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it's a sitcom, basically

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Regina slips into Granny’s before the morning rush has truly begun, intent on grabbing a coffee and making it to town hall early. With the recent threat from Zelena now neutralized, there is an endless slew of things she needs to catch up on - despite what some people think, Storybrooke doesn’t actually run itself.

 

Granny’s is mostly empty at this hour but Regina immediately spots Emma sitting in a booth in the corner. She’s chewing on the end of a pen, her face scrunched up as she squints down at a newspaper on the table, seemingly deep in thought, and Regina is absolutely incapable of stopping the smile that tugs at the corners of her mouth. She orders a to go coffee and a second coffee in a mug and she carries them both over to Emma’s table.

 

“Morning,” Regina says, setting the coffee that is in a mug down beside Emma’s newspaper.

 

Emma blinks startled looking up at Regina, then down at the coffee, and back up at Regina. She pulls the pen out of her mouth so that she can smile and say, “Thanks.”

 

Regina lifts one shoulder, in a no big deal gesture. “You looked like you could use a coffee.”

 

Emma runs a hand through her hair. “Good to know I look like shit.”

 

Regina’s eyes widen. “That’s not-”

 

Emma cuts her off before she can actually apologize. Her eyes are soft and amused. “I was just kidding, Regina.”

 

Regina relaxes but still feels the need to explain. “It was just the squinting face you were making. It seemed like you were doing an awful lot of thinking for so early in the morning.”

 

Emma shrugs at that, reaching for the coffee mug and bringing it up to her mouth, taking a slow sip. She’s smiling when she pulls it back. “Just cream?”

 

Regina nods, returning the smile. Of course she knows Emma’s coffee order. “I still find it oddly surprising that you don’t dump a mountain of sugar in your coffee.”

 

Emma doesn’t look offended by that, if anything, she just looks amused. “What can I say? I’m full of surprises.”

 

Regina laughs. “Don’t I know it.”

 

“You going to sit?” Emma asks, motioning with her hand to the empty bench across from her.

 

Regina has all that work to get to at town hall but there isn’t even a second of hesitation as she slides into the booth, setting her coffee cup down on the table. Her eyes drift to the newspaper section in front of Emma, reading the title Classifieds . “You aren’t looking for a new job, are you?” she’s not being especially serious, although there is a half a second of worry that niggles at the back of her brain before Emma answers.

 

“Of course not.” Emma taps her fingers against the table, looking sort of hesitant before she admits with slumped shoulders, “I’m trying to find a place to live. I don’t think Granny’s long term is really going to work. But the real estate market is still pretty optionless. I guess all these new residents aren’t really helping matters.”

 

Regina’s lips purse as she studies Emma, trying to sort out why she looks so desolate about needing to find a place to live. “You aren’t moving back in with your parents?” she asks carefully - Henry had mentioned that possibility to Regina.

 

Emma bites her lip, lifting her shoulders in a halfhearted shrug. “I considered it… but, well… with the baby and all… they kind of need my old room, I guess.”

 

Regina can read between the lines here, can tell that Emma hasn’t gotten this idea all on her own. She can’t help the flair of anger that she feels on Emma’s behalf. How dare Snow and David not make Emma feel anything but welcome? She has half a mind to storm over to the loft right this minute and give them a piece of her mind. “I’m sure your parents would be glad to have you, Emma,” is what she says. Snow and David are idiots but Regina trusts that that much must at least be true. She has to believe that they wouldn’t actually turn Emma away if she asked to stay with them, no matter what they might have said to make her feel that way.

 

Emma shrugs again, looking down at the table and mumbling, “They already painted the room blue.”

 

Regina’s nose wrinkles. “Of course they did,” she hisses under her breath. Trust the Charmings to buy into gendered paint colours. She really is going to give them a piece of her mind. But her anger isn’t especially helpful to Emma right this very second.

 

Regina reaches across the table and brushes her fingers against Emma’s forearm. She waits for green eyes to be drawn away from the tabletop, upwards to meet hers. She gives Emma's arm a gentle squeeze, punctuating it with a soft smile, before she pulls her hand back. “Living with a newborn isn’t any fun anyways,” she says wryly.

 

The laugh that bubbles its way out of Emma’s chest is music to Regina’s ears. It’s one of her favourite sounds - especially when she’s the one who’s caused it.

 

“I do remember that much,” Emma says and then her eyes widen as realization dawns on her and discomfort falls over her like a blanket. “Or, well, fake remember… or whatever… you know what I mean.”

 

Regina’s not sure what she’s supposed to say to that. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes softly because Emma’s discomfort somehow feels like her fault.

 

“No,” Emma shakes her head venehemately, straightening in her seat as a flash of something fierce fills her eyes. “You’re not allowed to apologize for doing the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

 

Regina swallows thickly. She wants to protest but she finds herself nodding once in agreement instead, because Emma’s expression has left no room for debate, and everything about this topic feels too fragile for so early in the morning.

 

Emma sighs softly, her shoulders slumping once more. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make everything super awkward.”

 

“You didn’t,” Regina replies without hesitation. She tilts her head and studies Emma a moment. “It must be impossibly odd to have two sets of memories.”

 

Emma shrugs her shoulders. There's a sort of far away look in her eye, but when she speaks, all she says is, “I'm sorting it out,” in a way that doesn't really invite further conversation.

 

Regina isn't going to push, she just offers Emma an understanding smile, one side of her mouth twitching upwards.

 

Emma smiles too, relaxing instantly as she reaches for her coffee mug.

 

They fall into a companionable silence, each sipping their own coffee, lost in thought.

 

Regina is the one who breaks it. “You know, you should move into the manor.” She says it casually, like this isn’t something she’s actually been thinking about ever since Henry got his memories back - which it most definitely is .

 

Emma’s eyes widen in surprise and then she turns into a rambling mess. “I, uhhh… that’s… a really nice offer, Regina. But you don’t have to do that. I’m sure I’ll find somewhere to live.”

 

Regina’s mouth twists as she tries to discern what Emma’s reaction means. Does she just not want to live with Regina? Or is this something different? Regina really does want Emma to move in though. She’s just been having a difficult time sorting out how to bring it up. “It makes sense, Emma,” she says carefully, “You need somewhere to live and this way neither of us has to ever be away from Henry. It really would be ideal.” It's the truth - after a year apart from Henry, Regina really doesn't want to be away from him any more than she needs to be. Having Emma close would just be an added benefit.

 

Emma’s brow crinkles. “But don’t you already have a house guest?”

 

Regina’s not sure Zelena counts as a house guest . The manor is just somewhere for her to live while she is being rehabilitated. Who else in town would be able to keep the Wicked Witch under control, after all? It’s a point that Emma and Regina had fought quite venehementaly about, actually. Emma filled with worry about Regina and Henry’s safety. But Regina had won the argument because, despite Emma’s protests, there really is no risk, not with the spell that prevents Zelena from being able to leave the house and the second spell that prevents Zelena from being able to harm anyone within the confines of the manor. Zelena’s been at the manor two weeks now and things have certainly been interesting but Zelena being there in no way affects Regina's offer for Emma to come live with them.

 

“It’s a big house, Emma, there’s room for you and Zelena,” Regina says. “Plus, this way you could see for yourself that she really isn’t a threat.”

 

Emma bites her lip. “I don’t know.”

 

“If you don’t want to, I understand, it really is up to you,” Regina says carefully, trying not to let her disappointment show, even as her heart sinks. “I just thought it might be nice.”

 

Emma looks down at the newspaper and then back up at Regina. Her expression is still filled with hesitation but there’s a flicker of something else there too, something that looks oddly like hope or, maybe, longing. “I mean… it would be nice to be with Henry all the time,” she says slowly.

 

Regina’s heart flutters annoyingly in anticipation of Emma’s agreement. “Is that a yes?” she manages the question evenly, despite the rapid tap tap tap of her heart against her rib cage.

 

“Yeah, I think so.” Emma smiles - it’s an odd shy sort of smile that makes Regina’s heart swell with fondness.

 

“Good.” Regina can’t help but beam. “Come by after work.”

 

“You want me to move in tonight ?” Emma’s eyebrows quirk upwards.

 

Regina just lifts a shoulder. “What’s the point in waiting?”

 

Emma laughs. “Yeah, I guess. Although, don’t you think you should check with Henry and Zelena first?” She looks nervous as she stares across the table at Regina.

 

Emma ,” Regina says and it's filled with softness. “It’s all of us living together, Henry is going to be so excited.”

 

Emma smiles shyly. “Yeah?”

 

Regina doesn’t understand why Emma is so uncertain about this but she smiles reassuringly at her and nods. “Of course.”

 

“Okay,” Emma nods too, like she’s convincing herself.

 

“Okay as in okay you’ll bring your stuff over tonight?” Regina asks and it’s her turn to feel a little nervous. What if the hesitation is because Emma doesn’t actually want to live with her ?

 

“Well, umm…” Emma hesitates. “Shouldn't we maybe talk about rent first? Or, like, sign a tenant agreement?”

 

Regina quirks an incredulous eyebrow. “Do you really think I was planning on charging you rent?” She doesn't add that the idea that Emma thinks Regina could ever consider her a tenant is a little bit insulting.

 

Emma looks a little baffled, like she's not sure how she's supposed to respond to that. “Maybe?”

 

Regina shakes her head. “Well, I wasn't. I'm not . And that's not up for debate,” she adds that last bit firmly because she knows Emma and she's not about to let her even try to insist.

 

“Oh…” Emma rubs the back of her next, her brow scrunched in confusion. “You're sure?”

 

Regina can't help but laugh. “Yes, I'm quite sure.”

 

“Then, yeah, I guess, I will move in tonight,” Emma confirms and she’s smiling that sort of nervous shy smile again. “Thanks Regina, this is… it’s really nice of you.”

 

Regina’s heart swells. She’s not sure exactly when she became so impossibly fond of the woman who was supposed to be her undoing, but here she is now and she doesn’t even so much mind. “You’re welcome,” she murmurs, fondness spilling out, making her eyes shine.  

 

xxxxxx

 

That night, Emma rings the doorbell.

 

Regina opens the door to find her on the front porch with one suitcase at her feet and a bag slung over her shoulder. “You’re going to have to stop ringing the doorbell if you live here, you know,” she says, quirking an eyebrow.

 

Emma laughs. “Probably. It’s going to feel weird though.”

 

Regina shakes her head, an amused smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Here,” she offers, taking the suitcase from Emma and wheeling it into the house. “Come in.” She doesn’t comment on Emma’s one suitcase and one bag. She knows a lot of Henry and Emma’s things are probably still in New York. Someday they will need to go collect them, she supposes.

 

With Emma trailing behind her, Regina rolls the bag through the living room where Zelena is sprawled out on the couch like she owns the place, flipping through a magazine.

 

“What’s this? Regina’s halfway house getting another detainee?” Zelena comments lazily.

 

“Emma hasn’t committed any crimes, thank you very much,” Regina narrows her eyes at her sister.

 

Recently,” Zelena points out and, for some reason, Regina's not even surprised that she knows that. Zelena flips a page of the magazine and adds, “That you know of.”

 

Emma shifts uncomfortably and Regina rolls her eyes. “Be nice. Emma is going to be staying here for… awhile.” Truthfully, Regina wouldn’t mind if Emma were to stay here forever but she knows that that’s maybe a bit too much to hope for. Surely someday Emma will find a reason to move out.  

 

Zelena pushes herself up on the couch into a seated position. “You didn’t think to consult me before you invited more people into our home?”

 

“This isn’t your home, Zelena. You’re here on house arrest. You don’t get any say.” It’s a little more snappish than is Regina’s intent but she doesn’t apologize because she can still perfectly picture Emma's hesitation earlier today and she won't have Zelena making her doubt that she's welcome here. “And I want Emma here,” she adds for emphasis.

 

Zelena rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Turn this place into Full House, see if I care.”

 

Regina rolls her eyes right back. “You've been watching far too many 90s sitcoms since you got here.” That has actually been a sticking point with Henry, who's complained more than once that Regina would never let him watch that much television. But Zelena spending all of her time watching Netflix has certainly been keeping her out of trouble, so Regina isn't about to stop her.

 

Emma laughs, biting her lip and ducking her head when Regina looks over at her.

 

“Oh you think that’s funny?” Regina asks, amused.

 

“Sorry,” Emma says sheepishly but she’s still grinning when she looks back up. “It’s just… Zelena isn’t wrong. This whole thing does have a sitcom kind of vibe. You have to admit it.”

 

“Thank you,” Zelena says, grinning smugly. “I changed my mind. Blondie here is a nice addition to this household.”

 

Regina shakes her head, ignoring Zelena, and narrowing her eyes playfully in Emma’s direction. “I invited you to live here, you’re supposed to be on my side,” she says in mock annoyance.

 

Something about Regina’s teasing has Emma freezing, the smile falling from her face. “Sorry,” she repeats her previous apology but this time there's no teasing in her tone, she's quiet, hesitant.

 

Regina frowns. She isn’t quite sure what she’s done wrong or how to fix it. “You don’t…” she starts but Emma is staring at her blankly, so she just finishes with, “it’s okay.” She sighs softly when all she gets in response to that is a shoulder shrug. “Come on, I’ll show you your room.”

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina gives Emma the spare room across from the master bedroom.

 

“There’s hangers in the closet but let me know if you need more. And if you don’t like the wall colour, or the bedspread, or anything else, just say so and we’ll change them, alright?” Regina’s not sure why she’s suddenly so nervous, only that Emma’s been quiet since her apology in the living room, and Regina doesn’t like that one bit. She’s still not sure what she did wrong but she’s rather desperate to fix it.

