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As we do in stories, I ask you to imagine. Imagine Regina, unhappily married to Neal (an arranged marriage, two very wealthy people who don’t particularly like each other but had made this commitment because their parents had willed it), newly expecting a child who will be the light of her life. A 

 

And then, one evening, she opens her door and finds a scruffy-looking girl maybe five years younger than she is, shivering in the rain and looking desperate and angry and afraid. 

 

“I know he lives here,” she says, looking defiant. “I tracked him down. he can’t just…” And her lip wobbles. “He can’t just leave–” 

 

She’s shivering, and Regina stares at her, uncomprehending. “where is he?” the girl demands, balls up her fists and tries to look past Regina. 

 

Regina shakes her head, a protective hand resting on her stomach, and she takes a step back. This girl is a ruffian, a dangerous woman who looks as though she’d come right off the street, and Regina doesn’t like the way her eyes move to follow Regina’s hand. 

 

“I think you have the wrong house,” Regina says, and she closes the door firmly. For the first time in perhaps years, she wishes Neal were home, but she hasn’t seen him in days. She takes a step away from the door, and the doorbell rings again.

 

She opens it. It’s foolhardy to do, uncharacteristic and dangerous when she knows who’s on the other side of the door, and she hasn’t gotten where she is by looking out for every lost stranger on the street. But she opens it, and the girl stares at her as if she’s seen a ghost.

 

“Are you…” she whispers, and Regina can hardly hear her between the pattering of raindrops. he girl trembles, a hand tugging at tangled wet hair. “Are you pregnant, too?” 

 

And Regina can only stare.

 


 

Let’s back up a little, shall we? 

 


 

It’s not that Emma hadn’t known that they weren’t exclusive. Neal had been good enough to her, had let her stay in an apartment he’d owned and spent enough time away that it was clear he had other things going on. 

 

It’s just that when she’d told him about the baby and he’d kicked her out, rubbing his head sheepishly in that aw-shucks-wish-you-hadn’t-screwed-this-up way that he does so well, she hadn’t imagined this . She’d figured there was another woman, yeah. She’d imagined her sometimes, had resented her as someone more stable, more centered, who wasn’t a criminal Neal had caught pickpocketing him and brought home. Some attractive woman who’d been casually dating Neal, too, and had been so clearly the better choice.

 

She hadn’t imagined that he was living with her in a palatial mansion, that she would be anything but ordinary: a woman who stares at Emma as though she’s never encountered someone quite as pathetic as her. 

 

Emma says, hardly daring to say the words, “Are you Neal’s wife?”

 

The woman snorts, jolted from her once-over of Emma with that question, and Emma almost breathes a sigh of relief. Of course Neal isn’t married. She’d gotten the street wrong or the number or something–

 

But the woman says, “I don’t think anyone has ever referred to me like that .” She doesn’t wear a ring, but her eyes sweep over Emma, and she says, her voice suddenly strained, “But yes, we are married.”

 

Her eyes flicker to Emma’s abdomen. “He isn’t running off with you, is he?” she asks with such clear disdain for Emma that Emma wants to sob. 

 

She’s adrift, alone in the world, and she’d thought to confront Neal and demand that he do the right thing– that he come back and give her the stability she’d had for the past few months– but he isn’t here, and he has a pregnant wife, and oh god , she’s on her own again. Again .

 


 

Regina watches the girl, eyes narrowed as she contemplates the scandal that Neal has brought into them. But the girl looks up at her shakily and denies it. “He left,” she says, and she wraps her arms around herself and turns away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know– I won’t bother you again.”

 

She twists around and walks away, down the porch stairs and into the rain, and Regina watches her go with what should be satisfaction. Neal might be a useless philanderer, but her child is going to have two parents, and no girl off the street is going to change that. She doesn’t even have the sense to use an umbrella, or even to have driven from wherever she’d come from. Portland, Regina guesses, or Boston. Far enough away that the girl would have never known or cared about Neal’s other commitments. He left, she’d said. Is she going to blackmail–

 

Let her walk away , Regina vows to herself. Close the door and forget her . But she still finds herself staring after her, a hand outstretched as though she might call after the woman. As though she might reach out to this woman who will do nothing to her but cause more issues.

 

She hesitates, and a siren sounds in the distance.

 


 

It’s a shock when the sheriff pulls up, when he looks gravely at her and says, “Mayor Mills, I’m so sorry.” It’s a shock when he says, “It was an accident just outside the town line. We think he hit the sign and spun off the road.” It’s a shock when he says, “It doesn’t seem like he suffered,” and she’s numb, numb, hand against her stomach and dimly registering a distant grief that isn’t as strong as it should be. 

 

And it’s a shock when the sheriff says, “Is there anything I can do?” and Regina says “Yes.”

 

The girl is brought into the house, dripping rainwater all over Regina’s immaculate foyer, and she looks overcome with the devastation that must come from a lack of options. “I didn’t do anything illegal,” she says, glancing at the sheriff. “You can’t lock me up.”

 

“No,” Regina acknowledges, and she stares at this girl who isn’t her problem, who shouldn’t be her problem, who can safely exit her life now with no consequence. Regina isn’t kind or giving , isn’t some bleeding heart who might be moved by this helpless girl shivering in her foyer. The girl– no, woman , old enough to know better and not much younger than Regina herself, no matter how vulnerable she seems– says, “So what do you want from me?” It’s a little belligerent, but it doesn’t mask her fear, seeping through every word like a slowly sodden cloth.

 

Regina doesn’t know. She hasn’t thought this through. She knows what she doesn’t want, which is… 

 

“The next bus out of Storybrooke isn’t until tomorrow morning,” she points out, and the woman shrugs, a wordless so? that speaks of enough nights spent sleeping at bus stops.

