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The bench had always been neutral territory. It started as the place where Regina allowed Emma to see Henry once a week for ice cream. And later it had swapped, and it was Emma who allowed Regina some time with their son here. Once or twice they’d met here without Henry, always to discuss Henry, which either ended in a major blow-up, or, more recently, with a pretty decent conversation. Emma was finding out that Regina could be reasonable when she wanted to be, it’s just that she usually didn’t want to be. 

 

Emma also found herself sitting on that bench when she needed to let things settle in her brain. Something about it being neutral territory with Regina helped it be that for her own thoughts, too. Nothing had made any sense to Emma since the moment she discovered that all of this … fairytale stuff was real. She’d been catapulted into to the fucking Enchanted Forest of all places, and clawed tooth and nail to get back to Storybrooke, where apparently now there was magic that had to be managed as well as everything else. And magic was one subject she was NOT ready to tackle. She knew what had happened in the Enchanted Forest - magic had saved her from Cora trying to rip out her heart. Magic from inside Emma’s own body. And she knew what that meant, she just... wasn’t ready to say it.

 

And this night, after a particularly awkward conversation with her parents (that word still got stuck in Emma’s throat), she had wandered around town for a while before finding herself by the docks. She had sat down about 15 minutes ago, and even though it was frigid, she was more comfortable now than she had been most of the day. Emma tucked her feet up under her and glanced over at the side of the bench she’d apparently left open by instinct. She and Regina must both be creatures of habit - Emma always sat on the right, and Regina always sat on the left, no matter who had Henry with them when they arrived and no matter which direction they came from. Emma chuckled at herself a little and burrowed her chin into her sweater as she gazed out at the fishing boats bobbing on the tide. A few of them had lights on, but most were dark. She made a mental note to check on who owned those boats and make sure they were still, you know, alive.

 

“May I join you?” 

 

Even though the voice was gentle, Emma jumped, her hand flying instinctively for her gun. When she whipped around, though, and saw that it was Regina, she tried to laugh off her reaction.

 

“Jesus, you scared me,” she said, motioning for Regina to sit. “Sorry, guess I’m still on edge after, you know…” she waved her hands indistinctly, earning a chuckle from over her left shoulder.

 

Regina sat down, but didn’t immediately say anything. Emma gratefully took the cue and went back to staring and contemplating. She stole a glance at the woman next to her. Regina seemed so small right now, wrapped tightly in a black peacoat that Emma realized was the grown-up version of Henry’s. An unexpected warmth swept over her at the idea that Regina had dressed herself and her son alike at some point in the past. Emma had always secretly wanted to be part of one of those families with matching shirts she occasionally saw on a bus or a train. “Chicago or Bust,” one of them had said, and Emma laughed a little at the memory.

 

Regina turned to her. “Something funny, Miss Swan?”

 

“No, I -” Emma sighed. It was too hard to explain. “Never mind,” she mumbled.

 

Silence again. This time, though, Emma started to fidget. Why was Regina here? It was a small town, but it wasn’t that small. There were plenty of other places to sit and contemplate the world late at night than her usual bench. But Emma realized it was also probably Regina’s usual bench, and the fact that they’d both come here meant that Regina thought of it like she did: neutral territory, a port in the storm. That was a bizarre thought, and she sighed, louder than she’d meant to, if Regina’s piercing glance in her direction was any indication. Thankfully, though, Regina didn’t ask what it was about and instead launched into her own topic:

 

“So I hear you met my mother,” Regina said, turning her gaze back towards the black water off the edge of the wooden boardwalk in front of them.

 

“Yeah…” Emma said slowly. “Uh, she’s a real piece of work.”

 

Regina snorted, and Emma pressed her lips together to keep from laughing at the unexpected sound.

 

“That’s one word for it,” Regina replied. After a beat, she added, “Raging psychopathic bitch might be another way to put it.”

 

Emma couldn’t help the bark of laughter that burst out of her at that. That was pretty much the last thing she was expecting to hear out of the prim and proper Queen she’d come to  grudgingly respect over the past two years. She glanced over, and saw that there was a tiny smile hinting around Regina’s tightly pursed lips. Huh. This was a new development - they’d never laughed about anything together. Except maybe at one of Henry’s corny jokes, but even then it was a little forced.

 

“Bet you gave her a run for her money when you were a teenager,” Emma teased, hoping to bring out some stories.

 

But Regina just froze. “Things were different there,” she said eventually, before lapsing into silence.

 

Emma tried to think of something to say, but came up empty handed. Abruptly, Regina stood up and turned to leave.

