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a long way down (to the place where we started from)

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On Thursday night she says to hell with it and takes her life into her own hands.

“Henry needs cookies for school tomorrow, and I thought…” Emma trails off, lifting two shopping bags up. She looks into Regina’s disbelieving eyes and suddenly doesn’t know what she’d thought. Why standing on Regina’s front porch as an unexpected visitor had sounded like such a good idea a couple of hours ago. “I thought that maybe we could do this together.”

Emma Swan has always lived a bit dangerously.

Regina studies her cooly for a long moment. “You mean you don’t know how.”

We both know that’s not true, Emma thinks, annoyed. Years of Regina’s memories are now her memories and though the more mundane ones fade away a bit more with each passing day, the habits Emma had picked up along the way haven't. Regina’s own culinary knowledge had jump started Emma’s until she knew Henry’s favorite recipes by heart and when to add a little more cinnamon and a little less salt and somehow she was now damned near competent in a kitchen. Emma still doesn’t enjoy it, exactly, but she can make a passably good version of her son’s favorite meals and that’s… something that Regina definitely doesn’t need to know.

This cannot become yet another thing that Emma has taken from her.

And maybe it’s the little bit of insecurity in the corner of Regina’s eyes or the slight wobble of her mouth, but Emma just smiles brightly and says, “You know me, totally hopeless in a kitchen.” Regina lets out an exasperated sigh and steps back to allow Emma into the house.

It’s a start, she thinks.

The house feels still, empty. Stale. Like it did back after the first curse broke, back when she and Regina had only just stopped throwing one another into walls and threats were a regular part of daily life. Regina leads the way into the kitchen and Emma sets the bags of ingredients down on the counter.

“With the curse and all, I didn’t know what you’d have so I just brought everything.”

“Not everyone is completely incompetent at stocking a pantry,” Regina retorts, but she paws through the bags and pulls things out one by one, her nose wrinkling in distaste occasionally as she notes that some of the products are generic brands. Emma might have Regina’s memories, but she still has her own too and she’ll be damned if she spends twice as much for the same items. Not when the memories of going without for days and weeks and years at a time still weigh so heavily.

Except for chocolate. Regina’s memories have taught her that one matters, and so she splurges for the good stuff. Regina looks up at her curiously when she sees that and sets the bags of chocolate carefully onto the counter.

“You needed my help for chocolate chip cookies?” Regina asks skeptically. Emma just shrugs and Regina, for once in her life, drops it.

Emma watches as Regina bustles about, pulling bowls and measuring cups out of the cupboards and turning the oven on. There’s a plan in her head, clearly the product of years of being the sole parent, and as usual the only thing in her way is Emma. 

“Are you helping or not?” Regina asks as she shuffles awkwardly around Emma for the third time. Emma nods and reaches for a bowl, starts measuring out dry ingredients as Regina pulls the mixer out of its usual place on the counter. She unwraps the butter and places it into the mixer, turning the speed up, the steady thunk thunk setting Emma’s nerves on edge. 

Emma passes her the measured sugars without a word and Regina adds them to the bowl. The mixer continues to hum and Regina turns back to her. Emma hands her the vanilla.

“What’s this really about, Emma?” Regina asks. She pours the vanilla in as Emma cracks the eggs into a separate bowl. “Some sort of pity visit, or were you just worried that I might turn evil again?”

Emma sucks in a breath, her whole body tensing. She should have played dumb, she realizes, but muscle memory took over before she could form any sort of plan. She’s spent the past year as Henry’s only mother, making cookies and arranging playdates and signing permission slips, and as inconvenient as they are right now, these habits don’t seem to want to fade. 

“We’re both his moms, right?” Emma says. She passes Regina the eggs and Regina looks into the mixer, apparently deciding that it’s not yet time to add them. She’s wrong, but fine. Emma will let her have this one. “Seems like we should do some of the mom things together.”

“I was perfectly capable of doing this on my own before you showed up,” Regina replies. She purses her lips unhappily and quickly adds the eggs. Emma tries to bite back a smug grin. 

“And I managed just fine last year,” Emma says tersely. She thinks of Regina’s agonized, heartbroken eyes in the diner when she'd first seen Henry and the sound of shattered dishes against the floor, and lets out a breath. “But I just thought, I don’t know — that it might be nice to not do everything alone for a change.” She shakes her head and stirs the dry ingredients together again for something to do with her hands. “Maybe it’s a crazy idea.” 

She’d promised to fight for Regina just a few days ago, but right now when the waves of fury and defeat are still radiating off of Regina it seems more impossible than ever. Regina switches off the mixer and suddenly it’s entirely too quiet, just the two of them in this big, empty kitchen.

“It just gets a little lonely sometimes, you know?” Emma confesses, keeping her eyes studiously on the bowl. It’s part of what had drawn her to Walsh in New York, as much of a disaster as that had been. It’s what keeps her at her parents’ loft, despite the crowding and the screaming infant. When she thinks about it for more than half a second, it’s what keeps her in Storybrooke even when the rational part of her brain is begging her to throw Henry in the Bug and never look back.