 

And Regina says sharply, suddenly angry at this entire, impossible situation, “You’re not going to do that to your child.” The woman looks at her with defiant distrust, and Regina knows this emotion, at least, a comfortable one she can’t shake. “You’ll stay here.”

 

The woman gapes at her, caught by surprise. Regina glares back. “If you touch a single valuable in this house, I will hunt you down and destroy you,” she says sharply, furious with herself for even offering what she had. “Don’t underestimate me, Miss…”

 

“Swan,” the woman says, cool eyes on Regina. “Emma Swan.”

 

Regina‘s sure it’s a false name until she has Sidney search it and finds out that it matches an individual with the woman’s face and a history in the foster system. This girl really is all out of options, then. 

 

She files that away as someone else’s problem and locks her bedroom door, just in case. 

 


 

Emma had meant to leave in the morning. She shouldn’t have stayed at all, except that she’d been freezing and grief-stricken and hadn’t believed she’d make it to morning at all. But she was going to sneak out early, before she had to confront the woman from last night.

 

Mayor Mills , the sheriff had called her, then Regina when he’d taken a phone call. (“ Yeah, bad accident, Regina seemed shell-shocked.” ) Emma isn’t sticking around to be kicked out of another one of Neal’s houses. 

 

But she sleeps too long, exhausted and more comfortable than she’s been in a lifetime; and when she wakes up, it’s nearly three in the afternoon and Regina is pacing the foyer, barking out orders on the phone as she regards Emma’s descent with wary eyes.

 

Emma makes it nearly to the door before Regina barks out “Wait.” Emma freezes, uncertain of what will happen, and Regina says sharply, “You may as well stay until the funeral. He clearly meant something to you.” 

 

She says it with disdain, like Emma is hardly a person at all. But Emma stays, because she doesn’t know what else to do. She scrapes together what little money she has left to buy a too-expensive danish at the local diner, where people stare openly at the stranger in town and Regina’s house seems almost like a refuge in comparison. 

 

In Regina’s house, she fades into corners and does her best to keep a low profile. People enter with condolences, Regina works in her study and watches Emma with hostile eyes, and Emma waits for the funeral and tries hard not to think about what she’ll do after. 

 

The funeral is within the week, and most of Storybrooke comes and then heads on to the wake. Regina presides over it all like a queen, head high and smile bright and false as she talks about Neal like she’d loved him instead of the marriage of convenience it had seemed like until now. 

 

Emma lingers in doorways, listens to story after story and doesn’t know whether it’s real or fake. Emma had cared about Neal– had trusted him, something only rarely given– and she feels sick at the idea of his double life, of playing house and never knowing the truth– 

 

She stumbles to the bathroom, vomits into the toilet again and again as her queasiness is heightened by pregnancy. Hands flutter near her hair and she startles, spinning around with sick still in her throat,  instinctively pinning the intruder against the wall. 

 

It’s Regina, who stares at her with unreadable eyes and then says “Unhand me.” 

 

Emma lets her go, vomits again, and Regina gulps a sound that has become one Emma knows well. She dives out of the way as Regina stumbles to the toilet and empties her stomach, too.

 

Emma laughs, disgusting and distraught and still a little nauseous, and Regina twists around to glare at her in outrage. But it’s so funny, so fucking ridiculous, and Emma can’t stop laughing. Emma can’t stop, shaking in her attempt to contain it, until a grudging smile is tugging at Regina’s lips and she has to roll her eyes and avert them from Emma before she can curl her lips into a smirk instead. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma says swiftly. “I’m sorry. This is so–” 

 

“Fucked up?” Regina suggests, and Emma laughs again, helpless and overwhelmed.

 

Regina doesn’t speak again, and Emma remembers her place here, and that they aren’t friends or co-parents in the making. They’re two women who don’t like each other, trapped in a nightmare together. 

 

And then Regina says, “How far along are you?”

 

“Three months. I didn’t–” She gulps in a breath. “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she says. “I swear. I just… It was somewhere to stay. and I didn’t know he was married–”

 

Regina cuts her off. “I don’t care,” she says, and then, “Our children will be almost exactly the same age.” 

 

She is silent for another minute, and Emma doesn’t know what she’s thinking. But she does know this: suddenly, abruptly, this house doesn’t feel like a prison or a party that she’d arrived at uninvited. Suddenly, abruptly, she wonders what might happen if she stays.

 


 

It's not as though that has to mean anything, Regina decides. Neal is dead, and Emma is a ghost of his past mistakes haunting her house, soon to be gone. Her child won't need a sibling, particularly not one with that kind of sordid past. Still, the thought of it– of a little pair of children running around together in the mansion, laughing in the park and sneaking off to Granny's together– still, it lingers after the wake is over and Emma is fidgeting in the guest room with a shopping bag. It's got her clothes in it, the thin t-shirts that she wears under her jacket and two pairs of jeans. She'd brought them with her to Storybrooke and had stared blankly at Regina when Regina had asked her if she'd needed someone to send the rest of her things from Boston. Other things?

 

Regina leans against the doorframe to her own room, a little dizzy from playing the role of grieving wife all day, and she waits until Emma looks up before she says, “And you're going now?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says curtly. “I have someone meeting me in Boston.”

 

Good. Good , to say goodbye to this strange waif who she doesn't want here, anyway. “Do you need a ride to the bus station?” Regina asks, and she can't say why it is that she would prolong her time with Emma Swan any more than necessary. 

 

Emma shakes her head, and Regina exhales.

 

This is the end of it, then. A wrap on Neal's final betrayal, one that is over and done with, and Regina never has to think of Emma again.

 

And still, she does, over and over that night. She replays that final goodbye over and over in her mind.

 

She remembers Emma laughing in the bathroom, eyes glowing even through her sweat-shiny face, remembers Emma snapping around and pinning her to the wall as though by instinct. Remembers Emma breathing hard, so close, and Regina had been ill and still, somehow…

 

When the phone rings, she jumps, relieved and bereft to leave thoughts of her onetime companion behind. “Mills,” she barks into her phone.