 

“Hey,” Emma said, reaching out to catch her arm before she got to far away. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

 

Regina turned to look at her, but, surprisingly, didn’t shake her hand off. Instead, her gaze shifted back out towards the water, a far away look in her eyes.

 

“It’s alright,” she said airily. “I think we all have things in our past that we would rather forget.”

 

Emma dropped her arm, not sure if that was a sleight at her or what. 

 

Regina sighed. “Unfortunately, those are precisely the things that haunt us late at night,” she said, and turned and walked away.

 

Emma sat dumbfounded for a moment, trying to process what had just happened. Henry had said that Regina was trying to change, that she’d tried to stop using magic for him. Was this part of it? What were the demons that kept the Evil Queen up at night? Did she even want to know?

 

The bench suddenly felt cold under her thighs, and Emma figured it was time to be heading back inside anyway. She stood up, glancing at where Regina had sat, before stuffing her hands in her pockets and walking quickly home.

 

***

 

Emma did a passable job of putting her head down and focusing on the task at hand over the next few days. She was suddenly sheriff of a small town full of magical beings, negotiating how to share a son with his adoptive mother, living with the parents she still had trouble believing were hers, and oh yes that little matter of potentially being a fairytale character with magic herself. It was a lot. So Friday night after Henry was asleep and David and Mary Margaret had closed the curtains they’d installed to give them the illusion of privacy in their bed in the living room, Emma tiptoed out of the loft and found herself once again walking towards the docks.

 

This time, though, there was a figure perched on the left side of her usual bench by the time she got there. Emma was 99% sure she knew who it was, but she approached from the right to get a view of them first, just in case. Sure enough, Regina was sitting there, her back rigidly straight, staring out at the dark water.

 

She turned as Emma approached, her eyes the only thing that seemed to acknowledge Emma’s presence. Emma stopped when she got to the bench.

 

“You mind?” she asked.

 

Regina nodded her head once - the kind of thing that only very controlled people could get away with - and Emma took the cue to sit down. She shifted awkwardly a few times, trying to get comfortable with the silent presence next to her. Eventually, though, she was able to relax, even stretching her legs out in front of her and leaning back a little. Her brain must have figured out that she’d let down her guard, because immediately the feeling of that bizarre burst of light that had expelled Cora’s hand from her chest cavity came into Emma’s mind. Normally she just shoved it away, but tonight she was willing to at least look at it. The scariest part was how strong the memory was. She’d been in tough scrapes before - frankly had almost died more than once. But this was different. It was the -  goddamnit, she really didn’t want to call it that, but that’s what it was - magic that she remembered.

 

Emma shuddered and sat up, physically trying to push those thoughts away. Regina didn’t react, which was actually starting to get to Emma. If she didn’t want to talk, why couldn’t she find somewhere else to brood?

 

“Something on your mind, Miss Swan?” Regina said evenly.

 

Emma rolled her eyes. Of course Regina could read her like an open book, even in the fucking dark. 

 

“Plenty,” she growled. “But I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Regina smirked at her. “Of course not. Because that would be out of character.”

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing,” Regina said with a small shrug. “Just that you talk a lot.”

 

“I …” Emma wasn’t sure if she was mad or amused by this. She laughed, letting the amusement win. “Nobody has ever said that about me before.”

 

“Really?” Regina asked, and it sounded like a genuine question.

 

“Yeah,” Emma replied, kicking her feet on the ground a couple times to try to get the circulation going in her toes again. “I didn’t used to say much. But I guess you’re right, I have been talking more here.”

 

Regina turned her head, looked Emma up and down, and then turned back to the water. Emma narrowed her eyes and tried to ignore the shivery feeling that happened when Regina took her in like that. 

 

Thankfully, Regina spared her going down that particular spiral by asking, “How’s Henry?”

 

“Fine,” Emma said. “He and David had a pretty good bachelor pad thing going while we were gone, but Mary Margaret is making sure all three of us eat well and do our dishes now.”

 

Regina chuckled at that, and Emma smiled. Then she shook her head as she realized that Regina knew Mary Margaret a whole lot better than she did. On a whim, she asked, “What was she like as a kid?”

 

The smile froze on Regina’s face for a second, and Emma quickly backtracked, apologizing again for prying. Just as before, though, Regina shut down, and then soon after got up and left without a word. Emma didn’t even bother trying to stop her this time. She just stayed where she was until her face was frozen, her thoughts no clearer than when she’d sat down.

