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and i know i’ve kissed you before (but i didn’t do it right)

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Day Four, 10:53 PM

 

“So, uh...hand-kissing. That was a thing in the Enchanted Forest, right?”

 

Regina raises her eyes from her book, brows furrowed. “Um, yes?” She says nothing more, reclining on the sofa and waiting for Emma to fill in the very large blanks as to why she introduced such a random topic out of nowhere.

 

“I was just, y’know. Wondering. About customs. And stuff.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Oh, my mom was just talking about maybe hosting a ball soon. Said she missed dressing up,” Emma says, going with the ( very weak-assed , she realizes belatedly, now that the words have fallen out of her mouth like overcooked spaghetti) excuse she had concocted earlier that day.

 

“Okay.”

 

Emma tries to remember the transition she’d prepared, to hopefully go from words to actions, but all she can think of are the dozens she discarded.

 

Regina blinks.

 

Emma fidgets.

 

“Well, tell her she’ll have to file a permit if she wants it to be a town-wide event,” Regina says, and her gaze falls back to the pages.

 

Fuck.

 

Emma looks at the clock and sighs. Just 64 more minutes to wait, and she can try it all over again.

 

Maybe she should write out her plan on notecards or something this time.

 

Day One, 7:58 AM

 

The whole thing isn’t Emma’s fault, really.

 

If anything is to blame here, it’s lack of coffee. And nostalgia. Nostalgia is a bitch.

 

You smell bubblegum lip gloss, and it’s 2001, and you’re kissing your first girl and thinking, “Wow, so this is what it’s supposed to feel like.”

 

You hear a song and remember the high of making your first catch as a bail bondsperson, in a club while that was playing overhead.

 

It’s a powerful but generally harmless thing, nostalgia.

 

But when Emma spots a scuffed-up Magic 8 Ball in the parking lot in front of the station, she pauses for a moment, taken aback by the wave of feeling of being nine years old again, wishing so hard for one for Christmas but getting a package of socks instead. And then she stoops down and picks up the ball, grinning slightly. She never had wound up owning one of these things, and it could be a fun way to pass a bit of time.

 

Especially when she’s facing down her monthly Paperwork Catch-Up Day. Those are the shifts when watching paint dry starts to sound like an interesting activity.

 

So she promises herself that she’ll do one hour of paperwork and then she’ll let herself play with the toy.

 

Paperwad basketball is usually her first morning reward, but she can push it back an hour for today.

 

She starts the coffee pot and leans against the wall next to it, glaring balefully at her desk, piled high with forms.

 

She’ll start as soon as the coffee’s done.

 

Meanwhile…

 

Emma grasps the ball, gives it a good shake, and looks down.

 

What will you do today? reads the tiny blue display.

 

“Fuck off, ball,” she growls, annoyed that her supposed diversion is pointing her right back to what she’s trying to avoid.

 

The aroma of coffee begins to fill the room, and Emma shakes the ball back and forth for a solid five seconds.

 

She looks at the display.

 

What is your greatest wish ?

 

Emma huffs a tiny laugh. “To kiss Regina,” she says, really more mouthing the words than anything, though they come out the faintest whisper since she’s breathing when she does it.

 

Hearing the whisper makes her aware that she sort-of just said that out loud, and though she knows it and has known it for a very long time, it’s kind of something she generally tries to avoid. When possible. Which is generally a total of 12% of her waking hours.

 

She’s counted.

 

Not a bad percentage, really, when you think about it. Being hopelessly in love can be pretty thought-consuming.

 

Which is why she’s been attempting to push that percentage up, bit by bit. One day she might even get to 50%. That sounds like a totally healthy amount.

 

So in order to get to said percentage, she is going to pretend those words didn’t just happen.

 

“Okay, third time’s a charm here, ball. I’m not loving you so far.”

 

But just as she’s about to jostle the ball for a third time, it begins to grow warm in her palms.

 

“What the-”

 

The ball develops an orange aura and emits a high-pitched ringing, and suddenly her fingertips are burning against the white-hot surface, and she drops the ball, crying out in pain.

 

There’s a thunk , and the ringing stops immediately. Emma looks down, sees the ball in three pieces on the floor, the little triangle-looking cube right there in the middle of the puddle of murky indigo liquid.