 

It's Sheriff Graham. “i'm sorry to bother you during this difficult time,” he says, voice polite. “It's only…”

 


 

Emma Swan is a liar. this shouldn't surprise Regina, and maybe it doesn't, deep down, where she'd suspected there's no friend in Boston. There's no apartment anymore, either, seized up by Neal's father. Graham had found Emma on Main Street, asleep in one of Granny's outdoor chairs.

 

Emma looks stubborn and angry and a little dangerous when Graham brings her to Regina's door again. “I'm fine,” she mutters. “I always find somewhere.”

 

Somewhere sounds like someone , like how Emma had wound up with Neal in the first place, and Regina shudders. Anxiety and frustration make her voice sharp, and she snaps, “And what was wrong with here?”

 

Emma's eyes flicker up to hers, uncertain, and Regina bites out, “You'll stay here, and i won't hear a word about Neal's inheritance or trust fund or child support from you.”

 

It's a stupid comment, and Graham knows it, at least, his eyebrows rising. Neal has no inheritance or trust fund– his father is very much alive, and Neal had chewed through his trust fund when he'd turned twenty and spent three years finding himself in the most exorbitant ways. 

 

Emma knows none of this, just shifts from foot to foot and then blows out a breath hard enough for some of her bedraggled blonde hair to fly out in front of her. “And i stay until the baby is born?' she asks, and Regina nods grimly. “Deal,” Emma says.

 


 

Regina loathes her. Emma knows it and accepts it. It isn't the first house where she'd lived, despised. It's a warm roof over Emma's head and food in the fridge and the pantry that Regina seems to expect her to eat. She'd somehow accidentally blackmailed Regina to get it, but still.

 

And there's another element to it all now, which Emma discovers two days later when Regina announces, “We're going to the doctor,” and Emma laughs in her face. 

 

Apparently, “ You think i have insurance?” is a less than persuasive argument to someone as rich as Regina Mills. Emma had found out that she'd been pregnant with a cheap test that had still emptied out half a week's earnings from the burger joint where she'd sometimes gotten shifts. She hasn't been to doctors or clinics. She's just trying to eat a little better, that's all.

 

Regina gives her a forbidding look when Emma points that out. “My child's sibling is going to get the necessary medical care,” she says, and then Emma's forced to make a stop on the way to the hospital to pick out prenatal pills and a salad that tastes like cardboard. 

 

And before she knows it, she's lying on a hospital bed with slimy gel on her stomach and a tiny blur of black and white on the screen beside her. “You're closer to four months along,” the doctor says. “And look– do you see the heartbeat?” 

 

Emma looks, sees a blob of white and grey and black, and Regina silently points. inside the white is a tiny little black smudge, against that is a white protrusion that seems to throb over and over again. “That's– that's my baby?” It hasn't seemed real until now, an abstraction that had gotten her kicked out and alone, a reason to try that she hadn't really taken to heart. But that's– that's something alive, something she made. 

 

That's her baby , and she gasps out a sob. 

 

The doctor smiles kindly at her. Regina watches her, eyes unreadable, and Emma says, “That's really my baby,” to her, because Regina is all she's got. “My baby .”

 

“Yes,” Regina murmurs, and she almost smiles.

 

It's the first sign that Regina Mills might be a tiny bit human, after all, and Emma savors it. 

 

Regina kicks her out of the room for her own ultrasound, and Emma is unpleasantly reminded that no, Regina is indeed the royal bitch she seems to be, and Emma is an intruder she doesn't want around. She clips out of the hospital with Emma trailing behind her, then insists on micromanaging Emma's lunch, marching her to Granny's Diner and ordering a grilled chicken sandwich for her. “When's the last time you ate something that wasn't deep-fried?” Regina demands.

 

Emma says, “Last night, I had a bowl of the ice cream you hid in the back of the freezer?” 

 

Somehow, Regina is not impressed. 

 

The chicken is good, and Emma eats it obediently while Regina sits across from her with a concoction she'd ordered that looks suspiciously like a pickles and cream cheese sandwich. She glares at Emma, daring her to comment. 

 

Emma does not. 

 


 

The most discomfiting thing about living with Emma Swan is that she’s much more present than anyone else Regina’s ever lived with. Her parents had traveled on constant business trips, and her sister had been out of the house by the time Regina had turned ten. Neal had only ever lived in the house in name only– a brief stop before another trip to one of his father’s numerous apartments. Daniel had passed before Regina had ever gotten a shot at domesticity. 

 

In short: Regina Mills has never been a roommate before. 

 

And it is deeply tiresome. “Must you chew so loudly?” she barks out in the morning when Emma eats a box of garbage cereal that she’d smuggled into the house, in defiance of Regina’s insistence on breakfast yogurt. 

 

Emma shrugs, unmoved. “That’s how teeth work.” 

 

Always so glib . Regina grinds her own teeth and stalks out of the room to eat in the dining room instead. 

 

Working from home half the week had made sense when she’d first been expecting. Now, it’s more time with Emma underfoot, wandering in and out of the house all day and letting bugs in. 

 

When she mentions that tightly to Emma, Emma says “Fine,” and sits on her study couch for an entire day, reading a book and turning pages as loudly as humanly possible. Regina can’t stand her. She still doesn’t know what brief madness had overtaken her in inviting Emma in in the first place. 

 

More surprising and irritating is when, at the end of the third week after the funeral, Emma walks into her study and lays down a stack of bills. Regina stares at them. “What is this?”

 

Emma chews on her lip, smug and defiant. “Rent,” she says. “Granny’s been giving me shifts–” 

 

“Oh, don't be an idiot,” Regina snaps, a wave of frustration washing over her. “You'll need that money for your child. We had a deal. You don't ask for anything more, and I take care of room and board.”