 

***

Emma found herself out on that bench more often than not over the next few weeks. She’d always been a night owl, but these days it felt like the only time she could actually be alone. Not that she really minded being surrounded by people who loved her all the time. It was a literal dream come true. But they could also be so … much sometimes. Mary Margaret in particular had always been the type to talk about everything as soon as it came into her head, but it meant more now knowing that she was, well, family. For one thing, Emma felt more of an obligation to respond, and pretty quickly she found herself ready for everyone else to go to sleep so she could come out here and sit quietly.

 

Regina hadn’t shown up again since those two times, but they’d had daytime interactions that were perfectly pleasant, so Emma assumed she’d just moved on from whatever it was about Emma’s questions that had made her so jumpy. Regina was very mysterious, and now that she was trying to reform herself, it was starting to be less in the “I’m plotting to take you out” kind of way, and was more … intriguing. Emma found herself thinking about Regina a lot in her nighttime musings, wondering if everything from Henry’s book was really true, and what in the world had convinced the literal Evil Queen that being a mother was the thing that she should do with her cursed existence. Emma also grudgingly admitted that Regina wasn’t the worst mother. Emma should know - she’d seen a lot of really shitty parenting in her time. And overall Regina may have been a little distant and a little controlling, but otherwise took pretty good care of Henry. Emma knew she wanted more love for her son, but she couldn’t ignore the feeling that maybe Regina was loving him in her own way.

 

“May I join you?”

 

Once again, Emma jumped out of her seat at the sudden appearance of Regina’s voice over her shoulder.

 

“You have got to stop sneaking up on me like that,” she said irritably, more annoyed to be caught off guard than anything.

 

“And you should be more aware of your surroundings,” Regina said, and Emma was shocked to hear a note of teasing in her voice. 

 

Well, teasing was one thing Emma could definitely do.

 

“Going to run away again after 5 minutes?” she asked. 

 

“Only if you drive me away.”

 

Damn, she was quick!

 

“We’ll see how long you last out here. A little rougher than a nice warm mansion.”

 

“I came prepared.” Regina pulled a thermos out from the crook of her arm, poured a mug of steaming coffee, and passed it over to Emma.

 

Emma took it, eyeing her in confusion. When she caught a whiff of it, she was even more confused.

 

“Is this spiked?” she asked.

 

“Whiskey,” said Regina simply.

 

Emma couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Well that’s the second time you surprised the hell out of me at midnight on this bench,” she mumbled.

 

Regina smiled so Emma knew she’d heard, but she didn’t reply. She just took a drink directly from the thermos. Emma shook her head, but gratefully drank up. It was good coffee with good whiskey in it, from the way it went down smoothly and warmed her up from the inside out. She gave a little sigh of contentment and took another sip.

 

Regina chuckled next to her. “I thought you’d appreciate that,” she said.

 

Emma smirked at her, but went back to sipping the delicious coffee. They sat quietly for a few minutes, Emma’s mind blissfully empty of worry as she allowed herself to just take in the calming stillness of the air, the warmth from her drink, and bizarrely comforting presence of Regina doing the same next to her.

 

“She raised me to be a queen,” Regina said, apparently to the world at large, because she still wasn’t looking at Emma. 

 

Emma didn’t move as she waited for Regina to go on. Which she did:

 

“My mother. She raised me to be cold, calculating, and focused - exactly what a Queen should be. And I… I wasn’t at all like that when I was young. I fought it for so long. And then, somehow… I became it anyway.”

 

The words hung in the air like frozen water droplets. Emma had no idea what to say. She clutched the little cup of spiked coffee and held her breath, wondering what she was supposed to do with all of this. They weren’t friends. And as much as she desperately wanted to hear more about who Regina was, she didn’t yet know why she was telling her.

 

And then Regina began to speak again, and Emma’s wonder only increased.

 

“Snow reminded me of myself, you know. That’s why it hurt so much when she betrayed me.”

 

Emma had read Henry’s book enough to have a vague sense of what Regina was talking about, but she seemed to be missing quite a few details. So she cleared her throat and figured she might as well get right to the point.

 

“Why are you telling me this?” she asked, trying really hard not to sound accusatory.

 

Regina blinked, as if remembering that she wasn’t in fact alone. She turned to Emma, staring her down. “You can leave if you’d rather not hear it,” she said icily.

 

Emma rolled her eyes. That was definitely the Regina she knew, but she was starting to realize that the same way she herself used sarcasm to cover up real hurt, Regina lashed out when she was feeling vulnerable.

 

“That’s not what I meant, Regina, and you know it,” she said, figuring it was better to just call her bluff than keep going on the well-worn argument path between the two of them. “Just … answer me honestly. Why are you telling me this?”

 

Regina had sat up straighter while Emma was talking, her usual defensive posture. At Emma’s repetition of the question, though, she seemed to deflate, and sat back against the bench before taking a long drink from her thermos. 