 

Emma blinks.

 

Surely she hadn’t imagined

 

She rubs the tips of her fingers together. They’re still raw, and she hisses in pain.

 

Well.

 

That was...weird.

 

She looks around, then out the window, then back down at the ball. Nothing seems to be happening. Maybe she had accidentally destroyed the ball with magic? But she’s had her magic under control for a long time, so that makes no sense.

 

Whatever.

 

“Not like I didn’t already know it wasn’t a possibility, thanks .”

 

Her wish was so unrealistic, she broke a children’s toy. She’d laugh if she wasn’t so grumpy.

 

Instead, Emma carefully skirts around the liquid and goes for the paper towels.

 

Eight hours later, her paperwork is finished, and her stomach is growling.

 

Relieved that nothing has come of the Magic 8 Ball moment, she ties up the trashbag containing the remnants, tosses it in the garbage behind the station, and leaves for dinner at the mansion.

 

Day One, 11:59 PM

 

In Storybrooke, Maine, in the alley behind the Sheriff’s station, a garbage bin begins to glow.

 

Day Two, 8:02 AM

 

Thunk .

 

Emma blinks, staring at the dark blue liquid spreading out across the floor.

 

How had she-

 

When-

 

The last thing she remembers is going to sleep, and then-

 

Oh, fuck .

 

Day Three, 8:02 AM

 

Thunk .

 

“Well. Looks like ignoring it doesn’t work,” Emma announces to an empty office. “That’s one thing off the list.”

 

Of course, she doesn’t actually have a list. But it looks like it’s time to make one.

 

She mops up the mess and cycles through several stages of thought.

 

  1. She should call Regina.
  2. Regina will probably call her an idiot, but she will want to help. And Regina has more experience with the magical-curses thing.
  3. Regina will probably need to know the details of the wish she will need to thwart, and boy, wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation.
  4. Maybe she shouldn’t call Regina.

 

She calls Regina.

 

Not that it does much good.

 

Emma completely omits the second question, saying that the glow-y thing happened after she told the ball to fuck off.

 

Regina mulls over the conundrum - for it is a conundrum, as the Groundhog Day effect makes no sense, since she had done her paperwork both times, and therefore fulfilled her implied answer to the ball’s question - for a few minutes before she stops in place, turning immediately to face Emma.

 

“Wait, you said the ball asked you a question?”

 

“Yeah, it has this triangle die thing inside of it, and each side has a different question. So, you shake it and-”

 

“Emma. Magic 8 Balls are supposed to answer your questions. Not ask them.”

 

“Wait, really?” Emma concentrates hard, back to Sara Aguilar’s sleepover, the only one she’d ever been invited to, and the only time she had actually played with a Magic 8 Ball. She’d had one turn, and she doesn’t remember it. What she does remember is: “Will I let my mom make me invite Emma Swan to my birthday party next year? ...NOT LIKELY!” and a room full of giggles, Emma’s face on fire.

 

“Oh, god. You’re right.”

 

“So, that means this definitely isn’t a regular Magic 8 Ball, so your magic probably isn’t at fault. Though maybe the two combined…”

 

Regina lifts one of the broken shards and holds it up to the light.

 

Emma lets her mutter to herself, trying to fill out a form for...well, she has no idea what. But her head is buzzing with kiss Regina kiss Regina kiss Regina and idiot idiot idiot.

 

In her defense, she hadn’t made the wish. She’s enough experiences with wishes gone awry to not be suspicious of anything that would claim to grant wishes. But the ball hadn’t promised that. It had just been an innocuous little toy. And her secret had just come spilling out. What was the harm in confessing to an inanimate object?

 

Of course, she’s also seen Chamber of Secrets , but this train of thought is stupid anyway. She blames the lack of coffee. And the aforementioned nostalgia. Besides how was she to know that the Magic 8 Ball was going to be actually magical, even in Storybrooke?

 

Regina takes the pieces back to her lab, promising to call with any news.

 

But Emma knows she probably won’t find anything helpful.

 

This won’t end until she does the thing she’s supposed to do.

 

Kiss Regina Kiss Regina Kiss Regina .

 

Her heart thumps hard in her chest.