 

“Look.” Emma is, as always, stubborn. “I don't want to blackmail you, okay?” 

 

“It's not blackmail,” Regina says, miffed. “I'm the one who suggested it. It's an…equitable agreement.”

 

Emma scowls at her. “Just take it. It's not even close to how much I'd pay for rent. I'm not…” Her back stiffens. “I'm not your charity case, okay? I take care of myself.”

 

Sometimes, in a blinding moment of clarity, Regina thinks she almost understands how Emma Swan's mind works, and she is grudgingly appreciative of it. Emma's spent a lifetime alone, and Regina suspects she's been burned too many times to see a favor as anything less than a trap. 

 

She chooses her words carefully, and she doesn't know why she cares. “I will take half of this,” she says, plucking a few bills off the top of the pile. “And you will find other ways to earn your keep. Rent in small-town Maine is always going to be inexpensive compared to a city.” 

 

Emma looks relieved, and her posture loosens just a bit. “Okay,” she says. “Yeah.”

 

Regina turns sharply, uninterested in extending this awkwardness any longer, and Emma edges out of the study.

 

At the doorway, she hesitates, and Regina hears her thanks like a breath in the wind.

 

And Emma takes her seriously about earning her keep , which Regina had mostly meant as wash the dishes once in a while . Instead, Regina finds her in front of the house the next morning, drenched in sweat in a tank top that strains at the stomach as she mows the lawn. 

 

“Emma!” she yelps, and her voice is oddly high. “I have people I pay to do that! You're four months pregnant, you can't–” Unconsciously, her eyes are drawn to the way sweat flattens the shirt to her curves, to the way it's stuck to Emma's back and reveals a thin strip of skin. 

 

By evening, Emma has found something else to do. “Are you… Are you alphabetizing my recipes?” Regina asks dubiously. 

 

“It's not manual labor,” Emma says, perched on the counter with Regina's little recipe box of index cards on her lap. “I'm trying to be helpful.”

 

There is something very smug about Emma when she thinks she's beating Regina at her own game. It's the little smirk tugging at the corner of her lips, the way her head tilts and her eyes dance. It's infuriating, as most things Emma Swan are.

 

It makes Regina unaccountably warm.

 


 

Maybe it's the years spent in foster care, doing her best to keep the families who'd taken her in, but Emma is usually good at making herself useful. She's stymied at Regina, who rarely seems to need anything done at all, and stops Emma from whatever she can do.

 

Emma tries– she really does– but Regina keeps an immaculate house. Regina has gardeners. Regina lets Emma go shopping for her and then winds up at the store the next day anyway. It's a headache just trying to figure out how Emma's supposed to make herself useful. 

 

She sets the table and washes the dishes for three days before Regina says curtly, “It's my turn,” as though she hadn't suggested it in the first place.

 

When Emma protests, Regina mutters, “Being waited on makes me feel like i'm living with Mother,” and seizes a plate from her.

 

Regina is still very distant– easily annoyed and prone to the occasional sharp exchange when their pregnancy hormones get the best of them, but Emma finds herself eager to please her nonetheless. Maybe it's only that it's nice, sometimes, not to be completely alone.

 

It's the only explanation for why Emma finds herself wandering into Regina's study when she gets home after her shifts at Granny's, why she eats breakfast and dinner when Regina serves them, why she sits outside some days and feels, for the first time in over a decade, content.

 

They're five months along, and it's getting impossible for either of them to squeeze into the clothes they already have. Regina goes out one day shopping, and returns with what must be Maternity Executive Chic. She brings the bags in, and Emma watches her with envy. 

 

Regina looks at her and says, her voice stilted, “Tell me which of these best suit me.”

 

It's strange, but Emma shrugs. Regina is always strange. She follows Regina obligingly to her room, and she bites down hard on her lip when Regina slips off her dress in front of the mirror. 

 

God. Emma feels bloated and exhausted and she hasn't stopped vomiting for longer than three days; yet somehow, Regina is in the exact same stage of pregnancy as she is and has the body of a goddess. Emma's only human. She presses her fingers into her thighs and tries not to drool. 

 

Regina pulls on a maternity dress, rippled at the stomach and tight everywhere else. She says, “I don't think i can pull off this… expectant mother glow that I'm supposed to have–” as she fumbles with the zipper.

 

Emma leaps to her feet, zips the dress in a few jagged attempts. “You have it,” she assures Regina, staring over her shoulder at the mirror. “You really, really–” 

 

Regina scoffs. “You don't need to patronize me because I don't pull this off like you do,” she says, gesturing at the mirror. “You're beautiful like this, and I'm… Well, I’m mostly tired.” 

 

Emma barks out a startled laugh, feeling warmth rising behind her ears. “Trust me,” she says, taking a step back before she does something Regina won't look past. “You could model that dress. And all of these.” She picks through the bags, pulling out dresses and suits and jeans. 

 

Wait. Maternity jeans? Emma pulls them out and eyes them dubiously. “Are you trying to be relatable to your constituents now?” 

 

Regina snorts. “God, no. They'd lose all respect for me.” 

 

She turns, and she purses her lips when she sees what Emma's holding. “Oh,” she says, and she frowns. “I suppose those aren't really my style, are they?” 

 

Emma pulls more from the bag and finds a sundress that is absolutely not Regina's jam. Another pair of jeans. A number of thin shirts that Emma's pretty sure that Regina would use as rags if they were presented to her.

 

Baffled, she watches Regina sort through the clothes, try on a few more outfits and wait for Emma's criticism. Instead, Emma gives her a few too many admiring stares, and she has to roll her eyes and make a few teasing comments before the heat in her eyes gives her away. Eventually, all that is left for Regina to try on is the pile of clothing that Emma still doesn't understand, and Regina wrinkles her nose at them. “Ugh,” she says. “I don't know what possessed me to buy those. And with such a shoddy return policy, too.”

