smirk pulls itself across her lips as she looks up to see a very disgruntled sheriff come careening around the corner of Storybrooke Elementary, boots kicking up snow as she looks left and right for her target. She catches sight of Regina and her face takes on a very distinct son of a bitch expression, which only makes Regina’s smirk widen into a full, mocking smile. “Lose something, Sheriff?” she calls, raising her eyebrows. For once, Emma is wearing her regulation jacket, beige leather with a sheepskin collar, and Regina notes that it’s a little too big for her. For some reason she finds that absolutely endearing, and she has to push the thought aside as the rankled sheriff walks up to her, cheeks pink in the cold.

“These children are a bunch of delinquents,” she greets, hands on her hips. Her hair is pulled back in a low bun, and coupled with her professional attire Regina can only assume she’s here on business. 

“It takes one to know one, Sheriff Swan,” Regina replies.

Emma snorts, her breath steaming in the chill air. “I was giving my monthly safety seminar to the kindergarten class and left my coat unattended. I didn’t realize I was in a den of thieves.”

“So you mean to say that you were outsmarted and outrun by a bunch of children,” Regina muses, relishing this moment. “I really am going to have to review those department training policies.”

“As if you have any jurisdiction over that.” Emma glares at her. “And might I point out that your own son was one of them?”

Regina props a hand on her hip. “Innocent until proven guilty, or have you forgotten?”

“You’re holding the evidence in your goddamned --”

“Henry Mills,” Regina interrupts. Maternal instinct tells her that her boy is hovering several yards away behind a Douglas fir. “Here, now.

Henry appears from his hiding spot, sidling up next to Regina. “Hi,” he says uncertainly. 

Regina doesn’t take her eyes off of Emma as she instructs her son. “Explain.”

She hears a weary sigh. “Carter stole Emma’s badge, so I stole it from him - but only to give it back!”

“Then why is it in my hand and not with its rightful owner?” she glances down at him.

“I figured it would be safer with you, they’re all terrified of you.”

Regina grins, cat-like. “Well, at least someone is able to maintain some level of authority in this town.” Emma crosses her arms, trying to look irritated, though she’s clearly hiding a smile.

“I trust you’ve learned not to accuse my son of delinquency,” Regina concludes, holding up the badge. Emma reaches to take it and Regina pulls it out of reach, eyebrows raised. 

Emma sighs at her, conceding. “Thanks for the assist, Henry,” she says in an official-sounding tone. She pauses to smile at him with genuine affection, and Regina’s heart feels like it’s being squeezed by a powerful hand. “And hey, sorry I briefly thought you were a hardened criminal,” she adds. 

“Don’t worry about it, happens all the time,” Henry grins. 

Regina rolls her eyes. “Henry, go get your things, I have to pick up some groceries for dinner.” Henry salutes her and races off towards his classroom, leaving the two of them facing each other. 

“Well,” Regina says softly, shifting in place with a sudden bout of nerves. The snow crunches under her boots, underlining the movement. “I believe this belongs to you,” she finishes, sweeping a gloved thumb across the surface of Emma’s shining badge. She steps forward into Emma’s space, reaching out to smooth down the collar of her jacket. She notes that Emma swallows heavily as she leans in a little closer to fasten the badge to her coat. Regina glances up as she’s finished, her eyes catching Emma’s, their faces close. “There,” she says in a hushed voice. “How’s that?”

“Yeah,” Emma nods, her eyes a little dazed. ”Good.”

“Sheriff Swan!” The two of them look over to see Henry's teacher Mary Margaret making her way over to them through the snow, her impractical flats clearly not up to the job. Regina quickly steps away from Emma, leaving a wide border of space between them as Mary Margaret approaches, her unbuttoned coat flapping in the chill air in her haste. “Hi Mayor Mills,” she greets Regina before turning back to Emma. “I nearly forgot to give you these,” she explains, smiling sweetly. “Thank you cards from the kids,” she hands a bundle of clumsily folded papers to Emma. “They loved the sledding and snow safety seminar.”

“Thank you,” Emma says softly, glancing down at the one on top. It has the words “THANK U SHERF” in large block letters on the front, accompanied by a crude drawing of a stick figure with a large amount of yellow hair. A grin spreads across Emma’s face as she holds it out to Regina. “What do you think? Does it capture my beauty?”

“Not even close,” Regina muses, before she even realizes what she’s said.

Emma’s eyebrows raise a little, Regina’s cheeks flushing with embarrassment as Mary Margaret interjects. “Your safety seminars are a real hit with the kids. Sorry about your badge, by the way.” She turns to Regina with a dramatic whisper. “I think more than a few of them have a little crush on the sheriff.”

Emma scoffs. “Please.”

Mary Margaret laughs, wrapping her coat closer around herself. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell them you’re taken.”

“I’m what?” Emma asks quizzically, at the same time Regina interjects with a stern, “I beg your pardon?” 

“Oh, Henry told me about you two,” she explains, smiling wider. “I think it’s so great. What a power couple!” The wind picks up and she ducks her chin into her coat. “Okay I’d better get back inside. See you both later!” she tosses a wave over her shoulder as she hurries indoors. 

The wind pulls Regina’s hair into her eyes as she turns to Emma, a rock in the pit of her stomach as Mary Margaret's words fall heavily around them. “It’s completely my fault,” she says in a hushed voice. “I forgot to ask him to keep it private.” So stupid, she curses herself. “I can go and tell her it was just a misunderstanding,” Regina offers, turning to chase after Mary Margaret. 

A hand on her shoulder stops her, Emma turning Regina back to face her. “Hey, it’s okay,” she says gently. She reaches out and sweeps Regina’s dark hair out of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear in a surprisingly gentle gesture that makes Regina’s breath catch. “If Mary Margaret knows about it, then I think it’s safe to say the whole town already knows too,” Emma explains. Regina shuts her eyes with humiliation, knowing that Emma is absolutely right. 

“We can just stop this now, I completely understand,” Regina offers. Of course she won’t want to keep up this ridiculous charade, who in their right mind would --

“No, we don’t have to do that,” Emma shakes her head as she steps closer, her eyes serious. “Listen, it’s not a big deal. I’m overdue for a little scandal, this is a small town and I’ve managed to stay below radar more or less.”

“Well you’re certainly on the radar now,” Regina grumbles. 

“Dead center,” Emma smiles. “Don’t worry about it.”

Regina watches her face closely, trying for the hundredth time in the last few days to understand this new version of Emma, this softer version that doesn’t tease or rankle her at every opportunity, that doesn’t match every spiked comment in kind. She’s starting to allow herself to see that perhaps this is the real Emma, or at least the part of her that exists when her defenses are down and Regina isn’t lobbing paperwork at her head. Before she can respond, she sees Henry approaching out of the corner of her eye, his red hat bright against the white snow. She can’t help but notice how happy he’s been lately, his face lit up as he runs towards them, and that particular combination of warmth and guilt washes over her. She glances over and thinks that Emma must see his joy too, her eyes full of affection as he bounds over. “Mom, did you ask her?” he pants, looking from Regina to Emma.

“No, not yet,” Regina stalls. She glances back to Emma. She’d hesitated to call her and ask to do something together again so soon after skating. They hadn’t exactly devised a schedule of how this was going to play out, and she’s loath to take any more of Emma’s time than she has to. “Tomorrow is the first of December, which is a special day in our household. Henry and I were wondering if you’d like to come over and help decorate our tree, and celebrate a little.”

“Of course, I’d love to,” Emma nods. Regina can’t help but notice that her enthusiasm sounds genuine. 

“Wonderful,” Regina nods. There’s a long pause as the two of them look at each other, sizing up the moment. Well, the secret is out, or at least a part of it. And since they’re sort-of together, it only makes sense for her to say goodbye to her partner properly. Regina takes a step closer, grasping the edges of Emma’s coat as she leans in and presses a long kiss to Emma’s cheek, her skin chilled in the icy air. She feels Emma take a breath in, her hands resting on Regina’s hips as she leans in just a little. Regina pulls back, breathless though the moment was as chaste as they come. “Until then, see that this stays with you,” she taps a gloved finger to the badge on Emma’s chest, a teasing smile on her lips. “Sheriff.”

Emma laughs a little breathlessly, shooting a smile at Henry before turning back to Regina and placing a solemn palm over her heart. 

“I’ll do my very best.”

“Like this?”

“No way, there’s a huge gap at the back. You can’t have any dead space like that Emma, it won’t look right.”

“Okay who died and made you the ten year old authority on Christmas light distribution?”

“Mom!” Henry’s voice reaches Regina in the kitchen, where she’s making hot chocolate for Henry and some rum and eggnog for herself and Emma. She’s been listening to them bicker gently with one another for the past five minutes, a bemused smile playing on her lips. Clearly they’ve reached an impasse. She sighs heartily and heads out to them, setting the drinks on the table next to the tree. It’s started to snow again, the yard blanketed with a pristine layer of white. The outdoor Christmas lights are lighting up the snow with a warm glow, and inside the room is lit with the warmth from the crackling fireplace. Paired with the gentle holiday music Henry has put on, it almost feels too perfect. 

She reminds herself yet again that this isn’t real as she goes to intervene, crossing her arms as she observes Emma half hidden behind the tree. “Alright, what’s happening here?” she asks with amusement. 

“Your son is being militant about the arrangement of these lights is what’s happening,” Emma’s disgruntled voice explains from behind the tree. She’s on her hands and knees, body on display as she bends over to try and arrange the lights to Henry’s liking.

 Regina doesn’t even attempt not to stare as she points out helpfully, “He’s right, there’s a gap just there.” She takes a sip of her eggnog to hide her laughter as Emma swears under her breath.

“Now I’m seeing where he gets it from, it makes so much sense,” Emma mutters, though when she crawls out from under the tree with mussed hair, her sweater catching on a wayward branch, she has an amused smile on her face. Regina clicks her tongue and leans down, freeing Emma from where she’s struggling to untangle herself. She pauses to smooth out the snarls from Emma’s long hair, combing her fingers through the blonde tresses to pull out a few lingering pine needles. Emma’s eyes are locked on her face as Regina realizes what she’s doing, but surely this is the type of thing that people in relationships do for one another? Still, she pulls her hand away, clearing her throat as she hands Emma the glass of eggnog she’s holding. “Your reward,” she says placatingly. 

Emma takes the drink gratefully. “Thanks, babe.” The comment was off-handed enough that Regina is fairly certain Emma isn’t even aware she’s said it at all, and she turns around to pass Henry his drink as she processes that possibility. 

“Much better, Emma,” Henry says with approval as he takes the drink from his mother. He’s been positively beaming the whole day, and Regina’s heart is so full of her boy she is reminded yet again that she would do anything, no matter how foolish, to keep him smiling the way that he is. 

“Thanks, boss,” Emma rolls her eyes, sipping her eggnog. They’re surrounded by boxes of Christmas ornaments yet to be hung, and garlands of dried cranberries Henry made himself. “Got enough decorations?” she asks with chagrin, picking up the star for the top of the tree and spinning it in her hands. 

“That one goes on last,” Henry points out. 

“Why?” Emma asks, setting it back in its box and picking up an ornament that Henry made in preschool. It’s an impression of his tiny hand, and she smiles to herself in a way that makes Regina’s throat tight.

“I don’t know,” Henry shrugs, having contemplated her answer. “It's just how we do it.”

“Who knew Christmas had so many rules,” Emma comments dryly. Henry ignores her as the song changes on their Christmas playlist, the first notes of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas filling the room. 

“This is my favorite Christmas song,” he informs her, picking up an ornament and hanging it on the tree. Emma follows suit, taking a decoration at random and placing it on a branch. “What’s yours?” Henry asks, sifting through the piles of decorations for his next choice.

Regina realizes she’s staring, so she steps forward to start decorating as well, but she doesn’t miss the tension rising in Emma’s shoulders as she does so. “I guess I don’t have one,” she answers softly. 

“Oh,” Henry answers thoughtfully. “What about a Christmas movie?” he asks. “Which one do you like best?” Regina’s lips part, ready to tell Henry to take it easy, but she can’t really do so without acknowledging Emma’s discomfort, and she isn’t sure if that will make things worse. She recalls the moment in her office, barely two weeks ago now though it feels like a lifetime, when Emma had dismissively remarked that she hates Christmas. It hadn’t really registered at the time, Regina so full of distress about the situation she’d found herself in, but it certainly registers now. And it makes it even more confusing that Emma has agreed to all this, to engaging in the holiday she seems to despise. 

“I don’t have one of those either,” she answers calmly, shrugging.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know,” Emma answers simply, though the look in her eyes tells Regina that she knows precisely why. They’re lit with the sparkling lights from the tree, a few facets of a shining Christmas bauble causing fractals of gold light to glitter across her cheeks. “I guess I just don’t see the big deal with Christmas stuff. Why do you like it so much?” she asks. Her tone is curious, light, but Regina is well aware that there’s more going on here than Emma is indicating. 

“Because it’s when my mom and I became a family,” Henry explains, turning to smile at Regina in a way that causes her to melt. 

“You mean when you were born?” Emma clarifies, pausing to look at him.

“No, today is my Gotcha Day,” he says proudly, placing a bauble on the tree. “December first.”

Emma’s eyebrows are drawing together with confusion, her hand paused halfway to the tree. Regina’s fingers tighten around her glass, though she can’t quite say why. “What is that?”

“The day I was adopted,” Henry explains further. “I was just a baby, so I don’t remember it. But the holidays remind me of it.” He shrugs. “It makes them more special. It's where the magic comes from.” Regina pulls him against her, overwhelmed with love for her son as she watches Emma carefully school her face into a mask of calm. 

“You’re adopted?” she asks, her hand with the ornament lowering to her side.

“Yeah,” Henry nods. “You didn’t know that?”

“I guess I didn’t,” she says thoughtfully, her eyes locked on his face for a few long moments. “Well,” she smiles, breaking the spell of stillness. “Happy Gotcha Day, Henry. Your Christmas love is totally making sense now,” she nods. 

“Thanks. Maybe you can love it too,” Henry offers. “If you try.”

Emma nods, setting the ornament she’s holding back in the box. “Yeah,” she says tightly. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” 

Henry smiles, clearly feeling he’s pulled the sheriff one step closer to being a holiday-maker as he triumphantly continues decorating the tree. Emma excuses herself, setting down her glass and heading for the bathroom down the hall. Regina frowns as she exits, battling with herself as to whether she should follow. Surely Emma isn’t interested in discussing whatever this is about with Regina of all people. She should give Emma space to sort this out on her own, clearly. But the look on Emma’s face as she leaves the room sticks with Regina enough that after twisting her glass thoughtfully in her hand for another moment, she sets it down and turns to go. “I’ll be right back sweetheart,” she tells Henry, leaving him humming Christmas carols to himself. 

Regina makes her way down the hall, debating for several long moments before she knocks on the door to the bathroom. “Emma?” she says softly. 