 

They have dinner that night at the mansion, and it’s chicken carbonara and garlic bread for the third night in a row. Emma doesn’t mind, as it’s delicious.

 

“I’m sorry, Emma,” she says, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

 

“You won’t know tomorrow.”

 

“You’ll just have to tell me again. I already made an outline of the possibilities I eliminated today. I thought if maybe you were holding it when the time hit, it might survive.”

 

Emma grins. “Nerd.”

 

Regina sits back in her chair primly. “I’m a Ravenclaw. It comes with the territory.”

 

“Um, bullshit. You’re a Gryffindor.”

 

Regina opens her mouth to protest, but she’s cut off by Henry’s voice. “Moms! What have I told you about arguing about Hogwarts houses at the table?” he asks with mock severity

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Emma mutters, but she’s grinning, and Regina is, too, and...when Regina stares at her across the table, that soft smile on her face, Emma’s heart speeds up and trips over now-familiar beat: Kiss Regina Kiss Regina Kiss Regina .

 

She may as well face it.

 

She’s going to have to kiss Regina.

 

Day Four, 10:53 PM

 

Please take a moment to remember the hand-kissing conversation catastrophe.

 

Actually, you know what, never mind.

 

It’s better off forgotten.

 

(Also, the note thing doesn’t work. She’ll give Regina one more day to come up with an alternate plan, and then she’ll stop wasting her time.)

 

Day Five, 9:42 PM

 

She tries the hand-kissing approach again.

 

Still weird.

 

(Regina doesn’t have any luck this day either. Emma is on her own.)

 

Day Six, 6:37 PM

 

While Regina is putting the finishing touches on dinner, Emma conjures a bee and has it sting her. (This isn’t her best plan, but she does make sure the pain of the sting is lessened to barely-more-than-noticeable. She’s not a monster.)

 

Emma gasps and takes Regina’s right hand, raising it so she can see the tiny pink dot on her forearm.

 

“Are you okay? Let’s go take care of this.”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

Emma doesn’t let go, instead beginning to pull Regina toward the downstairs bathroom where she knows the first aid kit is.

 

“Emma, I’m fine. I swear, it barely hurts. I hardly even noticed-”

 

“Have you ever been stung by a bee before? Some people are allergic. We need to get to the EpiPens, and besides, I know how to remove the stinger.”

 

“Yes, I’ve been-” She sighs. “ Henry !” Regina hollers up the staircase as they pass it. “Watch the garlic bread and make sure it doesn’t burn!”

 

Emma takes this as acquiescence.

 

She cradles Regina’s arm in her hands and removes the stinger as gently as she can, after performing a gentle numbing spell around the spot. It occurs to her the moment she’s finished that she’s about to feel Regina’s skin against her mouth and her hands are suddenly shaking.

 

“Normally I think you do this thing with baking soda, at least that’s what one of my foster moms did when I got stung, but I mean we have the magic going on here, so you should be fine! And if you aren’t, well, just call me and- well, I guess you can just do it yourself.”

 

She’s rambling, and Regina is staring at her with an expression she can’t make out. Mostly confusion, probably.

 

Before she can lose her nerve, Emma reaches out and takes Regina’s hand once more, lowering her face as if to inspect the spot. But instead she keeps going, kissing Regina on the arm an inch above the sting.

 

Emma pulls back. “All better,” she says, smiling as if that was a totally normal thing she just did, like her lips aren’t burning and her insides haven’t suddenly spawned approximately six thousand wild butterflies.

 

Regina still hasn’t spoken, so Emma leaves the room.

 

“Emma.”

 

Emma pauses, glancing back.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“No, thank you .”

 

Regina frowns in confusion, but Emma is floating on air, and she has to exert effort not to be wearing a huge grin when she reaches Henry back in the kitchen.

 

She kissed Regina .

 

In a way that she can totally explain away without any awkward Feelings Discussions.

 

She’s an absolute genius.

 

Day Seven, 8:02 AM

 

Thunk .

 

“Oh, come on .”

 

Day Ten, 6:09 PM

 

Emma pulls up to Mifflin and takes a deep breath, swallowing preemptive embarrassment.

 

She’s so blaming this on some mischief spell of Zelena’s if this works.