“Sometimes,” Regina agrees, reluctantly. She reaches over and settles her hand over Emma’s, where it’s wrapped around the wooden spoon. “You can stop stirring that now.”

Emma glances up and meets Regina’s eyes - they’re warm and soft and there’s these gold flecks against the dark brown and it reminds her of a few weeks ago in Regina’s office and trying to restore her memories, of believing Regina. Regina had looked at her with such longing that she’d thought maybe, just maybe, they were onto something. Together. Finally.

Regina drops her gaze and her dark brown hair falls into her face. God, she’s beautiful, Emma thinks, her eyes tracing along Regina’s jawline, the light brown of her skin along her collarbone. Regina’s still in a silk blouse and slacks, of course, but somehow she seems a little more relaxed her in the kitchen, making cookies at night like any other mother. Emma catches herself and pulls her hand away, passing the bowl to Regina. 

“Here,” she says, a little too brightly. Regina’s eyes retreat a bit and Emma curses herself. She opens the bags of chocolate chips and eats a couple, sliding a handful across the counter to Regina. Regina’s eyes brighten and she pops one, two into her mouth, a tiny secret smile on her lips that Emma suddenly longs to taste.

Maybe making cookies with Regina was a terrible idea.

She busies herself with parchment paper for the next few minutes while Regina finishes the dough and when she turns back the little pile of chocolates on the counter is gone and Regina is holding out a cookie scoop to her, expectantly. Emma takes it and they work side by side, creating identical little trays of cookie dough. Emma grabs some dough and pops it into her mouth, moaning in delight at the mixture of sugar and butter and chocolate.

“There is raw egg in there!” Regina exclaims, smacking at Emma’s hands. 

“Hasn’t killed me yet,” Emma says proudly, and Regina just huffs and goes back to her cookies. 

Regina tosses her head back, blowing at this lock of hair that keeps stubbornly falling into her face. Before her brain can intervene and tell her this is a very, very bad idea, she reaches over and tucks it gently behind Regina’s ear, her fingertips trailing along the shell of Regina’s ear and down her jawline. Her hair is longer than Emma's ever seen it before, and it softens her somehow. Blends away those harsh Madam Mayor lines until she's just Regina.

Regina looks at her, eyes stunned, lips parted, and oh, how Emma longs to kiss her. There’s this pull in her chest that she hasn’t felt in years, tugging her closer to Regina’s warmth in the late evening light of the kitchen. She brushes her thumb along Regina’s cheekbone, leaving a little smudge of flour behind. It’s oddly adorable and Emma isn’t able to keep the fondness off of her face. 

And Regina is just… still. For maybe the first time since Emma’s met her, she’s totally unable to read her and it’s unsettling in the extreme. 

“Sorry, I…” Emma reaches up again and brushes the flour away, ignoring how soft Regina’s skin is against the slight grit of the flour. “You had a little bit of flour.” 

Regina nods and returns to her task. Emma’s still standing there dumbly, suddenly unsure what to do with her hands, so Regina finishes her tray as well and then carries them both over to the oven. The beeping of the oven timer being set jars Emma out of her reverie and she busies herself with putting ingredients away, trying to push the silken feeling of Regina’s hair out of her mind.

“Is that pirate still following you around?” Regina asks suddenly. Emma looks up, surprised.

“Unfortunately,” she replies. “He’s not much for taking a hint.”

Regina hums thoughtfully and Emma adds, “You know, I had him arrested for stalking when we were in New York.” Assault too, but Emma doesn’t mention that part. She doesn’t think that Regina will take kindly to the idea of Hook kissing her, even as she might be delighted that his idea that they were true loves had been crushed pretty much immediately.

Regina barks out a laugh, her face aglow with unexpected delight, and Emma smiles at the sight. “So your cursed self was onto something,” Regina muses.

“I think she had better instincts in some ways,” Emma replies, and realizes that it’s probably true. Cursed Emma didn’t have decades of baggage to lug around and she had Henry and maybe that’s what made the difference. Maybe that’s what helped her see a bit more clearly.

“Robin isn’t around tonight?” Emma asks. She’s trying to sound casual, but has a feeling that she’s failing miserably at the task. Regina doesn’t seem to notice, or if she does she’s too polite to mention it.

“No. He’s at his camp with his men.” There’s something in her tone that Emma can’t quite read, and honestly the idea of Regina, a person whose dry cleaning bill totals half of Emma’s weekly salary, being with anyone who lives in the woods by choice seems… confusing, at best.

“You two seem…” Emma searches for the right word. “Happy,” she settles on. Happy is neutral. Happy is… good. Happy is what she wants for Regina.

Regina smiles softly, then ducks down to look at the cookies through the oven window. “It’s nice to have someone after so long,” is all she says and Emma wants to pick at that but something about the vulnerability in Regina’s eyes keeps her quiet. 

