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She rolled over onto me, her thighs squeezing my hips tightly as she settled on my stomach. Her lips, still red with slightly smeared lipstick the color of wine, parted as her breath came tight and shallow. Smoldering, her eyes burned deep coffee, studying me. I could feel my skin, myself growing hotter under her gaze.

Tentatively I reached up and touched her cheeks, her lips, willing the passion I felt to flow from the tips of my fingers and into her skin; asking them to say what I wasn’t, what I couldn’t. She sighed and kissed my palm, her cheek resting in the cup, her teeth grazing on the pad of my thumb. Leaning down and she kissed me deeply, our lips fitting together as if by design, moving in ways that were quickly becoming familiar; the transition from friends to other, flawless and natural.

I am at her mercy and god, am I happy to be so. My body arched toward hers, willing, hoping to be devoured by her.

I could smell the scent of her; the familiar scent of the person who had been my comfort and my security; my best friend for many years, she bent to softly kiss my neck, my chest, my breast and up my arm.

She chuckled breathily and I smiled as our fingers intertwined. Slowly she guided my hand to her, encouraging and instructing me. My stomach clenched in such a way that I felt it from my toes to the tips of my hair, a sudden jerking quiver of anticipation. I sat up, hand exploring and her chuckle twisted immediately as my fingers found her center. It was the first time I had ever touched her there and the feel, the scent was bewitching, an intoxicating form of heaven.

She let out a soft sound, so soft that it could have been made in sleep. Cupping my cheek again she kissed my face as I touched her, sensual lips brushed my eyelids, my forehead, my jaw. Each spot seared, glowing into my skin. My own body responded, startling me and pushing me forward, need filling me. She lifted my face, her eyes searching for mine and once she found them she held them as small breaths of expectancy falling from her lips as she waited for me. I held her gaze, unable to let go, a ball of emotion sitting heavily on my chest.

Ginny. Ginny, I love you so much; the words settled in my mind but I was afraid to let them pass my lips. Her eyes registered the thought, hearing my words through the bond we had shared since childhood. She knew. There was no need to tell her.

How long had I loved her? I didn’t know…perhaps I always had. Perhaps only in this moment…truly, it didn’t matter.

Holding her tightly by the hip to steady her and lock her to me, I entered her. Her eyes closed, rolled and her mouth fell open, stirring within me lustful desires like I had never felt before. I stilled and waited. I watched every breath she took and loved every shudder, lost in the ways her eyes moved under the lids as if she were dreaming. Possibly she was just relishing the transition…because she loved me…didn’t she? Suddenly that fact seemed so clear, a dawning realization that I felt stupid for never seeing before.

She loved me.

Slowly she moved on me once, letting out a quivering moan. She moved a second time and the noise grew louder. With surprise I realized my own voice rose with hers, every movement she made directly connected to my core. I could feel the pull inside of me.

She moved once more, the heel of her shoe grazing sharply against my thigh and her body slunk forward, her hair obscuring her eyes in a sheet of chestnut, her hand firmly between my breasts for support. All I could see of her face were those parted lips; I had to push forward quickly and take them. Her lips responded just as fiercely to mine for a second before I fell back down, unable to hold the position.

She smiled.

I smiled.

This time when she moved she was quick and purposeful. We rocked together, steadily panting together, toes curling, breast heaving.

Then she fell forward with her face in my neck, her hair covering my eyes and my mouth as she rocked against me, softly kissing and biting the skin there. I bit her shoulder, my arm wrapping tightly around her back, keeping rhythm with her.

My hand was beginning to twist and cramp and though I had been trying to ignore it, I let out a little squeak of pain. We laughed together as she rolled off of me, violently kicking her shoes off and then stretching her body long against mine. Face to face and forehead to forehead we kissed, as our hands gently explored the places we had never touched one another before.

Scooting closer she nuzzled my neck and whispered, perhaps whimpered “Em. My Em. I…” Her breath hitched and I gasped, clutching her as I felt her probing fingers and I…I…

 

 

Emma woke with a guilty start. For a moment, all she could do was blink dumbly into the darkness and let the feeling of Regina’s long ago body slip from her.

Regina. Oh god, no!

Her brain groaned and swore at her as she covered her eyes tightly with her palms. She pressed until white spots glowed in the darkness, trying to forget the image of the woman on top of her. She tried to forget her face and slightly parted lips hidden by the warm chestnut hair that she used to love so much. She didn’t want to think about that! More importantly, she shouldn’t think about that!

This was the third time in the last two weeks that this dream had made its unwelcome reappearance after three years of lying dormant and nearly forgotten. She hated it, and she hated the midnight emotional stress it brought with it. Though, at least this time the dream wasn’t combined with the tears that had accompanied the first two occurrences. Perhaps her skin was growing as calloused as it had become years ago when night would bring her unwelcomed longings and sadness.

Emma hated the tears. They were a betrayal of her insistence that she was over and done with the whole damned issue, a status she thought she had proudly perfected years ago. Not only was she sure that the shuddering loneliness had finally gone but she had also stopped thinking of Regina completely over a year ago.

This had been a great success. But now, after these damned haunting dreams, she felt as lonely and sad as she had the day she moved to New Orleans.

Logically, she understood the source of the step backward was her sudden plans to be back in her hometown for the first time in five years but that did not mean that she was okay with it.

She rolled over in the dark, looking at Hanna’s sleeping figure and thought of waking her. But what would be the purpose? Sex? It was true the dream left her with an excited wanting feeling but no; that would be inappropriate. So what would be the purpose then? Support? No, she couldn’t share the details of this dream, not with Hanna. Not without worrying or upsetting her and forcing a much longer and more complicated conversation into life. At the beginning of their relationship, by mutual agreement, she and Hanna had decided to avoid the awkward and uncomfortable conversation about past romances. At the time it had seemed like a godsend of an idea but it also meant that Emma had never shared the details of how her relationship with her best friend had begun and ended within twenty-four hours, days before her move from her tiny hometown in Maine.

Besides, Hanna worked very hard and always looked so tired. She would be up around four in the morning to head to the gym. No, she wouldn’t wake her. Hanna needed her rest.  

Distressed she wiped the unnerving sweat from her forehead and affectionately ran her hand through Hanna’s hair, trying to force her mind to think about other things. She needed to get back to sleep; she didn’t want to be tired on her last day home.

Cuddling close to Hanna she decided she would just dismiss the dream and all thoughts of her former best friend…as she always did.

After all, she was getting married soon and she didn’t have time to dwell on the past. When she woke the next morning, the feeling of the dream would have slipped from her and everything would be perfect - just like always.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Are you going to miss me?” She asked Hanna as she sprawled on one of their extravagantly comfortable twin pool chairs, enjoying the last bit of sun before it dipped below the houses and beyond their vision. She had woken happily that morning just as she knew she would. The dream had been quickly burnt away by the bright morning light. In the sunlight, the dark memories of her past always seemed to shrink into nothing.

Hanna’s half day had been a pleasant surprise though the real treat had been throwing on their swimsuits and heading down to the pool they had thus far seldom used over the warm season. Emma had assumed that they would have spent her last night in town at Hanna’s latest favorite club, drinking and dancing but a quiet evening in the setting sun was perfect.

“Of course I will!” Hanna laughed, tossing a football into the air and catching it. Her arms rippling as she grinned down at her future wife. “Will you miss me?”

“Yeah. Of course I will.” She watched Hanna throw the ball higher into the air and then dive sideways athletically to save it from the cruel shame of hitting the ground.

“Are you excited to be going home yet?”

Emma was no steadier in her answer now than she had been earlier that day or the day before or anytime in the past month. “I dunno, I guess.” She shrugged, pulling lightly at a loose string in the chair.

“You think? You need to work on that whole sounding a little bit happy to be going thing. Your apathy is showing, Detective Swan.”

Emma laughed despite herself, “No, if I were Swan then this wouldn't be a problem. I would go totally cool and collected because she’s a badass like that.” Emma pretended to karate chop the air “Also, I’m not apathetic about going. I can’t wait to see my mom and Ruby. I’m just nervous. It’s a long time to be gone.”

Hanna scoffed, running her hands over her short smoothed hair as if checking to be sure it was still perfectly styled. “Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, right? Even if it does fuckin’ blow. Plus, Swan, we have been together for so long that it will probably be good for us. I need to forget what you look like for a while.”

Emma scoffed and chucked her empty beer can at her.

Hanna just danced out of the way, ducking and weaving as though about to take on a whole army single-handedly.

She and Hanna had been together for exactly four years and seven months, engaged for one year as of the month before. The long engagement had not been part of their original plan, but in the past twelve months their life simply had not been conducive to planning a wedding. Hanna had been freshly graduated from law school and was busy bouncing back and forth between firms, looking for a place to settle. Emma had just come up for air after spending two years on the second book in her Detective Swan series and had just been given the green light by her original publishing house to start working with an editor. Then five months ago, to Emma’s pleasure, Hanna had announced that she had gotten her ‘dream job’. As an incendiary bonus, the firm had agreed to hire her knowing that a year from her start date she would be taking off a month to get married and have a honeymoon.

Elated, the couple had finally plunged into making plans. The decision of where to hold the wedding had been their first snag. They could have it in New Orleans, true. The friends they had made as a couple were there and if they had the wedding in New Orleans, there were a lot of citywide traditions they could follow which would be a lot of fun. Only Emma’s mother, Mary, was constantly sick thanks to the elementary school children she taught. A few months before her retirement she had had suffered a horrible infection in her ear drum and was still not cleared to fly - and neither woman wanted her mother to take on a twenty-four-hour drive from her home to theirs. Mary’s resolute inability to fly also removed the possibility of having the wedding in Hanna’s California hometown. This left one option; they had to hold the wedding in Emma’s tiny hometown of Storybrooke, Maine.

It had taken Hanna a solid three days to get her stubborn fiancée to agree. Emma had not been back to Storybrooke in five years. It would be more accurate to say that Emma had avoided going back to the town at all costs since the day she had run from it five years before. She had been adamant. No. She knew what was waiting for her there...and what wasn’t.

But Hanna was a smart woman and she knew how to get her pigheaded girl to agree. She had spent days retelling all of the stories she had learned of Emma’s life once she had moved and settled in Storybrooke. She asked for details about the clock tower, descriptions of Granny’s pancakes and what the view from the docks at the edge of town looked like. The more Hanna talked, the more Emma was filled by fond memories until Hanna won and Emma realized the idea of a wedding away from the town she had adopted as her home made her heart hurt.

Hanna had been smugly impossible to live with for a week after that.

The planning began, but they hit the second snag almost instantly. The city of Storybrooke was so damn small that most stores and shops were tiny mom & pop type places. They didn’t have websites and they weren’t set up for any kind of electronic payments. How the hell could they book a venue when they couldn’t see pictures of the site? How could they decide on a bakery when they couldn’t taste a sample of their cakes? Even if they decided to move forward without doing those things, how the hell were they going to pay for it and solidify their date? They could ask Mary and Emma’s best friend, Ruby, for some help of course, but there was only so much they could do for them. Not that they didn’t try. They had sent Ruby to look at the only event hall in town and she had reported back ‘It’s nice in a disco meets Bing Crosby kind of way’. They had no idea what that meant.

It was quickly clear that planning a wedding from ten or more states away was difficult, if not impossible.

Then one night Emma and Hanna had gone out with friends to celebrate the completion of a piece that had been torturing Emma for months. They had happily danced, shooting shot after shot as a group. When they were nicely drunk, Hanna had dropped a bomb.

“Why don’t you take a vacation?” She had casually offered as though she was suggesting they go to a movie or have pizza instead of chicken for dinner.

Emma had just chuckled. A vacation would be great, but it wasn’t going to happen; she hadn’t taken a single one in five years. “Sure. And then perhaps we could fly to the moon. Oh, or maybe we could go meet the Queen.”

“I’m serious!” Hanna insisted. “You could go home.”

“What?” she sputtered, spilling a small amount of her mixed drink into her lap. Was she crazy?

“Think about it.” Hanna insisted in her best soothing voice, “You could finish up the wedding plans with your mom and Ruby.”

“You want me to go back to Storybrooke…alone…and plan our wedding?”

“Well no.” Hanna frowned, “I don’t really want you to, but I’m not sure how else we will plan it.”

“Don’t you want to be included in the decisions?”

Hanna had laughed and taken a long swallow of her beer, “We both know this wedding is for you, Emma. I didn’t come from a marriage of ‘true love’ like you did. My parents are divorced. They fucking hate each other. Plus, I’m a divorce lawyer. I’ve never thought I needed a wedding.”

Emma, intoxicated or not, frowned and tried not to be stung.

“Besides,” Hanna concluded “I know you’ll keep me in the loop.”

“What about work?”

Hanna scoffed, “What about it? If we wait until the beginning of next month then you will be through with ‘talks’ and then it’s just waiting for the book to print, right?”

“Right?”

“Well, you took off a year off of writing last time, remember? You just worked on your articles. Are you planning on doing that again? Because I think that you squirreled away so much cash between bonus’, advances and that stupid job that you could go to Storybrooke for a year without working.”

Still, Emma had instantly declined but Hanna would not give up. She had persisted over the following days until she had realized, much to her chagrin, that the plan was a good one. She did need a vacation. She had saved up plenty of money for one. Perhaps it was time to go home.

She sighed and covered her face from the evening sun still contemplating Hanna’s insistence that she should be happier about her return trip, “Yeah, the best answer I can come up with is I think I’m excited. I haven’t seen any of those people in … a while and I haven’t been back for a reason. What happens,” she faltered a little bit, her hidden worry sneaking past her control, “if I see people I don’t want to see? What happens if everyone is still mad at me for leaving in the first place?”

Hanna planted herself in the grass next to her, thoughtful. “Well, you’re going to see someone you don’t want to see. Your hometown has, what, twelve people in it?”

She rolled her eyes and slapped Hanna’s leg.

“I think that they have a right to be mad, Swan.” Hanna said slowly as she sobered, “I don’t know why you left so suddenly, one day we should have that talk, but you did leave without giving your friends and family a chance to say goodbye. Let them be angry, Emma. Then make it up to them on this trip.” Hanna smiled broadly before continuing, “Plus the way I see it is if you see someone you don’t want to see then it’s karma forcing you to let them forgive you.”

Emma smiled a little; the problem was that she wasn’t the one that needed to be forgiven.

“Besides, it’s not as though you seeing them means you will be forced to spend time with them.”

Emma nodded and slipped her sunglasses back on, unsure of what to say in response to a moment of such wisdom. It was unlike Hanna who usually stuck to ‘make lemonade out of life's lemons’ and ‘keep your chin up’.

“Stop worrying.”

Emma sighed, “I’m not worrying, see I’m tanning.”

"Do you wish we had gone down to the Quarter tonight? We still can if you want."

"No." Emma said quickly and smiled, to cover her blunder.

Hanna didn't seem to notice. She just playfully kicked Emma’s feet, “Stop tanning and come play with me.”

Laughing a little Emma got up and played a game of catch with her before Hanna pulled a shrieking Emma into the cold water of the pool, splashing and wrestling.

They settled into the lawn chairs as the stars came up in the sky and quickly became lost in their own worlds. It was clear that Hanna’s mind had drifted to some case she was working on, and Emma’s mind had floated 1,700 miles away to her hometown.

What was it going to be like? Was she really sure that she wanted to do this?

No. The easy answer was no, she wasn’t sure.

“I’m going to hop into the shower.” She ran her fingers through her hair briskly; a sure sign of her distress to anyone paying attention, “That way I don’t have to take one in the morning.”

“Yeah I’ll come up too.” Hanna distractedly checked her phone.

They stomped into their apartment and tossed their sodden bathing suits in the downstairs washing machine. “Oh crap, I guess I should bring that with me, shouldn’t I.” she swore, “It’s not like I’ll do a lot of swimming in Maine but just in case.” Gruffly she started the machine and shoved her fingers through her hair, stressfully.

This finally caught Hanna’s attention; suddenly arms were around Emma pushing her back into the wall.

Emma gasped surprised but grinned, “Oh yeah?”

“What’s wrong?” Hanna asked, kissing her throat.

Their sex life had been somewhat stagnant for the year, okay more like two before Hanna had proposed. But things had been white hot again thanks to the novelty of we’re-getting-married sex.

“Nothing. I just need to get into the shower.”

Hanna kissed her, “Can I hop in the shower with you?”

She smiled and nodded, pinching her nose teasingly, “That’s a good idea.”

Hanna scowled a not-at-all scary scowl and kissed her again, picking her up and pinning her to the wall. Emma hadn’t always enjoyed it when Hanna picked her up and threw her around like it was nothing but she had come to love it over the years.

Hanna was short with the body of a beach volleyball player, solid strong legs and a rock hard stomach so tight that the muscles had to protrude just a bit to exist. Her hair was short and cropped to be easily smoothed into a professional but trendy undercut.

Hanna caressed the thighs that Emma had wrapped around her and nuzzled her neck. Despite the fact that Emma was a full three inches taller than her and fairly well muscled herself thanks to her own vigorous workout routine, Hanna’s extreme exercise habits made the physical dominance easy.

Lips closed around Emma’s earlobe, making her sigh with pleasure.

Hanna hadn’t exactly been Emma’s typical type when they met, neither physically nor in personality. It was a misnomer that feminine women were predominantly attracted to masculine women and vise versa; Emma was the perfect example of that. It was true she had her mild tomboy side but it only extended into a love of jeans and boots instead of skirts and heels - not that she couldn’t be found a couple of times in year in those as well.

She had always been attracted to other tall and feminine women since she had come out as a lesbian at the age of fifteen. When asked about this Emma had always just laughed and said simply that she was a woman who loved fem women. She loved the look, the sound, the soft perfumed skin, and the attitude of high heels, pantyhose and lace lingerie.

Hanna’s boyish ways had been fascinatingly different but unexciting to Emma; her own polka dotted, or baby pink boy shorts were the most macho thing she wanted to see on her bedroom floor. It had never occurred to her that perhaps she might find a woman who wore boxer shorts and boy’s skinny jeans attractive. But she had.

They had met at a party of a colleague one night not long after Emma had arrived in ‘NOLA’. At first the charismatic woman had only intrigued Emma and they had spent a few hours in lengthy conversations. Once Emma had realized that Hanna was pushing for a hookup she had given her a polite thank you but no thank you. Still despite the entertainment of the party Emma had continually found herself back in a corner in conversation with the woman. A few drinks later she allowed herself to be escorted home.

Emma had planned their interaction to be nothing more than a one-night stand, but they had become friends quickly. For someone studying Family Law specializing in divorce, Hanna was confident and kind. Emma found that this girl was brave, high-spirited and very proud. Her gumption and determination were awe-inspiring. She didn’t know when she had agreed to a relationship; instead one day she had just realized she was unsure of exactly how long they had been dating.

“Or,” Hanna said biting her shoulder and bringing her thoughts back around to her current position, “we could do something else.”

“Hmmm. You’re smelly.” Emma said in fake protest, pulling her legs tighter around Hanna.

“Yeah, it seems like you care oh so very much.”

The couple showered and then spent a long while making love before falling apart, exhausted.

“I really am going to miss you.” Hanna mumbled already tipping into sleep. Emma rolled onto her side against her and sighed content. The stone of her ring snagged against the sheets as it often did and triggered thoughts of the looming wedding.

“Hanna, are you sure you’re okay with not being there when I plan, well, basically all of the wedding? I know you say you don’t care but…”

Distress seemed to settle over Hanna. She ran her fingers through her hair sharpening the fallen strands and studied the ceiling for a moment or two then propped herself up on one elbow with a look of urgency in her eyes, “Look Emma-”

“Babe? What’s wrong?” The expression on her face had startled Emma deeply. She softly caressed Hanna’s chin trying to smooth it away.

The look melted away and she softly fell back against the pillows, “Nothing babe. I’m just going to miss you.”

Emma spooned into the crook of Hanna’s arm “Are you sure? It kinda seemed like you had something you wanted to say.”

“Yeah,” Hanna huffed into the darkness of their bedroom.

“Okay.” Emma frowned, uneasy.

 


 

Emma woke at 4:15 the next morning just before Hanna left for the day. Nerves flooded her the moment her eyes opened but she didn’t have time for that! Hanna would be out of the door in minutes. She needed to filter her thoughts and get the hell up.

“Look at you,” she grinned sleepily kissing Hanna, “you look all sexy in your workout clothes. Why don’t you wear those ones more often?” In her tight lime green bra top and Trackies, Hanna looked like a small, dykey blonde Sporty Spice and it pulled at Emma’s 90’s girl heart.

Hanna laughed and plopped a pillow over her face, “Morning breath.”

“Sorry, gimmie a minute.” She jumped up and skipped to the bathroom brushing her teeth quickly.

“Hey babe, I gotta go if I’m going to beat the traffic.” Hanna called from the living room.

“Hanna Mason, you’re not going to see your future bride for at least a month! Wait thirty seconds! You will still miss the traffic.”

Standing arms crossed at the door Hanna was smiling just a little bit despite her hurried words. Approaching her Emma could see that the look from last night was back as if something needed to come out of her else she would explode. Still Hanna only said, “If I’m late I’m going to call and give you hell. You won’t be able to enjoy your first day back home for all the nasty calls and texts.”

Emma rolled her eyes, seeing through her words. “I’ll get there safely. I promise.”

Hanna nodded in approval and chuckled, “Good.”

Emma fit herself into Hanna’s arms, “Are you sure you can’t miss a day of working out and come back to bed with me?”

“I can’t. It throws off my entire day when I don’t go to the gym. Plus you know that I have goals I’m trying to reach. I told you I want a six pack by the wedding.”

“Oh alright. I’ll miss you though.”

“I’ll miss you too, Swan.” She said quickly and kissed her again, “Bye future Mrs. Mason.” she called behind her as she headed down the front steps toward her parked car.

Emma watched her go, a sour taste of worry in her mouth.

She was actually leaving today for Maine.

She was watching her fiancée walk down the street away from her.

She wouldn’t see her for at least a month.

The look of stress that Hanna had worn twice in the last twenty-four hours played through her mind. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t have time to worry.

She went back upstairs, her nerves about the adventure she was soon to face brinking on a Pop Rocks and Coke combination. Her impending flight was in three hours and she had a shuttle scheduled to pick her up in thirty minutes. She didn’t have a lot of time to fool around; and thank god for that otherwise she might talk herself out of going at all...again.

Thirty-five minutes later she looked around the apartment that she would not see for many months and headed out the door.

As she sat grumpily in the usual Interstate 10 traffic, her phone rang making her anxiety teeter toward excitement, “Ruby! I’m on my way!”

Ruby howled, “Dude! Yes. I can’t believe you’re going to be here for so long! I’m so excited. It’s going to be so much fun having you around again, ‘cause, you know, this place has not gotten any less boring since you moved away. Have you left yet?”

“In the shuttle now.”

“Oh okay, I won’t keep you. You get in around five, right?”

“Right.”

“Sounds good. Damn, I’m so excited. You know the only reason I’m not kidnapping you tonight is because your mom specifically asked me not to!”

“I bet she did.”

“Well, that’s alright. I’ll see you tomorrow. Ah, I can’t believe I’m saying that!”

They cheered together again and hung up.

Grinning she let her head fall to the side against the window and thought about Ruby. She just couldn’t wait to see her!

When Emma had left her hometown in Maine, it had been in a rush so quick that most of her friends hadn’t realized she had moved for a week or more. Once the anger at her sudden disappearance and lack of a goodbye had passed, Emma had done her best to keep in contact with all of her old friends. It had proved impossible and over the years people slowly fell away as they lost common interests and experiences until there was only Ruby.

Emma blushed noticing that her cries of delight with Ruby had woken a few of the dozing travelers on the shuttle. They were now glaring at her with a touch of early morning annoyance. She muttered a small apology. She was rarely a silly person, she seemed to have grown out it somewhere around the age of twenty-seven, but there were a few people who easily drew that out of her. All the people she was about to see – well – with one exception.

Her gut turned to nervous rot.

Would she be seeing her back in their hometown?

She doubted a reunion was in their near future even if they did happen to glance one another.

Perhaps they would both be at The Rabbit Hole or in one of the few grocery stores in town. As a matter of fact, she was prepared for that to happen; it was inevitable - but that would probably be the extent of the contact. She doubted Regina would want to see her and truthfully she didn’t think she wanted to see Regina either, not really. It was petty but despite the five years that had come and gone Emma was still angry, not in the way she had once been but still angry enough that she was solidly resolved to keep Regina out of her life.

Besides, what would be the point in stirring up old memories? If the dreams twisted Emma’s gut as badly as they did then she could only imagine how it would feel actually to see Regina. No thank you let sleeping dogs lie.

 


 

The airport is never a friendly place no matter how much you enjoy traveling. But despite the hassle, Emma was eventually shoved into the cramped airline seat. Her luggage was stowed, her tray was in the upright and locked position and with a small and slightly regretful glance out the window she was on her way.

She hadn’t brought much in the form of entertainment for the trip. So she rested her head back and closed her eyes, hoping for sleep.

The first flight was bumpy, though thanks to her very dark sunglasses it was restful. Her second flight was smooth sailing and didn’t give her a lot of time to worry. When she opened her eyes again she was landing.

For a moment her chest tightened, and she couldn’t breathe. She was home. All trepidation seemed to vanish at the sight of the airport. How had she thought that coming home was not an important thing to pursue? Now that she was here she was sure she didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

A weight slid off of her chest and her stomach tangoed between nerves and pleasure.

As they taxied around the building, a slide show began in her mind. The pumpkin patch her mother had taken her to since the year she had been adopted. Granny’s where Emma used to go and sip hot cocoa while she wrote her high school articles on the rainy days. The lot just outside of town where families could cut down Christmas trees themselves. They had gone to that lot every year, even after her father’s death, despite the fact that she and her mother could never cut one down on their own. It had become a tradition to do their best, eventually surrender and accept the help of a waiting employee or two.

She could almost smell the familiar scent of fall in Maine, the mix of wet leaves, wet cement, smoke from fireplaces and carved pumpkins beginning to live just past their prime. It was so strange to think that she would experience these things again. They had been markers of her late childhood yet they were unfamiliar to her now.  

She thought of the years she had spent in Storybrooke. Summers and holidays passed through her mind and though she did her best to ignore this fact, Regina highlighted every one of them, an unfortunate permanent fixture in her past.

 


 

To Emma’s delight, her mother hovered just outside of the security gate. Her lovely face was torn between excitement and fret waiting for a glimpse of her daughter. She stood hands clasped together under her chin looking beautiful to Emma’s eye but older than expected, when had that happened? Her dark hair was cropped stylishly short as it always had been, but now there were the first few sprinkles of gray littered throughout. For the first time, even at a distance, Emma could see that small signs of permanent wrinkles had embedded themselves deeply into the skin around her mother's eyes and lips.

Emma took a moment, as she always did, to readjust to the fact that her warm and loving father was not standing at her mother's side.

“Ma! Mom! Ma!” she called waving a magazine filled hand over her head. Mary’s face blanched in a moment of relief and then glowed, “Emma!” She waited impatiently until she could grab her daughter and hug her tightly to her. “Oh, you’re home, sweetie! You’re home! Thank goodness! How are you? How was your flight? Oh, I’m so happy to see you! You look so good.”

Emma grinned at her mother's enthusiasm and wished they were alone so she could jump up and down, perhaps doing a silly little dance like she wanted to do. It had been too long.

She and her mother had never had a typical relationship. As a matter of fact, Emma had hated her until she was at least fourteen years old, always closer to her adopted father, David.

It had always been true that David could see no wrong in the daughter of his heart. They had gotten along perfectly from the very beginning. Unlike Mary he had never expected anything from her and so being with him had always been easy; that alone had been enough to seal their bond.

It had been David who had asked Emma if they could adopt her one-year after her arrival to The Nolan household.

Mary, however, well - it had been quickly apparent that she and Mary had no idea how to relate to one another. It took Mary a year to finally stop buying Emma cute pink and frilly dresses and it took Emma a year to stop throwing them out the window of their two-story house. They had butted heads about Emma’s generally pessimistic attitude and her desire to stay on her toes, ready for the next move or the next reassigning. Mostly, Mary had always wanted desperately to be Emma’s mother, pushing the teen for comfortable familiarity constantly while Emma had never been entirely sure that she wanted or trusted a mother figure. That made them fight.

Emma knew her young hesitance hadn’t been entirely about Mary. Perhaps if the Eubanks mother hadn’t slapped her across the face every time she made any type of mess or if the Conner mother hadn’t starved her for a week because she thought Emma was getting fat – or perhaps if the Inman mother hadn’t fractured three of Emma’s ribs....

There had always been one thing and one thing alone that Emma could talk to Mary about with ease.

Her writing.

When Emma was little, they would sit at the dining room table while Emma drew pictures with crayons and told Mary elaborate stories about each of the characters. As she grew older, it was Mary who convinced Emma to write her first short story. After that, they spent hours together while Emma explained her complicated plots and insights behind the people she had created. It was the only time that all the discomfort, all the expectations they placed on one another in their desperate attempt to be mother and child dropped away and they could just be. It had helped and they had built a tentative friendship.

Then when Emma was fifteen David had been hit by a drunk driver just outside of the Storybrooke town limits. He was killed on impact.

Emma’s world crumbled. She should have turned to her new mother for comfort and support only Emma hadn’t. She had turned instead to Emma. Mary, who had needed her new daughter more than ever after the death of her husband, couldn’t understand. They spent years in a distant, hostile standoff, fighting like cats and dogs until finally, Emma ran. She lived on the streets of Portland for three weeks before the authorities picked her up and taken her back to a panic stricken Mary. Things changed then. Mary stopped pushing and Emma let her in. Their relationship improved incrementally until for the first time in Emma’s life she felt comfortable using the word that she had grown to desire so completely – mom.

Mary had eventually become Emma’s best friend and giving up the ability to see her every day had been the hardest thing to come to terms with after her departure.

Emma’s mind chirped like a small built in alarm clock reminding her that there had been something harder to give up.

Regina. Emma’s very best friend of all. Regina had been the hardest thing to give up.

Still looking into her mother’s face she promised that she wouldn’t let herself be away for so long again.

 


 

When they arrived at the house, Emma dropped her bags upstairs in the room that was frozen in time, reflecting the teenage girl who once lived there. It was still somewhat strange ‘coming home’ to the loft. She missed the large house she had grown up in, but she understood her mother’s reasoning for moving once her father had passed.

She took a moment to freshen up, snickering lightly at the out of date posters and sent Hanna a message that she had arrived safely. Hanna immediately sent back a relieved thank goodness and asked how her mother was.

Just as she was leaving the room, Emma stopped, caught by the pictures framed and sitting on the dresser.

Goodness, when had they gotten so old? Emma still felt like a teenager but seeing herself in these pictures she realized that just wasn’t true.

She laughed fondly as she stared down at nineteen-year-old Ruby, Emma and twenty-one-year-old Regina huddled around a campfire looking resentfully miserable and cold. The next was seventeen-year-old Emma and Ruby with their faces painted from the summer carnival. Then Emma and Regina at age eleven and age thirteen hugging tightly happy just to be near one another. Next, Emma at age fifteen in some silly getup she couldn’t remember wearing while the seventeen-year-old Regina reached forward for a high five. The last was a picture of Emma, Regina, Mary and David all grinning with their thumbs up. Emma’s face shone with glee, official adoption/name change papers in her hand, her arms thrown around Regina in a tight embrace.

Emma put the frames down and quickly headed downstairs.

Mary made a pot of welcome-home-Emma hot cocoa and placed a pair of mugs on the small breakfast bar that substituted for the large dining room table when the group was small. She sat feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, torn between feeling like a stranger in the house and feeling as though she had never left its bricked walls.

She was shocked by how good it felt to sit in this familiar kitchen, still pondering over the wonder that was her sudden change in feelings about coming home. She took in the curtains that she had helped her mother sew and hang as a Home Economics project when she was seventeen. She smiled, amused that the same pictures hung on the walls, plus an addition or two of the professional shots that Emma used on the back of her books. Looking down at the hardwood flooring she remembered the times would she lay and do yoga, filling her mother in on all of the dramas of being sixteen, seventeen or eighteen.

“You look good mom.” Emma noted.

Mary thanked her and told her that she had begun to take a yoga class twice a week. “My doctor recommended it.” Her mother gave a small side shrug and grinned.

Emma looked away, knowing full well whom her doctor probably was. “Hmm, I used to love yoga as a teenager, remember? I don’t know how the hell I used to do that. Now I can’t sit still enough for it. You like it?”

“Mmm, I do. It’s very relaxing, though I suppose it is really more like meditation than yoga.” Her head tilted to the side just a bit as she contemplated that, pouring their hot cocoa. Then she sat across from her; cup perched in between her fingers under her chin. Her mother then began to stare unabashedly, at her scrutinizing her face. Emma knew she was looking for something that would have some meaning in the language of mom, perhaps things that Emma would not say out loud like possible unhappiness or illness of some kind.

“What?” Emma finally flushed under her eye, feeling like an eleven-year-old caught sneaking a cookie.

“I’m just trying to see if you’re happy. You’re supposed to be glowing, where’s your glow?”

Emma shrugged, “Of course I’m happy.  How could I not be? And if I’m not glowing it’s because I just got off an airplane! Cut me some slack!”

Mary laughed and sipped her drink still staring. “My little girl is finally home and getting married to boot. I can’t believe it!”

Emma just smiled again and sipped her coffee.

“How’s Hanna?”

“Good. Fine. She seemed kind of depressed about me leaving, but I get that.”

“Mmmm, three months is a long time. And Detective Swan? How is she?”

Emma grinned foolishly. She was proud of many things in her life but none as much as Detective E. Swan, crime fighting and bounty hunter extraordinaire. She had gotten the idea on an especially drab day her freshman year of high school while attending a ride along with her dad. He had been so excited that they had spent three hours by the side of the road discussing the details. She had begun writing the book instantly, never expecting that years - and maybe renditions later - the blonde-haired, blue-eyed detective would become her livelihood. “She’s good; she caught the bad guy and solved the murder. Still Small Voice should be on the shelves in two weeks.”

“I know,” her mother said coyly, “I think the entire town has a preorder in at the bookstore.”

Emma flushed, “I thought Hanna was the only one to do that. Last time she pre-ordered one for everyone we knew. Our poor mailman showed up at the house furious with three fifty pound boxes!”

“You don’t get them for free?”

“I probably could, but Hanna wants to help sales.”

“I like Hanna. I really do." Emma knew it. Hanna had pulled out all of the stops during the two visits Mary had made to New Orleans taking them out for dinner and to see the sights. Mary had been won over by Hanna’s charm instantaneously. Her huge apartment and excellent law internship had sure helped too.

“I wish she would bring you back to us though.”

“Us?”

“The people who love you.”

“Oh. Well, uh, maybe you should come move closer to us, mom. You like New Orleans, right?”

Mary laughed, “I can’t move, I was raised here. This is my home - and yours Emma, you know that.”

Emma sighed, staring out the window, guilt gnawing at her stomach. She had left so quickly that her mother hadn’t gotten the chance to adjust to the idea of her only daughter being so far away. She was lucky her mother wasn’t still angry with her. The year before when Hanna had been applying to firms, Emma had spoken briefly of moving to Maine but Hanna had vetoed the possibility before the sentence was out of her mouth. She hadn’t wanted to live in Storybrooke of course but perhaps within driving distance.

“Well. Is there anything you would like to do while you’re visiting?”

Emma chuckled, “It’s not like there’s a lot to do in town, Ma.”

Mary smiled fondly.

The two spent the next little while catching up, enjoying the glow of their warm comfort with one another until finally her mother asked, “It’s getting late. Are you hungry?”

“Sure, mom.”

They cooked an easy dinner and then lounged around the table for a bit

“I was thinking,” her mother leaned forward as though she was about to give up a huge secret, “that we should go to Any Given Sunday.”

“Ice cream?”

“Yes! If you’re going to buy your cake in town then that is where you will have to go.”

“Wait, what? Ice cream cake? Is that my only option in town?”

Mary rolled her eyes, taking a page out of her daughter’s book, “No honey, I told you that Ingrid expanded her business, remember? She took over Storybrooke Country Bread when her mother died.”

Emma searched her mind but came up blank. “She did?”

Her mother nodded knowingly, “It’s very cute.”

“Okay. Let’s go.”

 


 

The space was indeed adorable. Emma had never actually known the owner, Ingrid, but the store had a very boho-chic feel with the ice cream parlor on one side and the deli/bakery on the other. Emma had a feeling she was going to like it the moment she stepped inside, chatting with her other about the wedding plans.

“I feel so overwhelmed!” Emma cried after ordering a double scoop of Rocky Road from the quaint counter stacked with black and white cookies and biscotti’s, “There is so much to do! How can I do all of this all in three or four months? I’m thinking that Hanna told me to come so that she didn’t have to plan any of this with me!” Emma teased. “I really wish I had been trying harder in New Orleans, perhaps that would have made the process here a little bit easier.”

“What about a wedding planner?”

“I dunno know, mom.” Emma thought it over. “I brought it up to Hanna once before and she really didn’t like the idea.”

“Well just remember this is supposed to be fun. This is your wedding you are planning. Don’t think of it as something difficult or taxing, enjoy it. It only happens once.”

Emma made a face. Her poor small town mother was so innocent in some ways.

“Now. Do you have any ideas of how you would like your wedding to be?”

Emma scoffed, “Um, yeah.” The charming wedding of Mary-Margaret Blanchard and David Nolan was Storybrooke legend. Not only had it been the best party that anyone in town could remember but spectators still spoke of the familial and communal love that had flowed through them all that day. “Your wedding to dad. I just, you guys look so happy in all of the pictures - so whole, you know?”

“And you will too, honey. You’ll see. What do you need to do first, dear?”

“I need to go see Mr. Ryan so I can put a deposit down on the hall. Once I do that, I can order all of the paper ware. I need to tell Ruby she is my maid of honor so she can start getting ready. I should register wherever we want to and find an officiant in Portland because it kind of creeps Hanna out to have a nun do it, as sweet as Mother Superior is. This is all before I can even send out the invitations. Oh, I also need to make a wedding website.”

Her mother nodded cogs turning behind her eyes and Emma could smell trouble, “Ruby will be very pleased to hear she is your maid of honor.”

Emma’s chest clenched for a second as if she had missed a step on stairs. She knew what that tone foreshadowed: meddling. Mary’s horrible habit of sticking her nose where it didn’t belong had been one of the things they used to fight about. She had seen the look of surprise on her mother's face a few minutes ago when she named Ruby as maid of honor. She knew where this was going and she didn’t want to talk about it. As far as her mother knew she and Regina had simply had a small spat and then grown apart over the years. It had taken a lot to get Mary to accept that vague answer but Emma knew that telling her the truth was inappropriate and pointless; her mother loved Regina.

“Yeah, I’m having dinner with Ruby sometime over the next few days. I’ll tell her then. I think she will be pleased, though I am sure she expects it.” Emma cursed mentally, she had been trying to avoid the trap but instead she had walked herself right into it.

Her mother gave her a dry stare in answer.

“Mom,” Emma began softly not sure what to say or how to say it.

“Emma, how could you and Regina have just drifted apart this much? I don’t believe it. Have you called her to tell her you’re in town? I think she would want to see you. She asks about you.”

“No mom, I – what? She asks about me?”

“Of course she does.”

‘Oh.” Emma began to pick at the napkin between them. “A lot?”

“Sometimes.”

“What does she ask?” She wasn’t sure if she felt smug or angry.

“Emma.” Mary chided.

“No, mom, I don’t think it’s a good idea. We really shouldn’t see one another - really.”

“Maybe if you just tried,”

“Mom, I don’t want to see her. Sometimes things are better left alone.”

“Emma Nolan, you are being childish. How can you say something won’t go well without trying?”

“Mom, please I don’t want to try.” She checked her tone. “I want to not talk about it.”

“What if you’re wrong?”

“Mom.”

“Emma-“

“Seriously?”

Her mother held up her hands in defeat and let it go. “You already know your budget?”

“Yes, Hanna likes things large and expensive, so the budget is decent.”

“Good.” Mary pursed her lips still sullen over the exchange about Emma’s former best friend and Mary’s surrogate daughter.

“Mom.” Emma groaned her head falling with a smack onto the table, “I’m sorry that Regina and I don’t talk anymore. I know you love her and everything, but some things just can’t be fixed.”

It seemed that Mary had nothing to say in response. She could feel her mother’s disapproval. But as far as she could see, there was nothing she could do aside from telling her mother the whole story and she couldn’t - wouldn’t do that. She couldn’t be the one to tell her mother that the Regina Mary loved so dearly had been the first to truly shatter her daughter’s heart.

Emma’s phone rang and she was happy for the distraction. She put Hanna on speakerphone pleased to see Mary perk up a bit.

“When are you coming into town, sweetie?” Mary asked then returned to nibbling at her food.

“Soon, I promise. Maybe in a month or so. I have to help plan that wedding so we can get started on making those grandbabies for you.”

Emma’s stomach flopped and she did her best to keep a straight face.

What? Did Hanna just mention children?

Things between she and Hanna had never been easy; they had always been a rambunctious couple that fought a great deal and their number one topic of contention was children. Emma had grown up tossed from one home where she was unwanted to another, never knowing love, never knowing stability. Then she had come to Storybrooke where she had found a warm, loving home. She watched her mother care for all of the children in Storybrooke in class and out, while her father ran the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. She wanted a family of her own desperately, one she could give love to and feel their love in return, especially since her father’s death. She wanted to adopt. She wanted to carry. She wanted to foster. She wanted to give the tiny unbroken beings of this world a place they could call home.

Emma loved children and though she couldn’t explain it, she was sure there was a little girl or boy out there somewhere waiting to be found by her. She even knew what she would name it, Jena if it was a girl and Henry if it were a boy.

She had subtly on occasion and not so subtly on others dropped hints to Hanna about her growing desire. But Hanna always retorted that she still felt like a child herself and couldn’t even think of having children yet, if at all. The‘if at all’ always hung between them after these conversations, poking them uncomfortably in the ribs, an unspoken future complication.

To this day, Emma hadn’t been able to decide what she wanted to do about this ominous possibility. She wanted a family. Hell, she needed a family. A big family. She had struggled with herself, packing and unpacking her belongings in secret after these talks until she realized that Hanna was still young, a silly twenty-seven. She was sure that most people didn’t want children at that age, even if she had. If she was patient, she was sure Hanna would come around. There was no way that Hanna would decide she did not want one of her own eventually and once that decision was made Emma knew she would be set. Hanna was the type of woman who got what she wanted.

Did this new comment to Emma’s mother mean that Hanna was finally coming around? Or did it mean that Hanna was simply schmoozing?

Mary laughed, glowing again. She wanted to be a grandma almost as much as Emma wanted to be a mother.

 


 

That night Emma fell into her childhood bed. She was exhausted, but her brain was stuck in hyper drive going over again and again the long list of things she needed to do and when she needed to have them done by.

She glanced at the clock chewing her cheek; it wasn’t quite as late in New Orleans since they were an hour behind Maine. Perhaps Hanna’s would still be burning the midnight oil for work.

Hanna’s groggy voice told her immediately that she hadn’t been. “I’m sorry, should I call back tomorrow?”

“No, it’s okay. What’s up? Are you all right?”

“I'm okay. I’m getting settled into bed and it’s lonely.”

“Awe.”

“I mean, I’ve slept by myself since we moved in together, of course, but only on those nights where you were gone. It’s never been me who was not home.” Emma squeezed her eyes shut, silently swearing. She hadn’t meant it to sound like that, crap, crap, crap. She didn’t mean to dredge up the past. She knew they had made an agreement to never again discuss those nights when Hanna would disappear to a bar with friends only to show up the next morning to find Emma on the couch or fully dressed in their bed, having fallen asleep worrying about her.

Hanna was silent for a long while.

“I’m sorry, that was meant to be sweet. Clearly I’m an idiot. Please don't get mad.”

Hanna grunted but moved on, “Well it’s only day one so of course you’re a little lonely. You need to adjust to being by yourself.”

Emma thought of all the nights she had spent in New Orleans alone waiting for Hanna and wondered if that was really true.

“Tell me about the rest of your day.”

Emma spent a few minutes going over her relatively uneventful day then listened as Hanna went over hers.

“Are you happy to be back yet?”

“I think so.” Emma could hear the uncertainty in her own slightly shaky voice.

“What’s wrong?”

She cuddled deeper into the blankets trying to think of the best way to describe what she was feeling. “I feel like an ass here. I’ve felt like it all day. I left so quickly. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about what that would do to my mom.  I just thought that I had to get away.”

“Don’t feel guilty. You did what you felt you needed to.”

Emma just grunted noncommittally and changed the subject, “You sound tired. Should I let you get back to sleep?”

“Yeah, maybe. I’m sorry, I spent three hours at the gym today, so I’m tired.”

“Wow, three hours. Why so much?”

“Why not? I spent two hours working out and then an hour in the sauna with Janelle.”

“Oh. Okay,” Emma said in the same fake chipper tone, caught off guard, she didn’t know what else to say. “Will you text me tomorrow?”

“Sure babe. Love you. Bye.”

Emma sighed, plugging in her phone and rolling over onto her pillow still frowning. Janelle was a new friend of Hanna’s. They had met at the gym and both having heavy interests in Crossfit they quickly became workout buddies. Emma liked Janelle enough though she didn’t know her well, but the thought of Hanna and Janelle lounging together in a sauna, more than likely naked made Emma’s skin chafe. They, as a couple, had always purposefully had a no sauna rule.

She stretched and tried to shake the thoughts out. She would let it go, and if it came up again she could talk to her about it - if she still felt she needed to.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Emma let her mother talk her into joining her for yoga. She enjoyed it though more than once during the class her lack of grace sent her mother into fits of laughter. Emma just let her mother laugh, focusing on the thing she enjoyed the most about the class; the women in their tiny yoga shorts. Whoever invented yoga shorts and yoga pants should win an award of some kind.

After the class, the afternoon flew by in a whirl of shopping.

Emma had just sat down to look through a website of wedding ideas when Ruby called insisting she would wait no longer. She was going to meet Emma for a drink that night or so help her -. Emma just laughed agreeing and made plans to meet that evening at the only bar in town.

“Plus,” Ruby reasoned over the phone, “I want to be involved in some of these plans that you’re working so hard on.”

She spent a few more hours visiting with her mom, then she took a late afternoon run. She showered, pulled on her favorite casual wear and started down the street toward the bar.

The moment Emma walked into The Rabbit Hole she felt as though she was newly twenty-one again. Light-hearted she chuckled as her mind ran through all of the drunken memories that she had in the bar.

That was the strangest part of coming home; the entire city was haunted by the memories that had turned her into the person she was today. This was the bar she had foolishly tried to sneak into a few times when she was nineteen and twenty. Regina had hit the legal drinking age almost two years before Emma and though Regina rarely did anything without Emma, the exclusion had been torture to the younger girl. Of course, this being a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else she had been quickly caught and kicked out. That hadn’t stopped her from trying a few more times hoping for a different outcome until finally the bartender had given her a scathingly reprimanded, reminding her that her father had been the sheriff of the town for years. That had shamed her into staying away.

She had her twenty-first birthday night here. Regina had bought her a Cosmo at midnight, and the bartender had followed it with a free birthday cake shot. She remembered standing up at one point thinking she was still sober only to realize that suddenly her shoes had become impossible to walk in. She had teetered on her way to the bathroom very slowly praying she wasn’t wobbling and giving herself away. Thankfully Regina had materialized next to her grinning Emma’s favorite grin and taking her elbow.

There had been countless nights here with her friends after bad dates, discussing the pros and cons of kissing techniques or the best means of picking up a girl. She remembered nights upon nights of sitting in the corner of the outdoor space with Regina smoking like a chimney, back when they all were still young enough and foolish enough to smoke, and talking about the things that they wanted from life. This had been their place.

For a moment, she craved a cigarette so strongly that it was almost crippling and she glanced outside wondering if there were any twenty-one-year-old hipsters she could ask for one. Shaking it off she chastised herself. She had quit eighteen months ago and would not be going back!

She squinted harder out the window and saw Ruby waiting for her at an outside table on the tiny deck where they had always sat. She had a fresh drink in front of her, a cigarette dangling from her fingers as always, the only one of them to still smoke. An empty chair sat next to her with an oversized Jack and Coke in front of it waiting for Emma.

She couldn’t wait to see Ruby; she had been looking forward to it all day yet she was surprisingly nervous. The fact that she was nervous made her feel dumb - which only made her more nervous, a vicious cycle suddenly spinning in her head. She pushed her way through the crowd toward the table. The outdoor space was small, so every smoker at the bar was forced to pack in like sardines, standing shoulder to shoulder in clusters with their friends. It was difficult to maneuver as it was filled to the brim tonight - and every night.  It amazed her how many people could not register her need to get through the crowd or just would not move, not that many could move even if they wanted to. There was nothing else to do in town.

When she finally made it through she grabbed the chair like a life raft, glaring at the man standing with his back against it, apparently too drunk to notice she was trying to pull it out.

“HEY!” Ruby yelled, “I SAID I’M SAVING THAT CHAIR! AHHHHHH!” She jumped up when she saw Emma, yelling and throwing her arms around her, “Hi! It’s you! Oh, it’s so great to see you. You look so different! Jesus, it’s only been three years! Why do you look so different?” She hugged her tightly before unashamedly pushing the man blocking Emma’s chair. He teetered and swore at her, but she ignored him plopping unceremoniously back into her seat.

Emma wasn’t the only person who had changed since Ruby’s last trip down south. The youthful red streaks had finally left Ruby’s hair and in their place was a proper, though trendy and cute, cut suitable for the owner and manager of the local restaurant. Some of the sassy attitude she had always held in her huge grin was replaced by maturity and stress though her eyes still glittered like the Ruby Emma had always known and loved.

“Was it always this crowded?” She had to yell to be heard over the bustle of the waiters and patrons.

“Yes! I would say we were smaller than but look at you, I think you’re smaller now!” Ruby said teasingly trying to pinch her ribs, which made Emma cry out and squirm away from her hand.

“Stop it, I’m ticklish! Hanna just likes – well-toned women.”

“But you eat, right?” Ruby asked, mock concern on her face.

“Ha!” Emma laughed, “Watch me eat! Have you ordered yet?”

“Nope.”

“Good!” She tipped her waiting glass in Ruby’s direction a silent thank you and surveyed the menu laughing as she took in its contents, “mmm, bar food.”

“Yeah well, what did you expect?”

“Did this place always serve bar food?”

“I think the younger versions of ourselves thought it was impressive that they served food at all.”

Emma couldn’t argue with that, it did sound like early twenties logic.

They ordered a few minutes later, yelling each thing twice before the waiter understood and then turned back to one another.

“It really is great to see you.” Emma said affectionately to her old friend.

“You too. It really sucks that it has taken you five years to come home to visit.”

“I’m sorry. It’s the job, you know?” It was a lie and they both knew it.

“I know, but at least you’ll be here for a while” They grinned for a moment, “So you’re just taking all of this time off? Doesn’t Detective Swan need you? She was stuck in Siberia at the end of Thing You Love Most? She needs you!”

“Fuuunny.”

“Oh come on! She gets out of Siberia though, right?”

Emma laughed and shrugged “No spoilers, Rubes.”

Ruby groaned and blew a puff of smoke in her face.

“Thanks for that. No, right now she is sitting fine and dandy somewhere in my agent's house - or maybe with the publisher.  It’s down time for me right now, I guess. I’ll take a few months before I start the next one, I really needed a vacation.”

They talked of families for a while and then of what it was like coming home before the conversation turned to wedding plans.

“So what have you done thus far?”

“Not a lot really.”

“You haven’t found a dress?”

“Nope.”

“Do you know what you want?”

“Something simple. I found the perfect one in New Orleans but the shop was out and they didn’t know when they would get more in, if ever.”

They spoke of the things on the list Emma had already done and of plans yet to be fulfilled. They debated about the best wedding colors despite the fact that Emma’s mind was made up about white, navy and cream. They went over the guest list Emma had scribbled on a piece of binder paper that morning, adding names and taking a few off; so it wasn’t for another hour and a half that the question finally came up.

“So. Not inviting Regina, huh?” Ruby asked looking as though she was trying to prove she wasn’t uncomfortable and lighting herself another cigarette.

Emma squirmed and shrugged, “It didn’t seem like a good idea. I thought inviting her would just be a source of upset for everyone involved. Stirring the pot, you know? She doesn’t even know I’m in town - unless you told her that is.”

Ruby shook her head; “I haven’t seen her in a few weeks. I talked to her on the phone for a few minutes maybe a week ago, but I wasn’t sure if I should tell her or not. I gotta say, it still blows my mind that you two aren’t friends anymore.”

“Did she ever tell you what happened?” Emma asked, avoiding Ruby’s eyes. If Regina hadn’t told her then Emma sure as hell wasn’t going to.

“Yeah. She did - and not very long ago either.” Ruby lost her sparkle for the first time that evening. “Six months ago or so, we came out here and meant just to have a drink or two. But you know how it can sometimes be when you don’t see a friend very often, one thing led to another. She told me on martini number five, I think.” They sat in silence for a while, watching the debacle of drunken youth around them before Ruby asked “So when are you going to try and find a dress?”

The subject was successfully changed until the end of the evening when Ruby was walking her to her car.

She had just lit a cigarette and was studying the tip, “Soooo, are you planning on seeing her? I just ask because I want to be sure I’m in Boston that day.”

Emma laughed soft and breathy, studying the toe of her shoe. She had been waiting for this question from Ruby since she had informed her she would be in town for an extended stay.

“Come on Emma, you should have told her you were coming at least. It’s just fair. You don’t know if she wants to see you or not.”

“God, you and my mother. She doesn’t want to see me, Ruby. If there is one thing, I’m sure of it’s that. Besides, even if she did, I don’t know if I would. I’m not sure that I could handle that successfully, you know? I just think that’s a door that should stay closed.” A thought occurred to her, “Unless you know something I don’t?”

Ruby shrugged and shook her head, knowing the battle wasn’t hers to fight, “She doesn’t ask about you very often. But Em, eventually you’re going to have to deal with this.”

Emma sighed, pushing a bead of sweat off of her face; “I’ll cross that bridge if I get to it.”

Ruby nodded looking determined, “You need to call her Emma.”

“What?”

“You have the ability to fix it and you should.”

“Ruby! If you know the whole story then -“

“I know, I know” Ruby conceded in a much softer tone, “but here’s the thing. Maybe you don’t know the whole story.”

“What?” She barked, instantly on edge.

“I just mean you never know, Em. Just think about it, alright?”

It was strange to Emma to think she was standing with someone who had actually seen Regina recently. Regina had been so far removed from her life that these days she felt more like a character in a book – stuff of legend. “How is she?”

Ruby shrugged again, unrevealing, “She seems fine. Busy. She’s uh; she’s had a lot going on in the past few months. I guess she finished her residency early a couple of months ago and is doing a fellowship or something with an urgent care clinic in Portland. I’m not sure; she said something a bit like that, but you were always the one who understood the medical jargon.”

Emma smiled a bit, “Well I grew up listening to it.”

Ruby shrugged again, “All that I know is she’s very busy like I said, and I think she just started seeing this chick a few months ago. That’s it.”

Emma nodded, surprised by the tiny green monster in her chest. She had preferred to think of Regina as a lone wolf since their friendship had broken.

“I think she’s doing well. I think she misses you.”

Emma snorted but only said, “Well we both miss one another, that isn’t the point. All right, I should go.” Emma had cut herself off.

She kissed Ruby’s cheek and promised that she would call her before she and her mother did any more wedding shopping.

“Oh and Ruby!” She remembered at the last second, “You’re my maid of honor.”

Ruby laughed and hugged her, “I’m touched, I really am. Oh! You wanna have your bachelorette party in Boston? We can go to a strip club!”

Emma smiled, “We’ll see.”

Just before Emma turned to start the short walk toward her mother's house she saw a flash of something cross Ruby’s face. Something like sadness? Was she thinking the same thing that Emma’s mother had pointed out? That the job really shouldn’t be hers?

This was getting fucking frustrating.

 


 

The next few weeks went at a steady pace. Emma spent the mornings, tinkering with ideas for book number three or with her mother and the afternoons and evenings with Ruby planning her wedding. It was an enjoyable schedule and while she missed Hanna, who had become increasingly busy, it was a treat to see her friends and family.

She worked devilishly hard every day with single-minded devotion to throw together what could almost be called last minute wedding plans. So when she woke a few mornings after the month marker of her visit she was shocked and perhaps a bit alarmed to discover that she had nothing to do. Yes, there were still items and events yet to be planned but mostly they were the things that didn’t need to be planned until closer to the wedding.

She yawned and got up. How had the month passed so quickly and ugh, why did she feel like shit? Somehow she had found that she was waking throughout the night these days. She didn’t know why but she was exhausted. She contemplated the bed wondering if she should just get back in it before shaking the thought off. She went for a run as she did every morning and then took a long shower only to find herself in her bedroom staring around vacantly.

She tried to watch some mindless television but was soon bored. She just wasn’t the type of person to have a lot of idle time. She was in many ways self-employed and that meant work, work, work.

She spent an hour on the phone with Hanna while Hanna dealt with paperwork in her office and was bored again the moment that she hung up. What did people who followed the traditional five-day business week do on a Saturday afternoon? She picked at her plot idea - which she hated - and gave up quickly.

“Mom, you want to go to a movie or something?”

Her mother laughed cheerfully, “You mean there is one out that you haven’t seen yet?” Emma loved stories of all kind, so movies and books were her favorite things. In New Orleans when she was in between publishing, she wrote off and on for a number of magazines that focused on different topics but the general theme was pop culture. She did a lot of film critiquing, theatre critiquing, celebrity gossip and blogging for young adults.

“Of course! I only see screenings of the ones I’m writing about and trust me; those usually aren’t the ones that I want to see anyway. Those magazines usually review movies for teenagers, so most that I see have zombies in them or vampires in love.”

They lazily headed one town over to the movie theater where they saw a late summer drama that jerked their tear buds while keeping them laughing for two hours. It was simple, enjoyable and quickly forgotten the moment that it was over.

“Oh!” Her mother suggested as they walked toward the car, “There is an amazing seafood restaurant up the street. Are you hungry? Do you want to go for lunch somewhere besides Granny’s?”

Emma nodded vigorously, “That sounds amazing, though, don’t tell Ruby.”

 


 

Even the smell of the restaurant was tantalizing as they walked in. The smell was crisp and clean as though someone had brought the beach inside in food form. The mix of seafood, fresh bread and lemon had Emma’s mouth watering before they sat down.

“Man, that smells fantastic! There is a lot of seafood in New Orleans - obviously. It’s their main food, but everything is always covered in Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or Walker & Sons 'Slap Yo Mama' Cajun mix. I can’t remember the last time I smelled” she sniffed appreciatively, “a bowl of clam chowder. And you know what else is nice?”

“What?” her mother grinned.

“When I open the menu I bet there won’t be any alligator it.”

“What?”

“Yup.”

“Have you tried it?”

Emma laughed, “Yeah I have. I don’t mean this to be funny, but it literally tastes like chicken. Next time you visit us we will have to take you for it.”

Mary grimaced, “Oh that’s okay honey.”

The restaurant was a nice one, and the food tasted as though it had been cooked in someone’s home kitchen instead of a business. Soon their bellies were filling as they chatted away about the margarita night they had with Ruby the evening before.

“When did you get a taste for margaritas, mom? I’m almost proud of you.”

Her mother laughed, blushing a bit, “You can blame Mrs. Lucas for that one. Ruby’s grandmother had a taste for strong drinks. The last few years before she died we became quite close.”

Emma knew this and guiltily ran her fingers through her hair, “God I should have come home for the funeral. What was I thinking?”

“Ruby understood, honey and that’s all that matters.”

Emma shrugged; none of that information surprised her. Ruby had always been far too forgiving.

“It’s not as though I drink them often anymore.”

“I don’t know, mom, maybe you should. It –“

Her mother's eyes shot wide and she grinned suddenly making Emma falter for a moment.

“What?”

A look of raw nerves passed over her face before she seemed to make a choice. Mary's face set then changed into one of maternal excitement, “Oh look hon” she waved over Emma’s head, “It's Regina! Hey, Ginny!”

A boulder dropped hard into the pit of Emma’s stomach and her face flushed both hot and cold at once with dread. “What?” She squawked, whipping around, her heart immediately pounding in her ears. She knew this was inevitable, but this was so soon, too soon. And in Portland? She had kept her guard up around Storybrooke, always sure to look her best when she went anywhere, expecting that this would indeed happen but what the hell was Regina doing in Portland? “Mom, stop it. Please stop waving.” Emma’s meddling radar was starting to ping. She couldn’t have brought her here knowing Regina was there. This couldn’t be a setup, could it? No, that was silly - paranoid even.

There was a strange mixture of feelings brewing in her as she searched the room. Most of her wanted to melt into the tablecloth or bolt for the door, so she didn’t have to deal with this crap. She even went so far as to wonder what her mother would do if she grabbed her and headed for the car. Did she have enough cash in her wallet to throw on the table and go or did she need to wait for her credit card to be picked up and returned? No, her mother would never allow that type of rudeness, so she took the option off the table. Besides even as these thoughts flew, and her eyes cartwheeled around the room her feet were glued firmly to the ground, too much in a state of shock to move. A small voice in her mind taunted her mercilessly for her lack of motion. She thought desperately, go, do something, you’re not ready for this! Where was she, anyway? She couldn’t find her.

Then she saw her at the far end of the room; her blank face only just beginning to turn at the sound of the horrible nickname Mary had given her at the age of twelve. For a second, confusion passed through her expression, unable to follow the voice and then smiling widely, she saw Mary. Her eyes instantly grew bright, happy to see her surrogate mother. For some reason, they had always gotten along well; better than Emma and Mary had gotten on in the early years.

Emma blinked, impressed and overwhelmed by the sight of her. Had she always been that beautiful? No, surely not. Or was it that Emma had just been used to the sight of her before she moved? Was it like sitting next to a stadium light? Eventually, your eyes became accustomed to the shine?

Regina looked back at her table perhaps to place her napkin down but her head jerked back up reflexively in a double take. With what would have been an audible pop Regina’s face dropped into one of astonishment, her large eyes going as round as dinner plates and her mouth falling slack as she made momentary eye contact with Emma.

Emma’s mouth went dry. No, her mother hadn’t brought her here knowing Regina would be here - Regina’s face told her that she had not known that Emma would be there.

The surprised look on Regina’s face look only lasted a moment before one eyebrow twitched up, changing into what was her polite and professionally amused smile; the one she had perfected while learning to have proper bedside manner. Emma’s heart tore at the sight of it, not only because it was devastatingly dazzling but also because Emma knew it so well. She had seen it used so often with others but never had she been the one on the receiving end. It read of nice, polite professionalism but was detached and impersonal. It was the face that your doctor makes when you are fumbling through your symptoms for an illness your doctor already knows you do not have.

If Regina hesitated in her seat, it was only a moment. She rose; her eyes warmly back on Mary as if Emma was not there at all.

Emma did her best not to study the woman and failed.

Much of Regina was the same; she was straight-backed and lean as if she still worked out regularly. Her arms were soft yet clearly defined and Emma would have bet her stomach and legs would have been much the same under her loose violet scrubs. Her hair, which had always been a point of envy between Regina and other girls they had grown up with, was still the same shade of rich chestnut; dark enough to be stark but warm enough to make her lightly bronzed skin glow golden. It was long, much longer than Emma had ever seen it and was now pulled back into a French braid that reached mid-back, clearly not for style but out of convenience. Perhaps the change wasn’t in her physical appearance at all but instead the change came in her face. What was it? Then it dawned on her; age, the difference just like Ruby, was age.

Emma would not have thought the passing of five years would have taken such a toll on the face of her former best friend but looking at Regina as she weaved between chairs she knew it had.

She had been twenty-six when Emma had last seen her and in that time she had lost her girlish features. It wasn’t that her face had developed wrinkles, at thirty-one Regina was still too young for that, but it was as if her face had developed the markers and pathways where her life lines and laugh lines would come in future years.

Did time show itself so obviously on Emma’s face? Had she simply missed her own transition from youthful girl to woman or had it happened so slowly that she was accustomed to the change before it ever registered?

As Regina approached, she moved with the steady confidence that could only be developed by knowing that you were not only one of the most attractive people in the room but also one of the most intelligent as well. It was an air that Regina had developed in late high school. Emma knew that the attitude had always intimidated those who barely knew Regina, but she had never felt its effects - until today when a shiver licked up her spine. The feeling only lasted a moment, but it threw her more than any of the other sensations had.

Emma pushed a few tendrils of her hair back subtly, wished she had dressed up a bit before leaving the house. Her hair was springy spirals of yellow blonde when washed and styled but at the moment hung disheveled and limp brushed out before her run and thrown in a quick ponytail. She wore little makeup and to top it off her yoga pants and comfy tee shirt hung just a little too loosely for her to feel confident in this meeting. She had been going for comfort this morning and now she regretted it. If she was going to see someone she had this kind history with she would have liked to at least look good while she did it. She took a deep breath and tried to prepare, smearing her face with a mannerly though cold smile like war paint.

Regina went immediately to Mary, “How are you?” She tentatively lifted Mary’s arm studying something in the wrist, Regina’s face reading clearly, don’t worry I’m a doctor. “You have bags under your eyes, is it still bothering you? Are you still having trouble sleeping?”

“Oh, only a little bit. Oh, Ginny.” Mary chided.

“Do you want something to help you sleep?”

“No, sweetie. I’m fine. It will work itself out naturally.”

Emma looked between them alarmed and confused. What were they talking about? Had her mother hurt herself? She hadn’t said anything about it if she had. Since when did she tell Regina things and not me? Emma’s inner voice laughed; always.

“It’s so good to see you!” Her mother cried, wrapping her in a tight hug that Regina returned generously. “You never called me back last week; I was hoping we could have dinner.”

“I’m sorry mom, I have just been very busy at work. Next week? I’m off Thursday.”

“Great. How’s-”

“Good, good.” Regina smiled politely over Mary, checking her watch for the time.

Her mother smiled and kissed her cheek again, “Stop working so hard, honey, it’s not good for you.”

Regina chuckled darkly and finally, with open reluctance, turned her eyes to Emma.

She quickly tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and squared her shoulders; no way in hell she was backing down from this now that Regina stood in front of her.

“Em. You’re in town.”

Emma couldn’t read the look on Regina’s face as she said this, but the use of the old nickname sent shivers of nostalgia, which Emma resented, through her.

“Hello.” Regina finished flatly.

Emma smiled in response, finally standing and doing her very best to pull off comfortable or even casual, “Regina. You look good.”

“As do you.”

It was awkward. It was tense. Emma’s mother beamed between them blindly as though she could not tell in the slightest that neither had a single idea of what to say next.

“I haven’t seen you since-“ Regina let the sentence fall away, but Emma understood. That day, the rest of the thought would have been I haven’t seen you since that day. Emma shuffled her feet but stood a little taller.

“Right, uh yeah. I guess that’s true. Uh, I hear you’re a full-fledged doctor now.” The words were lame, but they were all that came to her mind.

“Ah yes, very astute of you. Was it the outfit or the nametag that gave it away?”

Emma’s lips pressed into a hard line as she swallowed her retort. Not in front of her mother, she would not tell this pompous ass where she could shove it while in front of her mom.

“Ginny, stop that. Come sit down and have lunch with us.”

Emma sat again, taking a sip of water and blatantly ignoring the fact that Regina was clearly and unabashedly watching her.

“Thank you, mom, but I have just finished. I have to head back to work. I will call you about next week, all right?”

Mary nodded sadly. If Mary had previously had some idea of how things would go upon her two girls meeting again, it had not looked like this.

Regina watched Emma for another unending moment before, “All right, I better go. I’m on my lunch break.” She kissed Mary’s cheek and then looked back at Emma with something different on her face. Amusement? Speculation? “Emma. Good to see you. Enjoy your trip home.”

“Thank you. Good to see you too.”

She watched Regina cross back to her table, put some money to the side of her plate and then with only a small, polite smile for them she started for the door.

Emma felt as though she had just broken through the surface of cold water.

She meant to look away, to dismiss the woman as soon as she was out of her personal space but her eyes weren’t obeying her orders. She watched Regina move through the restaurant and out the door. Just before she disappeared past the large front window she looked back, pursing her lips. Their eyes snagged together for a moment and Emma’s heart skipped a beat, jumping into her throat with a vice grip. Then Regina disappeared past her viewpoint and back out of her life.

Emma felt the abrupt and unexpected pull of loss. Her heart hurt and she was forced to wince tightly to avoid the stinging of tears. For a moment, she wanted nothing more than for her old friend to come back and have all of this be over, the anger, the fighting and the refusal to speak to the other. For the first time in a while she missed her. In that second, Emma missed her best friend, she missed her lover, her confidant, her former other half; she missed it all. Maybe that was the look Regina was sporting too? She pictured her face as it passed by the glass again. No, it wasn’t. She wasn’t sure what it was.

Then the feeling was gone, replaced by the memory of looking out the airplane window as she waited for it to begin its taxi to the runway five short years before.

She shook her head. “Um, do you mind if we head home? I really want a nap.”

Her mother nodded, and they paid.

Emma had to work hard not to look around the parking lot to see if Regina was still there and instead march straight to the car, unlock it and get in.

“Ma, what was Regina talking about?”

“What’s that?” Mary asked distracted.

“She said you hurt yourself.”

“Oh, Emma it’s nothing. I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Okay – so then what happened?”

“Oh, I just had a little fall. I tripped over one of the children at school. It was nothing, just a sprain about a month ago.”

“Mom!”

Mary waved her hand quickly, brushing Emma’s concern away, “Oh I was fine there was no need to worry you.”

“But you should have told me, I could have been there for you or – I dunno - something.”

Her mother sighed, her shoulders lifting and falling without concern.

“Why would you tell Regina instead of me?”

Mary chuckled, “well Regina is my doctor.”

Emma huffed. What was the point of being hurt? Mary did things like that all of the time.

She hadn’t realized the car had fallen into silence until her mother softly said her name.

“Hm?”

“Emma.” Her mother said again, commanding her attention with a soft but maternally stern voice.

“What’s up, mom?”

“Emma, that is your best friend in the entire world. You have known that girl since you were nine years old, that’s twenty years, honey. What the hell happened? I’m tired of you refusing to tell me. I have a right to know.”

Emma’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. Her Olivia-Walton-Wannabe mother swore so rarely that when she did the word rang through with the force she was demanding of the situation. “Wait, you have a right to know? Why? It’s between her and I!”

“Emma Nolan-”

She shook her head irritated, “Mom! Stop! It’s not a big deal, can we let it go? Just trust that some things happened and our friendship couldn’t be the same after it.”

“Some things happened? What does that mean, honey? What are you trying not to say? Why have you refused to tell me for so long?”

“We just had a fight. It was all very personal, I don’t know.” She focused her attention on the road taking deep cleansing breaths struggling to open her tight chest. She couldn't; the memories that had begun flooding through her the moment they started the car were winning the war for her attention, placing her carefully in a pool of depression. She thought of the feeling of Regina’s forehead against hers as they finally kissed. The feeling of Regina’s hand on her thigh as they fell asleep, something she had done for years before they ever became romantic. She rejected the thought, marveling that it was still so painful to think of. Hadn’t that feeling faded? Or had coming to town reenergized its power like ripping the scab off of a nearly healed wound? Memories continued to pour through her like burning fire, young Regina making a silly face at Emma in response to some sarcastic comment she had just made. Regina surprising her the night of her junior prom after Emma’s girlfriend had dumped her twenty-four hours before the big event. The sound of their combined laughter had been the soundtrack of her life until - she shook her shoulders as if shaking off dust and turned on her mother.

“So you guys go out together a lot, huh?” She was trying for casual and thought she had done a decent job.

Mary had not been fooled and came out of the gate swinging, the no-nonsense don’t-start-with-me-Emma-Nolan clear in her voice. “Emma. I nursed that girl when she was sick. I cleaned her bloody knees when she fell. It was me, not Cora, who spent many a night when she was in college on the phone with her helping her through her testing anxiety. I have been there every birthday for the last twenty years. When she broke her foot, it was me who spent hours upon hours with her, pouring over all of those books about orthopedics while she was on bed rest. I was the one who convinced her mother that she should let her go into medicine instead of politics like Cora wanted. She is a daughter to me.”

“I know, mom, I didn’t mean it that way -”

“Just because you have decided she is not welcome in your life anymore does not mean I have or that I will.” Her mother's words were chiding and sliced to the point.

“You’re right, I’m – I’m sorry.” Emma said softly, thoroughly put in her place.

Her mother sized her up frankly for a moment before dropping the subject, in her storm of maternal rage.

Emma had brought the mama bear out in her mother, and she didn’t like that it was for Regina’s sake. If her mother only knew what had actually happened between them then perhaps she wouldn’t feel so strongly. She wished for just a moment that she could simply tell her the story without being the evil person who tattled to her mother. The more she resisted, keeping her mother in the dark, the more she was beginning to feel like a villain for keeping Regina at bay.

She sighed and looked back out of the window, but there was no point in even thinking about it. She couldn’t tell Regina’s friends and loved ones about the way Regina had left her cold. It wasn’t right.

When they arrived home, she kissed her Mary's cheek and apologized again, feeling fourteen and as if she had been sent to her room. She immediately went upstairs and crawled under the blankets of her bed, dialing Hanna’s phone number.

Hanna picked up after a few rings, but Emma found that she didn’t know what to say.

“Babe?” Hanna asked unsure by the silence on the other end.

“Hi, babe.” Emma said weakly and without warning a floodgate of tears broke and began to pour down her face. She wished Hanna were with her. The life she had been living, the new life she had made for herself in New Orleans was beginning to feel so far away and she didn’t like that. And Regina, fucking Regina with those cold damned eyes -

“Babe!” Hanna cried in shock, “What’s wrong?”

It’s look Emma a few minutes to slow her tears enough to force recognizable words to come out of her snotty mouth.

“My mother fell and sprained her wrist recently and didn’t tell me.”

“What? Why didn’t she tell you?”

“She said she didn’t want to worry me.”

“Okay. What happened? Why are you upset?”

“Because my mother fell, sprained her wrist and didn’t tell me.”

“Well is she okay now?” Hanna asked, clearly not understanding.

“I think so, but I guess she is still in a little bit of pain. I didn’t even realize. What, is my head up my own ass so often that I don’t even notice she’s in pain?”

“Emma, don’t beat yourself up. You didn’t know. It happens. Mary pointedly hid her pain from you as a matter of fact.”

“I know.”

Hanna was silent for a long minute, “That what you are upset about, is it?”

“No. That sucks, but I’m not surprised by it.”

“Then what is it?”

“Nothing, it’s stupid.” She seized and threw a pillow across the room and then feeling silly and embarrassed but a little better, she sat back down on the bed. “I just ran into someone that I hadn’t really expected to and kind of didn’t want to. Well, that’s not true, I think I expected to eventually but I wasn’t - ready.”

“Who?”

Emma could hear papers shuffling in the background and wished that she could get Hanna’s full attention for just a few minutes.

“Do you remember me telling you about my best friend growing up? The one I kind of don’t talk to anymore?”

“Of course I do, I assumed that was who you meant when you said you were worried about running into people. What was her name? Rachel? Rebecca?”

“Regina.”

“Oh right. You ran into her? Was it uncomfortable? I mean that’s shitty but you just blew her off, right? No big deal.”

Emma sighed; Hanna had been the wrong person to call. In hindsight it seemed clear now. She should have called Ruby. Ruby knew the whole story and therefore, could actually discuss the issue; she didn’t know how to explain it to Hanna.

“It just made me feel like crap.”

Someone on the other end of the line yelled something offensive and loud, “I’m sorry babe.”

“It’s not just that though. I know that the fight that ended our friendship was a two-way street and everything but if the blame rested on one of us more than the other then it's her. She did the shitty thing. I just reacted. Yet I’m starting to feel like everyone around here expects me to be the one to fix it. I don’t get it. I doubt it can even be fixed. I don’t know why I have been assigned this job, but it’s beginning to feel like a lot, you know? Ruby even went as far as to tell me that I needed to fix it. What the fuck?”

“Umm hmm.” Hanna mumbled into the phone and Emma knew she had lost her to the paperwork.

“Uh, do you think I could just have a minute, please?”

“What? Oh. Sorry. Say that again.”

Emma repeated herself, trying not to feel the sting of being ignored.

“Well,” Hanna said considering, “tell me what she did. Maybe others are seeing a side of the situation that you don’t.”

There was silence between them for a while. Emma knew this was her perfect opportunity to tell Hanna about this oh-so-legendary of fights but when push came to shove something held her back. “No, if it’s all right I think I better go. I can’t just sit here and let myself be a baby and I don’t really want to rehash the fight right now.”

“Are you sure? We can talk some more. I’m sorry about losing focus. I’m kind of curious. Unless, do you need to go now?”

“I do. Thanks for uh, listening.”

“Oh, okay. No problem.” They said a quick goodbye and after she had hung up, she decided to take a nap.

Sleep cures all and seriously, screw this.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When she woke from her short nap, she found a note in the kitchen saying her mother had gone out to see a friend. Emma thought about what she should do now and decided there was nothing to do but try to continue working on her wedding plans so back to Portland she went.

It occurred to her that she should call Ruby but decided to be with her own thoughts and keep her sour mood from infecting anyone else.