 

Emma stands in the middle of the room, looking around, taking in the soft yellow walls, the white quilt covering the bed, and the chest of drawers against the far wall. “This is great, Regina. Thanks,” she says quietly.

 

“Of course,” Regina says. “I really am glad you agreed to come stay here, Emma. I think this is going to be good for us.” She flushes when she realizes how that maybe sounds and rushes to add, “For you and Henry and me, I mean.”

 

There’s a flicker of something oddly like longing in Emma’s eyes but then it’s gone and Regina’s not entirely sure she didn’t just imagine in. “I’m glad too,” Emma says and it’s impossibly soft.

 

“Well,” Regina swallows thickly. “I guess, I’ll leave you to unpack. Like I said, let me know if you need more hangers.”

 

“Okay,” Emma agrees.

 

Regina starts to head for the door but stops and turns back around. “Oh, I’m making fish tacos for dinner. Is that okay with you?”

 

Emma looks up from where she’s still staring at the bed. “Sure,” she agrees easily.

 

“Good.” Regina smiles. “Do you like cilantro?” she thinks to ask before she turns around to leave again.

 

Emma’s face is unreadable for a moment but then she shrugs. “Yeah, sure.”

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma does not like cilantro. This becomes plainly obvious at dinner, where Regina watches her from across the table as she attempts to be subtle about picking it out of the taco on her plate.

 

Henry is busy talking about his day, prattling on about his classmates and his lessons, and Regina really should be listening more carefully but she can’t seem take her eyes off of Emma.

 

“Emma,” she finally says when there is a break in the conversation. “Why did you say you liked cilantro if you don’t?”

 

Emma looks up with wide eyes filled with guilt at being caught. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “I just didn’t want to be an imposition, you know? It’s not a big deal. I can eat it.”

 

Emma ,” Regina says and, this time, the way she says the name is much softer. “It wouldn’t have been an imposition. It would have been easy to make some with and some without.”

 

Emma shrugs, looking down at her plate. “It’s fine, really.”

 

Zelena rolls her eyes and snaps her fingers. “ There , cilantro gone. You can both stop being so ridiculous.”

 

Zelena ,” Regina groans. “What did I say about using magic for unnecessary things?”

 

Don’t ,” Zelena supplies with another eye roll. “Trust me, it was necessary. You looked too much like a pitifully sad puppy at having cooked something your girlfriend here doesn’t like.”

 

“She's not my girlfriend,” Regina hisses instantly, hating the way her heart rate increases traitorously at the word girlfriend .

 

“Why not? You share a son. And now you live together. Seems like the logical next step.” Zelena smirks, ridiculously pleased with herself for making this joke.

 

Henry covers his mouth, presumably to hold back a fit of laughter, while Emma is slowly turning red.

 

“That’s enough, Zelena.” Regina glares at her, her heart still racing in her chest.

 

“You’re no fun, you know that?” Zelena looks far more smug than repentant at having gotten a rise out of Regina.

 

Regina doesn't bother answering that, she just glares at Zelena across the table until, out of the corner of her eye, she catches the way Emma smiles in something close to pure bliss when she takes a bite of the now cilantro-less taco. She's forced to relent the glare with a sigh. She's not going to be grateful for Zelena interfering, except for, well, Emma is still smiling happily, and maybe she is just a little.

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma insists on doing the dishes no matter how many times Regina says she doesn't have to and, frustratingly, refuses to accept Regina’s help.

 

Emma’s been alone in the kitchen on cleanup duty for twenty minutes when Regina slips back in.

 

Emma is standing at the sink, dish towel flung over her shoulder, scrubbing furiously at a pan, and humming a song that Regina doesn't quite recognize. It's a sight that instantly brings a fond smile to Regina's face.

 

“Hey,” Regina says as she moves further into the room.

 

“Regina!” Emma startles, spinning around rapidly to look at her.

 

“Sorry,” Regina apologizes and then rushes to add, “I just wanted to make a cup of tea,” before Emma assumes that she's here checking up on her. “Did you want one?” she asks as she heads toward the cupboard where the kettle is kept.

 

“No, thanks.” Emma shakes her head and then turns her attention back to the pan in the sink.

 

Regina takes out the kettle, fills it with water, and then plugs it into the wall. While she waits for it to boil she opens another cupboard and pulls out a mug and a tea bag. With nothing left to do, she leans against the counter and watches Emma. “Can I ask you something?” she asks carefully after a minute.

 

Emma goes rigid, turning slowly to look at Regina. Her hands are soapy, dripping water onto the floor, and she blows ineffectively at a piece of hair that's fallen in front of her left eye. She tries this once, twice, a third time before she gives up with a sigh and reaches up for the dish towel still on her shoulder, dragging it down and wiping at her hands. She tosses it onto the counter and then uses a now dry hand to move the offending piece of hair away from her eye. It's only then that she answers Regina's question with a hesitant, “What's up?

 

Regina hadn't meant for it to sound so serious and she regrets having somehow worried Emma. She feels almost sheepish asking her question now but she also can't just say nothing . “I was just wondering about the cilantro. Why did you say you liked it?”

 

Emma shrugs. “I'm not ever going to not eat food that’s put in front of me. Especially not when it is fresh like that. It didn't seem important that cilantro isn't my favourite.”

 

There's something about the way Emma says fresh , as if she's eaten plenty of food that wasn't fresh, that causes a pang in Regina's chest. Not for the first time, she can't help but wonder how often Emma went without . Can't help but think that she'll always be to blame for that - she might not have been the one who'd shoved Emma into a wardrobe and idiotically hoped for the best but it was her curse that had forced that choice.

 

Emma's head tilts, curious green eyes studying her. “ Regina , really, it's not a big deal. I promise.” There's something about her tone that suggests she’s got an inkling of exactly what Regina is thinking.

 

Regina sighs. “This is your…” she catches herself before she says home , which feels like it might be too presumptuous of her, especially since Emma has been here all of two hours, instead finishing with “...place of residence.” It's an oddly formal way of saying where you live but she just keeps going like it's what she intended all along. “I want to know what foods you do and don't like because I want you to be happy here, Emma, not forcing yourself to eat things you hate.”

 

Emma blinks slowly, her face blank and unreadable, although maybe she's just stunned.

 

The kettle is boiling now, hissing loudly and forcing Regina to draw her eyes away from a still silent Emma. She unplugs it from the wall, the hissing quieting, and Regina pours the hot water into the mug with the awaiting tea bag.

 

“I don't really like mushrooms,” Emma says quietly while Regina's back is still turned. “Or cilantro.”

 

Regina leaves the tea to steep and turns back to face Emma. She smiles. “Okay, I think I can work with that.”

 

Emma shuffles her feet somewhat nervously but she's smiling too. She shrugs, rubbing the back of her neck. “And like, I can cook too, you know? You're already letting me stay here for free, you don't have to cook all my meals on top of that.”

 

Regina doesn't really like the way Emma describes herself living here as Regina letting her stay, something feels off about it. But she shakes the wary feeling away and aims for levity instead. “Be honest, when you say you can cook, are you just talking about macaroni and cheese?”

 

Emma looks like she might be insulted for a split second but then she laughs brightly, shaking her head. “You know what? Homemade mac and cheese actually is my speciality. With broccoli and with bread crumb topping.”

 

“Shocking,” Regina deadpans and then laughs too. “Actually, the shocking bit is that you like broccoli. You eat like a child so often, I just assumed you would also have an aversion to green vegetables.”

 

“Shut up,” Emma grumbles but she's still smiling.

 

xxxxxx

 

Later that night, Regina knocks on the door to Emma's room. Just thinking Emma's room, acknowledging that Emma has a room here in Regina's home, causes Regina's heart to flip in a way that probably means something, but not a something that she is going to let herself think about.

 

“Come in,” Emma calls through the closed door.

 

Regina opens the door and steps into the bedroom.

 

Emma is sitting cross legged on the bed in plaid pajama bottoms and a white tank top, her hair wet, ringlets framing her face, and her phone in her hand. She’s looking expectantly up at Regina.

 

Regina holds up the blanket she's carrying. “I just wanted to bring you an extra blanket. In case you get cold.”

 

Emma blinks slowly. “Thanks.”

 

“Of course,” Regina nods, setting the blanket on the edge of the bed. Her eyes drift to the closet, where Emma's suitcase sits on the bottom, empty hangers above it. Her lips purse. “You haven't unpacked?”

 

Emma's eyes follow hers to the closet and she bites her lip. “Not yet.”

 

Regina tries not to read too much into this packed suitcase, even though there’s a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Well…” she looks back at Emma, and ignores the odd tension suddenly filling the room, “Goodnight.”

 

“Goodnight, Regina,” Emma says so softly that all the tension in the room somehow seems to just melt away. That odd sort of longing expression from earlier is back on her face, this time unmistakable, leaving Regina to wonder what exactly it means as she slips across the hall to her own room.

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina expects living with Emma to be a little like living with Henry - shoes left on the stairs, coats and sweaters flung haphazardly over the backs of couches, plates and glasses used for snacks never quite making it to the sink, and impish smiles and shrugs of apology that always work on Regina. Instead, Emma seems to take up no space whatsoever - her shoes are always perfectly stored, coat always hung on the rack, any dirty dish that exists seems to immediately vanish when she's home, and she takes to vacuuming daily .

 

Zelena, especially, finds the vacuuming amusing, commenting one night, “I'd never have pegged you as the Danny Tanner of this group.”

 

Emma goes bright red at that, grumbling something unintelligible, and disappearing to vacuum a room Zelena isn't in.

 

Regina tries to talk to her about it but Emma shuffles from foot to foot for the entirety of the conversation, and doesn't meet Regina's eyes, so Regina just lets her vacuum without comment after that.

 

It's not just in the shared living spaces that Emma manages to take up no room. After two weeks, Emma’s room somehow looks exactly the same as it did when it was a guest room - the bed is always meticulously made, and not a single personal item lies on the nightstand or the dresser. Worst of all, her suitcase remains packed, sitting at the bottom of a closet filled with empty hangers just waiting to have clothes hung from them.

Any time Regina mentions unpacking, the only thing Emma says is, “I will,” while looking varying degrees of uncomfortable, and eventually Regina gives up asking.

 

She worries about it constantly though, worries that Emma not unpacking means that Emma doesn't want to be here, worries that it means any day now Emma is just going to up and leave. She hates how bothered she is by the idea of Emma moving out, but it doesn't make that concern go away.

 

The things is, when Emma isn't busy doing dishes or vacuuming incessantly, having her here feels so right.

 

There's mornings where they slip into a routine so easily that it feels like someone has choreographed it. Regina making breakfast, while Emma starts coffee, and Zelena flips the paper at the table reading out loud the juiciest town gossip with mocking commentary added. Henry always manages to stumble in bleary eyed exactly when breakfast is ready, plopping down at the table and gulping a glass of orange juice Emma pours for him.

 

There's afternoons where Emma plays video games with Henry, while Zelena sits nearby and heckles them both, until they shove a controller in her hand and make her join in, Regina being pulled in too to even out the teams. Zelena acts like she hates it, but when she and Henry crush Emma and Regina, Zelena grins what might be the first genuine smile Regina's seen her give.

 

There's evenings where Zelena forces them all to watch Full House, somehow successfully convincing everyone to use their turn to pick the thing she wants to watch. Regina regularly finds herself curled up on the couch between Emma and Henry like it's a place she's meant to be.

 

Yes, everything about Emma living in the manor feels right, but Emma won't unpack her suitcase, and all Regina can do is worry.

 

It's in the middle of the third week that Regina finally decides to ask Henry. Surely he’ll know if Emma is planning on leaving? She asks him on a day when Emma is out, working an afternoon shift at the station.

 

She takes a seat in his room at his desk chair, and that alone has him quirking an eyebrow at her. She folds her hands in her lap and takes a breath. “Henry, has your mother mentioned wanting to move out?”

 

Henry frowns, closing the comic book he's reading and setting it aside. He sits up a bit straighter on the bed. “No. Why ?”

 

There’s a flicker of guilt in Regina’s chest for having worried Henry when he hadn't picked up on anything on his own, but she can't just abandon this conversation now, that would be worse. “She still hasn’t unpacked her suitcase.”

 

Henry's frown remains but it's no longer worried, just confused. “That's weird.”

 

“Weird?” Regina prods, wanting to know what exactly it is he thinks is odd about Emma's still packed suitcase.

 

“Yeah, weird . Because she's really happy here.” Henry says that like it should have been obvious.

 

Still, Regina can't help but question it. “You really think she's happy here?”

 

“Duh, Mom,” Henry rolls his eyes at her but then he gives her a reassuring smile. “Seriously, she hasn't smiled this much since New York. She really likes it here, I can tell.”

 

Regina wishes she could just believe that blindly, but there's that still packed suitcase, and a nagging feeling that she never gets to keep the good things in her life. “So you haven't noticed anything else odd?”

 

Henry's face scrunches up, seriously contemplating it. “Well, the vacuuming is kinda weird?”

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow at that and waits for him to elaborate.

 

“I just mean, Ma didn't vacuum that much in New York,” Henry explains.

 

Regina's lips purse as she tries to sort out what that might mean.

 

“Seriously though, Mom,” Henry eyes her knowingly. “Stop freaking out. Ma is happy. She's not planning on running off in the night or something.”

 

“I am not freaking out,” Regina huffs indignantly.

 

Henry's eyes are twinkling in amusement now. “Mmhm, sure Mom,” he says in the way that means he doesn't believe her.

 

They just stare at each other for a beat and then Regina asks quietly, “Do you really think she's happy here?”

 

“Yes,” Henry confirms with a firm nod of his head.