 

“I ran away when you asked me about my past,” she said finally. “And I thought I might offer you an explanation of why I didn’t want to talk about it.”

 

That was probably the most honest and vulnerable thing Emma had ever heard her say. It was … refreshing. She wondered if she was finally going to see the real Regina, behind all of the bluster and the mind games. She took a moment to notice that this thought excited her, and then turned back to the matter at hand - how to get her to keep talking.

 

“Well,” she started, “thanks. I appreciate that.”

 

Emma downed the contents of her coffee cup as she tried to think of what to say next. But Regina saved her from it by gently taking the cup from her hands, refilling it, and giving it back to her. The gesture said she wasn’t going to storm off again, so Emma figured if she just waited, maybe Regina would keep talking.

 

Eventually, Regina rewarded her patience by starting again:

 

“You’ve read Henry’s book, yes?” she asked.

 

Emma just nodded.

 

“So you know what happened. I suppose the thing I want to say about it is that I think because I fought against my mother for so long, when she finally broke my will, there was so much anger inside that it had nowhere to go. And so I put it all on Snow White. And then eventually, well, everyone else. And I know it was wrong. But it… it was so hard not to break.”

 

Emma felt her own heart squeeze thinking about a young woman who had lost everything and didn’t know what to do about it. She could absolutely understand that. She’d been there, too, but she’d been in jail, so didn’t have an opportunity to do anything about it. And honestly, she wasn’t entirely sure she wouldn’t have gone off on someone who had crossed her path right at that moment. She didn’t know what to say, but she couldn’t just let Regina sit there in this miserable memory, so she reached out and gently put her hand over Regina’s, which was resting on the bench between them. Regina visibly tensed for half a second, and then relaxed. She didn’t acknowledge the touch, but she didn’t pull away, so Emma stayed where she was.

 

“And I’m sorry,” Regina said after a moment. “I’m sorry for how much of that hate I threw at you when you got here.”

 

Emma sighed. She and Regina had come to terms lately, and she had stopped using the word hate to describe their relationship. But to have a heartfelt apology from her, directly for the way she’d treated her? Emma didn’t realize how much she needed that until it had happened.

 

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

 

Regina pulled her hand away, ostensibly to shift the thermos to it, but Emma suspected she just wasn’t sure what else to do. Emma found herself in the same situation - this was entirely uncharted territory for them, being honest and open. And was she feeling sorry for Regina? The Evil Queen? Maybe…

 

“Your turn,” said Regina, setting the thermos down on the opposite side of her and folding her arms over her chest.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I just told you things nobody else knows. Tell me something. You owe me for the whiskey.”

 

Emma rolled her eyes, but also knew she didn’t have a leg to stand on to argue against that. And honestly, she was kind of grateful that she didn’t have to figure out what to say about what Regina had told her. It was enough that she knew. But what the hell was she going to tell her?

 

Emma cleared her throat and fidgeted. She sifted through a variety of personal details, none of which she wanted to talk about. When she realized what she should say, though, she dropped her head back and whispered “fuck” to the stars. She didn’t raise her head and said as few words as possible about the memory that wouldn’t leave her alone:

 

“I apparently can do magic. And I think it’s getting stronger.”

 

The air between them seemed to ice over as Regina took this in. 

 

“You can do magic?” she said, weakly.

 

“Yeah,” said Emma, and hauled her head up off the back of the bench where it was resting. “That’s what prevented your mother from ripping out my heart in the Enchanted Forest.”

 

“I see,” said Regina.

 

“I guess Mary Margaret left out that detail when she told everyone what happened?”

 

“I guess.”

 

Emma knew what she wanted to say next, but bit her tongue. This was a bad idea, right? Talking to the Evil Queen about magic? But who else was she going to talk to? Mr. Gold? No way. 

 

“Fuck,” she whispered again, and drained the last of her second cup of spiked coffee. “I can feel it,” she said quietly. “Inside. When I think of what happened, or when I just concentrate on my own self, I feel this … something inside me. And it scares the shit out of me.”

 

Regina looked over at her with narrowed eyes.

 

“Show me,” she said.

 

“What?”

 

“Show me your magic.”

 

Emma shifted away from her. “I don’t know how.”

 

“Just…here. Let me see.” Regina reached over and grabbed Emma’s hand. She turned it over in her own, so Emma’s was palm up. She closed her eyes, and then Emma jumped as a spark flew between them. She yanked her hand back, shaking the sting out of it.

 

“Ow!” she said, “what did you do?”

 

Regina looked a little shell shocked as she shook her head. “Nothing,” she answered. “You did that.”