Besides, it’s not like she doesn’t understand the sentiment. 

Even now, she can feel the pull of Hook wanting her like an expectation dragging her down. He feels like an eventuality, something she’ll surrender to because it’s just easier. And without Henry full time, with her parents and their new baby, well… 

Emma’s had quite enough of being alone. Maybe Regina has too.

“I think I can understand that,” Emma murmurs. 

Regina looks up at her in surprise, irritation plain on her face. “You’re surrounded by people who love you, Emma. Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

Emma shakes her head and starts getting the second batch of cookies ready, needing something to do. It’s easier to talk to Regina when she’s doing something, when she doesn’t have to look into her eyes. Regina is just so much that sometimes it’s overwhelming and Emma can’t find her way out of a situation until it’s too late.

“It’s different with them,” Emma insists. Regina scoffs, but Emma continues anyway, needing her to understand. “My parents… they don’t understand me. Not really. And before them, everyone left. Everyone.” Foster families, Lily, Neal... Even her parents had tried to leave, she thinks, her mind flashing back to Neverland and the dizzying speed with which Mary Margaret had agreed to spend the rest of eternity with David, so long as they were together. Emma once again nowhere in the equation of their happily ever after. Emma’s eyes suddenly feel a bit watery and she blinks hard to keep the tears in.

She lets out a shaky breath and glances over at Regina, who is watching her with these wide open eyes that Emma knows she can get lost in if she isn’t careful. She looks away. 

“I think I get it more now. Now that I’ve had other memories. I get how much I didn’t have, before. And now, I guess.” It's an ugly truth and one full of loss and regret, but one that Emma needed to see and a completely unintentional gift from Regina.

Regina gasps and reaches for Emma’s hands, cool soft skin slipping against her own. “Oh, Emma, I didn’t—“

“I know,” Emma murmurs. She looks up and waits for Regina to meet her gaze. “You gave me such a gift, Regina. It just… it hurts a little, too.” 

Regina nods, her eyes guilty, and she looks down to where their hands are joined. “I’m sorry.”

Emma reaches out a hand and tips Regina’s chin up before she can stop herself. “Never apologize for giving me more time with Henry,” she says fiercely. “Even if it wasn’t real.”

Regina nods slowly and Emma’s still touching her face, unable to move away. Regina’s eyes are searching hers for something, Emma can’t tell what, and she thinks that maybe she could stay here in this warm, sweet-smelling kitchen forever.

The timer beeps and Regina jumps, darting away. Emma closes her eyes and curses silently.

What is happening tonight?

She and Regina have been on the precipice of something for weeks, but this… this feels like dancing on the edge of a cliff and praying that the fall is worth it. Her stomach twists uncomfortably as she realizes that there’s no coming back from whatever is going on. They can either go forward, or they can ignore it and go back to being friends and coparents. 

Emma’s mind fast forwards a few years, Regina and Robin and Roland happy together as a little family, Emma in a lackadaisical, half-assed relationship with Hook. Henry splitting his time between houses as he goes through high school. The two of them smiling wanly at one another over family dinners, growing more and more distant by the year.

If this is her story, Emma thinks, she doesn’t want anything that doesn’t end with her and Regina and Henry. Together.

She flinches a little as Regina sets the pans onto the countertop with a clatter and transfers the cookies to the cooling rack. Emma slides past her, their hips brushing, and moves the second batch of cookies onto the trays and into the oven.

“Timer,” Regina reminds her without even looking up. Emma turns it on.

They both speak at the same time. 

“Regina, I—“

“Emma—“

Her green eyes meet Regina’s brown ones and they both laugh a little, the tension leaving the room. Emma steps toward her, closing the space between her and Regina until Regina’s backed against the counter. Her lips part, gasping slightly, and this time Emma doesn’t stop herself. She brings a hand up to Regina’s face, fingers tangled into her hair, and kisses her.

Regina responds immediately, pressing her chest up and against Emma’s, wrapping an arm abound her neck to pull her closer and for long moments they’re just lost in one another. It isn’t frantic like Emma expected, like so many of her past relationships. It’s leisurely, like they both know that they have all of the time in the world. Like maybe they have the rest of their lives to explore one another. Like they can rest here. Regina’s mouth tastes of chocolate and Emma’s of sugar and she thinks about happy endings and how she hadn’t expected that hers would taste so much like cookies.

Eventually Emma breaks away. Their breath comes in little pants and Regina leans in to press their foreheads together. Emma can see the faintest hint of a smile on Regina’s face and her heart feels full to bursting so she presses another kiss to Regina’s lips and feels her lips curve up into a full smile. 

“So, um—” Emma looks down uncertainly, biting her lower lip to hide her grin. “How about we do this whole mom thing together from now on?”

Regina smiles up at her, brushes her thumb along Emma’s brow and then leans in to kiss her once, twice. 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, dear.”