 

She perks up as though something has only just occurred to her. “You may as well keep my castoffs,” she says primly. “The trip out to Bangor isn't worth my time.” 

 

Emma blinks at her, feels the protest that comes with pride and dismay at Regina's boldness rising in her throat. She isn't here to be Regina's charity case. Regina isn't nice enough to have a charity case. Emma knows this. Regina is nasty on the best of days, a nightmare on the worst. And she can't let Regina just…buy her a new wardrobe, regardless of the fact that Emma can't afford one.

 

But as Regina peers at her almost tentatively, uncertain as though she's asking Emma for a favor, it occurs to Emma for the first time that they might not be so different in this one way.

 

Maybe Regina has also found that she much prefers having a companion to being alone. 

 

Emma's heart gives a quick little series of butterfly-beats, quick and light and leaving her breathless, and she raises her chin and says, “Well, if the alternative is them lying in the back of your closet forever, I guess,” and a smile– beautiful, bright– blooms across Regina's face. 

 

It's gone in moments, replaced with a wry look that Emma meets with the roll of her eyes, but Emma savors it anyway, another step in this strange dance that they've found themselves twirling in together.

 


 

The weeks seem to fly by, doctors and shifts at Granny's and terse meals that are occasionally a little less terse as time passes. Emma finds herself savoring every day in Regina's house, in this little town that feels more like a home to raise a child in than anything from her past.

 

By the time they hit their third trimesters, Regina just a week before Emma, Regina begins to design the nursery in the room between hers and Emma's guest room. She pores over paint samples, conferences with Marco the carpenter, and reads through parenting books with deep concentration. 

 

She looks to Emma more than once, almost expectant. It's been months of Emma jumping to help where she can, and Emma knows that this is the perfect opportunity to assist. But she can't. She can't bear to be a part of it, to designing Regina's baby's nursery. It's beginning to sink in that in a couple of months, their deal is over. Emma will leave, will go back to Boston or Portland or Bangor, will return to anonymity and struggle through it with a baby in tow. Emma has no future here once the babies arrive.

 

She doesn't want to see the nursery and think about life without…without this house, without stability, without Regina–

 

She doesn't want to go, and she swallows and ignores Regina's raised eyebrows and makes excuses to slip out before she confesses any of that. 

 


 

They'd fought a lot when Emma had first arrived in town, but now they rarely do, too tired and lost in their own thoughts of the future to engage. They only fight once in their seventh month, and it's because of this: Sheriff Graham, who Emma has gotten to know a bit since she'd started working at Granny's. She knows that he'd had an old friends-with-benefits thing with Regina years ago, but Ruby had assured her that it's old news and they're barely acquaintances now. Which… good .

 

But one night, Emma's filling in for Ruby on a late shift, yawning at the counter and trying to stay awake, and Graham drops in and says, “You're not going to work these shifts with a baby, are you?” He sounds sympathetic instead of judgmental, but Emma's hackles still rise.

 

And then he looks sheepish and offers her a job. Her , Emma Swan, a job . “There's room in the budget for a deputy, but i've never had any prospects,” he admits, and he looks her up and down. “Maybe four to six hours a day, tops. It pays well, and you'd be working behind a desk at first.”

 

“We can talk patrols and later shifts once you come back from maternity leave,” he says, and Emma stares as he goes on. Maternity leave. Benefits ? A steady job that pays more than she's ever–

 

“I'll do it,” she says, and only later does she realize that this must be Regina's doing.

 

She doesn't even care this time. It's a job, a way for her to make herself useful. She can pay actual rent– maybe even get an apartment (though still, the idea of doing this alone fills her with dread). Positive that regina had orchestrated this, she heads home beaming–

 

–and Regina meets her with burning eyes. “The sheriff's station?” she demands. “You accepted a job at the only place in Storybrooke that could get you killed ?”

 

Emma blinks. If this is an act, it's a good one. “From…pulling cats out of trees?”

 

Regina stalks back and forth, pacing through the foyer. “You're going to have a child soon. You can't take these irresponsible–”

 

“It's a steady job,” Emma protests, baffled. “Graham promised me that it's a desk job!”

 

“Oh, well if Graham said it,” Regina says, voice caustic, and then she snaps, “He's not going to fuck you.”

 

Emma takes a step back, reeling at the vitriol in Regina's voice. “ Excuse me ?”

 

“He's not Neal. He isn't going to invite you back to his apartment and let you move in.” Regina turns, eyes dark, and she looks furious and dangerous. “I have him wrapped around my little finger. He works for me. He isn't your next little con–”

 

Maybe it's just the hormones that she can't fight back, the residual despair from weeks of dread, but Emma wants to sob.

 

Of course, this is how Regina has always seen her. A con artist who worms her way into men's homes to find shelter, who had wormed her way into Regina's, too. And clearly, Regina and Graham aren't nearly as over as Ruby had thought, because Regina is seething with jealousy–

 

She takes a breath, fights away the tears and returns mad as hell. “Oh, fuck you,” Emma hisses, and all she wants to do is hurt Regina back. “I don't give a damn about Graham, but i'd stay in a cell in the station if it meant i wouldn't have to spend another day with you.”

 

Regina sneers at her, and Emma hardly recognizes her in that moment. She clenches her fists, and Regina snarls, “Then go. I don't care. I never wanted you here–”

 

“Fine,” Emma barks out, and she storms past Regina to grab her jacket where she'd left it on the couch earlier. It isn't there. In her furious state of mind, she rounds on Regina. “Are you taking my clothes back, too?” It's another betrayal, an escalation of something that must have been simmering under the surface for so long, and she can hardly register Regina's stricken face like this.

