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The Heart That Beats For Her

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The rhythmic beeping has become a constant white noise that she hardly even recognizes anymore, but she knows the minute it stops, she will notice in a heartbeat and her world will flip upside down. Her mother's faint whispers are what really are grating on her nerves though, but she doesn't say a word, because it's all the older woman has right now.

She watches in complete concentration as her mother's fingers glide across the tiny beads in her hands. Her body never seeming so small and so frail as she hovers near her sister's bed, pleading with the man above to save her daughter's life.

And it takes everything in Zelena to keep her mouth shut. Yes, she and her sister were raised strict Catholics, how could they not be with a Puerto Rican father and a Sicilian mother? Regina was always the more compliant of the two, never really questioned the religion and attended mass without a complaint, but Zelena has had her doubts. Always pushed against the rules and the laws of religion, maybe that has to do with her own past. But, some things just didn't add up in her mind, because there were times she thought the rules contradicted themselves.

Yet, she still believed in some higher power.

And today, well, these past few days, she has surrendered to her family's beliefs and completely succumbed to the religion. She would never forgive herself if she didn't try everything in her power to save her baby sister's life.

Her crystal blue eyes are intently observing as her mother's finger slides to the last bead on the Rosary and she is already shifting forward in her seat, knowing she couldn't interrupt the prayer before. When the quietest of whispers silences from her mother's mouth, she opens hers.

"Mom, why don't you stretch your legs a little bit? Maybe go down to the cafeteria and have some tea. I'm sure dad could use some company," she meekly suggests, hoping her mother will take the bait because she swears the older woman's body is starting to curl in on itself from the amount of hours she has been rooted to that hospital chair, praying over her daughter's bed.

Besides, her father could use the company. He refuses to leave the hospital, but he also refuses to enter Regina's room. He's too strong and proud of a man to show off his tears, well, that's at least what Zelena tells herself because she cannot stomach the thought of her father being so utterly heartbroken.

"I'm fine, my dear," her mother claims, but the rough, scratchy tone in her voice tells a completely different story.

"No, mother, you're not fine," Zelena firmly declares, gliding forward in her seat and leaning further into Regina's bed to stare down the stubborn old woman. "You are going to make yourself sick and you won't be any use to Regina if she-"

"When, she wakes up," Cora strictly corrects, narrowing her eyes and easily snapping Zelena's mouth into submission.

"When she wakes up," she repeats, but her tone is flat and they both know her willpower to stay positive is slowly starting to fade.

Because the fact of the matter is, Regina has been lying there, lifeless, in a coma, for three days now and with each day that passes, her optimism fades and horrific images of a bleak future haunt her.

"Mom, please, go get some tea. I will be right here by her side. I won't leave her and I promise I will call you if something changes."

"I-"

"Go, mother," she firmly orders, leaving no room for argument and maybe Cora is simply exhausted and she can't truly think for herself anymore, because she does lift her bottom.

Zelena watches as Cora runs her fingertips down the left side of Regina's hairline, like she's attempting to make her more presentable, but avoiding the bandage covering most of Regina's right side. She smiles softly down upon her baby, her eyes misting as she leans forward and presses a gentle kiss to her left cheek, despite all the little scrapes marring Regina's face. Especially that one upon her lip that is so deep Zelena flinches every time she catches a glimpse of it.

"I will be right back."

"We will just wait here, nothing too important to see in the outside world today," Zelena attempts to joke and brighten up the mood, but she fails miserably.

Her mother simply nods, rounds the bed and then drops a kiss to the top of Zelena's head before she drags her heavy feet out the door. And the minute that door closes, she swears the walls are closing in on them as well. Very carefully, she reaches out and lightly trails her finger up Regina's forearm, so unsure where to touch from all the wires attached to her baby sister.

"Alright, sis, you did it, you finally pulled the ultimate prank on mommy dearest. After all her obnoxious hovering when we were children and worrying about the most ridiculous stuff, you finally showed her just how crazy she has been. It's time to wake up now," she softly whispers, her finger timid yet still methodically running up and down the only free spot Regina has to offer in the moment.

She tries not to really look at her sister, the image was already seared into her brain the first day she walked in and saw her sister's immobile body. She wishes that every time she closes her eyes she didn't see the red angry scrapes embedded into every inch of her sister's face, or the bandage that takes up half of the right side of her face. She wishes she could fall asleep at night, not seeing the tubes forced down her sister's throat or the cast her right arm is swallowed in.

"I need you to wake up now, you're the favorite prodigy child and I...I won't be able to take care of mom and dad without you. If you leave them, they will never recover. I will never recovery if you leave me, sis. So, please Regina, please just wake up," she implores, slithering her index finger through the limp fingers before her.

But of course, Regina doesn't move, doesn't flinch, doesn't even breathe differently and Zelena suddenly hears that damn machine beeping louder than ever, even if it's still at its same redundant pace.

"Maybe you don't want to wake up. Maybe you already know the truth and you don't want to wake up," she whispers, the tears slowly trickling down her cheeks as she drops her forehead to the bed and finally prays harder than she has ever done before in her life.

~~~~~

Movie night. She's psyched. Yes, it's so sad that movie night is the most interesting thing going on in her life, but she's alive and that's all she really cares about at this moment. Every day is a blessing, borrowed time as most doctor's like to call it, but she hates that phrase, because why does she have to borrow time in life at thirty years old when people her age are just really starting to live life?

It's all very overwhelming and truthfully, depressing, and she already wasted so many years hating the world for being so cruel to her. Nowadays, she just smiles for every day she wakes up and is allowed to see life move around her.

"Mmm, carrots and a flick, best combination ever," she sarcastically quips, snapping a loud bite off the end of another baby carrot.

"Emma," her mom says in that voice that's a mix of a shocked gasp, like she just used profanity, combined with a sadness Emma spends most days pretending she doesn't see in those dark green eyes. "You know I'm just trying to watch your diet."

"I know, mom," she earnestly says, biting off another piece of carrot like Bugs Bunny himself.

"You wanna lick my popcorn?" Her dad whispers, sliding closer to her on the couch and offering the smallest little piece.

"You want me to lick a piece of popcorn and then what? You're gonna waste it and throw it away?"

Her father shrugs carelessly. "No, then I eat it."

"That's gross," she complains, shoving his hand away and curling further into the arm of the couch.

"I'm your dad, I've cleaned up your explosive poop diapers when you were a baby," he chuckles.

"Yeah, but you didn't lick it," she rebuttals.

"Okay, will you two please stop," Mary Margret exasperates as she falls into her husband's side on the other end of the couch. "You're both so disgusting at times. Besides the amount of salt on that popcorn is the reason she is staying away. She can't lick it, David."

David and Emma both turn their attention to each other and smirk before she bites into another carrot and he happily tosses a piece of popcorn into his mouth and Mary Margret rolls her eyes at the playful blondes.

"Alright, what movie did you pick out tonight?" Her dad questions, draping an arm around her mother.

And Emma pauses for a moment, becoming lost in another dark thought. Her parents are so sticky-sweet happy and amongst other things, this is what really makes her heart ache. For two separate reasons though. One, because they are high school sweethearts and every day they fall more in love and because of her and all her unnecessary baggage, they never tried for more children. And even though they smile sympathetically and hold each other close and tell Emma she is all they need, she knows it's a lie.

Now, reason number two as to why her heart aches when she sees her parents so in love, is because she longs for that type of intimacy, that type of love that she will only ever see in movies or read in books. It makes her heart feel heavy and her stomach feel sick knowing she will never experience love in her borrowed time on Earth.

"Emma? Honey, what's wrong?" Her mother's soothing voice rips through all those tormenting thoughts and jerks her back to the now.

"Oh, no, nothing, mom. How about we start the movie?" She suggests through that sunny disposition that always seems to light up a room, ever since she was the cutest little toddler with sunshine pigtails.

"No, sweetie, what's wrong? Are you feeling alright? Does your chest-"

"Mom, I'm fine. I promise. I wasn't at all admiring how you two are the cutest couple ever," she teases, reaching over her father's lap to snag the remote from her mother's clutches. "Now, Captain Marvel."

"Wait, Em, should we pull out a pillow and blanket for your mother, maybe a pacifier?" He muses, earning himself a nice elbow to his ribs. "Ow."

"It is not my fault that I fall asleep during every Marvel movie. It doesn't happen when I watch DC movies," Mary Margret defends and Emma tries really hard not to laugh at their little quarrel.

Emma has always been fascinated with comics and fairytales, anything to help her escape from the misery of the real world. And her parents were always so supportive and trying to keep up, so they could have something to bond over. Her mother has been team DC since the beginning while her father is team Marvel while she really doesn't care, whatever takes her mind off her home life.

"I think you're really going to like this one," Emma confidently states as she pushes play and cuddles into the side of the couch, with her bag of carrots and her favorite blanket draped across her legs.

And she's ready, ready to put behind all the doctors, all those what ifs and endless possibilities. She's ready to get lost in some fantasy world that will definitely make her laugh and make her heart feel so much lighter.

Except, her phone is ringing and just like always, her parents jump and her heart skips a beat and every single person in the room holds their breath. Like every damn time. Yet, this time, the number that appears is the one she dreams of. The one that she has been silently begging to call her for nine long months now.

With a trembling hand, she swipes her finger across the screen and lifts the device to her ear. Her eyes immediately flutter closed because she cannot possibly meet her parents' worried expressions right now and then she holds her breath. Her heart thumping anxiously for the verdict.

"Hello?"

"Hello, is this Emma Swan?"

"Y-Yes, this is she."

"Good evening, this is Sarah, from New York Presbyterian Hospital and we need you to come down right away, we have a heart for you."

And everything crashes into a brutal collision of emotions and she doesn't know what to think or do next, but there's something warm gliding down her face.

"I-" she chokes on her words, and she cannot even comprehend how violently her hand is shaking until her mother is catching the device as it slips from her ear.

She has a heart.

Her vision blurs, but her dad is there, strong and comforting as he pulls her safely against his chest like he has done so many times before. Too many times before. She vaguely hears her mother's frantic agreeing to the receptionist who called her, but she definitely feels her father's lips lingering at the crown of her head.

"You got a heart, baby girl."

"I-I just..."

"Ems, what's wrong? This is a good thing. We have to stay optimistic. I know they will still need to do some tests when we get there to confirm the match and I know the recovery is going to be a slow and rough process, but honey, ten more years with us on this planet-"

"No, dad...it's just," she slowly extracts herself from his protective hold and uses her sleeves to wipe at the involuntary tears. "I'm thankful. I'm so so thankful," she vows, the tears refusing to stop the steady stream, "but to know...that in order for me to live, it had to come at the expense of someone else." She hiccups, trying so desperately to catch her breath, but she's struggling to find some clean oxygen, along with the words to convey how she's feeling because her mind is a cluttered mess of emotions at the moment. "I, god this is so silly, I never really even thought about this before, but it feels like I just lost someone. Is that crazy? God, it sounds insane, but I feel like I'm mourning someone and to know that now, I get their heart..." she shakes her head, the tears spilling down her cheeks over and over again without her consent.

"It's not crazy, Emma. That's empathy. You always had a heart of gold, but we need one made up of muscle for you to continue living."

She rolls her eyes at his lame dad joke, but then he's gripping her biceps and dipping down to meet her gaze and she says the one thing she swore she would never admit out loud to them. "I'm scared, dad. What if I don't make it through the surgery or what if my body rejects the heart."

"Ssshhhh," he coos just as Mary Margret ends the call and watches as he tugs their daughter into a protective hug. "Don't you worry about any of that."

"Emma, honey," and she feels her mother kneeling down beside her before she feels those warm hands wrapping hers up tightly. "You are young, you are strong. Look how long you have survived, constantly pushing further along than all those doctors said you would. You are going to be just fine, do you hear me? We are so lucky that they have found you a heart and I know you are too stubborn to allow this opportunity to just slip by."

"I know," she whispers, slowly easing her hands out from her mother's firm grasp just to wipe at her runny nose again. "I...I thought about this day countless times, for nine months I have been on that waiting list and...I don't know, I didn't expect for all these emotions to hit me all at once."

"I know, sweetie, and that's okay. You are human, you're allowed to feel, allowed to grieve during this time and yet be thankful. But honey, we really need to get down to the hospital. We have about a half an hour drive and you know they need time to do the tests to confirm that match."

"I know, I know," she murmurs, forcing herself to stand from the couch, but her entire body is trembling like she has never experienced before and she just wants to curl up into the fetal position and bawl her eyes out.

"We got you, honey," Mary Margret coos, wrapping her arm around Emma's shoulders and tugging her close against her warm embrace.

"Just like we always have," her dad says, slinging his arm around the other side of her body and escorting her toward the door.

And then everything happens in a rush and she can't explain what she feels, but she knows her body won't stop shaking because this is the moment. This is what her entire life has built up to. Every doctor, every test, every scan, every surgery, every failure has lead to this one moment.

Her heart failing.

And she finally has a donor.

Yet, this doesn't feel like a new beginning. There are still more obstacles to come and she's petrified that she might not wake up from surgery and she's even more horrified that if she does, her body might reject the heart.

And her parents were never religious, never even spoke to her about any type of belief, but today, well, maybe today is the day she silently prays to anyone who is listening that this heart brings her home.

A/N: Hello everyone, this is my first time posting here, so please bear with me while I figure all of this out. I want to start off by saying this prompt found its way to me and when I read it, my heart skipped a beat and did a little dance and I knew I had to take this story on. So thank you to @TheQuietOne1993 for trusting me with this beautiful and delicate story. I dedicated so many hours to researching and pouring my heart to make sure I capture the truth. I hope you all enjoy this story.

 

Chapter Text


Everything has felt rushed. From the moment they received the call for their daughter, someone pressed fast forward on their lives. And once they stepped foot into the hospital, everything slowed down immensely, to the point that everything that moved around them felt like slow motion.

Eight hours. The longest eight hours of their life as they waited for their daughter, begging and pleading to the universe for her to wake up. Eventually, her sleepy eyes peeled apart, and yes, she was frantic at first, disorientated, from what the nurse had described. She was also stubborn and trying to remove the tube down her throat, but eventually the nurse was able to calm her.

That was three days ago, and finally, finally, David and Mary Margret are allowed to see their daughter. The doctor was very adamant with taking things slow with Emma's recovery due to her long history of complications. And neither David nor Mary Margret argued with him, because they are willing to do whatever need be to guarantee their daughter's safety and full recovery.

"Oh, honey, you look good," Mary Margret coos, stepping beside her bed with big watery eyes as she swoops a chunk of hair away from Emma's forehead. As if Emma has anyone to impress at the moment.

"Liar," she barely mumbles because her throat is still a little tender from the tube and her chest feels extra tight and truthfully, she's petrified to move or breathe wrong and cause more damage.

And it's not like this is her first surgery. She's a pro now actually. However, this is the one that counts, this is the one that is supposed to end all her misery and suffering and she refuses to screw anything up.

"No, really," her dad chimes in, grinning wildly behind his wife. "We were able to see you through the window the past two days, you were so pale, but now you got some color coming back into your cheeks," he vows, somehow beaming even wider.

"Good," she murmurs under her breath.

"Honey, you know it's good to start talking and moving around. I know it probably hurts or is uncomfortable, but the doctor wants you to try and work on it," her mother reminds her and because of course, that woman can always read her like an open book and knows exactly what she is thinking.

It drives Emma mad sometimes and other times it's her favorite thing in the world. Right now, it ticks her off because she is due for another dose of medicine soon and she's becoming agitated, uncomfortable and above all, cranky.

"I know, mom. The doctor has been going over his expectations of me quite often."

"How are your coughing exercises coming with the nurse? I know it's supposed to hurt, but-"

"Mary Margret," David softly whispers, placing his hand upon her shoulder to interrupt her rambling mouth. She means well, he knows she does and she's just worried about their baby, but he also knows Emma needs a distraction. "Ruby called, she wants to come down and visit with Neal. I told them that I think it's best if you don't have any visitors until you go home."

"Yeah, I don't want to risk anything," Emma's scratchy voice barely whispers before she winces.

Mary Margret immediately glances at the clock on the wall. "Your next dosage should be soon," she informs her, taking Emma's hand into her own and squeezing some reassurance.

"Good."

And that's all she says and she can see her mom and dad exchanging a worried look, and she knows deep in her soul that her monotone responses don't match her usual sunshine disposition, but she feels so utterly beatdown. Sure, it's most likely the exhaustion from such a long, grueling and major surgery and maybe her body is just struggling because it's not the first time her chest has been cracked open. However, in the back of her mind, she's stressing over the thought of her body rejecting this perfect heart because she knows, she won't be able to survive.

This is her last chance at life.

Luckily, there is a knock at the door to shred through all those tormenting thoughts haunting her mind.

"Sorry to interrupt, but Emma, it's time for a coughing exercise," the sweet nurse, Ashley, announces.

Something inside Emma involuntarily relaxes. Ashley has been her nurse since she was checked into the hospital and she has been by Emma's side since she woke up. The woman is so kind, so gentle and it calms all the anxious energy festering and slithering around inside of Emma's veins. She's already dreading the day this adorable young blonde has a day off.

"Okay," Emma barely mutters.

"Are you in a lot of pain?" Ashley investigates, stepping up to the computer next to Emma's bed and prompting David and Mary Margret to take their seats on the other side of their daughter.

"Kinda."

Ashley pauses, momentarily flicking her eyes over to read Emma's expression; from her scrunched up freckled nose to the frown that's more prominent than ever.

"I can give you something now for the pain, but first breathing and coughing exercises, alright?" Ashely attempts to sound like she's strict, but Emma smiles and nods along happily.

Ashley quickly types away on her computer before offering her undivided attention to Emma. She places a towel against the incision embedded deep into the middle of Emma's chest. An incision Emma has yet to even glance at because she feels queasy just thinking about it. The nurse slowly raises the bed into the sitting position and Emma flinches, already feeling a different kind of pressure in her chest.

"Breathe, Emma, don't hold your breath. I know it's easier said than done, right?" Ashley playfully says, rolling her big blue eyes dramatically, but it helps Emma relax, even if it is just the slightest. "Alright, ready?"

Emma places her hand over the towel, allowing Ashley to remove her own. It's been a few days now and she's starting to feel more in control, she wants to feel more in control, so she holds the towel herself.

"Ten deep breaths in, don't hold back. Here we go," and Ashley takes a deep breath, encouraging Emma to follow along and mimic her power and timing in each breath.

Immediately, she feels her chest tightening, maybe even burning a little, forcing her face to screw together tightly, but she pushes through the pain. And with each breath she takes, they are becoming weaker, more tired, and strained, but she continues until she reaches ten.

"Now, deep cough, we don't want any mucus left behind," the nurse instructs, inspiring Emma to cough as hard as her lungs will allow against the heavy pressure. "Great, one more cough, okay?" Emma hardly nods, but she does give her best cough as Ashley grins back at her. "Good job, now, how about some powerful meds to knock you out for your reward?"

"Or I can fight the sleep and get really high," Emma teases and immediately regrets her joke because she ends up laughing and hating the pain that explodes through her chest and burns like spilled toxins throughout her blood.

"You could," Ashley muses, "or you could sleep and skip a few more hours of recovery."

"Touché," Emma murmurs.

Ashely chuckles, along with Emma's parents and then she disappears to retrieve those heavenly little pills.

~~~~

She hears faint whispers, as if there are two people off in a very far distance. She can't see them, in fact everything is an emptiness of pitch-black that sends her heart into a panic. She doesn't know why, but she knows something feels off in her heart, something is so terribly wrong and she feels the sensation explode in her chest and spill through her veins and infect her bloodstream like a poison.

She screams at herself to open her eyes, open her eyes and figure out what the hell is going on around her.

And then it happens. Her eyes slowly peel apart and it's a rough accomplishment, her eyelashes sticking together and her eyelids feeling heavier than she has ever experienced before. And then comes the pain. The excruciating pain throbbing in her temples and shrieking at her to slam her eyes back shut and stop all of the madness.

But she's always been a stubborn woman.

Every muscle in her body is spasming, violently trembling and it forces her to feel something lodged in her throat and she panics all the more. Her body jerks on reflex, attempting to run, but everything feels heavy and she's sure something is keeping her pinned into place.

"Regina? Regina, darling," it's her mother's voice and her eyes are expanding, frantically searching for that soothing voice and that's when her mother's face comes into view, above her. "Sweetheart, calm down. I need you to calm down, alright?"

She's so utterly confused. So damn lost in this world she woke up in and truthfully, she's not even certain that she is awake. Why is her mother hovering above her with watery eyes and a depressing smile that also resembles a frown? Why can't she move? Why is there something in her throat? And above all, why won't her head stop pounding?

"Honey, please try and relax. I am right here with you and your sister is here, but we need you to relax."

"Hey, sis." Petrified brown eyes flick to the right to discover an obscene amount of fiery curls. Her sister looks awful, almost worse than her mother and she has never seen those ringlets appear so disheveled before. "How was your nap?"

"Zelena," her mother sternly scolds her sister, but Regina is so damn clueless.

A nap? Did she fall? Did she slip and hit her head? She tries to recall the last thing she remembers, but everything feels like a foggy dream. She closes her eyes for a brief moment, desperately trying to even remember something as simple as what day it is. Except, she sees a smile instead. A smile so bright that it distracts her from her thoughts.

Her eyes blow wide open again and she doesn't even stop to acknowledge the thing wedged in her throat. "Naveen?" She mumbles around the tube and winces from the amount of pain that jolts through her body, but she has to know.

Where the hell is her husband?

"I know, honey," Cora sadly says, gathering up Regina's only free arm and lightly tapping the small space below her elbow.

The moment is interrupted though by a doctor who waltzes right up and smiles down upon her, but Regina doesn't miss the way her mother's eyes leaked a few too many tears. And there's that pressure in her chest again and that panic rising from within and tormenting every cell in her body.

"It's so nice to see you up," the doctor chuckles, quickly glancing at the monitor hanging above Regina's head.

Now, she knows she's in the hospital with her mother and sister, but she hasn't a clue as to why and she knows her father and husband are missing. So, she tells herself that her husband is off somewhere with her father, probably grabbing a cup of coffee and getting lost in their conversation about baseball.

Her eyes nervously glance around the room before dropping down to inspect her body. Her heart sinks when she notices a cast around her right arm. She squeezes her eyes shut again, desperately trying to recall what the hell could have happened?

And much to her disappointment, all her questions go unanswered because everything around her vanishes from existence.

~~~~

The next time Regina wakes up, the room is darker and it's just her sister sitting beside her.

"Ah, it's good to see those inquisitive eyes again," Zelena whispers, remaining seated to the chair beside Regina's bed.

And Regina is struggling to keep her eyes open. They feel so much heavier now and she's sure her sister is coming and going before her.

"Sleep, sis, I'm not going anywhere."

And she feels a kiss to her forearm before sleep sweeps her under yet again. She cannot find the strength to stay awake, but she knows her sister continues speaking to her as if her eyes are still wide open. She can't truly comprehend the words spoken, but it's comforting knowing that they are there, accompanied by Zelena's soft touch to her arm.

She wishes she could respond, she wishes she knew what was going on around her, but she seems stuck in some strange dreamland where everything is oddly white.

~~~~

She has been in and out of consciousness, that much she knows, she just isn't sure how many hours have passed her by. What she does know, is the doctor feels comfortable removing her tube since she has been breathing on her own and it only takes a moment for him to pull it out.

He asks her a few questions, some that she believes are quite ridiculous, like her name and birthday. After that he starts investigating her whereabouts and the last thing she remembers. She grows agitated rather quickly and she still feels tender and sore and after a few minutes, he suggests she rests. Not wanting to aggravate her any further. Much to her own disappointment, she falls asleep immediately with her mother holding her arm and her sister watching over her.

And she really wants to scream at them for answers, but her body is refusing to cooperate and she's starting to feel like a prisoner in her own body.

~~~~

The next time she wakes up, she does start to feel a little more coherent and is ready to have a civilized conversation because she has still yet to see her husband or father, and she hasn't a clue as to why she's in a hospital, she needs answers.

"You look good today, darling," her mother coos, brushing some hair away from her face like Regina might need to impress someone.

"Thanks?" And it's a question, no doubt, because her mind is still so foggy. "Now, mom, please, where is my husband? And why the hell am I here?" Her scratchy voice barely allows the words to be presented into the world and she winces from how broken her own voice sounds, nothing like the confident and controlled woman she usually portrays.

"Honey, you don't know why you are here? I just assumed it was all the pain medication knocking you out and making you loopy."

"Mother please," she exasperates, because she still feels exhausted and her entire body aches and she doesn't have time for games or her mother's rambling. "Stop. I need answers. Where is Naveen? Why isn't he here with me?"

"Okay, honey." Her mother slides her chair closer to her face. Ever so gently, she cups Regina's cheeks, so careful not to hurt her and peers so deep into her eyes that Regina actually feels her heart shrivel up in fear of what's to come. "I love you very much." Regina's entire face contorts into an expression mixed with pain and bewilderment. "Regina, you were in a car accident."

"What? I-" she's already shaking her head because she is sure she would remember being in a car accident. That's not possible. She has no recollection, not even a flicker of a memory. "No-"

"Regina, baby," her mother coos and right away Regina's heart jumps within its cavity in her chest because her mother has only ever called her baby, when she was very sick as a child or when something is very bad. "Naveen was driving, you were on the expressway, ready to leave the city for vacation. You hit a patch of black ice," Cora pauses, her eyes swelling with thick tears that cannot be tamed before they dribble down her cheeks. But all Regina feels is panic, and somewhat empty inside and the need for her mother to continue. She needs answers. "Your car spun out of control and you went through the guardrail. Your car flipped four times. I am so so sorry, my baby girl."

"Sorry about what, mother?" Regina sternly questions, her frantic eyes scanning all over her mother's face for a clue because none of this makes any sense to her. She doesn't even remember driving on the expressway with Naveen in recent memories.

"Darling, Naveen didn't make it."

"What?" She whispers disbelievingly, so cold and unattached to her emotions. "No, no. That-no," she suddenly snaps, her head violently shaking despite the pulsating in her temples. "You're wrong. There must be some kind of mistake. I don't even remember being in the car with him. I don't-" she pauses because the pain in her head is really starting to become overwhelming and she's feeling a bit queasy...but then she sees his smile.

She sees him sitting to her left, and the way he takes her hand and kisses her knuckles like he has done so many times before. He's grinning, like a little school boy, those teeth always shining so bright against his milk-chocolate skin tone. It always made her heart skip a beat. But then the image vanishes and she's struggling to remember when that moment took place.

She opens her mouth to argue with her mother, but this heavy weight crashes against her chest and she can't breathe. Her face scrunches up and she closes her mouth just to open it again and breathe, but she releases this ear-piercing shriek before a sob crackles in her chest and she belts out a cry of agony that has Cora lunging forward to hold her close.

"No, no!" She hysterically screams on the top of her lungs while her body tries to shove her mother away, yet pull her in close, all at the same time to stop the gut-wrenching pain from within.

"Ssshhhhh, I know, baby. I know," Cora coos, gently rocking her daughter to soothe her like she did so many years ago.

"No, he can't, mommy. No, there has to be...no!"

"I know, it's okay, honey, just let it all out."

"No, I can't," she bellows, shoving her mother away with all her anger bubbling up inside. "I can't do this. I can't live without him here. He is my world. I-no, please. God, please no."

"We are here for you," Cora vows, wrapping her daughter up again and holding her firmly against her chest. "Whatever you need, alright?" Her mother pulls back just the slightest to wipe the tears pouring down Regina's face and peer so deeply into those soaked brown eyes.

"No, no. Please, you have to bring him back. Please, go get him!"

And it's obvious Regina is in denial and suffering from a panic attack, so Cora reaches over the bed and hits the call button for the nurse, knowing her daughter needs some kind of sedative to calm her down.

"I want to see him! Please, go get him."

"Honey, I'm so so sorry, but that's not possible. It's been almost two weeks since the accident," Cora informs her as a nurse comes rushing in, just in time to witness another scream of agony that bounces off the walls and rattles their hearts.

"I'll go get her doctor," the nurse says before darting right out the door.

"Two weeks?" Regina shrieks, sobbing uncontrollably and clenching a fist impossibly tight around her mother's sweater.

"Yes, honey. You were in a coma for six days and then you had been in and out of consciousness for the past five days."

"Five days? I-I thought..." she hiccups, hopelessly gasping for air. "It was hours," she cries even harder, burying her face into her mother's chest and weeping for her husband she was never even able to say goodbye to.

 

Chapter Text


"How is she?"

"She's...she's...struggling."

"It's been three days."

"She won't eat, she won't speak-"

"And your mother?"

"She just holds her close and allows her to cry." Zelena sadly explains, eyeing her father closely. "Dad, I-" and her voice cracks so roughly that his big brown eyes immediately snap up from the ground to meet her gaze. "I think you need to go see her now," she confesses, her eyes sparkling from the thick tears coating her piercing blue eyes.

Her father doesn't say a word. Instead, he presses his fist firmly against his mouth, averts his eyes to the ground again and nods just once. It's curt and emotionless and reminds Zelena so much of her damn sister, but she takes that as a yes. So, she spins around on her heels and leads the way back to Regina's room, her father's presence heavy in her shadow without another word spoken.

Zelena doesn't bother with knocking, she never did when they were little and she's certainly not going to start now. She waltzes right through the room, but her heart squeezes painfully from the gut-wrenching sobs pouring from her baby sister.

"Henry," Cora gasps the moment her eyes land upon her stoic husband closing the door behind himself.

He nods politely, his feet slowly shuffling closer, but it's so painfully obvious how apprehensive he is about seeing his daughter so utterly broken. Regina doesn't even bother looking up from the pillow her face is buried in, soaked from her persistent tears.

"Regina, I would like a word," he softly states, encouraging Cora to vacate her chair rather quickly.

Her mother presses a kiss to her temple and whispers her love before she escorts Zelena out the door. The moment Regina hears the door softly clicking shut, she decides to speak before her father has a chance.

"Daddy, please, I don't have it in me to talk about all of this," her distorted voice hardly escapes her throat before she buries her face even deeper and releases another agonizing cry that sounds like she's being ripped apart from the inside out.

"Regina, I'm not going to pretend to understand what you are going through and I'm not going to try and give some speech to cheer you up. I know nothing I can say will fix this, but sweetheart, you have to start trying to move forward in life. We need you to eat and to regain your strength, so you can get out of this bed, out of this hospital and go home."

"Go home? To what? A place that will only remind me of Naveen? Our home is filled with our love, with our memories. It will only be a prison where I'm forced every day to live with his ghost," she hysterically sobs, her body automatically curling up tight to alleviate the pain tormenting her from within.

And she can feel her father lingering closely before she hears him claim the seat her mother has been glued to for the entire time she has been shunned to that hospital bed. Very tentatively, her father reaches out and places his hand upon the left side of her face. He's warm, he always radiated heat and it seeps into her skin and somewhat settles down her spasming muscles.

"It doesn't have to be a prison, my dear," he gently whispers.

"I lost every-thing," she stutters through her heavy sobs that she no longer has any control over. "The love of my life. My happiness, my future. It was all ripped away in a blink of an eye, a blink that I can't even remember. My everything is gone, just like Naveen."

"You still have a future, Regina. I promise. You still have so much of your life ahead of you. I know it seems impossible now, but you can learn to love again."

"No, daddy," and she finally peeks out from her pillow, showing off her swollen, red-rimmed eyes that steals her father's breath away, because she never cries in front of people. "I will never love again and nobody will ever love me the way Naveen did," she declares with conviction before she hides away her battered face once again and wails like an infant in search of comfort.

"You have too much love in your heart, sweetheart, not to love again. And so did Naveen. So much, that he wanted to gift his organs to someone in need."

This immediately stops all the tears and forces Regina to lift her pounding head back up again. Of course, she and Naveen had discussed becoming organ donors a very long time ago and what they would want if something should ever happen to them, but she has been so deep in mourning that she completely forgot about all of those details.

"D-did someone...did someone get his organs?" She stammers, inspiring her father to wipe away the tears clinging to her cheeks with a pout upon his face.

"His heart."

"What?" She breathlessly gasps, and for some peculiar reason, she feels her own organ fluttering in response.

"His parents came by to see you and they told us a young woman in need received his heart."

And for a split second, she feels the sense of relief wash over her like an old familiar blanket. Her mind immediately runs wild, and she knows she has to meet this woman. She wasn't granted the opportunity to say goodbye to her husband, but a part of him lives on inside of someone else and this is her chance.

This is her one chance to properly say goodbye to her husband.

"I need to find her."

~~~~~

She's observing from the couch, truthfully, she's kind of scared of her mother right now. Her mom is obsessively wiping down every surface in the living room, even though Emma knows she has already scrubbed everything clean yesterday before she came home from the hospital. But here Mary Margret is, in sweatpants and a baggie t-shirt with a bandana wrapped around her head, neurotically soaking the tables with disinfectant and wiping them clean.

"Mom, didn't you clean before I came home?" She questions through a wince as she tries to readjust her position on the couch.

Mary Margret instantly snaps her head up from the pain in her daughter's voice. "Honey, if you're in pain, just tell me. Don't try and be the hero and wait too long."

"I'm fine, mom. Really. Now answer my question."

"It's very important to make sure there isn't any dust in this house, it's not good for you. You know this."

"I also know you're gonna be the one in need of a new heart if you don't take some time to relax. You're running around like a crazy lady."

"I'm just being cautious. You just got home last night, honey. That's only two weeks post-operation and-"

"Breathe. You're making me stress."

"Am I?" Her mother squawks like a damn parrot. "Where is your journal? You need to record your emotions-"

"Oh my god!" She yells and flinches from the expansion in her chest that creates a sharp ache to explode through her body. She immediately coughs from the pressure and she briefly wonders if this can count as one of her daily coughing exercises?

"I'll get you some water."

"No, sit down and calm down," she grumbles before she inhales slowly, pressing a throw pillow against her chest to soothe the ache festering deep inside. "Mom, I know you're worried and I know you are just trying to make sure I'm safe, but you need to calm down."

Mary Margret stands awkwardly in the middle of the room, appearing so uncertain if she should hold her daughter close, continue cleaning or abandon it all to sit down and relax because Emma never snaps at her like that. However, she isn't granted much time to come to a conclusion because the front doorbell is ringing.

"I'll get it," her mother announces, setting the bottle of disinfectant down and rushing to the door.

Emma takes the moment of peace to regulate her breathing and squirm upon the couch until she feels a little more comfortable. She hears the front door open, followed by her mother gasping and she can only imagine how hard she is being squeezed.

"Ruby. Neal," her mother sighs, producing a small smile to play at Emma's lips.

She knew those two would show up almost immediately after she was released from the hospital. And she's so happy for the distraction, but for some reason her smile feels weak and she doesn't feel the rush of excitement like she is accustomed to feeling when her two best friends show up.

Subconsciously, she frowns.

"Em!" Ruby squeals, distracting her from her darkening thoughts.

"Hey, guys-what's with the masks?" She curiously questions the moment she sees both brunettes entering with matching doctor's masks.

Glowing green eyes roll and Emma does smirk from Ruby's annoyance. "M and M over here was very adamant about not spreading any germs around you."

"It's cool though. We don't mind," Neal quickly interjects and by the crinkles forming around his eyes, she knows he's grinning like a fool behind the mask.

"Just for the first eight weeks after surgery, we can't risk any infections, not even a cold," her mother sternly states, inspiring Neal to nod along while Ruby and Emma roll their eyes playfully as if they are the same little five-year-olds being scolded once again.

"Mom, why don't you go lie down. I can tell how exhausted you are."

"Yeah, we got Emma, no worries," Ruby confidently says, already shrugging out of her winter coat to make herself more comfortable for the stay. Even though this home has been her second home since they met all those years ago in kindergarten.

"Alright," her mother agrees, but the worry in her eyes never vanishes as she quietly leaves the living room, but she knows she's exhausted and could use a little nap.

"So, how you feeling, Ems?" Neal questions, slipping out of his jacket as well and settling down on the opposite end of the couch with Ruby.

"Sore. Weak. Tired. Standard stuff," she mumbles, shrugging one shoulder carelessly.

"How's the ticker? Feels stronger?" Ruby playfully questions, but Emma just shrugs in response. "Well, you look good, babe!" She enthusiastically compliments because she knows something is haunting her best friend's mind and she wants to distract her.

"Thanks."

"So, your dad is at work?" Neal swiftly changes the subject, sensing the dark storm cloud hovering over his best friend.

"Yeah, he's holding down the business while my mom stays home with me for the next two weeks."

Her parents are both veterinarians, running their own clinic in town. She's lucky that her mother has the option to stay at home with her during recovery. Her father might be a little swamped while her mother is away, but she knows they have plenty of staff that are willing to step up during this time.

"Emma, are you feeling alright?" Ruby gently investigates, the sincerity evident in her tone and squashing her playful side from moments ago.

"Yeah."

"You don't seem fine," Neal cautiously rebuttals.

"I am...it's just a lot to process, I guess."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Ruby carefully questions, leaning just a tad closer like she wants to reach out and hold her close, but is either petrified of hurting her or far worse, contaminating her.

"I know I'm so lucky, and I am really thankful, I just...I feel really down and I don't know," she sighs heavily, dropping her gaze to pick at the pillow against her abdomen. "I keep trying to be positive and I thought when I got out of the hospital I would feel better, but I don't."

"It has only been one day, not even," Neal tries to look on the bright side, but she is just shrugging numbly again.

"I'm sure it's going to take some time. Give it a few days and I bet you'll be feeling better," Ruby adds on. "Isn't this normal? Aren't you supposed to have the blues, as they call it?" She reminds her because the woman has spent many, many years researching everything the internet has to offer on Emma's conditions.

"Yeah, I guess."

"Do you know why you feel sad? Or is it just a feeling that you can't really comprehend?" Neal attempts to help navigate her through all those overwhelming feelings.

She sighs heavily and runs her fingers through her hair, contemplating if she wants to reveal her truth because she's struggling to understand her feelings herself.

"It's like a numb kinda sad, but I-I feel like I'm also kinda mourning. It sounds weird, I know and I can't really explain it, but I feel like I lost someone. I know I personally have no clue who my donor was, but I feel...guilty."

"That makes sense," Ruby softly whispers. "You agreed to open communication with the donor's family though, correct?"

"Yeah, I did. And their family agreed as well. I put a time restriction though, for my own sanity."

"What do you mean?" Neal curiously questions.

"I had the option to open communication via email or even a letter as soon as my surgery was complete, but I asked to put a restriction for one month. I just thought my head might not be in the right place after surgery. I want to be in control of my emotions before I speak with...whomever reaches out to me."

"No, that totally makes sense," Ruby agrees wholeheartedly. "I bet once you learn more about the person, you will feel better, like maybe you can move on."

"Maybe."

"And I bet you will start to feel better when you start going to those group therapy sessions. Talking to people who are experiencing exactly what you are, it's gotta help, right?" Neal optimistically proceeds, but she can't find the strength to do anything but shrug along noncommittally.

"And once you start working out again, I bet you will start to feel normal once more," Ruby continues, desperately hoping to lift Emma's spirits.

"Yeah. You're probably right," she agrees, but her heart feels heavy and sad, refusing to cooperate with her mind that's ready to start feeling better.

So, she plasters on a fake smile and does her best to enjoy her friends' company while she has it.

~~~~

And Emma tries. She so desperately tries to jump back into life and enjoy the world that spins around her like she used to, but she's struggling. She's struggling far worse than she ever thought imaginable and no matter what she does to stop the train of worry and anxiety speeding through her head, she can't.

She's been very carefully working out to build the strength of her heart, with her dad by her side, cracking jokes and being all playful, but she still feels a weight upon her shoulders and her smiles feel forced. She's been attending group therapy sessions with others who have had transplants as well, but she finds it rather monotonous. Everything they say is just another repetitive phrase that she has read one hundred times over on the internet while researching about transplants.

She just wants someone to understand her without saying, hang in there, it will get better, your feelings are all...normal.

Ruby and Neal visit often, but they seem to be stuck on the same mantra as well and she's bored. So utterly bored. She feels like she's trapped inside her parents' home with nowhere to go and nothing to do because it's winter and her mother is paranoid she's going to catch pneumonia.

"Emma, dinner is ready," her mother shouts up the staircase, grating on her nerves like nails to a chalkboard and she pleads for her mind to transport her anywhere else but there.

Her jaw flexes as she slowly rolls her neck to shrug off her annoyance. She inhales sharply, noting how the sting in her chest is hardly even there anymore after four weeks of recovery, just a dull ache. Her eyes flutter closed once more and she relaxes, but then her mother's voice is booming louder than moments ago.

"Emma? Are you working out again? You already exercised today." She jumps in her skin, her eyes blowing wide to discover her mother leaning against her doorframe with her arms folded nervously across her chest. "You don't want to overdo it."

"I'm not exercising," she bitterly grumbles, her irritation on full display for her mother to pick apart and analyze. "I'm doing some light yoga to calm down."

"Oh, is it helping?" Mary Margret curiously questions in the softest tone and Emma knows it's because she has been on edge lately and her mother senses it.

"It was," she growls, her voice laced with accusing insinuation.

She and her mother have always been the best of friends, but as of lately, her mother has been walking on eggshells around her and she hates herself for feeling so irritated and crabby all the time, but she can't seem to control these unexplainable emotions.

"I'm sorry to disturb you. It's just...dinner is ready. Your dad is running late this evening, so-"

"You can't eat alone?" Emma snarks, her eyes drifting closed, hoping to alleviate the tension knotting in her shoulders.

"I would like to eat with you."

"I'll eat in a little bit, I'm not hungry right now."

"Emma-"

"Mom, please," she unexpectedly snaps, craning her neck and meeting her mother's sorrowful eyes and she is instantly filled with regret for being so short with her lately, but she just wants some peace and quiet. She really wants all these irritating feelings to just disappear and it takes everything in her to not cry, because they both know this isn't her. "I'll be down later. I just want to be left alone right now."

"Of course," Mary Margret sadly whispers, pushing off the doorframe and closing Emma's door before she moseys on back downstairs.

Emma sighs heavily, already regretting her short temper. She knows part of the mood swings are from all the various medications she is strictly on; one to keep her immune system from rejecting her heart, some to help her immune system to keep her strong and not as susceptible to bacteria or viruses and she knows the main culprit are the steroids, that are causing her to lash out.

She closes her eyes and attempts to meditate through these irrational mood swings, but the weight of guilt claws at her until she pops right up from her mat and stomps out of her room and down the stairs to have dinner with her mother. She finds her mom sitting all alone at their dining room table, staring aimlessly at her plate, swirling around a glass of white wine in her hand. She swallows thickly.

"I'm sorry," she finds her mouth blurting out without her consent because of how miserable her mom appears, all because of her.

Mary Margret's head jerks up from the sound of her daughter's voice. She quickly sets down her glass and picks up her utensils like she was eating that entire time. And Emma hates herself because her mother has spent her entire life worrying that she might have to bury her baby and it's completely unfair. Now, finally, finally, Emma received her heart and her mother can breathe again after thirty long years and Emma can't stop snapping at her and pushing her away.

"It's fine," Mary Margret mutters and quickly takes a bite of her chopped chicken salad.

"No, it's not," Emma exasperates, collapsing into the chair beside her mother with the heavy weight of exhaustion dragging her down. She smoothes her hands over her scalp until she moves around her high ponytail to clasp onto the back of her neck. She drops her gaze to the table and she is just too tired to stop the tears welling up in her eyes. "I'm so sorry that I have been short with you. I know-I know you just want me to be safe," her voice croaks out through the heavy emotions lodged in the back of her throat.

"I understand that you are going through a lot. I just want to help you, honey," her mother softly whispers.

"I know you do," she sniffles, refusing to meet her mother's sad eyes. "But I don't think you can. don't even know what I need."

As the realization washes over her, she drops her arms to the table and buries her face, surrendering to the sadness that has been plaguing her heart. Her mother is up and out of her chair in two seconds flat, draping her tiny frame over her daughter's back for comfort and Emma breaks down even more, sobbing from the unconditional love her mother always showers her with.

"We will get through this."

"I should feel so fucking excited that I have at least ten more years, but I feel so damn depressed," she cries, just as the familiar sound of her father coming home from work resonates around her.

She listens to the garage door closing and then comes the predictable routine of her father kicking off his shoes before he steps into the bathroom to wash his hands thoroughly. Always so careful not to spread germs with Emma around.

"Where are my two favorite humans?" He chuckles, his voice so light and airy before he hears his daughter in hysterical tears. "Hey, what's going on?"

"Nothing!" She suddenly explodes, jerking away from her mother's warm embrace to wipe away her persistent tears because she doesn't want to keep explaining herself when nobody understands her.

"Hey, no need to get snippy with me," her dad sternly scolds and she feels like a small child all over again which only further agitates her hormones. "Listen Emma, I know you are going through a lot, but this constant snarky attitude isn't helping any of us."

She groans, roughly burying her face into her hands once again.

"David," Mary Margret's soft tone is quick to jump in. "She doesn't mean it. I don't think she can help it right now."

And she can just hear the way her dad defensively folds his arms across his chest, which always means business and scared her into submission when she was younger.

"Emma, maybe it's time you consider seeing someone," he suggests, forcing a warm rush of embarrassment to swim through her veins and paint her cheeks a deep crimson.

"Yes, please, let's add more doctor appointments to my life," she sarcastically quips.

"I'm tired of you jumping down our throats-"

"Okay, both of you, stop," her mom quickly interjects. "David sit down, let's talk about this."

Her dad sighs heavily, but he obeys his wife's request and settles down in the seat across from his blushing daughter, soaked with tears.

"Dad, I'm trying to be optimistic, but I'm really having a hard time. I just feel so sad all the damn time and I don't know how to stop it," she confesses again, her voice breaking as she swipes her sleeve across her runny nose.

Her mom claims the chair beside her and rests her hand upon her bouncing knee to calm her jitters.

"Do you feel depressed? Like everything is just blah?" Her mom sweetly asks, inspiring Emma's head to bob along, but then she quickly shakes her head, rejecting the suggestion.

"Wait, no. It's like something is missing. I feel like I'm mourning someone still. I-I just feel so damn guilty that I was pleading so hard for a heart, so I could live...I feel like I was begging for someone to die for me. I don't know whose heart this is, but I feel so awful that fate sacrificed them, so I could survive."

"That's understandable, kid," her dad sweetly replies, but she's so damn sick of people telling her that her feelings are valid.

She just needs something else.

"Honey, maybe it's time you reach out to the donor's family. Maybe you need to hear their story, so you can grieve and move on in life."

She sniffles again, roughly wiping her face with her other sleeve to clear away the mess. "I guess. I just feel like a mess and I don't know if I can speak to them without bursting into tears."

"Maybe it's what you both need. Maybe you can talk to them and maybe you will both cry and maybe it will help everyone move on," Mary Margret gently offers, but all Emma can do is shrug, just like she always does as of lately. "It has been one month like you requested. The envelope is just sitting there with the information you need to contact the donor's family."

"I know," she sighs heavily and abruptly pushes back her chair to stand up. "I think I'm going to head upstairs and rest a little bit."

"How about you eat something?" David meekly asks, but she is already walking out of the kitchen to hide away in her room.

"I'll be down later," she mumbles over her shoulder and jogs right back upstairs.

She softly closes her bedroom door and flops onto her bed like her body cannot possibly stay upright any longer. She pulls her knees to her chest and rolls onto her side like she's a little girl all over again. And she feels that way as of lately, she never expected to be thirty and living with her parents once again.

She does think about what her mother had offered but she really doesn't know if she has the strength to speak to her donor's family just yet. She's fairly confident it's going to unleash another pack of wild emotions that she can't possibly tame and she knows she is not ready for that quite yet.

Luckily, her phone beeps, informing her that she has a new email. She kind of hopes that it's work. She could use the distraction, and she becomes optimistic when she clicks on the email to find a name she has never seen before. Possibly a new client. Her thumb presses on the email before her eyes ever register the subject.

Dear Emma Swan,

Truthfully, I'm not quite sure how to start this off. I understand that you requested one month grace period before communicating with your donor's family and according to my calendar, that's today. I hope all is well on your end, especially your recovery. I'm not entirely sure how much information you would like, if any. The only information I received about you was your name and email for contact, but I was hoping maybe we could exchange a little more. I'm going to keep this first email short to allow you some time to process, but I do hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,
Regina Mills

Emma purses her lips as she finishes reading the email and it's because of the way her heart flutters. She hasn't felt any type of excitement in four long weeks and she wouldn't necessarily say that she's feeling ecstatic right now, but she feels...something.

And that alone is everything.

A small smirk tugs at the corner of her mouth and without a second thought, her eyes drift back to the top of the email just to read it all over again. It's vague, that much is evident, but she's sure if she would have reached out first, hers would have been just as empty.

Her email probably would have said, 'Hey, so I'm the one who received the heart. Let me know if you want to chat.'

A tiny laugh escapes her nose as she shakes her head at her own stupidity. She quickly scans the email once again and lingers on the name, Regina Mills. She tilts her head to the side, a thousand different scenarios skittering across her mind. Is this a parent? A sibling? A significant other? A daughter? A cousin?

She allows her mind to run wild as she contemplates how she wants to reply. However, she ends up reading that email over and over again until her eyelids can't find the strength to stay open any longer and she falls fast asleep.

With a tiny smile playing at her lips.

 

Chapter Text


Her sister ushers her into her home, but she's numb all over, subconsciously holding the urn closer to her chest like a security blanket. The house is pitch-black, eerily cold, and nothing like the warm and inviting home she has grown accustomed to after fifteen years. She swallows thickly, pleading for that bitter acid to slide back down her throat as she steps inside.

"You should really consider timers for your lights," Zelena mumbles, searching for the switch on the wall while Regina simply hugs the urn even closer, because they do have timers, but for some reason they aren't working this evening and that's something Naveen always took care of for her.

Her heart stutters.

Her sister softly closes the door behind them, securely locks them inside, but Regina just stands there, frozen in place, numb all over from the excruciating ache she can no longer process anymore. She hears the clatter of keys against the side table and then her sister's grumbles under her breath as she releases her feet from her high heels, but Regina can't move.

She can't think about much of anything, her mind awfully dark and quiet like standing in the middle of an alley at three o'clock in the morning with not a soul around. She can't even cry, her tear ducts all dried up after two weeks of weeping uncontrollably. So, she holds her husband's ashes close to her chest and simply breathes.

"Regina?"

"Hmm?"

"Come on, let's get out of these clothes and find something more comfortable to relax in," Zelena whispers into the depressing silence that haunts the home now.

And yes, their home was always quiet, it was only ever her husband and herself around, but there was a comfort in that silence and warmth that filled the air and heated up her heart. Now, the quietness is deafening and sends icy prickles down her spine and she hates it here. She hates the ghosts that linger of their happiness that no longer lives or thrives from their love.

She finds her feet scuffing against the polished floors, without her permission, toward her winding staircase. Her sister is following in her shadow, her hand gliding along the wall for another light switch and Regina clings to the urn even harder. Somehow, she makes it to her bedroom and then she stops, forcing her sister to almost collide into her back.

She didn't think about it before, but now she's panicking, wondering where her husband's ashes belong. Does he stay in their room, where they spent so many nights twisted in each other's embrace? Or does she place him downstairs on the mantel, where they spent every night working together and supporting one another?

"What's wrong, sis?"

"I don't know where to put him," she answers, but her tone is vacant of any true emotion and even to her own ears, she sounds so far away.

"Anywhere, but you don't have to decide that right now. Let's just take one step at a time and the first thing is getting out of those heels, right?" She lightly muses, hoping to brighten up her sister's mood even though nothing will turn that frown upside down. "Where are your pajamas?"

Regina doesn't reply, instead her feet carry her to her husband's side of the bed and she pauses. She stares blankly at his nightstand, pleading with life to reverse the clock and bring back the love of her life.

"I think," Zelena cautiously whispers, stepping behind her baby sister, "he would be most comfortable there."

Regina releases a breath she didn't even know she was holding and hugs that urn one last time before settling him down on his nightstand. She moves slowly, away from the nightstand until she is opening up the dresser drawer and pulling out a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt from NYU. Zelena doesn't even have to ask, she knows it's all Naveen's.

"Do you have something for me?"

Regina blinks away the foggy haze around her and peers over her shoulder. "You don't have to stay, I'll be fine."

"Yeah right," her sister scoffs.

"I don't need a babysitter."

"You shouldn't be alone tonight. Not after spending five hours at his memorial service, listening to all those stories and bawling your eyes out."

"I'm a big girl," she flippantly murmurs, but there is no conviction to her words and she even hears the broken woman from within.

"Yeah, but you're also human. Go change. I'll find something for myself."

Regina doesn't bother with a rebuttal because she knows her stubborn sister well enough to know once her mind is made up, there is no changing it. So, she trudges into the bathroom, shuts the door and slowly peels away the clothes that she will never be able to wear again, knowing she will break down if she even felt the weight of them once more. Her movements are depressingly slow as she slips into Naveen's clothes because her shoulder is still tender from the accident and her right arm is locked away inside a cast.

Once she tugs his shirt over her head, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she flinches on reflex. Her stomach flips from the angry gash embedded deep into her upper lip, thanks to the broken glass from the windshield. She knows she is scarred for life there and yes, there is a deep cut on the right side of her forehead and an even deeper one near her hairline, but at least those can be hidden by a strategic piece of hair and not in the middle of her face where all eyes will be immediately drawn to.

And that scar will haunt her for the rest of her life. Every damn time she catches a glimpse in the mirror she will be forced to remember the horrific accident that stole her husband away. An accident she still cannot remember for the life of her.

"Regina? You alright in there?" Zelena hollers from the bedroom, ripping through those haunting thoughts before she completely spirals out of control.

She doesn't respond once again, she just exits the bathroom to find her sister already changed into one of her silk pajamas. Her heavy feet shuffle across the bedroom until she crawls into bed, curls up into the fetal position and pulls her comforter all the way up to her chin.

"Do you have an extra toothbrush?" Zelena questions, standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.

"Under the sink," she mumbles, realizing she didn't even brush her own teeth before bed, but she could not care less at this point.

Zelena helps herself while Regina squeezes her eyes closed, not wanting to face that empty side of the bed. Her sister is out just a few moments later and thankfully, she comes to sit on Regina's side of the bed, not wanting to disrupt his side.

"I'll be in the guest bedroom if you need me." Regina nods slowly, pulling the comforter closer to her face. "Hey, did the donor recipient get back to you yet?" She hopefully inquires, knowing Regina needs something to feel attached to her husband one last time before she officially says her goodbyes.

"No, it's only been one day though," she mutters into the comforter.

"Yeah, I'm sure she will get back to you soon. This is a lot to process and handle."

"I know, Zee."

"And I bet you will feel so much better after you speak to her, so you can properly say goodbye." Regina buries her face even deeper and nods just once. "Alright, well...do you want some peace? Or do you want company? What do you need, sis?" She softly questions, forcing Regina's eyes to squeeze even tighter because she hasn't the slightest clue what she needs anymore.

She feels so empty inside, and it's so damn terrifying in that lonely hole carved out from her heart. She's sad, but spending two weeks crying her eyes out has made her feel numb as well and she doesn't know what to feel anymore. She hasn't a clue what she needs to properly mourn and pick herself up again and she's aware it's going to take a very long time, but she really doesn't know if she's going to be able to survive without him.

"I don't know anymore," she mumbles and the ache in her chest is so fierce that her body involuntarily coils tighter into a ball.

"I'm going to give you some space, but please, come get me if you need anything," Zelena implores and Regina absolutely detests how unsure and nervous her usual, overly-confident sister sounds now.

She nods just once and with that, Zelena is up and crossing the bedroom. She flicks off the lights, but leaves the door open in case Regina needs her in the night.

Regina lies there in the dark, praying for the hurt in her heart to dull just the slightest. It's been two weeks since she woke up in this nightmare she now calls her reality...four week since the tragic accident.

When her father told her about Naveen's heart, she knew she needed to contact the person to say her final goodbyes to her husband since she was never granted the chance. She spoke to her in-laws, because they were the ones that received the contact information since the doctors were unsure when Regina would wake up.

Mr. and Mrs. Maldonia were always nice enough people, but somewhat cold, their noses constantly in the air from their wealth. How Naveen turned out so generous and so full of love always baffled Regina, but she never dwelled on the matter because her husband was down to Earth and she fell head over heels for him. The Maldonias did want to know who received their son's heart, but once they found out it was a woman who was in desperate need, that's all they needed to know. They sympathized with Regina and understood if she needed to meet the woman, but in their eyes, their son was gone and there was no point pretending that he was still there to fool their own hearts during their grieving process.

But Regina needed more. So, she waited, very impatiently as the days drifted by to wait for the recipient's request of one month before communicating. She must have typed out over one hundred different emails, before the date came around, one including every overwhelming emotion that haunted her with every question imaginable about this Emma Swan. She erased that one though, along with so many others, worried she might frighten the woman and settled on the simplest thing she could come up with.

Her phone buzzes somewhere behind her on the nightstand. She tells herself to ignore it, but her body is rolling over, so her good hand can snatch up the device. She releases a shaky breath and suddenly her heart flutters, taking her by complete surprise. She ignores the sensation though and opens up her email. Her body moves on its own, scrambling to slide up in bed when she reads the name Emma Swan.

A cold sweat breaks along her body, causing her to shiver as her thumb immediately clicks on the email.

Hey Regina,

I'm glad you reached out, it's nice to finally speak with you. I would like to exchange more information as well. I'm not really sure how to go about this, it's kind of weird, right? Lol I don't know what you want to know about me, but I'm willing to answer if you just send some questions my way.

As for me, right now, I would like to know how you are related to my donor and whatever information you are willing to share about the person they were.

Hope to hear from you soon!

-Emma Swan

She hasn't the slightest clue as to why she's smirking at her phone. Maybe it's because this person put lol in an email, because honestly, who does that? Either way, she's grinning and her heart does feel a little bit lighter and for the first time in four weeks, she does feel just a tad hopeful about the future.

~~~~~

"Thanks again for driving me," Emma says, but her eyes are focused on the phone in her lap, willing it to make a sound. "Two more weeks and I'm clear to drive myself around."

"No problem," Ruby beams with pride, focusing on the road, but when she is greeted with silence, she glances at her best friend in concern. "What's up? I haven't seen you stare at your phone that hard since freshman year of college," she chuckles, except Emma groans beside her and rolls her eyes.

"Don't," she warns and Ruby is already holding up one hand in surrender. "I'm just a little antsy that's all. A family member from the donor reached out and I'm kinda excited to hear about the person."

"Really?" Her best friend squeals like a child on Christmas morning. "Dude! I'm excited too. This is awesome, I'm glad someone reached out to you because knowing you, you would have taken way too much time on it and you would have stressed, over thought the whole thing, and you still would have been so vague."

Emma scoffs, but she knows her friend is right, this woman knows her better than she knows herself most times. "She was super vague," she defends, inspiring Ruby's eyebrows to skyrocket.

"Really? A match made in heaven," she teases, provoking Emma's eyes to roll again. "So, let's hear it! What did this woman have to say?"

"Not much, just that she hopes my recovery is going well and she's not sure how much information I want to share, but she wants to exchange more than just our names. She kind of left it up to me to make the next move."

"Well, that's cool. She sounds chill."

"She kind of sounds proper. A little too formal and curt."

"Eh, how much can you really tell from an email, you know?" Ruby shrugs carelessly, flipping on her turn signal and checking her blind spot before she jerks a hard left.

Emma is quickly reminded that she cannot wait until she's cleared to drive again. Ruby is a terrible driver and her mother is way too cautious, both the complete opposite to the extreme and it drives her mad.

"I guess you're right," she mumbles under her breath, her eyes boring into her phone to light up.

"So, what did you say back?"

"Ummm, I don't know. I kinda just said I'm willing to answer whatever questions she wants and then I said I would like to know how she's related to my donor and really any information she is willing to give me about the person, would be cool. I was trying not to put too much pressure on the situation."

"Oh yeah, for sure," Ruby agrees wholeheartedly, enthusiastically bobbing her head. Always the supportive and loving best friend and Emma smiles, feeling a little more relaxed sharing the news with someone.

She hasn't told her parents yet, because she knows that they will be just as anxious to find out about the person and that will only make her more nervous and excited and then she will really be obsessed with her phone.

"I messaged her last night, I thought by now she would have responded," she sheepishly confesses, her eyes never straying from her phone.

"I'm sure she will respond today, I mean, this is kinda huge, right? And who knows how she's related to your donor. She could be the person's mother and you know how awful it would be to bury your child, you know?" Ruby rambles, but Emma remains silent, bobbing her head along. "Or maybe her parent was your donor? Or best friend? Dude, I would have the hardest time-"

"I know," she immediately cuts off her friend because they have had to face that reality too many times now and she knows exactly how death can torment a person.

"She will get back to you. She probably just needs a minute to gather her thoughts. She's probably deciding on what she wants to ask you, right?"

"Yeah, that's true," she mumbles.

She can feel the intensity of Ruby's stare, burning against the side of her face and she knows her friend is worried about her. Ruby has been quietly regarding her, silently pleading with her to confess how she's truly feeling after the operation. Yet, for some reason, Ruby can't find the courage to interrogate her.

"Hey, how about we stop for lunch at my Granny's diner before I take you home?" Her friend hopefully suggests, her cheerful disposition on full display for Emma to latch onto and ride along with her.

But Emma sags further into her seat. "Nah, you know my mom will kill you if she finds out I was in public right now."

"Awe come on, she never has to know. You can wear your mask in the restaurant and just take it off to eat. I'll wear mine with you," Ruby playfully encourages, snatching hers right up from the center console and quickly slipping it on.

"Thanks," she weakly says, offering a tired smile and tearing her eyes away from her phone to meet the glowing eyes beaming back at her. "But I'll pass. Two more weeks and I'll be in the safe zone, then we can grab a bite in public."

"You go to support meetings and all your doctors' appointments, what's the difference?"

"It's two weeks. I rather be safe than sorry. There are a lot of germs out there right now and it's winter and so many people are sick. I can't risk catching something right now. My immune system is a mess."

"Alright," her friend reluctantly concedes, yanking off her mask and tossing it back down between them. "How about I still order from Granny and we eat back at your place?"

"That I can do."

"Perfect!"

It's only five minutes later when Ruby is jerking the car into Granny's parking lot and clambering out of the car to place their order. Emma sighs when she's finally alone, her hands moving quickly to unlock her phone. She opens her emails and refreshes the inbox and sure enough, a new email comes through and she growls at her stupid phone for not informing her right away.

Her heart unexpectedly leaps to her throat when she reads Regina's name at the top of the email.

Hello Emma,

   Thank you for responding so quickly. I agree, this is all rather awkward and I'm not entirely sure how to navigate through any of this. You did inquire about my relationship with your donor and any information about him. His name is Naveen and I am his wife. However, I would really love it if we could meet in person and discuss everything more in depth. I understand, if maybe, that might be a bit much of a request, but I believe it would be best and most beneficial for both of us in person. Please let me know your thoughts.

In best regards,
      Regina Mills

Emma's heart slips from being lodged in her throat and drops to the pit of her stomach. Regina wants to meet her? Her donor's wife wants to meet her in person?

Warm tears instantly fill her eyes from the amount of guilt that weighs down her soul. This woman lost her husband and Emma is walking around now with his heart in her chest and she cannot possibly fathom why this woman would want to meet her? She could only imagine how furious this woman has to be that her husband's life was taken away to allow some strange woman to live? How fair is that? How is her life more important than this woman's husband?

Emma's so lost in her guilt that she doesn't hear the car door popping open.

"Hey! Granny put extra fruit and pecans on your salad. Don't even act like you enjoy all that plain lettuce." When Ruby is greeted with a wall of thick silence, she jerks to her right to find her best friend silently crying. "Em, what's wrong, girl?" She quickly blurts out, leaning across the car to place one hand on her shoulder and one to her thigh to steal her attention.

With a shaky hand, Emma places her hand lightly over her chest, absorbing the steady rhythm that beats and then she heaves out a heavy sob.

"I have her husband's heart."

 

Chapter Text


Warmth is swallowing her whole, but she's content, she's happy. She rests her head back, her neck rolling to the side to admire the stunning grin that consumes his entire face and persuades her heart to skip merrily along. He reaches and she doesn't necessarily feel the contact, but she sees the way he grins as he brings her knuckles to his lips and presses a gentle kiss. He lingers, his eyes drifting away from whatever lies ahead to meet her gaze and flash her one wink.

She feels so utterly loved and she knows her heart is full.

She blinks, her eyes trailing back to find out what's ahead, but everything in her line of vision is black. So pitch-black that a haunting, eerie sensation crawls down her spine and demands that all the little hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. Her heart starts racing and she knows something is wrong. Something is so terribly wrong and she's screaming at herself to stop the madness. Get out.

The sound of crunching glass echoes all around her...

No....

No....

Get out!

Her body jerks so violently, her eyes spring wide open and her hands fling out to brace her fall, but she isn't falling. She's blinking rapidly against darkness, her body scrambling up in bed and she doesn't even recognize the agonizing scream that's ripping from her own throat and attacking the walls.

"Regina, I'm here," her mother's voice coos, but she is so disoriented, she hasn't a clue as to where the woman is or where the hell she is for that matter. "It's alright, darling, it was only a dream. It's all over. You're safe, in your room," she vows and that's when Regina feels the warmth enveloping her, along with the comforting touch of her mother's loving embrace.

"Momma, I-" she can't catch her breath, she's struggling to inhale one simple breath and her heart is raging so painfully in her chest, she is sure it's going to burst right through her sternum.

"I know, dear. It's alright. I promise you're safe."

Her mind allows her mother's words to wrap her up tight and keep her safe from the demons taunting her from the nightmare. She inhales sharply, breathing in her mother's perfume and forcing her heart to calm back down.

Once she can finally breathe again, Cora pulls her face to meet her gaze. She's wearing a depressing frown as she wipes away Regina's tears, her own eyes wet.

"Regina darling, these nightmares are becoming more frequent now. Are you sure you don't remember them?" Cora gently asks, knowing Regina is going to clam up like she usually does after every night terror.

"I don't," she mutters, curling her fingers around her mother's wrists and easing her away.