 

“Okay,” Regina breathes out. She stands and moves over to the bed, smoothing Henry's hair and kissing the top of his head, pleased when he doesn't pull away. She'd missed this, missed him , so much, during their year apart. “Thank you, Henry. I love you.”

 

Henry smiles at her. “Love you too, Mom.”

 

With one last kiss to the top of his head, Regina leaves him to his comic book. She nearly runs right into Zelena outside of his door. “Were you eavesdropping?” she asks with narrowed eyes and a tone that's perhaps just a little too sharp.

 

“As if a boring mother-son heart to heart could hold my interest,” Zelena scoffs, spinning on her heels and heading into her bedroom, closing the door behind her with a firm click.

 

Regina is left staring at the closed door, wondering if things with her sister will always be this difficult.

 

xxxxxx

 

Later that night, on her way to her room, Regina walks past Emma's ajar door and spots her staring blankly at something. She stops and knocks, the force of her knuckles on the wood door pushing it open a little further. “You okay?” She calls out.

 

Emma's head turns slowly to look at Regina. Her eyes are wide and her face is pale. “Did you do this?”

 

“Do what?” Regina frowns, stepping into the room. She follows Emma's eyes back to where she'd been staring. Her suitcase is gone, it's contents left in a heap on the bottom of the closet.

 

“I did not,” Regina says, swallowing thickly. “I would have hung up your stuff.”

 

Oh ,” Emma breathes out, her shoulders slumping. “Henry?” she wonders.

 

Regina shakes her head. “I'd more likely guess Zelena.”

 

“Why?” Emma whispers and she looks over at Regina with plaintive eyes that seem so lost.

 

Regina moves closer, a hand reaching out to brush against Emma's forearm. She doesn't understand why Emma hasn't unpacked, doesn't understand why a missing suitcase has upset her like this, but she does know that she wants, maybe even needs , to fix this. “Hey,” she says and it's nothing but a soft murmur. “I’ll get you a new suitcase if you want?”

 

Emma closes her eyes and sighs. For a moment, she leans into the contact of Regina's fingers against her bare arm, but then she's pulling away, moving over to the bed and sitting on the edge, eyes trained on the pile of her things. “It's fine,” she says flatly.

 

Regina studies Emma like she's a puzzle she has any hope of solving but she's at a complete loss here. She moves over and lowers herself down carefully beside Emma, leaving inches of space between them. “Could I ask you a question?”

 

Emma glances over at Regina, everything about her expression and her demeanor tentative. “Sure.”

 

“Why haven't you unpacked?”

 

Emma shrugs, looking down at her hands.

 

Please , Emma,” Regina says and maybe once upon a time she wouldn't have let herself plead like this with anyone but this is Emma and she can't stand not knowing anymore. If Emma is just waiting for an opportunity to leave, Regina needs to know. “Do you not like it here? Do you not want to stay?”

 

Emma is frowning when she looks back over at Regina. “Regina, no .” She sighs and looks up at the ceiling. “It's just…” her eyes drift back to the pile of her things. “I figured if I didn't unpack… it would be easier when you ask me to leave.” The admission is barely more than a whisper.

 

Ask her to leave? Why would Regina ever ask her to leave? The sudden understanding that washes over Regina is like a bucket of ice water being dumped over her head. She's an idiot. She’s an idiot who should have been reassuring Emma all of this time, not panicking and convincing herself that Emma was seconds away from walking out the door but being too afraid to just ask. Emma ,” Regina says, and she knows it must sound like pleading. “I'm not going to ask you to leave.”

 

Emma glances over at her, eyes wary and tinged with an exhaustion that Regina knows has nothing to do with needing sleep. Her voice is flat when she says, “You invited me here because my parents didn't want me, and the town real estate market is a mess, and I'm Henry's other mother so you feel obligated , but that doesn't mean I won't do something to annoy you and then you'll want me to go.”

 

Regina's stomach twists, her heart aching. She pictures Emma, a child and then a teenager, given away over and over and over again. Each new home only ever temporary. She hates Snow and Charming just a little bit more for having painted that stupid room blue without so much of a thought about how it would hurt their daughter who'd already been hurt enough. She hates herself a little bit more too for not having realized this sooner. “Emma, if I haven't kicked Zelena out yet, there's no way I'm kicking you out.”

 

Regina expects Emma to smile at the joke but her expression barely changes. “Zelena's on house arrest, you can't kick her out… and she's your family,” Emma says, the last bit quieter, mumbled really.

 

You're my family too almost slips past Regina's lips and she maybe should be surprised by that thought, but she finds that she really isn't. It seems like the kind of statement that might spook Emma more than anything though, so she holds it back, instead saying what she should have said from the beginning. “Listen, please. I didn't invite you here out of some kind of pity or sense of obligation. I invited you to stay here because I want you here. It's good for Henry, us living together like this. And having you around all the time has been… really nice.” Really nice feels like an understatement, feels like not enough to describe how full her heart has felt these last weeks.

 

Emma blinks slowly. “Yeah?” she asks and it's filled with uncertainty and hope in equal measures.

 

Regina reaches out across the space between them, rests her hand atop Emma's, and squeezes when she doesn't pull away. “Yes,” she says it firmly, in the way that she hopes leaves no room for debate. “I promise, Emma. I want you here, I wanted to ask you to move in before that day in Granny’s.”

 

Hmm .” Emma says like that’s a revelation.

 

Regina squeezes her hand again. “Can I ask you another question?”

 

“Sure,” Emma says and it's a lot less tentative than her first sure.

 

“What's with all the vacuuming?” Regina quirks an eyebrow at her. “Henry said you never vacuumed this much in New York.”

 

“Oh, uhh…” Emma flushes red, embarrassed, ducking her head, her hair falling forward, shielding her face like a veil as she mumbles, “I just want to be useful.”

 

“Oh, Emma,” Regina sighs softly in understanding. She reaches up to tuck blonde hair behind Emma's ear so that she can see her face. “You living here is not conditional. You don't have to prove anything. I want you here whether you vacuum everyday or not at all.”

 

Emma turns her head, studies Regina with serious eyes for what must be a full minute before she says, “Okay.”

 

“Not that I don't appreciate your help with things, because I do,” Regina adds. “I don't know if you noticed, but Zelena isn't contributing much but snarky commentary around here. It's really nice to have another adult around who actually helps.”

 

Emma laughs. “I guess house arrest isn't great for motivation.”

 

Regina just shakes her head, an amused smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “So,” she says after a beat, “Could I help you hang up your clothes?”

 

Emma looks over at the pile of her things and then back at Regina. She smiles. “Yeah, sure.”

 

Regina smiles too. There's something relieving about knowing that the closet won't be empty anymore. She stands first, her hand pulling away from Emma's so that she can push herself off the bed and step towards the closet.

 

Hey ,” Emma says softly, stopping Regina’s forward movement.

 

Regina turns around to find Emma standing now too. She's shuffling a little awkwardly but then she moves forward with a suddenness that is almost startling and wraps her arms around Regina.

 

It takes Regina a second to react, but her arms seem to know what to do before her head has caught up, and they're wrapped around Emma's waist by the time she's thinking Emma is hugging me .

 

Emma's chin rests on Regina's shoulder and she's so close that Regina can feel her breathing in and out. The reason for the hug becomes clear when she whispers, “I'm sorry I made you think I didn't want to be here. I do. I'm really happy.”

 

Regina doesn't say anything, she just holds Emma a little tighter, closes her eyes and breathes in deeply, pretends her heart isn’t thumping loudly in her chest, pretends it doesn't feel a little like a loss when Emma finally pulls away and heads towards the pile of her things. It isn't a loss. Emma is staying. Emma wants to stay.

 

xxxxxx

 

After she finishes helping Emma put her things away, she heads down the hall to Zelena's room. She knocks and waits for the come in response to open the door and step into the room.

 

Zelena is sitting in the chair that's in the corner of the room, feet propped up on an ottoman, magazine in her lap.

 

Regina hovers uncertainly near the doorway.

 

“Can I help you with something? Or are you just here to stare awkwardly at me?” Zelena finally prods derisively.

 

Regina lets out a breath like a sigh. “Did you magic away Emma's suitcase?”

 

Zelena stiffens a fraction but she scoffs, “If I did, do you think I'd be stupid enough to admit it?”

 

Regina pinches the bridge of her nose. Why is she even here? Why is she even bothering to try? She takes a deep breath and decides to just say what she's come here to say. “Well, if it was you, I just wanted to say thank you.”

 

Zelena freezes, the flicker of surprise in her eyes unmistakable. She blinks slowly, silent for just long enough that Regina thinks she's not going to reply, before she says, “She told you why she hadn't unpacked I take it?” There's something softer than usual about her tone, something oddly knowing.

 

Sometimes Regina forgets that Zelena was abandoned too, that Zelena was raised in a home that didn't really want her any more than any of the homes Emma was shuffled through. It’s maybe not as surprising as it feels that Zelena had understood what was going on with Emma before Regina had, and Regina feels an odd pang in her chest at that realization. Zelena might not have had Cora to contend with but her life hadn't been easy either and maybe Regina should remember that more often.

 

“Yes,” Regina nods, confirming that Zelena is right, and then repeats her previous, “Thank you.”

 

Zelena stares at Regina a minute, something soft in her expression, but then her mask of indifference slips back into place and she scoffs, “Whatever. The whole thing was dumb and I was tired of you moping around thinking your girlfriend was going to leave you.”

 

Regina sighs. Of course it was too much to hope that this might become a nice sister moment. “She's not my girlfriend,” she snaps for good measure, even though she doesn't need to remind Zelena of that, she's said it enough times by now.

 

Zelena just smirks her infuriating smirk.

 

“Good night then,” Regina adds tersely, spinning on her heels and stalking out of the room without waiting for a response.

Chapter Text

Emma relaxes a fraction after the suitcase incident - the dishes still vanish instantly, but she starts vacuuming every third day, instead of every single day. It leaves more time for lazy afternoons together in the living room, and every time Zelena cheats at Yazhtee, or Emma dumps a bag of M&Ms she’s smuggled into the house onto the coffee table against Regina’s protests that they’ll ruin their dinner, or Henry laughs happily at their antics, Regina’s heart somehow gets fuller.  

 

One morning, not so long after the suitcase incident, Emma comes downstairs, hair wet, a frown on her face.

 

“What’s wrong?” Regina asks, immediately picking up on the fact that something isn’t quite right.

 

“Why don’t we have hot water?” Emma asks.

 

Regina frowns, moving over to the sink and turning the tap on and testing the temperature. The water is perfectly warm. She turns back towards Emma to say as much but, out of the corner of her eye, she spots the expression on Zelena’s face - barely contained amusement - and she shifts her focus. “ Zelena ,” Regina says. “What did you do?”  

 

“I’m offended that you would just assume I did something,” Zelena says but her expression is no less amused, her eyes twinkling in delight.

 

Zelena ,” Regina warns, hand going to her hip.

 

Zelena laughs. “What? You’ve never heard of a prank?”

 

“Wait  You pranked me?” Emma groans, running her hand through her wet hair.

 

Zelena laughs harder.

 

“What’s going on?” Henry wonders, wandering into the kitchen at least twenty minutes earlier than he usually would.

 

“You’re up early, kid,” Emma says.

 

“Yeah, your loud swearing woke me,” Henry points out, dropping down into his usual chair beside Zelena at the kitchen table.

 

Regina’s eyes narrow in Emma’s direction. It’s not that she’s against swearing, it’s just that she’s against swearing in the presence of their son.

 

“Oops,” Emma ducks her head, avoiding Regina’s gaze and moving over to the counter, busying herself getting the coffee ready, like she does every morning.  

 

“Your mom is just mad because I got rid of the hot water in the bathroom as a prank, so she had to have a cold shower,” Zelena tells him.

 

Henry laughs. “Really?”

 

Zelena confirms with a nod.

 

“Awesome, Aunt Zelena.” Henry grins, high fiving her.

 

See ?” Zelena says pointedly, twisting her head to look from Emma to Regina. “Some people think it’s funny.”

 

“Maybe people who didn’t have to shower in ice cold water,” Emma grumbles, watching the coffee drip through the filter into the pot for a minute before opening a cupboard and pulling out three mugs.

 

“Is this prank something you picked up from one of those sitcoms you’re watching?” Regina wonders as she opens the fridge to pull out eggs to make for breakfast.

 

Zelena shrugs. “Maybe I’m just bored.”

 

Regina rolls her eyes. “Well, you better not have messed with the water in the master bathroom.”

 

Zelena laughs. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

 

xxxxxx

 

Zelena’s pranks do not stop at cold shower water. Every day, it seems, there is a new prank to contend with.

 

There’s cinnamon replaced with cumin and both Henry and Emma sputtering after they’ve sprinkled it on their cocoa after dinner one night.

 

There’s the morning she enchants Regina and Emma's coffee to taste like glue and watches amused, sipping her unaffected coffee with a smirk on her face, while Regina and Emma both grimace and Emma spits her coffee right back into her mug.

 

And there's the night that every alarm in the house goes off at 3 am, startling Regina awake from a rather pleasant dream she'd been having.

 

Regina tries to talk to Zelena about her new found love of pranks, but Zelena steadfastly maintains that she’s bored from being cooped up in the manor, often all alone while the rest of them are at work and school, and that she’s just making her own entertainment. Regina asks her to stop but she’s not really even that surprised that the next morning, when she turns the tap on in the kitchen, the water that comes out is fluorescent green.

 

While Regina and Henry are victims of Zelena’s self-described prank war , Emma, more often than not, seems to be the intended target. This is especially obvious the night that Regina comes upstairs to find Zelena casually leaning against the hallway wall, brushing her teeth.