She pulled into the tiny mall, unsure of what she was looking for as she browsed through a few department stores. She didn’t have any real interest in shopping. No, what she was really doing was running from her feelings - and she knew it. She should have told Hanna about the fight. That had been the right thing to do so why hadn’t she done it? She liked to pride herself as an honest person; what was holding her back?

She flipped through a rack of jackets absentmindedly, lingering on a short red leather number.

It was because of that fight; that’s why she hadn’t spilled the beans.

Pulling the jacket off the rack she slipped it on and began searching for a mirror.

It had been the first year of their relationship and had brought about the first of many semi break ups. Emma had run into a woman on the street while she and Hanna had been shopping. At first Emma couldn’t remember her despite the warm hug that she had been greeted with. Then she realized it was a woman whom she had been on one date with long before she and Hanna had ever become serious. The exchange hadn’t been awkward at all, both women having agreed that they were not interested in the other; as a matter of fact the meeting had even been pleasant. She and the woman had caught up for a minute before saying a polite goodbye, expecting never to see one another again. As she and Hanna had continued on their way Hanna had begun to question her casually about how she knew the woman, becoming more and more irate as Emma explained. It was then that Emma had learned about Hanna’s powerfully jealous nature. Hanna had verbosely dismissed Emma on a street corner, an act that had stunned and infuriated Emma to the core.

The break up had been a small one. Hanna called a few days later to apologize taking complete responsibility for the asinine situation and their relationship had continued; though never exactly the same as it had been. Still Emma couldn’t help but to think that the reaction she had seen then was partially to blame for her reluctance now.

Still, was that any excuse to continue to keep something from her that she thought Hanna might want to know? She decided as she studied herself in the mirror, pleased with the red leather, that she would call Hanna when she left and explain everything. Hanna couldn’t really be upset after all since it had all happened before they had known one another and even if she were, Emma was thousands of miles away where Hanna’s temper couldn’t reach her.

She found a comfortable looking nightgown and headed to the store’s café to call Hanna.

“I’m calling a lot today, aren’t I?” Emma mused.

“Hmmm.” Hanna mumbled, noncommittally. “What’s up?”

“Okay so, I was thinking about what we were discussing earlier and –“

Hanna sighed deeply obviously put out, “Emma, if it’s alright can we not talk about this right now? I just gave you a half an hour and got chewed out. I don’t have time for you right now.”

Hanna’s answer surprised Emma and reflexively she let out a surprised, “Whoa!”

“I’m sorry,” Hanna said briskly, “but I just can’t, okay?”

“Okay.” Emma cried, defensively surprised, “I’m sorry I got you into trouble.”

“It’s okay. Look I have to go right now.” Then Hanna was gone before Emma could process. Emma scowled at the blank phone, a stitch forming in her side.

She rubbed it and tried not to feel bad. Hanna’s boss was a dick, and if he discovered Hanna had been using office time to speak to her, then he would be angry. He would probably purposely leave her office door open so the entire firm could be witness to her humiliation, as he often did. Still Hanna’s bite had hurt a little bit.

She checked her watch. What was Hanna doing at the office so late anyway?

She crankily went through the checkout line with the merchandise and without thinking was rude to the slow cashier. She felt awful the moment the acid tone came out of her. She was just not having a good evening.

“Shit. I’m so sorry.” Her voice was openly pathetic as she apologized to the youth, “I didn’t mean to be a jerk. The reason I’m upset is not your fault, kid.”

The cashier just shrugged as if he expected all of his customers to treat him rudely, which only made Emma feel worse. His job must suck.

She decided as she pulled out of the malls parking lot that she wanted to cook. She wasn’t the best cook despite the classes she took when Hanna was working on a case and therefore gone a lot, but it was still one of her favorite things to do. She would put on some music and just get lost in the organized chaos of preparing a meal.

She called Mary and told her not to eat dinner and Mary agreed thrilled. Then Emma rushed through the store plucking the ingredients off the shelf with a sure hand.

As she wandered through the store she thought of Hanna’s brush off. Did it really matter if Emma told her about Regina anyway? It’s not like they would ever meet.

That thought made Emma laugh out loud despite her surroundings. Hanna and Regina. Would they like one another? Would it bother her or please her if they did? Regina had never liked any of Emma’s girlfriends though she guessed that the reason had eventually become clear enough. Hanna was highly territorial and Regina in their past friendship had always been extremely protective and somewhat possessive. She was reasonably sure the combination would have made them hate one another.

She headed home and went straight to the kitchen with her bags.

“Oooh, what’d you get?”

Emma grinned for the first time since the movie that afternoon, “New jacket. Awesome, right?”

Her mother nodded in approval and then fawned over the new nightgown as though her daughter had brought her gold instead of sleepwear.

“Music?” Her mother asked, pouring her a glass of wine.

“Yeah, sure.”

“What would you like?” Mary grabbed Emma’s phone and plugged it into a small dock on the counter.

Emma frowned. Hanna was something of a House kind of girl and while Emma enjoyed that she tended toward something a bit more Sonic Youth/Massive Attack-like. Tonight though, Emma wanted something a little more soothing. They put on Emma’s favorite Miles Davis CD and smiled together as the music began.

“I didn’t know you liked jazz, honey.” Her mother smiled to herself as she commented.

“Oh – yeah.” She was living in the city of jazz; perhaps it had rubbed off, but no, the influence had been earlier than that, hadn’t it? Regina had always been in love with music far past her age.

Emma swayed a little as she let her thoughts roam, listening to her mother lightly sing the words to the old standard Miles was playing. She had just begun dicing tomatoes to stir into the pot when a memory hit Emma so hard that, for a moment she thought she would burst into tears all over again. She could almost taste a night much like any of the nights that had passed in this kitchen before she moved. Her mother and Regina dancing to this CD as the three of them cooked, taking turns stirring, laughing, and inoffensively instructing the others on exactly how the meal should be cooked as they enjoyed one another's company. The warmth, the love and the familial bond between them filling the room and making the food taste better despite the fact that sometimes the dancing meant the onions burned. She had felt so content in those moments, so at home. She had known exactly who she was then and exactly what she had wanted from life.

Her chest and side began to ache as though fire had breathed through her. Where had that simple kind of happiness gone? When was the last time that she had been that type of happy?

Was she...unhappy?

The question electrocuted through her as if she had stuck a fork into an outlet, and she convulsed. A yell of disgusted shock ripped from her throat. The knife, which she had sharpened prior to cooking, had twisted at her jerk and instead of forcing it through the tomato she had been dicing; it had forced itself deeply into and across the pad of her thumb.

She froze for a moment unable to function as she watched the blood pool on the cutting board - until the sensation caught up with her traumatized brain. She yelped dropping the knife and without consciously choosing to, began to jump spasmodically around the room yelping like a kicked puppy and swearing like a sailor.

“Emma? What happened?” her mother cried, grabbing her hand which only made Emma howl.

Her stomach rolled. Gross. Ugh, fuckin’ gross. “No stop touching it! Mooooooom!” she cried trying to pull her hand back from her mother, but Mary refused to let go. Instead she steadily pushed her toward the sink, calm as only a woman with years of motherhood and teaching accident-prone children under her belt could be.

She ignored Emma’s complaints and protests, pulling her until she reached her target, turning the cold water on in a rush. Emma squeezed her eyes shut as her thumb was hastily thrust under. Her mother let out a high moan.

“What?” Emma glanced at it, feeling a little dizzy, shock making her shake violently. The amount of blood pouring from the cut told her that they had a problem.

“Wrap it in this,” her mother ordered handing her a clean dish towel “and get in the car.”

Emma moaned again “Maaaa!”

“Emma.” Mary said warningly in her best Teacher Nolan voice and Emma shut up and did as she was told.

She sat quietly in the car, numbly watching the towel turn slowly crimson as they drove.

Her mother stopped abruptly in the parking lot and threw the car into park, “Can you get out all right?”

“Huh?” Emma asked stupidly, confused and perhaps slightly in shock, “I thought we were going to the hospital. Dr. Whale?”

“Oh no, honey. It seemed smarter to come here. The hospital is always so busy. They will be able to see you quickly here. This is where I came when I fell and when I got the ear infection.”

“Oh.” Emma got up in a daze and shuffled inside.

“Hi,” Mary said briskly to the receptionist, “my daughter sliced her finger open. I’m pretty sure she needs stitches.”

Emma held her hand up to the woman, bloody towel and all as if in proof.

“Name?”

“Emma Nolan.” Emma said, trying to gather her wits. She was a twenty-nine-year-old woman for god sake; she needed to pull herself together. She could take care of herself; she just needed to pay attention.

“All right Miss. Nolan, fill these out and bring them back up when you’re done.”

Emma stared for a moment uncomprehending or perhaps more accurately unbelieving, “Do what?”

The woman repeated herself and Emma started to laugh but stopped at the look on her mother's face. She apologized quietly and followed her mother to a nearby seat. “I’m bleeding profusely and I have to fill out a few forms before I can be seen.” She whispered sarcastically and wilted under the withering look she received.

“Hold that up, above your heart.” Mary ordered. “I suppose I should find it comforting that you find this amusing.” She asked for her insurance card and began filling the forms out for her idiot of a daughter.

Emma watched her mother turn the paperwork back in and sat waiting, shuddering and trying not to look at her hand. The sight of blood did not upset her as a rule, but the thought of the squishy chomp as the knife cut through her skin made Emma feel as if she was going to be sick.

Her ears had begun to ring the slightest bit, so she tried to distract herself by watching the judge show that was on the public television station in the waiting room.

She thought about texting Hanna but decided against it. Perhaps she would message her in the morning and give Hanna some space tonight.

“Emma Nolan!” A small man called from a door across the room and she jumped up, rushing to him holding her bleeding hand away from herself as if it might come to life and bite her.

“Emma, do you want me to come with you?” her mother called after her but she shook her head quickly. She already felt a bit like a child slicing her finger open.

“It’s okay mom, why don’t you run to Starbucks and get us a coffee or something? Don’t sit here and worry.”

Her mother smiled a little and pointed to the TV with a silly grin, “I love these shows.”

Emma laughed weakly and followed the man into the maze of rooms beyond the door.

He took her weight, height and temperature before shuttling her into a room and ordering her to sit on the edge of the combination examining table and bed.

“How did you get the injury?” He asked with professional disconnected curiosity looking down at the newly made chart.

“Uh, cutting vegetables for dinner.”

He nodded as if he heard this every day and wrote something in the manila folder.

“Are you allergic to any medications?”

“No.”

“Okay let’s see.”

Emma unwrapped it and looked away, trying to ignore the feeling of his fingers poking the steady pulsing of the wound. Her thumb felt like the giant and throbbing red one in old Bugs Bunny cartoons after someone hit it with a mallet.

“Yup,” he nodded, agreeing with something in his head, taking his gloves off and said cheerily, “The doctor should be in soon.” He sloppily bandaged the finger to control the bleeding and unceremoniously left.

She scowled.

Twice Emma read the posters on the wall about ear infections and STD awareness, finding them equally as uninteresting and foul both times. Just as Emma was beginning to squirm, there was a small knock on the door announcing the arrival of the doctor. Emma cleared her throat and invited them in.

“Oh, are you fucking kidding me? You’ve got to be kidding me.” The words had popped out of Emma’s mouth before she had a chance to stop them. Her mother had set her up, that traitor! She clenched her fists in anger and gasped as her thumb pulsed and gushed.

“Fuck.”

Regina stood, Emma’s paperwork in hand, just inside the door and slowly raised one eyebrow. “Twice. Look at that. I suppose it is my lucky day.” her tone dry and steely.

This day was bound to get worse and worse, wasn’t it?

“Careful. Don’t make me drop a house on you.” Emma muttered, grimacing as her thumb gave a particularly painful throb.

Regina’s eyebrow just continued to rise.

“My mother set me up!” Emma said in wonder. She had so many strongly chosen words to say to her mother right now. Unlike lunch, there was no way that Mary hadn’t done this on purpose. Emma hadn’t realized it at the time, worried about her thumb but if Regina was here that meant that her mother had driven her all the way to fucking Portland.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.” Regina shook her head, “She comes here whenever she needs to see a doctor. I’m sure she came here out of habit.”

Emma bit her lip to stop herself from petulantly arguing. She tried to wrap her head around the idea of not being a child about this. The problem was that if ever there was a time she didn’t want Regina sprung on her it was when she was bleeding freely from an appendage. “Hi. Sorry.”

Regina chuckled darkly again, “It’s okay. You cut yourself, I see.”

“Very astute of you. Was it the bloody towel or the fact that I am in a doctor's office that gave it away?”

Regina glared and Emma smirked.

The cross brunette slipped on a pair of blue gloves, openly appraising her again. Emma looked away, uncomfortable, and instead studied her thumb. Had Regina always had this way of staring that made her feel completely naked?

“Let me see, please.” She waited, patiently and finally Emma groaned and put her injured hand into Regina’s, trying not to notice how to felt to touch her, in even this small way. She squirmed a little but froze as Regina looked up and gave her a glare that read clearly stop moving, idiot.

Emma’s retort was to glare down at her with the power of years and years of teenage fights behind it but Regina did not see, busy examining the wound with angel soft touches.

Regina’s absorption in her task left Emma free to take her time giving her a thorough once over, curiosity killing the cat as usual.

It was strange looking down at the face of her former best friend. It was a face she knew so well; she had known it most of her life. She had known it intimately and yet now she wasn’t sure. Did her nose still wrinkle in the way it used to when she was deeply absorbed in a thought? Did her eyes still expand into huge saucers when she heard something she deemed stupid? Who was the woman behind the face that looked so much like her youthful friend?

Regina’s head tilted in the opposite direction, studying the cut and her nose wrinkled just a bit. Emma grinned to herself; apparently some things never change.

After a minute, Regina pulled back and pulled her gloves off, “It looks like you will need a few stitches. You’ve lost the pad of your thumb, but it doesn’t look too bad. It should be an easy job and it probably won’t even be sore after a few days. You will have a strange scar though, I’m sorry.”

Stitches? She felt the blood drain from her face as her cheeks and fingertips ran cold. She had never needed stitches before. As an early teen Regina had given Emma a lengthy lecture about the fact that stitches were done with something much like a fishing hook. While Emma knew that wasn’t exactly true, she had developed an irrational fear of them ever since.

“Don’t worry,” Regina smiled kindly at her for the first time “I’m very good at this, and I promise I won’t be using a fishing hook.”

Emma had to laugh, surprised she remembered.

“I’ll be right back.”

Emma sat back as soon as Regina was out of the room trying to survey her complicated mix of feelings. It was almost relieving to be near her again. Why was that? Even with the giant gouge that had been sliced from her finger she felt a cold relief as the hole, much nastier than her thumb, which she had been sporting for years was filled - yet her stomach was still tight with tension. The hole might have been soothed for this moment, but a ghost of the pain still lived. She knew once she was free of this she would recognize the hurt in her chest that she had known so well her first years in New Orleans; the disgusting and gory ache of abandonment.

But - something else bubbled there too and for the life of her, Emma could not put her finger on what that was. For a sad moment, she felt like a stranger to herself, what was happening inside of her?

When Regina returned Emma smiled courteously and went back to looking everywhere but into those deep coffee irises. It was easier that way because when she looked at Regina she felt things that she didn’t like. Of course she did. The feelings weren’t romantic exactly but maybe, here facing the woman she had assumed was an enemy for years, she didn’t feel as angry as she would have liked. Anger was her armor and at the moment it seemed concerningly thin.

“All right,” Regina said opening white packages of things Emma was busy pretending were not there, “you’re going to hate this part.”

“What part?”

“The numbing. Look at the poster over there, don’t look at this. No, not at me, over there.”

Emma’s back stiffened to the point of pain as she waited for the shot.

“So.” Regina started, trying to sound casual as she carefully turned her thumb over and then over again, “What brings you back to town after all these years? I thought you had boycotted Storybooke.”

She answered wishing she didn’t have to, “A visit mostly. I’m uh, yeah, I’m also planning a wedding.”

“Oh. Yours?”

She grimaced as the needle stabbed into her already injured enough thumb. Was this really what she wanted to talk about at this exact moment?

“Yes, of course.”

“I see.” Regina said again and returned to her things, “It seems then that congratulations are in order.” She began to gather the leftover supplies from the shot, dumping them across the room in the proper waste bins. “What’s her name?”

“Hanna.”

“Ah, yes.” Recognition passed across Regina’s face, “That’s the one you’ve been seeing for a while now, right?”

“Yeah.” A secret smugness filled Emma, “Since when do you know anything about my life?”

“Oh” Regina laughed, looking good-naturedly caught, “and you don’t ask Ruby about me? Don’t bother lying, Emma, I know you do.”

She rolled her eyes and looked resolutely back at the wall.

Regina snorted. Apparently even after a five-year stalemate without contact they still had certain ways they behaved around one another, motions and habits that seemed to still ring true. They had been molded as youth into each other’s opposite half and while Emma would have thought that familiarity would fade, it hadn’t.

“I’m glad you two are doing so well.”

There was silence as Regina pulled up a chair, positioning herself a little too closely to Emma for her own liking. She thought that if nothing else space was the key to getting through this humiliating situation. She needed Regina far, far over there – preferably all the way to the waiting room – or even back the former distance of just under 2000 miles. Weren’t there rules of bedside manner that said she shouldn’t get too close to the patient? Or was it completely innocent and she was simply getting into position to stitch her up?

Regina smiled up at her blank and professional, “Just give it a few more minutes for the medicine to kick in.”

Emma nodded already able to feel the Novocain like tingle spreading through her hand, deadening everything in its path.

“Your mother must be happy you’re home- and Ruby for that matter.”

“Yeah, they are.”

“So when’s the wedding? Am I going to get an invitation?” Regina flashed her vixen like smile at her; the one that always came right before she did something that would get them in trouble as girls.

“Do you want one?” Emma spat rudely, agitated by the smile.

Regina’s face turned serious, “No, I don’t think I do. But you were my best friend for most of my life so if you want to give me one then I will go. If I recall, I promised to be your maid of honor.”

"We were in high school."

"I know."

Emma wished she would move away a little. “No Regina,” She said softly but steadily, marveling at how natural the name felt rolling off of her tongue. It was almost as natural as saying her own name, “Let's save all of the crap and just not go down that path, okay?” Ruby’s words popped into her head then: you have the ability to fix it and you should.

Regina didn’t argue but instead asked bracingly if she was ready to begin the stitches.

Emma tried to ignore the pulling on her thumb, which seemed to be hard wired to her gag reflex. This moment was a bit much for her, getting stitches and being face to face with Regina. The combination made her want to take a nap, giggle and be sick simultaneously.

“May I ask how long you will be in town?”

Emma laughed nervously, her voice strained as she glanced at the tissue being pulled together like a quilt, “Is this small talk? Are we really engaging in small talk?” Her nervous ramble was falling out of her without permission. “Next you will say we should get a drink sometime, I’ll call you. How about next Wednesday?”

Regina looked up from her thumb, “Yes, small talk. It’s distracting you, isn’t it? And actually, yes, I was thinking about saying that very thing. We haven’t seen each other in a few years so why not get a drink and catch up?”

Emma just laughed bitterly, “Shut up Ginny. You know exactly why. This isn’t a game.” She said not quite as harshly as she meant to. She could feel herself getting drawn into Regina’s familiarity, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it. She was angry, she reminded herself. Nothing had changed. Regina still hadn't picked her.

Regina focused back on her work, completely unfazed by Emma’s rudeness; still Emma was sure she heard a small, “No, this isn’t a game.”

They sat in silence then and as the silence lengthened Emma became more and more aware of Regina as a tense silence will do. Regina’s knee was brushing hers. Regina’s hands played lightly over her wrist and palm. Regina’s cheeks twitched now and then as she worked as if she was feeling just as strained in this situation as Emma was. It would be nice to know if that were true. She seemed so damn calm and collected, in typical Regina Mills fashion. She hadn’t been serious about getting a drink, had she? What would be the point?

Finally, Regina leaned back standing and taking a quick step or two away from her, “Done. That wasn’t too bad, was it?”

Regina waited for an answer half a smile on her lips, but Emma’s brain felt like scrambled eggs, “What? Um, yeah, stitches are something that would generally be considered bad.”

Regina took a deep breath leaning thoughtfully against the wall, arms and ankles crossed, “You know Em, you’re not the only one who has things to be angry about. Can we just get a drink and catch up?”

“Do you talk to all of your patients this way?” Emma grumbled.

“No, just the ones I have known since they were prepubescent.”

“Do me a favor and not talk about my puberty.”

“Alright.” Regina placated, “About that drink.”

“I don’t know, Regina. I don’t think so.”

“And why is that?”

“I don’t know. You know I have a fiancée right?”

“I do.”

“Well, I doubt your girlfriend or my fiancée would approve, and even if they would, I don’t know if I freakin’ approve. Why do you suddenly want to go down that road now? If you wanted to talk, you could have called me anytime in the last freaking five years, Regina. What, is it just because I’m in town? Because if so the odds of us running into one another again are small, even in Storybrooke. There’s a reason we haven’t talked in the last five years. Let’s just keep it that way.”

Regina shook her head, polite enough not to mention the clear plea in Emma’s voice, “That’s fine Em. Honestly, I don’t know that there is enough left of our friendship to save anyway.”

Emma scoffed but said nothing else; the hole that had lived within her chest for years was beginning to pulse.

Regina wrapped her finger in gauze and gave her directions about when and how to clean it.

Emma stood, uncertainly. She had been rude to Regina when she asked to get together. That couldn’t have been easy for Regina to do. Maybe Regina was right; maybe they should get together and talk. Who knew, maybe they could be friends again. But no, even if they could that it didn’t mean they should and the thought of failing in that endeavor was too painful to even attempt. Maybe a small amount of rude behavior now would really be for the greater good. “Thank you, Dr. Mills.” She meant to be coy, but it came out a little too unsteadily to reach the desired effect and instead came off abrasive.

Regina’s glare sharpened, and her voice dropping to arctic temperatures, “Be careful with that. Take some Tylenol for the pain and stay away from alcohol and cigarettes for a couple of days, you’re prone to infection.”

Emma blinked a few times quickly, shocked again by Regina’s long memory.

 


 

Walking back to her mother, the day began to pull on Emma’s shoulders. She was exhausted, wrung out like a wet rag. She was sorry for turning Regina down now that the woman wasn’t standing in front of her and more guilt was the last freaking thing that Emma needed.

She looked back through the window of the reception area; maybe she should take it back. Maybe she was wrong to turn her down.

In the little room beyond the glass, Regina stood reading a yellow paper next to the receptionist. Feeling Emma’s eyes on her she glanced up quickly but had forgotten to cover her face with the calm and disconnected look of a medical professional. At that moment, her face was torn apart with five years of desperate pain, frustration, hurt, and anger.

Emma jerked her eyes away, stung.

Yes, she knew now. Regina had felt the same way Emma had for all these years and god, why did having that knowledge hurt so badly?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Once Emma settled into the car with her mother, cradling her injured thumb, she was surprised to find she could barely keep her eyes open. Had she been sleeping badly? That’s right she had and suddenly her body ached as though she hadn’t slept well in weeks.

Why wasn’t she sleeping?

“Regina was there.”

Soft pink flushed across Mary’s pale cheeks as she focused on the road, “I know.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured you did, mom.” Emma shrugged listlessly.

“How was it?”

“I’m not completely sure.” It was the truth.

Regina had wanted to get a drink with her; that thought burrowed unrelenting under her skin. Regina had wanted to spend time with her, but how could she forgive Regina enough to be friends again?

She couldn’t.

Could she? She had offered herself to her and she had smashed her heart. She had left her a twenty-four-year-old girl alone and stranded by the soul she had thought would always be hers.

She had disappeared from Emma’s life as sudden as smoke. How could they be friends again? It was impossible.

“I do know that taking me to Regina was a shitty thing to do, Ma.”

“Emma, I didn’t-”

“Yes you did. I know you.”

Mary’s lips pressed into a thin line and she pointedly had nothing to say for the rest of the trip.

When they arrived home her mother took up the job of finishing dinner while Emma sat in the living room, sinking deeply into morose depression. She ignored Regina’s advice and drank a large glass of wine.

They ate slowly, stanchly quiet and then went to bed early to avoid the fact that neither had anything to say.

Emma knew she had a choice. She could be angry with her mother, as was justified, or she could wrap the anger in a festering ball and shove it deep inside of herself.

Since she was sure that her mother would outlast her in their impasse she went for choice number two, choking on her anger a bit as she tucked it away and reminding herself that her mother could not always be trusted.

Somewhere in the early A.M. hours Emma’s numbing shot wore off and she tossed and turned thinking, half asleep, about the day. The pain in her thumb was excruciating, making her moan lightly. Each beat of her heart made the thumb pulse and sent one guilty thought through her - Regina, throb, Regina, throb, Regina.

Depression and anger still loomed over her when she woke. She could feel it creeping up on her trying to find a way under her warm blankets. She was sick over her rejection of Regina the night before and that was just plain bullshit. Why did she feel so bad? It was Regina who had said no all those years ago. It was true that she had come to understand that it had been too much to ask of Regina and so she shouldn’t be angry. A logical person would not be angry. She was okay with that, but she also did not want to feel guilty!

Taking on a gamble, Emma called Hanna.

The phone rang twice and then clicked over to voicemail. Emma frowned and hung up. Hanna was still angry. Oh god, she didn’t think she would be able to take one of Hanna’s weeklong snappy furies. For the first time she thanked her lucky stars that she was so far away and swallowed the hollow ball of disappointment.

What had she even done to deserve the silent treatment?

Oh god, she was tired.

Twenty minutes later Ruby pulled up looking as radiant as a teenager who was told she had a spontaneous day free of school.

It was dress shopping day and Emma was not in the mood.

The first shop the duo walked into was gaudy and filled to the brink of explosion with frills in shades of white, pink and blue. Emma knew instantly that she wasn’t going to like anything they had to offer.

“Is Hanna going to wear a dress or a suit?” Ruby asked trying not to grimace openly at the Little Bo Peep dresses.

“A suit, probably.”

“A suit? I’m surprised you are okay with that.” Ruby casually threw out. “When we were younger you used to talk all of the time about how beautiful two wedding dresses are together.”

“Oh,” Something about the question seemed to claw at Emma, pooling distress in the hollow of her stomach and making her twitch, “I know I did – I do - but I can’t make Hanna be something she isn’t. She tried on a dress for me once, and it was just - depressing.”

The dresses were a nightmare, no one could argue with that. They dug through the frilly fabrics in vain for a while before giving up.

They went to another store where Emma spent an hour on display modeling dresses for Ruby with no luck. Finally, they gave up and headed to Any Given Sunday to meet Mary for lunch.

The bakery seemed brighter today despite the fact that Emma’s mood remained dark, depression hovering just outside of her peripheral vision.

Today the counter was cluttered with biscotti and colorful autumn tarts, festively promising that fall was just around the corner.

“Hi,” She said to the young man behind the register, “I’m interested in ordering a wedding cake. Who would I talk to for that?”

“Uh, I think she is in the back.”

He handed them a thick folder full of stunning pictures of cakes of all kind. They distractedly ordered a few sandwiches and sat down, flipping through the food porn.

“These are beautiful.”

Emma nodded, overwhelmed.

With page after page Emma’s eyes grew rounder; there were so many to choose from. Did she want a vanilla cake or chocolate? Chocolate was better - tastier and more people liked it - but wasn’t one of Hanna’s sisters allergic to chocolate?

Okay, so vanilla.

Or maybe strawberry?

Cream cheese? What the hell did a cream cheese cake taste like?

Or she could go with an artisanal cake and try a basil or lemon pecan.

Rose! They made rose cakes! Amazing! But oh, no one would like that but her. Shit.

What was Hanna’s favorite type of cake? It stressed Emma to no end to realize, she didn’t know. Hanna was a health nut. Had she ever seen her eat a piece of cake? How was she supposed to decide if she didn’t know what kind of cake she liked? Fuck, can you make a cake Paleo?

What about frosting? Vanilla?

What the hell was buttercream? Was that like cream cheese?

…Maybe she should look at typically bought cakes.

She flipped to the back of the book and her mouth dried like the desert, sandpapery and rough. She could get a white cake topped with flowers or a naked carrot cake.

There was a chocolate malt with a thumbprint design and a hummingbird or fun-fetti.

Autumn spice or Almond Joy? Pink champagne or creamsicle?

Fuck, what about the vegans? Was there something for the vegans?

Her breath began to pick up as the words swirled. There was marzipan with roses or fondant with seashells.

Dizzy, she felt dizzy.

If she didn’t like cake, she could get a tart or pie or even cupcakes and – the room began to rock slowly under her feet. Maybe it was worth Hanna’s bad mood to get some help from the other bride. Where was Hanna? Why wasn’t she here to help her?

Raspberry torte and caramel delight, strawberries and cream and - she felt a sudden spasm in her side that made her yelp and dropped the book. Her breath whistled through her tight throat and for a moment she thought she might faint.

“Emma?”

Carefully she rubbed hard against her ribs wondering what the hell that was. This was the third or fourth time in the past month that she had felt it, but it didn’t make sense. It felt like the time she’d had a fractured rib but why. “Oh god,” she leaned heavily on her knees and without her permission the agonized face of Regina flashed through her mind. Guilt. So much guilt. “I just got a, uh, stomach cramp.” She was so tired.

Mary rubbed her back softly, “well it’s no wonder, sweetie. You have to be under a lot of stress.”

Emma eyed her wondering if her sweet tone meant their wordless fight was over.

“Stress?” The tightness in Emma’s throat was beginning to stretch into her chest.

“Of course. You’re planning a wedding! And basically by yourself too.”

“And you're back here for the first time in a while.” Ruby supplied.

“Uh,” Emma hiccupped.

“And you hurt your thumb pretty badly last night.”

“Yeah and-“ Ruby stopped herself abruptly, finding the tablecloth suddenly very interesting. “Why don’t we do something else after this? Something fun.”

“Like?” Emma sighed the circles her mother rubbed into her back finally opening her chest so she could take a deep breath.

Her friend shrugged, “Rabbit Hole?”

Emma nodded slightly. Why not?

Soon a beautiful hippie woman came out of the back with a radiant grin. The woman was beautiful in an intriguing and unique way, her laugh lines firmly in place but only adding to her beauty.

“My goodness, little Emma Nolan. I don’t think I have seen you since you were in grade school.” Her soulful eyes were warm as she shook her head.

“Mrs. Fisher.”

“Mm, Ingrid if you don’t mind.”

Emma nodded with a crooked grin.

“You’re planning a wedding?” She confirmed in her breathy voice.

“Yes.”

“What kind of cake would you be looking for?” Ingrid took the empty seat at their table rather informally, pulling a notepad from her apron and a pen out of her wild blonde hair that seemed to be screaming for a Daisy or some Baby’s Breath.

Emma loved her already.

“I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m feeling” she took a hiccupping deep breath and flailed her hands trying to explain “a little overwhelmed by all of the choices. Can I just go with something simple? If it were up to me I would go with Rose but I don’t think that would please the masses. As for how it looks, well I was kind of hoping I could leave that up to you. All I know is I want something very, I don’t know-“

“Simple.” They said together making both women chuckle.

“Right, no giant flowers, ribbon or anything like that.”

“All right, when you say Rose do you mean in flavor then?”

“Flavor. Rose is my favorite flavor.”

Most people found that strange, Rose was not commonly known as a flavor outside of herbal tea. As a matter of fact, Emma would not have known, had it not been for Regina’s mother Cora. Every year through their childhood Cora Mills took the same business trip and every year she brought Regina the same gift; a box of Rose-flavored Turkish Delight. Regina detested the treat, but Emma could not get enough and soon she was ingesting every single Rose flavored food she could find.

Ingrid laughed lightly, “You know, you don’t hear that very often yet strangely enough I have heard that twice this week.”

“Really?”

Ingrid nodded; making some more notes on her paper, “you and my girlfriend just told me that her best friend’s favorite flavor is Rose. It must be popular right now. What are the wedding colors?”

“Navy, white and cream.”

Ingrid nodded, “Well what I can do it make a sketch of what I am thinking for the cake and I will call you when it’s done?”

“That would be perfect!” Emma grinned; this had gotten to be sort of fun once the pain in her side disappeared.

They shook hands and Emma promised to call to schedule a tasting for a day when Hanna would be visiting - whenever that was.

“So what do you think?” Ruby asked.

“I think it's going to be good. That bakery is great and Ingrid is great.”

“She really is.”

 


 

It was a little early to go to the bar so instead Ruby and Emma headed toward Granny’s. Emma sipped some ice-cold water and visited with a few locals while Ruby flew around the room, instructing her few employees and shunning the advances of Billy the tow truck driver.

“What’s happening there?” Emma asked with a devilish grin when her friend finally plopped down next to her.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Ruby said with a scrunch of her nose, “He’s too quiet and boring and kind of – mousy.”

“Oh, yeah you’ve never gone for the quiet ones, have you? You need yourself a big bad wolf.”

Ruby grinned wickedly and pretended to howl.

 


 

The bar wasn’t quite as crowded as usual, perhaps due to the early hour. They found a seat on the patio easily, pleased to be outside for golden hour.

“I didn’t realize how tired I was until just now.” Ruby stretched. “Quite a day.”

“I agree. I think I will feel better once I eat though.” The tight cord that had been wrapped around her chest all day, cutting off circulation was slowly loosening, “Anything you would recommend over what I had last time?”

“So we left my restaurant to eat at another restaurant?” Ruby asked in mock horror.

“Yeah, well you don’t serve alcohol anymore, remember?”

“Oh come on, it was one mistake. A lot of people wouldn’t have known that liquor licenses need to be renewed!”

“Uh huh.”

“Fine but my food is better. I still say the food here sucks.”

“Well after the other night I can confirm that. It was decent before, wasn’t it? At least it was when we were younger?”

Ruby laughed, “No, the food here was always terrible.”

“Really? Why did we always come?”

Ruby laughed even harder, “You don’t remember? You had a crush on that girl who worked here? What was her name?”

Emma thought about it for a moment, trying to drag up the memory of crushes past, “I’m not sure, Katie or Kelly or something like that. I had forgotten about her! Jesus.” Emma fiddled with her thumb, taking a few more Tylenol “You know, it’s nice to,”

“Uhhhhh fuck.” A strange look suddenly passed over Ruby’s face as she interrupted with a quiet groan, groping in her pocket for her pack of cigarettes.  “You’re gonna want one of these. Trouble.”

“What?” Emma asked taking the cigarette out of habit but immediately offering it back to her, “I quit smoking and you totally know that.”

“You might change your mind.”

“What? What’s wrong?” She asked again, her suspicions mounting. Every nervous look from her friends and family in the last twenty-four hours had been the same thing.

“Now I can swear-” Emma gasped at the sultry voice suddenly there, warm lips a millimeter from her ear, a strand of fragrant hair tickling her cheek and neck. Her heart and her lower stomach flip-flopped and turned to liquid all at once as the inviting breath teased at her skin. She gasped involuntarily again as her center clenched in surprise arousal, gripping her body in a spasm. “-that your doctor told you to stay away from alcohol and cigarettes for a few days.” Over her shoulder, Regina leaned forward and took the unlit cigarette out of her hand. Her lips accidentally brushing her ear ever so slightly and Emma paled. “Besides,” Regina concluded, “that is just not good for you.”

Emma had frozen at the sudden and unexpected close contact that was so like Regina, but now she quickly turned around stunned, their faces a breath apart.

“Whoa.” Ruby coughed into her hand and began playing with her lighter.

A little flair of anger rose in her - though whether the anger was at the condescending tone or at her body’s reaction was a toss up.

Regina eyes sparking impishly straightened and cocked an eyebrow skyward.

Was she trying to prove a fucking point of some kind or was she just trying to piss Emma off?

“Regina! How are you?” Ruby got up chuckling uncomfortably and kissed her cheek.

Emma finally regained control of her facial muscles and trimmed them into a blank mask. It had been foolish, she realized then, to think they wouldn’t run into one another - often. This was fucking Storybrooke. There was one bar, one restaurant, one hotel; where would they hide from one another? Plus, they had the same friends and loved the same places. This was just going to be part of her life here. Great.

She slowly reached for her drink; more as something to do with her hands than for want of the liquid and was silently grateful when her drink doused the fire that had roared to life in her gut. Regina had looked amazing in her scrubs, as unfair as that was, but Emma was getting a solid reminder that she looked even better in street clothes.

Regina had always dressed well and always done her makeup and hair with exact precision. It was a lesson strictly taught by Cora, a woman who believed in going to bed in full makeup and rising perfectly primped. It was something she had expected for herself and something she had taught and expected from both of her daughters.

Regina stood; arms crossed over her chest and wine in hand, in a professional black blouse and deep gray pencil skirt, topped off by cream-colored high heels with black tips. Regina’s hair was pinned up behind her head, and her lips were the signature winey red that no one but models for Chanel and Regina wore.

Emma’s brain was very slowly processing the reaction she had just felt from her body as she huffed.

Okay, so she was still attracted to her. That was the issue; she still was attracted to her. How could she not be physically attracted to her still? The woman looked like a Queen. Most people who enjoyed the company of women were attracted to her and she knew that even a few of those who were not interested in women would not turn down an hour of Regina’s undivided attention. Yes, look at that man - and that man – and that woman over there. They were all staring. She wasn’t alone. Fucking shrubs could be attracted to Regina Mills. She was fucking gorgeous. This was normal. She just needed to shake it off. Childhood attractions never die.

Finally, Regina gave up watching Emma watch her and spoke again; leaning toward her as if she had a great secret to tell, “This is the third time in twenty-four hours, Ms. Nolan. Are you following me or is it kismet?”

Emma chortled dryly but could not come up with an answer quickly enough. Her brain felt fuzzy. Was it hot in here?

“I don’t know, Gin, I think that’s Storybrooke for you.” Ruby supplied.

“Mmm!” Emma grunted, pointing to Ruby in incoherent agreement.

“Why don’t we give into chance” Regina continued “and have a drink? I promise I won’t tell your doctor.” She stood looking to Ruby, “What do you think, Ruby? I’m here with a few coworkers right now however I would be free to join you in about thirty minutes? Will you be here?”

Ruby cleared her throat and excused herself to the bathroom, pointedly not answering. As soon as she was gone Regina cut to the point, “Emma, I want to be friends again, I don’t know why but I do. If not friends then at least on solid enough ground that running into one another like this is not on par with water torture. Despite all of these years, I know you are angry with me, you have made that quite clear, and I know I sure as hell am angry with you. Despite that, I think we should give it a try.”

Emma’s head began to nod, dumbly. Her eyebrows pulled together halfway through the motion sure that she had not given her brain permission to answer at all.

“Okay.” Regina stood satisfied “I’ll be back in a short while.”

Emma was still staring after Regina, transfixed and confused, when Ruby tentatively reappeared from the bathroom, “So…what happened?”

Eyes wide with shock she whimpered, “I said she could.”

“Join us?” Ruby nearly tipped over her drink.

“Yeah?” The answer came out more like a question. “She says she wants to be friends again. She says pretty forcefully that she wants to be friends again.” Emma growled at the look on Ruby's’ face.

“Hey, I’m just surprised is all.” Ruby said innocently, but a hint of speculation was not so well hidden in her voice.

“You and me both.”

Panic began to bubble.

“Why the hell did I say yes?” She glanced quickly back behind her, but Regina was facing away from them, listening to the local doctor as he rambled on. “Did I tell you that when I saw her with this” she held up her always throbbing thumb, “that she asked to get drinks too?”

“No!” Ruby gasped, “Really?” She was clearly enjoying the juicy gossip.

Emma nodded vigorously, “She seems a little hell bent on us talking which I don’t get.”

Regina had always been very headstrong and, therefore, did exactly what she wanted to, when she wanted to and everyone else be damned. Emma had loved that type of attitude in her when they were younger, but right now it didn’t seem headstrong or self-empowered, it seemed annoying and perhaps more than Emma could handle. Ugh, the polite thing for Regina to do in this situation would be to ignore Emma. After everything that had happened between them, that was the courteous response, right?

But did Emma want that?

Yes!

No!

Um, yes…

But - would it hurt worse if they saw one another from across the room and Regina simply went on her way as if they were strangers?

God damn it, why can’t you make up your mind? Her mind screamed the question at her frantically.

“You don’t want to have drinks?” Ruby asked doubtfully. “You’re getting crazy eyes.”

“I am not getting crazy eyes!” Emma hissed, leaning toward her malevolently. “And no, not really. I mean, maybe. I don’t think so, no.”

Emma’s indecision was clear and Ruby secretly thought that perhaps Emma wasn’t too in touch with her feelings at that moment. “So then why did you say yes?”

“Uh…” Emma thought about it as she watched Regina’s back, wringing her fingers tightly, that cord around her chest becoming a thick stifling band. “You know why?” she said coming to a conclusion “It’s because she’s unfairly attractive. She’s freaking gorgeous. Even though I kind of hate her, I can’t say no to her.” Emma babbled chaotically. Ruby watched, eyes widening slowly as laughter tickled her throat. “I’ve never been able to say no to her. Think about all the shit she got me to do over the years because I couldn’t say no.”

Ruby sized up Regina from behind unimpressed, “I don’t know. I mean she’s pretty and I would kill for her skin tone but I think that you think she’s so hot because of” Ruby stuttered a little at the look on Emma’s face, “your history.”

Emma glared.

“So should I go?”

“What? No! Don’t.” She had yelled a little louder than she meant to and she sunk deeply into her chair “Don’t you fucking dare Ruby Lucas!”

“All right, all right.”

 


 

They had their following drinks quickly, both tensely waiting for the thing that would happen next. Emma thought over and over of telling Ruby to pass on the message that she was ill, or her mother needed her and she had to leave. She could run all the way home and hide, but the thing was no one would believe those excuses were true and the next time that she ran into Regina she would have to look at her knowing she let herself be scared off.

Emma didn’t understand her actions. She hated Regina. She had for years. No, she didn’t hate her - hate was too strong a word - but she could confidently say she did not like her or want her in her life. Or was she lying to herself?

She didn’t know. All she knew was that she wanted to get away as quickly as possible - while feeling relieved to see her and kind of wanting to seek her out again.

Far too soon - or perhaps not soon enough, Regina reappeared and regally settled into one of the free chairs, wine glass full and a set look on her face as if she were ready to take on the world single-handedly.

It was awkwardly silent. Emma avoided everyone's eyes while Regina’s prodded them openly, “So. What were you two doing today?”

Emma tittered nervously.

“Dress shopping.” Ruby supplied, “No luck though.”

“No dress yet, huh Em?”

“Well, she tried one on in New Orleans that was already sold. We’re hoping to find one like it. Look.”

Emma opened her mouth to protest as Ruby grabbed her phone and flipped until she found the picture of Emma in the dress. Was Ruby doing this on purpose, trying to goad a reaction of some kind out of one of them or did she actually not realize how excruciatingly uncomfortable this was?

“Wow. You look beautiful, Em,” Regina breathed softly and scrolled over a photo, looking for more of the dress.

“Is this Hanna?” she asked showing her the picture of Hanna on the beach, clad in board shorts and a tank with a goofy grin on her face.

Emma nodded.

“She’s” Regina searched for the right words “cute. A little more boyish than I thought you liked though.”

Emma abrasively grabbed her phone, “Why? Because she doesn’t look like you?”

She had expected Regina to ignore that question but instead Regina answered without blinking and eye, “Yes.”

Ruby whistled in surprise, eyes popping wide and face turning red.

Emma just scowled, “She’s sweet.”

Regina’s eyebrow rose infinitesimally before she turned back to Ruby. “So Ruby, how have you been?”

“Good, good. I can’t complain. Business is doing well.”

They fell into silence.

“So. Was that a meeting or a social outing?” Emma asked just to get everyone talking again.

Regina laughed, “Well I suppose it was mostly social. It’s very hard to tell though because most doctors are worryingly awkward people.”

They all sniggered politely and then the trio fell into quiet again, no one knowing what to say when it was awkward in a group where no one had been awkward with each other since their teen years.

Ruby stretched, yawning largely and Emma sat up straight in her seat, predicting her next action and glaring, “Well, I’m gonna um, make up some reason why I should go now. Uh, bye.”

“Ass.” Emma whispered.

Ruby just smiled, “I didn’t hear that.”

They watched her go; then both women sipped their drinks, staring in opposite directions through the pregnant silence.

Softly Regina began to laugh to herself.

Emma’s first reaction was to be offended; nothing was funny in this horribly tense situation. This was the opposite of funny! She sharpened her tongue to cut at the woman but stopped herself at the last second, calculating. She wasn’t sure she could sit here alone with Regina – she wasn’t sure she wanted to. It would only take two uncomfortable minutes for this to be over if she wanted to leave. She could make up a bullshit reason; it didn’t even have to be a good one, put money on the table for her drink and leave.

She made up her mind, setting her jaw and turning toward her but stopped short. It was clear that her old best friend knew every single freaking thought that was passing through Emma’s mind. She was waiting for Emma to make her move. Emma had been caught red-handed before she had even done the deed.

“Have you decided yet?”

“Uh-“

“Have you decided if you’re staying or going?”

Emma blinked, sitting back in her chair rising to the challenge in Regina’s voice; only, she felt her nose twitch, then her cheeks and then one eye.

Maybe it was funny. Maybe the entire situation was funny. She had been openly and obviously caught.

She started to laugh.

Regina’s smirk cracked and together they laughed until Emma’s sides hurt.

She couldn’t stop.

Sometimes, like now, it was baffling to think they were in this situation. Emma and Regina. Em and Gin. It couldn’t be them; Storybrooke’s very own pair of teenage bandits. They must be talking about someone else.

Emma’s brain began to work hard, running over the facts at lightning speed. Okay so, if they could laugh like this then maybe it was okay to be angry - or perhaps not as angry was she wanted to be. What did it matter anymore anyway? She was getting married. The situation was over. In a few weeks, she would leave Storybrooke again. She doubted she wanted to see Regina recreationally after this; perhaps if she were careful of her feelings, she could enjoy a nostalgic evening and move on. She would give Regina the drink that she wanted, a chance to catch up and then they could move on with their lives.

Regina reached over and took her hand. Emma’s heart jerked and she nearly pulled away only stopping at the last second. She was sure Regina noticed.

“Look Emma,” it had always been a sign of seriousness when Regina used her full name instead of Em “perhaps one day we will have dinner and we will have a real talk. I know that we both could use one but for tonight why don’t we just have a few drinks together?”

Emma sighed, “Yeah, alright. Waiter!” They ordered another drink each and did their best to relax into the situation.

“Do you want to talk about your wedding?” Regina asked carefully.

“No. Do you?”

Regina just smirked.

So they talked of safe things, easy things like work and Emma’s new book, of Ruby, Mary and Storybrooke in general. Slowly, things began to relax and they found a slightly rocky but familiar path, filled with landmines and possible grenades but safe enough if you were careful of where you stepped.

Not too long later, the waiter returned rolling her eyes with two multicolored shots of an unknown alcohol.

“What’s this?”

“Two guys at the bar sent these to you.”

“What are they?”

“Washington Apples.”

“Oh?” Regina’s face read of irritation at the interruption.

“They wanted to send over a Buttery Nipple and a Dirty Slutty Brunette, just a forewarning about the kind of guys you would be getting.”

Regina laughed, but Emma just blinked a few times, somehow still surprised by the things people were willing to do in public, “Classy. Wait, those guys?” Emma pointed, “I know them, they have been working at the cannery since I was a teenager. I know those assholes! Aren’t they embarrassed?”

“What I don’t understand is, this is Storybrooke. Everyone of our age and older knows about the town's two resident lesbians, why bother sending us drinks at all?”

“I know. I hate this part of my job.” The waiter said tossing her hair over her shoulder. “They’re douches but these are free shots.”

Emma scowled, “I guess you’re the slutty brunette, so that makes me the buttery nipple. Great.”

Regina’s grin crept slowly over her face and Emma knew that she wanted to make some joke that would leave her fumbling and cross-eyed. She glared openly and Regina cleared her throat as if she were entirely innocent, the smile still hidden on her lips.

Regina leaned on the table, her fingers rubbing lightly under her chin as she thought, “Send them two shots back, bartender's choice and call them ‘Sorry boys, we’re both lesbians.’ Make sure it’s something delicious as lesbians most certainly always are.”

The waiter howled with laughter. Even Emma felt a smile pulling at her lips despite her rising blush; she had always loved that bitchy Regina sass.

They took the shots from her and she scampered off, pleased with his task.

“Ready?”

Emma took a deep breath and shot the drink with no hesitation while Regina seemed to choke slightly, unaccustomed as she was to shot taking.

“Wow, that’s actually really good.” Regina rasped looking as if she was going to cough fire. “You took that well.”

Emma frowned. She had taken it pretty well. “I guess. I still do a lot of going out with Hanna and her friends. They’re shot takers.”

“Ah yes,” Regina smiled to herself, “I have heard there is a bit of an age gap between you.”

Emma shrugged, “It’s never really affected us.”

“Oh no? Are you a big shot taker on your own then?”

“Oh, she’s keeping me young.” Emma said lightly, but internally she scowled. She had first met Hanna when the girl was twenty-two and at the height of her partying years. Emma had enjoyed it at first; the constant bars and clubs were the polar opposite of the life she had just left behind in Maine. But after a time Emma had found that she was tired and the thought of the pounding music gave her a headache. Eventually, she had approached Hanna and told her that she needed them to back off of the party scene - indefinitely. Hanna had promised and they had but when Emma thought about it now she realized they had been doing an awful lot of those things before she left. When had they gotten on that track again and why hadn’t Emma even noticed?

But you had, her mind whispered. Remember, she left you at home. She called you an old lady.

Ah, yes. That’s right.

She shuddered at the remnant burn in her chest, “I’ve always been good at taking shots anyway.” She moved on “Do you remember the time we broke into your dad’s bourbon?”

Regina laughed shaking her head, “I don’t know why I thought that you had to drink it in shots.”

“Um, maybe because that’s how your dad does it?”

“Oh right.” Regina gasped, teasing with a finger thoughtfully on her lip.

“I can’t believe he didn’t notice that it was about half water when we put it back. Also, I still cannot bear the taste of bourbon.”

“Well, we got lucky that the next time he wanted to drink it, he was already a case of beer into his very sad bender.”

“Excuse me.” The taller and more attractive of the two men from the cannery stood a polite distance away grinning at Regina. “How was your Apple?”

“Excuse me?”

“Can I buy you another?”

Regina smiled her large but politely fake smile. It was the smile of a woman who was hit on often and usually by those whom she would not nor could not be attracted to. “Oh no thank you. How was your Lesbian?”

He grinned, his eyes slipping to Emma and back, “I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact it was so good that I was thinking perhaps you would like to share one with me?”

Emma’s mouth popped open in shock when she realized that he was talking about her. Ew.

“A Lesbian? Oh,” Regina sighed in pretend sadness, “I don’t think so. You see, I’m not very good at sharing.” She smiled brightly, almost kindly, “Have a good night now.”

He protested, but Regina held up her hand, all pretense of politeness dropping away “No means no, little man.” She said in her most dismissive voice that left little for the man to protest.

Emma watched him stroll away, limping from his wounded pride. She decided to try a familiar joke, “You know if you looked a little more like a lesbian maybe he wouldn’t have tried.”

Regina laughed running her hand over her hair and putting the fallen tendrils back into place a little self-consciously, “Should I shave my head or purchase a pair of Birkenstocks? Or perhaps,” Regina gasped teasingly, “I should buy an Ani Difranco memorabilia tank top.”

“Hey, lady! She spoke to my misunderstood teenage soul.”

“I’m sure.”

“Plus, I don’t know if Ani is really your style. What you need is a good, solid fauxhawk.”

“I’m not sure I could pull off that look, dear. We can’t all be hundred footers. But your Hanna, see seems like the fauxhawk type.”

“Hey!” Emma was about to swing to the defense of her significant other but the twinkle in Regina’s eye told her she was only teasing - mostly.

“And what about you, dear? Do you look like a lesbian?”

Emma shrugged pompously, “I think I have a...quality. Maybe you can’t place it at first but once you're told, suddenly it makes perfect sense.”

Regina smiled at her. The smile was large - toothy, making her eyes glitter with sincere affection. It was the smile that had always been reserved specifically for Emma.

Seeing it, Emma’s own crooked smile was easily pulled to her lips. Something old and familiar clicked into place as she stared at that magnificent smile, slowly grinding awake like gears in a long since comatose machine. When had parts of her personality faded out of existence? When she moved in with Hanna? When she left Maine? Or had it happened the day that she had stepped onto the plane without Regina?

It was as if a door that had been shut for years was slowly sliding open again, revealing a different Emma.

Which version of Emma was the real one?

She didn’t know so she just smiled back at Regina.

Regina was cute when she smiled, Emma noted, perhaps even sweet and ‘sweet’ was not something that Regina could often be called.

“So,” Regina said changing the subject, “wedding is on the way; are you guys trying to get pregnant yet?”

Emma felt the smile drop from her lips like a stone. It was as if someone had coached Regina on the last thing she would want to discuss; her precision was uncanny. Then again, this was Regina so precision, whether cutting or genius, was a specialty of hers - especially when it came to Emma. “What makes you ask that?”

Regina’s eyes popped, noting the sudden change in Emma’s demeanor, “Because I know you.”

Emma played with her straw, studying the youth around her. “No, not yet but um, hopefully soon. I’m sure we will soon … as soon as possible.”

Regina considered what she was seeing from the woman in front of her and pinned the real issue in less than a minute, “Hanna doesn’t want children.”

“No, that’s not it!” Emma cried. It didn’t occur to her to be surprised that Regina had guessed, they had known one another so well once that there had been no such thing as secrets. “She just doesn’t know that she wants one yet. She has always been against having a family, yes, but then she said this thing to my mom – you know what, never mind. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Regina half smiled, “I can’t believe you still want to be a mother that badly.” There was something in her voice that Emma did not understand.

“Of course I do.”

“I suppose I thought it would have faded away over the past few years as life got harder. It’s easy to want children and a family before you are living as an adult with all the adult responsibilities.”

“Uh huh, did it fade for you?”

“No.” Regina said simply.

“Well, there you go. You know what, um, we have been talking about me too much. We know all the crazy things happening in my life, but everything I’ve heard about you is hearsay.”

She laughed, “Well there is nothing as fun as you.”

“Yeah, says you. Come on.”

“Alright.” Regina took a moment to pat her hair and Emma wondered if she was stalling. “I’m a doctor now, so essentially I don’t have a life. I used to have a social group but they got tired of my erratic hours ruining their plans so they eventually stopped inviting me to join them. Everyone thinks they understand and admire doctors, especially surgeons, but - they don’t. I used to see a lot of Ruby but since I began my fellowship and her grandmother died, well; we both have just been too busy. We talk on the phone often though. Other than that, there is little to report. I go to work. I come home. I run when I can. I work and then I work some more. I finally started dating recently, which is - nice. It has been four months and when you’re as busy as I am that… is a very long time. Oh and I just gave in and bought a house as well. So there’s that.”

“Gave in?”

“Well as you have seen I work in Portland. Storybrooke is so small that there is no surgery department in the hospital, let alone an orthopedic trauma surgical wing. So it seems I will always work in Portland.”

“I see, so you couldn’t decide between a house here or a house there.”

“Precisely. However I stand by my choice. I love the house. I found it about a year and a half ago, had some remodeling done and moved in just over six months ago.”

Emma laughed, “I can’t wait until we have a permanent place. The Storybrooke girl in me wants a house, but I guess it’s more common in the city to stay in apartments. Anyway, are you happy with your work?”

“No, I can’t say that I am.”

“Why?”

“I made a mistake.”

“You?” Emma gasped, "You made a mistake? I don’t believe it.”

“You know, you’re quite funny, Ms. Nolan. Have you ever considered that perhaps you missed your calling as a comedian when you decided to become Storybrooke’s first published author?”

Emma scoffed, “Oh yeah.”

“As I was saying, I made a very serious misjudgment. I took a fellowship at the clinic because I thought that the hours would be less erratic and lengthy than a hospital, among - other reasons. It should be, only, there were two doctors when I started and one recently left very suddenly. It would appear the board does not currently think they need to restaff since Dr. Tracy and I ‘have it covered’. I might as well have taken a position at the hospital here. I do not get to use my specialty in the clinic and I am very unhappy with the hours. Because I recentl-”

“Hey, do you have a light?” The town drunk leaned heavily on Emma’s chair, one eye kept closed tightly for balance.

“Uh, hi Leroy. How are you? And no, I don’t.”

“Hey!” Leroy leaned in closely, his beer breath sickeningly thick “It’s Detective Swan! I didn’t know you were back. Now how about that light, Detective Swan?”

“I don’t have a light.”

“But you’ve always smoked.” He said grumpily.

“I quit.”

“Yeah, uh huh. Alright.” He grumbled, stumbling to the next table.

“Was he calling you Detective Swan?”

Emma sighed, “Yeah. It’s the main character from my books.”

“I see. I’m sorry; I haven’t picked one up yet. I’ve been meaning to since the first one released but life can be hectic.”

Emma shrugged agitated, “So how much longer do you have left of your fellowship to do?”

“Just under a year.”

“Well hey, at least it’s almost done!”

“That is true.” Regina shifted a bit in her seat, “Then I will need to find a position for myself because I will be through with school and training, finally.”

“Really? Congratulations in advance. I can’t believe it! You basically started when you were, what, thirteen with your candy striping and you are only just finishing.”

“Well, we can’t all be star authors like you.” Regina teased with a wink that addled Emma’s brain just a little bit. “Sometimes I look back on the years and wonder where it all went. I can’t believe I’m finally almost there. But listen, Emma, I was just trying to tell you-”

“Hey! It’s the doctor!” Leroy cried as though he hadn’t noticed Regina before. “I haven’t seen you in awhile! Where have you been? Do you have a light? You used to smoke with the princess here.”

Regina sighed, “No, I don’t have a lighter, Leroy.”

A passerby offered him a flick of his Bic and Leroy quieted down, mollified.

“Christ.” Emma breathed annoyed. “Do you regret it at all? All of those years, I mean. You were always so determined; you never saw anything else as an option. I always wondered if you would wake up one day and, I don’t know, explode and start to regret all the time you had spent.” It wasn’t until after she asked, that Emma realized it had been a very personal question. Regina didn’t seem to notice.

“No. There were points where I was worried I made the wrong decision but I have never grown to regret it. Listen, Emma, it’s late -”

“You need to go?” Relief and disappointment warred in Emma’s side, cramping rudely.

“Yes, I’m afraid I do.”

Emma nodded. They settled the tab and headed out to the parking lot, “I can’t believe it but I actually enjoyed myself.”

Regina laughed - hard, throwing her head back because she could tell Emma hadn’t meant to say that out loud, “I did too. Don’t be surprised; we were always good together.”

Then Emma’s mouth opened of its own accord, “Do you think we’ll see one another again?”

Regina shrugged, heading across the parking lot slowly, “It seems that you can’t avoid me, Detective.”

Emma scowled, that rubbed her the wrong way, “Hey Regina, I don’t know if we will see one another again but if we do, will you do me a favor and don’t call me detective, okay?”

Regina blinked, surprised, “I hit a nerve. I’m sorry.” Her voice was dry and while other people would have thought she was being rude or sarcastic, Emma could tell she meant it.

“No, it’s okay. I just, I don’t know - Hanna calls me Detective Swan.”

“I see.” Regina said, a touch of sour to her voice.

“Thanks. I’ll uh, I’ll see you - Regina.”

She could tell that Regina was debating with herself over offering her a ride home but finally she sighed and got into the vehicle. They both knew they weren’t ready to be confined in such a small place together - with no escape.

Emma was agitated as she walked back to the loft. Twice on her way, completely lost in her own mind, she stumbled straight into other pedestrians on the street and had to give a quickly fumbled apology. Once when she was taking a shortcut across the lawn of town hall she stumbled over a bush. She nearly toppled and not realizing what had tripped up her feet, she apologized again.

“Got something on your mind?” Mary asked when Emma planted herself on the couch next to her. In proper motherly fashion Mary had been sitting in front of the television in her overly large fluffy nightdress with a late night cup of tea, pretending not to doze.

“Nope. I’m okay.” Emma stretched the length of the couch and flopping her feet into Mary’s lap.

“Are you sure?”

Emma debated and gave in, “I’m a little confused.”

“About what, dear?”

“Ruby and I went to The Rabbit Hole and we ran into Regina.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Ruby, like the ass she is, pretty much took off the moment Regina arrived so we would be alone. I almost left but - I didn’t. Turns out I enjoyed myself.”

“Wait, and that confused you?” Mary looked as though that thought confused her.

“Yeah, kind of. See, I’ve spent so long being mad at her that -.” she turned to face her mother and stopped dead. A fire had lit in Mary’s eyes. “Um, mom?”

Mary silently got up and left the room, leaving Emma to babble and stumble with herself.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.” She waited for a response but got none. “Mom? Uh, Ma?”

Mary returned a moment later, holy hell fire across her face.

“What’s-?”

With a petulant glare Mary dropped the thick black books on the coffee table.

Emma yelped and jumped away from the huge thud, the band around her chest tightening in response to her mother's anger. What the fuck had she done?

Standing tall despite her fluffy nightgown Mary pointed to the books furiously, “I’m sorry honey, but this fight is stupid.”

“What?” Emma jumped to her feet, sensing the type of fight they used to have so frequently when she was young.

“I can’t believe you, Emma. Who taught you to hold a grudge like this? Shame on you!”

“Excuse me?” She bellowed back, unable to believe she was hearing this. “Are you about to meddle some more, mom? Stick your nose where it doesn’t belong? Because it kind of seems like it. This is none of your business, why can’t you just stay the fuck out of it?”

Don’t you swear at me, Emma Nolan.

Teenage Emma would have sworn a few times more just to prove her point but instead she scowled and apologized.

God damn it, why couldn’t her freaking mother just let this go? How many times had she freakin' brought this shit up?

Mary pointed at the thick black books again, gearing up for round two “Do not tell me that this is none of my business. I watched you two grow up. I know how much she used to mean to you. She was your everything. It was your father and Regina; that was all you needed. And I was never hurt by that fact because at least you took to someone but this - throwing her away over a fight - it makes me wonder who raised you.”

“Hey! You’re acting like I don’t know what I lost!” Emma bayed, her angry fists clenching and unclenching “I know what I lost, Ma; trust me I know. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is exactly that. Lost!”

“Lost is not gone.” Mary bit back, “And tell me, how are you going to get it back if you don’t fight for it? Huh?”

Why has everyone decided that I have to have it back? Why is it not okay for Regina and I to go our separate ways? Regina and I are comfortable with it. Why can’t you be?”

“Because the woman I raised is kinder, wiser and much more forgiving than that. Tell me, Emma, who do you want to be? You can stay angry over a fight that took place five very long years ago when you both were very different people, or you can be the person who forgave and therefore got back the person who was once most important person in your life. Which would you rather be guilty of, Emma, anger or forgiveness?”

Emma’s mouth worked but there were no words.

Mary pointed yet again to the books and with a withering look, turned and marched up to her bedroom.

Emma was left standing in the living room, teeth grinding and spitting angry.

Grumbling she paced back and forth for a few minutes, feeling the band only grow tighter.

God fucking damn it she was tired. Why - she just shouldn’t have told her mother about seeing Regina. Why had she thought that her mother would listen to her? She never listened to her when it came to Regina. She never listened to her all. Okay, maybe that was the angry insistence of a woman-child but still, why had she turned to Mary?

And these books, what the hell were these books?

She poured herself a drink from the kitchen and then swearing to herself, threw on the living room lamp.

She grabbed the first two and hastily ripped open the front cover.

Much to her annoyance the moment she did, she threw her head back, laughing.

Oh my god, who told me that my hair looks good like that?

They were photo albums, spanning from nine to when she moved away at twenty-four. Flipping open one of the books at random she chuckled and shook her head. The first picture she came across was a very old and worn one of herself and Regina at thirteen years old, looking gangly and poorly proportioned. The two were sitting on a picnic blanket, watermelon dripping from their happy little faces and onto their matching white shirts and 90’s overalls; their wild girl’s hair pulled back into frizzy ponytails and glowing around their heads like halos. It was clear that the picture had not been taken on a significant day; there was no special reason for it. Mary had simply called their names and captured a happy and easy moment of everyday life.

Emma knew this picture well; it had always been Mary’s favorite and had lived on their refrigerator most of Emma’s youth.

The next page of the book held a variety of school photos of both girls aging from small children to high school. The books seemed to go on and on feeding Emma memories of sick days, birthday parties, sleepovers, and forgotten fashion trends.

Finally, on the last page of the last book was the most significant picture of all. It was another casual day around the Nolan house; only this one was ten years later. Twenty-three-year-old Emma was sitting, on a hot summer day, in the porch swing that still hung on the balcony of Mary’s loft; clad in her usual white ribbed tank and shorts. Beside her was a twenty-five-year old Regina, in a cute and easy sundress, her feet crossed at the ankles and thrown easily over Emma’s. Regina was frozen in time, her head thrown back, her whole body convulsing at something hilarious Emma had just said while Emma grinned over at her, face shining with adoration and pride.

Even looking at the picture Emma could tell that the moment had been openly intimate. Their young bodies did not touch except for the ankles and yet Emma could feel the connection radiating from them. It was clear that when Mary caught this, she had known she was capturing a moment of love.

Emma pulled the picture out of its sleeve and resting back against the couch she smiled, studying all of the small details. The tans that they both had, no doubt from their days working at the local pool. The ten tiny red toes, which meant that Regina had recently attacked Emma with her signature Regal Red nail polish. The way that Regina’s eyes glittered. The small flush across Emma’s cheeks and chest.

Emma looked until her laughter began to slide sickly in her throat, clawing at her steel reserves. She tried to clear it away but instead a small tear popped from the cover of her eye. She couldn’t help but to compare this face to the face she had seen in Portland, broken and aching.

Alone the living room, she began to cry.

She put the photo down in a rush; quickly wiping her eyes clean before she could lose control. She had been so tightly wound lately that it wouldn't be any wonder if she began to cry and it turned into a five day crying jag.

She missed her best friend. She missed her more than she could articulate to her mother. She wondered, for what felt like the millionth time, if she regretted what she and Regina had done. Did she wish their friendship had never grown into more?

Despite everything that she had lost - despite the disjointed and uncomfortable feeling that she had been missing her second arm or perhaps a leg for these last years - she couldn’t find it in herself to regret their choice or that one evening. The transition from friend to other had been too wonderful.

 

Chapter Text

Emma slept very poorly that night, her mother’s words tapping relentlessly at her mind. She woke very early, tired and grumpy - and with Regina annoyingly on the brain.

Would she see her again? She knew if she wanted to then she could.

Did she?

Should she?

The night before had been – fun and – easy but away from her presence she was thinking clearer and doubt had trickled back in. Why push it?

But her mother had said a mouthful and she knew, as annoying as it was, that she was right. Though, the picture had said more. It spoke of all of the reasons why they should not make a second go at a friendship.

It would be too hard to lose that again. Regina had dropped her once without a second thought; she would probably do it again.

Regina was her past.

Hanna was her future.

 

         As a matter of fact - nervously she got up and called Hanna while she made breakfast.

“Oh god, I’m such a dick.” Hanna cried the moment that she picked up the phone. “I’m so sorry, baby, I totally bit your head off in a moment where my boss was chewing my ass out and then I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to call. I’m sorry. Hi, how are you?”

Emma let half a grin slip across her face. This hadn’t been what she was expecting. “I’m okay. Tired. Stressed.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

A voice laughed in the background of Hanna’s line, quickly muffling itself into a cough.

“Who’s that?”

Hanna paused, “Oh that’s just Janelle.”

“Really? Are you out for breakfast?”

“After hitting the gym, yeah.”

Emma’s skin itched a bit and she frowned. “That’s great. Are you having fun?”

“Sure am. We are just looking over everything you have sent me now.”

“For the wedding? Awe, I love seeing how much you love me. I’m glad you’re finally doing that.” Emma was teasing slightly, but Hanna cleared her throat again awkwardly; she had never been one for public displays of affection unless it was on her terms.

“Okay babe, I’ll let you go since you’re busy. Will you call me later, please? We need to catch up a little bit.”

Hanna promised, and Emma hung up, holding her side again. What was that pain? She looked in the mirror in the bathroom lifting her shirt to expose her side but found no bruised skin. It felt so much like the time her ribs had been broken but that didn’t make any sense. She studied the skin feeling a twitch in the back of her mind but eventually had to let it go, unable to pull it to the forefront.

Emma did her best to keep herself busy for the morning. She doodled on the computer some more but still nothing for book number three came. She thought that perhaps she had a title in mind, but that was where her inspiration ended. It didn’t matter much since the second book had only been released. Just over two weeks ago she had come home from a run to find her mother curled up on the couch, a third of the way into That Still Small Voice. She had been so caught up in everything happening that she had missed her drop day. How the hell had that happened?

She had rolled her eyes embarrassed by her mother’s enthusiasm but that hadn’t been the worst of it. When they had gone to Granny’s later that evening to celebrate she had found that half of the citizens of Storybrooke were carting around their copies and asking Emma to sign them.

 

Emma gave up her doodling when she realized that she had been staring into space for quite a while, wondering why it was Regina had never read her work. That was...weird.

She moved on, doing her best to clean the already pristine house. She wandered until finally she settled on the couch with some daytime TV.

Her mother came home a bit later from her yoga class and Emma snapped the TV off guiltily. She watched her deposit her yoga mat into the closet and head to the kitchen.

She wasn’t sure if they were still fighting or not, until her mother came and sat beside her, flipping the TV back on.

“Cartoons, Emma?”

Emma grinned, guiltily, “But mom, he lives in a pineapple. A pineapple. How is that not worth watching?”

Mary just shook her head amused.

Emma was relieved the fight wasn’t going to continue. When she had been a teenager, simple fights like that had lasted a week or longer. She just didn’t freaking have that in her just then.

Hoping for a little extra comfort she settled back into the couch, tentatively resting her head in her mother's lap.

“Is it just me?” Mary asked sitting beside her, “Or have you turned back into a child today? Are you all right?”

Emma laughed wrapping her arms around her waist, “Of course.” She kissed her cheek. “Will you watch something with me for a while?”

“Sure.”

As they watched, Emma thought about the question. Something in her did feel a little off-kilter, but she had no idea what it was. She did know that sitting under a blanket with some cartoons felt very welcome and comforting. Was it just her mother’s words from the night before? Perhaps she was getting sick but no, she was smarter than that. Any fatigue she was feeling, whether mental or physical was not from illness.

 

A few hours later her phone went off and Emma woke with a start. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep.

The call was from Ruby.

“So?” She asked the second that Emma picked up, groggy.

“So? What?”

“How was last night?”

“Oh.” She rolled in Mary’s lap, phone to her ear and smiled at her mother who had stayed by her, cuddling as she slept, though SpongeBob had been switched to an Investigation Discovery show. “Better than I actually thought it would be. It was fine.”

Ruby scoffed, “You guys are so annoying. It’s like trying to solve a riddle. Regina basically said the same thing when I called her.”

“You called Regina too?” Emma stood and began pacing in front of the couch.

“Well! I wanted to know. It’s been five very long years.”

“So wait, Regina said that things went well too?” Emma worried her lip, “Did she say anything else?”

“Yeah. She said it wasn’t quite like having her old friend back, but it was close. She also said that she had expected for you to end up fighting, but you didn’t. She said she hadn't laughed like that in a long time.”

Emma sat down on the couch with a hard thump, that bewitching smile flashing before her eyes.

“Oh and she said that you left something behind at the bar. Sunglasses”

“Oh? Emma searched the table but her sunglasses were not there, “Maybe I should call her and see if she has them.” Emma knew how saying that sounded and she couldn’t help but to roll her eyes at herself.

Ruby, being a good friend, let Emma’s obviously changing opinions slide by without comment. “Oh, she’s not home. When I talked to her, she was just getting off of her shift a little early. She said she was going to take advantage and go for a long run.”

“Oh.”  

Emma felt like a run.

She hadn’t done one yet today and all of the sudden she felt as though she really needed to - right now. She even thought she knew where she should go. She wasn’t going to think about what she was doing or what it meant; she just knew she wanted to go.

She had been given one hit of Regina and maybe she was craving another.

Emma jumped up and began grabbing her favorite jogging pants as she continued to chat with Ruby, only half listening.

After a few more minutes of uh-huh-ing and yeah-ing, she said in a lull, “Hey, Ruby, if you don’t mind I’m going to go. I was asleep before and I have a few things I need to do.”

“Uh huh.” Ruby giggled, “Have fun.”

“What? I’m not - shut up, I have to go.”

She could hear Ruby yelling embarrassing things into the phone as she clicked the end call button.

Warm, lighthearted ease washed over her as she slipped on her pants and her favorite running tank top. She paused at the mirror to inspect herself. Her legs were strong inside of her tight running pants and her stomach that sat open and exposed past the hem of her tank top was taut and toned. She carefully gathered her hair up into a tight ponytail and pulled on her running shoes. It wasn’t that she needed to be attractive, why would she need that but - she felt better all the same, knowing she didn’t look like the wreckage after a tornado. She began to tighten her pants to hide the swirl of gold there and then paused. What if she didn’t? What would Regina do?  But no, that wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do. Shaking her head she tied the drawstring and was ready to go.

There was a trail along a cliff at the edge of town that had always been her favorite spot to run. Once she had gotten Regina into the hobby around the age of sixteen, it had quickly become her favorite spot as well. It began hidden in the forest but then quickly curved into a beautiful cliff view along the water. When she had left Storybrooke the trail had been a hidden gem but it was clear as she pulled into the vacant grassy lot where the trail began that the spot had become quite popular.

Along the trail, she found herself looking out over the cliff at the peaceful water. When she had been a teenager, she had come here every day, some days with Regina, other days on her own. She had spent nearly all of her time here after her father had died, avoiding Mary. It was calming. It had always been her place.

As she ran, she listened to the pat, pat, pat of her feet on the leafy ground and the soft whoosh of the water below, quickly finding an old familiar comfort in it. The smell of the damp ground hinted at fall, as only a forest can do.

Her thoughts began to drift to the wedding. The plans were going well; she was even ahead of schedule, which was nice.

She had plenty of amazing things planned. She also had an amazing future wife; she couldn’t forget that. She was marrying someone who knew how to make her laugh and who offered comfort and security for the rest of her life if she wanted it. I mean, of course, they weren’t perfect or anything like that, but she knew she was luckier than some.

Thinking of Hanna made her miss her. She wondered if she could convince her to nail down the date of her visit soon. It had been over a month. Emma thought she would have come by now.

She thought about this morning and felt her mood darken. Why did Hanna’s sudden bond with Janelle make her so nervous? Was it because they were settling into the distance, so Emma was hearing from her a little less? Or was her mind drifting to far darker theories?

Or - No!

Spastically she began jumping up and down in place, shaking her arms, legs and rolling her head in a whole body seizure. The woman passing on her left yelped and picked up her pace, glancing over her shoulder at the mad woman.

“Sorry!”

She was supposed to be relaxing. She needed to freaking relax, god damn it. Somehow it felt like she hadn’t relaxed in weeks, no months. She hadn’t relaxed since that ring went on her finger and she realized she had a wedding to plan. Though coming to Storybrooke had changed things. She felt like her body was rigid at all times, stiff with worry; worry about Hanna, worry about Regina, worry about her mother.

Maybe she just needed a good rest.

She took a deep breath, cracked her neck and started to run again. Concentrating on her breathing she focused as it went in and out, blocking out all other thoughts. In and out, it was clean and cool. Just in and out.

She wanted to feel happy today and any thought of darker theories with Hanna or any of the other things that brought her stress would only make her feel worse. There was no need to be paranoid. That would only drive her insane.

As she ran her agitation grew. Maybe Regina wasn’t here. Maybe she didn’t know the woman anymore. Five years was a very long time. The thought depressed her further. Then again, why did she care? Why had she come here? Why couldn’t she make up her mind?

She ran for a little while longer and was just about to turn back when she caught sight of her goal and started to laugh. There indeed was Regina running gracefully up ahead of her.

Regina was staring straight ahead, obviously lost in her own world running the opposite way of Emma. She stopped running when her coffee eyes landed on the grinning Emma and started laughing, her hands on her knees and head shaking. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Regina cried, “You’re everywhere.”

Emma laughed a little, but her insides suddenly ran cold. Regina wasn’t happy to see her. She was an idiot; god damn it! What was she thinking? Maybe she should say hello and move on. “How do you avoid someone who goes to all of the same places as you? Plus, you forget that this is my place. You are following me when you come here.”

“Not true. You moved away, therefore this trail is mine now. You are no longer a local.”

“Oh? Did my membership card get revoked or something?”

“Something along those lines, yes.”

Emma scoffed and tried not to notice Regina’s tiny shirt and skintight running pants.

Human, Emma. You’re only human.

“You’re full of it, you know that, right?”

“You look adorable.” Regina appraised as though she had just stubbed her toe, “It’s not fair that you look adorable even when you’re running.”

“Funny,” Emma said in a monotone, some of her pleasure at seeing Regina drained away. They could be friends, maybe, but she didn’t think she could handle amorous comments from her in any way. Plus, adorable? Did she want to be adorable? What, was she five? She looked down at her skintight shirt that had grown sweaty and slightly dusty on her run. No, she didn’t want to be adorable.

Nobody wanted to be adorable.

Regina grinned vampishly reading Emma’s mind as she always did.

“Knock it off.”