But she remembers. All too well. These nightmares are terrorizing her now, lingering in the shadows beneath her bed for the moment she drifts off to dreamland to torment her. Every night, it's the same thing; his playful smile, the kissing of knuckles and then comes the sound of shattering glass, but that's as far as her mind allows the memories to come back to her.

Truthfully, she doesn't know what's worse; not remembering the accident and what actually happened to her husband or remembering and having that horrific memory burned into her mind?

"Maybe you should consider seeing someone to discuss these nightmares? I have a feeling it has to do with the accident," Cora sweetly whispers into the night, brushing Regina's damp locks away from that angry gash still trying to heal near her temple.

"I-I just don't know if I want to dig deeper. I don't know if I want to remember what happened," her shaky voice admits and she sounds so foreign to her own ears. She sounds so utterly broken, nothing like her usual, in control tone.

She hates it.

"I understand that, but honey, you can't keep living like this. You cannot possibly survive suffering through nightmares, night after night."

"I know," she sadly whispers, attempting to discreetly wipe away the tears that are freely cascading down her cheeks without her consent.

Cora sighs heavily, knowing damn well how stubborn her daughter is and she will only agree to something when it's on her terms. "Would you like me to stay in here with you?" She kindly offers, like she has been doing every night she stays over.

Her mother and sister have taken it upon themselves to rotate sleeping at her house and she honestly doesn't know if she's thankful or humiliated. She has always been independent and strong-willed, but this accident broke her in ways she never imagined and she's definitely not the same woman she once was.

Regina doesn't answer her mother, instead, she slips down into the cool bedding, tugs the comforter to her chin and prays that those nightmares don't find her. Her mother scoots down as well, silently, knowing her daughter will want space, but needs her presence as support.

She lies there, her mind racing, recalling those dreadful memories that possess her dreams at night. She knows her brain is trying to remember the accident, but she isn't sure if her mind is subconsciously trying to reject them or she really can't recall because of how hard she smacked her head against the car while it rolled. She doesn't want to share the reoccurring dream with her mother or sister, maybe it makes it too real or maybe she knows they will push her to seek help, either way, she's not ready to share.

She isn't sure how long she lies awake for, but her mother is softly snoring beside her. She's wide awake though, antsy, like she could go run a mile, even her toes are bouncing beneath the comforter. She sighs heavily and reaches for her phone on the nightstand.

It's after three in the morning, but she needs a distraction from that eerie sensation slithering down her spine like a snake trudging through the sticky mud. Her thumb moves all on its own, opening her emails like it knows what she needs to calm her erratic heart.

And relief washes over her when she finds a stranger's name in her inbox. She clicks without a moment of hesitation.

Hey Regina,

       I wanted to start off by saying, I am so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine what you must be going through. To be honest, I'm kind of surprised you would even want to meet me, but I'm up for it, if you are.

     It's not really a good idea if I'm in overly crowded places right now, I'm supposed to wait three months. We can pick a restaurant, when it's not so busy to meet, but it would have to be in two weeks. That will be two months since my operation and I will feel more comfortable out in public and so will my mom and she won't show up with masks and spray you down with disinfectant. You will be able to meet the real me, not all confined in bubble wrap. Lol

I'm not sure where you are from, but I'm in Manhattan. I know a great little diner that my friend's grandma owns, where we can meet and have some privacy to talk. Let me know what you think. In two weeks I'm allowed to drive again, (yay!), so I could always come to you, if you want. I'll talk to you soon!

-Emma

And yes, it's absolutely absurd, but her stomach does this little happy dance just from the simple lol and yay, that Emma had thrown into the email. The casualness of informalities, somehow, persuades Regina's mind to relax just the slightest.

She isn't aware, but the corner of her mouth is deepening and she is smirking back at the glow from her phone in the dead of the night. The woman that has her husband's heart agreed to meet with her and her heart stretches from hibernation and flutters it's wings at the glimpse of a hopeful tomorrow.

She quickly types out a reply, places her phone near her pillow and for once, since she woke up in this new reality, she falls asleep peacefully without the worries of any horrific dreams.

~~~~~

"Well hello, darling. Did you sleep well?" Cora amusingly questions over the rim of her coffee mug.

Regina runs her fingers through her messy bedhead as her sleepy feet drag her into the kitchen. She slides onto the stool at the island and wraps her robe more protectively around her body. She inhales the warming aroma of fresh coffee, but her heart is still moping around and forcing a pout upon her lips.

"Regina?"

"Hmmm?"

"Did you sleep well?" Her mother interrogates again, settling her mug down on the counter to inspect every detail of her face for any signs of deceit.

"Before the nightmare? Or after, when I couldn't fall asleep until hours later?" She flatly replies, uncharacteristically slumping her cheek upon her palm.

"Well, this morning when I woke up, you seemed to be in a very peaceful and deep sleep."

"Yeah," she lazily agrees, "this morning I was able to sleep soundly."

And she can't help the way her mind automatically wanders back to the email she found in the middle of the night from the woman who holds her husband's heart. Instantly, her chest loosens and she is able to steal a calming breath of fresh air.

"Well, that's a step in the right direction." Regina simply shrugs noncommittally. Cora abruptly spins around on her heels and begins preparing her daughter a cup of coffee, but Regina knows her mother all too well and she knows the older woman is distracting herself as she works up the courage to say whatever is ringing in her head. "Have you thought about when you might be returning to work-"

"Mother-"

"Just hear me out," Cora hastily interrupts the rejection as she whirls around and sets a steaming mug down in front of her. "I'm not insinuating that you need to go back any time soon. I'm just wondering if you have taken time to consider when that might be."

"I-I don't know," she murmurs, avoiding eye contact like it's one of her damn nightmares standing before her. She carefully blows on her coffee and takes a sip, hating how it doesn't warm up her bones like it used to.

Nothing in this world is the same as it once was. Without Naveen around, the world around her is depressingly dull, not one splash of color to brighten her dreary mood. Even something as simple as food tastes bland to her and seems to always make her stomach turn in revulsion.

She hates it here.

"Regina," and by the gentle and cautious tone, she is sure she isn't going to care for her mother's choice of words. "You can take as much time as you need, but the firm isn't going to be able to run on its own. I know you have people there that you can trust, but dear, your company is without both of its owners at the moment."

"I am well aware, mother," she growls and from the formality, Cora knows her daughter is pushing her away, commanding that she better back off.

Neither Cora or Regina have ever been able to back away from an argument though.

"I'm sure Kathryn can step in until you return-"

"And if I don't," Regina defiantly rebuttals, provoking Cora's jaw to come unhinged.

"I beg your pardon."

"If I don't," she repeats, thrusting her chin in the air to assert her power...or stubbornness. "What if I decide that I don't want to return to work? Maybe I cannot stomach the thought of walking back into that firm without my husband by my side. Maybe I should simply sell the company and move on."

"Regina," her mother gasps, reaching across the island to hold her hand and stop all those awful ideas recklessly spewing from her mouth. "You are one of the top lawyers in New York, you built a very successful firm with Naveen and now you want to just throw it all away?"

Her jaw flexes as her cruel words are tossed back in her face, persuading those persistent tears to fill her eyes once again. She clenches her teeth from the sinking feeling in her stomach, but she finds the courage to admit her true feelings.

"I don't want it. I don't want any of it without Naveen by my side. We built that company together. Without him...I don't want any part of it," she breathlessly whispers, her voice quivering as the realization washes over her and she finally faces how she truly feels.

"Honey, you're still grieving, you've been through Hell. Don't make any rash decisions while you are still healing, mentally and physically," Cora urges, but Regina knows in her heart, she cannot possibly be the woman she once was without her husband by her side.

"And what if I don't ever heal from this? What if I can never find the courage to move on and I always feel this emptiness torturing me from inside?" She coldly replies as her vision blurs and the anger she has been carrying around with her sparks. It burns hot and violent through her veins and she cannot stop her body from reacting so negatively.

"Regina-"

"No, no," she snaps, slamming her palms against the marble counter and welcoming the sting to distract her mind from the burn in her heart. "You have no idea what I am going through. You, nor Zelena can possibly fathom what it's like to lose the love of your life and not recall the moment. You have no idea what it's like to live in a house that was once surrounded with you husband's life, and now feels like living in his tomb." She abruptly stands, her knees trembling viciously, but she needs to release this rage eating away at her until there is nothing left. "This is my life now and I have to figure out how to continue living when I don't want to," and she swallows thickly from her own confession that causes her mother to flinch. "You can't-you can't just push me to move on or go back to work-"

"Honey, I am not trying to push you-"

"I don't want to hear it, mother," she growls, running her shaking fingers through her hair in a lame attempt to calm herself back down, but it's pointless. Her entire body is involuntary trembling. "You could never understand what I am going through."

And with that, she storms off toward her bedroom, to hide away under the covers, leaving her mother behind to viciously spin in the tornado of emotions she has left in her wake.

~~~~

"What's up, Smirkles?" David cheerfully questions the moment he pops up in her doorway, ready for their routine workout in the basement.

"Smirkles?" Emma repeats, quickly setting her phone aside to meet his amused gaze.

"Yeah," he chuckles, pushing off the wall and entering her room. "You have been smirking at your phone all morning," he declares, playfully poking at her cheek. "Smirkles."

She rolls her eyes and swats him away immediately just as her mother pops her head in, swallowed whole by the tightest workout gear imaginable.

"Is she still smirking? It's so good to see that smile again," Mary Margret chimes in as well, so disgustingly perky.

"I am not smirking," Emma firmly demands, but her hand is reaching for her phone once again, eager to reply to Regina's email from last night.

"Then why can't your mouth stop digging deep into your cheeks, creating that adorable dimple?" Her dad continues with his teasing, poking at said dimple.

"Stop," she exasperates. "It's not like that. I'm just...I am kind of intrigued to meet my donor's wife. Along with nervous, anxious...kinda nauseous," she grumbles, her thumb absentmindedly sweeping across the device.

"I think it's going to be a positive experience for you," Mary Margret acknowledges. "I truly believe it will help you move on from the guilt."

"I know," she breathes out heavily, hoping to release all the worries that have been crushing upon her chest as of lately.

"Alright," her dad excitedly says, slapping his hand upon her shoulder, "time for our workout. Let's get rid of some of this anxious energy, alright?"

"Yeah. Sure. Just give me a minute, okay? I need to reply to the woman. I don't want to leave her hanging, you know?"

"Of course," her mother quickly responds. "We will meet you downstairs," she declares, dragging her husband away, who is still beaming so brightly from finally seeing a smile upon his daughter's face.

Once her bedroom door clicks shut and she is granted some privacy, she immediately unlocks her phone. Regina's email is right there, waiting for her once again.

Dear Emma,

Thank you for the sentiment, but there is no need to apologize. This isn't your fault. I'm sure most people wouldn't want to meet in person, I know Naveen's family is against the idea. However, my situation is a bit unique and I will happily go further into detail when we meet.

I am in Brooklyn, which is only about a forty-five minute drive to Manhattan, so I can come to you. Please just send the restaurant you would like to meet at, along with the time and date. I want you to feel comfortable and I wouldn't want you to risk your health, so please pick a time when you know the restaurant will be quieter.

Speak to you soon.

Best Regards,
Regina Mills

Emma grins again, not completely aware of the action that is happily dancing across her face, but it's there. There is something about Regina's emails that pump adrenaline through her system and make her feel more alive than she has in years. She can't quite comprehend the feeling just yet, but she chalks up the sensation as to hope. Hope that she will learn all about Naveen. Hope that Regina will assure her that she shouldn't feel guilty for begging for a heart and that she isn't angry at her for ending up with her husband's. She needs confirmation from Regina that everything is okay and there are no hard feelings.

She needs...something to help stop the guilt weighing her down every damn day.

 

Chapter Text


Her palms are clammy, hopefully she can get that under control before the woman arrives. Her mouth is watering like a damn fire hose from all the anxiety pulsating through her blood and the way her stomach is in knots. She's pleading with herself not to vomit. So, she swallows again, rubs her hand furiously against her thighs, hoping the denim will absorb the moisture and inhales a slow breath to calm her nerves.

She hears the little bell above the diner, forcing her neck to snap up her heavy head to discover if it's the woman she has been obsessing over for two weeks now. Her face falls when she locates her best friend's long mane peeking through the door like some cheesy sitcom. When agitated green eyes meet ecstatic emeralds, Emma groans and Ruby beams brighter than a headlight in the dead of the night.

"Rubes," she hisses as her friend scurries across the diner and plops down in the booth that is supposed to be reserved for her guest.

"Hey-"

"Get out," she growls, "come on, I'm nervous enough. I don't want you hanging around and spying on us."

"I know. I know. And I will. Promise. I just want to sneak a peek. I'm so curious."

"No," she firmly demands, but then her voice is flicking to whiny in an instant. "Please, just go. I don't want it to seem like I need you for emotional support."

"You do need me for emotional support," her best friend deadpans. "How clammy are your hands? Maybe don't shake her hand, keep them busy, so she won't have to touch them."

"Ruby!"

"Alright, alright, I'm gone."

"Yeah, right. You better not spy through the window."

"I won't," Ruby slyly claims, but Emma just glares at her, sensing the inflection in her voice and noting the mischief twinkling in those eyes, accompanied by the smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth.

Through squinted eyes, Emma observes as Ruby stands from the booth and doesn't head for the door, but sashays toward the back of the restaurant. Her heart sinks.

"Where are you going?" She demands to know, but Ruby shrugs noncommittally and peeks over her shoulder.

"It's not my fault Granny is short for the dinner shift."

"Bull!"

And with that, Ruby winks and disappears into the kitchen, leaving Emma a floundering mess that is somehow, even more jittery than she was when she arrived. A high voltage of anxiety poisons her blood, sparking and buzzing just as bad as the day of her surgery. She immediately slaps her palms down against her jeans and scrubs away the nervous sweat.

She quickly checks her phone, her mind barely registering that it's one o'clock in the afternoon, exactly when they had agreed to meet two weeks ago, because she knew Granny's diner would be dead for the next four hours until the dinner rush hits. That offers them plenty of time to speak with some privacy and safety for Emma.

But Emma's a hot mess inside. After she and Regina agreed on a time and place, their emails completely stopped. She's not sure why Regina stopped communicating with her, not that she owed her anything, their conversation was technically over. However, Emma missed the one email she received a day that broke up the monotony of her painfully boring life. She wanted to reach out, just to keep the steady flow between them, maybe that would have eased away some of the tension knotting in her stomach right now, but she couldn't find the courage. A part of her felt like she would be pestering the stranger and she definitely didn't want to keep speaking to the woman if it brought up bad feelings about her deceased husband.

"Emma?" And it's a soft, yet rich, seductive tone that drifts through the air, wraps around her veins and sends shivers down her spine, persuading her heart to spread its wings and soar.

She's startled, because she was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't even hear the tiny bell warning of a new customer moments ago, but that's not why her heart is hammering in her chest.

"I'm sorry, are you not-"

And Emma's to her feet in record time, jutting her hand into the space between them with a sheepish little grin.

"I'm sorry, yes, I'm Emma. Regina?" She meekly inquires just to confirm, watching as the woman's shoulders slump in relief.

And oh my god, this woman is so beautiful.

Her heart rattles with excitement.

"Yes, nice to officially meet you," Regina replies with a shy smile as she gently shakes Emma's hand as if she's made of glass and might shatter between her own delicate fingertips.

"You too," she breathes out, grinning from ear to ear because her heart won't stop flapping around like an over-ecstatic little puppy coming home for the first time.

And that's...foreign to her. Her tarnished heart that she was born with, never fluttered in response to any human before. Maybe a tickle, but never a raging flutter like this. That probably has everything to do with the fact that she always pushed people away, so they didn't get attached to her...so she wouldn't get attached. Either way, her heart has never reacted in such a way to another person and she can't seem to stop smiling because of it.

"Thank you for meeting with me," Regina kindly says, slipping into the booth and placing her purse down on the table to her right.

All while Emma can't stop admiring how beautiful this stranger is, especially the way her midnight black hair falls effortlessly passed her shoulders and rests against her chest and Emma is sure it's just naturally perfect like that. There's also this scar embedded deep into the woman's upper lip and okay, Emma has never found scars particularly attractive, but dear god, this one is so unbelievably sexy.

And then Regina peeks through her thick, dark eyelashes, those chestnut irises curious and stern as they meet Emma's inquisitive eyes and her heart does a backflip.

"Uh...of course. Um, thanks for driving here," she sheepishly says, knowing damn well she was caught staring.

"Not a problem, it was my idea to meet in person," Regina vacantly says just as someone approaches their table to take Regina's drink order.

"Hi!" Emma's entire body deflates from the voice alone. "I'm Ruby, I'll be your server. Can I start you off with something to drink?"

"Oh, you know I haven't had a chance to look over the menu."

"I can come back, but I suggest Granny's lattes or cappuccinos if you are a caffeine junkie," Ruby cheerfully replies, her days of waitressing coming right back to her like the old saying, riding a bike once again. 

Emma tries, she really tries not to stare at how regal and confident this stranger just oozes as she sits in some dinky diner, but it's so hard not to. So, she quickly averts her eyes to her menu, even though she has it memorized by now, her fingers fiddling beneath the table in her lap as a distraction.

"I'll take one," Emma suddenly chirps, just to fill the silence as Regina's dark eyes sweep across the menu with the different varieties, but then those eyes are on her, pinning her with a look she can't really decipher.

"Are you allowed to have something with that much caffeine?" Regina sternly blurts out before she can stop herself, and by the blush spreading up her neck, Emma knows she wasn't planning on saying that out loud. "Oh, I-I apologize, I didn't-"

"It's alright." Emma smiles, to help ease the worry clouding over Regina's expression because she can tell she genuinely feels humiliated for the word vomit.

"Emma drinks decaf," Ruby acknowledges through a broad grin that's ready to split her face right in half while Emma narrows her eyes at her friend.

"Oh, are you the friend?" Regina sweetly inquires. "Your grandmother owns this restaurant?"

"Yeah, I am," her friend slowly says through a wolffish grin before her eyes flick to Emma's and her eyebrows skyrocket in amusement, but Emma scowls in return. "So, what'll it be?"

"A skinny cappuccino, please."

"Sure thing," and with that Ruby saunters away, okay, so she's practically skipping away with joy, provoking Emma's eyes to roll in annoyance.

"Sorry, I don't even know why she's here. She hasn't worked here since we were in high school," Emma confesses, her own cheeks flaring up from embarrassment, worrying this stranger may think she needs a babysitter.

"It's quite alright. I'm sure she was just nervous for you," Regina nonchalantly waves off the moment, her fingers moving to unbutton her black peacoat and make herself a little more comfortable. "You never know who you are going to get behind a screen nowadays. I could be a serial killer."

"You still could be," she reflexively blurts out because she is so used to the back and forth banter with Ruby and Neal, that she couldn't really stop her big mouth.

One perfectly sculpted eyebrow slithers up Regina's forehead, causing a tiny scar near her temple to make itself more prominent. "I could be," she coyly quips. "And I have been getting away with it for years because by day, I'm a lawyer."

Emma barks out a laugh, one that has her cheeks stretching to produce her dimple and her stomach tightening those abs that haven't been worked out properly in too long and god, she hasn't laughed without a little strain or force in a very long time. There's just something about the way Regina delivered the line, so casual and careless, yet pristine and a hint of smugness. Emma can already tell she's going to enjoy this woman's sense of humor.

"You're funny."

"I am?" And by the incredulous expression contorting Regina's features, Emma knows she doesn't hear that quite often.

"You are," she vows, complete with a sharp head nod and a bright smile to solidify her answer, but Regina's face is suddenly falling, draining from all color and worry instantly sizzles in Emma's chest. "Are you alright?"

"Y-Yes, I'm...I'm sorry," she stammers through a whisper and Emma cannot peel her eyes away from the watery ones trying to avoid contact.

"You don't have to apologize, Regina, you didn't do anything wrong."

Emma has to physically restrain herself from reaching over the table to comfort this stranger because her body is urging her to do just that. So, she slips her hands beneath her thighs to keep her anxious body in control, yet, her chest is leaning forward until the table stops her from swaying any closer.

Luckily, Ruby stops by to drop off their drinks, a real manic grin set into place before she drifts away. Regina quickly latches onto her mug like she desperately needs the warmth to settle down whatever chill is tormenting her from within. She takes a very small and timid sip before she speaks again, her eyes never meeting Emma's.

"My husband was the only person who ever found me funny," she reveals, her voice trembling violently despite how in control she's attempting to sound.

Emma thinks she should apologize again for her loss, but then she thinks about how robotic everyone has sounded to her lately and she's sure this woman is so sick and tired of the same mantra over and over again.

So...

"How is that possible?" She chooses to say instead. "You have spoken to other humans before, right?" Regina's wet eyes slowly crawl away from her mug and latch onto Emma's shinning orbs. "Some people think they are so funny and it comes off as trying too hard, you know? It's all about delivery," she states, lifting her latte up and smirking before she takes a tentative sip as well.

Regina though, is assessing her very closely and Emma hates feeling like she's an ant under some damn spy glass. It always makes her fidget and sure enough, her steaming liquid almost topples over the rim from her shaky hand. Luckily, she doesn't spill...this time.

"Well...thank you," Regina timidly whispers, just a hint of a shy smile ghosting over her lips and Emma's heart leaps forward, reaching for this woman only to collide brutally against her sternum and be rejected.

And something tells Emma that specific smile is reserved for only a select few lucky ones and somehow, it settles the jittery nerves rattling her bones.

"So," Emma breathes out, her shoulders rising as she attempts to start this conversation she knows is going to be overwhelming. "Uh...do you want to start?"

It's so hard not to notice the way Regina's grip tightens around her mug.

"I suppose I can." Regina produces an audible gulp that expresses her true nervousness, but she straightens her posture, oozing that confidence once again that has Emma a little intimidated. "The reason why I asked to speak with you in person is because Naveen and I were in a horrific car accident that lead to his death," she pauses, because her voice won't stop trembling and Emma opens her mouth to apologize, but Regina pushes on. "I-I don't remember the accident, in fact I was in a coma for six days after...and then five days after that, I was in and out of consciousness."

Emma watches, frozen in place as a single tear rolls down Regina's cheek, leading the way for the rest of its companions to follow. She feels so utterly helpless in the moment because she wants to comfort this person, but she's a stranger, besides Emma has never really been good at consoling people.

"You didn't get to say goodbye," Emma's broken voice barely croaks out the words as she stares wide-eyed at those tears that keep trickling down the woman's face.

"No."

"That's why you came here?"

"I needed...I needed something. Some type of closure. None of this feels real. I still feel like I woke up in some horrific nightmare and it just won't end," she confesses, much to her own mortification because she really didn't want to get too deep and personal with a perfect stranger.

"I get it," Emma sheepishly reveals. "I needed something too." This gathers Regina's attention, the tears stilling and sticking to her rosy cheeks as she meets Emma's shimmering eyes. "It's kinda overwhelming. I-ugh-this is so hard to explain to you." Regina doesn't say a word, she's too busy regarding Emma so intently. "I feel...really...really guilty," she whispers, terrified of revealing the truth.

"Guilty?"

"Yes," her voice cracks and her fingers itch to fidget, so she presses her thighs down firmly to keep them trapped beneath her. "For nine months I was on the waiting list and every day I begged and pleaded for a heart and the minute I received that phone call, I was drowning in guilt. I feel like I was basically begging for someone to die, so I could live," she confesses, provoking her nose to tingle and her vision to blur from the tears lurking inside of her. "That's a horrible thought and I'm so so sorry that it was your husband," she chokes on her sob, quickly rushing to wipe away the liquid dribbling down her cheeks and through her wet eyelashes, she witnesses the tears cascading down Regina's cheeks as well.

"I-" Regina's voice squeaks out before she inhales sharply and reaches for a napkin to wipe away those salty tears clinging to her face. "I can only imagine how you must feel. However, I don't blame you, Emma," and her voice is so fragile, so delicate that Emma has no choice but to meet the woman's gaze.

"You don't? You don't hate me? I mean it's not fair that you lost your husband just so I could live," she cries out, attempting to sniffle away her emotions.

"I don't hate you. And I didn't lose my husband just so you could live...I lost my husband by a terrible accident and because of the incident, you were able to live."

"I-I never really thought of it like that," she murmurs, using her sleeve to clean the mess across her face.

"People pass away every day, it's unfortunate...it's awful, but the people that choose to be an organ donor, aren't sacrificing their lives for another. They are simply helping someone in need after they are gone," she whispers so softly that Emma's heart flutters once again in response to that silky tone.

"I'm glad you see it that way, because I really felt guilty and I thought you were going to hate me. And honestly, this is what I needed to help me move on."

Regina nods just once, her eyes crinkling at the sides as she observes the blonde closely, Emma still sweeping away the liquid pouring from every which way. There's a heavy moment of silence and Ruby must be watching from afar because she chooses this moment to pop her little head in.

"Hey, are you two thinking of eating this afternoon? Or just coffee?" Ruby gently questions, her eyes flicking from green to brown ones warily.

"I should probably eat," Emma mutters under her breath, passing her menu to her friend, knowing what she's going to order. "What do you think, Regina? Wanna join me?" She hopefully asks, flashing this dorky little smirk that has Regina visibly relaxing before her.

"I believe I can manage that," she says, but there's a hint of teasing in her tone, maybe it's a dab of seduction, either way, this woman oozes sex appeal, even if she is unaware.

"What salad today?" Ruby questions, her pad and pen ready to scribble down Emma's order.

"I'm so sick of salads," she grumbles. "How about a grilled chicken wrap?"

"Ugh, I don't blame you. I'm sick of seeing you eat salads," her friend chuckles. "Fruit? Or you want granny to do some steamed vegetables for you?"

Emma smiles, knowing that's not really an option on the menu, but for her it is. "Fries," she says, provoking Ruby's eyes to narrow. "I'm just kidding, fruit."

"Good, because I'm not about to wrestle Granny for you over fries." Her friend laughs lightly before she turns her attention to the other brunette. "And you?"

Something that resembles conflicted flashes across Regina's face as she studies the menu before her. She nibbles on her bottom lip and Emma hates the way her heart thumps a little faster, like even the organ finds the action irresistible.

"I'll have the avocado chicken wrap, thank you," Regina quietly orders, handing over her menu.

"Fruit or fries?"

"Fries," she blurts out all too quickly.

And then Ruby is gone in a flash and Emma is beaming at Regina, she never really gave her face permission to do so, but here she is, grinning like an absolute fool. Regina nervously fiddles with the utensils, her eyes scrutinizing her own fiddling fingers and Emma knows something is on her mind.

"I'm willing to answer anything you want to know," Emma pipes up, hoping to coax the brunette into speaking her mind before it's too late and she regrets it.

Dark eyes peek through even darker lashes curiously, inspiring her fingers to stop fidgeting. Regina nods curtly before she straightens her posture, the stern lawyer taking over the conversation in the blink of an eye.

"Do you feel...different?" Emma blinks, but Regina rushes on. "I mean, do you have any weird cravings or find that your mood is different?"

"Ummm, no strange cravings." Emma shrugs, both hands finally slipping out from their prison to rest on top of the table. "I do feel a little different, like I have these mood swings, but I'm pretty sure that's all the medication I'm on, not because of him."

"Right," Regina impassively says with this look of defeat that crushes Emma's soul.

"I-I don't know if this is the heart's memory or what, but since the surgery I've been kinda down and everyone says that's normal, I'm supposed to feel blue, but I've been sad like I've been grieving or missing someone."

With that, Emma pauses, allowing the words to dangle in the air, granting Regina the opportunity to interpret them however she wants. She doesn't necessarily want to tell this stranger that her new heart misses her, but by the way her heart is reacting to this interaction, she really feels like she's been missing Regina.

"Does that happen often? Have you known anyone to experience anything similar?" Regina barely says the words out loud, like she's desperate for the answer, yet petrified of it all at the same time.

"I've done research, I've spoken to some people as well. Doctor's say there isn't enough evidence to prove that someone's personality can change or that the muscle remembers things or craves stuff, but I've also read quite a few remarkable stories, so I'm not willing to rule it out just yet."

Regina nods again, seeming lost in thought as she picks at the corner of the napkin once again. Ruby uses this time to swoop in and drop off their lunch, asking if they need anything else before she rushes off.

"You have to watch what you eat now, correct?" Regina unexpectedly questions as Emma's mouth is biting into her over-stuffed wrap. Regina has yet to make a move toward her food, her fists clenched on either side of the plate. "I've read that your diet is very important after a transplant."

Emma quickly chews, nodding along and wiping her mouth. "Umm...yeah." She swallows quickly and meets Regina's intense glare. "But I've always had to maintain a very strict and healthy diet, so I'm kinda used to it. It's also all about moderation, too."

Regina nods just once again, her eyes trailing to her own plate. "May I ask about your history? Did you always have problems with your heart?" She tentatively investigates, slowly lifting her eyes to meet Emma's once again.

"Oh boy," Emma chuckles, but even to her own ears she hears how flat she really sounds. "It started at birth."

"Really?"

"Yeah, basically it was a birth defect where the valve that controls blood flow from the right upper chamber of my heart, didn't form at all and there was an obstruction of blood flow in my right ventricle as well. So, I had to have surgery right away. I was alright for a while, my parents were always worried and I had a lot of doctor's appointments as a kid. But my ventricles were not working properly and kept failing me and by the time I was ten, I already had my chest cracked open three times," she admits, noticing the way Regina's breath catches in her throat like most people, but Emma is so accustomed to the procedures now, it really doesn't phase her. Just hazy memories left behind.

She swallows thickly, hating that sinking sensation in her gut whenever she has to explain the next part that leads to the scare of a lifetime.

"Then at seventeen, I was diagnosed with sinus node dysfunction, which means my heart couldn't keep a steady pumping rate that is appropriate, so I had to have a pacemaker put in. I thought for sure I was good then. I was ready to put all of this behind me and live my life, take my next step with college and enjoy my life. And I did, for about eight years, until I noticed I couldn't workout regularly like I used to and I was having difficulty breathing with very simple activities," she inhales sharply, still hating this next part with a fiery passion from the unfairness of it all. "It wasn't until I was twenty-five, that I was in and out of hospitals. They assumed it was my long history that was causing problems, but I was later told that my heart was failing."

"Emma, I...I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. I could only imagine how difficult that must have been as a child."

"It was rough, for sure. My parents were always so amazing and positive, but they have been very strict. Then again, I have to be thankful for that, because I highly doubt my heart would have made it for as long as it did if I didn't have hovering parents."

"They sound wonderful," Regina concedes, finally picking up her wrap and taking the smallest bite imaginable.

"How about your parents? Are they...hovering because of everything you have going on?" Emma casually asks, volleying the conversation right back to keep a steady flow between them before she gets all awkward like she normally does.

Regina exhales the deepest breath that already answers Emma's question wordlessly. "Dear god, yes. My mother and my sister have moved in without my permission and apparently made a babysitting schedule, so I'm not left alone during any moment of the day," she scoffs, rolling those big brown eyes and taking an aggressive bite out of her sandwich.

"Ugh, I know what you mean. I had to move in with my parents before the surgery, in case of any emergencies and so they could help post-op, and I'm grateful and all, but oh my god, my mom is always up my ass."

Regina breathes out a small laugh through her nose. "My mother is always staring at me, like I might implode at any moment."

"My mom is constantly spraying every surface with disinfectant. Someone walks in, she attacks them with masks and hand sanitizer."

"My mother keeps stealing my laundry basket, like I cannot possibly wash my own clothes. I could use the distraction and I definitely don't need her touching my underwear."

"My mom prepares my meals like a toddler."

"My mother keeps climbing into bed with me."

Emma giggles, a full belly giggle at that. "Yeah, my mom watches me sleep from the doorway," she confesses through a hearty laugh which inspires a broad smile to take over Regina's face.

Emma's sure the woman is moving in slow motion when she slowly plucks a fry off her plate and extends her hand over the table. "Everything in moderation?" She repeats Emma's words from earlier, a dazzling smile dancing across her face and there goes Emma's heart once again.

Emma's curious eyes flick behind Regina's shoulder, making sure her friend isn't spying on them, even though Ruby would probably just smirk.

"I haven't had a fry in years," Emma confesses, snatching up the potato before the woman changes her mind.

"Naveen's heart was very strong. I won't tell. It'll be our little secret."

Emma grins like a buffoon, popping the fry right into her mouth and moaning at the glorious salty taste. She notices right away how Regina's eyes soften.

Her heart skips a beat.

They both turn their attention back to their meals, Emma making her way through her wrap while Regina hardly finishes half. No more fries are offered and Emma has a sneaky suspicion this woman is usually very strict and the one fry leniency was probably a novelty. Especially since Regina neglects them as well, never eating a single one.

Ruby drops off a box for Regina, even offers a cappuccino to go, but the woman declines and asks for the check. However, Ruby shakes her head, laughs and waltzes away.

"Granny never charges us," Emma whispers, producing a scowl upon Regina's face.

"I can't leave without paying."

"You can try tipping Ruby, but she doesn't work here and she will probably hand it back."

"Well, then you give it to her grandmother."

"I'm not fighting that woman, she's feisty," Emma declares with her adorable dimple on display while Regina huffs out her annoyance. "So, ummm...is there anything else you would like to discuss? It's only two o'clock."

And Regina seems queasy at this question and Emma has no idea what she could possibly be stressing about. Suddenly, those dark eyes are lingering on her warily and Emma feels the heat bubbling from her heart and rising to her cheeks.

"You," Regina's voice cracks, her breath snagging in her throat and now they are both blushing for some peculiar reason. "You obviously know that I asked you here, so I can close this chapter in my life and move on since I was never able to say goodbye."

"I know," Emma softly whispers.

"I know this is...oh, this is awkward-"

"Regina, you can ask me anything. I feel like I owe your husband and if I can't repay him, I would like to repay you," she sincerely states, causing those tears to well up in Regina's eyes once again.

"I want to hear his heart beat one last time."

Emma's heart violently shudders, instantly agreeing to the request without Emma's permission. Subconsciously, she places her hand over her heart and swallows down the mass of emotions swelling in her throat.

It's an awkward request, especially coming from a complete stranger, but then again, she can only imagine what this woman is going through. She lost her husband, doesn't even have any recollection of it, and was never able to say goodbye properly.

So, without truly comprehending her actions, she nods.

"Not here though," Emma's mouth speaks for her and then her body is moving to stand from the booth, all on its own.

She feels almost as if she's out of her own body, watching as Regina sets down some cash onto the table...far too much, and then she is following Emma right out the door. Emma walks numbly to her car, unlocks the passenger side and holds it open, never saying one word. Regina blinks at her, blinks at the silent invitation of an open door, and then slips inside without a word spoken.

Emma's trembling viciously when she closes the door and rounds the car to slip into her own seat. When she slides into the driver's chair, she starts her car and cranks up the heat. There's a static electricity that sharply courses through her tiny Volkswagen Beetle as she searches her mind for something to say.

"Yellow?" Regina's raspy voice murmurs.

"Huh?"

"Yellow? Bold choice."

"I like yellow, is this really the time to be questioning what color my car is?" Emma squawks, but she's slightly amused.

"I'm sorry, I'm just trying not to think about how uncomfortable this situation is," Regina admits, glancing out the window as a distraction.

"Lucky for you, I have a lot of strangers feeling between my breasts." Regina's shocked face is comical and Emma can't suppress the snort that explodes from her own face. "They are all doctors but still strangers."

Regina slowly nods along like she understands but is still skeptical. Tentatively, Emma reaches across the center console, her heart hammering from what's to come and her palms sweating at the idea of touching this breathtakingly beautiful woman. She gently gathers Regina's right hand and slowly brings it up to her chest, ignoring the way they are both trembling. She swallows down all her trepidation and nerves and reminds herself that she owes this to the man that saved her life.

His wife deserves one final goodbye.

Delicately, she places Regina's hand over her heart, inspiring the damn organ to leap abruptly, taking them both by surprise. Regina's eyes instantly fill with thick tears that make her chestnut irises sparkle into a honey hue and it takes everything in Emma not to hold her close to stop those tears from falling. Emma presses a little further, allowing Regina to soak up the strong rhythm beating beneath her touch and that's what encourages those teardrops to fall.

"You can listen," Emma nervously whispers, but Regina doesn't dare make eye contact.

Instead, she nods once and leans forward to memorize the thumping that she fell asleep to every night. She misses the sound so much, she misses lying on his chest and drifting off to that sweet lullaby. For a moment, her eyes flutter closed and she absorbs the sound, but then the realization that she will never hear this sound again becomes too much and she jerks away.

"Are you-"

"Thank you for meeting with me," Regina blurts out, her hand popping the door open in a rush to escape the confines of the tiny bug. "Goodbye, Miss Swan."

"Regina, are you-"

The door is already slamming in her face, but she's not flinching from the sound, but the ache in her heart instead.

 

Chapter Text


The sound of his deep chuckle stirs in her chest and she cannot possibly contain the smile stretching into her cheeks. Making him laugh has to be one of her most favorite things about their relationship. Warmth is swallowing her whole, but she's content, she's happy. She rests her head back, her neck rolling to the side to admire the stunning grin that consumes his entire face and persuades her heart to skip merrily along. He reaches and she doesn't necessarily feel the contact, but she sees the way he grins as he brings her knuckles to his lips and presses a gentle kiss. He lingers, his eyes drifting away from whatever lies ahead to meet her gaze and flash her one wink.

She feels so utterly loved and she knows her heart is full, but something like panic is festering in her gut.

She blinks, her eyes trailing back to find out what's ahead, only to be blinded by the headlights shining on the other side of the road. An eerie sensation crawls down her spine and demands that all the little hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. Her heart starts racing and she knows something is wrong. Something is so terribly wrong and she's screaming at herself to stop the madness.

Wake up.

The sound of crunching glass echoes all around her...

Please wake up.

Her body feels weightless, hazardously tossed around like a rag-doll and she feels the need to protect herself, to find some control and brace herself from whatever is about to occur. Her hand shoots up, moving all on its own to plant her palm against the roof of the car. She doesn't necessarily feel the crack that echoes through the air, but she knows she should be feeling a violent pain in her wrist.

Wake up.

One, two, three. Wake up!

Regina flings forward in bed, gasping for her next breath as her fingers curl around her right wrist to check for any damage. The dream...the memory still so vivid and haunting in her mind. It's been one month since the cast was taken off her arm and for some reason, the memories of what had happened to cause the break in the first place, have been coming back more clearly now.

One month.

The cast came off two days before she met Emma Swan. Obviously, she's still grieving and she will never admit this out loud, let alone to herself, but that woman flipped her world upside down. Her dark and dreary world, made up of stormy grey clouds and swirls of black, but when she saw Emma in that restaurant, she was taken back by the splash of yellow, the dash of red, and the pop of green.

Her world started to produce color once again.

Except, she hasn't spoken to the woman since that day, because she knows she can't use the blonde as a crutch to heal her broken heart, just because she possesses her husband's heart. That woman owes her nothing and she's lucky that Emma even allowed her one last opportunity to hear and feel Naveen's heart once again. However, she aches all over, itching to speak to the stranger again. Every day she has to fight against her instincts to not reach out and disturb the blonde's life. Emma needed a heart, not a lonely widow to come along with the package.

"Hey, sis," Zelena's voice startles her from those conflicting thoughts, forcing her wet eyes to dart toward the doorway where a mess of ringlets linger. "You're up, good. How about some breakfast?"

"When are you and mother going to move out?" She bitterly snarks.

"When your nightmares stop or when you decide to finally go speak to someone about them," Zelena fires right back, her sharp eyes narrowing to where Regina is still clutching her damaged wrist.

"I'm fine," she vacantly replies, dropping her wrist and tossing the covers away to head downstairs for breakfast.

Well, she doesn't eat much lately, but she could really use a strong cup of coffee.

"Regina, you've been through a lot. Nobody is judging you, nobody will look down on you for speaking to a psychiatrist. You need help, you can't go on like this. You're miserable."

"Well excuse me, I didn't know that grieving the love of my life has an expiration date."

"It doesn't and that's not what I'm saying," Zelena exasperates, chasing the brunette down the stairs and into the kitchen. "It's going to take a really long time and you will probably always miss him, but you need some help to get to a place where you feel somewhat better. And don't switch my words around, I'm not saying you'll be back to normal and skipping around-"

"I never skip."

"No shit," her sister deadpans. "All I'm saying is you need to get out of this funk and start to live again."

Regina whirls around to face her sister head on with a glint of sarcasm twinkling in her eye. "You're right, I need to move on and that's why I am meeting Kathryn and her husband today to sell the firm."

"What?" Her sister shrieks, but Regina spins back around like she didn't hear a damn thing and begins preparing her coffee. "I thought mom and I talked about this with you. You need more time, you shouldn't rush into-"

"I'm not rushing into anything," she explodes, angrily jerking the coffee pot out to fill with water. "It's been three months since the accident. I'm done. I don't want to be a lawyer anymore. I don't want anything to do with the firm. Dammit Zelena, I haven't stepped foot into the office since before the accident. I am done," she firmly declares, pouring the water into the maker and shoving the pot back onto the burner with all her pent-up anger.

"And what are you going to do with the rest of your life, huh? You are forty, you have at least another forty years."

Regina inhales sharply, her eyes cast down as she debates with herself if she should reveal her secret or not. Then again, she hasn't found the motivation yet, to open up to anyone again after her husband's untimely passing. She knows she's purposely pushing people away, so she can distance herself and maybe she won't feel as much when she loses them too. Subconsciously, she knows it's ridiculous, but she's in such a dark place now, she really doesn't give a fuck.

"I don't know," she murmurs. "But I will have plenty of money from the firm until I figure out what I want to do."

"It won't be enough to retire early."

"I know," is all Regina mutters before she scurries upstairs to shower while the coffee brews and to officially end another argument with her family.

~~~~

She really didn't think it would be this hard to sell something that is so tarnished by her husband's death, but they built this firm together. So many hours, so many late nights in the office, but neither one cared because they were always by each other's side. She thought it would be simple, sign her name, end the weight that feels tied to her feet, dragging her further and further down into the ocean of memories where she's drowning day in and day out.

"Regina?" Kathryn, her best friend, whispers, snapping her back to the now and encouraging her hand to scribble the last signature necessary.

"There," she announces, setting down her pen and leaning back against her seat to allow the lawyer to take the paperwork.

It was all very amicable, she is selling her company to her oldest friend and in order to pay the amount requested, Kathryn will continue to pay Regina each month as if she works there, until she is completely bought out. As the figures where placed out before her, she did note that she could live off that amount until retirement if need be. However, she needs something to fill her days and she does have the perfect idea in mind.

"Regina," Kathryn softly says to gain her attention as the lawyers and even her husband, Fredrick, leave the conference room. "Are you alright?"

"I am," she breathes out confidently, her gaze wandering out to the Manhattan skyline just outside the floor to ceiling windows.

It's the end of March, still a bitter bite to the air, but the sun is shining brightly today, attempting to warm up her cold and lonely world. Everything is still so...dull. So grey. And so very cold.

"Would you like to go grab some lunch?"

"I can't," she politely declines, her face as impassive as ever and she knows her best friend can see how broken she still is three months later. "Actually, I have plans," she clarifies to help ease Kathryn's worries as they both stand to exit the room.

"Alright, well, how about this weekend? I can use a little break from the weekend madness," Kathryn chuckles and Regina sadly smiles, remembering the rush of it all and how she didn't even care that she was wasting her weekends with work.

"Of course, that would be great," she says, but her voice doesn't express the excitement she's trying to portray.

With that, Kathryn walks her out of the building. They hug one another and she even offers Fredrick a small wave before he tucks his wife into his side and they head for the train. Regina peeks at her phone in her pocket and just as she's reading the time, the device starts to buzz.

She does smile in response.

"Well hello, dear."

"Hey! So, we are at Doughnut Plant. You're still gonna meet me, right?"

"Of course."

"Okay, good. See you shortly!"

"I will see you soon."

Regina smiles and ends the call, but before she can stuff her phone back into her peacoat, she notices a new email. Ever since she stopped showing up to the firm, the emails have dwindled down to almost nothing, so she is surprised to see a new message. She quickly opens the email, her feet still shuffling through the busy streets of New York like they are trained to do. That is until she reads a stranger's name that sets her heart on fire. She quickly scurries toward a building to step out of the way of traffic and so she can read the email closely.

Hey Regina!
 
    I really hope all is well with you and your family, hopefully mommy dearest isn't sleeping with you anymore. Lol I'm sorry if this seems forward, I know we haven't spoken since we met and I don't know how you feel about that. I'm sorry if I'm bothering you, that's not my intention, but I have a question about Naveen and I was hoping if maybe you could answer it for me? If you don't feel comfortable just close this email and don't respond and I won't reach out again.

   But if you are curious, so am I. I was wondering if Naveen had a sweet tooth? I don't know if you remember, but my parents were really strict with my diet and I never really ate sweets. Lately, I'm craving sweets, like a lot...a lot. That's all I want to do, just pig out on sweets and I feel like I'm craving something, but I have no idea what it is. So, if you could let me know, maybe you can pinpoint what my tongue is watering for? Lol

Thanks!
    Emma

Regina's hands slowly move the phone away from her line of sight while her head falls back to peer aimlessly up at the sky. Her eyes must be watery, because everything is a messy blur. And she hasn't the slightest clue if she's crying at the thought of her husband's silly cravings making themselves known in this strange woman or because she hadn't known how much she missed a simple conversation from a stranger?

Her heart is pounding and she's sure the tears are leaking down her face now, and she probably looks like a crazy woman crying in the rush of New York, but she quickly pulls the phone back to her face. She allows her fingers to move all on their own, her mind knowing exactly what she wants to say.

~~~~~

"I'm telling you, this place will satisfy all your sweet tooth needs," Ruby vows, linking her arm through Emma's and guiding her through the bustle of New York, where every person seems to be on their lunch break at the moment.

And Emma cringes, still worried about germs lingering in the air.

"I'm not buying everything, I just need a little something to settle down this craving," Emma laughs, snuggling in closer to her best friend and admiring the simple fact that they are allowed to be in public together again. She survived.

"That's so weird, I can't believe you are craving sweets, you never."

"That's because I never knew what I was missing."

"Did you talk about it with your mom? Did she turn into the Beast and threaten to lock you away in your dungeon?"

Emma shoves her friend away, but they are both grinning from ear to ear, soaking up the moment and the little sun that's struggling to warm up the bitter air.

"She was fine, but she did remind me..."

"Everything in moderation," they both sing-song together because who knows how many times Mary Margret has chanted that throughout the years.

Together, they roll their eyes like they did when they were ten and giggle along. Ruby's head tilts back, her eyes shimmering against the sun as she reads the sign and tugs Emma closer. The brunette opens the door for her and then follows behind, both immediately stepping into line.

Emma picks her head up to read over the enormous menu on every wall behind the counter. It's rather busy this afternoon, but there is a distinct sound that catches her attention and inspires her heart to do this little happy dance.

The sound, Regina Mills' rich and husky laugh.

Green eyes drop down from the menu above to scan the area, where sure enough, she finds the beautiful woman standing two people in front of her, with a baby in front of her chest. Those plump lips are spread wide as she playfully nibbles at the chubby fingers grabbing at her face. Emma's positive her heart stutters and in a lame attempt to kick start it again, she swallows thickly.

"I'll be right back," she mutters so quietly that Ruby doesn't exactly hear what she says, but she notices her walking away.

"What?"

Emma ignores Ruby, her eyes solely focused on the woman she's been dreaming about for four weeks now. A woman she definitely emailed fifteen minutes ago about her silly cravings and she was sure she would never hear from, let alone see again. Yet, there she is, as stunning as ever, especially when she smiles so freely at an adorable baby. Her heart suddenly feels heavy because her mind is tripping over the idea that Regina and Naveen had a baby, that couldn't be more than a year and a half old.

"Regina?" Her eyes almost flutter closed from her own mortification because why did her voice have to crack like that?

The brunette flinches, obviously lost in the moment with the baby and wasn't expecting anyone to approach her.

"Em-Emma?"

"Hey," she sheepishly says, her hands gesturing in the confines of her red leather jacket.

"Hey."

A woman with strawberry-blonde hair whips around abruptly, her crystal sea-green eyes instantly drawn to Emma, assessing her intently. Emma swallows again from the scrutiny.

"Uh-hey," she stammers again like a fool, her eyes flicking back to the baby who is trying to steal Regina's attention back. "Ummm...is this your-"

"Oh no," Regina chuckles and Emma breathes out a sigh of relief. "If she was, I would have had a lot of explaining to do." Emma quirks up one eyebrow curiously while the other blonde laughs and steals the baby away from Regina's arms. "My husband was black," she deadpans, prompting Emma to assess the blonde hair, blue-eyed baby more closely.

"Oh," Emma chuckles, now understanding the joke. "Yeah, you definitely would have had some explaining to do."

"This is my niece, Robin, and her daughter, Hunter."

"Hi, nice to meet you...Emma was it?" Robin smirks, offering her free hand as Emma is already accepting the gesture.

"Hey, yeah, nice to meet you too."

"Next!" The kid behind the counter calls out, provoking Robin to rush forward to the counter.

"I should probably get back to Ruby," Emma announces, nervously hooking her thumb over her shoulder and blushing profusely from how awkward she is acting.

"Oh, of course," Regina replies with a very political smile plastered across her face and for a split second, Emma is sure this woman is disappointed.

"Good to see you," she blurts out, her feet already shuffling backwards.

"You too, Emma," and dear god, does she love the way her name sounds purring from that sexy woman.

She offers a crooked little grin, her feet continuing to back away until she's right beside Ruby once again. She breathes out heavily, like she was holding her breath the entire time, well, she probably was around that goddess. She is sure she just blacked out for a moment and her body was moving on autopilot.

"Dude, Regina is here? What a small freakin' world."

"I know," Emma murmurs, her fists clenching in her pockets as she tries to calm the prickly nervous energy rippling through her system.

"Next."

Emma peeks through her thick lashes, observing as Regina follows her niece to a nearby booth, where they set the baby into a high-chair at the end. Her mind is jittery and impatient, wondering if the brunette had seen her email, and ignored it, or if maybe she hasn't had an opportunity to check her phone.

"Why are you bouncing?"

"I'm not bouncing," Emma grumbles, stopping herself from bouncing.

"Yes, you are," Ruby laughs at her, those glowing eyes following Emma's line of vision. "Still obsessing over her, aren't you?"

"I'm not obsessing," Emma coldly demands, forcing her eyes back to the boring menu behind the counter once again.

"Then what's with you?"

"Nothing." Ruby pins her with a fierce glare, folding her arms and all, because this woman knows her inside and out. Emma groans under her breath and rolls her neck to alleviate the tension knotting in her shoulders. "I...may have...sort of emailed her before we went out and I'm just curious if she received it or not," she whispers, ashamed that she finally caved after one month of radio silence and reached out, even though she was scolded on several occasions to not do that.

"I told you that was a bad idea," Ruby growls quietly, not to cause a scene. "The woman is still grieving, obviously she had a hard time coping since she ran out of your car in tears."

"I know," she whines, fiddling with the insides of her pockets and rubbing the bottom zipper together anxiously. "I just felt bad, I kinda wanted to see how she was."

"Always the Savior," Ruby deadpans as the kid behind the counter beckons them forward. "I thought you traded in that heart of gold?"

Emma rolls her eyes. "You spend far too much time with my parents."

"What can I getcha?" The kid asks, leaning forward on his hands to hear them more clearly over the thumping crowd.

"Ummmm," Emma stutters, her eyes still sweeping at the menu above that she never truly read to begin with.

"A bear claw," comes the husky whisper from over her right shoulder, provoking her to jump in her boots.

She cranes her neck so fast she's sure her head is going to spin right off her shoulders. "Regina?" Her poor voice hardly croaks out the name because her heart is hammering so severely.

"Sorry to interrupt, but the craving..." and Regina looks so unsure of herself for a split second before a gentle smile ghosts over her lips from the memory of her husband. "It's a bear claw. He loved them, most mornings before work he would make us stop and get one." Regina's voice breaks from the emotions swelling up again, but she smiles despite the sadness and Emma finds herself smiling back.

Regina read the email.

"One bear claw," Emma orders and then turns back to Regina while Ruby orders as well.

"I was always on him about how unhealthy they are, but apparently his heart was very strong." Unknown to Emma, she's frowning back at this woman. "I'm sure one will be just fine. Everything in moderation, correct?"

And Emma's frown is blooming into a radiant smile from the phrase. "Right," she says, her smile stretching so far into her cheeks that she already feels how sore they are growing and maybe even a little warm.

"I should be heading back to my niece," Regina softly says and even though Emma's smile is still beaming, she feels the disappointment fizzling in her chest.

"Right," she concedes and watches as Regina dips her head down and then waltzes away as if she didn't short-circuit everything in Emma's hopeless body.

"That was really cool of her," Ruby acknowledges, both watching like idiots as Regina slips into the booth and immediately starts playing with the baby.

"Yeah," is all Emma can formulate at the moment because her mind is scheming to come up with another way to see this woman once again.

 

Chapter Text


Dear Emma,

I understand that we haven't spoken since our meeting and maybe that has a bit to do with the way I left things. It was all overwhelming, hearing his heart and knowing I will never hear it again. However, please don't feel like you are pestering me. I am more than comfortable to answer whatever questions may arise.

Now, as for that sweet tooth you are inquiring about, yes, Naveen was a sweets-a-holic. I'm not sure what exactly your tongue is salivating for, but my husband enjoyed a bear claw most mornings. Sometimes in the afternoon, I would catch him sneaking a Snickers. Even after dinner, he always pushed for dessert and most of the time it was donuts, which I found absurd. I, on the other hand, always fought for a nice apple pie (he was not a fan).

I do hope this helps and again, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask whatever you would like. It was good to hear from you again. Please take care.

Best regards,
Regina Mills

P.S.
My mother has stopped sneaking into my bed, however, she must have spoken with your mother because now I find her lingering outside my doorway.

Emma is still grinning like she slept with a hanger in her mouth, all because according to the time marked on the email, Regina had sent the message before they randomly bumped into each other at Doughnut Plant. Seriously, what are the odds? Very slim, Emma keeps reminding herself and there's this stupid voice in the back of her head, the one that still finds hope in sappy fairytales, that keeps whispering a silly word of fate.

"Emma?" She blinks away her blissful thoughts to find her mother lurking in the doorway once again, like she gets paid to stand guard for her daughter. "You've been kind of quiet this evening. Have you been journaling?" She timidly questions, knowing how much it irks Emma that she's constantly checking up on everything that has to do with the surgery.

"No, not tonight," she mumbles, her finger pressing the side button on her phone to hide away the email she's been gawking at, like she's on a first date with the damn thing.

"Have you been though?" Mary Margret inquires, cautiously stepping into the bedroom like there might be some secret trigger that will blow up in her face. "You have your monthly checkup tomorrow and the doctor is going to want to see that journal. He needs to know how you have been coping."

"I know, mom."

"But you aren't coping. I thought meeting that woman would help ease your guilt, but lately..." Emma's eyes flutter closed and she forces herself to inhale sharply and squash the anger that's bubbling up...again. "....I don't know, you seem more depressed," her mom finishes, placing a tentative hand upon her shoulder, but Emma refuses to meet her sad eyes.

"I know. I'm trying, but it's kinda hard when I feel like I'm bound to this house. I just feel..."

"Sweetheart, I understand that you feel restricted, but we have to maintain your safety. This first year is crucial."

"I know," she breathes out slowly, her eyes still latched onto the phone in her lap.

"But hey, you went out this afternoon with Ruby," Mary Margret desperately tries to flaunt the one positive thing in Emma's face.

"Right."

"It's going to get better, as the days tick by, things will smooth out and you'll start to feel normal again, you'll see."

"Yeah," she mumbles under her breath as her mother's hand slowly falls away.

"I made dinner."

And it takes everything in Emma not to snark out a sarcastic comment about how her mom always makes dinner and it doesn't need an official announcement.

"I'll be down shortly."

Mary Margret nods, as though she was expecting that answer and slowly slinks away without another word spoken. She can feel her mother hesitating in the shadows of the hallway, she can feel the tension pulsating between them like her once broken heart and she wishes she could feel normal again. She wishes they could feel normal again.

Without a second thought, she opens Regina's email and instantly hits reply for a distraction.

Hey Regina!

   Thanks so much for getting back to me. How weird was it running in to each other today? Lol I'm glad you were there though, that bear claw was exactly what I was searching for. I guess you were kinda my sweet-tooth fairy.

   And thanks for being so cool about all of this. I really enjoyed meeting you for lunch last month. It was nice to get out of the house and speak to someone that isn't obsessing over every move I make. I enjoyed your company, but I don't want to push you, if speaking to me becomes overwhelming, please just let me know.

    Thanks again for the different options of sweets. Can I let you in on a little secret? I've never had a Snickers before in my life...I know, crazy, right? Maybe I will find myself drooling for one someday and I will have to try one.

  Oh! Also, I'm sure our mothers are taking courses on how to irritate their daughters. It's been three months and my mom is still wary about me leaving the house without a mask, hand sanitizer and well, maybe the whole damn bubble!

Hopefully I'll hear from you soon!

-Emma

She reads the email over a few times before she finds the courage to press send. There's just something about Regina that makes her want to open up and simply...talk. Something she hasn't been able to do with anyone as of lately; too terrified of her raging hormones popping off and lashing out at the people she loves most.

~~~~~

Forty-five minutes away, Regina is curled up tight, her legs tucked beneath her with the softest throw blanket draped over her entire body. She's sitting on the couch in front of her electric fireplace and she's still cold. The red wine is placed beside her on the end table, yet to be acknowledged because brown eyes are entranced by the fake flames while her mind replays a certain moment from earlier that afternoon.

The flash of golden sunshine, the splatter of red and the explosion of green that brightened up her world.

Even with visiting her niece and that beautiful bouncing baby, her world was still dim.

Her thoughts are rudely...thankfully, interrupted by her phone buzzing beside the untouched glass of wine. She blindly reaches to retrieve it, never once tearing her eyes away from the fire. Her finger moves mindlessly, knowing what to do all on its own and that's when her eyes tumble down to find a new email.

A flush of warmth rushes through her blood from the name alone.

She quickly reads over the email and the only reason she knows she is smirking, is from the way her cheeks are starting to ache from the foreign exercise.

Maybe she's not so cold anymore.

Without a moment of hesitation, she is typing away.

Dear Emma,

     First, I would just like to acknowledge the atrocious secret that you have never had a Snickers before. It's absurd, plain and simple, and I would like to be first on your contacts to receive notification when you drool over the candy one day. Since you shared a secret, I only see it fitting to repay the favor and if you must know, I did enjoy your company as well. It was nice to break up the monotony of my life.

    Second, I most certainly will inform you if speaking to you ever becomes too much. This may sound forward, but you seem at ease emailing me, so I am curious if you find us speaking odd? I'm sure you weren't searching for a pen-pal when receiving a new heart.

     As for bumping into you today, that certainly was unexpected. I suppose the universe enjoys watching us interact. Also, never refer to me as a sweet-tooth fairy again or I shall destroy you.

-Regina Mills

She nods firmly at her email and hits send without another thought. She briefly wonders what the blonde is expecting out of these emails? Or if soon she will become bored and slowly fade away. Truthfully, she doesn't even know what she's anticipating from the emails either, but she knows how they make her feel.

She knows the notification alone is like her breath is being stolen away, yet filling her lungs with a type of breath of fresh air that she hasn't felt since her husband's passing. She knows her heart pumps a little faster and is eager to find out what's inside. She knows her days are boring and mundane without them.

Her head is suddenly too heavy with her thoughts, tipping back to rest against the couch as she thinks even harder about what she's doing. She's simply speaking to another human, but she can't help but wonder why she is so drawn to the blonde? A part of her agonizes over the thought that maybe she feels the urge to speak to Emma because she holds her husband's heart. Maybe it's all a delusion that her heart is hoping that he's still in there and she can still be connected to him.

But the second she contemplates that theory, she knows that doesn't feel right and it's all because she recalls that exuberant ray of golden tresses, the loud splash of red and those shimmering green irises. The woman is stunning, that much is obvious, but there is something about her crooked smile and her carefree laugh that is what keeps Regina calm and wanting more of her time.

She's conflicted. That much is obvious, but she knows she feels at peace when speaking to Emma and for now that's enough. For now, she will take that and run with it.

Her phone buzzes and she doesn't even try to suppress the smile just to maintain the frown that's been stealing her features as of lately.

Hey Sweet-Tooth Fairy,

I wasn't expecting to hear back from you so soon. I thought we had a one email a day policy, but I'm not complaining!

   I guess you're a little concerned with us speaking, I kind of was too, and I'm sure other people might find it odd, but nobody can really understand unless in this situation, right? I actually know a few people who have become friends because of transplants. There's a guy in my therapy group who received a heart as well and he still talks to his donor's mom. They get coffee like once a week. There's also this girl who got her lungs from this guy and she talks to his sister like every day, they are best friends now. I also know many cases where people never speak again after the first encounter. I think it all depends on the people and their individual story and situation. I hope that helps answer your question about us being odd.

As for a pen-pal, I would enjoy you as one, like you said, it breaks up the routine of my boring day. So, I guess I'm saying, I would like to be friends, if you are interested and feel comfortable with the situation.

Also, I didn't know enjoying my company was so dreadful that it's one of your darkest secrets. I feel like there's a backhanded compliment in there and I should probably feel offended. Either way, I'm a sucker for a challenge.

-Your Pen-Pal,
Emma

Her mouth has the audacity to laugh. A full belly laugh that has her stomach muscles tightening, her eyes watering, and her cheeks burning and she really hasn't done that since before the accident.

For a split second, when her laughter subsides, she feels this sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach and it reeks of guilt. And that guilt leaks into her veins, poisons her blood, and forces those scalding hot tears to prick her eyes once again.

She curls into the armrest, tugs the blanket to her chin, because she's always so cold now without him, and allows a few tears to spill. Why, though? Why does she feel so damn guilty for laughing? Naveen was her soulmate, she knew him better than she knew herself and she knows for a fact that he wouldn't want her drowning in misery and sulking every damn day. He would want her to smile, he would want her to move on and enjoy her life.

She curls even further into herself and sobs like she hasn't since the first month without her love. She needs to continue grieving, she needs to allow these emotions to come pouring out before they slowly kill her.

"Regina!" She is so lost in her tears that she completely missed her sister unlocking the front door. "Regina, where are you?"

She wipes away the salty liquid clinging to her face with the blanket and sniffles away the mess leaking hideously from her face. "In here."

Zelena breezes through her home as if she officially lives there now, and it irks Regina more than she ever thought imaginable.

"Hey! I heard you saw my girls," she exhales roughly as her body plops down on the sofa beside Regina's feet. "Are you crying? Are you alright?"

"Yes and yes," she vacantly replies.

"Well, if that were true you wouldn't be crying. What's wrong?" Zelena interrogates, pivoting upon the couch to offer Regina her undivided attention.

"I'm sure your daughter filled you in on our day," she flatly says, wiping away the last of those tears.

"By your tone, I'm assuming that you are referring to a super hot blonde?" Regina flinches from the description of Emma Swan. "Oh, come on, you know my daughter cannot possibly speak of an attractive blonde and not drool. She has a type," Zelena shrugs carelessly and makes herself more comfortable against the back of the couch, planting her cheek to her fist. "So, what's up? Seeing Emma brought up some bad feelings?" She investigates, slapping her free hand down to rest on Regina's outer thigh.

"No. On the contrary-"

"Do you always have to speak like you're in the middle of a case?"

"Oh shut up," Regina growls, adjusting the blanket further up her shoulder. "But no, seeing Emma didn't bring up bad feelings. I-I don't feel sad when I see her...she...is nice."

"Nice?"

"Yes, nice."

"Then why the leakage?" Zelena presses, reaching across to poke at Regina's sticky face, but she bats her older sister away.

"Coincidentally, she had contacted me before the run in, inquiring about Naveen because she's been having cravings."

"Really? What kind of cravings?" Zelena excitedly asks, her bright eyes sparkling with fascination. "Sweets?"

Regina snorts through a small laugh. "Yes, sweets."

"That's crazy!"

"I know."

"Is that normal?"

"I did some research on it, professionals claim there is not enough evidence to firmly say yes, however, there are plenty of patients who have shared stories that confirm the theory."

"Fascinating."

"Yes, anyways, I replied and then she responded this evening and we exchanged a few more emails and she is quite entertaining. She actually made me laugh."

"So...you found out that maybe you do have a sense of humor and what? You were so horrified you burst into tears?" Zelena sardonically quips, earning herself a nice scowl in return.

"You're not funny."

"Nonsense, I'm a hoot."

"Sometimes, that's what makes you not funny. Sometimes it's all about the delivery," Regina retorts, causing her sister's face to contort into bewilderment. "Anyways, no, I was crying because she said something to make me laugh and I don't know, I felt...guilty."

"But sis," Zelena sighs, her tone already flicking to concerned in the blink of an eye, "you know he would want you to laugh. There's no reason to feel guilty. Actually, he would be super pissed to see you this way. He would never want to see you so depressed."

"I know," Regina chokes on the rest of her words because those damn tears are stealing her emotions once again.

Zelena quickly pulls her into her arms and allows her baby sister to feel whatever she needs to, hoping that maybe this will help her start to heal.

She really needs her sister back.

~~~~

Emma is obnoxiously tapping her fingers against her abdomen, staring blankly up at the ceiling all while her mind obsesses over a stranger. She can't help but wonder if she said something wrong in her last email that forced the radio silence, because she was sure Regina would have emailed her back fairly quickly. Then again, she is overthinking and there are so many plausible reasons as to why the woman has yet to respond.

Sleep.

Regina could have definitely fallen asleep...their emails were exchanged around six o'clock, but sure, she could be fast asleep from exhaustion.

Emma groans to herself and roughly flops to her left side, now staring at the wall that once was decorated with a poster of Christina Aguilera. She sighs, glancing at the clock on the nightstand that reads midnight. She should have given up hours ago, but she is worried that Regina is struggling with their interaction. Maybe speaking wasn't such a great idea? Maybe it is too much for Regina?

She really hopes Regina doesn't think of her husband every time they speak.

She closes her eyes and wills herself to fall asleep and that's the exact moment her phone vibrates. Her hand is so reflexive to the sound, that even alone in her bed, she's embarrassed at how pathetic she is acting to just talk to a person. But Regina's emails are that light ray of sunshine peeking through her dark storm clouds and she's thriving off it.