 

Regina is baffled by what Zelena is doing in the hallway until Emma stumbles out of her bedroom, forehead wrinkled in confusion, eyes filled with annoyance. “ Zelena ,” Emma says when she spots her leaning against the wall. “What did you do to my pants?”

 

Regina’s eyes drop to Emma’s skinny jeans but she doesn’t see anything overtly wrong with them. They still cling to her hips and long legs as delectibly as always. Regina swallows thickly and forces her eyes upwards when she realizes she’s staring. She looks back over at Zelena and finds her sister’s eyes twinkling in delight.

 

Zelena just shrugs her shoulders in response to Emma's question and slips into the bathroom.

 

“Zelena!” Emma calls in exasperation, heading down the hall after her.

 

Zelena pops back out of the bathroom before Emma can make it all the way down the hallway. Her toothbrush is now gone and she asks, “What exactly is it that is wrong with your pants?” in a way that makes it clear that she knows exactly what is wrong with them.

 

“They won’t come off,” Emma growls.

 

“How awful,” Zelena smirks, her eyes still twinkling in mischievous delight. “Maybe Regina can help you with that?”

 

It’s at that exact moment that Henry pokes his head out of his room to see what the commotion is and his nose wrinkles. “I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t hear that,” he says, slipping back into his room, muttering something under his breath that Regina can’t quite make out.

 

Emma is blushing furiously, her cheeks tinged red, when Regina looks back in her direction, and she won’t meet Regina's eyes.

 

“Whatever,” Emma grumbles. “I’ll just sleep in them.” She turns and stalks back into her bedroom before anything else can be said.

 

Regina follows Emma with her eyes until her bedroom door shuts with a click and Regina turns her gaze back to Zelena, glaring.

 

“What?” Zelena grins, the picture of innocence.

 

Regina just shakes her head and heads into her own room.

 

Emma ends up wearing those same pants for three days before Zelena takes pity on her and lifts the spell. “You’re no fun, you know,” Zelena says. “When are you going to try and retaliate?”

 

Emma has nothing to say to that. Despite Zelena’s provocations, she seems to just take each new prank in stride, grumbling about them but seeming to let them slide off her back

 

Regina also refuses to participate, prefering to claim that pranks are childish and beneath her.  

 

Henry is the only who tries to get in on the prank war. Lacking magic, his prank attempts are more of the traditional variety. There’s fake snakes everywhere for days and, while, Regina does get distinct pleasure out of hearing Zelena’s undignified scream when she finds one such snake poking out from the newspaper on the table, Regina doesn’t so much like it when she finds a snake under her pillow that same night.

 

Emma comes barreling into the room when she screams, eyes wild and hands up like she’s ready to start throwing punches. She laughs when she sees the snake on the bed and realizes what’s happened and why Regina was screaming.

 

“Sorry,” Emma apologizes with a lopsided grin and a shoulder shrug when Regina narrows her eyes at the laughter, and Regina is absolutely incapable of staying angry.

 

Emma scoops the fake snake off the bed, like she's rescuing Regina. “Are you sure we haven’t been cursed into a sitcom?” she wonders as she looks from the rubber snake in her hand up to Regina.

 

Regina laughs. “Who knows. Maybe we have been.”

 

Emma laughs too.

 

xxxxxx

 

They’re into a third week of pranks when Regina’s phone rings one afternoon while she’s at work.

 

It’s Zelena and there’s an edge of panic in her voice. “You need to come home now .”

 

“Is this another prank?” Regina wonders, mildly annoyed at having been interrupted from the budget she’s working on.

 

“No,” Zelena says, the panic even more pronounced now, unmistakable and terrifying. “ Please come home.”

 

Regina’s heart rate instantly increases, thumping loudly against her ribcage, reverberating in her ears. She’s not sure she even remembers to hang up the phone before she’s teleporting herself to the manor in a cloud of purple smoke.

 

She arrives on the front lawn and the first thing she sees is a ladder leaning against the house that definitely wasn’t there this morning, the next thing she sees is Zelena in the front window, phone still held to her ear, eyes wide and worried, and the last thing she sees, the thing that nearly stops her heart, is Emma curled up in a ball on the ground.

 

“Emma!” Regina shouts, her whole mind going blank, as fear washes over her. She rushes forward, dropping down beside her, eyes scanning up and down, looking for injuries. “What hurts?” she demands.

 

Emma groans, flipping over onto her back, and squinting up at Regina.

 

Emma ,” Regina repeats, her voice filled with urgency. “Can you talk?”

 

“It’s fine,” Emma manages to say before she groans again.

 

“You don’t sound fine.” Regina’s lips purse as she scans Emma up and down again, looking for an obvious injury. There’s a trickle of blood on Emma’s right hand, her palm scraped, but, other than that, there’s nothing overtly wrong. But just because there’s nothing visibly wrong, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything wrong. Emma might have hit her head. At that thought, Regina holds up three fingers in front of Emma’s face. “How many?” she urges.

 

Emma squints but manages to say, “Three,” without struggling.

 

Regina changes the number of fingers she’s holding up to five. “How many now?”

 

“Five,” Emma answers and then moves to push herself up.

 

“Wait!” Regina says sharply, reaching a hand out to stop her.

 

“I’m fine, Regina,” Emma shakes her head, ignoring the hand on her chest and pushing herself up regardless. “Seriously. It just knocked the wind out of me, I’m good.”

 

Regina’s eyes narrow, searching Emma’s face for signs of a lie that she doesn’t find. Still feeling uncertain, she stands and carefully helps Emma up off the ground, wrapping her arm around her waist, and guiding her inside.

 

Zelena is waiting in the entrance way, looking uncharacteristically worried.

 

The initial panic that came with thinking that Emma was seriously injured is passing, and Regina’s earlier fear is replaced by a wave of anger that she can not contain. “What the hell were you doing standing in here while she was out there hurt ?”

 

Zelena’s face pales, her eyes hardening, but she doesn’t say a word.

 

“Regi-” Emma starts but Regina cuts her off.

 

“And you what were you doing out there on a ladder alone? Do you know how idiotic that was?” Regina turns her angry gaze towards Emma.

 

Emma gulps and looks down, mumbling somewhat sheepishly, “You said the gutters needed to be cleaned.”

 

That gives Regina pause. Is this Emma still trying to be useful? Had she misinterpreted the comment that Regina had made in passing a few days ago? Is this somehow Regina’s fault? “I was going to hire someone,” she insists, the hard edge of her anger gone as soon as it had come. The only other person who could soften her so quickly is Henry, but she doesn’t think about what that might mean.

 

Emma’s shoulders shrug and when she looks back up, she doesn’t meet Regina’s eyes.

 

There's an awkward silence that follows, which Zelena fills. “Are you okay, Emma?” she asks and there’s something careful and concerned about the tone of her voice.

 

“Of course she isn’t okay,” Regina hisses. “She fell off a ladder.”

 

Emma groans. “I’m fine. Nothing serious is wrong.”

 

“Good,” Zelana says with a head bob and a look that can’t be anything but relief. Her expression hardens though as her eyes move from Emma over to Regina. “I’ll just go to my room then.”

 

Zelena ,” Emma is the one who tries to call after her but Zelena hasn’t bothered to take the stairs, instead disappearing in a cloud of green smoke, and the attempt to stop her is pointless. Emma’s eyes slide over to Regina. “You know she couldn’t actually leave the house, right? House arrest spell?”

 

Regina pales. No, in her panic and then blind rage, she hadn’t remembered that. Shit .   

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina helps Emma slowly up the stairs and settles her on the bed in her room before disappearing into the bathroom to grab the medical kit.

 

When she steps back into Emma’s room, Emma has flopped backwards on the bed, so that she is now lying down. Regina frowns, worry flooding her. “Are you sure you don’t maybe have a concussion? Should I be taking you to a hospital?”

 

“I’m fine, Regina,” Emma insists, pushing herself back up, biting her lip, presumably to hold back a groan.

 

Regina’s mouth twists but, aside from dragging Emma to the hospital against her will - something she wouldn’t hesitate to do if she actually thought Emma was seriously hurt - she doesn’t have much choice but to believe her. She moves over to the bed, sitting down beside Emma and setting the medical kit down on her other side. She flips it open and pulls out an alcohol wipe. “Here,” she says, holding out her hand palm up. “Give me your hand.” She motions with her head to the hand Emma must have scraped on the ladder on the way down.

 

Emma lets Regina take her hand without complaint, sitting quietly and patiently, while Regina cleans the wound. It must sting but she doesn’t wince once.

 

It isn’t until Regina is applying antiseptic cream and wrapping her hand in gauze that Emma speaks. “You should apologize to Zelena." She says it conversationally.

 

Regina frowns, applying a piece of tape to the gauze to hold it in place. “It's not like Zelena ever apologizes for anything,” she grumbles, mostly under her breath.

 

Emma laughs and when Regina looks over at her her, she finds green eyes filled with a kind of amused fondness. “That doesn't mean that you shouldn't.”

 

Regina sighs because she knows Emma is right but she doesn't want to admit it. She’s done dressing Emma's hand now but she leaves it in her lap, fingers resting gently against Emma’s wrist, and Emma makes no move to pull it away.

 

“She tried to tell me not clean the gutters, you know?” Emma admits, biting her lip and looking a little guilty. “And how do you think she knew to call you right away? She was watching me out the window the whole time.”

 

Regina feels a flicker of guilt at that. She tilts her head and studies Emma. “Why did you decide to clean the gutters?” she asks carefully, continuing just as carefully as she speculates on the answer, “ Was it because you’re still worried I'm going to ask you leave?”

 

Emma shrugs, her gaze falling to the floor.

 

Emma? ” Regina prods softly, stroking Emma's wrist gently with the pad of her thumb.

 

Emma sighs. She looks back up, her head turning in Regina's direction. There's something pained about her expression, conflicted maybe. “I'm really trying not to be. It's just… hard.”

 

The pad of Regina’s thumb continues to move in a circular motion against Emma's wrist. Her lips purse as she tries to decide what she should say. This insecurity of Emma's, this fear of rejection, of being turned away, isn't something small or insignificant, it's a thing that has been built over years and years, her entire life so far, really, and any reply Regina can come up with feels completely inadequate. She wants to make Emma feel safe. She wants Emma to wake up every morning here and not have to wonder if today is the day that the bottom is going to fall out from under her. But Regina doesn't know what, besides maybe time, will ease her fear.

 

“It's understandable, you feeling that way,” Regina says. “I wish you didn't though. I want you to be comfortable here.”

 

Emma swallows thickly, greens eyes searching Regina's - for what exactly, Regina isn't sure. Emma's tongue darts out to moisten her lips and then whispers, “I'm sorry.”

 

Hey ,” Regina says, and it's gentle but still firm. “This isn't the sort of thing that requires an apology. I'm always here if you want to talk about it, though. And I'm going to try and be better about remembering to provide reassurance.”

 

Emma smiles, it's slow and wistful almost. “You're too good to me.”

 

Regina's thumb stills its motion on Emma’s wrist. Her heart does a flip and there is a sudden longing in her chest that is almost overwhelming. “You think I'm the one who is too good?” she scoffs, but there's a hint of vulnerability there too that isn't quite masked as well as she wants it to be. Someone else might not hear it but somehow she knows that Emma will.

 

“Yes, I do,” Emma says definitively with a soft smile that is so knowing.

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow and offers wryly, “But I'm the Evil Queen.”

 

“Not anymore,” Emma shakes her head and the expression on her face is still far too knowing, her eyes filled with almost unbearable softness. “Not to me. To me, you're just Regina.”

 

Regina swallows thickly. She doesn't know how to respond at all, her heart thumping loudly in her chest, as she flounders.

 

Emma comes to the rescue with another soft smile and a topic change. “Thanks for taking care of me hand,” she says, finally pulling it back from Regina's lap and settling it in her own. “But now you should go do that apologizing we talked about.”

 

“Do I really have to?” Regina whines purposely, like she's Henry complaining about having to clean his room.

 

Emma laughs, high and bright. “You're cute but that's not going to work. You do have to.”

 

Regina is absolutely incapable of stopping the blush that colours her cheeks at Emma calling her cute . “Fine,” she sighs in an exaggerated fashion. “If I must.”

 

“You must.” Emma laughs again that same bright laugh that fills Regina's heart.

 

Regina stands to leave but she stops, turning back around to look at Emma. “Is the reason  you haven’t retaliated against any of Zelena’s pranks that you’re still worried I’ll ask you to leave if you're not some model resident?”

 

Emma’s head tilts and she seems to seriously consider that. “Maybe?” she shrugs and then asks thoughtfully, “Do you think Zelena might be done with pranks now? She seemed pretty concerned about me, didn’t she?”

 

“Of course she was concerned, Emma. You fell off a ladder. You could have been seriously injured,” Regina says, there’s some strain in her voice as she recalls the shear panic of finding Emma on the ground.

 

“But I’m fine,” Emma says, eyeing Regina knowingly a long moment before she lifts her eyebrows. “Now quit stalling.”

 

“I’m not-” Regina starts but Emma cuts her off.

 

Go ,” Emma says with that amused fond expression from before.

 

Regina laughs, shaking her head, but she listens, slipping out of Emma’s room and heading down the hall.

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina knocks on Zelena's door and when there is no reply she tries again. “Zelena, please. I know you're in there.”

 

There’s another minute of silence before Regina hears the padding of feet on the other side of the door. Then the door swings open and Zelena is standing there with narrowed eyes. “What do you want?” she snaps.

 

Regina stiffens but she takes a breath and refuses to allow herself to snap back. “To apologize,” she admits honestly.