There’s no reply from through the door, at least not one that she can hear. She considers leaving it alone, taking Emma’s silence as answer enough, but again something stops her from walking away. Squaring her shoulders, she twists the handle and finds it unlocked, so she pushes the door open and steps tentatively inside. The sight of Emma sitting on the closed lid of the toilet with her face in her hands is not one that she had expected, and she freezes at the image before her. She’s seen Emma angry, yes, and passionate. But she’s never seen her vulnerable or hurt, and it occurs to her in the moment that Emma has always presented herself as so tough, so impervious to Regina’s biting comments that she’d never considered the possibility of her like this.

Emma’s head snaps up at the movement, her face dry of tears but something dark lingering in her eyes. “What the hell ?” she hisses, standing. “Do you usually just barge into bathrooms when you have guests over?”

Regina actually finds the anger on her face comforting - this she knows how to deal with. She shuts the door behind her, crossing her arms. “Well you didn’t answer, I wanted to make sure you hadn’t fallen in, dear,” she retorts. 

Emma scoffs, moving closer to Regina in the confined space. “Well - I’m fine. Thanks,” she adds, shoving her hands in her pockets. 

“Yes, as evidenced by the fact that you’re hiding in my bathroom.” Emma scowls, moving to push past Regina as she reaches for the door handle. “Wait a second,” Regina reaches forward, placing her hand on Emma’s wrist. Emma pauses, head angled towards Regina warily. “Are you all right?” she asks gently. Emma’s eyebrows raise a fraction, and after a moment of internal debate she drops her hand from the door handle, leaning up against the sink with her arms crossed protectively over herself. 

She’s quiet for a few long moments, and Regina chooses patience in the face of whatever internal battle is being waged behind Emma’s eyes. Eventually she speaks in a soft rush of words. “You never mentioned that Henry was adopted.”

Regina blinks at the non-sequitur, hackles rising. “Why should I have? He’s my son, that’s all anyone needs to know.” She’s never hidden the fact that Henry is adopted, but she doesn’t feel the need to differentiate him in that way either. His birth parents were both juniors in high school when he was conceived, they still receive a card from the two of them every year on his birthday. While Henry has never opted to make contact, she supports him in that if he chooses to. No matter what some hot-headed sheriff thinks of it. 

“No, that’s not -” Emma shakes her head, holding up a hand. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s a great thing, a really great thing,” she adds, her voice cracking a little. She clears her throat, looking at the floor for a moment. Regina feels her ire leave her body as quickly as it came, at the flash of pain evident on Emma’s face. She steps a little closer to her, and in the tight space of the bathroom they’re a bare few inches apart.

“Then what is it?”

Emma shakes her head, and Regina notices a stray pine needle nestled in her long hair, which causes her heart to squeeze with affection. “I was adopted this time of year too,” Emma explains, Regina’s eyebrows raising with surprise. “Sort of,” she adds with a shrug. “Didn’t stick.” Regina has a feeling that that shrug encompasses an extraordinary amount of pain. Her mouth parts as she searches Emma’s face. She’s never heard Emma speak of any family, and she had always assumed it was because Emma didn’t care to share that part of herself with Regina. But now, as she watches her struggle to keep her composure, she’s realizing there’s another reason for that entirely. “It was a long time ago, it doesn’t matter,” she says finally, though it sounds like she’s trying to convince herself more than anything. “The holidays just bring up a lot of stuff for me I guess. I just didn’t think that it would be so…” 

Regina has the overwhelming and foolish desire to pull Emma against her in this moment, but is entirely unsure of how this will be received. Instead she steps even closer in the crush of the bathroom and takes Emma’s hand in hers, squeezing it firmly. “Emma, listen to me. I know I don’t have the best way of showing it, given that I regularly throw things at your head,” she admits, her heart already starting to race at the prospect of her own confession. She sees Emma’s lip quirk with amusement, and it helps her to go on. “But I about you,” she spits out. Emma’s eyes lock on her own at the admission, and she swallows heavily. It isn’t exactly a declaration of undying love, but it’s far more concrete than forcing Emma to fill out copious amounts of paperwork in her office. And considering what Emma has revealed to her, perhaps something she needed to hear. “So if this is going to be too painful for you, then you don’t have to stay,” she explains. “You’ve done enough for us, and I am very appreciative of that.” she nods. 

Emma shakes her head, tightening her fingers around Regina’s. “No, fuck that,” she curses softly. “Henry is a special kid,” she admits. “And I want to make sure he gets to keep this holiday magic of his. So what if I’ve had a shit Christmas in the past?” she shrugs. “It doesn’t mean they all have to be that way.”

“Are you sure?” Regina asks, her voice soft. Their faces are mere inches apart, fingers clutched tightly to one another as she searches Emma’s face. 

“Yes,” Emma replies in a half whisper. Her eyes drop to Regina’s lips for just a moment before she drags them up to connect with Regina’s own. They hold each other’s gaze for a few long moments, until the sound of breaking glass causes them both to start.

Henry’s voice reaches them through the door. “Oops! Sorry, mom!”

They both laugh softly as the tension of the moment fades. Emma gives her hand a final squeeze before dropping it and opening the door, making her way toward the living room. Henry trots over to meet them. “I had an incident,” he admits. “But it wasn’t a special one,” he promises. “I’ll clean it up!” He’s got a ring of chocolate on his top lip that is causing Regina’s heart to skip a beat with affection as he reaches into the box he’s holding and picks up the star. “Anyway, I finished decorating the tree. You wanna do the honors?” he asks Emma, eyebrows raised. 

Emma’s eyes are full of something again, but this time Regina notes it isn’t darkness or tension. Her gaze is lit with warmth as she takes the star gingerly from Henry and holds it in her cupped hands. Emma looks down at her son and smiles brighter than the perfectly placed lights ringing their tree. 

“I’d love to.”

Regina spends the majority of the following days forcing herself not to think of various things. Fraught moments in her bathroom, the feeling of strong fingers wrapped around her own, beautiful green eyes sparkling with mirth and Christmas lights. The moment wherein Emma placed the star on top of their family tree in particular is haunting Regina somewhat relentlessly. The reluctant joy on her face, like she was afraid to allow herself to enjoy the moment, as though it might be taken away. Regina knows perfectly well that one cannot simply declare their childhood trauma over and place it firmly in the past, of course. But the fact that Emma is willing to process her complicated upbringing in order to move forward and allow herself some joy is rather extraordinary to Regina. 

She finds that she is just as reluctant as Emma to allow herself to get too comfortable, though for different reasons entirely. She has to chastise herself to stop ruminating on the feeling of Emma standing so close to her that their arms brush, to stop thinking of the way Emma’s hair feels as she runs her fingers through it. It’s all too dangerous, too foolish. But then, so is this situation she’s gotten herself into. She’s given Emma enough outs now that she’s quite sure the sheriff is possibly more committed to this farce than she is, but she still feels the need to tread cautiously, which is why she is somewhat distraught to discover that her son has smuggled an entire Christmas tree into his backpack to bring the the sheriff’s apartment.

“Just what exactly are you planning on doing with that, young man?” she scolds, her gloved fist poised in front of the door to Emma’s walk-up apartment. She only noted the top of their miniature tree sticking out of his backpack as she was about to knock. “And how did you remove that from the foyer without me seeing?” she adds, mildly impressed in spite of her irritation. Emma had invited them over for a Christmas movie, or rather Henry had requested they visit her apartment so he could pick one out for her to watch. Now Regina is realizing his plan was to perform some sort of guerilla-decorating, and as he shifts his bag and the tinkling of ornaments reaches her ear, her suspicions are confirmed. 

“It’s just a tiny one!” he argues. “I thought it would be a good starter tree!”

“Emma can enjoy our tree any time she likes, there’s no need to bombard her with -” she reaches into his bag and pulls out a wind-up wooden drummer boy, the movement stirring him into action as he starts to beat the drum rhythmically. “With a bunch of unnecessary decorations.”

“Hey,” he scowls, swiping it from her hand. “That one is my favorite, and I think she’s gonna love it!”

“Did you guys wanna finish your argument inside, or would you prefer for me to receive a noise complaint?” Emma’s voice has both of them turning to her abruptly, neither having noticed that she’d opened her door in the first place. She’s leaning against her door frame with amusement, her arms crossed against the cold as she eyes the drumming ornament banging noisily in Henry’s fist. 

“Hey Emma,” Henry grins, silencing the toy. 

“Hey kid,” she smiles. “Hey beautiful,” she adds, turning to Regina. Regina’s cheeks warm at the compliment as Emma places a hand on her hip, leaning forward to press a kiss to her chilled cheek. “Come in,” she says, guiding Regina inside with a hand on the small of her back. Regina opts not to respond as she tries to control her breathing. They may keep things chaste, but that doesn’t seem to mean much to her body. 

“You know you guys don’t have to do that right,” Henry comments with a smirk, unwinding his scarf. 

Regina glances at him as she hangs her coat on the rack by the door. “Do what?” she asks warily. 

Henry pulls off his snowy boot with a grunt. “I mean, I’m ten. I’m not gonna freak out if you guys kiss each other for real.” Regina’s eyes widen with horror as she hears Emma snicker from behind her. She turns to glare at her as she elbows her with irritation, cheeks flaming. 

Emma shows no signs of backing down from her amusement as she moves out of elbow distance. “Thanks kid, I’ll take that under advisement.” 

Regina forces herself to calm down lest she die from embarrassment as she divests herself of the rest of her things. She takes a moment to glance around Emma’s apartment with curiosity. It's loft-style, with a warm open kitchen and a comfortable living space. “Nice place,” Henry comments, pulling her attention from her surveying. “But it could use a few touches,” he adds, pulling the tree from his bag.

Emma eyes the miniature tree as her son hauls it out, battery-powered lights flickering to life as he looks for a suitable place to set it. “Wow, you really came prepared, huh?” Emma asks with a raised eyebrow. 

Regina walks over to her, leaning close to say under her breath, “I didn’t realize his plan until the last second.”

“I know, I heard,” Emma chuckles, wrapping an arm affectionately around Regina. Her heart soars at the movement, and she forces the accompanying thoughts aside. 

“I can tell him to put it away,” she offers, her mouth brushing Emma’s ear. She feels Emma shiver at the contact and it causes yet another wave of warmth to wash over her. 

“It’s fine,” Emma says under her breath, watching Henry set up the tree on a sideboard in her living room. “Don’t worry about it, I think I can handle a Christmas tree.” She watches Henry arrange the drummer boy and a few other figurines next to the tree as she adds softly, “It’s my first one.” Regina looks at her with surprise, but Emma doesn’t appear to be distressed, so she allows her boy to finish the arrangements to his liking.

“There, much better,” he nods, hands on his hips. He turns back to survey the rest of the apartment, clearly planning his next visit. 

“Thanks Henry, it looks great. Why don’t you get the movie set up, I’ll put the pizza in the oven.”

“Sure,” he salutes, hauling a stack of DVDs from his bag. 

“Just how many movies is he planning on forcing on me?” Emma asks as she and Regina make their way to the kitchen. 

“Only one,” Regina promises, though she feels less certain about that than she sounds. “Maybe two,” she concedes, watching Henry on the other side of the apartment as he debates over the movie lineup. 

“So do you think he’s right?” Emma asks lightly as she puts the finishing touches on her homemade pizza. 

“About what?” Regina asks, searching Emma’s cupboards for some wine glasses for the red she’s brought. She sees them on the top shelf and reaches for them on tiptoes as Emma replies.

“About us kissing.” The comment causes her to lose her balance and she catches herself at the last moment with both hands planted on the countertop. Emma turns to steady her, keeping one hand on her back as she reaches over Regina’s head and takes down two wine glasses. “Take it easy,” she chastises. “A simple no would suffice,” she adds with a chuckle. 

“That isn’t what I - I just meant - “ she closes her eyes and tries again. “Do you think he’s suspicious?” she asks under her breath, taking the wine glasses to the kitchen island.

“I don’t think so,” Emma replies thoughtfully, her eyes glancing to Henry as he fiddles with her remote control. “But he’s an observant kid. We might have to step up our game a little if we want to keep this going. I mean,” she adds quickly. “If you’re comfortable with it, obviously.”

“Right,” Regina nods, pouring the wine as her racing thoughts try to absorb what exactly they’re discussing. 

“I mean I’m not suggesting we feel each other up in front of him,” Emma adds hastily, sprinkling more cheese on the pizza. 

“Of course not,” Regina acknowledges, though her eyes ricochet to the various parts of Emma’s body she admittedly would very much like to feel. “But,” she adds, trying hard not to lick her lips as she does so. 

“But what?” Emma asks, eyeing her as she hoists the pizza into the oven. 

“Well,” Regina says, mustering her mayoral authority. “First kisses can at times be clumsy, awkward.” She sips her wine for courage, completely appalled at herself for suggesting exactly what she is suggesting.

“So you think we should do a trial run?” Emma clarifies, closing the oven. She just barely misses Regina’s eyes clamped on her body, though the smug look on her face tells Regina perhaps she didn’t miss it after all. She is doing that cop thing that she does, where her face becomes an unreadable mask. 

Regina swallows, unsure if she’s pushing things too far. But, she reminds herself that Emma is the one that brought this up in the first place. She takes the second glass of wine and hands it to Emma, their fingers brushing. “Perhaps,” she acquiesces. 

Emma still has that unreadable expression on her face, and she finds herself shifting uncomfortably under the weight of her inscrutable gaze until Henry interrupts. “Movie is ready to go!”

She turns to her son, walking over to where he’s settling in on Emma’s couch. “And which one did you pick?”

“The Grinch, the Jim Carrey one.”

She sits next to him, Emma taking her other side as they shift to make room. The couch is snug, and Emma is pressed against her side as Henry hits play on the movie. Regina tries to pay attention, chuckling at Emma and Henry’s commentary as the plot unfolds, but mostly she’s focusing on remembering to breathe as Emma’s warm body distracts her to no end, their unfinished conversation at the forefront of her mind. At some point Emma brings the pizza to the coffee table, and she gets a brief reprieve from the other woman’s proximity, but just as the tension is leaving her belly Emma sets her plate down and leans back again. 

“You know Emma, the Grinch is kinda like you,” Henry muses through a mouthful of pizza. 

“How do you figure?” Emma asks, sipping her wine. “Tell me it’s not the physical resemblance.”

“Well, he acts tough, and he says he doesn’t like Christmas, but he’s actually kind of a softie, really,” Henry explains, pizza sauce around his mouth. 

“Who are you calling soft?” Emma accuses with a scoff. “I’m a big tough sheriff.”

“Says the woman who rescued a kitten from a telephone pole last week,” Regina mutters. Emma elbows her.

“The Grinch just has to find the right people to show him that they care, and then his heart grows three sizes,” Henry continues.

“Okay, spoiler alert,” Emma protests. 

“So pretty much,” Henry continues, ignoring her interjections. “If you find the right people to show you that they care about you like the Grinch did, your heart will get bigger and stuff.” He takes a large bite of pizza before adding, “An’ nen you’ll love Chrishmiss.”