 

“Good evening!” Emma exclaims when she meets Henry just inside the door. She grabs him by the shoulders and kisses him on both cheeks, and he pulls away in confusion. “Are you zee son of zees fine house?” she asks in a terrible imitation of a French accent.

 

Henry frowns at her. “Are you high?”

 

“What a way to greet your mother, mon cher !”

 

He just laughs a little like isn’t quite sure what else to do, then turns and walks to the kitchen.

 

“Ah! There she ees!” Emma bellows when she sees Regina.

 

Emma attempts the exact same approach, except Regina pulls away before she can get the second cheek.

 

She also does a Reveal Person charm to make sure Emma isn’t being impersonated.

 

She looks genuinely surprised and a little disturbed when the spell reveals it’s just Emma.

 

Emma doesn’t blame her.

 

Day Eleven, 8:02 AM

 

Thunk .

 

“Oh, thank fuck.”

Day Fifteen, 11:48 PM

 

Emma storms into Wild Nights , the bar Ruby owns with Dorothy, and is happy to see that Ruby is on duty, lugging a box around behind the bar, but the place is otherwise empty.

 

Emma plops down on a barstool.

 

“Listen, I have a lot to say and eleven minutes to say it in, and you’re contractually obligated to listen to me if I buy a drink, right?”

 

Ruby laughs. “Sure. What’ll you have?”

 

“Whatever’s on tap.”

 

Ruby gets her the beer, and Emma starts talking. She rants about the stupid fake Magic 8 Ball and how she now has to kiss Regina, careful to leave out the details of why exactly these things are connected, and how she has been repeating the same day for two weeks now and she’s starting to go a little insane.

 

She stops to take a chug of her drink.

 

“Emma, did you pre-game my bar? I’m a little insulted, I have to say.”

 

“I’m serious! What, you haven’t seen enough weird shit in this town to believe me?”

 

Ruby shrugs a shoulder. “Okay, fair point. By my count, then, you now have...six minutes left.”

 

“I have completely run out of pretenses! I’ve kissed her five times, and none of them have worked! Cheek, arm, head, doesn’t matter. They don’t work! And I don’t know what to do”

 

“Wait.” Ruby puts up a hand. “You haven’t tried her mouth? Like. The place people usually, you know... kiss ?”

 

Emma shakes her head silently.

 

“So...try that,” Ruby says slowly, like she isn’t sure she believes Emma at all, and even if she does, she doesn’t believe Emma hasn’t tried the obvious yet.

 

“I can’t!” Emma explodes, two weeks of pressure building up until she can’t take it anymore. “It’ll just open this huge can of worms and it will ruin everything we’ve worked for! I’m just...oh, fuck it, you won’t remember this tomorrow anyway. I’m in love with Regina.”

 

It’s the first time she has said the words out loud, and her chest feels like it’s going to explode.

 

“I know.”

 

But she’s on a roll now. If she’s going to spill, she’s going to spill . “I’ve been in love with her for so long...I was trying to get over it! Before this, there were...there were moments when I thought maybe, maybe she felt the same way, too. The way she would look at me or say my name…it was never enough to know for sure, but it was enough that some nights I would lie awake trying to talk myself into giving it a shot because it was possible . But now! Now imagine how awful it would be. It couldn’t be a casual hey-are-you-maybe-attracted-to-me conversation. It’s automatically this huge thing that was big enough to cause a curse, and I have to come up with some way to kiss her without it-wait.”

 

Something occurs to her for the first time, and she spins back to see Ruby watching her, looking entirely too amused.

 

“Did you say you know? About...the love thing?”

 

Ruby nods matter-of-factly. “Yep.

 

“But you still think I should kiss her?”

 

“Oh, have we reached the point of the evening where you’re going to listen to the wise bartender now?”

 

“Ruby, if you have something to say, say it. I’m down to-” Emma checks her watch. “One minute.”

 

Ruby takes a deep breath

 

“Kiss her, because I’m pretty sure she’s in love with you, too.”

 

Emma blinks. And blinks. And blinks again.

 

“Wait, wha-”

 

Day Sixteen, 8:02 AM

 

Thunk .

 

Emma stares.

 

There’s no way Ruby can know that.

 

No. Way.