“What?” Regina asked, her grin growing.

“You know what.”

Regina tilted her head in the direction of the parking lot, “Are you going my way?”

“Hmm?”

“I was going to go shopping for dinner supplies and then cook. Would you like to join me?”

Emma stretched, “Are you inviting me over, Regina Mills?”

Regina’s eyes fell to Emma’s taunt skin and then away, her face clouding over, “No, I suppose not.”

“No, I’ll go.” Emma jumped and then smiled apologetically. She turned and began walking alongside Regina back the way she came.

“I’m surprised you still run.”

“What do you mean?”

Emma shrugged, “You seem different now. You seem less like someone who would run. Less like somebody who could be okay with getting a little dirty.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know. I thought you had become too girly to sweat. You have lost your edge of tomboy athleticism.”

Regina scoffed openly, “I can still kick your ass, Ms. Nolan.”

“Oh yeah? Would you like to bet on that?”

Regina shrugged in defeat; “Oh I don’t-”

Emma took off running hard, laughing as Regina yelled behind her that she was cheating. “Oh, like you weren’t about to do the same thing!” She called over her shoulder.

“What ever could you mean? I am a bit too refined to cheat, Emma!”

Emma sprinted to the best of her ability the woman at her heels. “See! I told you! You can’t beat me!” She ragged, sticking out her tongue over her shoulder. When she got to the parking lot however she realized she didn’t know what Regina drove these days. She lost on a technicality when Regina tagged her car, but she was laughing too hard to care.

“That’s right” Regina taunted, leaning against the black car “I kicked your ass.”

“Cheater!” Emma cried and fell onto the grass, winded, “I realized I didn’t know what you drove so how could I beat you to it?”

“Excuses, Ms. Nolan, excuses.”

“Did you just wink at me? You’re not allowed to wink at me!”

“Is that a rule, Emma Nolan?”

“Yeah, that’s a rule, Regina Mills.” Emma sat up, studying her, “Since when do you call me by my last name?”

Regina frowned, toying with her necklace, “I don’t know. I suppose it’s a professional mannerism I have picked up. Though I suppose I shouldn’t get in the habit, you’ll be Mrs…”

“Mason.”

“You’ll be Mrs. Mason soon enough.”

Emma gave her half a smile and stood, “Should I follow you?”

 


 

Emma followed Regina’s car to the tiny in-town grocery store, wishing the entire time that she could run home and change before this evening happened. She was sweaty and gross and still a little shocked and confused by the whole deal.

So she had sought Regina out. Yes, that was weird but at the time it made perfect sense to her. Perhaps it was simply that their friendship was an independent force like gravity. If they were near one another they were drawn in. It would explain why they had run into one another so many times.

Or it could be Storybrooke, Emma reminded herself harshly. A tickle of self anger flickered within her. What was she doing?  She hadn’t given herself time to think before and now she wanted to know why the hell she had done it. Why was she willing to face the possible heartbreak of losing her best friend all over again? She speculated that the second time wouldn’t be as hard. The first time she had no idea what to expect and this time around the pain would be familiar. Did that make it better? Perhaps that made it worse.

Still she didn’t turn around and go home, she straightened her hair as she drove and wiped her face with a napkin. Only this time perhaps it wouldn’t go that way. They had different lives now. They were different people. A lick of fear-tinted excitement shot up her soul and she shivered.

When she parked and got out she found that Regina looked a little bewildered as if she too wasn’t sure how the outing had happened. Perhaps she should ask her if getting together this way was really what she wanted before they went into the store and give her the option to sneak out without any consequences. If Regina didn’t want to spend the time with her then Emma didn’t want to make her. Hell, if Regina was feeling as torn as she was then she didn’t want to torture her.

The words were ready in her mouth as she approached but instead she asked, “So what’s for dinner?”

Regina smiled hesitantly at her and informed her that she hadn’t made a plan yet.

Emma thought about it, “You look tired. Can I cook for you?”

Regina smiled hesitantly, “You can cook now? I recall someone here achieved the wondrous task of burning water once.”

Emma rolled her eyes, “Okay sure, but that was once! And also, bite me.”

Regina’s eyes flared and Emma stopped, shocked at herself. Was Regina remembering the hickey she had received on her inner thigh as well? Jesus, it was like trying to navigate a minefield. Was there anything that didn’t remind them of their night together? “Do you want dinner or not, lady?” Emma finally finished, as though she hadn’t just walked herself into a trap.

Regina’s smile could have lit the night sky, “Yes please.”

The two went slowly into the store, occasionally throwing awkward smiles or insecure titters at the other over their shoulders. The easy, carefree spirit they both had felt on their familiar cliff was gone for the time being and replaced by a stiff tension.

“So what’s first on the list?”

Emma wondered if Regina was doing her best to seem enthusiastic instead of nervous as Emma was. Regina’s game face had always been better than hers. “I take a lot of cooking classes in New Orleans, which, by the way, is why my cooking skills have um, improved.” She spoke without thinking, leading Regina down the first aisle. “As a matter of fact I take a lot of classes period; pottery, poetry, cooking. I even took kickboxing last year.”

“You have time for that?”

“Well, I work during the day usually but often I have my evenings to myself. So anyway, I took an Ethiopian cooking class not long ago.”

“Really?”

“Mmhm, will you grab a chicken breast please?”

Regina hesitantly followed directions, seeming far from the strong, confident woman she normally was.

Emma found it strangely flattering. If Regina was this nervous then perhaps she wasn’t taking this lightly either.

They shopped slowly, comparing products they liked and looked through the wine selection. They debated playfully over which chocolates were the best and therefore which they should get for dessert.

They continued their discussion of work and coworkers. Emma spoke of the “idiot teenagers” who came to her signings convinced, as so many were, that she was secretly the great Detective Swan in disguise. Then Regina told Emma stories about the stupid ways people hurt themselves. It wasn’t long before they were laughing, not the tense laughter that dominated the beginning of the shopping trip but true laughter such as they had found atop the cliff.

Emma couldn’t lie though and say that being near Regina was completely easy. At random intervals, the hurt Emma held around her heart labeled Regina would flare with pain or sear with anger, crippling her for that moment. She would get a sudden whiff of her hair or perhaps Regina would turn and look at her with the soft, warm eyes that she used to know so well and Emma’s head would swim. Each time this happened she was tempted to blurt out her questions that haunted. But she was wise enough to know that would help nothing and no one. Would they talk about it one day in the future? Would she perhaps find out why she had been unwilling? She still wasn’t sure that she wanted to know why. Perhaps the best course of action for them was to pretend it had never happened at all. Then Emma would look at Regina and be blown away by her beauty and the sudden onslaught of memories of that night would bury her. She would remember for a moment what it had felt like to have her very best friend for a lover and her conviction that they should never speak of it would melt away. She would want to know why Regina hadn’t been willing to take the risk. She would remember the feel of her, the taste of her and she knew without a doubt that she needed to hear Regina say the words - it was because I could do better than you.

“So, I would like to run home and change really quickly. As much fun as it in to spend so much time in sweaty clothing, I wouldn’t mind being a little less smelly and gross.”

Regina laughed nodding, clearly understanding, “Why don’t I text you my address and you can meet me there?”

Emma nodded.

Regina turned toward her car and then stopped looking suddenly uncertain, “Same number?”

Sparks flared in Emma’s cheeks, the question while necessary was like a large banner hanging over them jeeringly pointing out the fact they had not spoken in years.

Emma got in the car after confirming and let out a huge sigh. The moment Regina was out of sight Emma slowly reached for the phone.

She didn’t want to do it, but she knew she had to. The thought had been solidifying in her mind since the cliff and she knew it wouldn’t be right to go to Regina’s house without having done it. A knot was forming hard in her throat but she swallowed it down. It was too late but better late than never.

“Hey babe, are you free for a few minutes?”

“Sure babe.” Hanna sounded cheery and Emma couldn’t decide if that was very good or very bad. “More wedding things?”

“Oh. No. Listen I want to talk to you about something.”

“Okay,” Hanna said slowly, a little less upbeat. No one ever likes hearing any rendition of ‘we need to talk’. “What is it?”

“Well, nothing too serious.”

“Okay.”

Emma squirmed in the car’s seat, “So last night I was out with Ruby for drinks and we ran into Regina.”

Hanna laughed, relieved, “Damn, I thought something bad had happened. Jesus fuck; that wasn’t nice. Damn.”

“Oh, uh, okay. I’m sorry.”

“So you ran into Regina again? You two really can’t seem to avoid one another.”

Emma laughed a little, “It will make a little more sense when you see Storybrooke. It’s tiny. But anyway, the thing is I saw her again today. Actually, if I am being completely honest this time, I kind of went looking for her.”

“’Kay…”

“And I’m supposed to be having dinner at her house now. I guess I have kinda given up on the idea of refusing her company.”

“That’s probably best.” Hanna’s tone was reasonable and Emma felt the lump returning. Give her wife-to-be another moment and she wouldn’t be reasonable anymore; Emma was sure of it.

“But the thing is, if I am going to let go and see how I feel about having her in my life again, at least while I’m back in town, then it’s only right that I probably tell you something.”

“Uh-oh. Okay.” Hanna’s voice was beginning to chill over, sending out a clear warning that read don’t give me a reason to be pissed off, Emma.

Strain began to flow through Emma’s veins cloying and fatiguing.

“Okay, so I know that you don’t understand why I have been so against seeing her and I thought I should tell you. Like I said, it’s not a big deal but I just thought you should know that Regina and I have a little bit of a past. Not a big one or anything just – a night.”

“A one night stand?”

“No.” Emma said a little too fast, “A night.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like a night, night. We were friends all of our lives, then right before I moved to New Orleans, we spent a night together. It didn’t work out and I left for New Orleans right after. I don’t know; it’s no big deal but I thought you might want to know.” She hoped her casual attitude would help her in the situation. Hanna had a right to be a little angry. She should have told her before this and any excuse she could come up with for why she hadn’t was exactly that, an excuse.

There was silence on the other line. Emma double-checked the screen to be sure the call wasn’t dropped. “Hanna?”

When Hanna’s words came they were surprisingly hot and hard, even to a person who had expected anger on the other line, “Is she the reason that you left Maine?”

“No! Not uh, not entirely,” Emma said in a soothing tone. “I also had a job offer from a magazine and I was young, I thought I had to be close to my publisher.”

Another silence.

“Hello?”

“So you’re telling me that you’ve been hanging out with your ex-girlfriend? Your ex-girlfriend that you were so angry with that five years later you are still pissed? You sought her out today and you say I just thought you should know?” Hanna’s voice rose louder and louder until finally she was yelling. Emma tried to push words of comfort in-between the angry sentences, but she couldn’t make them fit. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“Hanna!” Emma finally cried. “Calm down, please! I didn’t think it would matter since I had assumed I would never see her again. Besides, I didn’t tell you because you didn’t want to know about my exes, remember? I mean, yeah, that was kind of convenient because I didn’t want to talk about it but still, you didn’t want to know.”

“I would want to know about this!” Hanna bellowed at top volume into the phone making Emma wince and hold it away from her ear.

“Hanna! Please! We can’t have a conversation if you’re-“

“How can I trust you, Emma?”

“What?” Emma didn’t understand what Hanna could mean by that.

“Are you sleeping with her? Is that the plan for tonight? Are you calling me to clear your conscience before a tryst in bed?”

“Whoa! What? No!”

“Am I supposed to believe that? Tell me how I can trust you ever again after this.”

“Hanna, you’re acting like I said I cheated on you! I didn’t. I wouldn’t! I simply said we had a night once five years ago.” She sniffed, feeling tears threaten. No. She would not cry. NO!

But she was so tired. Emotionally. Physically.

No!

Right.

Emma scoffed, lip still trembling, “God, you know - why did I think you would be reasonable about this? You can’t expect an unreasonable person to be reasonable!” Silence on the other end alerted Emma that she had gone too far. “Hanna, I’m-”

“I’m going to remember you said that, Emma.” Hanna’s voice had become cool, dark.

Alarm shot through her and before Emma had realized she was doing it she had hit the end button and tossed the phone across the car.

Emma sat for a moment, shaking and stunned by what had just happened. She had known that Hanna would be jealous, she was always jealous but that voice - that voice she had just used.

Ooooooh god, she had just hung up on her. Hanna was going to kill her.

She gasped as a sharp pain ripped through her side and around to her belly. Clutching it, she rubbed hard. She needed to relax. Relax, relax, relax. She worked on the spot until finally the muscles released just a bit and she could take a semi normal breath again. She waited until her hands stopped shaking and her pain filled gasps had died to a steady in and out pace before she started out of the parking lot.

Should she not go to Regina’s? She was sure that was what Hanna would want. Should she honor that?

No. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She thought of all the ex-girlfriends Hanna still considered to be close friends and saw regularly. Hell, most of Hanna’s closest friends had at one time either been romantic partners or lovers. She huffed. She was going.

“Um - What’s wrong, honey?” Her mother called after her, shocked by the sound of the front door being shoved open.

“Nothing, can’t talk now, going to Regina’s.” She mumbled grumpily.

She ripped off her clothes and quickly washed her face. She threw on a new layer of deodorant, a light touch of makeup and did her best to hide the fact that her eyes were bloodshot with pent up tears. She didn’t know how she felt about what had just happened, but she knew if she didn’t hurry up she would lose her nerve and back out of going to Regina’s altogether. She threw on a white shirt, fashionably tight jeans and her favorite high-laced boots. She looked casual but she looked good and that added a layer of confidence.

She didn’t let herself think about Hanna’s reaction because if she thought about that then those ever-struggling stress tears would break free - and she couldn’t have that - not now - not ever.

Had Hanna really accused her of cheating simply because she hadn’t told her about her past? Sometimes she had no idea who the hell Hanna was.

She double-checked herself in the mirror, pulling her hair down, so it flowed around her shoulders. Good enough, I guess.

She was about to go and spend the evening with Regina. Before she could stop it, a small disbelieving smile crept onto her lips and she was grinning.

She would give Hanna a while to calm down and she would talk to her tomorrow.

“Okay bye, mom.” She yelled as she ran down the stairs then stopped sharp at the self-satisfied look on her mother's face, knocked off course yet again today. “Now what could that smile possibly be about?”

Her mother laughed, covering her mouth like a schoolgirl.

“What?”

“I’m just having flashbacks to teenage Emma; that’s all.”

Emma smiled at her weakly.

“I thought you adamantly did not want to see her.”

“I thought you were adamant that I should.”

“I am. What changed? Did you make up?”

Emma shrugged, “I think you knew what you were doing with that photo album, mom.”

Mary gave her an overly innocent look, “What do you mean, honey?”

Emma’s eyes narrowed a bit, not fooled, “Your plan with the pictures worked. I feel guilty for not giving her a second chance, so I’m letting this happen. I think we are just trying, right now, mom. Don’t add any pressure. Please.”

Mary smiled, “Trying is better than not trying, sweetie.”

Emma nodded noncommittally and started toward the door.

She looked at the address and knew exactly how to get to where she was going despite her five-year absence; she knew she was going to be impressed once she got there.

It was only a five-minute drive, but then again everything in Storybrooke was a five-minute drive away. She wasn’t even sure why anyone had cars.

Her phone chirped just as she was leaving the driveway with a text from Hanna. “You hung up on me.”

She frowned and sent a quick text back, “You freaked me out with that voice. You promised not to use that voice anymore.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“Okay. <3”

“So, are you going?” was all it said.

“Yes, babe. I’m going because what you accused me of isn’t true.”

The chirp was almost instantaneous, “I can’t believe you.”

Emma screamed into the empty space of the car and threw her phone onto the passenger seat again, stomach churning a nasty thick mix of fury and nausea. How dare she! Emma sped down the street grumbling under her breath. She had never once given Hanna a reason not to trust her - ever - so why was this how Hanna was behaving? She thought they had talked about this type of damned behavior!

When she pulled into the driveway of the huge house, Emma was still fuming. She needed to put the feeling away, she needed to get over it only she couldn’t. She knew that Hanna thought she had every right to tell Emma what she could and could not do but no! She absolutely did not.

She shoved her phone in her pocket and full of defiance stepped from the car.

 


 

Emma wasn’t wrong about the house. It was huge, beautiful and set center in the strip of town where Emma and Regina had always aspired to live.

The house was perhaps the largest and neatest on a block of grand houses with well-manicured lawns and hedges that were set burning by the setting sun’s golden hour. It was all very picturesque and it made Emma laugh with muffled jealousy. She missed the type of life that allowed for a beautiful and perfectly cherished home. She yearned for a place she could permanently call her own just about as much as she yearned for a family of her own. She had moved eleven times in her life from six foster families to The Nolan’s, then from her childhood home to the loft - the loft to her own apartment - her apartment to New Orleans...only to meet Hanna and move into her apartment.

Emma cleared her throat as she stood on the stoop and tried to swallow down the last of the giant pill of anger Hanna had left behind. She could deal with that later.

She knocked on the front door, feeling faint at the thought.

Regina’s house! Hoooooly crap, she was about to walk into Regina’s house.

Emma knew she was still young - she knew that - still there were moments when she felt surreal goose bumps run down her arms as she realized she was no longer a child or even a young adult. They were fully fledged and fully qualified adults now. They had been given their certificates of authentication. The thought was something that still took Emma a moment to wrap her head around. Of course, these moments of clarity were quickly becoming increasingly infrequent as she aged but standing on the steps of the home Regina owned she felt it’s rippling effect. When had they grown up? How many times had she asked herself that recently?

Emma knocked again shaking the feeling off and Regina opened the door smiling radiantly, her cool confidence back with the change of scenery in her favor. Of course much to Emma’s chagrin the first thing Regina said was “You’ve been crying. Are you all right?”

“What? No, I haven’t. Why do you say that?”

“Your ears are still red.”

She didn’t bother to tell her that the struggle had been real for a moment there.

Emma stepped inside ignoring her and was hit by a wall of smell, all of it reading Regina and confusing her. It was strange and subtle mix of Wen hair products, Jasmine blossom and Elizabeth Taylor’s Design. Design had always and would always smell like Regina to her. It was a short-lived product in the Taylor line but Regina had loved it since they were teenagers and somehow was apparently still able to find it. Once, a year into her life in New Orleans she had smelled it on the street while shopping with Hanna. It had been the only time she had smelled it on someone besides Regina and she had burst into tears right there in front of Cafe Du Monde. The smell was comforting - infuriatingly comforting.

“I can’t believe you live here!” Emma sighed, pretending Regina hadn’t just watched her take a huge appreciative swallow of the air, “No wonder I’ve heard Ruby complain about your house, you’re living in a dream home.”

Regina studied her as if she couldn’t tell for certain whether Emma was being rude or teasing. “It’s all very beautiful, Ginny. Congratulations, I know you have worked very hard.”

Regina beamed, “I’m glad you like the house, I’m a little bit in love with it myself but if you think it’s nice now wait until you see the bathtub!”

“Oh, Miss. Mills, you know how to shake a girl's knees!” Emma cooed and then blushed at herself not quite ready to be silly with her yet. It was weird how in some ways this was all coming so easily. It made Emma unsure of how to behave, should she be her calm and comfortable old self or would it be better to treat Regina as a distant friend or stranger? Where was the guidebook on proper etiquette when dealing with a friend turned lover, turned enemy, turned friend-ish - person -type - thing?

She noticed that Regina had changed as well into a casually cute but clearly expensive soft cotton black top and a very formal pair of khaki slacks with no shoes. Her toes were painted the same shade of red as her lipstick.

Emma’s eyes lingered there before she finally caught herself and squinted in the opposite direction, hearing Hanna’s angry and yelling voice in her head again. Was she doing something wrong? She felt the overwhelming urge to ask her former confidant for her opinion, but she knew that wouldn’t be right.

She turned and caught sight of a few books stacked on the coffee table. It was clear that this was their permanent home, meant to be on display as conversation pieces and Emma felt her mouth fall open in shock. “Wait,” She picked one up and watched Regina’s face flush ever so slightly, “This is mine!” There was a photography book filled with beautiful pictures, a book on interesting medical facts, a few coasters and a copy of The Thing You Love Most and That Still Small Voice: A Detective Swan story.

“They’re uh, quite a conversation starter in Storybrooke; I’m sure you can imagine.”

“But I thought you hadn’t gotten one yet.”

Regina shrugged and turned toward the kitchen.

“Do you know what the third one will be called yet?”

Emma plunged her hands into her pockets self-consciously, “I was thinking of Desperate Souls.”

“Why?”

Emma let out a long breath, “I’ll tell you why once I figure it out.”

Regina tittered, her infamous secret smile on her lips.

 

Emma fell in love the moment she saw the kitchen. Everything in the room was aged stainless steel and copper, the counters were a deep marble and the floors a warm and inviting wood. It was beautiful.

“Oh, I love it all.”

Regina smiled privately.

Emma noticed the bags still sitting on the counter and decided to start unpacking. “So I-“ Emma jumped when, as if falling from the skies, a high-pitched screaming began to warble ricocheting back at them off of all of the walls. Frowning she turned to Regina, who stood studying the ground.

“Um,”

“I thought we had more time.” Regina caught her eyes and smiled lightly, “I’ll be right back.”

Emma started. The new warmth in those coffee eyes was shocking and – if Emma was honest, addicting. “What?”

She watched Regina walk briskly out of the room, perplexed. A baby? That had definitely been a baby. Looking around the room her confusion grew when she noticed a small blue and white monitor sitting to the left of the sink. And wait – a number of clean glass bottles sat drying on a small towel next to it. Is that a teething ring? Was Regina babysitting? Surely someone would have told her if -

Footsteps sounded down the stairs and Emma whirled just in time to see Regina reappearing, cradling a brunette baby in her arms, her nose rubbing affectionately into its temples.

The words popped out before Emma could stop herself, “Oh my god, he’s so cute!”

Regina laughed and answered in a softly singsong-y voice for the baby, “Yes he is. He’s the cutest and most handsome baby in the world, isn’t he? Would you like to meet your Auntie Emma? I promise she won’t bite.”

Emma took him without having to think twice, immediately cuddling the small boy into her and groaning. He placed his hands on her chest, eyes wide as he tried to take her in, then was distracted by her hair. “He smells so good! Hi, little man. Ow!” She pulled her hair out of his hand and kissed his cheeks and fingers affectionately.

He had the same shade of chestnut brown hair as Regina but his eyes -, “Did Zee start having kids already? I would have thought that my mom would have told me!”

Regina only had one sister who had been unfortunately named Zelena after a distant relative. Zelena and Regina had never been very close growing up. There was a solid number of years between them, which meant by the time they were old enough to develop a friendship outside of sisterly rivalry, Zelena had left the house for college. When Regina and Emma had last spoken Regina was working hard on developing a friendship with her sister whom, as far as Emma knew, lived a few hours away in Boston next to Regina’s mother.

“Well, actually Zelena has two girls now but no, he’s not hers.”

“No?” For the first time since she had taken him into her arms Emma looked up from the baby’s cherub cheeks.

Regina smiled, her eyes only for the boy, “No, he’s mine.” The boy began to fuss and Regina went to the sink, beginning to fix a bottle.

Emma watched her dumbfounded, reflexively bouncing the boy a little. Her heartbeat remained a steady bump – bump – bump but each beat was hard and hit her chest like a hammer. Why did it matter? What was making her want to cry here? What the hell? When she found her voice, it was weak and slightly strained, “You had a baby, Regina? I missed you having a baby? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Regina laughed, shaking the bottle quickly, “Well in a manner of speaking. I adopted him.”

“You adopted him?” She repeated in a whisper, her eyes finding the boys beautiful hazel orbs again. It was impossible, Emma knew that but somehow these eyes looked like they could be – and the nose…it looked a little like… only his chin looked like - and his hair…well that was stupid it wasn’t possible...

“Yes, I did.”

“When?”

“Just over six months ago.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” She let out a small upset laugh as the boy oscillated between fussy and fascination with the game of trying to shove his entire fist, he only just had control over, into his mouth. Every time that the appendage jerked out of his mouth the boy blinked, staring at it with deep offense.

“Well,” Regina took a deep breath, “I asked everyone not to.”

“To tell me?” Emma gasped, stung. “Specifically me or-“

“No, to tell anyone. His birth parents are teenagers local to Portland and are both heavy meth users. They were unwilling to give up their parental rights. It didn’t matter; they were stripped of them not long after he was born, but the agency and I feared some type of retribution.” Emma gasped, her heart welling with sympathy for the boy in her arms. “We thought it best for the adoption to close before we shared the news with anyone outside of close friends and family. That was only a week ago. I’ve been so busy that I’ve only had the time to take him out to Granny’s once. Honestly, it seemed like everyone was too afraid to ask anyway so most of the town doesn’t know that he’s here yet.”

“Well you do have a very well known temper, Regina.”

Regina scoffed, only proving Emma’s point.

“Close friends and family?” These words wounded Emma more than she was willing to admit and she whispered to herself, “Yeah, I suppose I don’t count as that anymore.”

“Actually,” Regina shifted against the counter a bit, “I tried to tell you. When Leroy was giving us a hard time last night. He had interrupted me and then it was late and I knew I needed to get home for the nanny.”

The boy fussed again and Regina tentatively held out the bottle. Emma took it, feeling stupid. How could she not have known? No wonder Regina always looked so tired. She was working who knew how many hours a day with a new baby at home - by herself. For a second she was overwhelmed by the strength of her old best friend; Regina had always been the strong one. Was Regina okay? Did she and the boy need help? She could - she didn’t know - something...she could something.

Staring down at the boy as he sucked in earnest on the bottle, his long lashes causing tidal waves of cute every time he blinked, her heart began to swell. It was a habit of hers at this point in life to instantly love every baby that fell into her arms. She was now at the age where friends were settling into life and having babies by the handful. This meant most social visits, outside of Hanna’s friends, came with a constant string of babies in her momentary care so their parents could go to the bathroom or run a small errand. But knowing that this baby was Regina’s – the affection swelled and then clamped down on her heart with a vice like grip. She nuzzled his sleepy, slightly milky cheek.

“He’s beautiful.”

Regina sighed, “I know.”

“What’s his name?”

Regina’s beam turned into an eye twinkling smile, “Henry.”

Emma gasped and glared daggers, “Oh, Ms. Mills you are in trouble. I paid for that name fair and square. You stole it!”

“Well, to be fair I thought that I would never see you again. If you would like, I can buy you a bag of gummy bears to make up for the one you gave me in exchange for full rights to the name.”

Emma chuckled, stroking his little nose. He blinked trying to watch the contact and went crossed eyed, slightly confused. “No, Henry seems perfect for him. How old is he?”

“Just over six months.”

They were silent for a while, both watching the boy do very little of anything before, with a sigh, Emma handed him back.

“I wish you would have told me.”

“I know.”

Leaning against the counter Regina held the babbling child while Emma began unpacking the bags, trying to figure out why the sudden existence of the boy hurt so very fucking much. It didn’t make sense...

“So.” Regina handed Emma a knife and let her silently go to work, “Tell me about New Orleans.”

Emma found that her chest tightened thinking about her city.

Regina asked, giving the boy her knuckle to gnaw on. “Do you live in the French Quarter?”

Emma snorted, “No! No way! No one lives in the French Quarter. It’s predominantly the extremely rich and the extremely rich that rent out to the tourist. We looked at a room when Hanna and I were moving in together. It was tiny, disgusting, had rats and both times we went to see it there was puke in the downstairs doorway and it still ran for a grand a month! Honestly, I wouldn't want to live in the quarter. I guess the outskirts are quiet enough, but there are still drawbacks. For a while I was working for a magazine based down there. Every morning, as I was coming in, the poor desk girl was hosing down the sidewalk to get off the vomit from the night before - and that was on the outskirts. The center, near Bourbon Street, is just so loud. It would be like living in a frat party every day and there is never any parking. Besides, once you’re about a block into the Quarter you start to realize that the whole place stinks.”

“What do you mean?” Regina asked with a laugh.

“I mean exactly what it sounds like. Most of the tourists you meet down there have been drinking steadily all day long. I’ve never seen so much vomit in one place. Every single shop in the quarter has a hose spigot in it so they can wash down the sidewalk, which the city requires them to do daily. So that means that tourists spend the entire night vomiting and urinating all over the Quarter and then every morning the owners come and wash it into the street. The whole place smells like sour, nasty vomit, alcohol and wet concrete - and to top it off on Sunday mornings the city goes through in this big Zamboni looking thing and sprays the street and sidewalks with the disinfectant that looks like soapy dishwater.”

“That sounds disgusting.”

Emma laughed, “It is. Everyone thinks that the Quarter is so wonderful and it’s true that you can’t go to New Orleans without spending at least two days in it. But the odds are unless you’re there to drink and party then after two days you’re done. No, we live in the Lower Garden District. It’s beautiful. New Orleans has a parade for every little thing all year long, not just Mardi Gras and all of the parades go through the Lower Garden District.” Emma sighed in longing, “Tourists want to live in the quarter but locals want to live where we do I would like to say that you wouldn’t like it, but I actually think you would really love it.” She continued to explain all about the city, about the houses that still stood damaged by the horrible hurricane, often nestled between perfectly remodeled ones. She told her about the atmosphere of the people and about the strange voodoo culture that really did exist in the open there. She told her about the common misconceptions people had about New Orleans and what the city was really about. She told her about the different tours you could take around the city whether you wanted to learn about history, about the buildings or about the strange vampire and witch lore that lived throughout. She told her about the swamps and the bayous that were only a short drive away and the bugs, which seemed to have grown unusually large in the marshy weather of the spring and summer. When she was done talking she was deeply homesick. How much fun would it be to stroll down Bourbon Street with Regina or to dine and window shop on Chartres Street.

“It sounds as though you really love it.”

Emma could hear a soft sadness in Regina’s voice and she wondered if Regina regretted settling in their small hometown; her aspirations had always included moving to a larger city.

“I do. You would too if you ever saw it.”

Regina’s deep eyes settled on Emma’s and a small thread of understanding passed through them.

Emma’s phone rang and she jumped a little guiltily, ripping her eyes away from Regina’s. It was Hanna.

I could just put it back in my pocket, she thought. I could just put it back and avoid whatever she has to say for just a little while. Those beautiful hazel baby eyes had tamed the feeling of stress-induced nausea and she didn’t want to bring it back. Only – she could just imagine what Hanna would assume if she didn’t pick up the phone.

“I have to take this.”

Regina nodded, looking politely away and to the baby as Emma slipped into the living room for the illusion of privacy.

“Hi.”

There was a hesitation on the other line while Hanna processed something about Emma’s tone or words, “You’re there.”

“What?”

Hanna sighed, “You’re really at her house.”

“I would really like you just to be okay with that.” Emma felt her voice wobble as she asserted herself, “Hanna, I should have told you about my history before, I see that point but please stop acting as though I’ve done something more serious. You didn’t want to know about my exes and I had no reason to tell you before now.”

“You’re different there.”

“What?”

“You’re different there and I don’t like it. Why are you different there, Emma? What’s going on?”

“I’m not different here!”

“At home you would never do this to me.”

“Do what?” she cried in an exasperated whisper. “I haven’t done anything to you, that’s my point!” A heavy weight sat on her chest, shortening her breath and keeping her heart beating heard. She rubbed her face but the soft blur around the edges of her vision would not go away.

Hanna was silent for a long time. “I’ve decided to come out to see you the day after tomorrow.”

“Huh?” She knew this should have made her happy but instead she felt oddly uncomfortable, like she was being checked up on by an angry parent. She didn’t care for it at all.

“I have a few days off, so I’m going to do that. Besides I think we need to have a talk face to face.”

“I am not sleeping with anyone else.” Emma hissed into the phone understanding Hanna’s point.

“I didn’t say that. Look, I’ll let you go and call you tomorrow with the details.”

Emma pocketed her phone again and leaned against the arm of the couch, collecting herself. She knew that she needed to clear her face; Regina would be able to read things that she didn’t necessarily want to give away. She wouldn’t think about Hanna and her jealousy now. She couldn’t think about how much had changed in Regina’s life. She couldn’t think about all of the things that were hanging on her shoulders, crushing her into the ground.

“Sorry about that.” Emma smiled weakly as she reentered the kitchen. She felt jittery, shaken. She was overwhelmed, a band of tension that seemed to be ever present these days settled around her chest and she couldn’t get in a deep breath. The wedding plans. Regina. Hanna. Being back in Storybrooke for the first time in a very long while. Baby Henry. It was all becoming a bit much.

Perhaps she needed to go home and get some rest.

“No, problem.” Regina stirred the now sizzling chicken with one hand while the infant teetered between sleep and waking in her other arm. “Is everything alright?” she asked not looking up at her. Emma was thankful for her courtesy.

“Of course!” She chirruped.  

Regina nodded once,  “I’m going to go put Henry back down and see if I can get him to sleep a little bit more. Would you open that bottle of wine?”

Emma nodded and Regina disappeared. She could hear her former friend over the monitor whispering sweet nothings to her newly found child. Envy, green and nasty, reared its ugly head as she wondered if there would ever be a time that she would have a gorgeous little hazel-eyed baby to put down.

Regina had adopted. How amazing was that? She had given a lost little boy a home.

By the time Regina had reappeared the dinner was nearly finished cooking and Emma had control over her green-eyed monster again.

“So how did you and Hanna meet?”

The band of tension around her recoiled a little further, suffocating her just a little bit more. Emma groaned internally. Her side ached, strongly protesting the pressure.

This question was brushing far too close to things that were very important for them to one day discuss. Now Emma would have to admit just how soon after her move she had begun to see Hanna. Emma didn’t think she was ready to talk about that just yet. Was there a subtle way to change the direction of the conversation? She didn’t think there was, not when Regina had specifically asked. Could she get through this talk with how she was feeling? She wasn’t sure that she could, not tonight. She couldn’t take more pressure. Ugh, she had a headache and she was tired. Her internal spring was beginning to protest as it continued to twist and contort. Perhaps she should leave just after dinner.

Regina shot her a dry look over her wineglass when Emma didn’t respond, “We’re both adults here, Em. I think we can handle it.” She sipped her glass of wine and added, “I take from your silence that the answer will upset me.”

Emma picked up a towel on the counter and fiddled with it, “I don’t know, I don’t see why it should.” She lied and knew Regina could see the lie. “We started dating just over 4 and a half years ago.”

Regina nodded once, listening, clearly trying her very best to remain impartial.

Emma hated the story of how she and Hanna met so Emma had a well-rehearsed revised version of the truth that she typically told. She was ready to do that again but when she looked into those familiar eyes, she found herself spilling the truth, “I met Hanna about three months after I moved to New Orleans. I had been in a horrible funk and was considering just coming back home when I was invited to a party. I went and met Hanna. She was charming and I was not in a good place at the time.” She felt Regina, who had been checking the food flick a glance at her and then back down to the pot quickly.

“I had a little too much King Cake flavored vodka, which is disgusting by the way, and suddenly it seemed like going home with someone would solve everything for me. So I went home with her. We spent a lot of time together after that. She took care of me as a friend at first, but it became something else pretty quickly.”

“It sounds like originally Hanna was a rebound.” Regina laughed unsteadily.

Emma squirmed again, rubbing the stitch in her side. The band was growing tighter squeezing painfully. She wasn’t ready for this. “I prefer not to think of it that way anymore. It trivializes…things.”

“I understand.” Regina answered softly, “How did she propose?”

Emma gathering napkins and water glasses for the table as she explained the evening and the proposal dinner. “It was awesome.”

Regina’s smile did not reach her eyes, “Very simple, I like it. Did you know before she proposed that you would get married?”

Emma cleared her throat stiffly and laughed, “No. Hanna is very career oriented. I didn’t think she would ever want to settle so I never thought of us that way - until she proposed.”

Regina nodded.

Emma’s phone buzzed in her pocket, so she quickly checked it. A message from Hanna reading, “I’m going to bed. Goodnight.” It wasn’t unpleasant exactly, but it also wasn’t sweet. So Hanna was mad. Emma flushed, feeling that weight press a little heavier on her chest. She needed air. What was she going to do about this? The furious fire roared to life in her before being doused with a heavy dose of depression. Why did Hanna have to behave like this?

Emma saw her chance to change the subject in the silence so shakily took it, “Enough about me though, what about you? What about your love life? How did you meet your girlfriend?”

Regina laughed, “I’m afraid I don’t have much to tell, Em. I was very busy during the last few years. I went on a few dates and had a few girlfriends of course but really I was too busy to do much besides renovate this place, work and more recently get to know Henry. I don’t know, I think that even if I hadn’t been that busy I would not have been ready to be serious about anyone.”

The comment left Emma feeling scandalized and dirty. She understood its meaning. She had run into the arms of the first woman who wanted her, while Regina had spent years focusing only on work, not ready to date. What kind of crap was that? She opened her mouth to say something but truly had nothing to say in her defense. She wanted to explain that she hadn’t agreed to go out with Hanna because she hadn’t loved Regina then but in fact she had agreed for the exact opposite reason. Hanna had been so different from Regina; it had been the difference that she liked while she was on the run from her feelings about her old best friend.

Regina shook her head, waving away Emma’s reaction, “I suppose we all handle things differently, Em.”

“Wait,” A thought occurred to Emma and suddenly her gut was a twisted tangled mess of tension, “how could you say that you were so traumatized when you were the one who rejected us? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Regina stared blank faced as if she was waiting to see if Emma would laugh at her own joke. The band around Emma’s ribs grew tighter every moment that Regina stared. She was beginning to struggle to take a deep breath. She missed smoking. Whenever things got too serious, too boring or pretty much too much of anything, she could excuse herself and have a valid reason for the break.

Finally she had to turn away from Regina’s surprised stare or break. She dished out plates of the meal and set the package of Ethiopian bread in the middle of the table.

Regina spoke what felt like ages later, “Em, you know why I said no.”

Emma bit back the words that her sharp tongue wanted to lash. Yes. She did. Not good enough. She had not been worth the fight. She got it. Ugh, why was she here?

“Are you alright?” Regina asked, alarmed, “You’re sweating.”

“Of course.”

“Emma.”

“It’s just difficult to hear you say that you were having such a hard freaking time when you were the one who said no. You know what,” Emma stopped herself before she could start rambling, “let's just put this aside for now, all right? There is no need to fight just now. Look, this is a dish you eat with your hands. See?” She dug out a small amount with her fingers and placed it in her mouth, “It’s fun.”

Regina smiled hesitantly, willing and tried it herself, “Wow, Em this is great.” She daintily dug out another chunk.

She needed desperately to clear her head or she was going to crack.  “So you never answered me, how did you meet your girlfriend?”

“At her shop actually.” Regina, said, wiping her mouth and fingers, seeming just as uncomfortable as Emma had felt when it had been her turn in the hot seat. She owns this little bakery off of Main and I would go in and get lunch often. One day Ingrid came out of the back and said she had been watching me and wanted to know if I would like to go out for a meal together. She is just as busy as I am which is nice because other women I have tried to date don’t understand the time commitment that my job requires.”

Emma had stopped eating, food dripping between her fingers, feeling her heart impossibly pick up pace in her oh-so-weary chest “Ingrid?” Dread was pooling in her stomach, like gut rot and even though she thought she knew the answer she had to ask anyway. “You’re dating Ingrid?”

“Yes. What? Emma, you don’t look like you’re feeling well. You’re very pale now.” Regina reached across the table to feel her forehead but Emma gently pulled back.

Her mind played back the first meeting with the beautiful blonde ‘Little Emma Nolan-; How was it she saw Emma as ‘little’ but Regina was date-able? She wasn’t so sure that she loved Ingrid so much anymore. “You’re seeing Ingrid? Blonde, hippie goddess, Any Given Sunday Ingrid?”

“Yes. Emma, I know she’s a bit older. That is the first thing anyone says but actually that has been in our favor. She understands-”

Emma began to giggle and then to laugh and then to guffaw roughly, holding her tender side. She wanted to stop, embarrassed by her reaction, but she couldn’t, the band around her ribs was choking her far too much for that. She suddenly felt feverish and shaky like she did on the days when she had far too much coffee and too little food. Fear tinted her thoughts as her laughter grew rougher. Was she having a breakdown? What was happening? She tried to put on the breaks, but it wouldn’t stop. This wasn’t funny. Her mind felt foggy while her body felt sluggish and heavy, making her wish for a large soft bed.

Regina sat patiently, her face rotating from a mask of confusion to annoyance to confusion to amusement to annoyance. “I can only imagine what this tyrannical laughter will be about.”

This only made Emma laugh harder until she began to cough with her body’s exhaustion. Why couldn’t she stop laughing? This wasn’t funny. This was terrible.

“Are you going to share what is so funny?”

Emma groaned, pushing the barely touched food away so she could let her head fall on the table, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know I’m being rude. I think I’m just under a little too much stress right now. My life!” She caught the look on Regina’s face and immediately apologized again, “Ingrid is making our wedding cake.”

“Oh.” Regina seemed unsure, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me. She is the only bakery in Storybrooke.” She paused, reading Emma’s face, “That upsets you? I can assure you that she is very good at her job and her food is delicious. I gained five pounds when we began to see one another.”

“I think I forgot how small towns work I guess since I have been in New Orleans. I mean, New Orleans itself is very small, but there are so many connected suburbs that it feels giant. You never run into people you know on the street. If you want to go missing in the city or hide from someone you can because it’s so large. Then again, with my recent luck maybe this would happen anyway, I don’t know.” Anger was creeping in, burning brightly and replacing the laughter bubbling inside of her, splatting everywhere like hot spaghetti sauce on a boiling stove. “I forget that here in a city roughly the size of a pin head things like that aren’t possible.”

“Emma.” Regina said slowly.

This all wasn’t fair. Now her wedding would be tainted with the memory of Regina; reminding her of what she had not been able to have. “Did you know,” she said unable to stop herself, “that I was sure I would not run into you? I mean I knew I would physically see you but nothing beyond maybe seeing you across a store or in another booth at Granny’s.”

Regina sat back clearly shaken, eyes wide, crossing her arms over her stomach and pursing her lips in defense. She was a breath away from fighting stance and Emma knew it.

“I had no intention of seeing you and now I’ve seen you quite a bit as a matter of fact I can’t seem to get away from you.” Emma knew she wasn’t being fair; she had searched Regina out today, but she didn’t feel rational at that moment. "And now I’m sitting here in your kitchen - which is beautiful and everything I could ever want - with your new sleeping son who weirdly looks like he could have been made by you and I, which - isn't real but is something, by the way, I used to spend hours dreaming about. Oh, and just in case this whole thing isn’t hard enough I have also hired your fucking girlfriend to make my wedding cake and cater the reception!” Tears of frustration had sprung to her eyes. She did not want to cry in front of this woman ever again. She did not want to say these things. She didn’t want - any of this. None of this was okay. Fuck!

The band on her chest exploded and buried her as the last sandbag she could handle dropped on her with a sickening thud. Oh no. A string of expletives poured out of her and she realized with a pang of panic that she was boiling over.

She needed to leave.

She needed to shut the hell up and leave, but she was still talking. “Hanna is going to freak out! She’s going to kill me.” She was ranting. “And I only just explained to her tonight – shit! You were the biggest secret in my relationship and now she’s going to fucking kill me. She’s going to -”

Regina had gotten to her feet; arms still crossed tightly, fire catching in her eyes. Slowly she had begun pacing as Emma ranted but stopped short to stare at her unbelieving, “What do you mean I was the biggest secret in your relationship?”

Emma let her head fall back to the table, wishing dearly that hadn’t slipped out. “Nothing. You’re not! You were, kind of, but you’re not anymore. Besides Hanna and I don’t really have secrets. I just never told her about us because I never thought I would see you again!”

Regina’s long eyelashes fluttered, processing. She leaned against the wall, composed, looking almost preternaturally easy except for her eyes, which blazed dangerously, warning off any predators.

“But I have seen you.” Emma continued, feeling like a snowball picking up speed down a hill. She was picking up speed and needed to get out of here or the mess when that snowball hit the bottom was going to be catastrophic.

But she couldn’t stop.

She was just so damn angry at Regina and yelling at her finally after five long years just felt so damn good. She thought she had forgiven her, but she hadn’t. She couldn’t. “Normally I can’t stand the thought of you so why would I see you? Five years later and I still can’t stand the fucking thought of you, Regina. But then I see you and it’s so hard to hate you when you’re standing there right in front of me and-”

Regina cut her off with a wave of her hand, stiff as a board, “Well I’m sorry that I’m making it so fucking hard on you, Emma. Why are you here then? You could have said no to my invitation. I was just trying to be nice. I was trying not to be the bitch that everyone knows I can be. I was just trying to be a decent person. You could have ignored me on the cliff today. You could have gotten your thumb stitched at a different office or, oh I don’t know the hospital that was five minutes from your home. Why did you come to my clinic?”

“My mother didn’t give me a freaking choice!” She yelled.

She needed to go. She stood but Regina wasn’t done hollering back and she couldn’t think properly when Regina was yelling at her. The sound made her mind feel like white noise on a broken television.

“Why are you here sitting in my dining room telling me how much you hate me? No one forced you be here, Ms. Nolan!”

“Stop calling me Ms. Nolan!” She bellowed back, rubbing her temples. “I don’t know why I’m here!” The fire in her was growing hotter than ever as she remembered five-year-old memories; thoughts were surfacing that had not been allowed into the conscious side of her mind in years.

She didn’t want to think about that.

She had gathered her phone and her wallet but now her keys, which she had set down somewhere, seemed to be hiding as a cruel trick. “I guess I’m here because it’s so hard to see you as the same person who broke my fucking heart five years ago. Look at you. What is that? Do you own nothing but high heels, business suits, and pencil skirts? Does your hair ever look like crap? You’re not the Ginny I knew; you’re some new hybrid Regina Bot. Where’s the girl who loves old music and bad horror movies? Is she gone? Where’s my Regina? Does she exist anymore?” She knew she was now speaking of the last hour they had spent together all of those years ago and not the person standing in front of her currently. She knew she sounded ridiculous and was already mortified that she had caused this. She wanted out before she said more; she just couldn’t seem to make her feet and brain work together.

She was confused. Her mind was foggy so she didn’t even notice the words that fell out in a small whisper or the stunned slapped, look on Regina’s face, “I want her back.

“Emma, I’m right here.” Regina tried to catch her eye but Emma was having none of that, busy hollering over her words.

“And where the hell are my keys? I need to go!”

Regina watched her for a few moments before her face crystallized into hard glass again, her moment of sensitivity gone when Emma ignored it, “What about you? Look at how much you’ve changed! Two published books and a little dyke fiancée? That’s what five years does, Emma! We’re not twenty-two or twenty-three or twenty-four anymore. We are past the point where we can be silly girls who can dye their hair at a whim or wear Converse to work. No, I don’t own anything but high heels, business suits, and pencil skirts. Do you want to know why? Because I am a professional. People pay me to look like a professional and pay me to tell them professionally what is wrong with them, for fucksake! When people are scared, they put their faith in me. Change is what happens when you miss five years of someone’s life, Emma. It’s what happens when you abandon them without a word or single fucking phone call for five very long years.”

This made the fire lick Emma’s insides again. “Abandon them?” she cried but Regina continued over her.

“You miss things like graduations, promotions, disappointments and all the other small things that take a person from girl to woman. Don’t pretend you know me anymore, Emma. If you want to continue to be angry with me, that is fine because you don’t know me! No more than I know who you are.”

“God, you’re so arrogant, Regina.” Emma didn’t yell this at Regina; she didn’t need to, and sure enough Regina’s face blanked the moment she said it. “We get it; you’re a doctor. Good job to you you’re a professional. I’m a professional as well Ginny, thousands of people all over the world, you not included apparently, read my words; yet somehow I can maintain a level of humanity and humility.” Emma finally spotted her keys sitting on top of a small bookshelf and snatched them up, “Yes, you made something of yourself, good job to you, Regina. We knew you would.” Emma clapped sarcastically her keys jingling between her palms, “She was able to avoid what mommy wanted only to become exactly what daddy wanted.” Her mind swore, rocking back and forth with new nausea. She wanted to take those words back but how could she apologize now? “Don’t talk to me of abandonment. I did not abandon you. It was you who stepped away from my side. ‘I can’t just pick up and go with you Emma’.” Emma mimicked in a childish voice, “Clearly it was the best thing for you because here you are living in your dream house with your new family and deluded enough to talk to me about abandonment. Good job for you.”

“You know what Emma, you don’t know what led to me becoming who I am today.” Regina’s voice was like ice and it burned, “You didn’t call, you didn’t write, you were gone so yes, abandoned. You didn’t give me time. You were gone within forty-eight hours! There was no time to think anything over. Do you realize what you were asking of me? So judge me if you would like for becoming what my father wanted me to be but at least I did not have to run away from my family to do it. I did not have to disappear overnight simply because I couldn’t handle my fear of abandonment!”

Regina had finally gotten to the point.

“I did not disappear. I took the job! Why shouldn’t I, Gin? I was the one who said I love you. I was the one who asked you to come with me. You were the one who thought we were too young or that our friendship would be ruined or that your damned residency would be at stake. You were the one who wasn’t ready for us. You were the one who wouldn’t do the work to even see if it was possible. You were the one who decided we should just be friends. What did I have to stay for at that point? A fucking friendship? It was easy, Regina. I said I loved you. You said no.” She jabbed each word pointedly at her.

“Oh, you know nothing!” Regina snarled, throwing her hands into the air. “Besides, it sounds like I did you the favor by opening you up for your oh-so wonderful fiancée. Engaged to someone you met three months after you left!” Regina scoffed under her breath, “Was it all that easy to get over, Emma?”

Was I that easy to get over? That was the real question and it hung in the air like black smoke.

Emma gasped, choking as her breath was knocked out of her. Thinking of those first months in New Orleans she finally began to cry. The snowball had found the bottom of the hill and slammed into a tree, covering everything in sight with bloody and painful snow.

“No.” She said quietly, tears flying as she shook her head emphatically. “You weren’t.” For a brief second, she thought of her recurring dream that haunted her nights and that did it. “Fuck you, Regina. Fuck this and fuck you.”

She whirled but before she could take two steps her eyes were caught by the bookshelf. There in the center of the top shelf were copies of The Thing You Love Most and That Still Small Voice. Unlike the ones on the coffee table in the living room that had been held together perfectly, the seams intact, these copies were worn, bent and scuffed. Even the copy of That Still Small Voice, which had only been out for a few weeks, was clearly heavily used. Pain and deep heavy confusion ripped through her, making her groan. Why had she lied? And what did the lie mean?

She knew the lie meant everything.

She left the house as quickly as she could.

As she pulled away in her mother's car, she saw Regina starting down the walkway of her home toward her but she knew she couldn’t stop and argue more. Emma blinked quickly to clear her vision and focus on getting home, leaving Regina on the sidewalk in front of 108.

When she pulled into the parking spot of the loft, she clicked off the engine, honestly surprised that she had gotten home safely. She climbed out and lay on the grass of the buildings small front lawn, staring up at the sky.

The hole in her chest burned and throbbed. Tears were still flowing and as wonderful as it felt to finally release them she took a deep breath and held it, penting up the nasty emotions so the waterworks would stop. She would not give in to that now. There was no way she would give in to that now.

This was her fault and that meant she didn’t get to cry. She knew that if they had never tried to be friends this would not have happened.

This was her fault and in the end, what had been the use?

They would never be friends again.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“What about that one?” Regina pointed subtly with her chin to the tall redhead by the buffet, eyebrows arching in question.

“No way. Isn’t that Lacey French? We went to high school with her.”

“So!” Regina shrugged, taking another drink from the bartender, “You don’t have to date her! I’m just asking if you think she’s hot. Plus if we discounted all of the people we went to high school with there would be no one left in Storybrooke to date.”

“There’s already no one to date.” Emma scoffed and shrugged, examining the girl from behind, “She’s all right, I guess.”

“I think you’re just picky.”

“No, I just remember her boyfriend throwing water balloons of shaving cream, milk and green food coloring at us on the high school quad in the name of ’spirit week.' Remember? Your mom had just bought you those Louboo- somethings.”

Regina gasped her face falling into a near pout at the tragic memory, “My Louboutin’s! Right. I was grounded for three months. Cora never bought me another pair! She said I clearly couldn’t handle the responsibility.”

“Right. Exactly. And suddenly Lacey’s less attractive for being attracted to a douche like that.”

“Hmmm, I see your point. Okay fine. What about her? Her boyfriend didn’t ruin a brand new pair of $700 my-mother-doesn’t-know-how-to-say-I-love-you shoes.”

Emma shook her head then rolled her eyes at Regina’s exasperation, “Whatever, creepy. Why are you trying to find someone for me tonight anyway? What’s with that? You’ve been doing it everywhere recently. Have you called Abby yet? She’s going to kick your ass if you don’t. You’ll be on the phone for two hours apologizing; don’t act like you won’t.”

“I’ll call her later.” Regina groaned, pulling Emma up from her chair. “Come on, if I can't find you a woman then you’ll have to settle for dancing with me.”

Though Emma was already sweating profusely and her feet were sore she agreed, allowing herself to be pulled into Regina’s arms and out onto the floor.

They danced, spectators gawking as they did the bump and grind. The locals were still not altogether over the spectacle the girls had created by coming out of the closet. Nothing happened in Storybrooke. Therefore, the citizen’s simple lives had been rocked to the core by their announcement. The girls finished another drink and then danced around for an hour more, oblivious to the show they were putting on, only stopping when Emma insisted she must sit or lose her feet to strain.

Regina allowed her a total of five minutes of rest before she was back to pulling on her arm.

“No, no! I’m going to use the restroom and take a break! Where does your energy come from, Energizer Bunny? Damn! Aren’t you supposed to be sleep deprived?”

Hobbling, Emma and Regina snuck out a side door to share a cigarette and then made their way to bathroom; Emma noticing that Lacey French seemed to have her eye on Regina. Emma scowled and adjusted her dress irksomely.

Everyone always had their goddamned eye on Regina.

“Hey Em,” Regina said offhandedly as she entered the bathroom, “my dad just told me that he wants your next dance.”

Emma shuddered “Oh boy, that won’t be awkward at all.”

“Oh, just give it to him.” She said pushing Emma a little, “It’s not every day he has an excuse to dance with such a beautiful lady.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively, “Just watch your toes during the drunken shuffle.”

Emma frowned at her reflection in the mirror, eyes flicking to Regina reapplying her lipstick and back.

Regina was beginning to come into her looks fully and it was giving Emma a complex. No matter how artfully she applied her makeup - when she wore it - her looks were always simple and classic. She envied Regina’s full lips, velvet eyes, and chiseled jaw.

“What’s that scowl about?” Regina dabbed her lips, staring into Emma as she had a habit of doing, leaving Emma naked to her all too knowing eyes. There was no such thing as keeping secrets from Regina, not really. Those eyes found them instantly.

Emma sighed dramatically, “Nothing, just hard to see myself as a beautiful anything standing next to you; you know, the same issue as always.” She knew she wasn’t unattractive, as a matter of fact she knew she was legitimately attractive but having – her – for a best friend… well… you know.

Regina hissed, her eyes rolling, “Don’t be ridiculous. I overdid it today. I was celebrating being out of scrubs. Why can’t they look like they do on medical dramas?”

“What, you mean all form fitting and hot?”

“Yes. It’s an unfair lie. No one ever looks like Meredith Grey; trust me.” Regina growled to herself and with a sassy sway of her hips she was gone.

Emma chuckled, double-checking her makeup, reapplying with a heavier hand than normal. Regina already had a girlfriend, but Emma needed to work harder if she was going to find one. Regina was right, she had been single for too long - not that she expected to find anyone in this crowd.

She stepped out of the bathroom and turned to head down the hallway. Before she could join Regina at their table, a sweet-faced brunette interrupted her, “Hey, its Emma, right?”

She nodded.

“Jamie. Would you like to dance?”

See! The makeup was working already, “Oh, I was just promised to Henry. Later? I would love to later.”

Jamie nodded politely and watched her go. Emma didn’t notice, caught by Regina’s eyes across the floor directing her toward her father.

“I’m going!” she mouthed. Regina’s face cracked at Emma’s response and began to shine with a smile.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry!” Emma yelped as she stumbled, distracted, into the bride’s very elderly grandmother. The old woman was only saved from toppling over by a quick snatch on Emma’s part. She checked the grumbling woman over, apologizing again and again until the woman’s angry yells slowed enough for her to escape to her equally bad fate of dancing with Regina’s father.

Emma spun around the floor with Henry, perhaps faster than she would have liked, quickly growing motion sick. He didn’t say much to her, he never did. In all the years that she had played at his house, gone to his family events and shared awkward dinners, Emma didn’t think he had said more than ten words to her. He didn’t need to do a lot of talking because Cora did enough for the both of them.

He just cleared his throat awkwardly a few times and gruffly grumbled as the song ended. He hadn’t taken more than a handful of steps toward the bar when Jamie was at her side again, “What about now?”

Emma beamed, “Well hello again.”

“Hello. Shall we?” Jamie didn’t wait for her to respond, just smiled and wrapped her arm around her waist, tightly. She moved with surprising agility and Emma found that she didn’t hate the company. She was sweet in a very innocent way. The first song turned into a second and then when the third began slow and soft Jamie pulled her close without asking.

“So, how do you know the bride and groom?”

Emma grinned a bit in her vice like grip, unsure what she thought of the girl yet, but was game to find out, “I don’t really know either. I’m here with Regina.”

“Oh, are you her date?” Jamie’s face fell slightly.

“Oh, no. Just friends.” She looked over her shoulder and caught Regina’s glinting eye.

Regina slowly smiled, a dreamy look on her face. She looked like she had been hit hard over the head or perhaps had just hit her limit of champagne.

Alarmed Emma frowned and mouthed, “Are you okay?”

Regina’s face cleared into a guilty grin.

Emma watched, worried, as Regina stood and gracefully made her way to them, “Can I cut in Jamie?”

She and Emma frowned, “Regina. Go away!” She whispered but Regina’s face was set in stone.

She apologized to Jamie who was clearly annoyed.

“That’s quite alright. Could we have another dance later?”

Emma blushed and went to agree, but Regina answered for her crisply, “No, sorry. We will be leaving in just a few minutes.”

Jamie nodded, clearly not willing to step into the ring with Regina and disappeared into the crowd.

“Okay, please tell me that you did not ride my ass for an hour or more to find someone to dance with, aka a girlfriend, only to scare off the only one who was interested.”

“Yes, well I meant someone better than Jamie, Em.”

“What’s up with you?” Emma frowned, pushing a strand of hair out of Regina’s face. “Jealous?” She teased her old friend hoping to wipe the sudden look of worry off of her face.

It didn’t work though and Regina frowned, distractedly looking around her as they glided in circles. Jamie may have been a good dancer, but she hadn’t been forced to take all variations of dance including ballroom since the age of four. Regina spun them, gracefully beautiful but thoughtless as if she had been made expressly for the purpose of twirling.  “Em, will you follow me for a minute?”

“Uh, sure Gin. You okay? You’re kind of making me nervous. What the hell?”

Regina didn’t answer but took her hand and led her down a dark hallway, twitchingly playing with their fingers as she mumbled under her breath. Twice she stopped, insisting that she had changed her mind only to spin on her heels and pull Emma deeper into the solitude of the hallway.

“Gin, will you stop walking? What’s with you? What happened?”

Regina stopped. Emma noted Regina’s hands still wringing; she only did that before a huge test. What the hell?

“I don’t know I,” She began to pace at a quick speed in front of Emma, stumbling and stuttering, “I can’t, I just, I was watching you just now with Jamie and you look so beautiful, Em - did I tell you that you look beautiful tonight? I mean, really fucking beautiful, Emma. And, uh, you’re never seem interested in anyone and I, I can’t tell you but I can’t, I uh, crap, um,”

Emma grabbed Regina by the elbows, alarmed. What had happened in the last fifteen minutes? “Ginny! Calm down, what’s wrong? Did your mom say something? You know she’s really drunk tonight and frankly crazy anyway. I wouldn’t listen to her. What upset you? Gin?”

Regina searched her eyes, desperately.

“Regina. What?”

Regina took a deep breath and mumbled to herself, “I’m just going to do it.”

“What?”

Regina leaned forward, eyes averted almost shyly. Emma matched her habitually, thinking she was going to whisper something in her ear or perhaps lean in for a hug as she had done a million times. Without warning Regina’s lips were on hers. Emma yelped, against her mouth shocked and tried to pull away crying out, “Ginny!” but Regina held her firmly, her palms cupping either side of Emma’s neck.

Heatedly but with tender care, Regina walked her backward until Emma’s back was against the wall and pressed herself, oh so carefully against her.

Something in Emma sparked, sizzled and cracked like electricity touching water and suddenly the world had washed away. Regina’s hands slid up to her jaw, pulling her face even tighter against her own and Emma sighed, the kiss swirling through her entire body. She could feel tension in her arms and back keeping her upright, but her legs were beginning to feel like jelly and she thought soon she would melt to the floor. Every probe of Regina’s tongue made her sigh, each shift in their bodies made her gasp. She was dizzy.

Regina pulled away half of an inch, her eyes burying deeply into Emma’s, intense and waiting. Emma gulped, sharp a hot realization piercing her. She gasped, “Oh.” Suddenly it all made sense, all of the recent fighting and Regina’s unexplained rude behavior toward the few dates Emma took. All of the times she found herself looking at Regina and feeling warmth in the pit of her or sourness when she saw Regina with Abby. “Oh god,” she gasped one hand falling to Regina’s hip while the other autonomously tangled in the hair at the nape of Regina’s neck. “Oh fuck.” She cried in shock.

Emma had secretly thought that perhaps she had a crush on Abby, that would explain the ripe jealousy she felt when she saw them kiss but no, now it all seemed so obvious. How could she have missed this? How could she have been so unaware? What was wrong with her?

“Oh shit.” She finally pulled her eyes to Regina’s to see the deep coffee iris’ blazing with victorious fire.

“I knew it wasn’t just me.” Regina’s words were soft but in them Emma could hear parades and choruses singing joyous volumes. Emma wheezed a little and stumbled around her words before Regina kissed her again to silence her. Then Regina kissed her again and again. When they parted, it was only to race to Regina’s car.

Emma gasped as Regina pressed her against the cold metal of the vehicle, her tongue slipping forcibly between Emma’s lips. Regina’s hands grasped her, pulling her hips into hers before her hands tentatively stroked up her stomach and found the small roundness of Emma’s breast. Emma cried out, her eyes popping wide for just a moment before they closed again, blissfully. She whimpered as Regina found the soft flesh of her nipple through the silk of her dress and with a panted cry of affirmation, her hand closed on Regina’s, holding it to her, massaging with her.

They fumbled their way into the car, bodies a foot apart in their seats, screaming at them to close the distance. Then, without a glance back on their friendship, the two fell blissfully into bed.

 


 

Emma rolled over and yawned, stretching in the glow of the late morning sunlight; her first thought of the day: This is what mornings in movies must feel like.

She burrowed her way under the blankets, softly biting Regina’s naked side until she woke laughing throatily and trying to escape the thing tickling her.

Emma pulled herself up Regina’s body until they were face to face and kissed her chin, “Hi.”

Regina scrunched up her nose and covered her mouth with the sheet, “Good morning.”

“What are you doing?” Emma asked with a sideways grin and pulled the sheet from her face.

“Hey! Don’t you dare!” Regina cried and pulled the protective layer up again, “I have morning breath.”

Emma laughed, tickling her again, “So? I have smelled your morning breath a thousand times before.”

“Yes, but now it matters.”

Emma rolled her eyes and kissed her deeply, her body stirring aggressively as her tongue flicked Regina’s. She let her hands travel down to Regina’s ribs relishing the feel of the soft skin under her palms and savoring that she had permission to touch her like this. She purposely let her hand slide down Regina’s stomach and cup the soft bare skin of her sex; hungrily they moaned together.

Emma was happy in her newfound feelings. She was walking on air. There was nothing that could bring her down from the cloud she was floating on.

Life had clicked into place when Regina Mills had kissed her and now she knew without a doubt that she would be spending the rest of her life with this woman. It all made so much sense. It was divinely planned. Childhood friends, turned lovers, turned wives. Had she been more aware of things around her, perhaps she would have known this a long time ago.

She had told Regina she loved her the night before and sighing deeply and contentedly, Regina had told her she had never loved anyone else.

Emma rested her head on Regina’s chest and they just sat for a while, rising and falling with their shared breath. Then Regina grinned wickedly and flipped them, pulling the sheet up off of their bodies, “I still can’t believe I get to see you naked.”

“You’ve seen me naked a hundred times.” Emma sighed, unmoving, not wanting or needing to hide her naked body from her lover’s feasting eyes.

“Yes, but now it matters and I’ve never seen you like this.” Regina’s voice grew rough and sultry as she gently closed her mouth over Emma’s nipples. Emma shivered and pulled her longingly to her. Regina’s intent had been only to tease but hearing Emma’s sounds of pleasure her attentions became focused. She lessened her pressure, turning her stroking tongue into feather light brushes over the sensitive nipple.

Emma released a sound that went straight to Regina’s core, commanding attention. Regina grinned, smug.

“Well, now you get to see it every day for the rest of your life. You’re going to get sick of it.”

“Indeed, I do but no, I can assure you, Emma that I will never grow sick of seeing this.”

“What’s that smile about?” Emma panted, knowing full well why the smile played on her new lover's lips.

Regina slowly cocked an eyebrow in answer and allowed Emma to pull herself up, scooting into a sitting position against the headboard. Regina crawled onto her knees and straddled her lap, pushing her skin happily into Emma’s.

“You seem very proud of yourself, Gin.”

Regina laughed, throatily, her head falling back as Emma’s lips worked their way across her skin. “I am.”

Emma slid her hands down her back and took two handfuls of Regina’s heart shaped ass.

Regina moaned, blissfully and began to work diligently on Emma’s body.

They made love twice before naked and cheerfully laughing, they made their way to the kitchen. Joking and teasing, they made a pot of coffee and drank it while sharing a morning cigarette, legs tossed over each other’s in a heap on the kitchen floor.

Neither noticed how easy it all was. They just soaked in their bliss, contented smiles painted on their faces until Emma’s phone rang, rudely interrupting them.

“Oh it’s Ruby, you should get it.” Regina read off the name and handed it to her.

“Where are you?”

“What?” Emma frowned, tangling her toes with Regina’s in a game of footsies.

“Where are you? Are you on your way?”

“Oh, shit!” Emma yelped, turning to Regina. “With everything that’s happened I completely forgot about brunch with Ruby.”

Regina frowned, clearly not wanting to be that interrupted. A phone call was one thing but brunch with another person outside of these walls was another.

“What’s happened? Who are you talking to? Is everything okay?” Ruby cried, instantly worried.

“Oh, uh,” Emma chewed her lip. Was this something they would share? She shot a silently questioning look to Regina. Regina just shrugged, stretching out naked in the patch of sun on the kitchen floor like a sunbathing cat. A thrill ran through her at the sight of it and she wanted desperately to take her again, there on the kitchen floor. “Remember the wedding last night?”

“Yeah. Gin’s cousin or something like that?”

“Right. Well, we kind of hooked up after that and have been together ever since.”

“Wait...dude, you hooked up with the bride? Not cool.”

“What? No! Regina!” Emma rolled her eyes.

“Dude!” Ruby cried into the phone so loudly that with a yelp Emma held the phone at arm's length, “Fuck! Finally! God, it’s been exhausting waiting for you two to realize you’re in love with one another. Fuck! Jesus!”

“What?” Regina asked. “Was she surprised?” Emma held the phone out to her so the continued swearing would blare in her direction.

“Are you like, girlfriends now? Are you guys getting married? Because you should.”

“Um, yes and I don’t know. We kind of, um, talked about it before we fell asleep.”

Regina’s face twitched, wondering what the hell Ruby could be saying to make Emma blush this way.

“Well shit. Get dressed and come meet me. We’ll have a drink.”

They were late. Emma hadn’t been able to resist Regina’s naked body there on the kitchen floor but eventually they were up, dressed and out the door.

 


 

The two walked hand in hand into the restaurant, luxuriating in the thrill of such a simple yet significant act.

There was no need to have the server find their table; Ruby’s squeal of delight pointed them in the right direction.

“It’s not as though you’ve never seen us hold hands before.”

“No! This is different! It matters now!” Ruby swore again.

“You want to see something that will really knock your socks off?” Regina playfully gripped Emma’s chin and kissed her intensely. One little flick of Regina’s tongue and Emma knocked over her stool in an effort to press against Regina’s body.

“Whoa.” Ruby blinked mesmerized, “That was – hot.”

Regina released Emma’s lips but held her face for a moment longer watching Emma’s eyes darken with desire. Smiling widely she winked and released her.

Emma blushed, embarrassed as she righted her stool.

“Damn, things are so going to change now.” Ruby gaped.

But Regina just shrugged, studying the menu, “Doesn’t have to. Emma and I were basically in a relationship before. Now it is simply official.”

Emma giggled foolishly, entranced by those words. She could hear then repeated every day and never grow tired of them.

Her phone rang, snapping her out of her reverie.

“Who is it?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. I don’t recognize the number. Where’s a 504 area code from?” She clicked the phone to silent and fell into the conversation again until the telltale beeps announced a voicemail.

She had to play the message twice to get all of the information and then once more simply because she didn’t fucking believe it. “Oh my god.”

“What?”

“Oh my god, guys!” Emma jumped to her feet because this was too big to sit through.

“What!”

She put her phone on speakerphone and played the message watching their faces with anticipation.

“Hi, this message is for Emma Nolan. This is Cole Pierce calling from Pace Magazine and Publishing, New Orleans. I am calling because we received your manuscript submission and we would like to go ahead and begin a discussion about moving forward with publishing. We also received your job application would like to speak to you regarding an open position in our office. If you could please return our call our number is –“

Emma’s friends created a ruckus like nothing that had ever been seen in the small corner bistro before. They jumped and yelled, hooted and hollered around Emma, who was so astonished she wasn’t sure she knew what to do next.

“You guys heard that, right? My head wasn’t making it up? They said they wanted to publish my story and offered me a job?”

“Call them back!” Regina wailed shaking her and then kissing her for good measure.

“Now?”

“Yes now!” They shrieked in unison.

Emma excused herself, hands shaking and stepped just outside of the restaurant. She paced as she spoke to Cole Pierce fumbling a little more than she would have liked but thankfully he seemed to understand.

When she returned to her seat, she was shaking worse than before. She knew that she should be feeling joy, a joy like nothing she had felt before but instead dread rolled through her queasy stomach.

Ruby had been so right when she had prophetically said that things were going to change now.

“So?”

“They offered me a job and a publishing deal.”

The ruckus rose again until their waiter asked them kindly but staunchly to stop it.

“Emma, you should be happy!” This time it was Ruby who shook her.

“I am but-” her sentence fell into nothing, but Regina understood, picking it up for her.

“You finally have a real job as a journalist as well as a publishing deal, but you need to move to New Orleans.”

The table sobered.

“Yes. They offered me help with housing and a little bit of money toward moving expenses.” Emma finally found the courage to look up into her best friends eyes and she saw her own worry and pain reflected there.

The meal was subdued then. They ate, lost in thought contemplating and then departed a little sadly knowing that life had taken one of its abrupt turns and now they could no longer see what lay ahead on the road they were on.

Back at Regina’s apartment the two made love again and then lay together, the air heavy around them.

“I would have to leave everything.” Emma finally said popping the bubble.

Regina softly caressed her arm, “I think that is how life is supposed to go, Em. We are meant to one day leave the nest.”

“You say that as though I am still living at home.”

“No,” Regina’s fingertips traced her cheek, “but even when we went away to college, we only went as far as Boston and came home right after.”

Emma studied her face as she thought. She had just found something wonderful, could she really leave it behind? They would never get their chance if she did. How could she leave her mother? How could she leave Ruby? The memories of her father were here. She couldn’t even imagine everyday life without Regina in it.

“Wait.” Emma said sitting up. The heavy cloud that was pressing against them evaporating as she realized the answer was obvious.

Regina hated Storybrooke. She had always talked about working in a hospital in a much larger city. She had even considered Tulane for her Residency. This was perfect. Emma would miss her life in Maine, but she knew she could make it with Regina by her side. Ugh, she had been so silly for being sad even a moment. This was going to be amazing.

She lit a cigarette and bounced a little as she said, “Come with me.”

“What?” Regina looked at her as if she had sprouted multiple heads.

“It makes so much sense. Come with me. Think about it, it’s perfect. We could go together. We could have a life together. You could finish up the last four years of your Residency there and then get a job at a hospital while I write. You even considered Tulane before, remember? You told me their Residency program was amazing.” Emma did her best sultry crawl into Regina’s lap and softly sucked on her bottom lip. “We could get out of this town together. How great would that be?”

Regina blinked a few times, trying desperately to process Emma’s rash request.

“Think about it, we could get a cute little apartment of our own and plant flowers outside. We could get a puppy and do our shopping on Saturdays at the local farmer’s markets. During the holidays when it's cold we could cuddle under blankets together and watch White Christmas. I bet New Orleans will be a really fun place to live too. We can go to the Mardi Gras parade for the first few years and then we can bail because we’ll be serious old ladies by then. Oh my god, it’s going to be so much fun, Gin! I can’t fucking wait!”

“Em, what are you talking about? I can’t just go with you.”

“What?” Emma’s enthusiasm popped like a balloon. She had assumed that Regina would say yes. It made so much sense and besides, they had always said if one had to move or leave that the other one would follow.

“Em, I can’t just pick up my life and go with you to Louisiana.”

Emma leaned back so she could search her face. Seeing no trace of humor there at all she scrambled out of her lap, her brows furrowed.

Regina pulled her knees to her chest and took a deep breath, “Em, I want to be with you, but we can’t just fly off together. That isn’t life. I just began my Residency and I can’t simply give that up. I’ve been down on the list for this program since undergrad. It’s not that easy to get a spot, especially around here. Besides -” Regina’s voice drifted off as though she wasn’t sure she wanted to say what she was thinking.

Emma’s happiness began to mold around the edges. She was beginning to smell a familiar scent; one she had always smelled just before she found herself out of another foster home. “Ginny, I’m sure we could make it work. Even if you had to come out later, I thought - you always wanted to get out of Storybrooke.”

“I do, Em, but I made the choice to stay when I decided to do my Residency in Boston. Even if I hadn’t Emma, how could you think I would just get up and follow you across the country? How can you think we are ready for this?”

“What do you mean?”

“We have only just begun our romantic relationship, Em.”

“I guess I didn’t even think about that because I didn’t think it mattered. Gin, I have to go. I have to take it. Please. Come with me.”

“Won’t they publish your book either way?”

“I don’t know. I guess so, but you know that I’ve always said I would have to be a journalist until I was getting published steadily enough to live off of that income. I could really use the job.”

“Em, what you’re asking entails a lot of risks. Can you imagine what my father would do if I just up and left?”

“No, listen Ginny.” Emma took Regina by the hand and kissed it, “This is possible. Think about it. Even if we have to do a year or something long distance you could eventually join me there. Or we can make some other plan that works better for you. Also screw your dad.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know exactly I guess. Since when do you do things for the sake of your dad? I don’t know. I didn’t think about trying to convince you; I don’t have anything prepared. I thought just asking would be enough.”

“What the hell are you thinking, Emma?” Regina pulled her hands out of her grip and pushed her away, rising to dress. “Are you really as self-centered as this?”

To Emma’s horror, the talk turned quickly from a hopeful plan to an angry fight. Regina’s points were ones Emma hated, such as: How could you leave me? How could you expect me to go with you? How could you ignore the seriousness of my career choice? Emma insisted that she loved her and she was sure they would be happy in New Orleans, they could find a way and that the trip was perfect for them if Regina would only take a moment to think about it.

“What if we don’t work out?” Regina asked loudly, her voice cracking from the tears she didn’t try to hold back. “Yes, right now forever sounds like exactly what we both want but what if that does not happen? We lose our friendship, Emma! I will be another woman who moved across the country for a relationship! I will have lost everything!”

“Right now?” Emma felt like a pummeled punching bag inside. “What do you mean right now? Do you have plans to change your mind tomorrow, Regina?”

“Oh Em, you know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t! I really don’t.”

“I just mean life happens. We’re so young. We have to be realistic. Is it worth losing our friendship because if I were to go out there with you and we failed that is exactly what would happen.”

“As opposed to if we stayed in Storybrooke? If we stayed here does that mean a break up between us would be better? How can you talk about our fucking break up as though it’s a for sure thing?”

“Look, I know that you come from this background of grand and romantic marriages, you’ve been living in it since you were nine. I know what your parents had to go through in order to be together and I know that they taught you to believe that fairytales do exist. But come on Em, we’re so young. What are the odds that one of us won’t make a mistake?”

“We’re not that young, Regina.”

“Emma, we both only just finished grad school. We’re young. Also, do you realize how many hours will be piled on to my workweek as I progress? We are talking about eighteen hour days sometimes!”

They fought for an hour before Emma sat, pulling on her clothes and crying harshly. They had called one another names. Regina had accused Emma of developing abandonment issues especially since the death of her father, which was – deeply and painfully true. Emma had accused Regina of having no heart. They both were ripped open and bleeding.

Once she was dressed, she sat in a chair across the room from Regina and looked at her intently, “Ginny,” Emma’s voice cracked and broke, “I’m sure of us. I love you. I want you to come with me. Please. Don’t say no.”

Regina rubbed her face, “Em, I’m not as sure as you are. I don’t think you’re even as sure as you think you are,”

“Don’t tell me how I’m feeling.”

