Hey, okay if Henry stays here tonight? He’s teaching Killian how to play some video games with his new specialized controller and they’re both glued to the couch. Emma finishes the text and glances over at them, a little uneasy about asking. Regina’s been on her own too often since Robin’s death, and it makes Emma itchy to think about Regina alone in that big house, living in quiet. If her own boyfriend didn’t get cranky every time she mentions heading over there, she would be there every night.
Regina responds almost immediately, which doesn’t help with the itchiness at all. Whatever Henry wants is fine with me. It doesn’t feel fine. Emma sighs, loud enough that Henry twists around to look at her.
“Everything okay with Mom?” he asks, his face shining with worry. It had taken some time after she’d been the Dark One, but they understand each other again. They’re Regina’s family, and they take their role very seriously.
And Emma takes her role of Henry’s mom seriously, too. “She’s fine,” she says, managing a smile. “She wants you to have fun.” Henry doesn’t need to feel guilty when he’s having a good time. Emma can worry enough about Regina for both of them. She types I’ll owe you into the message field, glancing over at Henry to shoot him another smile before she looks down.
Autocorrect had turned her message from I’ll owe you to I love you. She stares at it bemusedly, her heart racing for reasons that make no sense. It’s just a typo. Of course she loves Regina, but they aren’t the type to talk about those kinds of feelings. Not when it comes to each other. She’ll have to blame autocorrect, and she pauses and starts to type–
The message comes from Regina, just as Emma begins to type again. I love you, too. Enjoy your night with Henry. Emma absolutely can’t explain the way her breath sticks in her throat at Regina’s words, at the way her heart starts beating even faster. It’s not— she isn’t—
I love you, too. She realizes after a few minutes that she’s grinning stupidly at her phone, and she wipes the smile off her face and heads back to the living room to sit with Killian and Henry.
It’s like a dam has burst from then on, one that they’ve only poked holes in until then. Neither of them have ever been...well, emotionally demonstrative. Emma barely even tells her boyfriend she loves him, and it had been a struggle to say it in the first place. She thinks she’d be very different, had she grown up with her very affectionate parents, but as it is, she’s happily emotionally stunted and safer for it.
Still, when she sees Regina at Granny’s the next morning, her stomach flips and she definitely reads too much into Regina’s smile. Which is very soft, and very sad. “Morning, Emma,” Regina murmurs. “Late night?”
“Not for me.” Emma rolls her eyes. “Henry and Killian were still passed out in the living room when I came down this morning. Somehow, our son managed to shove Killian onto the floor and took the couch for the night.” Killian had been lying in a heap on the floor, his hook still affixed to his arm. Emma had tucked the hook hand under the couch so Henry wouldn’t step on it if he awakens first.
Regina is smirking, the softness replaced with good old-fashioned smugness. “That’s our son,” she says, leaning back in her seat. Emma grins at her, happy only to see her so cheerful. She’s been brooding more often than usual since they’d gotten back from hell, but today she seems more vibrant, more present.
Emma wonders if it’s about– no. It’s ridiculous to contemplate. Regina certainly isn’t thinking about a single text from last night, and that wouldn’t be enough to cheer her up when she’s mourning her soulmate. But the thought lingers in her mind, and she can feel words at the tip of her tongue, threatening to escape.
Instead, she says, “Have you been sleeping well?”
Regina raises her eyebrows at her in haughty denial, and Emma waits until Regina caves to her sincere concern and sighs. “Sometimes,” she admits. “Last night was easier than usual.”
“Oh?” Emma says, her voice going a little too high. Regina watches her, a smile playing at the corners of her lips, and god, she should not get this flustered when Regina is just watching her, eyes glittering in amusement. “Uh,” she says, and Granny calls her name.
She sighs with relief. “That’s my order,” she says, and she stands abruptly. “Look, let me know if…if you want to talk out all this stuff that you’re processing, okay? I want to help.” She fiddles with the edge of her jacket. “I’m here.”
Regina lays a hand on Emma’s arm, and that’s how they communicate. Not with words that have Emma’s pulse racing, her eyes seeking out every hint that Regina’s thinking of them, too. Emma glances at the counter, her coffee and croissant waiting for her, and back at Regina’s expectant face, and she blurts out, “I love you.”
It feels even more real when she says it aloud, and she’s sick with anticipation, with how Regina might take it, and she raises her eyes to meet Regina’s.
Regina’s eyes are so gentle that Emma is rooted to the spot, transfixed in their glow. The fingers on Emma’s arm stroke the her arm, the touch burning straight through her jacket until her skin is buzzing with need. “I love you, too, Emma,” Regina murmurs, and she lets her arm go with visible reluctance.
Emma backs away, trips over two chairs on her way to the counter, and barely stumbles out of Granny’s with her bag and her coffee. Regina watches her until she leaves, that same amusement gleaming in her gaze.