Regina forgets to chastise her son for talking with his mouth full, as she’s sitting close enough to Emma she can feel the sharp intake of breath her son has unwittingly elicited. She looks over with concern, placing a hand on Emma’s thigh as she catches her gaze. Emma nods with a soft smile to tell her she’s okay, but Regina leaves her hand where it is as she leans back into the cushions. Emma reaches out and puts an arm around her, tucking Regina into her side as she becomes quiet, whether absorbed in the movie or her own thoughts Regina can’t quite tell. The warm weight of Emma’s arm on her shoulders certainly isn’t helping her own state of mind, and it’s with relief that the final scene plays out on the screen.

As the Grinch’s heart grows so big that it breaks the measurement scale, Regina feels Emma’s grip on her tighten. She glances at Emma and sees her eyes are a little damp, her own heart seemingly threatening to grow a few sizes itself. As the movie ends Emma releases her grip on Regina, moving to clear the plates. “Well kid, I’m not sure my heart is gonna break any measurement scales, but that was a pretty fun movie.” 

“Well, it’s not Christmas yet,” Henry points out, assisting in gathering the dishes. “There’s still time for the magic to do its work.”

Emma shoots him a thoughtful look. “You really believe in this magic thing, huh?”

Henry nods without hesitation. “Of course.” 

“Henry, why don’t you start another one while Emma and I tidy up,” Regina suggests, hoping to give Emma some space from her son’s determination to win her over. “You can finish whatever you pick out at home.”

“Okay,” Henry shrugs, depositing the dishes next to the sink. She watches him settle in on the couch, wrapping a blanket around himself as he starts Home Alone. 

Returning to the kitchen, she quietly assists Emma in rinsing the dishes and stacking them in the dishwasher, the two of them working in comfortable silence. She’s wiping down the counter, Emma wrapping the leftover pizza as she asks, “Penny for your thoughts?”

Emma smiles, putting the remaining pizza in the fridge. “Do you think I’m a Grinch?” she asks, a smirk tugging at her mouth.

Regina folds the damp cloth she’s holding, placing it next to the sink. “I think of the two of us I am far more likely to earn that title.”

Emma laughs, ducking her head as she takes a step closer. Regina feels her pulse quicken at the movement. “Well, would you mind giving me a hand taking out the recycling, Ms. Grinch?” She glances pointedly at the recycling bin, which has only one bottle of wine in it. Regina’s lips part in surprise as she glances back up at Emma. Apparently they are going to finish their earlier conversation after all. Her mind races as she weighs the options, before she tosses everything aside, recognizing that there's really only one option for her here. 

“Of course,” she answers softly. She turns to the living room, where Henry is deeply engrossed in his movie. “Be right back, Henry.” He waves a hand without turning his head, burrowing deeper in his blanket as Emma lifts the nearly empty bin, the bottle rolling conspicuously in the bottom until Regina reaches forward and plucks it out. She shoots a warning look at Emma, who returns her glare with a deeply mischievous grin. 

Carrying their cover in her hand, Regina follows Emma out of the apartment, her heart hammering in her chest with each passing step. Emma pulls open the door and they step into the brutal cold, the freezing air sucking the breath from their lungs. Clearly neither of them had planned this far ahead, but as Emma turns to her with dark eyes she finds the cold becomes a vague and distant issue. Emma sets the bin down without breaking eye contact, reaching out to grasp Regina’s hips and press her back against the wall next to her front door, the back of her head thudding gently against the wood. “Ready?” she asks, her eyebrows raising a fraction.

The pressure of Emma’s hands on her body is already undoing her, her knees starting to shake as she nods her head once. “Yes,” she answers. 

Emma nods in acknowledgement, reaching out slowly to cup Regina’s face with one hand as she leans in. Regina takes in a ragged breath as she reaches up to rest a hand on the side of Emma’s neck, meeting her halfway as their mouths come together. The kiss is soft, gentle, but the way Regina’s body responds is anything but. A riot of warmth cascades through her at the feeling of Emma’s mouth on hers, and the way she can feel Emma’s pulse pounding against her fingertips. 

Emma pulls back briefly, a bare parting of their lips before she kisses her a second time, her fingers threaded firmly in Regina’s dark hair. Regina can’t help the soft sound that escapes her throat at the tension in her scalp, and the way that Emma is pinning her to the wall with the lean angles of her body. She lets her hand slide up into Emma’s hair, grabbing a fistful as she opens her mouth a fraction. She does it without thinking, an automatic response to the feeling of Emma’s lips on hers, and Emma responds immediately. She sweeps her tongue into Regina’s mouth, her hand snaking around Regina’s waist as she kisses her thoroughly. 

The air around them is ice cold against her searing skin, and the contrast of the fire in her body and the frigid air, the heat of Emma’s mouth and the chill of her hands, is confounding to her senses. She drinks Emma in, fingers dragging through her hair and down her back as she lets her teeth scrape Emma’s bottom lip in a way that she would absolutely never do in front of her son. The way they’re kissing now, the boldness of their roving hands, the way Regina is pinned to the wall, none of this could be described as PG, but Regina shoves that thought aside as Emma sighs against her mouth in a way that will no doubt haunt her for weeks to come. 

The sound of the wine bottle clattering to the floor startles them both, Regina having completely forgotten she was holding it until it slipped from her fingers. “I’m sorry,” Regina pants, chest heaving.

“It’s okay,” Emma shakes her head, her icy breath visible in the air as she takes a step back, leaving one hand resting gently on Regina’s waist. “Well,” she says after a long second. “Turns out we’re pretty good at that.”

Regina laughs, some of the tension leaving her body, though she has to ball her hands into fists so she doesn’t yank Emma back against her. “I suppose we didn’t have anything to worry about after all.”

“Guess not,” Emma nods, her thumb brushing across Regina’s hip, causing a shiver of sensation to rush over her. Emma mistakes the shiver for cold, and drops her hands. “Why don’t you go back inside, I’ll finish taking out the single bottle of recycling.” 

Regina nods, turning to head back inside. The sting of her skin as the warm air envelops her causes yet another shiver, and she rubs her hands over her arms to warm up as she returns to the kitchen, her mind a disjointed blur of thought as she processes what just happened. Emma rushes inside a moment later, the empty bin in her hand as she hisses with cold. 

“You guys need any help?” Henry asks, the top of his head appearing above the edge of the couch. 

“No, sweetheart, why don’t you get your things together and we’ll head home.”

“Sure,” he answers, standing to stretch. He starts to gather the various movies he’s spread across the coffee table, and Regina pointedly looks anywhere but at Emma as she attempts to gather herself as well. “You want me to take the tree back, Emma?” Henry asks, gesturing to the decorations he’s planted in her living room. 

Emma makes her way to the tree, her eyes roving over the ornaments. Regina finds herself trailing closer, watching her as her eyes land on a small wreath that surrounds a picture of Regina and Henry. He’s almost three in the picture, his chubby cheeks prominent as Regina plants a kiss to the side of his round face. Emma looks at it for a long moment before turning to Henry, a smile on her face.

“Leave it.”

The light, silver sound of sleigh bells drills into the space behind Regina’s eyes as she tries to focus on the task at hand. She’s been attempting to read the new zoning proposition for a small community rec center for the last half-hour, and the volunteer soliciting donations in the main foyer of town hall is driving her to the brink. She’s barely slept the past few days, namely because she had made the outrageously idiotic decision to fool around with her pseudo-ridiculous girlfriend, and now she’s being haunted by the memory of it every waking second. She has spilled coffee on herself twice today, dropped a stack of files in the archives, sustained a deep papercut, and broken a nail, all because of Emma goddamned Swan and her strong, talented, roving hands. 

Regina repeats the mantra she’s been reciting in her head for the past two weeks. It isn’t real. But the more time she spends with the sheriff, the harder it is to remember that. Especially when Emma is almost too talented at keeping up the charade. Her warm looks, the way she reaches for Regina seemingly without thought, her confession about her childhood. It’s almost as though she isn’t really - no. 

It isn’t real. 

Regina stands with a snarl, storming over to her office door and slamming it shut to drown out the incessant merry jingling of bells. Part of her ire might have something to do with the fact that Emma is late. She’d insisted on getting something for Henry for Christmas, and she’d asked for Regina’s help in doing so. Henry is currently with Zelena and Robin, spending the evening baking cookies so they would be free to find a nice gift for him. But thirty minutes have passed since she was supposed to meet Regina in her office, and she’s nowhere to be found. Regina’s call went to voicemail, and her follow up text has gone unanswered.

It’s clear Regina pushed it too far. Kissing Emma, really kissing her, had obviously been a mistake. She’s likely scared the sheriff off for good now, and she’ll be left with a downcast Henry over Christmas after all. She’s nearly about to toss her own phone in the garbage after checking it for the hundredth time, only to see the screen light up with Zelena’s number. She answers the phone sternly. “I am not in the mood for any jokes about royalty or otherwise right now, Zelena,” she snarls. 

“Regina,” her neighbour’s voice is far more solemn than is typical, no mocking lilt or tone of mirth. 

Regina’s spine tenses as she frowns with concern. “What is it?”

“I just checked in with the station, I wanted to make sure the paystubs had been sent in. You can bloody well imagine the fallout if the staff didn’t get paid right before Christmas,” she laughs stiffly into the phone. Regina’s fingers wrap around the arm of her chair, fingernails digging into the soft wood as she braces herself for what’s coming. “Anyway I - I shouldn’t be telling you this but fuck it. The sheriff was in some kind of altercation. She’s been brought to the hospital.”

Regina is out the door of her office in an instant, one arm shoved through her coat as the other trails uselessly behind her, confirming with Zelena that she can take Henry for the night. She throws her phone in her pocket and manages to pull her coat on the rest of the way as she races out the front door, the sound of ringing bells chasing her into the freezing night. 


It takes several minutes of bullying, but in the end the harried physician of the Storeybrook ER relents to allowing Regina to see his patient, though he refuses to give her any information on her condition. He takes her away from the main bustle of the nursing station, Regina’s heart slamming in her chest as a myriad of possibilities flicker through her mind. She wrings her hands in distress, brow furrowed as she follows the doctor down a more subdued hallway and points at a closed door. “You can go in,” he tells her with evident irritation on his face. Clearly he’s not used to being harangued by the mayor of his town. 

Regina brushes past him and pushes open the door, trying to keep the panic from rising as she steps inside, letting the door swing shut behind her. The room is dimly lit by a soft light next to Emma’s bed. She’s huddled under the covers, staring morosely out the window at the falling snow as the TV screen on the wall flickers in the corner. A well-intentioned nurse has attempted to liven the place by hanging a string of white Christmas lights around the perimeter of the window, winding around plastic boughs of pine needles. The effect is more depressing than anything, but Regina can’t even think to criticize as relief floods her body at the sight of Emma, awake and alive. “Do I really have to stay overnight?” Emma asks, not looking up at her entrance. “I feel fine.”

“Well since your insufferable doctor refused to tell me anything, I’m afraid I have no idea,” Regina says archly, though her knees are barely keeping her standing. Emma’s head snaps to Regina, eyes wide. Now that she’s turned, Regina can see the damage to her beautiful face. Her left eye is swollen and bruised, a small cut on her bottom lip as well. There’s a bandage to her forehead, and Regina can see her hand and wrist are wrapped in gauze where they’re clutching the blankets. She looks pale, and angry, and very surprised. Regina’s hands clench into fists of fury at the injuries as she closes the distance between them, blinking back the tears that have risen in her eyes. “Are you all right?” she chokes out, forgetting herself as she sits on the edge of Emma’s bed, reaching out to cup the uninjured side of Emma’s face in her hand. 

Emma’s eyes are wide with surprise as Regina reaches for her, asking in a shaky voice. “What are you doing here?”

“Being friends with your dispatcher has its advantages,” Regina confesses, sweeping a thumb against Emma’s cheek. Emma takes a shuddering breath, her expression vulnerable.

“Where’s Henry?” she asks, looking over Regina’s shoulder. Regina freezes, slowly removing her hand from Emma’s face. She’d forgotten in the moment that without her son to bear witness, she has no reason to be this solicitous, this caring towards Emma. But at the sight of her battered face and weary expression, she finds she doesn’t give a damn. 

“He’s with a sitter,” she answers lightly. Emma blinks at her, if she’s surprised she doesn’t show it. “What happened?” Regina asks, her eyes taking inventory of Emma’s various hurts. 

Emma waves a hand dismissively. “Some Bostonian in town for the holidays got a little too handsy with women at the pub. They called me in to haul him out and let’s just say he wasn’t exactly feeling in the holiday spirit.” Regina watches her closely, disturbed at the casual way she’s discussing her assault. “I’m fine,” Emma adds, though the tension is visible both in her jaw and the line of her shoulders. The contrast of her bruised face lit with the twinkle of Christmas lights on the window is nothing short of heartbreaking. 

“Well if you’re fine then why are they asking you to stay overnight?” Regina counters, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. 

Emma tries to pull a face and winces. “Ow. Seriously, it’s a few bruises and some swelling to my forearm. They’re just being cautious.” Regina’s eyes drill into hers, eyebrows raising until she relents. “Okay fine, and a minor concussion and some swelling to my throat.” Regina sucks in a breath, her vision blurring with rage. 

“And was this psychopath apprehended?” she fumes.

Emma looks bemused for a moment, and it takes the edge off of Regina’s fury. “Why, are you going to track him down?”

“Don’t think I wouldn’t,” Regina threatens, raising her chin.

“Oh I believe it,” Emma replies, her eyes full of warmth. “I would hate to be on the other end of those lethal heels,” she adds with a tiny smile. “Luckily there’s no need for you to Hulk out on anyone. I took him down in the end, he’s in holding at the station.”

“Well, they’d better keep a vigilant watch on him, is all I’m saying,” Regina snarls.

“Weren’t you the one threatening to throttle me last week?” Emma challenges.

“Yes, well,” Regina huffs, reaching out to smooth down Emma’s blankets. “It’s all right when I do it. I’m the one that has to put up with you on a regular basis.” Emma manages to roll her eyes, in spite of the swelling. 

“Sorry if I worried you,” Emma offers. “My phone got kind of smashed in the chaos.”

“That’s all right,” Regina shakes her head. “Is there anyone I can call for you?” she offers after a moment. “A friend, or…?” She doesn’t want to offer the word family, as she’s fairly certain now that Emma has none. 

Emma shakes her head. “I guess I should have told you from the beginning that you’re not the only one whose social life is a little lackluster,” she tries to joke. “I mean, I have friends,” she adds, looking out the window as she swallows heavily. “But nobody that I want to see me like this.” She pauses for a moment before adding, “My social worker used to tell me I have trust issues,” she laughs humorlessly. “Still working on that one, I guess.”

Regina observes the tension in her body, the hurt in Emma’s eyes as she makes her confession. It takes very little time to come to a decision. “Well, in case it wasn’t obvious, you’re not exactly alone there,” she sighs, standing. 

Emma glances up at her, lips parting with surprise as she sees Regina unbuttoning her coat, casting it on the chair next to the bed alongside her purse. “What are you doing?”