 

Zelena's eyes narrow further but Regina can see the flicker of genuine surprise there. “Fine,” she says after a beat, pushing the door all the way open so that Regina can come in, and then she moves over to perch herself on the edge of her bed.

 

If this were Emma, Regina would sit down beside her, but everything with Zelena is different, more difficult, so Regina chooses to sit in the chair in the corner instead.

 

Zelena eyes her expectantly, not saying anything.

 

Regina sighs. “I am sorry. Emma was hurt and my mind went blank and I forgot about the spell.”

 

Zelena is still silent, just staring at Regina with an expression that is completely unreadable.

 

“Zelena, please say something,” Regina says after minutes have passed with nothing but uncomfortable staring.

 

Zelena takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly like she’s trying to convince herself to say something. When she does speak her tone is even but Regina can tell that she’s struggling to keep it that way, struggling to pretend like she’s not bothered. “Even if you forgot about the spell. The fact that you thought I would just leave Emma out there injured is insulting.”

 

Regina takes a deep breath of her own. “Less than three months ago you were trying to kill us all,” she reminds her, it’s not defensive or snappish, she just states it like the fact that it is, determined to have a genuine conversation with Zelena.

 

“And you cursed the entire town here,” Zelena shoots back. “And everyone just forgave you.”

 

Regina scoffs, shaking her head. “You think everyone just forgave me?”

 

“Didn’t they?” Zelena says in a way that is clearly meant to be rhetorical but there’s a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes.

 

Regina folds her hands in her lap, leaning forward a bit. “They did not. When the curse broke, a mob showed up here, wanting my head. Probably the only reason I’m still alive right now is that Emma wouldn’t let them kill me. That didn’t stop her from locking me in a jail cell, though. And Henry… they took him away from me, made decisions without consulting me, as if I wasn’t still his mother…”

 

Regina swallows thickly, remembers the days following the first curse breaking, remembers how difficult it was, remembers how it had felt to think that no one who would ever look at her and see anyone other than the Evil Queen again. She remembers too what it had felt like for Henry, and then Emma, to defend her, to have them on her side, and she feels a flicker of guilt. Maybe she hasn’t been sympathetic enough towards Zelena, maybe she could have been more supportive. “Believe me, no one just forgave me. A lot of people still haven’t and that’s after I’ve helped save everyone here three times now. It takes time, Zelena. Forgiveness has to be earned and even when you have… some people will still doubt you, some people will still just see your past. You have to live with that. No matter how difficult it is. That’s what it means to try and be good.”

 

Zelena scoffs. “Good. Evil. Don’t you think the world is a little more grey than that?”

 

Regina lifts a shoulder, uncertain of the answer. The Charmings certainly seemed to think that everything was black and white and that Regina should fit herself into their definition of good if she wanted to be a valued and trusted member of this town. But what would Emma say? Emma who hadn’t grown up in the Enchanted Forest, whose life had been anything but easy, who had made mistakes, but who was still so overwhelmingly good . Regina is pretty sure she knows exactly what Emma would say. Hadn’t Emma just said that Regina was simply Regina to her, after all? “Perhaps,” she concedes.

 

One side of Zelena’s mouth ticks upwards into rueful half smile. “Not me though, right? I’m just all bad.”  

 

Regina swallows thickly, that flicker of guilt reappearing. “No,” she shakes her head. “I’m sorry if I’ve been making you feel that way.”

 

Zelena lifts one shoulder, shrugging like it’s not a big deal to her, even if it clearly is.

 

Regina thinks about having Henry and Emma to believe in her, thinks about what a difference that made. Doesn’t Zelena deserves that too? “What if I lifted the spell?” she suggests tentatively. “Would you still stay here if I asked you to, if there was no spell?”

 

Zelena blinks slowly. “Why would you risk it?”

 

“Because I know how important it is to have people who believe in you,” Regina admits. “And you’re my sister. I should believe in you.”     

 

Zelena’s head tilt. “Do you ever wonder how things might have been different if we’d grown up together?” There’s something incredibly wistful about the question, like this is something she’s thought about before.

 

“So that mother could have ruined us both?” Regina scoffs.

 

“Was she really so bad?” Zelena wonders. “She loved you, didn’t she?”

 

Regina stiffens, suddenly defensive, and wanting to snap out a reply. But this is the most genuine conversation she and Zelena have ever had and she knows if she lets herself snap something now, it will fall apart. She takes a shaky breath and answers carefully, honestly, “She loved me for what I could accomplish for her, not for who I was. My whole life was about being molded into what she wanted me to be. I was no use to her otherwise. And she let me know it any time I stepped out of line. I know your life was difficult, Zelena, but imagining it would have been better with Cora isn’t helping.”

 

“Maybe it would have been different with me there. I could have protected you,” Zelena suggests, still seeming oddly wistful about the whole thing.

 

Regina lets herself imagine it for just a moment but then she shakes her head. “You’re doing yourself a disservice with these what if questions. The past already happened. All we can do now is focus on the future. There’s still time for us to really become sisters.”

 

Zelena lets out a breath that sounds like a sigh, lapsing into a silence that lasts minutes. “Don’t lift it,” she finally says.

 

Regina frowns, confused for a moment, until she realizes what Zelena is talking about. “The house arrest spell?”

 

“Yes,” Zelena confirms with a head nod and then admits quietly, “I don’t trust myself not to leave. Not yet.”

 

Regina studies Zelena carefully. Zelena might not trust herself not to leave, but the fact that she wants the spell left in place means that she wants to stay here. It means that she cares about changing. It means that she really does want to be Regina’s family. It means a lot. “Okay,” she agrees. “But you tell me when you’re ready.”

 

“Okay.” Zelena smiles, it’s a small smile but it’s genuine.

 

Regina smiles back at her, warmth flooding her chest. Maybe they really will become like real sisters. When she was a child, Regina had always wanted a sister, someone to commiserate with, someone to be her friend .

 

“So,” Zelena says and her expression is suddenly mischievous, the smile replaced with an amused smirk. “If we’re going to start acting like actual sisters, tell me about Emma.”

 

Regina frowns. “What about her?” she asks cautiously.

 

“You love her,” Zelena singsongs.

 

Regina’s eyes narrow. “I do not,” she says a little too quickly.

 

Zelena laughs gleefully. “Oh, please, you totally do, just admit it. I won’t tell, I promise.”

 

Regina shakes her head and refuses to answer.

 

“You really aren’t going to say anything?” Zelena prods. “Because your worried routine this afternoon speaks volumes all on its own.”

 

“Of course I was worried, she fell off a ladder, she could have been seriously hurt,” Regina says, her heart rate increasing at just the thought of Emma seriously hurt.

 

“Regina, please, you expect me to believe you would have reacted exactly the same if that had just been any random Storybrooke citizen?” Zelena lifts her eyebrows, her expression annoyingly knowing.

 

“That’s not a fair question. Emma lives here, she’s the mother of my son, of course I care more about her,” Regina says, an edge of defensiveness creeping into her tone.  

 

“Now, do tell, when you say care , what you really mean is love in the be my girlfriend kind of way, right?” Zelena says with a smirk.

 

Zelena ,” Regina sighs.

 

Zelena’s smirk falls and she looks oddly sympathetic. “Why are you so afraid to admit that you have feelings for her that go beyond regular friendship, you’re the mother of my son, type stuff?”

 

Regina sighs again. Maybe it’s the genuinely curious tone Zelena’s chosen, or maybe it’s just that Regina really does want to talk about this, but, whatever the reason, she finds herself admitting, “Because she lives here. And she’s happy. But she’s still worried that it’s not going to be permanent, that I’m going to ask her to leave. And I’m not going to go and scare her away by confessing that I’m maybe harbouring some feelings for her.”

 

Maybe some ,” Zelena laughs, in the way that says that they both know it’s not just some feelings and that there is no maybe about it, but then she sobers. “Regina, have you seen the way she looks at you? You’re much denser than I thought if you think these feelings are one sided.”

 

Regina’s heart races at the possibility but she shakes her head. “You can’t know for sure that that’s true. I’m not risking her happiness.”

 

Zelena lets out a long suffering sigh at that.

 

“You can’t say anything, Zelena,” Regina rushes out, suddenly worried about confessing this to Zelena of all people.

 

“Don’t worry, sis,” Zelena grins. “My lips are sealed.” She mimics zipping her lips shut and throwing away the key.

 

Regina’s heart is still beating just a little too fast but she has to trust that Zelena is telling the truth. What other choice does she have?   

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma is stiff for days, groaning any time she moves, the side she landed on covered in dark bruises, her scrapped hand scabbing over. Regina has to hand her painkillers at regular intervals, because she’s too stubborn to take any herself, always protesting that she’s fine, despite the way she winces when she moves the wrong way. Slowly though, she starts to recover and Regina stops worrying quite so much.

 

Emma is half right about Zelena letting her be with all of the pranks. There is a five day reprieve and Regina is just starting to think that the war really might be over when Zelena chooses to mess with Emma’s red leather jacket.

 

“Zelena!” the scream is loud enough that Regina hears it from upstairs.

 

Regina makes it downstairs in time to see Emma waving a pastel pink jacket in Zelena’s face.

 

“What did you do my jacket?” Emma is demanding, her eyes ablaze with anger.

 

“What?” Zelena smirks. “Aren’t you a pretty Disney princess? I thought this would be a more suitable colour for you.”

 

“Fix it!” Emma demands loudly.

 

“Sorry,” Zelena shrugs, clearly smug and delighted at having finally gotten a true rise out of Emma with one of her pranks. “No can do.”

 

Emma’s entire body seems to shake in anger.

 

“Here,” Regina says, interrupting before Emma can shout anything else. “Give me the jacket, Emma, I’ll fix it.”

 

Emma looks over at her, startled in the way that means she must not have even heard Regina come downstairs - if the shaking hadn’t already given away just how angry she is, then that surely would have. Emma takes a breath, Regina’s presence seeming to calm her a fraction. With still shaky hands, she passes over the jacket.

 

Regina waves a hand over the jacket she’s now holding, purple magic shimmering, but nothing happens, the jacket is still pastel pink. She frowns, pursing her lips and trying again, but still nothing happens. She looks up to find Emma watching her with her lip caught between her teeth, eyes tinged with distress that Regina knows she can’t abate. Regina turns her gaze to Zelena. “What did you do to it?”

 

Zelena smirks in delight. “It’s a time based spell. Clever, right? The only thing that is turning that jacket back to red is time.”

 

“How much time exactly?” Regina demands with narrowed eyes.

 

Zelena shrugs. “Can’t remember.”

 

Zelena ,” Regina hisses.

 

Zelena shrugs again but this time she admits, “A week.”

 

“A week ?” Emma says and she looks absolutely devastated. She doesn’t wait for an answer, just says, face ashen, “I’ve got to go to work,” and walks out of the room at a near run.

 

“Emma!” Regina calls after her. “It’s cold, you can’t go out without a jacket”

 

If Emma’s heard her though, there’s no indication to suggest as much. The door opens and closes loudly behind her, the pink jacket still in Regina’s hands.

 

“I guess she doesn’t like being called a princess?” Zelena smirks.

 

“Don’t talk to me right now,” Regina growls, glaring pointedly at Zelena, before stalking upstairs to finish getting ready to go to work herself.

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina doesn’t do any work once she’s at town hall. She spends the morning searching companies that make red leather jackets, and then calling those companies to see who is willing to deliver the jacket to the diner that’s a half an hour outside of Storybrooke today .

 

She ends up spending four times as much as the jacket is worth, but by three in the afternoon, she’s got a red leather jacket in hand. It’s maybe not quite the same as Emma’s jacket, but it is as close as it’s going to get in a six hour time frame.

 

Regina takes the jacket to the Sheriff's station, not wanting to wait until tonight to give it to Emma. She finds her alone, chewing on the end of a pen and squinting down at a stack of paperwork. She watches Emma for a moment, fondness filling her chest at the expression on her face, which she really can't help but think is adorable. Regina could easily watch Emma forever, but eventually she clears her throat to get her attention.

 

“Regina!” Emma startles, pen falling out of her mouth and landing with a soft thunk on the desk before rolling off of it.

 

“Sorry,” Regina says. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

 

“What’s up?” Emma asks but her eyes fall to the jacket in Regina’s hands and widen in awe. “Is that…?” she doesn’t quite voice the question, almost like saying it out loud will make it untrue.

 

“Not quite. But I thought it might do for the week.” Regina holds it up so that Emma can see it better, turning it forwards and then backwards.

 

Emma bounces up from the desk and closes the distance between them in quick steps. She takes the red leather jacket from Regina and slips it on. She’s beaming as she stretches out one arm and than the other to test out the fit - it’s perfect and her eyes are absolutely shining in happiness. She flings her arms around Regina with such exuberance that it nearly knocks the wind out of Regina.

 

It takes Regina a second to recover but as soon as she does, she melts into the hug, her arms wrapping around Emma’s back and pulling her closer, until there is barely an inch of space left between them. She swears she can feel Emma’s heart thumping.

 

“Thank you,” Emma mumbles into her shoulder. “Thank you,” she repeats again, face still buried in Regina’s shoulder.

 

“You’re welcome,” Regina murmurs, her own heart beating erratically in her chest, her eyes sliding shut as she lets herself enjoy the feeling of Emma’s arms around her, Emma’s warmth enveloping her.

 

Emma pulls back so that she can see Regina’s face but she leaves her arms wrapped around her waist. It means that they are impossibly close, their faces really only inches apart. Bright green eyes seem to bore right into Regina’s. “Seriously, Regina. This was just… so fucking nice.” Emma shakes her head. “How did you even find this jacket?”