 

“It's in the closet,” Regina barks out, still sharp and unpleasant, and Emma stalks right over to the closet and finds her jacket hanging in the closet, carefully zipped up and newly pressed. Emma freezes, the enormity of their fight finally kicking in.

 

This…it's another tiny gesture from Regina, a little gift that Emma would have silently appreciated a few hours ago, and abruptly overcome, she pulls away from the closet. The rage is fading, replaced with a hollow despair, and she raises her anguished eyes to Regina's. 

 

She doesn't want to go. She doesn't want this to be the end, the two of them at odds and furious over something that was supposed to be good news, and she hesitates, incapable of finding the words that will express that. Maybe there aren't words, except the ones that expose too much.

 

They're both too proud, too stubborn to apologize right now, but Regina takes a deep, shuddering breath, and she says, “I made a soup–”

 

“I brought home ziti from Granny's,” Emma whispers, lifting a bag she'd forgotten she'd been carrying. 

 

They eat in silence, Emma peeking up at Regina and averting her eyes when Regina's gaze turns to her. She still feels sick at Regina's assumptions and her fury, and she doesn't know if it's because of what Regina thinks of her, or because Regina is so clearly still not over Graham.

 

After dinner, Emma curls up on the couch in the living room instead of the study, and she's surprised when Regina sits down beside her, leaning stiffly back against the couch as she reads her parenting books. It feels a little like an apology. 

 

Regina dozes off first–all they do these days is doze off– and Emma doesn't pull away when her head falls against Emma. She shifts instead, lets Regina nestle into the crook of her arm, and lays her other hand on her own belly, the baby kicking a rhythm in time to Regina's breathing.

 


 

Something bends between them after that fight, though perhaps it doesn’t break. They move through the house more easily, and speak with less hesitation. There is a clear comfort in doing this with someone else, even the person Regina might have expected.

 

Emma can’t sleep on her back anymore; Regina has chronic insomnia. They spend too many nights on the couch, murmuring one to the other before they manage to fall asleep. There are admissions freely offered, comfort readily given. 

 

“I’m terrified that I’m going to be the kind of parent my mother was,” Regina whispers. “That I don’t know how to be gentle.” She feels gentle now sometimes like she hasn’t since her teenage years, when Emma is curled up beside her and Regina’s thoughts stray to stroking her hair.

 

“I don’t know how to be a mother at all,” Emma confesses back, and she curls in tighter. “I don’t know how a family can be. Is it selfish of me to…” And it’s late and she’s drowsy, because Regina knows that Emma is sharing more now than she means to.

 

“I would have put her up for adoption, you know?” Emma says, and her eyes are distant, lidded and weary. “If I hadn’t met you. If I hadn’t seen another way. But it’s still…” She shivers, and Regina does stroke her hair now. “Is it selfish for me to keep her?” she wonders.

 

Regina wonders that, too, sometimes, dwells on the boy in her womb and what a softer woman might offer him, what a father or the warmth and love of family could gift him. “No,” she says firmly, because Emma is soft and strong, has suffered so much and still loves her child so hard.

 

During the day, they leave to work together, and Regina has learned to ignore the curious looks. Emma gets home first, and she’s taken up cooking with fervor. “I need to be able to handle myself in the kitchen after–” she doesn’t say after i leave but it hangs in the air. 

 

It'll be a good thing, to have the house to herself again after Emma goes. To be able to throw herself into raising her new son, to block out any outside drama or Emma Swan's annoying chewing or… or whatever the benefits are to being on her own again. Regina tells herself that, even gets a hold of that hideous yellow Bug that had fallen to Regina after Neal's death and passes it on to Emma so she'll have her independence, too. “Just don't ever make me drive in that thing,” she says sharply, and ducks her head before Emma's gratitude becomes something she has to respond to. It will be good for Emma to have the means to drive away from Regina, to make her own way in the world. 

 

Except. 

 

Except that Emma needs a support system, Regina decides. Emma's independence is involuntary. It's only natural that Regina would still want to look out for her, to worry about what will come next for her. The deputy job at the station pays decently, but how is Emma to go from Regina's mansion to a one-room apartment in her budget? Who will make sure she eats well?

 

“Don't worry,” Emma says jokingly one night, the tips of her toes brushing Regina's under a blanket that covers them both. “You'll have a baby to micromanage soon. You'll forget that i exist.”

 

“Like you'd let me,” Regina says wryly, and Emma glows.

 


 

By 39 weeks, they're uncoordinated and floppy, stumbling down the stairs and groaning at their poor, abused backs. Emma has taken to wearing the same sundresses almost every day, and she looks young and beautiful still. Regina is certain she looks like an upside-down camel.

 

“A cute upside-down camel,” Emma offers, and she winks at Regina before she looks away, missing the way Regina's mouth had opened in outrage and then snapped shut, color flooding her cheeks. Regina sputters out a “Flattery won't get me to retrieve the remote,” and Emma pouts. 

 

There are new packages daily, diapers and car seats and blankets and clothing, and regina slips a few extra things into Emma's ever-growing pile of items to bring with her After. And After isn't a thing they talk about, so Regina does her best not to think about it, either. 

 

Still, she modifies her orders with Marco. She starts sentences with “Is it really necessary to…” before losing her nerve and finishing “...stomp around like that all the time?”

 

“It's called a waddle, Regina. You've got one, too,” and Emma's eyes are bright when she teases her.

 

“Yes, well,” Regina says, and tries to act miffed, to find that same distance that they'd had back when this had begun. It will hurt less if she withdraws, she knows, except that she doesn't know how to withdraw at all anymore. Emma is ever-present, and Regina finds her way back to her even when she doesn't mean to. Emma is beginning to feel as vital to her as the babies growing within them do. And no matter how Regina tries, she can't deny any of the three of them.

