The first day of grade eleven and Paige is late.
She is late and she is starving because she slept too long for breakfast again and god, she really did not want to start the year like this.
She makes it to class and throws herself into the seat beside Henry just as the bell rings. He raises his eyebrows, grinning at her flushed face. She punches his shoulder, making him laugh, and their teacher clears his throat pointedly. Paige rolls her eyes at Henry, focuses her attention, and resolves to ignore the pangs of hunger.
New year, new slate, she reminds herself; plenty of time to make all three parents happy.
Her stomach growls noisily. She hopes no one hears it over the drone of the teacher, but a moment later there’s a tap on her shoulder and she sighs inwardly. Turning in her seat discretely to see who wants her attention, she starts as a blueberry muffin obscures her vision.
Ava Zimmer holds it out to her, smirking that infuriating little crooked half-smile she perfected in the eighth grade. Paige blushes, takes the muffin, and nods her thanks.
Ava winks and Paige is lost.
Suddenly, it seems like Ava is everywhere.
Paige was used to Nicholas, whom she had just sort of inherited when she and Henry had become friends all those years ago, but Ava was different. She’d always been in the periphery, quick with a joke or remark in class, but never demanding any more attention than that.
Now it was like she was the first thing Paige saw whenever she walked into a room.
Now it was like the air changed when Ava passed by.
Now it felt like a buzzing sort of relief when she saw her, a strange sort of loss on the days when Ava and Nick skipped class.
It was all horrendously annoying. She tries mentioning it to Henry to no avail.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” is all he says, looking up from their homework, slightly bewildered. “She’s always been here. We’ve always been in the same grade as her and Nick. Are you feeling ok?”
Paige doesn’t really know how to explain what she’s feeling.
Because sometimes its this weird mixture of hope that Ava will choose the seat next to her at lunch and absolute dread that she will and Paige won’t have anything to say.
Sometimes it’s this terrible, forceful, indescribable pull to go and just be near Ava for absolutely no reason at all.
Sometimes it’s catching herself staring at her from across the room and the sick swoop of fear in her stomach at being caught is either tempered by that little crooked smile that Ava sends her in return or made a thousand times worse by Nick pulling faces and laughing, drawing unwanted attention.
She tries to ignore it, she really does.
She very firmly compartmentalizes, pushing it to the back of her mind, pointedly labeling it a ‘problem to be dealt with at a later date.’ She knows what’s happening; she’s not that sheltered, however much her parents like to think she is.
And really, she’s read her fair share of YA fiction: the symptoms add up. It’s just that if she doesn’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t matter.
She only has a little over two years left before she can leave, anyway. Two years and then she can go to college; can cross the town line and be free. She’ll deal with it then. Far, far away from Storybrooke.
Except that ignoring it is easier said than done.
Because she sees Sam talking to Ava by their lockers and his eyes are definitely not on her face and god, he is such a pig, what does Ava even see in him, anyway?
So maybe she kicks the ball a little too hard in his direction in gym class that day. And maybe she can’t quite bring herself to regret it even when his nose starts to bleed, especially when she sees Ava biting her lip, obviously trying not to laugh.
Because Ava sits beside her in the library and nudges Paige with her shoulder, asking to borrow a highlighter, and Paige’s palms sweat so much that it shoots out of her grasp when she tries to hand it over.
She knows she stammers an apology, but Ava just laughs until their eyes catch and hold and Paige notices that one iris is a darker blue than the other.
Henry and Nick show up, dropping books onto the table with a thump, and Paige scrambles backwards, not realizing just how close her and Ava had been leaning. She tries desperately not to blush too much, but is a little gratified to notice that Ava’s cheeks are tinged pink as well.
She dreams in that shade of pink for the next week, waking giddy and warm.
It’s been weeks of this when Henry sidles up to her one day after calculus and pointedly tells her she’s being weird.
He brushes shaggy brown hair out of his eyes and grins sheepishly as the freshmen girls passing by giggle and bat their eyelashes. Paige knows he’s been working out with Emma in the garage at Mifflin street after school, knows that he is proud of the changes he’s made and, because confident Henry is her favourite Henry, she allows him exactly five seconds of preening before punching his shoulder, hard.