 

“I have my ways,” Regina teases.

 

Emma laughs at that and they’re still so close that Regina can feel her body shake with the force of it. “Yes, it seems you do,” she says when her laughter has faded. Her voice is oddly thick and she swallows, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips. Her eyes seem to darken as they drop from Regina’s eyes down to her lips and then back up again. And then, slowly, so slowly, she leans forward, closer and closer until her lips are pressed to Regina’s.

 

It’s a gentle sort of kiss, soft and tentative, and Regina is the one who removes one hand from Emma’s waist to reach up and threads her fingers through blonde hair, pressing their lips more firmly together, urgently. Her other hand slides along Emma’s back, moving to her hip and tugging her closer. Emma’s lips part ever so slightly and Regina uses the opportunity to deepen the kiss, moaning when their tongues meet, her heart thumping erratically against her rib cage, the sound reverberating in her ears.

 

The kiss seems to go on and on and on until Emma pulls back with a startling suddenness. Her eyes are wide, pupils blown, and she’s flushed and panting hard. She takes a stumbling step backwards. “I… I’m sorry,” she stutters out, a hand reaching up to wipe at the corner of her mouth. “I… shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”                

 

Regina’s heart sinks as she tries to get control of her own breathing. Emma is sorry . Emma thinks them kissing was a mistake . Emma regrets it. Regina tries not to let devastation overwhelm her. “It’s okay,” she says but she can here how off she sounds. “I should just… get back to town hall.” 

 

“Regina, wait-” Emma stops her.

 

Regina watches Emma expectantly, hopefully.

 

They do nothing but stare at each for what might be minutes, Regina isn’t sure.

 

Regina swears the expression on Emma’s face is all longing, but when Emma finally speaks, all she says is, “I’ll see you at home tonight?”

 

“Yes, Emma,” Regina confirms, once again trying to hold back a wave of overwhelming disappointing.

 

“Okay,” Emma says and it’s nothing more than whisper.

 

Regina doesn’t even realize until she’s halfway back to town hall that Emma called the manor home . Any other day that would have thrilled her. Today she’s not sure what she’s thinking.

 

xxxxxx       

 

“What is up with you two?” Zelena asks suspiciously at dinner.

 

Zelena isn’t wrong to be suspicious, they’ve been dancing awkwardly around each other since they got home from work, neither really meeting the others gaze for more than a second.

 

“Nothing is up,” Emma says, her eyes fixed on her dinner plate.

 

“Absolutely nothing,” Regina agrees, sneaking a glance at Emma.

 

Henry eyes them suspiciously. “Did you get into a fight?”

 

Regina glances over at Emma once more. “No, it wasn't a fight.”

 

Zelena waggles her eyebrows at Regina across the table, seemingly beyond amused by the current tension in the room. “Tell us what was it?”

 

Nothing ,” Regina hisses.

 

“Yeesh,” Zelena makes a face. “Doesn’t sound like nothing.”

 

“Zelena!” Regina finally snaps, fed up.

 

“Sorry,” Zelena says, actually looking a little apologetic, as she glances from Regina to Emma and then back to Regina again in confusion.

 

xxxxxx  

 

“Let’s just pretend that this afternoon didn’t happen,” Regina suggests when she and Emma are doing the dishes together after dinner. It’s not that she wants to forget the kiss, it’s that she can’t stand this tension, can’t stand Emma’s discomfort. No matter how amazing of kiss it had been - and it had been - she would gladly take the whole thing back if it would mean Emma being comfortable. Emma called the manor home today and Regina can’t risk taking that away from her. Regina can’t risk pushing if it might mean chasing Emma out of a place she thinks of as her home. Especially not when that place is right here with Regina.  

 

Emma looks over at her, hands submerged in soapy water, face completely unreadable. “If that’s what you want,” she finally says after what feels like minutes.

 

Regina takes a breath and lets it out slowly. “What I want,” she says carefully, “is for you to be comfortable in your own home, not filled with tension because of some spontaneous kiss that doesn't have to mean anything.”

 

Emma blinks slowly, her expression still frustratingly unreadable, but something in her eyes seems to soften when Regina says home . “Okay,” she says, and it’s a whisper.

 

“Okay,” Regina repeats just as quietly.

 

Emma is still staring at her, her lip now caught between her teeth. It seems to take actual effort for her to actually look away, turning back to the sink. She starts to wash a plate but then stops, turning her head to look back at Regina once more. “You called this my home,” she says like she can’t quite believe that.

 

“Isn't it?” Regina quirks an eyebrow. After all, hadn’t Emma called it that this afternoon?

 

“Yeah... I guess so.” Emma shrugs but her eyes are shining and the corners of her mouth twitch upwards until she’s smiling the softest of smiles, the kind that never fails to fill Regina’s heart.  

 

“This is your home, Emma,” Regina confirms with a softness that matches Emma's expression.


This is enough for Regina. Emma happy. Emma home here with Regina and Henry and Zelena. Regina doesn’t need more than this. Today's kiss doesn't have to mean anything to her - it's a lie she can convince herself of if she tries.

Chapter Text

Two mornings after their conversation in the kitchen, Henry comes downstairs with green hair.

 

“What did you do to my son’s hair?” Regina accuses, pointing a spatula at Zelena.

 

Zelena looks genuinely surprised though and out of the corner of her eye Regina spots Emma’s sheepish face.

 

“Emma?” Regina quirks an eyebrow at her. “Care to explain?”

 

“I put the dye in Zelena’s shampoo,” Emma defends.

 

“I was out of my shampoo,” Henry groans and buries his head in his hands on the table. “I used Aunt Zelena’s.”

 

“Wait,” Zelena says, looking over at Emma. “Does this mean you’re finally joining in on this prank war?”

 

Emma shrugs. “You messed with my jacket.”

 

“Really? That’s what it took? Messing with your jacket?” Zelena looks surprised and a little like she wishes she’d figured that out earlier.

 

Regina recalls the conversation they'd had about Emma's continued insecurities and hesitance to join the prank war and doubts that the jacket was really the thing that tipped her over the edge. She wonders if this maybe has more to do with their discussion about this being Emma's home the other night. Maybe Emma is starting to feel settled? Across the table, Emma gives her a small, almost shy, smile that seems to confirm Regina’s suspicions.   

 

“Are we going to talk about fixing my hair or what?” Henry asks, interrupting the moment between his mothers. “I can’t go to school looking like this,” he motions with his hand to the situation on top of his head.

 

Regina waves her hand and the green vanishes instantly, Henry’s hair returned to its original brown.

 

“And that’s why you need to use magic for pranks,” Zelena says smugly. “Good luck winning this war, blondie.”

 

Emma frowns unhappily, pouting as she sips her coffee.

 

xxxxxx  

 

Emma shows up at town hall at lunch. She’s brought food, which she deposits on Regina’s desk with a grin. “It’s from that new Thai place,” she explains, plopping herself down into the chair across from Regina.

 

Regina smiles. “This is a nice surprise.”

 

Emma shrugs, pulling containers out of the paper bag, handing one over to Regina along with a set of chopsticks and a napkin. “I maybe have ulterior motives.”

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow. “Oh really? And what, pray tell, may those motives be?”

 

“I need you to teach me magic that I can use to win this prank war,” Emma says.

 

Regina’s eyebrow quirks higher. “Seriously? This is what it takes to get you interested in magic?”

 

Emma shrugs, looking only a little bit sheepish. “Yeah?”

 

Regina shakes her head, laughing.

 

Emma grins. “So, you’ll help?”

 

“I don’t know,” Regina smirks slowly. “What’s in it for me?”

 

Emma groans and then she beams charmingly at Regina. “My undying devotion?”

 

Regina snorts, shaking her head. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

“What if I said please?” Emma grins that same charming grin again, the one that Regina really is incapable of saying no to, not that she wants Emma to know that.

 

“I suppose. You really do need my help after all,” Regina agrees after a moment of mock deliberation. “And we can’t just let Zelena win this one, think of how insufferable she’d be about it.”

 

Emma laughs happily, digging into her noodles.

 

xxxxxx

 

The prank war gets intense . Regina can’t think of a better way to describe it. Zelena and Emma trade pranks back and forth and back and forth and no one seems on the verge of cracking. She starts to worry that encouraging Emma to participate, and helping her figure out the required magic, was a bad decision.

 

Then she catches Zelena and Henry whispering together one afternoon.

 

“Our son is teaming up with Zelena!” Regina says, rushing into Emma’s room like this is some kind of dire news.

 

Emma is curled up on her bed, reading something on her phone. “What?” she frowns, looking up.   

 

“They’re working together,” Regina says urgently.

 

“Okay?” Emma says uncertainly, like she can’t quite figure out what the issue is.

 

“This is bad , Emma,” Regina stresses.

 

“Why?” Emma is still looking at Regina like she thinks she’s a little bit crazy.  

 

“Because Henry’s creative . And Zelena has magic. They’re going to win,” Regina explains like that should have been obvious - because it should have been.

 

Emma doesn’t seem worried at all by this elaboration though, instead she just laughs. “Aren’t you the one not participating in this prank war? Didn’t you say that you were too mature for pranks?”

 

Regina scowls because they both know that she’s been helping Emma, even if she hasn’t committed any of the actual pranks herself, and does still like to insist that she’s too mature for pranks.

 

“Listen,” Emma says, sitting up so that she can reach over and snag Regina’s hand from where she’s standing beside the bed. She squeezes. “There’s no better team than us. We’re not losing.”

 

Regina doesn’t correct the we , doesn’t insist like she usual does that she’s not actually participating in this prank war. If she’s being honest with herself, her heart flutters just thinking about herself and Emma being a we . And Emma isn’t wrong, they really do make a good team.

 

xxxxxx  

 

That night when they all head upstairs together after an evening sprawled out in the living room watching Full House, Emma steps into her room and then steps right back out. “Where is my bed?” she asks, eyes narrowed suspiciously in Henry and Zelena’s direction.

 

Henry ducks his head but the grin on his face tells Regina all she needs to know. The thing he’d been whispering about with Zelena earlier must have been this.

 

“That’s odd,” Zelena says, far too delighted. “How do you misplace a bed?”

 

Regina rolls her eyes. “Give up the act, Zelena. We all know you did this.”

 

Emma sighs. “Whatever, I’ll just sleep on the couch.”

 

Zelena is practically vibrating with delight at that suggestion.

 

What ?” Emma asks suspiciously.

 

“The couches may have been misplaced along with your bed,” Zelena answers, eyes twinkling.

 

Zelena ,” Regina groans in exasperation. “You can’t just get rid of all of our furniture.”

 

“Chill, sis, it will be back in the morning,” Zelena rolls her eyes.

 

It's another time based spell, then.

 

“And where exactly is Emma supposed to sleep tonight?” Regina demands, hand on her hip.

 

Zelena shrugs. “Not with me.”

 

Emma’s shoulders slump in what almost seems like dejection. “It’s fine, I’ll just sleep on the floor.”

 

“Emma, no,” Regina responds immediately. She’s not letting Emma sleep on a floor.

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Emma says, adding, “it wouldn’t be the first time,” in a rushed sort of mumble that is mostly under her breath.   

 

Regina frowns at that but she doesn’t comment, not right now when there’s still the matter of sorting out where Emma will sleep tonight. “Don’t be ridiculous, Emma. There’s plenty of room in my bed. You can sleep with me.”

 

Emma’s eyes flicker uncertainty and she runs a hand through her hair. “Are you sure? I really don’t mind sleeping on the floor.”

 

“You aren’t sleeping on the floor, Emma,” Regina says firmly.

 

“Okay,” Emma agrees with a tentative smile.

 

Regina sees Henry and Zelena share smiles and a not all that subtle low five, and understanding washes over her. This must have been their plan all along. She’s baffled and annoyed in equal measures. What exactly are they trying to accomplish here aside from making Emma uncomfortable? She narrows her eyes at them so that they know she’s on to them but any lecture she wants to give can wait until tomorrow. To Emma she says, “You can just come in whenever you’re ready.”

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma takes a solid half an hour to change into her pajamas.

 

Regina is already in bed, tucked under the covers and reading a book, glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, when Emma slips into the master bedroom. Emma hovers awkwardly near the door, eyeing Regina uncertainly until Regina quirks an eyebrow and motions with her hand to the empty side of the bed.

 

Emma runs a hand through her hair, shuffles from foot to foot, and then finally moves over to the bed, climbing up beside Regina, shoving her legs under the covers and leaning back hesitantly against the pillows.

 

Regina finishes the sentence she's reading and closes her book, setting it on the nightstand. She pulls off her glasses, folding them up and setting them on top of the book.

 

“You can keep reading if you want,” Emma says. “Don't let me interrupt whatever you'd usually do.”

 

Regina looks over at her, studying her carefully. “I was just waiting for you, that's all.”

 

Oh .” Emma breathes that single syllable out like she's not quite sure what else she should say.

 

“Of course, I was starting to think you were going to stand me up,” Regina smirks.

 

The smile that tugs at the corners of Emma's mouth is sort of sheepish. “Sorry.”

 

The smile Regina offers in return is nothing but fond. They lapse into silence and Regina doesn't even really realize that they’re staring at each other until Emma bites her lip and looks down.

 

“Thanks for saving me from sleeping on the floor,” Emma says, looking back up.

 

Regina shakes her head in the way that makes it clear that Emma's thanks is unnecessary. “Of course I wasn’t going to let you sleep on the floor.” Her tone is light, all exasperated fondness, but then she remembers what Emma had said about sleeping on the floor before and she sobers. “When you said you'd slept on the floor before… “ she hesitates, but she continues, “Was that from when you were a child?”