“It’s not fair to put me in this position! I know you’re the one, god Emma; you’ve always been the one. What I’m not sure of is how we could be together that seriously right now. I had assumed you would be here with me so we could take things easy over the next few years. I thought we had time.”

“Then we’ll go back to being just friends.”

“Emma, I can’t leave! I can’t do that!”

“We have always said that if one had to leave the other would follow.”

“We also promised never to step on cracks in the sidewalk for fear of our mothers backs, Emma.”

Emma let her head fall back against the wall and cried; feeling as though her insides had been shoveled out of her. “So you know you want me enough to leave Abby and to say that you love me and want me forever but not enough to try to figure something out? That’s all I’m asking, can’t we try and see if we can figure something out? Isn’t there some way, we could meet in the middle?”

How could the person she loved more than anything not know if she wanted her? Emma had loved her enough to know that answer even before they had realized they loved one another romantically. She couldn’t see herself without her. Regina was her other half. She could see their future brightly before them in pinks and gold’s filled with happiness and children and love. How could Ginny not see that?

“I didn’t say we couldn’t figure something out! I mean what about this job? You’re asking me to give up my career, what about this job? Could you give up this job?” Regina snapped her fingers a bit and Emma habitually tossed her the pack of cigarettes and lighter.

“Honestly it’s not even about that anymore. If it’s not this, then there will be something else to split us up if this is your fucking attitude.”

“It’s not crazy that I can’t do this!”

Emma felt betrayed. She was betrayed. Was there anyone better in the world for them than the other? They had always known there wasn’t. Had there ever been a question that could be answered as simply as this?

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Both!”

“Ginny, I think I need to go.”

“To New Orleans or back to your apartment?” She asked with wide eyes.

“I think I need to go home.”

“No! Absolutely not, Emma. Sit down. We are not done here.”

Emma gathered her things, ignoring Regina’s cries and insistence that she needed to stay; then walked slowly across the apartment complex to her own apartment. Once inside she slipped out of her clothing and took a hot shower. She let herself cry out all the tears struggling to escape, dried them and swore there would be no more.

Regina was a thinker.

Regina didn’t rush into anything.

She would change her mind.

All she had to do was wait.

When she emerged from the shower, she felt better, stronger on her legs. She began to wait for Regina’s change of heart.

Only, it didn’t come.

Every hour felt like torture the first day. Emma holed up in her apartment, chain smoking and only answering the phone to Ruby so she could explain. Ruby gasped in all of the right places and insisted that Regina would call that night.

But she didn’t.

Emma fought with herself every second of the day. She wanted to call Regina or send her a text message, but she was giving her space, so she refrained - barely.

Finally the morning of the second day as Emma was sitting by her ashtray staring blankly at a book, her phone rang.

“Hey so,” Regina sounded slightly out of breath as she always did when she was on her break at work, “I was thinking.”

“Okay.”

“I haven’t heard from you and that worries me. I don’t want all of this to kill our relationship.”

“Okay.”

“So I thought let's agree to not let it. We have to stay Ginny and Em, okay?”

Emma wasn’t sure if she was insulted or simply angry. Okay, she could accept the fact that she had been wrong and Regina was not going to change her mind but how could she say let’s still be friends? That’s what this meant. Let’s be friends. Did their newfound relationship mean nothing to her?

“Em, I can tell you’re pissed but I have to go. I’m booked tomorrow but can we meet on Monday on the cliff and we’ll talk? We need to talk.”

“About saving our friendship?”

“About saving us; Ginny and Em!”

Emma threw her phone into the couch cushions the moment they hung up, swearing like a sailor. Regina wanted to be just friends. She didn’t think she wanted to go back to being Regina’s friend; she didn’t think she could. This was bullshit. She kicked her couch – hard and let out a long wail. The tears that pricked in her eyes over her hurt toe turned into sobs of dejection and rejection. This was happening again. Another person had decided that there were better, brighter things available to them than her. How would she survive this again?

She cried alone in her bedroom for hours. She cried until she was sure there was nothing left in her to spill. She wished that the bridge between herself and Regina from friendship to relationship had never been crossed; perhaps then this wouldn’t hurt quite so badly. God, what had she expected? She had never been good enough for anyone so how was it she had thought she could be good enough for the best person she knew?

What was she going to do now?

Regina wasn’t choosing her. She would rather lose them forever than take the risk. Emma had been alone before Regina and now - she was alone again.

Memories flickered through her mind. One foster home after another. Her father cold is in casket. Regina’s face as she said no.

A sudden rush of horror filled her tight lungs and she couldn’t take a deep breath. She hitched again and again, her breath coming fast but never relieving the ache in her lungs. She had to choose. How could they not be together? They had gotten one another through everything. How could she do this without Regina by her side? Terrified she stumbled to her feet knocking her dining chair over. She rushed for the phone, huffing hard and beginning to feel just a bit dizzy.

She began to shake.

As soon as she picked up the phone, however, she realized she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t take a breath deep enough to speak. She couldn’t speak! Her head began to swim, her skin itching in panic.

This only increased her terror. Her heart impossibly picked up even more speed, pounding relentlessly in her sore chest.

With a soundless cry, she dropped to her knees, trying to draw a deep breath. She was suffocating! Pain ripped through her head and chest and she fell forward onto her hands, shocked and frightened. Was she having a heart attack? Wasn’t she too young for a heart attack? This was it. She was going to die! Fuck! This was a horrible way to go!

She tried to convince her ever-constricting lungs to let her breathe, but they refused, tightening their stranglehold on her. What was happening?

Her head spun and her living room furniture began to blur as she tried to catch her breath. She hiccupped roughly and everything swam into black.

When she woke again her entire body hurt. She was surprised as she watched her ceiling fan spin above her that she was all right. There had been a moment when Emma was sure that she was dying. How cliché would it have been? Emma Nolan: Died of a broken heart.

Now that her lungs had released her she understood. Panic attack. Regina hadn’t chosen her and she had a panic attack. Pathetic.

She poured herself a glass of water and pulled her tired body into a chair. She spent only a few minutes online before her plane ticket was booked; then called her mother to inform her of her departure.

She considered calling Regina but decided against it. She had a new life to begin now and she would do it without looking back.

Mary held her for a while that night as she cried.

“I could drive you if you wanted.” Mary offered, “That way you could bring more of your things with you.”

“No, I already have my plane ticket and I have everything I need. The company is putting me up in a fully furnished place until I find my own. I’m good.” Emma said coldly, frozen from the heart out.

Mary just nodded.

The following day Emma stood outside of Regina’s apartment. She had knocked, but there was no answer. This was going to be her last attempt but Regina hadn’t even been there. The hurt turned into angry pain, as she stood alone on the step. She dug through her pocket until she found an old receipt and a pen. Quickly and without much thought she scribbled a short note on it and shoved it through the mail slot. Seven words that said everything that Emma needed to or could have wanted:

“I guess I was wrong about you.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The day after Emma and Regina’s fight over the dinner table had a ring of deja vu to it. Depression and loss Emma through her constantly as she peevishly went through her normal activities, snapping at anyone who bothered her. She just wanted to call Regina and apologize, but she couldn’t. She had made an ass out of herself but she was sure of her position. She and Regina weren’t meant to be friends anymore; too much time had passed and too much pain had been felt.

When she wasn’t trying to function, which was most of the day, she was hiding in her room staring at a blank Word screen or a mindless TV program. Mary tried to discover what was wrong once or twice, using all of her best prying tricks to get Emma to confess. She knew it had to do with Regina because they had gotten together the night before and Mary had to know.

The only result of her prying was an impenetrable locked door and a few snapped remarks.

Around dinnertime, Emma’s cell phone rang with a picture of Hanna’s face and Emma considered just not picking up. She already felt hollow and talking to Hanna would probably make it worse. But the compulsion won out and Emma picked up.

“Hello?”

“I’m sorry,” Hanna said in a sheepish voice.

In no fucking mood Emma said nothing.

“I’m so sorry, Emma. I’m so sorry. I had no right to be that way. I don’t think you’re cheating on me. I would never think that. I had gone out after work with a few people and had a few drinks but that’s no excuse. I’m so fucking tired right now and honestly, the house feels so empty. I think it’s making me crabby. I’m sorry. I love you. Forgive me.”

Emma nodded silently; she had heard this speech many times before. She knew it by heart. She knew her next line, ‘I know, Hanna. I love you too. It’s fine.’ only she couldn’t get it out.  “The voice.”

“Excuse me?” Hanna deadpanned.

“I hate that fucking voice, Hanna.” Emma hadn’t meant to yell...at the top of her lungs...it just sort of came out.

“Don’t you dare fucking yell at me!” Hanna yelled back.

“I hate it, Hanna and you know that! I fucking hate it and you fucking promised. You promised!”

“What the hell is the matter with you?”

Emma was starting to wonder the same thing herself. “I don’t fucking know!”

“Are you alright?” Emma couldn’t tell for sure if Hanna actually wanted to know or if she was just annoyed with her outburst.

“I don’t know. Are you really flying in soon?”

“Tomorrow morning. I booked the plane tickets last night when I was drunk.”

“Oh.” Hanna didn’t want to come but her drunken self had painted her into a corner. Awesome. She rubbed her ribs, feeling the band again. Why wouldn’t it go away? What the fuck was the issue? “When do you get in?”

“9:28. I found a nonstop flight.”

“That’s great. I’ll pick you up and we’ll go out to breakfast. I can take you to Granny’s.” A small hint of enthusiasm lit; that would be fun! Maybe having Hanna around was exactly what she needed. Maybe she was just going nuts because she needed to see her. It had been so long.

“Hmm, I will have just spent a few hours on a plane, can we go for a run or to the gym before breakfast?”

“Yeah, of course.”

They sat in a silent state for a little while, tension still thick.

“Hanna?”

“Yeah, Swan?”

“I don’t like it when you use that voice. It... frightens me.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

She went to bed that night bothered, tossing and turning as per usual. She could understand the temporary fight with Hanna knowing Hanna’s jealous temperament; she didn’t approve, but she at least understood it. That wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things but something still just didn’t feel quite right. That voice. She hated it but she couldn’t think of why. She never could. She just knew it sent her thoughts of Mrs. Inman a moment before her shoe connected - for the first time- with Emma’s side.

But it was more that than voice too. She had no idea what it was but there had been this nagging feeling in the back of her mind since she arrived. She couldn’t put her finger on it now any more than she had been able to over the past weeks.

Of course, there was also the pain around her heart to deal with, on top of everything else. Perhaps somewhere in her she had expected Regina to call, to make some sort of apology but she hadn’t.

Of course, she hadn’t.

She knew all too well that Regina didn’t call when you needed her to. Regina didn’t make grand gestures; she was far too practical - too proud - for something like that.

Emma sighed, rolling over in bed, knowing that the apology also wouldn’t have made her feel any better. Besides, that fight yesterday – that had been her fault and she also knew that the apology she was truly waiting for was dated five years back. It was an apology and explanation that she was sure would never come.

Emma had heard the rumors after she left of how Regina and Abby were doing as a couple. People loved to share gossip with the out of town friend. They all thought they were being helpful calling to update her on how her best friend was doing. Each call, each update had been salt in an already very painful wound but it had solidified her resolve. She had done the right thing by leaving.

Yet Regina had behaved during their recent fight as though Emma was the one who needed to apologize, as though she was the one who had been dismissed, demoted and thrown away. Yes, after all of these years Emma now understood that what she had asked of Regina was too much, romantic but unrealistically childish. Regina had been right when she said that Emma had still believed fairytales were possible because love could conquer all. In her defense, she had been a stupid twenty-four years old and heavily influenced by the grand romances of Hollywood and the matrimonial magic her parents had shared. She hadn’t learned yet that life just did not work that way.

When Emma’s phone rang at 11:26 P.M. she was startled out of her not quite sleep state. It couldn’t be Hanna, it was only 10:26 in New Orleans but she knew her fiancée would be sleeping soundly by now since the woman woke before the sun each morning. She looked at her phone, peering through one squinted eye and scowled.

Regina’s phone number had stayed nestled in her phone for the last five years, forgotten and unused. It was strange to see the number ringing now after all this time. She put the phone back on the nightstand and covered her face with a pillow listening to the sound of the vibration as it rang.

Why was she calling? Why couldn’t she just leave things alone? Emma couldn’t pretend that she wasn’t secretly pleased about the call - but that didn’t mean she had to answer it.

Her cheeks flushed as she thought of herself yelling at the wide-eyed woman and shook her head adamantly, as if the caller could see her and would know she was refusing to pick up.

Not answering. Too angry. Too embarrassed.

She didn’t have time to feel relieved when the vibrating stopped because it began ringing again instantly telling her that Regina knew Emma was beside the phone simply not picking up. She gave in and answered, “Hello?”

“Hi,” Regina said sedated, “I thought that maybe we should talk. I’m sorry that it’s late. I just got off of work and I thought you would still be awake.”

“It’s okay. You were right.”

They fell into a stiff silence.

“Look, Emma, who knows if we will see one another again but just in case, we probably should be on better terms. So here goes, I’m sorry for the things I said yesterday night. Some of them were not fair and none of them were meant to be productive or helpful. More than that, I am sorry that I tried to open a friendship with you again without the courtesy of having the conversation that we both know we very much need to have. That was like trying to swim laps in the bay with cinderblocks tied to our arms and legs. I think it was inevitable we would end up yelling at one another.”

Emma was stunned by Regina’s words. If she ever had a clear-cut sign that they were indeed older, it was here with Regina apologizing to her. Even as a child getting Regina to apologize was difficult and rarely satisfying, when had she changed? She sighed, giving in to the surrender, “It’s my fault. I kind of lost my shit. I had thought that I could just stop feeling hurt about,” Emma stumbled for a moment, “things, but I don’t think I can. I’m sorry.”

There was a silent pause on the line as Emma debated what else she wanted to say.

“I didn’t want to see you either.”

“Huh?”

“I did not want to see you either, Em. I mean, of course, I didn’t know you were suddenly about to be back in town and in my favorite restaurant on my damn lunch break, but if I had been given the choice I would have chosen not to see you.  I made that choice a long time ago. I understand how you feel. Then you were there in the restaurant all red and flustered and I couldn’t handle it. I left my meal half-eaten. I was very surprised when I realized I wanted to see you again.” There was another space of silence before Regina continued, “I’m not inhuman Emma.”

Strain flooded through her; she knew that Regina wasn’t inhuman, after all her entire career was based in helping people, in saving them. Emma had just been angry when she said the things that she did. She regretted it now.

“I dress the way that I do” Regina persisted, “and I speak the way that I do because I am selling confidence. People need to trust me with their lives and so I do my best to put them at ease. Don’t you understand that? They have to trust me even more than a normal doctor! Yes, it’s true I became exactly what my father wanted me to be but only because I had made the choice that this was what I wanted to do for myself. I love my job, Em.”

Emma felt thoroughly chastised and idiotic, “ I know, I know. I’m sorry Regina; I didn’t mean any of those things that I said. It’s inappropriate for me to still be angry over something that happened five years ago.”

“But it is understandable.”

“I guess. The thing is; I just don’t understand. You seem so angry as though I did something to you.”

Regina was quiet for so long that Emma thought she would not answer, “There are things that you don’t understand.”

“But what-“

“Am I still invited to dinner?”

“What?” Why did Regina have such an ability to throw her off balance?

“The dinner party tomorrow night. Am I still invited?”

“What dinner?”

“Ah.” Regina understood; she knew Mary too well. “She didn’t tell you she’s arranged a dinner tomorrow night, did she?”

“You’re kidding.”

“She called me this evening.”

“Hanna comes in tomorrow.”

“Of course. I had assumed that was the purpose of the dinner, right?"

“I guess so.” Why had her pesky meddling mother done this? What - why - she just - ugh!

“How long is Hanna staying?”

“Only a few days.”

“Will she still be here Friday evening?”

“No, she flies out Friday morning.”

“Will you do me a favor?”

Regina’s voice had turned soft, sweet and it made Emma shift uncomfortably. She had pulled herself into a sitting position in the darkness of her bedroom but now got up to sit in her window seat just to move, hesitant about what Regina was going to ask of her.

“Will you come by my house for dinner on Friday? Henry will be with the nanny. I want to show you something.”

“Ginny, uh,” this immediately sounded to Emma like a very bad plan.

“Em, if it doesn’t go well then I will stop trying to force us together, I promise. I’m just asking for this last chance. I have something I want to show you.”

“You don’t think it might be smarter to just pretend I’m not in town until after my wedding and,”

“Emma. Just one more time. Then I will leave the cards where they lie.”

Emma unenthusiastically agreed.

“Oh, Henry’s crying. I have to go.” They hung up.

 

With this new development, Emma felt even more unsettled. She didn’t know what Regina would have to show her, but it couldn’t be good.

She wasn’t sure if her mother was still up but she sure as hell was going to see.

Mary was still ‘not dozing’ on the couch. Emma contemplated switching the TV off so nothing woke her. She could cover her with a warm comfy blanket and sneak but upstairs, knowing that in the morning her mother would be aching and stiff from spending the night on the sofa. She had even made it halfway to the TV when she decided against it.

“Mom.”

Mary jumped awake, “Emma! There’s no need for you to yell, honey.”

Standing in the center of the living room Emma spread her arms wide to make her point, “A fucking dinner party, Ma?”

They fought.

And Emma lost.

As Emma always lost.

Mary wore her down and eventually Emma, so mad she was shaking, grabbed the bottle of wine from the counter and stomped toward her room, roaring over her shoulder “I SHOULD HAVE LEFT YOU ON THE DAMNED COUCH” before the door slammed.

There was no winning a fight against Mary-Margaret Nolan.

 

Emma did her best to fall asleep cuddling with her wine buddy but eventually had to give in and take a Ambien.

 


 

When Emma woke she wanted her thoughts to center on Hanna and though she was excited to see her, she worried endlessly about what it was Regina wanted to show her. What if all she wanted was to simply tell her what she already knew: that it hadn’t been worth it for Regina to take the risk – that it had been wiser and easier to stay in town and stay with Abby – that the possibility of a life with Emma had not been worth fighting for. How would she react? How would it feel to hear that, even after all of these years? What if that wasn’t what Regina had to say? What if Regina was still just angry that Emma had taken the job? She had heard through the grapevine that Regina had been so angry about her sudden departure that she hadn’t been able to hear Emma’s name for a solid six months without turning purple and yelling. What if she wanted her turn to yell?

But she knew what she would do if that were the case. She would let her.

Regina deserved a chance to yell because as angry as Emma was she knew that she had done something wrong too. No, what she had done couldn’t be compared to Regina’s rejection but that did not absolve her. She had left without a word. And that note, oh god that note. What the hell had she been thinking? She had been such a stupid child.

Speaking of stupid children - She rounded the corner to the kitchen on tiptoe, ready to stand her ground, but her mother had changed tactics.

“I’m sorry, Emma. Hanna will be here so little and I have been promising to have dinner with Regina for a while now. Henry must have grown so much. I should have consulted you.”

Emma’s hands slipped into the back pockets of her jeans, eyes narrowing, “Yes. You should have. Cancel it.”

Her mother’s cheeks turned from white to pink to red, “No! Absolutely not.”

“I knew it! God, what is wrong with you woman? Why can’t you stay out of my business?”

“Because I am your mother!”

“That’s not a good excuse!”

Emma’s result did not come out any better and after hiding in her room for another hour the women swallowed the fight down, deciding to stiffly pretend that it never happened and the spring inside Emma wound a little tighter.

“You seem distracted this morning.” Her mother pointed out as she gathered her things to head out the door. “Is it because Hanna’s coming?”

Emma scoffed. She wished she simply would not talk to her. “Yeah, I’m excited.”

“I’m glad honey. So what time is the tasting today?”

Emma’s face fell; dread pooling in her stomach as she allowed herself to think of the task of the day. She had scheduled the tasting with Ingrid for this morning the moment that Hanna had confirmed her visit. Her deposit had been hefty and was non-refundable plus if she wanted to stay local, there was no one else to use, so she was going ahead and letting Regina’s girlfriend make her wedding cake. However, the tasting that she had been looking forward to was now a dark smudge on the day, along with the fact that she and Regina had been fighting, she and Mary had been fighting and she and Hanna had been fighting.

Basically, the only person in her life that was safe at this point was Ruby. She needed more Ruby in her life apparently.

“Um, at one. Don’t worry we’ll be back in time for dinner.”

Mary swung on her heels, already mid fight, “Look I thought that you would want them to meet now that you and Regina are friendly again.”

Emma just laughed, “No you didn’t mom. You just like having a secret hand in the game. So you created one for yourself.”

“I’m meddling.” Mary finally understood. “God, your father was always so good at making me see when I was doing that. I didn’t realize.”

Emma sighed still feeling nauseated. She didn’t believe that for a second. “It’s okay, mom, I need to go pick up Hanna.”

Mary smiled warmly at her and it made Emma want to snap, “Okay baby. If you want to at another time just let me know.”

“Okay.” Guilt, anger, depression, tension - they were all beginning to be familiar foes.

In the car, she turned on loud and happily upbeat music that she sang along to at top volume, a ritual to blow the uncomfortable feeling away and much to Emma’s pleasure it worked. When she pulled into the short-term parking lot at the airport, she felt jittery, abuzz with anticipation. This trip was going to be amazing. She was sure of it.

Only…it wasn’t.

 


 

Outside of the security checkpoint she bounced from foot to foot until she saw her, looking rumpled but pleased to be able to stretch as she flexed back and forth. Emma was surprised to see she was already set for their run in her usual tight spandex shirt and baggy Trackies. Hanna’s sudden indoctrination into the world of fitness overdrive was unsettling because it was usually a bad omen. She had seen Hanna do this once or twice before, throwing herself into workout sessions that lasted hours long, making her daily workouts her top priority. Usually, this behavior was a sign of stress or a problem that Hanna wasn’t quite sure how to solve. Could it just be the things that Hanna had stated before about the empty house? It didn’t seem likely.

Work?

She had no idea.

Emma waited until Hanna had crossed the forbidding blue line and then with a happy shout ran and jumped on her. Her fiancée laughed, dropping her bag in time to catch her by the ass and hold them both upright.

“Hi.” She said and kissed her.

Hanna laughed, “Why Detective! Glad you haven’t forgotten me.”

Emma took her bag off her shoulder and put it around her own, “Never. How was your flight?”

“Long but there was no screaming baby like there normally is, thank god.”

“Good.”

 

They walked slowly back to the car and then headed off toward the cliffs. She couldn’t help but to be a little excited. Hanna was in her hometown. Taking Hanna to the cliff, to Granny’s, to The Rabbit Hole, those were all places that helped in the molding of Emma Nolan and they were important for her future wife to see. She had even been considering taking Hanna somewhere she had not yet been able to force herself to go - her father’s grave.

“So where are you taking me? We’re going running, right?” Hanna asked as they passed the Welcome To Storybrooke sign. Hanna had been busy on her phone and therefore had missed Emma pointing joyfully out the front window.

Emma scowled. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have breakfast first? We could go running after dinner tonight. Besides, if we go home now I think we would have the house to ourselves. Pretty sure my mom is at yoga. I would be pretty happy about that.”

Hanna grinned finally looking up from her phone, intrigued; “Or we could just do it in the car.”

Emma scoffed, “No way!”

Hanna liked the thrill of sex in public places. Thus far they had christened a fast food bathroom, both of their cars, the park and too many bar bathrooms to count. Emma could see where the attraction came from, but it just wasn’t her thing.

“Come on! We’re in the middle of the fucking forest. Who is going to find us? Look. We could just pull over there under that tree. Come on. It will be fun! Come on!” They had just entered the stretch of road that would lead to the cliff. “Come on! Didn’t you miss me?”

“Well, that’s not fair.”

“Don’t you want to be with me?”

“Hanna!”

“Emma, you always protest. You always say that you don’t want to and then who is the first to come? You.”

Emma flushed hotly.

“Come on!”

“Fine. But. Kissing only.” Emma said firmly, “I mean it.” She wanted to be with Hanna, of course she did. It felt like forever since they had been together and Emma knew her mind and body could use it.

“Yes!” Hanna tossed her things into the backseat and dived on Emma the moment they were parked.

Kissing Hanna was good, she had missed her, but her thoughts kept drifting to worry they would be caught. She knew it was exactly this that Hanna found erotic and it baffled her.

“Relax.” Hanna insisted as she pushed Emma back against the driver's side window.

Emma smiled and did her best. She let her head fall back and closed her eyes as Hanna kissed her neck trying to focus on the sensation. Slowly it started to work - until with a grinding halt she yelped and grabbed Hanna’s reaching hand, “What are you doing?”

Hanna smiled evilly, her hand continuing to push down the loose front of her comfortable running pants.

“Hanna. No.”

Hanna grinning, “You say no, but I’m feeling yes, my love.”

Emma laughed, “That is so not the point.”

Hanna bit her ear and with a grunt of satisfaction thrust inside of her. Emma yelped and then moaned.

Hanna had been right. She did hate public sex but here she was again tipping quickly toward the first orgasm, that is until the click, click, click came from the window behind her.

“Shit!” Emma cried shoving Hanna’s body away from hers.

Please anyone but - she turned and groaned.

Graham had tapped his fingernail on the window while looking pointedly the other direction. Mortification filled Emma.

“Emma.” He said, rocking back and forth on his heels and looking everywhere but in the car.

“Graham, I’m so sorry.”

He tweaked his nose and coughed awkwardly, “Emma, I’m going to have to ask you to break it up and move along. You know that there are children and families that come down this road to go to the cliff.” His voice sent a clear message that she should know better. Emma could feel the judgment radiating off of him. Her humiliation was connected tightly to her tear ducts and much to her horror, she felt her eyes sting and begin to trickle. Crap!

Each ‘incident’, each ‘situation’ that arose seemed to cut another notch out of her. She felt like Swiss cheese.

“Yeah. Right. I’m so sorry.” She rolled up the window and started toward the cliff.

As soon as they were gone Hanna hooted with laughter, “Did you see his face? He didn’t know where to look!”

“That’s because we fucking know each other, Hanna. Everyone in Storybrooke knows one another. He took me to my fucking eighth grade dance. He was the first guy to touch my boob.”

“Well he just got a helluva show, didn’t he?”

Emma didn’t find her enthusiasm funny. She parked and covered her face lightly with her hand, shoving the tears forcefully back down inside herself before they could really fall. She was getting too old for humiliations like this!

Hanna rattled on, on an amusement high until Emma couldn’t handle it anymore.

“Hanna.” She said lightly but Hanna couldn’t hear over her own musings. “Hanna!” She cried at top volume, stopping Hanna in her tracks.  “That wasn’t funny.” She all but whispered.

“Are you crying? Why are you crying?”

“I’m not crying. I’m really not, but I’m fucking embarrassed!”

“Don’t be,” Hanna said in a softer kinder tone, “We were just having a little bit of fun. This is how you keep a marriage healthy, right?”

“Hanna.”

“Plus, I almost got you there. That would have been nice, right?” Quick as hell too. Maybe you really aren’t cheating on me.”

"Is that supposed to be fucking funny?" Emma got out of the car.

“I’m sorry!” Hanna cried, following. “I was just kidding. You were right we shouldn’t have done that here. I was just excited. I’m sorry. Hey, I said I’m sorry babe.”

Emma began to stretch, letting her mind drift to other places. She didn’t want to hear Hanna’s apologies. Hanna was always apologizing for something.

“Hey listen, let’s go for that run and forget about it, okay?” Hanna had begun athletically jumping around trying to get her heart rate up. Emma bent to tie her shoes and was not completely surprised to see that Hanna had not waited for her.

She took her time pulling her hair back into a tight ponytail and doing some light stretching before sprinting off in her fiancée's direction, letting the thoughts fall away and thinking of absolutely nothing but the sounds of her feet on the fallen leaves.

Hanna’s pace was much quicker than Emma would have normally taken, but she didn’t mind the extra strain. It was cathartically soothing to feel her muscles stress and work. Back in New Orleans she had become used to a very strenuous daily workout that included cardio as well as strength training but since she had come here she had cut back to a leisurely daily run.

“So is there anything you want to do while you’re here?”

“Well, I would like to meet Regina.”

“Really?” She asked already aware that this would be her answer.

“Yeah, it sounds like you two are friends again, right? Well, then I want to meet her. I’ve been hearing about her for years now. Well I guess that’s not fucking true but you know what I mean.” Hanna winked but Emma couldn’t find it in her to smile back.

Her heart hurt. The zing had found its mark. “Well, it’s good that you want to meet her then, because mom invited her to dinner tonight.”

“I know.”

Emma stopped running, “What does that mean?”

“I asked her to invite her.”

“You did?”

“Yeah.” Hanna jogged in place looking mildly impatient, “Well it’s more like we agreed she should be invited. I’m curious, your mom thought we should meet and I didn’t think you would introduce us.”

“Well no, I wouldn’t have. To be honest I was already unhappy that it was happening, it felt weird - but now I feel even more uncomfortable knowing that you two went behind my back together. Birds of a freakin’ feather.”

“Oh don’t be dramatic, Emma,” Hanna rolled her eyes and continued down the trail.

“I’m not being dramatic. I think most people would be upset!”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. You tend to have a very scary jealous streak, Hanna.”

“Oh come on. It is completely normal to feel protective of what is yours.”

Exhibit A: Emma Nolan, property of Hanna Mason, Inc. Emma could see the words stamped across her forehead in searing red ink. Delightful.

“Don’t give me that face, please.”

 

They had run one direction for an hour before Emma insisted that they need to go back else be late for their tasting that afternoon. Hanna nodded and stopped for a moment to catch her breath.

“So what do you think?” Emma asked looking out over the cliff and across the water.

Hanna grumbled a little, batting at the legs of her pants, which were covered with dirt, “Honestly, I don’t like it much. Does your mom have a gym membership I can borrow tomorrow?”

Things like stubbing your toe or sworn at are obvious pain triggers but sometimes it was the little things that were never meant to cause pain that were the worst. “You don’t like it?”

“No, I’m getting really dirty,” Hanna grumbled louder, sour. “These pants were expensive.”

“Well, what about the view? That’s beautiful at least, right? I used to come here and sit for hours as a teenager.”

Hanna glanced up and smiled, realizing Emma was disappointed, “You’re right, that view is a good one. Oh, if you want a view though you should see this track that I found down the levee at home. It’s amazing.”

Emma sighed. She had been trying to share part of herself with Hanna. Why did it feel like it had just been rejected?

They ran back to the car at full speed on Hanna’s insistence and then had to lean against it to catch their breath.

“Hanna, is everything alright with you? You just took that run at warp speed. You never work out like this unless something is wrong.”

Hanna shrugged, stretching again, “I don’t know. I think I’ve just realized it quiets my mind.”

“Are you sure, babe?”

“Well,” Hanna hesitated, “I have some things on my mind, it’s true but let's talk about it later.”

Emma’s nerves tightened, what did that mean?

 

Mary was glad to see them when they arrived after breakfast kissing both of them warmly. “You look like you’ve lost weight, Hanna. You need to eat more!”

Hanna chuckled, “Thank you, Mrs. Nolan - I think.”

“Don’t worry, we will do our best at dinner tonight.”

Without much more said the three dressed and headed out the door to the tasting.

Ruby stood outside waiting for them when they arrived, carrying a to go tray with four cups of coffee on it, all bearing the green insignia for Any Given Sunday.

After Hanna and Ruby greeted one another warmly, they all took up positions leaning on the wall outside the bakery, sipping their drinks and waiting as the last few minutes before their appointment passed.

“Hey, so guess what?” Emma said in a whisper to Ruby.

“What?”

“Ingrid.”

“Who?”

“The woman who is making our cake and food.”

“Oh. What about her?”

“She’s Regina’s girlfriend.” Ruby seemed to cough, sneeze and choke at the same time and coffee flew everywhere. Emma just nodded, “That’s pretty much what I said.”

“Shit, dude! So uh, are you still getting your cake here?”

Hanna chuckled clearly eavesdropping, “I don’t know,” she said wrapping her arm around Emma’s waist. “I think it’s nice that Regina’s girlfriend is making our wedding cake now that she and Regina are becoming friends again. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Emma cleared her throat and shrugged, catching Ruby’s eye for a second then looking away purposefully communicating wordlessly. Even Mary looked uncomfortable despite her lack of knowledge of what had happened between Emma and Regina. Hanna oblivious held her face high taking in the sunshine and enjoying the cool breeze. When Hanna excused herself to use the restroom, Ruby scooted closer to Emma, waiting for Emma to finish her story. She shrugged and continued as if they had never been interrupted, “Why not? We’re friends now. Regina and I are friends. Yup. I can have her girlfriend make my wedding cake because we’re friends. I’m getting married, what does it fucking matter?”

Ruby looked at her skeptically but said nothing.

Emma kept nodding, feeling herself getting a little twitchy again. Why was it that her skin was always itchy these days and her ribs seemed to always ached?

Hanna reappeared a minute later, looking at them like they were crazy, “What are you waiting for? Our appointment.”

“Oh!” Emma cried, “Right. You ready to try about a dozen amazing cakes?” She asked the company at large.

There were indeed about a dozen amazing little cakes all three inches square and decorated with different designs and in different flavors including: Tahitian vanilla, white with Lavender frosting, Rose with vanilla buttercream, chocolate with a berry frosting and many others. Ingrid displayed all of them beautifully, eyeing Emma as she rounded the table introducing them. Emma couldn’t help but to wonder if the glances were because she was now aware of the minimal degrees of separation between them. She got her answer a few minutes later after they had each taken small bites of the third cake and ooohed, ahhed and yummied. “And the Rose cake. I guess the flavor isn’t becoming so popular, is it?”

Emma chuckled nervously, “I guess I’m still the lone freak. I uh, wasn’t sure if Regina had told you, I only just found out myself.”

“I’m glad!” Ingrid assured her, “I’m happy to be doing her best friend's wedding.”

Emma smiled and took too large of a bite of cake. Did she fit the title of best friend anymore?

Ruby leaned in but Emma cut her off, “I swear to god Ruby if you make any ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ jokes right now, I will fucking kill you.”

Ruby sat back, biting her lip and heck, heck, hecking as she tried to keep her laughter in.

When they had finished the cakes, she turned to Hanna already very full, “So what do you think?”

“Hmm? Oh, uh, I like the second white one.”

“Hey Hanna, will you please get off the phone and help me pick out our freaking wedding cake?” Emma said as sweetly as she could. She knew Hanna was busy. She knew that Hanna had many cases but if this woman didn’t stop texting, Emma was going to throw her phone into the bay.

Hanna shook her head as if to clear it, “I’m sorry that was rude wasn’t it? Um, I liked the white one. What about you?”

They soon moved on to a few appetizers, though everyone was too full to do more than nibble at them.

“Everything looks amazing, Ingrid.”

“Yes, I can’t believe it.” Hanna praised.

Ingrid just smiled warmly.

Emma wasn’t quite as uncomfortable as she had expected to be. Ingrid had such a sweet motherly nature that it put Emma’s nerves to rest though; it made her wonder if perhaps Freud would have something to say about the relationship between Regina and Ingrid.

Once choices were made, the group moved to the seats in the front of the shop with coffee to sit and chat for a while.

Ingrid made a small lunch for herself and sat down with them to eat, beaming openly at them. Emma got the feeling she was happy to be meeting and spending time with Regina’s friends. If neither Ruby nor Mary had previously known of her relationship with Regina then Emma would bet that they had not spent a lot of time as a couple socially.

The chat wasn’t awkward – though it should have been. Mary had known Ingrid distantly for years, so they carried the majority of the conversation.

Emma watched Hanna closely throughout their downtime with Ingrid. Her fiancéehad been staring at Ingrid deeply concentrating as if trying to find the answer to a riddle for a long while now. Emma could guess from the small flutter of Ingrid’s eyelashes and the absolute way she would not glance at Hanna that Ingrid was aware of it too. Hanna opened her mouth to speak but closed it again, staring harder.

“Actually, mom maybe we should get going. We have the big dinner to make, right? How long will that take?”

Mary laughed, “I think we will have plenty of time. Ingrid dear, if you aren’t busy, perhaps you would like to join us for dinner?”

“Regina already invited me, thank you but I already had plans with my daughter this evening.”

“Oh!” Emma said, surprised, “I didn’t know you had children.”

Ingrid nodded, “Two girls. Elsa and Anna.”

Hanna’s eyes grew wide suddenly, her face going livid red.

“Oh, you have children,” Emma said to cover whatever was happening with her significant other, “How old are they?”

She glanced quickly to the side and caught Ruby and Hanna starring in a silent conversation; Ruby nodded to an unasked question of Hanna’s.

“I can’t believe it,” Ingrid laughed oblivious to the conversation around her “but twenty and twenty-three.”

“Oh! Wow!” Ruby cried her eyes flicking to Emma then back over and over again. Emma knew that Ingrid was closer to Mary’s age than Regina’s but apparently her friend did not.

Emma nodded awkwardly still watching Hanna.

Hanna seemed to have grown cold, tight and hard and it was making everyone at the table glance away uncomfortably.

The awkwardness carried as Mary, Ruby, Emma and Hanna walked to the car, tension nipping at the back of their necks. It was Hanna who broke it.

“So, I have a question.”

“What babe?”

“Um, am I the only one who thinks that Emma and Ingrid look like they could be sisters?”

Ruby began to laugh jumping around and trying to wipe the gross-out factor off of her skin. Mary just seemed confused, chuckling along in a way that said if someone would just tell her the joke then she would happily laugh along.

“That’s what you guys were talking about?” Mary gasped. “Oh, no! I don’t see it! Really?”

Emma didn’t laugh along with them. She was watching Hanna again and could read loud and clear that Hanna hadn’t meant it as a joke.

They were going to have a problem.

 


 

Once back in Mary’s living room, Hanna decided that she would go for another run to clear her head and better her mood. When Emma asked why she wanted another workout, she just shrugged her off saying that she was feeling a little ‘aggressive’. Emma debated trying to talk openly about the thing she knew was bothering Hanna, but she had a feeling that leaving her to her own devices would be wiser.

Emma didn’t think she and Ingrid looked alike. It was true that they both were pale with blonde hair and chiseled cheeks and chins but if that was all it took to look alike then she looked like half of the women in the world. Hanna was crazy. And unfoundedly jealous.

She just needed to let Hanna sweat it out and - get over it.

Emma and Mary spent a while chatting at the kitchen bar, their fight finally forgotten before beginning the long process of making dinner.

Emma sliced tomatoes by the handful and yelped when she snagged the stitches on the dishtowel.

“Ew! How’s your finger been?”

Emma studied the pucker, “Fine, I guess. It hurts but only when I snag it like that.”

“Good. It seems Regina did a very good job.”

“Uhmm.” Emma began to chuckle darkly as she sautéed and had to ask, “Mom, do you think Hanna and Regina are going to get along tonight?”

Mary stopped stirring and stood thinking for a moment, “Hanna seemed very upset as we were leaving the bakery.”

She tried to think of a way to tell her mother why Hanna was upset while holding on to her coveted secret and came up with zilch.

Sensing that Emma had nothing to say in response Mary moved on, “I think” her mother paused for a moment, head tilted to the side in thought. “I think we will just have to see.”

Emma scowled; that had not been helpful.

With the afternoon quickly wearing into evening, Emma was beginning to worry about Hanna. She had gone out front a few times hoping she would catch Hanna down the street, but she had disappeared. It wasn’t until Mary had dismissed herself for her shower that Hanna finally reappeared, her face red and taut.

“Hanna, where-“

“Is your mom around?”

Emma shook her head, startled by Hanna’s suddenly furious mood, “She just ran up to the shower. How is it you seem like you’re in even less of a good mood than before?”

“Good. I don’t want her to judge me.” Hanna growled, opening the refrigerator and letting it slam.

“She would never...judge...you” her words faded as Hanna cracked open a can of beer and swallowed it down in three giant gulps. “Um. That’s probably not the best after your run.” She said dryly, watching her agitated movements with apprehension. “You uh, you wanna tell me what’s wrong yet? You said later.”

Hanna shook her head, “I’m going to take a shower.”

“That’s a good idea actually. I need to take one too. They’re going to be here in ninety minutes. I should do it now while the food has to simmer for a while.”

Emma grew nervous as they climbed the stairs, unsure of whom she would be entering her bedroom with and how she needed to treat Hanna. If only she would tell her what was happening at work that was upsetting her so much then she could figure out her answers on how to behave.

She watched as Hanna plopped down on the bed and began removing her shoes.

“Can I help you relax a little bit?” Emma asked softly massaging Hanna’s shoulders. “Maybe if you tell me ab-“

“No,” Hanna said stiffly, “But tonight I am getting very drunk.”

Emma shrugged, “I’m sure that will be just fine assuming you don’t- you know, get sloppy. Did you bring anything nice to wear? You don’t have to, but I’m dressing for dinner and Regina probably will too.” Emma asked, gathering her things before she got in. It still felt strange to say Regina’s name to Hanna, like insisting two plus two equals six.

“I guess so, something nice enough.”

“Good.”

Hanna stripped out of her clothing and stood naked, sweaty and smiling at Emma. A fluttery tension spilled through her at the look in her eyes. Hanna’s clearly terrible mood was intimidating. Plus she knew her own mood had been a little off since - coming to Storybrooke. Her nerves felt a little - raw at this precise moment. Worry was gnawing at her, making her feel sick. She couldn’t imagine how Regina was going to behave tonight. She couldn’t imagine how Hanna was going to behave tonight - she had a bad habit of behaving poorly around attractive women, her personal style of peacocking. She was sure Regina would show up tonight in a stunning getup and put Hanna to shame so Hanna would begin to strut, cocking her feathers in everyone’s face. How would Regina react to that? Not well.

She would rip Hanna’s goddamned heart out. Regina would refuse to be treated that way in a house that she considered to be her home. It was going to go badly.

Emma had been lost in her own thoughts and so hadn’t noticed Hanna approach until she grabbed her by the hips and yanked her hard against her, knocking Emma’s breath from her chest. Coughing, she let Hanna and her devilish grin throw her into the shower.

Emma had been hoping for something sweet and fulfilling for the both them, but instead Hanna was rough, pushing her hard against the wall and making Emma cry out in pain. Hanna liked it rough when she was under a lot of stress and Emma often walked away with sex injuries. For the most part, she wore those injuries proudly but they hadn’t seen one another in so long.

When it was done Emma felt as she did after she finished a big clean of their apartment or filing her taxes - pleased to be done, sore and a little dirty. Hanna’s mood, however, was improved slightly.

She deliberated on what to wear as they washed their hair and soaped their bodies. She knew she wanted to dress up so she thought that the jeans and tee shirts would be retired for the night. Stepping out and toweling off, she decided on a tapered cream skirt, a black blouse and black heels.

Once she was dressed, she did her makeup and hair, letting it flow wild and everywhere. “Hanna, what are you doing? You don’t wear makeup; what could possibly be taking you so long to get ready?” When Hanna stepped out of the bathroom.  Guilty disappointment filled Emma as she bit back a groan. Hanna’s hair was smoothed over into something of an undercut that showed off all of her blonde streaks. She wore a small black cotton tee, her favorite expensively faded and slightly baggy skinny jeans and a tight, half sleeve gray wool sport coat.

Emma had hoped when Hanna said she had something nice to wear that she had brought...well, anything else. Hanna was a big fan of very expensive clothing that looked as if it was bought in the bargain bin at H&M or perhaps Old Navy; casual and comfortable clothes at $120 a shirt and up. Though Emma knew her outfit probably was worth a grand easily, she looked like she had thrown on something comfortable for a casual day of running errands. When had dressing up become the art of dressing down? She hated it! She hated the look, she hated the attitude. She knew that Hanna loved this new style but somehow the look made Hanna seem like a teenage boy and it just made Emma feel...old. There had been a time that Hanna’s ‘dressing up’ had been a very well tailored androgynous classic suit. That had been agreeable to Emma. But over the last year, as Hanna’s got more into Crossfit and diet Hanna’s look had been changing.

How had she ended up with a woman that saw men’s Batman briefs as adequate lingerie?

Hanna laughed as she studied herself in the mirror that Emma had been using, tweaking her hair and straightening her collar, “I’m a stud. Look at that.” Hanna winked.

Emma sighed.

It’s true she wasn’t a huge fan the look, but it was Hanna’s vanity that always left a bitter taste in her mouth. It was an old familiar taste, something that you grew to ignore like slightly burnt coffee from your favorite shop. You liked the place well enough to forgive the occasional bitterness.

“You’re right, babe.” she said quickly kissing her cheek. Emma smiled vaguely and said she needed to head downstairs.

A bit later Hanna found her way down the stairs and stood in the doorway smiling for the first time as if she was happy to be there. “Can I help at all?” But as she asked her phone rang so she grabbed another beer from the fridge and ducked into the backyard to take the call.

“Is she feeling better?” Mary asked, kindly.

“I think so. I did my best.”

“Ew! Oh, Emma!”

“Whoa, whoa!” Emma cried, “Not what I meant, mom!”

Her mother went to work on chopping the lettuce after a minute to avoid the thoughts that wanted to plague her mind. “Who is she talking to?”

“I don’t know.” They watched Hanna out of the kitchen window pace and argue with someone in a quiet voice, gesturing emphatically. “I think something is going on with her at work, but she hasn’t told me about it yet.”

“I see.”

When Hanna came back in she was red in the face and looking cross again. To Hanna’s credit when she put the empty can into the recycling she did offer to help again. “Babe, why don’t you go sit down and watch the game instead? I’m pretty sure anywhere that we go tomorrow people will be talking about it. We’ve got this.”

The doorbell rang just as the food was finishing.

“Will you answer that, please?” Emma called, her hands still wet from the dishes.

Her heart beat hard in her chest. She knew it wasn’t Ruby because Ruby just walked in without knocking. As a matter of fact to the best of her memory Regina used to let herself in as well; had that changed or was she simply on good behavior?

Emma straightened her skirt nervously until her mother promised her that the skirt was as straight as it was going to get. Emma ignored her.

Instead she took a deep breath and headed to the living room.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hanna and Regina were already greeting each other politely, shaking hands. The sight of them face-to-face in the same room was jarring; Emma’s past and her present. Regina had indeed dressed for the occasion in a deep purple blouse and a black knee length pencil skirt, her hair for once down, lying slightly wavy around her back and face which was painted to perfection. She was impressive in all of her eloquent glory and to Emma’s surprise, a little cold; as though she had come tonight already having decided that she didn’t like Hanna and, therefore, had little time for her. Henry was clutching to his new mother in a pair of khaki overalls and a red shirt, tiny Loafers on his feet. Hanna stood studying them both and Emma could tell that whether she wanted to be or not, she was slightly impressed.

“Oh my god, look at this little man!” Emma squealed and then blushed when both sets of eyes, spun to land on hers. Regina’s softened into a smile the moment Emma made herself known while Hanna looked back at the kid with disinterest.

“Give me!”

Regina handed the boy over without a fuss and Emma immediately went to work kissing the tiny neck. Henry’s face crackled and he tried to scoot away from the tickle, letting out a series of giggles. Emma froze, staring at Regina, eyes wide with joyful pleasure. “Did he just laugh?”

Regina smiled, regally, “You should try the back of his neck.”

Emma did and was rewarded with a shrill scream of a laugh.

“Is that my boy?” Mary called from the kitchen instantly at Emma’s side and scooping the boy into her arms. Emma couldn’t tell who was giggling louder as Mary tickled him, promising that Grandma had so many toys for him.

They all watched Mary bounce him as she headed back to the kitchen area before reluctantly turning back to one another.

“Well, that didn’t take long.”

“The woman wants a grandchild.”

Emma cocked an eyebrow at Regina in warning. “Hey,” She finally smiled and let Regina kiss her cheek in greeting. “Introduce yourselves yet?”

“We did,” Regina said politely smiling; her hands clasped together in front of her.

They all headed into the living room area where they settled themselves on the couches. They sat in silence pretending to watch the game but really they all were drowning in the awkward tension – at least Emma and Regina were; Hanna was clearly completely distracted.

“Who’s playing?” Ruby asked Hanna after she arrived, taking Henry for her own and flopping on the couch unceremoniously; making huge faces for the boy’s benefit.

He watched smiling slowly, unsure if he liked what he was seeing or not.

Hanna’s answer was quick and overly loud as the person with the ball did something either really good or really bad.

Emma jumped.

Her nerves couldn’t handle this; she excused herself, grumbling an excuse no one listened to.

Stepping into her bedroom felt like a wonderful respite from a situation she did not want. She busied herself with her belongings, not doing much of anything. Why was it that she was so uncomfortable? There was no shouting from the living room; clearly everyone was getting along fine - well, perhaps it was more accurate to say that Hanna was too busy to talk to anyone as of yet but that was fine.

So what was her problem?

“Are you alright?” Regina asked from behind her.

Emma smiled, caught, “Yeah, just a little uncomfortable. You would think that after everything that has happened on this trip I couldn’t feel uncomfortable about anything anymore but,” she shrugged and turned; jumping to realize how close Regina was standing. “I am.”

“I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable,” Regina said quietly, “Would you like me to leave?”

Emma groaned, rubbing her forehead “No, of course not, Ginny. It’s not even about you really.”

“It’s your mother. If you wanted a dinner party you would have planned one.”

Emma laughed, “Yeah that is a huge part of it. She just-”

“She’s the same old Mary. She wanted a dinner party and she thought Hanna and I should meet so she made it happen. Your thoughts on the matter are an insignificant detail.”

“Right. Also, something is weird with Hanna today.”

“Weird? Weird, how? When I left the room your mother had just handed my child to her. She held him like he was a rotten sack of potatoes, I might point out. But if there is something strange about her -.”

She shook her head; “She would never do anything to Henry. No, I don’t know what it is, she isn’t behaving like herself.”

“Explain what you mean.”

Emma just shook her head and sighed. If she was unable to explain it to herself, how would she explain it to Regina?

Regina opened her mouth as if she had something to say but stumbled as if she had changed her mind midway. “No football for you?”

Emma smirked, “No, I have never really been a football girl - as you well know. But did you need something? I just uh, came in here-”

“To get away. I know.”

“Right.”

Regina pointed to the diaper bag, picking it up and pulling a fresh diaper out. “I think he needs to be changed.”

“Oh. I see.” Emma turned to return to the group, unable to hide now that her cover had been blown but Regina stopped her with a hand on her arm.

“You look really beautiful tonight, Em. I love that outfit on you. It’s a nice change from the jeans.”

Emma blushed and then blushed harder as Regina pushed a few strands of hair off of Emma’s forehead with her fingertips. She had dressed up; she thought she looked cute but had Hanna noticed? No. Yet...Regina had…

“You know what I miss?” She asked in a voice just above a whisper, trying to hide the vulnerability there and failing.

“What?” Emma’s voice had cracked, but Regina didn’t seem to notice.

“I miss being able to hug you. I have never been a very physically affectionate person with the world at large, you know that, but with you, I always was. I really miss that. I find that I have these moments when I almost forget everything that happened.  I go to hug you or hold you and then remember at the last minute that I’m not supposed to do that anymore. I am not supposed to want to do that anymore because we hate one another.”

“Sworn enemies five years strong, I guess.”

Regina smiled lightly.

“Do you think, for a moment, we could drop all of the extra baggage and do that? I had a rough day and I think I could use it.”

Emma wondered briefly if it would be too much; if she could allow herself to be held in Regina’s arms again. She hesitated and then she realized she could use a hug too. She had been wound so tightly for so long. At first she had thought that it was coming to Storybrooke that had done it, but what if it wasn’t? She could use many hugs, all the hugs, so she let herself slip into Regina’s arms. Her forehead rested on the side of Regina’s neck, her hand resting on Regina’s collarbone as it always had done, their habitual positions. Emma didn’t even know when they had began to hold one another in this position, high school - perhaps college? She couldn’t imagine how many pictures they had like this.

Emma sighed suddenly feeling more content than she had in a long time. She wanted to stay here; dinner be damned. This had always been her safe spot before their fight, where she would go when she was scared or tired or grumpy. It was good to be back here even if it was just for a moment. It was like getting under your favorite blanket after a very long day. Regina held her securely to her with one arm and let her opposite hand cover Emma’s, so known to them that neither noticed she had done it. She took another deep breath and breathed in Regina. Bare Minerals makeup. Wen conditioner. Elizabeth Taylor’s 'Design'. Jasmine blossom. This close she could also smell something spicy - clove? The relentless ache she had felt in her side slowly melted away, and Emma was thankful. It hadn’t budged in what felt like weeks.

“Why was your day such a bad one?”

Regina sighed, leaning her head into Emma, “Work is – hard. My hours are not what I signed up to do. I don’t see Henry as much as I would like to, which is terrible enough but add the fact that he screams every time his nanny comes into the room and I feel terrible.”

“Why does he scream?”

“He has good taste. The woman has warts and smells of Bengay.”

Emma closed her eyes, listening to Regina’s throaty chuckle rumble through her chest and relishing the soft strength she felt around her. “Why did you adopt right now, Gin? I mean, it’s not a judgment, it seems like bad timing with your job and everything.”

Regina laughed, unaware that she was squeezing Emma’s hand lightly, though Emma was; very much so, “It wasn’t planned that way; as a matter of fact little of my life in the past year as gone as I planned. I had a position in a hospital in Boston, did your mom tell you that?”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Hmm, I did. In a real hospital - where I belong. Anyway, about a year ago now my lawyer told me it would take me two years to complete the screening process because I was a single woman. That would have been perfect, I would have just finished my Fellowship, which meant that my hours would be of my own choosing. I could create a nine to five lifestyle for myself, with a few moments of exception. Instead, they found Henry for me within six months. So I transferred to the clinic. It was a very prestigious program. I wouldn’t be able to use my specialty but there was no way I was going to pass him up.”

Emma sighed, enjoying the soft sensation of Regina’s thumb stroking lightly over her fingers.

They sat content in their silence for a bit before Emma changed the subject, “So you’ve never read my books?”

Regina laughed once, “I knew if you came over you would know I had.”

“You own four copies.”

“Yes.”

“So you-”

“Lied. Yes.”

“Why?” Emma buried her face a little closer, sighing again. This was just so comfortable, so safe.

“Oh I don’t know, Emma. I suppose I thought it would show a certain amount of indifference. And I knew it would hurt you.”

“It didn’t.”

“It did.” Regina tightened her grip around her a bit.

“You’re right, it did. Why?”

“Oh, Emma. I suppose it’s still easier to be mad at you than to move forward because-” Regina paused “I’m not sure.”

She knew she was lying again but chose not to bring it to light.

When Emma finally pulled away, she felt better. Regina’s smile looked a bit more natural, her hand still holding Emma’s.

“That was nice. I needed that.”

“I think I did too,” Emma admitted.

They stood for a second silent, hand in hand looking at the other. Finding their footing was much harder than either of them had planned but with her hair down, literally and metaphorically, Emma could see her seventeen-year-old friend for the first time. Emma took a deep breath and felt a glow begin in her stomach; warm and comfortable like a meal of warm soup on a cold night. She wanted to crawl back into her arms and stay a little longer. She wanted to say something to her just then, but she couldn’t think of what. I love you? I miss you? I don’t want to fight anymore? I want my best friend back? None of it seemed correct and she didn’t really feel any of that - did she?

“Can you help me carry the food out to the table? It should be done.”

Regina smiled.

 


 

It wasn’t until she was balancing plates and bowls in hand; ready to deposit them on the table that Emma realized that she and Regina had just shared a very close moment. Had it been inappropriate to let that happen? There had been no lust in their touch but there had been something deeper - intimacy. Suddenly having the group outside the bedroom door made the moment she had just experienced feel secret. She would need to watch herself. The fact was that the rules had changed and that was that.

 

Dinner went over well. Emma ate with one hand wrapped around Henry on her lap as he made random and unintelligible sounds and repeatedly banged his favorite teething ring into the hard top of the table, purely for the satisfaction of the sound. Once or twice Emma caught Hanna glaring at the boy as though her dinner was being ruined by the loud clatter that no one else seemed to notice.

The food was a big hit and to Emma’s pleasure Regina and Hanna were getting along just fine. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that they were busy purposely not speaking to one another. They both just watched the other, Regina silent in her observations whereas Hanna did her best to be the life of the party, sharing work stories and trying to make everyone laugh. It was like watching two alphas pace in circles around one another, trying to decide if they were going to be friends or if they were going to rip the other’s face off.

Life of the party or not Emma watched Hanna down a few more beers as she ate and wondered if anyone else noticed the way she was putting them back. When the meal was finished, they laid a blanket out on the living room floor for Emma and Henry and took seats around them on the couches and chairs.

“He is almost at the point of sitting up by himself but watch him because now and then he still falls backward. He won’t really hurt himself but he does get very angry. ”

“You do?” Emma asked him in her best baby voice. Henry, who was crinkling a toy to his face, looked up at her and grinned but the weight of his head suddenly shooting up sent him toppling backward and Emma had to catch him quickly. This seemed to amuse him and he began to laugh loudly, a bit of drool leaking from his mouth.

God, he was cute.

Emma caught Regina grinning at them and grinned back. “Why don’t you join us?” She asked under the voices of the other conversations.

Regina’s face broke into her unmasked smile for a moment, “And how would you propose I get down there - or back up in this skirt?”

Emma laughed.

Regina and Mary shared embarrassing junior high and high school stories of Emma, which Hanna ate up, and Emma found that it was easier to laugh than she had expected it to be.

They played with Henry for a long while, focusing on his new favorite game of being held up as if he were standing so he could laugh and laugh while he shot his hips front to back and side to side. Emma couldn’t say that it was her favorite game - for Emma this game was called oh god, don’t drop the baby, the nervous tension that seemed to live in her always flaring just a bit.

Eventually, he started to get cranky so Regina, in Mary’s rocking chair, tucked the boy into her and rocked as she fed him his evening bottle.

Mary squealed and snapped picture after picture.

Emma could see why. Watching Regina rock and coo to the sleepy boy was – well a warm maternal instinct was a strong aphrodisiac to everyone – right?

Around 10 P.M. Mary yawned and said she would go to bed if the girls could handle the dinner clean up.

“I’ll do it, mom.” Regina said standing to kiss her goodnight.

“I’ll help.” Hanna jumped up and unsteadily gathered a few plates.

“Oh, that’s okay.” Emma said quickly standing to take the plates, unwilling to leave the alphas alone together for fear of bloodshed.

“No, no.” Regina winked, “You cooked. Go sit down, let us handle it.”

Hanna frowned at the exchange.

Emma did as she was told, following Ruby into the living room so they could stroke and coo the sleeping boy in Ruby’s arms.

“God she got a cute one, didn’t she?”

“She did.” Ruby laughed.

“So can we talk about why you didn’t feel the need to tell me about him?”

Ruby shrugged, “I was just following orders. Kind of one of those situations where you don’t have a lot of say. You just do what the parent tells you to.”

“Umhmm.”

They had watched the baby sleep for a while before Ruby broke the silence. “So how much has Hanna had to drink exactly?”

Emma groaned, quietly mortified “No! Oh god, you noticed how much she’s drinking tonight? I thought everyone was too distracted by Henry!”

“Hard not to.” Ruby said shrugging telling her that it was merely observation and not a judgment, “Is she alright?”

“I don’t know, I think so? She went for a run this afternoon and when she came back, she was kind of slamming things around. Then she was clearly fighting with someone on the phone.”

“She hasn’t told you?”

“Nope. Never does. It’s her job. It’s always her job.”

“Oh, I see. Well, maybe if we all have a few drinks with her she will slow down. I was thinking it’s going to be Halloween soon. Let’s watch a scary movie and have a few glasses of wine.”

Emma brightened a little. One of her favorite Halloween traditions she had held with Ruby and Regina had been their B-rated horror movie marathons. The three loved them, everything from Elvira Mistress of Darkness to The Addams Family to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. “That’s a great idea, let me see if they want to.”

She got up and headed over to the kitchen. Regina was standing at the sink rinsing dishes to go into the dishwasher while Hanna leaned against the counter, another beer in her hand. They both looked up as Emma walked in. Hanna’s look was cool and drunkenly slack while the only expression that Regina’s face held was in her eyes, which danced with anger.

“Hey guys,” she said uncertainly, “what are you talking about?”

“Oh nothing,” Regina said flashing her the-doctor-knows-best smile.

What had they been talking about? Did she even want to know?

“Um, Hanna you’re supposed to be helping.”

Regina chuckled, “That’s all right, Em. I’m done.”

“Em?” Hanna asked, bluntly, “I thought you hated to be called Em.”

Emma frowned, when had she ever said that? Regina had always called her Em just like she always called her Ginny or Gin.

Regina, seeming to understand Hanna’s hidden question, was pointedly fixated on drying her hands, “What do you need, Em? Is Henry alright?” She asked, reminding Emma of why she had come to the kitchen in the first place.

“Oh. Um, yeah. He’s asleep. Ruby suggested we should watch a scary movie and have some wine.”

Regina’s eyes lit up, “You know, that’s something I haven’t done since you moved. That would be very nice.”

“Killer Klowns!” they said together and laughed.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the epitome of their terrible horror movie tastes. The movie was about clowns from outer space that attack people by capturing them in cotton candy. It was terrible in all of the best ways.

“We would need to move the party back to my house though. I need to put Henry down soon.”

They told Ruby the plan to move the group to Regina’s house and Ruby agreed whole-heartedly if Killer Klowns was involved.

They gathered their belongings with Hanna watching them sourly, clearly feeling left out of the revelry.

 

In the car on their way over to Regina’s, Emma decided to pry Hanna open one last time, “Babe, I know something is going on. What is it? It’s clearly upsetting enough to you that you’ve been hitting the beer hard tonight.”

Hanna scoffed, “I am not Emma, don’t be dramatic.”

“I’m not being dramatic. Stop saying that to me!” She cried firing up “And stop being a dick, Hanna!”

“Why do you let her call you Em?”

“What?”

“Why do you let her call you Em?” Hanna shouted at the top of her lungs. The sudden flash of anger sent Emma reeling back against her seat, a small trace of surprised fear making her heart flutter.

“Babe,” Emma tiptoed “I’ve never said I don’t like being called Em.”

“You corrected me every time that I called you Em until I stopped trying.”

Emma didn’t want this fight. She didn’t want any fight. She was tired of fighting. “You can call me Em if you want to.” But if Emma was being truthful she didn’t want her to, just like she didn’t want Regina to call her Detective Swan. It didn’t feel right. She was beginning to learn that maybe Emma/Detective Swan and Em were two different people; she was Emma in New Orleans and Em in Storybrooke. “Hanna you seem to have this idea that our relationship is being threatened but I promise it’s not.”

“I don’t like how familiar she is with you. It’s like she’s trying to prove to me that she has some kind of a claim on you. She walks around you like fucking royalty. You know what it’s like? It’s like she took your virginity and keeps it in her pocket.”

Emma laughed, “Um, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. She didn’t take my virginity and she’s not trying to prove anything. If anything I think you’re trying to prove something to me right now. She’s just being herself like I asked her to. I don’t mind you being drunk babe, but you’re a little bit of a mess right now.”

Hanna scoffed, “Sorry I’m not all pretty and perfect.”

Emma regrettably let her anger lash out a little then, “You know when you behave like this, it’s really hard to imagine you’re a lawyer.”

“God, I forgot how much of a fucking nag you are.” Hanna gripped under her breath.

When they arrived, Hanna got out of the car quickly, hauling her six pack and pointedly not speaking to Emma.

Emma was at a loss.

Hanna whistled when she entered the house, “Great place.” She said with a wink at Regina.

Regina laughed despite Hanna’s inebriation and thanked her civilly.

Emma watched unhappily, doing her best to stay behind until Hanna’s drunken mind forgot they were fighting.

Hanna wasn’t a clean drunk. She never had been. In a club or even a bar it was hard to notice since they were always surrounded with a few much worse than her; but there in the living room of 108 Mifflin it was quite clear.

Regina showed them upstairs to the informal living room with a smile, “Make yourself at home. I’m going to put Henry down.”

“Oh, I’ll help!” Emma hopped up the moment she had sat on one of the couches. She took the squirming, fussy boy and rest him on the changing table, talking to him lightly while Regina rummaged through the dresser looking for a pajama Onesie.

“Be careful, he screams when anyone but myself takes his clothes off. He loves naked time, but he hates having-” Regina’s eyes bugged when she turned around and saw Henry being held in his favorite standing position naked, grinning and swaying back and forth. “He didn’t scream?”

“No?” Emma frowned and began to diaper him before he could use either of the women as target practice.

“But he screams for everyone.”

“I’m sorry?” Emma couldn’t help but to grin. Score one for Auntie Em.

Regina narrowed her eyes at her but handed her the pajamas.

Emma put them on with only one trying moment when she had pinned his arm inside of the Onesie, making him fuss.

“You’re good with him. Better than his nanny.”

“That’s because I rock.” Emma said lifting him off the table so she could kiss his drool-y cheek and hand him to his mother.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Emma nodded and turned to go.

They both gasped, Emma recoiling her hand and cradling it as if it had been burned. She hadn’t been thinking about it, it had just happened. She had just done it. Old habits and all of that.

She had handed the boy over and then, the moment he was out of her hands, she had reached forward and softly affectionately cupped Regina’s left rib just under the cup of her bra, lightly pinching the fabric and the skin underneath - just like she used to. It had been the way that Emma had said I love you way back in the life they used to share.

Regina cleared her throat, looking away and Emma skipped out of the room.

That had just happened.

She settled into the living room with Hanna and Ruby, who was sharing with Hanna stories of movie viewings past, wine in hand and trying not to think about the sign of familiarity. It wasn’t working, her brain was screaming at her, insisting that she remember the facts. They could be friends - distant friends - while she was in town - but they could not be friends like that - like they were. Snap out of it, Emma. Wise up.

“Cute toes, Regina.” Hanna said to Regina as she walked back in. Somewhere along the way Regina had kicked off her shoes exposing those red nails.

There was something in her tone that made Regina stop and look at her for a second in a strange way. Ruby glanced at Emma but Emma was busy staring at Hanna in horror.

She could feel Regina’s eyes on her and deliberately did not look her way.

“Why don’t you have another drink, Hanna?” Regina snipped as she moved toward the DVD player and Emma knew she was aggressively restraining herself. She could almost smell Regina’s hair smoking in the attempt to keep in the tongue lashing that she clearly wanted to give.

Over the cover of Regina and Ruby discussing the movie, Emma leaned into Hanna who had taken the recliner in lieu of the couch, “Please babe, please stop. I am begging you. I’m sorry we were fighting but remember those nights where you would lose control? Drink too much and behaving badly. You told me to warn you when it was happening and it’s happening now!”

Hanna leaned forward, her face coldly belligerent, “Do you know how god damned annoying you are? Stop fucking nagging me.”

It was like Emma had been slapped.

What the hell was happening? Who was this person? Had Hanna always been this way? Sure she had always had her moments but - what the hell?

“Emma?” Regina stopped just in front of her. “What’s wrong?”

Emma grinned as largely as she could. “Nothing. Why?”

Regina made a small noise of disbelief in her throat and clicked off the lights. Ruby squeezed on one side of Emma and to Emma’s pleasure and discomfort Regina daintily settled on the other side, sandwiching her in.

“Em?” She whispered.

“God, do you know how long it’s been since I saw this? I was probably with you guys.”

Regina got the message.

Soon the three friends were whooping and laughing as the movie progressed, Ruby and Emma shouting things at the television like “Don’t go in there! You’re so stupid!” as they always did.

It had taken years to get Regina to finally admit that she loved their movie nights; being silly was never a huge priority for her. Even to this day while Emma and Ruby were silly, giggling and yelling Regina just sat with them, a secret smile on her lips the only hint she was enjoying herself.

Once Emma could get over the hurdle of Regina’s body pressed against her Emma began to feel better between her two best friends, laughing like one can only laugh with their closest of friends. As the movie progressed and the hour grew late, the three quieted and Emma let her mind travel. She could see Regina’s head beginning to bob next to her. It was too late; they should have agreed to the movie another night.

She thought about their moment in her bedroom and that small rib squeeze and wondered where the line was. Where did it go from just old friends to old exes? Perhaps there was no line and no black and white answer? Ten-foot minimum space between them at all times?

Was she doing anything wrong? She couldn’t tell. Perhaps the fact that she was wondering at all meant that she was.

Emma had thought Hanna had fallen asleep a while ago, but suddenly she sat up and cried, “This movie is terrible! It’s really, really bad!”

Regina’s head shot up and she blinked rapidly trying to pretend she wasn’t sleepy.

“Of course it is!” Emma chuckled.

Hanna shook her head, standing, “No, I mean really, really dumb! You guys like this?”

“Babe, you don’t understand, that’s the point!”

Hanna shrugged admitting that maybe she just didn’t have the taste for bad horror movies and turned to head downstairs, presumably for another drink. Emma sighed; unsure what to do with Hanna this evening except maybe get her to bed soon and excused herself to the bathroom.

She washed her hands and headed downstairs into the kitchen for another glass of wine, her mind in the clouds.

The scene she came upon sent ripping knots of humiliation and pain through her stomach. Regina was pressed against the counter leaning back as far as she could, fingertips on Hanna’s shoulder clearly trying to push her back in snarling distaste. Hanna stood close by, if not against her, studying the necklace that hung around her neck oblivious - or ignoring- Regina’s attempt to push her away. It seemed clear however that Regina did not think that the necklace was the reason why she was so close and that it had a bit more to do with the view down her shirt.

“Hanna!” Emma cried, ashamed and humiliated. Hanna stumbled back, pulling Regina’s neck a little with the necklace. Had Hanna’s hand been on Regina’s hip?

Hanna smiled stupidly, “Hey babe. We’re getting drinks. Have you seen this necklace? What did you say it is again?”

Regina was molten fire, her lip curling back in fury, “Silver. I said it was silver, you idiot.” Under the fury, Emma could see she was panic stricken as if she was afraid that Emma would see the scene and think that she had been coming on to Hanna.

Regina shoved Hanna, politeness gone, making Hanna stumble and blink stupidly confused. She started past Emma toward the staircase with a glare, “Three months after me, huh Em?”

The words were a verbal knife cutting her deeply.

“Hanna,” Emma said shakily, though with anger or with shame she couldn’t tell. “I think it’s time to go.”

“What?” Hanna cried oblivious in her state that she had done anything wrong, “We can’t go! We need to finish the movie! I was only joking when I said I didn’t like it.”

“Lets. Go!” Emma didn’t know if she would ever become a mother but if she did she knew this would be the voice she would use. Her body was heavy. She just needed this night to be over. She wanted the respite of sleep so she didn’t have to be in - this - for just a little while.

Hanna grumbled but her face cleared into a mask of confusion and embarrassment, “I was being inappropriate, wasn’t I?” She asked quietly.

“Yeah. You were. Go get our things okay?” Maybe Emma had a child already.

“I was just trying to look at her necklace. It was pretty.”

“It kind of looked like you were trying to look down her shirt. And possibly feel her up at the same time.”

Hanna nodded understanding and headed to gather her things while Emma slipped upstairs. Regina was at the top of the stairs, just appearing from Henry’s room and scaring the hell out of Emma.

They stood on the landing awkwardly, Regina a cool fire and Emma, a melted puddle of dejection. All she wanted to do was crawl somewhere where she could feel safe for a little while. She just needed...

“Look, I just wanted to apologize. She’s not normally-”

Regina cut her off, “Handsy? Rude? A teenager? Short?” Emma’s face fell, tears of humiliation prickling and Regina softened, “Em, I’m sorry. Don’t be upset. She’s just very drunk. That makes us all behave poorly sometimes.”

“In her defense, I don’t think she was trying to be as inappropriate as it looked.”

Regina was clearly biting her tongue and not wanting to hear it. Emma soundlessly headed to gather her fiancée and start home.

Emma burst as soon as they were in the car, her throat working, keeping the foul ball of tears away, “Hanna, I can’t believe you!”

“What?” Hanna cried, jumping in her seat, “I told you I wasn’t,”

“That’s not the point! I can’t believe you tonight. What’s wrong with you? I’ve never been so fucking humiliated!” In the small box of the car, Emma’s shouts were loud and intense but Hanna seemed generally unaffected.

“Okay, babe, in my defense I was trying to look at her necklace. I’m sorry if you’re fucking paranoid, but I was. Why do you always assume the worst of me? I don’t assume the worst of you.”

“Okay that is a road we won’t even go down right now. Hanna, it’s not about the fact that it looked like you were doing something you shouldn’t. It’s about the fact that you were the only one who drank to the point of drunk tonight. Isn’t that humiliating?”

Hanna shrugged, “I was just trying to have some fun, I’m on vacation.”

Emma fumed openly for a few minutes as she was driving, debating what she wanted to say, “Hanna, you made me feel so stupid tonight. You made me feel so stupid and you made a horrible first impression on Regina. How would you feel in the tables were reversed?”

Hanna didn’t respond.

“Hanna, I’m actually asking.”

Still Hanna didn’t respond.

Emma looked over, quickly as she was driving and saw Hanna was busy on her cell phone texting god knew whom.

“Hanna!” She yelled, shoving her thigh.

Hanna jumped and shouted in alarm “God! What? Jesus, don’t fucking do that!” Hanna’s fist connected firmly with Emma’s shoulder and Emma swerved, crying out in pain.

She ripped to a stop at the one red light in town, yelping and clutching her arm “Are you twenty-seven or fucking fifteen? I fucking told you I hate that! God damn it! I’m going to have a fucking bruise!”

“Sorry.” Hanna sighed, giving in and going back to her phone.

Emma swallowed back the lump in her throat and released her arm with a huff. How many times had she had to force back tears since Hanna had come into town? Too many. She studied the crosswalk that led off to a different part of the city and wondered what would happen if she just got out right now. She could get out and just start walking, leaving all of it behind. Hanna probably wouldn't follow her, not right now. She could just - disappear.

She wasn’t sure if she had ever felt so alone with someone sitting by her side. She and Hanna had always been two people in one relationship, looking out for themselves and living their lives; only mixing them when they felt like it. It worked for them. Yes, sometimes Emma was lonely that way but it worked for them. However tonight, watching Hanna live her life as though she were not a pair - Emma remembered that she had no one.

Upstairs in her room Emma slowly changed into her pajamas while Hanna sat in the chair and watched, a stupid grin spreading across her face.

“What?” Emma snapped. She knew she was being a little hostile with someone who wasn’t capable of understanding – at least not in this state. Her nerves were shot and she was beginning to feel as though she needed a vacation from her vacation.

“What’s wrong?”

Emma laughed, “What’s wrong? Do you really mean that?”

“So we’re fighting. We fight all the time. Come here.”

Hanna got up and reached for her wrist pulling her to her. Emma strained away put off by her thick beer breath. “I want to talk to you.”

“Not right now, Hanna okay? I just want to get into bed. I just want this night to be over.” Emma said lightly trying to start toward the bathroom.

Hanna’s grip on her wrist tightened, “Hey, listen to me for a minute.”

“Hanna please, not tonight. I don’t think I could hear an apology even if you offered one. My arm hurts. I’m - I don’t know - angry. I just need to sleep it off. I think we both do.” Emma struggled against Hanna’s grip the pressure on her wrist becoming uncomfortable.

“Listen to me!” Hanna insisted. “I need to tell you something.”

“Hanna!” Emma pulled away, trying to shake Hanna’s vice like grip off of her wrist. “Can you just freakin’ stop it, please?”

“God damn it, Emma, I have something to say.” Hanna gave her wrist a hard yank, nearly capsizing Emma as she collided with something hard before stumbling back to her fiancée. She yelped and nearly collapsed, stunned.

“Ow! Han-“

“Come here!” Hanna yanked again and Emma, yelping like a kicked puppy, collided into her.

“Okay, okay,” Emma cried, doubled over to ease the pressure on her wrist, “what do you want to say?”

Hanna still had her twisted wrist in her inebriated numb hand, holding it tightly to her chest, her prisoner until she felt as though Emma had heard every word she meant to say. Emma whimpered as her grip mindlessly tightened. She wasn’t sure but she thought the skin might be tearing, her bones grinding out of place. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this for a long time -” Hanna’s drunken ambling words were torture. She cried out as Hanna’s hand twitched and tried again to pull her arm away, but Hanna tugged her back making her shriek.

What the fuck was she doing? What was this?

“Hanna, you’re hurting me!”

“Listen!” Hanna bellowed, her rash anger flaring like the spit from a volcano. She twisted a little harder and Emma buckled, crouching as low as possible to relieve the pressure; the panicked thought of it’s going to break, if she’s not careful it’s going to break, fuck, fuck, it’s going to break, oh god; flashing through her mind.

“Okay, okay. Just say it! Fuck, Hanna! What?”

Hanna seemed unaware of Emma’s distress, her eyes clouded over with drink. “Fuck, never mind. God, there’s always some consequence, isn’t there?”

“Of what?” Emma hissed, “Of what? Hanna, please!”

“Uhhhhh fuck it. I just wanted to say I’m sorry that I embarrassed you tonight. I didn’t mean to. I thought I was just being friendly. Yeah, I drank too much and I shouldn’t have, but that’s no excuse.”

“Okay, okay. Hanna, it’s okay. My arm. My arm, it hurts Hanna. You’re hurting me! Let go! Let go! Please!

“What?” Hanna looked down stupidly at Emma’s contorted arm.

“Oh, shit.” She swore a little as she released her. “My bad.”

Emma screamed as the arm was released, for a moment more painful than the tight hold it had been in. “Fuck Hanna!”

Emma did a double take then into Hanna’s blank face. What was that in her tone just then? Amusement?