“Did you just tell Mom you love her?” Henry asks one afternoon. He’s back on the couch, this time showing Killian how to play another video game that only requires one hand. They’ve always had a shaky relationship that veers from being the best of friends to Henry snapping at Killian and storming home to Regina, and Emma has encouraged the video games as much as possible.
Besides, it means that Killian isn’t quite as clingy as he gets sometimes. She feels guilty even thinking it, because they’ve gone through much too much for her to ever be tired of his constant presence. But sometimes she savors being alone, or getting to see her friends and family without Killian hovering right behind her. She knows she’s supposed to want that, and she’s trying. She’s always trying.
The happy medium is Killian hanging out with Henry while Emma talks to Regina on the phone in the kitchen. “Yeah,” she says to Henry’s question. “It’s a thing we’ve been doing, I guess. Being more open about how we feel about each other.”
Henry beams at her. “That’s so sweet,” he says. “Mom really needs some positive energy in her life these days, you know? Reminding her how much you love her must help.”
Killian looks miffed. “You two spend far too much time on Regina. She should be grateful the two of you even give her the time of day.”
“Hey,” Henry says, his eyes narrowing, and Emma can sense another tension pocket lurking between them.
Killian rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, the soulmate matter. She barely dated the man six weeks, isn’t it time she moved on and stopped wallowing?”
Henry jams a hand on the keyboard of his laptop, ending the game abruptly. “Whoops,” he says blandly.
“It’s not just about the soulmate,” Emma says wearily. “It’s what he represents, especially when it comes to Regina’s destiny and her–“ Killian stares at her, his face blank, and she remembers that he’s probably the last person who wants to hear her speculation on Regina’s inner psyche. “You know what? Forget it. I’m just gonna grab some takeout for dinner, okay? I have a late shift tonight.”
She heads for the door, and Killian is pulling her back before she can leave the house. “I don’t care about Regina,” he says, which fucking newsflash. He sighs heavily at her expression. “I mean, if you want to be there for her, who am I to stop you? I just wish you were around a bit more.”
“We live together, Killian,” Emma reminds him. “I do lunch with Regina and sometimes I go over there for drinks. That’s it. She’s my best friend, and she’s going through a rough time, and she was there for me when I lost you even though she loathes you, so–“
“I know,” he says, and he’s calmer now, appeased and a little guilty. “Maybe we can go there together next time.”
Regina would probably murder Emma on the porch. “Maybe,” Emma says, and she gives him a smile. “I’m heading out now, okay? I do have that shift.”
Killian sighs, displeased again, and he says grudgingly, “Aye, I checked your schedule at the station earlier.” Emma nods and smiles again, a little strained, and Killian says, “I love you.”
She kisses him on the cheek. “Have a good night,” she says, and she turns away as his face darkens into something thunderous.
The problem with launching straight into I love yous is that Regina is competitive as fuck, and Emma is not very good at rising above it. And it culminates in one evening after work when they’re having cider in Regina’s study, Emma regaling her with the story of a dog chase gone wrong that had ended with her crashing through the wall of Archie’s office during a session.
“He just looks at me without missing a beat and says, ‘Your appointment is next week, Emma,’ and goes right back to his patient.” He’d made her swear confidentiality later, but he’d been absolutely unflappable in the moment.
Regina snorts. “This town really has adapted well to its most unpredictable element.”
“Magic?” Emma says, brow furrowing.
Regina smirks at her. “You.”
Emma eyeballs her, sees the note of fondness that Regina can’t quite hide, and says wryly, “I love you, too.”
Regina blinks. It’s a very slight blink, but Emma’s gotten good at spotting it, the startled reaction when Emma tells her she loves her to her face. It’s kind of Emma’s new favorite thing, though she doesn’t dare tell Regina so. And Regina recovers quickly. “You know, I had this whole thing planned. A Dark Curse, my vengeance against your family complete, my happy ending–“
She stops, looking suddenly wistful, and Emma ventures, “You still can have happiness. I know it.” Regina looks at her with quiet pain, and Emma reaches over to squeeze Regina’s hand over the coffee table. “We have Henry,” she reminds Regina. “You have friends and a…a town that really has accepted you. And I know you’re the one who made that fake account for my mom on Facebook that keeps promoting male porn stars, so there’s your vengeance,” she says as Regina suddenly busies herself with a loose thread on the couch pillow. “I promised you happiness, back before everything got all screwed up. I meant it.”
“Emma,” Regina murmurs, and she sounds pained again. “Haven’t you done enough for my happiness already?”
Emma scoffs. “What, a Dark Curse? You went to hell for my boyfriend– who you hate–“
“I do hate him,” Regina says agreeably, “But I didn’t go for him.” Her thumb moves along Emma’s palm, and it tingles like a pleasant buzz. Emma breathes in, out, in again, her chest tightening.
Regina has lost so much because of Emma, has lost a soulmate and a future with him because of their trip to hell. Regina had admitted to Emma in New York that a part of her still wants to kill Hook for being here when Robin isn’t, and yet she quashes that part, hides it and touches Emma as though she doesn’t resent her at all.