 

She has to try harder, she vows, walking into her bedroom one night after Emma has already passed out on the couch, to find the woman who had gladly stood alone before Emma had appeared at her doorstep.

 

And then a sudden, radiating pain shoots through her midsection.

 

She lets out a hiss, recognizing it, despite the fact that she's never felt it before. It ends quickly, at least, and she pulls out her app with shaky hands and logs it. First labors are supposed to be long. She has time.

 

She calls her doctor, who sounds sleepy but unworried. “Give it a few hours. When they're four minutes apart, I want you to go into the hospital. Take a nap, it's the last good sleep you'll be having for months.”

 

Ha . Regina hasn't slept well in weeks. But she follows directions.

 

The contractions keep coming, closer and closer together, and Regina shuts her eyes and tries to sleep, to no avail. It's supposed to be hours. It's supposed to be–

 

It's three hours, two in the morning, when the contractions are five minutes apart and Regina loses patience. She staggers downstairs, steals through the foyer, and is hit with another contraction. She rides through it, panting, and Emma shifts on the couch and opens wide eyes and says, “Oh my god, are you in labor?” 

 

“I am not driving to the hospital in that yellow thing ,” Regina grits back.

 


 

Emma drives Regina to the hospital in said yellow thing. Regina is panting, fists clenched and sweat dripping down her face, and she's seething at the towel that Emma had insisted she sit on in Emma's new car. “I just got it cleaned!” 

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Regina growls.

 

Heaven help her, Emma kind of finds it hot. “It'd be funny if it were indigestion,” she says, pulling into the hospital parking lot. Regina gives her a death glare that says it would not be funny at all. “I've been cramping up from that chili you made for dinner, too.” Emma laughs. “Imagine we're both in labor. What are the odds?” 

 

Regina writhes in the seat beside her, and Emma reaches out to hold her hand, melancholy washing over her at the reminder that that would be their inauspicious end. But she helps Regina into the hospital, glad that her cramping is much too mild to be any kind of labor. Regina is seen immediately– perks of being rich and/or the mayor, Emma figures– even though she isn't quite ready, and Emma sits beside her in the delivery room.

 

But very soon, it's clear that something is wrong. Doctors converse in low tones outside the room, and they dart glances into it and don't enter. Regina doesn't notice, too absorbed in her labor pangs, but Emma tenses, tries in vain to read the heart rate monitor. 

 

A sonogram technician comes in, does a quick ultrasound, and refuses to answer any of Emma's prodding. Emma feels a wave of panic, squeezing Regina's hand and forcing herself to remain calm for her. “It's going to be over soon,” she promises Regina. “You're almost there.”

 

Soon, their doctor finally arrives, grim-faced, and regina finally seems to notice that something is wrong. “What's going on?” she rasps.

 

Emma doesn't understand half the jargon that the doctor says, but Regina nods and listens and her hand trembles in Emma's. “We'll need to do an emergency section,” the doctor says, and she glances at Emma. “I might be able to arrange for someone to be in the room with you–”

 

“Emma,” Regina says, and now her grasp is iron-tight. 

 

Emma exhales. This she can do. “I’m here,” she says. Regina is prepped for surgery. There is an epidural, an IV inserted, and Regina looks small and pale and weak for the first time ever, terrified for what comes next. “It's going to be okay,” Emma promises her, smoothing down her hair. “You're going to have a beautiful baby boy–” Regina presses her head against Emma's, grasping onto Emma's hands as though she'll never let go.

 

And in this cosmically impossible situation, Emma's water chooses this exact moment to break.

 

All those vague stomach pains intensify immediately, as though they'd been muted until now. Emma lets out a ragged cry, and Regina– who is about to get a spinal tap and be wheeled into an operating room, who is more afraid than Emma's ever seen her– Regina clasps her hands to Emma's cheeks.

 

“Beautiful baby girl,” she murmurs, and she slips into the role of the strong one again as though she'd never left it. “I'll see you on the other side.” She leans forward and brushes a gentle kiss to Emma's cheek.

 

And then she's gone, and Emma has her own labor to reckon with.

 


 

Emma has a baby. A baby , a tiny girl cradled in her arms, and she cries and laughs and cries again throughout her time in the recovery room. For all that's happened over the past nine months, nothing has prepared her for this moment, for the reverent understanding that this baby is hers and she has brought him into this world.

 

And still, she can't help but think of another woman in the hospital, of a little baby boy whose fate she knows nothing about yet. Her heart wrenches, and she calls over a nurse who can tell her nothing.

 

She names her baby Hope, which is maybe a little too on the nose.

 

“I don't know what's going to happen next,” she murmurs to the baby. They're soon set up in the maternity ward, in a room that the nurse promises her is adjacent to where Regina's will be (“We're not a big hospital. We have three rooms, dear”). “But we're going to be okay.”

 

“You're going to have a brother. And we're going to… I still haven't found an apartment, but Granny promised me a couple of weeks at the B&B as a baby present,” she coos to little Hope. “And i think…maybe Regina will let us visit.” they'd built something together, hadn't they?

 

There is a cheap bassinet she'd picked up off a neighborhood chat, and she'd spent a paycheck on a nice stroller-carseat combo. They're going to be okay, and the baby is perfect, and there's no reason for Emma to feel so sick when she thinks about the future. Her cheek still burns a little where Regina had kissed it, just to the side of her lips. She sets the baby down and sleeps, her dreams alternating between serene and turmoiled.

 

When she wakes up, it's past noon and the nurses are checking her blood pressure. She gets out of bed, feeling a little raw as she pushes the crib with Hope to the door, and she peers into the next room. Regina is lying in the bed, a baby in her arms.

 

“Regina,” Emma breathes, and she takes a few quick steps into the room.

 

Regina smiles at her, her eyes gleaming with unshed tears, and she says, “Henry is older.”

 

“What?”