Dear Pen-Pal,

I am sorry that this email is finding you so late, but I had a bit of a rough evening. Anyways, it did not go unnoticed that you started off your email with Sweet Tooth Fairy, I thought we discussed this? I am a very powerful woman and you have no idea what I am capable of, remember that. However, it seems you enjoy challenges, so maybe I have met my match.

Thank you for explaining the different scenarios that you have encountered regarding our type of situation. It did help ease the worry and I do look forward to speaking more with you.

You had assumed that I was offering some sort of backhanded compliment when I revealed my secret about enjoying your company, but that simply isn't true. I have always been goal-oriented and strived for the best and because of that, I was always a loner. I met Naveen at law school and he was always hitting the books just as hard, so we bonded over studies. I really only have one friend and that friendship began after I hired her to come work at my law firm. So, you see, I don't have friends, maybe just a few acquaintances that are always directly correlated with work, so when I said I enjoyed your company, it was a compliment. I don't like most people.

Now, tell me something about yourself.

-Regina Mills

Okay, so Emma was being irrational and she completely accepts how crazy she was acting before. Except, now, she's acting even more insane, judging by the sappy grin slapped across her face. She doesn't even think about what she wants to say, because she's too giddy about receiving the next email and learning more about Regina Mills.

Hey, Ms. Fancy Pants Who Owns Her Own Firm,

How about that title? Better? Lol

It's okay that it took you some time to email me back, you don't have to apologize. I'm up anyways...bored! Do you want to talk about why you had a rough night? I'm sorry if I'm being nosy, I just have a feeling that it has to do with us speaking and I don't want to be the cause of any problems.

So, you want me to tell you something about myself? Well, I love art. I love everything under the category of art; whether it's something like a painting, a photograph, sculptures or even stories. I'm hoping one day, before it's too late, I will have at least one photograph hanging in an exhibit somewhere. Until that day, I enjoy capturing the precious moments of life, weddings, engagements, births, and even families simply trying to document each year that passes by.

Secret number two, I have a tattoo that I keep hidden from my parents. The only reason I got it was because I was so sheltered as a kid, I wanted to do something that was rebellious. So, the day I turned eighteen, I got a horrible tattoo of a flower.

Email me back when you have a chance, no pressure.

-Your Pen-Pal,
Emma

Truthfully, she isn't expecting an email back. She assumes that Regina needs time and space after each email to process, maybe detach Emma from her husband. So, she places her phone on the nightstand and reminds herself to stop acting like such a needy little girl. She takes one calming breath, admiring the way her chest no longer burns or tightens from the small action, and then she closes her eyes.

It's only maybe five minutes later when her phone alerts her that Regina is still awake and must be just as bored. She retrieves her phone faster than a dog with its new bone.

Dear Photographer,

     The new title you gifted me does not apply to my life anymore. Actually, earlier today, before I bumped into you, I sold my company to that one friend I was telling you about, Kathryn and her husband. I just couldn't go back. Naveen and I built that company together and I believe it's time for me to move on. So, you must come up with a new name now. Good luck.

     So, you are a photographer? I can't really explain why, but I find that freeing and for the first time in my life, I believe I am envious. I've never stopped to study a painting or a sculpture, I was always stuck with my nose in a book. Now that I sold my firm, maybe it's about time I visit a museum and see the world from a new perspective.

   You inquired about my rough night and maybe in a sense you were a part of it, but not for reasons that you assume. You made me laugh (tell a soul and I will hunt you down and destroy you), nonetheless, you did make me laugh and that's something I haven't done since before the accident. I felt guilty because of it, like I am not allowed to enjoy myself when my husband is deceased. I'm working on it, but I do want you to understand that it's not because speaking with you brings up bad feelings. On the contrary, you are quite pleasant to speak with.

   Secret number two. Is this a thing now? We have to end each email with a secret?

-Regina Mills

God, why does this woman make Emma smile so freaking hard? Honestly, this woman sounds so damn proper all the time and Emma is itching to see if she breaks down those lonely walls, if Regina will still continue to talk like that. Maybe one day they will exchange numbers, and maybe Regina won't sound so formal via text.

Ugh, is she ever going to find the courage to ask this woman for her number? Probably not.

Dear Bookworm,

   Challenge accepted, challenge defeated!

   I'm really sorry you ended up selling your firm, I can only imagine how difficult of a decision that must have been for you. I bet you must have agonized over that for a long time and you didn't take it lightly. May I ask what you want to do now with your future?

    I'm also sorry that you had a rough night. I understand what you mean about smiling and laughing when you feel like it's not worthy, because of something going on in your life. Sometimes, I find that I'm stopping myself from fully enjoying a moment or laughing too hard because I feel guilty as well. I still find it unfair that Naveen isn't here, but I am.

   Okay that was heavy, so let's move on to something positive...like you discovering art! It's so beautiful and sometimes breathtaking and I really hope you share your experiences with me! I would love to share some of my favorite paintings as well!

    Secret number two was never fulfilled by you. Yes, this is a thing now. I will only reveal another secret though if you tell me another one. I promise I won't tell! Lol

-The Photographer

 

Chapter Text


Regina didn't want to seem too needy or desperate and she definitely didn't want to come off as the lonely widow, so she waited until the following morning to respond to Emma's previous email. She isn't sure if the woman has started working again, but an idea struck her when the blonde mentioned she's a photographer. She really thinks this will help with Emma's boredom, hopefully the woman accepts.

Hopefully Regina didn't overstep, but all of that can wait because there is a more pressing issue at the moment.

"So, what do you think about my proposal, daddy?" Regina timidly prompts for him to speak, because he has yet to say a word.

He's still intently reading over the packet she printed for him, his bushy white eyebrows furrowed in concentration while his thumb and index finger mindlessly stroke the stubble upon his chin. He hums softly to himself, turning back a page as a thought occurs and it creates a prickly sensation to invade every inch of her body.

He's always been a quiet man, stoic...stern. She never cared if she disappointed her mother, she knew the woman always loved her no matter what. But because her father was always so reserved, she craved to prove herself, her worth. She knows he loves her and Zelena very much, it's evident by the way he smiles at them and hugs them close, like he's terrified of letting the world get its hands on them. He just doesn't say much.

He suddenly exhales loudly, his finger scratching his upper lip, beneath his nose. His big brown eyes slowly crawl away from the papers laid out, her hopes and dreams for a new future exposed and waiting for her father's stamp of approval.

"Are you sure about this, my dear?" He investigates in a stern tone, but his eyes are so soft and inspire her heart to sag in relief.

"Yes, I am very sure."

He nods slowly, his gaze dropping back down to the papers and it takes everything in Regina to remain calm and not shoot up from her chair and demand an answer already. She's only been sitting there for an hour and a half, in almost complete silence after her fifteen minute speech.

"Why haven't you spoken to your mother about this? I believe she should be here as well."

She exhales all her trepidation to sound calm when she answers this. "Mother has been...hovering lately. She is constantly obsessing over every move I make. She nearly lost her damn mind when I sold the firm. She doesn't trust my judgement right now, but if I could get you on my side, maybe she will accept this plan before dismissing it without a fair chance."

He nods again, slower this time, contemplating her words and allowing them to roll around in his head.

"I will speak to her," he finally says after what feels like a lifetime.

"So, is that a yes to my proposal?" She inquires, holding her breath in case there's a sharp blow that steals her breath away.

He drags his eyes away from the paperwork and finally meets her wide eyes, right away she spots the mirth twinkling in those big orbs. He doesn't answer, he simply nods once and she is leaping from her chair and wrapping her arms around his neck like she did when she was a tiny little thing and he would come home from work, smelling so fruity.

"Thank you. Thank you, daddy," she whispers, burying her face into the crook of his neck and relaxing when he holds her close. It was always a promise to give his all and protect her from the cruel world.

And she knows it's also a silent apology that the world still found her and broke her in a way he hoped never would.

Very slowly, she slips away and gathers up the papers to place them neatly for her mother. "Alright, I should be heading home."

"You could stay. How about a slice of cheesecake and a cup of coffee?" He kindly offers and it's so hard to say no to that gentle tone.

"Alright, one piece. Mom says you need to watch your weight and the calories loaded in one piece-"

"Okay, okay," he chuckles, holding up his hands in surrender. "One piece."

~~~~

Dear Fine Arts Enthusiast,

    I have been to the MET, like any New Yorker, but I'm looking for something more simple, yet explodes with passion. Maybe you can recommend something.

   You asked what I would like to do with my future, I am working on that, but I don't want to jinx it, so maybe it will be a secret I reveal in a few weeks if I can get the ball rolling.

  Now, for you, I know you have mentioned on several occasions that you are bored. Have you started working again?

   I suppose it's my turn for a secret. I will never admit this out loud, because I refuse to allow another reason for sympathy in everyone's eyes, but I loathe the scars the accident left behind. I have never felt self-conscious in my life, until now.

-Regina Mills

Emma frowns from the last paragraph, her heart aching in response. She wonders if the scar on Regina's lip is from the accident. Yes, she noticed it, almost immediately, but she remembers thinking how absolutely sexy it was. She can't tell her that though, she is sure that would be crossing some kind of embarrassing and highly inappropriate line that she could never come back from.

She sighs, reading the email over one more time before she decides what she would like to say. She doesn't necessarily know this woman, but she's really starting to feel like she is getting there and she has this inkling that Regina has always been so deep in her studies that she has never really stopped to smell the roses, so to speak. With Emma's medical history, that's all she has ever done. She always makes sure that she doesn't take one moment for granted and to appreciate the beauty in everything.

Her new goal, opening up Regina's world, expand her horizon.

"Why are you smirking?" Ruby interrogates with far too much amusement lacing her words.

"I'm not smirking," Emma quickly declares, attempting to wipe away the grin taking over her entire face, but she fails miserably. She no longer has control over her lips and cheeks when reading one of Regina's emails.

"You're right, you're not smirking, because that's at least subtle. No, you're grinning like the dentist left the laughing gas on for way too long!"

"Shut up," she scoffs, but for some strange reason, her smile spreads even further into her cheeks.

"Oh my god, are you blushing?" Ruby practically shrieks, bouncing on the cushion from the opposite end of the couch.

Emma sinks further down into the couch, attempting to hide away her face and praying that she becomes one with the couch to stop her own mortification.

"I am not blushing," she growls, placing her phone directly in front of her face to hide away the heat that is staining her cheeks...it's just warm in there. Definitely not blushing.

"What's on the phone that's been stealing your attention all morning?" Ruby interrogates, lunging across the couch to sneak a peek.

Well, much to Emma's shock, Ruby actually plucks the phone right out of her grasp. "No, Rubes," she whines, scrambling up from her lounging position, but Ruby is already across the couch again with her never-ending giraffe legs stretched out to block Emma from stealing the phone back.

"You're talking to Regina?" Ruby questions, sounding, quite frankly, baffled, especially by the frown that's starting to mold around her mouth.

"Maybe," Emma mumbles, snatching her phone back in a haste.

"Isn't that...kinda...weird?"

"Why would it be weird?"

"Because I see that stupid grin that's now embedded-"

"Don't," Emma firmly interjects, shooting her friend a fiery death glare that should melt the words right off Ruby's tongue. "Don't even start."

"Okay, if this is all so normal then how come you haven't mentioned it?" Ruby snarks, bitterly folding her arms across her chest.

"Because we just started talking and decided that maybe having a pen-pal would be best for both of us."

"Why?" Her friend incredulously fires back.

"To break up the monotony of life." Emma takes a deep breath and finally offers Ruby her undivided attention. "We are both going through some stuff and have been feeling down...this is something that helps break up the day to day."

"I thought that's what Neal and I are for? We've been coming here almost every day to hang out after work."

"And I appreciate that, I do. It's just...different with Regina. She doesn't know me, so there isn't that underlying layer of constant worry like there is with my friends and family."

"Alright, I guess I get that," Ruby murmurs, still regarding Emma skeptically with her arms folded and a pitiful pout on her lips. "And I assume you haven't told your parents."

"There's nothing to tell."

"Right."

~~~~

Dear Ordinary New Yorker,

        The MET is cool and all, but I think we need to broaden your horizons. Maybe when some pop-up art shows happen, we could find one and get lost in the beauty of scrap metal. However, it seems to me like maybe you need to appreciate the beauty in something as simple as an apple tree. (See what I did there? You love apple pies, wink, wink.)

      I haven't started work again. I really want to, because I know I could use the distraction, but I had put my little business on hold and it's kind of hard jumping back in again. Most of my clients I would find at weddings or word of mouth from a friend and since I haven't worked in five months, my name has kind of disappeared I guess. I still have my website up and running, but it's been quiet lately.

    Secret number three, I lost my virginity in the back of my car when I was seventeen and it was very anticlimactic.

-Emma

Regina snorts, her coffee sputtering out of her mouth before she has any control over it, but thankfully not a soul is around to witness the debacle. "Dammit." Her sister would never let her live it down. She quickly stretches across her counter to retrieve a napkin and wipe up the mess she created at her kitchen island. And even her phone apparently. She rolls her eyes at herself.

She reads the email over again and decides now is the perfect opportunity to make her offer.

Dear Misguided Romancer of Cars,

      If you are insinuating that I need to visit an apple orchard to expand my knowledge on art, then you will be gravely disappointed when I inform you that I have been to one, on several occasions. Maybe you aren't the art enthusiast that I expected, hence the name change.

     I have a business proposition for you to busy your mind. I spoke with my niece, Robin (the one you briefly met) and she had mentioned wanting family pictures taken, now that Hunter is getting older. I know you are not keen on being in crowded places right now and she had said that she wants to do a shoot at my parents' farmhouse in New Jersey. If you are willing to endure the two hour travel, she would love to meet one day, preferably during the week. If you are interested, I could pass along your email, if not, it's quite alright, she has no problem searching for someone in Jersey. No pressure.

     Secret number three, I will see your first time in a car and raise you, losing my virginity in a barn, with a horse five feet away...judging me.

-Regina Mills

It isn't long before Regina receives an email with nothing more than one sentence asking if Emma can call her. At first, Regina feels a tightness in her chest that she can't really comprehend, but she doesn't have time to dissect that sensation and analyze it because her fingers are happily typing away her phone number and pressing send.

Her body breaks out in a cold sweat and again, she's finding the reflexive action rather troubling. There's this tiny whisper somewhere in the far back of her brain, stuffed away with mindless data like who her teachers were back in high school, it's there where a ghost is taunting her. Informing her that she only reacts this way to Emma because that woman possesses her husband's heart.

But then her phone rings, her eyes skating down to see the random number lighting up her screen and her body sags in what feels like relief, comfort.

"Hello?"

"Um...hi," comes the gentle and timid voice from the other end and persuades Regina's lips to blossom into a broad smile.

"How are you?"

"I'm good," the blonde sings in a teasing tone. "How are you?"

"Adequate," she deadpans, inspiring her new friend to bark out a wholesome laugh that coincidentally makes Regina's blood rush with a type of warmth she hasn't felt in three long months.

But it vanishes quickly because she's always so damn cold now.

"Are you always so proper?"

"Are you always so nosy?"

"Yes."

"Then yes," Regina smoothly says, earning herself another chuckle.

"Right. So, um...are you serious about your niece? She really wants family photos? Or are you just saying this because you feel bad for my plummeting career?"

A low, throaty chuckle escapes Regina's smiling mouth before she can stop herself. "No, dear, this isn't some pity party. She had mentioned it when I saw her at the Doughnut Plant. The woman who did her wedding photos as well as Hunter's newborn pictures has moved away. So, I spoke with her after you had mentioned you were a photographer."

"Oh, nice. Thank you. That's really cool of you. Um, so yeah...I would love to do it. I'm sure she would like to see my work first, I can text you my website. I don't want her to feel obligated, so I want her to look at my stuff first, you know?"

"Understandable." And then there's a heavy pause and Regina feels like Emma is holding her breath as much as she is, but she hasn't a clue as to why they are both being so damn foolish.

"Great!" And Regina distinctly hears a door clicking shut from the other end of the line. "So," and the blonde drags out the small word for as long as her lungs can possibly manage. "How has your day been going?"

Regina breathes out a small laugh through her nose because she was expecting so much more from the build up. It was very anticlimactic.

"Pretty well, actually," she hums, sliding off her stool to sweep across her kitchen and refill her now cold coffee. "I went to visit with my father today. We had a nice conversation."

"Oh good, I'm glad you're keeping busy. Did you have to drive to Jersey?"

"Yes, but the traffic wasn't too bad, I managed to escape before rush-hour."

"So, has your mom been making the commute every day? I don't know why I sound so surprise, my mom would do the same," she deadpans and Regina imagines the blonde rolling those big, green, doe eyes in annoyance.

"Yes, well, on Friday's she just stays through the weekend and then during the week she and my sister were trading off."

"Were? Does that mean they have finally moved out?"

"No," she disapprovingly growls, "not necessarily." Carefully she carries her mug to the living room where she can relax on the couch instead of the kitchen stool. "However, my mother has only been staying on the weekends now and my sister randomly pops in during the week."

"Hey, that sounds like a win to me," Emma cheerfully replies, before her tone drops to a hushed whisper. "I love my parents, I really do, but I need to find my own place again."

"How long have you been living with them?"

"It's officially been one year...oh god, I have to get out before it becomes permanent," Emma says, but her laugh is too bubbly to take seriously.

"Did you live in Manhattan as well before you moved in with your parents?" Regina inquires before turning on the electric fireplace and sipping her coffee to warm her bones.

She briefly wonders when the lonely house will start to warm up again?

"I actually lived in Boston, but Manhattan has one of the best transplant hospitals, so you know my parents wouldn't have it any other way."

"I bet," she whispers, her mind conjuring an image of the blonde. She only met the woman twice, but Emma's awkward mannerisms are imprinted in her mind and she can just picture her sitting with her legs folded, shrugging so nervously with a sheepish grin playing at the corner of her mouth. "I'm not sure if we discussed this before, but I don't recall you mentioning siblings."

"Oh no, just me. I-I think my parents had a lot on their plate with me and that's why they never tried for another. I was too much to handle with all my surgeries." 

"Have you asked them that? Maybe they were actually scared of having another baby with the same heart defects."

"Maybe?" And the uncertainty in Emma's voice forces Regina's heart to curl in on itself. "They always say, I'm all they need. I don't think that's true though, they were the fairytale story, high school sweethearts and all, but I really think they wanted more kids."

"If they really wanted to, they would have."

"Maybe. So, what about you? Just the one sister?" Emma quickly changes the subject and the lightness in her voice is back again, allowing Regina's heart to relax once more.

"Yes, her name is Zelena and she is the oldest," Regina mischievously acknowledges, encouraging her friend to chuckle into the line.

"Alright, alright, I'll remember that. So, since we are on the topic...how old are you?"

"I just turned forty in February." And Emma belts out an obnoxious laugh that contorts Regina's face into a scowl. "What is so funny, Miss Swan?" She bitterly investigates.

"You had to slide in there that you just turned forty, huh? Was it a rough number to hit?"

"Lets just say that it did partake in my self-evaluation that lead to the drastic change in my life."

"Are you referring to selling your company?" Emma asks and she sounds so much younger...well, Regina has yet to learn her age.

"Yes. Now, since you brought it up, it's only fair that you divulge on your age."

"I'm thirty, and I'll even tell you I was born October twenty-third since you gave away your month," Emma playfully teases.

"Ah, a Scorpio and I'm an Aquarius. We will never be compatible, we are both too strong-willed," Regina deadpans, but she's certain she can hear Emma's lips cracking into a smile.

"Or, we are so strong-willed that we will never give up on each other."

Regina's teasing smirk blooms into a full, beautiful smile. She reaches for the remote to her fireplace and turns it off before she snuggles into her couch and proceeds with her easy conversation with Emma Swan.

And for the first time in three months, she's warm all over.

 

Chapter Text


Two weeks. That's fourteen days gone in the blink of an eye and not one has left without Regina Mills' presence. Every day Emma and Regina spend their hours constantly texting one another. And yes, Emma has sat back and wondered how this became such a frequent thing because really, she doesn't even text Ruby this much. It's just that her conversations with Regina flow so easily and most days, the topics dribble into the next day. It's not like they are texting each other good night every evening...okay, maybe on occasion that happens. And maybe they do say good morning every day, but it's proper etiquette.

That's what Emma keeps telling herself at least.

Anyways, two weeks of nonsense babbles, discussing their routine days and Emma sending lots of gifs while Regina sends lots of the same emoji rolling their eyes. And Emma loves every minute of it. Her cheeks are now getting a better workout than the rest of her body from smiling so damn hard.

They are now approaching May and Emma is ecstatic to jump back into work. Even if it is only one shoot with Regina's niece, she's hoping this will open up the doors to some new clientele. According to Regina, Robin and her wife, Alice, own their own cupcake shop in SoHo that sees a lot of traffic. So, hopefully Emma's name will spread by word of mouth.

She prefers to take her pictures outside right after the sun rises, she knows that's the best lighting, but she couldn't ask the couple with their baby to meet at six in the morning. So, she told them to meet her at seven, so she had to be up extra early this morning. Earlier than she has been up in a very long time to make the drive to New Jersey on time.

And the entire drive, her stomach was parading around with a swarm of overly energetic butterflies that wouldn't quit. She really hasn't met the couple besides bumping into Robin for all of one whole minute and she just needs this shoot to be perfect. She needs her name out there again. She even came up with a cute idea to tie in with their business and hopefully those pictures will one day be decorating the shop's walls as an advertisement for Emma's business.

It's quarter to seven when her GPS informs her that she has arrived at her destination. "What?" She mumbles to herself, her brows pinching together as she leans across her center console and peers out the window. "This can't be right," she mutters, quickly fumbling for her phone and checking her address again, because she has found herself in front of a wine vineyard.

She opens the email she received from Robin and checks the address three times to make sure she didn't accidentally type something in wrong. She definitely didn't. Her eyes snap back up to assess the immaculate green grass that travels on for miles, surrounding a rustic building dressed with breathtaking vibrant flowers and shrubbery. And sure enough, she reads a sign that says, Mills Vineyard.

"A little heads up would have been nice, Mills," she mumbles under her breath.

Very slowly, she pulls her bug into a parking spot and tries not to dwell on the fact that these people clearly are wealthy and can make or break her career. She immediately shakes that thought away, steels her nerves and exits her car with all the confidence she can possibly muster up.

She takes a moment when she steps out into the crisp morning air, allowing her eyes to soak up the scenery that belongs in a painting. She smiles to herself, because she knows today is going to be a beautiful day by the deep color of blue sweeping across the sky. There's a sweet aroma lingering in the air, maybe from all the flowers that look like their pedals were painted with neon colors for how vibrant they are, or maybe it's the massive expanse of grapes dangling from the vines, or maybe it's the enormous apple tree in front of a stunning log cabin to the left, that's actually a mansion. Either way, Emma breathes it all in and reminds herself how wonderful it is to be alive.

There's an adorable giggle echoing through the morning air that catches Emma's attention. She cranes her neck, peeking over her shoulder just in time to witness Hunter wobbling toward her car, her blonde curls bouncing and her ocean blue eyes sparkling the whole way. Her two blonde mothers are in tow, hand in hand, grinning just as wide. Emma doesn't even think twice as she holds up her phone and captures the moment. She doesn't even care that it's not taken with her camera, she knows she can still make the picture beautiful with her talent in editing.

"Good morning," Robin calls, grinning from ear to ear and Emma immediately relaxes from her kind tone.

"Good morning!" She hollers back before she shoves her seat forward and gathers her bag of equipment.

She slings her bag over her shoulder and quickly scrubs her sweaty palms against her black jeans before she shakes her client's hands.

"Emma, this is my wife, Alice. Alice, this is Emma," Robin politely introduces them before she swoops up her toddler and attacks that chubby cheek with playful kisses.

Emma quickly thrusts her hand forward and Alice is already meeting her halfway. "Right, it's so lovely to finally meet you. You're the one that has Naveen's old ticker, right?"

Emma swallows thickly, her nerves bubbling right back up to the surface. That is until she hears Robin's carefree laugh behind Alice.

"Don't mind her, she has no filter," Robin announces through another chuckle that brushes away a fraction of Emma's nerves.

"Umm, yeah. That's me," she awkwardly answers, gripping the strap on her bag awfully tight while her left hand rubs away the slickness against her palm once again.

Then, there's an echo of a screen door snapping shut that steals Emma's attention away, dragging her eyes toward that massive log cabin once more. And then her heart does that flutter once again, like it's doing some kind of happy tap dance and she hasn't felt that strong of a flutter since she met Regina for the first time at Granny's. Suddenly, her mouth is filling with saliva and her palms are sweating even more than before and she wonders where all this moisture is coming from?

Regina slowly steps down the porch, a rather large cup of coffee cradled in her hands and a shy smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. She's wearing a rather large white, knit sweater that falls mid-thigh with a pair of black leggings and leather black boots that almost reach her knees. Emma quite literally stops breathing. She almost forgot how beautiful this woman is. Almost. Because Regina is the kind of beautiful that Emma swore only existed in movies, that kind of sexy that really should be illegal because it's just not fair that a human is that gorgeous.

"Good morning, Emma," Regina quietly greets her as she sashays through the glowing green grass and dammit, Emma wishes she could sneak a picture.

"Hey! I didn't know you would be here," and god she wishes her voice didn't have to crack every damn time she's nervous.

"Yes, well, we had a family dinner here last night and I needed to speak with my parents, so I decided to stay the night and not drive back so late," Regina explains, all while Emma notices her own cheeks are becoming awfully sore and maybe she hasn't been stretching them as much as she thought.

Yes, she has been grinning like a damn fool for the past two weeks from simply texting Regina, but now that she's here in person, Emma is sure there isn't a word to express how giddy her heart feels and how wide her grin is.

"Oh, cool. It's good to see you."

"It's nice to see you too," Regina says before moving slowly to sip her coffee and those beautiful chestnut eyes never leave Emma's sappy face over the rim. "Mind if I tag along and watch the Art Enthusiast, herself, at work?"

"Not at all," Emma muses, hitching her bag a little higher upon her shoulder. "Although, I believe you demoted me to Misguided Romancer of Cars," she teases, winning herself a throaty chuckle that does all kinds of weird things to her gut. "Maybe after this I'll win my title back?"

"Maybe," Regina purrs coyly.

All while Robin and Alice observe silently with two matching grins and wide eyes twinkling with amusement.

~~~~~

Regina is perched on the thick wooden fence surrounding her parents' home, observing from afar as Emma adjusts and molds the family exactly how her mind imagines them. She inhales sharply, her eyes drifting across the acres of land and she tries to recall, but she doesn't exactly remember, the last time she allowed herself to be so carefree. When was the last time she climbed on this fence and just admired the vineyard?

She hasn't the slightest clue.

And it's all because her line of work was so hectic, so demanding, so damn draining that she became a different person entirely.

A rapid movement off in the distance steals her attention, her eyes immediately latching onto the new blonde, who is tossing her hair up into a ponytail in a haste. Her eyes roam over the woman once again, appreciating the black jeans that mold Emma's curves perfectly from how form fitting they are. But then her eyes sweep up to the suspenders and she swallows just as roughly as she did earlier that morning when she greeted Emma and discovered her ensemble.

A heat simmers low in her abdomen and she finds the sensation rather odd. Yes, she can appreciate a beautiful woman. She has never had a problem stating when a woman is beautiful in a movie, but this feels different and truthfully, it's throwing her off balance. She tilts her head to the side, assessing the woman again and she can't help but linger when those full blonde curls spill out of her ponytail and bounce over those suspenders.

And never has she ever noticed how sexy suspenders are on a woman...until now.

She ducks her head down, allowing her hair to fall and hide away the heat that sizzled in her gut and is now boiling and bubbling up to stain her cheeks. Yet, her eyes are intrigued, immediately peeking through her lashes to observe as Emma allows her camera to dangle around her neck.

Emma drops to her knees in the grass and carefully pulls out a container from her duffel bag. She slowly opens the box and offers a sneak peek to Hunter and the eighteen-month-old practically glows with excitement. Then there's this contagious giggle swimming through the warm morning air and it's definitely not the toddler's. It's an explosion of a hearty chuckle at first that quickly morphs into the type of giggle that makes it almost impossible to breathe.

And Regina doesn't recognize her own laugh anymore, but she is definitely joining in from afar.

Emma suddenly presses the tip of the green frosting against Hunter's nose and the baby grins even wider. Alice and Robin are behind Emma, watching intently as the photographer places the cupcake in Hunter's chubby hands. Very slowly, Emma scoots back and quickly snaps a picture. She shields the little screen on the back of her camera and checks the picture before she's back to snapping a few more pictures.

Then, Emma settles on her stomach in the grass and allows Hunter to go crazy with her cupcake, rapidly snapping too many pictures to actually count. Emma must say something to Robin because she kneels beside Emma and says something that Regina can't hear, but she watches as Hunter reaches for her mother, a fistful of cupcake and Emma is capturing the moment, her camera tilting and ensuring every angle.

Then Emma is repositioning the family, Robin sitting with one leg propped up and Alice in front of her with their baby in her lap. Robin is leaning over Alice's shoulder and Hunter is trying to offer her mommy more of the messy treat and Emma is there, not missing a single moment. And the blonde is very much in her element.

It isn't much longer when they all stand and speak for a few minutes while Hunter finishes her treat. Emma shakes Robin's hand, then packs away all her equipment. She slings her bag over her shoulder and struts confidently to where Regina is still admiring her. Regina vaguely notices that Robin is leading her family back inside because those damn suspenders have stolen her attention again.

"Hey," Emma starts off.

"Hey." And Regina isn't quite sure why, but her fingers are curling abnormally tight into the wood holding her up.

"Do you think I won the Art Enthusiast title back?" Her friend muses, offering this lopsided grin that creates an adorable dimple in her cheek.

"I don't know," she drawls slowly, hopping down from the fence. "I need to see the final product before I promise anything," she teases, earning herself a pout that should be illegal from how cute it is. "Don't pout, dear," she scolds, "you're an adult."

"Eh," Emma wobbles her head from left to right. "I wouldn't go that far." Regina rolls her eyes, dipping her head low to hide the smile that's trying to steal away her facial expression of impassive. "You know, a heads up about your parents owning a vineyard would have been nice."

"I didn't think it was of importance," she indifferently replies, shrugging her shoulders carelessly.

"This place is beautiful by the way."

Regina finally glances back up to observe the blonde scanning the acres. "Are you in a rush to get back home?" She finds her mouth blurting out before her brain can decide what is appropriate for their new friendship.

"No, not at all," Emma declares, her adorable smile spreading further into her cheeks.

"Would you like a tour?"

"Yeah, that would be great." And then this woman shoves her hands into her front pockets, her shoulders rising excitedly while she sports the goofiest grin ever and Regina feels that warmth that she has been longing for, all over again.

"We can place your bag inside and then I will show you around."

"Great!"

Regina peeks through her lashes to find the woman beaming at her, so she offers a small smile, tucks a piece of hair behind her ear and leads the way back to her parents' home. Her mind is a mess though, cluttered by darkening thoughts of Naveen because her body is reacting to this blonde again in ways she thought would have subsided by now. She thought after speaking to Emma every day for two weeks, that she would no longer feel this tingling buzz in her blood. She thought the initial reaction was because this woman is connected to her husband and maybe...somehow, their hearts can still feel the connection.

But this feeling is still very much present and well, she's not sure how to navigate through these treacherous waters.

"So, how long have your parents owned this place?" Emma pipes up, probably to end the miserable silence between them.

"Thirty-five years."

"Oh wow. So, you grew up here?"

"Yes," Regina whispers as she opens the front screen door for Emma.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome," she curtly answers and closes the door behind them.

Then comes the boisterous clatter that usually fills this home. She tenses for a moment, slightly embarrassed because the only person she has ever invited into this home was Naveen. Her mother and sister are very...well, loud, there's no other way to describe them and Alice and Hunter fit right in with them and Robin usually follows whatever company she is with. Whereas Regina and her father have always been more reserved.

"Sorry, my family can be..."

"No need to apologize. It's better than my house. It's always," and Emma inhales sharply like she's almost embarrassed to reveal her truth as she carefully drops her bag. "So quiet. I wish I had siblings and other family members to fill the silence."

"Well, we shall see how you feel after you meet them."

"You want me to meet your parents?" Emma balks, her face blushing instantly, sending a rock of humiliation to weigh heavily upon Regina's gut.

"I apologize if that makes you uncomfortable. After Robin had asked to take pictures on the property, the entire family knew you were coming and were all very curious...considering."

"Oh, right. Yeah, of course."

"If you're not comfortable, we can-"

"No, no, it's fine. I'm fine. Parents love me," Emma beams like a small child and Regina has to roll her eyes to distract her mouth from curling into another smile.

"A bit too cocky before meeting mine," Regina deadpans, before stepping around the blonde and leading the way to the kitchen, where she can smell her mother's baking.

The air is warm and cozy, filled with the crisp aroma of apples, mixed with the tangy spice of cinnamon. It's home and her body instantly relaxes from the familiarity of it all, but her mind is whispering, reminding her that it's been a decade since she stopped visiting frequently. However, she's realizing that in the past month, she hasn't been able to stay away.

The moment she crosses the threshold to the kitchen, every sound vanishes from existence and she's sure every single person can hear how hard her heart is hammering.

She clears her throat, trying to ignore the way Emma is fidgeting beside her until she shoves her hands into her back pockets. "Everyone," she acknowledges, all eyes on her already, "this is Emma Swan. Emma, you know Robin and Alice. That's my sister, Zelena," Regina introduces, pointing to the redhead who is sitting at the kitchen table with her family, wickedly smirking at Emma. "And that's my mother, Cora and my father, Henry," she says, gesturing toward the couple busy at the counter with baking an apple pie.

"Hi," is what squeaks out of Emma's obvious dry throat. She produces an audible gulp before she is quickly rushing forward to Henry first, taking Regina by utter surprise. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Mills," and this time she sounds more confident and in control of her mouth. She politely extends her hand and Regina's father doesn't even hesitate to take it. "Your vineyard is beautiful, well, what I've seen so far. Regina is about to give me a tour."

Henry nods politely as stoic as ever. "It's nice to meet you, dear," he softly murmurs as Emma's hand slips away to find Cora's instead.

Cora quickly wipes her hands on her apron and accepts the gesture as well. "Nice to meet you," Cora coldly answers, forcing Regina's spine to straighten because she knows her mother well enough to know she is always very short and snippy when meeting new people. The woman is always standing on guard to protect her family from riff-raff that doesn't have her family's best interest at heart. "I understand that you are the donor recipient, you have my son-in-law's heart, correct?"

And everyone in the damn room knows this, but obviously her mother needs to make a show of it, make a point of something Regina is clueless to.

"Yes, I do. I'm really sorry for everyone's loss-"

"Emma," Regina quickly interrupts, stealing the blonde's attention and persuading panicked green eyes to meet her gaze. "Please, stop apologizing."

"Right."

And then the room is blanketed by that awful silence all over again. It's so painfully quiet that Regina is sure everyone could hear an ant crawl across the damn floor.

"I heard you're funny," Zelena cheekily chimes in. "Tell us a joke."

"I'm...what?" Emma stammers, her cheeks blushing profusely and Regina finds the stain quite endearing on the younger woman. "I'm not funny at all. Regina's the funny one," she comments, inspiring every set of eyes to jump toward Regina, who is still lingering in the doorway.

"Regina?" Zelena quacks, an amused chuckle bouncing off the walls and assaulting everyone's ears. "She lost her sense of humor sometime in high school, haven't seen that thing since," she cackles, cranking up the heat in Regina's system and causing her blood to boil.

"Oh, do shut up," Regina scoffs, rolling her eyes before latching onto Emma's amused gaze. "I believe this ends the tour of meeting my dysfunctional family."

"M'kay," Emma murmurs, rushing back to Regina's side. "It was really nice meeting you all."

"You too!" Zelena over-enthusiastically cheers while Regina's parents regard the new comer intently.

Regina spins around on her heels and in a haste rushes out the door with Emma trailing behind in her footsteps. The very second they are out onto the front porch and away from prying ears, Regina releases the breath she was holding the entire time.

"I'm sorry about them. My mother is always cold with everyone she meets."

"Regina, it's fine. Really. I'm not even worried about her, it's your dad. He's got that whole strong and silent type thing going on and it's the quiet ones you gotta watch out for. He's probably already having a background check done on me, huh?" Emma playfully teases, easing the worries from Regina's tense shoulders.

She offers a small smile, so thankful that her family didn't scare the woman away. "Most likely," she muses, persuading the blonde's smile to stretch even further into her cheeks. "How about that tour?"

"Sounds great!" Regina nods and leads the way, around the wrap around porch, toward the back where perfectly aligned rows of vines are stretching as far as the eye can see. Emma quickly pipes up though to fill the silence between them. "So, your sister is a redhead."

Regina's face instantly scrunches into bewilderment. "What an odd thing to say."

"Oh, it's just that you have such dark hair and dark eyes and it's hard not to notice how much you resemble your parents. Your sister has really bright blue eyes and red hair, I was just wondering where she gets it from," Emma casually explains, shrugging so innocently.

"Her father."

"Wait, what? Zelena isn't your real sister?"

"Of course she's my real sister," she quickly defends, provoking Emma's mouth to open to further explain, but Regina proceeds. "Biologically, Zelena has a different father, but to us, that doesn't mean a thing. We were raised together."

"I didn't mean anything by it. I'm sorry, I was just curious."

"There's no need to apologize," Regina flippantly says as they continue down the path toward the vines, both gazing down at their feet awkwardly. "My father raised Zelena, in fact, they only told her the truth when she was older and made the same connection you did."

Emma nods along as they step onto a dirt path between the most beautiful and vibrant vines filled with grapes that are quite small right now. Automatically, their feet slow down to admire the beauty of it all.

"Has Zelena ever met her father?" Emma curiously asks, her fingers reaching out to touch before she stops and flicks her attention to Regina for permission.

Regina smiles softly and plucks a grape right off the vine before popping it into her mouth with a mischievous little grin that encourages Emma to do the same. And this woman's face contorts into the cutest grimace that coaxes a small chuckle to escape Regina. To her credit, Emma tries to be discreet as she scowls and pulls the seeds from her mouth.

"The grapes won't be ready until August to be harvested for the wine," she explains before answering Emma's previous question. "And no, Zelena has never met the man. Apparently, my mother was casually dating my father after her boyfriend, Jonathon, had dumped her, again. She had found out she was pregnant and tried to break things off with my father, knowing they had never been intimate and it was Jonathon's baby. However, the hopeless romantic that my father is, was already in love with my mother and didn't give a damn about whose DNA her baby had. He has raised Zelena since birth, she knows no other father."

"Your dad sounds like a pretty amazing man."

"He's spectacular. Yes, he's reserved, but he has the biggest heart."

"Hmmm...must run in the family," Emma cheekily replies, grinning wildly and Regina instantly feels her cheeks warming, so she drops her gaze back to the comfort of the ground. "So, did you have to pluck these as a chore when you were a kid?" She questions, stopping in the middle to inspect the bunches of grapes dangling before them.

"Technically, we had employees that did that, but that didn't stop our family from coming out to do some of the labor at times."

"This place is gorgeous and huge! I've always been a city girl, but I'm kinda jealous. I bet this place was so much fun to run around and explore as a kid. I bet back then, everything seemed enormous," Emma wistfully rambles while Regina observes her closely, somewhat in awe by the way this blonde finds beauty in the simplest of things, because her nose was always too busy, stuck in a book to appreciate such things.

"Sometimes," Regina admits as they step out of the vines and near the back of their property where her favorite place as a child comes into view. "Most times people come here for a small getaway and stay through the weekend at the hotel, so we weren't really allowed to explore the property too much when guests were here. Except for this spot, this was just for our family," Regina explains, nodding up head.

Emma beams beside her. "Is this thee barn where that mean horse judged you?" And she manages to glue the sentence together without laughing, but Regina chuckles softly and nods along.

"Yes, this is where all the magic happened," she deadpans, guiding her new friend into the barn.

"I've never been in a barn before."

"What?" And Regina is sure her face is expressing just how shocked she truly is by the confession.

"Like I said, city girl. And really, you think my parents would ever put me on some big, smelly, dirty, wild animal and risk damaging me even further?" She scoffs, but there's amusement dancing around in her tone.

"If Rocinante were still alive he would be very offended by your choice of words."

"Roc-who?" Emma squawks, snapping her neck to meet Regina's eyes, but unexpectedly, that is not where her eyes land.

Regina's entire body rushes with a fiery wave when she notices Emma's eyes on her lips, but she tells herself that the woman is simply observing to catch the name better. "Rocinante," she repeats. "He was our family horse when I was a child. He was so gentle and so loving."

"Was he the bastard who judged you?" Emma teases.

"To be fair, he watched me grow up and was not ready to witness such an act," Regina playfully muses right back.

"Ah," Emma nods along. "This barn is cute, I like how it's not massive like everything else on this property." Regina nods, her eyes sweeping across the lonely barn because after Rocinante passed, they never found another horse and this barn has been very...empty. "So, how was losing your virginity on a pile of hay?"

"Probably as thrilling as losing it shoved in the back seat of a tiny bug."

Emma snorts, those dazzling green eyes glistening with mirth. "Yeah, it was pretty awful. I think I was holding my breath the whole time...which was all of three pumps before he exploded. Good times."

Regina really tries not to bark out an unladylike laugh, and in the process of holding the chuckle in, she practically snorts, somewhere in the back of her throat.

"Don't even act like yours lasted longer," Emma chuckles, her foot coming up to lean back against the wooden planks that once was Rocinante's home.

"The only reason it may have, was because he kept stopping between each thrust to make sure I was okay."

"Awe, at least he was a gentleman about it." Emma tucks her thumbs into the front pockets of her jeans and smirks. "Mine flopped around like a dead fish."

And of course, Regina comprehends the joke, her mouth softly chuckling along with her friend, but her eyes are distracted by how gorgeous this woman truly is with her golden curls and those ridiculously attractive suspenders. There's something in her demeanor, the way she carries herself that makes her all the more appealing. And for a split second, Regina panics, because she hasn't felt this comfortable with another human, outside of her family, since Naveen.

"Uh, Regina...you okay?" Emma whispers, kicking off the stable and clutching onto Regina's bicep to steal her attention back.

She's mortified for a moment, she can only imagine how petrified her face must have appeared to encourage Emma to comfort her. However, she has learned how to mask her emotions in public, so she quickly clears her throat and plasters on the expression of indifference.

"Of course, I'm fine," she vacantly replies, faking a smile, but by Emma's frown, she's assuming this woman can tell she's lying. "Come along, I was saving the best for last."

"Regina, I-"

"I'm fine," she coldly cuts the blonde off, hastily extracting herself from the woman's firm grasp and strutting right out of the barn without waiting for Emma.

She rolls her eyes at herself, because in her typical Regina fashion, she pushed this woman away. She always pushes people away, it's something she's been doing for many, many years. And now, it's left an awful funk in the air as they trudge back through the vineyard, Emma sort of hanging behind her. And she knows she needs to fix it.

"Emma, I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you like that," she barely whispers the words, peeking through her eyelashes to gauge Emma's reaction.

"Hey, I get it. I'm not sure what I said back there, but I know you're still healing and I didn't mean to make you upset."

"No, no. You didn't say anything at all. But you are right. I'm still grieving and healing and...I'm not very good at the whole friend thing. I've already confessed that I never had any true friends, so my first instinct is to push people away."

Emma abruptly stops, but Regina can't stand to see sympathy in her eyes, so she keeps trekking on, that is until she feels Emma's warm fingers wrapping around her elbow and tugging her back. She swallows thickly.

"You don't have to apologize to me for your feelings. You're still hurt and trying to grieve and cope with this new normal for you. You are allowed to feel however you do. I'm not going to judge you or lash out because you are triggered by something. I'm just hoping you don't keep pushing me away, because I just...wanna be your friend," she sheepishly confesses and damn this woman for doing that adorable expression; where she scrunches up her nose and shrugs so innocently.

Regina instantly melts from the gesture.

"I know. It's just...after his passing, I have been shoving people away, more than ever, especially with my family," Regina whispers, and she really wishes her eyes didn't sting right now from the unexpected tears.

"Because you think it will create a barrier to protect yourself if anything should ever happen to them?"

"Yes," she breathes, so thankful that someone understands where her mindset is at after everything.

"It's okay, I get that." And Emma reaches between them and gently wipes away a single tear that escaped without Regina's consent. She's mortified, because she never cries in front of strangers, except this one seems to bring it out of her. So, she casts her eyes down and avoids the woman's pity at all cost. "But I also know, that pushing people away won't stop the ache if they should ever leave. It's very lonely and in the end you'll regret not spending as much time as you could with them."

Regina inhales sharply, allowing the words to wash over her and she knows Emma is right. She's so thankful that she did allow Naveen in and they had so many wonderful moments together that she can now look back on and cherish. If she would have pushed him away like she did with everyone else, then she wouldn't have anything to remember him by.

She carefully picks up her head to find those sparkling eyes smiling back at her and there is not one ounce of sympathy. Simply understanding in them.

"I will actively work on not shoving you away," Regina says, inspiring the most playful and adorable laughter to tumble out of Emma's pretty pink lips.

"That's a start. And I will actively stay by your side and be the best friend you have ever had."

Regina rolls her eyes at the woman's childish ways and takes the lead toward the destination she had in mind. Which is only another three feet before they are under her apple tree.

"I wish they were ready, but that won't happen until September," Regina absentmindedly mumbles as she peers up at the enormous tree swallowing them whole.

"Well, it seems to me like we have to plan for another trip in September, so I can try everything again and really judge this place."

"I think we can manage that," Regina coyly says before Emma plops down in the green grass and pats the spot beside her. "What are you doing?"

"Admiring the beauty. Take a minute, Regina, relax," she whispers so softly that Regina has no other choice but to settle down beside the woman.

"Now, what?"

"Now, we kick off our shoes, absorb the warm air and the gentle breeze, admire how pretty the sky is today and just talk."

"Seriously?" Regina incredulously balks, craning her neck to blink curiously at the woman.

And it's all because it has been over a decade where she kicked her shoes off outside and actually sat back and allowed the world to spin around her.

"Yes," Emma casually says, toeing off her black ankle boots while Regina simply blinks at her in surprise. "Oh come on," she huffs, reaching for the zipper near Regina's knees from her boots.

"What are you doing?" She squeaks, instinctively kicking her feet away from the woman's vicinity.

"Taking off your boots. Just relax," Emma exasperates as Regina jerks away again. "Will you stop being so damn difficult?" And Regina's expecting a harsh tone, but this silly blonde is starting to giggle as she wrestles against Regina's legs.

"I don't know how," Regina honestly responds, persuading Emma to belt out the most carefree chuckle.

"I see that." Emma quickly pins Regina's legs into place before she pins Regina with a stern look. "Just let me take care of you for one minute and then you can go back to being a stubborn brat."

"Ugh," Regina scoffs, but she does stop squirming and Emma flashes a smirk of triumph before she quickly peels away Regina's boots.

"There," the blonde sighs, tossing the leather boots recklessly. "Was that so bad?" She taunts, leaning back against the apple tree's thick trunk.

"Horrendous."

They both fall silent for a moment, admiring everything that Emma listed off previously; from the bright blue sky, to the gentle breeze coaxing the blades of green grass to dance near their feet. Unexpectedly, Emma pulls out her phone, encouraging Regina's eyes to slide to her right to discover the woman's camera open.

"What are you doing?" Regina softly questions as Emma slouches down and adjusts her phone to the perfect angle.

"Capturing the moment when we both had a minute to leave behind our baggage and just relax," she gently says.

And Regina leans a little closer to the warmth emitting from the younger woman, but it's strictly to observe their socked feet in the camera against a backdrop of blue sky and vibrant green grass with the rows of vines swaying in the spring breeze and it's something this simple that steals Regina's breath away.

And neither one notice Regina's family observing intently from the window.

 

Chapter Text


"And my girl is back!!!"

Emma cannot contain the giddy grin taking over her face as she reads the comment again on Instagram from Ruby. It's been a solid year since the last time she had posted anything, but she found some motivation on her little trip to Jersey and she posted the picture of Regina's feet beside hers, against the backdrop of the vineyard. Everyone and their mother has commented on the picture, so overjoyed to see her doing well and happy again.

Is she happy again?

She smirks to herself. She's getting there, that's for sure. She folds her legs on the old chair in front of her childhood desk and opens the file once again. She nibbles on her thumbnail while her right hand starts clicking away on the mouse, diving right back into editing the photos for Robin and Alice.

"Emma?" Her mother's voice lightly dances through the late afternoon air and this time, Emma doesn't scowl. "Hey," she whispers, tentatively peeking her head inside to find Emma laser focused on the computer in front of her.

"Hey," she chirps mindlessly around her thumb.

"You've been at that all day..." she mutters, stepping into the room before she breathes out a gasp. "Oh my, that one is stunning. That baby is beautiful," she gushes, bending down to catch a better glimpse over Emma's shoulder.

"I know, right? She's such a cutie. And so sweet. I couldn't believe how easy going she was, kid never cried or grew tired."

"Those eyes are so blue."

"Yeah, both her mothers have really pretty eyes," Emma comments, her mouse practically moving all on its own from the familiarity of it all. And it's so good to be working again.

"So, you came home last night rather late and you have been locked away all day working on this. You haven't told me about the job," Mary Margret gently says and Emma just knows her mother is holding her breath, hoping they can sit back and simply talk, like they used to.

Emma makes a few more adjustments before she spins her chair around to meet her mother's hopeful gaze.

"It was really nice."

"Nice?" Mary Margret muses, perching herself at the edge of Emma's bed with a coy smile sliding into place.

"Yeah, nice," she breathes out, failing miserably to suppress the small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "It wasn't just some small farm, it was a freaking wine vineyard. Regina's parents owning a wine vineyard just slipped her mind," Emma proceeds through a small chuckle that has her mother visibly relaxing and smiling along.

"Ohhh, I bet it was a breath of fresh air outside of the city. I did see the picture you posted."

Emma can sense the insinuation in her tone and she knows her mom well enough to know she is fishing for more information.

"That wasn't even the half of it. You couldn't even see the gorgeous little hotel on the property for weekend getaways and you definitely couldn't see the enormous apple tree that we were leaning against."

"You and Regina," Mary Margret plainly says, but again, Emma knows she is prompting for further discussion.

"Yeah," she casually replies, shrugging one shoulder. "She gave me a tour and then we ate a small lunch at the hotel. She wouldn't let me try the wine though, apparently she did her research and reminded me that I needed to wait six months," she scoffs, but her mouth is a traitor, smirking at the memory and remembering how her heart fluttered from the concern.

Much like now, that damn organ is dancing around with far too much pep reminiscing about the brunette.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that she has your best interest at heart. I think she and I would get along very well," her mom smugly states.

"Probably, but we made a plan to go back in September, she told me the grapes and apple tree will be ripe then and we can pick them."

"Ah, so...you're going to see the woman...again?" And to Mary Margret's credit, she is trying to appear indifferent, but Emma has lived inside this woman and has spent thirty years with her.

"Why are you acting weird about it?"

"I'm not-"

"Yes, you are," she sighs heavily, folding her arms across her chest and leaning back against her chair. "But why?"

"Honey, I just want to make sure that you are careful. You both have been through a lot and I hope there isn't a misunderstanding on what either of you want out of this friendship." Emma squints at her mom, assessing her closely and convincing the woman to proceed. "Look, you are constantly talking to each other, you spend all day texting the woman. You don't even speak to Ruby that much."

"I know, it's...new and it really breaks up the day. I enjoy confiding in someone who doesn't know me so well. She can have an objective opinion, you know?"

"And I understand that, I do."

"But..."

"But the woman lost her husband and I hope she isn't blurring the lines. I hope she sees you and not just the woman who holds her husband's heart."

"It's not like that," she instantly defends, spinning back around on her chair to dive into her work once again and end the subject that is sending unnerving shivers down her spine. "We are just two people who have something to bond over and actually enjoy each other's company. That's it," she states with finality, slamming the door shut on their conversation.

"Alright, well, then I'm glad you have found a new friend." And with that, Mary Margret stands from the bed and heads for the door, but Emma can feel the way her mom is holding her breath as she pauses near the doorway. "I bumped into Mrs. Lee today," Emma inhales sharply, her eyes fluttering closed, "I told her about the transplant."

Emma runs her fingers through her hair, scratching her scalp along the way because this is the last topic she wants to unbury at the moment.

"I'm sure she was as stoic as ever," she grumbles under her breath. "I'm going to work on this a little bit more and then I'll come down for dinner, sound good?"

Her mother brightens up as if someone just plugged her in. "Oh good, I will see you soon," she cheers before she softly closes the door to allow Emma some privacy.

Emma's eyes slide back to her phone beside her laptop and she has always been a curious one, so she snatches up the device and opens her Instagram. She quickly scrolls through her notifications, pausing when she locates a comment she knew would be there after her mom's confession.

"Beautiful as always. Hopefully you will grace us with more of your stunning work again real soon!"

She anxiously nibbles on her bottom lip, contemplating if she should reply, but she quickly exits the app and redirects her attention back to her work.

~~~~~

Blinding white lights engulf her, but she's clueless as to where she could possibly be. She glances from left to right for a hint as to where she is, but there is nothing but a blank canvas of pure white. It feels empty, cold, hollow and she's sure if she opens her mouth to scream, her voice would echo down the halls of nothing.

She swallows thickly, an unnerving sensation tickling up her spine and warning her that something isn't right. She summons the courage, despite her inner panic and calls out to anyone, but not a sound escapes her. Her heart hammers in fear as she opens her mouth and attempts to scream again, but it's futile, her vocal cords are not cooperating.

The sheer panic rises from within and she feels this alarming need to escape this endless white tunnel. So, she runs. She swings her arms and pleads with her heavy legs to run as fast as humanly possible, but something is off. She isn't sure if her body is immobile and she's not moving a single muscle or if she is running, but the infinity of whiteness is portraying the illusion of running in place.

She stops, attempting to gasp for a clean breath of fresh air as she takes a quick scan of her surroundings once again. Everything is still bright white and for some strange reason, she feels like she is in a waiting room. Waiting for what? She hasn't a clue, but she feels like she is stuck in this place, waiting.

She feels a gentle touch against her hand and she is sure she can hear her sister's soft whimpers. She whips her head from left to right, hoping, praying that Zelena is near, but again, she is swallowed whole by the emptiness of white. She tells her body to move, to jerk awake, anything to end this miserable prison.

One.

Two.

Three.

Wake up!

"Please Regina, wake up," she hears the faint whisper of her sister's voice again. "Maybe you don't want to wake up..." the words are fading away now...

"Zelena!" Regina shouts as her body flings forward, one hand clenching the back of the couch and the other splaying across her chest to keep her pounding heart from escaping.

"Regina? What's wrong? Another nightmare?" Her sister worriedly inquires, already jumping up from her side of the couch to rush to Regina's side.

But Regina is too busy focusing on breathing to answer. She presses her hand more firmly against her raging heart and tries to breathe through the moment, but that nightmare is lingering, haunting her soul. Her sister carefully places her hand against her back and slowly rubs away the fear clinging to her skin. She's drenched in a cold sweat, even as she runs her fingers through her hair she can feel how damp her wild locks are.

And she isn't sure which nightmare is worse. The one that plays on repeat of the accident, just small fragments and clues as to what occurred or this one, where she feels like she's trapped in some white waiting room between worlds and she feels like a prisoner in her own body.

"Regina, are you ready to talk about these nightmares?" Zelena quietly questions, still soothing the tremors wracking Regina's body.

"I'm fine," she defends, but her voice is hoarse, barely audible and she isn't fooling anyone.

"You can't even take a nap on the couch for twenty minutes without something tormenting you in your sleep."

"I know," she whispers, anxiously combing her fingers through her wet hair again.

"Okay, then you need to do something about it," her sister sternly urges.

She inhales sharply, straightens her posture and finally meets her sister's concerned gaze. "This is all normal, I'm still grieving and it's expected that I have nightmares of the accident and it's even normal that I have frightening dreams regarding the coma. I'm healing. They will eventually subside," she defiantly claims, but her sister is frowning back at her, not trusting a single word.

"You're having nightmares about the coma?"

Regina shakes her head, not wanting to reveal her truth, because she still feels this need to keep everyone she loves so dearly, further than arm's reach.

"I don't know what they are," she dismissively says, abruptly standing up from the couch to wedge some distance between them.

"Please, 'Gina, this isn't healthy," her sister urgently pleads and it's been so long since Regina has heard her older sister use that nickname. She feels like curling up into a ball and crying her eyes out. "You need to see someone before you have a mental breakdown."

"That won't happen," she coldly growls, provoking Zelena to stand to her fullest height to assert her power.

"You don't know that. There is only so much a person can take mentally before they crack," Zelena declares, her voice booming from the agitation festering inside, but Regina stands her ground. As stubborn as ever. "I'm begging you, please, go see someone, let all these feelings out before you explode because you sure as hell aren't opening up to me or mom and dad."

"Fine," Regina lowly growls under her breath. "I'll find someone. Now, will you please back off?"

"Thank you," Zelena calmly says as Regina pivots and stomps away to hide in her room, just like she always does when she wants to keep a safe distance from the women in her family.

She hears her sister's sigh of disapproval, but she keeps stomping up the stairs until she is hidden from the world in the safety of her bedroom. That nightmare is still clinging to her back, whispering horrific fears about her family and causing her to shiver violently.

Truthfully, she's terrified to fall asleep anymore. She spends most of her nights fighting sleep and busying herself with texting Emma to keep herself awake. And she knows after that last nightmare, she definitely wants to avoid sleeping tonight in case she falls back into that white hole of a prison.

She shivers again.

She needs to wash away the haunting memories, so she decides an extra hot shower will do the trick. She starts slowly peeling away her clothes, that are damp from the fears pouring out of her through the twenty minute nap. Her movements feel sluggish and she knows she's utterly exhausted and probably should see someone, but she's petrified that discussing everything will open up the flood gates and she will drown in even more haunting memories.

She yanks on the handle to the shower and turns it extra hot to burn away the icky feeling crawling all over her flesh. That's the moment she hears her phone buzzing on her nightstand. So, she allows the water to warm up while she takes a moment to check her phone because she has a hunch it's Emma.

"Okay, I don't normally send out sneak peeks until I'm almost done, but look how adorable this picture is!"

And sure enough the most stunning picture is sent seconds later of Hunter wobbling down the hill in front of her parents' cabin, with Alice and Robin holding hands behind her, both beaming with such pride.

"And I took that pic with my phone!"

Regina softly chuckles at the message, her shower long forgotten about as she plops down at the edge of her bed and just smiles. A genuine smile at the enthusiasm oozing from her new friend.

"Very impressive. One step closer toward the title of Art Enthusiast."

"Just wait, I've been working like crazy to edit these pictures because I am so freaking excited to show your niece. They are so adorable!"

Regina grins wildly at her phone from how ecstatic Emma sounds, but also, because she did that. She set up the photo shoot and she is the reason for Emma's excitement toward her work once again. And just like that, her heart swells with pride.

"I cannot wait to see the finished product. I think Robin and Alice will have to do some redecorating in their little shop. I have a feeling those pictures deserve to be hanging on the walls."

"Well, that was my plan! Anyways, how are you today?"

"I'm fine," and that's all she sends because her mind is stressing about what she really wants to send.

Subconsciously, her eyes trail toward the urn still resting on Naveen's nightstand. She has yet to move his ashes. She's not sure she ever will, because most days when she's confused, she turns to him, hoping he will give her the strength to carry on.

"Just fine...ut-oh, what's wrong?"

She reads Emma's message and sighs heavily, internally debating with herself. She needs a distraction from tonight and the thought of sleeping, and she has come up with a way to keep her mind busy for one night. Actually, she's been thinking about it for a week now. And this idea may or may not have stemmed from the urge to see the playful blonde once again after their trip in Jersey seven days ago.

She groans to herself, treads her fingers through her unruly locks, reminding her that her shower is still running, and decides to just present the idea. Emma could always decline, but she knows in her gut that this woman wouldn't pass up the opportunity.

"Oh nothing, just a stressful day. However, I was thinking about how you said you still feel uncomfortable in crowded places."

"I really think my mom is just getting inside my head and making me paranoid, but yeah, I would like to keep my distance right now."

"With that being said, and I know how much of a movie-fanatic you are, what about the drive-in?"

"That actually sounds pretty awesome! Do you want to come with me?"

Regina smirks at her phone, apparently she didn't even have to stress about inviting the woman because Emma took the lead without a moment of hesitation between texts.

"I think I can manage that. How about tonight? The Skyline Drive In is somewhat between us and I believe I read somewhere that they are playing some classics until summer officially starts."

"We really only need one car. How about I just pick you up and we can go together?"

And damn her heart for skipping a beat, but she does her best to ignore the flutter of excitement. Yet, her mind is still questioning the action, wondering if she still feels a connection with Naveen through Emma. She always hates thinking like that though, so she stops and really assesses the two.

Naveen was a bookworm, much like herself and Emma is the complete opposite, in love with nature and movies. Naveen hardly ever watched movies and he certainly wasn't the type to spend the afternoon simply sitting beneath an apple tree. She does find it rather odd that they both think she's funny, but that little detail is so minor, she skips right over it.

She nibbles on her bottom lip, her phone loosely resting in her hand and decides in that moment, Naveen and Emma have two very different personalities. They are not the same person whatsoever and she enjoys Emma's company; the woman that always inspires her frown to morph into a smile, the woman who challenges her to open up and be herself, the woman who is proving day after day what a great friend she truly is.

"I will see you tonight," Regina quickly types before she sets her phone down and heads to the shower to get ready for her evening.

 

Chapter Text



She initially didn't want to tell her parents where she was headed, but it was kind of hard reaching the door undetected when she had to pass through the living room where David and Mary Margret were cuddling and watching their evening shows together. So, she had mentioned the drive-in, which they immediately approved and thought was a fantastic idea for her to get out of the house, but she may have fibbed about who she was going with.

Ruby sort of slipped off her tongue reflexively.

There really isn't any reason as to why she can't meet a friend for a movie, but her mother has already been pressing the issue and searching around for more information regarding Regina. Really between her mother and Ruby, it's like she has a pack of wolves constantly sniffing around her for more information, ready to bite anyone who comes too close and could possibly be a threat. So, she decided to tell a white lie to skip over the interrogation this evening.

The entire drive to Brooklyn, she has been a buzzing ball of energy. Maybe it's the anticipation of doing something different and escaping the confines of her parents' home. Except, there is a little voice, whispering from the flutters of her heart that inform her that she's ecstatic to see Regina once again. She shuts that down quickly though and tells herself she really, really, loves Back To The Future, which the drive in is playing all three this evening. Which means she probably won't be getting home until close to four in the morning, but it's worth it. She needs a night out.

"Take the next right turn."

Her eyes flick down to her phone to check the GPS just before she follows the directions. Of course, someone as classy and sophisticated as Regina, she should have suspected her to be in the heart of Williamsburg, the trendiest place in Brooklyn. She quickly finds a spot in front of the most ritzy piece of architecture Emma has ever seen. The townhouse is one giant masterpiece of glass windows and she is already anxious to find out how classy, modern, and over the top Regina's decor will be.

She quickly exits her car, pockets her keys and jogs up to the building, pretending not to notice that this place is well over a million dollar home. She can only imagine how much Regina sold her law-firm for if that business was able to purchase a place like this.

She fiddles with her keys inside her hoodie while her other hand rings the doorbell. She doesn't know why this feels like a first date, which is absolutely absurd, they are just friends, but that's exactly how her nerves feel at the moment. She rapidly snaps her neck from left to right to loosen the tension forming and that's when the door swings open.

There goes her damn heart again, hopping around in her chest like a puppy that missed its owner all damn day while she was away at work. And she is convinced this heart remembers this woman's presence.

"Emma," and it's a teasing tone accompanied by a sly smirk and she's sure her heart is about to explode through her chest and leap for this gorgeous brunette with open arms.

"Hi."

"Come on in," Regina politely offers, stepping aside and granting Emma access. "I'm almost ready. I figured I could pack some healthy snacks for us while we watch the movies."

"Oh yeah? I packed some too. What do you got?"

And she's momentarily distracted as Regina pivots on the grey polished floorboards and sashays away toward another room. Maybe the sway in Regina's hips is the cause, but Emma's green eyes are studying the tight black jeans and the white button down blouse the brunette has chosen this evening. She looks stunning, that much is obvious, but Emma can't help but wonder why this woman chose to dress so...nice...for a drive-in movie nonetheless.

"...baby carrots and maybe a bag of skinny pop."

Emma blinks away her thoughts, that insist this woman thinks of this as some kind of date, just catching the tail-end of Regina's sentence. It's all ridiculous, she knows this, but who the hell dresses up to sit in a car?

"Sounds good," she chirps to sound like she was listening the entire time. "What's with the jeans?" She blurts out before she can convince her mouth to stay shut and mind its own business.

"I beg your pardon?" Regina blinks, her eyes trailing down to locate a stain that certainly is not there.

"Why are you wearing jeans to the drive-in?" And she really tries to suppress her smirk, but it's creeping along, digging deep into her cheek.

"I was unaware that there is a dress code for sitting in your car," Regina deadpans, inspiring a carefree chuckle to bubble right out of Emma's mouth.

"Well...there is. Go change into something more comfortable. We are going to be sitting in my car for like six hours," she chuckles, shaking her head in amusement.

"I'm fine in jeans," Regina insists, gathering her baggies full of snacks to place in a small travel bag.

"Alright, well then can you please change for my sake?" She whines, shoving her hands into the front pocket of her hoodie and shrugging so innocently. "You're all dressed up and I'm over here in sweats."

Regina stops her task, her eyes peeking out of the corner of those long lashes to inspect Emma's attire, like she hadn't even noticed before. Emma's entire body ignites with a sweltering heat from the intense gaze. She really hates being under someone's scrutiny, but under Regina's...every nerve and cell seems to short-circuit.

"You look...comfy."

Emma's head falls back, her cheeks tingling from the heat scorching her body due to the utter humiliation.

"Everyone wears pajamas to the drive-in, it's like an unspoken rule," she defends, but her voice is extra whiny and she cannot find the courage to meet her new friend's gaze.

"I wasn't aware," the brunette flippantly replies, lifting the bag to hook over her shoulder. "Truthfully, I have only been once."