“I’m sorry,” Emma murmurs, still overwhelmed at her own guilt. “I’m so sorry.”
Regina plays with the loose thread again, her hand falling from Emma’s as she catches Emma’s gaze. Regina like this is overwhelming, too, and Emma is afraid and breathless at once when she looks at her. “Don’t be,” Regina says, and she swallows and manages a faint smile. “I think…I would do it again,” she admits, her eyes wet and bright. “I don’t know what that makes me, that I would choose…” She takes a breath. “Why is it that I would lose a happy ending for your bloodline again, this time willingly?”
“Regina,” Emma whispers, startled. Of all the pent-up emotion that Regina’s been bottling up about Robin’s death, this had never been a part that Emma had suspected. “I…”
Regina shifts, breaking their eye contact, and Emma craves it again at once. “You should go,” she says, breathing in. “Before your boyfriend starts texting you incel memes.”
“That was once,” Emma says, rolling her eyes, but she gets the message. Regina can only share so much at a time, and the cider keeps the night from getting too heavy. She stands. “I’ll drop Henry off in a few, okay? He was talking about missing his bed here earlier.”
Regina gives her a look. “Right,” she says, and she tangles her fingers into Emma’s, leading her to the door. “I’ll be fine on my own,” she says.
“Henry misses his bed,” Emma says stubbornly. Regina is not being alone tonight. If not for Hook, Emma would have moved into Regina’s house by now just to be sure of that.
“Okay,” Regina sighs, but she smiles at Emma, still so gentle that Emma might cry. “I love you,” she says, and then she’s shifting forward, her arms sliding around Emma’s waist.
This is new. Emma’s eyes widen as Regina leans into the hug, and Emma’s hands are scrambling suddenly, reaching for Regina’s back and then shifting up to her shoulders. Regina holds her tightly, her body molding against Emma’s, and it’s the most intimate hug that Emma’s ever been privileged to be a part of. She reaches up to run a hand through Regina’s hair, feels her rest her head against Emma’s shoulder, and they stand together for a long while.
“I love you,” Emma murmurs into Regina’s hair, and Regina smiles against her neck.
The hugging is more private, casual for Granny’s or for a chance meeting on the street but just as intimate when they’re alone or just with family. Emma begins to look forward to saying goodbye to Regina almost as much as she looks forward to seeing Regina. And Regina is beginning to return to her old self, hug by hug, until there are full days where the darkness and melancholy don’t seem to touch her.
“Hey,” she says when Regina drops by one afternoon with a Tupperware container full of cookies. She brightens, her day instantly thrice as improved between Regina and baked goods. “Cookies!”
“They’re Henry’s favorite, and I wanted him to have some fresh,” Regina says casually, leaning against the doorjamb. Emma inspects the cookies. They’re the peanut butter chocolate chip ones that Henry hates. Last time Regina had made them, Henry hadn’t touched them and Emma had eaten every one.
“For Henry,” Emma says dubiously.
Regina scoffs. “What, do you think I would make cookies and bring them here for the sole purpose of feeding you?” But there’s a little glimmer of mischief in her eyes, and Emma peels off the cover to the container and bites into one.
They’re still warm, which must be magic, and she lets out a moan of pure ecstasy. Regina swallows. “Those were for Henry,” she points out weakly.
“Henry isn’t even here. You know he’s spending the day with my dad,” Emma points out.
“Oh, was that today?” Regina’s eyes widen in mock surprise. “How in the world am I going to keep you from eating all of them before he gets here, then?”
Emma grins, enjoying herself far too much. “If you wanted an invitation, Regina, you could have just asked.”
Regina huffs. “I don’t want to sit around here playing video games with a pirate who still thinks bathing twice a week is a luxury–“
“I’m working on it. He thought the washing machine was a demon for months,” Emma reminds her. “It’s a process.” She slips her hand into Regina’s and tugs her inside. Regina so rarely asks for help that this is an opportunity Emma can’t pass up, is incapable of overlooking. “Come on. It’s the weekend. Let’s eat cookies and watch some bad TV.”
Bad TV means scrolling through Netflix and finding an awful reality series where women throw themselves at an arbitrary man. Regina loves it. “This is obscene,” she says, gesturing at the screen. “I can’t believe you have this drivel in your house. He’s insipid. That inoffensive beard and those inoffensive glazed eyes and that inoffensive spray tan– are we supposed to believe that any of these women would actually want that?”
Emma had had the same thought, often, while in Camelot with Regina and her now-dead boyfriend. She keeps that wisely to herself. Regina, who has no such compunctions, says, “He reminds me of your pirate.”
“Hey,” Emma says, very weakly, shoving another cookie into her mouth. There had been eighteen of them. Regina has eaten three of them so far, which means that Emma has eaten eleven. Twelve, now. “Killian isn’t inoffensive.”