Emma’s arm screamed as the blood flowed back to the wrist. “Hanna, did you know that you had my wrist?”

“Uh,” Hanna chuckled like a boy who had hit another one for a reason he thought absolved him, “yeah but I didn’t mean for it to be that bad. I just meant to get you to listen, you know?”

Emma stanchly, jerkily made her way to the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

She began pacing the moment she was alone, cradling her arm. What the fuck had just happened? Was that – had she just hurt her on purpose?

She didn’t know, but she couldn’t handle this now. She needed to go to bed. She needed to reset her mind. She was suddenly so tired; stress layering her with a soporific blanket. She just needed to reset. She couldn’t handle this.

In the fluorescent bathroom light her wrist was cherry pepper red but she could flex it. It wasn’t broken, but she would have a bruise in the morning.

What did ‘I didn’t mean for it to be that bad’ mean? Did that mean she meant to hurt her a little?

She sat unsteadily on the side of the tub her mind racing. She would wait until Hanna fell asleep.  She would wait and in the morning they would have a talk. Or….something…


 

(“When you’re in my house you do what I fucking say, you hear me?”

“Yes.” Emma wailed, her tiny voice hitching as she tried to take a deep breath. Pain like she had never felt before ripped through her with every tiny intake as she cried into the tile of the kitchen floor.

“I told you to call me ma’am!” She had thought that this one would be different. She had thought that she was safe here.

The force, this second blow, sent her small eight-year-old body flying two feet across the room as she bared down on her body, trying to stop the pain. But there was no stopping it. She could feel that something was different, not right inside of her body.

It hurt. There was so much pain.

She gave in and everything went dark.)

 

Chapter Text

Emma woke with a start, flying upward before doubling over, clutching her ribs. Oh god. It was only a ghost of the pain and yet it was so strong.

She stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom.

Nothing on her ribs.

If there was constantly nothing wrong with her ribs, why did they feel as though they had just been kicked in? - again.

Emma washed her face to clear away the last bit of exhausting sleep. She was hungover and bleary as if she were the one who had consumed her weight in beer the night before.

No need to ask where the flashback dreams had come from. They had come last time Hanna…

Hanna was still asleep, snoring loudly and because she didn’t know what else to do or how else to handle the situation Emma pulled on her running clothes and left for a run through the neighborhood.

She couldn’t lie sleepless next to Hanna for another second. She had considered sleeping downstairs the night before. She had tiptoed from the bathroom after a while to find that there was no way to sleep in the bed without some part of her touching Hanna – which she was loath to do. She had only chosen to stay in her room because if her mother woke before her, she knew she would have to explain and she didn’t want to explain.

Instead, she spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to decide if what Hanna had done could be excused because she had been drunk or if what was not excusable was the fact that she was drunk. She spent hours studying the versions of Hanna she knew; the sweet and gentle lover who used to make her feel so warm inside, the party girl who was a blast to go out with and who knew how to make her laugh, the workaholic who might have been gone a lot but was careful to keep a very nice and fairly expensive roof over their head - and the one who drank and then...hurt her. Was this to be excused? Was this like that time? No. She didn't’ think so.

Still there were only two cardinal rules in relationships as far as Emma was concerned: Don’t cheat and don’t inflict physical or mental damage. One of those rules had been broken last night. She knew what she should do. She should find the biggest and burliest man in town to take Hanna to the town line and throw her ass over – only – Hanna had been very drunk, a different person. Was the answer that Hanna simply needed to stop drinking rather than be kicked to the curb? How could she know? She knew if she asked her mother or Regina they would say it was a black and white issue; only - it wasn’t. People with her background knew that it wasn’t always black and white. Sometimes heroes did terrible things once or twice before taking up the challenge of being a hero; sometimes villains had pure hearts. She knew that no one could be judged from one situation…they had to be judged as a whole...which meant that sometimes good people who deserved a wife and a happy life did things they shouldn't...especially when drinking. Besides, Emma reminded herself, you never give up on those who love you.

The morning was unseasonably warm, yet she had worn long sleeves. She had been right. There were bruises. That wasn’t the worst thing ever, she could hide a bruise, no matter how big...she had done it a few times before and the weather was perfect for it. She had also found that she had an angry tennis ball sized welt on the side of her knee this morning while she was getting dressed. It was difficult to remember but she thought that when Hanna had pulled on her she had run into the corner of the dresser or was it the bed frame? Each time her step came down during her run the associated knee felt as though it would give out, bruised down into the muscle. She had also found that she had a delightful three-inch long, two inch wide ever darkening shadow up by her shoulder where Hanna had drunkenly socked her.

Three. Three bruises from one night.

She didn’t know what to do.

So she listened to the slap – slap - slap - slap of her feet hitting the road, letting it beat out all thoughts. She had this strange hazy feeling in her mind. It wasn’t depression; that wouldn’t be the correct term for it. It was almost as if there was a downy layer of cotton between her emotions and her internal receptors.

Somehow her mind had gone numb.

She knew this should alarm her, but she couldn’t seem to find the correct concern. Besides, the numbness felt comforting and somehow easier than the alternative. It was the feeling that had gotten her through her father’s death and today she welcomed it back with open arms. Anything so she didn’t have to think about this shit; so she didn’t have to analyze what the hell it meant – so she didn’t have to think about her wedding that was looming ever closer or the fact that Hanna probably needed to put down the alcohol for a while.

When she arrived back home, Hanna was sitting in the kitchen with Mary, looking queasy.

Emma stopped in her tracks, frozen with her water bottle halfway to her lips, unsure of what to do now. She had expected to run into Hanna upstairs where they would be alone or perhaps for her to still be asleep. Hanna always slept late after drinking heavily. She didn’t know how to behave when Hanna sat there looking as if she hated herself under her mother’s watchful eye.

Reflexively Emma pulled her shirtsleeve down just a little further.

“I’m sorry.” Hanna said simply but vehemently.

Mary chuckled, “Yes, it sounds like I missed a fun night.”

Emma just stared at them. Hanna couldn’t have told her mother. If she had told her mother there was no way that Hanna would still be breathing, let alone sitting in the kitchen. She would have called Graham and Emma’s eighth-grade boyfriend would be currently watching over Hanna as she packed so he could throw her out.

“I’m so sorry, Emma. I don’t know what happened. I got this call from my boss giving me a hard time, so I had a few beers and next thing I knew...I’m sorry. It was a mistake.”

“You’re terrible when you drink, right?” Emma asked in spite of her mother's’ watchful eyes.

Mary frowned, clearly disproving of Emma yelling at someone in such a pathetic state. “I have to go to yoga, girls. I’ll see you later.” Mary grabbed her wrist, pulling her a few feet back. Emma paled, trying not to yell out in pain. “Emma, honey. We did not raise you to kick someone when they are down. Whatever she did last night it was probably a mistake and she feels very bad about it. Marriage means being able to work it out.”

Emma had nothing to say but felt her jaw working; swallowing, always swallowing things back these days. She nodded and her mother released her.

Emma warred with herself. Should she sit? She didn’t want to talk. She wasn’t sure how she would feel sitting across from Hanna.

Hanna’s sick face pleaded up at her; so slowly she sank into the chair, watching the woman and examining her feelings. She was surprised to see that she wasn’t afraid or nervous being next to Hanna as she had been after the first time. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that sober Hanna would never do what drunken Hanna had done - twice - ish. They were two different people.

She sat awkwardly in the chair, arm hidden under the table and waited patiently for Mary to leave. When she was sure Mary was gone she exposed her arm, with a thump onto the table that she instantly regretted.

Hanna sighed in evident deep relief, “Oh thank god, I thought I had broken it. When you weren’t here I thought that you had gone to Regina.”

Emma stared, open-mouthed. Would it be right if she reached across and hit her? Two wrongs don’t make a right, but perhaps Hanna needed some sense smacked into her, perhaps a resounding round of shockabuku.

Hanna backtracked, “Oh no, no, I don’t mean this is good. Oh god, no.” She wrung her hands her eyes beginning to sparkle with broken tears. “God no. I just thought I had done…worse.” She gently touched the forming bruises; the large black splat of the thumb mark and the four little antennae that formed the perfect handprint. “I also have one on my knee and one on my shoulder from where you fucking punched me.”

Pathetically, Hanna began to cry. Her head fell forward onto Emma’s sore arm, washing it with her tears and she began to mournfully kiss the skin. “Oh, I hate myself so much! I can’t believe that I am this person. I’m so sorry Emma. I’m so sorry. I can’t fucking believe myself. God.”

Hanna’s clear detest for herself broke down some of Emma’s walls, swirling the numb that still fogged her feelings. She couldn’t stand her touch anymore and not so gently pulled her arm out of her hands. “You fucking marked me – and not some hot but weird sex marks either. Your handprint is on my fucking arm, Hanna.”

“I know!” She wailed her head falling to the table, her back and shoulders jerking harshly as she sobbed. “I’m such a shit. I’m a shitty person. Emma, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Hanna fell silent, glaring at the bruise, which had been growing in darkness all morning, with hate filled eyes. Emma watched her face. She truly hates herself, Emma realized. She hates herself for this. Last time she was just confused. She didn’t hate herself. This time she sees.

“What did you mean when you said you didn’t mean for it to be that bad?”

“What?”

“Last night. After you let go of me, I asked you if you had known you were doing it. You fucking said, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t mean for it to be that bad’.”

Hanna’s face contorted, agony dripping from it, “I didn’t remember that. Oh god, I think I was joking around with you but I don’t know. Oh god, that’s terrible. That’s so terrible.” Suddenly Hanna’s face cleared, realization sharp and tortuous, “You need to leave me.”

“What?”

“You need to pack your shit and go.”

Emma waited for something to show in Hanna’s features, some hint of what she was really feeling but all that was there was a dumbfounded shock. “Are you really telling me that I should leave? That’s it? Cancel the wedding. Tell everyone that we broke up. What would we tell them? Oh, I’m sorry, we were going to get married but Hanna is a violent asshole? Because we would need to tell them something, Hanna, you get that, right? My mother alone wouldn't stand for it without some type of answer!”

“I don’t know.” Hanna looked like she was going to throw up again.

“I don’t know if that’s the answer.”

“Then what can I do? What can I do to make this better? Please, Emma!”

“You need to stop drinking.”

Hanna looked for a moment as if she had been hit. Hanna loved drinking. It was her favorite past time, but hearing the words out loud Emma knew that they were true. Hanna needed to stop drinking, or at least she needed to stop drinking as much. It was dangerous.

It was a long while before Hanna nodded, “Okay. You’re right. Okay, I can do that.”

Emma searched the words but found no trace of hesitancy.

The talk didn’t end there. They went in circles repeating themselves until they were hoarse, talking it through from every angle more than once. Each time there were two results; Hanna insisting she should leave her and then a decision to stop drinking.

It took another two hours before both felt resolved and at ease, sure this plan would work.

“Alright, but when we see Regina again, you need to apologize. You were all over her last night.”

Hanna promised and Emma tried her best not to think of the angry hurt words Regina had spit at her, ‘Three months after me, huh Em?’

Emma and Hanna spent the remainder of the two days before Hanna left focusing on their relationship. Hanna was a prize version of herself, kind and sweet to both Emma and Mary. She cooked them dinner, she went on walks with them in the evenings and showered both with sweet words and affection. Mary was glowing but Emma wasn’t sure.

Hanna had insisted that they should take Regina and Ruby out for dinner as an apology, but Emma declined, not sure she could stir the pot anymore.

Emma had planned to stay angry, her long sleeve shirts and sore body a wonderful reminder but holding her anger was impossible with Hanna’s sticky sweet behavior. It was as if she was seeing her Hanna for the first time since she had left New Orleans. By Thursday she had willingly let Hanna make love to her and was sad to see her go.

Still all through the trip, try as she might, Emma couldn’t shake the numbness. It was as if the world was in shades of gray tone and though the softening of some of her feelings had been a blessing at first, she worried that the blessing hadn’t yet ended.

“When are you coming back?”

Hanna chuckled, rubbing Emma’s back “I have that meeting in Boston, remember? I will be here for your birthday, I’ll go do that then come back for Thanksgiving, just like we had planned before.”

Emma took her to the airport the next morning unsure of how to say goodbye. She had no idea if giving Hanna another chance was the right thing to do but her worry felt far away. Try as she might she couldn’t get herself upset enough to continue her anger. She was just – numb, blank and tired.

 


 

Regina called to see how she was later that day and to be sure Emma was still willing to come to her house for dinner that night. Emma agreed nervously; she had been distracted enough post drunken mistake not to worry about the visit, but now after Hanna was safely at the airport it lingered in front of her menacingly. Regina had been very vague about what she had planned when Emma prodded and this fact made her jittery as if her morning coffee had been too strong.

Could she handle more? Could she handle more shit on top of everything else? She wasn’t positive, but she was sure that she didn’t have a lot of choices. She knew this was not something she could or should cancel.

This would be the first time that she would be completely alone with Regina since she had yelled at her in her dining room; the first time she would see her at all since Hanna had pulled her disgusting horn dog tricks.

To top it off Emma, feeling guilty and dirty, seemed to find herself often thinking of the moment that she and Regina had together the night of the dinner party and that little pinch she had given Regina’s ribcage, the side that she had determined to be hers at the age of twenty-three.

Each time her stress or her worry grew too intense her thoughts would travel back there, to that rib, to Emma’s safe place against Regina’s body. It had felt so warm and secure and she longed to feel that again. She longed to feel the oh so familiar comfort of Regina’s arms protecting her from the rain. She longed for it and she dreaded the feelings that she knew were coming when Regina explained why she had rejected her.

Emma went for a long run when she returned from dropping Hanna in Portland and spent an hour doing some freestyle strength training in the afternoon before taking a long hot shower. She had done everything she could to release her tension, afraid that those raw nerves would cause her to say something she didn’t want to say. She had worked out, she had eaten a huge meal that morning, she had tried her mother's meditation tapes. She felt lighter when she was done and she was thankful. She would hold her head high and she would face this because it’s not like the outcome could suddenly change. She had already lived through this. She had already moved on - ish.

As the hour grew near she pulled on her favorite jeans and long sleeve, studying herself in the mirror. She needed something else. She went to her closet rummaging through and found the perfect thing. She pulled out the red leather jacket that she had found not so long ago and pulled it on. Yes, this was perfect. Warm and secure but giving a distinct I-take-no-bullshit feel.

Next she spent an inordinate amount of time on her makeup taking, extra care to give the impression she had spent no time on it at all. Each layer of preparation she added, whether it was an extra fluff of her hair or eyeliner, was a layer of calming self-esteem that would stop her from yelling at Regina today if she became angry and would stop her from crying if she felt hurt.  Each layer was also confidence that shielded the hurt little girl inside who had fallen in love with her best friend and had her heart broken. The disconnected buzzing in her mind tied a nice bow on top of her personal shields.

She walked down the stairs like she was walking her last steps down The Green Mile. She kissed her mother, ignoring the strange look on Mary’s face. Whatever that look had to say Emma didn’t want to hear it just then, she had enough on her mind.

Regina had clearly taken the time to primp and polish as well, a fact that made Emma feel a little better about her own efforts. Regina’s hair fell in perfect waves, her knee length black dress was pressed to perfection, her heels clicking confidently as they headed from the door to the kitchen.  Henry was there, being held by a woman Emma did not know, though she could guess from the wart and the strong medicinal smell that this must be the dreaded nanny. The boy was squirming, twisting this way and that, trying to push away from the woman.

Emma took him, kissing him and making him giggle. She handed him his favorite teething ring and tried to ignore the witch like woman glaring at her.

“Would you like some wine? Or maybe some coffee or tea?”

Emma said that wine would be fine.

So Regina poured them glasses and suggested that since it was such a nice evening they sit out back at the patio table and talk.

Emma nodded rigidly and headed outside while Regina gave Henry back to the warty woman. Sure enough, the moment that Henry was in her arms he began to scream.

“Maybe take him to the park.” Regina suggested, frowning guiltily.

“Why don’t you just hire someone else?” Emma frowned once the two were gone.

Regina scoffed, “You try finding more than one nanny local to Storybrooke. Anyone commuting would require me to cover travel, which is legitimate, but also quickly very expensive.”

“Have you thought about dropping him with my mother? He doesn’t cry when she holds him.”

“I have, actually. We discussed it a few months ago. We thought it would be a nice idea since she retired but once you were in town we agreed that perhaps we should wait until you were settled before we discussed that option again. Things have just been a little hectic since, so it hasn’t come up.” She could see the stress in Regina’s face and it made the tear around Emma’s heart twitch.

“Oh well, don’t worry about me. Just make Henry happy.”

Regina nodded once and they fell into silence.  

“I ordered something for both of us from Granny’s later.”

Emma nodded in silent agreement wondering if that hadn’t been presumptuous of their ability to have this talk civilly. They had been pre-teens and teenagers together, they knew how to cut the other and they both, apparently, had a lot of anger.

“Ruby said she would have someone drop it here at about six-ish. Is that alright with you?”

Emma nodded again, living in the numb buzz.

“Stop being so quiet Em, there is no reason to be nervous.”

She was nervous. She didn’t know how to feel about Regina’s accurate predictions of her feelings. Before their friendship had crumbled, Emma had never thought twice about Regina’s uncanny ability to know her feelings but now it made Emma wonder why Regina still tried.

Emma just nodded. Was Regina going to apologize? What else was there to say? Emma knew she owed Regina an apology herself and she was ready to give it. “Before we get started,” Emma began “can I say again how sorry I am about Hanna.”

Regina shook her head, “I understand. Does that happen a lot? You didn’t seem all that surprised.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Emma insisted, “It really doesn’t. She was very strange for the first part of the trip. I think she doesn’t know her limits, so she begins to drink, meaning to take the edge off or have fun and then suddenly she is blacked out.”

“Did she have a black out the other night?”

“No, not this time. Not entirely anyway.” She stumbled over her words lamely and double-checked that the long sleeve and jacket covered her wrist completely.

“I see.”

When there was a long pause in their conversation Emma filled it with small talk, “So what causes a blackout, Dr. Mills? When you drink I mean?”

Regina began to ramble off medical jargon, explaining how alcohol renders the drinker unable to create and store long-term memories for a while. Emma just nodded along because it seemed the only thing to do just then.

When Regina was done she sighed and gave Emma a frank look, “Are we done stalling now?”

Emma smiled weakly, “Sure. What did you want to talk about exactly?” her heart rate picking up a pace, making her voice shake a little bit despite her effort to control it.

Regina smiled candidly, telling her wordlessly that Emma knew what she wanted to talk about and Emma shrugged, “I wasn’t sure is all.”

“I’m sorry Emma. I know this is something that you don’t want to do, but I would like the chance you talk through a few things if you are willing to listen.”

Emma nodded jerkily, gulping her wine.

“Okay – good. I assume this will probably be hard for you especially if you are feeling as you were when you found out about Ingrid. However, do you think you could give me a chance to speak first uninterrupted? I’m sure there will be a lot you would like to say, Emma, but I don’t know if I can do this if I’m interrupted.”

“Uh, yeah. Alright.”

Once Regina had the floor though she seemed at a loss for what to say, as if she had only planned that opening speech. Emma sipped her wine and stared out across the large backyard, giving her a chance to think. The breeze blew and Emma tightened her jacket around her. It was chilly and that was nice. She loved it when it was cold and bright. A surge of energy passed through her then and Emma knew she would be fine. She could handle whatever Regina had in store for her. She could handle this weird phase with Hanna until she and Hanna were back to normal again. She could even handle her mother and all of her meddling and bullshit.

When Regina still hadn’t said anything a few minutes later Emma asked very softly as to not sound rude, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather me start?”

“No.” She said shortly, took a deep breath and started to speak, “To be honest, I don’t really want to do this, especially with you hating me so much. But you have been very good indulging me so,”

“I don’t hate you, Ginny.” Emma interrupted “That’s not - what I feel.” Regina’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I don’t know what I feel.” Emma finished lamely.

“Well, it has appeared that you hate me, on more than one occasion I might add and you have said as much at least twice now. So it’s difficult to see that it could be otherwise.” Regina exhaled deeply, “I’m having a hard time getting started. I know things have been better between us since you cut your thumb and I’m grateful. Still, I know that when it comes down to it, you hate me and you feel that you cannot forgive me.”

Emma looked back out at the yard so she didn’t have to respond.

“I’m sorry.”

“What?” She had just...said it. Emma had been waiting five years for that I’m sorry and now that it was here she wasn’t sure how to handle it.

Regina took a deep breath, “The thing is Em, I loved you always.”

Emma did her best not to register her surprise on her face. Regina had simply jumped to the point. “What does that mean?”

Regina held up her hand, a silent request not to be interrupted. “I loved you from the first time you told me to get my nose out of that bio book when I was eleven.”

Emma laughed, “I didn’t tell you to get your nose out of it! I told you that if you kept it up then people were going to think you were a nerd. Which they did.”

Regina’s lip curled up at the corners, “You were my shining star, Em, the best thing in my life. You swooped in and saved me from the mess that was my family. As a point of interest, I discovered that I was gay because of you; when I was sixteen - though I didn’t tell you for another year. I always thought that you loved me a little too, but I really didn’t know anything about love, right? I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old. During pre-med it waned a little because I was dating other woman and you were so busy, we barely saw one another.”

“Is that-” Emma interrupted and then apologized. Regina nodded just a bit and Emma continued, “Is that why you refused to room with me when we were at school? I was so pissed!”

“Yes. It was.”

“Ugh.” Emma groaned, “Another mystery solved. I knew the whole we were in separate school thing was bullshit.”

Regina’s smile grew, “Anyway then we came home and I was head over heels all over again. I never worried as to why most of my relationships were short lived, though your mother did. It was easy for me to see that it had not worked out because they were nothing like you and you were what I wanted.”

Emma’s head swam, Regina’s bluntness was both refreshing and altogether too much. “So why didn’t you say anything to me? It was still years before you told me!”

“Oh Emma, you know why. My mother believed that love is weakness and she taught us that lesson well.” Emma nodded, remembering the times as a child that Regina had sought comfort or affection from her mother. Cora had always turned her away, swiftly and gruffly. “I mean, look at Zee. If her marriage is what love is supposed to look like then I don’t want it.” Regina laughed lightly and then found Emma’s eyes, “It took me a long time to realize that loving you was okay.”

Emma’s body was tingling from head to toe. Were they really sitting here discussing Regina’s former love for her so...openly? It made her head spin.

“I think the year we came home after undergrad was the first time I could tell that you had begun to notice me as well. I had lost the last bit of my shy ways and turned into a...let's say strong personality. No, don’t give me that look; I know I can be a real bitch. I like that about myself and I know you do too.”

Emma wanted to laugh but she couldn’t find the sound. It seemed to her like Regina’s bitchy young adult ways had mostly mellowed but perhaps she was just habitually used to them. She supposed all of the classes on etiquette and bedside manner had changed that.

“As I said it took me a long time to grow comfortable with my affections, so I settled for our friendship and did my best to be nice to those you dated.”

This time Emma did chuckle very lightly remembering all the times that she had failed at that and all of the fights that had followed. That had been the only reason they fought in the later years.

“And then came my cousin’s wedding.” Regina braced herself and Emma’s stomach flip-flopped; both shifted slightly in their seats uncomfortable. “I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I remember watching you dance with Jamie and thinking if she wanted you, she could just have you because I had no real claim on you. I hated that. You were the best thing to happen in my life. You were so beautiful and I was so attracted to you, everything you did only made that worse. When you danced with the five-year-old boy at the wedding. Your sleepy face when you were tired and all you wanted to do was fall asleep in my arms. Your laugh.  It was all too much; every time I saw you do something like that I almost told you. I couldn’t be in the same room with you when you were changing anymore because I was afraid I would say or do something that would give it away – or perhaps lose control. Then I kissed you and you seemed so surprised by your own reaction. It was almost funny.” Regina’s voice had grown dry with monotone humor. “I thought my dreams had come true. Now I knew you loved me and what’s more I knew that you loved me as much as I loved you.”

Emma took perhaps too large of a pull on her wine, wishing she could fast-forward this part.

“I won’t lie, Em.” Regina’s cheeks pinked just a little bit, “That was the best sex I had ever had, over and over again every time we made love.”

Emma hiccupped and flushed all over her body, torn between sudden arousal and sudden grief.

“Then when you got the call from New Orleans I was so excited for you. I knew this was a huge deal, but I was also so upset. I couldn’t imagine not being with you now.”

Ginny, I was trying to get you to come too.”

Regina held up her hand again and Emma fell silent, grinding her teeth.

“To be honest,” she continued, “I don’t think I could have imagined being without you before that. You were my best friend in the entire world and my family, but I just couldn’t go with you. Anyway, we fought.” Regina leaned forward, almost taking Emma’s hand but stopping a few inches short as though she was unsure that she should. She looked directly into Emma’s eyes for the first time and not for the first time Emma found those striking irises unnerving, “I was so afraid, Emma. I was afraid for my job. I was afraid for you. I was afraid of moving to one of the biggest cities in the country. I was worried we were too young to be in the kind of relationship I thought we would be in. I worried my father would disown me. I needed his money for school and I knew if I told him that I would be moving, he would see it as an act of defiance and refuse my tuition. Truthfully, I think that the biggest issue was that I had made a plan for my life. I had the next ten or more years down on paper. I knew exactly what it was supposed to look like and following you would have derailed that entirely. I couldn’t do that. Besides, what would happen if we didn’t work out? How could I lose you? God, I was such a child then. I spent the next twenty-four hours, the very little bit when I wasn’t at work, looking into Tulane. I looked at apartments, I looked at tourist attractions but mostly I sat around and cried and fought with myself. I picked up my phone a thousand times to call you and tell you I would come, but I couldn’t dial. I was sure that if I went with you, that it would be the end of everything I loved.” She took a deep breath at the bottom of the hill, readying herself to make her way up again, “It took me longer than it should have to realize I was losing you anyway. So I called and asked for you to meet me on my next day off then I got up,” Regina shifted uncomfortably again her eyes beginning to glisten, “I got up and I picked up my girlfriend at the time, um”

“Abby.” Emma unabashedly supplied.

“Right. I picked up Abby and broke off our relationship. Then went to Portland to find the perfect ring.”

Emma felt as though someone had hit her in the gut with a kettlebell. The numb buzz was gone and in its place was left the harsh reality of what Regina had just said. “What? Wait, I don’t understand-”

“I found one but I was stupid.” She continued as if Emma hadn’t spoken, unable to stop now, “I didn’t want to simply show up and…do it. I wanted it to be significant. I just never dreamed I was on the clock. I don’t know what I was thinking. I suppose I thought I was wildly romantic by waiting until we had agreed to meet. I was young and stupid. I was so tired during that month - that year; I don’t think I was thinking clearly. Anyway, I had been called in to work that morning so I was a little late to the cliff. When I got there and you weren’t there, I assumed you were running late as well. I waited for you to show up but you never did. I hadn’t heard from you, so I was worried. I went straight to your apartment but you weren’t home. So I went to your mother’s house looking for you. She told me you had left.”

Emma wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but this was not it. Her hand had flown to her open mouth, covering the shock. She waited for nausea or flush to cover her cheeks, some sign of her shock but perhaps her central nervous system was in a state of panic. Her body and her mind seemed to be stumbling; like the moment after getting the wind knocked out of you. How could she not have known all of this before? She suddenly understood why Regina was so angry. Emma left town before… she couldn’t finish the thought so instead she asked, “My mother?”

Regina nodded again, “I went in and she told me you had gone. You can imagine my shock. I couldn’t understand how you could have just left. I had told you that I wanted to talk about a way to save us. It had never once occurred to me that you might leave without a word.”

“Wait, no, wait. You wanted to talk about a way to save our friendship!”

Regina’s stare was chill, “Think back Emma.”

She did and remembered the phone call perfectly.

“We need to talk.”

“About saving our friendship?”

“About saving us, Ginny and Em!”

Horror rocked through Emma. She had always taken that to mean -

“I don’t know how long I sat there with Mary crying.” Regina continued. “I told her everything that had happened between us, minus the ring, and she told me that she had been waiting for us to fall in love since we were children.” Regina sniffed loudly, shocking Emma out of her horrified state. Was Regina crying? She had seen Regina cry perhaps a small handful of times in the years they had known one another. “So I decided that the only thing to do was to get on a plane and come after you.”

“What?” Emma cried, almost to her limit. She wasn’t sure she could take any more new information. Her gut hurt. Her arm was killing her. Her head felt like it would explode soon.

“Yes. Your mother and I agreed. I was going to book a flight for the next time I had two days in a row off from work. If I recall it was about a week from that day. Then I went home and found your note.”

“Oh god!” Emma’s face fell into her hands, shielding herself from whatever Regina would say next. She knew it would be bad.

“I stopped crying after that and instead I got angry. I was fucking furious. I was done. I was so angry that you had just left and that note –” Regina huffed, her cheeks reddening with old remembered anger, her voice dropping into a feral growl, “I think I was breathing fire for about a month. I talked to Ruby almost every day, trying to find out what was happening with you. I was so angry, I couldn’t call you, I just couldn’t. I had put that goddamned note on my bedroom mirror to remind me not to give in. I thought we were in some type of standoff and whoever called first was the biggest loser. We had those types of fights before and I was not going to lose this one. I waited every day to see if you would call me and every day that you didn’t just solidified my anger. Then one day about four months after you had left, I broke down. I had watched a woman struggle with the decision to remove her wife from life support all day and – god, I just fucking needed you. I didn’t know why I had said no to you; I hadn’t for a long time. I couldn’t be angry anymore, I didn’t care that you had just left me; I just wanted you back. I had spent four months feeling as though half of me was missing and I couldn’t do it anymore.”

The last bit of blood in Emma turned cold.

Hanna.

She had been seeing Hanna already.

“So I packed a bag, booked a flight to go and get you or at least to talk to you about our choices face to face. Mary was not yet retired, so I called and asked Ruby if she would give me a ride to the airport. That’s when she told me about Hanna. She said that you sounded … happy.”

Emma groaned, her face still covered. At this moment Emma hated herself. She despised herself. How could this all have happened?

“Ruby pushed me to go anyway. She was sure you would come home with me because she was sure that Hanna was just a fling, but I was done all over again after that. I had been suffering those many weeks you were gone and there you were happy in a new relationship. I finally began to get it. You had abandoned me. We weren’t just fighting. We weren’t friends anymore. I decided I couldn’t think about you anymore. I had to stop. I had to move on with my life. It was a bumpy road for a while but I was successful - until you showed up here again. I was so surprised to see you in that restaurant. I couldn’t believe it. I had assumed at some point in the last five years you had come home for a visit and simply not told me but I spoke to Ruby that night, the night I ran into you and she promised you hadn’t. She told me that you had been avoiding Storybrooke so that you could avoid me. You can only imagine how I felt when I found out you were here to plan your wedding. I think I hated you all over again. I was sure the best thing to do would be to pretend you hadn’t come into town at all; to not see you, only I couldn’t do that. I tried, but I simply couldn’t. God, that pissed me off, but I suppose I have been unable to stop myself since.”

Regina took a long sip of her wine and then toyed with the stem, “I don’t know where we stand, Emma. I’m not sure that I know how I feel, any more than you do. I do know that I spent a lot of years keeping this secret from you, from anyone. It just seemed as though now, with you here, I had to give that secret up. You needed to know.”

Regina fell silent awkwardly, clearly out of things to say and Emma knew it was her turn to talk.

She wasn’t entirely sure she could after that. Her nose felt thick and snotty and she wanted to dry her face. When had the tears come? She hadn’t noticed. She wanted to go home and take a long bath and pretend that she hadn’t just learned all of these new facts. She wanted to reverse time and take it all back, but she knew there was nothing she could do to make that happen.

She could have had so much.

She didn’t know what to say. It was her turn and she was drawing a complete blank, unable to use her mind to think of anything else but the things she had just learned. Regina had planned to propose, but I ran before she could? Then I spent the next five years of my life hating her. How had this never come to light before? How had Regina been able to keep this to herself for five years? Suddenly five years felt not like a short span of time filled with work and play but decades, a lifespans worth of time to keep a secret in. Beyond Regina, how could her mother have kept this from her all of this time? What about Ruby? Did she know as well? Had she been the only one unaware of how easily her life could have been completely different?

“My mother knew?”

“Yes.”

“So she knows now.”

“Yes.”

Emma shook her head, trying to process this.

“Why didn’t she tell me?” She knew that Regina was not the person to ask - her mother was.

“I asked her not to, Emma.”

She drained the rest of her glass and watched Regina step inside to retrieve the bottle and fill both of their glasses again.

Regina had been brutally honest with her. Could she do the same? Anything she could say now would be petty and stupid: I was angry that you had rejected me, so I behaved like the child I so clearly was.

Yes, that was what she needed to say because, apparently, that was the truth.

She decided it was like ripping off a Band-Aid, just say it all and be done.

“Regina, I don’t know what to say to you right now. My experience was not like yours. There was no deep secret,” she choked on her words for a moment as she thought of that secret “everything on my side was very cut and dry.”

“I would like to hear it anyway if that is alright with you.”

Emma wished she didn’t need to hear it. “I should start from the beginning as well I guess; like you did. I didn’t know how I felt,” she shook her head, knowing that wasn’t good enough, “I didn’t know that I loved you until that night when you kissed me. You were always so much more in touch with yourself than I was.” She said almost pleading with Regina to understand. When Regina said nothing she continued, “I knew we fought a lot over our girlfriends but I always thought it was because we were best friends and no one was good enough for our best friend. I knew I didn’t like seeing you with Abby or anyone else, but I just blew that off. When I think back now, I think I was attracted to you long before we went to college, but maybe I fell in love with you the year we returned to Storybrooke like you thought. Then you kissed me and I just” she gestured frantically in circles, knowing that didn’t help her point “I felt everything click and I just melted. Suddenly it all made perfect sense to me and I knew we were supposed to be together. After we made love and I was, fuck Gin, I was just a pool of myself. I was so happy. I don’t think I knew my own name anymore! I just knew I was meant to be Regina Mills’ wife.” Whoa, bring it back, Nolan.

That had been more than she meant to say and she pulled back a little, unaware until then that she had leaned forward so close to Regina. “It seemed then like I was never meant to be anything else. I remember I was so excited when I got the phone call from Pace because it felt like my life had fallen into place all at once. I had you. I had what I thought at the time was my dream job. I was nervous but the moment I thought of asking you to come I was nothing but excited. I mean, I was terrified of the thought of moving away from home and starting a whole new life, but that wasn’t going to be a big deal. I’ve always been able to take on the world with you by my side.”

Regina smiled a little, but Emma just powered on, “So when the fight started I was so upset and confused. I felt so stupid like the worlds biggest freaking idiot. Then when you on no uncertain terms said no, I think I broke inside.  I was sure you just needed time to think about it and you were going to call me anytime to tell me you were being silly. I thought you were going to call me before I even got back to my own apartment. I mean I would have been hurt had you waited five minutes to say of course you would come with me and we could have a life together. I was young and I couldn’t empathize with your fear. I just – I didn’t get it then.”

Regina nodded seeming to understand, “Undoubting immovable faith was always your gift.”

“Then you called to preserve our friendship and I did doubt. It makes sense, Regina. I was never good enough for you. I know that.”

“But I-” This time Emma was the one to demand silence.

Regina pursed her lips but obeyed. “I couldn’t handle the thought that you didn’t want me or that all you wanted from me was a friendship. I had a panic attack.”

Regina gasped, worry creasing her face.

“I fucking fainted.”

Regina’s lip began to tremble.

“When I woke up and just- I had to fucking go. I couldn’t deal with not being wanted again. I basically said, fuck it. I didn’t even pack my things; I just bought my ticket, called my mom and headed to the airport. I felt like I was surgically removing part of myself and I missed you and I needed you to stop me from going. But I knew it was time for me to go.” Emma laughed at her memories, “I kept picturing this scene where you had somehow learned that I was leaving and ran through the airport to meet me at the gate just before I got on the plane. OR maybe somehow you had made it to New Orleans before I did and you were waiting to turn me around and take me home. God, I was so dramatic. I remember this distinct feeling of surprise when I woke up the first morning in my apartment in New Orleans like I wasn’t completely sure how I had gotten there. Every time the doorbell rang for at least a month I thought it was going to be you there to sweep me off my feet An Officer and a Gentleman style. God, I was so silly, wasn’t I?”

Regina reached over and took her hands this time, softly rubbing her thumb across her knuckles. Emma shivered. She had never talked about this so openly and it hurt. Her whole body hurt. “I was just this absolute mess in New Orleans. It’s so easy to be a mess in that city, too. I had to force myself every day not to call you, I didn’t think my pride could take it. I drank – a lot. A whole fucking lot. I almost lost my job. Then after a while I knew you weren’t coming and that I needed to let my old life go. I met Hanna and she helped me heal. I never told her about you, not until recently. She had this weird thing where she didn’t want to know about my ex’s. Now I know that she didn't want me to know she was one of those lesbians who has slept with all of her friends. I didn’t mind not telling. At first it was because I couldn’t talk about you or about my life that I had left behind. Then it was because I couldn’t think about you. Then it was because too much time had passed for me to have not told her about this huge thing in my life that had happened weeks before I met her. Over time, she figured a few things out by doing things like looking at old Facebook pictures. She knew we were friends and she knew we fought. Actually I told her the full truth just the other night when I came over here and lost my shit. She accused me of cheating on her.” Emma chuckled, “This trip, I don’t know, this trip back to Storybrooke has messed with my mind. I can’t decide what I feel. I don’t know if I want to stay away from you completely or I completely want to move into your spare bedroom. I just don’t know. Oh, and Henry. God, it hurt when I thought I had missed you having a baby - which is confusing because I’m not supposed to care. I don’t know, Regina.” She stopped talking awkwardly and they just sat there in silence for a while, wiping their faces and sighing.

“So basically” Emma felt stupid as she said it, “it was all bullshit.”

Regina stared at her, blank-faced.

“Five years of hating one another, hurting and being so angry - over rash decisions and stupid immaturity.”

Looking into Regina’s face Emma felt her own creep into a smile, and then a laugh and then a roar. It was all so preposterous that Emma didn’t know what else she could do except laugh. They laughed for a good long while until more tears began to spill down their faces. They laughed until Emma began to snort which only made them laugh harder. They laughed until their stomachs and their cheeks ached.

“You know what’s even funnier?” Regina laughed, holding her side; “It all could have been cleared up in five minutes if we had just called! If I had just gone to New Orleans or if you had just waited one more day to leave.”

Their fit of laughter started all again but this time it wasn’t as funny and they sobered quickly at the thought.

“If I had called.” Regina amended, “I probably wouldn’t have told you if you had called me. Sometimes - sometimes I’m too proud, especially then. I’m stubborn to a fault.”

“God, all I had to do was let you know I was leaving. It wasn’t right not to let you at least say goodbye to me and that fucking note - I regretted it from the moment I left town. I’m sorry, Regina.”

Regina just caressed her knuckles in silence.

“I’m kind of not very proud of us.” Emma said quietly.

“No, neither am I.”

Emma shook her head slowly, “So you were going to propose to me.” She pictured her life as it could have been if she had waited one more day to leave, if she had shown up to the meeting that Regina had requested. Maybe they would have been married years ago. Maybe they would have started a family by now. Maybe they would have adopted Henry together. Would they have gone to New Orleans or would they have stayed in their hometown? Somehow she didn’t really think it mattered. “And now?”

Regina understood her question and sat back, finally releasing her hands; her deep eyes sorrowful but resigned. “And now, you’re getting married.”

“And now I’m getting married.” Emma agreed quickly.

“But,” Regina said, leaning toward her, “Does that mean that we can’t be friends again? Now that we both know the whole story, I think it will take some hard work to remember that we both were – are hurt; but it doesn’t seem like a friendship is out of the question, now does it?”

Emma smiled. She wasn’t sure this was wise. She wasn’t sure she could handle it. But there was no way in hell she was going to say no. She wanted them to be friends.

They looked at each other for a bit, both seeming a little stuck. Should they hug now? What came next after a talk like that one?

Regina sighed, “I think I’m still angry with you, Em.”

“For?”

“For going. Also for assuming the worst of me, you were my best friend. You were supposed to know that I would never reject you in the way that you assumed. I think I am also angry with you for not being my best friend. You just disappeared from my life one day without a word. You didn’t give me a choice in the matter at all. You just took yourself away. I hear you say you felt as thought you weren’t good enough but I just don’t understand.”

“Oh come on, Regina. There have been two people who have wanted me my entire life. There was my father who is gone now and then Hanna. Even my mom wasn’t sure she wanted me for a long time. I think I’m more confused to know that you had wanted me than I was when I thought you had rejected me. That is why when you said you wanted to save Ginny and Em I assumed you meant the best friends, not the lovers. That made more sense to me.”

Regina laughed again, “I felt the same way. You were always so good, Em. I don’t know how you put up with me.”

“I think I’m still angry with you for saying no. Also I think I’m a little angry that you never told me. I know I’m angry that my mother never told me!”

Regina shook her head vehemently, “Don’t be. I made her promise.

“Yeah well, no offense but that’s bullshit.”

Regina sipped her wine thoughtfully and confessed in a whisper; “I think I’m also a little angry with you because you’re getting married.”

Emma did her best to control her face. What the fuck did that mean? “Because I didn’t tell you, because you don’t like Hanna or because” she couldn’t get herself to say because I was supposed to marry you, so she said, “because of something else?”

“I will have to get back to you on that.”

“Does that mean you and Hanna will never be friends?”

Regina chuckled, wryly, “Right now, I don’t know. She did make a poor impression, didn’t she?”

Emma blushed and looked away. She had.

“When is she here next?”

“She’s coming for my birthday and Thanksgiving.”

“Maybe we should go on a double date or - something. I can pretend that I’ve never met her before and I can pretend – I can pretend she was never the reason that I did not come for you.”

Emma nodded, slapped again. The two stood and headed inside to the kitchen. It took her a long time to recover from that bluntness, “What are you doing for Halloween?”

“I will be working. 9 A.M. to 10 P.M.” She said solidly seeming equally happy for a few minutes of a different subject.

“Who stays with Henry when you do that? That’s a lot of hours.”

Regina’s eyes grew sad again, “The nanny.”

Emma nodded, studying her. She wanted to reach out and touch her face, something she would have done without thought at one time. Instead she took a step back. “I assume my mom still passes out candy every year so maybe I’ll help her. I might do some shopping too.”

“What do you have left?” Regina asked knowing she was talking about wedding shopping despite Emma’s evasiveness.

“Not a lot. The main things I need to focus on next, I think, are the rings and flowers, I guess.”

Regina laughed, “You say that with such contempt. Aren’t you supposed to be happy while planning your wedding?”

“Do I? I guess the planning is becoming a little exhausting.”

“Do you want company?”

“You want to come with me to go wedding shopping?” Emma asked skeptically.

“Sure. We’re friends now, right?”

“Ginny.”

Regina tittered, “Are you saying you wouldn’t have more fun if I were there?”

“Shut up, Ginny.”

Regina smiled wryly.

“How about we just take things slow, all right?”

“I think that’s a good plan.”

“Well my point a minute ago was going to be that you should bring Henry to us.”

“What?” Regina asked in surprise.

“On Halloween. Bring him to my mom and I.”

“To watch him….all day?”

“Yes. There are two of us. I think we can handle it.”

Regina looked as though she was going to argue but decided against it, “Alright.”

Emma nodded; turned to wash out her cup but Regina softly put a hand on her wrist, gently turning her back to her.

Emma’s heart suddenly beat hard. Regina was close, too close, a look of vulnerable honesty on her face and for a moment Emma wondered if Regina was going to - “Em, I am only going to say this once.” Regina waited for her to prove she was listening, so Emma cleared her throat clumsily and nodded once.

“All right, so it is true that we don’t know one another now like we used to but as your old best friend I guess I feel I should say at least once that I am surprised by you and Hanna.”

“What do you mean?” Emma thought she should be offended, but she couldn’t find it in her. Instead, a trace amount of the numbing fog drifted back into her mind.

Regina thought, chewing her words slowly. “I just never thought you were attracted to that kind of woman.”

“What kind?”

“Oh you know, the kind of girl who is just cocky enough that you can’t decide if she’s confident or very rude. Perhaps that is not the best way to explain it; she is arrogant and inappropriate while somehow coming off charismatic.”

“You’re arrogant.”

“No. I’m confident. There is a difference. I suppose I only met her the once, perhaps I’m wrong. It was a bad night so she could have just come off that way, but my point is simply that I am surprised by your attraction to her personality and I am surprised by her age. Ruby always told me that Hanna didn’t really behave as though she is younger than us, but I don’t know if I can agree with that. I also don’t care for the way she treats you. It’s hard to say of course, as you seemed to be fighting all evening but something about her concerns me. Emma, what I am trying to say is, are you sure she is really the right person for you?”

Emma just laughed, the numb buzzing threatening to overtake her.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful in that there were no more confessions; though there were long soul-searching moments where one would ponder the other in worry or confusion.

Emma excused herself just after dinner, complaining of a headache. It wasn’t a lie; her head was pounding but closer to the truth was the fact that the food she ate had trouble passing the noxious lump in her throat. She wasn’t sure she could get it down and once it was down she wasn’t sure it would stay down. She didn't know if she could sit there much longer.

She was disgusted with herself. Regina’s words repeated endlessly in her mind, torturing her: ‘To find the perfect ring’, ‘They were nothing like you and you were what I wanted’, ‘I loved you from-’.

She was beginning to feel like sitting was just too much work. Her body hurt down deep in the muscles and her legs were starting to feel restless. She needed to be up and moving. She needed to be productive. She needed to do something - anything. The forlorn feeling of idiocy was melting into the twitchy agitated feeling that was steadily becoming familiar. The longer she sat and tried to ignore the feeling the more her skin began to crawl, aching a demand for attention. Her mind was reeling, unable to cope with all she had learned. Her arm - her knee - her shoulder hurt. She felt an overwhelming need to focus on…her wedding plans. That would be easier. Everything left to plan was cut and dry, no moral, emotional or social ambiguity in sight. She could focus on that. She just needed to take her mind off of - everything - for a while until she could process it a little better.

The back of her throat felt raw, numb from all of the times she had swallowed back emotions. The itch made her long for a cold. That would be a perfect excuse to hide away for a few days. Perhaps she should tell everyone she had business in Boston and disappear for a little while.

Maybe what she needed was a nap, a shot of B12 and to suck it up and stop fucking whining. So things were hard right now. Big deal.

As soon as she arrived home she gathered her mother into the car exclaiming, manically, that they were going to do one of the last things left on her list - ring shopping. Her mother laughed, willing enough; her only protest being, “Don’t you want Hanna to be here for that?”

“Of course, of course.” Emma nodded quickly, legs twitching as she walked around the car, apparently not listening.

“Okay.” Mary frowned at her pale daughter, “Do you have a particular place you want to go?”

“Nope! Not at all. Nope. Mall? Seems like a good place to start, right? Yup, yup, yup.”

Her mind rattled on as they pulled out of the driveway. What else needed to be done for the wedding? A lot – and it was coming up quickly now. She still needed flowers and a limo, bridesmaid dresses, rings, someone to cover the liquor, marriage license, seating chart, music and oh don’t forget the bachelorette party and fuck; she didn’t have a dress yet! This became her mantra as she drove: flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

She bounced around her mother like a hyper teenager chattering about the type of ring she wanted as they made their way through the tiny mall.

“So you’re saying a simple white gold band is what you’re looking for?” Her mother asked watching her as if she were an interesting but ultimately worrying reality TV show.

“Yup. Let’s go! Oh wait, let's look here. Look, right there! This is my favorite mall jewelry store. Come on.”

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

Her mother took her hand, worried, as if Emma were a child again, that she might lose her in the crowd.

“Hi!” Emma chirruped at the sales woman with the plastic smile, “I’m getting married in a few months aaaaand I need a couple of wedding bands.” She didn’t know where the hell all the energy was coming from, but it was kind of fun. It was like the night she and Hanna had each had a few vodka/Redbulls; it had been fun. They had drunkenly played video games and then wrestled for hours - until her body had caught up with her energy level and she had crashed on the living room table, that is.

Maybe she should be doing something even more productive like she should have gone for a long run. She could probably have run to Boston and back. Or maybe she should help her mother clean out the garage. Oh boy, if Hanna were still in town they would have had the best sex ever right now.

“Okay ma’am, let’s see your engagement ring so we can find a match.”

She energetically pried it off, yanking her knuckle and yelping, then pulled out her phone to call Hanna; chattering about how she needed to call the lovely woman that she is marrying. “Because I actually need her opinion for this one!” she laughed.

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

Hanna picked up on the first ring, “Hello.”

“Hibabe!I’mgladyoulandedalready.GuesswhatI’mdoing?I’mpickingoutourrings.Idon’tknowwhyIthoughttodaywouldbeagoodday.Weshouldhavedoneityesterday.Youshouldbeapartofthis.IthinkIseeonethatlookslikeyoualreadysowhatareyoudoing?”

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress, Ginny.

Mary’s head slowly fell to the side as she contemplated her daughter, her eyebrows shooting up and then knitting together in concern.

Emma frowned back. She didn’t like being studied like this, not right now, not by the woman who had been keeping this huge secret from her for five years, “What? I’m in a good mood. I’m bubbling even. I’m happy.”

Was she happy?

“How much coffee have you had, Emma?” Hanna asked distractedly, the noises of the street muffling her voice.

“Almost none. A cup maybe?”

Emma waited for Hanna to respond but she had been clearly distracted by someone on the other end. “Hanna?”

“Send me pictures of the rings, okay? Janelle is here. Besides you know me you know what I like, simple and yellow gold. You don’t need me.”

“Oh.” Emma worked diligently to keep her face expressionless despite the fact that the call had been cut off. “Okay babe!” She chirped and bounced a little in place.

“So, ma’am. Do you see any rings you like?”

Snapping a grin onto her face she pointed to the ring and asked to see it.

“Hanna busy?” Mary asked with practiced nonchalance.

“Mmhm. I’ll send pictures.” She held up the ring studying it, her hand trembling slightly. “This looks like Hanna, don’t you think?” She snapped a picture of it and quickly sent it to Hanna, not really expecting a response.

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

Her mother nodded, her focus on the shaky fingers, “It’s beautiful and just a touch masculine but don’t rush into anything, honey.”

She agreed. “You’re right, I guess but it’s a simple band, right? How different can they be from store to store? Unless you think I should do it online. Should I do it online? I don’t know. I’m going to look around. Thank you! Come on, Mom, let’s look at another place.”

Emma frowned as they walked. She was moving, she was doing what her body wanted yet, her chest was growing steadily tighter as she bounced her mother from mall jewelry store to mall jewelry store.

She found a crisp and clean thin strip of white gold for herself at store number three but still liked the band from store number one the best for Hanna. So after a milkshake in the tiny food court, which soured the moment it hit Emma’s stomach, they headed back to the first store.

“So I was thinking before that I want roses at the wedding but I don’t think that I do anymore. They seem so…cheesy. Do I have to have flowers at all? I mean, is there some rule that says that I have to have them? It just seems like another silly expense and they’re just going to die two days later anyway. Jesus, I’ve never thought about that before. It kind of makes you look at the whole institution of giving flowers a little differently, doesn’t it? It’s like here; I like you so watch this beautiful thing die. Or balloons, have you ever thought about the fact that what we are saying when we give someone balloons is here, have a plastic bubble of my bad breath. I mean, I can’t stand most people's breath. How did we come up with this? It’s like-“

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress, Regina.

“I don’t know it’s, when you think about it, kind of rude. I guess it’s not if you use helium though. I don’t know, I guess-“

“Emma! Emma, Emma, Emma.” Her mother grasped her by the elbows ignoring the fact that just Emma bounced in her hands like a spring. “Really honey, how much coffee did you have this morning? Are you okay? You don’t seem like you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, mom. Come on let's go get that one ring and then I’ll go home and go for a run. Is it weird to go for a run at night? This is Storybrooke - it’s not as though it’s - dangerous or something. I guess it’s kind of cold, fall and all of that. That’s not weird, right? Is it weird that I think it’s weird? God, you know what’s weird? The fact that it is fall already. When the hell did that happen? I haven’t even had a Pumpkin spice Latte yet. Ooooh, we should go get one!

Emma tried desperately to continue on, keeping her feet and tongue moving rapidly, knowing that if she stopped moving for too long that would surely mean death. Her side throbbed excruciatingly, making her wince with each step but the only way to quiet the pain was the constant motion. Only, her mother held her tight, “Emma, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, let's go!”

Flowers, limo, bridesmaid, rings, liquor, license, seating, music, party, dress.

“Emma.”

“What, mom?” Emma snapped, wanting just to get moving again.

“What’s wrong?”

Emma took a deep breath. What was she talking about? Why did she keep insisting something was wrong? There was nothing wrong. She was just a little tired and a little overwhelmed; that’s all. She just needed to keep moving. It had been a very long day.

Her mother softly stroked her cheek, nurturing into her skin a generous dose of maternal tenderness, “Are you upset about something? Are you feeling stressed about the wedding? I know Hanna wasn’t on her best behavior while she was here at first, but don’t take that to heart; everyone handles stress in their own way. I know it probably mattered to you the type of impression Hanna made but,”

“I’m fine, mom. Really.” She took another shuddering breath and under the warm caress of her mother and without warning; she exploded into tears. There was no build up; she was just suddenly sobbing so forcefully that she had to clutch her mother to remain upright.

The people near them jumped and scattered like cockroaches as if instead of spewing tears Emma was urinating on anything and everything near her.

Her mother jumped, startled by the sudden outburst. She pulled her tightly to her but Emma pushed away so Mary did her best to walk them toward the corner where they would get less scandalized looks. “Okay. Emma. Tell me what’s going on.”

Emma had expected that whenever she approached her mother about her secret, yet highly intimate knowledge of Emma’s past relationship, that she would wait until she could come in swinging. She wanted to yell. She wanted to yell and stomp and growl; therefore the tears that delivered the opposite impression were unwelcomed foes. She tried hard to swallow them away, she was becoming a pro at this but all she could manage was to lessen the flow a little. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She barely stifled her wet shout.

“Tell you what?”

Ugh, she wanted to be angry! She was angry! Except that actually, she was hurt and betrayed. How could her mother have done this? How is it she had kept this huge secret for all of these years for the sake of Regina? Didn’t she think she would want to know?

Loneliness, thick and terrible crept up her spine then, chilling everything in its wake. Her life could have been so different but her mother, who was supposed to love her, had not been on her side. For five long years her mother had played dumb, had lied to her. Now, when she wanted to be angry, when she wanted to tell her mom to take a flying leap off of a very short cliff, she couldn’t. She just wanted to cry. “Mom, why didn’t you tell me about Regina?”

“Uh-huh. I see.” Mary paused, considering their location before standing and pulling her toward the exit.

Emma let her mother usher her outside toward the car with no argument. She had no arguments left in her, only a numb terror at all of the facts that made up her life. Hanna and her bruises. Regina and her engagement ring. Mary and her secrets.

A mother and child backed away from them slowly, scurrying to the other side of the street, making Emma feel so much worse. She was fucking humiliating herself, god damn it. This was not like her, knock it off! She took a deep breath and held everything in but the moment they found the safety of the car the tears fought back until they were able to flow freely again. There would be no keeping them inside today.

“It doesn’t matter” Emma began, “it’s been so long and I’m getting married! Hanna is my partner. She is my PARTNER! It doesn’t matter what happened. How could you not tell me about Regina for so long?”

“What happened?” Mary’s face was all business as she listened.

“She told me!” Emma cried, letting her hands fall dead into her lap with a clap. “We talked. She told me about your meeting after I left town. How could you not have told me?”

Her mother took her hands aggressively to make her pay attention to her, “What was there to tell you, Emma? You were so angry and so hurt, what would have changed by saying she showed up?”

This response was baffling and for a moment anger warred with her sadness again. How the fuck did her mother think that choice had been hers to make? “Mom! That-”

She shook her hands and Emma quieted, “But mostly I did not tell you, Emma because Regina, your best friend and my second daughter, begged me not to. She cried and begged until I promised. I didn’t know why she was so against you knowing that she had come for you, whatever the reason that’s not my business, but she was. I spent-“

“THAT is what you decide wasn’t your business?”

Her mother scowled at her but continued as though she hadn’t interrupted, “I spent two days with her in your apartment cleaning and packing and talking and crying. By the time that was done I had made that promise. I promised because she was so angry and so hurt. I had never seen Regina like that before.”

“That’s how you cleaned out my apartment so fast? Regina helped you?”

“Yes.”

Emma groaned, “I don’t think I can take any more surprises today, mom. Did she tell you she was going to propose?”

Mary looked startled as if she hadn’t expected her to know this, “No. She didn’t tell me. As a matter of fact, she only told me a year ago.”

“A year ago, mom!” Her fist clenched and she nearly launched herself from the car. A year ago. Her mother had known a fucking year ago.

Mary shook her head, squeezing her hands hard, “You were already engaged to Hanna. What good would it have done?”

“I don’t know, mom!” Emma was finally yelling. “I have no idea but shouldn’t that choice have been mine? My life could have been so different! I could have - Maybe I wouldn’t be stu - I can’t believe you! I can’t believe that you would do this to me! You put Regina first and don’t tell me it was because Regina asked you not to tell. That’s bullshit, mom! You didn’t tell because you liked have a card in the game. You liked knowing you were a part of our secret!”

Emma let her head fall onto the steering wheel, concentrating on breathing in and out and calming herself. She could almost feel Hanna’s hand on her wrist again, tightening, slowly breaking - she could feel the shoe connecting with her tiny ribcage. She could feel Regina’s thumb stroking mindlessly over her knuckles. “You know, I’ve always heard that planning a wedding is stressful. I’ve always heard it is so stressful that it can literally break the couple up, but I never knew it would be like this.” She was stressed and her tears had felt magnificent a moment ago. Maybe she should let herself cry a little more, maybe that would help. Only- she couldn’t. Not in front of Mary. No.

“I’m going to assume it’s just the hurt that is making you say those things, sweetie.” She turned to argue but gave up before she began, her head falling back into the steering wheel with a loud honk. Bitch. She thought. I love you. You’re my mom. But right now, you’re the bitch who held a secret from me for the last five years. A big, life-altering secret. I don’t know if I can forgive you.

“It would seem to me,” her mother said rubbing her back lightly, “that you have been doing a great deal more than just planning a wedding. I have also noticed that you are not eating much and you seem to be sleeping poorly most nights. That can’t help with your stress level.”

She didn’t bother to point out the fact that all of the new things she had learned and her mother’s epic betrayal might have something to do with her current stress level as well.

“You have been here for a while now Emma and you have been go, go, go since you got here. Have you noticed that? Yes, there have been mornings where you have had little to do but those are few and far between. Are you like this in New Orleans?”

She just shrugged, biting her tongue.

“Let’s go home. I want you to take a bath then go to sleep early. Tomorrow is Halloween; maybe you should take some time off. Come on, I’ll take you to the video store and we’ll get some candy.”

“Mom. Aren’t you going to at least apologize? Come on, at least pretend you care that I’m hurt. Because I’m hurt, mom. Yes, I’m hurt. I’m hurt that you put Regina’s need before my own for the last five years!”

Mary stared at her openly disapproving, “Honey, as far as I’m concerned, I did the right thing. It wasn’t about taking sides, it was about being there for the one who needed it the most.”

“It was about being there for the one that was in front of your face.” Emma muttered, starting the car, stricken.

She couldn’t wait to get out of this town. Things had been fine for her before she had come back home.

Because she didn’t know what else to do, Emma did what she was told. They went to the video store, Storybrooke ever stuck twenty years behind the rest of the world was not up to date enough for a Redbox, and picked out a large amount of candy and a few movies before heading home.

Once home she instantly went up to bed, looking for escape. She didn't sleep however; instead she lay in the dark letting silent tears roll down her face until the early hours of the morning when she finally fell into a restless and haunted sleep.

The next morning she was puffy and unhappy, but she pulled on her running clothes, finding hope in the fact that it was Halloween. Plus, Henry was surely already there and if there was anything that could cure what ailed her it was a baby.

She tiptoed downstairs just in case the baby was asleep, but as soon as her mother spotted her she turned her around, slapped her on the backside and sent her back upstairs to bed. She complained openly, but her mother gave her the same scorching look she had used to receive as a child when she had argued that cookies were a healthy breakfast. Emma, still feeling a little twitchy, nodded grudgingly and went back upstairs for a midmorning nap.

When she came down an hour and a half later, she felt much better. It must have showed on her face because this time her mother fed her and let her go for a run.

The crisp air on Emma’s face was as refreshing and revitalizing as her tears the previous night had been. A good cry was always wonderfully cathartic – when you allowed yourself to have it, that is.

She knew that the cry had only been a small part of what she needed. Her side still ached. Her wrist, though the pain was lessening, was still very sore and it still hurt to run - but it had been a start.

Despite the early hour, children already in their costumes, giggling and excited about their transformation were running around on the street and making Emma laugh.

She took a deep breath and felt a little more of the previous day’s dead weight fall from her. It was Halloween. She didn’t know when it had happened, but somehow her favorite season had snuck up on her. How had she missed it? All around her the leaves of the trees had turned from their deep and inviting forest green to the warm and festive shades of red, yellow and orange. She could smell the holiday in the damp air; the subtle smell of wet leaves, pumpkins and air washed clean by trees and rain. She had been so involved in her own crap that she hadn’t even noticed the beauty all around her.

Did the Pumpkin Festival happen every year as it used to? She veered left and headed down Main to see. As she ran, she remembered Halloween when she was young. Growing up Halloween had always been Mary’s favorite and Mary outdid herself every year.

Emma remembered all of the years she would come home from school to find that the downstairs of her childhood home had morphed, mutated and twisted into a haunted house while she had been away. She had loved to sneak through the rooms, finding little marks of the home that had been there that morning; that bump against the wall was actually their living room couch covered in a stained or painted sheet. The man, built to hide in the corner downstairs, was wearing her dad's old shirt and winter gloves. Seeing these things had always given her a thrill because she was in on the secret.

Around dusk her mother would make dinner and Emma would be flying around the house like an out of control boomerang, trying to sneak candy from the bowl for the trick or treaters and begging her father to allow her to put on her costume before she ate dinner.

Once dinner had been eaten, her mother would switch off all the lights in the house and together they would light a zillion tiny tea light candles. The small flames would make the shadows flicker and dance sending goose bumps of fear up her arms. Then Mary would click on the huge stereo and turn on the first of two Halloween cassette tapes and the house would fill with The Monster Mash or perhaps Thriller. Then, as night grew close and the parade of tiny and easily scared young ones found their way home, Emma would be given the honor of switching to tape two. Emma had loved the orange and black cassette they played every Halloween. It wasn’t so much music as much as a constant soundtrack of creaking doors, fading ambulance noises, ghoulish laughter and other nightmarish Halloween sound effects that chilled and thrilled her.

Mary would click off the final lights and with that her familiar old house would transform like a fairytale, suddenly becoming a dark and winding castle with terrible secrets hidden behind every corner for her friends to find. That bump she had known so quickly during daylight would have disappeared and instead be a jutting part of the wall that you might stumble into and shriek, clutching your friends for safety.

She had loved it. She and her mother had never fought on Halloween.

Then finally her father would take over ushering the town children through the house and her mother would sit her on the bathroom counter to slowly, carefully do her makeup to fit her costume.

Just after the sun was completely gone from the sky there would be a slam from the living room as young Regina would come tearing past David with the smallest kiss hello and head straight for the bathroom, costume in hand. She was always breathless, having just escaped a household fight or perhaps another drunken W.A.S.P. benefit at the Mills’ home.

Mary would squeeze Regina onto the counter side by side with Emma and decorate her face as well.

As the knocks and shrieks of trick-or-treaters finding their way through the hallways grew in volume, she and her father or later she and Regina would head down the street trick or treating, hitting the same households they had always hit. When their street was thoroughly picked over they would turn the corner and start on their favorite blocks, chosen based on who gave the best treats.

The Nolan’s downstairs haunted houses had become part of Storybrooke lore by the time Ruby had joined their little group. Even though they were far too big to fit three of them on the bathroom counter, they tried and found a way to be successful annually.

Emma laughed as she thought about these things. She missed being young when the holidays still held magic. When Santa Claus still came every December 25th and beloved stuffed animals became terrifying beasts in the darkness of Halloween night. It just wasn’t as fun to be an adult. Where was the magic? She missed magic.

She turned into the parking lot of the elementary school, not at all surprised to see that the space had been taken over by booths; bobbing for apple stations, pumpkin carving stations, cider stations and every type of carnival game that you could imagine. Storybrooke never changed!

Without hesitation, she turned on her heels and jogged her way home.

 


 

“So I was thinking.” Emma teetered in the doorway of the kitchen, not daring to take the small boy from her mother’s loving arms until given permission, for fear of losing her fingers.

“What, sweetie?”

“I was thinking … that maybe… IcouldgetsometimewithHenrynow.” She ducked in teasing fear making her mother roll her eyes.

“I don’t know, honey. You have never taken care of a baby before.”

Emma scoffed and crossed her arms, sure that her mother was only teasing but still not entirely confident that her mother would hand over the cooing boy anyway. “Regina trusts me with her baby.”

Mary laughed with a twinkle in her eye, “Are you sure that she doesn’t simply trust that I will be here?”

She frowned, this was a good point but she came up with a tactic quickly. “Well maybe, mom but here’s the thing, how am I ever going to be a good enough mom for your grandbabies if I go into the whole motherhood thing with no experience?”

Her mother stared at her for a moment as if trying to decide whether this was a silly thing to say or not. “Alright, but I’ll be right here.”

“Actually,” she kissed his cherub cheeks and then nestled him on her hip, “I was thinking we were going to go to the Pumpkin Festival.”

Mary began to fret instantly, “Oh but honey, it’s so cold! Oh, I don’t know –”

“Mom,” Emma cut her off with a smile, “we’ll be okay. You gotta give me a chance, here. Regina would give me a chance.”

It was true, she had never taken care of a baby for more than a few minutes at a time, but these hazel orbs were so damn addicting that now seemed like a good time to start. Plus, a silly little part of her wanted Regina to know that it was her who had taken care of her son, not Mary.

They headed for the living room where the mountain of things that came with Henry was still sitting.

 


 

“Guah!” Henry cried, his little fist shaking up and down to make his point.

“Oh yeah?”

“Guah! OooohUah!”

Regina had said that this was his newest discovered sound and Emma could believe it. Each time it shot from his mouth he seemed to be mildly surprised and extremely proud of himself. So he did it often.

“Guah!”

“Guah!” Emma copied and Henry’s eyes grew wide, shocked that someone could know his secret baby language. Then he let out a high pitched shrieking laugh and tumbled backward into the couch cushions, slayed by the hilarity of it all.

“See, we got this, huh little man?” Emma pulled Henry’s little hand to hers in a tiny high five. “Yeah, alright!”

She pulled on the thick suit that made the boy look like a puffy plaid snowman and a soft wool hat, which he promptly pulled off again. “Hey!” she cried making an overly exaggerated sad face. The boy grinned; he didn’t know what he had done exactly but he knew that the crazy lady in front of him was funny. Emma pulled on the hat again and waited. Sure enough his unsteady hands took two tries to grab it securely but once he had it, with a tug, it was in his lap again.

“Here.” Mary appeared from behind her. She pulled a matching puffy hood from the bag of clothes and zipped it onto his collar, then with graceful skill she pulled the hood on and tightened it just a bit so that he couldn’t pull it off again.

He fussed, his hiccupping breaths warning of a tantrum as he tried to rip it from his head. Emma’s heart began to pick up its pace as the boy’s lips started to pull into a pout. “Oh my god, he’s gonna cry. Should I hold him?” Before Mary could answer Emma swept him into her arms and it was instantly evident that had been the wrong thing to do. The boy puckered up his lips and began to wail, head back with tears pouring down his face. Emma began to swear, until swearing some more, she realized that sensitive ears were present.

Mary watched her flail for a bit before saying in a soft voice, “Is he wet?”

“How do I know?” Emma cried, bouncing the screaming boy that only succeeded in giving his screams a comical wobble.

“Pinch the front of his diaper. Is it squishy?”

Emma reached for the diaper but paused, “I won’t, I don’t know, squeeze his – stuff?”

Mary did her best to keep a straight face “No honey, you just want to pinch the front, only about a centimeter or so.”

Hesitantly Emma pinched the diaper, “No it doesn’t feel squishy but I don’t know. I’m probably wrong.”

Mary pinched the diaper as well, “No honey, you were right. Okay, so if he’s not wet, what else could be wrong?”

The little boy's sweet face was turning a shade of tomato red and Emma yelped in a panic, “Um, I don’t know! I don’t know! Mom, take him! Make it stop!!”

“No, no. It’s okay Emma. Crying won’t hurt him. Think about it. What else could be wrong?”

“Hungry?”

“Right. Good. This one we know isn’t the problem because I just fed him, however, come here.” Mary pulled her daughter to her and showed her how to offer the baby her knuckle; insisting that if he were hungry he would start sucking. “The other choice is gas. Feel his tummy, press like this – right, good. Does it feel hard?”

“No?”

“Right. So it’s probably not that. So what is left?”

“I don’t know!” Emma’s mood was falling. She was terrible at this! How could anyone trust her with a baby? No one should ever give her one!

“Try distraction.”

“What?”

“Try distracting him. He didn’t like the hat, Emma.”

“You couldn't have just told me that in the first place?” Uncertainly Emma reached for a stuffed clown on top of the pile of toys and began to shake it in front of him, cooing and making silly noises. It took a minute or more but eventually the boy was caught by the silly show and his tears ceased.

“Oh thank god,” Emma sighed plopping down on the couch with the boy and his clown nestled in her lap. The whole experience had lasted perhaps two minutes, but she felt like she had just run an emotional 5K.

“It will get easier too, honey.” Mary insisted, “Eventually you will be able to tell the difference between all of his different cries.”

Emma glared at her mother, “Yeah, well. I won’t be here for that, remember?”

She ignored her, “Do you still want to go?”

Emma eyed the boy apprehensively, “What if he does that in public?”

“Then I just taught you what to do. Go have fun, honey. I’m sure Regina would love to know that you and Henry are getting to know one another.”

 


 

“Okay, mom,” Emma said after she had changed into her jeans and leather jacket, “I have diapers, a bottle and I don’t know – whatever else was in there in this freaking tent of a backpack. Anything else I need?”

Her mother shook her head seeing clearly that Emma’s verbose confidence from earlier had shifted into nervous tension. “Relax. It isn’t as though you will be very far. Just don’t stay out too long. It’s cold.”

With her mother's encouragement, the two started down the street toward the festival.

Henry oohed and Guah-ed as they went, Emma pointing out especially orange leaves or the neighbor animals, feeling as though she was holding a ticking time bomb.

It was clear that the little boy couldn’t see much of what she was trying to show him, but he seemed pleased nevertheless at the attention he was receiving. She had put on the industrial baby backpack that Regina had left and while the thing looked like a piece of heavy machinery; they both were comfortable on their walk. Soon Emma’s nerves began to melt away; a peaceful link to the boy was building in its place. She had spent little time with him and she was already becoming quite fond of him; he had personality. He made his likes and his dislikes clear and though it was probably in her head she felt like he liked her. What was going to happen after she spent the full day with him? What was going to happen when she had to leave him in a few months?

“Guah! Gahhh buah!”

“Uh huh,” she babbled back forgetting to be embarrassed that people were watching her, “You see the bird? What do birds say? That’s right, tweet tweet tweet.” She looked both ways three times before crossing the road, telling Henry all about the times she had spent at this very festival with his mother when they were girls.

 


 

She and Henry didn’t stay long as the temperature seemed to be dropping quickly. They did stay long enough to get their faces painted and to run into half of her high school class, a few of the city's bigwigs such as Mr. Gold and his girlfriend and a grinning happy Ingrid who was surprisingly warm to Emma and surprisingly cool to Henry.

They shared a cup of cider with Auntie Ruby at her booth and scared a few of the locals with a small crying fit before Emma decided it was time to go.

“Oh my god, what have you done to your faces?” Mary asked, looking both amused and terrified when they appeared in the doorway.

“We’re pumpkins. What?”

Mary just shook her head and snapped a few pictures.

Emma showered while Mary gave Henry a bath in the sink and the three settled on the couch in front of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

“Do you remember the year that you and Regina decided that you could cover more ground if you wore roller blades while trick-or-treating?”

Emma laughed, covering her face in the embarrassment that could only come from remembering the senseless things you did as a stupid pre-teen. “Oh god, yeah, I do. We thought we were so smart! At least I had the sense to dress up in something that made sense with roller blades. Regina showed up in that long vampire dress, remember? It got caught in her wheels.”

Mary laughed, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen road rash that bad. There was so much blood but little Dr. Mills wanted to clean herself up. How old were you? Thirteen or so?”

“Yeah, that was during my I-love-extreme-sports phase. I think that was one of the last years that we went trick or treating.”

Mary just shook her head.

Emma’s phone buzzed and she was pleased to see it was a group text from Ruby proposing a plan of horror movies and perhaps a pizza. Originally they had planned to dress up and go to the annual Halloween party at the Jefferson loft. It was a huge event that the entire town went to; filled with dancing, drinking, eating and a costume party but Regina had been working all day and Ruby had been running her booth at the festival. Neither of them wanted to come home simply to get dressed and go out again.

 

“Looks like I’ll have some company tonight, Ma. Is that alright?”

“Ruby and Ginny?”

“Yeah.”

Mary laughed looking genuinely happy and squeezed her daughter's hand again, “I love having you home, sweetie.”

Emma smiled. There was something so comforting about being home, wasn’t there? She had taken her mother's queue and was pretending they hadn’t been fighting the night before. Rarely did Emma agree with this course of action but today she was all for it, as long as it meant she didn’t have to talk about anything significant.

Emma text messaged Regina the picture her mother had taken of herself and Henry, chuckling as she looked at it. God, she knew she was just making it up, living vicariously, but somehow the boy did look like he could be part Emma, part Regina. She paused for a moment and then clicked the Use As Home Page button, so it settled hidden under her lock screen photo of Hanna and then went to prepare a bottle for the irritable boy.

“So uh, mom, I was thinking about laying down for a bit.”

“Alright, dear. Henry probably needs to go down too.”

“Yeah, right. So I was thinking, would it be okay with you if I put the Packn’ play in uh, my room?” She couldn’t quite read the look that passed over Mary’s face but was pleased when she quickly smiled and promised that she was not offended.

Together they fed the growing very sleepy boy and then Mary showed her how to place him down in the Packn’ play and rub his back and pat his butt to put him to sleep.

Soon Henry was asleep and with a kiss on the forehead and a promise that Emma would one day make an excellent mother, Mary left them to their own devices.

Emma stripped down to her long sleeve that she never took it off these days and underwear to stretch out under her blankets enjoying the feeling of the warmth then grabbed her computer.

She had clicked the TV on to a low volume, remembering what Regina had told her before; if you want him to sleep through it then it needs to be on when he falls asleep. Next she went through her email. She was surprised to see that she had an email from the tiny boutique informing her that her wedding dress had been found and did she still want it.

Excited, Emma scrolled through, delighted. Now she wouldn’t have to look for a dress. She had been dreading the experience of going to a shop where the women fawned over you, helping you try on ugly dress after ugly dress. Without hesitation, she clicked the order now button. She felt a shiver run down her spine the moment she clicked the confirm order button. It was as though time should have stopped for a second or two in order to mark the occasion. A huge step had been taken and there was no going back now.

Once she had ordered it, she put in the first movie on the TV that had been placed across from the foot of her bed since she was seventeen years old.

 


 

Eventually, she could hear the sound of children running up and down the street outside of her window, laughing and yelling and the doorbell blaring every few minutes followed by a loud chorus of trick or treat! It was the usual All Hallows Eve din.

She was comfortably relaxed on the window seat surrounded by the darkness of her room, her attention torn between the outside children, the psychopathic killer dog on screen and the little boy who was lying contentedly on her stomach.

She had given him another bottle and changed a diaper she knew she would never forget – ever. Now he was completely absorbed in the task of trying to grasp the necklace she was wearing and get it to his mouth; his cries of frustration and confusion earsplitting.  

His GUAH’s had turned into high-pitched kettle screams, but she imagined it was his end of the conversation as she rambled to him about very little of anything.

She was exhausted. He wasn’t a high maintenance baby, but the act of merely watching and worrying over him for most of the day was draining. It produced the type of tired she only felt after hours of laborious and emotionally stressful writing; the kind of writing that, once completed, meant instantly falling asleep, mouth open and drooling on her keyboard. It was nice to simply sit with Henry, feeling his warm weight and closeness and watch the children on the street.

She didn’t recognize a lot of the costumes, sure they were based on characters she was too old and too childless to know, but there was still a generous supply of Batman and Spider Man and princesses. She sighed as she watched them run and laugh, scaring one another around bushes or in doorways.

What would it be like to have a little face in the crowd that was my own? What would they wear?

A small face painted as a bumblebee caught sight of her in the window and waved wildly, fear of strangers abandoned on this most sacred of sugar filled nights. Emma laughed and waved back calling, “Happy Halloween!”

  She felt that incomplete hole she held in her heart twinge as the girl giggled and scampered down the street to the next house. Without thinking she slid her hand down her flat stomach, mourning the lack of a baby bump, feeling empty and unused, dry and hollow. She had never been used in that way and she didn’t know if she ever would. She had no idea if she would ever get the family she desired so intensely.  She wondered for the millionth time how it was Hanna could not want a family. She pictured her mother readying her own child for a night of trick or treating on the bathroom sink and frowned. No that wasn’t right, if they were going to have kids then it would be in New Orleans, wouldn't it? They would only see their grandmother at Christmas and maybe during summer vacation.