 

“No I didn’t,” Emma said, starting to feel a little panicky. “You grabbed my hand and then shocked me.”

 

“Emma,” said Regina, leaning towards her a little. “Calm down. It’s OK. All I did was probe your magic a little. It was just a reaction, like a reflex.”

 

Emma had been ready to jump up and run away, but instead she bit her lip and forced herself to sit still.

 

“Why does this scare you so much?” said Regina.

 

Emma had never heard her voice like that. It was calm, and soothing, and, she realized, probably her mom voice. She let out the breath she’d been holding and told herself that this was the moment to talk about it, and she really shouldn’t waste it.

 

“I’m not  -” she started, and then stopped. Tried again. “I’m barely keeping it together with all this fairytale stuff. The idea that I’m actually from … there? I know it’s true, because I’ve been there, and I get it, but it still just doesn’t quite make sense to me. Like, there’s still the option that I’m just delusional and in the middle of some kind of breakdown? But this magic thing feels real. Like more real than most other things have. And that doesn’t make any kind of sense, because for the first 28 years of my life, magic wasn’t real, and now it’s literally in me?”

 

She felt a tear begin to trickle down her cheek and brushed it away as fast as she could. Was she actually crying about this? Jesus.

 

And then Regina reached out her hand, placing it on top of Emma’s in the mirror image of what Emma had done before, and suddenly the walls came down and Emma was crying for real. Not sobbing, like she’d done only a couple times as a kid, but tears streaming down her face kind of crying. All she could do was let it happen.

 

After a minute, Regina squeezed her hand once, and then slowly pulled it back into her own lap, leaving Emma free to wipe her face with her sleeve.

 

“Henry doesn’t want me using magic because all I know how to do is dark magic that hurts people,” said Regina quietly. “I don’t think that’s the kind of magic you have.”

 

Emma sniffed. “There are different types of magic?”

 

Regina smiled then, a faraway look in her eyes, but one that was far less haunted than the others that Emma had seen. “Oh yes. I suspect that your light magic comes from being the product of true love.”

 

Emma scrunched her nose, trying really hard not to think about her parents and love and “producing” her. Regina laughed. Emma smiled. Shit , she thought, I like making her laugh.

 

Before that thought could get too far, though, Regina was launching into a whole history of the different types of magic and who used them and how. Emma didn’t get most of it. She was distracted by the sparkle of real enjoyment that was in Regina’s eyes as she talked. She loved this stuff, apparently. For as much harm as magic had done in her life, Regina still loved it.

 

When she was done with her history lesson, Regina looked over at Emma and smiled at her. 

“I could teach you,” she said. “Magic, I mean. I could teach you how to use it.”

 

Emma hesitated. “I don’t know, Regina. I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”

 

Regina looked away. “Alright. Well, you know where to find me when you are.”

 

With that, she stood, grabbed the abandoned cup and thermos from between them and turned to go.

 

“Goodnight, Miss Swan,” she called over her shoulder.

 

Emma ignored the flutter in stomach as she responded, “goodnight.” She stayed where she was for much longer than she’d meant to, trying to process everything that had happened that night. Well, she wasn’t sure what she was feeling, but she knew it was better than when she’d sat down.

 

***

Emma stayed away from the bench for a while after that. She knew if she showed up, Regina would take it as an answer about learning magic, and she really wasn’t ready for that. Or, at least, she wasn’t sure if she was ready for it. She didn’t even know what learning magic meant. She barely understood what magic was in the first place. But she also couldn’t ignore how often her mind went to that spark that had happened when Regina grabbed her hand that night. It was intriguing … or something.

 

But as the days wore on, and the business of being Sheriff of a magical town started to drift towards normalcy, Emma found herself getting twitchy. She knew this feeling. It usually happened right before she did something incredibly stupid, and usually self destructive, just to make herself feel like she wasn’t stuck. And apparently the stupid and self destructive thing she was going to do was meet up with Regina on a bench by the harbor at midnight to start learning to use magic.

 

She told herself Regina probably had stopped coming after a few days, and really she was just taking a walk, and if it happened to take her towards the harbor, then so be it. But as soon as she saw the shape of Regina’s back, she sighed internally. She really needed to get better at fooling herself. She stuffed her hands into her pockets and told herself to walk faster so she wouldn’t lose her nerve.

 

“Hey Regina,” she said when she was within earshot.

 

Regina turned around, and smiled at her in a way that made Emma’s stomach fill with butterflies. She had never seen Regina look, well, happy.

 

“Miss Swan,” Regina said brightly, and Emma couldn’t help but smile back. “You finally decided to join me again.”