"What?" She squawks like a damn pigeon begging for food.

Regina flashes the most adorable smirk before she breezes passed Emma and waltzes back toward the front door.

"To be fair, the last fifteen years of my life have been dedicated to building my career. I never had time."

"Alright, well, it's a rule. Go change," she urges, already stealing the bag from Regina's shoulder.

"I would never be caught in public in sweats," the woman scoffs, rolling those big brown eyes in annoyance, but Emma finds it quite endearing.

"What about yoga pants?" Regina's brows furrow to this like Emma suggested she jump off the Empire State Building. "Leggings?"

Regina's eyes roll once again and she breathes out an unhappy sigh, but she treks up the staircase, provoking a smile to bloom across Emma's face. One step in the right direction to loosening Regina up and allowing the woman to feel more comfortable and herself around Emma.

When Regina is out of sight, Emma takes a moment to scan the townhouse and it's exactly what she anticipated. Grey flooring, black and white accents and modern decor. Truthfully, the house looks like one of those homes on HGTV that was remodeled to flip and sell. It's that moment with the big reveal and it's very apparent that nobody has lived in the place just yet. She wonders how Regina manages to keep the home so immaculate?

"Better?"

Emma jumps at the sound of Regina's voice, craning her neck to watch as Regina flows down the staircase in black leggings and a big, cozy, red sweater.

"Perfect," Emma cheers, her face beaming without her mind ever knowing.

~~~~

It was only a ten minute drive from Regina's townhouse to the drive-in and Emma is still baffled that she hasn't gone more frequently since the close proximity. She parked as close as she was allowed for her vehicle type and immediately flipped the radio station to the one coordinated with the theater. She was beyond excited; her favorite thing, movies along with the safety and comfort of her own vehicle, not to mention a break from her parents.

"I haven't been to this drive-in before," Emma happily divulges, stretching across the car and invading Regina's personal space, so she can admire the Manhattan skyline. "The skyline lit up like that with the river in front, it's so beautiful," she gushes, practically lying across Regina's lap, unaware of the way the brunette is observing her closely...holding her breath. "Is this the drive-in you went to that one time?" She inquires, slowly sliding back into her seat.

When her eyes land upon Regina's face, she is sure the woman is blushing...or maybe she's just warm. Emma did crank up the heat, knowing it will cool down rather quickly in the next hour.

"Um," Regina clears her throat, "no. It was a place in Jersey."

"By your parents place?" Emma casually asks, already adjusting her seat back just the slightest to feel more relaxed before the movie starts.

"Yes."

Emma stops fidgeting with her seat and peeks up at Regina, finding the woman lost in thought while those warm eyes linger upon her.

"That's all you're giving me?" She playfully asks, leaning her head back against the worn leather with a crooked smile set into place. "You've been kinda quiet so far. Are you alright?"

This seems to snap Regina back to reality and away from whatever has been consuming her mind. "Yes, I'm fine. I'm sorry. I haven't thought about that time in my life in a long time."

"How far back are we going here?"

"Before Naveen. Back to the time in the barn."

Emma's eyebrows skyrocket from this new piece of information. "Naveen wasn't the guy in the barn?"

"No. I believe I mentioned that I didn't meet Naveen until college. I did love before him, well, looking back now I know it was only puppy love."

"Oh, yeah? Who was the guy?" Emma curiously asks, a small smile dancing around her lips because she finds this woman so fascinating and it makes her want to know everything there is to know about this beautiful human.

"His name was Daniel and he was one year older than I was in school. When he was sixteen he came to my parents vineyard and asked if he could work there on weekends. His mother was sick and his father was struggling, so my parents paid him rather well to help his family out."

"Awe, high school love."

"Yes, I fell head over heels for him and fast. I was so foolish and thought I would spend the rest of my life with him."

"Isn't that how it always goes?" Emma chuckles, her grin stretching deeper into her cheeks. "So, what happened?"

"We had a summer romance, spending most of our time riding my horse-"

"Rocinante?"

Regina's smirk blooms into a full-blown grin that steals Emma's breath away. Dear god, how can one person be so beautiful?

"Yes, Rocinante," she confirms and Emma swears this time the woman is blushing. "We went on a few dates, the drive-in being one of them, but we spent most of our time around my parents' farm. In late September, his mother had passed away and Daniel and his father had a very hard time coping. They ended up moving to Texas to be with family."

"Did he say goodbye? Did you ever hear from him again?" Emma eagerly asks, completely wrapped up in the story and enthralled by the way Regina tells it.

Regina chuckles softly, shaking those inky tresses from left to right from Emma's excitement. "He did say goodbye and we did keep in contact for a little bit, but life moved on and so did we. Last I heard, he's a straight up cowboy with his southern-bell wife and three adorable little girls."

"It's funny how life works out sometimes, isn't it?"

"Indeed," Regina murmurs, not able to tear her eyes away from the contagious smile Emma's face is sporting.

~~~~~

When the movie first started, both women quieted down and turned their attention toward the enormous screen. Emma was entranced by the movie, like she hadn't seen the hit eighties movie ever and Regina was just as intrigued because she really hadn't ever seen the movie. They watched the entire first film in silence, their hands moving to their own accord to share baby carrots and sliced apples thanks to Regina and grapes and rice cakes provided by Emma.

They didn't speak until the credits started rolling.

"I love these movies so much," Emma raves, popping another grape into her mouth and relishing in the way the juices dance upon her tongue.

"I actually enjoyed it."

Emma stops dead in her tracks from pulling out another grape. She cranes her neck slowly, her mouth hanging agape like a damn fool.

"Actually? Have you never seen Back To The Future before?" She gasps, personally offended by the atrocious confession.

"No," Regina nonchalantly answers, crushing Emma's movie heart.

"What? How?" She squeals, shifting in her seat to face Regina because this is a very serious matter, according to her. "It's like...one of the greatest classics of all time! I remember the first time my dad sat me down and we watched it, I was seven and I just remember feeling so much. I was so swept up that I felt like I was traveling with Marty. And then maybe I developed like the biggest crush ever on Michael J. Fox," she reveals, giggling at her own admission while Regina is still observing her closely, a small smirk trying to hide at the corner of her mouth.

And Emma really wishes she could dive into this woman's brain and find out what the hell she is over analyzing in there. Her face is always so impassive, but that little smirk does wonders to Emma's gut and she just wants to get to know her all the more.

"My family wasn't really into movies. My father has always been reserved and the only memory that sticks out about him, was how often he read. My whole family was always stuck in a book. Zelena not as much, I mean, she read, but she was always a little more concerned with social status and popularity in school."

"Ugh, you're breaking my heart here. Are we going to have to have a movie marathon?"

Regina chuckles, a low, deep, throaty laugh that persuades Emma's heart to tap dance all over again. Her new goal in life is to coax that beautiful sound from Regina's mouth as often as possible.

"I believe I do have some spare time now," Regina noncommittally states.

Emma scoots closer, lingering in the middle of the car, her temple resting against her seat as she stares at Regina. "First and foremost, A League of Their Own, seen it or adding it to our list?"

Regina's head tilts back as another amused chuckle rumbles in the back of her throat. Very slowly, or maybe Emma's mind is playing tricks on her, but Regina tentatively cranes her neck to meet Emma's sparkling green eyes. Then, she flashes, what Emma can only describe as a flirtatious smirk, her way.

"Add it to the list," she murmurs.

"Ugh, you're killing me here, Regina. How have you never seen that movie? Every time it comes on, I don't care what part it's at, I have to finish it."

"I think you underestimate how busy a lawyer's life is. My whole world was consumed by other people's lives."

"I know. I know. Okay, Forrest Gump?"

"Now that I have seen."

"You aren't just saying that are you? Don't you dare lie to me about Forrest and Jenny," Emma sternly says, provoking those sweet acoustics of laughter to sing through the chilly air once again.

"I promise you, I have seen it."

"Thank you sweet baby Jesus for small miracles."

"Speaking of small miracles," Regina slyly drawls at the end of her laughter. Emma's ears instantly perk up, her eyes darting to watch as Regina leans over and digs in her bag between her feet. When she pops back up, she runs her fingers through those dark, silky strands and Emma is convinced she's actually a model, not some stuffy lawyer. "It's about time you enjoy your miracle a little bit," she seductively whispers, forcing Emma's heart to stutter in her chest.

Is she flirting? Nah, she's just very friendly.

"What is it?" Emma mumbles, leaning closer to Regina's closed fist.

"Snickers," Regina happily says, and never has she sounded so young and innocent in all the time Emma has spoken to her.

She's not entirely sure why, but she feels a hot wetness pricking at her eyes.

"You brought me a Snickers?" Her voice croaks out, extra wet and obviously thick with emotions that she really wishes wouldn't pop up right now.

"I figured it would be fitting with the movie setting," Regina shyly whispers, extending her hand with the candy resting in her palm.

But the furthest thing from Emma's mind right now is having her first taste of a Snickers. She's too focused on this gorgeous woman and how she thought about one of their first conversations and made it a point to acknowledge and rectify Emma's confession. It's silly, but it's all overwhelming because now she can't stop thinking about how Regina is always trying to better her life. Regina so kindly helped her jump back into her career and she most certainly didn't have to. Even earlier, she was concerned about Emma's wellbeing and going out in public and suggested the drive-inn.

And now...

Emma blinks, her wet eyes falling down to the offered piece of candy.

"It's a miniature," she states, but there's an inflection in her tone that expresses her confusion.

"You still need to eat healthy. We need that heart to last you longer than ten years," Regina strictly declares, encouraging Emma's frown to burst into a manic grin.

She chuckles, nods along and sniffles away her tears as she reaches for the Snickers. She desperately tries not to dwell on the fact that Regina just said we need that heart to last longer than ten years, but it's impossible. She's suddenly warm all over, her heart is raging with excitement and she has to yell at herself to calm down.

"You asked that I call you the moment I had one, lucky you, you're gonna witness it."

"This is a very important moment, I needed to make sure I was a part of it," Regina smugly replies, thrusting her chin a little higher, but Emma just smiles at the woman.

Emma carefully splits open the wrapper, sending the chocolatey aroma to invade her nostrils. She swallows, because despite never having one before, her mouth is watering for the treat. She wants to cherish the moment, so even though the candy is a mini and she could swallow it in one bite, she takes a very small nibble to save some. Her mouth explodes with the rich flavor mixed with chocolate and caramel, accompanied by the salty peanuts.

And she's in love.

"Oh my god," she moans shamelessly, "this is so freaking good. Damn my parents for keeping this from me."

Regina belts out a carefree laugh that has Emma forgetting all about her treat once again. "I'm glad you like it."

"It was Naveen's favorite, right?" Emma timidly asks, her eyes slowly crawling to meet Regina's glistening eyes.

"It was."

"I think I'm enjoying it so much because I've been deprived my whole life," she softly confesses, never further explaining and allowing the words to dangle between them while Regina studies her closely.

"Yes, I believe so as well. You are your own person."

Emma doesn't know if she wants to smile from hearing Regina acknowledge the difference between her late husband and herself or if she wants to cry because of the sadness lingering in those dark eyes.

"I'm sorry," tumbles from her mouth so fast, she hardly recognizes her own voice.

"Please don't apologize. It's not your fault. It was simply his time."

"I know, but I still feel guilty."

"Don't," Regina sternly orders, forcing Emma's head to bob along slowly. "He didn't have a choice in the matter, none of us did, but somehow, he found a way to gift me a friend in the process, so I wouldn't be completely alone."

"I think we are really lucky this turned out the way it did," Emma quietly reveals. "I think we both needed a change in life and a friend to help along the way and luckily, we have each other right now."

"Indeed."

~~~~~

Sometime during the second movie, the air becomes a bit too nippy, but Emma doesn't want to start her car just yet. Not until the credits start rolling so she can charge her battery and warm up the tiny car. She glances to her right for a split second and notices how Regina is trying to curl in on herself.

"You cold?" She murmurs, not wanting to interrupt the scene where Doc and the DeLorean evaporate from existence during a storm.

"A bit. Is this one almost over?" Regina questions, her eyes never tearing away from the movie before her.

"Almost," Emma softly whispers while her mind tries to contemplate what is appropriate and what isn't in this situation. But before she can draw up a conclusion, she is reaching into her backseat and pulling up her red leather jacket. "Here, this should warm you up for a few minutes before I start the car."

Regina finally peels her eyes away from Marty McFly to discover the jacket dangling before her. "You expect that to keep me warm?" She scoffs, persuading green eyes to roll.

"It will, trust me," she vows because as thin as the material appears, her favorite leather jacket has never let her down. "Just take it, will you please," she gripes, thrusting the jacket against her friend's chest.

Regina doesn't say a word, instead, she very slowly slips into the jacket while Emma is entranced by her every move. Observing closely as Regina flips the ends of her hair out of the jacket and maybe Emma's imagining things, but she swears this woman snuggles into the jacket and inhales deeply.

She quickly tears her eyes away and focuses back on the screen, refusing to glance back at the woman until the movie is over. Which coincidentally, isn't very much longer.

As soon as the credits start to roll, an uproar of vehicles starting fill the air. Emma jumps on board, starting her engine and blasting her heat because even though it's the beginning of June, the midnight air is still rather bitter.

"So, what did you think?" Emma curiously asks, her hands moving to the vent to warm back up.

"I liked that one as well, maybe even a little more than the first."

Emma chuckles softly and nods along, tucking a chunk of fallen hair behind her ear, so she can see Regina a little better. "Yeah, I think it's my favorite one." Regina nods along as well as she begins to shrug out of the coat. "What are you doing?"

"I'm sure you're just as cold, so I'm giving this back."

"No, no, I'm fine."

"I'm not going to allow you to freeze to death on my behalf because I didn't bring a jacket," Regina counters, her face stern and leaving no room for argument, but Emma's really bad at avoiding rebuttals.

"No keep it. Besides," Emma smirks and leans toward the backseat again. "I came prepared," she announces, yanking two throw blankets out from the back before tossing one at Regina's face.

"Well...thank you," Regina shyly whispers and Emma again, finds herself wondering what is turning inside that head of hers.

"You're welcome," she says with the cheesiest grin consuming her face, but Regina's awfully quiet in return. Emma's eyes trail toward the clock on the dashboard and she realizes it's two in the morning now. "Are you starting to get tired? If you want, we could always go back. I own the trilogy, we can watch the third one another time."

"No," her friend blurts out all too quickly, startling Emma. "No, that's quite alright. I'm fine."

"You don't seem fine, you wanna talk about it?" She carefully asks, understanding that she is tiptoeing on thin ice right now. And she may not understand what is bothering the brunette, but she does know that something is haunting her.

Regina turns her attention toward Emma, her eyes dark, stern, assessing Emma closely, but all she sees is exhaustion. She doesn't comment on that minor detail though, she simply offers a crooked little smile.

"My sister keeps pushing me to see a psychologist," she admits, her voice sounding so unsure if she should be revealing her secrets, so Emma remains silent, waiting for Regina to feel more comfortable. "I have been...having nightmares and honestly, I don't even want to sleep anymore."

"Is that why you suggested the drive-in? To keep your mind busy?" Emma tentatively asks, watching as Regina clenches and unclenches her fists anxiously.

"Yes."

"You know that eventually your body will cave and you will fall asleep. This is just a temporary fix," she says, gesturing around the tiny space between them.

"Don't you think I know that?" Regina bitterly snaps back, but Emma doesn't even flinch from the harsh tone.

"Okay, so what can we do to fix this?" She gently inquires, provoking the most perplexed facial expression to contort Regina's face.

"We?"

"Yeah, we. Look Regina, you said earlier that we need to maintain my healthy diet to keep my heart going for longer than expected. I think we are in this together now. Whatever the other may need, we help, right? Isn't that what friends are for?"

"I wouldn't know," Regina flatly replies, but Emma breathes a laugh through her nose.

"I think you do." Emma hikes up her right leg and pivots, offering her full attention. "Why don't you want to see someone?"

Regina exhales slowly, drops her gaze to her own lap and clenches her fists awfully tight. "I-I have always been a strong woman, always in control. Everything I ever did in life was to appease my father. He was always such a strong man and...and I strived for his approval."

"Did he make you feel like you weren't good enough?"

"No," Regina harshly demands, snapping her eyes to meet Emma's soft and curious gaze. "Never. He's just a tough man to crack sometimes and I just felt this need to prove myself around him. Meet his high standards, even if those standards were always meant for himself."

"I get that. He was a successful man, so you wanted to meet his success."

"Yes," Regina breathes out like this is the first time anyone has ever understood where she was coming from.

"Alright, so do you think he would feel disappointed if you went to speak to someone?"

"No, not at all."

"Then..."

"I would feel disappointed in myself. I would feel like I'm not the strong and independent woman I thought I was. And that I am not living up to his standards," she reveals, her voice breaking on the last sentence and forcing her eyes to drift away and hide her shame.

"Hey," Emma whispers, leaning in closer, but she doesn't know if Regina wants a comforting touch, so she retracts her hand. "You went through a lot, it's very traumatic and it's okay to ask for help. Sometimes just talking about this stuff eases the pain."

"Did it help you?" Regina timidly inquires, her watery brown eyes sweeping up and latching onto Emma's.

"Well, kinda." She slumps in defeat and shrugs noncommittally. "I don't know. I mean, I attend group therapy sessions, it's not really one on one and sometimes I feel like it helps, sometimes I feel like it's a bunch of bull and so redundant. I know I am happier than I was after the surgery though. But sometimes I feel like that has a lot to do with you."

"Me?"

"Yeah," she quietly confesses because she has yet to admit this out loud. "You brightened up my depressing days. Talking to you every day is like a breath of fresh air and I don't feel so...restricted in life."

"What about your friends and your parents?"

"Yes, I have my friends and my parents, but they are too close to me. They have dealt with my troubles for a long time and that can leave them very narrow minded on certain subjects. It's easier for me to open up to you. You hear me."

Regina swallows thickly, those gorgeous chestnut irises shimmering from the tears she's desperately trying to hold back. "My nightmares are of the accident, but sometimes...I feel like I'm trapped in this white waiting room. I-I don't know what I'm waiting for, but I know I'm waiting. It feels like I'm paralyzed at times and I swear..." she chokes on her words and Emma doesn't even hesitate to lean across the car and place a soothing hand upon Regina's thigh. She sweeps her thumb back and forth for comfort and Regina drifts a little closer. "I swear I'm reliving the days I was in a coma," she finally admits, her head dropping down to hang low.

Emma really doesn't think about much of anything, all she knows is she needs to console this woman, so she presses her forehead to the crown of Regina's head and allows the woman to cry.

"Regina, it sounds like maybe you have post-traumatic stress disorder."

"No," Regina defiantly states, pulling back from Emma's embrace to wipe away her cold tears. "I'm fine. I'll be-"

"Regina, listen to me," Emma demands, cupping the woman's face and peering so deeply into her eyes. And she knows those brown eyes want to squirm away, but Emma holds onto her gaze. "It's okay. It's all okay that this is happening, it's to be expected. But don't you want to get better? Don't you want to stop living in fear of your dreams? Maybe, just maybe, if you open up and talk about it all, the nightmares will subside. If you face this head on, you can defeat all of this and move on," she states with conviction while Regina silently cries before her.

"I'm scared. I'm so scared that opening up and talking will unravel a mess of memories that my mind is subconsciously trying to keep hidden."

"I know, but if you keep hiding from it all, you will become anxious of the unknown. You're going to slowly lose your mind."

"That's what my sister said."

"I think great minds think alike." Regina laughs lightly, sniffling away the tears that are still lingering. Emma smiles and gently rocks Regina's head from left to right playfully. "You can do this. You are a strong, independent, badass. And if you need a little backup, I'm right here."

"I believe you suffer from hero syndrome."

"I get that a lot," Emma reveals through a deep chuckle, slowly releasing Regina's face and backing away. "So, what do you say? Should we go home or continue watching the movie? I'm actually kind of hungry, we could always find an all-night diner," she suggests as her stomach grumbles for something more fulfilling than carrots.

Regina smirks, bending down between her legs again to pull out two sandwiches. "I say we finish the movie," she confidently says, handing one sandwich over to Emma. "Lucky for you, I came prepared as well."

Emma smiles wildly at the woman, snatching up the sandwich loaded with turkey, cheese and all kinds of other ingredients. She adjusts one blanket upon her lap while Regina seems to do the same for herself.

Except, they don't end up watching the movie. Instead, they spend the next two hours talking about their childhoods, their hopes for the future and so much more while pigging out in Emma's tiny bug.

And Emma definitely posts a picture on Instagram of the two of them cuddled up in their blankets, wanting to capture the happy moment, that receives more attention than she ever intended.

 

Chapter Text



"It's so good to see you," Kathryn gushes as she pulls Regina into a loving hug, not even waiting to completely enter Regina's home.

"It's nice to see you too, Kathryn," she breathes out because as much as she tries to pretend she's a loner, Kathryn has always been a constant in her life, a supporter.

She extracts herself from her friend's embrace and then gestures for the blonde to enter. She closes her door and locks it while Kathryn removes her strappy sandals, which reminds Regina how long it's been since she dressed so...classy.

Six months after the accident and she is just now realizing that she was constantly hidden beneath power suits and intimidating high heels. It's the middle of June and as of lately, she has found herself in more relaxing attire, sexy, but more relaxed.

She glances down at her bare feet, her red nail polish contrasting against her olive-tone flesh. Her eyes trail up to her own white capris to the blue and white striped blouse that flows mid-thigh, okay, her style has changed a lot. However, she never really enjoyed the summertime, always locked away in her office or in court, she never really had an opportunity to have a style.

"You look good," Kathryn breathes out, her smile showing off every one of her perfectly straight teeth.

"You too. Come on in," she politely offers, leading the way into the living room. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Oh no, no. I'm fine. I have to meet Fred in an hour about a case, but when you called...well, I had to come see you."

"Oh, you didn't have to rush over. I just thought it would be nice to catch up," Regina acknowledges, taking a seat on one end of her couch while her friend claims the other end.

"I've missed you, so I had to sneak in some time for you." Regina nods in agreement, reaching toward the back of the couch to retrieve her throw blanket. "Are you cold? It's so hot outside today."

Regina involuntarily shivers, hating how after six long and grueling months, this house is still so cold without her husband. Maybe it's his ghost lingering and causing the frigid temperatures or maybe her soul is just so damn lonely.

"Just a habit," she vaguely answers, draping the blanket over her legs and not her entire body like she usually does. "So, how are you and Fredrick?"

"Do you mean, how is the business?" Kathryn skeptically inquires, but her tone is playful, despite the one eyebrow crawling up her forehead.

"Alright, fine. How is the business?"

"Wonderful. We are maintaining clientele and our numbers are equal to last year's. So, no, I haven't run your firm into the ground."

"Oh, I know that, Kathryn," she scoffs, waving off the insinuation. "I was simply curious." Kathryn hums in response, but she smiles coyly and decides not to push the subject. "What else is new with you? I haven't really spoken to you since I signed the papers."

"I know, but really...nothing. I've just been so busy with the firm, Fred and I both. We really don't have time for much, you know how it is."

And Regina remembers all too well how it was. The long hours, the cases that were so crucial, she swore her nights at the office were never-ending. How the hell did she and Naveen ever think that was okay? She wasted years chained to her office and now that she has been set free, she cannot fathom how she ever managed before.

"What about you? Tell me what you have been up to?" Kathryn excitedly asks, crossing her legs and leaning into the back of the couch to make herself more comfortable.

"Not much, truthfully."

"Please don't tell me you have been locked away in this house for six months?"

"No, not necessarily," she shyly admits because there is one image that is flashing in her mind and provoking her blood to heat up. "I have been visiting the vineyard more frequently."

"That's where your tan has come from," her friend teases, tossing her a playful smirk.

"Oh, I wouldn't say a tan...maybe a glow," she dismisses the compliment and proceeds. "I have been spending a lot of time with my niece and her family as well. Hunter is so precious, I just want to spoil her rotten."

"And I'm sure you do." Regina smiles, of course she does. That little girl has her heart. "Well, I'm glad. I was worried for a while-"

"Kathryn-"

"I know, you probably don't want to talk about it, but I was worried. And I knew your mother and sister were going to drive you nuts and I have been so swamped with work-"

"Well, nothing to worry about. I'm fine. I do have some nightmares here and there, but I am working on it."

"Really? Nightmares, like what? The accident?"

"Yes," she quietly admits, but the topic is becoming easier to discuss, thanks to a certain blonde that has been gently easing her into talking about them.

"Have you started seeing someone regarding them?"

"No, however, I do have a friend that's been a good listener," she states, observing closely as Kathryn's brows pinch together in confusion.

"You have other friends," Kathryn feigns hurt, gasping and acting all dramatic and provoking an eye roll out of Regina.

"Oh, stop."

"Who is this friend?" The blonde curiously investigates, leaning just a smidge closer.

"You don't know her," she flippantly answers, not wanting to have to explain the unusual situation she has found herself in.

"Alright, so why can't you tell me who she is?"

"Because it's rather pointless. You don't know her."

"Okay," Kathryn suspiciously draws out the small word and Regina can just feel those piercing eyes burning a hole right through her. Her friend clicks her tongue and every cell in Regina's body perks up. "Why are you blushing?" She slowly interrogates.

"I am not," she firmly demands.

"You are flushed. And you know damn well that we have been studying people for years to figure out when they are lying. So, the question is why would you lie about a friend?"

Regina narrows her eyes, sending a fiery death glare her friend's way that should end the conversation, but two stubborn lawyers in a room together means nobody is backing down until all is revealed.

"Are you attending a grief support group? Did you meet a man who lost his wife?" Kathryn very seriously investigates.

"No and no. I haven't attended those meetings."

"Why not? I think they could be beneficial," her friend sweetly says, flipping from scary lawyer to best friend in a heartbeat.

"I just don't think I am ready for that."

"Maybe in the future?"

"Maybe."

"Alright. Then who could you possibly be trying to hide?" Kathryn proceeds with her interrogation.

"It's not important."

"The fact that you won't tell me, proves how important this person is."

"Fine," Regina growls, caving because she's becoming quite agitated and she just wants her friend to stop pestering her. This was supposed to be a nice and peaceful reunion. "I have been speaking with the woman who received Naveen's heart."

"Why would you possibly hide that from me?" Kathryn exclaims, absolutely flabbergasted by the confession.

Regina squints skeptically at her friend. "Because it seems my mother and sister are irked by the idea."

"That's ridiculous. This woman has clearly had a positive impact on your life. You seem content and if that's her doing, then screw everyone else. The fact that this woman was able to get you to become her friend and admit it in the first place, she's a winner in my book. She must have the patience of a god."

"Hey, we are friends," Regina lamely defends.

"It took you two years to even talk to me and finally you surrendered when you realized how often we were trapped in the same room together," Kathryn deadpans and of course, Regina rolls her eyes dramatically. "So, what's this mysterious woman's name?"

"Emma Swan."

~~~~~

"Emma Swan," her perky voice playfully teases into the phone just as she is stepping into her yellow bug.

"Yes, dear, I do know your full name," Regina deadpans, winning herself a heartfelt laugh that brightens up both their moods. "Are you busy?"

"Nope, just finished a photo shoot at sunset. Regina, it was gorgeous. Your niece really did me a favor with this engagement shoot."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that," her friend proudly states through the line and Emma can't help but smile at the woman's smugness.

"I'm starving though. I'm about to go grab a quick bite, but if you aren't doing anything, wanna meet up for dinner?" She hopefully asks because it has been a while since she sat down at a busy restaurant and enjoyed the atmosphere, but also because it's been two weeks since she has last seen Regina at the drive-in.

Even still, not a day has gone by without their easy text conversations.

"Hmmm, I might be able to accomplish that..."

"Are you trying to play coy, Ms. Mills?" Emma chuckles into the phone, placing the device between her ear and shoulder to start that old engine.

"Maybe."

"Don't make me beg," she whines, but her smile never falters.

"I can't help it, dear, it's the lawyer in me. I love to watch people squirm," she seductively taunts and Emma really wishes this woman wasn't always teetering on the edge of dangerously flirtatious.

"Come on, how about some good Italian. My treat," she offers, her voice scaling higher than it ever has before in hopes this woman will join her.

"Text me the address, Swan."

"Sounds like a plan. Can you meet me in a half hour?"

"I will be there."

~~~~~

Regina was punctual, encased in the most stunning blue dress Emma's eyes have ever had the good grace to land upon. The woman's hair was extra sleek and silky this evening, resting upon her chest and practically glowing in the soft dim light. And the heels, dear god, the five inch heels that finally granted Regina a bit of height on Emma.

Luckily, Emma had come from work, so her attire wasn't too casual for Regina's ensemble. Her long legs were clad in her black dress pants, accompanied by an olive green button down blouse and a pair of cute black suspenders. Not too over the top for the Italian restaurant, but perfect for the friendly dinner date.

They were escorted to a booth near the back of the restaurant, but the room was packed with tables and guests. Neither one accepted the offering to taste the evening wine and both opted for ice water. The conversation flowed easily, just as it always seems to whenever they are in each other's presence and it wasn't long before they were finishing up with their pasta dishes.

"So, wait...the car guy...he's one of your best friends today?" Regina incredulously investigates, forcing Emma to quickly swallow her large bite of ravioli.

"Yeah, Neal. He's like the sweetest guy and in high school he had the biggest crush on me, but I had a hard time deciding, you know?" She sets her fork down and leans a little closer into the table. "I couldn't tell if I was crushing on him because I knew he liked me and he was always so kind. I also was scared of ruining our friendship. And then I don't know, one day I was like I should try, so I kissed him. Things escalated quickly...in my car...as you know." Regina's smile broadens as she simply nods, waiting for her to proceed with the story. "And I was in the moment and I thought, hey, I might as well lose my virginity to someone I know and trust. It was idiotic, obviously, but we were stupid kids."

"Did you become a thing after that?"

"Oh god no," Emma laughs, swooping up her fork to take her last bite. "I told him I just wanted to be friends and he was cool with it. He never pushed."

"I can't believe you two remained friends," Regina says, not at all judgmental, mostly just shocked.

"He's married now. Her name is Wendy and they are expecting next month."

"Ah, so his two pump and dump is effective even if it's not efficient."

Emma snorts, slapping her hand over her mouth to keep the chewed up bits inside. "Oh my god," she mumbles through her laughter while Regina chuckles along with her. "To be fair it was three pumps," and they both erupt into a fit of giggles.

"Emma?" Both women blink up to the stranger awkwardly lingering near the table, hesitant if she actually wants to approach or not. "I thought that was you."

And the amount of dread that washes over Emma's body when she meets those dark brown eyes is enough to bury her alive and suffocate her right here and now.

She swallows thickly. "Jamie."

"Hey," Jamie says, but it's barely a whisper as her eyes slide toward Regina for further inspection. "I didn't mean to interrupt," she sweetly apologizes, because this girl has never possessed an ounce of cruelness in her body.

Emma waves her hand nervously, her mind too busy tripping over the last time she had seen Jamie to actually formulate words. Regina's inquisitive eyes are sliding back and forth between Emma and Jamie, she can feel the intensity in the woman's gaze.

"Uh, Regina...this is Jamie. Jamie, this is Regina," she awkwardly blurts out and she doesn't know why she feels so unbearably uncomfortable.

Maybe because she is being squished between the presence of two beautiful brunettes.

"Ah, the woman from Instagram, nice to meet you," Jamie politely says, but Regina just nods slowly, still scrutinizing her very closely. "So," and here it comes, forcing Emma to hold her breath. "My mom ran into your mom, she told me about the transplant. Emma, I am so happy for you," she sweetly expresses, reaching out to squeeze her bicep.

Emma tenses all the more and yeah, maybe it's been five years, and maybe she has a new heart that doesn't quite remember the pain, but her brain remembers. Her brain flashes image after image of her past with that same adorable and innocent face before her. Those mesmerizing cat eyes and that sparkling smile.

"Yeah, well..." is all that lamely tumbles out of her mouth.

"I believe your friend is waiting for you," Regina suddenly wedges her way into the conversation, catching Emma completely off guard. "He seems rather impatient," she coldly adds on, firmly dismissing Jamie from their table.

Jamie peeks over her shoulder and smiles, but Emma knows, she knows all too well that smile is fake. "Right, I should be going. Nice meeting you, Regina. And Emma," she pauses until green eyes latch onto her gentle brown, "I really am happy for you and I wish you the best. I can't wait to see more of your stunning work on Instagram again."

Emma softens, because dammit this woman is so genuinely sweet. So, she smiles and mumbles her thanks before Jamie quietly exits.

"I'm sorry if I came off rude, but you seemed awfully uncomfortable around her," Regina whispers, leaning heavily into the table to avoid eavesdroppers.

"Welp, that's an ex for you, right?" Emma shrugs carelessly, quickly snatching up her water and consuming a hefty sip to relieve her dry mouth.

"I beg your pardon?" Regina blinks slowly, convincing Emma to stop drinking and meet the woman's probing eyes.

She gently sets down her glass, her spine automatically straightening under the scrutiny. "What?" She defensively fires off, knowing that not everyone is always so accepting.

"She is your ex?"

"Yes."

"Oh."

"Is that a problem?" She investigates, feeling more alert and agitated than moments ago.

"Seriously?" Regina balks, provoking one of Emma's eyebrows to quirk up in a challenge. "Oh for God's sake, Emma, my niece is a lesbian," she huffs in annoyance and yes, Emma does feel slightly guilty for assuming Regina would judge her, but it's kind of a knee-jerk reaction.

"But that's your niece. Maybe it's okay because you love her and adore her, but not for me...someone you just met."

Regina scoffs in response, her face cold and hard before she smirks that devilish little grin again. "I adore you, too." And Emma's entire body blazes with a type of heat that she's sure to faint from. And then Regina's face is stone-cold again. "Tell anyone, dear, and I will rip your heart right out."

"Nah, you'd miss me too much," she smugly fires back, a shit-eating grin consuming her whole face.

"How come you never mentioned this before?" Regina very seriously investigates.

"I...don't...know," Emma awkwardly stammers, reaching for the ice water once again to extinguish the flames burning her cheeks. "I-I didn't think it mattered."

"It doesn't."

"Then why is it a thing?"

"It's not a thing," Regina firmly declares, while Emma narrows her eyes over the rim over her glass. "I guess I assumed for how often we speak and how deep our conversations have been lately, this is something that you would feel comfortable enough to confide in me."

Emma exhales loudly, her shoulders sagging in defeat, maybe humiliation. "No, you're right. We are really close now and you have shared some deep things with me and I should have done the same. To be fair though, everyone I know, knows, so I really didn't think about sharing, kinda like you've already known."

"Well, I didn't."

"Alright," Emma perks up like a sad flower bathing in the warm sun, "Regina, I'm a lesbian," she announces teasingly.

"Oh dear, how are you ever going to have proper sex again?" Regina sasses right back, inspiring both of them to laugh at the ridiculous things ignorant people say. After their laughter dies down, Regina continues more seriously. "So, is that why you didn't pursue things with Neal?"

"Yeah. I kinda knew then. Here was this sweet guy that was in love with me and so good looking, such a charmer and I knew I had somewhat of a crush on him, but then, after it was all said and done, I was like nope, definitely gay."

Regina laughs lightly, her eyes holding onto Emma's that are sparkling with mirth. "Where did Jamie come into the picture?" She softly asks, drifting closer into the table like she is being lured in, intrigued to find out every detail of Emma's life.

And Emma's heart rattles with pure joy, because that's exactly how she feels when Regina speaks about her life.

"I met Jamie freshman year of college. We were strictly friends. Well, I was a lovesick fool that Ruby enjoyed constantly teasing. One year after being BFF," Emma even rolls her eyes at the childishness of it all, "we were at a party and got super hammered and things sort of heated up in my dorm room."

"Was Ruby there?"

Emma giggles, but her face contorts into bewilderment. "Is that relevant?"

"Technically no, however, I have a hunch your nosy little friend was very much present."

"No," Emma laughs, shaking her head in amusement. "Jamie definitely wouldn't have done anything around Ruby back then."

"She wasn't out."

"Neither of us really were, but we started spending even more time together...god, we were inseparable and couldn't be left alone for two minutes without tearing each other's clothes off."

"Sounds like fun," Regina muses, her eyebrows jumping high in amusement.

"It really was," she wistfully recalls. "Anyways, I came out to everyone and asked her to be my girlfriend-"

"Awwww-"

"Stop!" Emma groans, blushing profusely from her baby gay days.

"So, what happened? How did you end up here, melting under the anxiety of seeing her again and she...well, I'm assuming she was with that man."

"Yeah," she sadly agrees, plopping her chin upon her palm. "She's with him. My parents were very accepting. Her parents are extremely strict Korean's who refuse anything less than perfection. She never told them. We dated for five years, never once did she even attempt. And I never pushed her, we would just openly hang out at my parents', they loved her so much."

"So..."

"So, when I was twenty-five I started having problems again with my heart, as you know, and I couldn't ask her to be around for that. I couldn't have her in a relationship with me when my future was so unknown. Besides, she is never going to accept who she is and it was best to cut ties."

"But you hoped she would have stayed by your side through it all," Regina timidly proclaims, stirring Emma's beating heart once more.

"Yeah, I really did."

New heart or not, Emma still feels that pain of Jamie leaving when she needed her most. And maybe this new heart still feels all her past pain. Maybe this new heart isn't hammering because it remembers Regina, but because Emma feels something so much more for the beautiful brunette.

 

Chapter Text



The backyard is in full swing. Music blasting all the classics from the sixties and seventies. Her mother's ridiculous, over the top Fourth Of July decorations, including red, white and blue stars that light up are decorating every inch of the yard. Her father's grill is steaming, all sorts of delicious meat wafting from where he has been firmly rooted for an hour now. Of course, Neal is by his side, like every year, his sidekick in case David has to step away for any reason. His wife, Wendy, is one part of a square that usually forms to chit-chat, including Ruby, Mary Margret and herself. Except, they are about to become a triangle for the rest of the evening.

"Regina's here," Emma announces, her face betraying her and portraying just how ecstatic she is about the new arrival. "I'm going to let her in."

"Didn't you tell her to just come around back?" Her mother questions, gesturing toward the yard that is full with their closest neighbors.

"Yeah, she doesn't really feel comfortable with that. Not like she's been here before," Emma mumbles because she is already exiting the yard and jogging through her childhood home.

The thrilling buzz that seems to swarm inside her veins and nuzzle deep inside her heart whenever Regina's name is mentioned, is becoming more intense now. She hates herself for feeling so much, but it's so obvious now that she is crushing on the brunette. She knows it's incredibly inappropriate and she could never act on those feelings, not that Regina is even into women, but she promises herself every day that she will never cross those lines. She assumes the longing will eventually fade and it will solidify how good of friends they truly are.

Until then...she already knows she's going to suffer.

She blows out one heavy breath before she yanks on her front door. "Regina," she says like she's been stranded in a scorching desert and this woman is her only source of cool water.

"Emma," her friend greets her in that same old tone that confuses the hell out of her because it always sounds so damn flirtatious.

Regina smiles softly, stepping up toward the threshold with some sort of dish in her hands and they still haven't found a balance in their friendship, both so unsure what is appropriate or not. Neither one has decided what the protocol is for greeting one another, but it's the Fourth Of July and Emma has been hugging every single guest that has entered their home, so she leans in.

She swings one arm around Regina's neck for something that resembles a side hug and that's the moment dread washes over her because she specifically hears the way her friend's breath hitches. She panics, her face burning crimson from the embarrassment, but then, she feels a warm arm curling around her waist and it's like all her anxiety melts away, dripping down to a puddle at her feet to be long forgotten.

"I'm so glad you could make it."

"Well, thank you for inviting me," Regina politely says as they both take a small step back.

"What do you have there?" Emma joyfully questions, lifting a dishrag to sneak a peek. "Is this your famous apple pie?" She squawks, her mouth already salivating from the cinnamon aroma wafting through the air.

"It is," Regina smugly replies while her eyes drift around the Swan's home. "I don't know why you are always raving about my house, this place is beautiful," she compliments, but Emma's eyes are busy sneaking a quick scan over her body.

She hastily takes in the summer dress, that could be fooling her eyes and is actually a jumper, she'll never know. The colors are warm with a mix of orange, brown and royal blue and accents of white and it reminds Emma of summertime under the Mexican sun (even if she's never been to Mexico). Emma is sure the Regina before the accident would never wear something so loud, but she takes that as a win. She's positive Regina is starting to feel more comfortable and like herself again, especially in the presence of her. Regina's feet are even dressed quite classy in strappy gold sandals and suddenly Emma's feeling a little self-conscious about her skimpy jean shorts and American flag tank top.

"Well, two people who are vets can afford a decent home in Manhattan. You should have seen the hole I was in when I lived in Boston," she chuckles, gently easing the door closed behind Regina. "Do you want a tour? Or do you want to get meeting my parents over with?" She teases, sporting that cheeky grin that shows off her adorable dimple.

"I'm sure they are waiting on pins and needles to finally meet me," Regina muses as Emma nods frantically along. "Well then, I suppose now is a perfect time for that tour."

Emma snorts at the deadpan in Regina's voice that she always finds amusing. "You're evil, you know that?"

"That's why I became a lawyer, dear," her friend sasses right back before Emma leads the way to the kitchen first to drop off the apple pie and then proceeds to every room in the house, including the bathrooms.

~~~~

"There you are," Mary Margret exasperates the second she spots Emma sliding the glass door open that leads to the backyard.

"Yeah, sorry, I was giving Regina a tour of the house," Emma explains, gesturing for Regina to cross the threshold first.

And the world presses pause on the moment, all the backyard guests freezing momentarily to observe Regina entering their lives. Emma swallows thickly as all eyes land upon them, but she must say, Regina doesn't falter. Her friend curls a chunk of hair behind her ear before thrusting her chin into the air and owning the damn room.

"Um...Regina," she quickly scrambles to step in front of the woman, gesturing toward her mother. "This is my mom, Mary Margret, you know Ruby already and this is Neal's wife, Wendy," she quickly introduces.

Regina gingerly lifts her hand, already making her move toward Emma's mother. "It's very nice to meet you, Mrs. Swan. Thank you so much for inviting me."

Mary Margret actually falters for a moment, her expression blank, a little baffled, but her hand does slide into Regina's for a slow handshake that appears like she's not familiar with the gesture. She blinks a few times, her olive green eyes locked intensely onto Regina's smiling face.

"Oh, yes. Not a problem. It's so lovely to finally meet you," Mary Margret stammers and Emma is positive her mother is stuck in some sort of trance. "We have heard so much about you, my daughter goes on and on about you." Then, much to Emma's horror, her mother's other hand cradles the back of Regina's, trapping the brunette nice and tight. "I just want to say thank you-"

"Mom-"

"I am so so very sorry for your loss, but thank you to your husband for being an organ donor and saving my baby's life-"

"Mom, please-"

"Being an organ donor is so very important, you never know whose life you're going to save and we have waited so long for Emma to finally be healthy-" And here comes the waterworks. Those eyes are glistening and her mother is choking on her words, refusing to release Regina's hand like it's her own personal life raft to keep her afloat from drowning in her own salty tears.

"Okay, she gets it, mom," Emma grumbles, stealing Regina's hand back before she loses her strength and passes out from sheer mortification.

"My husband and I..." Regina slowly begins and Emma already knows she is lost in some daze, trying to compose herself. "We both felt it was important to be an organ donor," is all Regina can find the courage to say in the moment.

"Uh, it's good to see you again," Ruby pipes up, obviously trying to crack through the brick of tension that's rapidly building all around them. Regina offers a small smile and nods. "But I'm not a fan of you stealing all of my friend's attention away from me," she teases, forcing Emma to hold her breath, but Regina simply flashes a devilish little smirk.

"Well, she's a wonderful friend and I do believe I am going to keep her," Regina sasses right back, persuading smiles to break across every face in their group. "You better start looking for a replacement."

"I'm pretty scrappy, I might have to fight you for her," Ruby easily volleys back, thrusting her bottle of beer into the air and grinning like a wolf that caught its dinner.

"Alright, Ruby," Wendy sighs, exhausted from the back and forth banter or maybe she's just exhausted in general from standing so long with her enormous bump in ninety degree weather. "It's nice to finally put a face to a name."

"You as well," Regina politely replies before their small group is swallowed whole by deafening silence.

It's obvious everyone is still gawking at Regina like she's some A-list celebrity and Emma needs to come up with an excuse fast to end this misery.

"Uh, come on, Regina, how about a drink and I'll introduce you to my dad and Neal. If we don't go to them, you won't meet them. They will be glued to that grill all night," she laughs lightly, rolling her neck and nodding to where both men are very seriously staring at their meat.

"We will speak more soon," Mary Margret rushes to say as Emma leads Regina very far away from them.

"Sorry," she murmurs, leaning heavily into Regina's side and for the first time, she recognizes the calming aroma radiating off the woman. It's a light, flowery scent that reminds her of lavender and now this fragrance will forever be associated with Regina.

"No need to apologize."

"No, I do. My mom is so embarrassing, I promise my dad won't be so dramatic."

"Emma, please, don't apologize," Regina urges before a carefree chuckle escapes those plump lips. "You do remember meeting my family as well, correct? They were far worse."

"They really weren't that bad. I think I held my own."

"Indeed you did," Regina hums appreciatively, provoking a sweltering heat to rush through Emma's system.

Damn her for always sounding so flirtatious.

"Um...would you like a drink?" She nervously offers. "We have beer, I'm pretty sure my mom is making margaritas or I could make you a mean martini," she rambles, popping open a cooler to soothe the fire blazing against her cheeks. 

"Are you having a drink?" Comes the gentle tone from behind her that always makes Emma's heart melt into a pool of sappy goo.

"I...I haven't yet." She stands up from the cooler, pivoting until she meets those rich eyes that are watching her closely. Watching Emma like she's the most precious, yet fragile thing to ever come into her life. "It's been seven months," she weakly defends as Regina nods curtly.

"You are in the clear to drink...in moderation," Regina hastily adds on.

"Just one tonight? I kind of want my palate clean for when we go back to the vineyard," she muses, earning herself a warm smile that keeps spreading further and further into Regina's cheeks.

"Wise decision," her friend praises, reaching behind her to pull out two chilled bottles of hard cider. She offers one to Emma, their eyes never straying, their smiles never wavering and Emma is sure her heart is going to implode if it doesn't reach this woman soon. "Now, shall we go meet the man who has gifted you with all your charming qualities?"

Emma's head tilts to the side, her brows furrowing as she twists off the cap to her cider. "What?"

"Well, you sure didn't inherit those qualities from the woman I just met," Regina deadpans, inspiring Emma to snort, the alcohol burning through her nose as she desperately attempts to not spit all over this classy woman.

"Are you saying my mom isn't charming?" She interrogates, but she can't seem to stop the small laughter from leaking out of her mouth.

"I'm saying, I know exactly where your nervous fumbling and rambling mouth comes from and I am curious where your charming, hero-syndrome comes from."

"Right this way," Emma chuckles and if she doesn't stop this stupid grin from stretching, her face will be permanently stuck this way. Forever grinning like the damn fool she is for a stunning brunette with a dark sense of humor. "Dad?"

Her handsome father jerks to the right at the sound of his daughter's voice. A warm smile slipping into place as his ocean blue eyes sparkle with love. "Hey, kiddo. Hi, Regina."

"Hello, Mr. Swan," Regina politely says, offering her hand and causing David to fumble to accept the gesture.

"Just David. I'm not that old, yet," he teases, provoking both women to smile from ear to ear, but Regina's eyes trail back to study Emma closely.

Her cheeks instantly flare up under the inspection and she wonders what Regina can possibly be thinking with that broad smile on full display and those warm honey eyes lingering around Emma's mouth. Emma needs to take a long sip of her cider to cool down her burning body.

"I'm Neal," her friend happily introduces himself, offering his famous little wave.

"Ah, three pump and dump," Regina smugly muses, forcing Emma's drink to sputter out of her mouth, dribbling down her chin and effectively spraying the grill while David fails miserably to hold in his laughter.

Neal's face falls, his cheeks glowing crimson as he shoves his hands into his pockets. "Ah, come on, Ems, you told her?" He whines, thoroughly embarrassed, but Regina smirks.

"You really are evil," Emma mumbles, sliding her forearm across her mouth, but this woman simply shrugs noncommittally.

"I have a feeling I'm going to like you," David ponders out loud, his smile never slipping as he meets Regina's eyes. "You're funny."

"Well, David," Regina drawls, trying out his first name instead of the formality like he requested, "it seems your daughter inherited your sense of humor, so I think I'm going to like you as well."

David snatches up his beer bottle and taps the neck against Regina's bottle, both sharing the same accepting smile as they cheers.

"So, what are you boys cooking?" Emma inquires, attempting to normalize the conversation and end the formal greetings.

"You know your dad," Neal wholeheartedly laughs, offering a plate so David can remove some items from the grill. "He's got burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, shish-kabobs, grilled chicken, corn on the cob..."

"You hungry?" Emma directs her question toward Regina, but her hand is already stealing two plates.

"I could eat," Regina vaguely responds, never confirming if she is hungry or not. "What are you having?" She softly inquires, leaning a little closer into Emma's side.

And damn Emma's traitorous heart for having a mind of its own, demanding that she drifts a little closer as well. Maybe meet this woman halfway.

"I think I'm going to have the barbecue chicken. My dad makes his own sauce and it's to die for," she raves, her father already plopping the biggest piece onto her plate. "But you should definitely try his burgers. He puts this special rub on it, the secret ingredient is cinnamon-"

"Emma!" David scolds, aggressively snapping his tongs in her face. "You're as bad as your mother with keeping secrets! It's a secret rub!"

She offers him the most lopsided grin and shrugs, not at all deterred by his scolding. And it's impossible to ignore the way Regina is smiling so softly and watching Emma so damn closely.

"I'll have the burger," Regina quietly says, almost as if she's embarrassed to order such a thing.

"Medium rare, medium, well?" Neal asks. "Cheese? No cheese? Cheddar? American? Provolone? Mozzarella?"

"Medium, please, with mozzarella."

"Nice selection," David happily compliments, adding cheese to a burger that apparently has Regina's name on it. "You're welcome back anytime."

Emma fails to suppress her smile, but that's okay, because when her dancing eyes meet Regina's, her friend is smiling just as wide back at her.

~~~~~

"So, be honest, how is it?" Emma mumbles around her fork, assessing the way those full lips enclose around the burger piled high.

Regina rolls her eyes, obviously annoyed that Emma would choose this particular moment to ask her question. Emma never falters though, her smile is even wider as she hunches over her plate and watches Regina eat beside her. Her friend quickly chews and swallows, washes her mouth clean with a sip from her bottle and then wipes her mouth with a napkin. Always so proper.

"It's very good," she admits before she slides to the edge of her seat, invading Emma's personal space and causing her entire body to go haywire from that succulent lavender aroma. "Just a bite, everything in moderation," she sternly clarifies, but the burger is practically ghosting Emma's lips already.

"I mean, it looks pretty healthy to me." Regina hums, her eyes drifting down to where Emma is speaking slowly. "Lettuce, tomato, avocado and mozzarella cheese, it's practically a salad."

"Practically," Regina vacantly replies.

Emma encloses the very minimal gap between them, her teeth sinking through all the layers until there is an explosion of flavors dancing upon her tongue. She moans, her hand coming up to cover her mouth as Regina slowly pulls the burger back.

"I forgot how good red meat is," she groans all the more, ignorant to the way Regina is shifting in her seat, inspecting her like a new specimen under a microscope.

And both women are ignorant to the fact that Mary Margret and Ruby are observing from afar with their eyebrows rising and their chins hanging to the floor.

Unexpectedly, Regina drops her burger, her eyes dart to her left as she leans back a little in her seat. The smile that blossoms, steals Emma's breath away. Emma tilts her head to the side, analyzing this spectacular woman, curious as to what happy thought could be bouncing around in her head.

"What?"

"Brown-eyed girl. God, I haven't heard this song in so long," Regina breathes out, her smile exuberant and taking over her whole face.

"Yeah?" Is all Emma's mouth can produce because she is rendered speechless by this woman's natural beauty.

Regina's eyes sweep back to Emma's and it's so obvious the way this brunette softens when speaking to her. "Yes, my father always sang this song to my mother when we were children."

"See, stern man...big softy at heart," she teases, her eyebrows dancing, very clearly insinuating that Regina is the same. "Come on," Emma urges, pushing off her chair to tower over Regina, "let's dance."

Regina appears mortified by the offer, judging by her owl eyes and the pink tint flaring upon her cheeks. "Absolutely not, Miss Swan," she sternly declines, her body immediately sliding back further into her seat to hide.

"Why not?" Emma asks through a pout, offering her right hand to solidify her invitation.

Regina's dark eyes drift down to that gentle hand and for a split second, Emma is confident her friend is going to cave. "No, I'm not dancing in a crowded place full of strangers," she hisses. "I hardly even danced at my own wedding."

"Seriously? What's the matter? You don't like dancing? Or are you not very good?"

Regina blinks up at Emma, her eyes narrowing and cold as she grips Emma's wrist and tugs her back down into her seat. "I'm just a private person," she whispers. "I don't like any attention on me, I rather stay in the shadows."

"You were a lawyer," Emma flatly rebuttals. "All eyes were always on you."

"That's different. That's just...playing a roll. The judge and the jury weren't watching me to uncover pieces of my life. It wasn't about me, the attention was always on my client."

"I guess." Emma shrugs, seeming unconvinced before she pops right back up again and Regina looks horrified. "Come on, I know these people. We have this party every year and every year when people have had a few, one person starts dancing and the entire group joins."

Regina anxiously combs her fingers through her hair, flipping the strands to strategically hide away her blush and Emma finds it all too endearing.

"No," she mutters so low that it comes off more of a growl, thanks to the rasp that's always in her voice.

Emma pouts, her hand coming out again as a silent invitation, but Regina regards her closely. She swallows, because the song Regina loves is slowly fading away and stealing the moment along with it.

"Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-te-da," Emma softly sings, visibly witnessing as Regina softens for her, but it's too late.

The song ends and the moment has completely vanished from existence. Emma deflates, huffing her disappointment as she plops back down into her chair. There's a thick wall of silence between them; Regina still inspecting every detail of Emma's face while Emma tries to look anywhere but in those rich, mesmerizing eyes.

Regina produces an audible gulp before clearing her throat. "How about a slice of the best apple pie you've ever tasted?" She timidly suggests, provoking green eyes to finally slide back and offer their attention.

"We'll see about that," Emma teases, a small smirk sliding into place and washing away all signs of awkwardness between them.

~~~~~

Regina's homemade apple pie seemed to be a success and not nearly enough for all the guests.

"This really was scrumptious," Mary Margret compliments, her finger dabbing across her plate to gather all the leftover crumbs. "I'm not a fan of apple flavored things, never was, but this," she raves, popping her finger into her mouth and grinning.

"Well, thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed it," Regina shyly says, curling a piece of hair behind her ear and convincing Emma that it's a cute little nervous tick.

"Like I said, you're welcome back anytime, but make sure you bring another one of these next time," David teases, earning himself a playful slap against his chest from his wife. He simply smiles in return though, slings one arm around her and plants a sloppy kiss to her temple.

However, Emma misses the interaction because her attention is drawn to Regina, who is attempting to stifle another yawn. She checks her phone, noticing that it's just after eight and she should have known by the way the sun has slowly started to droop.

Emma leans heavily into Regina's side and lowers her voice to remain discreet. "That's like the fifth yawn during dessert."

Regina blinks, slightly startled by the close proximity. "I'm fine."

"You're still not sleeping," and it's not a question or a cruel accusation, just a simple observation and Emma knows Regina appreciates the concern and not the scolding.

"I'm fine," her friend reassures her, gently patting Emma's knee beneath the table to back up her claim. "Fireworks will be in a little over an hour and then I'll head home."

"Or...we can go upstairs and you can stay the night because I really don't want you driving almost an hour this exhausted."

"I'm fine, Emma," Regina states with conviction and it would have been all fine and dandy if she didn't end the sentence with another yawn.

"Nope, nope. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I let you leave and something happens. You're staying," she firmly demands, leaving no room for further argument.

But this is Regina. "Emma-"

"Nope, come on. We can sneak away."

"No, at least let's stay to watch the fireworks, I'll be fine." Except this woman is fighting another yawn.

"You've seen at least thirty-five years of firework shows," Emma argues, provoking Regina's glare to pin her with a stern look for almost revealing her true age. "Come on, we can watch a movie and maybe you can sleep a few hours."

Emma abruptly stands, extending her hand down for another invitation, her heart pleading with this woman not to reject her again. Regina's gaze drifts down to that hand once more, but this time, hesitantly, she places her own hand inside and Emma's heart explodes. She smiles softly at Regina and slowly curls her fingers around the woman's dainty hand, leading the way to her room.

Emma glances back at the party as they step into the house and of course, she makes direct eye contact with Ruby. Her heart starts thumping, a blazing heat washes through her body because she is sure her best friend is about to call her out for trying to sneak away with the smoking hot brunette. Those glowing green eyes are stern, more serious than Emma has ever encountered before. She gulps in fear, but luckily, Ruby seems to exhale slowly before she breaks the eye contact.

"Are you sure people won't miss you?" Regina softly whispers over Emma's shoulder, that warm breath tingling against the back of her ear, but she shoves those desires away.

Regina is her friend.

"Nah, it will be fine. Besides, I've seen enough firework shows, they're all pretty much the same anyway," she flippantly explains, hoping to come off indifferent because right now, Regina sleeping is her top priority.

Regina seems to detect the lie, but maybe she is too exhausted to fight because she nods and obediently follows Emma to her room.

Emma immediately rifles through her drawers for something more comfortable for Regina. She pivots, holding up soft cotton shorts and a big t-shirt, but Regina seems to subconsciously shiver.

"Are you cold?" Emma tenderly questions, a full pout taking over her thin lips.

"I'm fine," Regina vacantly replies and Emma briefly wonders if this woman's brain is programmed to automatically spit that small phrase when she's being questioned.

Emma doesn't call her out on the lie, instead she yanks on another drawer and pulls out a pair of sweatpants. She spins back around, carefully places them in Regina's hand and then heads to her closet to retrieve a zip-up for the brunette as well.

"Thank you," Regina shyly whispers.

"No problem. There is a bathroom across the hall if you want to change," Emma starts to explain, but Regina is already peeling away the straps from her dress, down her toned arms.

Emma doesn't mean to, she swears she doesn't, but her stupid body produces a rather loud gulping noise. Every cell in her body sets on fire, forcing her to quickly spin around and avoid the situation entirely. Clearly, Regina is confident with her body, she also must have it in her head that Emma isn't the least bit attracted to her. Why else would she strip away in front of her?

It's only a minute later when Emma hears Regina finish with her clothing and slip into her bed.

"Better?" She asks, spinning back around to witness Regina making herself right at home.

"Mmm, thanks again," she murmurs, the sleep evident in her voice the moment her head hits the pillow.

"Stop thanking me," Emma states, rolling her eyes as she loses her jean shorts and slips into the cotton ones she had originally offered Regina.

She notices right away that there are a set of dark eyes calculating her every move. All too quickly, the vile venom of self-consciousness and insecurities claw their way to the forefront of her mind; shaming her, picking at old wounds that still haven't completely healed, until she bleeds with embarrassment. She swallows thickly, her eyes glistening as she abruptly spins around to remove her tank top. She chooses to leave her bra on, just an extra layer to keep that hideous scar hidden, before she slips into a baggy concert tee.

When she turns back around to face Regina, she is sure someone lit a match to her skin and is watching her burn down to ash. Regina is regarding her with too much concern, her bottom lip puckering out like she knows that Emma is ashamed of the scar that saved her life. A scar she should wear proudly and be so damn thankful for, but for some reason...she can't.

She ducks down, using her golden curls as a shield to hide away her flushed cheeks and busies herself with scooping up her dirty laundry.

"So, uh...you want me to put a movie on to help you fall asleep?" She suggests, hoping to step around the topic she's been avoiding for quite some time now.

"It's eight o'clock, I'm sure you aren't tired. Put a movie on, Emma."

"Right."

Emma carefully climbs onto the bed, maneuvering herself until she is resting against the headboard. Maybe Regina is uncomfortable, but Emma suspects she's feeling far too exposed and vulnerable in her current position, so her friend shifts up, leaning her back against the headboard as well, shoulder to shoulder.

"What are you doing? You're tired, lie back down."

"I'm fine," Regina scoffs once again, folding her arms across her chest. "What movie are you thinking?" She investigates, but her eyes are fluttering closed as she cranes her neck from left to right, either stretching her sore muscles or trying to keep herself awake.

Emma sighs. "I don't know," she mumbles, clicking on her television and flipping to her amazon prime app with her ridiculous amount of purchased movies. "Oh, have you seen Ironman?"

"No, can't say that I have," comes through another yawn.

"Alright, you okay with watching it?"

"Of course," Regina sleepily murmurs.

Emma is already pressing play and shifting to make herself more comfortable. "I love everything superheroes. DC, Marvel, doesn't matter to me, all good movies in my opinion."

"You nerd," her friend lightly chuckles, but her voice is becoming deeper, more far away from the reality they live in.

Emma plays the movie and it takes Regina all of fifteen minutes to completely surrender to utter exhaustion. She peeks over at the brunette and she can feel her entire body sag with sappy affection for this gorgeous human. Just from the stories Regina has divulged about her past, Emma knows for damn sure, she would never allow anyone to see her so vulnerable. Emma's little crush expands five times its normal size in that brief moment. She knows Regina is starting to let her guard down, finally allowing Emma in to see all of her. All her broken pieces, all the wounds that are still tender and healing...all her scars.

Emma's eyes automatically drift to the scar embedded deep in the woman's upper lip and her heart stutters. The indent is incredibly sexy, but she knows how insecure it makes Regina and well, that's something Emma is all too familiar with. Her thumb tingles, wishing to reach out and caress the mark, needing to assure Regina that it only makes her more beautiful, but this is her friend.

She hastily folds her arms across her chest to keep those sneaky suckers to herself and redirects her attention back to the movie.

"Looks like you and my mom have more in common than you think," she softly teases, hoping not to disturb Regina.

Technically, Regina doesn't wake up, but she does sigh softly, her head drifting until she lands upon Emma's shoulder, stealing every ounce of oxygen from Emma's lungs. She stiffens from the contact, torn between accepting the friendly cuddle or slightly petrified that Regina will wake up and be completely outraged. Maybe murder her.

But then, Regina visibly relaxes, her body sinking deeper and closer into Emma like she desperately needs her warmth, her support, so every rational thought is immediately vacuumed from Emma's brain. She smiles to herself, sinks into the comforting touch and focuses back on the movie ahead.

In her sleep, Regina inhales sharply, her body subconsciously scooting closer to the heat emitting from Emma, like she wants to burrow in deep and remain safely hidden...protected from the world. In the process, her head slips off Emma's shoulder, her neck straining uncomfortably and Emma knows if she doesn't reposition the woman, she's going to wake up with a stiff neck.

So, very carefully, at a snail like pace, Emma eases them both down into the bed more comfortably. She tucks her right hand behind her own head for support, so she can continue watching the movie and well, because her left arm is effectively trapped beneath Regina's entire torso. And that's when it happens, Regina squirms a little closer and rests her head upon Emma's chest, her body molding perfectly against Emma's side like the missing piece to a Lego block.

And every inch of Emma is filled with this warmth that soothes her soul like no other lover has ever before. She isn't sure if she wants to cry from the overwhelming emotions bubbling up to the surface or if she wants to run as far and as fast as she can because no. No, they cannot grow closer. No, they cannot become intimate.

No, Emma could never allow this woman to love her, just to lose another loved one in the end.

Ten years.

Ten years is all she's offered.

Ten years is the normal expectancy after a heart transplant.

Ten years.

"Emma, what are you-" Mary Margret's voice shreds through those haunting thoughts, but her mother trails off when she finds the intimate position she and Regina are in. "Oh..." she stumbles, hastily shuffling backward. "I-uh...we were wondering where you ran off to...I'm sorry."

"Sshhhhh," Emma hisses. "Regina hasn't been sleeping lately. I think she's suffering from PTSD," she whispers, pleading for her friend to stay fast asleep and miss this entire encounter.

"Oh," is all that tumbles out of her mother's mouth, her eyes straining on where exactly Regina's head is resting. "I just...is that really..."

"Mom, not now," she groans and her agitated tone is enough to convince her mother to stop staring and meet her gaze. "Please, just go."

"Right," Mary Margret concedes, but her feet haven't actually agreed to anything which has this woman awkwardly shuffling in circles, like she has no idea where she is or where to go next.

Emma rolls her eyes and then pins her mother with a stern look that has the older woman scurrying right out of sight. She groans to herself, humiliated that her mother caught her in such a compromising position because she knows that damn woman better than anyone and she knows she's on her way to blab to her father and friends.

She releases a small whimper, sinking further into the mattress below which causes a reaction from the sleeping brunette. Without any hesitation, (so Emma knows this lady is out cold), Regina swings an arm across Emma's torso and pulls her in even closer.

Fuck it, Emma thinks, because obviously Regina is searching for some sort of comfort. So, she slips her arm out from under the woman, thankfully undetected, and wraps it around her body. A frail body, that Emma never took the time to realize just how thin Regina actually is.

She holds her close, provoking a sleeping Regina to cuddle even further into her warmth...into her heart.

 

Chapter Text



The sound of his deep chuckle stirs in her chest and she cannot possibly contain the smile stretching into her cheeks. Making him laugh has to be one of her most favorite things about their relationship and she wishes she could make him laugh every moment of every day.

Why does she miss the sound of his laugh so damn much?

Warmth is swallowing her whole, but she's content, she's happy. She rests her head back, her neck rolling to the side to admire the stunning grin that consumes his entire face and persuades her heart to skip merrily along. He's different though, she doesn't see his milk chocolate skin tone or his big brown eyes, but she recognizes the splash of yellow and dash of red. She blinks to regain focus.

He reaches and she doesn't necessarily feel the contact, but she sees the way he grins as he brings her knuckles to his lips and presses a gentle kiss. He lingers, his eyes drifting away from whatever lies ahead to meet her gaze and flash her one wink.

She feels so utterly loved and she knows her heart is full, but something like panic is festering in her gut.