“Hey!” he complains loudly, “Uncalled for! And to think I was coming over here to tell you about a party, like a good friend.”
“A party?” Paige narrows her eyes, “Uh uh, no way, absolutely not.”
“Aw, Paige, come on,” whines Henry, “We’re far enough from exams that it won’t effect your study schedule, we’ve already handed in our Gatsby papers, and it’s only at Jill’s house so we don’t even have to worry about getting drives – it’s perfect!”
“Hen, you know I can’t. My parents would kill me.”
Henry makes an impatient noise, “My mom was the literal Evil Queen. Your parents are nowhere near as terrifying in the wrath department. Nothing will go wrong, plus if it does you can totally blame my bad influence; they already don’t like me.”
He gets down on his knees in the middle of the hallway, drawing curious looks. “I’m not above begging,” he says, gesturing grandly. “Pleeeease, Paige? Pleeeeease?”
Paige sighs and rolls her eyes. “Fine,” she agrees. “But you’re buying. And are covering for me if they find out.”
“Yesssss!” Henry crows, triumphant. “I knew you couldn’t resist!”
Paige pushes him over.
The party is stupid.
Seven minutes in heaven is a stupid game that no one even plays outside of TV shows from the 90s.
Stupid Sam is sitting beside Ava.
Stupid Nick spilled a beer on Paige’s new jeans.
And Paige is stupid because she’s still here, she can’t bring herself to leave, because Ava, pretty, lovely, non-stupid Ava, keeps smiling across the circle at her and making Paige’s stupid heart tap-dance in her chest.
It’s late enough and she’s had just the right amount to drink and so she allows herself to hope, to want, just for a moment.
The empty glass is cool against her fingers. The bottle spins and it is so, so close to being Ava.
Paige’s heart is in her throat. She wants it to be her so badly, but please, dear god, don’t let it be her, because if it is –
The bottle stops and it’s not Ava. It’s Henry.
The crowd howls their approval and pushes the two towards the tiny closet, snapping the door shut and plunging them into darkness.
Paige can hear his breathing; he’s far closer than she thought. Henry’s fingers are warm on the back of her hand and it’s not unpleasant, it’s just not quite right.
Her mind is racing; jumbled half-formed thoughts like thank god it was Henry and not Nicholas or Sam,
like it was so close to being Ava, why couldn’t it have been her,
like what would it even have been like if it had been Ava?
Thoughts like seven minutes is too long,
and oh, god, is he leaning in?
She puts a hand on his chest, gently pushing him back, and tries to ignore the way his heart is thundering under her palm.
“Hen, I can’t.”
“Oh…” his voice is soft in the darkness of the closet. “It’s ok.”
She can hear the tinge of hurt in his voice and winces. “It’s not – I just – I –“
“I get it, Paige,” He cuts her off, shrugging, “you don’t have to kiss me.”
She didn’t want to hurt him, didn’t want this to be awkward. “Its just… I think maybe I like girls, is all.”
The silence is deafening, and she knows she is babbling in some wayward attempt to fill it, “Well, one girl, really. So, like, it’s not your fault I don’t want to kiss you. You’re really great, Hen, you’re one of my best friends, and I’m sure kissing you would be nice for lots of people… but I just… like her.”
She is slightly breathless, her head is dizzy from the combination of cheap alcohol and relief of someone knowing and terror at having finally said it out loud.
“Oh.” Says Henry.
“Yeah.” Paige is thankful for the dark, she can feel her face approaching what is probably close to fire engine red.
“Yeah: O.K.” Paige can hear the smile in his voice. “Paige, come on. It’s you. Plus, I’ve got two moms; of course it’s okay."
Paige’s heart, which had slowly been returning to a normal rate, picked up speed again. “But they don’t – they aren’t – are they?”
Henry shrugged again. “I dunno, actually. I think maybe.” He chuckled, “I think they both might be happier if they were.”