 

I’m pretty sure she’s in love with you, too . Yeah, well, this isn’t the kind of thing you can just be “pretty sure” about. She’s had points when she was “pretty sure” Regina was into her, too, but there have also been times which seem to present a pretty decent counterpoint.

 

But Ruby does have a point about the lips.

 

She hasn’t considered any lip-kiss scenarios (other than a couple of accidental daydreams, because she is a weak, weak human being), so she will have to give it some thought.

 

Emma can handle looking like a total dork. She tends to put her foot in her mouth around Regina with alarming regularity, so while it isn’t her favorite look to rock, it certainly isn’t unfamiliar.

 

She just doesn’t want to make a huge deal out of this.

 

They can deal with any “pretty sure” scenarios in the future. Right now, Emma would just like to live out a day that doesn’t involve mountains of paperwork and envisioning ways to kiss Regina without actually kissing her.

 

Wait, that’s it.

 

She can kiss Regina.

 

She can be honest .

 

Well, mostly honest. Just confide in Regina about what needs to be done, and Regina will do it. She’ll just have to come up with an explanation.

 

Emma kicks off her desk and makes her chair spin in a circle.

 

Finally, finally she’s going to be free.

 

(And she’s going to kiss. Regina. Freaking. Mills. For real.)

 

Day Seventeen, 11:50 PM

 

Emma can barely breathe. She’s been watching some show for the last 40 minutes and hasn’t absorbed a single word, her mind occupied and her eyes flashing to the clock every four seconds. She keeps tapping her foot against the floor, and she’s thankful for the mansion’s plush carpet, so it doesn’t annoy Regina.

 

Regina yawns and stretches from the other end of the couch, and her eyes dart to the grandfather clock.

 

“Is it late enough for your experiment yet?”

 

Emma had decided to put this off for as long as possible, because she needed to know immediately whether or not it has worked. She wouldn’t be able to take the suspense of a long wait. Besides, the closer it is to midnight, the less time Emma will have to try to fill in any plotholes in her story.

 

“Just a few more minutes. It’ll only take a second.”

 

“Okay. It’s almost over anyway. Should be perfect.” She settles back into the couch cushion, and Emma watches her in her peripheral vision, mentally going over her plan for the millionth time and covertly wiping her palms onto her jeans.

 

She will wait until 11:55. And then she’ll go for it.

 

Her skin feels alive , every single nerve ending tuned toward Regina’s movements.

 

The show ends at 11:54. The credits music starts, and Regina reaches over to grab the remote from beside Emma’s thigh. She shuts off the television, and still, Emma looks at the clock.

 

Regina clears her throat. “So-”

 

Just then, the clock moves forward a minute, and Emma turns and blurts, “I need to kiss you.”

 

Regina draws in a quiet gasp and holds it.

 

Emma can barely hear it over her heart thundering its favorite song, Kiss Regina Kiss Regina Kiss Regina and it’s louder than the Astrodome, louder than a thousand beating drums.

 

The gasp…is Regina shocked? Or pleased? Or both?

 

Her eyes are so, so dark, staring into Emma’s, and there’s this expression like-

 

But she can’t get carried away with her own imaginings.

 

She has a script, and she has limited time.

 

“There’s this curse, and I have to kiss someone. It’s not- it doesn’t have to be like TrueLove’sKiss or anything,” she rushes through, pronouncing it like one word and waving it away, pretending her face isn’t in flames. “I just have to kiss someone on the mouth. And I thought, well. You might be able to help?”

 

“Of course I’ll help,” Regina says in a no-nonsense tone, looking down and straightening her pantlegs even though she’s wearing pajamas. “But I’m not quite sure I understand.”

 

“It’s kind of a long story, sorry. Basically, I’ve been reliving the same day over and over, and I’m pretty sure that the solution is to kiss someone.”

 

Regina frowns. “That’s...odd. What-”

 

Emma cuts her off. “But it has to be before midnight to work. We only have a couple more minutes. Are you okay with this? I just thought, you know, since we were friends, it might be less weird than finding some stranger, or like, kissing my mother on the mouth, which just seems hella weird.”

 

Oh, sure, Emma, talk about kissing your mother right now, for crying out loud.

 

Why is she such a disaster?

But Regina just laughs softly.