“Move over,” Regina orders, ignoring her. Emma does so, watching closely as Regina settles in next to her on the bed. She leans over to pull off her high heels, dropping them one by one onto the floor before grabbing the remote from the bedside table and flipping through the channels. Emma’s bandaged hand comes to rest on top of hers, forcing her to put the remote down. She looks up to see Emma watching her with a serious expression on her face.

“You don’t have to do this,” she says. Now that Regina’s so close, she can see a dusting of bruises along Emma’s throat, and her stomach roils with fury. “I don’t need you feeling sorry for me,” Emma adds stoically, though her voice is cracking. It’s actually a wonder to her, beneath their differing personalities, how truly alike they really are. She can see how afraid Emma is, and can see as clear as day that she doesn’t want to be alone. But her inability to accept that anyone might care for her, really care, is forcing her to shut down.

“When exactly have you ever known me to do anything out of pity, Emma Swan?” she retorts. Emma’s eyes flicker across her face, but she says nothing. “Now, what about this one?” Regina presses on, gesturing at the TV. Miracle on 34th St is just starting, the original one, and Regina’s personal favorite. 

“So you’re joining Henry in his crusade to make me like the holidays, huh?” Emma sighs. 

“Emma, it’s December, holiday movies are all that’s on TV for your foreseeable future.”

Emma lets out a groan of submission. “Fine, you win, as usual,” she huffs. 

“Now you’re getting it,” she replies with a subtle smile. She doesn’t want to joke with Emma, in fact nothing about any of this is funny in the slightest. But she has a feeling that Emma needs this, needs to keep things as normal as possible, and so she does what’s familiar to them both. “Now make some more room, I’m practically falling over the edge. Do you always hog the bed like this?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Emma snickers, a comforting glint of mischief in her eyes. Regina shoots her a glare to hide the lust building in her body as she slides closer. Now that she’s pressed against Emma’s side, she can feel the subtle trembling of her limbs. 

“You’re shivering, are you cold?”

“A little,” Emma admits. “I asked for an extra blanket a while ago but I think the nurse forgot.”

“Well,” Regina starts, nostrils flaring. “I will just go give them a piece of my mind about the quality of care that they give to their own sheriff.” She turns to get up, relieved that there’s something tangible she might do for Emma after all.

“Regina,” Emma laughs with exasperation, hooking an arm around her waist so she can’t go on a warpath. “He’s probably off saving lives, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Regina asks. “I could try to find one myself.”

“No, don’t - I mean,” Emma shakes her head, but Regina can practically hear her unspoken words echoing in her head. Don’t go. “I’m seriously fine. Would you just come here? You’re warm enough for the both of us, you’re like a radiator.” She pulls back the covers for Regina to get under, and the gesture is so casually intimate that for a brief moment her mind goes as blank as the new fallen snow out the window.

“Well it’s hardly my fault I run hot,” she protests, settling in snugly against Emma’s side. 

“Yes, you do,” Emma says with a smile to herself, wrapping her arm around Regina’s shoulders. The double entendre burrows deep in her brain, but since they’re in bed together she decides she absolutely does not have the capacity to take that on.

After a few minutes of watching the movie in comfortable silence, she allows herself to settle in further, letting her head drop to Emma’s shoulder. Emma brings her cheek to rest against the top of her head, giving her a subtle squeeze that sends a frisson of electricity through Regina’s body.

“Is that any better?” she asks softly, Emma’s shivering starting to subside.

For a long moment she doesn’t respond, seemingly gathering her thoughts as they lie in the glow of the flickering screen, and the gentle warmth of Christmas lights. “Yeah,” she answers at last into the crown of Regina’s head, her thumb grazing against Regina’s arm where it’s resting. 

“It’s better.”

“Wow, these kids are kind of bad at singing.”

“Would you kindly shut up, Sheriff Swan?”

“Should that kid be picking his nose right now?”

“Stop it,” Regina hisses, though she is only barely able to stop herself from laughing at this point. She and Emma are seated side by side in the back row at Storeybrook Elementary’s Christmas concert. Emma is here in a more or less official capacity, the kindergarten class had invited her to watch them perform after she managed to charm them with her safety seminar. Being smitten with Emma Swan is clearly something she and the local five-year-olds have in common, though she can hardly blame them. Regina had only barely made it in time for the concert to begin, and was mildly thrilled to see the sheriff had saved her a spot. Though she hadn’t anticipated Emma’s ongoing and unfortunately quite funny commentary. 

As Henry has gotten older, these concerts have admittedly become a bit of a challenge. The children perform in order of age, and she’s realizing that when the cuteness of your own child isn’t a factor, the very loud and boisterous performances of the younger classes can be a little overwhelming. Emma leans towards her, breath hot against her ear as she whispers, “That kid just fell, did you see that?”

Regina bites her lip to keep from laughing, though she can’t quite suppress a smile. “You are going to get us kicked out before Henry even makes it on stage,” Regina scolds, swatting her on the thigh. She glances to the side of Emma’s face, her healing bruises subtle in the dim light of the auditorium, and can’t bring herself to be truly annoyed at Emma’s playful behaviour. If anything, she feels relieved that Emma is doing well enough to be herself. 

“Half of them don’t even know the words,” Emma muses in her ear again, her warm breath making Regina shiver. “The production quality here is terr-”

Regina leans over, muffling her own laughter as she tries to clamp a hand over Emma’s mouth. She is distantly appalled at her own childish behaviour, but Emma’s voice in her mind asking her if she ever allows herself to have fun pushes her misgivings aside. Emma grabs her wrist to block her attempts at muting her commentary, no doubt triumphant at pulling Regina from her prim and proper mayoral persona. Regina struggles to pull her wrist free as she tries to continue chastising Emma, half in her lap. “You are behaving like an absolute child!” she hisses. 

Emma responds with something likely cutting and hilarious, but her words fade out as Regina feels her phone buzzing in her coat pocket. She pulls it out to stop the call and the name lit up on the screen causes her heart to seize with anxiety. “No , not now,” Regina whispers to herself. Emma’s grip on her wrist immediately loosens as she puts a concerned hand on Regina’s back, following her line of sight down to her phone.

“What is it?”

“My mother,” Regina utters the word like a curse. “Why in the hell is she calling me now? We haven’t spoken in two years.”

“Can you just ignore it?” Emma asks, her nose grazing the side of Regina’s face as she looks at her with concern. Regina realizes she’s still half in Emma’s lap, frozen in their playful struggle, and she rights herself quickly. 

“I can, but she’ll just call back in two minutes,” Regina replies, trying to quell the panic. “She won’t stop until I answer.”

“Okay, hey,” Emma’s soothing voice is like a balm as she grounds Regina with her steady presence. “Here, come with me, let’s just take a minute.” She tugs Regina to a stand, guiding her out of the auditorium and into the empty hallway outside. Regina leans her back against the wall, trying to calm her breathing as Emma places a reassuring hand on her hip. “So I take it you and your mother aren’t on great terms?”

Regina shakes her head, willing her eyes not to fill with tears. “She’s a narcissistic sociopath that exists only to tear apart every aspect of my life,” she blurts out. She isn’t used to talking about her mother with anyone, partly because it’s a painful subject, but also because she doesn’t know anyone that might understand the gnawing ache of parental rejection. But Emma, she knows, understands that even better than she does, and she feels an overwhelming sense of relief as Emma simply nods with a knowing look in her eyes.

“What do you think she wants?”

Regina shakes her head, letting Emma’s grip on her waist keep her thoughts from spiralling. “I have no idea. Every once in a while she likes to pretend we’re a happy family. But she doesn’t even -” Regina shakes her head, voice becoming tight at the sickening thought. “She doesn’t even like Henry,” she admits, and it’s the first time she’s ever said this out loud to anyone. “She hates that he’s adopted, she thinks I’ve ‘tainted the family line.’” she chokes out. Emma’s eyes darken with outrage at the confession, but she says nothing. “She hurts his feelings every time she visits, Emma,” Regina goes on. “The only way I can protect him from her is to just tell her to stay away.”

“And what about you?” Emma asks, her voice tense.

“Me?” Regina asks, confused.

“Well it sounds like you could use some protection from her yourself,” Emma replies. Regina’s eyes scan across Emma’s face. She’s gotten so used to bearing the barbs of her mother’s stinging comments throughout her life that the option to protect herself had never even occurred to her. Regina’s phone starts to buzz again in her hand, and she begins to feel sick with apprehension. 

Emma steps closer to her. “Are you open about your sexuality with her?” she asks.

“Yes,” Regina nods, eyes questioning.

“And does she approve of that?”

Regina snorts. “Not in the least.”

“Okay,” Emma says firmly. “Listen, I can handle this for you, if you want me to.” Regina stares at her mother’s name, incessant on the screen of her phone. But for once, she isn’t facing her alone, and she feels a small spike of rebellion in her gut as she looks up at Emma and nods.

“Do it.”

She shoves the phone into Emma’s hand, and Emma slides a thumb across the screen, answering the call with a bright voice. “Regina Mills’ phone.” Regina can hear the tart tones of her mother’s voice through the line, muffled against the side of Emma’s face.

“Oh so sorry, she’s just in the shower right now. Can I pass on a message to her?” Emma’s face has taken on a mischievous expression, and for once it’s not aimed at Regina. She finds the shift absolutely thrilling, and a small smile of disbelief spreads across her face as she listens to the conversation.

“Oh me?” Emma says innocently. “I’m Emma, her girlfriend. Has she not mentioned me?” No? Oh well,” she laughs. “She’s a bit shy about us I guess, but yeah we’ve been together for a while now. It’s going super well,” she adds warmly, giving Regina a wink that makes her mouth run dry. 

“Listen, you should come by for Christmas dinner or something,” Emma offers, and Regina’s mouth drops open in horror. Emma shakes her head, a “trust me” expression on her face. “It would be nice to get to know the whole family, you know? I mean, I guess it would be just your side really,” Emma laughs softly. “I don’t actually have any family, I was abandoned at a hospital, so my family could be god-knows-who. But I’m sure Regina would love it.” Regina quietly absorbs this information about Emma’s past, information that she suspects is true. She watches Emma’s face closely, moved that Emma is willing to offer this painful truth in order to help her. She can hear her mother’s clipped tones on the other end of the phone, and a ripple of relief washes over her as Emma’s face breaks into a satisfied smile. Regina knows that smile, and it’s usually infuriating because it means she’s lost to Emma at something. But this time, she has absolutely won.

“Oh shoot, you can’t make it? Darn,” Emma sighs. “Well maybe in the new year!” She listens for a little longer, nodding. “Wow, sounds like next year is pretty packed for you already. I’m sure we’ll find time someday. Nice talking to you! And hey, merry Christmas!” Emma ends the call with a broad smile. “Let’s just say I don’t think she’ll be calling you for the next calendar year, at least.”

Regina’s eyes are damp as she laughs with disbelief. “Thank you,” she says simply, her hands gripping the edges of Emma’s soft cardigan. She holds Emma’s gaze, so tempted to lean in and kiss her thoroughly, and Emma has a look on her face like perhaps she wouldn’t mind that at all. But the sound of the school principal announcing the 5th grade class interrupts the moment. Emma’s head turns toward the auditorium. “Come on, we can’t miss Henry’s debut.” She ushers Regina back into her seat, the two of them settling in as Henry’s class scramble to get into their assigned rows. Regina finds herself feeling relieved but shaken at the interaction, wringing her hands in her lap as she tries to calm down and focus, jangled nerves making it difficult for her to sit still. 

She’s nearly about to stand and go to the back of the room so she can pace nervously without disturbing anyone, when Emma’s arm comes to wrap around her, warm and reassuring. She pulls Regina into her side, a gesture that is becoming increasingly familiar, and places a gentle kiss to the side of her head. Warmth trickles down Regina’s spine at the affectionate gesture, the last dregs of anxiety leaving her body as she leans into Emma’s warm side.

Henry's class starts to sing, and the swell of pride and love in her chest is nearly overwhelming as she watches her sweet boy search for her in the crowd. His smile widens as he locates her and Emma in the crowd, sending them a small wave of excitement that makes Emma chuckle with warmth against her. “Hey,” Emma says thoughtfully into her ear, squeezing her a little tighter.  Regina braces for yet another criticism of the childish performance they’re witnessing. “You know what? These kids are pretty damn good.”

“Mom, where’s my tie?!”

Regina sighs, pausing in her application of lipstick. “It’s on your bed, precisely where I left it for you,” she calls to Henry from her ensuite bathroom. She can hear him tearing his drawers apart, a soft muttering coming from his general direction. She turns back to the mirror to finish her makeup, groaning internally at the mess she is quite sure he’s making of his room.

“He says he can’t find it.” Emma’s voice causes her to start, dropping her lipstick on the counter as she spins in place to see Emma in her bedroom doorway. “I’m supposed to ask if you’re ‘really super sure’ you put it on his bed.”

“Where in the hell did you come from?” Regina gasps, one hand to her racing heart.

“I knocked and no one answered,” Emma shrugs. “Your front door was unlocked, you should probably be more careful,” she adds as she takes a step into the bedroom, her eyes sweeping down Regina’s body in her floor length red dress. 

“Yes,” Regina agrees, standing up a little straighter. “Any lunatic might have gotten in.” She’s hoping her feigned annoyance is covering for the fact that she is positively swooning over Emma in her dress uniform. Tonight is the annual town hall Christmas party, and all the elected officials are supposed to be there. Emma typically bows out with one fickle excuse or another, but this year she has agreed to go, and it’s the first time Regina has ever had occasion to see Emma in full regalia. Her uniform is a high-collared navy blue jacket with gold epaulets, a double row of gold buttons running down the front. Regina’s fingers itch to reach out and run her hands down the front of the jacket, to pop those shining buttons one by one. Her eyes widen at the unbidden thought, not to mention the debauched places her mind is gravitating towards, and she quickly shoves it all down just as far as it will go.

“A well-dressed lunatic,” Emma counters, taking another step inside. “See something you like, Mayor Mills?” she asks with raised eyebrows, removing her cap to tuck it under one arm. Clearly Regina’s attempt to divert attention from the fact that she is actively trying not to lick her lips isn’t working.

“Hardly,” she replies haughtily. 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Emma concedes with a sigh, pausing to glance at herself in the mirror next to Regina. “My face is still pretty jacked up, huh?” 

Regina clicks her tongue, stepping closer as she takes in the healing damage to Emma’s face, while simultaneously trying to ignore how incredibly good she smells. Emma has managed to cover some of her injuries with makeup, but the livid bruise under her left eye remains prominent in spite of her efforts, and it still fills Regina with outrage every time she sees it. Regina reaches up to adjust Emma’s collar a little, straightening it gently, the weight of Emma’s gaze heavy as she does. “You look very nice, Sheriff Swan,” she admits at last. “How does it feel?” she asks, reaching up to brush a thumb over the angry skin.

Emma grasps her wrist, her eyes dark. “It’s way better. I can barely feel it,” she replies softly.

“Liar,” Regina chides. She can’t help but think of Emma in that hospital bed, the hollow look in her eyes.  

“You look really beautiful tonight,” Emma answers, dodging the issue entirely. 