She was still angry with her mother but that thought was a horrible one.

Weren’t children supposed to be raised near their grandparents? Could she do it if her mother lived thousands of miles away? Did she want to?

She wondered how long it would be before Regina would adopt another, or perhaps carry one herself. Would it be with Ingrid? She wondered what Regina’s sperm donor would look like. Would he have flowing blonde hair as Ingrid did or would she choose based on things other than physical appearance? Did she still want twin boys followed by a little girl or had her opinion changed since gaining Henry?

She looked down into the angel face, wiping up the steady stream of drool and wondered if he would make a good big brother. Of course he would; any child raised by Regina would be a good older sibling. She would have taught them well.

A cool breeze blew across her face like a godsend and washed away the thoughts, distracting her into contemplations of the seasons and what the upcoming winter would bring.

Around dinnertime her mother came in with a popped bottle of pumpkin beer, something Hanna had taught Emma to love. Emma took it with a distracted grin, still sitting in the window, her mind back to children.

She took a seat on the opposite side of the window seat and softly caressed Emma’s bare foot, “I really did think I was right, you know.”

Emma nodded taking a sip, “I know, ma. You always do.”

She could tell that response had hurt her mother but she couldn’t take it back; it was the truth.

“I can tell you’re up here worrying instead of relaxing. You’re supposed to be relaxing sweetie.”

“I was just watching the children and thinking about the fact that Hanna still doesn’t want one. I mean, Regina said that when you handed her Henry she looked at him like he was disgusting. I think she even used the term sack of rotten potatoes.”

She mother smiled a smile that clearly wasn’t real, “Uh huh. And what are you going to do about that, Emma?”

Emma shrugged, “Convince her that she’s wrong.”

Her mother took her hands, “Emma, this wedding is happening very soon. Call me silly but to me for a marriage to work you need to share life goals, right? Have you thought at all about the fact that Hanna might never want children?”

“She will. I’m sure of it. Plus she made that comment when I first got here; remember? I’m not sure what it meant, we never got to talk about it, but I’m sure it was a good sign.” She didn’t tell her that she that she was terrified Hanna would never be convinced or worse and more likely she would eventually give her reluctant consent and then want nothing to do with the child.

Her mother looked as if she wanted to argue but decided against it, “Can I get you anything else?”

“Nope.”

“How about this one?”

“I think he’s okay actually. This necklace is magic.”

Mary chuckled, “What time are the girls getting here?”

“Not until later tonight, Ginny’s working until ten I think.”

Mary nodded and kissed them both before returning to the trick or treaters.

Thoughts still on children, Emma decided to call Hanna.

“GUAH!” Henry cried angrily the moment that Hanna answered the phone.

“Um. What? Hello?”

“Sorry” Emma laughed, sitting him back against her knees. His face screwed up, unhappy about the position change, so she plopped him back down and handed him his teething ring – which he proceeded to beat against her chest like a tiny mallet. “Ow! Calm down, dude. I have Henry.”

“You do, huh?”

“Babysitting.” Could Hanna sound any less interested? She didn’t think so. God, that was annoying.

“I see.”

“So whatcha doin', babe?”

“Nothing, just getting into my costume.”

“What did you decide to be and where are you going?”

“Janelle convinced me to dress as something pretty good. I’ll send you a picture. I think we are going out to the Quarter. There is some kind of drag thing at Scarlett.”

“Oh. Cool.” Emma could hear that she sounded just as disinterested as Hanna had seemed about Henry. There was music and yelling in the background. It sounded as though the whole nightclub possy was in her apartment. “Are you guys getting ready at home?”

“Yup.” Hanna began to laugh heartily at someone in the background, “Oh my god, babe, Pete just dropped your book in the toilet. Oh my god dude, no more for you!”

Emma sat up, startling Henry, “My book? The Thing You Love Most?”

“Yeah. He was reading it. Did you know we forgot to give him a copy?”

“That’s because I didn’t know he could read.” Emma griped. “Which copy? The one from the bookcase?”

“Uh, coffee table. Hey, shut the fuck up!” Hanna yelled to the rowdy group she was with.

“The one sitting on the table?” Emma asked weakly, gloom washing over her. “You mean the one that always sits there? Is it ruined?”

Hanna was far too busy with the others in the room to hear her future wife.

“Hanna!”

“Hmm?”

“Is it ruined? It’s ruined isn’t it?”

“Oh god, don’t get your panties in a fucking twist. You always make such a big deal about everything. It’s not like we don’t have ten other copies.”

Sadness turned to anger and then back to depression, “Hanna that was the first copy ever printed.”

“Oh uh, shit. Right. Don’t worry it will dry; I’ll hit it with the blow dryer. Look, I’ll call you back later. We need to go.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Emma hung up unsure if she was more depressed that her book, an absolute prized possession had been destroyed or if the thing that got her was that Hanna didn’t seem to understand why it mattered to her. She pulled herself from the window and cuddled with Henry under the blankets.

“Guah!”

The corner of her mouth twitched, “That’s right. Guah.”

At about seven o’clock her phone vibrated and she laughed to see a picture message from Regina. It was Regina, the receptionist and another person she assumed was the other doctor all sporting gaudy surgical masks and holding fake overly large syringes and scissors. The picture was captioned “Just doing what we do best”. She clicked a photo of herself and Henry, “We’re hanging out in bed. Happy Halloween. Hurry up and get here. We’re waiting for you.” It wasn’t until the text has disappeared into cyberspace that she realized just how that could have been interpreted. She spent the next thirty minutes blushing and kicking herself.

Around 8:00 P.M. her arms were just as exhausted as the rest of her from holding Henry up on his feet so he could sway his hips and giggle madly but she knew she had no choice. He was beginning to grow grumpy as the evening grew closer to bedtime despite the huge bottle and yet another diaper change.

It was around then, trying to console the screaming exhausted boy that she finally received the picture from Hanna – which she found to be unpleasantly surprising - or perhaps unpleasantly not surprising. Hanna was wrapped in a long toga that hid the correct places and exposed others that Emma would have preferred had also remained hidden. Her skin was painted a bronzed gold and her face had been painted into Greek splendor. The picture was captioned ‘Look what Janelle made me do’.

Hanna had never been one to flaunt her feminine side outside of an occasional swipe of eyeliner so this was a surprise. She was slightly uncomfortable with the amount of skin Hanna was showing, but Hanna did look great. What had caught Emma’s eye, however, and sent a tickle of nauseated stress through her stomach was the rosy glow in Hanna’s cheeks and the half empty Costco sized bottle of vodka and empty shot glasses that had been forgotten at the side of the photo.

She had expected some bumps in the Hanna staying sober process, but she had hoped the nasty turn of events during her recent visit would help to keep the promised sobriety in place - at least for a little while. She had only just left. The bruise on Emma’s wrist still hurt!

She decided not to respond. What would happen if Hanna got as drunk as she had when she was in Storybrooke with her? What would she do? Would she hurt someone? Would she sleep with someone? What was Drunk-Hanna capable of doing? Had she thought Emma only meant staying sober when she was with her? She felt the angry frustration burn behind her eyes and decided to close them against it.

She wondered idly if she should have chosen to get dressed up and go out for the holiday instead of staying in with her thoughts. She knew she would have if she were home in New Orleans. She would be accompanying Hanna to the club - of course.

No, she decided she didn’t miss the loud beat and the scented fog machines.

 

Thirty minutes after she got the picture from Hanna her phone buzzed again. It was Ruby saying she had just been asked out on a date for the evening by ‘a total hunk’ and couldn’t make it over.

She groaned into her pillow; she had been looking forward to the company. She supposed Regina would need to come by to pick up Henry, but it seemed as though her Halloween plans were over.

Disappointed and a tad lonely she finally surrendered and put Henry down a half an hour early. He whimpered for a few minutes before falling into an open mouthed sleep, his tiny diapered butt in the air. She had been looking forward to spending some quality time with her friends, doing something they used to love. After a moment's contemplation, she decided to put the first movie of the Child’s Play series on, despite her lack of company. It was still Halloween and therefore she had to watch her favorites even if she was going to be alone. It wasn’t Halloween without her ‘friend to the end’.

Henry didn’t stay asleep for long however and by the time Aunt Maggie was finding the Good Guy shoe print in the flour Emma was pacing the room as he screamed from his makeshift crib, harder and louder than he had all night.

She cooed. She sang. She talked. She begged. The boy was relentless, refusing to give in to sleep and bringing tears of worry to Emma’s eyes. She knew that you weren’t supposed to pick up a baby once you put him down for the night, something about learning to self-sooth, but she was sure that she couldn't handle this. She rubbed his back and whispered in her most calming voice but the boy just continued to scream as though someone was trying to kill him.

“Come on, Em. Calm down.” She paced a little longer, but she couldn’t do it. She sat on the bed and set an alarm on her phone.

Two minutes.

If he was still crying in two minutes then she was going to pick him up, she didn't care what child experts had to say.

She watched every single second on the timer click down, rocking in place and hovering over the Packn’ play. With a sigh of relief, the alarm went off and Henry was in her arms again. For a stressed filled moment, Emma thought that perhaps holding him was not going to help but then he began to mumble, rubbing his sleepy face into her collarbone. She cooed and rocked him for a short while and his body started to grow limp with sleep.

Tentatively she slid onto the bed and leaned back against her bed frame, afraid to breath lest he wake and the whole thing begin again. Henry stirred a little more but once his hand found his mouth and he began to suck, he fell asleep quickly and completely. Emma rested her cheek against the tiny, soft head overwhelmed by the emotions flooding her.

Magic. That was magic that had just happened. The boy had been a screaming blubbering mess and all it had taken was her presence to calm him.

This feeling….god this feeling was crazy addicting. She sighed and kissed his head before comfortable, at peace, she feel asleep.

A while later the door slowly creaked open but the woman and the infant boy were unaware of the new company. If Emma had seen the look on Regina’s face when she rounded the corner and spotted them, she surely would have been involuntarily plunged into hours of confused contemplation. She would have known the look there but Emma would not have understood why it had a place there in her features.

Regina sighed, setting down the beer and pizza and took the rarely given opportunity to study Emma. She couldn’t do this during Emma’s waking hours for fear that she would betray herself. Softly, gently she stroked her fingers across Emma’s cheek. Emma’s nose twitched as if she had an itch, but she kept on sleeping.

Regina chuckled to herself, warm affection blossoming in her chest.

It still blew her away that Emma had returned. She had thought, and not very long ago either, that Emma had been lost to her and yet here she was asleep, in her underwear, with her son across her chest.

It was all so domestic; a pleasant picture to come home to. For just a fleeting moment she wished...

“Em. Hey. Emma.” Emma’s eyelashes fluttered and then she smiled up at Regina.

“Hey, you’re home.”

“I am. You two look comfortable.”

Emma smiled, cupping the boy’s butt, “We are.”

“Do you want some help?”

Emma grinned sleepily, happy to stretch when Henry was carefully deposited into the Packn’ Play.

“You were supposed to wait for me!” Regina frowned, pointing with annoyance at the movie.

“Um,” Emma was surprised; “are you staying?” She had assumed that since Ruby had canceled the movie that Regina would too.

Instead, she watched as Regina tossed her things onto the bed, kicked off her shoes with a moan and sat in the computer chair next to the desk, legs crossed; the picture of ease. Emma in response had pulled the blankets up to her chest and stared.

“Um. Ginny?” She hadn’t bothered to get into anything other than her undies and long sleeve because she thought she would be alone. With a glance, she double checked to see if her bruised wrist and knee was covered.

Regina was busy pulling down her hair and watching the screen, “Hmm?”

“Um.”

Regina pulled the pizza box to them and handed her a slice, “I’m not usually one to eat like this, but I just don’t have the energy to cook right now. Would you like a drink?”

She took one, still staring.

“What?” Regina finally snapped, unable to openly ignore Emma anymore.

“I didn’t think you were staying.”

Emma saw through Regina’s innocent confusion, “Why? Didn’t we have plans?”

She wanted to explain but she didn’t have any words other than I guess I assumed that sitting in my room - in the dark - alone – while I’m in my underwear - was out for us.

Regina sighed, dropping the act “I was planning on staying in this chair. I wasn’t going to get into bed without your permission like I would have in the past, don’t worry. If you’re worried then put on a pair of pants. I don’t think we will be able to watch more than one. Can we start this one over? I love the first one.”

Emma thought it over as Regina rambled. It wasn’t inappropriate for her to be here with Regina, right? They were just watching a movie. There was no risk of - anything.

Regina eyed her warily, “Emma, I’m too tired to drive home. Are you truly not okay with this? I can go downstairs if you would prefer. ”

“No, no, I’m good.” She responded quickly, too quickly and Regina laughed.

“Do you want a beer too?” Emma asked just to cover her blunder.

Regina shook her head, “I got it and then they told me that I am on call.”

“You’re on call? You literally just worked all day!”

“I know, but I only need to go back if the staff is overwhelmed, which, in truth, might happen. People make poor life choices on Halloween.”

They ate the pizza and watched the movie. They jumped and laughed at each other and slowly relaxed. Emma could tell Regina was uncomfortable in the rolling chair but doing her best to elegantly pretend she wasn’t for the sake of propriety - or perhaps just for the sake of their comfort. It made Emma feel terrible. She could see the huge bags under Regina’s eyes and after that many hours on her feet she was willing to bet they hurt terribly. Regina was trapped by her inability to drive home without worrying about her son’s safety. Would she sleep on the sofa? That just seemed strange. In the twenty years Emma had known Regina had she ever slept on the couch?

“Ginny, just come get in.”

“I’m all right, Em.” Regina swore, staring fixedly at the screen.

Emma cocked an eyebrow non-threateningly, biting back hundreds of inappropriate jokes and quips but as usual Regina seemed to hear every single on and couldn’t hold in her laughter.

“Fine.” Giving in she slid under the covers, next to but not touching her. “Do you think that perhaps you should put on a pair of pants, Em?” She asked dryly.

The crooked grin was on Emma’s lips before she could stop it, “Why? Uncomfortable, Gin?”

Regina blinked a few times; side swiped and then leaned back, clearly having decided that ignoring Emma was the best thing to do in this situation.

Emma smiled to herself and sat back, doing her best to play at comfortable. See, they could totally pull this off. They had sat this way together a thousand times or more. It was no big deal.

Emma wondered if Regina was as excruciatingly uncomfortable under her mask of comfort as she was.

She was all for them going back to how things were before their relationship had changed for the better and then changed for the worse but this - was difficult to handle. Regina shifted; scrubs accidently brushing her leg and Emma jumped, her skin burning. Regina, however, didn’t seem to notice. Maybe it was just Emma who was focusing too much on what they had been in the past and not enough on what they are now.

By the beginning of the second movie, it was late and getting easier to be comfortable. Emma had found a spot leaning against the corner the bed was shoved into, her arms behind her head and Regina had settled against the pillows along the edge. The sound of the trick or treaters outside had long mellowed into the occasional bellow or shriek of a teenager as they roamed the streets. Henry had remained quiet, sleeping peacefully on the other side of the room.

She had been enjoying the movie, enjoying the chummy closeness with Regina when a television scream jarred her awake. She blinked a few times trying to acclimate to the room, the TV repeating the disk menu, the air sleepy and thick.

Oh. She had fallen asleep. God, when had she gotten too old to stay up for a movie marathon?

She was now resting on her side, hands under her cheek, facing Regina, who had fallen asleep as well, an arm over her head and her face tilted toward Emma, a breath away.

Emma struggled to wake herself entirely, fuzzily unfocused.

In her half wakeful state, her walls dropped away and she forgot to stop herself from getting caught by Regina’s beauty. She rarely allowed herself this privilege because with it always came pain and all too aware looks in those coffee eyes. She looked at her perfectly full lips branded with the scar she had received as a child, her angular chin and perfectly shaped nose. For once the makeup was thin, her eyes barely darkened, her lips with only the barest hint of rouge.

She knew this woman. She knew this woman more than she knew herself, more than she knew Hanna or Mary or Ruby. She knew the exact shade of her eyes. She knew exactly how her eyelashes would flutter as she woke. She knew the small smile Regina would carry if she caught Emma looking. She knew exactly what Regina would say if she realized she had fallen asleep. She knew her. So why did this feel so complicated? It was stupid. It was stupid and she would have no more of it. She decided then and there to be done with the awkwardness and the worry about being inappropriate in some way.

Reaching for the remote she clicked off the TV, nestled into her covers and then froze when Henry let out an annoyed sigh in his sleep. No need to worry that the sudden silence would wake Regina. She had always slept like a rock but after she had begun her medical training Emma had found that you could jump up and down on her and it wouldn’t wake her. Henry, however, was a different story. She held her breath as his tiny little body debated if he should wake or not. He let out a long sleep filled sigh and Emma relaxed.

It had only been one night, but this whole parent thing was hard. Wait, caregiver – babysitter. She rolled her eyes in the darkness and buried her face in the pillows.

She could smell Regina in the sheets. She didn’t smell exactly as she usually did, the smell of the clinic added a new metallic, medicinal scent. Still there was enough of her there that Emma felt the familiar comfort wash over her and with a yawn she let her eyes close. This had been the best Halloween she had in a while.

 


 

A large buzzing woke her what felt like seconds later. Disoriented she hugged tighter against her bedfellow, burying her face between her shoulder blades and trying to block out the noise that was interrupting her much-desired sleep.

“Shit.” Regina moaned, rolling over in Emma’s arms. Both women jumped a little, pulling away, but groggy exhaustion muted their alarm.

“Sorry. What time is it?” Emma groaned, rubbing her face and getting up for Henry, who had heard the noise and was off, babbling and giggling at his toes.

“Seven. Hmm, I guess we fell asleep.” Regina sighed, checking her ringing phone.

“Hi, beautiful boy!” Emma grinned and felt her heart flutter as he grinned back.

Regina flipped open her phone and with a few grunts her conversation was over.

“I have to go into work.”

“Seriously? What? No! Ginny, you didn’t get enough sleep. You look like you’re going to drop.” Emma gasped as she began to change Henry’s diaper.

Regina chuckled darkly, “I haven’t had enough sleep in months. I’ll be just fine but oh, Henry!”

Emma could see the plea in Regina’s desperate eyes and nodded before Regina had to ask, “It’s fine. Really. We will be fine.”

“Em -”

“We’re fine, Ginny.”

Regina ran around the room gathering her work belongings and glancing mournfully at her son. “I’ll be back as soon as possible. I promise.” Though Emma couldn’t be sure if she was saying it to the boy or to her. “Regina, he will be fine.”

“Okay, I know. Okay. I just hate this. He’s my son; I should be with him.”

“And you will be. As soon as you get off of work. So go; the sooner you go, the sooner you return.”

Regina nodded flustered and quickly gave the boy a peck on the cheek, heading out the door.

Emma sat on the bed with a thump as soon as Regina was gone. She wouldn’t admit it, but she was dead tired!

They headed downstairs where Mary took him so Emma could make a cup of coffee.

They spent the morning playing, Emma drinking coffee as though it would save her from certain death. Then around noon she called Ruby to see if she wanted to do lunch just to get out of the house, “So how was your date?”

Ruby laughed, “He wasn’t worth giving up a night with the girls.”

“No good in bed, huh?”

Ruby scoffed on the other line, “Anyway. Yes. Lunch. Let’s go to Ingrid’s. I’ve been craving that sandwich all freaking week.”

“Really?”

“Oh come on, Emma. Green isn’t your color.”

“I’m not - ugh, fine. Whatever. I’ll meet you there.”

The look on Ruby’s face when Emma rounded the corner with Regina’s son was a hilariously bad version of casual curiosity. “You know, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is not yours.”

“Funny.” Emma would have come up with a snarky reply but while coffee kept her on her feet, it didn’t necessarily give her the mental faculties for a task such as that. “Ginny came by last night.”

“She did, huh?” Ruby smirked devilishly.

“It wasn’t like that Rubes, we just hung out and watched movies then she got called into work. Don’t give me that look, lady, I’m engaged.”

“I guess that talk did what she wanted it to.” Before Emma could ask what the hell that meant, Ruby grinned, “Oh, speak of the devil!”

“Huh?”

“Regina.”

She heard her quick step behind her and Regina fell into the seat next to her, looking pale and sickly. She smiled weakly at them, taking the half of Emma’s sandwich she hadn’t started yet and pulling Henry into her lap. It flustered Emma how pleased she was to see her and how much she didn’t want to give the boy up.

“Did you just get off?”

“Yes, but I only have time to eat something, run home, change and take a nap because my shift starts at eight tonight. I have to admit when I got called in at seven this morning I was a little unhappy. I’m tired. Oh and I called his Nanny, so you’re off of babysitting duty. Thank you, Em.”

Ruby whipped around, appraising Emma up and down, no doubt remembering Emma saying they had been together until Regina got called in.

Emma rolled her eyes and shook her head, “Is that normal to work like that?”

Regina chuckled vaguely, “I’m not sure actually. We have been understaffed since I began. I’m not sure what a typical schedule would be. There are benefits at times to the schedule of course. Sometimes it is nice to get off at five in the morning, as I will tomorrow. The nanny is scheduled until eight so I can go and have a big breakfast and then go for a run at dawn.”

Emma grinned back at her until Regina’s face changed, “Good morning!” She called to Ingrid who had just appeared behind the counter covered in flour.

Emma studied her plate as Regina kissed Ingrid and Ingrid laughed, wiping the transferred flour off Regina’s chin. She couldn’t help but to notice that Ingrid barely acknowledged Regina’s son. What was with that?

“You don’t just get off and collapse after shifts like that?” Ruby asked, dumbfounded.

“No. I used to, but now I find that it’s better for me to wait until the end of the day so that I don’t get my days and nights reversed.”

After the food had been demolished, they split to go their different ways. Emma drove by the mall to pick up the ring she had not picked up before, mourning the loss of her little companion then went home where she changed back into her pajamas. There were things that she could be doing but her body aggressively said no.

  Around early evening, it occurred to her that she had not heard from Hanna, but she banished the unwanted thought. Just then she didn’t want to worry about Hanna. She was sure she was okay, just busy. She ate a huge dinner that night, brushed her teeth and then went to bed very early to toss and turn.

Her mind felt as if it was simply too full to settle into sleep. Regina haunted it, the too long list of things she needed to do for the wedding, mixed bitterly with a hint of Hanna’s absence.

Would Hanna have enjoyed an evening such as Emma’s had the evening before or would she have been too busy running after a party? Would she have understood the sadness Emma felt when she watched those children running up and down the street? If Emma had been home, would her night have been dominated by body shots and go-go dancers dressed as Franken-bitch or Sexy Wilma Flintstone?

One thing was slowly becoming apparent to Emma. She was beginning to feel her age here in Storybrooke. It was like she was coming slowly out of some type of mental fog and she wasn’t sure she could go back to going out four times a week to drink and party when she returned home. She was ready for a different life. Perhaps she had grown accustom to their lifestyle before she moved and therefore she hadn't noticed it but here in this city so far from her home, she saw a different sort of life. Well-adjusted adults living with ease and stability that was easy and simple. They had cars. They had houses. They had families. She had always told people that she hadn’t been able to feel the age gap but the longer she was in Storybrooke the older she felt...and the younger Hanna looked.

She got up and paced the floor. And what was she going to do about Hanna when it came to having a family? Her mind couldn’t seem to stay away from this line of thought anymore, it nagged at her constantly. Yes, there was a chance that Hanna would grow into the desire for a family. She knew that Hanna was at the brink where her desires in life should suddenly transition into the phase that Emma was already in, where her priorities would switch from money, fun and friends to home, stability and family. But what if even after that transition Hanna didn’t want children? How had she not paid more attention to this? Was it possible that she been so blinded by her want to marry in general that she hadn’t noticed these problems or had she been so used to their life that she had to step out of it to see them? There were so many things they needed to discuss before the wedding and she wasn’t sure that they were going to have the time.

She was working herself up. She seemed to do that a lot these days, didn’t she?

Emma checked her phone. More than likely, Hanna was awake and at the gym. She dialed and was pleased to quickly hear Hanna’s voice.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay? It’s really early.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you. Were you still asleep?”

“No.”

“Oh, okay good. Do you have a minute?”

“What’s wrong?” Hanna asked as though the answer could change her availability.

“I don’t know. I’m just worrying about a few things. I think I’m a little worried about how we have been.”

“What?”

“Hanna, I’m worried about,”

Hanna cut her off, “Actually, is it okay if I call you back? I’m with people.”

Emma checked the clock again; “Who are you with at this time in the morning?”

“Oh, you know. Gym.”

“Oh.” Emma was disappointed. She felt the weight of all of her worry on her shoulders and she needed a partner just then. “Okay.”

“But listen, I’ll call you later. There is something I really need to talk to you about too.”

When they hung up, Emma felt stress ball heavily in her stomach. Hanna would call her back, so there was no need to worry. But why was she beginning to feel like Hanna had been trying to say something to her for weeks, always on the brink but never actually saying it? She laid back on her bed and began to count the beams above her, simply to keep her mind occupied. She needed to sleep. The problem was that she wasn’t tired. She got up and leaned out the huge window into the crisp morning air with sighed.

Then an idea occurred to her. She would head out for a run...

 

 

Chapter Text

The emergency clinic was empty, slow after all of the Halloween stupidity. When she had entered the receptionist had been snoozing, one hand on her phone as if it were her alarm clock. She didn’t hide her annoyance when Emma informed her, somewhat awkwardly that no she was not hurt but instead looking for the doctor. She wished she had thought to bring a third cup of coffee as she handed the woman the cup that was supposed to be hers; an act of apology for interrupting her sleep without being in need of a pill or some type of stitching. The coffee seemed to help, however, because the woman finally offered Emma a small smile and lead her to a dark examining room. “I’m sure Dr. Mills hard at work.”

Emma laughed, and she says real life doesn’t look like Grey’s Anatomy?

Regina was completely asleep on the exam table, an arm thrown over her eyes and snoring lightly.

She has also always said that she doesn’t snore, Emma noted.

Looking at her sleeping there Emma had the overwhelming urge to tickle the little bit of skin exposed at the tummy of her disheveled scrubs.

Showing no mercy the receptionist flicked on the lights making Emma wince, “You have a visitor, Dr. Mills.”

“What?” Regina was on her feet in a second, bumping into the exam table and the extra chair but ready for whatever she needed to do.

“Aren’t you supposed to be able to be up and awake in a second? You keep running into things.”

Regina scoffed, rubbing her face, “We’re taught to use our brain at a moment's notice, our bodies come second. What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Is it your mom? Oh god, is it Henry? Did the nanny call your mom?”

Emma shook her head, her cheeks heating, “Oh. No. Everyone’s fine, really. I didn’t mean to scare you. I uh, I couldn’t sleep. Are you still off at five?”

“Yes.” She said slowly, worry still hinting at the corners of her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I feel like a dick I didn’t mean to scare you. I couldn’t sleep so I was thinking that maybe you would want to go get that big breakfast and go for that run. It uh... sounded nice when you were talking about it yesterday. Or are you too tired?” Perhaps the last person on earth she would want to spend this time with was her.

“Oh, I see.” Regina’s shoulders visibly sagged with relief, “That sounds great. Uh, yes, Henry has been sleeping until seven or eight every morning so that’s perfect. What time is it? Oh, perfect.”

Emma waited in the lobby for a little while chatting politely with the receptionist. Soon a tall man holding a cup of coffee strode in, looking far better rested than Regina had all week.

Watching Regina gather her things through the reception window Emma had to feel a flicker of respect for her. Emma’s job was taxing, even stressful when you threw in her agent and the deadlines she was often given. It required hours of work when she was putting together a new book. She often found herself sleeping during the day and writing all through the night, which threw her schedule completely, turning her eventually into a sleepy mess, that resembled anything from a Tom Savini movie. But what Regina did took real sacrifice. She was a hero. She felt a wave of admiration and sighed just as Regina rounded the corner, having changed into her running clothes. “I have a locker here.” She answered before Emma could ask the question.

“I see. So where do you normally go for breakfast?”

Regina studied her, perhaps trying to understand the flush that had covered Emma’s cheeks, “There is a little place down the road from my house.”

“Oh?”

Regina stared, waiting for her to catch up, “Granny’s, Em. I go to Granny’s.”

“Right.” She would have known that if Regina’s penetrating eyes weren’t making her brain so damned foggy.

“I suppose I can check on Henry. He might be up and if he is then I’ll just put him in his stroller. He likes to go jogging.”

Emma agreed and headed to the place she was becoming quickly familiar with.

 


 

The area she drove though as she followed Regina’s prized black Benz was beautiful in the early morning light. The houses shone with the first drops of morning, hinting at waking and preparing for the day. She couldn’t help but to wonder what it would be like to live in one of the prettiest parts of the city, residential and filled with families. In New Orleans, the area they lived in was nice - highly sought after -but in the city of parties and parades you didn’t necessarily pay for a nice neighborhood. You paid for the convenience of being next to a certain area, being close to the parade routes and easy traveling distance to the quarter. She and Hanna lived mere blocks from the largest lesbian area of the city, a prerequisite for Hanna. The parade passed a mere three blocks away, close enough walk but far enough not to lose your parking spot each time an event was held. There were restaurants, bars and clubs near her by the hundreds, perfect for those without any commitments outside of their work life.

Here you paid for extravagant lawns where your children could play, swimming pools, gardens and gardening services, bathtubs the size of Texas. It must be nice. It was all very much the American dream, wasn’t it?

 

Regina was swaying on her feet again when she got out of the car in front of 108.

Emma braced for a moment, unsure of whether or not she would need to rush forward to catch her. “Are you sure you don’t want to get some sleep?” Emma asked, concerned.

“No, I’m happy where I am. Are you ready?”

They checked on the still sleeping boy and then headed down the street.

Emma was never really one for early morning runs, she had always enjoyed her sleep more but this morning she suddenly understood why people enjoyed them so much. The sun was just beginning to turn the silver blue-gray of sunrise and everything smelled fresh, wet and new.

“I love this time of morning.” Regina said, reading her mind. “Everything smells clean and fresh, it reminds you that every day is a new chance at life. It gives me hope.”

Emma nodded. A new chance at life… “Why do you need hope? Seems to me like you literally have it all.”

“Everyone needs hope, Em. Plus you’re forgetting. There is one thing missing.”

“What’s that?”

Regina took a deep breath and pushed a little harder, “My fairytale happy ending, Em. I still need my fairytale happy ending.”

 

They ran for three miles in near silence, just enjoying the steady pace, easy in each other’s quiet company.

“It is nice being in a residential neighborhood again.” Emma said, once they had stopped on a street corner to catch their breath, “Officially I live in one in New Orleans but a block away are bars and stores and things like that. It’s nice not having to dodge through traffic and people to get a run in.”

“Admit it, you missed this place.” Regina was only half teasing.

“I did miss this place. I don’t think I realized it until I got here though which is - weird.”

“No. It’s not.” Those penetrating eyes were on her again.

Emma held them for a few moments before shrugging, “Granny’s?”

Regina nodded and they headed off again down the street toward Granny’s at a slower pace, falling easily back into their familiar silence.

It was so early that even Granny’s which, despite its design for loggers and early risers, was having a hard time getting going. Booths were readily available but the servers were still sipping coffee and talking amongst themselves.

The grumpy waiter brought them menus and large cups of coffee without needing to be asked.

They thanked him and started sipping, Regina drinking it at a pace that was simply amazing.

“The fuck are you guys doing here so early?” Ruby yawned and fell into the booth next to Emma. “Regina, it makes sense for you; you’re a freak but Emma you’re normal. Why are you here this early? Don’t let her corrupt you. Sleep is good.” She said the last part through a huge yawn, cuddling into Emma’s side like a puppy.

“I will have you know that any corrupting between us has always gone from her to me, thank you.”

Immediately Rudy and Emma started to cry their protests making Regina laugh. “It’s so easy to get you two going. Besides it’s not that early.”

“You’re crazy.” Ruby yawned again, took their orders and slid out of the booth to yell at her employees.

“So I never asked, did you decide on what you wanted with Ingrid for the cake?”

“Uh yeah. Hanna decided on a buttercream something or other. I told Ingrid as long as its white or cream then she can design the outside however she would like.”

“She is very talented.”

“And very sweet.” Emma supplied. “What is it like dating someone with children? Let alone children that old?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t actually met them yet. We have talked about me meeting her kids but she always finds a reason why it won’t work. I think Ingrid would be the one to ask since Henry is so young.”

“Yeah, um what’s with that?”

Regina put her coffee cup down softly, “You’ve noticed that Ingrid has a certain level of…hesitance, have you?”

“Hesitance. Yeah, I guess you could say that instead of saying that she refuses to acknowledge the kid...at all.”

“She doesn’t refuse to acknowledge him! She just feels she has raised her children and isn’t interested in doing it again.”

“Then why is she dating you? You’re a mom now.”

Regina’s cheeks pinked but she didn’t answer, “And what about you? I feel like you’ve been facing some riddles in your own relationship.”

“What makes you say that?” Emma snipped.

“I suppose you have just seemed a little - off. Then again, perhaps I am not able to assess that properly.”

“My head has been - weird since I got here. I think being away from my life has let me notice a few things I don’t like about it.”

“Ah. But isn’t that the nature of a trip away?”

“I guess.”

“Children are one of these riddles, right? You’ve been around Henry, your mother and I so it’s bringing out your want for a family.”

“Yes. I think it’s hard not to think about family when you come home to your family and the place where you were raised. It’s been so easy to ignore the issue with Hanna, to insist that she will want to have children one day. The problem is that now that it’s in my face every day, I think I’m starting to feel a little worried about it.”

“Why doesn’t she want children? Does she have a reason or is it something that just isn’t for her?”

“She says she still feels too much like a child herself. Which I never thought was true, I was always blown away by her maturity but is it possible that I was just...used to it? I feel fucking crazy, Regina. Honestly, I feel as though there are so many other things I should be paying attention to right now.” She hesitated, almost telling Regina about the bruises, about the drinking. She didn’t know. She wanted some advice. But she couldn’t tell her. She wouldn’t, couldn’t understand the Hanna that Emma knew. So instead she said, “Before I came here I had a very clear picture of what my life was like but now I watch what Hanna is up to and it seems so different. I don’t know, Hanna seems so different. I look at her now and I can’t find the person I was living with before I came here.”

“I see.”

Emma was sure that she shouldn’t share her relationship problems with Regina. It wasn’t fair. “I don’t know. Lets not talk about this.”

Their food came and they ate, minds full. When they were done they headed back to Regina’s, joking and teasing one another as they went, feeling closer than they had in a while.

 


 

“So. Would you like a tour?” Regina asked, kicking off her shoes just inside the door. “I don’t think you have received one yet.”

“Sure why not.”

Regina seemed pleased and pulled her into the living room. Emma had been in here briefly before but until now hadn’t taken the time to really look at it. It was a large one, formal to the point that it was clearly never used. However just off the living room was a small sunroom filled with comfortable chairs, plants and bookshelves, looking like the perfect place to curl up with soup and read on a rainy day. The floor was littered with baby blankets and toys giving the distinct impression that Regina spent a lot of time there. As they walked through the dining room and kitchen Regina explained how when she moved in everything had just been updated so there had been no need to change anything downstairs.

“When I bought this house I bought it with the intention of staying put and honestly the house is perfect for what I would need in the future.”

“What do you mean?” Emma asked following her past the open office door and up the large staircase.

“Well, it has three bedrooms, an office and an upstairs den so there will be plenty of room for whatever life may throw at me therefore I won’t need to move again. I can see this as my permanent home. It’s in a nice location that is central in town. The area is quiet. I dipped into, well obliterated, my savings and renovated a few things up here. You know this room.”

They passed the door of Henry’s bedroom and rounded the corner into the upstairs den.

The front wall was bare except for a huge flat screen TV that hung there. The back wall was covered with a mix of books, DVD’s and photos. She had noticed the large hulking shapes of something the other night but she had been so distracted that she hadn’t bothered to investigate. Now, in the bright morning light she could she the shapes of large and high tech elliptical and rowing machines folded up but looking perfectly clean as though they were used daily.

They continued on to the last room, a bedroom smelling strongly of Regina and stuffed with a large fluffy looking bed and paintings over the headboard. Regina pulled her inside and to a door that looked as though it lead to a closet or a bathroom.

“Now this room” Regina said, holding the door closed, “is my pride and joy.” She swept the door open dramatically and Emma gasped. On one side of the bathroom were shelves and cupboards, a large sink and the toilet but the other side was what Emma envied. This side of the room had been cut in half. The side nearest to the door was enclosed in a large glass square. The little room inside was flat with two drains in the floor and a large rain showerhead on top and a spigot in the middle so water shot from two directions. Next to the enclosed shower, taking up the second half of this side, a glass half wall jutted square out of the floor. Looking closer she realized that no, it wasn’t a half wall but the lip of a tub, a large clear square glass bathtub. Large wasn’t quite the word for it; she was sure if she laid down in the middle of the tub she would be completely submerged and barely touching the top, bottom or sides, something between a bathtub and a spa. It looked like a beautifully carved and empty fish tank. She had never seen a clear bathtub before; there was something beautiful yet wildly sexy about the idea.

“I saw the idea online and I loved it.”

Emma was envious; she loved bathtubs and baths. They were one of those luxuries you only got when you had a house; otherwise the tub was a plastic cutout piece made to catch water but not to bath in. She had been trying to convince their new landlord to allow her to convert their shower into a stand-alone so she could add a huge old-fashioned claw footed bathtub. But in their city you paid for the water you used by the gallon so Hanna had always mournfully refused saying not only would the renovation cost a lot but the use of the tub would also weigh heavily on their pocketbooks. It was an irresponsible remodel.

Still whenever she and Hanna traveled together Emma was sure to request a hotel room with a huge bathtub, no matter the time of the year.

“I won’t lie. I hate you a little right now.” Emma told her and Regina laughed, familiarly.

“Don’t hate me, you’ll just have to borrow it.” Regina said, eyebrow waggling as if she wanted nothing more than for Emma to soak naked less than twenty feet from her bed. “Sorry, that was a little too flirtatious.”

When they left the bathroom Emma asked if she could look over her movie collection and Regina agreed.

Emma looked through both impressed and annoyed. “You’re missing a lot of essentials.”

Regina responded that Emma would indeed know.

“You know what this place really needs?”

“What?” Regina asked sitting on the large couch.

“A dog.”

Regina scoffed, “No way.”

“But Henry needs a dog! All little boys need a pet.”

“Have you ever known me to be a dog person, Em?”

“Alright, then a cat.”

Regina sighed, “I must confess, I have thought about it. As a matter of fact I think I pretty much have myself talked into it. Have you read the studies on children who are raised with pets? It’s fairly convincing. I have also read that if you are going to get one, get one while it and the child are still young. I just haven’t taken the time to do it.”

“You should do it, Ginny. I think you would love having a kitten. I really want one myself.”

“Why don’t you get one?”

“Hanna is a dog person and neither of us have time to train a dog.” She said simply.

“I don’t know, it seems so lonely to get a cat all by yourself.”

“You won’t be. You’ll be doing it with Henry.”

“Yes but,” Regina filtered, “Isn’t getting a pet something you do while in a couple?”

“Oh I don’t know.” Emma shrugged flopping onto the fluffy couch, “I think it’s something you do when you’re lonely. They’re good company, right?”

“And who says I’m lonely, Em?” Regina’s eyebrow rose, slowly in dry bluntness.

Emma blushed hard and stumbled through an apology.

Regina laughed somberly, “No, no I was just teasing. You were right the first time. I am lonely. Henry is wonderful but it’s not the same.”

“What about Ingrid? You’re lonely despite Ingrid?”

“You can be lonely while in a relationship. You’re lonely despite Hanna, are you not?”

Regina’s eyes felt like lasers as they watched her unwavering. Emma’s first reaction was to laugh Regina off or outright lie but instead she told the truth, “I didn’t think I was before but now I do. I have been lonely, in a way, since coming here too. Something is strange about Hanna recently I think. Perhaps we aren’t handling the separation well.”

Silence fell between them for a while as they laid on the comfortable couch.

“Why were you awake so early this morning?”

Emma shrugged, “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Is there a reason?”

Emma shook her head vaguely, “Thinking.”

“About?”

“Um, hey,” Emma changed the subject not wanting to discuss the issue, “Do you mind if I go make coffee?”

Regina said she would do it and started to rise but Emma pushed her back down, “You were on your feet all night. I’ll make it. Do you want a cup?”

It was so strange being here like this. How long should she stay?

She headed back up the stairs with two cups of coffee, tiptoeing as to not wake Henry.

“So what does your day look like?” Emma asked as she rounded the corner. “Gin?”

She wasn’t surprised by what she found.  Regina was completely asleep on the couch, her face lax, her hair flowing wildly over her arms and the couch. Emma smiled a little feeling warmth in her chest; she looked so at peace.

She debated what to do next. She should have known that Regina would fall asleep if she left her sitting on the couch. Should she wake her? Should she leave? She could simply lay down and take a nap next to her.

Regina had said she liked to stay up after working as she had the night before but Emma simply couldn’t bring herself to wake her. She had seemed so tired earlier.

If Emma was going to let her sleep then she should probably go home. The problem was Henry. She should stay and wait for him to wake. Give Regina a few hours, anyway.

She did, however, want to get out of her smelly clothing and take a shower. She wondered absently if Regina was serious when she offered her use of the bathtub.

The more she thought about soaking in the huge space the more appealing it sounded. She wasn’t completely sure that Regina wouldn’t mind but Regina had been making a clear effort to treat Emma as she used to. What would the Emma of five years ago done? She would have charged into the bathroom and taken an extra long bath without a second thought.

That made up her mind.

She tiptoed into Henry’s room to check on the boy. He was still deeply asleep so she slipped to the bathroom and ran the bath, stopping the tub and then skipping back to see if the noise would wake Regina. She was still on the couch out cold so Emma quickly jotted down a note for Regina, just in case she woke while Emma was in the bath. “I’m using your awesome bathtub and since you don’t get to see me naked anymore, stay out!”

Baby monitor in hand, she headed into the bathroom.

 


 

She added a few bath salts that were on the counter and took a moment to admire the steaming tub. If there was one thing Regina understood it was beauty in all things. She opened the window slightly to avoid the room overheating then she melted into the bath.

It was like heaven. Emma could lay comfortably without worrying about how to cover her entire body as she had to in her small bathtub at home, splashing water over her cold breast and knees until she angrily gave up. The hot water, though it hurt her skin slightly, was massaging to the tension she could feel in her entire body.

It was strange, she thought, how easy it was becoming friends with Regina again. It really wasn’t taking much for her to feel comfortable, at least mostly comfortable. Was this because of her discovery about how their time together could have - should have gone?

She looked over the edge of the tub and back through the clear wall at her thigh, which was growing pink in the heat and had to giggle. She loved this tub. She could only imagine what it would be like to walk into the bathroom and see someone lounging in it. She imagined the types of moments that could be had in a spa-like tub such as this. She couldn’t help but to imagine walking in on a beautiful faceless woman, tenderly touching herself, surrounded by steaming water and clear glass.

Emma splashed herself in the face.

No! Bad! No!

Resting her head along the sloped back of the tub, she forced herself to think of things that still needed to be done. Thanksgiving was in under a month, she should decide on what she was making. Before she had left New Orleans there had been a plan in place that Hanna would be flying into Portland the morning of her birthday. She would spend the day with Emma and then drive to Boston for her meeting. Once the meeting was through Hanna would then drive back to Storybrooke to spend Thanksgiving with Emma’s friends and family. Was that still happening?

She thought about Thanksgiving dishes for a few moments and decided once she had Henry she would look up a few recipes. The idea of making herself feel at home in Regina’s house was awkward but if they were going to return to the friendship they once had, then Emma thought she should just ignore the feeling until it went away.

As she relaxed her mind began to drift to wedding plans. She wished that Hanna had been able to talk earlier. She wondered what Hanna would say if she were there with her now. She pictured Hanna for a second there in the doorway. She would have something sexy to say that much Emma knew. Her insides squirmed a little as she thought about the response that she would like Hanna to have. She thought of Hanna slowing down, carefully pulling off her jeans and her tee shirt and slipping into the bath with her; it was easily big enough for that to happen if the two were willing to lay close. She thought of her kissing her, touching her, running her hands down her thighs.

Hey body pressed into her, resting itself over her, teasing her nipples and running a wet nose down her jaw. When Hanna pulled back in order to kiss her face she saw the pouted tilt of Regina’s lip, her eyes burning with intensity. She sighed into the hot air.  Regina trailed kisses across her skin, leaving lipstick smudges on her chest and -

She began to choke.

She sat upright quickly frantically wiping the water from her face and blowing it out of her nose. She had clearly fallen asleep and slipped under the water.

She glanced at the clock; it had been just over an hour. When her scrambled heart rate returned to normal, she lazily washed her hair and skin then lifted herself out, toweled off and let the water from the tub drain. She picked up the monitor and listened closely catching faint coos and grunts. He was clearly awake and happily playing.

Only then did she realize, unhappily, that she didn’t have anything else to wear but her sweaty nasty workout clothing. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She wouldn’t have bathed if she had realized. She pulled on her pants and then wondered if she could sneak into Regina’s room and borrow a sweater. That’s what she would have done five years ago, was it wrong to do it now? She thought of Regina getting into her own bed with her the other night and decided fuck it.

Towel wrapped around her bare upper half she tiptoed back to be sure that Regina was still asleep then headed back to the bedroom.

She pulled open the top drawer and leafed through it for a second before deciding it was all underwear and closed it. There had been far too much lace in there for Emma to think clearly. She shook her head, refusing to let her mind go there she opened the second and third drawer riffling through until she found a drawer of comfortable clothes. So Regina did have some normal clothes. Now to find a long sleeve. She did and slipping it on over her bare skin was something of a thrill for a moment, knowing her skin was touching where Regina’s had. She had to laugh at herself and move on. She was only human and perhaps a silly human at that.

She double checked that the door to the den was closed and then went to Henry. They spent the day together, laughing and cuddling. Emma tried desperately to get the boy to learn her name but it was impossible. He was months away from talking at all.

When she grew hungry around dinnertime she went to the fridge and found it had very little in it, a few steaks, some fruit, a couple of condiments and a bottle of wine.

She decided to make dinner. She grabbed Regina’s keys and leaving another note, she and Henry went to the store.

Regina was still asleep when she got back so Emma started cooking. She had to be honest and admit a large part of why she wanted to cook was the kitchen. It was large and easy to maneuver, much like one that could be found in a magazine.

Henry sat happily pounding away on the tray of his high chair and trying to eat the corner of his book.

Her phone rang as she was cutting the potatoes and she jumped for it, hoping it wasn’t so loud that it reached Sleeping Beauty upstairs but was pleased when she saw that it was Hanna.

She told Hanna in a cheerful whisper where she was and what she was doing.

“Oh,” Hanna said surprised, “That’s good I guess. How um, how is Regina?”

“She’s doing well, I think.”

Hanna was silent for a moment, “Why are you whispering?”

“Regina’s asleep. She worked for like forty hours over the last forty-eight so she’s pretty tired. She fell asleep and I didn’t have the heart to wake her up.”

“Forty hours, wow, and you call me a workaholic.”

“Okay, Hanna. What the hell is with you? You’ve been so rude. What the hell is wrong?”

“Are you just hanging out in her house?”

“Someone needed to watch Henry. Answer my question.”

“Have you noticed how on my ass you have been?”

“Because you’ve been like this!”

“What are you making?” It took Emma a moment to answer. She had to wrap her head around Hanna’s complete dismissal of her question.

“Steaks and potatoes.”

“I miss your cooking.”

“Hanna will you please stop acting like I didn’t say anything.”

“Fine. Alright. I guess I’m grumpy because I know you’re pissed at me.”

“What?”

“On Halloween. I didn’t stay sober.”

“Yes.” Emma’s tone was somber.

“Yeah, I thought you would have known. Honestly I wasn’t even trying to hide it.”

“Hanna-”

“No, no, that sounded bad. What I mean is, I wasn’t trying to hide it because honestly I forgot. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m sure you could tell that I hadn’t stayed sober and I’m sure that worried you.”

A breath of fresh air poured through Emma. This sounded like her Hanna. It was good to hear from her again. “Perhaps the best thing to do is to just try and remember to take it slow until we are both in the same city and can work on this together.”

“I guess so. Are you mad?”

“No, I’m not mad.”

“Promise?”

“No. I’m mad. You hurt me. You hurt me because you were drunk. That means you’re dangerous Hanna. I am not okay. I need to see that you’re really committed to this.”

“I am. I will. You’ll see. What do you mean you’re not okay?”

“What? Hanna what do you mean, what do I mean? Nothing has been okay. You left bruises on my body. You’ve been treating me like shit. Plus, all of the other stuff. How am I supposed to be okay? I don’t recognize you right now!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be terrible. I will fix it. We have hit rough patches before.”

“Yes.” Now Emma was doubting herself. Had she been making it all up? Had she turned one bad event into a strange decline in their relationship? “I think when you’re not with a person you can suddenly begin to question everything in your life.”

“That doesn’t sound good. What does that mean?”

“I don’t know Hanna, I feel so old here and I don’t think it’s because I am old. I think it’s because I’ve been living the life of a twenty-seven year old who lives the life of a twenty-two year old.”

“What? Hey!” Hanna cried immediately defensive.

“No, listen to me before you get upset. I’m not criticizing you.” She did her very best to keep her tone calm and kind. If Hanna became too angry she simply wouldn’t hear anything Emma was trying to say. “I’m just saying that I’m realizing being here that we do so much that others our age don’t do. It’s not altogether bad; I love your free spirit. I just feel as though we should be on the way to other things in life.”

“You’re going to bring up kids now aren’t you?”

“Not just kids. There is so much more!”

The doorbell in the background of Hanna’s end rang.

“No, Hanna!”

“Yes, but hey, I think my friends are here.”

“Hanna please don’t go yet.”

“It’s not my fault that people came over, Swan.”

“Okay, fine. Please, will you plan some time in your day to have a real talk with me?”

“Sure. Of course.”

A strange feeling of cold abandonment settled on her as she watched the call disconnect. She had thought for a minute there that things were going to get better. When was the last time she had actually been able to keep Hanna on the phone?

The meal was nearly ready when suddenly there was a shrill yell from upstairs, “Henry?” Emma heard Regina’s feet heavy on the stairs.

There was something in Regina’s voice that the boy didn’t like because in response he puckered up his face and began to wail.

“We’re down here!” Emma called, pulling him out of his highchair.

“Ingrid?” Regina called, confused.

Emma scowled, she hadn’t considered that Regina would assume Ingrid was making a surprise visit, “No,” she called, “It’s just me.”

“Emma?” She sounded even more confused.

“Yup.”

Emma shook the frown off and smiled as Regina rounded the corner, rubbing her face, “Why didn’t you wake me up? Have you been here all day?” Regina’s face was red and the pattern of the fabric stood out brightly against it.

“I couldn’t wake you up.” Emma explained hiding her laughter “You seemed so tired but yes, I’ve been here.”

Regina smiled warmly at her and took Henry into her arms, “You didn’t need to make me dinner!”

“I’m not making you dinner, I’m making me dinner. There are just extras. I guess you can have them if you really want them.”

Regina rolled her eyes.

 


 

She expected to text message Regina in a day or two to spend some more time together but Regina was downstairs with a cup of coffee when Emma woke up the next morning. The following day Emma spent devoted purely to wedding plans, deciding on and ordering the bridesmaid’s dresses, sending out the wedding invitations, watching video after video of wedding bands and deciding on the location of the rehearsal dinner. Regina showed up in the early evening. Not to be distracted, Emma asked the moment Regina walked into the living room, “So should I plan on you coming to the wedding now, Ginny?”

Regina still didn’t look sure of herself as she thought, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me but no, I still don’t think I’m going to come.” Emma looked up, her eyebrows shooting into her hairline. “Not trying to make waves. Lets just say that I have my reasons.”

“Okay, I can accept that - I guess.”

The next morning Regina showed up for breakfast and Emma could see a pattern beginning.

 

 

Chapter Text

Screaming from the front room made both Emma and Regina jump to their feet in a mutual panic. They had been discussing the pros and cons of dinner at Granny’s versus dinner at home but suddenly it seemed as if they would be sharing a heart attack instead of a meal.

Emma’s tiny mother came flying in, as much as she could that is while carrying a huge box crying “IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE!”

Emma relaxed when she understood, then tensed from her head to her toes for completely different reasons.

Her dress was here.

Shit, that had been really fucking fast. She had assumed it would take longer and therefore she would have nothing to hide by the time it got here. Reflexively she shoved her arms deep into her pockets and smiled, awkwardly at Regina as other worries outside of her bruises crashed down on her as well. Oh god, her dress was here! What if it didn’t fit right? What if it looked terrible on her? What if she had gained or lost weight? What had she been thinking ordering a dress online? Was she stupid?

“I’LL CALL RUBY! I’LL CALL RUBY!” her mother continued at top volume, depositing the box on the table so gently it seemed to be laced with bombs.

“Are you alright?” Regina touched her shoulder, “You look like you aren’t feeling well.”

“Oh,” Emma laughed breathily, “yeah, just, uh, just nervous.”

“What is it?”

“My dress.”

“I see. Why is your mom calling Ruby?”

“It’s stupid. They made me promise I would try it on for them when it got here.”

“That’s not stupid, Em. That sounds fun. Do you mind if I stay?”

“Not at all.” Emma said hesitating, the butterflies suddenly returning. “But I actually can’t try it on. Ma! Ma! Don’t call Ruby. I can’t try it on today.”

“RUBY WILL BE HERE IN FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!” Mary yelled running back in.

Emma grabbed her mother as she threatened to whiz by again, “Mom, mom, calm down!”

“Oh!” Mary laughed flustered and kissed her cheek, “I’m just excited. It’s not every day I see my child in a wedding dress.”

“Well mom, you’re going to have to wait a few more days.”

“What?” her mother’s face fell.

“I uh, I still have five pounds I need to lose. It won’t fit me right.”

Her mother laughed, “Oh don’t be silly.”

“No, really. We should wait.”

“Emma! I want to see you in the dress. I have been so excited. Please go put it on.”

Her mother rushed off toward the kitchen leaving Emma with Regina. Their friendship had been coming along nicely but without warning a thick layer of awkward and been released between them, the only sound was Henry as he babbled in Regina’s arms. Emma smiled a little but found she had nothing to say to Regina just then. She excused herself muttering that if she was going to do it then she might as well do it right.

Regina nodded lightly.

Talking about the wedding was still not something they could do easily.

She peeled off her clothes and studied her arm. Enough time had passed now that it wasn’t the exact handprint that it had been, now in shades of yellow, green and blue. The long bruise on her shoulder was spreading, as it broke apart into a strange tie-dye of colors. Her dress was a long sleeve, she could pull this off.

She took her time in the shower thinking about her ‘beautiful dress’, the thing that was supposed to make her more beautiful than she had ever been before. It was the dress that all other dresses would be compared to in her life but instead she was worrying about covering bruises.

 

The number of bottles of champagne that waited on the table in the kitchen when Emma came down for the dress was comical. Ruby squealed excitedly as she entered, declaring that she was “so excited.”

Emma took the offered glass of champagne and smiling asked her mother, “Mama, will you do my make up? Like you used to when I was a kid?”

Mary put her glass down, her hand flying to her chest tears welling immediately, touched. Mary took her hand and kissed her.

They traveled up to Mary’s bathroom, Regina and Ruby giggling like schoolgirls, bringing enough spare bottles of champagne to knock all of them on their asses for a solid twenty-four hour period.

Sloshed with nostalgia Emma hopped up on the bathroom counter, smiling from ear to ear.

She could make this work and despite her worry, she was slightly excited. Regina must have felt a surge of nostalgia as well because though it was much tighter than when they were children, she scooted onto the counter next to Emma, tossing one high-heeled leg over the other as she sat.

They smiled at one another; silently sharing the memories of all of the times they had been on the counter together before. Emma didn’t protest when Regina softly took her hand, intertwining her fingers.

“Well I can’t promise that I am very good at this, your makeup person will do it better. How do you plan on doing you makeup, dear?” her mother asked, readying her tools.

“I don’t know.” Emma looked between them uncertainly, “Pretty?”

All three rolled their eyes.

They talked quietly of wedding day plans as her mother worked, the whole time Emma’s stomach fluttering nervously. It took a surprisingly short amount of time before Mary put down her powder sponge and stepped away.

“Wow Em.” Ruby said looking awestruck.

“Am I done?”

“Done.”

“How do I look?” Emma asked Regina in a surprisingly soft and vulnerable voice then frowned at Regina’s fluttering eyelashes. She looked as though she suddenly realized she forgot her keys in her locked car. “Gin?”

Regina seemed to steady and smiled, “You look beautiful.”

Emma felt the light flush across her skin as she took the compliment.

“Okay.” Emma hopped down, butterflies speeding around her insides, “Someone bring me the box and the rest of you out. I’ll do - something, I don’t know - with my hair. Then I’ll change.”

Mary returned a few moments later and Emma closed the door. She took a deep breath, steadying herself and looked into the mirror. Her heart was pounding and she was a little sick. Was it just the bruises? No. What was it?

Pulling off her jeans and sweater she tried her hair in an updo and then down before settling on the updo. She could hear the other three sitting on Mary’s bed laughing but she felt so distant from them.

Snap out of it, Emma. Come on. This is supposed to be great. This

When her hair was done she checked it twice before timidly opening the box.

The dress smelled of new fabric and something floral like Lavender. Reverently she ran her hand over the dress, relishing the feel of the soft lace. She loved the dress; it was everything her little girl mind could have dreamed up - if it had dreamed of weddings and dresses. The dress was long, slightly mermaid styled, with a layer of white fabric that hugged her body tightly before falling away at the knees. Over the white fabric was a lightly cream colored layer of lace that hugged the body tightly. It was beautiful, classy, sexy and elegant all at once. She took a moment the cover her secret bruises with makeup, to lessen the effect and was pleased with the outcome. If anyone could still spot it through the bare lace of the arms she would just tell them she fell on the cliffs.

Slowly, carefully, she stepped into the dress and pulled it on, only, crap.

“Ma? I need you.”

Mary slipped in and laughed at her daughter's predicament. The dress was littered with buttons from the back of her neck to the very top of her rear. It took them ten minutes to get it done but then the dress was on before her mother, refusing to look at her as not to ruin the first viewing, slipped out the door.

Looking in the mirror Emma felt a caress of awe hit her. She didn’t know who the blonde beauty in the mirror was but she envied her.

A wave of girlish joy washed over her and she spun a little and giggled as the dress fanned out from her legs.

This was kind of great! She was embarrassed, yes and she felt silly but...she also felt very pretty.

“Okay, are you ready?” She called through the door and the women squealed. “Okay, here we go.” she took a deep breath, heart pounding hollowly and stepped out.  

Their squeals died almost instantly converting into gasps and oohs and awes.

“What do you think?”

“Oh honey,” her mother breathed, “You look beautiful.”

She stood feeling incredibly self-conscious and looked to the other two. Ruby, eyes wide, looked dumbfounded and Regina, her fingers just touching her lips in surprise looked - was it wrong to say she looked slightly nauseous?

“Well?” Both women came to life jumping up and agreeing wholeheartedly that it was a beautiful dress.

She looked over the dress again noticing now that it could use some tightening around the knee. When she looked up Ruby seemed to be having a silent conversation with Regina. Emma looked away immediately as to not intrude but the butterflies returned. Was something wrong or was this hard for Regina? Perhaps she should have waited until Regina left.

Just incase it was the dress she asked, “Ma, will you look over the dress? I think the knee needs to be tightened but anything else?”

Her mother did a thorough search taking her time but swore she found nothing else.

“I’m going to get my camera!” Mary chimed disappearing. Ruby followed insisting that she needed her phone for a photograph as well.

“You’re not saying anything.” Emma said softly, trying and failing to avoid into those coffee eyes.

Regina smiled slowly, almost lazily and wordlessly cupped Emma’s cheek.

Her hand was warm against Emma’s face and she smiled a bit. Still, there was something she couldn’t put her finger on. She could feel a soft tug in their invisible tether that bound one to the other. When had the tether returned?

Regina opened her mouth to speak but her mother bounced into the room with her cell phone.

Regina smiled and released her stepping away and whatever it was that Emma had been sensing was washed away by the sea of photographs taken by her mother and her leggy best friend.

Henry began to cry in his Packn’ Play and Mary started off toward him.

“Will somebody help me get this off?” She asked Ruby and Regina.

They both started and followed her into the bathroom.

“A lot of buttons, what have they never heard of a zipper?” Regina mumbled, going to work while Ruby sat snapping pictures.

Emma flushed. This was not really a picture moment.

“So I was thinking,” Regina started as her fingers found the first buttons at the back of her neck, “that maybe we should drive into Portland tonight and go out. You’re all dolled up.”

“Oh! That’d be fun!” Ruby nodded, snapping another shot.

“Sure. What would we do?”

“I’m not sure. What would you like to do?”

“Um,” Emma’s flesh went hot, sidetracking her thoughts as she felt Regina’s fingers at the top of her shoulders. “Do, do you want to go dancing or are we talking about dinner?”

“Um well. I suppose dinner. Perhaps there is a show we could see.”

“Hmm.” Emma nodded, staring at the floor and trying not to feel the butterfly light caress of Regina’s fingers as they did their work.

“Do you mean theatre or like a band or something?” Ruby asked, scrolling through the already taken photos. “Em, do you want a picture for Hanna? Of you in the dress I mean.”

“No. No need.”

“I uh,” Regina blinked a few times trying to answer Ruby’s question, “Oh, I missed one. There you go, uh. I’m not sure, Rubes.”

Ruby looked up, surprised by the thick note in Regina’s voice. Her brows furrowed and then rose; Regina’s cheeks were flushed as she looked only at her working hands while Emma stood still as a post, holding up the slowly falling dress, eyes trained tightly but glassily on the floor.

Whoa. Ruby realized she had been missing something while she looked at her phone.

“Should I see what’s happening in Portland tonight?”

Regina’s eyebrows bunched slightly, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

Emma’s skin was sensitive to every breath. Her heartbeat had started to slowly pick up it’s pace into a light canter.

Fingers brushed between her shoulder blades and Emma was sure, as the dress fell away from her back a few inches that she heard a soft intake of breath.

She closed her eyes, her head swimming.

Another button fell away and then another.

Regina’s knuckles brushed against her skin and Regina let out a breathy laugh, “There’s so many buttons.” she mumbled. Emma smiled, her heart picking up a bit more.

Every small touch sent a shock of electricity straight through Emma, fogging her mind.

Mid back Regina laughed again, tense, sending a burst of hot air over Emma’s skin.

Emma sighed.

She could feel the slight brush of Regina’s cuffs. She could feel the heat radiating off of Regina’s body, painfully aware of just how close Regina was.

She clutched tightly at the front of the dress as Regina silently made her way down to her lower back.

She was so close that Emma could feel each inhale and exhale on her skin, making her dizzy and blocking out all else.

The bathroom around them had disappeared, the noise of the baby downstairs had fallen away and all they were aware of was Regina’s fingers and Emma’s skin.

Regina’s finger caught in one of the small loopholes and she gasped, hand dancing to get free. In the process she brushed Emma’s bare skin and Emma shivered, her eyes closing. Regina’s breath caught as she picked up a rhythm again.

Emma began to feel a light tickle around her shoulders and neck. The feeling was overwhelming. Without meaning to, Emma leaned back slightly into the sensation and felt Regina’s breath hot on her skin as slowly, concentrating on the buttons she let her head drop gently to the back of Emma’s neck.

Emma gasped at the contact, her entire body tingling, hyper focusing on the feeling of Regina on her skin, dizzy headed, pulling in quick silent breaths.

The fingers slowed their work until they stilled on the last few buttons just before Emma’s underwear line.

Emma was all too aware of her bare skin, stretched out before Regina, her bare breast only hidden by the strip of fabric.

Regina’s breath caught as she popped the last few buttons, her body a breath away from Emma’s skin, her finger resting lightly in the first hint of Emma’s rear.

Emma gasped as slowly, Regina’s finger traced a line up Emma’s spine, her chin meeting her chest as she spasmed slightly against Regina’s carefully balanced head. The fingers slowly turned into a flat palm as Regina pushed the lace of the dress over her shoulder and down off her arm leaving Emma’s side and breast bare. Neither saw the sudden exposure, both stood, absorbing, with their eyes closed.

Slowly Regina’s hand slipped under the fabric at her ribs and Emma’s breath hitched before coming to a complete stop, feeling the warm palm slide over her stomach.

A small whimper played at Emma’s lips as the fingers tightened around her opposite ribs, thumb lightly grazing the under swell of her breast, holding her securely.

Softly, tender light Emma felt Regina’s lips brush between her shoulder blades.

Her knees buckled slightly, her head a mass of dizzying Lavender scented fog.

The lips came again, more securely, kissing the skin, her tongue flicking out lightly taking a small taste of Emma’s skin.

Whoa!” Regina’s hands were gone, her body yanked away so suddenly that Emma had to grab the counter to remain upright. “What the hell?” Regina cried, her hands in the air as if begging not to be arrested.

“I uh,” Emma’s panicked and guilty eyes found her face in the mirror, “I’m sorry. Emma. That dress is...magic. I’m sorry. I got caught in the moment. I’m very sorry.”

“No! It’s okay! Don’t worry about it! I understand.” Emma gushed, clutching the dress to cover herself again. Where was Ruby? When had she disappeared?

Regina filtered, “What happened?”

“What?”

Regina softly touched the fading bruise at Emma’s exposed shoulder and then grabbed Emma’s wrist.

It wasn’t very sore anymore but she gasped anyway and yelped, “Hey!”

“What happened?”

Emma laughed a plastic chuckle, trying to pull her arm back “I just fell on the cliff.”

Regina refused to give Emma’s arm back to her and with a cool professional eye closed her hand around her wrist perfectly in line with the bruise. Her eyebrows furrowed, her nose crinkling slightly as she thought. Then with expert precision she twisted so that her fingers slid along with the bruises pattern. When she looked up at Emma her eyes were on fire, “Emma.”

“I just had a little accident on the cliff. Don’t worry about it. Really.”

“Emma.”

“Seriously. Let it go. It’s no big deal.”

Regina released Emma, calculating.

“I know that look. Stop it.”

“Emma, someone grabbed you. And from the looks of it,” Regina studied Emma’s shoulder for a moment, “punched you. Is this why you didn't want to try your dress on?”

Emma forced a laugh, “No one punched me. Who the hell would punch me? Okay, maybe Ruby but she didn’t. And the only reason why I was grabbed was to keep me from face planting in the mud. Now, go. I need to get dressed.”

She unceremoniously shoved Regina out of the door, trying to ignore the look, which told her that Regina wasn’t buying any of this.

 


 

A week later Emma wished she had taken a picture of herself in the dress.

No, Hanna wasn’t supposed to see her in the dress as tradition dictated but she would have loved to send it to her anyway. Perhaps it would make Hanna pick up the damn phone.

The last thing that Emma had heard from Hanna was in text message form. It had been a message that simply stated that Hanna was unable to go on her thanksgiving trip as she had a huge new case so she probably would be out of reach for a day or two.

This had been eight days before; one day after she had tried on her dress, one day after Regina had discovered the bruises that Emma was so pointedly refusing to talking about.

She was worried; actually to be accurate, she was past worried and she was now very much onto panic. Emma had called Hanna frustrated. She had called her in tears. She had begged for a simple five minutes. She had done everything except threaten to call in a missing person.

She knew that something was happening with Hanna. All of the tight bands of tension had slipped into place and remained for days now.

The strange sensation of something she had forgot would not slip away. She had a feeling that she knew this behavior, though she couldn’t place it. All she knew was that Hanna had never once completely avoided her this way, especially not in the name of work and Emma was getting scared.

She needed to talk to her. They had never gone this long without speaking and Hanna had never and would never miss Emma’s birthday. Emma was picturing the worst, kidnappings and alien abductions, anything to explain the sudden changes. The drinking. The working out. The disappearing act.

This was so poorly timed - she didn’t know what to tell Regina. She needed Hanna’s help; no one was better at on the spot yet fully convincing lies. She needed Hanna to tell her what to do!

 

She tried her again but the phone went to voicemail instantly this time. She stared down at the labeled name in her phone, nauseated by the parenthesized number twenty-three next to it.

Twenty-three. That’s how many times that Emma had called Hanna since she had vanished without a trace.

Over the panic and the fear in a thin frosty layer was her white-hot fury. How dare Hanna just disappear for over a week! This was not how a relationship worked and it was not how their relationship would work.

Emma was not okay with this.

Unless of course Hanna was mugged one morning on her way to the gym and was lying dead in some abandoned Katrina house…

She had come to realize that the only time she felt as if she could get off the rollercoaster between the want to scream and the want to cry was when she was with Regina.

Regina numbed the worry….when she wasn’t thinking about her lips brushing her back or her long fingers slipping under her dress that is.

Of course she had been careful to avoid the subject of Hanna for the past week.

She typed a quick message and sent it, “I can’t handle this silence Hanna. If I don’t hear from you by tomorrow then I am going to send search and rescue to the house.”

She didn’t mean it and she knew Hanna wouldn’t believe it.

Hanna’s response was so quick that it made her jump, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m fine I just can’t talk right now. I will have more time to talk in Boston.”

Emma called. A response that quick meant that Hanna was with her phone but as it had so many times over the past week the phone just went to voicemail.

“AUGH!” She cried and without thinking threw her phone into the couch pillows. She couldn’t believe this. She had no idea what to do with this. It had been a series, one after the other, of new and uncomfortable from Hanna.

She was tired of it.

She hiccupped and then the frustrated tears came. She wasn’t a crier. She hated to cry. It was weak and silly. But right now she didn’t have it in her to hide them away. Her mother was gone for the afternoon so she nestled into the crook of the couch and angrily worried as the tears dripped.

It seemed as though things had been going downhill for them since she had come home to Storybrooke. Hanna felt more and more distant to her, like she was part of another life that was slowly but steadily slipping from Emma’s grip. This was clearly true for Hanna as well; otherwise she never would have gone for so long without speaking to her. Was she pulling away from Hanna or was Hanna pulling away from her? What was happening to her relationship? She felt as though it was disappearing and Emma couldn’t figure out where the hell it was going.

Being with Hanna had always felt easy. She was fun. It was simple to talk to her. Though Hanna tended to only have bubble gum advice to give when Emma had a problem she had always been helpful in making her feel better. They had always been happy-ish. The relationship was beginning to feel so complicated. It was beginning to feel strange to think that she was marrying Hanna soon because Hanna was beginning to feel like a fictional character, abstract. She should have never come to Storybrooke. If she hadn’t then she wouldn’t be here, feeling as though she was losing the one person who stood by her for all of these years. The only thing that was really and only hers.

Emma was still sitting on the couch crying when Regina let herself in without so much as a knock, comfortable once more in the Nolan house as she used to be growing up. As a matter of fact she flew in before Emma realized she was there and for a moment Emma just sat looking guilty.

A frown crest Regina’s face and she sat pulling her to her with only the smallest of hesitations. Emma let her head fall into her lap and slowly; softly Regina began to rub her head and back. This was something Mary had always done for both of them when they were sick or upset and both found it extremely comforting.

“What’s wrong?”

Emma scowled and turned over so her face was pressed into Regina’s stomach, finding relief in the darkness. She couldn’t discuss Hanna’s weird behavior with Regina.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Emma shook her head sniffing her nose, “Definitely not.”

What did Hanna mean she would have more time in Boston? Did that mean she was coming after all? Was she coming to Storybrooke or simply to Boston?

November 22nd was Emma’s thirtieth birthday. Hanna was supposed to fly in to Portland that morning; a small party was to be held that night and then Hanna would return to Boston for her meeting. Then Hanna would travel back to Storybrooke for Thanksgiving. How much of that was still happening? She clung to the thought of seeing Hanna in person. She would spend an hour giving her the worst tongue lashing of their relationship about all of the weirdness and then they would sit and talk whatever the problem was out. She needed that to be more than just a fantasy.

And oh, she missed Hanna and she was beginning to hate that fact.

Regina nodded and clicked on the TV ready to wait for Emma to either feel better or to feel like talking.

Finally, after an episode of Unwrapped and How it’s Made, Emma sat back against the couch and studied the woman next to her. As always the moment Regina had entered the room her hurt was slowly been replaced with a warm agreeable feeling, comparable to sitting in the afternoon spring sun. How was it possible that she always did this so easily?

“Ginny” Emma shifted a little.

“Hanna isn’t coming for your birthday.”

Emma stopped thunderstruck.

“Ruby and I have a bit of a wager going. It would appear I won. I guess I don’t think the best of her overall,” Regina admitted seeing the confusion on her face, “so I assumed. I apologize.”

Emma frowned stifling the waterworks that wanted to start up all over again, “Well you’re right; or you might be right, I’m not sure. She texted me last week saying she couldn’t make the trip but then today she made a comment about being in Boston. I don’t know.”

“She hasn’t explained?”

“I haven’t been able to get ahold of her.” She hesitated, “For eight days.”

“Emma!” Regina chastised and she knew what she meant. This was not okay behavior in a relationship and shame on her for putting up with it.

“I know, I know. I’m fucking worried.” Regina’s lips pursed just slightly as Emma ran both hands through her hair. “To be fair, she told me she just took on a huge case and might be unreachable for a little bit. I’ve seen her completely cut herself off from her friends before when she has a big case but never me.” She could see words swirling behind Regina’s eyes so hurried on so as to not allow her to speak.

“Wow, Em.”

“I’m sure it’s the case but I don’t like not having any answers.”

“Do you think that’s all it is?”

“I kind of thought she might be in a ditch somewhere but she texted me this morning. I’m also really frustrated because I already did all of the shopping for Thanksgiving. I have this huge meal sitting in my kitchen waiting to be cooked.” She finished lamely.

“Does that mean that you don’t want to do the big dinner thing if Hanna isn’t in town?”

“Oh. I don’t know. It kind of seemed like everyone was cutting time out in their schedules because Hanna was going to be here. I assumed if she wasn’t then people would do the things they actually, you know, needed to.” Emma shrugged.

“I think what I would do if it were me is I would find out as best you can if she is coming to Boston or not. If she is then I would meet her for dinner. Have a birthday celebration there.” Emma could see anger in the corner of Regina’s eyes. It had been this way for a while now, any mention of Hanna sent little Devil’s dancing there. She was sure this meant that Regina had made up her mind about Hanna and not necessarily for the better. She was sure it meant that Regina knew where those bruises had come from on her wrist.

“Perhaps you should see what she is doing all day. I’ve been meaning to take a day and go down there; did you know Ingrid has never been to Boston?”

Emma’s mood darkened, she hadn’t seen a lot of Ingrid but she had babysat earlier in the week so they could go out. “Really?”

“Really. Perhaps the three of us should see the sights and in the evening you could meet Hanna for dinner.”

The thought seemed like a smart one. She pulled out her phone and sent Hanna another text message.

“Hanna, I’m not sure if you’re still coming into Storybrooke before Boston but if you aren’t then I am coming down to Boston for dinner. We need to talk about whatever is going on. Let me know please.”

“Come on.” Regina said abruptly, standing and offering Emma her hand.

“What?”

“Let’s go get Henry.”

 


 

Regina was laughing at her; openly laughing at her.

“I’m glad you think it’s so funny! She grumped and received another face full of water.

Regina laughed harder, holding her stomach and doubling over.

Henry saw his mother laughing and so he started to laugh, slapping the water and sending sprays across the kitchen floor and covering Emma.

“You know, you could take a turn at this.”

“Oh no,” Regina shook her head, taking a step away, “You are doing such a wonderful job. You’ve done such a wonderful job all night.”

“Uhhuh.” Emma grumbled.

Tonight had been Henry’s first taste of solid foods.

Emma hadn’t been able to tell who was more excited as they cooked up the small batch of pears and wait for it to cool.

Emma had spent the better part of an hour dancing around the kitchen with the hungry, angry boy singing him songs and keeping him in motion. In motion he laughed, sitting still meant death.

Finally the food had cooled and Emma had placed him in his high chair.

“Are you ready, my little prince?” Regina asked him, making an overly happy face that made Henry beam.

“Okay, let's go.”

Emma had recorded the first moment for her mother and then danced in the background, jealousy raging. She wanted to feed him!

At first Henry had just tried to grab the spoon, not understanding but with some help from Emma they got the spoon to his lips.

His face had been priceless. There had been so much shock and confusion there that both women had nearly fallen over laughing.

He had shrieked with happiness and then finished the entire bowl.

As a prize Emma had been given the, what she thought would be fun, task of giving the boy a bath.

She hadn’t understood why Regina had changed into a pair of yoga pants and a stretchy shirt until she had placed Henry in the water.

He had let out a kettle whistle and immediately started slapping the water with his palms. Emma had been soaked within seconds.

Now she stood water dripping from her limp hair, tee shirt soaked but she couldn't force herself to take him out of the water.

He was just so damned happy!

Finally Regina had to make her, handing her a towel with a lion face for a hood to wrap him in.

Emma melted.

She burritoed the squirming boy, drying him and then carried his little naked body upstairs to the changing table.

It was late, past the boy’s bedtime and he was beginning to fuss.