 

And then she scoots closer and puts her hand on Emma’s knee, oh-so-gently.

 

“I’m happy to help.”

 

Emma swallows.

 

“What are friends for, after all?” Regina says, and her grin is...strange.

 

But this is a strange situation.

 

Emma tears her gaze away to look at the clock. 11:58. Now or never.

 

She leans forward, slowly.

 

She’s been in close physical contact with Regina numerous times in the past two weeks, but she can’t seem to make herself get used to it. She breathes in, can’t help it, could live off Regina’s scent alone, the soft warmth of it, earth and jasmine.

 

And now she’s going to kiss her, and time seems to speed up and slow down all at once, because she doesn’t remember getting close enough, but suddenly their mouths are together, and Emma’s throat is choked slightly, like she shouldn’t quite be able breathe properly.

 

Regina’s lips are soft against hers, and they move gently, slightly, hesitantly. Emma holds herself still, only allowing herself the tiniest caress of Regina’s top lip before she draws back.

 

Distantly, Emma remembers that this is supposed to be casual, a friend helping out a friend, and she should probably not be panting like she’d just run an eight-minute mile.

 

But she can’t seem to remember that. Not when Regina’s lips are still slightly parted, and her tongue peeks out slightly to take a swipe at the bottom one.

 

That movement causes a surge of lust that is enough to jolt Emma from her stupor. She looks over at the clock. Not at Regina. The clock is safer. 11:59. Just a few more seconds, and…

 

12:00.

 

It’s midnight.

 

She waits a few more seconds. Check her watch, which also confirms the time.

 

Waits five seconds more.

 

“Well?” Regina’s got her no-nonsense voice back on, ready to snap into problem-solving mode if their kiss hadn’t worked to free Emma. “How long until you know?”

 

This is long enough. This is more than long enough. She hasn’t seen the stroke of midnight in over two weeks. Emma should be feeling elated right now. She should be over the moon. She should be shouting from the rooftops that she can go back to her normal life again.

 

But all she can do is think-

 

“I lied,” she says quietly, addressing her knees.

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

Emma turns back, and Regina’s brows are furrowed.

 

She doesn’t have to do this. She’s free. But...she wants to. She has to. The truth is alive inside her, tired of being shoved forever down into her depths.

 

For once, she’s going to let it fly free.

 

“I lied,” she says again, louder, sure. “Not about the curse,” she continues. “There was one! It’s done now that midnight’s passed. But it was terrible. You have no idea the ridiculous things I’ve done to try to fulfill it, and before you ask, no I’m not telling you.”

 

Regina still looks slightly confused, but she smiles a little. “Do I want to know who you tried to kiss?”

 

Emma bites her lip. “That’s...that’s actually the part I lied about. It was only you. It had to be you.”

 

Regina’s head tilts to the side, and her expression isn’t angry. Just...curious.

 

Still, Emma has to look down as she says the next part. She watches Regina’s hand that’s still lying on Emma’s knee as she continues.

 

“There was this Magic 8 Ball that was actually magic, but I didn’t know that, and I sort of told it I was in love with you and wanted to kiss you, and then it cursed me so that I couldn’t move onto the next day until I did.”

 

Regina is quiet, and Emma looks up into those dark eyes. She could drown happily in those eyes.

 

“Well, technically I only said I wanted to kiss you. But I think it figured the love thing out on its own. I had to kiss you on the mouth; none of my other kisses worked.”

 

Suddenly, Regina’s face pulls down into a severe frown.

 

And Emma’s stomach plummets.

 

She’d only had the smallest, tiniest inkling of hope that her feelings would be returned. But...but that hope had been strong.

 

Emma feels suddenly like she might be sick and also like she’s about to cry, and she feels very much like she would like do neither of these things in front of Regina.

 

She’s opening her mouth to fake a quick, bright thank you, and magick herself away, but Regina speaks first.

 

“Are you saying you kissed me, and I don’t remember it?”

 

“Um, yeah, sorry. Never on the mouth, if that helps.” The tears are seconds away. She’s swallowing them back, speaking around a thick throat.

 

Regina nods slowly. “It does. I don’t like that I missed the others, but I would have been crushed if I’d missed our first real kiss.”

 

Emma stares at her.