Inelegant as it was, the subject change is certainly effective. Regina’s heart starts to race as she looks up at Emma, who is watching her closely. “Thank you,” she answers, her voice rough with tension. 

“Mom!” Henry interrupts, his tuxedo shirt half-unbuttoned as he splays his hands out in frustration. “I swear, my tie is gone. Like, in another dimension-level gone.”

Regina steps back from Emma, though it pains her physically to do so. “Young man, if I find that tie in your room…” she threatens.

“I will shovel the driveway for the rest of the week,” Henry promises. “It’s gone!”

Regina rolls her eyes, making her way to her son’s bedroom, both Henry and Emma in tow. She sets aside her ire at seeing his torn apart bedroom and walks over to his bed, pushing aside several sweaters to find his tie exactly where she had left it forty-five minutes ago. “It appears to have returned from the 5th dimension,” she announces, holding it up as Henry looks at her sheepishly from the doorway.

“Should I get you that shovel?” Emma nudges Henry with a laugh. He crosses his arms with a rueful smile, nudging her back.

“You can start your penance tomorrow,” Regina allows, handing him the tie. 

“Will you do it for me?” Henry asks, buttoning his shirt the rest of the way.

“I can do it,” Emma offers. She sets her hat down on the dresser as Henry steps closer, allowing her to place the tie around his neck. Regina starts to pick up a few of Henry’s sweaters as she watches the exchange surreptitiously. 

“Where’d you learn to do this?” Henry asks, voicing a question Regina herself had been wondering.

“One of my foster dads taught me,” she answers, frowning with concentration. “I kind of went through a tie-wearing phase in the early 2000s, let’s not rehash it.” Regina snorts softly as she places a pile of sweaters in Henry's drawer. 

“You were adopted?” Henry asks, his eyes fixed on her face as she loops the fabric back over itself. “LIke me?” Regina feels her shoulders tense as she looks to Emma for a reaction.

“Nah,” Emma answers casually. “I wasn’t as lucky as you. But I had some cool foster parents,” she adds lightly. Regina gets the sense there were likely plenty of un-cool ones as well, and she feels ill at the thought.

“Oh,” Henry answers thoughtfully. He watches her closely without saying anything while she finishes, and Regina is awfully curious about just what is on her son’s mind.

“Okay, all done,” Emma announces, turning Henry around so he can look in the mirror. “What do you think?”

“Hey, it looks great!” he beams, checking himself out from various angles. “Thanks, Emma,” he adds, turning to give her a quick hug. Emma’s eyebrows shoot up as she returns it, patting him gently on the back. Regina takes a breath as she swoons like a fool for the second time this evening. “Can we go now, mom?” Henry asks, turning to where she’s hanging a few of his sweaters in the closet.

She nods. “Go get your shoes on.” Henry races from the room, Emma dodging out of his way as he flies past her.

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Regina asks, crossing her arms as she watches Emma look around Henry’s room with curiosity. Emma’s battered face is making her feel fiercely protective of her, and what she would really like to do is spend the evening tending to those injuries, and making sure she’s taking proper care of herself. And perhaps spend another night with her arms wrapped around the sheriff, for good measure.

“You worried about me?” Emma teases, picking up a model plane and turning it over in her hands. 

“Should I be?” Regina counters, arching an eyebrow as she dodges the question.

“I appreciate the concern, really,” Emma admits, setting the toy down and turning to face Regina. The soft light of Henry’s bedside lamp is throwing half her face into shadow, hiding the bruises that Regina knows are there. She clenches her hands into fists, only just barely stopping herself from reaching out. “So far I feel okay. If I need to leave early I’ll send you a signal. Maybe use that butt grab I’ve been saving,” she winks.

Regina scoffs, throwing one of Henry’s sweaters at her, but she can’t help the reluctant smile the joke elicits. 

“Besides,” Emma continues. “I have a pretty hot date with the mayor of my town tonight. It’s kind of a one time opportunity, so.” She shrugs. “I don’t want to miss out.”

Regina has to choke back the words forming in her throat, to force back the desire to blurt out that this, none of this , need only be once. She knows her face has become serious when Emma’s own smile starts to fade, and she steps closer, tentatively reaching a hand out towards Regina. “Mom! We’re gonna be late!” Henry calls from downstairs. The two of them start, Emma laughing as the tension drains from the moment. 

“Come on,” she gestures, putting an arm around Regina and steering her from the room. “We can take my car. Hope you like Destiny’s Child.”


The night is a surprisingly lovely one. Typically Regina can’t wait to leave these events, putting in an hour or so of face time before making her excuses and escaping with Henry in tow. She finds the crush of the crowd can be too much, the overwhelming press and noise of too many people in not enough space, not to mention the exhaustion of dealing with some of the town’s more choice citizens. This year though she finds that the evening is far more bearable than it has any right to be.

And while it’s true that the decorations are tasteful, and the music leaves nothing to be desired, the likely source of her change of heart is Emma Swan. Having her as an anchor point to return to in the swell of people, even if it’s a simple squeeze of her fingers in passing, is something akin to a recharging of her social batteries. After a particularly trying conversation with the extremely conservative and outrageously irritating head of the Families First committee, Regina finds her eyes scanning the crowd for a particular blonde for some well-earned respite.

Her eyes land on Emma as she shares a laugh with Mary Margaret, her dimples deepening as a smile spreads across her face. Emma pauses for a moment, turning to meet Regina’s gaze through the crowd as though she’d sensed her watching, and beckons Regina over with a subtle tilt of her head. Regina has to stop herself from trotting up to her like a puppy, taking measured strides in her high heels as she closes the distance between them, her dress flaring out behind her. “Doing okay, babe?” Emma asks softly, Mary Margaret absorbed in a conversation with her husband nearby.

Regina’s entire body riots quietly at the term of endearment, relishing in the feeling of Emma wrapping one arm around her. “Just dealing with that insufferable, homophobic, jackass, Fred Collins,” Regina fumes, somehow not feeling the least bit ashamed at the way she melts into Emma’s side. 

She feels Emma stiffen, turning her head in Fred’s direction. “Did he say something to you?” she asks fiercely. “You want me to talk to him?”

Regina feels a rush of heat in a terribly inconvenient location at Emma’s protectiveness. She places a hand on her arm. “That’s very gallant of you, Sheriff Swan,” she replies with amusement. “It was nothing personal, just discussing his plans to protest same-sex adoption in the new year,” she growls. A local gay couple have just adopted a little girl, and while Storeybrook is in general a very forward-thinking place, every small town has its resident bigot. Unfortunately this one has a lot of time on his hands, and a particular knack for sign-making.

“Not personal?” Emma sputters, her eyebrows drawing together. “Did he not realize who he was talking to? Besides, what if we wanted to adopt another kid one day?” Regina’s mouth drops open at the off-handed comment, and Emma immediately flushes scarlet. She drops her voice into a hushed whisper. “Well he doesn’t know that we aren’t - that that isn’t going to be a…” she shakes her head, giving up on speech entirely for a moment while Regina quells her racing heart at the thought Emma’s planted in her mind. “All I’m saying is he’s an asshole,” Emma finishes, huffing.

“For once, we’re in agreement,” Regina replies. “And I’m fairly certain he’s been so focused on disapproving of me for being a single mother, he hasn’t even had time to notice the rest.”

“Well maybe it’s time he should,” Emma muses, her eyes thoughtful. They get pulled away from one another shortly after, though Regina’s thoughts remain firmly with Emma. Her comment about adopting children is playing on repeat in her head, and no amount of digging her own nails into her palms seems to be distracting her from that. She smirks a little at just what Fred Collins might say to that, but shortly after she doesn’t have to wonder, because the man himself is back, and he’s brought a friend. Archie is clearly uncomfortable, Fred gripping his upper arm as he steers him in Regina’s direction. “Mayor Mills, there you are. I’ve brought a like-minded citizen with me to voice our concerns.”

Archie pales as Regina’s dark eyes land on him, lips pursed. “I - okay there seems to have been a misunderstanding.”

“Not at all, tell the mayor that we cannot allow innocent children to be adopted by -”

“Mr. Collins I am warning you not to finish that sentence,” Regina snarls. “This is a holiday event, and absolutely not the right time to be discussing either politics, or your personal values.”

“I think baby Jesus would have another opinion on the matter, Mayor Mills,” Fred starts, the tone of his voice indicating another long lecture is in store. Thankfully he doesn’t get a chance to get another word in, because Emma comes striding over to Regina, a fierce look in her eyes.

“There you are, beautiful,” she says warmly, grasping Regina’s face as she leans down to kiss her firmly on the mouth. Well aware of several sets of eyes on her, Regina still finds herself kissing Emma back, her fingers curling around Emma’s neck possessively as she allows her mouth to open just a little. Emma breaks the kiss with a wide grin. “Want to dance?”

“Absolutely,” Regina replies, breathless. “Excuse us, gentleman,” she adds coolly, leaving a sputtering Fred and a smiling Archie in their wake. 

“Emma Swan,” Regina hisses, allowing Emma to drag her to the dance floor and pull her into a slow dance. “You realize I’m going to have to deal with him coming down to my office to protest having a gay mayor now.”

“So call the cops,” Emma replies. She plants a hand on Regina’s low back, the heat of her palm deeply distracting. “I’d be happy to come arrest him for trespassing.”

“It’s hardly trespassing for a citizen to come speak with their own mayor,” Regina retorts, though she is absolutely touched by Emma’s continued protectiveness this evening. Her heart is still racing from Emma’s kiss, and she realizes she’s staring at Emma’s mouth again. 

Emma seems to notice because she smirks a little. “Well I’m sure we could think of other ways to get him to leave.” Regina blushes, sure that Emma can feel the way her breath catches in their tight embrace. She pulls her eyes away, glancing over her shoulder to see Fred sputtering near the drinks table. 

“We didn’t even get him to leave this time,” Regina remarks, her nose grazing Emma’s ear as she observes the crowd. She feels Emma’s body shudder at the sensation, and is satisfied to know that she’s not alone in being affected by their proximity.

“Well, maybe I just didn’t kiss you for long enough,” Emma replies lightly.

Regina scoffs, but if Emma didn’t have a tight hold on her for their dance, she’s fairly certain she would have lost her balance at the comment. Emma’s sly look starts to fade as Regina pulls back from their dance to look at her. Her face is framed by the large Christmas tree behind them, the lights twinkling merrily as they hold one another’s gaze. The moment is interrupted when Granny from the local diner comes to tap Emma on the shoulder, causing them both to turn. 

“Sorry to interrupt, Regina, but I think Henry’s danced himself right out,” she says with a warm smile. Granny had been minding the small gaggle of children this evening, and Regina glances over to see her son passed out in a chair, jacket off and tie askew. She can feel the deep rumble of Emma’s affectionate laugh under her fingertips as she thanks Granny for watching him.

“Come on,” Emma prompts. “I’ll get him for you.” Regina watches, internally melting into a puddle as she watches Emma easily scoop Henry off the chair, his sleepy head resting heavily on her shoulder. “Got his coat?” she asks gently, turning to Regina.

Regina moves quickly from her frozen position to grab Henry’s jacket, smoothing it over her forearm as she falls in line next to Emma to make their way out of the hall. They pause near the exit, waiting in line at the coat check to collect their things. She looks back to see Fred Collins and all two other members of Families First in line behind them, their gazes heavy as they whisper to one another.

She glances at Emma next to her, her sleeping boy cradled gently in the sheriff’s arms, and her throat constricts with the thought that anyone could possibly believe this version of a family to be wrong. Emma catches her eye knowingly, and without thinking Regina reaches up, placing a hand on Emma’s cheek and pulling her face down to kiss her gently once, twice, three times. Emma’s lips are so soft, and she’s so responsive that it’s all Regina can do to end it there. She feels Emma adjust Henry’s weight on her shoulder as she frees one hand to run it down her back, grabbing Regina’s ass so firmly it sucks the breath from her lungs. Her eyes fly open as she hears distant sputtering, the conservative committee of Storybrooke pushing past them to make a hasty exit, abandoning their coats for the time being.

“See?” Emma says breathlessly, her eyes sparkling. “Totally effective.”

“Was the groping entirely necessary?” Regina accuses, Emma’s face still cradled in her hands. Her blood is singing in her veins, pulse pounding at the feeling of Emma’s strong hands on her body. If Emma weren’t holding her son in her arms she’s quite certain she would be pushing the sheriff into the nearest closet. 

“You told me to use my opportunity wisely,” Emma argues. “I’d say shutting down a bunch of bigots trying to keep people like us from making a family is a pretty good reason, wouldn’t you?”

Regina considers her argument for a moment, stroking her thumb affectionately against Emma’s cheekbone without realizing. “Well,” she concedes after a moment of thought. “I suppose you’re right.” She reaches out to hand their coat check ticket to the volunteer, gathering their things in her arms. “In fact,” she adds, turning back to grin at Emma. 

“I think we’ll call that one a freebie.”

Snow has been falling heavily the last few days, a pristine blanket of white covering the neighbourhood. Regina settles into her adirondack on the porch, hands wrapped around a steaming mug of hot chocolate as she marvels at how beautiful everything looks, buried quiet and still under the deep layers of snow. The rhythmic sound of shoveling brings a smile of satisfaction to her face as she sips her hot chocolate contentedly. Henry has spent the last fifteen minutes clearing the driveway and has barely made it a quarter of the way through the job, but true to his word he hadn’t protested when she’d handed him the shovel this afternoon.

“Aren’t there laws against this kind of thing?” Emma’s voice pulls her from her thoughts and she glances up to see the sheriff standing on the sidewalk, snow boots buried up to her shins. Regina feels the now-familiar rush of emotions that Emma has started to elicit in her, and she shifts in her seat to accommodate the flicker of excitement. Emma’s eyes are on Henry, who’s paused to heave a dramatic sigh before continuing his work. 

“Well this is hardly a gulag,” Regina smirks, watching Emma wade through the snow to reach the porch. Her hair is pulled into a thick braid, falling over one shoulder, and Regina has the sudden urge to wrap it around her fingers. “Besides, he needs to learn the value of keeping his word,” she adds more softly as Emma knocks her boots against the step. 

“Well he’s definitely learning not to gamble,” Emma smiles, walking over to Regina and leaning down to kiss her right on the mouth. 

Regina’s eyebrows shoot up, even as she’s responding with enthusiasm, her hand reaching up to wrap around that braid just like she’d wanted to, pulling Emma even closer. Apparently they’re doing this now, casually and often in a way that Regina is already getting dangerously accustomed to. “Your mouth is so warm,” Emma laughs softly as she pulls back.

“Hot chocolate,” Regina says with a crack in her voice. “Would you like some?”

“Yeah,” Emma nods, stealing Regina’s right out of her hands. 

Regina clicks her tongue, though watching Emma drink out of her cup is intimate in a way that she didn’t expect. “I was going to make you your own,” she huffs. Emma leans on the arm of her chair. 

“You need to learn the value of sharing,” Emma winks. Regina smacks her with the back of her hand which Emma ignores, busy relishing in her stolen hot chocolate.“This is gonna take him like two hours,” she comments with amusement, watching Henry heave a shovelful of snow over his shoulder. “You’re seriously not going to help him?”