She blinks again, her eyes trailing back to find out what's ahead, only to be blinded by the headlights shining on the other side of the road. An eerie sensation crawls down her spine and demands that all the little hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. Her heart starts racing and she knows something is wrong. Something is so terribly wrong and she's screaming at herself to stop the madness.

Wake up.

The sound of crunching glass echoes all around her...

Please wake up.

Her body feels weightless, hazardously tossed around like a rag-doll and she feels the need to protect herself, to find some control and brace herself from whatever is about to occur. Her hand shoots up, moving all on its own to plant her palm against the roof of the car. She doesn't necessarily feel the crack that echoes through the air, but she knows she should be feeling a violent pain in her wrist.

Wake up.

One, two, three. Wake up!

"Naveen!"

"It's okay babe, just hang on, okay? It's almost-," he calls to her, his words fading beyond existence and she desperately tries to peek to her left, but her entire world is flipped upside down, literally.

"Naveen!" She bellows as loud as her throat will allow, but she doesn't receive an answer.

She strains her neck to find his body lifeless, tumbling around and she cannot possibly ignore the amount of blood oozing from his head.

"Naveen!" She hears her own shrill voice screaming in agony before everything is swallowed whole by pitch-blackness.

When she comes to again, everything is the exact opposite as it once was. Her surroundings morphing from a black hole of darkness to the blinding white lights as if the gates of Heaven are opening up for her.

"Regina," she hears someone calling to her and her heart knows she recognizes the voice, yet she can't seem to put a face to the gentle tone. "Regina, I'm here."

She whips her head around in search of whomever is calling to her, but the world is a blank canvas, not a single stroke of life to show for. She panics, knowing in her gut that she has been here before. She feels the desperation of feeling trapped, her throat closing, and the sheer hysteria of suffocating.

"Regina, please, wake up. Breathe, I'm here. Just please, please, wake up!"

It's not her mother calling to her and the voice is far too gentle to be her sister, but there is a woman begging for her to leave this emptiness behind and come back to reality.

"Regina."

Regina inhales sharply, gasping hopelessly for a single breath as her eyes spring open to life. She's hyperventilating, that much is obvious, but she hasn't a clue as to where she is or what is happening around her.

"Regina, look at me, I'm right here. It's okay, I have you." And that's when her frightened eyes dart to a set of panicked green orbs hovering above her.

Emma.

"Em-ma," she stammers, her voice refusing to cooperate as her lungs expand and plead for another breath.

"Yeah," and her voice is so delicate, so sweet that it convinces Regina's heart to slow it's frantic pace. "I'm here. It's all over. It was just a bad dream," she reassures her.

That's when Regina feels the warmth of a soft palm gliding down the side of her face. Emma is cupping her jawline with both hands, her thumbs hard at work to sweep away the mess of tears dribbling down Regina's face. Regina shivers violently, an icy chill tormenting her veins and running her blood cold.

"You're soaked in a cold sweat. We need to change you," Emma explains, but everything around Regina is a foggy haze and she swears she's still in some kind of dream.

She can't make out a damn thing beyond Emma's worried face. She still can't remember where she is or why Emma is the one chasing away her nightmares. She simply sees glistening forest green eyes and somewhere in the back of Regina's dazed mind, she is aware that Emma's eyes have never appeared so dark before. They are usually a swirl of blue and green with little dashes of golden hues, but not now, the fear must have drowned out the light that usually shines from them.

"Emma," she rasps out once more, needing more affirmation that this is the real world, no more haunting dreamland.

"I'm here," she vows with a finality Regina hasn't heard from this woman before.

With the relief that washes through her body, also comes every terrifying memory from her dream. Naveen. She remembers seeing him so lifeless, his head battered and gushing blood...

"Oh my god," she chokes, slapping her hand over her mouth and scrambling furiously in the bed.

She doesn't know what she's shuffling away from or why, but that's her body's first instinct, run. Run away from the pain. Run away from the memory.

"Regina, it's all over now. Please calm down," Emma sweetly shushes her, but Regina's body is screaming at herself to run.

Except, she's not running. Her entire body feels as though she is made up of wet concrete, weighing her down as it slugs along through her blood. She backs up until she slams against the headboard, her breathing coming out in short spurts.

Another flash of Naveen, immobile, hanging so helplessly. So much blood. Her stomach doubles over, a queasiness attacking her gut and churning that bitter bile until it's boiling, bubbling up toward her chest. She digs her nails deep around her mouth because she knows what's to come.

Apparently, Emma knows too because she is leaping from the bed, gripping Regina's wrist and yanking her right off the mattress in two seconds flat. Regina doesn't see much of anything until there is a toilet beneath her and she is releasing all her past pain that's been tormenting her for seven long months.

She violently shivers again, but that's when there is a warm palm against her back and another hand gathering all of her hair. She vomits again, her entire body viciously trembling from the cruel action, along with the cold-sweat from her horrific nightmare. Yet, despite everything, Emma leans against her back and suddenly wraps her arms around her, holding her close, keeping her pieced together.

And a gut-wrenching sob erupts from Regina's mouth. She tries to slap her hand over her mouth and cover it up, but it's too painful and soul crushing to stop any longer. So, she wails, sobbing hysterically, crouched over the toilet with Emma clinging to her back, desperately trying to keep her from shattering into a million pieces that could never be glued back together again.

"I-I'm..."

"Ssshhhhh, Regina, it's okay."

Regina deflates, folding her arms across the toilet seat and burying her face as she cries like the first time her mother told her the truth about her husband. However, Emma slowly pulls her away from the toilet, sliding back and tugging Regina into her lap. Regina doesn't think twice, she spins around and buries her face into the crook of Emma's neck and sobs even harder.

Emma is there though, palming the back of her head and holding her close, muffling the gasps and the tears that won't quit. Her other hand roughly rubs up and down Regina's back, like she's trying to warm her soul back up. Regina grips a fistful of Emma's t-shirt and hopelessly gasps for air.

"I've got you. I promise, I got you," Emma gently vows, clinging to Regina just as much as she is clinging to her.

"I-I saw him. I've never...but I..."

"Sssshhhh, Regina. It's alright. You're safe now."

And she does feel safe, probably safer than she has in the last seven months, but she can't. Not in the arms of the woman who has her husband's heart. No, she refuses to use Emma in such a way.

"No, no, no," she hysterically babbles, shoving this beautiful soul away. "I, no. You can't. I can't," she rambles incoherently, but Emma fights her.

This damn woman fights against her pushy hands and jerks Regina back against her body. She hugs Regina so fiercely, as if she's trying to strangle the life out of all those demons haunting her from within.

"It's okay, Regina. Kick, scream, cry, it's all okay, I've got you. You're safe now. I'll protect you. I'll always protect you."

"No, no," she bellows, fisting Emma's shirt once again as her head comes to rest against Emma's beating heart and she sobs even harder. "It's not fair to you."

"Listen, this isn't a one way street. I help you and you help me. We lean on each other."

"Why?" She cries, inhaling sharply to fill her deprived lungs.

"Because...we just do. Maybe because our situation is unique...it somehow...makes us special. I don't know, but what I do know, is that we are helping each other. Together, we are healing."

"Yeah, right." She sardonically replies, furiously wiping away her tears because she is positive the only one doing the helping is Emma.

Emma cups her cheeks again and forces her to meet a very serious gaze. "Seriously. You have helped me so much. Just talking to you broke up the depressing funk I was in. I felt like I was drowning in depression, but your friendship tore that all apart. You are always thinking about me, you helped me get back into my career, you tried to figure out ways for me to go out and enjoy the things I love without putting my health in danger and you constantly try to help me enjoy food while keeping my diet in mind. You have saved me in so many ways."

Now, Emma's eyes are thick with tears and all Regina can think to do is press her forehead against Emma's and simply cry together.

~~~~~

After they cried together, forehead to forehead on the bathroom floor, in each other's arms, Emma supplied another pair of sweats for Regina. Not only because she was soaked in sweat from her nightmare, but also because she couldn't stop the involuntary quivering. Emma allowed Regina time and space to wash her face and calm back down in the privacy of the bathroom, but Regina couldn't stand to be alone, not after the ghosts of her past had visited.

"What time is it?" Regina asks as she slips back into Emma's room, discovering the blonde changing her sheets.

She's humiliated all over again.

Emma glances up for a moment, a small smile upon her face when she sees Regina has officially stopped crying. "It's just after eleven."

"What? That early? I thought it was three in the morning," she exasperates, stepping up to the bed with the damp clothes she was wearing before in her hands. "D-did your parents hear everything?"

"Nah, they are all still partying outside," Emma waves off the question and nods toward Regina's hands. "I can take those."

"Where is your basket? I'll put them in and help you with the bed."

"It's fine, I can-" Emma's words shrivel up and die on her tongue from the fiery glare Regina shoots at her. "In my closet."

Regina nods curtly, strutting over to the closet. "You didn't have to change the sheets," she calls over her shoulder.

"Your side was damp, I didn't want you to sleep in that," Emma declares, provoking a deep blush to stain Regina's cheeks.

Luckily, her head is down and her back is to her friend, Emma is none the wiser. She yanks open the closet door to find an explosion of clothes. It looks as though Emma's laundry basket was the one vomiting everywhere.

"Do you think a laundry day is in order?" Regina scoffs, bending down to scoop up the clothes that are scattered in disarray all around the basket. She can't help herself, it's the perfectionist in her that compels her to clean.

"I-uh...sorry about that," Emma embarrassingly mutters, but Regina is too busy to notice her flushed cheeks as well.

Regina gathers all the clothes on the floor and crams them into the basket until they all fit. She swiftly closes the closet and then heads back to find Emma tossing the pillows back on the bed. She scoops up Emma's pillows and neatly places them back on her side of the bed. Together, they tug the comforter back up and it's rather domesticated, but Regina shoves that thought aside faster than one of her poisonous dreams.

"Maybe I should drive back now," she unexpectedly announces, taking the blonde by complete surprise from the look of disbelief taking over her face.

"What? Don't be silly, you hardly slept. I think you slept all of forty minutes before you started squirming and kicking in your sleep."

"I-"

"Get back into bed, you are exhausted," Emma generously, yet firmly commands.

Regina swallows thickly, the aftermath of her humiliation still clinging to her skin like the damn sweat of fear she was soaked in. She hesitates, but she knows Emma is right, she's so far past exhaustion, she doesn't think she will make it passed Emma's driveway if she drove.

Emma lifts the comforter and clambers onto her side of the bed. She makes herself cozy, wiggling all around and when she's content, she lifts the other side of the comforter and stretches out her left arm. A very clear, but silent invitation for Regina to cuddle against her.

One of Regina's eyebrows suspiciously slides up her forehead at the bold presumption.

"Come on, get in," Emma urges, her cheeky little smile as exuberant and contagious as ever, but Regina remains impassive.

"What are you presuming is going to happen here?" She sternly inquires, her eyes still pinned to Emma's open arm.

"Cuddles?" Emma meekly suggests, her voice scaling higher than Regina has ever heard before. This time, both of Regina's eyebrows skyrocket. "Your secret is out, you're a very big cuddler," she muses, provoking Regina's stern mask to quickly slip into place.

"I beg your pardon."

"The moment your eyes drooped, your body cuddled right into me. I didn't mind...if that's what you're thinking," Emma hastily defends, a sudden expression of panic torturing her face. "Please don't be mad...I just thought you could use the comfort."

"We...cuddled?"

"Umm...yeah."

"And that doesn't bother you? You don't find that at all...odd?" Regina skeptically investigates because she cannot wrap her head around the idea of this woman feeling comfortable with her friend clawing at her while she slept.

"No, not at all," Emma earnestly declares, those big green eyes never straying from Regina's to confirm her sincerity. "Ruby always cuddles against me on the couch when we watch movies," she pauses for a moment, her mind drifting away as she contemplates something Regina is unable to see. "Hm, in fact all of my friends cuddle with me when watching movies," she murmurs to herself, obviously just realizing how often this must happen. "Look, I think more than ever, you need some comfort and support. If you don't feel comfortable, that's perfectly fine, I can make a pillow fort so you don't touch me in your sleep," this angel of a human vows, already scooting closer to the opposite edge of the bed to grant Regina more room.

And like always, Regina's heart melts into a puddle of soft goo for this woman. She has never, in her life, ever felt so soft for another human besides her husband. Her shoulders sag and she finds her body slipping into the bed without another thought.

Yes, she has cuddled before, a handful of times with Daniel and every night with Naveen before they fell asleep, but never a friend. Never anyone else to be exact.

"You don't have to build a pillow fort," she reluctantly says, hating herself for being so exposed and vulnerable, but the smile Emma beams at her, well, it's kind of worth it.

"So," and by the way Emma drags out the word, Regina knows this woman is about to tease her, "does that mean you're cool with your head resting on my chest and my arm just lying there...behind your back?"

Regina breathes a laugh through her nose and rolls her eyes at the woman. She places her head on the pillow and curls onto her side, motivating Emma to mimic her position to face her.

"Hi."

"Hi," Regina slowly says, tucking her hand nervously beneath her cheek because her body is itching to slide up next to this woman, steal her warmth, and allow her to soothe the pain.

"Are you feeling better?"

"I am," she simply answers, terrified of elaborating, but of course, Emma isn't one to back down.

"Regina, I think it's time you speak to someone."

"I'm speaking to you," she bitterly snarks.

"And as awesome as that is, I'm not a professional." Regina doesn't respond, she's too busy studying how those forest green eyes brightened into an aqua hue that reflect little sparkles of sunshine. Emma's eyes must change depending on her mood. Maybe this color means happy, content. "Regina." Those thoughts immediately vanish and Regina is drawn back to the conversation. "You were screaming his name. You said you saw him?"

She wants to be open, she wants to talk about it all in hopes that maybe those damn nightmares will stop torturing her. Except, she can't find the words. Her mind keeps replaying that horrific image of her husband and her mouth refuses to utter a sound.

So, she nods slowly instead.

"Did you see something new?"

Another tentative nod, along with watery brown orbs.

"I don't want to push you if you aren't ready, but please consider therapy now. Please."

"I-" her voice cracks, like the shattered glass that replays over and over again in her mind. "I usually wake up when the car starts rolling," she confesses, her chest tightening and squeezing the last breath from her lungs, but then Emma timidly reaches between them and wipes away a tear Regina didn't even know she was crying. And just like that, a rush of oxygen floods her lungs and a weight is lifted from her chest. "I'm always screaming at myself in the dream to wake up, but this time I couldn't wake up. This time I was in too deep and I saw Naveen."

"What did you see?" Emma softly whispers, her body drifting closer as she rests her hand against Regina's face, her thumb caressing her cheekbone soothingly.

"I saw him. I must have been awake for it all. I heard him calling to me, to hold on, that it was almost over and then he-he just vanished. His voice vanished. And when I was able to look over at him again, he-he," she's choking on her words now and the tears are streaming down her face and it's impossible for Emma to catch every one.

"Hey, it's okay. We don't have to continue. We can change the subject. But I think, if something changed in your dream after seven months and you are starting to remember more, maybe you are ready to speak to a therapist."

Regina slowly nods along, allowing the tears to tumble and for Emma to whisk them all away.

"He was so lifeless, like a rag-doll, covered in blood," she confesses through a choked sob, encouraging Emma to enclose the last bit of space between them and hold Regina flush against her body.

Regina tucks her head under Emma's chin, presses her face flush against the woman's chest and allows herself to be held. Emma doesn't say anything, she simply offers her comfort and support through touch, weaving her fingers through Regina's hair and stroking her back.

Regina hates it.

She detests the idea.

But she's safe. She has never felt more safe in her entire life. In Emma's arms, she feels like the world can't possibly touch her, like this woman can protect her from every hardship this planet can spit at her. It's probably the most relieving and terrifying realization she has ever experienced.

"See cuddling isn't so horrible," Emma teases, obviously trying to lighten the dampened mood. Regina slowly drifts back and pins her with the fiercest glare she can manage with tears in her eyes. "Now's not the time to joke, huh?"

Regina breathes out another laugh through her nose and shakes her head, but Emma maneuvers onto her back and opens her arm once again. Regina hesitates for a split second before she is slotting into the woman's left side. She rests her head on the space between Emma's shoulder and chest and it's so very faint, but she can hear a quiet rhythm from her heart.

Maybe it's because she isn't directly on top of the organ, but to her, the beat marches to a different drum than Naveen's.

Neither one says a word, maybe Emma can sense her inner turmoil, but she continues listening to the faint thump, thump of Emma's heart. Something electric zaps through her veins and it's like that first spark when gazing into a lover's eyes after being intimate for the first time. This connection runs so much deeper, this type of intimacy is more important, more overwhelming, than anything sex has to offer. And she's terrified.

"Regina?"

"Hmm?"

"When...when you look at me, do you see him?" Emma timidly investigates and because she sounds so sad, utterly defeated, Regina cranes her neck to meet those curious green eyes.

Except, Emma is staring at the ceiling, like she's waiting for the blow that will inevitably knock all the wind out of her. Tentatively, Regina reaches up and clasps onto her chin, tugging her closer and demanding that those stunning eyes meet her own. When they do meet in the middle, both sets are glossy, filled to the brim with heartbreaking emotions.

"I see...a beautiful soul," Regina's shaky voice confesses, provoking a pout to form around Emma's mouth. "I see...the kindest, most loving, goofiest human I have ever met." Emma actually chokes on her laugh at that part. "I see...a splash of yellow, a dash of red and an explosion of green. I see...the woman who tore through my walls and allowed me to be vulnerable without any judgement. I see, Emma Swan," she admits, leaning forward to wipe away a single tear dribbling down the blonde's cheek.

"So...is that a no?" Emma teases, trying to hide away the emotions that seem to be taking over her body.

Regina scoffs, dropping her friend's chin and acting like she is about to roll away, but it's halfhearted and Emma is already tightening her hold around her.

"Yes, Miss Swan, that's a no," she annoyingly states, but then she softens again. "Every time I see you, I analyze your behavior and wonder if I ever see any part of him in you?"

"And?"

"It's just you," Regina whispers and it's a bittersweet confession, but it earns her a warm hug and an even tighter cuddle.

 

Chapter Text


Since the Fourth of July, something seemed to have shifted in the air between Regina and Emma. Long gone is the apprehension of what is or isn't appropriate for their friendship. Now, they are honest, sometimes brutally honest with one another. They never shy away from the truth that needs to be spoken, but they both understand it's for their best interest to heal and move forward.

Still, not a day has gone by where they haven't been texting or calling one another. Their conversations flowed so easily, never a moment of questioning on what they could possibly talk about next. They shared every detail of every day, nothing too pointless or meaningless to divulge with one another.

Emma's parents, well, mostly her mother, expressed her concern regarding how much time she was spending with Regina. Which has steadily been increasing week by week, but Emma always brushes off the worry, reminding her mother that she sees Ruby just as often. Well, she used to. Her mother also voiced her opinion about the cuddling, yet Emma was quick to deflect, using Ruby once again as a defense. Her mother has walked in on Ruby cuddling against Emma thousands of times and never once did Mary Margret flinch. Her mother was quick with her rebuttal though, claiming that Ruby has been Emma's best friend since kindergarten and there was never any attraction between them.

Emma usually tries to bullshit her way after that before she runs away to hide.

Ruby is almost as bad as Mary Margret, constantly asking who Emma is texting and poking at her blushing cheeks whenever Regina's name is said out loud. Her best friend also likes to point out that even Jamie didn't make Emma swoon like Regina. She has tried on several occasions to vocalize her concerns as well, assuming Regina is still mourning and probably thinks of her husband when with Emma.

And Emma usually shuts down that conversation rather quickly and Ruby almost always backs down from how feisty Emma becomes over Regina.

It's not like Emma spends every waking moment with the woman. Actually, she has been busy as of lately, thanks to Robin and Alice showing off her photographs. It's summertime, which means it's prime time for weddings and special events and Emma has been hot on everyone's list. So, her weekends have been completely booked with work, which is fantastic.

During the week, she focuses on her group meetings with other transplant patients, she continues to maintain a balance with her exercise and is also working hard on getting herself noticed by a gallery. She spends a lot of her free time snapping pictures, because lately, she feels more inspired than ever before with a certain brunette muse by her side. Sometimes, those pictures are just for her, but there are times that she does share and post them to her Instagram. And Emma's Instagram seems to blow up every time she posts a picture of her favorite model.

So really, she only sees Regina maybe three times a week. Sometimes, she will call and ask Regina to meet her for dinner. Other times, when Regina's mind is ecstatic about her little project, that she still won't tell Emma about, she will wake up extra early and call Emma to meet for breakfast. They have also visited the drive-in another two more times. Some nights, Emma will call and ask about a movie night and little by little they are ticking some popular titles off the must-see-list. So, it's not that much.

All of that went on through July.

When August hit, Regina started to see a therapist about her nightmares, because calling Emma every night when she woke up in a cold sweat or hoping Emma could stay the night to chase those demons away, it just wasn't working anymore. She had to face her past head on and so, she finally relented.

She sees Dr. Archie Hopper twice a week and he is helping her cope. She still has nightmares of the accident, more and more pieces of the night slowly coming back to her. Sometimes, she also dreams of a time that Dr. Hopper believes is from when she was in the coma. Luckily, they aren't nearly as frequent as they once were.

Now, as they drift into September, Regina's nightmares may visit once a week, sometimes once every other week and Emma calls that a win. Regina calls it a slow process. Nonetheless, they are healing, they are growing...

Together.

Emma glances to her right when she feels a heavy weight pulsating beside her, to discover Regina hiding behind her camera. Her eyes quickly dart back onto the road as her grip tightens around the steering wheel.

"What are you doing?" She hastily interrogates.

"Well, you and this damn thing are always snapping away at me when I'm lost in a moment, so I thought I should return the favor," Regina casually explains, her voice extra light, like she's dancing across an array of clouds and Emma knows she's content with life in this moment.

"Stop," Emma groans, but it's half-hearted as her right hand reaches across her tiny bug for her camera. Regina scoots back though, until she is flush against the car door, her smile shining brighter than a thousand suns as her finger starts snapping away. "Come on, I'm behind the camera, you're my muse," she teases, her hand falling away from the camera to grip Regina's thigh and squeeze, knowing that's her weak spot.

"Swan," Regina growls in a threatening tone, one hand swooping down to swat Emma's intrusive hand away. Emma quickly flashes a cocky grin before she squeezes tightly, provoking a little squeal to escape Regina's plump lips. "Stop it," she commands, attempting to shove Emma's hand away while her other hand captures a very crooked picture of Emma laughing with her arm still on Regina's thigh. "Pay attention to the road," Regina suddenly snaps, forcing Emma to slink back to her side of the car because she doesn't want to cause any fear or panic for her friend from her past trauma.

"Alright, alright, but can you please not take anymore pictures of me?" She whines, firmly placing her hands at ten and two for added safety.

"Why?" Regina curiously asks, her tone less edgy than moments ago. Emma seems to have that effect on her, easily washing away any fear or panic festering from within.

"I don't know," Emma mumbles, shrugging noncommittally. "I like being behind the camera, not in front of it."

"Really? Could have fooled me by how many damn selfies you take of us," her friend scoffs, but Emma simply smirks and rolls her eyes playfully.

"That's different. I don't like all the attention on me. When I take a selfie with you, I'm in control of the picture and you're right there with me. I don't like when I'm center focus and I'm just standing there while someone is snapping away. I feel...awkward."

Unexpectedly, Regina reaches across the center console, the back of her fingers brushing Emma's straightened hair over her shoulder to rest down her back. Yes, Regina has been a little more generous with her touches lately, but that still doesn't calm the shiver that always runs down Emma's spine with every contact.

"That's a shame-"

"What is?" Emma nervously blurts out, her eyes flicking from the road ahead to Regina, back to the countryside once again.

"That you feel uncomfortable in front of a camera, you're beautiful."

Emma scoffs at this, but the heat seems to be rising in her cheeks anyways. "I am not."

"Oh shut up, Swan. You're gorgeous and really, you should be the model, not the photographer."

A violent heat blazes through her veins, flushing through her system from the compliment and it burns every coherent thought imaginable.

"Whatever," is all she can murmur in response, because she was never really good at accepting compliments.

Emma nervously runs her fingers through her hair, self-conscious and hating how she's under Regina's intense scrutiny once again. She's sure her friend is doing what she always does when she stares that hard, searching for any similarities with her husband. She exhales slowly, leans against the door and attempts to regulate her breathing and not think about that.

And that's when she hears the shutter from her camera one last time during their drive.

~~~~

Together, they pop open their doors and step out into the fresh air that is spiced with a hint of fruit. Emma smiles, so happy to be alive as she takes in that picturesque scene painted in front of her, the world exploding with vibrant colors. Even Regina is adding a splash of red to Emma's painting with that tight little dress, that once again, could possibly be a jumper. She's slightly self-conscious, wondering if she should change out of her jean-shorts and plain white tank top for the occasion, but now is not the time to dwell on that. She tilts her head back, admiring the baby blue sky and the dash of puffy clouds that are floating by.

"Emma."

"Huh?" She blinks, her attention darting over to the woman that steals her breath away every time her eyes land upon that shy smile.

"Get your bag," Regina delegates with a toothy grin on full display, because she always finds Emma rather adorable when she's admiring the simplest of things.

"Right."

Emma gathers her duffel bag for the weekend and slings it over her shoulder as she snatches up her camera bag as well.

"Auntie Gina!" Squeals from behind them, causing Emma to jump in surprise and slam her head on the roof of her car.

"Shit," she murmurs, attempting to furiously rub the sting away.

She wasn't expecting Hunter to be at the vineyard this weekend. She knows this is the vineyard's busiest time, with it being Labor Day and all, so she naturally assumed Robin and Alice would have skipped the visit this weekend.

"Well hello my beautiful baby," Regina coos, easily scooping the toddler up as Emma slams her door shut, maybe a little too aggressively for attacking her moments ago.

"You little stinker," Robin chuckles as she comes jogging up to the yellow bug. "Turned my head for two seconds and she was off," she huffs, slightly out of breath as she rubs her daughter's back. "She's a flight risk, just like her momma," she laughs.

"Just like both of her mothers," Regina firmly corrects, narrowing her eyes at her niece, but when they lock eyes, they smile lovingly at one another. "How are you?"

"Good, good. How are you two? How was the drive?"

"Great!" Emma enthusiastically chirps because everything seems to always be better with Regina by her side.

"Oh good." Robin offers a contagious smile before she leans over to steal her baby back. "Nana is waiting for you, Aunt Regina. I think she wants to discuss something...I don't know, I stopped listening when her face started to scrunch together into that deep scowl, you know?"

Regina breathes out a heavy sigh, clearly knowing all too well what facial expression Robin is describing. "Emma, why don't you check in at the bed and breakfast. The reservation is under my name, but I gave them your name as well. They shouldn't give you a hard time. Meanwhile, I will see what has crawled up my mother's ass and rotted for her to produce such a scowl."

Emma chuckles, her cheeks already sore from grinning so wildly at the brunette. She slips her hand across Regina's, silently urging her friend to release her own luggage. "I'll take it, I can put it in the room for you," she explains, flashing her most award-winning smile which instantly melts Regina.

"Alright, just hang out in the room. I shouldn't be too long."

"Yes, dear," Emma mocks, pretending to be the obedient partner and the smirk she receives should make her heart skip for joy.

Instead, the organ is filled with a longing that feels like lead, sinking her heart further and further down into it brutally crashes into the pit of her stomach. It's moments like these that she wishes her stupid little crush would have vanished by now, but it hasn't. It's still burning just as hot and bright as the day Regina came crashing into her life like a damn meteor entering the Earth's atmosphere.

She swore to herself that she would be over Regina by now.

She sighs heavily, watching as Regina sashays away with Robin and Hunter by her side. This woman really has flipped her world upside down and she can't even imagine not having her a part of her life anymore. Even the woman's family means so much to Emma, even if she has only met them once, besides Robin and Alice. Sometimes, the little family will meet them for breakfast or Regina and Emma will stop by their shop for dessert.

Emma shakes her head clear from her inappropriate yearning and heads for the bed and breakfast, dragging Regina's rolling luggage behind. They had been talking about this weekend trip for months now, Regina and Emma both eager to come back and enjoy everything the vineyard has to offer during prime time. Regina wanted Emma to experience the full vineyard as the little resort her family has created, so that's why she insisted on booking one of the suites.

Emma shuffles up the brick walkway, breathing in the flowery shrubs that are at full bloom now and admiring the stunning fountain that's in the middle. She treks up to the front of the building, smiling politely at other guests that are just arriving. When she enters the building, she is taken back by how warm and homey that atmosphere is. Yes, everything is modern, immaculate, but there is a rustic charm to the decor that makes the place feel cozy.

She steps up to the counter and smiles at the young man guarding the station. "Hi."

"Hello, welcome to Mills Vineyard. Are you checking in?"

"Yup, it's under Regina's name, but um, she said I should be on there too," she rambles, but the man never breaks from his plastic smile. "Emma Swan."

He nods curtly, his fingers hastily typing away to be as quick and efficient as possible, but his frown isn't helping the sour feeling churning in Emma's stomach. "Um," he clears his throat, then plasters on the fakest smile she has ever witnessed in her thirty years on this planet. "We don't have a room for you-"

"What?" Emma laughs in this poor man's face. "Check again. Regina booked it. Her parents own this place. I doubt there was a misunderstanding," she casually states, but the man is starting to sweat and her smile is slowly slipping away.

"I understand and there certainly wasn't a misunderstanding, but I suggest you speak to Regina about the change," he recommends as kindly as humanly possible, provoking her eyebrows to draw together in consideration.

"I just talked to Regina, two seconds ago. She told me to come in here and check in, get the key, wait in the room until she returns." This poor man's cheeks flare up and Emma is certain she can see little beads of sweat forming at his hairline. "Look, I'm not trying to give you a hard time or anything."

"It's alright, Miss Swan. Maybe you can wait for Ms. Mills' arrival by the bar on the back deck. It's a lovely view and I assure you, all drinks are complimentary with your stay for this weekend with the Mills."

Emma runs her fingers through her hair and exhales the frustrations that are pounding inside. "I know the drinks are complimentary, Regina and I discussed all of this already," she exasperates. "Alright, if I go to the cabin to find Regina, are you gonna have some kind of guard follow me?" She's really only half joking, but the man is already vehemently shaking his head.

"No, ma'am."

"Alright, thanks anyways. Have a nice day."

"You as well, Miss Swan," he calls after her, but she's already breezing right out the door and headed to the cabin.

She grunts and grumbles under her breath, her mind obsessing over every scenario possible as to why that man wouldn't let her check in. She knows they have a reservation, she's not an idiot. She was there when Regina called and spoke to the manager, Graham, who is an old family friend.

She treks across the field of green grass, pass the impressive rows of vines that are decorated with plump, juicy grapes this time around. She slows down her pace when she finds herself shielded from the shimmering sun, beneath the enormous apple tree. A little tug occurs at the corner of her mouth and without thinking, she reaches up and plucks a shiny red apple from above. She steals just one more, then unzips her duffel bag and tosses them inside for later.

A minute later, she's climbing the wooden wrap-around porch to the Mills' cabin, slightly queasy about seeing Regina's stoic parents once again. They were...fine...the last time and she swears up and down to Regina that it wasn't as bad as she remembers, but since it's just her inner thoughts, Emma's not scared to admit, yeah, the Mills are intimidating.

She raises her fist to knock on the screen door, but Regina's sister just so happens to be passing by the door.

"Oh good," Zelena jovially greets her, "you're here. I was just going to come find you," she claims, opening the door for Emma to clamber her way through with the luggage.

"You were?"

"Yes, it seems our mother needed your room at the B and B. It must have slipped her mind and she forgot to mention it to Regina," she casually explains as if this is no big deal, but Emma's already pouting because she was excited for their girls weekend away.

And she really doesn't feel like driving all the way back home right now.

Zelena unexpectedly invades Emma's personal space, inspiring Emma's neck to snap back for more breathing room. "I'm sure mommy dearest did it on purpose. That woman always has an agenda. Regina's in the kitchen with her now, giving her hell. I was ready to make popcorn and watch, but they shooed me away to find you. I love it when Regina turns all red and stomps her feet at our mother. It's like old times," she cackles like a damn hyena and Emma wants to scowl at the loud woman, but she ends up chuckling softly with her. 

That's when Emma hears Regina's furious tone erupt through the cabin.

"No, that is not an excuse! You are blowing this way out of proportion."

"Am I?"

"Yes, mother," Regina annoyingly growls.

"Should we..." Emma trails off, gesturing toward the kitchen, but she's really waiting for Zelena to take the lead and be her armor for the battle exploding in the next room.

"Eh, probably. I'm sure Regina will be mortified to know you were hiding here and spying."

"I am not spying," she defensively argues, but the wicked woman belts out another obnoxious laugh and saunters away toward the kitchen.

"Don't go," Cora sadly urges as Emma and Zelena awkwardly shift into the room. "There is plenty of space here. It will be the same as staying at the bed and breakfast except you will know the people staying in the other rooms."

"Hey," Emma timidly interrupts. "I guess you heard, they don't have a room."

"Well, I needed the room, it's one of our busiest times of the year," Cora quickly explains, but Regina scoffs.

"Oh please, mother. This place is always busy and if the money was really an issue I would have paid you for the damn weekend," Regina shouts, taking Emma by complete surprise because she has yet to hear her friend raise her voice. 

"Yeah, Mrs. Mills, I apologize if you think we were taking advantage. We can pay, we-"

"I would have never accepted the money," Cora sighs, and Emma winces, noticing how exhausted the older woman appears already from the conversation. "Regina, just stay. You can have the guest bedroom, so you are far away from the family."

"Emma?" And never has Regina ever sounded so serious saying her name. "This is up to you. We can go back home or we can stay the weekend like we intended, we would just be staying in the cabin instead."

Emma anxiously blinks between both brunettes, attempting to somehow speak telepathically with Regina because she has no idea what this woman wants. She's stone-cold, unlike her sister, who is grinning like the damn cat finally caught Jerry.

"Oh, umm," she nervously shoves her hands into her pockets, praying that she makes the right call here. "We can stay. I don't mind."

"Wonderful," Cora hopefully cheers while Zelena folds her arms across her chest and manages to grin even wider.

Regina scoffs, waltzing right passed her mother and sister and Emma doesn't even hesitate to follow her lead. Her friend storms through the house, yanking on her bag and heading up the left side of the double staircase. Like why are there two staircases leading up? Emma doesn't have time to dwell on that though, she simply reminds herself this is a log mansion and follows Regina upstairs like a frightened puppy.

"Regina?" She quietly whispers, but her friend ignores her as they practically run down a never ending hallway. "Regina," she tries again, a little louder this time as they enter a bedroom at the end of the hall.

The flustered woman still doesn't answer, so Emma softly closes the door behind them. Still clinging to the knob, she pivots and watches as Regina paces the room, running her fingers furiously through her hair.

"Regina?"

"What?" She snaps, whirling around ferociously on her heels, her fists of rage landing upon her hips. Emma flinches, blinking rapidly as her mind tries to comprehend the harsh tone hurled her way, because never once has Regina ever spoken to her like that. "I-I'm sorry, Em-Emma," she uncharacteristically stammers. "It's just my mother makes me so furious sometimes. Always sticking her nose where it doesn't belong."

Emma pushes off the door and shrugs. "It's not so bad. I promise, it's fine with me. We will probably be spending most of the weekend outside anyways, right?"

"I suppose," Regina reluctantly agrees, her dark eyes tracking Emma's every move as she saunters across the room.

"And this room is massive, more than accommodating. Is this the master?" She mindlessly questions, still stalking her way slowly toward the agitated woman.

"No, when I was younger, my parents converted two bedrooms into one giant suite for when my grandparents would visit. My mother's side visited more frequently than my father's parents, but this way they had enough space."

"It's really nice."

"The sun comes up through this window, I don't believe you will appreciate that blinding light at the ass crack of dawn after a night of drinking," Regina deadpans with a mean scowl, but Emma just laughs.

"So we use the blackout curtains, no big deal."

Regina deflates, her shoulders unscrewing and her face softening as Emma steps right up to her. "Are you sure you don't mind? We can leave if you feel uncomfortable. I apologize for my intrusive-"

"Regina," Emma sincerely interrupts, instantly stopping all that babbling. She peers deep into those rich eyes and hates herself for swooning over how mesmerizing those chocolatey orbs really are. She swallows, hoping to suffocate the electrical buzz between them that suddenly sparked. "No need to apologize. I promise, I'm fine with staying here, okay?"

"Okay," Regina barely whispers, her eyes shifting all around Emma's face for any doubt, but she must come up short because she doesn't press the issue anymore.

"Okay. Now, let's go get drunk."

 

Chapter Text


So, here is what Emma is not going to do. She's not going to dwell on the fact that her girls weekend was sufficiently ruined and she is being forced to room with Regina's cold parents and the rest of her loud family. She is definitely not going to allow Regina's sour mood to dampen the first night of the trip. Oh, and she is not going to allow her pesky little crush to barge it's way into her thoughts or her heart while drinking with Regina.

One more thing, she's not going to acknowledge how every one of the Mills clan is tracking her intently as Regina tugs her down the stairs and out of the house.

"So, straight to drinking?" Regina recommends, still charging down the front porch steps and through the blades of green grass.

"Wait, Regina," Emma sighs, swirling her wrist out of Regina's death grip until she has the upper hand and is firmly gripping her friend's wrists instead.

"What?"

"Hold on," she softly urges, tugging on Regina's wrist and forcing her angry footsteps to come to a screeching halt. "You're obviously still agitated and if you start drinking now, you're going to be an angry drunk. How about we take a walk first, calm down and then we can start drinking?"

Regina exhales slowly as if she's annoyed, but her face softens and Emma smiles. "You're right."

"I'm what? Say that again."

"Shut up, Swan," she growls, shoving Emma in the direction of the backyard, eliciting the cutest chuckle from Emma's lips.

Regina steps beside her and together they walk toward the apple tree, on their way toward the grape vines. The energy between them is still charged and staticky and Emma knows her friend well enough to know she's stewing in her own anger.

"So, you're mom really poked at the wrong nerve, huh?" Emma timidly inquires, hooking her thumbs nervously into the back pockets of her jeans.

"She always does. It seems to be the woman's favorite pastime," she deadpans, creating another chuckle from Emma. Regina sighs heavily and Emma knows to remain silent and wait for further explanation. "I understand that she is a very protective woman, it's in her nature and I understand that she just wants to do right by us, but dear god, the woman really doesn't know when to take her nose and get the hell out of my business."

Emma laughs lightly and nods along, because if anyone can sympathize with that, it would be her. Her own mother deserves a freaking trophy for meddling.

"Well, you know I understand that." Regina hums in agreement from all the stories Emma has ever told her about Mary Margret. "So, um, I have a feeling the room incident was much more than just the money and business aspect."

"Indeed," her friend growls, those fists of rage clenching and unclenching once again.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Regina sighs heavily, running those antsy fingers through her hair once again, but she relents. "My mother and sister have it in their heads that maybe it's not the wisest decision that we spend so much time together," she confesses, peeking through those tumbling thick locks to gauge Emma's reaction.

Yet, Emma doesn't even flinch from the accusation, she offers a half smile, that's mostly a frown and nods along. "Yeah, I get that too."

"You do?"

"Yeah, my mom and Ruby are kind on my ass too about the situation," she nervously reveals, forcing Regina's feet to stop beneath her favorite apple tree.

"Really? Why?" Regina investigates, her voice full of concern as she stands right in front of Emma and locks onto her gaze, vulnerable, exposed.

Emma can't even stop the way her face contorts into pure guilt. "They...they think that maybe you are only spending time with me because you're still hoping to hold onto your husband," she hesitantly admits, opting to neglect the other detail of her inappropriate crush. She can't ever let Regina know about her true feelings and scare the woman away.

Regina sighs, dropping her head low as those damn fists clench and unclench through her agitation again. "It seems everyone is on the same page." Emma opens her mouth to argue, to promise that she doesn't believe that's true, but Regina renders her speechless when big glossy eyes flick back up. "I hope you know that's not true," she sincerely vows, her palm coming to splay across her own abdomen like she's trying to keep herself from being physically sick from the insinuation.

"I know," Emma softly whispers. "We have talked about this before. I know you see me."

"I see all of you."

"I know that, too," Emma murmurs, flashing a crooked little grin that visibly snatches away Regina's worries. "Come on," she muses, lightly bumping into Regina's shoulder, hoping to destroy that storm cloud hovering above them. "Let's forget about them. They don't know us, the real us. Let's enjoy our weekend."

"Okay."

"Okay."

So, they stroll shoulder to shoulder until they are disappearing into the rows of vines, hiding away from the cruel world that won't stop judging them. Emma notices right away how fuller and more appetizing the bunches of grapes appear than back in May. She lifts her hand, but then she pauses, glancing at Regina for permission. And just like back in spring, Regina plucks a few grapes from the vine and pops one into her mouth with a salacious smirk on full display. Emma's heart does a somersault and she internally scolds herself because she specifically told her feelings they are not invited out tonight.

She redirects her attention to the vine and pops a fat and juicy grape into her mouth, her tastebuds instantly exploding with sweet flavor, but she forgot about the annoying seeds.

"Better?" Regina coyly inquires.

"Much," she mumbles happily with her mouth full of juice as she tries to appear smooth and not unladylike when she plucks the seeds from her mouth. "How about you, getting better?"

"Getting there," Regina smirks over her shoulder and Emma really wishes the light breeze wouldn't blow Regina's silky hair in such a way and taunt her. "What about you?" Emma blinks away her dirty thoughts to find Regina watching her carefully. "Are you alright? You seem...distracted today."

"Oh? I do? Um, no. No, I'm good," she stutters like an imbecile, generating a deep flush to paint her cheeks. She steps up beside Regina, pretending to be oblivious of the embarrassment staining her own skin. "I snatched us some apples from your tree for a snack later," she confesses, stealing just a few more grapes.

"I thought you might," Regina cheekily replies, her smile stretching as wide as her cheeks will allow. "Maybe we can bake a pie or some turnovers now that we will have a full kitchen included in our stay."

"Sounds like a plan. I never really baked anything before from scratch, but I'm excited. I bet it will be fun."

"Me, in charge of you? It'll be fantastic," Regina smugly says, earning herself a little pinch on her hip from Emma.

"You really do have a kink for being in control, huh?"

"Not necessarily, maybe I simply enjoy bossing you around."

Emma scoffs, feigning offended. "When have you ever bossed me around?"

"Oh, don't act like you aren't putty in my hands, dear," Regina mocks, pivoting and sashaying down the row of vines.

"What? Me? If anything you're the one that's a big softy," Emma rebuttals, scurrying to catch up. "Just like your dad," she teases, squeezing Regina's hip again until the brunette yelps and swats her away.

"It must be nice on that blissfully ignorant cloud you dream upon."

Emma groans under her breath, but her lips are still curled into a giddy grin. "I think I could use that drink now."

"Right this way, dear," Regina taunts, curling her finger and chuckling softly when Emma follows like an obedient puppy in training.

~~~~~

Regina lead the way to the beautiful outdoor dining area where they had enjoyed lunch together the first time they visited. Except, now that it's the beginning of September and everything is in full bloom, Emma was in awe by the peaceful beauty that surrounded them. They were seated at one of the tables near the end of the patio and all Emma could do was stare out into the expanse of green that traveled on for miles. From the green leaves that lightly rustled in the wind, to the neon blades of grass, and the juicy grapes that dangled from the vines.

She took a moment to thank her lucky stars once again for being alive today.

They had decided on a wine tasting and Regina requested nothing too heavy to eat, specifically choosing a cheese and cracker platter accompanied by an Italian toasted bread, topped with herbs and olive oil. Everything was delicious, despite all the appetizers, Emma swore she could make a meal out of the items every day. Each appetizer beautifully complimented a certain wine, but Emma never really doubted Regina's knowledge on wine.

One taste of a dry white wine turned into four more tests of a variety of white wines that lead to something more sweet. It wasn't long after that, when Emma noticed the color she was offered was morphing into a crimson that was soon a deep mulberry hue. And even though the glasses were nothing more than a sip, it's been two years since she last had anything more than one hard cider, flowing so freely through her veins.

"May I get you a glass of Cabernet?" The young waitress sweetly asks Regina, interrupting the giggles that Emma has found herself in.

Her brain is a little fuzzy and she can't really recall why she started giggling to begin with.

"Yes, please," Regina politely answers, flashing that devilish little smirk. "Also, Ivy, would you please bring us a plate of Bruschetta?"

"Of course and would you like a glass of something as well?" Ivy kindly questions Emma who is busy munching on a cracker.

"A small glass of Moscato for her, please," Regina orders, but Emma doesn't mind, she trusts the woman's taste and she must have been paying close attention to what Emma was enjoying throughout the tasting.

"I'll be right back," Ivy excuses herself and shuffles away rather quickly.

"So," and by Regina's hesitant tone, Emma's ears perk right up to pay closer attention.

It's just too bad she can't wipe that dopey grin off her blushing face. But her cheeks are warm and rosy from the alcohol and the sun beating down upon her, not for any other reason.

"So..." she coyly whispers, winning herself an eye roll from the most stunning set of eyes that are practically a warm caramel this early afternoon with the sun reflecting and sparkling against them.

"What do you think about the vineyard? You've had a full tour of the property, besides the inside of the rooms, but I assure you, they are immaculate and completely renovated."

Emma's still grinning like the Cheshire Cat at this woman and she has an inkling that Regina is hinting at something here, but her brain is too foggy to pick up on the subtlety.

"It's gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful and peaceful. I would trade the city any day for this type of country life. The fresh cut grass," she rambles, breathing in the earthy scent, "the flowers, the grapevines. And I'll tell you a secret," she whispers, leaning into the table and lowering her voice like this tidbit is top secret information, classified. "The apple tree is my favorite part," she confesses. "I could sit under there for hours and just watch life move around me."

Maybe Emma has had one too many, but she swears Regina is studying her through watery eyes. It's not an expression that she isn't used to seeing, on the contrary, usually when it's really late at night and they are lost in some deep conversation, Regina will simply stare back at her with an expression that feels like admiration. She swears Regina looks at her like she is the most precious creature to walk this planet, like she finds her so utterly adorable, that the intelligent bookworm can't even find words to continue on with their conversation.

"Alright, Ms. Mills, one Cabernet and one Moscato and the bruschetta will be out in just a moment," Ivy says, smiling so sweetly, but completely ignorant to the fact that she ruined a moment.

"Thank you, Ivy," Regina replies, her voice extra hoarse, so she soothes the dryness with a long sip of her wine, her dark eyes never leaving Emma's smiling face.

Ivy disappears and Emma thinks she should go back to the previous topic, but she must be really tipsy, because she can't, for the life of her, remember what she wanted to ask her friend. So, she asks something else that's been on her mind.

"Hey, can I ask you about your sister?"

"Yes, she's always been obnoxious," Regina sighs, gently setting her glass down, winning herself the cutest little giggle from across the table.

"No, no," Emma rambles, quickly sipping her wine and the taste is so sweet, she practically moans into her glass before she sets it down. "How did Robin come about? Was there someone or did Zelena want to do it alone? But they really aren't that far apart in age..."

"Emma, stop rambling," Regina commands, but she's lightly chuckling and Emma thinks her friend finds her motor-mouth kind of endearing. "My sister was very young when she had Robin. Very young and dumb."

Emma snorts into her glass. Maybe she should slow down. Then again, it's been so long since she truly enjoyed herself without worry. She takes another hefty sip. "Aren't we all young and dumb at one point in our lives?"

"Yes, well, Zelena raised that to an art form. She was seventeen and fell head over heels with a man who was twenty-two. My mother and father had no idea, my sister was a sneaky little thing back then. Anyways, this man was in the army and fed my sister all kinds of bullshit. Little did she know, he had a wife and a newborn at home."

"No!"

"Mmm, yes," Regina disapprovingly growls as if she was the one that was betrayed all those years ago and her tone alone proves how much her sister truly means to her. Protective, just like her parents and Emma's heart flutters. "So, this bastard, would lie about being stationed at different places and my sister was still a kid herself and she believed everything, waiting around like a fool for him to show up, just to screw her and leave her again." Regina is buzzing with agitation, so she quickly downs the rest of her wine to wash away the anger and then proceeds. "Obviously, my sister ends up pregnant and tells the guy and what does he do? Ghosts her."

"Really?"

"Oh, yes. Completely disappeared."

"What a dick."

"Indeed. About ten years ago, I did a little research and some digging. My sister dodged a bullet with that man. Apparently, he spends his free time constantly cheating on his wife. He has three children now with Marian."

"And Robin has never met her father?"

"Once, but she doesn't know. He came to the hospital when she was born. He just randomly showed up the next day when Zelena was about to be discharged."

"No shit," Emma murmurs, absolutely intrigued by the story as she leans into the table.

"Yes. My sister was still so desperate to win him back, even though that asshole disappeared on her for nine months."

"How did he know Zelena had their baby?"

"Zelena claims she didn't call him, but I know she did. She wanted him back, all the girl ever wanted was her picture-perfect family. She wanted it so desperately, she even named Robin after him."

"No, his name was Robin?"

"Oh, yes," Regina scoffs, lifting her glass to settle her annoyance, but she frowns when she realizes she already drank the last of it. "He didn't care though. He left that day, changed his number, and completely wrote off my sister and her baby."

"How could that prick do that to his daughter?"

"He was a selfish man. He was also young and dumb too. My sister was better off. She has done just fine without him and look how wonderful my niece is. I love that girl as if she was my own."

"Good. Fuck that asshole!"

"Alcohol seems to turn your tongue into a sailor's," Regina muses, eyeing Emma closer than she has all morning.

"Oh shit, sorry, shit. I shouldn't be swearing at such a classy place," she states, her cheeks flaring up all over again with embarrassment.

"Oh, don't worry, you should hear some of the stories around here when people have had a few and their tongues are much looser," Regina waves off the issue, her smile stretching further into her cheeks.

That's when Ivy slinks up to their table, a plate of bruschetta in one hand and another glass of red for Regina. Regina nods curtly and says her thanks while Ivy beams back and slithers away.

"Has she worked here long? She's so sweet and attentive, she's a great server."

"Yes," Regina says, leaning even further into the table, motivating Emma to do the same. "She is a very responsible young woman, one of the best servers here."

"She seems like it," Emma casually says as she reaches for the delicious bruschetta displayed before them. "Also seems like she's trying to impress you," she nonchalantly adds on before stuffing her face to quiet down her rambling.

"Good," is all Regina curtly supplies as an answer.

"You know what's good? Freaking everything here," she mumbles around the too big of a bite in her mouth. "Can I live here? Will your parents adopt me?"

"Probably not, dear." Regina chuckles and steals a piece before Emma inhales the whole plate. "Remember, my mother is still skeptical as to why you would want to be hanging around a widow so much."

Emma freezes, her teeth buried deep into the toasted bread as she replays Regina's words in her hazy brain once again. She abruptly yanks the appetizer from her mouth and blinks at Regina who is sipping her wine as if she didn't leak new information.

"Wait, your mom is also worried about me? Not just you, and you thinking I'm your husband?"

"You're not my husband-"

"I know that," Emma scoffs as her arms land upon the table and she leans as far forward as possible. "You neglected to tell me the part where your mom thinks I'm a weirdo for hanging out with a widow."

"I never said weirdo," Regina adamantly states before consuming a generous sip of alcohol.

"Okay, so what? She doesn't trust me? Like what could I possibly benefit from spending time with you that would be sneaky? Why can't we be friends?"

"I don't know, Emma. My mother is an overbearing, overprotective woman who refuses to be anything less than in charge," her friend exasperates, but Emma is squinting at her, inspecting every detail of her face and that little twitch at the corner of Regina's mouth sells her out.

The little voice in Emma's head screams liar.

"Liar."

"I beg your pardon."

"I said liar. You're lying. Your mother said something that obviously freaked you out and that's why you got all agitated. And you're neglecting to tell me," Emma declares, but she doesn't feel as passionate as she should about the topic because everything in her body is loose, warm, and feeling so damn happy from all the delicious wine.

"I thought you said we were going to forget all of them?" Regina strictly inquires, lowering her voice and pinning Emma with a fierce glare. "Because they don't understand us, they don't know us."

Emma swiftly snatches up her glass, her eyebrows bouncing high in amusement before she downs the rest of her glass. "Who? I don't know who you are referring to. I'm just sitting here, enjoying my wine with my best friend."

"Better, Miss Swan," Regina playfully says and Emma hates how everything always sounds so damn flirtatious from the woman.

She remembers specifically scolding those lust-filled thoughts and telling them they weren't invited out tonight. But here they are, rudely barging in and annoying as ever for how much they yearn for Regina.

~~~~

It was another two drinks later that Regina decided Emma was too drunk to continue on. She probably should have cut her off after the wine tasting, but Emma was enjoying herself too much and she refused to end their party for two just yet.

Now, Emma is giggling like she ate an entire platter of special brownies and is stumbling across the land like a baby learning to walk for the first time. She thinks Regina is about to scold her for her childish behavior, but the woman keeps flashing these adorable little smirks like Emma is her whole world. Maybe it's the alcohol, but Emma keeps experiencing flush after warm flush rushing through her body, but coincidentally, they keep occurring whenever Regina glances her way.

"I'm gonna take a chainsaw to your tree before I leave," Emma reveals through a hearty laugh.

"What?" Regina chuckles and it's a low, throaty laugh that is filled to the brim with raspy seduction and there goes that rush of heat through Emma's veins once again.

Emma laughs though because the look of shock on Regina's face is priceless as she stumbles through the front door to the cabin. "I said, I'm gonna take a chainsaw to your apple tree. I'm gonna cut it down and I'm gonna tie it to the roof of my car and take it home with me."

"Oh really? And where exactly are you going to put it," Regina chuckles, leaning heavily against the wall as she peels away her heels.

Emma kicks off her flip flops and catches herself before she face plants onto the floor. "I'm gonna plant it in my mom's garden," she proudly states.

"Your mother's garden is overflowing with tomato plants, there wouldn't be any space for my tree to grow and thrive in the city," Regina declares as she playfully shoves Emma toward the staircase.

"Your tree will grow with me, I'll show it lots of love," Emma cheekily announces, maybe a little too loud because suddenly Cora and Zelena are standing in the foyer.

One is clearly annoyed, the other is overly amused, Emma is far too drunk to decipher which expression belongs to which face.

"Regina, are you both drunk? It's barely noon!" Okay, so obviously Cora is the one who is annoyed.

"Mother-"

"S-s-sooooo sorry, Mrs. Cora," Emma hiccups as she climbs up two steps, using the banister as her crutch to keep her upright or at least from crawling up the stairs in front of Regina's family. "We totally didn't mean to make you mad, we will be quiet, on our best behavior," she vows through a whisper that inspires a cackle to explode from the redhead down below.

"Regina Maria, what has gotten into you? How much did you two drink?"

"Nothing has gotten into me, mother," Regina snaps and to Emma's ears, she sounds like a petulant teenager yearning for freedom. Maybe Emma shouldn't have, but she snorts rather loudly. "Emma hasn't had a drink in two years and I think we both deserve to unwind and enjoy ourselves."

Cora exhales slowly, but Emma's still working out how to climb the stairs and not appear like a drunken infant. "Come down here, I'll make you two some coffee and some sandwiches to fill your stomachs."

"I think we are both rather tired from the drive and a nap is in order," Regina quickly declines the offer.

"Hold on," Zelena says before dashing out of the foyer.

Emma is still clinging to the banister for dear life and Regina is standing behind her like she is about to catch her if she stumbles. Emma knows though, if she falls, Regina's going down with her, even still, she just beams back at Regina. She's very ignorant to the fact the Cora is analyzing them very closely.

"Water. Both of you drink this before you pass out," Zelena instructs as she offers two cold bottles to Regina.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Then Regina swats at Emma's bottom to encourage her to keep climbing the stairs, maybe she was aiming for her hip, but she very clearly connects with her bottom. Emma chuckles, despite the heat burning a path up the back of her neck and obediently trudges up the stairs.

They are both laughing lightly as they stumble down the hall, Emma bumping hazardously into Regina every time she claims another step forward. Regina opens the door and allows Emma to breeze into the bedroom first. Emma charges for the bed and dives head first, parallel to the pillows.

Emma distinctly hears Regina giggle as she closes their door. "Tired?" Her friend muses, her bare feet padding softly against the sparkling floorboards below.

"Uh-huh," she mumbles before she feels another slap against her bottom. "Hey!"

"Up," Regina instructs, "put your head on the pillow and make room for me."

Emma groans, but she's not at all bothered. She drags her heavy limbs across the bed until she's properly lying down. Regina is in front of her moments later, thrusting a bottle of water into her face and Emma eagerly gulps down more than half. Then, her friend is taking back the water and Emma flops back down into the bed. Regina is back again, spreading the softest throw blanket imaginable over Emma's body. She's warm already from the wine, but dear god, the blanket is so cozy. She snuggles against her pillow and lifts her left arm, always her silent invitation for Regina to crawl beside her.

Except this time, Regina is hesitating. Emma peeks one lazy eye open to find her friend staring blankly back at the door like a ghost might pop out at any moment to haunt them.

"Cuddles?" Emma slurs, her tongue and eyelids extra heavy as sleep poisons her brain.

Regina sighs heavily, ready to reject Emma's offer, but then she's sliding down into the space between them. Usually, Regina will cuddle against Emma's chest while Emma holds her close, protects her, but not this time. Regina spins around and slots herself perfectly against Emma's front.

And Emma is far too exhausted to question why she's receiving the butt this afternoon, so she wraps her arm around Regina's midsection, buries her face into those silky tresses and passes out.

 

Chapter Text


She's hot. She can feel the heat pulsating around her like she fell asleep beneath the blazing sun. She stretches out her sleepy limbs and discovers an extra weight against her chest. She smiles, her eyes stretching open as well and drifting down to find a wild mess of raven locks wrapped around her body like ivy clinging desperately to old stone walls.

She sighs heavily, so utterly blissful and content in the moment because this is where Regina usually ends up. This is where they both find peace, solace. Surprisingly, she feels Regina's delicate fingers, tiptoeing up her abdomen which is something very new. Usually, Regina's hand will rest on the mattress beside Emma, never finding comfort upon Emma's body. Regina will only ever allow her head that opportunity, no other body part.

So, Emma is clearly intrigued and slightly amused when she feels those sneaky fingertips dancing up her abdomen. When Regina nears her sternum, she abruptly stops, her hand lifts up and she hovers above. She's hesitating, but Emma hasn't the slightest clue as to what's going on in that genius little head of hers.

"What's wrong?" Emma's groggy voice croaks out, provoking Regina to jump in her own skin.

"Jesus, Emma," she exhales roughly, craning her neck to meet curious eyes blinking back at her. "I thought you were asleep."

"I was. How long have you been up?"

"Not long at all. Maybe ten minutes."

Then their room is smothered by the most awkward silence to ever fall upon them. She's waiting for Regina to open up and explain those dancing digits, but the brunette is obviously buzzing with a nervous energy that expresses how uneasy she is to speak up.

"Again, what's wrong?"

"No-nothing. It's nothing," Regina hastily defends, but her stammering doesn't squash the disbelief in Emma.

"Hey," she softly whispers, tucking her index finger beneath Regina's chin and tilting her head up until their eyes lock. "I thought we tell each other everything?"

And she must have her best puppy eyes on display because Regina sighs and relents. "I was thinking about...well, you always hide yourself from me when you're changing. I don't think you wore your bathing suit top all summer without a tank top over."

Emma swallows the thick mass of emotions and insecurities bubbling up and sticking to the back of her throat. This is not what she was expecting.

"I-I'm...just insecure. That's all," she flatly reasons, shifting uncomfortably beneath Regina's weight that suddenly feels like it's crushing her. "You should understand of all people."

Regina maneuvers so she's no longer on top of Emma's chest. Instead, she leans on her left elbow and peers down into those glossy green eyes, glistening with self-doubt.

"I do understand. I hate my scar more than anything, but I have to live with it every day. I don't have the option of covering it up," she firmly argues, narrowing her eyes.

"But it's different."

"How is it different?" Regina exasperates.

"It just...is."

"How?"

"Because yours is sexy!" She snaps, completely lost in the back and forth banter to stop herself from revealing too much. "God Regina, that little scar is so damn sexy. Every time I see it, I think about how amazing you really are. That no matter what life has thrown at you, you still get up and power through every damn day. That scar," and she flushes crimson from the way her voice cracks, but she pushes through, reaching up between them and finally skimming her thumb against the deep indent. Regina flinches at first, but only for a brief moment before she leans into the touch. "This scar, is evidence of your strength, your courage, your fight and bravery to take on the world and never back down. You may see it as some hideous scar that marked you for life, but I...I see an indent that makes you stand out from the rest. There are so many beautiful, flawless faces out there, but you are unique," Emma tenderly vows, her eyes still wet and shining with adoration as her thumb caresses the scar over and over again. "This makes you a thousand times more beautiful."

She hears the hitch in Regina's voice, but she doesn't have time to process because suddenly, there are plump, velvety lips pressing against her own. All the air is sucked from her lungs, so she holds her breath, petrified of what the hell is happening right now because somehow, she gave Regina a sign. She let her little crush slip one way or another because why else would Regina be kissing her in the heat of the moment?

She doesn't move. Doesn't breathe. And maybe that's why Regina reels back.

"I-I-"

"Please don't say you're sorry," Emma rushes out. "God, Regina, please don't take that back."

Regina's head jerks back in surprise, but Emma cups her cheek, refusing to let her drift too far away. "What?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this to happen. I thought I had my feelings in control and clearly we are both feeling vulnerable and god, Regina please don't say it just ruined our friendship," she babbles all while Regina's jaw comes slightly unhinged and her eyelashes flutter faster than a hummingbird's wings.

"Feelings? Emma, what...feelings?"

Emma winces and Regina would have to be blind to not notice the discomfort contorting her face. "Uh."

"Emma," Regina scolds so sternly that Emma has no other option but to speak her truth.

"I'm sorry, Regina," she whispers, her voice trembling, terrified she's about to toss their friendship down the drain. "I thought at first, maybe my heart remembered you and that's why I was excited to see you and taken back by your beauty. But every time I found out something new about you, I was more intrigued and genuinely excited to get to know you. And you were so easy to talk to and you understand me, better than anyone. Nobody understands my pain quite like you and dammit, you're always putting my best interest first and always looking out for me. And yes, you're beautiful, like drop-dead gorgeous, how was I not supposed to fall for you?"

"You're falling for me?" And never has Emma ever heard Regina's voice so shaky before.

She gulps, looks Regina square in the eyes and releases the secret she's been hiding for too many months now. "Yes."

Something that resembles pain flickers across Regina's eyes as her mouth curls down into a deep frown. The thick tears coating her eyes are almost too painful to gaze at, but then Regina is drifting down and capturing Emma's lips all over again.

Emma inhales sharply, then gently glides both hands up Regina's face and pulls her in even closer. She doesn't want to rush anything or press her luck, so she simply drags her lips against Regina's, never asking for permission to enter her mouth. Regina follows her lead, allowing their lips to become acquainted; pressing, skimming, pulling apart just to reunite once again.

Emma's fingers travel down Regina's jawline, discovering the satin skin before she threads her fingers through those silky strands and pulls Regina in even closer. This wins herself a broad smile against her lips, encouraging Regina to scoot a little closer. She shifts, dragging one leg over Emma's as her hand rests upon Emma's chest and she dives back in for another kiss.

Emma is trying to suppress her grin and focus on kissing this woman like she deserves to be worshipped, but she's struggling from how giddy she is. She is kissing Regina. She is kissing this sophisticated, stunning, breathtaking woman and Regina is kissing her back.

Until she's not.

Regina abruptly jerks away, her eyes dark and clearly spooked as her fingers tremble and ghost over her own kiss-swollen lips.

"Regina?" Emma timidly calls to her, hoping to pull her back to reality and drag her as far away from whatever thought is haunting her.

Regina blinks, those cold eyes soaked with tears when they meet Emma's worrisome gaze. The woman is clearly distraught and shaken up, her hand still quivering in front of her mouth.

"Regina, please. Talk to me," Emma softly urges, but that seems to only startle Regina all the more.

Emma watches in complete horror as Regina scrambles off the bed and dashes into the en-suite. She's no fool though, she kicks away the blanket, crawls across the bed, and leaps off the mattress to chase Regina.

"Regina, I'm so so sorry," she pleads, rapidly knocking on the door. "That was all my fault. I shouldn't have said those things. That was completely out of line. Please don't hate me," she begs, but she hears nothing in response, not even the tears she knows her friend is crying. "Please, Regina, I don't want to lose you. I know you're not ready and I'm sure that kiss freaked you out, but I promise you, nothing has to happen, okay? We can just be friends, I swear I won't ever push for anything more," she implores, but when she's greeted with silence, her mouth fills with a bitter taste of humiliation and regret.

"If you want, I can go home." More silence. She really doesn't want to go home just yet, but if Regina tells her to, she will without any argument. "Look, I'm going to give you some space. I'm going to head downstairs and give you the room, alright?"

Nothing in return.

So, she swallows her regret and embarrassment and treks downstairs. The last thing she wants to do is run into Cora and have that woman interrogate her and then have her hung for hurting her baby girl, but she knows Regina needs time and space to sort out her feelings. She knows it must be killing Regina to kiss another person besides her husband. Yes, they are both aware he has passed on, but that doesn't stop the guilt from either of them.

When Emma sneaks downstairs, she finds that the house is abnormally quiet. No cackling from Zelena, no booming voice from Alice and Cora, or giggling toddler. She thinks she's in the clear, but when she shuffles into the kitchen, she finds Zelena and Henry having a very private conversation.

"Uh-um, I'm sorry," she apologizes, blushing profusely as she tries to stumble backwards with both sets of eyes scrutinizing her.

"Speak of the Devil," Zelena muses, those sharp blue eyes nailing Emma's feet to the floorboards below, so she can't escape.

"I-what?" She stammers, blinking between father and daughter. Come to think of it, she has yet to see Regina's father on this trip so far.

Zelena gingerly stands from her chair beside her father and strolls across the kitchen to retrieve a glass from the cupboard. She quietly fills the glass with sink water and then extends the drink to Emma.

"I'm sure you're thirsty after all that wine." Emma blinks, stunned by the kindness, but she rushes forward and thankfully accepts the cool water. Much to Emma's horror, Zelena leans heavily into her side and whispers into her ear. "My sister's lipstick isn't really your color."