“That’s true,” Regina agrees. Two of the women competing for the prize are having a heated debate onscreen. “See, now that’s sexual tension,” she says, satisfied, and Emma stares at her.
Regina raises an eyebrow. “Clearly.” She leans back, watching the screen again. “They’re about to tear each other’s clothes off. Look at that passion. Now that’s a relationship.”
Emma blinks at the screen. The first woman is shifting closer to the other, her voice low and threatening. The other isn’t backing down, and the tension between them is crackling. “She’s trying to intimidate her,” Regina says, sounding nostalgic. “I used to do that all the time.”
“Yes,” Emma agrees. “You did it to me.”
Regina smiles at her, and it’s almost predatory, an Evil Queen smile with a touch of Mayor Mills. “I remember,” she purrs, and she slinks forward on the couch. Emma’s mouth is very dry, and she holds her breath as Regina reaches forward, her knuckles grazing Emma’s side and drawing up goosebumps.
Regina, pressed against Emma’s side, reaches out and snatches a cookie from the Tupperware. “Those were the days,” she says thoughtfully, sitting back against the couch, still right next to Emma. “You were so easy to bait.”
“What? I was not. I kept my cool while you were literally manipulating everyone in town to keep your curse going!”
“Mm-hm,” Regina says politely. “Why did you stay in town in the first place, Emma?”
Emma looks at her in outrage. “Because of the curse! And Henry! And there was a wolf on the road and I crashed my car when I tried leaving–“
“You stayed because I told you I’d destroy you if you stayed,” Regina corrects her smugly.
Emma scoffs. “Are you going to pretend that you intended that?”
“Well.” Regina sighs deeply. “The sheriff’s department is in shambles, of course–“
“How dare you.”
“–My son eats mac and cheese for dinner three times a week–“
“Twice at most.”
“–And Hook would be long gone if not for you.” Regina wrinkles her nose. “But overall, I suppose having you here has been an improvement.” She smiles, lost in thought as the playfulness is replaced with musing. “Before you came here, Storybrooke was…sleepwalking, I suppose. Henry was the only part of the town that changed, and he hated me.”
“Regina, no.“ Emma begins. Regina and Henry had had a rocky relationship in the years leading up to the curse breaking, but there’s no way Henry had ever hated Regina. He’d been confused and angry and hurt, but never–
Regina waves away her assurances. “You hated me, too,” she says, and she grins suddenly, fiercely. “But I wasn’t heartbroken about that. You brought me back to life.”
She looks happy about it, warm and content, and Emma slides an arm around her so Regina can rest her head against Emma’s shoulder. And it’s– Regina will be hurt if she’s always the one upping the stakes between them, if it’s Regina who initiates every new step of affection between them, which is why Emma buries her face in Regina’s hair and kisses it, her lips resting against Regina for a long time.
As time passes, Regina smiles more, lurks less in the shadows and spends more time out and about instead of holed away in her house. They take to meeting at Granny’s for an early dinner, Henry coming in straight from school and Regina and Emma drifting in after work. They greet each other with a brief hug, and even Henry begins to reluctantly allow their public hugs for him.
“If you two are hugging like a bunch of nerds, I guess I could get in on this,” he mutters, and Regina wraps her arms around him in their booth and kisses his temple, looking very pleased.
Emma focuses on the more important part of Henry’s statement. “I’m sorry, did you just call us nerds? Have you seen you?”
“Our son is not a nerd,” Regina says, outraged.
Emma cocks her head. “Henry, do you have any friends who aren’t adults?” Henry blinks at her. “Do you have any superpowers that don’t involve magic writing? Are any of those video games you play even close to cool?” Henry’s blinking is rapidly becoming a scowl. “There,” Emma says, satisfied. “You’re both nerds and I’m a badass.”
Mother and son snort in tandem. Emma says, glaring at both of them, “You know? I’m going to go get another danish.”
She does just that, eating it as Henry tells them about a presentation he has due next week and Regina ribs her about some admittedly terrible paperwork she’d tried handing in last week. Sometimes, surrounded by family, there’s a little bubble in her chest that has her warm and floaty, an unconscious awareness that this is the most precious thing she’s ever had. Sometimes, she sees Regina’s eyes glowing as she sits back and falls silent, and she knows that the same bubble is rising in Regina’s chest as well.
She gets an irritable text a few minutes later and sighs. “Killian is coming over here,” she says, and she doesn’t know why the bubble feels as though it’s just popped. “I’d better finish up.”
“Oh, good,” Henry says, brightening. “I have a new game I want to show him. There was this Steam sale–“
“Nerd,” Emma says, poking him as they get up. “I’ll see you later,” she tells Regina. If Henry is busy with Killian, Emma might be able to slip out again, and Regina’s eyes glimmer with promise. “Love you.”
She goes in for the hug, holds Regina tight for a minute as a love you is murmured into her ear, and she presses a kiss to Regina’s forehead and holds on for a little too long for Granny’s. Holding and being held by Regina are some of her most transcendent experiences, Emma reflects, which is sappy and maybe she is a nerd, after all.