He put his arm around a bemused Paige. “Anyway, it’s okay. I promise. We’re bros! And it’s just like Ma says: bros are for life, no matter what.”
Paige does end up kissing him. On the cheek. He still blushes for the rest of the night.
It’s early morning when Henry walks her back to her house, linking their arms and laughing as they stumble slightly.
Paige feels lighter than air, giddy in a way that makes her hands shake, happy and fond of Henry in a way that makes her heart full. So, when Henry asks, she can’t help but gush.
Ava, she tells him, it’s Ava.
She tells him about the way Ava’s nose crinkles when she laughs;
about the way Paige can’t seem to even walk and talk to her at the same time (she pauses here to illustrate the point by yanking up her shirt to display the bruise on her hip from when she walked into a table because Ava had called her name)
about how all she wanted was for the bottle to land on Ava because then she could’ve kissed her, just once, and would have been able to pretend it didn’t mean anything;
about how she tried for so long to focus on Nick instead, tried to convince herself it was about the blonde hair and blue eyes and that her preoccupation with Ava was really just a symptom of her liking Nick;
about how on sunny days the way the light hits Ava’s hair makes it shine a thousand different shades and how it distracts her so badly that she ends up missing most of the period trying to count and name them all.
By the time they make it to her house, Henry is quiet, thoughtful.
“Wow,” He says, giving her the usual boost so she can grab the ledge of the porch roof and heave herself over the edge closest to her open window. “I just thought you wanted to make out with her or something, but you’re like, full on in love.”
“Shut up,” Paige hisses, looking for signs of movement within the darkened house. “I will kill you if you wake them up, Henry I swear to god.”
She processes what he said. “And I am not,” she whispers viciously. “It’s just a crush. It’s fine. And it doesn’t matter, because we are absolutely never going to speak of this again. Got it?”
The grin Henry gives her as he backs into the street does not reassure her.
“Go talk to her.”
“Paige, she’s looking at you! Go talk to her!”
“She’s looking at you, Hen, because you keep staring at her like a freaking crazy person!”
“Nope, it’s definitely you she’s looking at, I can tell. She’s smiling her Paige smile.”
“What does that even mean?”
“You know, like Nick says, there’s the way she smiles at us and then there’s the way she smiles at you.“
“You told Nick?” Paige’s voice is loud enough that Ruby looks up from the counter questioningly. Paige grimaces.
“What? No!” Sputters Henry, “Paige, I would never, I promise!”
Paige rubs her eyes with the heels of her hands and tries to muster a smile as Ruby swings by to refill her coffee.
“Honestly,” Henry crosses his heart, like he used to when they were younger. “I just think maybe you should talk to her about it. I think she probably likes you too.”
“Just drop it. Please.”
She sits back, glancing around the diner warily. The bell above the door rings as Henry’s mothers enter.
Paige’s eyes are drawn to the sheriff’s hand at the small of the mayor’s back, the way it rests lightly against the impeccable trench coat, ushering the dark haired woman in out of the rain. She watches as Emma laughs loudly at something Regina says, see’s the way the mayor’s lips turn up fondly. Her heart aches.
They spot Henry and make their way over, nearly pressed shoulder to shoulder, and it’s just too much for Paige to deal with right now.
“I gotta go,” she says, gathering her things. “I’ll see you Monday, Hen.” She nods at the two women, eyes trained on the floor so she can pretend she doesn’t see Henry’s dismayed frown mirrored on Emma’s face or Regina’s eyebrow raise. “Madam Mayor, Sheriff Swan.”
“What’s up with Paige?” She hears Emma ask as she hurries away.
“Nothing,” Henry replies, voice tight. “She’s just going through some stuff.”
The door swings shut behind her and the quiet rain on the other side is a welcome relief.
She misses three days of school because of a stomach bug. When she returns, Paige is surprised to see Ava waiting at her locker.
“Um, Hi,” she raises her hand in greeting. Which, what? Could she be any worse at this? Like is it too much to ask for the ability to converse like a functioning human?