Emma chokes on her water, but manages to swallow the liquid down before she spits up everywhere. She quickly gulps, turns her back to Regina's father, who really isn't paying attention to them, and quickly scrubs at her mouth. All while her entire body feels like Zelena doused her in gasoline and lit her ass on fire.

"Better," Zelena confirms with a curt nod before she saunters back toward her seat beside her father.

"Come sit, Emma," Henry politely offers, never once lifting his head to meet her frightened gaze.

"Mmkay," she murmurs under her breath and staggers awkwardly to the kitchen table.

She pulls out the chair on the other side of him, across from Zelena and hesitantly settles down. She busies herself with another sip of water, flicking her eyes down to stare aimlessly at the table and ignore Zelena's probing stare.

Henry's fingers glide up his white stubble, massaging his cheeks as he thinks hard about what he wants to say and Emma is starting to sweat. Maybe she's hungover, but she's pretty positive it's because she's about to be interrogated. Suddenly, she's praying for Cora's company.

Henry exhales slowly and strokes his chin. "How is your health post operation?" He chooses to say and Emma releases an exaggerated sigh of relief.

She straightens her posture and offers a small smile as polite as her parents raised her to be. "Really good, thanks. The first year is the trickiest, but my doctor says I'm doing great."

Henry nods curtly and all Emma sees is Regina in him; his stern eyes, all his mannerisms and stoic expressions. Her stupid heart throbs and she internally reprimands that organ because it already got her into trouble once today.

"Good. Very good."

Emma's eyes widen, she can practically hear this man's wheels turning in his head for the next part that won't be so simple. Her owl like eyes jump to Zelena, who is wearing an all too self-satisfied smirk. Her body breaks out into another sweat.

"My wife seems to be...apprehensive about your presence in my daughter's life."

"I know and I'm really sorry if we caused any problems earlier while drinking, that wasn't my intention-"

"Relax, Emma. You and Regina were just fine, no need to worry. You were both respectable. A little sloppy walking back to the cabin, but who isn't when leaving my wine tasting," he muses through a deep chuckle. This man actually chuckles.

"Oh, good. Wait...you saw us?"

"Of course, I was working today."

"More like spying," Zelena quickly chimes in, provoking her father to furrow his brows and glare at her, but his stern expression rolls right off her.

"I walk the grounds every day." Henry turns his attention back to Emma who quickly nods along. "My daughter has been through a lot, more than I ever thought imaginable," he confesses, and suddenly Zelena doesn't appear so smug, in fact, she looks awfully saddened by this acknowledgment.

"Yes, sir. I know-" Henry holds up his palm, effectively shredding all of Emma's words ready to bounce off her tongue.

"Losing Naveen broke Regina in ways I never saw coming. I have never seen my daughter so shattered." Emma wants to rebuttal but she keeps her mouth shut. "However, you have been there through it all, haven't you?" Emma produces an audible gulp as she nods slowly. "And I haven't seen my Regina smile so freely and unguarded since the accident...unless she's with you."

Emma's bottom lip trembles while her eyes gloss over, she wants to say something, yet she doesn't say a word.

"You have to understand our skepticism," Zelena adds on. "There are many reasons as to why this is peculiar."

"I know. I understand, I do."

"However," Henry lowly says, forcing all the hairs on the back of Emma's neck to stand to attention. "If you are what makes Regina smile then I can't disapprove of this...friendship."

"Thank you. I promise, my intentions have never been ill-willed, I'm was only looking for her to be my friend. She's so fun to be around." The look of surprise that takes over Zelena and Henry's face is quite comical and Emma starts to chuckle. "Come on, you guys have to know how amazing she is."

"Indeed we do," Henry states through a small smile before he abruptly stands. "I better find my wife before she turns to Jefferson for her sorrows," he muses before he's out the door.

"Jefferson is a bartender here, he always makes her drinks extra strong when she's down," Zelena further explains. "So, you kissed my sister?" This woman so boldly accuses, producing another sweat to break along Emma's neck.

"Technically, she kissed me...both times."

"Ah, so there was a second time."

"God, you're infuriating, you know that?" Emma scoffs, but the redhead wickedly cackles in her face.

"That maybe true, but I was the one who saved your ass. My father would have unleashed my mother on you if he noticed that smudged lipstick."

Emma fidgets nervously in her seat. "So, I guess I owe you a thanks."

"It would appear so."

"Thanks," she honestly states.

Zelena waves her off, then folds her arms across the table and leans in. "So, where is my sister now?"

Emma trembles with regret and dread all over again. She really doesn't think it's appropriate to be having this conversation with Regina's sister when Regina herself won't even have the conversation, but then again, Zelena seems to be the only human not crucifying them for their connection.

Emma combs her shaky fingers through her hair and sighs heavily. "She's hiding in the bathroom. I really fucked up," she grumbles, her knees bouncing anxiously just thinking about the damage she caused.

"What do you mean, you fucked up? You said she was the one that kissed you first."

"Yeah, but I knew better. I knew she wasn't ready. I never wanted her to know how I truly felt. It's wrong and inappropriate...not to mention, she's straight." Emma complains before folding her arms across the table and hiding her burning cheeks.

"So, I don't really know you, but I feel like I do, because all my sister does is rave about you. The woman never shuts up," the redhead scoffs in disgust, but there is a hint of amusement lingering in her tone. "First, let's not worry about labels, Regina is very open-minded. She was the first one Robin went to. Second, I find this really weird, because in the back of my mind, I think Regina feels so connected to you because of Naveen's heart." Emma deflates instantly. "But, like I said, she never shuts up about you and every time she talks about you, her eyes sparkle and she gets all giddy like the first time she met Daniel. You know who-"

"Yeah, I know who Daniel is."

"Good," Zelena smirks. "Anyways, every time she learns something new about you, she's a ball of ecstatic energy. She is an absolute fool for you, the real you, but you are right. She's nowhere near ready and she's going to struggle with this. Regina is the most loyal person I know, she takes after our mother with that, and she's going to be drowning in guilt, like she's betraying Naveen."

"I know, trust me, I know all of this," Emma admits, peeking up from her protective little fort, a few tears clinging to her cheeks. "That's why I left her alone and gave her the time and space she needs," she explains as a few more tears trickle down her blushing cheeks. "I just...I really hope I didn't ruin our friendship."

"Again, she kissed you," Zelena stresses, patting Emma's forearm sympathetically.

"No," Emma adamantly rebuttals, furiously wiping her tears away, "I'm her best friend. I shouldn't have opened up so much. It was too much and I pushed at all her vulnerable buttons and she reacted like any human would in the moment when someone sympathizes with you, and compliments you, and makes you feel so fucking special," she angrily claims, palming her slick cheeks and praying that the tears will stop. "I should have kept my mouth shut and been the friend she needs. I fucked everything up and I...god, I don't want to lose her."

"You won't. You mean too much to her."

"Emma?"

Emma whirls around from the timid voice to find Regina lingering near the doorway. And, well, shit. How much did Regina overhear?

"Regina."

"May I speak to you upstairs?"

"Eh, you snooze you lose, Emma is my friend now."

"Shut up, Zelena," Emma and Regina both growl in unison.

Zelena has the audacity to laugh while she holds both hands up in surrender, encouraging Emma to leap from her chair and run very far away. Regina though, she doesn't look at either of them before she pivots and saunters away. Emma furiously scrubs her hands down her face and musters up all those hero qualities Regina is always teasing her about.

Not a word is spoken as Emma follows in Regina's shadow back up the staircase. Regina enters the bedroom and Emma hesitantly crosses the threshold. She grips the doorknob awfully tight, but pauses before she closes the door.

"Do you want me to get my things and leave?" She tentatively inquires, not able to find the courage to meet Regina's gaze.

"I want you to stop acting so ridiculous and close that door so we can talk," Regina exasperates, scratching her nails through her hair before she exhales rather loudly.

"Alright." Emma obeys the request and cautiously takes one step closer to the bed.

Regina narrows her eyes as she plops down on the edge of the bed, immediately stretching for the blanket and wrapping herself up tight. Emma hates how it's nine months later and Regina's still so very cold.

"Please sit. I want to talk about this," Regina urges while Emma notices right away how the woman is slightly trembling.

Maybe she isn't that cold right now. Maybe she needed the blanket to cover up the involuntary quivering from the anxious energy attacking her from within about what's to come.

Emma slowly shuffles closer and claims the spot next to Regina, perching herself at the very edge of the bed. "So, what's up?"

"What's up?" Regina repeats, the hurt evident enough on her face to make Emma crumble.

"Ugh, I'm sorry. I want to talk about this, but then again, I really don't want to talk about this. Regina, I really don't want to lose you-"

"Stop," Regina strictly orders, pressing her finger against Emma's thin lips to end the nervous rambling. Emma whimpers from the contact alone. "If we are ever going to be able to move through this, we need to talk. And I should be the one to start by apologizing-"

"Regina-"

"No, I shouldn't have ran off like that-"

"Please stop," Emma implores, her eyes already filling with that stupid warm liquid once again. "It's not your fault. I know it was too soon and I know it freaked you out-"

"And you know all of this because you have been by my side and helping me heal for nine months now."

"Technically, six," Emma murmurs, provoking Regina to narrow her stern eyes once again. "I mean, that's when we really started to get close."

"Either way, you know me better than anyone and you knew exactly what I was feeling and going through and most importantly, you knew exactly what I needed. You knew I needed a moment to cool down and gather my thoughts. The only thing you didn't know, was to stay away from my sister and not blab to her," Regina scoffs, but Emma chuckles in return as she sniffles away her tears.

"Hey, she's the only one who isn't going to rip my heart out for getting too close to you."

Regina rolls those big brown eyes in annoyance, but Emma sees the way they are glistening with tears she is struggling to fight back.

"Emma," and the break in Regina's voice terrifies Emma right down to the bone. "You understand why I kissed you, right?"

"Because you were feeling vulnerable and I was going on and on about how stupidly sexy you are-"

Regina forces Emma's mouth to snap shut again when she firmly presses her finger against it once more. "I kissed you because I...also, have been feeling something a little more for you, but it's been terrifying me, haunting me-"

"I'm sorry, you know I don't want to cause-"

"Let me finish," her friend urges, effectively shutting her right up. "Sometimes, in my nightmares, I see Naveen in the car and I start to panic because I know what's to come, but then I see you. You...mix in there sometimes and I feel relief for a split second because I know you will protect me and I know that what I feel for you is real," Regina pauses, swallowing thickly as she scrounges up the courage to continue. "And you were going on and on, like you always do, and I had my answer, that you feel something too."

"I do, Regina."

"I know and when I kissed you, I thought it would feel familiar and I think that's because everyone is constantly reminding me that you share Naveen's heart. And that was so foolish of me because I know, I know you two are not the same, your personalities are completely different," Regina hiccups as her tears finally burst through the dam and stream down her flushed cheeks.

"I know, Regina. I know you know the difference."

"When I kissed you, I felt nothing-"

"You felt nothing?" Emma repeats, her voice trembling from all her worst fears coming true.

"Listen," Regina softly says, taking Emma's cheeks into her cold palms and locking eyes with her. "I was expecting to feel something familiar, but I didn't. I didn't feel anything remotely the same, it was completely new and invigorating and it scared me. For a split second, it felt like I was losing Naveen all over again and I panicked. I jerked away, but my lips were tingling and my heart was racing like I was experiencing love for the first time and that kiss was everything. And that scared me all the more and you know my first instinct is to run."

"Regina," Emma sniffles, her fingers curling around both of those dainty wrists. "I know it's too soon and I know you aren't ready, but none of that even matters in this situation because we could never be anything more than just friends."

Regina visibly flinches, her head jerking back while those inquisitive eyes scan Emma's face for further information. "What are you talking about?"

Emma gently eases Regina's hands away from her face and offers the best smile her muscles can produce, but it comes off rather depressing.

"Regina, I can't ask you to be in a relationship with me. I could never do that to you. I have an expiration date and I could never subject you to that kind of torture again. I could never allow you to experience losing another partner in your life again," she sadly declares, and god does she try to ward off those persistent tears, but this is the hardest thing she has ever had to do.

Telling Regina they could never be when her heart is falling so madly in love, is singlehandedly the cruelest moment in her life.

"Emma, everyone has an expiration date. You can't swear off love because you know one day you're going to die. We are all going to die."

"Yeah, but Regina, I have ten years, that's it."

"You might have ten years," Regina flippantly says, her tears still freely flowing down her blotchy face. "The average is thirteen years and one man lived for thirty years after the surgery."

"But-"

"Emma, I could decide one day to spend the rest of my life with you, knowing I have at least ten years, maybe thirty. Or I could find someone new and maybe one day they get hit by a bus and I only get one year with them. Emma, you never know what life is going to throw at you and I'm sorry, but I'm not going to push you away out of fear of something that is a probability."

"Regina, no, I can't let you suffer like that-"

"Emma," Regina very seriously says, persuading those glistening green eyes to meet her own. "When I met Naveen, I was petrified of opening myself up and risking the chance of being hurt, but I would still do it all over again. I have so many wonderful memories with him and if I would have rejected him and pushed him away, I wouldn't have all these beautiful moments to look back on. I loved him, with all my heart and I wouldn't trade a single day."

"Regina, please."

"Now, I have you in front of me and I don't know if we will become anything and I certainly don't know when I will be ready, but it's all worth the risk. I rather have ten years with my favorite person by my side, creating wonderful memories than none at all because I'm scared of losing you."

"You think I'm worth the risk?"

"Emma, you are most certainly worth the risk."

 

Chapter Text



Regina and Emma decided that they didn't have to decide on anything at the moment. Regina knows she's not ready for a relationship, her husband only passed away nine months ago. However, she also knows that Emma is an extraordinary soul and she can't possibly push that woman out of her life.

So, live.

They are going to live life and whatever is, shall be and they aren't going to stress or obsess over labels or the future. They are simply going to live each second to the fullest, take advantage of being alive, and breathe in the moment.

"I-oh-wow," Emma stammers as her feet abruptly halt behind Regina, who is leaning over the bathroom vanity, gliding a deep cherry red lipstick across her bottom lip.

Regina's eyes crawl away from her own lips to meet Emma's bulging eyes in the mirror. "You're never going to catch a buzz tonight if you can't even keep the drool in your mouth."

Emma's mouth immediately snaps shut before she produces an audible gulp that sets Regina's skin on fire. She isn't quite sure when the last time she felt this overwhelmed with lust. Yes, she loved her husband dearly, but they had been married for fifteen years and that burning fire of passion had settled. They were still very intimate and in love, but it's been fifteen years since she has felt that adrenaline, that buzzing, static electricity of pure lust. Those moments where her heart feels like it's going to burst through her chest from hammering so hard or she's constantly breaking out in chills from the unexpected touch.

"Sorry, you just...you look...muy caliente," Emma says, persuading Regina's eyebrows to skyrocket in amusement.

"Muy caliente?"

"Yeah, you have this whole Latin Lover, deep in Havana Nights thing going on," Emma awkwardly rambles as her eyes soak up the coral, spaghetti-strap dress that slightly flares just beneath Regina's bottom, perfect for spinning in and catching everybody's attention. Regina can feel the temperature rising in her blood with that predatory glint sparking in Emma's emerald irises. "And the deep lipstick...and those hoop earrings. Yup, your father is definitely gonna murder me by the end of the night," she solemnly confirms, but it only inspires Regina to chuckle. "Does he have a shotgun lying around here somewhere? I should probably go hide it."

Regina quickly spins around on her stilettos and leans against the vanity, her fingers curling around the marble to keep her hands from wandering. And they are itching to wander because Emma is squeezed in the tightest black jeans possible with those damn suspenders and this forest green t-shirt that still has a collar and a pocket and Regina isn't sure if it's dressy or casual. For the first time ever, she really doesn't care what the fashion attire is, she just wants her hands all over it.

"Am I...underdressed?" Emma shyly questions when she notices she's under Regina's inquisitive survey. She stuffs her hands into her front pockets as she rocks nervously and damn those suspenders for stretching and flaunting so seductively in Regina's face.

"No, not at all. Actually," she hums, her gaze trailing down to admire Emma's slim physique beneath those suspenders, "these are quite sexy," she compliments, finding the courage to glide her index finger beneath one of the straps.

She's going to pretend she doesn't notice how Emma holds her breath as the back of her nail skims down Emma's torso.

"Is this flirting now?" Emma blurts out, encouraging Regina's dark gaze to flick back up to Emma's curious eyes. "I mean, you always confuse me. You always sound like you're flirting, but I'm not really sure if that's just how sexy your voice is? But now, this is flirting, right? We can openly do that now."

Regina seriously regards Emma for a moment before her lips crack into a warm smile and she releases a hearty chuckle. Emma's nervous compliments are all the ego boost Regina needs to grip those suspenders and tug the woman closer.

"Yes, this is flirting, Emma," she confirms with a small peck to the corner of those delicate lips.

"Okay. Yeah. Good," this cute, yet dorky blonde stutters and Regina is sure Emma's picture is in the urban dictionary next to corky. The perfect combination of cute and dorky.

Emma takes a small step back, offering her some breathing room and Regina thinks this is good, safe. Flirting feels okay, a quick peck feels okay at the moment, nothing too overwhelming or scary. Again, live. Simply, live.

"Are you almost ready? Reservation is in twenty minutes," Emma reminds her, studying Regina in the mirror again as she twirls around and checks her makeup one last time.

"Yes. How about Alice and Robin? Are they ready?"

"I thought they weren't eating dinner with us?"

"Oh, they aren't, but I thought we could walk down together. They want some alone time, maybe eat in peace, but I'm sure after one glass of wine each, they will be on the dance floor," Regina explains, poking and fluffing her hair once again for extra volume.

"I think it's pretty cool that your parents hire a live band for the weekend."

"Only during the summer and usually only Saturday nights. Except for holidays, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, then it's through the entire weekend."

"What kind of music do they play? Please say eighties rock," Emma giggles while Regina's eyes roll, not annoyance, but more adoration.

"Mostly hits from the fifties, sixties and some seventies."

"Oh my god, yes," Emma squeals, taking Regina by complete surprise and she must be sporting a look of bewilderment because Emma rushes on. "I grew up on that stuff, that's all my mom and dad listen to."

"I know, I remember the music at their barbecue."

"Oh, yeah," Emma chuckles. "Maybe I'll have to put in a request for Brown-Eyed Girl."

"Maybe," Regina flippantly flirts before she struts passed Emma and leads the way out the door for their girls night out.

Not at all a date.

Maybe a casual date.

~~~~~

The food was spectacular, just as she knew it would be. The wine was superb, flowing at a steady pace, in sync with their enjoyable conversation. Yet, none of that compared to Emma's beauty this evening. Of course, Regina has always been open-minded and never had an issue with complimenting the beauty of a woman, but this is different.

Emma has been so light this evening, as bubbly and ecstatic as a freshly popped bottle of champagne. Those contagious giggles have been more free, not at all hesitant from the anxiety of overthinking and somehow that has morphed her irises into almost a crystal blue that sparkle with every smile she offers. She's radiant this evening, glowing in her own happiness and Regina knows in this moment that she will never be the same.

She's falling.

It's far too soon and completely unexpected and irresponsible.

But she's falling.

"What?" Emma giggles, gently setting her white wine down before her amused line of sight lands upon Regina.

She blinks, unaware she was that lost in thought that Emma had to point it out. She straightens her posture and flashes a smile that hopefully expresses aloofness because she's not ready to discuss what's tormenting her mind since arriving at the vineyard that morning. Something she's dreading to reveal.

"Nothing," she exhales and reaches for her glass to wet her dry palate.

"Oh come on, Regina. I can see those genius little wheels cranking in that head of yours."

"I'm simply living, like we agreed. I'm admiring the warm gentle breeze this evening and the way there seems to be even more stars twinkling in the sky tonight..."

"You're finally noticing the beautiful world we live in and take advantage of every day, huh?" Emma muses, her eyebrows bouncing high in amusement before she finishes off the last of her Moscato.

"I am," she earnestly concedes, leaning into the table before she lowers her voice to a deep sultry tone that will snatch Emma's attention right up. "I'm also admiring the beautiful company the world gifted me this evening."

"Oh...yeah?" And Regina loves the way Emma's voice cracks every time she's nervous, like clockwork.

"Oh, yes," she muses, casually tracing the rim of her glass with the tip of her finger. "You're practically glowing this evening-"

"Must be the company..."

"Did you know, when you can't stop giggling your eyes brighten from their usual sea-green to almost a crystal blue?"

Emma swallows rather roughly, Regina can tell by the way those tendons expand along the column of the blonde's long neck. "I know they change color, between my mom and my dad's eyes. I guess I always thought it kind of depended on what I was wearing."

"I believe it has to do with your mood."

"Oh, really?" Emma chuckles as though she doesn't truly believe in Regina's words. "Have you been doing a study on them?" She jokes, plopping her chin upon her fist playfully.

"I have," Regina wholeheartedly admits, provoking those mood-changing irises to double in size.

"Really?"

"Oh, yes," she flirts, propping one elbow upon the table to support her chin as she leans even closer, mimicking her blonde companion. "On any given day, your eyes are mostly a swirl of green and blue with these tiny specs of gold, however, when you are irritated, concerned, deep in thought, they morph into a forest green, even the golden flecks dim from the loss of light in your life." Emma holds her gaze, although, her chin is sliding off her fist and she is visibly shocked from the confession. "When you just wake up in the morning and the sun shines upon your face, or when you can't seem to stop giggling, or when you think you are really funny, your eyes brighten up to an ocean blue, still reflecting those sunshine specs. So, as you see, your mood greatly reflects the color of your eyes."

"I..." Emma pauses because they both know her voice is about to crack from her nervousness. "Well shit, Regina. How am I supposed to not fall in love with you after something like that?" She scoffs, but the satisfied smirk never vanishes from Regina's face.

"I'm just stating facts, dear," Regina nonchalantly replies before she gingerly lifts the glass of red wine and finishes off the last drop. "Now, if you'll excuse me. The ladies room is calling," she excuses herself, prompting Emma to sulk and slam back against her chair.

"Oh, sure. Way to leave me hanging," she bitterly mumbles, although Regina knows she's teasing, so she flashes a broad grin and sashays away...

...with a little extra sway in her hips that will emphasize Emma's image of Latin Lover in Havana Nights.

Regina disappears into the inside portion of the restaurant and when she knows Emma isn't paying attention, she sneaks off to her true destination.

It's only a couple of minutes later when she is fighting through the crowded dance floor to return to the table. Emma is as stunning as ever, her entire face smiling as she speaks to Ivy, who is dropping off two more glasses of wine for them. She pauses, almost reaching the table and contemplates how she wants this evening to finish.

If she can set boundaries for herself, limits, so she feels more in control, then maybe she won't panic like she did earlier and cause another mess of problems. Flirting, that feels comfortable with Emma and it doesn't make her feel dirty or as guilty as kissing the woman so deeply. She did place a quick peck to the corner of her mouth, but again, she didn't feel the urge to run away and hide after. So, if she can simply stay in control with flirting, maybe a few delicate kisses, nothing too heated that can easily lead to other things, then maybe, she can enjoy the rest of her evening without her trauma sneaking up on her and scaring her half to death.

She inhales one deep breath to calm herself and approaches the table, swiftly sliding into her chair.

"Welcome back," Emma chirps, nodding toward the fresh glass of red liquid. "I ordered you another."

"Thank you, although, I believe you are trying to get me drunk, Miss Swan," she teases, slowly lifting her glass and eyeing the woman over the rim.

"Nah, I already did that once today. Now, I'm hoping for a nice buzz, so we can relax and really enjoy-" Emma's words sizzle and die right then and there. There's a little tug at the corner of her mouth that expresses her amusement before it blooms into a wide toothy grin that steals Regina's breath away.

She really is a stunning masterpiece all on her own.

"D-did you...request, Brown-Eyed Girl?"

"Now why would I do that?"

"Because secretly you want me to ask you to dance again and you didn't want me to miss an opportunity tonight."

"You think very highly of yourself."

"You think you're sneaky, but I know you too well," Emma happily concludes as she pops up from her chair like she's been trapped in a Jack-in-the-Box for quite some time. She extends her hand, her smile and eyes both sparkling with excitement and it's almost overwhelming how much Regina feels for this woman. She hesitates. "Come on, please don't leave me hanging again," Emma pouts, taking her hand so tenderly that Regina is instantly soothed from all the apprehension prickling beneath her skin.

Emma's safe. If this was any other person, any man, Regina would probably be choking on tears and running very far away. However, Emma has been there every step of the way during her grief. She's been compassionate, understanding, never pushy, and so damn lovable. And everything this woman does makes it so easy for Regina to trust her. So easy, to place her heart in this woman's hand and know she will guard it with her life.

She swallows all her guilt about betraying her husband and fears for moving on too quickly and allows Emma to pull her to her feet. The wholesome smile her favorite blonde flashes her, is worth everything in the end.

Emma leads Regina out onto the dance floor, weaving between people until they are close enough to feel the drums beating against their chests and speakers thumping against their eardrums. Luckily, it's not a slow song, so this dance won't be anything too intimate for Regina. They slide up next to Robin and Alice who are both beet red from hopping around and singing so off key to the song. The couple smiles their way and it's just another thing to help Regina feel safe.

"Do you remember when...we used to sing..." Emma so beautifully sings, peering deep into Regina's eyes before she quickly spins her around and slowly releases her hand.

Regina's heart swoons and she's falling all the more.

"Sha-la-la-la-la," every guest belts on the top of their lungs while Emma does this adorable little jig that has her hopping from foot to foot while she snaps her fingers. Those golden waves bounce off her shoulders so effortlessly and Regina is completely taken back from her beauty.

She must be lost in the moment of simply admiring because Emma suddenly takes one of her hands again, urging her to dance along. Those sandy-blonde eyebrows skyrocket in a silent plea for Regina to move her feet and just like that she starts dancing along to the rhythm.

Except, Regina's dancing technique is a little more seductive, her hips swaying and popping in an exaggerated manner, showing off the Latina blood that swims through her veins. Emma seems to be a hyper little puppy, bouncing all around, just like Robin and Alice, all three of them singing their hearts out and it must be since they are so close in age. Yet, despite the ten year age gap, Regina feels just as young and full of life now, more than she had when she was that age all those years ago.

Emma abruptly spins her again, but this time, neither one lets go, both still dancing to the beat in their own way, but never letting go. Emma's feet bounce a few steps closer while Regina's hip seem to be doing the salsa closer, their fingers intertwining in one hand and it all feels just a little too perfect for Regina. But she's living. She's alive and she is going to take this moment and allow herself to bask in it.

Regina is the one to spin Emma next, eliciting those contagious giggles that sweep her heart right off its feet. She finds herself in a trance, mesmerized by the way those soft curls bounce and her crystal eyes sparkle with joy. She's memorizing the sound of Emma's singing voice, that truthfully, sounds nothing like her normal tone. Suddenly, she understands how Emma is always so positive with that sunny disposition. She understands how searching for the beauty in everything can fill a broken heart with so much joy...contentment.

This is living.

Not being trapped in some office day in and day out. Not consumed by everybody else's problems.

She's on cloud nine and she doesn't care if she ever comes down.

~~~~

Sometime during the dance party, Regina had haphazardly tossed up her hair into a sloppy ponytail and Emma has been even more distracted by the sexiness that oozes from the brunette since. The four of them danced until it was midnight and the band had to stop because of the noise ordinance.

"So sweaty," Emma gasps as she thrusts an ice cold bottle of water into Regina's hand and then chugs her own.

She gulps and gulps even though the liquid is almost too cold, all while she uses her free hand to pull off the suspenders clinging to her shoulders. She might be a little tipsy, but she notices how a set of dark eyes track her every move, analyzing the way those straps fall and hang by her hips. She makes a mental note to wear suspenders more often seeing how much they effect Regina.

"We should head back," Robin acknowledges, but Emma can't seem to tear her eyes away from Regina's bright red cheeks.

"You must be so hot," Emma chuckles, pressing her cool water bottle against one of Regina's cheeks before she drags it down the sexy curve of her neck.

"Indeed," Regina's raspy voice croaks out between sips of her water with this look in her eyes that whispers secrets of lust and longing. "Let's head back," she finally says to her niece, who is busy braiding her wife's damp hair, effectively breaking the intense gaze that Emma was completely absorbed in.

All four women start walking back to the cabin, Robin never faltering as her fingers continue their task through her wife's silky hair.

"Emma, you have to start visiting more. We need more nights out like this together," Alice gushes, persuading the brightest smile to explode from her wife's face. It's so obvious how much Robin adores Alice, they are so head over heels in love with each other.

Emma wants that. She swore she wouldn't ever allow that to happen for the sake of the other person. But she really, really wants that. She peeks over at the brunette next to her, who is coated in a thin sheen of sweat, with blushing cheeks, and little curls starting to form around her temple and beneath her ponytail from the moisture. This incredibly sexy, gentle, loving, admirable woman who is constantly putting Emma's needs first. This woman who swore Emma is worth the risk. And yeah, she wants it all with her. Only her.

"I think we can arrange that," Emma finally pipes up to answer Alice. "I love it here and I'm sure we can find some pretty awesome places in the city to visit as well."

Robin snorts. "I don't think my Aunt Regina has ever had a night on the town in the city."

Regina sputters into her water, hastily ripping the bottle away from her lips and wiping at her wet mouth. "I resent that, I've been to some lovely places with Naveen."

"All fancy restaurants," Robin argues with an eye roll that is so identical to Regina's, it's uncanny.

"They were still a night out on the town."

"Sure they were," Emma mocks in a condescending tone as she wraps one arm around Regina and tucks her into her side. She's sure Regina is going to shrug her off, but this gorgeous woman rolls her eyes again and huffs and puffs her annoyance instead.

"I am not bar hopping if that's what you mean by a night on the town. We are all too old for that," Regina gripes, but Emma can't wipe the stupid grin off her face because even when this woman is irritated, Emma still adores her.

"There are plenty of things to do in the city besides bar hopping," Robin rebuttals before her wife hushes her.

"Everyone be quiet, I am too drunk to deal with Hunter if she wakes up," Alice scolds as soon as she witnesses Regina reaching for the front door.

"Zelena offered to babysit tonight, that means she's on duty if Hunter does wake up," Regina declares before she swings open the door and all four women find themselves tiptoeing into the enormous house.

A light immediately flicks on to their right and Emma hasn't felt this ashamed of coming home late since she was sixteen and she had snuck out with Neal. She gulps, a nervous buzz washing over the wine buzz she was happily floating in.

"Midnight," is all Cora says, perched so elegantly upon the couch like she's a damn queen, even if she's in a thick fuzzy robe and slippers.

"Oh my god, Nana, we are all adults," Robin chuckles a little too loudly, inspiring her wife to elbow her to be quiet.

"I know that, my dear," Cora says in a much gentler tone as she rises from the couch. She struts closer and Emma feels herself sinking behind Regina. "Did you have fun?" She asks, her eyes drifting between the couple as if she's struggling to not land upon Regina or Emma.

"It was so nice. We haven't had a night away from Hunter since she was born," Alice happily sighs, persuading Robin to wrap her up tight and hold her close.

Cora smiles so affectionately toward them, taking time to cup each of their cheeks and express her adoration through her warm eyes. Right there, Emma sees the resemblance between Regina and her mother and she softens, even though she's petrified of the older woman.

"Good, I'm glad to hear it. You two head upstairs and sleep in. Your mother is happily sleeping with Hunter beside her." 

Alice and Robin don't have to be told twice, they are off in the blink of an eye and Emma is ready to charge behind them...except...

"And you two? Did you have a nice evening? Girls night out?"

Emma swears every inch of her body is filled with static electricity that is so strong, she cannot possibly move a limb and escape this moment.

"It was lovely, mother. Thank you for the reservation."

"It was so beautiful, Cora. Thank you so much for taking care of everything. Although, I think we did take care of Ivy," Emma chuckles softly as she recalls the hefty tip she and Regina had left behind for the waitress.

"I'm sure you did. Regina, you don't have to keep trying to buy the woman off, you already have her," Cora chuckles and despite the lightness in her tone, Emma's body breaks out in the bad kind of chills.

"Oh please, mother," Regina scoffs.

"What does that mean?" Emma whispers for only Regina to hear, but of course, Cora easily picks up on the question, obviously amused and interested with the private conversation.

"It's really..." Regina pauses and Emma knows this woman wants to finish with the word, nothing, but something stops her. "Why don't we head on up?"

"Regina, Zelena is staying in Hunter's room this evening, if you would like some extra space, you or Emma can take her room," Cora quickly offers, forcing a weight of dread to fall upon Emma's shoulders.

Maybe Regina will want the space away because they have been growing a little too close. Maybe Regina needs the time to think or the distance to feel safer.

"Thank you, but Emma and I are just fine sharing the guest bedroom," she firmly declares before she pivots and sweeps right up the stairs with Emma on her heels. "Good night, mother."

Both ignore the sigh of disappointment leaking passed Cora's pursed lips.

The trip to the bedroom is awfully quiet and Emma hates the tension expanding between them. She knows something is off with Regina, she just isn't sure what has flipped their night around. They were having so much fun and she thought for sure this night would end with them laughing and cuddling together.

When they enter the room, Emma doesn't even have the chance to shut the door before Regina is reaching behind her own back to unzip her dress. Emma shivers from the sultry scene unfolding before her, but she does take the time to shut and lock the door. She tells herself to keep her eyes down, not invade Regina's privacy, most importantly, not work herself up only to be frustrated all night.

That plan doesn't really work out when she catches a glimpse of the dress pooling at the woman's bare feet. She swallows thickly, her eyes trailing up the tan, smooth legs begging for her attention. Don't. She can't torture herself, so she snaps her eyes back to the floor.

She stands on one side of the bed, eyes obediently on the floor as she begins yanking her shirt from her jeans. Every move she makes feels heavy, slightly sluggish from the alcohol she consumed this evening, but she manages to slide her jeans down her legs. She kicks the denim away and then pauses, searching for her baggy t-shirt that she sleeps in. However, there are cold fingertips sneaking around her waist and startling her.

"Relax," Regina's husky voice whispers behind her ear, but Emma's skin is too sensitive to this woman's alluring touch. Regina's left hand protectively splays across Emma's lower abdomen while her other hand wanders, those teasing fingertips dancing up Emma's body.

"I believe you had something to share with me?" Emma investigates, but her body betrays her and leans into this woman's front.

"I do, but then I saw you changing and it reminded me of something else that was never truly finished."

"Oh?"

"Yes," Regina firmly concludes before her right hand gently lays between Emma's breasts. Instinctively, Emma holds her breath. "You should wear this scar with pride," she confesses so tenderly that Emma trembles in her arms and it forces her eyes to sting from the warm tears and her nose to tingle. "You are the strongest, bravest, woman I know," she vows, her own voice sounding wet which only persuades Emma to choke on her tears. "You have endured so much, things so many people can't even imagine. You have fought for your life, fought to be on this planet every day, since the day you were born. You have fought harder than any person I know and you deserve to live without feeling ashamed of the path that lead you here," Regina states with conviction even if her voice is wobbling from her own tears.

Emma sniffles, desperately trying to fight back her tears as so many insecurities claw their way to the surface, but Regina presses her freezing hand against her heart and holds her even closer.

"This scar tells the story of your journey, that you are this remarkable woman who refused to give up when your body couldn't find the strength to carry on. This scar is so damn sexy because it shows how brave, how courageous and how damn strong you are. You are a fighter, Emma Swan, and this scar makes you that much sexier. I promise you," Regina vows as she chokes on her own tears, provoking Emma to spin around abruptly in her embrace.

Emma snakes her arms around Regina's neck and buries her face deep into the crook as she silently cries. Regina's right there though, gliding her hands up Emma's back and soothing the tremors wracking Emma's body from within.

"What are you doing to me? I swore to never allow myself to feel so much," Emma sobs into Regina's neck, breathing in her flowery scent that instantly settles her erratic heart.

"Emma," Regina sighs, gently untangling the blonde from her body, so she can cup those wet cheeks and look her square in the eyes. "You have fought so hard for your life. You deserve the world. Just because you know that one day you are going to die doesn't mean you aren't worthy of love. You deserve to be loved more than any other human I have met," Regina softly whispers, ignoring both their tears as she presses the softest kiss to Emma's lips.

 

Chapter Text



When Emma's groggy eyes slowly pull apart, she finds a clock on the nightstand glowing red in the violet morning. Six in the morning. She sighs, blissfully happy when she discovers a mess of wild curls decorating her chest like warm strokes to a blank canvas. Her fingers move all on their own, threading so gently through those silky knots, generating the deepest groan of approval in return. A smile blossoms across her face and without even thinking, she presses her lips to the crown of Regina's head.

Regina hadn't pushed the issue any further the night before with seeing the transplant scar and Emma was so thankful for that. After the quick peck they shared, Regina granted Emma some privacy to change and prepare for bed and when Emma had returned from the bathroom, Regina was already passed out. So, she crawled into bed and slid perfectly behind the woman, needing to hold her close after the mess of emotions she made her feel.

"What time is it?" Regina's scratchy throat breaks through the silence of the peaceful early morning.

"Six. The sun should be coming up soon. My internal clock reminded me that someone said the sun rises on this side of the house."

"That someone should have known you would want to watch the sunrise. Idiot," she grumbles, clearly still half-asleep.

Emma chuckles softly and squeezes her close, placing one more kiss to those wild curls. "Come on, it's going to be so beautiful," she murmurs into the strands that smells so damn delicious, she wants to spend an entire winter in there hibernating.

"You know what else is beautiful? Sleep. Sleep without a nightmare, preferably longer than five hours."

"I know, I'm sorry. You can go back to sleep. Maybe tomorrow you can watch the sunrise with me," Emma sweetly offers, her fingers methodically scratching Regina's scalp to soothe her back to sleep.

"I'm already up," Regina groans, "but tomorrow you let me sleep."

"Deal," she whispers. "So, no nightmares last night?"

"No," Regina sighs in relief and maybe she doesn't realize the action, but she definitely nuzzles her face closer against Emma's chest. Emma's heart swells, her mind replaying all the incredible things Regina had said to her the night before about her scar. "It's usually only once every other week now."

Emma hums at first, her fingers slipping out of the tangles to lightly scratch up and down Regina's bicep. She's been holding off for a while now, not wanting to push, but she thinks they have made some huge progress in their relationship since coming back to Jersey. "Will you tell me about them?" She timidly inquires, already expecting Regina to shut down.

She can feel the way this delicate woman inhales sharply and holds her breath, but then Regina shifts, taking Emma by surprise. She slowly crawls on top of Emma, carefully places her hands over her chest and rests her chin there. They lock eyes and Emma can't help herself, she lifts her hand and gently touches the scar upon Regina's forehead near her temple, memorizing the faint indent against her own flesh. Then, her fingers skate down to tuck the hair in disarray behind Regina's ear.

"Every dream starts off the same, it's of Naveen and I driving on the expressway toward the airport. We were going to take a vacation to the Bahamas for Christmas and New Year's, for two weeks. It was going to be the first one in over five years," Regina pauses, her eyes instantly turning glossy.

"If it's too much-"

"No, I'm ready to share with you," Regina vows and Emma knows how serious she is by the determination behind those wet orbs. "I-I can't remember what we were talking about, that's still a little fuzzy...a lot of things still are, but Dr. Hopper has been helping me with that." Emma nods encouragingly, but she remains abnormally quiet, entranced by Regina's words. "But in my dreams, he's laughing at something I had said as he reaches for my hand and kisses my knuckles. That was something he had always done with me, take my hand, kiss my knuckles and hold my gaze to make me feel like I was the only woman in the room."

Emma offers a smile, but she knows it's a mix between a lazy grin and a frown, but her heart just doesn't know if it should be happy about the memory or be so utterly depressed. Either way, she remains silent, knowing Regina needs to get through this moment to take another step in her process of healing. So, she plays with Regina's hair as a distraction.

"He only turned away from the road for a split second and in all honesty, even if his eyes were glued to the road, I don't think it would have made much of a difference because we hit a patch of black ice. Our car spun out of control and we went through the guardrail. The expressway was pretty high off the ground and we ended up flipping all the way down."

Emma can feel her own tear, warm, silent, as it glides down her cheek from just the thought alone of Regina in that car. Her heart is breaking already because this woman means the world to her and she wishes she could have been there, wishes she could have protected her in some way.

"I remember the sound of shattering glass from the windshield and screaming for Naveen and I remember feeling so out of control from being flipped around in the car that I panicked and tried to brace myself. So, I planted my hand on the roof, but the pressure from one of the flips snapped my wrist-"

"I don't remember you wearing a cast when I first met you."

"It was taken off the day before," Regina confesses, her eyes drifting down to study the wrist that is now completely healed, as if nothing had happened at all.

It's funny how easily a bone can be mended, but her muscle, her heart is still struggling to piece itself back together after nine long months.

"Oh. Sorry, go on," Emma urges, her fingers raking through Regina's hair to gently massage the back of her scalp.

"In the dreams, after my wrist breaks, I hear myself calling to him and he answers now, I told you this after the first time I had dreamt about it."

Emma nods again, still attentive and hoping her touch is soothing and comforting enough for Regina to continue. However, she has a feeling that Regina meant what she said, she is ready to finally open up and share this part of her life, so she can slowly move on.

"He tells me to hang on, that it's almost over, but his voice always cuts off like someone hit the mute button on our lives. I call out his name, over and over again, but when I look over...he's out cold and there's so much blood," and this is when Regina finally cracks and allows a few tears to trickle. "I always seem to black everything out from there, I was told that I hit my head on the glass window and passed out."

Emma delicately reaches up and traces the indent that caught her attention at the beginning of the conversation. "Is that how you got this?" She gently questions, prompting Regina to nod slowly as she leans into the touch. Emma's finger slips away, following Regina's strong jawline before she sweeps across her chin and drifts up to caress her favorite thing about Regina. "And this one?"

"I believe that was the windshield's doing. My entire face was covered in little gashes after the accident from all the shattered glass. They even had to flush out my eyes while I was in the coma to wash away all the pieces of glass."

Emma cringes, obviously her facial expression must be comical because Regina sniffles out a small laugh.

"So, may I ask what officially was the cause of Naveen's death?" Emma awkwardly inquires.

"He had hit his head several times on the side of the car, maybe even the windshield, but when he arrived at the hospital, they did several tests and he-he suffered too much. He would have been on life support for the rest of his life, there was no brain activity."

Emma reaches between them and slowly wipes away the tears cascading down Regina's cheeks. "He was a good man, Regina."

Regina chuckles, moving to wipe away her own tears. "You didn't even know him."

"Hey, he married you and that is one hell of a man in my book," Emma professes before she pulls Regina's face in and places a lingering kiss against her forehead.

"Thank you," Regina shyly whispers before she slips away, but she doesn't move too far. She gently rests her head upon Emma's chest and listens to the heart that beats, strong and steady.

Little does she know how much that heart beats for her.

Emma allows her some peace and quiet to settle down, never once pausing from trying to soothe Regina back down; whether she's scratching at Regina's scalp or running her palms up and down her back or lightly dragging her nails along those toned arms.

When the first hint of an orange glow sweeps into the bedroom, Emma carefully moves to sit up. Regina follows her lead, kneeling in the mess of tangled sheets and waiting for some kind of guidance. Emma quickly leaps from the bed and dashes across the room to lift the blinds.

She is back on the bed in fifteen seconds flat and settles down in the middle. She opens her legs and pats the warm sheet, silently requesting Regina's presence. The brunette flashes a playful smirk and slowly crawls to sit between Emma's legs. Emma snakes her arms around Regina's slim waist, buries her nose in the crook of her neck and breathes in the moment. Especially with her knees bent, it's like she created a protective little egg for Regina to hide away in.

Regina wraps one arm around Emma's knee and the other hand stretches behind herself to lose her fingers in a sea of golden tresses. Neither one can contain their giddy smiles, but that's okay, because they both know this moment is theirs. This peaceful and intimate moment will always be for just them.

The sun slowly stretches its rays of sunshine, peeking over the horizon before it officially greets the day. There's a sweep of orange, a splash of yellow and a dash of red painting the picture before them and Emma knows it's going to be a gorgeous day, but Regina, she's almost in tears from the vibrant colors expanding across the acres of grass just outside the window.

She finally sees the whole picture in color, her life is no longer haunted in depressing shades of black and white and that is all because of Emma Swan.

"Are you crying?" Emma barely whispers behind her ear when she feels Regina's abdominal muscles quivering beneath her hold.

"You brought the color back into my life," Regina admits through a wet chuckle, inspiring Emma to place a sweet kiss to her neck. "After forty years of living on this planet, I'm finally seeing things in ways I never thought imaginable."

"Welcome to my world, where every day is a gift and you shouldn't take one single moment for granted."

"What are you doing to me, Emma Swan?" Regina muses, her voice extra thick with tears and so damn sexy.

"Showing you that just because you lost love doesn't mean you don't deserve it ever again. This is your second chance at life as much as it is mine. No more hiding behind work or trapping yourself in those same four walls every day. This is life. This is your life."

"And it's beautiful," Regina says as she spins around and presses a tender kiss to the corner of Emma's mouth.

When Regina spins back around to admire the sun crawling toward the sky, she snuggles in even closer to Emma and they watch the sun completely rise. At precisely 6:32 in the morning, the bedroom is bathed in an incandescent glow. Emma abruptly swivels in front of Regina and carefully guides her to lay back down upon the mattress. One perfectly sculpted eyebrow raises in questioning, but Emma doesn't say anything.

She's too damn nervous.

She follows Regina down on the bed and hovers just above her, their breasts just barely becoming acquainted. Regina opens her mouth to question Emma's sanity, but she rapidly shakes those blonde waves all around, pleading for Regina not to say a word and break her courage.

Very slowly, as gradually as one human can move, Emma begins to drag her old baggy tee up her body. Regina doesn't say a damn word, but her eyes are talking a mile a minute, silently asking if she's sure, or if this is too much, or if she wants to stop? Emma quickly removes her shirt, but she's still feeling ridiculously self-conscious, so she collapses onto Regina and hides away in her safe place, Regina's neck.

She feels Regina's nails scratching against her scalp before the woman lifts her head. Emma's not quite sure how it happens, but there's a velvety pair of lips molding perfectly with her own. Her heart stutters in her chest and she knows it's demanding that she acknowledges that it's still there and she has to finish with what she started. Regina opened up, poured her heart out about the accident and the dream, it's only fair that Emma faces her own fears now and shows Regina her own scar.

At a snail like pace, she breaks away from those succulent lips, falling in love with the way their lips snap their protest about being apart. She offers Regina one more quick peck and then drifts away, allowing Regina to see all her imperfections.

Except, Regina doesn't gawk or study the old wound like Emma anticipates her to. Those deep brown eyes never leave Emma's as Regina's fingers cautiously reach up and lightly connect with Emma's chest, just below the dip in her throat. Emma immediately tenses, her eyes wandering away as she swallows hard to force those irrational fears and insecurities back down which causes Regina to stop dead in her tracks.

"Emma," Regina kindly whispers, but Emma's struggling to keep it all together. "Emma, look at me," she encourages and because Emma trusts this woman with her life, she drifts back to meet a soft gaze. "This right here is why you constantly seek the beauty in everything and it's beautiful in itself."

Emma chokes on her tears, praying that they don't fall again and that she can be brave and push through this moment. Regina's fingers carefully track the path, down the sternum that has been cracked too many times in Emma's delicate life. It feels strange, the nerve-endings never able to properly heal after all the surgeries. Her flesh is somewhat numb around that area, yet, she feels something and it almost makes her cringe, almost makes her sick to her stomach.

"This..." finally Regina's attention travels down to admire the scar, "this is quite sexy. You are one badass, Miss Swan," she sweetly says, persuading those adorable giggles to come bursting out.

"You're something else, you know that?"

Regina lifts her head off the mattress and steals a quick kiss. "But that wasn't so bad, right?" She teasingly taunts as her fingers flip, granting her nails permission to lightly skim the flesh beneath one of Emma's naked breast.

She shivers violently, in the best way possible.

"Not with you," Emma honestly says before she swoops down and captures those lips for a much longer kiss.

Neither one of them pushes for more or move to end the kiss, but they both inhale sharply to breathe in the moment and keep it locked away in their chests forever.

"But no copping a feel just yet," Emma laughs, crashing their bodies together and swiftly rolling Regina on top. "You don't get to touch if my tongue hasn't even been in your mouth yet," she teases, her hands smoothing up Regina's back to hold her close.

"So elegant," Regina chuckles deeply and Emma falls in love with the way the reverberations off Regina's laugh vibrates against her own chest. "Please stay clear of making crude comments like that in front of my father, unless you want to see that shotgun you were inquiring about," she quips, her face as stoic as ever and Emma can't help but laugh.

And that's how they spend their morning; basking in the warm morning sun as they tease one another, stealing kisses and allowing their hands to explore every inch of flesh that does not cross any lines that would warrant for that shotgun.

~~~~

"Just another day, but a perfect opportunity to try something new. Baking with the finest Mills apples."

That's that caption beneath a photograph of Regina's captivating hands as she mixed the apples by hand with cinnamon sugar. The post is already a hit, Emma assuming it's because of the close up on the vibrant red apples in the background or the way that cinnamon sugar sparkles in a certain light, but in reality, her friend's enjoy ruffling her feathers.

Ruby was the first to like and comment, stating that those clearly aren't Emma's hands and Regina better put her butt to work. Neal soon followed, claiming that he wouldn't touch anything she cooked because it would probably be poisoned from how terrible of a cook she is. Her mother also popped in to say, she loves Regina's apple pies and can't wait for another bite. And of course, Jamie had dropped in as well, also noting that those aren't Emma's hands, but that's no surprise because of the muse that seems to be constantly stealing every post.

Emma simply smirked at Jamie's comment with an underlying hint of jealousy. She quickly posted one more picture of Regina, the most stunning photograph in Emma's opinion, that truly captured how ridiculously gorgeous the woman is; with her hair tossed lazily into a ponytail, sporting an apron with flour splashed around as she prepared the crust for the apple pie. Regina was completely lost in the moment, not paying any attention to the camera whatsoever and Emma swears Regina has never looked so stunning.

After that, she tossed her phone aside for the rest of the afternoon. Jamie's absence no longer stings the way it once had because she found a woman that won't run the first sign of trouble. She found a woman that is going to stick by her. She found a woman that vows she is worth the risk.

"Something smells delicious," Henry announces, following his nose into the kitchen, where Regina is just pulling out a tray of apple turnovers to place beside her apple pie that has been cooling.

"Right?" Emma laughs, perched upon the kitchen counter and swinging her feet as comfortable as if she has already moved right in. "My mouth has been watering for the past half hour now."

"Patience," Regina slowly says, gripping Emma's ticklish spot right above her knee and forcing out a little yelp when she squeezes.

Emma immediately swats her away, her cheeks flushing crimson, petrified Regina's father will murder her right there in the kitchen with his bare hands, forget all the knives lying around. The man's dark eyes slide suspiciously between them, but he doesn't mutter a word. Thankfully, the rest of the boisterous family comes breezing in, slicing right through the awkward tension Regina seems oblivious to.

Zelena and Cora are gushing over Hunter while Robin and Alice laugh about something, but they all slip into their seats around the table, ready for Regina's desserts. Emma slinks down off the counter, feeling slightly out of place, but Regina steps beside her and offers a utensil to cut into the pie.

"Will you do the honors? I'll get some plates for everyone."

"Sure," Emma agrees, glad she has a job to keep her busy and away from any possible interrogations she is sure to come.

Emma quickly cuts into the pie, slicing as perfect and as even as she can manage while Regina passes out the plates, even though nobody has even eaten lunch yet. The table is already crowded, so Regina and Emma stay at the kitchen counter, opting to stand while they enjoy their pie.

"This will never get old, it's too delicious," Emma moans around a mouthful, persuading a toothy grin to spread wildly across Regina's face.

"I will never understand what you do to make this outshine the rest," Henry happily adds on, licking his fork so he doesn't waste a single drop of the scrumptious filling.

"Regina, dear, I really do hope you consider selling these. Just imagine the freshly baked pies right next to the bottles of wine. People would snatch these up right away," Cora cheerfully announces, but Emma is pausing mid-bite to regard Regina closer.

"Sell your pies here?" Emma quietly asks, but the entire family hears her question that forces Regina to tense up and completely freeze.

Robin and Alice immediately look away, like they are mortified to even be present, so they distract themselves with Hunter. Zelena appears slightly appalled from the way her eyes are widening, but her parents seem completely unaffected and proceed eating.

"Um, no, Emma...not here-" Regina begins, unsteady, abnormally awkward and visibly uncomfortable.

Emma's heart sinks.

"I meant at her vineyard," Cora rudely interrupts, never once glancing in their direction. "In California."

"California," Emma repeats as if she's on autopilot because her body is too stunned by the bomb that was so carelessly dropped in front of her. The information stings, burns, and she's not entirely sure how to navigate through this explosion.

"Emma, I'm sorry, I should have mentioned," Regina regretfully apologizes, those brown orbs already filling with remorse, but Emma fakes a smile and shrugs carelessly.

"It's alright. You," and damn her voice for always cracking and selling out her true emotions, "you didn't want to jinx it. I know," she attempts to sound understanding but even to her own ears, she's not nearly convincing enough.

"Emma-"

"She has to find the place first, someone has been a snob about the whole ordeal," Zelena chimes in, maybe to rectify the situation and persuade Emma's mind into believing that nothing is official just yet.

"Well, she better find something quick, so she can start planting in late winter, early spring, especially if we are going to uproot some of our vines," Cora adds on, but Emma is lost in thought, blinking at Regina who is pleading with those big eyes not to run.

"Your pies really are in a league all their own. You should definitely sell them when you open your own vineyard," Emma manages to say with a smile set into place. "I...I should probably go for a little run. We have been eating so much and drinking, I really need to get in my daily exercise."

Regina frowns, her hand already cutting through the brick of tension between them to gather Emma's hand. "Everything we have been indulging has been a part of your diet. I have made sure every meal has been healthy and sticking to your strict diet."

"Oh, I know you have been watching what I eat," Emma softly concedes, pretending that they don't have an audience who is tracking their every move. "And I appreciate that, but we've been eating a lot and I do still have to exercise to maintain and build the strength of my heart now."

"Em-"

"No worries," she flippantly says, slowly slipping her hand out from Regina's clammy grip. "It'll be just a light jog, I'll be back before you know it," she claims before she dashes to the door for her gym shoes and bolts right out the screen door.

 

Chapter Text


Regina watches in utter horror as Emma literally runs away after her mother so ignorantly dropped some information that wasn't hers to share. Yes, she wholeheartedly had planned on sharing this news with Emma, but other things, more important things have been coming up on this trip. She knows moving to California is going to complicate things, but then again, she and Emma agreed to live in the moment and not stress about the future.

"Mother," she growls, provoking Zelena and her family to leap to their feet and escape the kitchen before the violent storm hits.

Because that's exactly what is about to happen.

"I thought Emma is your dearest friend? How have you not mentioned your move?" Cora scoffs, gathering her plate along with Henry's to deposit in the sink.

"She is my closest friend, but I haven't told anyone of my plans except for this immediate family. I never even mentioned anything to Kathryn. I wanted to wait and have everything settled before I jump the gun," Regina explains, desperately trying to keep her raging emotions in control that are out for blood right now for hurting Emma.

Cora drops the dishes in the sink with an ear-piercing clatter before she whirls around and pins Regina with a dangerous glare. "Bullshit, Regina." Regina pops her mouth open to argue, but her mother furiously continues. "Bullshit, that you didn't want to jinx things and bullshit, that she is simply a close friend. Friends don't exchange looks the way you two do. Friends don't share the same bed every night and friends most certainly don't freely touch each other the way you do," Cora scolds, forcing a scalding heat to burst through Regina's veins.

She's slightly aware of her father's presence, silent as always, listening, absorbing, maybe judging, but she explodes, firing off before she can think about the ramifications and stop herself.

"So what, mother? Am I not allowed to date ever again? Am I not allowed to find love because I already had it once?"

"I never said that," Cora seethes, but Regina doesn't back down, instead she steals an assertive step forward.

"Then, what? Is it because she's a woman?"

"Don't you dare put words into my mouth. Don't you dare paint me in that color when Robin and Alice are here, in my home every weekend."

"Then what is it, mother?"

"She's not Naveen!"

"Don't you think I know that?" Regina explodes, her entire body involuntarily trembling from just one thought of her husband once again.

"No, I don't believe you do. I think you are still grieving and you're vulnerable and you want to believe that Naveen is still here, still somehow connected to you through that woman, but he's not, Regina. She is not Naveen!" Cora shouts, provoking a heavy sigh from her husband, but he doesn't jump in to defend her or accuse her for being wrong either.

"I know that!" Regina screams, her vision instantly blurring from the warm liquid filling her eyes. "I know better than anyone that she is not Naveen. He enjoyed literature and expanding his knowledge, but she is obsessed with cheesy movies and superheroes. He spent every waking moment with his nose in a book and she spends her time staring out a window, she can't even walk outside without raving about the damn dirt," she states through a watery chuckle, but she refuses to allow one single tear to escape. "He was quiet, shy, and reserved and she is larger than life, always giggling and so damn lovable. The only thing they share in common is how kind they are and their need to always put me first."

"Regina, this isn't healthy. She took advantage when you were vulnerable-"

"Took advantage?" Regina laughs humorlessly. "What are you talking about? She was kind, supportive and nothing more than a friend for the past nine months. It's been strictly platonic until yesterday and was the one who made the first move," she so boldly confesses, generating another deep sigh from her father, but nothing more.

"You? You made the first move? Regina, you've only ever been with men. Don't you see how confused you are?"

"I am not confused. It doesn't matter to me if Emma is a man or a woman, I'm falling for her heart-"

"Her heart, you see, it's Na-"

"Stop it! I'm falling for Emma's heart, as in her love, her empathy, her gentle soul. I don't care about what she does or doesn't have physically, I love her mind and her spirit," Regina stresses.

"Regina, you still have to find someone attractive, you could simply love her mind, but-"

"I do find her attractive, she's the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," she confesses and she's faintly aware of the front porch snapping shut.

"Regina, I'm worried...we are worried that you latched onto the first person that was there during your grieving, when you were vulnerable. I don't want you to mistake what this really is," Cora implores, her tone softening to help persuade Regina to take her words into consideration.

"Dammit, mother! You're not listening! Do you ever just fucking listen?" Regina gripes, finally provoking her father to stand angrily from his chair.

"Regina, you do not speak to your mother like that. We know you have been going through a lot and we have sat by and allowed you to project your anger out on us, but enough is enough," Henry angrily declares, stomping over to where both mother and daughter are folding their arms defiantly. "We just want to make sure that you see Emma and Naveen as two completely different people. You will not find Naveen in that woman."

"I'm not explaining myself anymore," Regina grumbles, tossing her hands up in the air, ready to storm off, but...

"I'm sorry, I didn't want to interrupt," Emma's timid voice breaks through the rippling tension, immobilizing Regina's body once again, because how much did she hear? "I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Mills, I didn't mean to cause any problems with your family this weekend."

"I know that wasn't your intention," Henry kindly, but very sternly says, "however, you need to understand our concern for our daughter. This year has been a lot and we don't want to see her struggle any longer."

"I am forty-years-old-"

"I completely understand that, sir," Emma cuts Regina off in a heartbeat. "I just want what's best for her as well. I would never push her and we already discussed this. She's not ready for anything serious. We simply want to spend time together and enjoy life while we can. Right now, she's still healing and so labels aren't important. We are just living in these little moments and appreciating the world that we both have a second chance at," she tenderly explains, encouraging the older couple to sag in relief.

Henry nods firmly, but Cora is the one to respond verbally. "I apologize, Emma, this isn't personal. I have seen Regina struggle this year, in ways I thought could never possibly reach my children. So, I feel this need to protect my daughter right now."

"Hey, I get that. My parents are the most protective creatures to walk this planet. I know you just want what's best for her." Emma offers a slanted smile that Regina is putty for and she knows this blonde is hoping it will help smooth over the uneasiness still clouding the air. "Maybe it would help if we all sat down and had lunch together? You guys can ask me anything? Then, maybe you can trust that I only have Regina's best interest at heart."

Regina blinks, taken back by the invitation, and too stunned to notice how shocked her parents are as well.

"I will make us some sandwiches," Cora states in her usual vague way of agreeing to the terms.

~~~~

Lunch with Regina's parents went as well as Emma could have hoped for. She spent a solid twenty minutes filling the couple in on every detail of her own parents' lives. She was asked to go into great detail about all her medical history and then came the tough questions, regarding Regina. It wasn't too bad though, she was simply honest and tried to make them see a clear cut difference between her and Naveen, so they know Regina sees it too.

After an hour of conversation, Regina excused them and now she is leading Emma back to the bedroom, so they can talk. Every inch of Emma's skin is prickling from her apprehension of what's to come, but she does her best to plaster on a small smile and pretend she's cool about everything.

"Emma, please take a seat," Regina urges as she softly closes the door.

"Alright," she murmurs, shuffling toward the bed to perch herself at the end because she's too nervous to relax in the middle.

"I-I want you to know that I wasn't intentionally trying to hurt you," Regina confesses, hesitantly settling down beside Emma, leaving enough room that clearly states how unsure she is about where they are right now. And Emma aches all over. "I never told a soul outside of my family about my plans. Not even Kathryn knows."

"Look Regina, you don't owe me an explanation, up until last night we have strictly been friends. You have said multiple times that you wanted to get the ball moving before revealing your secret."

"Be that as it may, I still feel bad about the way you found out. I had every intention of telling you this weekend, but so many other important issues kept coming up and couldn't be ignored."

"I get it," Emma flippantly says, shrugging so carelessly. "You don't have to feel bad, it's not like we are exclusive or were planning a future together. Heck, we said the future topic is off the table."

"Emma, stop that. I know you're hurting and I know you're trying to hide it because...you're Emma," Regina sighs, gently sweeping the tangled locks off Emma's shoulder and why does Emma have to shiver in response?

"I'm not hiding anything, I'm trying to be realistic. I'm not mad at you, I understand you need to move on in life," Emma claims, even though her heart feels extra heavy, like its weight is carving a big gaping whole in her chest.

Funny how fitting that is.

Regina exhales, her annoyance very loud and clear for Emma to pick up on. "Remember the first time we ever spoke on the phone?" Emma's immediately nodding along. "Remember how I said I went to visit my father that day?" Another curt nod while green eyes squint and pay very close attention. "That was the day I had presented the proposal to my father. I wanted to expand the Mills name, branch out, and open a sister vineyard. Even that early on in our relationship, you made me see how much I wanted to spend my life outside, admiring the world around me, no more hiding away in an office and drowning in other people's problems. So, I wanted to buy some land in California and transfer some vines, open another vineyard. Maybe even have a barn that has actual horses inside for the guests to book some time for horseback riding."

"Regina, really, that sounds so amazing," Emma honestly promises, placing her hand upon Regina's bouncing knee. This wins her a small shy smile in return. Emma's favorite Regina smile.

"Over the summer, while you have been exceptionally busy with work, I have been flying out to California on weekends, in search of some property," Regina confesses, forcing Emma's eyes to expand to their fullest potential. "I have two properties in mind, but I haven't made a decision, yet. I really haven't made too many decisions besides offering Ivy the managing position. I-I think I'm apprehensive about making the leap and officially ending this part of my life."

"Yeah, I get that. It's a big move in life...literally." Regina purses her lips and Emma melts from how adorable she is. She tenderly tucks a chunk of thick tresses behind Regina's ear and gifts her an honest smile. "But...I think this is the right move for you. I think it's a great idea and I know you will be so happy living in peace on a farm, surrounded by smiling faces that are tipsy and enjoying their weekend getaway. And the big, smelly horses," she teases, eliciting the cutest chuckle in return. "You'll be very happy, Regina, and I'm so happy for you."

Regina's eyes instantly fill with tears. "And us?"

Emma shrugs hopelessly. "I-I don't know. I guess we just see where life takes us."

Regina's glossy eyes are glowing in a warm honey as she stares so intently into wet green eyes and Emma knows how soft this woman is for only her. "This sounds like goodbye."

"Nah," Emma whispers, only one corner of her mouth curling into a depressing smile. "You can't get rid of me now. You're stuck with me for as long as I live."

Regina sighs, although her lips are drifting closer to steal Emma's and claim them as her own. Emma doesn't hesitate to cup a strong jawline and pull Regina in even closer. She pulls and pulls, closer and deeper until she is dragging Regina up the bed. Her plan is to tuck this spectacular woman into her side and hold her close to memorize the moment, but Regina has other plans.

Regina slowly crawls on top of Emma, her hand slipping down to cradle the nape of Emma's neck as she deepens the kiss. Emma hesitates for a moment, petrified of triggering something that will haunt Regina, but then those plump lips part against her own, guiding them open, so her velvety tongue can dip inside. Emma's bloodstream instantly boils, forcing her body to shiver from the intensity and intimacy of it all.

Emma meets her halfway, their tongues meeting and dancing so perfectly for the first time. Regina's strong, dominate, yet so full of love, and Emma becomes a puddle of sappy goo beneath this woman. There's a mix between a sigh of utter contentment and a small moan that slips out of Emma's mouth and falls into Regina's, which only encourages the brunette bombshell to smirk smugly as her hips roll provocatively.

A deep groan stirs in Emma's chest, her left hand moving to the dip in Regina's back to urge her closer while her other hand swims in a sea of raven waves. The moment is almost too intense, too intimate, too arousing, but Emma fights those desires away and focuses on becoming acquainted with Regina's tongue, along with memorizing every sexy curve this woman is perfectly sculpted with. She doesn't want to rush and she swore she wouldn't push Regina, so she takes this moment as time to really get to know her.

She roams up Regina's back, noticing just how thin she truly is from how prominent her spine is. She dances her fingertips along the woman's shoulder until they sweep so gently down the trail of her ribcage. The moment she falls away from the last rib, Regina squirms, blowing a puff of small air against Emma's curling lips.

"Are you ticklish?" Emma barely whispers.

"Shut up," Regina scoffs, but that doesn't stop Emma's grin from widening or her index finger from lightly caressing that area again.