Killian is there when they disentangle from each other, his eyes dark and irritated, and Emma does her best to smile when he leans in for a sloppy, showy kind of kiss. She sneaks a glance at Regina and sees her watching them, eyebrows arched and lips pursed.
“I’m sorry about Killian,” Emma says later. Killian had made some noise about them having a date night, but Henry had been so excited about his new game that Emma hadn’t had the heart to cave to Killian. Instead, she’d slipped out during the first five minutes and wandered to Mifflin Street.
Regina had tugged her inside for a long hug and a lingering kiss against Emma’s cheek, and Emma had blurted out an apology without thinking about it. “He– I don’t know. He can’t stand the idea that the whole world doesn’t know that we’re together,” she says, making a face as she settles onto Regina’s couch.
Regina wrinkles her nose. “There must be a more efficient way of saying that than I don’t know how to kiss,” she says loftily, and Emma barks out a laugh.
“He’s okay!” she protests, because he isn’t great, but she’s gotten used to it. “I’ve definitely kissed worse.”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” Regina says dryly. “He did spend a lot of time at sea. Perhaps he learned his technique from a sea cucumber.” She smirks. “When I kiss a woman–“
“When you what?” Emma repeats, distracted.
Regina licks her lips, and Emma’s eyes are glued to them at once. “Women don’t want to be attacked by someone’s tongue,” Regina says thoughtfully. “First, a gentle kiss to the corner of her mouth, just to see if she’s interested. Then little kisses, teasing her out…” Emma’s mouth is dry, her heart tap-tapping a quick little rhythm against her chest. “You don’t just mash together two sets of lips and hope for the best. There’s a sensuousness to it.”
“And then what?” Emma croaks.
Regina’s eyes are no less than predatory. “A little taste,” she says, and this time her tongue dips out to lick her lips and pauses there. “Just enough to whet the appetite. Just enough to leave her wanting more.” She bites the corner of her lip, tugs it down and releases it with her eyes bright and mischievous. Emma finds herself studying every movement of Regina’s mouth as though it holds the secret of the universe, her breath coming rapidly.
“That…that works,” Emma manages, and then swallows. “I mean…I would guess it does. I’ve never– you’ve never tried it on me. Not that I’m asking you to– do you have any drinks?” she finally bursts out, and Regina laughs merrily.
Emma takes a breath. “You look like you’re having fun,” she says, a little grudgingly. She’s pretty sure it’s at her expense, but it’s very hard to be annoyed at Regina when Regina is finally smiling again, is finally looking at her as though the weight of the world on her shoulders has lessened.
Regina grins at her. “You know what? I really am.”
She dreams about Regina’s kissing technique for three nights straight, wakes up sweating and panting and squirming in her bed. She has to sneak out to the bathroom to take care of it, letting the shower run over her skin and leaning her forehead against the tile as she curses her own overactive imagination.
And Regina. Definitely Regina.
Regina still has a little smirk on her face whenever Killian leans in for a kiss, as though she knows that she’s ruined both kissing Killian and kissing as an institution for good, and Emma twists away from Killian each time and gets trapped, somehow, in Regina’s gaze. “It isn’t fair,” she grumps at Regina later, when they’ve been dragged into a girls’ night out with Mary Margaret and Zelena.
“What isn’t?” Regina says innocently, and Emma gives her a long look and lets Mary Margaret get back to whatever it is that she’d brought them out here for.
Which is, apparently, a terrible idea. “We’ve been talking–“ Mary Margaret announces, waving between herself and Zelena.
Regina stares at them. “That’s the most horrific thing you’ve ever said.”
“–And we think that you’re finally ready,” Mary Margaret finishes, beaming at Regina.
Emma looks warily at her. “For what?”
“For a fling, of course,” Zelena says smugly. “Someone to shag it out with and move on with your life. Anyone can see how tense you are–“
“Not nearly tense enough for this conversation,” Regina mutters, and Emma bobs her head in agreement, annoyed for reasons she can’t name.
“So what is this?” she demands. “You thought you’d drag Regina out here and hook her up with some guy–“
“Or woman,” Zelena puts in.
That’s even worse, because Emma is suddenly flooded with reminders of Regina’s technique, and Regina is looking directly at Emma as though she knows. There is still the nagging question of does Regina kiss everywhere like that? and Emma can’t think about this now, not when she’s in public and Regina’s right here and–
–and she’s missing half of what Mary Margaret is saying. “You deserve some time to unwind,” Mary Margaret is saying. “And I know you’re not ready for another longterm relationship–“
“Six weeks is longterm?” Zelena says dubiously.