 

Emma sat down on her side of the bench, kicking her feet out in front of her in a vain attempt to appear casual. 

 

“Yeah, well, I figured if I’m going to be Sheriff of a magical town, I should probably know something about magic.”

 

Emma saw a slight flicker in Regina’s eyes, but she couldn’t place what it meant. Regina stood up, glaring down at Emma like she was supposed to have already done something.

 

“Ummmm…” Emma said.

 

“We’ll begin in my fault,” answered Regina in a matter-of-fact voice that Emma couldn’t say no to, even though she hated to be so compliant.

 

“Sure,” Emma said, and stood up.

 

Regina immediately grabbed her hand, but before Emma could process anything, they were engulfed in purple smoke and appeared in Regina’s vault. Emma staggered a couple of steps backward, trying to get her bearings.

 

“You get used to it,” Regina said over her shoulder as she strode towards an ancient looking book case.

 

Emma stayed put, automatically casing the exits, just like she did in every new environment. She caught sight of a gnarled and withered hand resting on a shelf just to her left, and quickly moved to her right. What the hell was all of this stuff?

 

“Don’t touch anything without asking me first,” Regina said, eyeing her. 

 

Emma held up her hands. ‘Believe me, I have no desire to get turned into a toad by accident.”

 

Regina chuckled. “Oddly enough, that particular form of magic is incredibly difficult to perform. Though from this world’s fairy tales, you’d think it was a common summoning charm.”

 

“Right,” Emma coughed. 

 

Regina laughed out loud. “I’m well aware that you know nothing, dear,” she said. “No need to pretend otherwise.”

 

Emma blushed, but there was something comforting about Regina’s teasing. Like she knew it would put her at ease. Regina handed her a small dusty book with some kind of spiral on the cover.

 

“That is your first assignment,” said Regina, moving around so she could lean on a table at Emma’s right, making Emma feel like she was on display in the middle of the room. She looked down at the book, and opened it to find insanely tiny cursive writing filling every page.

 

“There is no way I’m going to be able to read this,” she said.

 

“Try,” said Regina, and the command in her voice made Emma snap her head up, her eyes flashing.

 

“Look, I’m giving this magic thing a go, but there is no way I’m wading through books written in cursive to do it. Teach me to do magic, Regina.”

 

“Alright then,” Regina purred, making Emma suddenly wonder if she’d stepped into some kind of trap. “Put the book back on the shelf.”

 

Emma narrowed her eyes, and even though she had a really bad feeling about it, turned to return the book to the shelf. She wasn’t entirely surprised when, the second she let go of it, it returned to her hand. She turned back to Regina.

 

“Very funny,” she said. “How am I supposed to do this?”

 

Regina shrugged, looking very pleased with herself. “Figure it out.”

 

Emma rolled her eyes, but turned around and tried again. And again. And again. Same result. She was getting frustrated, but the last thing she wanted to do was let Regina win this one. She had magic, for fucks sake, there had to be a way to do this. 

 

She thought back to the first time the magic had shown up. She was in pure fight or flight mode, and she’d just been absolutely unwilling to lose. She channeled that feeling of determination, closed her eyes, and put the goddamn book on the goddamn shelf, and let go. It stayed put. She whirled around, hands held up so Regina could see she’d done it.

 

“Very good, Miss Swan,” Regina said with a slow smile. She walked forward, and as she passed Emma on her way back to the shelf at the other end of the room, Emma was surprised to notice that Regina was wearing perfume. Did she usually do that?

 

“Your next assignment,” Regina was saying, “is to take that same book from me.”

 

That got Emma’s attention, and she felt herself beginning to blush with embarrassment about the perfume thought. Judging by Regina’s deepening smirk, she’d noticed Emma blushing, though God knows what she thought it was about. Alright, Swan, she thought. Pull yourself together. If there’s one thing you’re good at, it’s taking something off of someone. And then she blushed harder at the double entendre in her own mind, and she really was going to have to have a talk with herself about why these thoughts were coming up and oh shit she was still just standing there staring at Regina.

 

Emma took a quick breath, and focused on the book in Regina’s hand. She knew this was about magic, so didn’t even try to just grab it, although her backup plan was to distract Regina for long enough to do just that. She poured all of her attention to the book, willing it to come towards her. Of course it didn’t budge. So she took a few steps closer, and held out her hand. The book twitched, but instead of flying towards her the way she wanted, it leapt into Regina’s other hand. Emma frowned.

 

“Can I touch it?” she asked.

 

Regina grinned. “Go ahead and try.”