"What's the matter?" Emma taunts between Regina's rough little pecks. "The mean, old, stoic lawyer has a weak spot?" She proceeds, clamping down around the spot right above Regina's hip and squeezing.

"Stop," Regina darkly commands, swooping behind her own back to snatch up Emma's greedy hand. She intertwines their fingers and pins the naughty hands above their heads. "I am not ticklish," she sternly declares, persuading the bubbliest giggle to erupt from Emma's mouth.

Emma roughly grabs a fistful of locks and tugs Regina back in for a searing kiss that encourages the brunette to squeeze her hand and thrust her hips even further into Emma's throbbing body. Every inch of her is yearning, hopelessly begging for more of this woman's touch, but she refuses to rush this. Regina is so damn precious and together, they have something too damn special to ruin.

Emma manages to sneak out of Regina's grasp, and carefully she cups Regina's soft cheeks, her thumbs instantly caressing those high cheekbones as she gently pulls the woman back. Their noses are practically kissing as concerned brown eyes meet wholesome turquoise.

"I never thought I would open myself up again after everything I have been through, but with you...I just can't seem to help myself. You mean so much to me," she murmurs, observing closely as Regina's eyes brighten up into that stunning honey hue and she softens.

"You are my rock and I don't think I would have been able to survive this past year without you-"

"You have healed all on your own. You went to Archie on your terms and you have been making progress on your own. Nobody can take that strength away from you," she adamantly explains.

"Maybe, but you have been so supportive, so kind, so accepting during it all. You have no idea how much you mean to me," Regina states, resting her forehead down against Emma's.

"I'm gonna miss you so much," Emma's mouth blurts out before her brain ever registers the words and she wishes she could swallow them back up, but she can't. So, she crashes her lips roughly against Regina's and promises to never forget this moment.

"I know," is all Regina quietly murmurs into the intoxicating kiss, refusing to leave the comfort of Emma's lips.

~~~~

The weekend had flown by far too quickly, but it was the kind of peaceful and healing heaven that both women needed more than they ever knew. They enjoyed an entertaining dinner with the whole Mills clan, took an evening stroll, hand in hand through the many acres and spent their last evening tangled between the sheets, neither one pushing for more than their deep and intimate kisses.

Regina is heavy though, her blood slinking sluggishly through her body like it's poisoned with mud as she stares aimlessly out the window, watching as the world zips by her. She doesn't want to go back home, back to reality, back to making a final decision that could possibly ruin a hopeful future with the stunning blonde beside her.

Out of her peripheral, she catches a glimpse of Emma's long fingers discreetly turning up the volume on the radio. Regina doesn't mind though, her brain is too cluttered with too many various scenarios of the future to pay any attention. She faintly hears Emma's soft voice, whispering along to the song as if she's embarrassed to be heard. Regina finds it odd considering how loud the woman was singing two nights ago with the live band, but she doesn't say a word.

She peeks through her eyelashes to find Emma leaning heavily against her door, her arm propping her head up while her right arm seems to be doing all the driving. She appears to be immensely relaxed, almost lazy, but her singing voice is hauntingly depressing, breaking Regina's heart. She doesn't know the particular song, but she finds herself paying very close attention to those dainty lips as they sing the lyrics.

"I know, you know, we know, we weren't meant for each other and it's fine. But if the world was ending you'd come over, right?"

Regina swallows thickly, her face pinching together to express her discomfort from the ache in her heart and the pressure in her gut.

"You'd come over and you'd stay the night. Would you love me for the hell of it? All our fears would be irrelevant. If the world was ending you'd come over, right?"

Regina doesn't even know what compels her to do so, but she reaches over, slithers her cold fingers between those warm digits and holds Emma's hand awfully tight. Emma's surprised gaze flicks to Regina for a brief second, her concern evident in those eyes alone before they dart back to the road ahead.

Regina leans her head against the headrest and studies the woman before her. "If the world was ending, I would come over," she whispers, inspiring Emma to offer a sad little smile before she lifts Regina's hand and kisses her knuckles like she's done it a million times before.

 

Chapter Text



"I suppose I am curious as to when everyone started to put themselves out there again and tried dating. I'm aware everyone is different, every circumstance is unique in its own way, but a little guidance would be helpful," Regina explains, pretending that all eyes aren't on her in this small room hidden away in the community center.

"I didn't think I would ever be able to move on," Killian chimes in first, twirling the gold band that always seems to be strangling his finger. After the accident, she couldn't even stand to look at her ring, let alone put it back on her finger. "It's been five years and I'm just starting to warm up to the idea," he admits, sighing heavily as he collapses back against the plastic chair. "But I'm hopeful, I know Milah wouldn't want me to keep suffering."

"No, she wouldn't, Killian," their counselor, Ingrid, kindly concludes with a warm smile to help settle his nerves.

"It's been a year since my dear husband, Isaac, has left me, and even though I miss him constantly, dating has helped me move forward," Victoria adds on. "I started dating...maybe six months after?" She contemplates thoughtfully.

"I will never move on. Belle was my everything and I cannot possibly fathom finding comfort in another," Mr. Gold growls, always the cynical, bitter, old man that sits beside Regina every week. She rolls her eyes at the man.

"I went through a phase," the young brunette, Aurora chimes in to step over Mr. Gold's sour mood. "I slept around a lot after Phillip passed. I thought it would help ease the pain, keep me distracted. I never allowed those people to get too close to me, except for one. About one year after, Phillip...I met someone that slipped under my radar," she giggles, shaking her head at the memory. "I wasn't expecting it to become anything, but I fell in love again."

"Then why still come here if you moved on?" Mr. Gold bitterly interrogates.

"Because...meeting with everyone once a week helps keep me feel grounded. Just because I fell in love, doesn't mean that I don't still hurt or miss Phillip. I don't think I'll ever be over my husband passing away so suddenly. I want to keep talking and expressing my feelings with others who have gone through the same thing, it helps me be the best version of me for my new relationship."

"Well said, Aurora," Ingrid says, offering a bright smile to the young woman grinning right back. "Alright, well, I believe we are out of time this evening. I hope to see everyone next week."

With that, everyone stands, gathering their belongings or bundling up for the brisk fall weather that brutally nips at any exposed flesh this time of year. Regina buttons her peacoat, then adjusts her scarf securely around her neck, and it's hard for her to ignore the hot gaze burning a whole right through her. A few people trickle out of the room, motivating her feet to shuffle toward the door, but she never crosses the threshold.

"Regina." Her eyes drift closed in agitation because she knew this was coming. Reluctantly, she pivots upon her heeled boots and meets those piercing baby blue eyes. "You have been sharing more these past two weeks, it's been really inspiring," Killian politely compliments, nervously rubbing the back of his neck.

"Thank you," she curtly answers, not wanting to unintentionally lead him on because his eyes have been glued to her since the moment she walked into the group six weeks ago.

"I related to what you were talking about. It's hard getting back out there, right?" He nervously chuckles and she knows exactly where this is going, provoking a small sigh to escape her lips. "Maybe...you and I can help each other? Start off simple, a coffee date?"

"I'm sorry, Killian, you seem like a really nice guy, but-"

"You're not ready to start dating?" He meekly questions.

"Hey, there you are," comes the sweetest, most angelic voice behind Regina.

And damn the muscles in her face for instantly forming into a smile in response. "I'm already taken," she whispers before swiftly stepping back and strutting to the door where Emma is grinning from ear to ear.

"Are you ready?" Emma questions, her green eyes glowing as she tugs her grey beanie a little further down.

"I am," she whispers, then peeks over her shoulder and offers Killian a small smile. "Have a nice night," she politely says and even Emma offers the man a small wave before they slip away.

The minute they step into the chilly October night, Regina snakes her arms around the warm leather jacket and curls closer into Emma's side.

"How was the meeting tonight?" Emma inquires as they walk back toward the yellow bug, blissfully content with life.

"It was fine."

"Gold still being a dick?"

Regina chokes on a laugh, swatting playfully at Emma's bicep. "He's...a very lonely old man." Emma nods along, already untangling their arms as they approach her car. "Something interesting did occur..." she teasingly trails off while Emma shoves her key into the door to unlock the old hunk of metal.

"Oh, yeah? What?"

"Killian Jones asked me out this evening."

Emma grimaces, her face clearly expressing her distaste that persuades a hearty laugh to erupt from Regina. "He did. Seriously? What did he say?" Emma balks, completely abandoning her keys to dangle in the door.

"Oh nothing," Regina muses. "Just that maybe we can help each other move on...together." Emma twists her lips in consideration but doesn't mutter a word. "Maybe a coffee date."

"Oh...umm...what did you say?" Emma tentatively questions, attempting to avoid eye contact in case Regina is about to break her heart.

Regina steps closer, sneaking her hands into Emma's coat pockets and tugging her flush against her own body, trapping herself safely between her favorite warmth and favorite yellow bug. She encloses the space between them, dangling her lips before that dainty frown before her.

"I believe I told him I was taken," she seductively confesses, motivating Emma to surge forward and crash their lips together.

Emma's gloved hands latch onto Regina's face and hold her close as she kisses her deeply, both oblivious to Killian walking out of the building and catching them in the act.

Maybe he is jealous for a split second, but then he smirks, hopeful to find that kind of passion once again and heads back to his car, accidentally crashing into a tiny blonde.

~~~~~

"Emma? Is that you?" Mary Margaret calls the second Emma cracks the front door open.

She sighs to nobody but herself, because who else would it be? She knows her dad is already home from work and that her mother knows this because she watched them eating together before she left for her meeting.

"Yeah, I'm home," she hollers, finally crossing the threshold.

She kicks off her boots, peels away her coat and hat and then squirts the hand sanitizer that her mom has been insistent on since the day she was born. She sometimes still feels like a helpless infant whenever her parents are around...maybe it is time to rip off the bandaid and move out again.

She shuffles into the dark living room, finding her mom and dad on the couch cuddled up to one another, which cracks away some of the tension she's feeling in her shoulders. When her parents notice her presence, Mary Margaret reaches for the remote and presses pause on whichever medical drama they were lost in.

"How was group therapy?"

"It was good," she answers, exhaling as she plops down on the loveseat. "A new kid joined us tonight, he's fifteen, new lungs."

"Oh, how's he managing?" David questions, and it's comical how in sync her parents are when they both offer their undivided attention at the exact same time.

"He's...struggling," she shrugs. "Imagine me when I first had the operation plus trying to handle puberty and raging hormones. He's a good kid though."

"Maybe you can help him, you had plenty of operations when you were younger," her mother kindly says.

"I know."

"So, you dropped Regina off at home?" Mary Margaret proceeds, skeptical as always.

"Yes," she slowly drawls, "do you see her here?"

"Emma," her father quickly scolds.

"I'm sorry, but I feel like you guys are always on me about Regina. You know the plan by now. For the last six weeks we have been attending our support groups every Wednesday night at the community center by her house. I pick her up, we grab dinner and then we go to the meetings," she exasperates.

"It's...nice that you found a place that holds so many group sessions together and it's...nice that you have each other for support, but Emma, you cannot deny how close you two have become since your little trip," her mother clips in a tone that clearly states her distaste.

Emma immediately squares her shoulders and sits up in her chair, ready for another fight. "I get it, you don't like Regina, but I'm not going to keep arguing about this over and over again." In a haste, she moves to stand but her dad latches onto her forearm and stops her from storming off.

"Stop putting words into our mouths," David sternly states, his eyes drifting down to the couch, silently demanding that she sits back down. She does, she rolls her eyes, but she does.

"We like Regina. We like her very much," Mary Margaret corrects. "But she is a grieving widow and odds are, you are a rebound. The first distraction to keep her mind busy and we don't want to see you hurt."

"It's not like that with her. You don't know who she is or what goes on in that head of hers. We are open and honest with each other and I know this might not be forever, she's planning on moving to California soon."

"Okay, so why are you spending so much time with her?" Her dad sadly interjects. "Why risk growing so attached just to have your heart broken in the end?"

"Because..."

"Because, why?" Her mother implores.

"Because she's worth the risk. I asked her why she would want to risk spending time with me and getting too attached when she knows I'm going to die in ten years-"

"Emma, you don't know that for sure," Mary Margaret quickly denies that assumption.

"Either way, I asked her and she said I was worth the risk. And let me tell you, she's worth the risk and then some. I don't care. In the end, creating memories with her is all worth the possibility of losing her."

Mary Margaret and David share a knowing look, always so in-tune with one another and Emma smirks to herself because she found that. She finally found that kind of love she's been dreaming about while watching her parents as she grew up.

"We understand that," Mary Margaret concedes. "But maybe you can spend some time with other people as well, so it won't be as hard when she leaves. Maybe see what else is out there, date someone who has the same interest as you?"

"Is that some dig at Regina because she was married to a man for fifteen years?" Emma deadpans.

"Look Emma-"

"And who do you suppose I should be spending my time with? Jamie? Who will never come out and I would be forced to hide my relationship?"

"Emma," her mother implores, but Emma is already back to her feet and ready to end this miserable conversation.

"No, I'm done spinning in circles about this. I'm thirty and I feel like I'm back in high school, except you two are worse. I think it's time I move out," she declares, sighing in relief the moment those words leave her mouth.

"Emma," both of her parents sadly say.

"No, it needs to happen, we can't keep living like this. And until I find a place to rent, I'm going to stay with Ruby."

"Emma, please," Mary Margaret pleads, but she is already scurrying upstairs to her bedroom.

When she finds peace in her own room, she quickly sends a text to Ruby, asking if she could stay there for a few days. She knows she's always welcome and it only takes about thirty seconds for her best friend to be shouting her approval with all capital letters. She smiles down at her phone and begins rummaging her drawers and packing a few bags for the stay.

She doesn't even think twice, her fingers move like they are programmed to call Regina whenever she's feeling off. She tucks her phone between her shoulder and ear and continues to pack as the phone rings on the other end. 

"No, I did not change my mind about Killian Jones. Yes, I'm sure you're the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen," Regina vacantly answers the phone, persuading a dopey grin to take over Emma's face.

"You better not change your mind. Killian Jones wears more eyeliner than both of us combined, I guarantee he will leave you unsatisfied."

Regina hums, always a flirtatious vibration filled with teasing and yet indifference. "Well, it seems we are at a crossroads, you can't possibly put down his skills in bed when you have yet to prove your worth."

Emma groans, stuffing her socks into the side pocket of her duffel bag with a little too much frustration. "You're killing me here," she grumbles under her breath, encouraging a carefree laugh to tumble from Regina's luscious lips.

"What's going on, Emma? How come you called?" Regina inquires through her laughter, knowing there was a point to the phone call besides playful banter.

"I did it. I finally told my parents I'm moving out and now I'm packing a bag and I'm going to stay at Ruby's until I find something. Even if it's an apartment for a little bit before I buy something, you know?"

"I know this has been weighing on your mind for quite some time, so I'm happy you found the courage."

"But..."

"No, I am happy for you. I just want you to remember where your parents are coming from."

"That's rich, coming from you. Tell me, wasn't it you who was in a screaming match with her mother six weeks ago?" Emma condescendingly reminds her.

"That's different."

"Is it? Because I'm pretty sure it's exactly the same thing. Our parents are overbearing and really need to find hobbies other than sticking their noses into our business."

"Were they hassling you about me again?" Regina shyly investigates, forcing a deep sigh from Emma that is all the confirmation Regina needs. "I'm sorry-"

"No, it's not your fault," Emma scoffs, shoving her bag aside, so she can fall back onto her bed. She stares aimlessly at the ceiling, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. "Nobody understands us. They are all so quick to judge because of how we met and yeah, it wasn't in the most conventional way, but we have been doing everything right."

"I know," Regina sadly whispers.

"We built a friendship first and trust and even after we acknowledged our feelings we still haven't jumped into bed together and it's so frustrating that everyone doesn't see how good we are when we are together," she rambles, her anger rapidly bubbling up to the surface without her truly recognizing it.

"Take a deep breath." Emma's body instantly obeys to Regina's command. "Not everyone is against us. Kathryn, Zelena, Robin and Alice love us together-"

"Yeah, everyone on your side is all on board," she huffs like a bratty teenager.

"You said Ruby and Neal have warmed up to the idea."

"They have," Emma agrees through a heavy sigh. "And my parents do like you, Regina. I know they do, they are just...so..."

"Emma, have you ever considered that maybe this has nothing to do with me?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Maybe you aren't nearly as upset as you think you are about your parents trying to protect you from the damage our relationship could cause in the end," Regina gently explains, slowing down her words like she doesn't want Emma to miss a single sound. "You and your mom have always been the best of friends, but things fell apart after the surgery and I think living under one roof has poured gasoline onto those little ambers that were sizzling."

"Huh?"

Regina chuckles lowly, sending delicious shivers to run wildly through Emma's blood. "I believe living under one roof has only increased your agitation to your mother. I think you are struggling with this unknown territory with your mother, so you continue to lash out instead of allowing time to take a step back, assess the true situation and breathe."

Emma twists her lips as she replays those words and contemplates why she really is constantly lashing out at her mother. She rubs her forehead and breathes out an exaggerated sigh.

"I think you're right."

"I'm always right, dear. Remember that for future reference."

Emma chuckles, her eyes falling closed so she can see a clear picture of that smug smirk she knows Regina is sporting right now. "I should probably go talk to my mom."

"Good choice. Please text me later when you are settled at Ruby's."

"I will," and with that they both say their goodbyes and hang up.

Emma quickly makes her way downstairs, not at all surprised to find her parents in the same position. She hesitates for a moment, studying the back of their heads and reminding herself why she loves them so much. She slowly creeps into the dark living room and settles down beside her mother on the couch.

Mary Margaret jumps, obviously startled by Emma's presence, so she offers the older woman a small smile.

"I-I love you both very much, but at some point we knew this would have to end," Emma cautiously says, prompting her mother to sit up and cup her cheeks.

"Emma, I won't ever stop trying to protect you. No matter what you say or how hard you push me away. I am your mother and I love you so very much," Mary Margaret firmly declares, persuading a small smile to tug at the corner of Emma's mouth.

"I know and I have to stop pushing you away. We used to have such a great relationship and it scares me that we aren't the same anymore. The surgery was a lot and on top of living together, it was all just too much," she confesses while her mother caresses her cheeks so gently. "I think, in order to get back our relationship, we need to be apart, some distance."

"I know, sweetie," her mother depressingly concedes.

"We don't talk like we used to. I miss you...I miss us."

"I miss you too," Mary Margaret chokes on her words before she pulls Emma into a suffocating hug. "So, you don't hate me?" She questions as David wraps them both up, holding Emma's head like her neck still needs the support.

"No. I don't hate you. You're my mom," she states with conviction, and for once since the surgery, allowing her parents to hold her close.

~~~~

"Ugh, babe! It's so good to have you here," Ruby squeals in delight as her long arms slither around Emma's neck like a snake squeezing its prey.

"It's good to be here. Thanks again. I need to make this move," she breathes, squeezing her friend just as tight.

"Well, come on in. You can have the spare room, go toss your stuff in there and then we can sit on the couch and talk."

"Sounds great," she says and shuffles to the extra bedroom to drop off her bags.

She quickly pulls out her phone and types a short text to Regina, informing her that she has arrived. Then, shoves her phone into her back pocket and heads back into the living room.

"So sit! Tell me what was finally the straw that broke the camel's back?" Ruby shrieks with far too much pep for almost ten o'clock at night.

"Another argument about them being way too overprotective. I'm turning thirty-one next week and I feel like they are hovering more than when I was sixteen. It's ridiculous. I think my mom and I are so much alike that it's becoming too much. We need to live in separate houses and then maybe we can get back to being best friends again."

"Did any of this have to do with a certain smoking hot brunette?" Ruby teases, leaning back against the armrest and planting her feet in Emma's lap.

"Yeah, Regina always seems to be center of every conversation I have lately," she exasperates, but her mouth is morphing from a pitiful pout into a small smirk from one mention of the beautiful woman.

"So?"

"So, what?"

"So, what are you going to do? She finally picked a place in California, right?" Emma narrows her eyes, skeptically nodding along. "Okay, so she is going to be leaving soon. Are you really just going to let her go?"

Emma releases a deep breath, her eyes fluttering closed as she tries to imagine a life where Regina is across the country.

"No," her mouth immediately responds on reflex. "I can't Rubes. I have never felt this deep of a connection before. I mean, yes, I was with Jamie for years but I never truly allowed myself to completely feel with her. I let her walk out of my life and yes, it stung but I was able to move on...to live. Just thinking about Regina leaving makes me sick to my stomach. I can't imagine a world where she doesn't exist anymore. I want her to be my world. I want her in my life every day. I want to wake up with her beside me and I want to go to bed with her in my arms every night."

"So...what are you gonna do, girl?"

"I don't know," she groans, slapping her hands down her face and hoping to scrub away the tension forming.

"Your parents didn't spend thirty-one years trying to keep you alive to have you flee across the country."

"I know that."

"But...they also wanted you to live a full and happy life."

"I know that too," Emma sadly admits.

"If you found your soulmate, your parents will be really happy for you and they would never stand in your way," Ruby states with all the confidence in the world.

Emma simply groans, her body sagging and sliding across the couch until she face plants in Ruby's lap and hides away from one of the biggest decisions she will ever have to face.

 

Chapter Text


Emma has been spending every waking moment stressing over what she is going to do about her potential future moving across the country, 2,797 miles away. Give or take. Things are not looking up for her.

However, there was a brief moment of distraction when Emma's birthday had come around. Regina had surprised her with a pop-up art show, thanks to Kathryn because obviously Regina had no idea where to find one. Although, Regina did know where to take Emma out to dinner beforehand, some classy Italian restaurant where Emma was able to forget about her diet for one evening and indulge in everything that was finger-licking delicious.

The art show was everything and more to Emma; so many up and coming artists with paintings, charcoals, pastels, some sculptures, pottery and photography as well. The variety was overwhelming and Emma was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning, gifted a trip to Disney. Emma knew Regina was less enthused, but her date stood beside her with a smile the entire time. Except for one moment when Emma excused herself to the restroom and some woman had stopped her because she had recognized Emma and heard about her through the grapevine. And maybe Emma chatted with the woman and maybe she received a business card to come check out the stranger's gallery.

On several occasions, Emma had caught Regina just staring at her and not the artwork on display. And Emma had never felt more like a masterpiece all on her own than in that moment. She had never felt so desired in her entire life. Too bad they had a few too many glasses of champagne that night and ended up passing out the second their heads hit the pillow.

Emma had become rather busy with work as well. People these days seem to be obsessed with the idea of fall and anything pumpkin, so her small business spiked. She thought she was busy over the summer, but engagement photos seemed to double and every family was pleading to book time with her to take pictures in some forest that could eventually be used for Christmas cards. Any free time she had, she spent searching for openings for apartments. Ruby pointed out that she was only searching for places that were strictly for rent, never to buy. Emma brushed off the insinuation and found a dinky one-bedroom, but they both knew that was another sign that she was keeping her options open.

Just in case California should ever call.

Regina was spending a lot of time traveling back and forth to California. She had made her decision on a property and was dedicating every free moment to remodeling the abandoned hotel along with building her own home on the many acres as well.

The days spilled into November and before Emma knew it, Thanksgiving was there. There was no more denying their connection and even though they had yet to slap a label on their relationship, everyone knew they were...together. Everyone eventually stopped questioning and talking about it, because even Emma and Regina didn't discuss it. So, they spent Thanksgiving in New Jersey with the Mills and were home by Saturday to celebrate one more Thanksgiving with Emma's parents, Ruby and her grandmother.

"Your place or mine?" Emma asks as they step down from the Swan's home, the bitter air instantly biting at their cheeks and forcing their eyes to water.

Regina wraps her arms securely around Emma's bicep and burrows into her warmth. "Yours," her husky voice murmurs into the night, persuading Emma's heart to fall even more in love with this sexy woman.

"We always stay at mine," Emma complains, moving around her car to unlock Regina's side first. "Are we gonna talk about how ever since I got my own place, you don't want to sleep at yours with me anymore?" She asks, not at all judgmental, but stating the obvious as she pops open the squeaky door for the brunette.

Regina's leather glove gently cups Emma's rosy cheek as her plump lips caress the pout Emma is sporting. Yet, no words are exchanged when she slips into her passenger side and Emma closes the door for her. A smile subconsciously forms when she rounds the car and watches as Regina leans across the center console and unlocks the driver's side for her.

Emma quickly scrambles into the bug, shivering from the chills due to the dropping temperatures and her lack of a warmer jacket. She shoves the key into the ignition, starts the car, and blasts the heat. As soon as she manhandles the stick to reverse out of the parking spot, Regina slithers her fingers between Emma's. There's a heavy pause between them, but Emma knows this woman well enough to know she's working up the courage to reveal her truth.

"You know I hate how cold my place always feels now," Regina quietly confesses, intently observing Emma as she focuses on the road ahead.

"And this has nothing to do with the urn next to your bed, which is the real reason why we have to sleep in the guest bedroom every time I stay over?" Emma lightly muses, not wanting to add too much pressure to the topic of conversation that they never discuss.

"Emma," Regina lowly says in a warning tone, her fingers curling even tighter around Emma's hand.

"It's okay," she flippantly replies, shrugging so carelessly. "I understand that you feel guilty."

"Guilty? I feel like I'm cheating every time," Regina sighs heavily, the weight of her shame pressing further down on her chest and crushing her lungs.

"I know," she whispers, squeezing some love and support into Regina's hand, green eyes flicking to meet sorrowful brown for a split second before they dart back to the road ahead.

She can hear the way Regina shifts against the leather seat, pivoting to fully face Emma and offer her undivided attention. "I don't want to feel that way anymore."

Emma glances her way and offers the best reassuring smile she can produce. "I know that too," she cheekily confirms, lifting Regina's hand and pressing her cold lips against the leather covered fingers. "We will get through this, day by day."

"I've been working very hard with my one on one sessions to overcome these feelings," Regina explains, brushing the fat curls off Emma's shoulder. "But that house feels so hollow and haunted now and it's just another reason why I feel the need to move."

"I think the move will help you heal and move forward. You won't constantly feel like you are reliving that nightmare."

"I don't know if I've mentioned, but the nightmares don't follow me to your new place," Regina reveals, mindlessly playing with a curl resting against Emma's back.

"You haven't told me that, but I'm glad my place is peaceful for you," Emma says as they roll to a stop in front of the glowing red light. "I want to be your safe place."

She swiftly drifts toward the middle and captures those painted red lips for a slow and sensual kiss that has Regina grinning wildly.

~~~~~

Emma reads the email one more time on her phone, too stunned to completely comprehend the words the first time around. Her eyes repeatedly drop down to the name at the bottom of the email, Mal. Mal. Simply Mal, one of the most talented eye for art with six galleries around the major cities across the country. Apparently, the woman she bumped into in the bathroom was Mal's daughter, Lilith and had raved about Emma's work to her mother.

"Emma."

"Hmmm," she murmurs on reflex with her thumbnail wedged anxiously between her teeth.

"Emma," she hears that deep, husky tone that tickles every nerve in her body, demanding her full attention.

She peeks through her eyelashes and the display she is gifted with causes her thumb to fall away from her gaping mouth. Regina is lingering between the bedroom and the bathroom, wrapped in black silk and Emma is already itching to unwrap her like a fragile present. Her wide eyes start at the bottom, where she finds those adorable toes painted a blood red that matched her lips earlier that evening. She follows the path up those tan legs, admiring how perfectly sculpted they are, defined, muscular, and strong and god she wishes they would snake around her body and claim ownership. And they are completely bare, over the knee, up toward her mid-thigh until Emma finds the hem of a very short silk robe that just barely covers Regina's underwear. If she's wearing any.

Emma gulps, her entire body exploding with a heat that is far too sweltering for her to handle. Yet, her eyes continue scanning, assessing the black robe that is loosely tied around Regina's tiny waist, her breasts playing a risqué game of peek-a-boo. When Emma's inquisitive gaze meet Regina's dark eyes, the brunette nervously runs her fingers through her hair and flips those long tresses. Emma literally stops breathing.

"Uh-" she chokes on her words and attempts to clear her dry mouth because it seems all the moisture in her body has dripped down to her core. "When-where did you...get that?"

Regina pushes off the doorframe and saunters like she is some runway model, provoking Emma's eyes to expand even more. "It's been here, in my bag, since the last time I stayed here."

"Oh," she faintly croaks out.

"Are you busy with something on your phone?" Regina's alluring voice inquires as her eyes flick to the phone gripped in Emma's hand.

"Nah," she incoherently murmurs, tossing the device somewhere behind her because her sole attention is tracking how this seductive goddess is crawling onto the mattress in the most scandalous manner.

"Good," this teasing woman husks as she climbs into Emma's lap.

She perfectly plants her naked bottom in between Emma's thighs, her legs possessively wrapping around Emma's trim waist. And not once do they break eye contact when Regina drapes her arms over her shoulders and Emma slides her palms around the silk fabric until she's caressing the woman's back.

Emma peers up at Regina, struggling to keep her heart from bursting through her chest and maintain a steady breathing that doesn't reveal her true desires. Regina purses her full lips as those brown eyes assess every inch of the sea-green irises glazed over with lust. Neither one can find the courage to mutter a word and the intensity in Regina's eyes is almost too intimate for Emma, but she doesn't break eye contact. She needs Regina to know she's there with her in the moment and she will never leave her.

Regina's fingers begin to wander, dancing up the nape of Emma's neck to massage her scalp, tangle in the bouncing curls Emma created for the holiday dinner. Regina is always so delicate with her and Emma knows this woman is always so fierce in the outside world, but for her, she's a big softy. It warms her heart in a way she had only dreamed of and it's making this moment even more overwhelming. Her heart is raging, her blood is thumping beneath her flesh and this intimacy pulsating between them is thick enough to reach out and touch.

"Regina."

Short, manicured nails scratch against her scalp as Regina timidly skims her velvety lips against hers. Everything feels intensified, so Emma doesn't hesitate to part her lips and sneak her tongue inside of Regina's warm mouth. The shuddering breath that spills from Regina electrifies every cell that makes up Emma. She presses her fingertips into the silky robe and travels up Regina's back, pressing the woman further against herself and inspiring Regina to roll her hips against her stomach.

As much as she's dying, quite literally dying on the inside to take their relationship to the next level, she doesn't want to rush Regina and trigger something that sends her running. So, she gently breaks apart the kiss, her lips slipping away until she is planting a quick peck to the woman's chin. She traces the strong jawline, decorating the flesh with sweet kisses until she dips below and tenderly kisses Regina's neck. The grip rooted in her hair tightens, but she just smiles against Regina's flesh and places a warm wet kiss beneath her ear.

Gradually, she pulls away, her hands still rubbing up and down Regina's back to let her know she's still there even though her mouth has slipped away. "Regina, you know nothing has to happen tonight," she vows, locking eyes with pools of black ink observing her intently. "You know how much you mean to me and I can wait until you are completely ready."

Regina's jaw juts out, those wheels furiously turning in her head as she searches her face for something Emma is unsure of. "What do I mean to you?"

"What?" Emma curiously inquires, tilting her head to the side so innocently.

Regina's fingers lightly scratch Emma's scalp while her other hand drifts down a sharp collarbone, tracing the outside of the jagged scar until she splays her hand against Emma's chest.

"We never talk about what we are, we simply live life like we planned to do, so what are you feeling? What do I mean to you?" Regina gently asks, so clearly exposed and vulnerable in the moment, maybe even a little scared to hear the truth.

Emma subconsciously frowns in response. She tightens one arm around Regina's waist to hold her securely in her lap while her other hand comes back around to cup Regina's cheek. She peers up at the woman she is falling madly in love with and holds her gaze.

"What do you mean to me? You're my whole world now. You're the first thought when I open my eyes and the last image I see before I fall asleep at night. I spend most of my days dreaming about you; wondering what you're doing, reminiscing about the memories we created, and playing out every way that this could possibly end," she breathlessly whispers, inspiring Regina to release a shaky breath and rest her forehead against hers. She watches very closely as those thick eyelashes flutter closed and she knows she can reveal her full truth when Regina isn't directly staring into her eyes. "I thought you knew, but I guess I've been an idiot. I love you, Regina."

Regina inhales sharply, she doesn't open her eyes, but she breathes slowly through her conflicting emotions.

"Please don't feel like you have to-"

Regina shuts her up with a firm kiss, still breathing deeply through the moment. "I love you, Emma," she whispers into the kiss, stressing her name to assure Emma that she's in love with her and not because of the heart the beats inside of her.

"Really?"

This is what inspires Regina to open her eyes again and meet Emma's curious gaze. "Of course. Have I not been expressing that every day?"

One corner of Emma's mouth twitches before a small smirk slides into place. "You have," she murmurs, cradling Regina's face and pulling her back in for a searing kiss. "You're kinda a big softy for me."

Regina scoffs. "Bite your tongue, I am not soft," she sternly states before she captures a dainty bottom lip between her teeth and nips.

Emma groans, studying the way Regina slides back and releases its prisoner from her pearly white teeth. She dives in, nuzzling against the sensitive spot against Regina's neck that always makes her squirm. She wets her lips and presses a featherlight kiss against a raging pulse point before she sucks the thumping between her teeth. Regina's nails dig deeper into her scalp but it only makes her bundle of nerves twitch in response. She releases the slick skin, scrapes her teeth against the reddening flesh and then proceeds to explore the area with desperate kisses.

She follows the path of a prominent collarbone, her fingertips leading the way as she gently pushes the silk robe out of her way and off Regina's shoulder. Conflicting chills of ice cold and burning hot rapidly flush through her veins from just one glimpse of the robe hanging off that sexy shoulder. She squeezes Regina even closer and worships the exposed shoulder with adoring kisses. She can feel the intensity in Regina's gaze upon her, but she can't stop kissing every inch of this woman.

Unexpectedly, there are cold fingers cupping her chin and forcing her away from the place her lips are already addicted to. Her heart sinks, assuming Regina is about to end their moment, but then her lover shrugs her other shoulder out from the confines of the silky fabric. Emma's heart stutters, knowing how long it's been since she's seen a woman naked in person.

The last time she had sex was some one-night stand the night she found out she was being put on the waiting list for a heart. That was over a year and a half ago.

Her thoughts are blown away when Regina takes one of Emma's hands and places it upon the loose knot barely keeping the robe into place. Green eyes skitter back up to meet glossy orbs pleading with her to finish the job.

"Are you sure?" She timidly investigates, mindlessly toying with the silk knot.

"If it was anyone else, no," Regina coldly concludes, but then she's cupping Emma's cheeks and demanding her full attention. "But you, Emma, you're my safe place," she promises, capturing the pout below her. "I want to be with you."

She can't help the cocky smirk that consumes her entire face, but it persuades Regina's smile to bloom into the most dazzling smile she has ever seen. So, she coyly tugs at the sash and drops her line of sight just in time to witness the robe helplessly pooling around Regina's waist. Emma is tentative as she reaches out and slowly removes one of Regina's arms from the sleeve and then the next, until she is pulling the garment away. She inhales sharply as her greedy eyes take in the perky round globes almost directly in her face and she can't stop herself from diving forward and placing a kiss between the valley. Her lips meet the frantic beat below and she smiles from ear to ear.

"What is so amusing?" Regina darkly interrogates when she feels Emma's lips curling into a giddy grin.

"For someone rapidly approaching forty-one, your body still thinks she's in her twenties," Emma murmurs because her lips are too busy decorating the satin flesh with wet kisses.

"I beg your pardon?" Regina inquires, snatching a fistful of locks and forcing Emma to meet her quizzical eyes.

"Oh don't be modest," she teases, roughly running her palms down Regina's naked back, admiring the firm muscles below, but Regina simply quirks up an eyebrow. "Well, let's start with this," Emma lightly laughs, palming Regina's bottom before latching onto the meaty flesh with her biting nails. Regina rolls her body even closer. "This tight bottom that I can probably bounce a quarter off," she chuckles, winning herself a devilish little smirk in return.

Then Emma's wandering hands glide around that plump bottom and grip those hips tightly. "And this," she proceeds, traveling up the slender waist before her, "god these curves are sexy, Regina," she rambles because her mouth can't seem to formulate an intelligent sentence with the temperature so hot in her brain.

"And this flat stomach, women would kill for this," she raves, caressing the abdominal muscles with both her thumbs. "And don't even get me started on how perky-"

"How small-"

"How perfect these are," Emma groans, taking a chance and roughly groping both breasts, instantly falling in love with how they fit as if they were always meant for her hands.

Regina releases a trembling breath, arching into Emma's hands, scraping her hardening nipples against those greedy palms. Emma notices how lost in pleasure Regina truly is and she wants to keep her blissfully ignorant to the world and completely submerged in their passion.

So, one hand slips away and splays against the middle of Regina's back, holding her close as her mouth dips forward and places kiss after kiss against one breast. When Regina doesn't protest, she finds her courage and flicks her tongue over the peak. Regina reacts so beautifully, her spine curving as she rolls her hips, while pressing her center deliciously against Emma's stomach, so she can bathe in the heat and wetness emitting from her.

This boosts Emma's ego and she doesn't hold back this time, sucking the pink flesh between her teeth while her nails scratch down Regina's back. The erotic moan she receives in return forces a flood to soak her thong and rattle her bundle of nerves. She's fairly confident the next groan filling the silent night is her own, but she isn't even ashamed because Regina grinds down even harder against her.

"You're wearing far too much," Regina suddenly gasps, clutching onto the hem of Emma's baggy t-shirt and ripping it up and over her head, leaving her completely exposed. This time Emma doesn't feel self-conscious, not when Regina falls asleep almost every night lightly caressing the area around her scar.

The minute Regina tosses the shirt, Emma is possessively cupping her cheek and pulling her down for a fiery kiss that sets them both on fire. She tightens her hold around Regina's waist and pulls her down. Emma's back hits the mattress and she instantly deepens the kiss, encouraging Regina to seductively grind down on her. In two seconds flat, Emma is rolling Regina onto her back, so accustomed to always being on top.

That is until she feels the way Regina freezes beneath her, not even her lips moving to keep up with Emma's anymore.

"Hey, where are you?" Emma tenderly whispers, stroking the top of Regina's head and bringing her back to the now.

"I-I'm fine....just feeling...I'm fine," she uncharacteristically stammers, motivating Emma to lift completely off her body and hover above.

"What's wrong? Please, tell me what you're feeling."

"Just...a little...claustrophobic," Regina admits, breathing in a deep breath.

"Okay, we can fix that," Emma confidently says through a cheeky grin and easily flips them. "Better?" She innocently asks, tilting her head against the pillow while her hands soothe up and down Regina's slick back.

Except, Regina looks utterly conflicted, but maybe not for the reasons Emma assumes. "I-I really shouldn't be leading us...you know I've only been with men before."

And this takes Emma by total surprise because after everything they have been through, Regina has never appeared so small and insecure before. She smoothes down Regina's hair, palming her head and bringing her down for another passionate kiss that hopefully abolishes all those negative thoughts torturing her lover.

She wants Regina to feel like she's in control of the situation, that way she won't feel pressured or have any regrets. So, Emma knows she will have to guide them through this discreetly from the bottom.

She slides her hand to Regina's cheek and holds the flushed face gently while her tongue easily dominates the tango between their mouths. Her other hand is gentle, sweeping down Regina's back and pressing into the dip to encourage her lover to come closer. Regina's body obeys the silent request, slowly dragging her lace covered center against Emma.

They both moan into the kiss, persuading both their lower regions to meet in the middle for another delicious grind. Regina starts to sink into her, feeling more comfortable as the kiss becomes frantic and Emma's nails scratch against her lower back. So, she takes a chance, sneaking her fingers beneath the thin scrap of lace adorning Regina's waist and caresses that plump bottom. Regina instantly slips her hand beneath Emma's neck and latches on while her tongue quickly dominates the kiss.

Emma allows her to take the lead while she busies herself with toying the lacy material; running her knuckles beneath the fabric, slipping out to tug it a little further down just to pull it up again, sneaking her thumb back under to glide across the skimpy material.

"Just take it off," Regina abruptly exasperates into the kiss, provoking a sinful smirk to stretch across Emma's face.

And Emma doesn't have to be told twice. In a haste, she tugs the underwear down Regina's thighs and allows the brunette to finish ripping them away. Regina is about to lay back down, but she hesitates and Emma's about to question her, when cold fingertips curl into the waistband and gently pull away her underwear as well.

Regina's eyes sweep up her body for only a second before she connects with Emma's gaze and carefully settles down on top of her. Emma's hand moves all on its own, curling Regina's cascading tresses behind her ear and shoulder, then holding her face into place as she reaches up for a soaring kiss.

Regina doesn't hesitate this time, her hips already gyrating in search for that heavenly explosion of pleasure. Emma groans, almost forgetting to kiss Regina when she feels a smooth mound drag roughly against her throbbing clit. Her grip automatically tightens in Regina's hair and that only seems to add fuel to Regina's roaring fire. Their kiss becomes sloppy as Regina reaches down between them to gently cup Emma's heavy breast.

Everything feels heightened, extra sensitive and Emma knows now that she has never truly made love before. Yes, she's had sex, she's screwed, she has fucked, but never, ever made love. Her heart is racing, fluttering, leaping for joy and her entire body is on pins and needles, feeling every damn thing like she has never experienced the simple act of touch before. She has this overwhelming urge to laugh, probably cry or just scream out in ecstasy. But holy fuck, loving someone with her entire heart and soul while having sex is on a whole other level.

She grins like a damn fool into the kiss, maybe Regina's too lost in the passion to notice or maybe she feels the deep connection too, either way, she doesn't say anything and continues to fervently kiss Emma like she might vanish beneath her at any second.

Every inch of flesh is becoming slick as Regina glides so damn perfectly on top of her. She's falling even more in love, if that's possible, and this is definitely how she wants to spend the rest of her life, tangled in the sheets with this goddess.

Very discreetly, she slithers between their heated bodies and slips her fingers through Regina's soaked folds, purposely bumping that swollen gem in desperate need for attention. However, she feels immediately the way Regina tenses.

"Do you want me to stop?" Emma genuinely questions, her hand stilling instantly between them.

"Oh, god no," Regina groans, slamming her lips so roughly that Emma wouldn't be surprised if hers are bruised tomorrow. "It's just...been a while."

"I'll go slow, but you tell me right away if you want to stop," Emma firmly declares, prompting Regina to nod along. "Good," she hums, allowing her finger to swim through the thick wetness that's only for her.

She's hardly even touched the woman and Regina is already panting and trembling, especially when Emma gradually dips one finger in. She holds Regina's body even closer and uses the heel of her palm to caress Regina's clit. This woman surges forward, meshing their lips for a searing kiss as Emma seduces more of that hot liquid to coat her finger.

Regina grinds down even further onto the single digit and Emma allows her time to adjust, thrusting up and meeting her lover somewhere in the middle. Very slowly, Emma deftly slides in another finger, feeling some resistance at first before Regina becomes soaked once again.

"Em-ma," she moans, nipping at her bottom lip before she slips away and buries her face into the crook of Emma's neck.

"Is it too much?" Regina shakes her head, her hips proving that it's nowhere near too much when her pace picks up. "Then breathe," she whispers against Regina's ear, causing her lover to shudder from the warm breath.

Regina inhales sharply, releases a deep breath and then lifts her head to meet Emma's shining eyes. "I love you, Emma."

"I love you," she vows, but her words are swept away by Regina's powerful kiss.

That's when she feels those silky walls tightening around her fingers, practically sucking the pleasure straight from her. Emma groans into the kiss, desperately trying to keep up while she focuses on pumping deep and stroking the spot she knows Regina will crumble for.

"Oh fuck," barely escapes Regina's raspy throat and Emma almost falls apart from that one dirty word.

She scratches down Regina's back and digs her nails into that meaty bottom, persuading Regina to moan out another, fuck. And Emma becomes desperate at that point, grinding against the back of her own hand while thrusting vigorously. Regina's kiss becomes aggressive, domineering and she's absolute putty for this woman. Regina isn't shy or hesitant any longer, no, she gropes Emma's breast with ownership and fucks Emma's fingers with wild abandon.

"Fuck, Regina," Emma pants breathlessly, becoming so utterly entranced by the way Regina's body moves so damn seductively.

She feels the burning sizzle low in her abdomen and the way Regina's walls are squeezing her fingers ruthlessly and she knows. So, she threads her fingers through those inky tresses, and holds Regina close as they pour their love into a single kiss. Regina's mouth is the first to forget how to kiss, releasing shuddering breaths instead with faint little moans that are possibly the most sinfully delicious and erotic noises Emma has ever heard. And that's what tips Emma completely over the edge and she surrenders to an orgasm that feels never-ending thanks to Regina who won't quit furiously grinding on top of her.

"Holy fuck," Emma pants, tipping Regina over, so they can lie face to face. She quickly slips her thigh between Regina's trembling legs and pulls her flush against her body. "That was...."

"Intense," Regina gasps for clean air, but then she's pressing kiss after loving kiss against Emma's chest, all over the scar she doesn't seem to hate as much anymore.

 

Chapter Text


Dear god, she's beautiful. So stunning, that it quite literally steals her breath away and takes her by surprise even after knowing her for almost one year. She can't stop herself from memorizing those tangled locks in disarray, scattered across the pillow or the way her bright sea-green eyes are sparkling with little secrets that tell a story of love.

"What?" Emma questions, peering down at where Regina has set up camp, resting her head between those voluptuous breasts.

"Nothing," she shrugs so carelessly, dipping down to press another kiss against that rough trail of flesh that reminds her how lucky she is to have a second chance at love.

"Liar."

Regina smirks against her warm skin, her attention flicking back up to meet those aqua irises dancing in amusement post-orgasm. "If you must know," she attempts to sound annoyed, but fails miserably, "I was admiring how beautiful you are."

"Me?"

"Yes, you," Regina declares, swaying up Emma's chest to seal her admission with a kiss.

"I should be the one admiring. Have you seen you?"

"Maybe you should take a picture, it will last longer," she easily flirts, both grinning like two love-sick fools before she dives in for another kiss.

However, Emma abruptly flips them in bed, clamps her legs down around Regina's waist and holds her into place. She quickly leans over the bed and Regina has no reason to fight this woman off, so she observes as her lover yanks a duffel bag out from under her bed. Regina knows all too well what's in that bag, so she waits patiently for Emma to fiddle with her camera. Maybe lightly drags one finger up the inside of a strong porcelain thigh.

Emma shivers in response to the teasing touch and squirms, but her thighs clamp down even tighter around Regina.

"Alright, Ms. Mills, smile for the camera," Emma ecstatically orders, and although Regina knew what the blonde was up to, she suddenly becomes shy.

"Emma, I was kidding, put that thing away," she gripes, covering her blushing face with both hands. Emma doesn't seem to care because Regina can hear the damn woman snapping away. "Emma! I'm completely naked," she scolds, inspiring the cutest belly laugh to steal Emma's breath away.

"That one will only be for me," Emma claims as she shifts down Regina's thighs and tugs the sheet up to cover her breasts. "Regina," she sings so sweetly to persuade her to come out from hiding. Regina splits her fingers apart and peeks through the crack, only to have Emma snap another picture. "Come on."

"Absolutely not," she complains, motivating Emma to settle her full weight on top of her.

"Please," Emma whines, placing gentle kisses up Regina's hands. "It'll be tasteful, I swear," she whispers, encouraging Regina to slip her hands away from only her mouth, so those dainty lips will meet hers. "You look so sexy right now," she murmurs against Regina's lips before she slowly captures them.

And the kiss is exquisite, so tender, slow and sensual, setting fire to every nerve in Regina's body once again. She cannot contain the deep moan that rumbles in her chest, completely ignorant to the fact that Emma is snapping another picture of them kissing.

Gradually, Emma drifts away, a dopey looking grin slapped across her face as she peers down upon her. Regina scowls, rolling her eyes to express her annoyance, because she knows she just lost the battle. Emma captures the moment. Regina scoffs and yanks the sheet up to her nose, peeking over the top and of course, Emma clicks that damn button again.

"Now bite it."

"What?" She balks, flabbergasted by the request.

"Here, just nibble on the end right here," Emma instructs, lifting the corner of the sheet and pressing it to Regina's mouth.

Regina's nose scrunches in distaste, her mouth moving to nip at Emma's fingers instead of the sheet. And there are those bubbly giggles again that Regina is a huge sap for and could never put up a fight against. Regina ends up biting the corner of the sheet and batting her long lashes and Emma snaps away.

Then, this crazy blonde slips away into another dimension and loses herself in the art of the moment. She quickly runs her fingers through Regina's hair, fanning the untamed tresses across the pillow, then dips the sheet extra low as an illusion that she's bare in the picture.

"Okay, I think you have enough," Regina interrupts, feeling slightly self-conscious with all this attention on her.

"No," Emma whines in the most pathetic tone. "Here, flip over, that way your face won't be in it and you can pretend I'm not here."

Regina rolls her eyes, but she complies because the sparkle in Emma's eyes is shining brighter than the morning summer sun. She rolls onto her stomach and follows Emma's orders, lifting up to rest on her elbows. Emma's in professional photographer mode, adjusting the sheet to cover only Regina's bottom, exposing her sleek, olive-toned back. Those raven locks are sweeping down the middle of her back, so much longer than she has ever allowed her hair before and Emma is there, snapping away.

Eventually, Emma coaxes Regina into abandoning the bed, dressing her in only the sheet to stare aimlessly out the window. She snaps a few more pictures. Emma even places a mug in Regina's hand and sits her in front of the windowsill, the sheet draped over her back as she thoughtfully gazes out at the bright moon and twinkling stars.

Regina admits, she's excited to see how that last one comes out.

"You are so gorgeous," Emma whispers, standing in the middle of her living room, stark naked, peeking through her camera.

Regina is lost in the moment, blocking out her surroundings to only focus on the beautiful blonde in her element. She slowly stands, prompting Emma to stop taking pictures and tilt her head curiously. Regina sets the mug down and latches onto those shimmering green eyes. When she knows she has Emma's undivided attention and those eyes aren't wandering anywhere, she drops the sheet.

Quite a few feet away, and Regina can still hear the hitch in Emma's throat and then the audible gulp. Emma stalks toward her, slow, zoned in on only Regina before she reaches out and latches onto Regina's blushing cheek with determination. Emma dives in, her lips already parting before their mouths even collide, her tongue too anxious to slip inside. She's eager, claiming Regina's mouth and melting everything in Regina's body until she's a puddle of hopeless sap in love.

"Can I please take a picture of you like this?" Emma implores into the passionate kiss.

"Em-"

"Listen, you can turn around again," Emma vows, stroking Regina's cheek and staring so deeply into her eyes. "I just want your silhouette with the backdrop of the glowing moon and sparkling stars like little diamonds. It will be so damn sexy and yet, classy. I promise," she pleads, convincing Regina to sigh and nod along. "Really?"

"Yes, but it better be classy."

"You'll be in it, of course it will be classy," she chuckles, surging forward to express her gratitude with another deep kiss. "You'll love it, I promise," she vows again before shuffling backwards.

"I better, Swan. Or I will shred the photograph to pieces," Regina darkly threatens as she spins around to face the window. "How should I stand?"

"You're perfect," her lover breathlessly whispers in awe. Regina swallows thickly, those emotions filling her heart, spilling over into her chest and making her warm all over. "Touch the window with your right hand," she commands, and Regina doesn't even think twice, her hand moving all on its own to splay against the bitter cold glass.

She hears the click from the camera, then it's quiet, too quiet. "Em-" the name leaps off her tongue and never finishes when she feels warm hands gliding around her hips. She instantly sinks into her lover, bathing in the warmth that always emits from Emma's strong body.

Emma places a slow and sensual kiss, that lingers for a moment, against the curve of Regina's neck. "I think the moon is glowing for just us tonight," she whispers behind her ear.

Regina hums, her trance trailing toward the moon that almost appears full this evening. "Too bad we aren't at the vineyard, the stars always shine so much brighter."

"Eh, that's what editing is for. I'll make those stars pop and shine like a mine full of pixie dust," Emma confidently states, eliciting a small chuckle from the woman wrapped up tightly in her embrace.

The room falls silent, a peaceful tranquility blanketing the atmosphere as Emma holds Regina close and they continue to watch the world move around them. Neither one giving a damn that they are completely naked and anyone could see from the busy streets below if they just glance up.

Regina takes this moment to reflect on the night, now that their world has settled. Too many emotions hit hard when this evening first began, conflicted doesn't properly articulate how torn she was, but she knew she would have to be the one to make the first move if she ever wanted to take the next step in their relationship. Emma is too kind and gentle of a soul, and has stated on multiple occasions that she would never push Regina. So, she took charge tonight, showing off her little silk robe that barely covered anything and honestly, she wasn't sure how far they would go.

She knew this is something that she wanted, to be intimate with Emma and express how she truly feels about her. She had a feeling she was going to struggle, not only with the idea of someone else touching her beside her husband, but also that she had only ever been with Daniel and Naveen. Not to mention, her first time with a woman.

She has never in her life experienced feeling claustrophobic, especially beneath a lover, but the weight of her guilt was crushing her and she needed a moment to gather her thoughts and remember she has nothing to feel guilty for. Even when Emma slipped inside of her, she tensed on reflex, knowing that only one man has been down there in the last fifteen years.

It was all very overwhelming and her emotions were all over the place, but luckily for her, she chose a partner that made her feel safe and comfortable and easily guided her through everything. And she doesn't regret one single second.

"Thank you," Emma murmurs into her ear, then worships her neck and shoulder with tender kisses.

"For what?"

"For trusting me to take your picture," she confesses, but then she snorts and buries her face into the slope of Regina's neck. "I guess that could have been interpreted as thank you for having sex with me," she chuckles, provoking brown eyes to roll as Regina shakes her head. "But maybe I should also thank you for trusting me enough to open yourself up again."

Regina sighs, blindly stretching behind herself to tangle her fingers in those long golden curls. "I do trust you. I love you."

Emma nuzzles in even closer and squeezes her awfully tight. "I love you so much."

Another silence falls over them, but it's comfortable and Regina is sure she hasn't felt this relaxed in almost a year. It's only a moment later when warm palms smooth down her sides, coaxing goosebumps to break along her skin. Wet, dainty lips are gliding across her neck again, persuading her head to fall to her left, exposing herself for Emma to take whatever she wants.

And Emma takes.

Emma's short nails skim down her left thigh while that right hand teasingly trickles down her center and Regina has no control left over her body, her hips thrusting and seeking the pleasure she desires. She releases a shaky breath as a single digit swipes through her folds and she's almost ashamed at how wet she already is from Emma's light touches. Almost, but this woman distracts her when she spreads the warm wetness all around her pleading little gem. Her legs instantly tremble, but she knows Emma has a strong hold on her.

Emma's sensual kisses become even wetter, mixing with the cold air and causing her to shiver in delight all the more. Those short nails rake up her thigh all while Emma is slowly drawing circles around her bundle of nerves and it's all too thrilling and enticing. Especially, since she's displayed in front of a window, where at any moment someone could catch them in the act. She shivers again, goosebumps spreading like wildfire and she's not even aware of the guttural moan that escapes her throat.

Emma moans softly against her neck, sucking the flesh between her teeth as her middle finger slides so effortlessly down the slope of Regina's mound and disappears inside.

"Fuck," Regina gasps, her eyes fluttering closed to relish in the glorious waves of pleasure rippling through her body. She digs her nails into Emma's forearm to keep her grounded before she crumbles. "Emma...why don't we take this to the bed?" She moans, her voice dropping an octave or two.

"It's too far," Emma mindlessly utters, slowly extracting her finger just to glide right back in to those tight walls.

The deep moan that exposes itself, encourages Emma to thrust against Regina's bottom as her left hand cups a perky breast.

"Em...ma," Regina stammers through a violent shudder that is taking control of her body.

How is she this weak for this woman? Yes, she hasn't had sex in almost a year, but she never thought it would be this magnificent and intense.

Emma unexpectedly presses her palm against Regina's throbbing clit and slowly moves in circles, while she adds one more finger deep inside. She pinches Regina's erect nipple between her two fingers before roughly groping that breast again. And Regina is melting, her hips chasing Emma's hand, desperate for another orgasm.

Much to Regina's disappointment, Emma's hands disappear and she actually whimpers. Although, before she can open her mouth and complain, Emma is whirling her around, cupping her cheek and crashing forward for a sinful kiss that has Regina stumbling back against the window. The glass is so cold that it almost burns, provoking her body to squirm.

"So cold," Regina incoherently mumbles into the kiss.

Emma doesn't even skip a beat, her tongue and lips continue to furiously kiss her while her hands slip down to Regina's thighs and pull her into her arms. Regina's body moves on pure instinct, her legs curling around the slim waist.

"Wait, no. You shouldn't be lifting me," she protests between Emma's persistent kisses.

"It's been almost a year, I'm fine."

"No, I'm too heavy-"

"We're just going to the couch," Emma declares between each rough kiss while her feet shuffle to the couch. "And you're not too heavy," she sternly demands, then tosses Regina's naked body down onto the sofa.

Regina yelps, but then Emma's body is leaping onto hers and slamming their mouths together once again. In a rush, she latches onto both sides of Emma's face and forcefully presses her tongue against the silky one ready to fight for dominance.

"God, I can't get enough of you," Emma gasps, painting a path of wet kisses down Regina's neck, toward her chest.

Regina groans in response, arching off the couch into Emma's warm mouth while she scratches her nails through her lover's wild hair. Emma slithers one hand to the small of Regina's back to hold her closer while she swirls the tip of her tongue around a pink pebble pleading for attention.

"Em," she groans so hopelessly that she doesn't even recognize her own voice. This woman only replies by grabbing Regina's other breast and squeezing rather roughly. "Fuck... are you always this...enthusiastic in bed?"

"It's you," Emma flippantly says because she's too busy worshipping this goddess. She sucks Regina's nipple then quickly soothes the peak with her warm tongue. "You drive me crazy."

Regina's eyes flutter closed once again as she allows her body to feel everything and move on its own; her hips bucking, her nails clawing at Emma's scalp, her throat releasing soft little moans that are begging for so much more.

And more Emma gifts her.

This talented woman slides down her body and when she feels a puff of hot air against her drenched core, her eyes spring back to life. When brown eyes wander down her own body, she finds Emma already watching her closely...waiting. Waiting for permission because this kind soul won't ever push her.

She gently releases Emma's scalp and smoothes down the tangled curls. She nods just once.

"Are you sure? If you're not comfortable-"

"It's you, Emma. I'm always comfortable and feel safe with you," she sweetly vows, inspiring Emma to lunge forward to steal a quick kiss before she resumes her task.

Emma's warm mouth is on her again before she can even blink. The long and silky tongue swiping through her folds and tasting her for the first time. She feels her body reacting, her skin breaking out in a scorching flush, and maybe she's slightly self-conscious, but Emma's animalistic groan clears her mind from any negative thoughts.

Emma expertly finds Regina's aching bundle of nerves and focuses all her attention there; licking, swirling, sucking, even nipping and Regina is a writhing, hot mess. She briefly wonders if sex has always been this mind-blowing, but then there is a slender finger sneaking deep inside of her and shredding that thought apart.

"Oh fuck," she chokes on her words from the moan trying to over power her. Her hips rock purely on instinct and Emma takes this moment to add one more finger. "Emma," she gasps, running her fingers through the woman's hair once again and urging her closer.

And Emma becomes wild, roughly burying her face in deeper while sucking Regina's silky clit and thrusting to tease that sweet spot inside. Regina is just as unhinged, grinding roughly and groaning with every thrust pounding into her.

"Emma...Emma...I....need....come here," she rambles, persuading Emma into opening up those pretty eyes that are a jungle green from the intensity of their moment. "Come up here," she gasps.

Emma immediately abandons Regina's quivering bud, wipes her mouth on her bicep, then drops down to rest on top of Regina. "What?"

"I need you," Regina breathlessly confesses, gripping those flushed cheeks and yanking her down for a fierce kiss.

Emma doesn't falter, probing her tongue along with her talented fingers. A warm wetness is soon pressing against her thigh and then she feels Emma grinding down upon her. The moment becomes messy, frantic, and it's the hottest experience Regina can recall. She doesn't think she has ever been this turned on before in her life.

And then both women are crying out against each other's mouths, refusing to part as they relish in their orgasms together. They cling to each other and kiss harder and deeper and shudder from the intensity of it all.

"God, I love you," Emma exhales and burrows into the slick crook of Regina's neck.

And then it happens.

A sob rips from Regina's throat.

She slaps a hand over her mouth and pleads for this not to happen now.

But the tears are already cascading down like raindrops against a windowpane.

"Hey, hey," and Emma's worried voice just barely registers in her mind, so she slaps her hands over her face to hide. "Regina, look at me. It's okay."

"No, it's not...that was...that was...the most passionate and arousing experience that I can recall. Was it because of you...or...have I always been attracted to women and my whole marriage was a lie-"

"Hey, ssshhhhh, listen," Emma implores, but she just rapidly shakes her head, "Regina, please, listen to me," she urges again, tugging on Regina's wrists until she caves and exposes her flushed cheeks stained with tears. "Your marriage was not a lie. You love Naveen with all your heart and he loved you too. I don't know if somewhere deep down you have always been attracted to women, but I do know that two women together can share a much deeper connection and intimacy. Please, Regina, don't ever doubt your life or your marriage before me, okay?" Regina's face must express her uncertainty because this beautiful soul continues. "What you had with Naveen was real, but what we just shared was intense and fresh in your mind. I'm sure there are plenty of wild nights that you are just blocking out right now."

Regina humorlessly laughs through her nose, her eyes falling closed again to hide away from her embarrassment. "I-I'm sorry I ruined-"

"Regina, you didn't ruin anything. I knew something would eventually trigger you, but I'm just hoping you allow me to hold you close and protect you from the guilt."

"Always the Savior," Regina scoffs as Emma presses a gentle kiss to her lips.

"So I was really that good, huh?" Emma muses and Regina knows she's trying to lighten the mood.

"Don't get cocky, Miss Swan, I hadn't had sex in almost a year," she deadpans.

"Uh-huh, sure, sure. We'll check back at the end of this week."

One of Regina's eyebrows quirks in questioning. "The end of the week?"

"Oh, yes. I'm addicted now. Morning sex," Emma ecstatically declares, pressing a firm kiss to Regina's parted lips. "Shower sex," she proceeds with another kiss. "Lunch break sex." Another kiss. "After dinner, dessert sex." An even rougher kiss. "And then sex at bedtime like regular people."

"You're an idiot."

"Absolutely. Do you hate me for it?"

"Absolutely," she states with conviction and then pulls Emma's face down until her freckled nose is kissing her own. "But you're my idiot."

 

Chapter Text


"Do you know what piece you want to show her?" Mary Margaret enthusiastically questions, practically squirming in her seat with excitement as they finish with their dinner.

"Well..." Emma fiddles with her napkin as a distraction while she talks the blush back down from staining her cheeks and selling her out. "I have a collection that I want to present to her. It would be phenomenal if she wanted the entire collection to hang in her gallery, but I'll be over the moon if she picks just one."

"You are fidgeting, are you that nervous?" Her mother chuckles. "Now, I maybe bias because you are my daughter, but your work is exquisite, breathtaking. There is no way that woman, Mal, will reject your art."

"Thanks, mom. I really appreciate all your support over the years," she earnestly says, brightening up her mother's smile into a blinding beam because finally, they are back to normal.

Obviously, moving out was best for their relationship and neither one can deny that. She has never felt closer to her mother and at the end of the day, she respects her mother and is so grateful for everything she has ever done for her.

"So...are you going to show us the collection? Or are you going to make us wait until it's on display for the entire city to see?"

"I have some...kinks I need to work out first and then I will show you...on one condition," she sternly demands, narrowing her eyes, but her mother eagerly nods along with a sappy grin stretching into her cheeks. "You have to keep an open-mind."

"Emma," Mary Margaret gasps, "I am always open-minded, am I not? Wasn't I the one who took you to your first gay bar?"

Emma bursts out laughing, she honestly forgot about that time in her life over ten years ago now. "Oh," she laughs, rubbing her eyes to stop the tears of joy that will certainly come from reminiscing. "You got hit on so much that night."

"It was nice to see I had options."

"Yeah, but Ruby put us both to shame," she chuckles.

"I think that girl's tongue was in every mouth that batted their eyes at her," her mother giggles, encouraging their carefree laughter to take over the moment of uncertainty Emma was feeling. "So, I'm cool," she smugly replies, winking playfully at her daughter.

"Yup, so cool," she proceeds to laugh, wringing the napkin tightly around her fingers beneath the table as she works up the courage.

"Come on, tell me about this collection."

"Well...I was thinking of calling it, A Night Amongst the Stars." She blinks, her eyes flicking up to gauge her mother's reaction and of course, the older woman is nodding excitedly and practically glowing with anticipation. Emma scrunches her nose and shrugs so nervously. "It's a collection of very tasteful photographs of Regina beneath the stars."

"Tasteful?"

She swallows the mass of nerves swelling in the back of her throat. "Yeah," and damn her voice for cracking and expressing how anxious she truly is to share this with her mother. "She's...bare, but she's mostly covered up by a very well placed sheet. There is only one of her completely nude, but it's her backside, mostly her silhouette," she quickly rambles.

"And has Regina consented to these photographs of her being displayed for the world to see?" Mary Margaret kindly asks, not at all judgmental and finally Emma can release the breath she has been holding.

"No," she doesn't even have the chance to finish before her mother is narrowing her eyes. "But listen, I'm trying to edit and finish them before I ask her. I want to hang them up in my apartment, like how the gallery would display them and then show them to her, so she can see the beauty in them. I promise they are tastefully done and I would never show anyone unless I have her consent."

"Is that the kink you have to work out?"

"Yeah," she exhales slowly, wrapping the napkin awfully tight around her finger, " but I really think she's going to love them. They are so beautiful and just one look and you can feel the inner peace washing over you. Every thought sort of vanishes from your mind and you're left in this tranquil silence that brings a sense of calm from the glowing moon and sparkling stars that are just as important in the photographs."

"Well, I can't wait to see them."

"Seriously?"

"Yes, they sound breathtaking," her mother wholeheartedly says. "So long as Regina agrees."

"I know," she breathes in relief, straightening her posture in the chair now that she has some of her confidence back.

"How are things going between you two?" Mary Margaret gently asks, slowly sipping her tea and regarding Emma awfully close.

As if on reflex, Emma's eyes dart to the phone that is silently sitting beside her, refusing to brighten up her day. "Uh...the last three months have been incredible," she dreamily replies, "but the last three weeks have been...extraordinary, beyond belief."