Mary Margaret continues onward, determined. “But something little to get out the tension– to remind yourself that you’re an attractive, available woman–“
“Available?” Emma interjects hotly. “She isn’t available. Regina is too good for every single person in this bar,” she says, waving at the people around them in frustration. There is no one here even close to Regina’s level, for fuck’s sake. Regina deserves much better than a fling who might see her as no one special– or even worse, as the Evil Queen. “What were you thinking, Mom?”
Mary Margaret looks bewildered. “Emma, I thought you’d be on board with cheering Regina up. You’ve given this same advice so many times–“
“Not for Regina. She isn’t just anyone,” Emma points out, frustrated. “She’s–“
“She’s tired,” Regina cuts in, and she does look very weary suddenly, a touch of something dark in her features. “I’m sorry, Snow, Zelena. I don’t think this is for me.” She manages a smile and Emma tosses a glare at the other two women, who have just ruined a perfectly nice night with Regina. “I think I’m going to head home.”
She stands up. Emma is up a moment later, and Regina shakes her head. “I might just need…a quiet evening alone,” she admits, sighing, and she isn’t smiling anymore. Emma’s heart aches. “Stay. Enjoy your night out.” She slips her arms around Emma’s waist, holding her tightly and murmuring an I love you into her ear. Emma kisses her temple, closes her eyes and molds herself to Regina for a long moment, the world fading away around them.
There is something about being in Regina’s arms that feels safer than any other embrace, that is calming like home, family and all the security that comes with that. She never feels as though the other shoe is about to drop, which tends to be a creeping insecurity that she’s never quite thrown off. She nestles into Regina’s arms, and Regina kisses her jawline once and then smiles at her, then Mary Margaret and Zelena. “Don’t worry about it,” she says. “Just one of those nights.”
She slips out, Emma still gazing after her, and Zelena says snidely, “Next time, just tell us you’re having an affair beforehand and we won’t waste our time.”
Emma jerks around, eyes wide. She must have misheard. “Huh?”
Mary Margaret says patiently, “Emma, are you two together?”
“Ha! I wish,” Emma retorts, rolling her eyes.
Mary Margaret stares. “What?”
Emma replays the last few moments in her head and pauses. “I mean, no,” she says, flushing. “Can’t two friends say that they love each other and hug it out a lot without being a couple? Don’t you do this with your friends?” she demands defensively.
“No,” Mary Margaret says, raising her eyebrows.
“I don’t have friends,” Zelena points out.
Emma scowls at them both. “You need better friends,” she informs them, and she stalks over to the bar with her head high and determined thoughts of anything other than Regina’s tongue sliding provocatively over her teeth.
She’s cranky when she thinks back to it later, on edge when she comes home early and finds Killian waiting for her. “How were the ladies?” he asks, offering her a drink.
She takes it gratefully. “Ridiculous,” she says. “They tried setting Regina up with a fling. Can you imagine that? Regina ever settling for a fling? She deserves something real. Someone worthwhile. Someone who worships her. Not some random guy at a bar.” She swallows down the rum, making a face. “This is terrible.”
“Well?” Killian says, his eyebrow raised. “Did she find a man?”
“She left.” Emma drinks some more rum. “I should have gone with her. The night was a bust.”
Killian wiggles his eyebrows at her. “Well, we can still salvage it,” he says, leering at her.
“Yeah,” she says absently. “I texted Regina to see if she wants to come over. Maybe we can watch something or do some magic–“ She looks up. Killian’s face is thunderous. “What?”
He recovers, his tone wheedling as his expression calms and turns beseeching. “I thought we could spend some time together, love. Just you and me. The lad is at his mother’s house, I have plenty of rum…” Emma begins to shake his head, and Killian scowls, darkening again. “Oh, but if Regina came, you’d be in her arms in an instant. Which of us are you dating?”
“Stop,” Emma says, holding up a hand. “I have had way too much to drink tonight for this. I’m dating you. Regina and I are friends.”
Killian scoffs. “And yet you tell her you love her every time you see her. When’s the last time you told me you loved me? When’s the last time you held me as you hold her?”
Emma stares at him, guilty and flummoxed at his sudden onslaught. “I don’t– I’ve told you I loved you! You know I’m not good at– Why does it have to be a daily thing?”
“Because it’s a daily thing for her!” Killian snarls. “Because you can’t walk two steps without telling Her Majesty that you love her! Where the hell do you get off–“
“Okay, stop. Stop,” Emma repeats, frustrated and defensive again. First Mary Margaret and Zelena, now Killian. “Can you relax? It was a fucking autocorrect that got out of hand!” Killian stares blankly at her, still angry. “Autocorrect accidentally told Regina I loved her and then she said it back and I wasn’t going to…it became what it became,” she says helplessly, looking at him for some sign of understanding.
Instead, she sees smug triumph on his face, and she notices for the first time that there’s a chill in the room…as though the front door has been opened. She turns slowly, dread leaving a chill in her veins.
Regina is standing in the doorway, her face a mask that can’t conceal the raw hurt in her eyes. “Regina, no,” Emma says weakly, and Regina turns and flees.
Regina isn’t talking to her.