 

Emma shakes her head once, her eyes falling to her lap, as she picks at invisible lint on the comforter. “Nah, social workers at least made sure there were beds in the places I stayed.” She shrugs. “It was when I first got out of jail, I didn't have any money, and furniture wasn't really high on the priority list for the money I did have, you know? So, I just slept on the floor for like nine months.”

 

Emma …” Regina breathes out, a hand reaching out and brushing against Emma's shoulder tentatively.

 

Emma lifts her eyes from her lap and turns her head slowly to look over at Regina. “It's not a big deal, Regina.”

 

The fact that Emma doesn't think it's a big deal, only makes it worse. Regina feels the familiar guilt that comes any time there is a reminder of the things Emma had endured because of her curse. She doubts that that guilt will ever truly go away.

 

Emma seems to see the conflict in her eyes. “Seriously, it really isn’t,” she says. “It's actually one of the ways I remind myself that those memories you gave us wouldn't have been reality. How could I have taken care of a baby? I couldn't even afford a bed.”

 

Emma ,” Regina repeats, her fingers still resting against Emma's shoulder.

 

Emma smiles at her, a sad sort of smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. “Can we please not do the whole woe is Emma thing?”

 

Regina swallows but she nods in agreement. “Okay.” She still doesn't pull her fingers back from Emma's shoulder, instead she brushes her thumb along Emma's bare skin. “Do you realize how incredible you are?” she asks sincerely.

 

Emma laughs wryly, shaking her head. “Not even a little.”

 

Regina shakes her head too. “It's not a joke. You've dealt with so much and somehow you still manage to be you , good and kind and just… you're a bright light, Emma.” She doesn't say the rest of what she's thinking, that Emma's is her bright light, that having Emma here makes all of her days better.

 

Emma rolls her eyes at Regina but her cheeks turn pink, so she must be at least a little pleased with Regina's words. “I could say the same about you, you know. You've been… everything I need.”

 

It's Regina's turn to blush. Her heart suddenly thumping loudly in her chest as she stares and stares and stares at green eyes that are filled with softness and that odd sort of longing they sometimes hold. Regina eyes dip to Emma’s lips and for just a moment she images leaning forward and kissing her, for just a moment she lets herself remember how wonderful it had been to kiss Emma that day at the station. But that can’t happen. That’s not what Emma wants. Regina pulls her hand back from Emma’s shoulder, immediately regretting the loss of the warmth under her fingertips. She has to swallow thickly to clear the sudden lump in her throat. “We should probably sleep.”

 

Emma blinks rapidly, as if startled. She runs a hand through her hair. “Yeah.”

 

Regina nods, swallowing once more, and then forcing herself to draw her eyes away from Emma. She leans over and turns the lamp on her nightstand off, plunging the room into darkness. She shuffles in the bed, until she’s comfortable, Emma doing the same beside her.

 

“Night, Regina,” Emma whispers in the darkness.

 

“Goodnight, Emma,” Regina whispers back. She falls asleep to the sound of Emma’s even breathing.

 

xxxxxx

 

Sharing a bed with Emma is not at all the experience that movies and television shows have led Regina to believe it will be. She fully expects to wake up to sun streaming in through the window, limbs tangled together. Instead, she wakes up at 2 am, freezing cold, Emma beside her, curled up in a ball with her back to her, the blankets wrapped tightly around her. Regina tries to pull some of the blankets back but the move is met with a grunt of distress and the blankets being ripped back out of her hands with a surprising force.

 

“Emma,” Regina tries softly and when there is no response, she tries a little louder, “ Emma!

 

Emma just mumbles something unintelligible and pulls the blankets even tighter around herself.

 

“Alright then,” Regina sighs, pushing herself up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, and standing. She pads quietly to the closet and reaches for a spare blanket, before heading back to the bed. With the new blanket wrapped carefully around herself, it’s not long before she’s drifting off again, the sound of Emma’s even breathing luling her to sleep once more.

 

xxxxxx

 

When Regina wakes up again, the sun is streaming in through the slats in the blinds. At some point in the night, Emma has rolled over, and when Regina opens her eyes, the first thing she sees is Emma’s face, blonde curls splayed across the pillow, her hands tucked under her chin, the blankets still wrapped around her like a cacoon.

 

Emma is still sleeping, Regina can tell because her face is relaxed, her breathing still soft and even. She looks so incredibly peaceful, and so incredibly beautiful, and Regina can’t draw her eyes away. She doesn’t dare even shift in the bed, lest that wake Emma, but, still, after a few minutes, Emma shifts, her eyes fluttering under her eyelids, as if the weight of Regina’s gaze alone has been enough to wake her.

 

Emma’s eyes blink open slowly and, seeing Regina, she smiles sleepily. “Hi.”

 

“Good morning,” Regina says, incapable of stopping the smile that spreads across her face.

 

Emma’s sleepy smile widens. She seems impossible content. “Did you sleep okay?” she asks softly.  

 

“Someone stole all my blankets,” Regina points out.

 

Emma’s eyes open a little wider and she looks down, seeing for herself that she’s completely cocooned in the comforter. “Oops.” She looks back at Regina sheepishly. “Sorry.”

 

“It’s okay. I got up and got another blanket.” Regina smiles. “How about you? How did you sleep?”

 

“Amazing,” Emma smiles slowly, and there’s still that sleepy quality to her expression. She untucks one of her arms from under the blankets so that she can rub at an itch under nose. She doesn’t tuck that arm back under the covers, instead she lets it rest on top of the blankets, in the space between them, the tips of her fingers brushing against Regina’s forearm. She makes no other attempt to move, seeming content to lie there and stare into Regina’s eyes.

 

It’s a weekday, and they need to be up soon, but Regina doesn’t feel any rush to get out of this bed. Truthfully, a part of her wishes that this quiet moment could last forever.

 

It’s a weekday though and no matter how much Regina wants the moment to last, it can’t. Sure enough, it isn’t long before she hears the sound of a door opening and closing, and feet padding down the hallway to the washroom. It’s Zelena, going through her morning routine.

 

“I guess we have to get up,” Emma sighs, like it’s the last thing in the world she wants to do.

 

“Yes,” Regina agrees, but she doesn’t move.

 

It takes them another ten minutes to actually get out of bed.

 

Zelena is already settled in the kitchen when they finally make it downstairs.

 

“Good night?” Zelena quirks an amused eyebrow at them.

 

Regina just narrows her eyes at Zelena, not bothering to answer that.

 

xxxxxx     

 

Regina drives Henry to school that morning.

 

She waits until she’s pulled out of the driveway and they are turning off of Mifflin Street to say, “We need to talk about that prank from last night.”

 

Henry looks over at her a little sheepishly, but he doesn’t say anything, just waits expectantly for the lecture.

 

“Why would you choose to make your mother uncomfortable like that?” Regina quirks an eyebrow over at him, before turning her eyes quickly back to the road.

 

Henry’s nose scrunches up uncertainly. “She wasn’t actually uncomfortable, was she?”

 

“She thought she was going to have to sleep on the floor, of course she was uncomfortable,” Regina says, signalling to turn left.

 

“But she didn’t have to,” Henry points out. “She slept with you .”

 

Regina’s lips purse and she doesn’t say anything to that. They drive in silence for a minute before she speaks. “Henry, are you and Zelena trying to…” she hesitates, trying to decide on the right phrasing, “force Emma and I into a relationship?”

 

Henry bites his lips and looks studiously out the window.

 

Henry ,” Regina prods.

 

“Maybe?” he mumbles, looking back over at her. “ Force sounds kind of harsh.”

 

It’s probably the closest thing to an answer Regina is going to get, so she just accepts it. “Henry, you have to stop. Emma and I are friends, we aren’t going to be anything more than that.”

 

“Why not?” Henry protests.

 

Regina swallows, eyes on the road as she turns onto the street the school is on. “Because it isn’t something Emma wants.”

 

Henry’s forehead scrunches up into a frown. “Why do you think that?”

 

Regina remembers the kiss with a sudden pang of longing. “I just do .” She pulls over in front of the school and parks.

 

“Did something happen?” Henry wonders.

 

Regina sighs. “Nothing happened, Henry.”

 

“Then why are you so sure Ma isn't interested in a relationship?” Henry prods, unwilling to just let it go. “I see the way she acts around you.”

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow. “And how's that?”

 

“Like… like you're the sun,” Henry says seriously.

 

Regina swallows thickly, that pang of longing back in her chest. He's wrong though. He's wrong because they'd kissed and all Emma had said was sorry . “You're wrong,” she says out loud and it's too quiet, too forlorn, but she can't take it back.

 

Henry hesitates, his brow furrowing, but he must see the pain in her face because all he says is, “Okay,” and then he lets her hug him even though they’re right outside the school and that’s something he wouldn’t usually allow, in case one of his friends were to see.

 

“I love you, Mom,” he says, reaching for his backpack and getting out of the car.

 

“I love you too, Henry,” Regina echoes.

 

xxxxxx

 

One night the following week, Regina is caught up dealing with an issue at Town Hall and she is late getting home. When she finally walks through the door of the manor, it's to the sound of music pouring out loudly from the living room. Curious, she takes off her shoes and moves down the hall, stopping in the entrance to the living room to just watch.  

 

The couches have been pushed back and the coffee table has been moved to create a makeshift dance floor, and Henry, Emma, and Zelena, are all moving to the beat of the music, laughing and smiling and happy .

 

Regina has no idea what has caused this impromptu dance party but there’s a sudden lump in her throat as she watches them.

 

She thinks of all the years before Henry, thinks of coming home night after night to a house devoid of noise, thinks of being lonely, always lonely, surrounded by people who never saw her. She thinks of the curse breaking and the house suddenly being plunged back into silence again, thinks of the months before that when dinners had often contained nothing but the sound of forks and knives scraping against plates and where the only sound she might hear on any given night was that of feet stomping angrily up the stairs. She thinks of standing at the town line and having to say goodbye to Henry and to Emma thinking she'd never see them again, thinks of a year without either of them.

 

For so much of her life she could never have imagined this . Could never have imagined a house, a home , filled with noise and joy and people she loves . And she does love them, not just Henry, but Emma and Zelena too.

 

Emma spots Regina then and she stops dancing, standing still to stare at Regina with eyes that are shining with the same kind of happiness that Regina feels. She smiles, a slow, fond, smile, and beckons Regina forward with a wiggle of her finger.

 

Regina just smiles at her and doesn't budge, her eyes lingering on Emma's.

 

Zelena and Henry spot her then too and Henry whoops, “Mom! Come dance!”

 

Regina smiles wider but still she is slow to move from where she's standing in the entrance.

 

Emma moves for her, crossing the room towards her, and grabbing both of Regina's hands.

 

Regina lets herself be tugged forward with no real protest. Emma walks backwards, not letting go of Regina hands until they've made it to the makeshift dance floor. Even then, she only drops the one, and it’s just so that she can twirl Regina like they're dance partners, out away from her and then back towards her, so close that Regina finds herself reaching out to steady herself with a hand on Emma's shoulder.

 

Emma tips her head back and laughs, and Regina's breath catches in her throat. Emma is beautiful always, but especially like this, with shining eyes, and cheeks tinged the slightest of red from the physical exertion, and happiness seeming to permeate from every inch of her.

 

Regina is breathless watching her, her heart thumping erratically in her chest, and she has to look away for a second for fear she might spit out something she’ll regret if she doesn't - something like I love you and not in the way she loves Henry or Zelena.

 

Looking away proves no better though because she finds Henry and Zelena watching them, with far too knowing expressions.

 

Emma's hand slips around her waist, pulling Regina’s gaze back to her. She finds Emma smiling at her almost sheepishly, a flicker of a question in her eyes, a is this okay ?

 

Regina should pull away, she knows she should, but instead she just smiles and takes the lead, moving them to the beat of music that is maybe just a little too quick for this type of dancing.

 

Henry and Zelena laugh beside them, mimicking their position in what is surely mocking. But Regina doesn't care, because Emma won't stop smiling and her green eyes are absolutely shining and Regina's heart swells and swells and swells.

 

xxxxxx

 

Zelena and Henry both manage to slip away, leaving Regina and Emma to clean up.

 

Emma pushes the couch back into place from behind while Regina checks it from the front to make sure it's straight.

 

“That's good,” Regina says with a nod.

 

Emma grins at her and then proceeds to hop over the back of the couch, bouncing off the cushion and dropping into a seated position.

 

Regina rolls her eyes at the move but it's with fondness more than anything. She sits beside Emma, which only seems to make Emma's smile widen and Regina's heart flutter. There's still music playing, although they've turned the volume down considerably to the point that it's just soft background noise. They stare at each other and something about the atmosphere in the room suddenly feels charged. Regina has to force herself to ask a question before she does something she's going to regret - like lean forward and kissing Emma. “Am I allowed to ask what spurred the impromptu dance party?”

 

Emma laughs, shrugging her shoulders. “I don't know. Everyone was just in a happy mood I guess.”

 

“Are you?” Regina finds herself asking. “ Happy ?” she clarifies.

 

“Yes,” Emma answers, although there's a flicker of something almost uncertain in her eyes. “Are you?” she asks quietly.

 

Regina's head tilts, studying Emma carefully. “Of course I'm happy. How could I not be?”

 

Emma swallows thickly and her eyes drop to Regina's lips before they flicker quickly back up to meet Regina's eyes. “Yeah?” she says and it's not clear if she's asking for confirmation on what Regina has just said or asking an altogether different question.

 

“Yes,” Regina breathes out, not sure what she's answering, as her own eyes dip to Emma's lips.