“How are you feeling? Henry said you were sick?” Ava bites her bottom lip in a way that is just unfair.
Paige’s tongue feels heavier than it should. “I’m good. I mean, I was sick, but I’m better now. So yeah, I’m good.” Oh, god, she should just never speak again.
Ava smirks. “So, to sum up, you’re good.”
Paige winces. “Yes.”
Ava looks down and Paige is distracted by the shadows her eyelashes are casting over her cheekbones. “So,” she begins, “I was wondering… are you and Henry like, a thing?”
Paige laughs loudly at that. “What? No! Never. Absolutely not.”
A horrible thought occurs to her suddenly, “Why?” she asks, scared of the answer, “You don’t like him, do you?”
Oh, god, no.
“No,” she says quickly at the look on Paige’s face. “No, I don’t like Henry.”
Paige exhales shakily.
“Actually,” says Ava, scuffing her sneaker against the linoleum, “I was wondering if maybe you’d want to hang out after school?”
Paige is floating. “Yeah, yes, I really would.” She says immediately, not able to play it cool in the slightest.
“Great!” Ava smiles her crooked smile, and doesn’t seem to notice that Paige is fighting to breathe normally. “I’ll meet you here, okay?”
Paige manages to nod.
Manages to stay standing until Ava disappears around the corner.
Manages to punch Henry hard on the arm when he finds her sitting against her locker staring into the distance, smiling to herself, and doesn’t stop laughing for a full ten minutes.
Ava is waiting there for her at the end of the day, just like she promised. They leave the school together and walk towards the soccer field in silence.
Paige doesn’t know what to do with her hands, doesn’t know what to say.
“So…” They say together, after they’ve settled on the bleachers.
“You go first,” laughs Ava.
“No, you,” insists Paige. She doesn’t even remember what she was going to say in the first place.
“Ok,” Ava takes a deep breath. “So, what I wanted to say was just that…” She trails off blushing, “Well, it’s just that I’ve noticed you staring.”
“Oh, god,” it’s Paige’s turn to blush. “God, I never meant to make you uncomfortable or anything, I promi—”
“Oh, no!” Ava exclaims, hurriedly, “No, it’s not a problem! I was just kind of hoping you meant it like…”
Paige’s heart is thumping so loudly she’s sure Ava can hear it.
Her voice is a whisper, “Meant it like what?”
Ava leans forward and Paige is overwhelmed by the scent of her hair, sweet and fragrant. Chapped, warm lips press against hers briefly, unsure.
“Meant it like I wanted you to mean it.”
Paige threads her fingers through Ava’s, meets wide, bright eyes with a smile that feels like sunshine. “I meant it.” She says, leaning in again, “I mean it.”
This was supposed to be a problem for a later date. She was supposed to be able to wait two years.
But Ava fits her crooked smile against Paige’s mouth and, oh, god, Paige is found.
Most things don’t change.
Henry is still annoying and loveable in equal measure,
Nick still pulls faces and laughs at her,
Paige still has trouble breathing when she catches sight of Ava.
The things that do change, however, change in the best possible ways.
Because now when Paige catches herself staring at Ava across the room, Ava’s eyes inevitably meet hers and Paige can feel the way all their secrets and soft promises fill the space between them.
Now Paige gets to spend afternoons pressed against Ava under the bleachers by the soccer field, or holding her hand walking through the woods, stealing kisses.
Now when she goes to a party at Henry’s behest, Ava sits pressed against her side until someone suggests some stupid game and then she pulls Paige away from the crowd, makes her feel like they’re the only two people on the planet.
“You look happy,” Jefferson tells her over their usual Sunday afternoon tea.
She thinks of Ava’s wild laughter, the way her hand fits into her own. “I am happy, Papa,” she says. She thinks she may mean it more than she ever has.
Jefferson smiles distantly. “You look so much like your mother, Grace. Same eyes, same smile… just like your mother.”