Emma calls her a dozen times that night, leaves her messages that get increasingly embarrassing with each call. “So what that autocorrect said it?” she says pleadingly. “The important thing is that it was right. And I miss…I miss us saying it, okay? I miss you.”
She oversleeps in the morning and stumbles late to Granny’s, ordering Regina’s usual for lunch and heading to Town Hall with determination. “She’s working from home this morning,” Regina’s secretary says apologetically. “I’m surprised she didn’t tell you.”
But Regina won’t answer the door at her house, even when Emma bangs and bangs and shouts, “I’m gonna knock in the door if you don’t say something!” A magical shield blooms to life around the door, and Emma yells, “Not cool!” and kicks the shield.
She limps to the station, glares at Killian until he goes away, and sends an email to the mayoral office requesting a meeting for late this afternoon. It’s approved, and she limps to Regina’s office only to find Henry sitting at Regina’s desk, scowling at her. “What did you say?” he demands.
Emma just shakes her head. “How is she?”
“Bad,” Henry says. “She won’t even talk to me. She just looks sad and mad and she keeps baking. There are eight different kinds of cookies cooling on the counter and she tried feeding me all of them when I got home from school.” He makes a face. “If you hadn’t pissed her off so much, I’d have brought you some.”
“Hey!” Emma protests. “If she’s making them because of me, I should get at least...some–“
“Don’t even try it, Mom,” Henry says, crossing his eyes at her. “You deserve none of the goodies until you figure out how to fix it. Now go!”
She goes. She bangs a fist against the door this time and cradles her knuckles as she stumbles home, stretching out on the couch and staring into space. She texts Regina, calls her, sends her a dozen LinkedIn notifications and even does some bail bondsperson-caliber research to find that secret Instagram account that Regina keeps where she posts artsy photos of Storybrooke dogs. Please just give me a chance to explain, she leaves as a comment, and Regina blocks her.
“So what if it was autocorrect?” Emma demands of Mary Margaret the next day. “It doesn’t make the sentiment any less legitimate! Of course I love her! She’s my best friend!” Mary Margaret looks very offended. “You’re my mother,” Emma reminds her. “You can’t also be my best friend.”
“Of course not,” Mary Margaret says huffily. “I’m her best friend, not you.”
Which is even less helpful than Killian, who seems to want to spend every waking moment together now that Emma has no distractions. Emma dodges his kisses and makes excuses for why she’s busy, and he glowers deeper and deeper every day.
When Henry is over, it’s only to play video games with Killian and give Emma baleful looks, as though this is somehow her fault. Which okay, maybe it is, but Regina isn’t exactly letting her fix it.
Sometimes she thinks about Regina, all alone in a house across town, sure that Emma hadn’t meant that she’d truly loved her, and she hurts. One night, she stares into the darkness on her porch and lets a little sparkle of magic drift from her fingers, flickering off to dance to Regina’s window. She imagines Regina sitting up in bed, glancing out the window and casting sight of the sparkle of light in the darkness, and her heart feels as though it might just burst through her chest.
When she looks up again, the sparkle of magic is hovering back in front of her on the porch, and it’s grown to a glowing representation of Regina’s face. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I don’t know what else I can say to make this better. I don’t know what anyone expects of me here…”
“Do you really not?” Henry says disbelievingly from behind her. He’s standing inside, the window open so he can lean out over the porch, and Killian is nowhere to be found. Henry sighs deeply as she stares at him, baffled, and he says, “When are you two gonna get your act together so I can stop playing video games with Killian?”
Emma blinks at him. “I thought you liked playing video games with Killian.”
Henry snorts. “Are you kidding? I’ve been reduced to playing the games I get from Steam sales. No one plays those games. I’ve been desperate.” He shrugs, a little sheepish. “I thought you and Mom needed all this time to…you know. Figure everything out.”
“Figure what out? Why do you keep saying…?” Emma stares at him in sheer frustration. “Your mother is my best friend. I love her. I don’t see what else there is to figure…”
Henry waits expectantly. Emma repeats, “I love her.”
“I know you do,” Henry says evenly, and Emma gapes at him, her stomach bottoming out as though she’s just dropped from a nine-story building.
Henry heads to Emma’s parents for the night, a book tucked under his arms and a smile playing at his lips. Emma texts Regina to let her know and gets nothing in response, of course, but Henry gets a text from her wishing him a good night, which means that Regina is reading them, at least. Emma wonders if she’d listened to Emma’s voicemails, too, and if she’d cringed at them as much as Emma had cringed while she’d been leaving them.
She doesn’t know what she’d been thinking, but maybe she’s finally beginning to figure it out.
She steps delicately into the house, twisting her fingers together as she gathers the right words. Killian is smirking at her from the couch, patting the spot beside him invitingly, and Emma swallows and sits on the big chair opposite it instead. “I think it’s best if I move out,” she says abruptly.
Killian stares at her, his hand pausing on the couch cushion, and he sighs and says, “Yes, I know.”