Regina reaches up and steals her hot chocolate back. “I’m supervising,” she argues, sipping the warm drink. “Besides, a little manual labor is good for him, and I’m not exactly here cracking a whip. When I think he’s fulfilled his promise he can go.” She cradles her mug in her hands, looking up to survey Emma’s profile. “What are you doing here, anyway? Aside from criticizing my parenting.”

Emma’s cheeks look a little pink, and Regina suspects it’s not from the cold. “Oh, I was just in the area,” she shrugs. Regina feels herself melting a little. She had intentionally not asked Emma to do anything this weekend, she was starting to worry her Henry project was monopolizing Emma’s time. And yet here she is anyway, sitting on Regina’s porch, stealing her hot chocolate out of her hands again.

“Well, lucky for us,” Regina replies, an amused smirk on her face. 

“Lucky for Henry, at least,’ Emma clarifies. “Since I’m available to help him this afternoon.”

Regina sighs heavily. “Very well, but if he turns out to be an unreliable adult, know that it started here.” Emma scoffs, her breath visible in the freezing air, and hands Regina back her mug. She cradles it in her hands only to look down and see that it’s empty. Emma winks at her and steps off the porch, waving to Henry to offer aid as Regina growls with irritation. 

She steps back inside to refill her cup, the skin of her face and hands burning at the temperature change. Trying not to overheat, she moves quickly to pour herself a second cup from the pot on the stove before heading back outside. As soon as she steps out she realises that something is not quite right. For one, the steady sound of shoveling has stopped. And secondly, neither Emma or Henry are anywhere to be seen. Immediately suspicious, she sets down her mug on the porch and steps forward, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. 

She sees Henry’s shovel abandoned on the driveway, and a shuffle of footprints in the snow heading in several directions. “All right,” she crosses her arms, calling out to the empty driveway. “I surrender,” she says calmly, hands up as she steps off the porch and onto the lawn. “No more shoveling,” she promises.

She hears Emma hissing from some distance away. “No - Henry do not, she is lying.”

Suspicions confirmed, she rolls her eyes and turns back to the porch. “Okay then, I guess I’ll just have to have this hot chocolate all for my -” A light thump smacks her square in the back and she spins in place, dark eyes lethal. “You did not just -” Her sentence is interrupted as another snowball smacks her in the thigh, Emma standing up from where she’s hidden behind the car to launch her assault with a wicked grin. At war with herself, torn between utter outrage and the desire to laugh, Regina reaches out to a pile of snow and quickly packs it in her palms, lobbing it at her own car.

Henry and Emma scatter to either side, each with a small arsenal of snowballs they’d made during her brief absence. Emma aims another at Regina, who dodges it at the last moment. Henry - much to her delight - turns on his co-conspirator to avenge her. Emma makes a sound of utter betrayal at Henry’s turncoat behavior, chucking a snowball at him that he only just manages to avoid. Their brief alliance shattered, chaos ensues as the three of them lob snowballs at each other with abandon. Regina has never in her life been involved in a snowball fight, the idea absolutely absurd to her even as a child. 

But now, breathless, watching Emma’s face light up with laughter as the afternoon sun illuminates her blond hair, listening to Henry’s shrieks of delight, she’s starting to understand the fun of it. Not to mention the satisfaction, as she lands a snowball square in Emma’s chest. Emma’s face takes on a shocked expression and she staggers, falling backwards in the snow. Regina’s heart lurches as she rushes over, throwing herself in the snow next to Emma.

 “Emma?!” she says in a choked voice, the freezing ground seeping through her jeans. Emma’s eyes fly open as she leans over to check on her, reaching up to grab a handful of her coat and yank Regina on top of her for a kiss. 

“Gotcha,” she whispers triumphantly against Regina’s mouth, leaning in to kiss her a second time.

There’s a specific brand of outrage and deep attraction that she has come to associate with this infuriating woman, and it floods her body as she kisses her back briefly, before she comes to her senses and the fury kicks in. “Emma Swan, ” she growls, pulling back. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“”Wh - what’s the big deal?” Emma sputters, trying to sit up. Regina is currently straddling her waist, crackling with fury, so the best she can do is push up onto her elbows. “Was I not supposed to…” she glances at Henry as he runs up to assess the damage, and Regina knows what she’s trying to say. 

“You had me thinking I’d given you a heart attack,” Regina lectures.

“Not cool, Emma,” Henry pipes in with a grin. “Maybe you should finish shoveling the driveway, to think about what you’ve done.”

“Henry, inside,” Regina instructs. He gives Emma a ‘good luck’ salute and races inside to safety. 

Emma looks up at her sheepishly. “Come on Regina, dramatics are part of the snowball fight experience. You got me fair and square, it would have been rude not to give you a good death scene,” she argues, reaching up to put a hand on Regina’s hip. It’s likely supposed to be reassuring, but proves only to be extremely distracting. As is the realization that she’s sitting on top of Emma. 

“Well in the future, please do the discourteous thing and don’t make me worry that I’ve killed you.”

“Aw, you were really worried?” Emma asks, managing to sit up.

“No,” Regina glares. 

“I’m pretty sure you’re lying,” Emma smiles. “Sorry I scared you. But just so you know, you’re really good at snowball fights.”

“Of course I am,” Regina replies, mollified. She knows she should get up now, push off from Emma and pull her eyes away from that annoyingly beautiful face of hers. But the feeling of Emma underneath her, with her mouth so close, it’s too much for her addled brain to take. She can’t move, except to place a hand on Emma's cheek. Emma’s eyes search hers for a long moment before she leans in and kisses Regina again, really kisses her this time. 

There’s nothing playful about this, nothing tentative or pretend. Her mouth slides over Regina’s as her fingers dive into her hair. The feeling makes Regina’s body come alive. She opens her mouth, sweeping her tongue against Emma’s as she shifts forward in her lap, needing to be closer to her. The friction causes Emma to gasp against her mouth, whispering the word “ fuck” gently as she rests her forehead against Regina’s for a brief moment, eyes closed, before capturing her mouth again. Regina’s knees are burning with cold, bracketing Emma’s hips as she shifts further into her lap, but she can’t bring herself to care. Instead, she rakes one hand down Emma’s back, annoyed that through her thick coat she can barely feel her at all. The desire to rip her coat open and run her hands over the hard planes of Emma’s body is nearly overpowering, and her treacherous fingers are on the zipper at Emma’s throat without her even realizing. 

“Well, what do we have here?. ” Zelena’s voice causes them both to start, pulling back from one another like guilty teenagers. Zelena is watching them with a half-wild look of delight, taking in their rushed movements as they stumble to their feet. Regina’s legs are numb from the cold, and she has to lean against Emma as she waits for the blood to circulate.

“Hello, Zelena,” Regina greets through gritted teeth. What impeccable timing. “We were just…”

“Making out on your front lawn? Oh yes, I’d figured that one out,” Zelena beams. She has a knit hat pulled over her flaming hair, a brilliant splash of color against the white background of snow. “And where, prey tell, is Henry?”

Regina’s eyes widen just a little as she realizes what Zelena is saying, and what they’ve done. They’ve kissed each other without pretense of any kind. She glances guiltily at Emma, who seems to take the question in stride. “He’s inside,” she says casually. Emma of course has no idea that Zelena is well aware of their agreement, and that she is revealing far more than she realizes.

“He is indeed,” Zelena agrees, crossing her arms with delight. “Tell me, Sheriff Swan, do you have any family abroad perhaps? Some relatives that might be in charge of say, a small and little-known European monarchy?”

Emma glances briefly to Regina, confusion evident in her green eyes. “What? No - I mean, I don’t have any family that I know of. Why?”

Zelena’s eyes widen and she steps forward to capture Emma’s forearm with excitement. “A mysterious past, my god, that’s even better.”

Regina scowls at her, stepping forward to remove Zelena’s hand from its vice-like grip on Emma. “Can we help you with something, dear?”

“Hm? Oh, yes,” Zelena laughs, clearly distracted by the truly compromising position she’s found them in. “I came to invite you both to my New Year’s Eve party. Henry is welcome as well, I’m hiring a sitter to look after the kids for the night. Leave the adults free to have some fun,” she winks. 

“I’m working a night shift that night,” Emma answers, stepping a little closer to Regina. “But maybe I can stop by on my break.”

“Wonderful,” Zelena smiles. “And you, Regina? Will you grace us with your presence, and perhaps some of your cider?”

“Yes, I’ll be there,” Regina nods. Anything to get Zelena and her too-observant eyes away from the two of them in this moment. 

“Excellent,” Zelena claps her hands together, the sound muted with her knit gloves on. “Well, I’ll let you both get back to it,” she smiles wickedly, waving a hand in their general direction. Regina feels her cheeks flush as her neighbour makes her exit. Her heart is starting to race as she looks back to Emma, trying to read her face.

“Sorry about before,” Emma says quickly, crossing her arms over her chest. “Got a little too deep into character,” she says with a tight laugh. Regina feels something in her deflate at the understanding that they won’t be dropping this pretense after all. She isn’t convinced that Emma isn’t attracted to her, she simply cannot believe that anyone is that good of an actor. But apparently that’s as far as it goes for her. Trying to keep her face neutral, she nods stiffly.

“It’s not a problem, Sheriff Swan.” She meets Emma’s eyes, praying she isn’t giving anything away in her expression. “I understand perfectly.”

The front door swings open, Henry calling out from the threshold. “Hey mom, would these cookies on the counter happen to be available for a growing young boy that just worked really, really hard?” 

Regina’s face breaks into a reluctant smile. “I suppose they might be. They haven’t been baked yet, so you’ll have to be patient. I”ll be right in.” Henry pumps a fist in the air, shutting the door behind himself. Regina turns back to Emma, who’s watching her with a somewhat hungry look in her eyes, a look that ten minutes ago she might have guessed was longing. Now though, she has no idea what it is that Emma might be thinking. “Well, if you’d like some cookies, and some non-stolen hot chocolate, you’re welcome to join us,” she offers, walking over to collect Henry’s abandoned shovel.

“I’d love to,” Emma says warmly, and sounds as though she means it.

“Excellent.” Regina walks up to her, handing her the shovel. Emma takes it without thinking, glancing from it to Regina with a confused look on her face. Regina manages to muster up a smirk. “We’ll see you after you finish the driveway.”

As Christmas day dawns, snow falling heavily from an iron-grey sky, and a glistening layer of ice on the windows, Regina has a hard time pulling herself from bed. She’s usually up at five to start breakfast, and to make sure that everything is ready for a perfect Christmas morning for her boy. This year, she allows herself a few extra minutes of warmth, settling in on her side as she watches the snow falling outside.

She wants to be happier about the holiday, to join her son in his celebration of everything to do with his favorite time of year. That had been the point of all of this, after all. But whatever her intentions were to begin with in asking Emma to make-believe a life with her, she’s ended up somewhere she could never have anticipated. And Christmas morning means that she only has a few days left with this fantasy, one that she has become more and more attached to. She always thought that she was content, that she needed nothing and no one but her son and her own ambitions. 

It only took a few weeks of an irksome blond with a dazzling smile to turn all of that upside down. Or perhaps, if she’s being honest, maybe Emma had turned things around already, and this was just her excuse to explore it further. Either way, Emma seems content to keep things as they are, or at least that is what Regina has chosen to assume. They had a chance to drop the pretense, to explore what they are to one another outside of this play act, and Emma hadn’t taken the bait. Regina pulls the covers tighter around herself as she remembers Emma’s tense expression from the other day, the anxious look in her eyes as she’d talked about “staying in character.”

It’s possible she isn’t as happy to play pretend as she made it out to be. It’s possible she’s just as terrified of all of this as Regina is herself. Or it’s possible Regina is just reading into everything out of misplaced wishful thinking. Heaving a heavy sigh, Regina pushes the covers off and hauls herself from bed, refusing to spend Christmas morning obsessing about Emma Swan. But as she makes her way downstairs, wrapping her robe tighter around herself, a thought occurs to her. She could tell Emma how she feels about her, really tell her. Without any excuses or pretense. Heart racing at the thought, she mechanically makes coffee, weighing the pros and cons.

The pros are obvious: she might get the chance to be with Emma. She could get a chance to know her, in the way that she’s only starting to now. And she wants that more than she realized. She wants to be the one that Emma comes to when she’s had a bad day. She wants to be the one to support her when she needs it, to take care of her when she’s sick. Regina realizes as she’s sipping her coffee that she is getting dangerously into wedding vow territory, and moves quickly to the cons.

The cons are that Emma wouldn’t feel the same, and they would return to their usual dynamic. Playful bickering and armloads of unnecessary paperwork, just because. Leaning with her back against the counter, Regina cradles her coffee in her hands, dark eyes tracking the falling snow outside. The math is easy, as it turns out. 

So it’s decided then, She will take the leap and tell Emma Swan, for better or worse, about her unfortunate, pathetic feelings. 

Now all she needs is a Christmas miracle.


Emma is working all day, something she typically does every year to cover for her colleagues with families. Regina hopes, as she fixes her lipstick, that perhaps next year she might have a reason to take the day off, though she concedes the possibility is remote. “Mom, she’s here!” Henry yells from the living room, where he’s been sitting with his nose plastered to the window for the last ten minutes waiting for Emma to arrive. It’s been all she can do to keep his face from freezing to the glass, heartwarming as it is. She hears a knock at the door and Henry’s feet slapping down the hall as he goes to get it.

Settling her anxious stomach with a deep breath, Regina goes out to greet their guest. Emma is shaking off her coat on the doormat, kicking the snow off her boots before stepping inside. The arctic rush of air is cut off as she shuts the door behind her. “Merry Christmas, Henry,” she beams, hugging him tight as he flings himself at her.

“Merry Christmas, Emma!”

Struggling to keep her knees from collapsing under the weight of how cute the moment is, Regina closes the distance between them as Henry releases Emma from his tight grip. “Hey, beautiful,” Emma beams. 

Regina allows herself to smile back, stepping forward to reach for Emma and kiss her gently. She smells like snow, crisp and fresh. “Merry Christmas, Sheriff,” she says softly. Emma’s chilly hands have found their way to her waist, and she takes them in her own, pressing a kiss to her icy knuckles to warm them. Emma appears to drink in the moment, warm eyes rapt with attention. “Have you eaten?” Regina asks. “We saved you a plate.”

“You did?” Emma’s eyebrows raise. “And here I thought I’d be living off the frozen energy bars in my glove compartment.”

“I much prefer you with teeth,” Regina muses. 

“That makes two of us,” Emma agrees, stepping closer. “Thanks for dinner. But why don’t we let the kid open his presents first?” she smiles, watching Henry bounce excitedly around the hall. 

Regina nods, following them into the living room. “I’m not excited to open my presents,” Henry explains. “Well - I am. But I’m more excited for you to open yours ,” he announces. 

“Mine?” Emma looks to Regina with surprise. They’d agreed they wouldn’t get each other anything, which Regina had somewhat ignored. 

“Start with your stocking first,” Henry instructs. 