“Oh don’t do this to me kid.” Emma spoke soothingly as she groped for a diaper in the changing table. “You don’t want to cry. Really you don’t!”

She slipped a diaper on him with a newly developed expert's hand and watched his face begin to crumble.

“No, really, you don’t want to.’ She wrapped him quickly in the fluffy bathrobe next to the changing table and headed into the den.

When Regina came up a few minutes later she found Emma and her son sitting on the couch, Emma singing lightly ‘her eyes get gray and clouudy, then the rain begins to pour. Pitter patter, pitter patter, love is gone what can matter - what?”

Regina’s face was unreadable to Emma, as it seemed to always be these days. She blushed, “He was fussy. He likes it when I sing. Do you sing to him often?”

Regina just shook her head smiling secretly.

Emma grinned and welcomed Regina as she sat beside her, “I think it’s your voice that he likes. Look.” The boy had been dozing but once Emma’s voice had stopped his eyes had begun to flutter awake again.

“Keep singing.”

Emma paused, embarrassed but the feeling only lasted a moment before she began to sing again, ”People used to love to see her laugh, see her smile. That’s how she got her name.”

Regina stroked the boy’s back and let her head fall onto Emma’s shoulder.

“Since that sad affair. She looost her smile, changed her style. Somehow she’s not the same.”

Regina sighed curling into Emma’s side, “This is nice.”

“Mmm.” Emma sighed, cuddling the warm little body to her.

 

Her phone rang.

“It’s Hanna.”

“What?”

Emma sat up, the boy on her chest waking a bit and grumbling, “Will you take him?”

Regina nodded, not bothering to hide her annoyance that their happy little moment had been ruined.

“I know, I’m sorry. But I haven’t heard from her in a week. What if she’s in the hospital?”

“But she isn’t. You heard from her this morning.” Regina pointed out.

“Regina.”

Regina waved her off with a brisk flick of her hand, looking down at Henry and avoiding eye contact.

Emma debated but eventually left the room to take the call. Excitement pumped through her. Maybe the call meant that Hanna would still be flying into Portland the morning after next.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Hanna said sounding weak.

Emma’s anger turned to bile, oh god, she had been hurt! “Oh my god. What’s wrong?”

With a shuddering sigh Hanna burst into tears and wailed, “I’m going to get fired!”

Okay, that had not been what she was expecting. “What?”

“Johnson is going to get me fired!”

“Whoa, whoa, no way. Start over?”

Chokingly Hanna told her about her failing case and her attack dog boss who was threatening to fire her for incompetence. She didn’t settle for another forty-five minutes.

“I’m not even lead on the case, I don’t know how I can be at fault. Also on top of all of it,” Hanna stuttered, “I have had the flu for a week.”

“Oh.” Emma cooed, yearning for a few minutes at home with Hanna. She was still upset but suddenly it made sense way she had been so distant. “I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time. Is there anything I can do?”

“No. I’m just so worried, if this case gets tossed they actually might fire me.”

“No,” she tried, “they will understand, they have to. You have proof that Johnson has been the one fucking you over, you have the email he sent you with the wrong time and address.”

“Yes, but how can I show it to them without looking like a whiny tattletale baby?”

“Who gives a fuck? If it comes down to getting fired or sounding like a tattletale, which would you rather? Print the email out and keep it in your briefcase just incase.”

Hanna sniffed loudly, “You’re right.”

Hanna rarely cried so when she did it broke Emma’s heart.

“I’m sorry babe.”

“It’s all right.” Hanna sighed deeply, “How are you?”

Emma laughed bitterly, some of the surprise of Hanna’s tears washing away as she remembered her anger, “Honestly, not very good.”

“Why?”

“Hanna, I haven’t heard from you in eight days. I was beginning to wonder – well never mind but what the hell, this hasn’t been okay. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Hanna began to cry again, “I’m sorry I just, I had – I’m sorry it won’t happen again. I was just very busy. It was always too late or too early to call.”

“Next time please call anyway. You can’t imagine the things I was beginning to think.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Did you get my text about your trip?”

“Yes I am flying straight in to Boston but I think we should have dinner and a long talk just you and I.” As usual there was something in Hanna’s tone that Emma did not care for but she was still pleased that Hanna had said yes at all.

“Okay, does that mean that you’re not coming to Storybrooke at all?”

“I’m not sure, Emma. I don’t think so.”

Fine. Whatever. She was sick of all of the weirdness of this trip; she would get things back to normal if it killed her.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“So that’s it? You’re just not angry anymore?”

“Uh,” Emma stuttered. She had expected Regina to be annoyed but not to be pissed.

“She just tells you some sob story about her job and you forgive a week, an entire week of neglect?”

She had put Henry down and now the angry Queen inside of Regina was going to have her say. “How is that something you are comfortable with? Is the woman accountable for nothing?”

“Regina, you don’t know anything about my relationship.”

“Oh on the contrary, Emma. I seem to know a great deal about your relationship.”

“Look, I’m sorry that we got interrupted. I know you were enjoying our time together with Henry.”

Regina’s eyelashes fluttered, “this isn't because of that! This is about you letting that woman do whatever she wants and you rolling over and taking it!”

“Hey!”

“And I’m sorry, Emma, but I do not believe those bruises came from an accident on the cliff.”

Emma scoffed, trying to keep the shaking panic from her voice. “So what, you have some theory that Hanna gave them to me? How? Have you seen her? She’s tiny.”

“I have. She is a tiny ball of freakish muscle.” Regina mumbled.

“She’s not exactly the type…”

“And yet I remain unconvinced.”

“Regina. I love you. I’m not going to talk to you about this.” Emma kissed the cheek of the brazen woman; surprised she wasn’t burned and left the house.

Why did Regina have to be so observant? Why did she always have to see everything?

 


 

We laughed together as she rolled off of me, violently kicking her shoes off and then stretching her body long against mine. Face to face and forehead to forehead we kissed, as our hands gently explored the places we had never touched one another before.

Scooting closer she nuzzled my neck and whispered, perhaps whimpered “Em. My Em. I…” Her breath hitched and I gasped, clutching her as I felt her probing fingers and I...I...one simple touch to the right spot was all it took for me to cry out her name, thrashing against her.

“That was easy.” Regina whispered, pulling my leg up over her hip.

“Shut up.” I laughed, embarrassed and covered my face. She pulled my hand away, “Don’t be embarrassed. I’m flattered. And I’m not finished with you yet.”

With my leg over her this way I was fully open to her. Her eyes glittered as she began to pet me, softly exploring.

My lips found hers, tenderly kissing her, “I love you, Gin.”

“Oh Em,” She sighed into me, “I don’t know that I have ever loved anyone besides you.”

Slowly, her fingers looping lightly, she entered me, burying herself in my body.

Emma woke slowly. This was the first time that waking from the dream wasn’t like being dropped into cold water but instead waking in a warm bath.

Regina was gone, transported back across town once she was out of the dream.

She stretched, her body feeling like it had just come out of the dryer, hot and covered in static.

Her mother had the heat on too high, or perhaps the heat was coming from the inside of her. She yawned and rolled onto her back, pulling her clothing off and letting herself lay in the darkness naked and cooling her sticky skin.

The dream never went that far. Without thinking she casually let a finger slip over a hard nipple flicking it, then again. It felt so good that she did not stop her hand as it traveled down her stomach. It was no surprise to her to find herself thoroughly coated in arousal.

She always woke from the dream feeling excited, what was the use in stopping herself? She pictured Regina’s face over hers that night so long ago, the way that she had lightly sucked on her lips.

She moaned a little and rolled back onto her stomach, circling over her excitedly sensitive clit.

When she was through she yawned largely, asleep again in seconds without another thought.

When she woke again a few hours later she searched and studied herself, did she feel any different? She was thirty now, a real adult. Yet she felt the same and thought this was unfortunate. As a child, she had thought that you just woke up one day with all of the answers to life’s struggles. Why couldn’t that be true?

She sighed and rolled to her feet, grinning at the slice of birthday cake that was sitting on her nightstand. The surprise slice of cake when the person woke was such an old tradition in her family that she had forgotten about it completely. It was her birthday so she shrugged, taking a bite before she had woken fully. It was Ingrid’s Rose cake. Yum.

She stretched and went to the mirror then doubled over laughing, a large red lip print was smack in the middle of her forehead. Mary’s go-to shade was a neutral pink, had Regina snuck in here when she was asleep to deliver the cake and the kiss?

She blushed furiously; she had been naked when Regina had come in! She had been sleeping atop the covers! She remembered her deed before she had fallen back to sleep this morning and blushed even harder. She felt deliciously dirty and had to sit on her bed for a few minutes to let the hot drain from - everything. There was no way that Regina could have caught her was there? No, probably not.

She dressed slowly waiting for the last of the blush to fade before facing her mother.

“Happy birthday my sweet girl!” Mary crooned kissing her face. “I see I was not the first one to get a kiss in!”

Emma just smiled.

“I made you breakfast!” Her mother forced her into a chair in the kitchen and loaded her plate with fried eggs, bacon, English muffins and fruit.

“Jesus Ma, I can’t eat all of this. Help me.”

Mary sat graciously and nibbled on the food with her. “Are you sure I can’t change your mind about this evening?”

“Nope, I really don’t need anything bigger. I’m happy with plans as they are.”

Mary pouted a little, “This is the first birthday you will be home for in years. I just want to make a big deal of it for you I guess.”

“There’s no need, but thank you. When did Gin come by?”

“Oh, I thought I heard something around five this morning. I can’t be sure though because she has her own key so she can come and go as she pleases.”

“She has a key?”

Mary scowled, “You have a key.”

Emma wasn’t sure if she would ever grow accustomed to how much of a daughter Regina was to her mother.

After the meal she sent a quick message to Regina, “So how much did you see of me this morning? If I had known you were coming I wouldn’t have slept naked!”

Regina responded quickly, clearly in a good mood, “Say the word naked again.”

Emma laughed, almost able to hear Regina’s playful tone.

“Naked.”

“Oh, you’re such a tease.”

“Ginny! How much did you see!

“Just enough to be having a very good day today.”

“Regina Mills!”

Regina only responded with the picture of a winking face.

Emma felt flustered again, warmth in her core. “But I was asleep when you got here, right?”

“Of course. It was early. Why?”

“No reason. Just curious.”

“Ohhhh, Emma Nolan! There was a reason why you were naked. Do tell.”

“Shut up.”

Emma went for a run that morning and then spent some time organizing her list of wedding plans. She had somehow managed to come to an end. There was little left. She hoped that would be something she and Hanna had time to discuss the following day. After all, the wedding was only eighteen days away. They were entering crunch time.

She organized all of the papers she wanted to bring for Hanna into a binder and gathered her clothing for the next morning. She didn’t want to spend the time thinking about it later.

Regina showed up that afternoon to give Henry over to Mary and take Emma to a ‘special birthday lunch’. Emma was surprised to notice that she blushed guiltily the moment that Regina walked into the room.

“What’s wrong?” Mary asked.

Regina, grinning like a child with a secret stash of Halloween candy under her pillow announced, “I saw her naked this morning.”

Emma threw the couch pillow at her.

“Wait, I’m confused. I thought that wasn’t a new thing.”

Emma threw a couch pillow at her mother.

They did not go to a nice restaurant as Emma had assumed - as Hanna would have insisted on taking her - but instead drove across town to one of their favorite teenage spots, the toll bridge.

“I can’t believe I haven’t been here since I got back.”

Mary had first taken them here as girls for picnics then the two had continued to return with one another and eventually with dates over the years.

“I thought that might be the case. This is probably the last chance we will have before it begins to snow. Besides, I figured if you’re leaving soon I better remind you of one of the best reason to stay.”

“Leaving?”

Regina shrugged as to not make a big deal of her words, “The wedding is coming up pretty quickly. I know what that means.”

Emma shifted the subject, “You should come to New Orleans. I’ll show you a good time.” Emma hadn’t thought about it but it was true. The wedding was almost there. Then she would leave Storybrooke again. Unhappy nausea rolled through her. She was going to have to say goodbye to everyone all over again. Would she come back to visit now that the didn’t have something here that haunted her? Would it be enough?

They turned the heater on low and leaned back in their seats, feet up and comfortable. From the front seat of the car they could see the forest line, brightly colored and inviting. Emma sighed, “I can’t believe how much I miss this place.”

“You say that as though you still miss it. You do know that you are currently in it.” Regina pointed out.

“I think I’m already missing it. It’s like when you’re watching a really good cancelled TV show. You begin to mourn the ending before you have even reached it, you know?”

“You don’t have to go, you know. You and Hanna have not come up with where you will go for your three-week honeymoon. Stay here. I’m sure Ruby would give you a room at the inn as a wedding gift and I’m sure I could - handle three weeks of - Hanna.” Regina looked as though she had a pin stuck in her throat and Emma had to laugh.

“Could you be a little more convincing?”

Regina rolled her eyes, her lips pursing into a hard line, “Trust me, I didn’t intend to be convincing.”

“Jesus, could you hate her a little more?”

“Don’t challenge me, dear.”

“Whyyyy?” Emma groaned, throwing her hands up into the air.

Regina caught her wrist that was finally, mostly, free of the bruises and gave her a pointed look, “I am a doctor, Em. I know a handprint when I see one. Now, I have no way of knowing if you are lying but my gut tells me those bruises did not come from an accident on the cliff. However, I have no proof so for the time being, I remain civil.” She said the last word with such a chill that it made Emma shiver.

Emma shrugged and said the first thing that came to her mind, “I had a dream about you last night.”

“Don’t think for a moment that I do not see that you are changing the subject but I am intrigued. Explain.”

A group of teenagers walked by distracting Emma. They were heading down the bridge and into the forest, laughing and shoving one another clad in their teenager hoodies and wearing their teenager grins.

“Do you remember us as teenagers? We were so ready to get out of this town. We hated everything about it and swore that once we were out we would never come back. I still remember the culture shock of coming from Boston to Storybrooke when I was adopted. I thought this place was going to end up being some weird Children of The Corn cult situation.” Regina choked on her sip of water, “It’s funny how things work, isn’t it? Does it make me weak that I want to come home? The teenager in me feels like a failure for getting out and then wanting back in...like I couldn’t cut it elsewhere.”

Regina was looking at the teenagers thoughtfully, “The thing is we were too young to appreciate things like living close to family and familiarity. Plus you had one foot out the door at that point, always ready to run. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you an adult with different desires than your eighteen year old counterpart.”

Emma nodded, “It’s funny the things that I miss. People think differently here. I noticed that when I came here and I noticed that when I left. I think that’s why I like New Orleans. Some how the whole place feels like a community, as though there are only two hundred people there too. Plus, I miss the trees here. I miss the trees and the leaves and the weather.”

“Don’t forget about the snow. You used to love the snow.”

“Oh I love the snow. It’s beautiful and so...romantic. Every year the day of the first snow seems like the best time for wishes to be fulfilled. It is beautiful. Still, there is more to being home than that. I miss knowing where everything in the city is blindfolded. I miss having memories, old memories in all of those places too.”

“You don’t have that in New Orleans? You’ve been there for fives years now.”

“I guess I do to a point but maybe because I was never a child or a teenager there that the memories aren’t the same. I think that the people here are different too, my friends I mean. All of my friends out there are friends of mine and Hanna’s and they are amazing people but I just don’t feel the same when I’m with them as I do when I’m with you or Ruby.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I know I didn’t meet you until I was nine and Ruby until I was sixteen but I think when you were young with someone you make a friendship that you can’t replicate when you get older. You can’t be silly in the same way. I have friends out there but no one I am close enough with to have bothered to call while I have been away. Also, you and Ruby make me laugh in a way that no one else can. I feel safe with you guys, like I’m where I am supposed to be. I feel like a puzzle piece in your lives and that just isn’t true with anyone I have met since then.”

Regina nodded, “It sounds like you really would like to come home but you don’t think you ever will.”

Emma laughed to herself, “I think I would like to come home, what the hell? Actually, I think I really want to, I’m about to be married and children will follow after that someday - I hope. Suddenly NOLA seems like a wonderful city for a young and unattached couple - a writer and a young lawyer- but no place to raise a family. I want to come back here where my family is. But no I don’t think it will ever happen, not with Hanna. Besides, I don’t think this town is big enough for the two of you.”

Regina laughed, eyes glinting with affection.

Emma took a deep breath and felt it catch in her throat. “Besides, Hanna loves her job and how could I leave all of mine? It took me years to make all of those connections - it took her years!”

“Well, I’m not sure about Hanna, but I know for a fact that the University of Southern Maine is hiring right now. What happened to your lifelong plan of teaching once you were married and settled?”

“I don’t know” she answered honestly “I got my credentials before I left but I know I will never live in Maine full time again so I just haven’t bothered to keep them updated. Getting certified in New Orleans just seemed like a pain.” She thought that the career change would be a welcomed one. She enjoyed writing and she would never give that up, Detective Swan was far too close to her heart but she could give up the office and the freelancing happily. Emma shrugged it off, the problem was that this trip had opened her eyes to a lot of things she wanted to change about her life but taking a teaching job in Maine just could not happen.

The mood had grown serious and reflective. Emma didn’t want that, she had spent so much time this trip, especially the last week, in a depressed and worried funk. Light and easy fun was what she wanted right now. She could go back to worrying tomorrow.

She clicked on the radio and sang along to the song playing, purposely fumbling the lyrics knowing that Regina would tease her until the mood lightened.

Regina got the hint and began pulling sandwiches out from the bag in the back seat. “So tell me about this dream.” Regina said waggling her eyebrows, “Was it a good one? Please tell me that is why I found you naked this morning.”

Emma flushed and let her head fall back against the seat with a groan. “Stop talking about that. I’m embarrassed enough.”

Regina’s eyebrow rose, that strange seductive aura of hers filling the car as she settled her back against the door to face Emma, “You should be grateful. I almost left that mark on your ass.”

Emma turned red from her head to her toes.

“Tell me about the dream.”

It had seemed like such a good idea to tell Regina about her dream ten minutes ago but now, with that eyebrow pulling the way it was and her body stirring lightly at the thought of those red lips on her naked, sleeping skin - it just did not.

“Oh no, my dear.” Regina laughed seeing Emma’s hesitation, “You do not get to tell me that you had a dream about me and then refuse to tell me what it was!”

Emma rolled her eyes, “Fine.” She took another deep cleansing breath and dove over the cliff. “Do you ever think about it?”

“I’m sorry?” Regina stopped laughing immediately realizing this wasn’t just a joke.

Emma cocked her eyebrow at her and Regina looked away, understanding.

“I suppose there are times that I do. When I see you sleeping naked or apparently in a wedding dress,” she cleared her throat.

“I have dreams about it sometimes. That’s what happened last night.”

Regina’s grin broke across her face again, the devilish, Regina-is-up-to-no-good grin, “And you were naked.”

“Oh my god, shut up!” Emma covered her face.

“Why were you naked, Em?” Regina’s face shown, playing at polite interest but Emma wasn’t fooled.”

“Shut up!”

“Oh but it’s only a question.”

“Shut up!” She shoved Regina who just laughed, eyes sparkling.

“I think I can put that down as a win for myself, thank you very much.”

Emma shoved her lightly, only removing one hand from her eyes.

Regina shoved her back and then became still, “What do you think it means that you’re still dreaming about that?”

“Does that mean that you don’t?”

“That’s not what I’m saying, I’m just asking what you think it means.”

Emma shrugged and said truthfully, “I think that it means that I still haven’t really worked through it or what happened because of it.”

“Right. Of course. ” Regina mumbling half under her breath and bundled tighter in her jacket.

Emma heard the slightly sour note “Why? Were you wanting me to say it’s because I’m still in love with you?” Emma had said it as a joke but when she looked into Regina’s face she saw that it had fallen open, eyes wide and something shocked and raw sat there exposed.

“Regina…” Emma opened her mouth to apologize for the joke; Regina cut her off.

“Oh, look at the time! It’s almost time for me to leave for work. Will you text me if there is anything we need for tonight that we forgot? Or tomorrow for that matter.”

She agreed, goose bumps across her skin.

She got home to find her mother on the floor, photo albums scattered around her and Henry chewing happily on a teething ring.

“Whatcha doin'?”

“I’m looking at pictures. Come sit.”

“Ah, birthdays’ past.” Emma said looking through the shots.

“I can’t believe you’re thirty! God, I’ve gotten old.”

Emma scoffed, of course that was what she would say.

“You know your dad would be so proud of you.”

“He would? You think so?”

Mary nodded.

“I miss him, Ma.”

“I know. I do too, sweetie.”

Emma nodded and let her head rest on Mary’s shoulder. Perhaps Mary was a bitch. Perhaps she was often self-centered and yes, she had kept a huge secret from her for years but - flawed as she was - she was her mother and she loved her.

In that moment nestled between the warmth of her mother and the warmth Regina had shown her earlier that day Emma felt protected by the two women who loved her most.

 


 

Emma had waited all day to hear from Hanna, anxious to know what the plan for the next day would be officially but to no avail. Finally just before Ruby arrived that evening Emma decided to give in and call her.

“Hello?”

“Hey, how are you? What are you up to?”

Hanna sounded distracted and perhaps a little blasé but willing to talk for a minute, “Oh I’m at work trying to organize this desk. I don’t know why I let it get so crowded. Then I need to get some dinner and get ready for my flight tonight.”

“Are you looking forward to tomorrow at all?” Emma asked hopefully.

“My meeting?”

“No, dinner. We were thinking we would head out in the morning so that we can spend some time in the city.”

“Oh, right.”

“Are you sure you can’t join us during the day, even for a little bit?”

Hanna scoffed, “No! I’m sorry Emma but I have told you that I will be far too busy with my meetings. I can’t just pick up and go with you.”

“Oh. Right. I guess we were just hoping…”

“We?” Hanna said distractedly, the sound of paperwork being shuffled was loud on her end.

“Yes, remember I told you that I’m going up there with Gin and Ingrid.”

“Why aren’t they coming to dinner then?” she asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

“So it could be just the two of us.”

“Well that’s silly Emma,” Hanna said patronizingly, “I will have Vanessa with me so we couldn’t have time alone even if we wanted to. Bring your friends.”

“Vanessa?” Emma searched her memory, she knew she had been introduced to a Vanessa once at a party or was it a luncheon? Maybe in a bar? She had a feeling that they had met on a night where Hanna had gotten Emma very drunk. This was the first time however that the name had come up in context to this trip to Boston and she felt her heart fall a little.

“My coworker. She will be there too, we are sharing a room so I’m obligated to have dinner with her.”

“Oh.”

“You’re disappointed. What? What is it?”

“Nothing!” Emma jumped at the sudden snap, “I’m just disappointed. I thought that we were going to be able to talk. That was the plan….remember? Just you and I?”

“Emma, I know I already told you. Please don’t give me any shit. Before we start fighting let's move on. What are you up to?”

“Just getting ready for people to show up.” Emma was getting a sneaking suspicion that Hanna was unaware of the fact that today was her fiancé’s birthday. “I guess by people I really mean Ruby and Regina, I don’t really know anyone else anymore. Do you think I should have invited Ingrid too?”

“To what? Are you having another dinner party?”

She sighed, the weight of depression resting itself heavily on her chest, “It’s my birthday today Hanna. Remember? You were supposed to get in this morning but your plans changed?”

“What?” Hanna swore, “Right; I didn’t realize what day it was. I’ve been stuck in this office for so long that time no longer has any meaning. I’m very sorry, happy birthday babe.”

Emma hung up not long after feeling low. She wanted her home and her old life back or at least the security she had felt in it. She didn’t want to leave Storybrooke but she was sick of feeling transient and she was sick of watching Hanna change into - someone else. The wedding plans were almost entirely finalized thanks to all of her hard work; perhaps she should go home for a week and try to sort out her feelings as well as Hanna’s. The only problem was that dread filled her at the thought of a return home for a few weeks. Hanna...who would Hanna be? Would she be sober? Did she really want to know what the issue was? Did she really want to know why her feet ran cold every time she thought of her impending wedding?

Did she really want to give up her last bit of time with…(Regina) her mother and friends?

 


 

Ruby arrived then with a handful of wine bottles, a bag of chips and a few DVDs.

“I didn’t know what kind of night you wanted to have but I personally plan on getting wasted like I’m seventeen again because today was awful,” Ruby caught sight of Mary in the corner rocking chair with Henry and amended, “if you don’t mind. And when I said seventeen what I really meant was twenty-two.”

“Oh, Ruby Lucas I was friends with your grandmother, you can’t lie to me.”

Ruby flushed red.

“Mom!”

Mary grinned, “I’m only teasing sweetheart. Pretend I’m not here.”

Ruby popped open a bottle and poured both of them a huge glass.

“Hey Rubes, I’ve told you that Hanna’s been weird for a while now, right?”

“Right.”

“Do you think it could be cold feet? That’s really common, right? Ma said that dad was a little weird right before they got married; did things he wouldn’t normally.”

“Stop thinking about Hanna, Em. It’s only going to drive you crazy tonight. You’ll see Hanna tomorrow and maybe you can talk about it a little then.”

She nodded, “You’re right. Lets find something better to watch.”

“Or lets just drink faster.”

They tried to get into the party mood and they failed.

They tried playing a drinking game but it didn’t work well. They tried to play a duo version of King's Cup but once they reached card ‘6 for dicks’, they gave up.

“God, are we too old for fun now? Why do we suck so much?” Emma wailed, hanging over the edge of the couch.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Mary asked, emerging from her room to get a bottle for Henry.

Emma hopped up and tickled his belly, “You’ll like me even if I’m old and lame, right buddy?”

He stared, half a smile on his lips.

“Guah!” Emma said and his eyes lit up, his legs pumping.

“Guah! Gaaahuah! Ooooooohau!”

“At least he understands me.” Emma sighed and fell dramatically onto the couch.

“Okay, okay I got it.”

“What?”

Ruby ran back to her bag and pulled out a huge bottle of whiskey, “Fuck it. I brought provisions.”

Emma was hesitant, not exactly excited for this plan, they agreed and they began to drink - really drink.

Within an hour everything had the off color shimmer of inebriation but Emma’s mood had only fallen. When alcohol is involved emotions tend to swing solidly in one direction or the other. Emma had swung to depression. She could feel it happening but seemed to have little to no will to swing it back. Hanna hadn’t bothered to make the time to be there with her and it was all Emma could see. She felt small and unimportant in her drunken state.

Ruby put on some music and tried to pull her to her feet and get her to dance but really Emma didn’t want to. She wanted to yawn and cry a little bit and just be left alone, maybe even get into bed and mope.

“Emma! This won’t work unless you let it!” Ruby complained constantly.

Emma just groaned each time and apologized drinking a little more of her drink.

After a while of watching Ruby fail, Mary had a moment of maternal inspiration. She got up, put Henry in the Packin’ Play and went to the stereo to put a cd on, “Ruby, your mother was my age, did she ever show you dances from her day?”

Despite Emma’s overwhelming want to go to sleep she was intrigued. Emma had grown up on stories from when her mother was a child, stories of penny candy and roller skates. Sitting on the couch she watched her mother pull Ruby next to her by the hands as classic disco funk blared suddenly from the speakers, a smile already cracking at the corner of her lips.

“Are you ready?” Mary asked Ruby, whom was already laughing at herself before she had even begun to follow Mary’s footsteps. “This one is called The Bump.”

“Oh I know this one!”

Mary showed Ruby The Bump and The Bus Stop before Emma finally stood insisting, “Do that one again, I want to try.”

Emma just caught Mary winking at Ruby as she started the CD over and they begun again.

Emma loved it, the curse of sadness broken like magic within minutes of dancing.

“What about The Hustle?” Emma asked and that lead to another thirty minutes of dancing before Mary moved on to the few moves she knew from the 60’s and the 80’s. Then Emma and Ruby took over filling in dances from the 90’s and 2000’s, teaching Mary who was not as good of a student as Emma and Ruby had been.

“So what was that sad face about earlier?” Mary asked doing an awkward version of The Tootsie Roll.

Emma shrugged, “Hanna forgot my birthday and she just doesn’t seem happy at all about the idea of seeing me tomorrow. I don’t know what the fuck is up with her. She keeps swearing that she doesn’t have the time to do anything with us but I think it isn’t true. She told me before I left that she had a lot of free time on this trip. Also we said we were going to do some talking while we were together tomorrow. It’s the whole reason why Regina and Ingrid have reservations somewhere else but now she’s invited her co-worker to dinner, whom I’m sorry, she never told me about! Gin and Ingrid might as well join us. I just kind of hate it. I feel like I used to know every thought in Hanna’s head and I haven’t for months. I just - I don’t know. My spider senses are tingling.”

For a brief second as she danced she wondered what we life would be like if they broke up. Unbidden images of herself at the gym working off the last five pounds she wanted gone, changing her hair, finding a new life, a new love interest. How did she feel about this?

Then Ruby recommended the Macarena and the thoughts of a new life were bumped out of place by Ruby’s hip.

Regina strolled in just after the doorbell with a pizza and a few more bottles of wine just as Mary was perfecting the dance.

“Oh my.” She said and laughed a little, “What are you guys doing?”

“It’s the pizza lady! This is the second time she’s shown up here with pizza in the middle of the night.” Emma yelled jumping up and down on the couch cushion, hyperactivity the new predominant emotion.

“Second huuh?” Ruby asked suggestively, Emma shoved her so she toppled in a gaggle of bony knees and elbows into a heap on the living room floor.

Regina put her things down, smiling a smile that read even if she didn’t want to - she loved these idiots. “To be fair, Rubes, if you’re not open there is no other take out in this city besides pizza. And my son?”

“Don’t worry. He’s tucked away in my room, sleeping soundly. I was worried one of these two would trip over him. The monitor is there” she pointed next to the couch, “on full volume.”

Regina nodded once, “Thank you, mom.”

“We got kind of drink - wait - drunk, yeah - that.” Emma confessed, “Because I’m old and my girlfriend forgot my birthday and Ruby had a bad day. Come dance with us. Actually,” Emma jumped down from the couch, nearly tipping over and running to the kitchen shouting that Regina needed a very large drink.

Emma wobbled as she sprinted back into the living room when she realized she had forgotten Regina, grabbing her by the arm. Once they were in the kitchen Regina stopped, smirking and pulled Emma to her. The drunken woman spun with ease and landed chest to chest with Regina. Regina’s eyebrow popped for a second, “Hey, hey focus! Have you eaten? When’s the last time you ate?”

Regina’s hands cupping her face this way while looking at her so squarely in the eyes made Emma’s brain stumble. She blinked a few times rapidly, staggered and feeling as if the sun was suddenly in her eyes.

“Are you okay?”

“Hmmm? Oh yeah, I’m fine. I um,”

Her mother followed them in the with the pizza box and sat Emma down by the hips, “Not since you took her out earlier.”

They ate and then Emma broke out the huge bottle.

“Oooh no,” Regina started the moment she saw it.

“Ooooh yes.”

“No! No way!” Regina stood from the table, clearing away their plates, “Shots? Are you asking me to take shots?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“And what about my son? Shouldn’t I stay sober enough to take care of him should the need arise?”

“No.” Emma said, pouring the amber liquid into the small glass measuring cup as their shot glass. “My mother can do that.”

“Oh? Are you volunteering her?”

Emma inched in, holding the shot glass at eye level, “That’s right.”

Regina’s eyes narrowed as Emma drew herself flush against her flirtatiously.

“I’m going to win. You know you’re going to give in to me.”

“Do I now?”

Emma let her face melt into her best puppy dog pout but Regina’s face just hardened. “Oh just take the shot already, Gin!”

Regina scowled but her lips parted when Emma pressed the glass to her lips.

Emma’s eyebrow popped holding the coffee eyes in a silent challenge as Regina’s head slowly began to tilt back allowing the amber liquid to flow between her parting lips.

The glass emptied before, with a shake of her head, she swallowed all at once.

Emma grinned a satisfied smirk, “Good.” She poured another shot without moving from her place of challenge against Regina’s body.

“And what about you?”

Emma smirked, pouring a second shot, “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

Regina moistened her lips smugly, “Indeed.”

 


 

“Wait, wait, show me again.” Regina said pulling Emma back to her, who was as easily distracted just now as a chipmunk. The force of her pull sent drunk Emma colliding with drunk Regina’s hip and the two collapsed into gales of laughter.

Mary just shook her head.

“Okay ready?” Emma slowly moved her feet so Regina could follow along.

“No, no, no!” Mary got up and teasingly pushed them out of the way, “Watch my feet.”

“Gah! Damn it, I can do this!” Regina cried clutching Emma’s arm for balance.

“I’m not sure that’s true.” Ruby hazed from the couch, getting up to make another drink.

“Quiet!”

Emma watched Regina as she drunkenly pulled her scrub shirt over her head and shook out her hair as if shaking off her day. The tight little black tank top underneath was in flattering contrast to the baggy scrubs.

Regina noticed her watching and raised her eyebrows at her. Emma looked away quickly and bit her lip, not hiding her guilt well but Regina was clearly enjoying that fact.

“I’m only human.” Emma muttered.

Ruby came tearing back into the living room, her drink only half made, excited.

Emma jumped, shocked and a little confused, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Is it Henry?”

“Let's play Never Have I Ever!”

Regina and Emma both tittered and turned away, understanding nothing to be wrong and her idea to be a terrible one.

“No really!” Ruby cried, “Come on we used to do it all of the time when we were young and we’ll have way better answers now!” It was true; Never Have I Ever had always been their game of choice when they had been young and drunk. It always started out innocently enough but in the end always became one large sexual joke. “Come on!”

“Ruby, there is no way I’m playing that with my mom here.” Emma laughed but her mother shook her head and said she had to head to bed anyway.

“There see! It’s a sign.”

Regina sat down next to Emma, her legs habitually crossing as she thought, “What do you think? How much of an ass do you want to make of yourself tonight?”

“I don’t know. I think I might have fulfilled my humiliation meter for the day when you saw me naked. Do you want to?”

“I don’t know,” Regina admitted, “It’s a bit like playing Truth or Dare. Is that a reasonable game to play at our age? Aren’t we supposed to be more dignified than that by now? Though I suppose we took whiskey shots so clearly we are already operating as teenagers this evening. Why not?”

“Fuck it!” Emma cried. If Regina was game then she was game.

They made sure that Emma’s mother was indeed in bed then sat in a circle on the living room throw rug.

“I hope you understand that the difference between playing this now and playing this ten years ago, Ruby, is that now I will not be able to get up from this floor.”

“Who’s going first?” Ruby asked, ignoring Regina. When Emma and Regina both did all they could to avoid her gaze she groaned, called them grandmas and said she would.

“Keep it clean!” Emma ordered, knowing it would do no good.

“Okay, fine if you want to be boring!” Ruby thought for a minute “Never Have I Ever spent more than 100 dollars on a pair of shoes.”

Regina and Emma drank and then laughed, none surprised by this.

“I suppose,” Regina looked around as if she would gather inspiration from the room, “Never Have I Ever traveled more than a thousand miles for a vacation.”

Emma grumbled an obscene phrase and took a drink.

They made a round before Ruby was next, coming up with something easily, “Never Have I Ever walked in on my parents.”

Emma frowned and took a drink. Regina, looking equally unhappy asked, “Does it count if it was Mary and David?”

“Yup. Drink, sista!”

Regina took a gulp and grimaced though at the taste or the memory no one knew.

Emma grabbed a few pillows from the couch and flopped back on them, her throne in this game, “Never Have I Ever fucked anyone within an hour of meeting them.”

To everyone’s surprise Regina looked away and took a sip.

“Regina!” They cried in unison and then, “Who?”

Regina fluttered her eyelashes, “Wouldn’t you like to know. Hey, I thought this game was supposed to be clean.”

They grumbled and shrugged.

“Alright then, Never Have I Ever been in handcuffs.”

“In life or sexually?” Emma asked, squinting through one eye to see her correctly.

“Either.”

Both Emma and Ruby took a drink, glaring at the well-behaved one in the group.

“Which one?” Regina asked with a wicked grin.

“Both.” Emma shrugged making Regina laugh so hard that she fell backward.

“Okay,” Ruby clapped her hands, “I’m coming up from behind. Uuuumm, something I’ve never done. Uh, oh but that’s not true for you guys either. Shit, but I can’t think of anything else. Alright. Never Have I Ever gotten a tattoo.”

Both Regina and Emma drank avoiding eye contact with one another and Ruby yelled in surprise, “Since when have you two had tattoos? I know almost everything about both of you, there’s no way. Ginny, you have a tattoo?”

“Wait, wait, why am I the one that surprises you?”

“Um, because.” Ruby answered as if it were obvious.

Regina glared.

“We’ve uh, had tattoos for a while now.” Emma voice was sly, holding back a grin.

“We? Where are they?” Ruby asked excitedly and Regina just flashed a vixen grin. “Let me see!”

“No way!”

“Come on!”

“Nu-uh.”

“Em!”

“Nope.”

“Ginny?”

“Not going to happen.”

“Come on, you guys suck!”

Regina laughed, making up her mind. “Okay, fine. Shouldn’t be awkward, right?”

Emma shook her head forcefully and naively agreed. They had gotten them a long time ago after all.

Regina groaned as she got up and teetering slightly, pulled up the small tank top exposing her long lean belly, where a lacey and swirly golden E.N. sat just under her left bra cup.

Ruby’s jaw dropped comically, “When the fuck did you get that?”

Emma touched Regina’s tattoo softly, fondly, then pulled down the side of her pants freeing her own R.M. just under the right hip bone, not at all blind to Regina possibly drunken staring a little harder than maybe she should have at Emma’s bare skin. “Maybe a year before I left town. Think of them as friendship bracelets.”

“In provocative places.” Ruby scoffed.

It was surprising how stirring that little tattoo on Regina’s skin was. She wanted to touch it again but held back, looking away and wondering if Regina felt any pull to place her hand over the spot where her initials had been branded into Emma’s skin. She pictured Regina close, softly running her hand down Emma’s side to the tattoo and quickly pulled her pants back up. This was a strange new feeling for it hadn’t been so long ago that she had looked at her tattoo with distaste. When had it turned from an unhappy memory back into a symbol?

“They are not.” Emma insisted. Regina cocked an eyebrow, knowing full well that her hip was a place that made Emma come undone. “Shut up.” She rolled her eyes at the woman who hadn’t needed to speak.

“What does Hanna think of it?” Ruby asked, biting her lip to hide her humor.

Regina cocked an eyebrow, waiting for the answer.

“She thinks it is exactly what it is - though I’m sure she will have different feeli,”

“My turn. I have never eaten Mongolian food!” Regina said hastily over the end of Emma’s sentence.

Emma rolled her eyes, knowing Regina had said that so she would have to take a drink.

“Oh yea, well I’ve never been a brunette!” Emma retorted and Regina shoved her.

“I have…” Ruby seemed to be at a loss for what to say, “Oh, I have never remained friends with an ex.”

Emma blinked a few times and giggling glanced at Regina who made a face and took a drink.

“Oh you guys don’t count!” Ruby cried, “You never dated, not really!”

Regina shrugged, “I already drank, so there. Uhhmm, I’ve never had sex outside.”

“Ginny, this is supposed to be a clean game!”

She rolled her eyes, “We were going to get here anyway.”

”Okay, lets go there!” Ruby cried looking excited “I have never had sex with a hooker.”

Mildly horrified and perhaps too honest Emma took a large sip of her drink before she thought about it.

“What?” They cried in unison.

“If it counts I didn’t know that she was a hooker at the time I slept with her.”

“How does that happen? Did you just hook up and then find out later that she was a hooker? Did she make you pay?” Ruby asked, shocked.

“Oh yes please.” Regina said cunningly, “Do tell.”

Emma humphed but told them, “Hanna has, um, unusual tastes. She likes things that are a little thrilling. Sex outside. With strangers. Threesomes. It has settled down a bit but in the beginning when we were casually dating she really enjoyed talking me into things. What?”

Regina and Ruby’s face were slack with surprise though - perhaps there was a slight hint of disgust in Regina’s.

“Continue.” Ruby prompted, not to be distracted.

“There was this time a couple of years back when Hanna...and I...decided we were going to have a threesome. She told me one day that she found someone so we did it and only afterwards did she tell me that she had hired a hooker.”

“Lovely, Em.” Regina said dryly, “She’s a real treasure.”

“Hey!” Emma laughed pointing her finger at Regina, “Stop it.”

“How was it?” Ruby asked in a harsh whisper, clearly intrigued.

“It was good I guess. Honestly it answered a little bit after I found out she was a hooker.”

Both of the women fell over laughing at this.

“Oh shut up!”

“Oh, I have a good one!” Regina cried sitting up, laughing already. “I have never had a sexy nickname or a sex nickname of any kind.”

Emma scoffed, “of course you haven’t!” She took a long pull from her cup, “You’re the kind of girl that gives them, that’s why.”

“Oh, whatever bitter sue.” Ruby shoved her and Emma squeaked, “What was your nickname?”

Emma sighed, leaning back on her pillow throne and covering her face, “Hanna used to call me her sexy mouse.”

“Oh god!” Regina groaned and blushed hard. Clearly she knew exactly why Emma had received the nickname.

“When did that start?”

“The first time we slept together.”

“Awww,” Ruby cooed.

Regina glared sipping her drink, “I’ve had enough Hanna talk, I think. Change the subject please.”

“Hmmm, honest in her inebriation.” Ruby observed.

“No,” Regina snapped, “Just bored!”

They got up and danced for a while without argument before they whispered a drunken conversation about Hanna’s strange behavior in serious and well meaning but frivolous voices.

When that got too heavy they got up to dance some more.

Ruby handed her a full glass and ordered her to drain it. She did without hesitation.

“Ginny, go!” Ruby yelped, demanding the return of the game.

“Okay, I’ve never slept with a ma”

“Last year when”

“Ginny?”

“Oh, oh! I know lets go dancing.”

“Dancing? Where? We’re in Storybr-”

“Come on it wil-”

“All right whe-”

“Come on, Em.”

“Rabbit-”

“Yes, Ma.”

“Em!”

“Whoo!”

 


 

She woke to a headache of a caliber she had not experienced since her early twenties. The room pitched and whirled as she rolled over and tried hard to focus on the quickly bouncing figure next to her.

“Oh god,” she covered her eyes trying to hide from Regina on her elliptical in the corner of the room. “How can you do that right now? Ruby was right, you’re a freak!”

“Well I had quite a bit to drink though apparently not quite as much as you. I also drank two bottles of water before bed, which you refused to do and ate my weight in carbohydrates last night. And if I want to keep this,” Regina lifted her shirt that was plastered to her rib cage to reveal a tight abdomen, muscles lean and strong with a belly button that was only half an outie, “I have to do this.”

“If I weren’t so hung-over I think that would be a big turn on.”

Regina laughed twitching her eyebrow in mock suggestion.

Shakily Emma drank a glass of coconut water from the fridge and decided Regina had the right idea. Work the last bit of alcohol out of your system. Slowly she pulled herself onto the rowing machine and unsuccessfully did her best to fall into step with Regina, sure she was in danger of being sick all over the floor of the den.

“How did I get here?” She asked, already feeling better as her blood began to pump.

“You don’t remember getting here?”

“Not at all.”

Regina laughed, clearly relishing drunken Emma memories. “Well I only kind of remember myself. I think we went to raise some hell at The Rabbit Hole and then walked back here. I’m not sure why, your mother’s house is closer.”

Emma shrugged and pushed a little harder, not to be out done by Regina.

“So is there anything specific you want to do in Boston today?”

“I don’t know. I think maybe I am just along for the ride until dinner. It’s Ingrid that has never been there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, I was thinking about one thing.” She admitted sheepishly, “But I thought you guys could just drop me and I would go on my own.”

“Oh? To do what?”

“I want a tattoo.”

“What?” Regina smiled a little; she had been expecting shopping or perhaps a special meal. “What would you get?”

She thought for a minute, “No idea.”

Regina laughed, “You should probably wait until you are sure, Em.”

“I’ve always wanted a swan or maybe some type of crime fighting...thing”

“Where?”

“I’m not sure. Or maybe I should go and get a very expensive and amazing haircut and dye. How would I look as a redhead?”

“Like someone other than yourself.”

“I just” she shook out her limbs and started on the machine again, “I feel like I would really enjoy a big change in some way today. Do you ever just wake up and feel like something about you needs to fucking change?”

“Mmm.” Regina murmured noncommittally.

“What? Am I crazy? Is that not something that happens to other people?”

“What’s going on with you, Em?”

“What do you mean?”

“I suppose I can’t say exactly. I just feel as though sometimes I look at you and I can see you coming apart at the seams.”

“That doesn’t sound very good.”

“Well I could be wrong. Though I don’t think I am.”

“Oh.” Emma sighed, “I guess this trip has just been harder than I thought it would be. Also Hanna’s kind of been terrible recently as you know.”

“Yes, that is for sure.”

“What does that mean?”

Regina bit something back - barely.

“What? Whatever you would like to say you should say, Gin.”

“What I don’t understand, Em” Regina was clearly trying to choose her words wisely, “is why you were okay with everything I’ve seen from your relationship. You dropped me the moment you thought I rejected you but-”

“She’s never rejected me, Gin. She’s the only person in my life who has never rejected me.”

“Are you kidding me? She does it every day. She neglects you!”

“She does not!”

“Emma.”

“No! Regina, you’re wrong.”

“Alright, fine.” Regina cut, firing up. “I can’t make your choices for you, as much as I would like to. But I can’t help but to wonder; you have wanted to get married since we were teens. Is there any chance you’re so busy in the search for a family of your own that you’re blind to - your own level of happiness?”

“No.” Emma said shakily, hitting double time on the machine.

“Are you happy with the way things are?”

“Right now? Of course not.”

“Then please, explain to me why you haven’t cut your losses? You could have been happy with someone else by now - perhaps.”

“Is that what I’m supposed to do, Gin? Bail the moment things get hard? I was happy in my relationship four months ago. Things were different from how they seem to be now. She was completely different. She was so excited that we are getting married. I mean I knew it was going to be hard to be so far away from one another, maybe that’s all it is. We have always been one of those couples that are happier and healthier when we can spend a lot of time together. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before we made the plan of being apart for so long.” With a grunt she flung the handle of the row machine away from her. It clattered loudly as she hopped to her feet. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”

Regina just pursed her lips.

“You know, Gin. You’re acting like I should have bailed just because things have gotten hard. She has never bailed on me and I will not bail on her. She’s flawed but she’s mine, she’s all I’ve got!”

Regina turned purple with fury but said nothing.

“I have been thinking” Emma said pacing and running her hands anxiously through her hair, “that maybe I need to go home for a week or two before the wedding. Kind of like a hi, remember me? We’re supposedly getting married.”

“You’re thinking of leaving early?” Regina’s voice was quiet after the harsh barks they had been swapping.

“I don’t know, Gin. I feel like I need to go find out where the fuck my happiness went.”

“So you guys were happy before she proposed?” Regina clarified.

“I think so, yea. We fought a lot. She was rarely home but all relationships are hard and take some work, right? No, I was not happy all of the time but that’s life. There were some incidents but it was just that things were just never dull for us.” She glanced at Regina who had gotten back up to full speed on the elliptical, “What?”

Regina pursed her lips, wiping her forehead with a cloth that hung on the machine, “I don’t know darling, I know you think you’re saying yes you were happy but it sounds like you weren’t and honestly from everything I’ve heard from you she, well, she sounds a little bit like a jerk. She’s bad for you.”

“Ginny!” Emma cried, frustrated.

Regina threw her hands in the air, “Look it’s all right if I’m wrong and I suppose I probably am. That’s just the impression I got and you said I should say what I needed to.”

“You’re right, I did but she wasn’t, is not a jerk. She is sweet to me and she takes care of me. And we are happy. I think that all of this new stress with her job is just kind of making her behave poorly which is why I think that I need to go home and see if I can help.”

“And the bruises?”

“God damn it, Ginny! It’s not what you think!”

When she looked at Regina again she was shocked to see that she was red in the face, a kettle about to scream. “Oh my god, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I’m just feeling aggravated. Do you want to get on the road soon?”

“Sure. I would like to take a shower. Do you mind?”

“Of course not.” Regina shrugged her off, heading for the door. “You know,” she swung back around on Emma but Emma stood her ground, “In nineteen or twenty years of friendship you have never lied to me, Emma Nolan. Not once. It’s a shame that you’re starting now.”

She left the room swiftly so that Emma had to yell after her, “I’m not lying, Regina!” She lied.

“I’m a doctor, Ms. Nolan! I’ve been trained to know exactly what I’m seeing.”

The water of the shower clicked on, hushing Emma up completely.

She sat with a thump on the couch.

“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” She was so fucked.

They individually showered and dressed then they drove to Emma’s mothers so Emma could retrieve her overnight bag.

“I nearly had a heart attack when I realized you weren’t here this morning.” Mary said kissing both good morning and then handed Henry to Emma.

“Sorry mom. I think we went out to The Rabbit Hole.”

“You girls heading to Boston to see Hanna?”

“That’s right.” Regina answered stiffly, taking her son and kissing him good morning.

Emma sniffed.

“Uh oh.” Mary said under her breath and disappeared into her room.

With a bag packed and a final reassurance that Mary was happy to watch the boy for the night they left, awkwardly cool with one another.

So far this was turning out to be one hellova trip, Emma thought to herself bitterly.

When they arrived at Ingrid’s house they found their plans halted.

“Ingrid’s sick.” Regina said coming back out to the car, the anger on her face melted away.

“Really? Sick enough she shouldn’t come?”

“I think so. She looked terrible.”

Emma took Regina’s hand and squeezed it, her heart hurting for the disappointment on Regina’s face. “I’m sorry, Ginny but hey we can still go and have a lot of fun, right?”

Regina sighed, leaning against the car, “well if Ingrid isn’t coming perhaps would you like to do the trip on your own? Perhaps that would give you more time with Hanna.”

Or more time alone.

“No, I like the idea of a road trip.”

Doing her best to cheer Regina up she put on a CD of silly pop artists of the 1990’s and it didn’t take long for the girls to begin giggling again. Their fight left in their tire tracks behind them.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The drive went quickly as it was a familiar trip to them since their youth and all too soon they were pulling into the city.

Emma rolled down the windows despite the frozen air and snow-covered ground and groaned, “Look! Buildings above two stories tall!”

“So where should we go since we don’t have Ingrid with us?”

“I don’t know. I’m hungry, are you?”

They decided to check into their hotel room first.

Once their bags were unpacked she sent a text to Hanna. She knew they were staying in the same hotel, she had paid more than necessary to be sure that they were. Was she around? Would she see her?

 

Wrapping themselves in their thickest coats they started down the harbor.

“Jesus,” Emma’s teeth chattered so hard that she could barely get her words out, “you can tell that I’ve been living in the south too long.”

Regina chuckled, clearly feeling no pain from the cold weather, “I can see that’s true. Your lips are turning blue. Come on, let’s have lunch.”

They ate a quick meal and then returned to the hotel. Regina was off to go to a nearby museum while Emma had decided to try Hanna’s room. After all - she was supposed to - in theory - be staying there.

 


 

Knocking on Hanna’s door she found herself nervous. What was Hanna’s mood going to be like? Would she be pleased to see her at all? She shifted awkwardly, dress bag over her shoulder. What should she expect?

A beautiful blonde woman answered the door smiling politely, “Can I help you?”

“Um,” Emma double-checked the room number “I might have the wrong room. Is this Hanna’s room?”

The woman’s face fell into an expression of appraising recognition, “Oh you must be Emma. Hmm, I thought you would be taller.”

“Uh, what?”

The blonde opened the door and Emma was relieved to see Hanna sitting on one of the two beds pouring over some paperwork, demanding something loudly of someone on the other line of her phone call completely unaware of her surroundings.

“I’m Vanessa.”

“Emma. Hey babe.”

Hanna looked up and smiled for a second, holding her hand up to silence her.

“All work and no play Hanna. So she tells me that we are going for some good seafood on the water tonight.”

Emma couldn’t have put her finger on what it was exactly but there was something slightly rude in Vanessa’s tone as though she thought that Emma would be a distraction or perhaps it was just that lawyer attitude that Emma never seemed to get used to.

Hanna clicked off the phone and stood; Emma smiled warmly wrapping her into a tight hug, “Hi.”

“Okay ladies,” Vanessa said clearing her throat, “I’m going to get some coffee.”

Emma breathed a sigh of relief the moment the other woman was gone. Emma pulled Hanna’s face to hers, kissing her for all she was worth. “Hi. You remember me? I’m the soon to be wife.”

Hanna snickered and pulled away to pour herself a glass of water, “How was the drive up?”

Emma shrugged, sitting on the corner of the bed covered in papers, “Easy. Ingrid was sick so it’s just going to be the four of us tonight.”

“Oh. Right.”

Emma nodded to the second bed, “Two beds? I thought that you and Vanessa had separate rooms.”

Hanna frowned, “When did I tell you that?”

“Oh.” Disappointment crashed around Emma and then a foolish embarrassment, “I don’t know why I assumed. I thought that we could have - a night.”

Hanna glanced over, intrigued. “The firm didn’t pay for two rooms but if you want we could have an - afternoon.”

A small smile found Emma’s lips but at the same moment a baffling mix of nerves hit her stomach. What the hell was that?

Sitting on the bed next to her Hanna pushed Emma up to her feet and pulled her around so she was standing in front of her.

Emma smiled but she could tell the smile didn’t reach her eyes. Something wasn’t right. “Are you glad to see me?” Emma asked in a whisper as Hanna slowly pushed her shirt up over her breast.

“What? Of course.”

Emma shifted a little as Hanna’s tongue traced her belly. Teeth grazed against Emma’s tattoo and she turned her head away, wishing Hanna wouldn’t do that.

“So Vanessa’s coming with us. Does that mean you two are going to talk business the entire meal while Regina and I enjoy ourselves?”

“I promise I will be on my best behavior in front of Regina.” Hanna groaned against her skin, melodically.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Can we, just maybe, not talk about Regina now?”

Emma went to bed with Hanna and when they had finished Emma let herself lay there next to Hanna, searching for the feeling she was missing. It was familiar to be there with her but something still wasn’t quite right. What was it? It was just out of reach. Perhaps it was that somehow Hanna was just out of reach...or perhaps it was her who was out of reach.

After they were showered, Emma slowly pulled on her dress for the evening. She had decided that she had something she wanted to ask Hanna and while she knew it was useless, she thought she would try anyway. “Um, babe?”

“What’s up?”

But Emma had been stopped short. “Are you putting on eyeliner?”

She was dressed in her best work attire, her favorite tailored and perfectly snug Armani suit with a pair of pointed flats and doing something that Emma had never seen her do before. She was leaning over the bathroom sink applying a light layer of eyeliner and mascara.

“Yeah, so?”

Emma returned to fluffing her hair, trying not to show exactly how unnerved she was. This was yet another thing to go into the pile of weird and unusual things Hanna had been doing.

“I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“What’s that? Am I overdressed?”

“No. Am I?” Hanna grinned, taking in her knee length black cocktail dress and heels. “No, I’ve been thinking about a few things since I came back into town. Um, my mom has been so happy to have me back and...I’ve been surprised by how nice it’s been. I was wondering, what do you think about the idea of us moving back to Storybrooke for a while?”

“What?”

“No, please don’t give me that look. You seem so miserable at your firm these days and Storybrooke needs a good lawyer. You could be a mob boss out there and take over the town. Plus there’s always Portland or even Boston. I know you could find a firm out here; we could even wait until you did and Regina said that the university in Portland is looking for professors. We would be next to our family when we start a family.”

“Emma.”

“Will you just think about it?”

Hanna sighed, straightening her tie, “I’m sorry Emma but it’s never going to happen.”

“All I’m asking Hanna is for you to think about it for a few days.”

“Sorry, Detective. There’s no point. It’s never going to happen.”

Hurt and anger bubbled in Emma’s stomach, wasn’t it at least common courtesy or polite to say that she would think about it for a day, even if you knew you would still say no? Isn’t that how you made someone you cared about feel listened to?

“Hanna Elizabeth I am asking as your future wife for you to at least think about it, for my sake.”

“It’s never going to happen, Emma! If it’s so damned important to you then you move back here by yourself.”

 


 

Emma’s stomach fluttered, a sick feeling of nerves weighing her down. She shook from the inside out and she wasn’t sure how to stop it. Hanna was angry. She was angry because her night was no longer free for work. She was angry because she was being forced to have dinner with Regina. She was angry because Emma had asked to move out of New Orleans again. She was angry because the orgasm that Emma had given her was ‘subpar’. She was angry because Emma had been ‘a real bitch to be around as of late’. She was angry because Emma was really getting on her nerves and if she wasn’t careful she would show her ‘exactly what she thought of Emma’s nagging’.

Hanna had made all of this clear in their hour-long fight that had forced Vanessa to wait in the lobby for thirty minutes before she could dress for dinner.

Now Emma stood silent, lost and unsure exactly how she had gotten that way.

She had expected Hanna to say no but she hadn’t expected… they needed to talk about the wedding. Things were starting to seem...they needed to talk.

The three of them, herself, Hanna and Vanessa took a table for four arriving before Regina.

“I’m going to get something from the bar, do you want anything? The usual?” Vanessa turned to Hanna who just nodded. “Emma?” Emma thanked her quietly and insisted that a glass of red wine would be sufficient.

I suppose the not drinking thing is out the window, Emma noted but did not have the courage, just then, to say anything about it. Instead she smoothed the tablecloth compulsively, stuck in her head of swirling confusion.

“Stop moping.” Hanna bit after a while, “I’m sorry that we fought, I didn’t mean anything I said.”

Emma nodded.

“What then? What’s wrong?” Hanna asked in a softer voice.

She said the first thought that came to her mind, “Please don’t be an ass tonight. Don’t treat Regina the way you just treated me.”

“What? We fought. I already apologized, Emma.”

“I heard you.”

“Then why would I be rude to Regina?” Hanna asked with a nod at Vanessa in thanks for her drink.

“You know you do that thing, Hanna. That whole, I need to impress you so I’m going to talk down to you thing.”

“Okay first off,” Hanna laughed, “I do not need to impress Regina. And second, I do not do that!”

Vanessa snickered into her napkin, ignoring the social grace of pretending not to hear their conversation to side with Emma, “You do that.”

“Whatever ladies. You’re just ganging up on me now.” Hanna said chuckling, “Oh boy, she’s here.”

Emma glanced over and saw Regina removing her Pea coat and exposing a beautiful black number that made her skin glow. Regina saw her looking and smiled. Emma smiled back, relieved to see her again.

“Wow.” Hanna whistled and was hit by both Emma and Vanessa.

“Just sayin' babe, I think I might have went after the wrong half of the best friends.”

Lovely.” Emma muttered more to herself than anyone at the table.

Hanna kissed her cheek lightly, surprising Emma, “Just kidding, I promise. But I’m going to make a phone call before we really get into dinner. I will be on my best behavior, Swan, I swear.” She grinned her best grin and despite herself Emma smiled a little, won over by her charm. Hanna stood and rushed off toward the door, accidentally bumping into Regina as one came and the other went.

Regina started but allowed Hanna to politely kiss her cheek before her face curled into fire. She snarled but Hanna was already gone.

As soon as Regina was in her chair Emma reached over under the table and took her hand and squeezed with all of her might. Her fingers had not given off shaking quite yet and Regina's head snapped around to appraise her. Emma didn’t look at her, simply drew all of the comfort she could from the warm palm and then clicked on a plastic smile.

“This is Vanessa, Hanna’s colleague. Vanessa, this is Regina Mills.” They politely shook hands before Vanessa’s attention was drawn to her phone.

“Pretty.” Regina noted under her breath. It seemed more of a judgment then a compliment.

Regina called over a waiter and ordered a drink before she cleared her throat and addressed a freshly returned Hanna, “So Hanna, how did you like our fair little city when you were there?”

Hanna nodded, “It’s cute. Small. I always heard so many bad things about Storybrooke that I think I had a different expectation of it.”

Regina chuckled, “I suppose Emma has not given it the most glowing of reviews in the past but there are a few things there that are worth seeing.”

“Where exactly is Storybrooke?” Vanessa asked sipping her wine and then dabbing at her lips.

“Maine. Just outside of Portland.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize. It must be beautiful up there!”

“It is. Have you ever traveled to Maine, Vanessa?”

They had a few minutes of polite conversation about Vanessa’s travel history, the beautiful places in Maine and a small comparison to Hanna’s beach hometown and the earthy woods of Storybrooke. Vanessa was polite and fluent enough in small talk that she and Regina were able to hold most of the conversation for a while.

“So, Hanna are your parents coming for the wedding?”

Hanna laughed openly, “No I doubt it. They believe in marriage even less than I do.”

“I’m trying to convince her that they might want to come.” Emma tittered into her napkin.

Hanna just shrugged looking uncomfortable and asked if, for that evening, talk of the wedding could be taken off the table. “It’s stressful thinking about such a large event with so much left to plan!”

“Oh but,” Regina looked between Emma and Hanna, “Everything is done, right Em? You’ve planned it all, haven't you?”

Hanna and Regina locked eyes, Hanna’s unamused and Regina’s challenging.

“Regardless.” Hanna said, tipping her drink to them as a thank you in advance for the subject change.

Emma went red.

Regina chuckled to herself, “Riiight. So Hanna, Vanessa, you’re lawyers, right? What kind of lawyers are you?”

“Vanessa is Wills and Probate. I practice family law which means I handle anything a family can throw at me from divorce to custody to alimony.”

Regina nodded, “A one stop shop.”

“Pretty much.”

“I see why you don’t believe in marriage, then.”

Hanna scowled. Emma blinked, surprised by Regina’s words. It was only Vanessa who laughed, “You would be surprised how often we get that.”

Hanna chuckled looking less like she was going to leap over the table and pummel Regina. “I get that a lot and it’s true. It does make it hard to believe in the constitution of it but,” Hanna kissed Emma’s hand. Emma would have been very pleased had Hanna not added “Plus, someone has to do the dirty work. We can’t all be doctors.”

Regina tittered, understanding the jab and not at all stung, “Oh I don’t know Hanna. I would say surgery is pretty dirty.” She spit the last word in a flair of venomous sensuality that had Hanna looking both murderous and appreciative.

Hanna opened her mouth to speak but Vanessa hit her on the arm making Hanna laugh jovially. Emma didn’t like that.

There was a lull in conversation wherein Emma sighed happily when the waiter came to take their orders.

Hanna leaned over and whispered something to Vanessa that sounded something like the Winston-Frank settlement.

The conversations separated Regina drawing Emma’s attention back to her. She tried to release Hanna’s hand as they turned to their different conversational partners but Hanna kept a firm grasp on it, sending the clear message I am holding what’s mine and I will not be letting it go anytime soon.

“Speaking of the conversation we had in my den; another thing that surprises and frankly concerns me. How tomboyish she is.” Regina whispered bluntly, a sugary spice in her words. With a slow grin she crossed her legs so her pantyhose knee, leg and high heel shifted out from under the table. Emma knew the point she was teasingly making and rolled her eyes. Sometimes she did miss things like pantyhose and high heels and perfectly manicured toenails. She missed the curve of a woman's leg when she stood in high heels and nothing else. Regina had taught her to love those things, the pillar that Emma had based her sexual attraction on. But these things were secret and she wouldn’t have admitted them for the world. “Well if her boyish ways are the only thing you can find to complain about this time then I guess that’s pretty good.”

“It’s not.” Regina insisted coldly “I’m just being polite, Em.”

“Oh come on, Gin. You forgave her for getting drunk, which was great and uh, thank you for that. Is there anything else that you could possibly be upset about?”

“I’m just worried that maybe she isn’t as great as you think she is.” Regina took Emma’s free hand and held it firmly, making Emma feel as though she were in the middle of a tug of war, “The fact that someone simply has not left you is in no way a good or solid reason to marry, Emma. I know you want to have a family and the picket fence. I know that you want to have children more than you want anything else in life but I’m worried that you’re ignoring some things so you can have it with Hanna because it’s easy. I know you want to be happy, Emma, true and honest happiness but she can’t give that to you. Pay attention Emma, please.”

Regina’s sudden heat was alarming. Where was the sudden passion coming from?

“Hey, what are you two whispering about over there?” Hanna broke the bubble Emma was sitting in and she was glad.

“Oh just talking about children.” Regina said lukewarmly.

Hanna pursed her lips, “My goodness, that’s one of Emma’s favorite topics these days isn’t it?”

“Well that’s healthy isn’t it, Hanna? A thirty year old woman should be thinking a little past her career, shouldn’t she?”

Emma thought that though Regina was sticking up for her, Regina saying that was bitterly ironic.

“Oh I don’t know Regina, you tell me. How much planning are you doing outside of your career right now? How old are you?”

Though their voices were polite and even chipper Emma looked to Vanessa, thinking that perhaps she could bail them out of this pissing contest with an off color joke but nothing came to her and Vanessa was looking fixedly off across the restaurant, more than likely embarrassed by the display.

“Well you may have forgotten, Hanna, but I do have a son.”

“Oh, right. The kid you got because you’re still single, right?”

“Actually, you may have forgotten, Hanna but I do have a girlfriend.”

“Oh right, the blonde. I don’t know, can you call her a girlfriend if she’s old enough to be your mother?”

“Watch it, leprechaun.”

“Okay, this isn’t working let’s just go.” Emma said, upset and beginning to stand.

“No!” Both women cried, pulling her back into her seat by either arm.

“I’m being inappropriate.” Regina said, fingering her necklace, “I’m just very tired and I let my hot head get the best of me. I apologize, Hanna.”

“I’m jet lagged. Sorry.”

Emma nodded unconvinced but thankfully the rest of the meal passed without incident.

 


 

“Okay so, your next flight, you can’t miss that one.” Emma said trying her hand at playful but only achieving pathetic. Hanna was barely paying attention to her as they said their goodbyes. “Hanna?”

“What? Oh, of course. That’s the wedding, right?”

Emma softly rubbed Hanna’s neck, trying to get her to notice her standing in front of her, “Hanna?”

“I said yes, Emma. Gees.”

“No, babe. Will you look at me for a second?”

Reluctantly Hanna focused in on Emma.

“What’s up with you babe? Where are you these days?”

Hanna blinked and something painful flashed across her face.

“Hanna, whatever is wrong please tell me about it.” Emma begged sweetly, “I want to be there for you and I want to make things better. I miss you.”

Hanna just she kissed her cheek softly and promised to call her.

Emma felt openly and painfully abandoned as she watched Hanna and Vanessa laugh together as they walked down the street and got into a cab.

This trip hadn’t helped at all.She wanted to call Hanna back and scream, cry, beg anything she needed to do to get Hanna to talk to her.

She jumped a little when Regina wrapped her arms around her shoulder, “Are you all right?”

“You saw how she behaved tonight, right? That wasn’t in my head?”

“No, baby, that wasn’t in your head.” Regina sighed, letting her temple press into Emma’s.

Emma let her head fall back on Regina’s shoulder with a sad sigh, “Ginny, I don’t know what to do.”

With a stomp of fury she cried, “God I can’t wait for this wedding to be over so I can just go back to my damned life and forget all of this.”

Regina flinched away, looking as if she had been slapped.

“Oh, Ginny!” Emma had only been releasing her frustration but she had hurt Regina accidently. “I didn’t mean it that way. I only meant I’m ready for my life to stop being so confusing not that I’m ready to be away from you.”

Regina smiled that impersonal polite smile and handed her valet ticket to the man behind the desk, “It’s alright Em. I know that all of this is just a page out of time for you.”

Emma’s insides hurt for Regina and she wondered yet again if rekindling their friendship had been a foolish idea.

 


 

Things in the car were still slightly tense and off-color as they drove home the next day. Emma felt blasé; full of depression and Regina didn’t seem to have much to say to her at all. They said almost nothing until, only a half an hour away from home, Emma received a very surprising email.

“Ginny, listen to this.” Regina looked over quickly, surprised by the clear hope and uplift to her tone. Emma read the email with a feeling of relief so strong that she could have easily thrown back her head and laughed.

“Hey Emma,

I was thinking a lot in my hotel room last night. I am sure you have noticed that things have not been the happiest between us. I think I need to see you. I think we need some time to talk.

With this thought I am hoping that perhaps you could come home for a few days. I feel that the sooner this happens the better. As a courtesy I found a red eye flight leaving this evening out of Portland at 11 P.M. that, with a bit of a layover, would get you into town at 7 A.M. tomorrow morning. I will not arrive back into town until mid morning myself but this was the best flight available for the price.

I hope this is something you are willing to do. It’s very important to me.

Thanks,

H”



 

 

Chapter Text

Emma let her phone drop into her lap and sighed deeply, feeling a jittery joy that made her want to tap dance. “Oh Ginny, thank goodness. This means things are going to get better, Jesus, finally. Oh, it will be so nice to be home even if it’s just for a few days. And of course,”

Then Regina finally exploded. “Don’t go.”

“What?”

“I keep telling myself to stay out of this because I am biased but I can’t anymore. I can’t, I can’t, I won’t. Don’t go, Emma. Just let this all go. She is terrible. She is dangerous. She is not the one for you. Don’t go back to New Orleans.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you really love her?”

The question threw Emma into confusion. Why would Regina even need to ask that? “What do you mean?”

“After all of this time you have never once said it. You say it about Ruby, you say it about your mother; you even say it about me despite everything we have been through but I truly cannot remember a single time you have said it.”

“Said what, Ginny?”

“That you love her. You say things like she's my partner or I adore her but you have never used the words I love her.”

Emma went to speak and choked for a second, discomfort closing her throat. She wasn’t sure what to say; simply saying yes I love her seemed feeble. “I’m marrying her, aren’t I?”

“That’s not what I asked you.”

“Why would I marry someone I don’t love? Of course I love her.”

“You’re in love with Hanna?”

“Yes.”

“You have such a strange way of forgiving her for so many things. You did not speak to me for five years over a miscommunication yet you overlook so many things for her.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“She grabbed my ass.”

“What?”

“She grabbed my ass.”

“That night that she was drunk?”

“No, last night.”

“What? When? There is no way.”

“When I was coming in and she was going out to take her phone call. We bumped into one another.”

“Are you sure she wasn’t just trying to grab you to make sure you were steady?”

“Emma, you are not as dumb as you have been behaving the last few months.”

“What?”

“Can I say it now?” Regina asked quietly.

Emma glared, hit by a sharp sense that she wanted to get the fuck out of the car and be as far from it as possible. “You can say anything you want Ginny.”

“I know that she’s the one who hurt you.”

“What are you talking about?” Emma asked her shaky voice giving her away from the start.

“Oh Emma!” Regina all but shouted, “Stop lying to me! I know what I saw. She hurt you. She has probably done it before and she will probably do it again. You’re being abused Emma. She’s abusing you. You simply do not realize that is what this is!”

“Regina you are so off mark.” Emma shouted back, furious and caught.

“Tell me she hasn’t done it before!” Emma frowned as the memory of the shove that had cracked her Humerus on the wooden arm of the couch flashed angry and sharp. That had been an accident. “HANNA IS NOT ABUSING ME, REGINA!”

“Why, Emma? Why are you letting this happen to you? Why are you insisting on this terrible, terrible relationship?”

Though she thought hard, Emma could not come up with a single response. How did she explain what she was feeling?

“Emma, please answer me.”

“Hanna is good; she really is. She has always treated me, besides a few slip-ups over the years, very well. I have been very happy until recently. I am not saying that life is not hard with Hanna, it is, but I think that a relationship does not get thrown away over a few weeks of bad behavior. I think what you are supposed to do is communicate and try to see if it can be fixed. What happened between us taught me that and I don’t plan on making that mistake again.”

“What other slip ups has she had? Has she hurt you before?”

Emma was silent, refusing to give the answer that she knew would make this worse.

“I guess that means that she has.”

“What? No! Hanna is NOT abusing me!”

They had passed through the city limits. Regina in her anger was driving a bit too fast but Emma was thankful. She wanted an escape.

“Emma, you’re not acting like yourself!”

“Why do you always act like you know me better than I know me?” She snapped. “You behave as if you know what’s right for my life and how my life should be run. You haven’t been in my life for a very long time and you know nothing about Hanna and I outside of this rough patch. I’m not the same person I was when we were young; has it occurred to you that maybe you’re wrong? There is no abuse, that is not what happened.”

“Em, I’m not trying to decide anything for you. I’m not trying to do anything but be here for you. Yes, I’m probably not doing it very well because Hanna is just awful. But whether you like it or not, Hanna did corner me when she was drunk and whether you like it or not Hanna did openly touch me somewhere she shouldn’t last night. Above all of this is the fact that I am sure that Hanna left bruises on you, I’m sensing more than once and that, my dear, is abuse. So tell me Em, what’s wrong with me asking if you’re sure she’s the one under those circumstances? If the roles were reversed, I’m sorry but you would say the same thing to me! You, yourself, have said many times that things are hard with Hanna. Love is not supposed to be so hard.”

“How would you know, Ginny?” She knew it was a low blow but Regina didn't skip a beat in her response.

“Because I loved once and it wasn’t hard.”

Damn. Emma had not expected that as an answer. “Just because things with her are hard sometimes doesn’t make them bad. I don’t think every type of love looks like it does in the movies. She’s a little brisk and easy to anger, as you’ve seen. She’s a workaholic so she’s never around. Yes, there are days when she comes home and my first thought is oh god, Hanna is home. I don’t know if this is what love is supposed to look like. I think thoughts like that are normal. This is who I have chosen to be with and I stand by that choice.”

Regina nodded but was not done trying to convince her yet, “Don’t go. Let this relationship go. Stay here with the people who love you and who are good for you.  Think about the life you could have here. You could write. I know you could get a position as a professor if you wanted it. You could live in the place you grew up and be near your mom. You could find someone else. You could find someone who deserves you.”

“Oh yeah? Are you volunteering yourself for the position?”

I’m not talking about me, Emma.” Regina bit. “I know I missed the boat and I know that it has been five years. I just meant maybe, I don’t know Em, maybe there is a better life for you out there and maybe even a better woman.”

Emma scowled and realized at some point they had landed in front of her mother's loft. None of what Regina was saying to her was a new thought to her. As a matter of fact every time Hanna cut off Emma as she was speaking to her with an unrelated comment or chose to work a few extra hours knowing Emma had dinner on the table at home she wondered if there was a better woman out there for her but she had chosen Hanna and was going to stick with it because that is what you were supposed to do. That was the adult choice; it would be a silly teenage reaction to run away every time she felt a touch of insecurity.

“Ginny, look,”

Regina held up her hand. “Just think about this for a moment, please. Close your eyes. Yes, close them. You come home from work and it’s a beautiful fall day, the kind that only happens once or twice a year. It’s golden hour so everything outside the house is shining and beautiful. You come inside and there in the kitchen are three people waiting for you. Your wife is at the sink washing a vegetable for dinner; she’s beautiful and her face lights up the moment you walk into the room. The little boy by her side is five or so and he’s just learning how to cook because his mothers are showing him as they make dinner every night. He is so excited with that look that little boys get on their faces when they find something fascinating. He’s stirring a giant pot far larger than he is, but when he hears you he drops everything, maybe splashing a little marinara on his face and goes running to you, almost knocking you over in his rush to throw his arms around your legs. Then on the kitchen floor on a little blanket is a baby girl who is just learning to smile. You kiss your wife and your son and then go over and pick her up. She shrieks with delight and kicks her legs, so excited to see you. Your mom comes in from the other room and the little boy runs to her, insisting that he has to show her what he’s making. Maybe Mary affectionately rubs your wife’s back as she walks by. Everyone is content, everyone is happy and they are your family.”

Emma opened her eyes when Regina’s voice stopped painting the beautiful picture and it was like emerging from a dream. She smiled despite herself, clutching Regina’s hand for dear life. That would indeed be life at it’s finest.

She took a deep breath and choked. “You’re right Gin, that sounds better than my favorite dream. The thing is, who knows, maybe I will still get it. Maybe Hanna will change her mind and even if she doesn’t that will be all right because there are many different versions of that picture.”

“Not for you, Em. For you that picture will always include that beautiful woman and that beautiful family.”

Gruffly Regina sniffed, wiping a tear from under her sunglasses and tried one more time, “Please Emma. I’m so worried for you. Just let this go.”

Emma frowned and slowly shook her head. “Regina, I have to.”

Regina’s face settled, a small tear sliding out from under the tinted shades. “Okay. Then I think, I think I need to step away from you. I don’t think I can watch you do this. I love you too much for that. I’m sorry.”

Softly Regina caressed her jaw and kissed her cheek.

Mechanically Emma got out of the car.

She was hollow.

 


 

It seemed she had only been home for minutes when it was time to start toward the airport. Her mother, understood and took her willingly, not that she didn’t cry, admitting that she hadn’t realized how short their time had grown - the entire drive.

“But you’re going to miss Thanksgiving! It’s only the day after tomorrow. Can’t you just wait until after that? Ginny was so looking forward to cooking with you. It’s her first holiday with Henry that she has off.”

“I’m sorry, mom. Hanna booked the flight for tonight. I have to go.”

Emma’s inside ached for Regina but perhaps the time had come to let go. The wedding was so soon and she would be gone anyway.

Still every mile she drove away from Storybrooke she felt as though she was taking a knife to Regina’s sensitive skin. Maybe they could make up after the wedding but she had to focus on what Hanna needed for a little while. She needed to fix whatever the hell was happening in her marriage...future marriage...situation...it’s complicated...whatever.

 


 

Waiting at her terminal she tried hard to hold on to the feeling of excitement about being home. Each time it flared in her she snatched at it but it always faded away into the sea of black sadness.