Paige sighs inwardly. She hates when he says that. Because she doesn’t look like her mother; not the one she remembers raising her, anyway. But he’s lost in memories now, lost thinking of the eyes Paige inherited from a woman who has never existed to her outside of a picture frame. The rest of the visit passes quietly.
“Should we tell them?” She asks Ava one day in their usual booth at the back of the diner.
She looks at the table, absently playing with the bracelet Ava gave her for Christmas two weeks ago. She can see the matching one on Ava’s wrist glinting under the sleeve of her sweater. Ava reaches over and touches the back of her hand gently.
“Who’s to tell?” she asks, “Henry and Nick know.” She catches Paige’s eye, grinning, “And I’m pretty sure Sam got the message after you yelled at him.”
Paige rolls her eyes, chuckling at the memory. “You know what I mean, Ave. Like tell our parents.”
Ava bites her lip. “Do you really want to?”
Paige leans back, sighing. “I don’t know. I just hate lying to them. I hate the way they keep asking me about boys. I hate not knowing what they’ll think. I mean it’s not like they know many gay people around here.”
“I dunno,” says Ava, lightly, “I’ve always kind of wondered about Dr. Hopper…”
“Plus,” continued Ava smirking, “There is no way Henry’s moms aren’t banging.”
Paige laughed, “You sound like Nick. And please don’t say banging, that’s an image I don’t need.”
“Oh, really? Because I remember you saying something very different last weekend…”
Paige’s face flushed. “I just meant – they’re attractive, all right, it’s not like –” she huffed as Ava crowed with laughter. “Shut it, you.”
Ava winks and Paige's heart flutters.
“Anyways, back to what I was saying, what do you think? I don’t know what I want,” Paige says. Then she sees the look on Ava’s face. “Except for with you, dummy. I always want you.”
Ava smirks, and Paige taps her shin lightly under the table. “I’m serious, Ave. What should I do?”
Ava looks at her closely. She sighs and smiles slightly, “Honestly Paige, it’s up to you. If you want to wait, we’ll wait. If you want to tell them, I can be right there with you to hold your hand.” She links their pinkies together on the table. “I promise, okay? Whatever you decide, I’m in.”
Paige huffs, smiling despite herself. “You’re absolutely no help, you know that, right?”
Ava grins. “Yeah, but you love me anyways.” She stands up and stretches, “I’m gonna order a milkshake, do you want anything?”
Distracted by the expanse of smooth skin exposed as Ava’s shirt lifts, it takes a moment for Paige to answer.
Ava just grins as Paige blushes. “Um, no thanks. You should get vanilla though, so I can have some.”
“Chocolate is literally seventy times better than vanilla.”
“That’s just patently false, Zimmer, and you know it.”
When Ruby brings the vanilla milkshake over she sets it between them with two straws and a pointed wink.
Paige blushes so hard she could probably stand beside the waitress’ Camaro and be completely camouflaged.
Ava’s cheeks are pink as she leans forward to take a drink.
“I mean, honestly Babe, we probably don’t even need to say anything. I don’t think discretion is our forte.”
It’s late, her parents are gone for the night, and the house is quiet around them.
“Are you sure?” Paige can hear the strain in Ava’s voice, the way her voice is shaking slightly.
This time its Paige that bites Ava’s lip. The answering gasp from Ava makes her chuckle.
It’s been months; she’s never been more sure of anything in her life.
“Yes,” she breathes, “Please, Ave.”
Afterwards, Paige holds Ava close and watches the way the moonlight glints in her hair. She traces the planes and angles of Ava’s face, marvelling at her.
At how beautiful Ava is.
At how much she loves the girl who is now softly snoring in her arms.
At how right this is.
Paige falls asleep, completely content and wholly in love.
They are awoken by a shriek and the crash of the door against the bedroom wall.
“Oh, fuck,” Ava scrambles to cover them with the blankets, but Paige knows its too late.
Paige knows her mother is still shrieking, knows that Ava must be saying something as she pulls at Paige’s arm, but all she can hear is a sort of buzzing white noise that muffles everything else.
She can’t breathe. Oh, god, she can’t breathe.