 

Regina points to the little it's a girl! card on Hope's crib. “Henry is eighteen minutes older. Took them a while to sew me up again.” Her eyes glitter.

 

“Henry,” Emma repeats. Regina's father's name. Henry and Hope. They sound like siblings, and she swallows past a lump in her throat. “He's…” 

 

“May I hold her?” Regina murmurs, her eyes on Hope, and then there's nothing more to say.

 

Emma cradles Henry in her arms, and he feels as much hers as Hope does, as much a piece of her heart. Regina strokes Hope's cheek, lost in her, and Emma rocks Henry back and forth and whispers to him, a secret fantasy for their ears only, “Those are our girls.”

 


 

Emma is scheduled to be discharged from the hospital first, a full two days before Regina, and she wanders from Regina's room to her own and doesn't know how to ask the Thing that is too much, that terrifies her even to mention aloud. 

 

Regina is slowly regaining mobility, and she sits in the chair now, holding onto Hope as though she doesn't want to let her go. “You're going to be good for your mama, aren't you?” she coos, and Hope is sleepy and comfortable in her arms. “You're going to be so loved.”

 

“Do you want me to…” Emma swallows. “You only packed one outfit for yourself, right? I can pick up a few more so you don't have to wear a hospital gown.” 

 

Regina looks startled, then nods. “You're going home.”

 

“Just for a little while,” Emma promises, her arms trembling around Henry. “I'll be out of your hair soon, i promise.”

 

Regina's face closes off from Emma, and she nods stiffly, and what is it about the postpartum hormones that make Emma even more close to tears all the time? “I'm just going to… to pack up my stuff and get you yours,” she says, and she sets Henry down and feels hollow loss as she does. “I'll be back later.”

 

Hope settles happily from Regina's arms to hers, and it's almost like being a family, for a little while. Almost. 

 

Graham walks over to the hospital so he can get her car from the lot and drive her back to Regina's, and Emma sits next to Hope in the back and dreams, for a moment, that it's Regina in the front seat. 

 

The mansion is unchanged, but Emma feels like a ghost when she walks through it. it is different, somehow, with her daughter in her arms and Regina elsewhere. it is different when it's not home anymore. Emma tortures herself by imagining Henry growing up here, an only child. Doted on. Wrecking every room with his toys and games. Coloring on the walls and making Regina laugh and surrender her orderly home to her son. Will he know Emma at all? Will he know Hope? Is there a future for the four of them, even if not together?

 

She pushes these painful, intrusive questions from her mind and tries to focus. She's got to pack, to figure out what's next. She has to pick up clothes for Regina.

 

She heads upstairs, walks past the nursery toward Regina's room, and then hesitates. A morbid desire overtakes her. No . Maybe not morbid. She's met Henry now, and she loves him, would be happy to know that he's going to live in perfect little nursery. This is what he should have, and she can step inside and see it. She bears no grudges toward either Mills.

 

She walks into the nursery.

 

It's picture-perfect, of course, painted baby yellow and walls decorated with bears and blocks and music notes. There is a neat little changing table and a set of drawers, and there are… 

 

There are… 

 

A strangled cry escapes from her throat, and she is rooted to the ground.

 

Hope makes a little snuffle and then settles back into her embrace, dozing off as Emma stares in disbelief at the room in front of her, at the two cribs sitting side by side on the far end of the room. They've been painstakingly hand-carved, each equal in size and shape. 

 

Why .

 

Why .

 

Emma doesn't pack. she picks out clothing for Regina, in a trance, and she buckles Hope into her stroller and walks out to the hospital. It's a ten minute walk, in a daze, and Emma still can't find the words when she pushes Hope into Regina's room. 

 

Regina glances at her, eyes wary and a little fearful, and she says, “What's wrong?”

 

“I went into the nursery,” Emma blurts out, which isn't at all what she wants to say.

 

Regina looks guarded. “Oh,” she says. She looks uncertain, as though she thinks Emma might not–

 

Regina clears her throat, another flash of fear before she regains her composure, and she says, “I just thought, in case Hope ever needs to stay somewhere when you're out patrolling–”

 

“Liar,” Emma says, because she's finally starting to see clearly. Regina is lying, because… 

 

Regina looks indignant. “What did you call me?” she demands, pulling herself up to lean against the hospital bed, a hand resting on Henry's crib.

 

Emma crosses the room in a few quick steps and kisses her, and the hazy world seems to quiet at once.

 

“Oh,” Regina breathes against her lips, and she pulls Emma closer, presses kisses to her neck and her hair, shuts her eyes and keeps her lips against Emma's until they both are still.

 

Emma sinks onto the bed beside her, strokes her hair and holds her tight, and Regina smiles. She twists a little to face Emma, and Emma is surprised to see the naked vulnerability on Regina's face. “I wish you would stay,” she says, the words halting. “With me. With Henry. Both of you.”

 

Emma traces the curve of Regina's lip. “As a tenant?” Regina is silent. Emma touches her chin, drags her finger along the firm line of Regina's jaw. “As a charity case?” Emma pushes, voice mischievous, though she is still in the precipice, uncertain. “As your personal deputy?”

 

Regina laughs at that, her fingers curling around Emma's. Emma says, “As your personal recipe organizer and meal planner–”

 

“As my family,” Regina says firmly, her eyes wide and beseeching when she looks at Emma. “Can we be that?” and she brushes her lips against Emma's again.

 

Henry shifts in his crib, Hope gurgles in her car seat. Regina holds Emma's hand. Emma thinks of a day– over five months ago– when she'd been drenched in rain and desperation for the words Regina offers now, and she presses a kiss to the tips of Regina's fingers and says, “Family.”

 

And this is the end of the beginning, of a brother and sister as close as twins; of two women who'd stumbled upon each other and never let go. this is Emma and Regina Swan-Mills and the family they'd made, and this is their happily ever after.