Emma rolled her eyes but took a few more steps towards Regina, reaching out for her left hand, where the book was now sitting comfortably. Just before she was able to grab it, Regina flicked her wrist upwards, and it moved back to her right hand. Emma was put in mind of games of keep-away as a kid, which always made her angry. She tried to channel that anger into that tingle of magic she was starting to be able to feel, but all that it seemed to be doing was make her sweat.

 

She tried a new tactic, and reached for Regina’s left hand, but quickly feinted right to make a grab for the book as it swapped to her right. She almost got it, too, but Regina snatched her hand away.

 

“Ah ah ah,” she practically purred, “use your magic, Emma.”

 

“I’m trying,” Emma muttered.

 

Once again, she took a breath, and tried to reach out for the book with her magic. This time she closed her eyes, willing it towards her. She heard Regina laugh, and opened her eyes to find that the book was now glowing red, no doubt as hot as she herself was feeling.

 

“I said take the book, Miss Swan,” said Regina, who was clearly enjoying the crap out of this situation. “Not make it glow.”

 

Emma probably could have kept the growl of frustration that she let out  in if she’d tried, but it was also past midnight and she was now sweating profusely and Regina was making this so much harder than it had to be. At the sound of it, though, Regina’s face took on a new intensity that Emma couldn’t quite decipher.

 

“Are you frustrated, Emma?” she asked. 

 

Emma was about to say something extremely rude in return, when she noticed that Regina had loosened her grip on the book. Not letting her eyes leave Regina’s face, she moved forward in one swift motion, pinning Regina to the wall with her left arm while her right hand grabbed the damn book from her hand. She didn’t expect that the book would just be hers, though, so she stayed in position long enough to try to tap into that determination that had gotten the book off the shelf earlier.

 

As she was contemplating, however, she caught sight of Regina’s eyes, which had darkened into something that once again Emma couldn’t read. And then suddenly Regina was kissing her, her lips pressed firmly into her own. For half a second, Emma opened her mouth, long enough to get the barest taste of Regina’s lips between hers, before the insanity of what was happening hit her and she wrenched herself away.

 

She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came, so she turned and ran. She half expected Regina to come after her, but the vault behind her stayed quiet as she pelted up the stone steps and out into the night.

 

***

Emma tried really hard not to think about that night. Which was basically impossible, so she went to work distracting her mind at every second. And of course the only thing she wanted to do was go and sit on that damn bench late at night to work things out. But she couldn’t do that unless she was ready to talk to Regina. Which for three days she very much wasn’t. Every time Emma saw her in what she came to think of as their normal life (vs this upside down late night life they apparently now had), she felt her stomach drop, and her face get hot, and she got out of there as soon as possible. It was mortifying, really, running from her son’s other mother like that. After years of standing up to Regina, scheming against Regina, brokering a truce with Regina, and finally co-existing with Regina, it felt wrong to be avoiding her. 

 

On the third night after The Incident, Emma was lying in bed, so far from sleep she wasn’t even trying. She was replaying that night in Regina’s vault again in her head, and then thinking about how strongly she was reacting, when suddenly it all clicked, and she understood what was happening. She groaned and rolled over onto her stomach, burying her head in the pillow. She had been avoiding the central question of why Regina had kissed her, and she finally realized that she was avoiding it because there was an obvious and horrifying answer. Emma had wanted her to. And she’d been acting like it. Wasn’t she the one that had noticed Regina’s perfume? And she didn’t have to have gotten in her space like that, now did she? And sure, Regina was the one who actually did it, and did it without asking. But Emma would be lying if she said she hadn’t been giving out vibes all evening. But also, so had Regina! The way she purred those commands? She was totally flirting.

 

And that was… well, Emma had no idea what that was. It was terrifying, obviously. But now that she was connecting the dots, she was remembering the way Regina raked her eyes up and down Emma’s body every now and then, and how fluttery it made Emma feel. She was realizing that part of sitting on that bench together was being close enough to feel each other’s warmth. And she remembered putting her hand on Regina’s while she talked, and the spark when Regina probed her magic and … shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. Emma flopped over onto her back and tried to come up with what to do. She supposed she ought to talk to Regina. But what the hell would she say? “Hey, I’ve been avoiding you for three days because I really wanted you to kiss me too but I freaked out and ran away and now I don’t know what to do?” Yeah, that’d go over well.

 

Emma glanced over at the clock. 11:32pm. It was just about the time that they’d both make their way out to that bench. She wondered if Regina was there right now. She wondered what Regina was thinking - if she regretted that kiss, or if she was hurt by Emma’s reaction, or… And with the realization that Emma cared about what Regina was feeling, she realized she had no choice but to get her sorry ass up out of bed and go sit on the bench. Even if Regina didn’t show up tonight. She needed to stop running from herself and admit that whatever it is she was feeling about Regina, it was positive and it was strong, and she owed it to herself to go find out.