 

Regina doesn't know who moves first, they seem to simultaneously lean forward, Emma's hands looping around Regina's neck, and Regina's tangling in loose blonde hair, as their lips meet in a kiss that is all urgency.

 

Emma pulls back first, her hands lifting from Regina's neck. Her pupils are blown, her cheeks are flushed, and she's a little bit breathless, but there's something panicky about her expression too, and Regina's heart is already sinking when Emma opens her mouth to say, “I'm sorry.”

 

No ,” Regina says, even though she doesn't mean to.

 

Emma frowns, her brow knitting together. “No?”

 

Regina can feel her hands shaking and she untangles them from Emma's hair, balling them tightly into fists in her lap to try and hide the trembling. “ Why are you sorry?” She's not sure she's going to be able to handle the answer but she needs to know because clearly pretending she can just bury her feelings hasn't been all that successful of a strategy.

 

Emma's frown only deepens and she wraps her arms around herself, like she's trying to hold herself together. “Because… this isn't what you want.” It's so quiet that Regina barely hears it.

 

“What?” Regina says, and she's frowning now too. “Why would you think that?”

 

Emma bites her lip, her eyes flickering with uncertainty. “You said it. After we kissed last time. You said it didn't mean anything.” Her words are so hesitant, almost like she's afraid of how Regina will respond to them.

 

“Because you apologized like it was a mistake you regretted, and you were uncomfortable and I didn't want you to feel that way in your own home,” Regina says and she doesn't mean for it to be so defensive but that's exactly how it comes out.

 

Emma flinches at the sharpness in Regina's tone, her arms seeming to wrap tighter around herself. The confusion is still there in her eyes but there's something else too, something like the odd longing Regina's noticed before, or maybe something closer to tentative hope. “I just… this is the best place I've ever lived. This is the only place that's ever felt like home, except for maybe that year in New York with Henry, but that wasn't completely real. So this is it, the only real home I've ever had.  And I got scared that kissing you was going go to screw everything up. I didn't know what you wanted and I… I was worried that if it wasn't the same as I what I wanted, you'd make me go.”

 

Emma ,” Regina says, softening completely as understanding washes over her. If only they’d actually talked earlier. “I would never ask you to leave. I couldn't. You're my family. And, besides…” Regina's heart thumps loudly in her chest as she admits, “I think we want the same thing.”

 

“Are you saying…” Emma trails off like she's afraid to ask the question, biting her lip, her eyes shining with that tentative hope now, her arms loosening the hold on her body.

 

“I love you, Emma,” Regina says, and it feels something like relief to finally say that out loud.

 

Oh ,” Emma's eyes widen and her arms drop to her side. “Oh,” she repeats like she's completely at a loss. “ Really ?”

 

Emma looks so adorably baffled that Regina can't help the laugh that bubbles out of her chest. “Yes, really,” she confirms fondly, even as she waits nervously for Emma’s reaction, her heart still thumping hard against her ribcage.

 

Emma beams, her smile absolutely lighting up her entire face. “Well, that's a relief.” She laughs happily. “Because I love you so fucking much.”

 

Regina feels her entire body relax, happiness washing over her. “Really?” she asks, repeating Emma's question teasingly with a quirk of her eyebrow, although there's maybe a little bit of uncertainty to the question, a little bit of a need for confirmation that she really did hear that correctly.

 

Emma laughs again. “Yes, really, you goof,” she says and she doesn't give Regina a chance to grumble at being called a goof because she's surging forward, laughing, as she presses her lips quickly to Regina’s once, twice, a third time, and then finally she let's them linger in a more searing kiss, one hand settling on Regina's shoulder, the other cupping her cheek.

 

Regina sighs happily into the kiss, her eyes fluttering closed and her arms looping around Emma's back to pull her closer.

 

They maybe shouldn't be kissing like this on the living room couch while Zelena and Henry are somewhere, possibly, nearby, but Regina doesn't really care - Emma loves her.

 

xxxxxx

 

Later that night, Regina comes to Emma's room to say goodnight with a gentle kiss that quickly turns heated.

 

Emma is smiling when they finally part, resting her forehead against Regina's and staring directly into her eyes. “What are we supposed to do now?” she wonders.

 

Regina considers it but she's not really sure she has answer. “Whatever we want,” she decides.

 

Emma strokes Regina's cheek with the pad of her thumb, her eyes still so close and staring directly into Regina's. “You should let me take you on a date.”

 

“A date?” Regina lifts her eyebrows.

 

“Yes,” Emma grins. “A date. On Friday.”

 

Regina's heart flutters in her chest and she smiles. “Okay, we can do that.”

 

Emma grins wider, finally pulling her forehead away from Regina's but it’s only so that she can kiss her again. This time it's the soft kind of kiss, the kind that conveys love without needing words at all.

 

xxxxx

 

The next night, Zelena helps Regina prepare dinner. She washes lettuce, and then spins it carefully in the salad spinner. “So,” she says, “Are you going to explain why you've been smiling like an idiot all day?”

 

Regina looks up from where she's stirring pasta sauce at the stove. “What? I am not,” she denies, even though it's the most unbelievable lie because Zelena has quite literally just interrupted a day dream about kissing Emma, and Regina knows she was smiling a second ago.

 

Zelena rolls her eyes. “Please, I've never seen two people eye each other as doppily as you and Emma were eyeing each other at breakfast this morning.”

 

Regina feels herself flush and she hesitates to answer just long enough for Zelena to grin smugly at her, far too amused and far too knowing.

 

“Tell me what happened,” Zelena says, dumping the lettuce from the spinner into a bowl she grabs from one of the cupboards.

 

Regina puts the lid back on the pot of sauce and turns to completely face Zelena. “We kissed,” she admits and she can't stop the smile from spreading on her face.

 

Zelena is looking smug again. “After the dancing yesterday?”

 

“Yes,” Regina nods, leaning back against the counter. “Well, also once before, technically.”

 

Zelena's eyebrow quirks upwards at that, looking amused on top of smug now. “ And ?” she prompts, somehow knowing there is more.

 

Regina isn't sure why she's suddenly nervous, like she's sharing a secret she maybe isn't supposed to, but still, she finds herself admitting, “And I told her I love her.”

 

Zelena's grin somehow gets wider. “And she said she loves you too, right?”

 

Regina's heart does a flip as she remembers those words leaving Emma's mouth. “Yes,” she confirms, blushing again.

 

Zelana tips her head back and laughs. “Took you guys long enough. I was starting to think I was going to die of old age before you two got your act together.”

 

“Oh shut up,” Regina grumbles but she's too happy to be properly annoyed.

 

Zelena just rolls her eyes, amused. “What else are we adding to this salad?” she asks, her eyes flickering down to the bowl.

 

“There's some peppers and cucumber and onion in the fridge,” Regina answers, making a move to push herself away from the counter.

 

Zelena holds up her hand though to stop her. “I've got it.” She moves to the fridge, pulling out the ingredients mentioned and sets them on the counter, grabbing the cutting board and a knife next, while Regina just watches.

 

“So are you going to call off the prank war now?” Regina asks, while Zelena rinses the vegetables at the sink.

 

Zelena sets the rinsed vegetables on the cutting board. “Why would I do that?”

 

“The whole point was to get  Emma and I together, wasn't it?” Regina quirks an eyebrow at her.

 

Zelena laughs but doesn't answer.

 

“I'm right, aren't I?” Regina questions, a little uncertain about the validity of her assumption now.

 

Zelena lifts one shoulder in a shrug as she chops up the red pepper into pieces. “Perhaps lately.”

 

“And before?” Regina wonders, eyeing Zelena curiously.

 

Zelena tosses the red pepper pieces into the salad bowl. She looks over at Regina and there's something almost hesitant in her expression. “I was bored. And you seemed rather pleased with how my suitcase stunt turned out. I just thought… if I could get Emma to really settle here, you'd be happy.” She lifts one shoulder in that indifferent half shrug again and looks back down at the cutting board, starting to chop the cucumber.

 

Regina blinks slowly as what that confession really means washes over her. “Zelena, I…”

 

“It's not a big deal,” Zelena says before Regina can sort out what exactly it is she wants to say.

 

It does feel like a big deal but Regina is still at loss for how to express her feelings. She ends up just watching Zelena finish cutting up the cucumber, transferring it to the salad bowl, and moving on to the onion. “You know,” Regina says. “You've really become a member of this household. A few months ago there's no way you would have helped make dinner, especially not willingly.”

 

Zelena looks up at that, her eyes tinged with confusion but also a pleased sort of surprise.

 

“I'd really like to lift the house arrest spell,” Regina says as way of explanation for her train of thought.

 

Zelena's eyes widen and her shoulders tense, something suddenly strained in her expression. “Would I have to leave then?” It's perhaps the quietest thing Zelena has ever said.

 

“Only if you wanted to,” Regina rushes to assure her.

 

“Okay,” Zelena says carefully, looking back down at the cutting board, and Regina isn't sure if that's okay I'll go or okay I'll stay , or maybe just okay you can lift the spell .

 

“Selfishly, I hope you'll stay,” Regina admits. “You're a part of this family now and I don't  really want to imagine this home without you in it.”

 

When Zelena looks up, her eyes are moist. “I don't want to leave.”

 

“Are you crying?” Regina can't help the question that slips out, she's just so surprised.

 

“It's the onion,” Zelena protests, looking embarrassed.

 

Regina laughs with fondness, pushing herself off the counter and crossing the distance between herself and Zelena, wrapping her arms around her sister in a side hug.

 

Zelena stiffens at first, completely uncomfortable but after a minute she drops the knife onto the cutting board and turns, wrapping her now free arms around Regina, hugging her properly.

 

“I love you, you know,” Regina tells her, still wrapped up in the hug.

 

Zelena clings tighter for a moment and then she pulls back from the hug. “But not in the way you love Emma Swan, right ?”

 

Regina rolls her eyes and shoves Zelena's shoulder. “You're insufferable.”

 

“But you love me,” Zelena smirks.

 

“I do,” Regina can't help but confirm.

 

“I love you too,” Zelena admits with sincerity but also with all the awkwardness of a person not used to expressing their feelings.

 

Regina smiles, her heart soaring. She snags a piece of cucumber out of the bowl. “So, you are going to give up on the prank war now, yes?” she asks because she really hadn't gotten an answer before.

 

“That's for me to now and you to find out,” Zelena smirks, her eyes twinkling with mischievous delight.

 

Regina groans. She has has a feeling this prank war might last the rest of their lives.

 

xxxxxx

 

Friday arrives quickly and that afternoon Regina gets a text from Emma saying that she will be late getting home. Regina herself gets home on time and gets ready for their date but as the clock creeps closer and closer to the hour they're supposed to leave for dinner and Emma still isn't home, Regina starts to worry that they're going to have to postpone this date all together. She tries not to feel disappointed. It's not Emma's fault she got hung up at work, after all.

 

It's ten minutes before their previously discussed departure time when the doorbell rings. When neither Henry nor Zelena move, Regina sighs and gets up. She pulls the front door open and her eyes widen in surprise.

 

It's Emma. Emma holding a bouquet of some of the most gorgeous flowers Regina has ever seen. Emma with her coat unzipped, revealing the black dress she's wearing underneath, a dress with a deep cut v neckline that draws Regina eyes downward, until she realizes she's staring and has to force her eyes back up to meet Emma's amused green ones.

 

“Hi,” Emma says with a smile. “You look beautiful,” she adds, her eyes flickering down to take in the wraparound grey dress Regina has chosen.

 

“So do you,” Regina answers.

 

Emma's smile widens and she holds out the bouquet of flowers. “Here, these are for you.”

 

“Thank you, they're gorgeous,” Regina takes them from Emma with a smile and butterflies flutter in her stomach making her feel absolutely ridiculous. “Come in, I want to put them in water.”

 

Emma nods and follows her into their home and towards the kitchen.

 

“So you weren’t actually hung up at work, then?” Regina guesses, as she takes out a vase and fills it with water.

 

“Nope,” Emma confirms with an almost sheepish grin.

 

“And are you going to explain why you rang the doorbell instead of just coming in? Or is that meant to be a mystery?” Regina quirks an eyebrow as she takes the flowers out of their paper wrapping and works on trimming the stems.

 

Emma shrugs her shoulders. “I just thought… just because we already live together, and have basically done every bit of this backwards, it doesn't mean we can't do the whole dating thing properly.”

 

It's impossibly sweet, really, and Regina leans over to kiss her. “I love you,” she murmurs against Emma's lips.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to wait until the date is over to kiss?”

 

They pull apart at the interruption to find Zelena standing in the entrance to the kitchen with Henry, seemingly just there to heckle them, because she doesn't wait for an answer to waggle her finger at Emma and say, “What are your intentions with my sister?”

 

Regina rolls her eyes and Emma laughs and says, “I'm going to take real good care of her, scouts honour,” before leaning over and kissing Regina's cheek.

 

“How sweet,” Zelena mocks and Henry giggles.

 

Regina rolls her eyes again but she's smiling fondly as she places the flowers in the vases. “Let's go before these hecklers start actually interrogating us,” she says, holding out a hand that Emma takes without hesitation.

 

“Have her home by eleven!” Henry calls after them as they head out of the kitchen.

 

“Don't do anything I wouldn't approve of!” Zelena adds.

 

Regina shakes her head and Emma is suppressing laughter.

 

“I'm still not completely convinced we haven't been cursed into a sitcom,” Emma says as they step outside and head towards her car still hand in hand.

 

“You know what,” Regina says, squeezing Emma's hand as they stop in front of the car. “If we are, it's not a curse I care to break.”

 

It’s true. Sitcom or not, she's pretty damn happy with her life. She's even happier when Emma leans over and kisses her.