"I sense a but..."

"No, I just never thought I could feel this connected to another human. It's...unbelievable. I have spent my life watching you and dad and how in love you two are and I thought it was like a once in a lifetime thing, like I could never be so lucky. I thought it was unrealistic with all my problems, but then Regina came along and she's my best friend, my soulmate. I love her so much," she raves, and she can only imagine how enormous her sappy grin is from merely speaking of the woman.

Mary Margaret stretches across the table to place her gentle hand upon Emma's, but she's still fidgeting beneath the table. "Emma, honey, all I ever wanted was for you to lead a normal life, free from the worry of hospitals, surgeries, and doctors. I wanted you to be able to find your passion and be happy or miserable in your career, really didn't matter so long as you were allowed to work like others," she chuckles, inspiring a laugh to bubble out from Emma's frown. "I wanted you to fall in love and experience the mundane days of life. And I'm so proud of you. You fought so hard in life and you deserve all the happiness in the world, baby," she states, her eyes glossing over from the overwhelming emotions, but she doesn't cry this time around.

"Thanks, I really am so happy with her."

"I still sense that but," her mother sing-songs.

"Well, for one, she is moving to Cali soon."

"And I'm sure you two will figure something out," and Emma truly believes in those words and she also hears the underlying message that vows her parents will support her if she decides to follow her heart.

"Thanks."

"But...." her mother prompts once again.

"The one year anniversary of her husband's death is coming up and she is very clearly struggling," she exasperates, but it feels so good to finally say that out loud to someone.

"How so?"

"She's hiding away in her house, a house she hates because she says it feels haunted to her now. As the days creep closer, I hear less and less from her and I know it's her guilt encouraging her to put some space between us, but I just want to help."

"And you will. You always find a way, no matter how many obstacles are obstructing your goal."

"I know, but this one is tricky. I want to support her and hold her to make sure she feels safe, but I also know she needs time and space to work through all of this on her own. She needs me with her just as much as she needs me to stay away."

"I don't really know how to offer advice on this particular circumstance, but trust your heart. Whatever you feel is best in that situation, follow your instincts, they will guide you."

Emma sighs, glancing back at the phone that refuses to show her Regina's name. "I'll try," she murmurs, but they both know she's still feeling defeated.

~~~~~

Regina curls into the tightest ball her body can manage against the arm of the couch and pulls the blanket up to her chin. The roaring fire is useless at this point because the damn snow has been falling for god only knows how many hours now. She knows those wet snowflakes are from the angels above, their tears from all the weeping to remember the day. Today, she will remain cold, dead inside, there is no warming her bones with the ghosts that haunt her, clinging to her in desperation.

From beneath her cave, she swallows a large gulp of red wine, praying that it will wash away her sorrows. It's all becoming too much; the sound of shattering glass shrieking in her mind, the sound of his laughter echoing down the halls, the image of his sparkling smile and wholesome brown eyes. She finishes off her glass and sneaks her arm out of the blanket to dispose of the glass.

She knew this day would be hard, but this...this is pure torture.

Unexpectedly, there is a very distinct noise coming from outside...a shovel scraping against the driveway. Her brows furrow in consideration, knowing Naveen was the one to always shovel the driveway when it snowed and for a split second her heart is a fool and leaps at the prospect of seeing him again. Yet, her mind is all too aware and berates her other half for being such an imbecile.

She listens closely, and if she's not mistaken, it sounds like two shovels, working in sync. Her limbs feel extra heavy this evening, but she forces herself to leave the comfort of her sofa and investigate. She tugs the blanket securely around her frozen body and trudges her socked feet toward the window. She pries the closed blinds apart to discover a winter wonderland right outside her home. Even though it's after six o'clock at night and the world is engulfed in darkness, the snow is brightening up the scene before her.

She scans the premises and locates Emma and her father shoveling her driveway. She winces from the pressure in her heart, all too aware how she has been avoiding the woman as of lately. She can't find the courage to open the door and invite them in, but she also can't peel her eyes away from the scene.

Father and daughter appear to be enjoying themselves beside the heavy task in front of them. Regina notices how they share the same crooked smile as they laugh and converse so merrily. Emma's father even tosses a snowball at her, but it's not like it matters, the snow is falling so hard that they are both decorated in flakes.

Emma and David manage to shovel away half of the driveway before green eyes are seeking out the sad widow hidden away. When Emma finds Regina observing from a safe distance, she immediately stops shoveling, flashes her most adorable grin, and waves. She wants to wave back, she wants to feel joy again, but she can't move, she can't even convince one corner of her mouth to twitch as a half smile.

Emma motions for her to come out, but Regina's fingers fall away from the blinds and she remains rooted in place. The last thing she wants to do is push Emma away, but she feels so numb. So damn cold. She feels the ominous weight of guilt seeping from her heart and poisoning her blood. It's dark, haunting, hollow and it's swallowing her whole. She can see the world dimming out around her and it's more than frightening.

She pulls the blanket around her even tighter and shuffles back to the couch. As she sits back down into her depressing hole, she finds her phone glowing in the dark. One missed call. She peeks over and reads Zelena's name across the screen. She doesn't react in any way and that's what scares her most.

She rests her head against the arm of the sofa and hides away in her cocoon. Her eyes start to feel a little too heavy, and the moment her eyelids droop, she sees him. More specifically, the first time they ever met in the library, forms in her mind. That dashing, yet shy smile that swept her off her feet. She jumps, forcing her eyes open because she doesn't want to drown in his memory tonight.

Yet, his laugh, she can still hear it booming through the halls and she is transported back in time to when they first purchased their home. The kitchen, she was so in love with it. She can still feel the way he wrapped his strong arms around her and spun her around. He was chuckling, laughing at her for obsessing over the kitchen. He planted her down on the marble kitchen island and....

"Fuck," she whimpers, aggressively running her fingers through her hair to create a new pain that will trump the old wounds oozing tonight.

She uses her fingers to swipe at her nose and then plucks her phone from the coffee table. She scrolls through her recent contacts and dials without truly comprehending her actions.

"Hi, love."

"Hey," and her voice is so distorted, so utterly broken that she swears it's not her speaking.

"Hold on, babe, gimme one second..."

"I'm sorry, are you with Tink?" She asks, sniffling away the tears that are falling faster than the snow outside.

"Aye," Killian confirms and she can just hear the smile in his voice and she really is so happy he found someone. "Nothing like staying in from the snow, in front of a fire and getting Chinese," he chuckles, but her mouth can't find the strength to laugh along.

"Tell her I said hi."

"Regina says hi," he repeats and then Regina can hear Tink's voice, loud and clear, like she's leaning into the phone.

"Hi, Regina!"

"So, what's up, love?" Killian sweetly asks, even though she's sure he can hear the sorrow in her tone and calculate where her head is at tonight.

"Please tell me how the first anniversary of Milah's passing went for you," she implores, not able to stop the sob that breaks through from her chest once she gets the words out.

Killian sighs heavily. "Ah. That's tonight. Well, I was a disgusting mess," he confesses and she actually snorts at this. She either laughs or she bursts into uncontrollable tears at this point. "I drowned my sorrows in too many bottles of rum, ignored the world and smelled like a proper pirate." She smiles, actually smiles to know she's not alone in this miserable world. And because he knows she's smiling, he continues. "Gold, he broke every piece of glass in his house. Destroyed everything. During his fit of rage, he chucked his wife's favorite mug across the room and then spent hours crying and gluing it back together."

She sighs, a little more pressure lifting off her chest.

"Victoria, went on a humping conquest, sleeping with everything that even glanced her way. And Aurora, she refused to leave her bed. She laid there for seven days, refusing to eat, to shower, she just cried and slept."

"I think I'm somewhere between you and Aurora."

"That's good."

"Good?" She balks, flabbergasted and somewhat appalled that he would accept that news as good.

"Aye. You need to feel, to grieve, to mourn. Don't bottle that up inside until you explode and have some mental breakdown. Drink, cry, break shit, whatever you gotta do to heal...to feel," he stresses and she feels like someone just shook her awake.

"Okay," she confidently agrees, using her sleeves to clear the liquid pouring from her face.

"Okay? Just like that? I helped?" He innocently questions and this time she does laugh.

"Yes, you helped. You're right, I need to allow myself to get all these emotions out."

"Aye! Do you want company? Tink and I could meet you for some food or drinks, probably just drinks so you can pour your heart out-"

"No, that's quite alright. I appreciate the offer, but I think I need to do this alone."

"Alright, but promise you'll call if you need to vent."

"I promise," she vows and with that they say their goodbyes.

And Regina's about to head upstairs, curl into a ball and sob until she has nothing left, but she distinctly hears her front door opening.

"Regina?" She takes one deep breath from the boisterous voice booming through her home. "Reg-, there you are," Zelena exhales in what feels like utter relief when she spots Regina hiding in the dark. "Did you know there is a hot piece of ass shoveling your driveway?"

"Don't talk about Emma like that," she grumbles, pulling her blanket up to her chin once again.

"Emma?" Her sister squawks and plops down on the couch beside her. "I was talking about the man she dragged along."

Regina's face scrunches in disgust as she turns to glare at her older sister. "David? That is Emma's father."

"He is one gorgeous specimen."

"He's married."

"Meh. Not like that's stopped me before."

"Don't you dare, Z-"

"I'm just teasing...although, he can't be more than ten years older..."

"He's exactly ten years older, but he's off limits. You can't screw my girlfriend's father," she growls.

"Ah, so she is your girlfriend," Zelena stresses, intently gauging Regina's reaction against the fake flames glowing from the fireplace.

"Of course she is," she spits right back.

"Then why are you treating her like the help?"

"What?" She scoffs, shooting daggers at her sister for her big and intrusive mouth.

"Regina, the woman came over here during a snowstorm to shovel your damn driveway and you don't even have the decency to invite her in? And she's your girlfriend?" The redhead squawks like a damn parakeet.

"Shut up, Zelena. I'm not in the mood today. You know damn well what day it is," she bitterly snaps.

"I do, I know all too well, but that doesn't give you the right to treat your girlfriend like...she doesn't even exist," Zelena fires right back.

"Emma knows I need space right now-"

"Yeah, that woman out there is the best thing that could have ever happened to you and she's so damn nice, that she won't say anything. The woman is kind to a fault," her sister rambles in disbelief.

"She knows I'm hurting. She's not taking it personal."

"She's worried about you," Zelena urges, leaning in closer and resting her hand upon Regina's knee. "And she's too scared to comfort you, thinking she might trigger that guilt inside of you. That's why she called me to come here and check on you."

"Zee, I don't need the lecture right now," she exasperates because this woman has always been so good at pressing all her buttons at the worst time.

"I know, but you need to hear this. I don't think you realize that day is bittersweet for your family." Regina's attention snaps to Zelena's glossy blue eyes in a heart beat. "Yes, it was a tragedy that we lost Naveen, but we were so damn lucky that we didn't lose you. You have no idea how horrible it was in that hospital, watching you just lie there, so lifeless and helpless."

"Z-"

Her sister rapidly shakes her head and sneaks beneath the blanket to steal her hands. "I know you are struggling and that's okay, but you have to stop beating yourself up about Emma. You were gifted a second chance at life and you need to embrace that. I know it's easier said than done, but you need to stop feeling so guilty for loving Emma. You aren't doing anything wrong. Naveen is no longer here, it's okay to love again. Emma is one of a kind, don't push her away, don't shut her out. She's so good for you."

Regina chokes on a sob as she nods along, allowing Zelena to pull her close to her chest and hold her while she cries through her pain and emotions.

"I don't mean to push her away right now," she cries, stuffing her face back into the blanket while her sister gently rocks her. "It's just this damn house. His memory is everywhere and I feel like I'm betraying him."

"But you aren't. You loved him for sixteen years, you gave him everything, you were a loyal and wonderful wife, and he wouldn't want you to keep sulking like this. He would want you to find love again and I know for a fact, he would want you to be with someone as kind and thoughtful as Emma. He would want someone to love you and protect you the way Emma does."

"I know," she concedes, sobbing even harder against her sister's chest. "I just...I need to get out of this house. I need to start over. I feel like I'm suffocating here."

"I know, but then what are you going to do about Emma?"

"I really don't know. I-I don't think she would ever leave her family after everything she has been through. They want to spend as much time with her as possible."

"Yeah, ten years goes by in a blink of an eye."

"I know, but I also know Emma and that woman is going to push on for so much longer."

Zelena doesn't say a word, instead, she brushes her sister's hair away from her face and squeezes her awfully tight. The moment falls silent, except for the sniffles coming from Regina as she tries to calm herself back down. After a few minutes, Zelena's phone buzzes in her back pocket. She quickly pulls out the device to discover a text message.

"Hey, is she alright? Does she need anything?"

Zelena breathes out a laugh through her nose and places the phone right under Regina's line of sight.

Regina groans. "She is far too good for me."

"Far too good," Zelena confirms. "How are you feeling now?"

"Like I was run over by a semi and left for dead."

"Perfect. So should I invite her in?"

"She will probably be too stubborn and won't enter without speaking to me first to make sure I'm comfortable."

"Probably." Her sister chuckles softly and passes her phone over. "So call her."

Regina nods, knowing that even though she's grieving right now, she needs Emma to hold her close while she cries. And Emma will happily jump at the task.

"Hey Zelena, how's she doing?"

"Emma, it's me," she whispers into the phone, inspiring a proud smile to blossom across Zelena's face.

"Oh...hi. How are you? Do you need anything? Are you hungry?"

"Just come in."

"What? Seriously?"

"Come inside, Emma," she commands and it's not even thirty seconds before the front door is popping open.

"Hello?"

"We're in the living room," Zelena shouts as Regina ends the call. "Sis, you want me to stay or will you be okay with Emma?"

"I'll be just fine with her," she confirms as Emma cautiously steps into the room, lingering awkwardly near the doorway.

"Hi."

"Alright," Zelena loudly says as she stands from the couch. She quickly meets Emma and slaps her bicep. "Tag team, you're up."

"Thanks," Emma says through a small chuckle while mindlessly rubbing her arm.

"You two call if you need me."

"Thanks, Zee," Regina softly whispers, prompting her sister to flash a wink before she struts right out the door.

"Hi," Emma repeats, yanking the grey beanie from her head and shoving it into her winter coat.

"You can come here." Emma nods curtly, then proceeds to remove her winter apparel. When the blonde approaches, Regina can feel the icy chill radiating off her. "You're freezing."

"I know," Emma murmurs, but she doesn't move to steal Regina's blanket away.

"Come here," she orders, lifting one corner of the blanket for Emma to crawl under. "Oh my god, you're like an icicle."

"I'm fine," Emma sniffles, but her body is squirming to steal any heat from Regina's body.

"No you're not. Do you want to take a hot shower? Maybe thaw out a little."

"No, no. Come on, I'm here for you. What do you need?"

"I need for my girlfriend to not be a frozen popsicle. This is the time I could really use that furnace you call a body," she muses, winning herself the cutest little giggle in return.

"Alright, alright. I'll take a hot shower...unless...you would like to take a bath with me?"

~~~~~~

Support her. Be there for her. Help her talk about him and pour all those feelings out.

Emma's arms tighten around the trim waist in front of her, her lips tingling to kiss every inch of naked flesh before her, but she refrains. She rests her chin upon Regina's shoulder and blankly stares at the bubbles slowly popping around them. Even with Regina's hair piled high into a sloppy bun and her face blotchy and eyes swollen from crying all day, she's still manages to be the most gorgeous woman Emma has ever laid eyes on.

"Will you tell me about him?" She gently asks, silently praying that Regina doesn't clam up on her.

It's quiet for a moment, only the bubbles are brave enough to speak as they swim all around their bodies.

"What do you want to know?" Regina's hoarse voice quietly questions.

"How did you two meet?" She tries in a bubbly tone, expressing that there isn't an ounce of jealousy, just compassion.

Regina suddenly slides her torso forward in the bath to rest against her bent knees and Emma's blood immediately runs cold. She watches closely as Regina wraps her arms around her own legs to hug herself and then rests her chin upon her knees. She examines the woman's curved spine, and she wishes she could guide her back into her embrace.

"We met in the library at school," Regina finally admits. "We didn't notice each other until we both needed the same textbook for research. He was charming, but it was because he wasn't trying to be sly or smooth. He was just a genuinely nice person, even his smile was...wholesome."

"A true gentleman."

"He really was," Regina sadly affirms and Emma can hear the tears in her voice.

She doesn't think twice, her hands move all on their own to comfort her love, smoothing up and down Regina's back gently. Long, slow strokes up to her shoulders and back down again in hopes to release some of the tension.

"It took him two months of studying together to ask me to the movies," Regina suddenly divulges.

"Do you remember the movie?"

Regina chuckles, this time amused. "You'll be so happy. Batman Begins." Emma giggles, her hands sliding up to squeeze some love into Regina's shoulders. "I think that was the only time we ever went to see a movie. After that our dates were mostly restaurants."

"Can I ask why you two never had children?" Emma timidly questions, and she would have to be a fool to not notice the way Regina hugs herself even closer. "I'm sorry, I-"

"I can't have children, but Naveen was always fine with it because our lives were always consumed with work. We briefly discussed adopting, but for what? To have a nanny raising our children while we spent twelve hours a day at the office?" She explains and truthfully, she doesn't sound bitter, but Emma has an inkling she should lighten up the conversation.

"What is your favorite thing about him? What really sticks out in your mind when you think about him?"

Regina inhales sharply and Emma feels this urge to pull the woman back into her arms, but she waits. She waits for Regina to feel comfortable enough to come back.

"How it was in his nature to be a caregiver." Emma nods, even though Regina can't see her and slowly begins to massage her girlfriend's shoulders. "He was always taking care of everything. Making sure the lightbulbs were always changed. Always making sure my car had gas in it. Always making me tea when I came down with something. He spoiled me. He never wanted me to lift a finger."

"Shit, I have a lot to live up to," Emma jokes, but then immediately regrets her words and wants to smack herself for being so inconsiderate.

Luckily, Regina chuckles, falling back to rest against Emma's front again. She cranes her neck and cups Emma's cheek so tenderly. "You came over in a snowstorm to shovel my driveway and drew me a bath. I'm spoiled rotten," she whispers, placing a short peck to the corner of Emma's mouth.

"Whew," she teases, tugging her girlfriend closer and nuzzling against her neck. "I hope he knows I will always spoil you and protect you. I hope he knows I will never hurt you."

"He knows," her girlfriend softly murmurs, the tears evident in her broken voice. "He's watching over me now and knows I'm in good hands."

Emma takes those words into consideration and decides to question something she never talks about.

"Regina?"

"Hmmm?"

"Do you believe in God?" She nervously questions.

"I do," she states without a moment of hesitation. "I was raised in a strict Catholic home."

"What about all those rules? Especially being gay," she investigates out of pure curiosity.

"I think things have been misconstrued over the years. I believe that God loves all his children." Emma soaks up those words, because she has never had a religious discussion with anyone before. "Do you not believe in God?" Regina gently inquires, not a hint of judgement in her tone.

"I-I don't know. I was never raised with religion. It's not like I was raised against it, we just...didn't talk about it."

Regina nods along thoughtfully, while Emma suddenly remembers the night she received the phone call about the transplant. She remembers being so terrified that she was willing to try anything.

She clicks her tongue and takes a deep breath before she speaks again. "Right before I went to the hospital for the transplant...I-I remember being so scared, the most terrified I have ever felt in my life because I thought I wasn't going to survive the surgery or my body would reject the heart," she pauses, needing a moment to gather her thoughts which prompts Regina to spin around in her arms and lock eyes with her. "And before I left the house, I sent a silent prayer to anyone that was listening, that this heart would bring me home."

Regina swallows, those inquisitive honey eyes frantically scanning every inch of Emma's face.

"And this heart," Emma's soft whisper cracks as she gathers one of Regina's hands and places it upon her beating heart. "This heart did bring me home...to you," she confidently says, persuading one single tear to roll down Regina's cheek before she tenderly leans in and captures Emma's dainty pout.

 

Chapter Text


Together Emma and Ruby lift the portrait off the ground and carefully line it up with the hooks that Emma placed around her living room.

"Jeez, these suckers are heavy," Ruby gripes, for the fifth time to be exact, but Emma doesn't say a word, thankful that her friend has been helping her all afternoon. "Did they have to be so huge? They are as tall as me."

"That's the point, Rubes," Emma mumbles, focusing on lining the frame just right. "There," she breathes and then very slowly takes a step back, in sync with her best friend.

"We did it."

"We did," she mindlessly confirms while her eyes study the last piece to her collection.

Pride swells in her chest, filling with warmth and expanding like a balloon, however, she's slightly nervous that Regina is going to reject the idea and pop all her hopes and dreams.

"Next time though, call a professional mover."

"They need to be that big, they should be the first thing your eye is drawn to when you walk into the room. The center focus. They should steal your attention along with your breath. Nothing else should matter, the world should slowly fade away and you should feel like you're being absorbed into the picture," Emma delicately explains, her mind, body, and soul feeling as though she's being transported in time to the night this art was created.

Ruby tilts her head to the side in consideration and hums. "I mean she does steal my attention and I definitely feel like I'm in the moment with her," she confesses as Emma nods along slowly. "You're one lucky woman, Ems."

"I know," she agrees in a far off tone that is the definition of daydreaming.

"Can you make me the one you have in your bedroom?"

This snaps Emma right out of her tranquil thoughts and urges her to shove her best friend as hard as she can. Yet, Ruby simply laughs, loud and bubbly and Emma is reminded why she loves this woman so much.

"That's for my eyes only."

"Unless Regina agrees," Ruby counters with a hint of amusement.

"Unless Regina agrees," she repeats with a firm nod.

"And technically I already saw it," her friend teases, earning herself another shove, this time it's toward the door, so Emma can prepare for the evening ahead.

"I think you outstayed your welcome."

"Alright, alright," Ruby chuckles with her hands up in surrender. "What time does Regina's flight land?" She inquires as they walk toward the door together.

"Five o'clock," Emma answers, running her fingers through her hair.

"You're nervous."

"I know."

"Don't be," Ruby flippantly states, bending down to slip into her fur boots. "She's going to love them, Ems. I promise. They are stunning."

Emma glances back, peeking over her shoulder to the enormous portraits hanging side by side in her living room. Warmth instantly spreads through her heart and disperses through her veins to heat her body up. She's so damn proud. No matter the outcome, she's so proud of herself.

"Ems."

"Huh?" She whirls around to discover her best friend's green eyes glowing with love.

"You're amazing. Try and relax, okay? It's just Regina."

She exhales like she's been holding her breath since her friend first stepped into her apartment. "I know, but I've only seen her once in the past month and it's her birthday and then with all this," she gestures wildly at the artwork decorating her background.

Ruby latches onto both of Emma's shoulders and looks her square in the eyes. "That woman loves you and she's going to fall in love with these pieces. I promise you. Don't be so nervous to see her, you know she's been working hard in California and she still finds time to talk to you every day."

"I know, you're right," she concedes, attempting to breathe out all her inner turmoil.

"I know I am. Now, I should go, so you can shower and get ready for your big date tonight," Ruby insists before she spins around on her lanky legs and yanks the door open. "You better text me the second she gives her consent."

"If-"

"When," Ruby states with conviction and then struts away, leaving Emma to close the door behind her.

"Thanks again," Emma shouts down the hall, encouraging her crazy friend to spin around and walk backwards, so she can blow a kiss and wink her way.

Then she's gone.

And Emma is left to drown in her anxiety about the entire situation.

Christmas was rough for Regina, the one year anniversary since Naveen's untimely death, but Emma stayed by her side, yet allowed her space when need be. Then the first of the year hit and Regina needed to focus on the new vineyard, so she left for California, only coming back once in the middle of the month to visit and officially put her house up for sale.

Emma understood and most importantly, she supported Regina's dream. Of course, she had her doubts about their relationship and fears about the future, but it was hard to stay worried when Regina never missed a day with calling or texting. Besides, almost every decision Regina had to make regarding the vineyard, she would call and ask Emma's opinion on. It was silly, but Emma felt like she was included in the business which only encouraged her hope for a bright future with her favorite person.

However, the month apart granted Emma time to create her piece that she wanted to present to Mal. The woman was very busy, so the first meeting Emma had was actually with her daughter, Lily. The two of them hit it off rather well and Emma is sure no matter the outcome, they can be friends one day.

Now, to impress Mal.

Luckily, this past year Emma has been working her butt off; with weddings, engagements, family photos, having her art displayed in many local businesses (thanks to Alice and Robin), and keeping up with social media to keep her name out there. Hopefully, Mal will love the concept and hang Emma's pieces in one of her galleries. Heck, Emma will be happy if the woman accepts one of her photographs.

Hopefully, Regina agrees.

~~~~~

It's seven o'clock when Emma is opening the door to a very disheveled and aggravated version of her girlfriend. Regina's eyes are not the chestnut hue with little drops of honey like she remembers. Instead, they are like a bottomless well, hopelessly peering down to find anything besides the black emptiness, but there's nothing but a vacancy that sends a shiver down her spine. The perfectly coiffed raven hair that Emma has grown accustomed to is now limp, very clearly telling a story of how many times Regina's fingers have angrily run through those tresses today.

Emma swallows.

"Hi," she meekly greets her girlfriend, but she receives an annoyed eye roll in return before Regina pushes right passed her, making a beeline to the kitchen and abandoning her luggage. "Rough flight?" She gently asks, softly closing the door and ignoring the snow tracks Regina dragged in behind her.

"Rough isn't an adequate enough word for what I went through," she growls, making herself at home and stretching on her tiptoes for the wine glasses.

Emma slides up behind her girlfriend just as she is dropping her heels down to the ground. She tenderly sweeps all of Regina's hair to her right side, exposing the warm flesh hidden beneath all the layers of winter apparel. She presses a firm kiss to Regina's neck, then another just a smidge higher, then one more before she ghosts over the woman's ear.

"Happy birthday," she hardly whispers. "I missed you."

Regina immediately exhales all her stress and pivots in Emma's warm embrace. "I'm sorry, I missed you too," she confirms with an assertive kiss to the pitiful pout staring back at her.

Regina's leather gloves cup Emma's face and pull her in closer for a deeper kiss, those plump lips already parting so that talented tongue can slip inside and claim ownership. Emma instantly hums in appreciation, her fingers making quick work to unbutton the peacoat that has Regina's gorgeous figure hidden from greedy green eyes. She swiftly sneaks her hands beneath Regina's sweater and roams over her silky back with rapture.

"Forty-one," Emma murmurs into the kiss in a teasing manner which instantaneously produces a scowl upon Regina's face and forces their kiss to end.

"You had to bring it up?" Her girlfriend darkly groans, her hands slipping away from Emma's face.

Through Emma's eyes, Regina kind of seems like some intimidating villain in the moment, glaring murderously as she plucks off her gloves, one finger at a time.

"Yes, because you are the sexiest forty-one-year-old I have ever had the privilege to meet." Brown eyes roll in annoyance, but Emma is too busy examining them, observing how they are brightening back up again, morphing into that warm honey hue. On pure instinct, she dives forward for a quick peck. "So, wine?"

"Please," Regina sighs in relief and finally shrugs out of her coat.

"Well, I figured you would be tired," Emma begins to explain as she pops the cork to Regina's favorite red. "So, I made reservations at your favorite Italian place for tomorrow night. Tonight, we relax and I show you your gift," Emma chirps, handing her girlfriend a hefty glass of alcohol.

Regina quirks up one eyebrow and Emma already knows her girlfriend caught on to the way she worded that sentence. "Show me?" She muses, slowly sipping her wine in the most seductive manner.

Emma quickly moves to sip her own glass of wine, hoping maybe the alcohol will be enchanted with an extra dose of liquid courage. Regina gently sets down her wine and drifts just a tad closer, wafting her sweet perfume in the space between them, despite the long plane ride.

"Does my gift consist of you deliciously snug in red lingerie, wrapped up in a satin red bow?" Her sultry voice flirts, inevitably forcing Emma to choke on her wine.

She sputters, hastily wiping at her mouth while Regina's eyes twinkle with amusement. "No," she chokes out and then swallows to regain control of herself. "Definitely not. I didn't know that was on the list, but I'll keep that in mind."

Regina flashes her sinfully delicious smirk and floats closer until her lips are brushing Emma's ever so softly. "I'll be more than ecstatic if my present is simply a naked you," she whispers into the lazy kiss, those swollen lips continuously grazing the pale ones before her.

"Noted. Maybe I should show you before this night escalates," she awkwardly laughs. "And before you have too many glasses," she insinuates with her eyes rolling toward the bottle between them.

"Alright," Regina suspiciously complies, but allows Emma to hold her hand and lead her out of the kitchen and toward the living room.

Emma abruptly stops and spins around to face Regina with a type of uncertainty and anxiousness that her girlfriend can easily identify from her expression.

"Umm, so your present is two parts. This first part, I just want you to know there is no pressure whatsoever." Regina skeptically quirks up an eyebrow, so Emma rushes on. "I finished my collection that I want to present to Mal for her gallery, but I...please don't feel..."

Regina presses a finger to those rambling lips and desists all the jumbled up thoughts tumbling around in Emma's head like an overstuffed drier. "Just show me," her girlfriend gently whispers.

Emma nods curtly, and maybe she doesn't realize but her grip tightens around Regina's hand as she steps up to four portraits decorating the wall from ceiling to floor. It's overwhelming and immediately demands Regina's attention, but that's exactly what Emma was hoping for. A showstopper.

Emma can instantly feel the way her palms are growing moist from her apprehension and Regina not saying a word is only intensifying the moment. Emma curiously peeks out of the corner of her eye to gauge Regina's reaction, but the woman is intently studying the first picture.

The first photograph, that begins to tell a story of a night beneath the stars. Where a world is transformed into black and white with a stunning woman perched on a windowsill, wrapped in a sheet with her steaming cup of coffee, gazing out at the endless stars and moon that lights up her cold night. Emma really worked hard with her editing on this particular piece; making sure the stars twinkled extra bright and the moon is practically radiating and coming to life in the picture, even the detail of adding steam drifting out of that empty cup that was simply a prop at the time.

She hears Regina's audible gulp, but that's as much as the woman is willing to produce at the moment. Regina tentatively steps up to the next piece, her eyes drifting across the photograph like she's trying to memorize every detail. It's a cheeky little picture, still in black and white to capture the illusion of nighttime for the collection. Regina's pearly white teeth are clenched around the white sheet below, her one eye attempting to wink and it's by far the cutest thing Emma has ever witnessed. She's slightly obsessed with this one.

She's slightly obsessed with all of them.

She peeks over at Regina and notices a pink flush highlighting her cheekbones and it's sends a cold shiver down Emma's spine. Her confidence is starting to freeze up under the pressure, but she doesn't mutter a word. She just follows Regina down to the next photograph that will definitely tint that pink blush into a deep crimson.

Sure enough, Regina is blushing profusely and in all honesty, the picture isn't revealing at all. Another black and white of Regina lying in bed, her dark tresses fanned out across the white pillow. Emma made sure that the sheet was dipping low enough for viewers to assume Regina is completely nude, and maybe that's why she's flushed. However, Emma is sure her girlfriend is blushing from observing her own seductive bedroom eyes for the first time. It still manages to make Emma's heart stop.

Regina moves right along to the last piece, where Regina is on her stomach, the sheet just barely covering her bottom. Those long tresses are sweeping so elegantly down the middle of her sexy back and Emma still shivers every time she stares at this photograph. The beautiful brunette is gazing out the window again, the moon and stars even more vibrant than the first picture and the viewer knows the woman in the picture is blissfully sedated. So in love. So content with the world spinning just outside that window.

Emma swallows the boulder of insecurities lodged in the back of her throat and takes a chance to peek at Regina once again. Her girlfriend is silent, mindlessly wandering back to the first photograph to inspect the details again. One by one, she analyzes, memorizes, maybe silently critiques, but never mutters a word to Emma. It feels like an eternity for Emma and when the silence becomes too loud, she finally pipes up.

"Look Regina, I know these are very private and I one hundred percent understand if it's too much for you or if you feel nervous about having them hung up for the world to see. I promise there is no pressure at all, you can say no and I can...I'll...figure something else out-"

"Stop rambling, Swan," Regina vacantly commands, her eyes still busy lingering on the very last photograph again.

"Mmkay."

"At first glance, I had a mild heart attack seeing myself so exposed like this," she confesses, but she still sounds so far away, like she's utterly lost in her thoughts.

"I know, I'm-"

"But," she stresses to quiet Emma down once again, "they are breathtaking and I can't seem to look away. And the more I stare...the more I admire...the more I can truly appreciate the art behind this masterpiece and detach myself from the images." Regina finally blinks, slow and long before she turns to meet frantic green eyes. She softens, her smile exploding into a beaming light of pride. "You are so talented and I want you to share this collection."

"A-are you sure?"

Regina cups her cheeks and pulls her into a slow and delicate kiss that vows her permission and also maybe says a little thank you for portraying her so beautifully...elegantly...classy like she specifically asked for.

"I love you," her girlfriend whispers against her lips before she slowly breaks the kiss. "And Mal would have to be out of her damn mind to decline these."

Emma chuckles and dives right back in for a fierce kiss. "Thank you, thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me."

"Thank you for making me your muse," Regina sighs happily and glances back to admire the photographs once more. "These really are spectacular."

"Come on, I have one more gift for you," Emma excitedly announces, tugging Regina out of the living room, through the hall and into the bedroom.

Regina gasps the moment she crosses the threshold. "Emma-"

"I told you, that one is for my eyes only," she quickly defends before Regina assumes she is going to try and sell that one to Mal as well.

"I-" the words fade away as Regina sashays across the room to admire the portrait hanging above Emma's bed. "It's..."

"It's classy, right?"

"It's exquisite," Regina breathlessly murmurs as her eyes soak up the photograph.

She's completely nude in this one, her round bottom very clear in the picture as she stands against the cold glass, peering out at a universe of stars that she will never come to know. Emma's editing is evident to Regina because she knows that moon wasn't shining so brightly or there weren't that many stars that night, but it all looks so perfect. It appears so real and she feels like she is transported back to that night. She feels alive in that moment once again.

"You should really consider selling that one," Regina confesses, her fingers stretching to graze the picture.

"What? No, you said-"

"Forget what I said. This is so stunning. It quite literally took my breath away."

"I don't know...maybe...anyways, that's not your present," Emma says, lifting up a rather large gift wrapped in red and black checkered paper with a giant gold bow on top.

Regina slowly peels her eyes away from the photograph on the wall, but there is another smaller canvas behind Emma that steals her attention. Emma peeks over her shoulder to figure out where those dark eyes are wandering to and she finds another black and white picture of herself, lying on top of Regina, both grinning wildly as they share a kiss.

"I want a copy of that one," Regina strictly orders, but Emma giggles and nods along happily.

"You got it. Now, here," she says, thrusting the actual present into Regina's hands. Regina flashes a sly smirk before she begins delicately unwrapping her present. "This is for the vineyard. I hope you like it. I was kinda thinking it should be in the main lobby?" She nervously suggests as Regina carefully pulls the framed picture out of the wrapping paper.

"Emma, really, how are you this talented?"

This time, Emma is the one blushing profusely and coming up short with words, so she simply shrugs, scrunches up her freckled nose and offers a crooked little smile that has Regina diving forward for a powerful kiss.

"This will be perfect in the main lobby, behind the checkin, so everyone can admire it as they walk in," Regina says before she leans back to study the picture once more.

It's a stunning photograph, exploding with warm oranges and reds from the sunset in the background. Regina's silhouette is almost black as she curls her fingers around a vibrant red apple beneath her favorite tree on her parents' farm. And Emma's sure she sees tears welling up in Regina's eyes.

"I really love this," Regina chokes, wrapping one arm around Emma's neck and tugging her flush against her body. "I really love you."

"Good, because I'm kinda madly in love with you," Emma chuckles before she crashes their lips together and pulls Regina down onto the bed with her.

~~~~~

She can't stop staring. She's telling herself to memorize the moment, don't ever forget the way Regina's warm breath brushes so lightly against her chest while those silky strands tumble all over her naked skin. Her muscles have never been so relaxed in her entire life and she has never felt so safe and secure beneath another human.

Please, don't ever forget this moment.

"I really missed you," Emma whispers into the intimate bubble that is only theirs. "And I know it was technically only two weeks, because of that one weekend, but it still felt like a month."

Regina slowly cranes her neck, lifting from the nestled comfort between Emma's breasts to rest her chin upon a thumping heart. "I missed you as well." Then the softest lips press a delicate kiss to the scar that no longer harbors Emma's deepest insecurities.

"I like that you keep sending me stuff for my opinion. I feel like I'm there and helping you decorate," she bashfully admits, but this only seems to persuade Regina's dopey grin to stretch even wider.

"Well, I appreciate your help and I take all your opinions into consideration."

Emma swallows rather loudly as she searches way down deep for the courage to ask. "Why?"

"Because I value your opinions, your talent and that eye of yours seems to really grasp onto things that most people don't see," Regina muses, except Emma's face is slowly falling.

"Oh."

"Oh? What's that supposed to mean?" Regina questions, squirming her naked body up Emma's, so she is directly hovering above her.

"No. Nothing."

"Emma Swan-"

"It's fine, seriously-"

"You better start explaining as to why you suddenly are so awkward and being all Emma. What's wrong?" She inquires, capturing Emma's pout for a slow and sensual kiss. "We vowed to always be honest," she murmurs as her lips continuously drag teasingly against Emma's.

"I know," she whimpers, snaking her arms around the curvy waist and holding Regina even closer. "I'm just curious about our future," she reveals, provoking one dark eyebrow to skyrocket in surprise. "I know, I know, we said the future is off the table, but I'm just wondering where your head is at with the vineyard and my career...that will hopefully take off after this collection."

"Emma, you know how I feel about you," and she hates...loathes how sad Regina sounds. "You know how much I adore you..." she carefully says, tracing Emma's hairline while those brown eyes avoid eye contact and follow her own fingertips instead.

"But?"

"But I don't know when I'm going to be ready to take the next step in our relationship. If any," she sorrowfully confesses, shoving Emma's thumping heart down to the pit of her burning stomach where it will burn down to ash.

"If any?" Her voice barely croaks out the horrible words.

"Emma, I'm sorry, but I don't know if I'll ever want to marry again."

"But I'm not asking for a wedding, Hell, I'm not even asking for a proposal," she hastily defends, softening Regina's expression.

"Then what are you tiptoeing around?" Regina gently investigates, tucking an unruly lock behind Emma's ear.

"I don't know," she shrugs so shyly. "I guess I'm hoping that maybe we can find a balance in our relationship. And we won't drift apart because we live on the opposite sides of the country."

"We won't drift apart-"

"But how do you know that?" Emma whines, motivating Regina to dip down and kiss her anxiety away.

"I won't let that happen."

And the conversation is soon forgotten about when Regina slithers down Emma's body to make good on her word.

~~~~~

She's exhausted. Exhausted isn't a good enough term. No, in fact, Regina feels like her brain was detached, melted, and placed back inside for her to walk around like some zombie. Her weekend with Emma was far too short and they spent almost every minute inventing new ways to bring one another to a higher climax. The only time they left the apartment was when Emma took her to that ridiculously expensive restaurant for her birthday dinner. Sleep this weekend, wasn't an option and now she's suffering the consequences.

She thought maybe she could catch some shut eye on the plane but the screaming baby wouldn't stand for that. She doesn't blame the baby, she could only imagine how much pain that child was in to scream like that. She's just overtired...and cranky, actually she's in a foul mood and she's pretty certain the only thing that would cheer her up right now is being safely wrapped in Emma's loving arms.

She's tempted to jump on the next flight back to New York.

Her body feels heavy and sluggish and she hates that she has to go home to an empty bed. What she wouldn't give to crawl into bed with a strong physique waiting, ready to tuck her into her side, kiss her temple and soothe her into a deep slumber.

And that's when it hits her like a bolt of lightening.

Her feet come to a halt and she scrambles for her phone in her coat pocket, earning herself a grunt from the person that almost slammed into her back from her abrupt stop.

"Lady, what's the hold up."

She whips around and scowls at the man before she steps off to the side and allows him and many others to pass her. She wanders to a secluded area in the airport against a glass window, that peers out toward the runway, and then she clicks on the last call.

It's not even one full ring before she is greeted with that perky voice that sets her heart on fire.

"Hey! Did you land?"

"I did."

"Oh good. How was your flight? Better than the last one I hope," Emma chuckles so lightly and Regina's face can't possibly support the grin taking over.

"Not quite."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Why don't you treat yourself to a nice, sticky, cinnamon roll and a strong coffee before you call your Uber and you have to travel more."

"Maybe," she vaguely replies, her cheeks growing rather sore from grinning so hard.

"Alright, well...I should probably let you go, I'm sure you still have to get your luggage and stuff-"

"Emma."

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

"I love you, too," and she can just see in her mind's eye the way her green-eyed girlfriend is grinning with her whole face. It's by far the most adorable thing she has ever laid eyes on.

"The minute I stepped off this plane, I realized that I can't stand to be away from you. I don't want to spend another minute waiting around to decide our future. As we both know, life is too short and I don't want to waste another minute not living. And I am certainly not living without you by my side."

"Okay..."

"Emma, come to California."

"What? Are you serious?"

"I have never been more serious about anything in my life. Come to California, forget the city, and come live on the countryside with me. There are some great cardiologists in the area for you. And there are plenty of wonderful art galleries here in L.A., in fact, Mal owns one of them. Or we will find you another potential buyer-"

"Regina."

"Hmmm?"

"You want me to move across the country and live with you on the vineyard?"

"Yes."

"Yes."

"What?" Regina practically squeaks in utter shock.

"I'll move to California, I'll move in with you."

 

Chapter Text


Regina securely wraps the towel around her body as she steps out of the shower and approaches the mirror. It should be all fogged up from the steam, if someone hadn't interrupted her shower to ask silly questions and then leave without shutting the door behind her. She sighs and hates that she's not even slightly irritated.

Her hand moves all on its own to retrieve the band resting in the small dish, never once does she glance down as she slips the ring onto her finger. It's habit now, all part of her morning routine that she doesn't even comprehend anymore. Her eyes are busy though, studying that face staring back at her in the mirror. Her scar is always more prominent when she first steps out of the shower, but those haunting feelings are no longer present. She simply smiles now, proud that she has trained herself over the years to remember his smiling face when she catches a glimpse of that old wound.

Forty-five. Where the hell has time gone?

She slowly turns her face from side to side, assessing a few more laugh lines around her mouth, maybe a few more crinkles around her eyes. Although, she's not even mad about them. How can she be when she knows for a fact they are from laughing and smiling so hard over the last four years?

She doesn't see a middle-aged woman staring back at her, on the contrary, she has never felt so young and so full of life. She sees a strong woman, who has witnessed and was consumed by darkness firsthand, but has overcome those depressing days. She sees a woman who conquered all her demons and came out a much braver woman in the end. She sees a woman who is beyond happy and living her life to the fullest every damn day, never taking a single second for granted.

She smirks at herself, fully proud of the woman she sees before her in the mirror and struts confidently toward the bedroom. She banishes all thoughts regarding her age, that's simply a number and Emma has taught her to approach each day not obsessing over those silly digits.

"Hey," Emma breathes, obviously slightly out of breath from anxiously running around all morning.

"Hey yourself," she playfully says, roaming over those sexy suspenders and observing as Emma's green eyes dilate while shamelessly drinking in her partially naked form.

The blonde groans, fumbling to close the door behind herself before she lunges at Regina. One hand securely holding Regina's face into place as her lips claim ownership while her other hand easily rips the towel away. Regina smiles into the passion, latches onto both warm cheeks and pulls Emma in even closer until her back hits the mattress.

"Em," she moans when she feels her lover lifting her up the bed toward the pillows. "We really," she gasps, slightly distracted when Emma's lips slip away to suck so mischievously at her neck while two teasing fingers slick through her folds. "Really shouldn't."

"I know, but it's kinda hard when you're teasing me like this," Emma incoherently rambles, vigorously scraping her teeth against a thumping pulse point.

Regina breathes out an amused chuckle, running her fingers beneath the suspenders before she tugs on them. "I was not teasing you, I simply stepped out of the shower."

"That's all it takes," Emma mindlessly states and then latches onto a perky nipple screaming for her attention.

"Em-ma," her raspy voice groans, but she forces herself to peel Emma's enthusiastic mouth away. "We can't. Your parents, my sister, Alice and Robin and the kids are all downstairs, I'm sure Ruby and Kathryn are floating around somewhere as well."

"So," Emma shrugs, diving down to reclaim Regina's mouth and maybe persuade her mind into caving.

"My parents should be here shortly and you don't want to keep my father waiting, do you?"

Emma immediately backs up, a very somber expression upon her face compared to the ecstatic one moments ago. "There's no way the plane would let him bring his shotgun."

Regina chuckles, yanks Emma back in for a rough, but tight-lipped kiss. "You know my parents adore you."

"Yeah, but that joke still makes you smile," Emma sweetly says as she dips down for one more gentle peck. "Alright, alright, this can wait until tonight."

Then Emma is rolling off her and even though Regina misses the contact, she's hot all over from her lover's presence. Here in California, it's usually warm outside, but having Emma in her life is what warmed her soul and finally, she's not cold anymore.

"Are you excited?" Emma pipes up as she rests on the corner of the mattress and Regina stands to dress herself.

"Of course, I've been dying for my parents to come out and see the vineyard. Four years is a long time to wait," she says, peeking in the mirror above the vanity while she chooses her undergarments.

She discovers Emma straddling the corner of the mattress, her arms loosely hanging between her thighs, but what worries Regina is the way Emma is obsessively spinning the band around her finger. She seems to do this every time she's nervous, religiously.

"What's bothering you?" She gently questions, abandoning her garments and sashaying back toward her girlfriend.

Emma blinks, her eyes instantly flicking up to watch as Regina's naked body settles down on her lap. Emma immediately abandons her obsessive tick to smooth her hands up Regina's back. Regina drapes her arms over Emma's shoulders and mindlessly plays with her golden waves.

"Nothing really."

"Emma Swan," Regina scolds in her most threatening tone, convincing her lover's forehead to rest against her chest and hide away.

Emma sighs, her palms roaming all over Regina's backside as a distraction. "This is a lot. We've never really had everyone here all at once. Everyone has taken the time to visit and we still go back to New York to see them as well, but everyone at one time," she exasperates, nuzzling even further against Regina's warm skin for comfort.

"Why should it be any different?" She inquires, gently squeezing beneath Emma's skull to alleviate the tension knotting there.

"It...just is."

"I have a feeling, Miss Swan, this has nothing to do with how many people we are entertaining this weekend and everything to do with my parents," she firmly announces, using her free finger to guide Emma's chin up to meet her gaze. And sure enough, those sparkling emeralds are shimmering with guilt. "Emma, why are you so worried about my parents coming?"

"Because," she pouts like a toddler, "this is the first time they are seeing our lives here. That's a lot of pressure for me. What if they don't think this vineyard is good enough to be named a sister to theirs?"

"Emma, please. We built an extraordinary getaway, if anything they should be worried that their dinky property doesn't live up to our standards," she muses, so full of confidence to help ease her girlfriend's worries. "But you know this," she slowly confesses.

Emma groans and buries her face against Regina's chest again. "What if they don't approve of our lives? What if they don't think I'm good enough for you," she murmurs, very clearly embarrassed about revealing her truth.

"Honey," Regina lowly chuckles, tucking her finger beneath Emma's chin again and demanding her full attention. "They know all about the lives we lead. We send them a damn postcard from every trip," she laughs, persuading a tiny smile to tug at the corner of Emma's mouth. "They know we are a success with the vineyard and even though they refuse to admire any of your work hanging in Mal's gallery, they still know you are a huge success with your own business as well. And despite my nakedness making them uncomfortable, they both had Robin create them Instagram accounts, so they can follow your work on there and support you," Regina sweetly reminds her.

"I know," Emma says, but there's still a faint frown molding around her dainty lips. "And this?" She meekly whispers, showing off her left hand decorated with the simple white gold band.

"It's quite sexy," Regina seductively flirts, dipping down to press a kiss against the cool metal.

"Ugh, that's not what I mean and you know it."

"What do you want me to say, Em?" Regina sighs, anxiously twirling Emma's straightened hair around her finger.

"I feel like your parents are old school with certain things and they are not happy that we aren't married and living in sin."

Regina has to laugh at this. "Emma, we are lesbians, according to their beliefs we are already living in sin."

Emma rolls her eyes though at the absurdity of it because truthfully, for two people who are so religious, Cora and Henry are very open-minded and accepting.

"Okay, fine. I see where you are coming from but I still feel like your dad is glaring at me every time I'm around him, like he's waiting for me to drag you down that aisle, with or without your consent."

They both chuckle at that as Regina rests her forehead against Emma's and her girlfriend squeezes her around her bare waist.

"It's my decision," Regina softly whispers. "I'm the one who doesn't want to marry again, so if they have a problem, send them my way."

"I can handle them," Emma pouts, persuading another deep chuckle to bubble out of Regina's mouth before she kisses those irresistible lips.

"Of course you can," she teases in the most condescending tone, pecking that frown one last time.

"I'll defend our decision," her girlfriend vows, tugging Regina closer and locking her arms around her waist. "Not everyone has to get married and I know you aren't going anywhere."

"Absolutely not," Regina vows, shaking her head against Emma's as she peers so deeply into those wholesome eyes. "But that's why I purchased these bands for us."

"Just for us," Emma confidently says, her lips puckering to steal another little kiss.

"Exactly, our own bond and promise to each other. So you know I am yours and you are mine, fuck society and all their rules."

"Say fuck again."

"Shut up," Regina laughs, swatting her girlfriend away.

"No, say fuck again," Emma teases, her sneaky fingers latching onto Regina's sides and tossing her back down onto the mattress.

"You're a giant child," she scoffs beneath Emma's beaming face.

"Yet, you still love me."

"Because you're mine," Regina darkly growls, pulling her lover down for a searing kiss.

~~~~~

"You really do have such a lovely home," Cora compliments as they slowly descend the stairs after the grand tour.

Regina says her gratitude while her father hums his approval, but Emma is busy analyzing the stoic man. His eyes are anything but discreet as they study each photograph that leads down the staircase to their right. Emma can't contain her smile as she too admires each one that shares their love story across the globe. The adorable sun-kissed faces squeezing together for a selfie on a beach in Maui. Her absolute favorite of Regina petting a baby elephant in Africa. Regina's favorite, (and Emma still isn't sure how Regina captured the picture in time), of the monkey stealing Emma's food in Bali. Another one of just Regina riding the camel in Morocco. One more selfie, this time in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa while they share a kiss.

"Quite the adventurous lifestyle now," Henry announces as they reach the bottom steps.

"Yes," Regina politely answers but Emma sees the excitement twinkling in her eyes and the giddy smile she's trying to suppress. "Neither one of us wants to waste a minute of our life on Earth. We want to find the beauty across the globe."

Henry nods and Emma is sure this man's dark eyes are softening for his daughter, but she feels this need to convince him of his full approval.

"Besides, I've been selling some gorgeous pieces from every place we visit," she adds on in hopes the man will see her hard work and dedication as well. Not just all fun and games as he suspects.

"I do enjoy your scenic masterpieces over my daughter's naked behind," Cora retorts, forcing Regina to release an exaggerated sigh while Emma blushes profusely.

Regina did encourage Emma to sell that photograph of her standing in front of the window that was supposed to be for Emma's eyes only. After Mal already had Emma's collection hanging in her gallery, she snatched up the single piece right away, claiming it was for her own personal use, but then turned around and sold it for a pretty penny. Emma was furious when Lily told her how much she could have sold the piece for. After that, Emma made Mal sign a strict contract, splitting everything fifty-fifty, like all galleries and artists do. Besides that one hiccup, signing with Mal has been a blessing. That woman has made Emma a hot commodity.

"That was a one time thing, I swear," Emma vows. "Regina is only allowed to be hung around this house from now on."

"We see that," Henry chuckles, gesturing to the many photographs decorating the walls, but to be fair, half of the pictures are of their family members as well.

"I think it makes it cozy in here," Cora compliments.

"Thank you, mother. Emma, can you grab the rest of the group? I believe some of them wandered off to the stables and I believe dinner is all set."

"Of course," Emma chirps, placing a quick peck to Regina's cheek and then dashes toward the nearest exit.

It's all rather silly and mostly in Emma's head, because Cora and Henry are always very sweet to her, but she still feels like they don't always approve of her carefree lifestyle. She knows they expect roots for their daughter with a steady career and solid relationship. Not some young blonde who sells photographs and travels all around the world, and not making an honest woman of their baby girl. Regina swears this is all in Emma's head and maybe it is, but she still feels self-conscious around them, like she needs to prove her worth.

But one thing is for certain, the band that Regina slipped onto her finger after one year of living together, is more real to Emma than any marriage the government has to sign off on. They don't need a piece of paper to prove anything, Regina is her wife and she knows she is Regina's world.

"Auntie Emma!" Comes squealing from the cutest little three-year-old with blonde spiked hair and bright green eyes.

"Hey, bud," she calls out, already with her arms wide open to catch Flynn as he charges away from the barn.

"Mommies, Flynn took off again," Hunter hollers back toward the barn where Emma assumes the two women are placing the horses in.

Emma scoops up her nephew and allows him to climb onto her back like the little monkey he is. She bounces happily toward the fence, spotting her two friends conversing all while Flynn giggles hysterically.

"Hey, have you guys seen my parents?" Emma inquires.

"They are in the stables with Robin and Alice," Kathryn answers as she and Ruby spin around to face her. "You really are a natural with children."

"It's hard not to be with this cutie," she giggles, reaching behind to tickle Flynn with one hand while the other securely holds him against her back.

"Are you sure you don't want to foster or something?" Kathryn asks, earning herself two matching eye rolls from Emma and Ruby. Some things never change.

"Just because she's a woman and is good with kids doesn't mean she has to have children," Ruby snottily answers for her.

"I'm not saying women have to have kids, look at us," Kathryn defends, gesturing between herself and the brunette. "I'm forty-five, newly divorced, and wouldn't even dream of bringing a child into this world and you...well, you still live like you're in college," she deadpans.

"Ugh, and I love every minute of it," Ruby happily concedes.

"Regina and I are just fine. We aren't going to bring a child into this home when my future is so..." she trails off, provoking Kathryn and Ruby to raise their eyebrows curiously. "...unsure." Ruby purses her lips while Kathryn smiles sympathetically. "It wouldn't be fair to a child. Besides, we are having the time of our lives. Three vacations a year to the most beautiful and sometimes exotic places. Nah, we're good," she chuckles, then peeks over toward the little boy resting his head on her shoulder. "And we have this little man and his sister to keep any baby fevers in control."

She playfully blows a kiss at Flynn who instantly blows one right back.

"Well, cheers to that," Kathryn concludes. "Speaking of, why is my hand empty? I'm standing in the middle of a wine vineyard and haven't had one glass of wine yet."

"Come on," Emma laughs, nodding toward her home, "Regina said dinner is ready and you know she will have plenty of wine on the table."

"Splendid, I need a bottle or two."

"So, how's that divorce going?" Ruby sarcastically teases.

"Oh shut up, I'm fine. Can't really be upset when the damn thing died years ago. We were just too busy with work to notice," Kathryn easily replies, allowing the hurt to roll right off her shoulders. "How about you, Ruby? Plan on getting smashed with me and browsing the hotel for some single men?"

"Sounds great!"

"Sounds like an awful idea," Emma chuckles. "The men that come here are either married and their wives dragged them or they are coming straight out of San Francisco."

"Ah, boo," Ruby pouts.

"Has anyone seen Zelena? She has been missing ever since her parents showed up?" Emma skeptically inquires.

"I think she snuck away with her boy toy, I bet she assumed we wouldn't notice with all these people here," Kathryn muses with a devilish twinkle in her eye.

"Em, wait up!" All three women pivot to watch as Robin and Alice exit the barn with David and Mary Margret. Her mother, of course, holding Hunter's hand as they all dash across the field because she adores the little girl . "Is it dinner time already?" Robin investigates curiously.

"Yeah, I think Regina was nervous about your grandparents coming and she wanted everything to be perfect."

"They are going to be jealous, this place is so much nicer than theirs," Alice raves and then unexpectedly latches onto Emma's forearm. "Don't you dare tell them I said that."

"God no!" Emma vows wholeheartedly. "I'm terrified of Henry."

"You should be, you're not only banging his daughter but you made a picture of her very naked, very popular," Ruby teases, inspiring everyone to laugh along, except for Emma's parents.

David blushes profusely like he always does and looks away as if he can't hear their conversation at all. While Mary Margret narrows her eyes.

"Ruby," her mother scolds through a hiss.

"I should have invited Neal and Wendy this weekend instead of you," Emma grumbles, but her best friend slings an arm around her and plants one sloppy kiss to her cheek.

~~~~~

"So, Mary Margret," Cora says after setting down her glass of Merlot. "How is living here in California? Surely, after over sixty years in New York, this is quite the adjustment."

Mary Margret grins around her fork piled high with apple pie and nods eagerly along. "It was a little strange at first, but it was the right decision for us."

"Deciding to retire at sixty is only a few years earlier than our original plan," David adds on. "Luckily, we have been very fortunate and selling our company was an easy decision for us."

Henry nods along thoughtfully, mindlessly stroking the stubble upon his chin. "You haven't grown bored?" He seriously investigates, his warm eyes only on Emma's father.

"Nah. It's almost been a year now, but we stay busy. We love helping out with the vineyard when Emma and Regina are away and the horses are definitely a perk," David chuckles, slinging an arm around the back of his wife's chair as he finishes off his glass of wine.

"I think they spend more time with the damn horses than me," Emma laughs, her chuckle almost identical to her father's and it's so adorable it inspires Regina to reach beneath the table and squeeze her thigh.

"Well, that's lovely to hear," Cora kindly says. "I'm glad to see you two are happy with your decision," she honestly states, lifting her glass toward Mary Margret who swiftly lifts her own wine and clinks her glass against the other woman's.

"I think another bottle is in order," Emma cheerfully announces as she scoots her chair back.

Regina squeezes her thigh while Emma palms the back of her wife's head and flashes a loving smile, before she removes herself from the table. So far, so good, she thinks as she scurries out of the dining room to retrieve two new bottles from downstairs.

She pulls out Cora and Regina's favorite red and a bottle of white for her parents and then charges back upstairs. And of course, her body jumps back when she is startled by Henry, lingering by himself in the living room.

"Uh, hey," she mumbles, but he doesn't seem interested in peeling his eyes away from the fireplace mantel.

"You have built quite the life out here in California," he sternly says, persuading sharp warning prickles to poke across her flesh.

She swallows. "Yes," she cautiously answers, forcing herself to take a step closer even though her legs suddenly feel like jelly. "I hope the vineyard has been everything you hoped for. Regina is always so sure of herself, but I know this place is just as important to you with your name plastered all over it," she sheepishly confesses.

Henry hums noncommittally, refusing to even glance her way as he strokes his chin and admires the urn that has Emma breaking out in a cold sweat. Naveen's ashes never bother her, he was a big part of Regina's life, her past and she knows she is a huge part of Regina's future. Except, it does make her uncomfortable how hard Henry is staring at the damn thing.

"When we lost him, I was so focused on Regina waking up that I never even considered how his death would break her. She has always been such a strong woman, stoic..." he inhales sharply and finally cranes his neck to meet Emma's curious eyes. "I suppose I have myself to blame for that," he chuckles softly, inspiring a small smile to crack upon Emma's lips. "But I thought she would be just fine. I knew my Regina could handle anything, but his passing broke her in ways I never saw coming."

Emma can't find one single word to respond with, she just blinks slowly, watching him closely.

"The woman in there," he says, pointing toward the dining room, "isn't the same woman that married Naveen. I truly believe she allowed Naveen to see this side of her, but never anyone else, never in public. Somehow, you have managed to convince her to really open up and be herself, feel comfortable in her own skin. Truthfully, that's all I have ever wanted for my daughter, happiness within herself and peaceful in life. And you...you have accomplished that and then some. It's such a relief to see how happy she is after seeing her drown in such darkness."

"Well," and Emma chokes on the small word from the tears lodged in the back of her throat. "Thank you," she shyly murmurs.

"You're a beautiful human, Emma and you truly are gifting my daughter with an extraordinary life. I'm partially envious," he chuckles, persuading a goofy grin to stretch deep into her cheeks.

"Really?"

"Of course, I wish Cora and I had taken some time to explore the world like you two."

"It's never too late, sir. There's plenty of time," she optimistically reminds him, earning herself a deep chuckle in return. "So...ummm...you're cool with our relationship?" His bushy brows furrow as he squints back at her quizzically. "You're okay with us traveling and ummm...not officially getting married."

He belts out a wholesome laugh and slaps a hand upon her shoulder. "Dear, so long as you don't ever break my little girl's heart, I really don't care how you live your lives."

Emma's manic smile blooms so wide, she fears her face my actually split right in half. "Great. Yeah, good. Of course. And I hope you know, I will never hurt her."

"Oh, I know," he muses, squeezing her shoulder just a tad tighter.

"So, is that why you are in here alone? You were waiting for me, so you could subtly threaten me?" She teases, but he simply flashes her a small smirk that resembles Regina far too much.

"Where is the restroom in this place? I seem to have gotten lost," he plays dumb and Emma can't help but laugh.

"Down the hall, first door on the right," she instructs through her giggles.

He simply nods in return, but he doesn't head toward the bathroom, instead he leads the way back to the dining room. Emma shakes her head and she's about to follow the man back to her guests, but her front door creeks open. She whips around to find Zelena tipping her head back as she laughs a little too loudly at the man glued to her back.

Emma rolls her eyes and stomps over to the couple. "Where have you been?" She hisses, but those blue eyes are wet from laughter and that smile never once slips.

"Making sure the mattresses at your resort are sturdy. Wouldn't want any of them to buckle under one of your guests," she sasses, morphing Emma's smile into a grimace instead.

"I'm sorry, Emma," Chad bashfully chimes in. "We lost track of time."

"Regina is pissed you left her alone all day with your mother," Emma lowly growls.

"She owes me. Imagine how often I'm left alone with that woman since Regina has moved across the country," Zelena fires right back, rolling her eyes in annoyance. She immediately places her hand over her fiancé's heart and molds to his side like she can't possibly stand without his support. "Don't act like you guys missed us."

"I missed you," Emma pouts. "You always keep things light. Your dad just cornered me and gave me the old, don't break my daughter's heart or I'll break you, speech."

Zelena cackles, untangling herself from Chad to wrap her arm around Emma's neck and tuck her into her side. "I'm so sorry I missed that," she laughs and presses a sloppy kiss to Emma's cheek.

Emma huffs her annoyance but doesn't say anything as she pivots and waltzes back to the dining room with Zelena hanging on her back.

~~~~

Emma's eyes slowly drift closed as her body violently shivers, yet her hand has yet to release Regina's mouth. So, she puckers her lips and presses a firm kiss to Emma's warm palm. Her girlfriend chuckles, still gasping for oxygen as her hand slowly falls away from Regina's parted lips.

"I know you're always loud in bed," Emma whispers, burying her face in the heated crook of Regina's neck, "but I swear you are louder when we have guests. It's like you want to get caught," she laughs before embedding her loving kisses over every inch of slick flesh beneath her.

Regina simply chuckles, but it's low and deep and so sinfully delicious that Emma has her answer. She swims her fingers through the golden waves swallowing them whole and gently massages Emma's scalp, holding her impossibly close.

"I'm glad we finished what we started earlier," Emma adds on, her lips still obsessively tasting Regina's skin. "I have been craving you all day since you strutted out of the shower naked."

Regina grabs a fistful of hair and yanks until twinkling eyes meet her own. "You ripped my towel away," she scolds, but Emma never stops beaming down at her. "You act like you've never seen me naked before."

Emma squirms on top of her, wiggling ecstatically all around as she playfully attacks her face with rough kisses. "I'm addicted. Four years and it still feels like the first time, every time." Those dainty lips trail up toward Regina's ear and nip before she whispers, "I love fucking you."

Regina barks out a laugh, her fingers weaving deeper into the wild mane and holding Emma even closer. "Well, I fucking love you."

"I love you," Emma declares, sucking Regina's salty flesh between her teeth. "And," she drawls out the word as she pops right up and latches onto Regina's surprised eyes. "Your dad gave me his blessing."

"I told you my parents adore you," she honestly states, squeezing the nape of Emma's neck to wash away her worries.

"It was half a blessing and half a threat, but I'll take it," Emma laughs, diving down to capture Regina's lips for a kiss that reveals how happy she really is about her conversation with Regina's father.

"Now you can stop all that ridiculous worrying."

"Yeah, worry has never been a good color on me," and Regina falls in love all over again from the way Emma scrunches her adorable freckled nose and shrugs so innocently. "I love living in the moment with you every day."

Regina gently cups Emma's cheeks and gazes so deeply into those bright eyes. "Emma, I love our life together. You turn every day into an adventure and I'm so in love with our relationship."

"We are disgustingly happy, aren't we?"

"It's sickening," Regina deadpans, winning herself that bubbly laugh that is too contagious not to join.

"Yeah, but people are jealous of our relationship."

"That's because we will be the greatest love story ever told," Regina quietly vows before she pulls Emma in for a searing kiss that promises forever.

A/N: Thank you all so much for following this love story and for all the beautiful words and support. Every comment means the world to me because of how much time and heart I pour into these stories, so thank you so so much. I really hope everyone else fell in love with them all over again as well. A little side note, I'm sure some people are upset that they didn't get married and have babies, but I always strive to show different ways of living. I want all readers to feel included, that's why in every story, their decisions are always different. Everybody is different and I want to show the variety in life and just because one person lives one way, doesn't make it wrong. Sometimes, they cheat, sometimes they are against it. Sometimes, they have a beautiful wedding and babies, sometimes it's not for them. Sometimes they foster, adopt or give birth. Sometimes they breastfeed, sometimes bottle feed. Sometimes they are straight until they meet each other, sometimes they always knew they were gay, sometimes they are bisexual. They are so many choices in life and I like to show the variety. Thanks again for being such amazing readers!! You all mean the world to me!!! The next story I will be uploading is called, You and Tequila. This story is my baby and took over nine months to create. I hope to see all you lovely readers again on the next story as well!