 

So she got up, laced on a pair of boots, and walked out the door, trying to fake confidence by walking with purpose. Her resolve lasted all the way to the docks, but when she saw Regina’s silhouette already sitting there, she stopped in her tracks. Come on, Swan, she thought. It’s just Regina. Just go and sit down. She walked slowly towards the bench, stopped again, and in the most awkward way possible cleared her throat to announce her presence.

 

Regina turned around, and the expression of relief on her face propelled Emma forwards to sit down in her usual place. Regina smiled at her, then turned to face the water - their usual way of sitting during these night time meet-ups.

 

“I thought you’d keep avoiding for much longer than that,” Regina said.

 

Emma chuckled, in spite of herself. “Yeah, well, I haven’t been able to sleep in three days, so I’m pretty sure that makes me legally insane.”

 

It was Regina’s turn to chuckle, thankfully, because Emma realized that admitting that you had lost sleep over a kiss looked pretty damn desperate. 

 

Regina leaned down to the bag at her feet and pulled out a thermos. She poured a cup of it and handed it to Emma, who immediately recognized the same delicious coffee and whiskey combination from a few weeks ago. She inhaled deeply and glanced over at Regina, who was watching her enjoy the moment. She blushed and quickly buried her face in the cup, taking a much bigger sip than she’d meant to. She coughed as the hot liquid burned down her throat, and Regina patted her on the back a couple of times until she nodded that she was alright.

 

Regina took a sip from the thermos, and, still gazing out into the darkness, said quietly, “I owe you an apology.”

 

A part of Emma - the part that always liked to win - wanted to goad her and say that she was all ears. But she also knew that she owed it to Regina to confess what she’d worked out earlier.

 

“It’s OK, Regina,” Emma said, looking at her feet. “I, um…” she closed her eyes for a second, and then took a breath and turned to her. “I ran away because I was scared, not because I was upset about what you did. In fact, I think maybe I wanted you to do it. And that’s why I got scared.”

 

Regina turned towards her as well, something between a smile and a smirk growing on her face. 

 

“Is that so, Miss Swan?” she said, and leaned towards Emma, who quite literally gulped. “What is it that you wanted me to do?”

 

Emma’s stomach was a puddle of nerves, but God she wanted so much for Regina to kiss her right now, and if all it took was saying it… “Kiss me,” she said.

 

Regina did. She kissed Emma carefully at first, and when Emma responded eagerly, she set the thermos down on the bench behind her, wrapped her arms around Emma, and kissed her passionately, deeply, intensely. Emma found herself moving closer, trying to feel more of Regina as she let her senses be overwhelmed by the experience. It was incredible. 

 

As they tapered off, grinning at each other from mere inches away, Emma’s awkwardness returned, and she looked down at her hands, which had come to rest on Regina’s thighs.

 

“What … um … what are we doing?” she stammered.

 

Regina bit her lip, and took one of Emma’s hands in hers, stopping her fidgeting. Emma looked up at her.

 

“I really don’t know,” Regina said. “But I’d like to find out.”

 

Emma grinned, and this time she was the one to lean forward an initiate a kiss, trying to put everything into it that she couldn’t find the words to say.

 

***

 

SIX MONTHS LATER

 

Emma glanced up at the clock, and without a second thought left the report she was working on, grabbed her keys, and headed out at a fast walk towards the docks. Regina had finally agreed to meet up with her by the docks during lunch to enjoy their favorite night time haunt in the sunshine, and she was not going to show up late. She understood why Regina was hesitant about being too public about their romance. It wasn’t like people didn’t know, but she didn’t really want to advertise it, either. But it meant a lot to Emma to get to sit together out in the daylight, and just be a couple.

 

She arrived before Regina did, and sat down, a kind of giddy excitement making her fidget. Emma had rolled her eyes at her eager behavior enough times over the past six months to finally give it up and admit that it had been a really long time since she’d been this excited about a new relationship, and that was probably a good sign. 

 

“Emma!” Regina’s voice finally floated towards her from behind.

 

Emma turned around and grinned. She held out a hand to Regina, who took it with a wary glance around, and walked around the bench to sit on her usual side. Emma didn’t let go of her hand, but let it rest on the bench between them. They turned to look at the water, silent for a moment.

 

“So, how was your morning?” Regina asked. 

 

And as Emma chatted about nothing, an incredible calm came over her. This was what it was like to feel at home.