How did it happen, Regina wondered. Falling in love. It sort of crept up on her and punched her in the face or saved her from a wraith or did something stupid like smile at her. Falling in love isn't a fairy tale, Regina knows this. It's scary, and it hurts, and it's never guaranteed. She was in love once, and it was a love that had her believing in the happily ever afters. It was the love at first sight, butterflies in the stomach, can't breathe type of love.
But this love, Regina thought as Emma descended from the porch and walked away from the mansion after inviting the recluse of a brunette to their welcome back party, this love blindsided her.
She quickly checked the time and found it sufficient enough to make her world-famous lasagna. It was such a practiced recipe that it gave the brunette time to think as she moved around her kitchen on autopilot.
It couldn't be love. Regina hated Emma. She paused in putting the pasta in the boiling water. There's the rub. Past tense. She continued cooking, arguing with her own inner monologue. It wasn't love. It was more like appreciation? Respect? Care? Just a hint of longing during the blonde's absence? Not love. Nothing more than that.
She went about making the sauce and mused about her disobedient feelings. Perhaps it was just lust, or just a severe attraction from the blonde saving her numerous times. Even so she couldn't deny that moment her heart fluttered when Emma so boldly and defiantly stated that she wasn't dying, or the feeling of utter dread and loss when Jefferson's portal swallowed up the Sheriff and her mother whole.
Regina gripped the counter tight. She was not supposed to be feeling this way.
But she did. She battled these growing feelings and found herself excited to be in the blonde's presence. She almost debated avoiding the party all together, but it'd be her chance to see Henry, and Emma had invited her. That had to mean something. Putting on a brave face and hiding behind a perfectly made lasagna, Regina opened the door to the diner, not surprised that the chattering she was previously walking up to died down immediately.
The silence was awkward and deathly, but she couldn't find it in her to care when her gaze automatically wandered from the pleased, surprised look of Henry to the bright, wide grin of Emma Swan.
Her heart fluttered. Why did it keep doing that?
She ignored the angry looks of the Charmings and their minions and suppressed a cocky smirk when Emma turned and stated so obviously that she invited her. Perhaps whatever she was feeling, love for the sake of a title, was a mutual feeling as she thought back to Emma's genuine grin.
Regina couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't stand to see everyone around her so happy and having a good time, ignoring her. It was like she was at Leopold's feasts all over again. Despite the booth she had long claimed for herself, Regina found her eyes following Emma's movements before she would catch herself, mentally scolding herself. Why did Emma care about her so much only to leave her lingering like a wallflower? She was reading too much into this.
The blonde didn't even spare her a passing glance after serving her a piece of lasagna and receiving a taco in return. But there was something intimate about the way Emma returned half an hour later and scooted into the booth across from her and handed her a drink. She was fidgeting and glancing around, but Regina could tell there was conflict going on behind those green eyes. Hopefully it was something similar to what was going on behind her brown ones. As quick as she'd come, Emma slid out as soon as there was a lull in conversation and busied herself with Granny.
That had been an hour ago. Deciding she wouldn't be missed, Regina stood and donned her coat, leaving the party and its guests who didn't even glance up at the Evil Queen.
She almost didn't notice Emma running after her, but when she refused the therapist's contribution to the party, she found herself speaking, just needing another moment with Emma, however long that may be.
"Thank you," Regina said and motioned to the diner. "For inviting me."
Emma nodded. "Henry wanted it."
Regina's mouth parted, and she felt her heart drop to the pit of her stomach. Okay, there it is, she decided. There's the love. Or something like it. "Oh."
The blonde tilted her head in confusion. "I thought you would like that."
The older woman nodded, stuffing her hands in her pockets. "Yes, I just thought –. Nevermind. Have a good evening, Emma."
She turned on her heel but heard the quick jog of heavy boots and felt a hand on her arm. "You thought? You thought I wanted you here?"
Regina scoffed to herself. "That's absurd." She dismissed the notion quickly and extracted her arm from Emma's grasp. "Good night."
The brunette turned slowly.
"I do want you here."
Regina remained rooted to her spot, scrutinizing the blonde's words. Emma was standing awkward, nervous and fidgeting and absolutely genuine.
"It wasn't just Henry," Emma breathed out.
Regina swallowed thickly as Emma gazed at her from under her lashes. It wasn't just a nervous look. It was a look begging her to stay.
So the brunette nodded and took a step towards Emma, the blonde grinning to herself though Regina clearly caught it despite Emma's best efforts to hide it. Maybe this feeling didn't creep up on her. Maybe she just couldn't connect the dots, but in that instant, she realized that the younger woman before her was willing to risk everything, her life, her reputation, to save her, to include her, to want her.
Emma held the door open for her as Regina walked through it. Okay, she decided. Maybe it was love.