“My what?” Emma asks, dazed. Her eyes are running over the room, the crackling fire, the twinkling tree, the small stack of presents, as though she can’t believe they’re real.

“You have a stocking, see?” Henry points at the third stocking over the fireplace, with Emma’s name stitched on the front. Emma’s eyes are locked on the red stocking, bursting with small gifts from both of them, and she appears to be frozen in place. 

“We had a spare already, it was no trouble,” Regina explains, unsure at what she’s seeing on Emma’s face.

“That’s not true,” Henry adds helpfully. “We made it ourselves.”

Regina clicks her tongue at her son, hiding behind her glass of cider. Emma laughs softly, her eyes shining as she steps forward to run her fingers along the edge of fabric. “Should I…?” she seems uncertain what to do, and Regina’s heart clenches as she nods at the stocking.

“Take it off the hook, and come sit down,” she instructs. Emma picks up the stocking and comes to sit on the couch with her, Henry settling in at her feet to watch. She pulls out hand-made cookies, hand warmers for her night shift patrol, a sturdy thermos for work that Regina plans on filling with something hot as often as she gets the chance, and a few other odds and ends. 

“Thank you guys,” she says softly, cradling her armload of gifts. “I - this is,” she shakes her head. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

“Why not?” Henry questions innocently, inspecting her thermos. “It’s Christmas.”

“Yeah,” Emma nods. “It is.” Regina runs her hands through Henry’s hair, aware that the idea of someone not getting gifts on Christmas is impossible to his understanding of the world. But she knows quite well now that that is certainly not the way that Emma has experienced it.

“You have more presents, you want ‘em now?” Henry asks, clearly enjoying the moment. 

“Uh, maybe in a minute,” Emma nods with a smile. “Is that cider?” she asks, gesturing to Regina’s glass.

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry - did you want one?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it,” she says quickly, making a smooth exit. Regina watches her head for the kitchen, her eyes noting the tension in the sheriff’s spine. 

“Henry, why don’t you get the other gifts ready, I’ll be right back.” She leaves her son to arrange the small pile of presents to his liking in front of the fireplace as she walks quietly to the kitchen. She finds Emma leaning against the counter with her arms crossed, staring at a glass of cider on the kitchen island with a thoughtful look on her face.

“Emma?” Regina asks gently. When she gets no response, she makes her way over to where Emma is standing. “Are you doing all right?”

Emma looks up at her, gaze heavy as she takes a deep breath. She doesn’t say anything, just reaches out an arm as she fights to keep her expression neutral. Regina steps into her outstretched embrace, allowing Emma to slowly pull her into a tight hug. She wraps her arms around Emma’s waist, leaning her head heavily on her shoulder. Emma holds her for a few long moments, her breathing even, until she replies at last against the side of Regina’s head. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Regina huffs against Emma’s chest. “Somehow, I’m not convinced.”

Emma pulls back, their arms still locked around each other. “No, I’m okay. I’m just not used to this kind of thing, I guess. And I know that I can’t let…” she cuts herself off, her breath hitching for a moment. Regina thinks she knows exactly what Emma was going to say. I can’t let myself get used to it. She wants to shake her, to grasp her head and tell her firmly that she can, that she should get used to all of it. That she doesn’t want Emma to exist in a world where receiving a gift is kindness enough to send her into a place of uncertainty. 

Her mind churns with a thousand different confessions she wants to make, but she can’t say any of it because Henry is in the other room, and this conversation was supposed to have happened months ago. So it will have to wait a little longer. She runs her thumb against Emma’s hip, aware at least that Emma allows these moments of intimacy outside of Henry’s involvement. It gives her a little heart that perhaps her plan isn’t so very far fetched. “We can stop for now?” she offers. “Whatever you need, darling.” The pet name slips out, and she can’t even let herself be angry about it, because Emma looks like she might be melting from it. 

“I’m okay. I just needed - this I guess,” she laughs softly. 

Regina nods, running her fingers through Emma’s golden curls, brushing them back from her face. “Emma! Mom! You coming?”

Regina rolls her eyes. “He runs a tight ship, what can I say?”

Emma wraps an arm around her, heading for the living room. “No idea where he might have gotten that one from, huh?”

*Absolutely none whatsoever.”


“Oh my god, I can’t believe I ate that much,” Emma groans, leaning back against the couch. 

“Yeah, mom’s cooking is kind of too good to stop,” Henry sympathizes, lifting his nose from where it’s deep in the new journal Emma gave him. She had wanted to support his love of writing, and had gifted him a handful of beautiful pens and leather-bound journals, which he’s been writing in furiously for the last twenty minutes. 

Regina smiles at the compliment, sipping her cider contentedly. A pile of small gifts are at Emma’s feet; a story Henry had written about her saving that town that he’d bound himself, a scarf and fingerless gloves that Regina had knit. Emma had also not listened to the no-gifts idea, and had registered Regina for skating lessons in the new year, taught by herself as the instructor. She’d also given her five tickets for “free driveway shoveling.” Regina couldn’t help but notice that both gifts are ways to spend time together even after the holidays are over, and the thought makes her feel even more brave than before.

“Well, perhaps we should walk it off, Sheriff. You still have one gift left,” Regina adds, sipping her cider with a sly smile. 

“What?” Emma asks, lifting her head with surprise. “But you’ve already given me so much,” she protests.

“One more won’t kill you,” Regina muses, standing to pull Emma to her feet. “Henry, come along, get your things on.” They all bundle up, stepping into the chilly, clear night. It’s finally stopped snowing, the sky a blanket of stars overhead. The air is so cold that for a moment Regina’s eyes blur with tears, stretching the stars out into a streak of light. Emma’s hand closes over hers as she blinks them away, her vision clearing to focus on Emma shooting her a warm look as they plunge ahead into the freezing night.

“So where are you taking me, Mayor Mills?” Emma asks, her fingers wrapping tighter around Regina’s as Henry runs ahead to swipe a pristine layer of snow off a mailbox. 

She cuts Emma a look. “You’ll see, just be patient.”

“Excuse you, I am the queen of patience,” Emma scoffs, her exhaled breath misting in front of her face.

“Give me one example of your endless patience,” Regina replies skeptically, luxuriating in the chance to rile her, as always.

“I waited for you, didn’t I?” Emma replies tartly. Regina’s head snaps in her direction, eyebrows raised at the comment. Emma’s eyes widen as she quickly adds, “To accept my dumb paperwork, I mean.” She quickly pulls her gaze from Regina, looking down at her own boots crunching through the soft snow. 

“True,” Regina adds softly, opting not to explore that further for the moment, though her heart is pounding. 

“And let’s not forget that it took you two months to respond to my daily requests to get the air conditioning fixed last summer,” Emma adds, clearly on a roll now. “Meanwhile your half of town hall was suspiciously unaffected.”

Regina rolls her eyes. The truth was that there was a rare part that had to be shipped from Canada in order to repair the system, but she had very much enjoyed having a sweaty Emma Swan come to her office to complain daily, while she kept pretending that her maintenance requests had been lost in the system. “I am sorry that all thirty of your requests were lost in translation but that’s hardly my own fault,” Regina quips, smirking to herself as Emma gets herself worked up.

“And then there was the time -”


Emma pauses in her tirade, turning to her with flashing eyes. “ What.

“We’re here.”

“What? Oh!” Clearly in her trip down memory lane in which Regina had allowed various delays in parts and maintenance to torture Emma psychologically, Emma had forgotten the purpose of their outing in the first place. “We’re at work,” she comments, frowning with confusion.

“Indeed,” Regina confirms. “Come along,” she tugs on Emma’s hand. “Henry, look both ways young man,” she accosts her son, who had been so excited at the prospect of giving Emma her gift that he’d ripped across the street without the least precaution.

“Sorry, mom!” he grins, waving them across the street.

“You want me to ticket him for jaywalking?” Emma grins. Regina elbows her, suppressing a smile. 

“Just come with me, and close your eyes,” Regina instructs. Emma’s eyes narrow suspiciously until Regina puts her hands on her hips, offense rising. With a sigh, Emma closes her eyes, and appears to be bracing herself for bodily injury. “Ridiculous,” Regina mutters, taking her by the hand and leading her to the covered parking. In her spot is a brand-new sheriff’s squad car, with Storeybrook Sheriff’s Department emblazoned on the side. 

Henry had gone early and placed a ludicrously tiny bow on the hood, and he’s standing next to the car proudly as he calls, “Open your eyes!”

Emma blinks a few times, her eyes focusing on the shining new car in front of her. Her mouth drops open, hands flying to her chest with disbelief. “No way, ” she gasps, eyes wide as she takes it all in. “This can’t be real,” she says breathlessly, stepping forward to touch a finger to the hood as though the whole thing will collapse into a pile of boxes.

“It’s quite real, I assure you,” Regina says with a soft smile, watching Emma absorb the reality of the moment. 

“Catch!” Henry calls, tossing her the keys. She catches them distractedly, mind still catching up to the moment. “Come on, get in!” Henry urges, impatient with her prolonged processing. That seems to snap Emma into reality, because she unlocks the car with a wide grin and slides into the driver’s seat with a very un-sheriff-like squeal of delight. 

“Oh my god, is this what it’s like to have a car that doesn’t smell like mildew and twenty years of takeout?” she gasps, wrapping her fingers tightly around the wheel. Her excitement is catching, and Regina smiles to herself as she watches Emma and her son try all the new dials and options. She walks up to the open car door just as Emma notices there’s something in the CD player. She hits play and Survivor by Destiny’s Child blasts through the speakers. She turns to Regina as she hits pause, a wry grin on her face. “I hate you.”

“Liar,” Regina smiles. Emma steps out of the car, beaming, and sweeps Regina into a tight hug. 

“Thank you so much,” she says softly, causing Regina’s heart to seize. After a few too-brief moments, Emma sets her down again, turning to run her hand over the roof of the car. 

“Thank the taxpayers,” Regina replies, trying to hide how breathless she is. “And remember this is technically city property,” she adds.

Emma rolls her eyes. “Well then tell the taxpayers I said thank you,” she says slyly, smiling at Regina over her shoulder. Her curls are spilling out from under her beanie, and Regina has the strongest desire to knock it from her head and dive her fingers into that soft hair.

“I will,” Regina nods, clearing her throat. Get it together, Regina. She pulls the paperwork out of her pocket, along with a pen.  “All you need to do is sign and it’s officially yours.”

“You’re seriously going to make me do paperwork on Christmas?” Emma accuses, as though Regina had just asked her to run laps around town hall. 

“It’s one signature, I’m sure you’ll survive.” Emma walks over and reluctantly takes the paperwork, along with the pen Regina offers her, turning to place them on the roof of the car. “Wait, aren’t you even going to read it?” Regina asks.

“Nah,” Emma shakes her head, long lashes resting on her cheek as she goes to sign. “I trust you.”

“Since when?” Regina retorts, but only to hide the fact that Emma’s comment has affected her deeply. 

Emma shrugs. “Just because you drive me nuts doesn’t mean…” she trails off, her eyes narrowing at the paperwork. “Wait a second. This is dated in September.”

Regina’s mouth goes dry. Oh, hell. “So it is,” she confesses, crossing her arms tensely.

Emma looks up at her, face serious. “But you made me redo it like ten times,” she says with confusion. “You’re telling me you approved it after the very first time I submitted it?”

“I…suppose so, yes,” Regina confirms with a nod of her head, cheeks flaming.

“Why?” Emma asks simply, the hand holding her papers dropping to her side. A million different answers fly through Regina’s head. Because I have an egregious crush on you and the only way I could think to express it was to drive you insane with a Kafkaesque amount of paperwork, is the only coherent - and true - response that comes to mind. 

“I…” she starts, crossing her arms over herself. “Well, because I…” she presses her lips together. This is it, an opportunity to be honest. But Henry will surely tire of pushing buttons in the car soon enough, and aside from that, now that she’s faced with the chance she’d been waiting for, she’s paralyzed with fear. Emma’s watching her expectantly, but after another few moments of Regina floundering, she nods softly, almost to herself. She steps forward, wrapping her fingers around Regina’s scarf and pulling her forward into a kiss. Regina hears the sound of the papers and pen fluttering to the ground as Emma drops them to pull her closer, a hand to the small of her back. 

Regina’s hands fly up to bury themselves in Emma’s hair, her hat falling to the ground as she returns the kiss with enthusiasm. Maybe she isn’t quite ready to lay it all bare just yet, but surely she can telegraph some of her feelings this way. Regina sighs softly against her lips as Emma’s hand dips lower on her back. Her teeth slide along Regina’s tongue, biting at her lips, and the torrent of heat that unleashes is enough for her to break the kiss, chest heaving. 

“Sorry,” Emma pants. “Too much?”

No ,” Regina says emphatically, nearly baring her teeth in her conviction. “I just -” she glances to Henry, who’s chosen this moment to hop out of the car.

“Hey, can we take a drive in your new car, Emma?” he asks. 

“Sure kid,” Emma turns to him, one arm still around Regina’s waist. “Get in the back and we’ll lock you in like a true criminal.”

“Awesome!” Henry shouts, gleefully getting into the backseat behind the grille.

Regina clicks her tongue, nudging Emma with an elbow, but can’t find it in herself to be annoyed at her son feigning a life of crime. Not with Emma’s eyes so full as she turns back to her. “Regina…” she says softly, stepping a little closer. Regina’s eyes widen a little, unsure where this is going. “I just…” Emma shakes her head softly, curls falling into her eyes. She brings her gaze back. “Merry Christmas.”

Regina heaves a sigh of disappointment and relief. She nods, smiling warmly. “Merry Christmas, Emma.”

“And you won’t feed him too much candy? Or that sparkling apple juice?”

“Regina, would you relax and let Henry have some fun, for god's sake?”

Regina scowls at her red-headed neighbor as she interrogates the sitter Zelena has hired to watch the children this evening. “Well you’re not the one that will have to clean up the aftermath,” she says archly.

“Mom, that was once and I was six,” Henry protests. “Give me a little credit.”

Relenting, Regina shoos him off, the babysitter following warily behind him. Zelena has designated their basement rec room as the site for a children’s version of New Years, one where the countdown begins at nine-thirty, and with any luck they will be in their sleeping bags by ten. “Now, did you bring your sheriff with you? And where’s that cider?”

Regina scoffs, pushing her way past Zelena and entering the crowd of people. “She is working tonight, as you well know. And the cider is in your garage, it will stay cold in there without taking up any space in the fridge.”

“Genius,” Zelena acknowledges, her royal blue evening dress sparkling in the low light of her living room. “Well, go, mingle. I’ll catch up with you later,” she threatens, and Regina resolves to avoid that as much as humanly possible. She can’t take the teasing, not when things are so fragile to begin with.

She hasn’t seen much of Emma since Christmas, she’s working through the interim between Christmas and the new year. Though she stopped by a few nights ago before her shift so Regina could fill her thermos with a hearty soup for later. The look of gratitude, and the lingering kiss she’d gotten in return was enough to warm her far more than any stew. Still, she’s been in a turmoil for days trying to plan just what it is she’s going to say to the sheriff. She isn’t one for declaring her feelings, as the last five years of relentless teasing can attest to. 