Ava’s hand is on her back desperately rubbing circles, trying to snap her out of hyperventilation even as the other hand frantically searches the floor beside the bed for any article of clothing within reach. Paige sees her pull on one of her own t-shirts one handedly.
“Just breathe, Babe,” she’s saying, obviously fighting to keep her voice calm. “You’re fine, lovely, I promise. You just gotta breathe.”
But there’s her dad standing in the doorway beside her mother, screaming and red in the face in a way that she’s never seen. Her mother’s knuckles have gone white against the doorframe.
Paige turns to Ava, wildly, terrified. “You’ve got to leave,” she hisses.
Ava looks wounded. “What? Pa—”
“Leave.” She grasps Ava’s hand beneath the rumpled sheets. “Please, Av, I need you to be okay, you’ve got to get out of here.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“The hell you’re not!” Paige’s father roars, and Paige stands swiftly, holding the sheets to her chest, squaring her jaw and blocking Ava from sight.
“Ava,” she begs, “The window, please.” She can feel Ava hesitate behind her. But then her mother rushes forward saying awful, horrible things and Paige shouts, “Ava. NOW.”
Ava ducks out of the window and Paige spares a second to pray she lands safely before she turns to face her parents.
She sees the cold fury, and Paige is lost.
She leaves the house as they’re still yelling.
It’s snowing and she didn’t grab a coat, but she can’t quite bring herself to care. She thinks of the trek to her Papa’s mansion in the forest, but her heart breaks at the thought of facing another parent tonight.
Her feet take her to Mifflin Street. She stands on the porch, staring at the 108 glinting in the glare from the streetlights, until someone notices.
“Paige?” The mayor’s voice is surprised behind the door as she hurriedly slides the deadbolt. The door swings open and warm, buttery light spills out onto the snow. She inhales sharply at the sight of the girl, gesturing for her to enter, “What happened?”
“S-Sorry to bother you, Mayor Mills,” Paige is mortified. What was she thinking, coming here? “It’s just…”
She wipes furiously at tears she hadn’t realized were falling, her voice is small and sounds almost unrecognizable. “Is Henry here by any chance?”
The Mayor’s jaw clenches tightly, her brow furrowing. Still, she ushers Paige in, calling for Henry. He appears at the top of the stairs, rubbing at his eyes, still half asleep until he sees Paige there.
He is at her side in an instant, and she collapses into his arms, unable to hold it in any longer, sobbing into his striped pyjama shirt.
Henry is trying to soothe her, awkwardly patting her head as she cries.
When he speaks, he sounds panicked. “Paige, what happened? Are you hurt? Did something happen to Ava?” At that, Paige sags into his hold even more.
“Mom?” she hears him murmur desperately.
Regina snaps into action. “Henry,” she says quietly, “Take Paige into the living room. I’ll wake Miss Swan.”
Henry nods resolutely, watching his mother hurry up the stairs. He half carries Paige to the couch and sits beside her, pulling her as close as he can, trying to come up with any possible solution, any way to help.
By the time his moms return downstairs Paige’s cries have be come silent and she’s trembling so violently it feels rather like his arm around her shoulders is the only thing keeping her on the couch.
“Mom, she’s shaking,” he says, heart beating wildly with worry.
Regina flicks her wrist and the weighted blanket from upstairs appears in her hands. She approaches with it outstretched. “Paige, dear, we have to get you warmed up. I’m going to put this blanket around you, is that all right?”
Paige nods, allows the blanket to be placed over her, but keeps a tight hold on Henry’s hand through it all.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispers, “I didn’t mean to wake everyone. I just didn’t know where else to go..."
Emma catches Henry’s eye, looking about as bewildered as he feels. His mom nods at him, clearly expecting him to lead the conversation.
“It’s okay, Paige, I promise,” he says, trying his best calming voice, modeled after the one his mom used to talk him down from the nightmares he had after Neverland. “We’re just worried. Can you tell us what happened?”
Paige raises her head and tries to breathe. She catches sight of Emma’s hand resting on Regina’s leg, just above the knee, as they lean towards her, and everything spills out.