Emma blinks. She had expected a fight, a verbal lashing, a reminder of all the ways she’d failed him. That’s usually how these end, not with Killian watching her emotionlessly and more resigned than angry. “Really?” she says dubiously. “Just like that?”
He shrugs moodily. “I always knew that this would end when you and Her Majesty worked out the…matters between you.” His mouth twists, a little bitterly. “You’d be living with me with three bloody children and you’d still come in one day to tell me that Regina had looked sad that morning so you’d gotten married to her to cheer her up.” Emma scoffs, but it emerges more of a strangled laugh, and evokes a dark glare from Killian. “I’ve never come first for you.”
“That’s not true,” Emma says weakly. It isn’t. There had been a time when her life had revolved around Killian, right up until Regina had needed her and she’d found that she’d quite enjoyed being more than just Killian’s girlfriend. She hasn’t even examined until now how her stomach turns when she tries to tell him that she loves him. “I just…I just don’t know if we’re good for each other, you know?”
Killian doesn’t answer. Emma clears her throat. “I’m going to pack up a few stuff,” she says. “We can split up everything else later.”
She heads determinedly for the stairs, just in time to hear the thunk of a hook making quick work of her coffee table, and Killian shouting after her, “And I’m keeping the Xbox!”
So maybe he’s a little angrier than he lets on.
Still, she packs up quickly and gives Henry a call, quashing the instinctive desire to go downstairs and apologize again. Their entire relationship, at times, has just felt like Emma apologizing for not being the ideal Emma that Killian expects her to be, and she can’t do that today, not when she’s just beginning to understand exactly who she needs to be.
She gets a sign from Henry on her way to Regina’s, Mary Margaret and David hovering over her with eager advice that is all even more terrible than her plan. She thanks them and promises she’ll use it, slipping outside before Mary Margaret can insist on coming along, and she drives off to Mifflin Street.
Regina’s door still has that barrier on it. Emma’s seen Henry walk inside with no problem too many times to believe that it isn’t up just for her, and she gives it a kick and stubs her toe before she yanks out her phone.
I love you, she types.
I love you, she types again, gritting her teeth, and this time, she gets a response.
Not funny, Swan, Regina retorts, and now they’re talking.
She types quickly, sending the message before she pulls the sign off the top of the car. Okay, I’m getting that texting isn’t the best medium for this. Look outside. She’s planned this in a hurry, has made it as cliche and humiliating as she could manage, because she’s counting on the fact that there’s very little that Regina finds as endearing as Emma humiliating herself.
And, in fact, Regina opens her bedroom window and looks outside, her eyebrows shooting up as Emma proudly raises her sign.
She doesn’t know how Henry had managed to get a nearly full size billboard for her, but she hasn’t questioned it, and as she raises it into the sky with shaky arms, she lets her magic carve the words into it. I love you, the billboard reads, and Regina throws her head back and laughs.
It falls upon Emma’s ears like jeweled water in a drought. “I thought you might want something more permanent,” Emma calls up to her. “How’s this?”
Regina stares at her, her eyes still bright with laughter and disbelief. “This is the worst, most ridiculous teen movie gesture I’ve ever seen. What the hell are you doing?”
Emma grins up at her. “I think the real question is how the hell do you know that that’s a teen movie gesture?” she retorts. “How many teen movies have you seen?” Regina just laughs helplessly, her eyes flickering back and forth from Emma’s face to the billboard. Emma jams the billboard into the dirt, pressing down until it’s fixed in place. “Come downstairs,” she calls to Regina.
Regina is still laughing, her eyes shining, shaking her head. “No.”
Emma’s eyes narrow. “Come downstairs, you coward.”
That gets Regina, and she slams her window shut and disappears, stalking out of her house a few minutes later to jab a finger at Emma as she nears. “I think the real coward is the woman who built an entire relationship on an autocorrect–“ she begins, and Emma tugs her closer and kisses her before she can finish.
Her hands settle against Regina’s shoulders, and Regina is pressed against one of the billboard posts as Emma kisses her. And oh, Emma knows how to kiss women, too. First there are light kisses that have Regina panting against her lips, and then a harder kiss that makes Regina groan, and finally, Regina is kissing her desperately, is biting at Emma’s lip and helpless beneath her tongue’s ministrations and fuck, they’re both just as good as Emma had imagined they would be together.
Emma pulls away for a moment, breathing hard. “Turns out I’m kind of in love with you,” she remarks, tenderly brushing Regina’s hair out of her face, and Regina laughs and kisses her and kisses her again, and Emma has no idea why she’s deprived herself of this for so long.
“Aren’t you going to tell me how you feel?” she demands breathlessly, and Regina kisses Emma’s neck one more time and then pushes her back, sending her a text before she pulls her inside. Emma yanks out her phone and checks it, sees mischief in Regina’s eyes as Emma gasps in outrage.
It says, I’ll owe you.