She lets the other guests pull her from her thoughts, Mary Margaret and her friend Ruby waving her over to join them. She manages to behave like a semi-normal member of society as the night wears on, only watching the clock every other minute to check the time. Emma had said she’d try to stop by before midnight, and the thought leaves Regina breathless. Should she tell her after the countdown? But how will they find a moment alone? Furious with herself for her inability to convey her feelings like a functioning adult, she pushes through the pressing crowd and makes her way to the kitchen to have some of her own cider. 

Zelena has brought a few bottles inside, resting in a bucket of ice on the counter, and she opens one and takes a sip, sighing at the brief reprieve. “I didn’t get a chance to mention that you look lovely, darling,” Zelena comments, coming out of the pantry with several bags of chips. She eyes the snacks in her hands, “Crisps, I know. Not exactly the hand-made appetizers I can only assume you’d be capable of making, but we can’t all be a bloody pastry chef, can we?” she muses, dumping the chips into a bowl. 

Regina absorbs both the compliment and the self-deprecation as she sips her cider. “There’s nothing wrong with your snack choices, Zelena, it’s your party after all. And thanks,” she acknowledges, smoothing down the tight black dress she’s wearing. “It’s new.”

“Bought to impress Emma, no doubt?” Zelena smirks, eyebrows rising. “Not that you need to, she’s clearly smitten. Have you figured out which small caucasian country her line descends from?”

Regina narrows her eyes, red fingernails tightening around her cider. “Enough, Zelena. Haven’t you had your fun with this already?”

“Not hardly,” Zelena retorts, ripping open a packaged loaf of bread and haphazardly throwing the slices on a plate. “But I suppose time is running out for that, since your fun is nearly over, and her fairy godmother will soon be returning to take away her magic shoes, or something like that,” she adds distractedly, pulling a container of hummus out of the fridge. “Unless of course you choose to tell her you’re absolutely in -”

“Zelena, stop,” Regina snarls sharply enough that the other woman’s eyebrows raise a fraction. “I won’t be telling her anything of the kind,” she lies. She can’t stand the thought of talking about this with anyone other than Emma, and Zelena’s comments are starting to drive her to the brink as it is.

“You mean you’re not…?” Zelena trails off, eyeing her as she uses a spoon to scrape the hummus into a bowl.

“Of course not,” Regina retorts. “Don’t be absurd. Emma is a coworker and nothing more.” Zelena snorts at that, but wisely says nothing. “After tonight she will go back to being my coworker, which is what I want. The thought that I might be interested in her is frankly ludicrous,” she hisses, all of her frustration with herself coming out in a rush at the nearest possible target. 


“What,” she snarls.

Zelena juts her chin over Regina’s shoulder, and she turns to see Emma standing in the doorway looking stricken, her wide brimmed sheriff’s hat clutched against her chest. “I was just…” she says in a strained voice. Regina is horror-struck, frozen in place as she watches Emma try to school the hurt on her face. “I was on a break but I got a call so I have to, um,” she stutters, before she turns in place and pushes her way down the hall. 

“Oh fuck ,” Regina swears in a shuddering breath.

Zelena sighs, placing her hands on the kitchen island. “Go on,” she nods a head in the direction Emma went. “Go get your girl. And stay gone, you can come get Henry in the morning.”

“Are you sure?” Regina asks, though she’s already turning to chase after Emma.

“Go,” Zelena repeats. “And hey, I was only being a bastard about all this because I’m happy for you,” she adds. 

Regina pauses in her exit, turning back to hastily plant a kiss on Zelena’s cheek, chuckling to herself at the squawk this elicits. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she pushes Regina towards the door. “You can get me back next year. I’m sure some bland, caucaisan prince charming will come to town looking to live among the populace and you can help me seduce him.” Her rambling fades out of earshot as Regina pushes her way out of the kitchen and into the hall, grabbing her coat from the rack and racing out to see that Emma is already long gone. 

Ignoring her impractical heels, she marches across the hard-packed, frozen snow towards the sheriff’s station. She reasons that even if Emma’s not there she can bully the on-duty dispatcher into telling her where she is. Except that when she barges her way into the station, the gruff Leroy manning the desk is absolutely no help at all. “She took the rest of the night off, Mayor Mills,” he tells her, barely glancing up from his book. “Got the rest of her shift covered, something about a party.”

“Goddammit,” she curses, turning on her heel.

“Happy new year,” he replies blandly. 

Regina forces her way back outside, bare legs burning in the cold as she turns eastward, heading for Emma’s home. She tries her phone for the third time and gets no answer, just managing not to throw hers in a bush in frustration. She grits her teeth against the frigid wind that has started to pick up, trudging down the sidewalk as she thinks. If Emma isn’t home she has no idea what else to do. She’s not drunk, but she’s had enough cider that she shouldn’t drive, and she can’t very well trudge around all night in this weather in a dress, winter coat aside. 

Thankfully Storeybrook is a small enough town, and Emma lives close enough to the city center that Regina is only mostly numb by the time she arrives at her apartment building. She forces herself up the stairs on frozen legs, banging a frigid hand against Emma’s door as she prays the sheriff is home. Mercifully, Emma pulls the door open a moment later, the hot rush of air a welcome relief.

“What are you doing here, Regina?” she asks in a defeated-sounding voice that makes Regina’s body ache with something other than the cold.

“Is there any chance I can answer that question inside?” Regina asks, unable to keep her jaw from shaking with cold. 

“Oh, yes, yeah,” Emma answers, taking in Regina’s impractical outfit. She pulls her inside, going to grab a blanket from the couch to replace the jacket Regina hangs by the door. 

“Thank you,” Regina says softly as she wraps it around her shoulders, her anxiety rising now that she’s managed to find the source of all this turmoil. Emma has changed into her pajamas, worn tights and an oversized, long-sleeved shirt. Her hair is pulled into a loose braid, and it’s the most undone Regina has ever seen her. With the way she’s huddled in her living room, arms crossed, she looks so fragile that Regina knows she will have to be so very careful how she does this.

She steps forward, trying to find the right words, but Emma stops her before she can begin. “You don’t have to,” she says in a rush, raising a palm. At Regina’s confused expression, she elaborates. “Explain, I mean. You don’t have to…” she shakes her head, her body curling in on herself. “You don’t owe me anything. I agreed to this, I knew what I was getting myself into.” She sits back on the arm of her couch, letting her chin fall to her chest. “And I was just stupid, I guess,” she admits. “I let myself believe for a minute that maybe I would get to keep…” She searches for the words, a sad, rueful smile on her face as she looks up. “Something good.”

Regina pauses mid-step towards her, heart in her throat at the confession. “You mean, you want to keep us?” she replies, internally berating herself for phrasing it in such a foolish way.

Emma looks up at her with that sad smile that is making Regina’s throat tight. “Let’s just say I didn’t only agree to this idea because of Henry.” She sighs, closing her eyes for a moment, and Regina aches to reach for her, but she’s paralyzed, waiting for her to go on. “I’ve had a thing for you for a while. Or like, forever,” she laughs in a self-deprecating way, though her candid words are sucking the breath from Regina’s lungs. “I thought that maybe if we hung out more, you’d see that I’m more than just a constant pain in the ass. That maybe you would…” She tugs on her own sleeves, fixing her eyes on her hands like she can’t bring herself to look up. “Like I said,” she shrugs. “Stupid.”

Regina finally allows herself to move, stepping closer and taking Emma’s hands in her own. “I know there’s more to you than our constant bickering,” Regina says softly. She reaches a hand out to take Emma’s chin and lift it, forcing Emma to meet her gaze. “I’ve known that for a long time.” Emma’s eyes are searching her face, her breathing hitching slightly. “And while we’re being honest with one another, I will confess that there was a reason your name was the first to come to mind when I started all of this.” She squeezes Emma’s chin a little, trying to telegraph the weight of her meaning through her touch. “I was too much of a coward to tell you that I liked you, so I chose to pull on your pigtails like a boy in the schoolyard, hoping you’d get the hint.”

Emma’s voice is raspy with emotion as she answers dazedly. “I’ve never been great with subtext.”

Regina laughs, and it’s a release of the tension coiled in her belly. Dropping the blanket that’s wrapped around her, she brings her other hand up to cradle Emma’s face gently. “Emma,” she says, gathering her courage as she raises her eyebrows with a question. “Can we keep you?”

Emma lets out a soft, hitching breath as a tear spills from her eye, Regina swiping it away with her thumb. “Yes,” she answers with a soft laugh of disbelief. She reaches up to hold Regina’s hands where they’re cradling her face, her expression becoming serious. “You can keep me.”

A rush of emotions floods through Regina’s body as she leans down to kiss Emma firmly, her hands sliding up to bury themselves in the twists of her braid. Emma makes a soft sound in the back of her throat, drinking her in as she stands up. Emma’s tongue slides against her own, teeth scraping in the way that makes Regina shiver. Her hands slide down Regina’s back, cupping her ass firmly as she kisses her over and over. She laughs against Regina’s mouth for a moment, pulling back with a soft smile. “Wait, does this mean I just used my last ass grab with you?”

She leans down to bite Regina gently on the ear, pulling a gasp from her. “I suppose I could allow you a few more, ongoing,” she muses, her hands sliding up under Emma’s shirt to rake her nails across Emma’s stomach. “Within reason,” she adds. 

“Oh, I’m very reasonable,” Emma replies against the side of her head, and Regina can hear the smile in her voice. Her fingers come up to the top of the zipper on Regina’s back, and she holds them there, leaning back to ask, “Can I?” Unable to speak, Regina simply nods, arousal pulsing through her limbs as Emma unzips her dress. It falls around her shoulders, pooling at her feet along with the blanket she’d abandoned. 

“Oh fuck, ” Emma breathes, taking her in. Regina replies by grasping the edge of Emma’s shirt, looking up at her for a quick nod of approval before yanking it over her head. She can barely stay standing with the weight of her own arousal pulsing between her legs, her knees weakening at the sight of Emma, beautiful and bare-chested before her. She lets her hands rove over Emma’s chest, followed by her mouth, tongue moving across her bare skin. 

Emma swears under her breath, hands raking down Regina’s body, mapping across her back, her hips, like she can’t believe she’s allowed to do this, like she needs to make sure Regina is true flesh and blood before her. “Come here,” she says in a husky voice, leaning down to lift Regina off her feet. 

Regina wraps herself around Emma, sinking her sharp teeth into the soft, vulnerable flesh of her neck as she allows Emma to carry her upstairs to her bedroom loft. Emma drops her lightly on her bed, reaching down to push her own pants off her hips. “Awfully presumptuous of you,” Regina teases, even as she pulls Emma tightly against her. She barely recognizes her own voice, raspy and cracking with arousal. 

“You’re so right,” Emma replies, rocking her hips against Regina enough to make her hiss through her teeth, clenching her eyes shut at the barrage of sensation. “Totally uncalled for,” she adds, raking her blunt nails down the flesh of Regina’s thighs. Regina pulls Emma’s mouth to hers, their kissing increasingly desperate and sloppy in a way that is driving her insane. “Do you want me to stop?” Emma asks, pulling back to rest her forehead against Regina’s as they both try to control their breathing. Emma’s still teasing a little, but Regina can hear the honest question in her voice too. 

“Don’t you dare,” she orders, with all the might of her mayoral authority in her voice. 

“Yes ma’am,” Emma grins. In a truly impressive feat, Emma has all of Regina’s underwear cast over the side of the bed in what feels like a heartbeat, her hands roving now with much more purpose than before. Thighs shaking in anticipation, Regina digs her fingernails into Emma’s shoulders deep enough that she knows there will be marks come tomorrow, and she smiles wickedly at the thought. 

As Emma’s hands reach down to touch her, rushing over her overheated skin with confidence, she realizes just how long it’s been since she’s been touched like this by anyone but herself. And even still, it was never like this. The intimacy of this moment, as Emma’s hands move inside her, as the warm weight of her pins her to the bed, is something far more powerful than Regina has ever experienced. She realizes, as she moves against Emma, as she kisses her messily, as she meets her eyes time and again, that this feeling of connection is exactly what she had been so terrified of. But as Emma’s fingers bring her over the edge in exquisite release, sounds flying from her mouth in a way she can’t quite bring herself to be ashamed of, she finds with a moment of pure clarity that she isn’t afraid at all. 

Breathing heavily, Emma pulls her hands from Regina’s body, falling next to her on the bed as she pulls Regina into her side. The sounds of pots and pans banging, and joyous cheers reach their ears, both of them glancing to the window, and the world outside they’d completely forgotten. A smile pulling at her mouth, she turns to Emma, running a hand across her chest. “Happy new year, Sheriff Swan.”

Emma pulls her in for a lazy kiss. “Happy new year, Mayor Mills.”

Their languid kisses become more heated, Regina’s hands more purposeful, as the taste of Emma causes her arousal to return with a vengeance. Sliding herself onto Emma until she’s straddling her waist, she looks down at Emma with a look of pure lust that has Emma’s pulse visibly jumping in her neck. “Well,” she says in a rasping voice, tilting her head back. 

“What do you say we start the new year off right?”

“Henry Mills, are you trying to break your mother’s neck?”

Regina lectures her son as she wades through a sea of ornament boxes littering the floor, handing Emma a mug of tea, which she follows with an indulgent kiss. Emma’s eyes are full and bright as she pulls back, cradling her tea in one hand as she passes Henry another ornament from the tree. “Mom, I have a system here,” he explains, setting the shining red sphere back in its box, tucked away safely for the season.

“Yeah, Regina, there’s a whole system,” Emma winks. Regina scowls at her, before burying herself in Emma’s side, uncaring at the level of need she’s displaying. Emma certainly doesn’t seem to mind, wrapping an arm around her and pressing a kiss to the side of her head. 

“Emma, focus,” Henry lectures. “We still have like a hundred of these to box.” Emma chokes back a laugh, releasing Regina to hand her demanding son another ornament. “Sorry kid,” she says solemnly, her eyes glittering.

Henry nods benevolently, setting the reindeer in its box. “So, now that Christmas is over, do you think it worked?” Henry asks, reaching out a hand for the next one.

Emma frowns, turning to him. “Did what work?”

“The Christmas Magic,” Henry explains. “I mean, did we do it right? Did your heart grow three sizes?” 

Emma’s eyes are a little damp as she glances at Regina for a moment, then back to her son. “Yeah kid,” she says in a tight voice. “You made a believer out of me. My heart busted that scale like nobody’s business.”

Henry smiles at her, opening another box. “Good,” he nods with approval. “I hoped so.”

Emma smiles warmly at him as she passes him another ornament, Regina trying not to melt at their exchange as she takes down the stockings from the fireplace. “You know, it’s kinda sad. Putting all this away,” Emma muses. 

“Well that’s the good part about Christmas, dear,” Regina replies, catching Emma’s eye as she holds her stocking in her hands. “There’s always next year.”

Emma meets her gaze, a fierce look of affection and joy on her face. “Yeah,” she nods.

“Next year.”