She tells them about waking up to the shrieking, about fighting to breathe, about standing between Ava and her parents.
She tells them about begging Ava to leave, about her having to escape through the window onto the porch roof.
She tells them every single awful, cutting word that was screamed.
She sees the way Emma’s hands start to spark and the way Regina notices and pulls them to rest tangled with her own.
She tells them about dressing as fast as she could in whatever was closest, about ducking around her parents solid, looming figures, about dodging the picture frames her mother hurled at her retreating figure. She tells them about not knowing where to go, about finding herself here.
When she’s done the room is silent, the air thick with tension.
“Jesus Christ,” whispers Henry. “Paige, I am so, so sorry.”
Paige knows he’s thinking of all the times he pushed her to tell her parents; she can see the guilt on his face. “Hen,” she says weakly, “It’s ok. It’s not your fault.”
Regina stands and crosses the room towards them, sitting on the ottoman in front of Paige and Henry. “It is certainly not okay. What they did is unacceptable.”
Paige sees the vein in her forehead throbbing, watches as Emma comes to stand beside her, placing a hand on the back of her neck, thumb stroking the delicate skin where it meets her shoulder.
“But you need to know that this is no one’s fault but theirs. All right?” She waits for both Paige and Henry to nod before she continues. “As for now, I think it’s best if you sleep here for the night. You’re welcome to the guest room.”
Emma shifts forward. “We’ll figure this out,” she meets Paige’s eyes fiercely. “Okay?”
Paige nods, so, so grateful for this family.
For the way they all lean towards her, surrounding her with concern and warmth.
She feels like she can finally breathe again.
For a while, they all just sit there, silence broken only by the sounds of the house settling around them.
Henry elbows her, smiling slyly, “By the way,” he says devilishly, “congrats on the sex.”
Paige chokes and immediately goes bright red.
Henry howls with laughter even as Emma cuffs him on the back of the head and Regina hisses a scolding.
And Paige can’t help but join in laughing, because it’s just so ridiculous – Henry is so ridiculous – and, god, she is so glad she has him.
The doorbell rings, cutting their laughter. Emma goes to answer it as Paige sags back against Henry, exhausted.
She hears the door open and Emma’s startled yelp as someone pushes past her.
“PAIGE?” Ava is yelling, “HENRY? Is Paige here? I need to find her –” She stumbles into the living room, staring wildly, “Paige?”
Paige is on her feet and across the room in a second.
Ava holds her at arms length, scanning her body, searching for injury, stubbornly ignoring the tears falling from her own eyes. Paige pulls her close, wipes away a teardrop with the pad of her thumb.
“Are you okay?” She whispers, eyes raking over Ava’s face.
Ava’s answering chuckle is watery, “I’m fine, I promise. What about you? What happened? I ran to get Nick and Dad but by the time we got back, you were gone.” She pulls Paige closer, burying her face in her neck, so that her next words are muffled. “Nick almost punched your father in the face, Dad had to hold him back.”
“I kind of wish he hadn’t.”
“Yeah, me too. Fuck, Paige, I was so worried. We looked everywhere.”
“I’m sorry, Ave,” Paige is crying again. “I really didn’t mean for this to happen. I am so sorry. For all of it.”
“Oh, Paige,” she exhales, “It’s not your fault. It’s not.”
All Paige wants is to stay wrapped in Ava’s arms.
She just wants to forget the ugly things her parents said.
She just wants to ignore the low murmurs of the Henry and Nick and the adults behind her.
She just wants to go back to earlier this evening, before everything fell apart, back to the way Ava had moved above her and looked at her like she knew the secrets of the universe.
“I meant it,” says Paige, pulling back to look into Ava’s eyes. “I mean it; I love you.”
Ava’s eyes are bright. Her crooked smile is soft and sad and endlessly warm, “I love you too, Paige. I love you so much it scares me.”
Paige lifts her head, taking Ava’s bitten bottom lip between her own and, oh, god, Paige is found.