 

Regina’s lips form the softest smile Emma has seen in her entire life, and she reaches out to trace Emma’s cheek where one of the traitorous tears has finally broken free.

 

“Emma. You’re so clever, so strong-” she halts to clear her throat, her voice husky. Her smile turns a bit wry. “You’re also not the only one who has problems expressing her emotions.”

 

Emma laughs a little. She doesn’t quite know why; it just bursts out of her, a little balloon of laughter, made of the excess air that’s suddenly expanding her lungs and her chest and her entire being. She might float away, but she wants to stay here, tethered to this woman and this moment in time, forever.

 

“But the gist of it is,” Regina continues, “I’m in love with you, too.”

 

Emma grasps the hand still cupping her cheek, turn it and presses her lips to the palm, because it’s the closest bit of Regina she can reach, and she can’t bear the thought of going one more moment without kissing her.

 

Then she scoots closer, until their knees are touching, and she cups both sides of Regina’s face and just looks at her, memorizing this moment, the sheen of absolute love in Regina’s beautiful brown eyes.

 

“So am I allowed to kiss you now, too?” Regina whispers, and Emma nods.

 

Regina leans close and kisses her top lip, then the bottom, and Emma’s never felt like this. Never. She’s safe in the cocoon of Regina’s arms, and she wants to give as much pleasure as she’s taking. Her fingers don’t feel entirely steady as she presses them into Regina’s hair, stroking through the soft strands. Regina is pulling her closer, and she moves willingly, eagerly, meeting the hesitant brush of Regina’s tongue with her own. She can’t get close enough to this woman; she wants to crawl inside her and zip her up until they’re one flesh.

 

The only problem with this plan is that she doesn’t see how they could keep kissing in this scenario.

 

And she really, really wants to keep kissing Regina. Forever, if possible.

 

Discovering the gentle curve of her stomach, the small sounds she makes, the way her fingers curl into Emma’s skin.

 

But they have to stop eventually, their need for oxygen only slightly outweighing their need for each other, and they’re still curled close together, Regina’s head on her shoulder.

 

“Wow,” Emma can’t help breathing, and she feels Regina’s huff of laughter against her shoulder.

 

Emma is running her fingers along Regina’s back, memorizing the way she feels against Emma’s fingers, when Regina speaks.

 

“How many kisses did you say you owe me, again?”

 

“Five,” Emma responds immediately, then pulls back, her eyes narrowed in mock outrage, and Regina’s grin is just the tiniest bit impish. Emma hadn’t told her a number before.

 

“So, by my count, I’m at one, and you’re at negative five kisses until we’re even,” Regina says.

 

“Well, four, technically. The hand was one of the kisses. So already made up for that one.”

 

“But I didn’t know you were making up for it. Doesn’t count,” Regina shrugs a shoulder in a what can you do? movement.

 

Emma sighs dramatically. “Guess I’ll just have to try again.”

 

Regina extends her right hand regally, and Emma presses her mouth against the slightly callous-roughened skin.

 

Regina’s eyes have that soft expression again. Emma has to swallow before she can say, “How is that?”

 

Regina smiles. “I think it will suffice. You may continue.”

 

“That was one.” Emma moves to her forearm and drops a kiss there. “Two.” She moves up to Regina’s cheek and gives it a gentle peck. “Three.” Emma grabs her left elbow and gently raises it to the ceiling, so she pressing the slightest dusting of a kiss onto her elbow.  “Four”

 

“Do I want to know?” Regina queries with a raised brow.

 

“No.”

 

Regina laughs, throaty and loud.

 

She tugs slightly until she can lean over and kisses Regina’s shoulder. “Five.” Emma leans back to face her. “I think we’re even.”

 

Regina runs a finger along her mouth. “Only until I’ve kissed you again.”

 

Emma leans in closer. “Hmm, then I’ll have to kiss you to make up for it...sounds like an interesting game.”

 

“I know you won’t believe this about me,” Regina says, a whisper away from her lips, “but I’ve always had a bit of a competitive streak.”

 

It’s Emma’s turn to laugh. “Good thing I do, too,” she returns, letting their lips brush slightly, and feeling Regina smile against her mouth is the most beautiful sensation in the world.

 

And they kiss again.