She boarded her flight relieved to be on her way, her choice to flee back to her mother, Ruby and Regina had been taken from her and she was so grateful.

Ruby! She had forgotten to tell Ruby again.

She would call her as soon as she landed.

She popped two sleeping pills and covered her eyes with a sleep mask. She just wanted to close her eyes and have this be over.  

Sleep, however, did not come.

Her mind was screaming, crying, aching.

She needed to do this for Hanna. She needed to give up the last bit of time that she had in Storybrooke for her partner. She needed to let (Regina) her life in Storybrooke slip away from her for Hanna’s sake. When would she be back after the wedding? A year? Two years?

What was waiting for her when she arrived home? She was sure that she and Hanna could be fixed, of course they could, but how much work would it take?  Did she really have it in her? She was so tired. She was always so tired these days. Could she take more? Maybe Regina was right and it wasn’t all supposed to be this hard. No, she knew Regina was right but how could you tell what was a rough patch and what was something that said it was time to walk away?

She landed in New Orleans with the sun.

She mentally shook herself. She had been dozing in and out of depression the entire flight and now it was time to snap out of it. She was home now. Time to shut up and figure it out.

The long drive that curled around the airport and out onto the Interstate was a welcomed sight. She shed her winter coat instantly, laughing as she stared out the window of the shuttle at the billboards for News With A Twist, ads for shows going on down in the Quarter and warnings against drinking and driving, a wave of nostalgia washing over her. She knew that first and foremost - once she and Hanna were settled in - they would have to go for a bag of crawfish.

Traffic was heavy on the four lane and against her will her eyes grew heavy, her forehead lightly tapping the cool glass. She couldn’t remember when she had been this tired physically or emotionally. She thought of her soft and warm bed that she was steadily getting closer to. It would be nice to sleep between her own sheets again.

Come on, Emma. Come on. Get your shit together. She bounced herself in her seat again trying to escape the sleepiness as well as the ball of lead in her stomach.

She watched the shuttle curl through the streets of her neighborhood drawing her closer to home and couldn't shake the feeling that this was...weird.

“Thank you.” she tipped the driver and hopped out.

Looking up at her apartment her worry dried completely and everything seemed just a little bit simpler. It was good to be home.

“Hi!” she called as she stepped inside knowing that no one was home. She dropped her bag on the couch, brows furrowing. Something was different. Or was it that she had been gone for so long that she didn’t remember correctly? Was Hanna doing some redecorating? She wouldn’t be surprised, Hanna cared a little too much about how their home looked. She had redecorated three times in the years since they had moved in together.

Oh. The change dawned on her. A copy of her first book had always been sitting on the coffee table but she had been on the phone when it had been destroyed. That’s right. I guess that meant it couldn’t be saved.

She went to the kitchen deciding if she was going to make it through the day she needed coffee. She pulled out the french press and the red bag of Community New Orleans Blend then paused again. There was something strange about this room too. She studied the room as she waited for the water to boil.

The photos.

The photos that usually hung on the wall of she and Hanna were gone. Where could she had moved them?

The kettle screamed and she poured the water over the grounds. Waiting a few minutes she plunged the press and reached for her favorite mug. It was her Harvard Medical mug - it had been Regina’s but somehow had ended up at her apartment in college and became Emma’s.

She searched through the mugs and the dishwasher but it wasn’t there.

She settled on a different mug and took a sip. Hmmm, NOLA knew how to do coffee right.

She casually walked through the kitchen and into the dining room. This room also looked strange, what the hell was it?

She went through the mail that Hanna had not deemed important enough to mail her. She sat on the couch, turning on and flicking through the TV stations.

Then just because she had nothing else to do she wandered into her office/writing studio. It had always been her favorite place in the house, her space.

She rounded the corner and stopped. The mug slipped from her hands as her jaw fell open.

The room had previously been littered with Emma - posters on the walls from her favorite movies and bands - Post It notes everywhere reminding her to watch her spelling or reminders of the birthdates of her characters - a thick corner desk which held her computer - and books, so many books everywhere.

Now the walls were clean. In place of the chaos were four large bookcases stacked neatly with books on every topic of law, the computer desk wiped clean and holding a brand new computer and on the walls were a number of degrees framed and gleaming. She stepped over the mess her coffee had made and came face to face with the first series of degrees. Hanna Mason, Hanna Mason...Vanessa Graves, Vanessa Graves, Vanessa Graves.

“What the fuck?” she whispered stiffly. Had Hanna and Vanessa decided to set up an office at the apartment? Why would they use her space? This didn’t make any sense. Unless...

She turned, moving on instinct and sprinted up the stairs to the bedroom. Everything here was different. The bedding was no longer her beloved deep rust set that she and Hanna had squabbled over in the store only to lustily fall onto the moment they were home - but a foreign soft blue one. The photographs that had lined the walls of Emma and Hanna over the years were all gone, replaced with art and a few stray here and there of Hanna - her future wife and the tall blonde she had eaten dinner with hours before. They were cuddled together. They were grinning. They were...kissing. Here too the bookshelves had changed from Emma’s collection to a wholly new one; her Sarah Waters, Janette Winterson, Stephen King and Sandra Brown were now missing in action.

Then it dawned on her.

All of her things were missing. From the entire house. That is what had been tickling at the back of her mind since she arrived - her belongings...

She ripped open the dresser that she used to share and snatched out a series of shirts, jeans, bras and underwear that did not belong to her.

What the fucking hell?”

She ran quickly from room to room confirming that all of her belongings were vacant from their original locations, beginning to shake with fury and confusion. Finally downstairs next to the laundry room she found a large pile of neatly organized boxes - far too organized for Hanna to have had anything to do with them.

She threw the top box open and found her waterlogged first copy of The Thing You Love Most along with her Northeastern sweater and her favorite pair of fuzzy socks.

It was everything. It was her life packed away in boxes...again...ready for - she didn’t know. Something. With Vanessa’s belonging in her place upstairs she had to think...

She leaned heavily against the wall and tried to stop her spinning mind.

 

 

“I’m sorry, Emma. It’s time to go.”

“But I don’t want to! I like it here! Mr. and Mrs. Fuller are nice to me!”

“I know sugar, but they have a baby on the way which means that it’s time to go.”

“To a new foster home?”

“That’s right. See, you’re so smart. I’m sure you'll find your forever family soon.”

 

 

She had been kicked out. Her future wife was trading her in for a new model. That was the only thing that this could be.

Her mind melted into a blind rage, all rational thought slipping away.

She saw red.

This was not happening again.

 


 

She wasn’t sure what she did in the time between the discovery of her boxes and the moment when she heard a key rattling in the lock of the front door. She had done a lot of pacing, that much she knew. She had also done a lot of yelling at nothing. She had considered throwing all of Vanessa’s belongings on the street or possibly putting them through the shredder.

She stopped her pacing and ranting as the front door opened and Hanna stepped in.

The annoyance was clear on Hanna’s face, “I was hoping that you would have seen the apartment and then left again. No such luck. Oh well. Hi.”

Disjoined annoyance and confusion pushed through her. What the hell had she just said? Jesus, was this really happening? “You had better explain yourself. Now Hanna. In small fucking words so that I understand because right now, I do not understand!

The familiar face leered. “What I don’t get a hello?”

“Do you think this is fucking funny?” she screamed. Perhaps she should have been embarrassed by her reaction but she couldn’t find that it her. No. Fuck that. She was livid. She was murderous. She was...dying inside.

Hanna’s face hardened and she let her bag drop to the floor with a smack. “Sit down.”

“Excuse me?”

Sit down.

“No! I am just fine where I am.”

Hanna rolled her eyes. “Fine. We will both stand. Look, I have a lot to tell you and I need to make this quick because Vanessa will be back soon.”

“What? Are you fuc-”

“I would have given you the same courtesy when we were together.”

“What?” Incredulous shock hit her like a mini van to the temple.

SHUT UP, EMMA! I WON’T SAY IT AGAIN!

Emma stumbled backward alarmed, a trickle of fear running down her spine. That face that Hanna had just made - scary was the only word for it. The fury there…the hate there...what had Emma done to make Hanna hate her that much?

“Now. I am just going to say it and then we can backtrack. I’ve packed all of your things and I’ve moved you out.”

“Yeah. Caught that. Thanks.” She began to pace again, her side screaming. She wanted to rip something apart. She wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear. She wanted to hide from the feelings that were trying to force their way into her. She didn’t want to hurt like this anymore. “I don’t, I don’t fucking understand.”

“Well the thing is I am in love with someone else and it’s her that I want to marry. She moved in a month ago.”

Angry disbelief flooded through Emma, hot yet icy bitter.

“I met her just over a year ago, right after I proposed. There is nothing like an engagement to make you realize you don’t want to marry someone. I’m sorry if that hurts you, Emma but it’s true. Nessa and I started seeing one another immediately, on and off anyway. At first it was a mistake and I went back and forth about what to do. I did like you, Emma. Really.”

Emma was barely listening. She had no interest in hearing any of this but what else was she supposed to do? Her brain was working slowly, thick as molasses and all she could see was rage. “A year ago Hanna? Seriously? Right after you proposed? Seriously?

“Yes. And this is all happening because I am a coward. I was supposed to break up with you six fucking months ago but I just couldn’t. Every time that I built up the courage I would lose it the moment I faced you. I know about your history. I knew what it would do to you. And you were so stupidly optimistic. We didn’t get along and yet you were sure we would be happy forever.”

“Wha-”

“On top of all of that, I’m weak. I would see you and well, I really like fucking you.”

“What?”

“You have to admit you’re a hot little piece of ass and do you know how rare it is to find a woman who will literally do anything in the sack? I mean Nessa is hot but” she let out a large burst of air and shook her head reverently.

Emma let out a series of stumbled mutters, not sure if she was flattered or humiliated. She felt dirty inside the memories of their love making soiled.

“So I would mean to break up with you and do that instead. Then you left and it was easy to push you to the back of my mind.” Hanna sighed deeply and shrugged, “No more though. The time has come. Nessa agreed me marry me last month which means that I have to do right by her. Oh and I’m not just throwing you out either Emma; this is a swap. Nessa told her landlord that you would be subletting until her lease is up next June.”

“What? You want me to move in to her apartment?”

“It’s a great apartment. It’s in the Quarter and has a great view.”

“And that’s supposed to make it okay?”

“Stop yelling at me, Emma.”

“Janelle.” Emma realized, “Every time you said you were with Janelle...you were really with her.”

The smug look that crossed Hanna’s face was the most offensive thing yet.

“What you’re proud?”  

“Look. Stop yelling. We’re not going to get anywhere if you keep yelling.”

“You’re kicking me out of my house and my life. Not only that though, you want me to move into her apartment because you two have been together for how long?”

“Do you remember that office party”?

Emma raised her hand, a loud signal to shut up. Hanna didn’t need to finish. The lowest point of their relationship had been at an office party two months before they had gotten engaged. They had fought in the coatroom and Emma had returned home alone. She had expected Hanna right behind her but instead she had fallen asleep waiting for her to make her appearance - which hadn't happened until morning.

She had been out all night.

She had been busy meeting her, the new future Mrs. Mason.

Before the proposal...Hanna had just lied...she had actually met the new blonde weeks before Hanna had even proposed...their first night had been...“I can’t fucking believe this.” She shook her head trying to clear it, trying not to hear Regina’s words warning her against Hanna but she couldn’t. “I can’t fucking believe this.”

“Look. I said stop yelling at me and I mean it.”

“No.” She turned on Hanna, “No, I’m not going to stop yelling. How could you do this Hanna? What the hell is wrong with you? What kind of a person are you?”

“Look, just shut up and sit down. We will finish talking.”

“No. I don’t want to fucking sit down, god damn it.”

“Sit down.” Hanna growled stepping a little closer, “You’re acting like a child and it’s pissing me off.”

“NO! Stop telling me what to do! You’ve been telling me what to do for years and I guess you don’t have the right anymore. God. I can’t believe I was going to marry you! Thank god! I should have listened to Regina.”

“Sit down, Swan.” Hanna’s eyes were growing dark with anger but Emma didn’t care. Why the hell should she spare her feelings right now?

“Hanna, shut up.”

I said sit down!” With a furious grunt Hanna seized Emma by the upper arms and flung her into the couch. Emma landed with a ground-shaking smack on the corner of the hard wooden arm of the love seat before she crumpled into a heap onto the cushion. Pain shot through her back like white-hot iron making her wail.

“You never listen to me!” Hanna bellowed, a finger jabbing inches from Emma’s nose, “You never fucking listen to me. Now stay there so we can fucking talk!”

Emma’s body bowed as she tried to rid herself of the pain. God, they needed to get rid of these couches. This was exactly how her arm had been broken. Slowly it dulled to a steady throb and in its place a horrible realization became clear.

“Oh my god,” Emma whispered, tears pouring down her face instantly, “Regina was right.”

“Can you stop talking about Regina for five fucking minutes? God that woman is infuriating!”

“Regina was right. You are abusive.”

“What?”

She pulled herself to her feet, groaning slightly, “She was right. You’re abusive. How many times have you told me that I’m stupid?” Confusion poured through her. She was being abused. How...how had she let that happen? She wasn’t the kind of person who let herself be abused? Suddenly in that moment the gap between who she was now and who she had been once seemed wide as the Grand Canyon.

“I am not abusive, Emma.”

“How many times have you told me that I’m nothing?”

“Things we say when we’re fighting do not count!”

“God, who else would kick me out of my own house without even telling me? No one. Only an abusive bitch!” The heat had been knocked out of her when her spine had bent around the wooden arm of the loveseat but slowly it was filtering back in, working through her blood.

“Watch it, Emma.”

“What’s wrong with me? How did I never see it?”

“I am not fucking abusive. You’re just fucking impossible.”

Wide desperate eyes turned on Hanna, begging her to understand, “But you are, Hanna. Don’t you understand? You are abusive. It’s been happening so slowly that I never noticed. All the yelling. All the name calling. You broke my arm. You fucking broke my arm. You gave me bruises that lasted weeks.”

An absurd thought swan to the surface: Detective Swan would not tolerate this.

“God those were accidents. This is exactly why we have broken up. You’re so fucking annoying. God!”

“You’re abusive Hanna! Whether you want to admit it or not!”

“I am not!”

“You are. Oh my god! Vanessa - she’s in danger!”

Hanna lunged at her, a palm covering Emma’s treasonous mouth as Hanna shoved her backward. She hit the wall hard, hard enough to make her head swim, “I AM NOT ABUSIVE, EMMA! STOP SAYING THAT OR I SWEAR TO GOD!”

“Get your fucking hands off of me!” Emma barked. With a giant shove Hanna flew a foot back. She shoved her again and again until Hanna landed across the room on one knee. There was no way that this little bitch would be touching her ever again. “Do not touch me again. I fucking mean it, Hanna. I am going downstairs. I am going to get some of my things and then I will be leaving. You are terrible and I wash my fucking hands of you. You and Vanessa can work your shit out together.”

Hanna’s face was cold as she slowly got to her feet, her eyes dead, hollow.

Emma glared for a moment longer before turning toward the stairs. A hand was on her shoulder in an instant. “Let GO-”

She hadn’t turned fully when something collided with her eye socket.

 


 

It had been surprisingly easy to decide what to do next. She had made her slow hobbling way back to the airport.

There was no moment of confusion.

It had been surprisingly hard to get back on a plane.

When she had approached the counter for the only airline that flew to Maine the woman in her stiff uniform had looked up and gasped. Her next move had been to call security.

Numb and disconnected Emma had apologized, only just realizing what she must look like and made her slow way to the bathroom before the guard could approach, avoiding the eyes of the people around her.

She had done the best that she could despite the fact that she was still bleeding. When she had returned to the counter it was with her sunglasses on and to a different agent.

Still she had been questioned and made to pass a full inspection before being allowed through the gate.

They were assuming her condition was because of some nefarious deed.

She had not felt unsure of where to go now that she had been thrown out of her own home. It was almost as if the plane had been calling her back.

Portland was a small airport with one flight coming and one flight going.

All it took was $1300 and a fifteen hour wait in an uncomfortable airport chair that she could barely rest in until she was bumping her way back through the air, curled into a ball against the pain; the numb stupor still clogging all of her senses.

Now that she had heard it from Hanna’s mouth she had known it all along. Emma did not cry. She couldn’t. She couldn’t feel anything. She didn’t deserve the release of tears anyway - not after being so stupid and allowing herself to be in this situation which she should have been smart enough to avoid.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

She could have called her mother for a ride when she landed back in Portland but instead she went like a robot on autopilot and rented a car.

At least at this counter the agent, while clearly put off by her face, rented her the car without trouble.

She took the keys then drove mechanically back to her mother's house.

Once parked in the driveway however she found that she wasn’t sure how she had gotten there nor could she get out of the car. She felt frozen.

She checked the time. There was no sneaking in. It was almost ten in the morning. Her mother would be up.

Emma stared at the phone in her shaking hand for a while, she couldn’t tell exactly how long. The picture on her background was taken just after Hanna had proposed. They both looked so happy, content with their life but now the picture made Emma sick.

I really like fucking you so –

She let the phone fall to her lap. Regina had been right.

Who was she? Was she still Emma Nolan? Somewhere buried deep within her did the Emma Nolan that existed before Hanna Mason still live? She had done so much, forgiven so much all for the sake of – of what?

She didn’t know what to do now. It was as if all thoughts and emotions had been replaced by the soft buzzing sound again.

She took a deep breath when she saw the front door of her mother’s house open and decided to just ignore whoever spilled out.

The look on Hanna’s face just after Emma had shoved her away from her clouded her mind. She had stood up to Hanna - and Hanna had beaten the living daylight out of her. A match light of anger flickered in her stomach then was consumed by the buzz.

Her whole life had been swallowed up by one conversation. How should she move forward now? What was she supposed to do? How could Hanna have been packing her things in her own home for so long without bothering to tell her? While allowing her to continue to plan their...wedding? How had she not known? How had she never understood... She should have seen. It had been so obvious.

Her head hurt, her heart hurt, her body hurt and she felt foolish.

 

(“Emma? Emma, is that you? You’re back? Em- oh my god Emma!”)

 

Of course Hanna had been cheating on her. When she thought about it now this was the only answer to Hanna’s change that made any sense. How had she not seen it months before she had left for Storybrooke? It had been going on for so long. How was Hanna with Vanessa? Would she break her bones and bash in her face too? Would she cheat and lie to the future Mrs. Mason just like she had done to Emma? Would Vanessa notice the things that Emma had not? Or was it that Emma just drew this kind of violent reaction from those around her - those she cared for?

The car door opened making Emma jump and turn away from the fresh air, curling into a ball on the car seat. Her mother cooed to her softly, trying to pull Emma out but Emma wasn’t ready to leave. The moment she stepped out of the car she was stepping out of her security net, out of her life. The moment she stepped out of the car she had to face what Hanna had done to her and she just wasn’t sure she could do that. How do people do that?

 

(“Emma please, answer me! Emma! What happened? Please honey; please get out of the car. Emma. Emma! Sweetheart, please.”)

 

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, not registering the voice that spoke. She was so humiliated. She was so stupid. What was wrong with her? What did she need to do now? Hanna had told her just before she had allowed Emma to gather some of her belongings - and before she shoved Emma out of the front door - that she had cancelled the wedding and all of the ordered services days before unbeknownst to Emma. So at least she didn’t need to worry about that. That was good she supposed. That way she didn’t have to explain that she had been about to marry a monster. She should have stayed, despite Hanna and made sure all of her things were packed. How was she going to get those boxes now, anyway?

She heard the car door click closed and felt a small breath of relief, thankful to be confined again.

Her eyes began to burn and with a blunt shock she realized she hadn’t been blinking. She rubbed at them fiercely, mewling at the pain but the burn only grew. When she pulled her hand away it was slightly bloody.

She had to find a place to live. She had to go inside. She had to tell her mother and her friends what had happened to her that day, how much of an idiot she had been.

Stupid, worthless idiot. She was such a stupid worthless idiot. Would she never learn?

She knew she was breaking and she didn’t care much. She just let her head rest on the seat as she stared into nothing, listening to the words in her head. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she was so stupid.

 

(“Oh my god. What the FUCK happened?”

“I don’t know. She won’t say anything.”

“Her face…”

“I don’t know, Ruby. I don’t know. You don’t think…”

“Noooo! Oh god. Regina, she asked me if I thought - oh god!”)

 

The car door opened again and Emma heard Ruby asking in a panic what had happened. Something touched her back and she cried out in pain, shrinking away.

At least she understood now why Hanna had been so rude - so violent. She imagined she would be rude to everyone as well if she was trying to find a way to break up with someone for weeks at a time.

God, how humiliating. She was a chump, a fool. She shouldn’t be allowed to show her face in public. She should be ashamed of herself.

A sea salt wave of nauseating shame and humiliation poured into her stomach, washing out the buzzing. Emma’s breath grew quicker and quicker as the feeling intensified. How pathetic was she? Regina had known after one night with Hanna. Why had she refused to see it? Accident or not, Hanna had broken her bones and she hadn’t seen it. Hanna had tricked her into sleeping with a hooker and she hadn’t seen it. She had controlled and dominated her life for years and she hadn’t seen it. Why did she literally need to be punched in the face before she was able to get it through her thick skull?

Emma felt a small tear break through the numb and roll down her cheek. Then a few more. In moments her whole body was shaking, wracked through with pain. She sobbed so hard that her whole body convulsed, shaking in the car seat as she held herself together with her arms.

Months of swallowed away, held back tears poured from her.

She wailed; a wild animal caught in a trap.

 

(“Call her.”

“What?”

“CALL HER, MARY!”)

 

Emma hated herself. How could she not?

She rocked and wailed, her fingers scratching at her face, popping the scabs. She was nothing. She was worth nothing. Another thing to give away, a forgotten doll sold for a dime in a family garage sale. A chew toy.

When the car door opened again it was not from the door behind her but from the passenger side. A terrified face swam into her vision but Emma couldn’t process it, couldn’t hear it over the sounds of her hacking guttural sobs. Soft but firm hands gripped her demanding her attention and burning her skin.

 

(“Emma. Em, Em, look at me. Oh god. Oh fuck.”)

 

She saw the shapes moving in front of her but it wasn’t until she saw a swarm of white come at her and felt it press into her eye that she was able to jar herself enough to see the face; tear streaked and horrified.

It was Regina. Of course it was, of course her family would see Emma this way in the front yard and call Regina to come clean her up.

 

(“Emma, please, darling. Please get out of the car. Baby? Come on - I don’t think she hears me.”)

 

Pain stabbed at her. Now she had to admit that everything Regina had said was right. Adding Regina to the mix was too much pain. She wanted to hide from her. She wanted to fold herself into her.

She needed to get up. She needed to move forward. She couldn’t allow herself to fall apart over this situation. Hanna wasn’t worth it, she knew this logically. Was she upset about losing Hanna? She didn’t really know. Was she upset over loosing Hanna, was she upset about being cheated on and thrown out or was she upset because she had allowed someone to use her like a punching bag?

 

(“Emma, you’re bleeding. Please get out of the car.”)

 

Recognition clicked in Emma as she felt something touch her sore knees, pulling up the legs of her yoga pants. She looked down and saw they were scabbed over. That’s right. She had fallen. On her way to the bathroom in the airport. She remembered tripping and falling and a kindly airline worker helping her back up. She remembered hearing the woman ask in a loud and authoritative voice if she was all right. She remembered the pity in the woman’s face, the same look you feel on yourself when you see a homeless mother and child begging for money on the street corner.

“Oh god.” Emma whispered, wiping at her knees. She choked as the floodgates opened again. Every feeling came back to her with a slap that rocked her in her seat; pain, humiliation, betrayal, depression, anger - pain, enormous amounts of physical pain. She didn’t know what to do with any of it.

Her outburst of tears seemed to scare her audience just as much as it scared her and they scrambled to help but their attention only made Emma’s humiliation more complete. She felt her hand close on the collar of the person before her, “Ginny?”

“Yes.” Regina breathed, obviously relieved. “I’m here. What happened?” Regina’s voice was firm, serious.

She knew there was no point in keeping the truth back, “Hanna asked me to come back so she could tell me that she had moved Vanessa in. She cancelled our wedding and then when I got mad...she beat the living fuck out of me. You were right, Gin.” She wiped her sodden face ignoring the gasps from the people surrounding the car. “She had all of my things packed in boxes and her new fiancée has been living there for a while now.”

Regina’s voice was strange when she said, as if suddenly understanding, “She has been cheating on you.”

“Yes. She has been cheating on me for well over a year now.”

“And she...she did this to you?”

“Yes. I understand that Hanna is scum but how could I have been so stupid? You were right about everything. I should have left when she broke my arm! I can’t believe I’m so dumb!” Emma wailed through the tears.

Regina nodded in understanding, “Okay Em, you need to come out of the car now.”

Emma shook her head.

“If I could reach in and carry you out I would, honey but I can’t.”

Regina went around to the driver's side and knelt next to the open car door, her hair pulled up into a clip a few strands falling freely, in her pink scrubs and glasses. “They called you from work! Oh my god, I suck!”

 

(“Give me your hand.”)

 

“What?”

“Give me your hand, Emma.”

Regina softly pulled her out by the hands and then pulled Emma against her, leaning back against the car as Emma cried into her chest.

Emma let herself curl into her there, her face pressed tightly against her neck. Regina crooned and cooed doing her best to comfort her. When the tears let up Emma was embarrassed. She pushed away from her, wiping her face and standing on her own.

Regina’s shirt was spotted and smeared with watery tears and - red.

“Oh god, is that blood?

Regina nodded her head at her, gently pushing her hair back and rubbing her thumb at the corner of her lips, something she used to do. “You’re bleeding.” The kindness in her voice made Emma’s lips tremble again so she turned away.

She caught glimpse of her mother's face as she turned. Dumbstruck, Mary’s eyes flicked between Emma and Regina. Emma didn’t understand it, nor did she try to.

“Okay, can you focus on me?”

“Hmmm.”

“Okay now I need you to get into the passengers side, okay?”

Emma did.

Regina was silent as she drove them to the small hospital, though her thumb twitched constantly, nervously on the steering wheel.

They arrived and Emma allowed herself to be pushed into a room.

Desperate coffee irises found hers, “I will be right back, alright? Just lay here please.”

She twitched a nod.

Then Regina disappeared through the door.

She could tell Regina thought she was afraid. She wasn’t. She was humiliated.

She looked across the room, as best she could and saw a mirror above the sink. Slowly, laboriously she pulled herself off of the table, nearly tipping sideways in her delirium. It felt like an eternity before she got to the mirror but once she did she braced her hands on the sink and looked up into the glass.

Her heart stopped altogether.

One half of Emma’s face was fine, slightly puffy from her tears but a clear green eye stared back at her. The other side was a train wreck. There was a of blood trickling from a cut in her eyebrow, her eye socket and her lip. Her nostril had been covered with a thick mat of dried blood and her iris; normally green swam with a small amount of reddish brown blood. She touched her swollen eye socket and winced remembering the quick boom, boom, boom of Hanna’s fist before Emma had dropped to the floor.

Outside of her room there was a loud chaos growing but Emma couldn’t tune in to it.

Looking at her face the tears began again, making her cringe.

(“I do not care if it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or Passover, Whale! Give me privileges! No! No other hands will touch her but mine. Give them to me NOW!”)

Emma carefully lifted her shirt looking for the source of the pain. She twisted but couldn’t see anything.

The door opened quietly and Regina entered pushing a large supply of items on a silver gurney. She paused, shock evident on her face for only a moment before smooth neutrality covered it.

“What happened?”

Emma ran a hand through her hair, playing at normal “Three hits and she’s out. Oh and a wooden armchair of the couch, back there.”

Regina helped her back onto the exam table and went to work.

They didn’t talk.

Regina didn’t mention the tears that began flowing from Emma the moment Regina’s kind fingers began feeling her ribs for cracks or breaks.

Emma didn’t mention the fountain pouring from Regina’s.

 


 

She wasn’t sure how long it took before they could be on their way again but it was longer than she had in her.

Finally, as the sun was beginning to hang low in the sky, Regina took her hand and led her back to the car.

Mary and Ruby jumped up from the couch the moment that they arrived but said nothing.

Regina pushed past them and planted Emma on the couch. She took her shoes off of her and then lifted her again against her in a gentle embrace. “Em, get some sleep, please. Okay? I have to go back to work for a little while but I’ll be back.”

Emma nodded wanting nothing more than to be alone for a little while.

“Here.” Regina pulled out a small bottle, “Take one of these. You’re prone to infection.”

They smiled at the memory of Emma’s first visit to her clinic.

“Okay. Sleep now.” Regina leaned forward and kissed the tip of her nose. For a moment the feel of how the tip of her nose fit perfectly into the curves of Regina’s soft lips made her want to leap at her, she wanted to attack and bury her hurt in her. Instead Emma sighed and buried herself in the blanket that Regina covered her in, doing her best not to think. She was tired, very tired.

(“Coffee?”

“God yes, please. - Thank you.”

“So?”

“There won’t be any long term damage.”

“Her eye.”

“Will heal.”

“Alright. So now what?”

“We fucking string that fucker up.”

“Shhh, Ruby!”

“Sorry.”

“I already called the police from the hospital. I’m not sure what will happen now but I took some photographs as evidence.”

“But she’ll be okay?”

“Yes mom, she should be okay. Physically anyway.”)

 


 

“I can’t believe how quickly she fell asleep.” Ruby’s whisper from the kitchen woke her a while later, “I guess I’m not surprised, really, in order for her to be back already she basically would have needed to be up all night.”

Emma opened her eyes and found that only the clear eye would do it. What time was it? She felt disoriented and foggy.

“Are you surprised?”

She heard her mother sigh deeply, the kind of sigh that tells of pain trapped within a soul, “Honestly honey, no I’m not. I think this is one of those situations where everyone has an idea of what is happening except the person it is happening to.”

“The cheating or the - other thing?”

“The cheating. God no, I had no idea that Hanna was capable of this.”

“Do you really think she didn’t know? About the cheating, I mean.”

“I think that it hadn’t occurred to her that Hanna could be so cruel.”

Emma scowled, listening to them.

“Ruby,” her mother said quietly, “she still loves her, doesn’t she?”

Emma wanted to yell at them hearing this. No! She didn’t! She wasn’t sure that she ever had, not in a real sort of way.

“I always kind of thought that she did. I mean, she was so against even talking about her.”

What? Emma didn’t understand.

“That was a pretty obvious moment, wasn’t it? Regina is usually more in control of her feelings then that. She doesn’t show much.”

“Do you think Emma still loves her too? I haven’t been sure. She was so angry for so long.”

Emma recognized the laugh that sounded to be Ruby’s, “well it sure wasn’t you or I who got her out of the car and it sure wasn’t one of us she cried on.”

“The way Ginny touched her. It was so…”

“Sweet.” Ruby agreed. “Did you see Regina’s face when Emma put on her dress for us?”

Ugh! They were talking about Regina and her. That so was not the point. How could that be where their thoughts were right now?

She covered her head with a throw pillow successfully drowning them out.

She squeezed her eye closed, willing herself back to sleep instead of drowning in the resentment she felt.

When she woke again the house was quiet except for the soft sound of her mother's television from her bedroom.

Silently Emma went to the kitchen and stole the bottle of wine from the counter then snuck upstairs to her bed.

She didn’t cry again as she thought she would, instead she changed into her pajamas and sat on her bed in the dark, sipping it until she felt like sleeping again. Then she curled up under the covers and dozed, not settling into a deeper sleep until Regina crept in and climbed into bed next to her.

She wrapped her arms tightly around her and whispered, “Are you alright?”

Emma turned, her face against Regina’ neck. She was a little drunk and she was very raw just then.

She just needed…

She tilted her head to kiss the inside of Regina’s neck but before she reached her goal she had fallen back to sleep.

 


 

Emma’s mood was volatile for a few days. She couldn’t handle anyone besides Regina as she hid in her room like Gollum. Regina and Henry only left her side when Regina had to work.

She wasn’t as emotionally hurt as she thought she would be and she was a lot angrier than she thought she could be.

She allowed Regina to pull her along for a short run a week after her return home only to melt in front of the television for the rest of the day as soon as it was over covered by her soft throw blanket.

Two days later she allowed Ruby to pull her out of her pajamas and force her to a lunch at Any Given Sunday. After which she melted into a blanket fort in bed and didn’t come out until the following day.

A few days later Regina spent the day on the couch with Emma, Chinese food in hand but finally a week before Christmas Regina was fed up.

“Get up!” She cried, nearly pushing Emma off the couch with her foot. “Go get in the shower!” For once Regina did not look sharp and dressed to the nines as she did most of the time. Her outfit was nice and clearly of a wonderful quality but it was soft and sweet, Jeans and a tee shirt that flattered her. For once she could be described as cute instead of using words like powerhouse, vamp or sexy.

The softened look made Emma want to reach forward and touch her. She wondered what the reason for the change was.

“Whyyyy?” She whined dragging the word out childishly.

“Shut up. We’re going drinking.”

“What?”

“Yup. Go shower or go out in your pajamas. Truthfully, I don’t care which one you choose.”

“Ginny, I am just not in a place for going out. Everyone will stare at me. I don’t think I could get that type of energy up if I wanted to. Please don’t make me.”

“Emma, so help me if you don’t get up then I will get you up and you will rue the day you were born.”

In that moment, Emma could see the parent that Regina would be as Henry grew. She stood with her hand on her hip her face no nonsense and strict.

But Regina couldn’t hold the look and together they smiled into laughter. If they had been close before Emma had left for her short trip back to New Orleans then they had now reached an inseparable new level. It was that invisible tether that had once bonded them, back and stronger than ever.

Emma could feel Regina’s hope so gave in and showered. Once that laborious task was completed she found herself standing in her room looking at her clothing, sighing unhappily.

There was nothing that would cover her face - not that it would help. By now the entire town had heard about the scene Regina had made on Thanksgiving therefore by proxy knew about Emma’s recent ‘mishap’.

She scanned through unhappily then decided if she was going to do this then she might as well throw herself into the activity. Maybe she would meet someone, a hot rebound girl who thought her battered face was badass and use her to kick-start her single life. She grimaced, she hated the idea of using another person to heal her romantic wounds but she knew she wouldn’t mind dating again. She had entered the I-Don’t-Think-I-Ever-Really-Liked-That-Person-Anyway phase of the break up. Maybe she could just skip over the need for a rebound and skip straight to productive and healthily dating.

No. There was no way. Not until she could forgive herself for being such a fucking moron.

You need to sit in the corner for a while, Emma, and think about what you learned.

She pulled on her favorite little black dress, did her hair and makeup then glared at her reflection. The bruises had only grown worse, marring her face and holding up a beacon that read battered.

When they arrived at the Rabbit Hole they took seats at the bar and proceeded to unashamedly drink.

A few drinks in and Hanna was easily forgotten.

It was like they were in their early twenties again.

The Regina effect was working well on Emma tonight.

Regina was laying on the charm thickly for the first time in days and it was doing wonders toward pulling Emma out of her funk. She was truly laughing despite the fact that laughing hurt.

They sat close at the bar, whispering and giggling.

They had another drink and sat a little closer. Then another drink and sat flush against the other, Regina’s hand resting lightly on Emma’s thigh.

“Ooooh girl, your face!” A tall man with smoky eyeliner and a ruggedly unshaved face softly caressed her still slightly swollen face. “Someone ought to call the police on the man that did that, love! I’m sure our local hunk of a sheriff will have him behind bars in a moment.”

“Woman.” Emma corrected.

“Uhhuh.” He leaned against the counter, “You listen to me, girl. Did you call the police?”

“We did.” Emma nodded sipping her drink and wincing at the topic. “No results yet though.”

Good. I’m glad you called. If there is one thing that this community is missing it is awareness of domestic abuse amongst same sex couples. You stand strong girl, you stand strong.”

Emma smiled, a soft but genuine smile, for the first time since she had returned, feeling like perhaps...maybe...she was a little more than stupid pond scum.

“Hey, you all!” He called to a lot of people outside smoking, “Come and buy this lass a drink!”

They mingled with the people around them, the life of the party charming everyone they met. They thanked strangers when they told them how sweet of a couple they made and then laughed boisterously. They took drinks, they took shots from the group that gathered around them, throwing caution to the wind. They were the Em and Ginny show again and loving every moment of it.

“No, don’t be flattered! She just likes you because you’re wearing eyeliner!” Regina laughed when the man, who introduced himself as Killi, kissed Emma’s cheek. “I would be willing to bet, sir, that you do drag.”

“That I do, love! How could you tell? It’s because I’m devastatingly gorgeous, isn't it?”

Regina snickered, drunkenly, “No. It’s because Em likes you!”

Killi flopped an arm over Emma’s shoulder, “Like a man in a dress, do you?”

Emma laughed, caught, “I do love a good drag show.”

“Oh darling, well you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until my next show in Boston. I’ll blow your mind.” He waggled his eyebrows boisterously and Emma giggled.

“Oh god,” Regina said laughing so hard that she was clutching both her side and her chest, “remember when you let that guy Brandon dress you up like a drag king? Oh what was your name? Todd something?”

“No!” Killi’s boyfriend gasped.

Emma rubbed her aching cheeks, “Goodness, I thought I was so hot; I was seventeen! Where did I get the courage to do that?”

“You really did think you were the hottest thing in a beanie.”

“I hope to god there are pictures somewhere that I can see!” Killi begged.

“Over my dead body!”

“You did get a girlfriend out of it though, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, the craziest woman ever!”

“Indeed but my point remains made!”

“You know what though,” Emma said leaning close so no one outside of their little group would over hear them, “I’m not the one obsessed with phallic things.”

“I am not!” Regina cried.

At the same time that Killi shouted, “There must be a story here!”

Regina shook out her hair and groaned, “That was what, eleven years ago? If you can be forgiven for becoming a drag king because of your age then I can be forgiven for that!”

“Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!” the group began to chant so Emma did.

“Regina spent nearly a year of our lives looking for a strap on that didn’t ‘gross her out’.”

“Ughhhhh ew.” Killi’s boyfriend shook off the heebeegeebees and went to order another drink, mumbling something about talk of vaginas.  

“She took me to every sex shop from here to Boston! And let me tell you, not all of those places are places you would want to go!”

“Whatever, Todd.” Regina winked.

She could see a glint in Regina’s eye that made her stomach tighten a little. Emma cocked an eyebrow at her and Regina just smiled, pulling her against her. “Was it the talk of your strap on?”

Regina’s broad smile stretched.

They continued to down drinks, dancing in their seats a bit to music and laughing with the group of men. Somehow Emma’s hand found the back of Regina’s neck, rubbing small circles into it.

“So are you both local then?” Killi asked, arm still over Emma.

“I guess I am now.” Emma laughed as the realization hit her. “Where else am I going to go? Fuck, except back to New Orleans to get my shit.”

“Don’t worry, Em. We’ll get your belongings.”

 


 

A little later when Emma felt Regina’s hand snake across her thigh gasped, interrupting the conversation they were in the a group of twenty-one year olds.

“You alright, doll?”

“Of course!” Was Regina drunk or trying to cheer Emma up with flirting? Either way she knew she needed to get her away. She slipped off of the stool and followed Killi as he headed outside for a smoke.

“Want one?” He offered her the pack. She shrugged and decided to give in.

“Hot little thing that one is.” His chin jerked toward the inside bar, “How long have you been together?”

Emma sighed, “We’re actually not. She’s my best friend.”

He tousled his hair in surprise, “You could have fooled me, love. You two could be a shot for a queer liquor ad. You know the ones I mean? On the back of The Advocate, all rainbowed where everyone is super gay but sexy?”

She knew how they looked tonight and oh god, her body ached for it to be true.

That was one of the two things she had realized during the many recent nights of sleeping comfortably yet platonically in Regina's arms: Hanna was shit - Emma wanted Regina. And thanks to a few probing questions from her mother Emma was beginning to wonder if she always had.   

But it would not be right to let something happen with Ginny tonight. Regina deserved better than that. She could not be her rebound girl. If something were ever to happen, it was going to be real.

Emma shook her head; even her thoughts were drunk.

Okay. She was drunk. Very drunk - which felt - wonderful. But she also needed to not be stupid.

“Are you having fun?” Regina asked joining the two.

“I am. Thank you Regina.”

Regina nodded and pulled her to her nonchalantly, taking the cigarette and pulling on it. “Oh god! How did we used to do that all of the time?”

Emma enjoying the feeling of her body pressing against Regina’s, “I’m not sure.”

They sat in silence for a while before Emma asked, “Do you think it’s wrong of me to be out having a good time?”

“Of course not, love!” Killi shook his head before skipping to his boyfriend across the patio.

“I agree with him. I imagine it’s healthy. The body and mind need some kind of release after a trauma.” Regina smiled softly, but seriously.

Emma rolled her eyes teasingly, “Do you pick apart people's minds for a living or patch them up after trauma?”

Regina scowled, “Neither right now.”

“Yeah, actually I was wondering that. How often do you get to use your specialty?”

“Never. I would need to be in a hospital for that. People go to hospitals in real emergencies, not clinics.”

Emma frowned at Regina and kissed her cheek.

“I have recently been considering an offer that my father hinted at a few weeks ago.”

“What was it?”

“Oh, he plays golf with the head of the E.R. at M.M.C. He says that there is a trauma spot open for an Ortho surgeon. I think he would like me to take the position.”

“Would that make you happy?”

“I think so, it would be more hours though. Ingrid is already angry at how unavailable I am.”

“Unavailable? What do you mean? I see you all the time.”

“Oh, I think Killi is calling us.”

Soon Emma could barely stand in her high heels.

Regina was a big ball of laughter, a fun loving drunk.

As the hour grew late they finally said a goodbye to the crowd and headed back out.

Emma pulled Regina against her as she shivered in the cold, trying to bury her cold arms between them, “I think that girl wants to go home with us.”

Regina laughed, nearly falling over, “Who the brunette with Killi? I noticed. Should we do it?”

“Regina!” Emma slurred, pushing her a little as punishment.

“I’m just - just kidding.”

“Whatever, you slutty slut.”

Emma shrugged and let herself lean heavily into Regina again.

Regina wrapped her arms around her tightly for a moment, “I’m hungry. Do you think that Granny’s is open?”

“Hmmm it’s Saturday, right? Ruuuby’s open!”

“Good.” They used one another to remain upright as they walked clinging tightly to the other swaying person. “I can’t believe you were gone for so long because you were trying to avoid me. I think I could let that go to my head if I wanted to.”

Emma swung around and pinned her with an unimpressive drunk glare “well gee, why would I do that? Where did that come from anyway? How did that come up?” Emma pushed her away and stuck out her tongue.

“You’re the one who ran, ran away!” Regina swayed in a singsong voice, unsure of where or how her thoughts found this subject but suddenly vehement.

“You’re the one who didn’t come after me.”

Regina laughed and caught her around the waist from behind, “Oh was that what I was supposed to do after you ran from me?”

Emma laughed and nodded, liking the feel of Regina’s chin on her shoulder.

“You’re full of shit.” Regina said but there was laughter in her voice.

“Well you never did!” Emma cried, “You still haven’t.”

“I still haven’t come to get you? Is that right? Oh, yeah? What about when I came over when your mom called me in that restaurant?”

“Politeness.”

“Liar.”

“Nope.”

“What about when you came home from New Orleans? I was at work you know.”

“Nope.”

Emma turned in her arms so she was facing her and poked her in the nose, “You were supposed to come get me. I waited for you.”

“You waited for me, Miss.-we-met-three-months-after-you-moved and we’re getting married.”

Emma shook her head roughly and laughed, “Not anymore! Shut up. Don’t talk about this right now.” They were drunk. Of course this shit would come up now. God damn it.

Regina stumbled a little in her high heels and with the extra weight of Emma to hold up they fell none too gently against the wall. Emma shrieked and laughed, “Ow! Crap, my back!”

Leaning back against the wall she realized just how tired her body was and how wonderful laying down would feel. She relaxed a little into Regina’s chest, trying to piece together her jumbled thoughts of this subject matter. “You didn’t want me.” It was meant to be funny but it came out soft and confused.

Regina shook her head, “Did.”

“Didn’t.”

“Did.”

“Didn’t.”

“Do.”

“Don’t.”

“Uh huh.”

Emma leaned toward her, forgetting her promise not to do anything like this to Regina, “You do?”

Regina nodded, clearly transfixed. Her lips had parted in that way they had before, her eyes smoldering at Emma’s proximity and Emma wanted in that moment more than anything to climb her, to wrap herself in her.

“You do still?”

Regina laughed a little breathily, “Shh, we don’t talk about that, Ms. Nolan.”

Emma traced Regina’s lip with a fingertip, leaning in.

“HELL YEAH BABY, KISS HER!”  A few feet away a very drunk man wearing a Corona tee shirt yelled. He ran over joyfully to Regina saying, “Oh please, please! Kiss her, you two are - you’re so hot.”

Startled, Emma pulled away, taking a step back from the edge. “No no no no, I promised I wouldn’t do that.” She started drunkenly down the street again, upset. “Fuck!”

“What?” Regina cried, “Promised who?”

“Me!”

“Wha? ASSHOLE!” Regina yelled at the man. “Why did you promise yourself that? Wha…Em! Nooooo! Come back!” She gave up before she really tried to convince her and caught up.

“You girls all right?” The waiter asked when they stumbled into a booth.

“Yup!” Emma chirruped laughing, “We are very, very drunk but don’t worry we won’t be sick in your restaurant. I promise. She’s a doctor.”

He laughed and tried to hand them their menus but Regina pushed it away and shook her head, “I know what she wants. Can you just bring us a burger to split and a side of fries?”

“Can do girls. Water?”

“Please.”

“I deserved that kiss.” Regina said coyly the moment he was gone.

“You what?”

“I deserved that kiss, you know.”

“You deserved that kiss? How do you deserve a kiss?”

Regina bit her lip a little, eyes narrowing playfully “It’s not so much of a how as much as a simple do or do not. I did.”

Emma leaned in a little, fire glowing hot in her chest. She couldn’t help it. She fucking wanted that kiss. “You did, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Well I can’t keep you from something you deserve, now can I?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A While Later


 

“I don’t know can I just say that I lost myself somewhere along the way? Isn’t that enough?”

“But what does that mean? Can you explain that?” Archie asked, pointedly studying her in the way that therapists do as if what the person is saying is both fascinating as well as utterly expected.

“I’m not sure exactly. I feel like I woke up the moment that Hanna shoved me into the couch. I suddenly realized I had no idea who I was anymore. There were all of these small things that forced me to step away from who I was. I don’t think I ever saw it happening.”

“Like when she broke your arm?”

“No, actually, I think that it was the smaller things. I think it was the times where she would get drunk and crash with, well I now know it was Vanessa. Or every time she told me I was unattractive or I don’t know, when she laughed at my sense of style. All of that added up until I was confused instead of alarmed when she broke my arm. I really thought that it was an accident. It didn’t occur to me that it might not have been until just before she fucking bashed my face in. I didn’t realize it then but I was constantly put in situations that stretched my comfort level or perhaps forced me to do something I wasn’t completely morally comfortable with. It was just a small side step. I think that is why I felt so strange when I first came back here and I was around my mother and Ginny and Ruby again. I thought I was still the me that they knew, but it turns out I was trying to shove New Orleans Emma into Storybrooke Emma’s spot and it didn’t fit.”

“I feel as though this is common in an abusive relationship.”

“I think that is the greatest thing I learned through this whole mess. I don’t think I knew that you could lose yourself like that. I’m grateful that I came back to myself so quickly. I think if getting kicked out and well, bloodied up had not been such a wake-up call perhaps I would have taken her back when she came around a few months later. I mean, if I’m being completely honest, I think that Regina was also right about my feelings for Hanna. Did I ever tell you about the night that I realized I missed New Orleans more than I missed her?”

“No, I don’t think you have.”

“I mean it wasn’t a grand occasion or anything but I was sitting and looking at this painting I have of Bourbon Street and I had been drinking a little. I was sitting there trying to figure out exactly why looking at it made me feel so fucking shitty when it hit me. I missed the city. I missed the culture and the atmosphere. I missed everything about the city and I missed it way more than I missed Hanna. I’m not sure when it happened but I don’t even think I liked Hanna as a person that much by the end. She was...kind of a douche.”

They fell into a reflective silence until Archie changed the subject, “And how are things with Regina?”

“Same, I guess.” She shrugged.

“We haven’t spoken about this in a while; does that mean your interest in her has faded?”

Emma chuckled darkly, “I wouldn't say that. Let’s just say that as soon as Hanna was out of the way - no that’s a lie - before Hanna was out of the way - I knew I still wanted her - well I didn’t know - but looking back it seems obvious. Now I’m trying hard not to focus on that and to just focus on myself and the new job.”

“Good, that’s good. But don’t forget what I’ve been telling you, Emma. Dating is a good thing. You should try it. Soon. Nothing serious, so perhaps not Regina, but a few casual fun dates could be very beneficial to you.”

Emma nodded, running her hands through her hair, “Yeah, yeah. I know.”

Once home she surveyed the walls of her new apartment closely. When the final coat was fully dry she could unpack the last of her boxes and be officially moved into her crappy apartment, a task that should have been completed months ago, as Archie would happily point out.

It was her own fault that the task hadn’t been completed in a proper amount of time. She had spent far too long wallowing over her mistakes of the past few years - wallowing that this shithole of an apartment was the only place available for rent in the tiny town - wallowing that she had been forced to move yet again. There had been many nights of drinking alone on the stained carpet flooring of her empty apartment within the first month and even more nights of empty pints of ice cream.

She softly pressed the wall with her fingertips and it came up clean. Yes, it was dry.

She spent the next hour putting things into their proper homes and then stepped back to admire her work.

The paint - helped. It helped it feel less like a dinky apartment. It gave it...personality. Whatever. The apartment was small….and kind of smelled like a dirty bar mop….but she was going to be glass half full on this.

She looked around the room uneasily, now what was she going to focus on? She had already gotten together her syllabus for her first semester. She had nothing left to distract her from the fact that she had never lived completely alone before and didn’t know what to do with herself. She wished that book three, now titled Desperate Souls, had taken longer to write. She had planned on taking her time, making the experience at least six months - but instead had gotten lost in an angry post-break-up-I-was-an-idiot-for-ever-being-with-you rage and the whole thing had fallen from her in six weeks.

Her publisher swore it was the goriest, snarliest book he had ever read and promised it would be the best seller in the Detective E. Swan series. Emma was glad and everything - she just wished she could still do something but all work was on hold until her editor was back from the Poconos.

Perhaps what she needed to get was a pet. She had promised herself that once the apartment was no longer on her to-do list she would get one. Maybe a puppy. Yes, she had doubled up on her careers now and she had Henry for about half the time but she was sure she still had an abundance of time to devote to proper training.

As she thought about the dog though she yawned, a clear sign that maybe it still wasn’t time to get a dog. The last months had been exhausting and the thought of doing the dog training right now made her want to take a nap. So no dog but perhaps a kitten instead. She frowned, her nose wrinkling. Too much energy.

Okay - maybe a goldfish then.

Or...

Instead of letting herself focus on the feeling of indecision she circled the room debating where each piece of art or framed picture would go. She thought the painting of Bourbon Street would go over her bed and the black and white still that had finally been extricated from Hanna’s angry grip would go in the bathroom.

It had been a huge and draining struggle getting her belongings from Hanna. She had tried for a month to talk to her reasonably and convince her to send her the boxes but Hanna was having none of that. She was too busy insisting that since she was now in AA and Anger Management she should be given a second chance. Emma fervently did not agree.

So her belongings had been held hostage.

Emma had been at a loss for what to do until one morning, just after Regina had quit her job at the clinic but had not yet begun her job at the hospital, she woke up to find a huge minivan parked in front of her apartment.

It had taken them three days of very little sleep to make it down to New Orleans, a fact that Henry had not been fond of, but it had been worth it. Emma had a great time and the look on Hanna’s pathetic drunken face when they showed up on the step had been priceless.

Hanna had tried to argue but Regina was having none of that. It was all Emma could do to keep Regina from ripping Hanna’s face off.

They had taken more than Emma’s fair share.

It turned out that in the end Hanna had been so angry over her confrontation with Emma that she had drunkenly blackened Vanessa’s eye, spent a few nights in jail and then was promptly fired for breaking her firms morality contract. Karma, the cruel trickster, had thoroughly had her way with Hanna.

Emma hadn’t bothered to dwell. The moment she, Regina and Henry had driven out of New Orleans on their way back home was the moment that Emma had put it all behind her.

The job was the most terrifying new battlefield to cross and she was worried. She hadn’t expected to be welcomed on to the staff of U.S.M. quite so easily and wondered if Henry Mills Sr. had something to do with it.

Still, she was excited - and nervous. What if she wasn’t cut out for teaching? Oh god, what if she was one of those boring teachers that made you hate the subject they taught. What if she taught young and impressionable youth to hate literature instead of love it?

She contemplated going over her outline for class yet again but forcefully pushed it away. She had redone it three times now. No more.

On another note, her mother was happy to have her home again permanently - as were her friends.

Overall, she was happy.

The only real frustration in her life came from Regina. They had shared two near kisses both in a drunken stupor but it had gotten the juices flowing in her mind.

Did she and Regina deserve a second chance together? Regina had made it clear that night that she thought they did...plus there was the whole wedding dress thing... but little had happened since then.

Emma and Ruby had spent an hour dancing around Emma’s new apartment after Emma had gotten the call from the not so upset Regina informing her that she had finally broken things off with Ingrid.

“I never thought that we would be a long nor serious couple.” Regina had informed her, “But I got tired of not being able to turn to my girlfriend if I needed help with my son.”

Emma had agreed, holding Henry as he strained to get down from her arms. He was just past two now, wild and crazy and while he was adorable and sweet when he wanted to cuddle or didn’t feel well, he was a raging terror of two-year-old energy most of the time, the definition of a handful.

After the break up of Regina and the hippie blonde, Emma had begun to wait...for anything...something to happen.

But nothing ever fucking did.

They cuddled, they laughed, they held hands, they did most of their everyday activities together, Emma had become something of a second mother to Henry, they spent all their time together once again, platonic and yet not quite.

The first few months she and Ruby had studied each invitation for drinks or to a movie from every angle trying to decide if Regina meant it romantically but results had been aggravatingly inconclusive each time.

The confusion of course was made thicker by the fact that Regina had become incredibly busy and spent a good amount of the time they were together in a middle state between sleep and awake.

Emma tried, she tried not to put too much thought into the riddle of confusion that was Regina Mills. As Archie said, right now was a time to focus on herself and not on a new relationship. Right now was the time for fun and self-explorations and perhaps even a little casual dating.

As a matter of fact tonight was Ruby’s birthday and she planned to put down all of the worry and allow herself to have fun with her best friends, all complications aside.

She showered, scrubbing the overthinking off of her skin, then sloshed herself in sunscreen when she got out. She blow dried her hair and checked her phone. It was 1:30 so she could leave anytime.

She studied herself in the mirror, pleased with her new swimsuit that she had bought on a whim. The top was reminiscent of a peasant top, spaghetti strap and flowing to just under her breast, navy blue lace with matching bottoms. She loved it and what’s more, it made her feel good about herself, which was all she could ask for these days.

She pulled jeans over the bottoms and a giant floppy hat on her head, ready to go.

She arrived early to help set up, lighting the grill - nearly catching her hat on fire - and setting out plates.

“Hey old lady.”

Ruby rolled her eyes, “Shut up, dude. Don’t act like you won’t be thirty-two in a few months.”

“Yeah but you still got there first.”

Ruby pointedly ignored her, teasingly shunning her with silence.

“Need any help?”

They placed the last few things on the deck and then hid from the heat inside.

Maine was not exactly a very warm place so when it reached highs of 80 or 90 the locals hid, hissing and fanning themselves.

“Ginny, coming?” Ruby asked, pouring them both a tall margarita from the blender.

“She said she was. She said something about not wanting to miss the chance to wear something other than scrubs. You know I feel like I’ve heard her say that so many times in our life and yet she still gets asked out every day.”

“You sound bitter. Still nothing, huh?”

Emma sighed, “No, of course not, Rubes. I would have told you. It’s been a long time since Hanna and all of that. She still hasn’t made a move - she clearly doesn't want to. It’s not going to happen. And that sucks...but that’s fine.”

“Em, stop saying that. She’s not dating, you’re not dating; something will happen.”

“I need to stop thinking about her that way. It’s probably better that we don’t date anyway, I wouldn’t want to lose the friendship again.”

“You’re stupid.” Ruby said in the blunt honesty of a friend. “You take care of her child half the time. Even when your apartment was empty you had a place for Henry to sleep. That stupid pumpkin picture from your first Halloween has been your phone’s background for, what, a year and a half? So. I say again - you’re stupid.”

Emma just shrugged.

Guests began to show up soon after that and they made their way outside, Peter, Ruby’s new and devilishly good-looking boyfriend had happily taken the grill, chatting and laughing with Graham.

Emma had quickly peeled off her jeans and shoes, finding a spot to stand in her bikini amongst people on the grass, as the cement was too warm for comfort. People she hadn’t seen since her college days in Boston filled Ruby’s back yard and Emma was enjoying catching up.

“No, no. I was in New Orleans but I’m back now.” It was a sentence she must have said ten times.

Now and then Emma took a second to look through the group. Where was Regina? Would she make it? Henry would be sad to miss the chance to swim.

A small blonde caught her eye across the pool and smiled a little. Emma blushed and quickly looked down into her drink. The woman was attractive, wavy dirty blonde hair in a loose tailored tank top but tight feminine jeans, a few tattoos running down her arms. Just looking at her she seemed tough and strong, yet wildly feminine and sweet, perhaps because of her pixie button nose and gentle eyes. Emma hadn’t seen her before - and in Storybrooke that was very usual.

She spoke with Lance, her college study partner for a while about his children and his steady career, pleased to hear that he had moved past his Whip Its and streaking phase.

Ruby appeared at her shoulder, “Well Pete doesn’t have a little boy hanging around his neck so I assume Gin hasn’t shown up?”

“No, not yet.”

“Should we call her? I think I’ve seen her three times in the last - forever - so she had better be here. I planned this shit today with her schedule in mind.”

Emma nodded, excused herself from Lance and dialed.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Regina cried into the phone as soon as she picked up, “I just got home. Henry had another accident.”

“What? No! I’m telling you, we need to put him back in Pull Ups until he gets it.”

“I know, I just thought big boy underwear would help.”

“It’s helping your couch get a lot of weird stains on it. Where was he?”

“On his bed. Thank you again for thinking of the mattress cover.”

“Well at least it didn’t damage anything. Is he upset?”

Regina paused and must have held her phone out toward the boy so Emma could hear his sniffling.

Emma’s face pulled into a pout “Let me talk to him.”

There was an awkward fumbling and then the crying got louder, meaning that he was holding the phone to his ear. He hadn’t quite mastered the idea of talking on the phone. Usually when the receiver was given to him he let out a series of unintelligible squawks and word like sounds that no one could understand. “Hey little man, did you have an accident?”

“‘mma, I go potty.”

“I know but that’s okay. You’ll get it next time.”

“Mhm, next time.” He sniffed.

“Are you ready to come and see me and Auntie Ruby?”

“Uc’ Pt-r!”

“That’s right. He’s waiting for you! He’s going to take you swimming. Like a shark, remember?”

Henry roared and while it was a bit more like a Lion than a shark Emma cheered, “Exactly. So why don’t you help mommy get you dressed and you can come roar like a shark with Uncle Peter. Okay? Go get your swim trunks.”

“Kay’ luv yo bye.”

Regina was chuckling when she took the phone back, “I will never understand how you do that. He’s digging through his drawer. He’s not even crying anymore.”

“You know what, I think he left the blue ones at mom’s but the red ones should be in the wash.”

“Oh, that’s right. Okay. We’re going to change and then we’ll head over.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

When she looked up she found Ruby staring at her caustically. “Henry had another accident.”

“Oh yeah?” Ruby asked, dryly, “You guys going to put him back in Pull Ups?”

“I don’t know, I think he should go back in them, for a while anyway. I think he’s just having a hard time getting the whole big boy potty thing because Gin is so damn busy. I think I need to take a week and just really focus all my attention on getting him through it.”

“Oh - yeah? You’re gonna take a week? Right. And his trunks are in the wash?”

“Yeah….why?” Emma frowned not understanding Ruby’s dry stare. “What?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna -” she turned and walked away, rolling her eyes.

“Uh, Rubes?”

She glanced back at the blonde, who bent a little so she could purposely catch her eye this time. Despite her flustered blush Emma smiled.

“Hey Ruby,” she caught up with her friend just as her boyfriend drew her in close to his side. “Who is that blonde?” She pointed covertly with her eyes.

Both Ruby and Peter tried to look without moving their heads or showing any sign of looking at all.

“Who, Tink?”

“What?”

Peter chuckled, “Lucy. Her name is Lucy but Graham calls her Tink because she’s tiny and blonde like Tinker Bell.”

“Yeah, she’s my new roommate actually. Just moved here.”

“Oh.”

“Cute, right?” Peter waggled his eyebrows, earning a smack from Ruby. “I meant for her! Not for me! Gay isn’t really my type!”

Emma looked back again inconspicuously but the blonde was gone. Gay, huh?

“Incoming.” Ruby whispered, turning to fold herself into a conversation with Peter, disappearing and leaving Emma confused and on her own.

“I knew if I looked long enough that smile would be worth the wait.”

Emma blushed yet again. Was that an Australian or New Zealand accent?

The blonde peeked under the brim of Emma’s hat, “Hi. I’m Lucy.”

“Emma.”

“Nice to meet you, Emma.” Lucy’s hand lingered in Emma’s for a moment. New Zealand. It was definitely New Zealand.

“So Emmmma,” Lucy grew out her name, smiling as though she liked the sound of it, “what do you do?”

“I teach. Well I will teach. In Portland.”

“That sounds rewarding. What do you teach?”

Emma smiled, surprised to find that she felt rather shy but lightly happy to be approached, “I teach English and Art of Film classes.”

“Really? What is Art of Film?”

They chatted politely for a time before distractions got in the way then found one another again a few minutes later on the opposite side of the pool.

“So Lucy, you never told me what you do?”

“Tech. Computer tech.”

“Really? I”

“‘MMA!” A small body bounced off of her legs.

“Hi little man!” Emma scooped him up, immediately trying to smooth down his wild hair - which never worked.

“Awe. Cute. How old is your son?”

“What? Oh, no. He’s saying Emma but yeah, it kind of sounds like that. Doesn’t it. This is Henry. Can you say hi, Henry?” He buried his face in her shoulder making Lucy laugh.

Arms wrapped around Emma’s shoulders that she knew at once where Regina’s, still she jumped as Regina unceremoniously kissed her neck lightly. It was something she did often, as meaningless as a handshake but it startled Emma every time. “Sorry we’re late.”

Emma excused herself from the girl with the wildly attractive accent, hoping they would meet again. Archie had been insisting on Emma finding a date or two - Lucy seemed like a pretty damned good candidate.

Henry yanked on Emma’s hair to get her attention and pointed at the pool.

“Henry.” Emma scolded, “What have I told you about pulling my hair? What do you do if you want to talk to me?

Looking slightly ashamed the boy tapped her arm lightly.

“That’s right. Good job.”

She finally was able to reach over and give Regina a long, tight hug. “Hi. How was work? I think that the food will be ready soon.”

Regina sighed, “I’ve had better work days. A six year old came in with a broken leg and I ended up having to call Child Protection I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many clear signs of abuse.”

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”

“Ginny, you made it!” Ruby said appearing next to them.

“Hey! Happy birthday old lady.”

“Okay, you can’t talk! Okay you definitely cannot talk!”

Regina laughed and hugged Ruby, “I’m going to get a drink. Oh, cute bathing suit by the way, Em.” Regina winked tickling Emma’s belly with one finger, making Emma squirm.

As soon as she was out of earshot Emma stomped her foot, making Henry giggle, “Okay, what was that?”

Ruby laughed, as if she had just witnessed a completely expected phenomenon “I haven’t the slightest clue.”

Emma frowned.

“Alright, come on Wolfie.” Ruby took Henry, “Let’s go find Peter.”

Emma didn’t see Lucy again until just before she left and by then Lucy had been nearly forgotten.

“Hey so it was nice meeting you.” Emma said softly, ignoring Regina’s eyes from across the yard.

“You too, you too.” Lucy said kindly, “Hey, I’m sorry about before. I didn’t realize you were in a relationship. Otherwise I,”

“Oh no, no! I’m not.” Emma interrupted and then had to chuckle apologetically at her vigor. “No, that’s my best friend, Regina.” She pointed out Regina, who smiled vaguely at them then went back to watching Peter hop around in the pool with her son, “She’s a doctor and she had to call C.P. today so she was a little clingy but no, we’re not dating.”

“Oh,” Lucy said brightening, “That’s good. Does that mean that you would be free sometime for a drink then?”

“Sure.” Emma smiled a little but then found herself averting her glace when the pleasure built too much in her chest. It had been awhile since she had done this.

“All right well, here, Emma the professor, put your number in my phone.”

Emma did and Lucy smiled a crooked smile, “All right, I might just have to use that.”

 


 

“Movie time?” Emma asked as she flopped onto the couch. Henry was safely tucked in bed with his favorite stuffed wolf from Auntie Ruby and wearing the Pull Ups that Emma insisted they buy on the way home.

“Actually I really need to shower and get the sunscreen off of myself. Do you want to as well? You could borrow something to wear.”

“I’m getting a stockpile of your clothing at my place.”

“I don’t mind.” Regina smiled a little, “So, shower?”

A shower did sound nice.

She let Regina hand her a pair of comfortable looking but small cotton shorts and a tank top, cool summer wear before heading to the bathroom. She turned the water on and let it cool to the coldest possible temperature before hopping happily in. She was spoiled by Regina’s house and the luxuries it provided. Regina always made a point to give Emma the fancy shower or tub whenever she showered there, taking the downstairs no frills shower for herself.

The scream she released as the water touched her skin sent Regina, tripping and skidding up the stairs and through the door before she thought about it. “What happened? What’s wrong?”

“Regina!” Emma shrieked.

Regina stood for a moment, staring dumbly at naked Emma before catching herself and plunging back out the door. “Uh, I’m sorry. Are you all right?”

Whimpering Emma touched her skin slightly, “I think I’m sunburned. I’ve never been this sunburned before. Oooooow! It hurts!”

She could hear Regina’s huff of relief, “Are you all right? You’re not blistering or bleeding, are you?”

“No.”

“Christ, Em you scared the crap out of me.”

“I’m sorry.” She whined unsure of how to force herself back under the water. She was a wimp when it came to pain.

“Finish showering and then I’ll put some aloe on you.”

Regina didn’t ask who the attractive blonde at the party had been until Emma was modestly topless yet vulnerable face down on Regina’s couch, cringing at Regina’s warm hands.

“Why, jealous?” Emma asked teasingly. “Ow!”

“A little.”

“She’s Peter’s new roommate.”

“Why were you pointing me out?”

“She just wanted to know who you were. She thought we were dating.”

“Oh.” Regina’s hands stalled for a moment and Emma felt herself still with her. Should she tell her that Lucy had asked her out? She and Regina were nothing but good friends - these days - but the thought of telling her left a slightly bitter taste in her mouth.

Taking a deep breath she continued, doing her best to think of anything other than how good the hands felt on her skin.

The Hancock building.

She pictured her leaning down and touching her nose to the soft skin of Emma’s exposed back.

Horror films.

She saw Regina slowly moving to the back of her neck, hovering there. She imagined the sound that would come out of her when her favorite spot was nibbled, triggered. She imagined rolling over under her.

She blushed and hid her face.

This was crap. She and Regina should at least be having steady sex by now. What the fuck? Maybe she just needed to do it. Jump her bones. Something.

As a matter of fact - they should be fucking having sex right now. What the hell?

“Done.” Regina chimed, sliding off her back.

“Okay. Let’s make popcorn?”

“Yeah, I’m going to go make some popcorn.”

Emma wasn’t sure if she had seen correctly as she left but had Regina been a little red herself? Probably the sunburn, wait, was she sunburnt?

“Pick a movie?” Regina asked when she reappeared, brushing her still wet hair.

“Sure. Lights on or off?”

Emma picked out a horror film; clicked off the lights and then leaned against Regina, ready to be scared.

She loved watching scary movies with Regina. Emma was a chicken, always traumatized by the movie while Regina swore she was unaffected and was constantly schooling her face to stay neutral - which Emma didn’t buy at all.

This one was no different. Emma spent half of the movie hidden behind Regina’s hand, which she held to her face, diving against her each time something popped out.

Regina tried to pretend that she wasn’t averting her eyes and jumping lightly.

When the movie was done she could tell Regina was exhausted, her yawns growing larger by the minute.

“All right,” Emma kissed Regina’s nose, “I’m going to go so you can get some sleep.”

“Are you kidding me?” Regina cried, grabbing her wrist, “You can’t go; I’ll be attacked by an ancient pagan god. Stay.”

Emma didn’t need much convincing. She had spent many nights with Regina over the past months and she knew that once the initial skin prickling tension passed that Regina’s bed was like sleeping on a cloud. As an extra bonus she knew Regina blasted her air conditioning at night, a better treat than Emma could afford to do at her apartment.

She borrowed Regina’s toothbrush - again- and slid under the sheets contentedly.

It wasn’t as though there was somewhere else she would rather be, truthfully.

Regina pulled out the book she was reading so Emma got up and scanned the bookshelf in the corner until she found something for herself. Then she tucked herself into the crook of Regina’s shoulder under the direct breeze of the AC unit.

Regina was asleep within minutes, her book still held tightly upright, her glasses still on the tip of her nose.

Putting down the book Emma watched her sleep. She knew this was what life could be like...if Regina wanted her...if she weren’t choosing the protection of their friendship over the possibility of romance. The warm glow in her stomach and chest vibrated, filling her. She softly touched her cheek. Regina had been her savior for the past year and a half, there for her in every way that she needed. As a matter of fact, it was only now that she wasn’t getting something she needed from her. She knew she needed time to heal, of course, and she wasn’t sure if the many months had done that job yet. Maybe Archie was right and the key to life right now was casual dating.

She gently took the book from Regina’s hands, leaning far over her so she could set the book on the bedside table. She could feel her breast grazing lightly over Regina and a burn of longing flashed through her. Regina, dead to the world, hadn’t noticed.

Still maybe...Emma propped herself over Regina, one leg curling between Regina’s sleeping ones and nuzzled lightly at her jaw. Perhaps if she just went for it...

She could feel her heart rate picking up, her panties growing moist as she pressed her center into Regina, softly nipping at her throat.

A light moan came from between Regina’s sleeping lips. Encouraged Emma began to rub herself slowly up and down Regina’s thigh, hopefully. “Gin? Gin...” she lightly licked Regina’s ear and waited. “Gin!”

Nothing except perhaps a small snore.

She let herself fall back into the bed with a huff. God damn it.

 


 

When she woke Regina was gone, long at work and Henry had been dropped with Mary hours ago. Emma didn’t bother to hang around the house, just gathered her things and headed home.

Her phone buzzed with a number she did not know just before she walked into her front door. She almost ignored the call but instead pressed the phone to her ear, “Hello?”

“Hello professor.”

Emma nearly dropped her cup of coffee she had just gotten at Granny’s. “Lucy! Hi!”

“Awe, how did you know it was me?”

“Your accent.”

“Accent? What accent? I don’t have an accent.” Emma stumbled a little bit, unsure of what to say but Lucy just laughed, “I’m only joking, I’m sorry. I love doing that because people never really know what to say when I do.”

Emma chuckled a little, the joke on her.

“I was wondering,” Lucy said slowly, “if you were going to be at this thing tonight.”

Ruby had not wanted to invite most of her employees to her private party the night before. Ruby was big on the separation of personal and work - especially since her all out brawl of a break up with Billy who had helped out in the kitchen on his days off of driving the tow truck. So she had planned a small thing at the diner that evening.

“I don’t know, I think so. I hadn’t really decided yet.” Emma was thrown by being so openly approached but she reminded herself that the jitters were a product of her lack of recent dating history. But why did she feel...wrong…?

“Well would you decide and tell me because I don’t know if I want to go with Pete if you’re not going.” Lucy teased, sending a hot blush up Emma’s chest and over her cheeks.

They spoke for a few more minutes before Emma promised to send her a text message when she decided.

As soon as she hung up she called Ruby at work, “I have a problem.”

“Um, okay. What?”

“I know you’re tired of talking about this but will you hear me out?” She had been coming to Ruby with relationship problems since they were seventeen-years-old and Ruby had always listened attentively and without annoyance but Emma was sure she was beginning to feel bothered about this. Emma had to tread lightly because if Ruby began to feel that the situation was carrying on too long or becoming silly then Ruby would take matters into her own hands. This was something Emma had loved and appreciated in the past but something that terrified her just now.

“Of course.”

“All right, well you know how things have been going with Ginny and I.”

“Okay.”

“And I gave my number to that Lucy girl and she just called because she wants to see me tonight at Granny’s with you guys. Am I doing something wrong? I feel guilty like maybe I should have warned Ginny that I gave this girl my number. I mean, she will be there tonight, right?”

Hmmm, maybe you feel guilty because you tried to dry hump a sleeping Regina into submission last night; her inner voice chided.

“Em! Have you thought anymore about talking to Ginny?”

“Yes, but I never know what to say. The only words I can think of are why haven’t you jumped my bones yet and are we really going to go through this again?”

“Don’t be dramatic, this isn’t like last time. She probably just thinks you’re not ready to date yet. Which is why I say, tell her.”

“Really?” Emma whined.

“Yes.”

“Fine.”

 


 

Regina agreed to come to her apartment before they went that night and showed up a few hours later in a striking pair of black pants, purple blouse and heels, looking strong and sure of herself as she often did after work.

“Good surgery day?”

“Mmm.”

Emma had nearly made herself sick trying to figure out how to word what she wanted to say. She thought straight forward was the best approach - especially because she knew she was right - nothing was going to happen with Regina….for whatever reason. Still her stomach knotted and turned at the thought of actually doing it.

Regina started before she could, “So, guess what happened to me today?”

“What?”

“I got a date.”

“Oh yeah?” Emma’s heart fell through the floor and for a moment she had to turn and straighten something on the shelf behind her, disliking the answer she got before she even asked the question. Suddenly she realized that she had been hoping that Regina would not be okay with her dating.

Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it.

This was a lot like last time. Emma was here, she was available but for all of that Regina didn’t want to be in a relationship. They were doomed to be awkward best friends forever.

She cut Regina off before she could continue, “Oh crap, I forgot something upstairs.”

She rushed upstairs before the annoyance could show on her face. Once in the bathroom she grumbled and swore, saying things she would never dare to in earshot of Regina. Well. Fuck. There was no point in avoiding dating then. There was no point in even bothering to tell Regina about Lucy. She sent Lucy a text of confirmation.

God damn it.

Well. At least the cute blonde was into her.

She wasn’t quite ready to go downstairs yet though. She changed and then changed again. If she was going to catch a date tonight, perhaps she should put a little effort into it. She dressed in her favorite stretchy yoga pants material green skirt and a white tank top, did her hair and a very light layer of makeup before finally heading downstairs.

Regina had fallen asleep on the couch.

Annoyance flashed through her again. She knew it was misplaced but she couldn’t help it. Ugh, they were late; Emma didn’t have time to be angry. “Gin, wake up. We’re late.”

Regina jumped, “All right, lets go.”

They shared a car on the trip there. Emma asked Regina about work knowing that it would send Regina on a path, which would keep her talking the entire drive to the bar and would keep Emma from snapping. It didn’t, however, and as they were pulling up Regina stopped talking and turned to her, “What’s wrong?”

Emma scowled, her bad mood breaking through the surface, “What?”

“What’s wrong? You’re being too quiet. Are you upset about something?”

The kindness in Regina’s voice was so honest that it made Emma’s stomach twist with bad temper and she did her best to remind herself that she had a date of her own waiting inside.

“Is it because I said I was asked out on a date?”

Emma tittered with laughter a little but not knowing anything else to say she settled with getting out of the car.

“Em!” Regina called from behind her but Emma marched ahead, knowing that if she stopped she would say something petty and stupid.

Lucy was the first person she spotted in the bar as if something was trying to tell her that yes; she did need to start dating. Lucy was in a casual tailored linen top, which was tucked into her tan jeans, her hair falling over her shoulders. She was very attractive and though she had only just met her, she seemed very sweet. Emma had liked her the day before; if she gave her a chance perhaps she could grow to like her enough to contentedly date her.

Follow Archie’s advice.

She was not going to let herself spend too much time focusing on wanting to date a person who for whatever reason didn’t want to date her. Had she learned nothing this past year?

“Hey guys.”

“Em, you made it! Where’s Ginny?”

She jerked her chin over her shoulder and proceeded to hug Ruby and then give an uncharacteristically shy hello to Lucy and Peter.

“I uh…” Peter nodded once and swiftly walked away from them.

“What was that?” Lucy asked amused. Emma just shrugged, clueless.

Regina joined them a second or two later looking shaken and hugged everyone with one eye on Emma trying to decipher if they were fighting now. Emma smiled reassuringly at her. There was no reason for them to fight, not rationally anyway.

“Can I get you a drink?” Lucy asked quietly below the din.

“Sure.”

It had taken a lot of annoying work on Ruby’s part but finally Granny’s had regained their liquor license. Emma had been pleased; she had always liked Granny’s more than The Rabbit Hole.

“So what’s your drink? You stuck to wine yesterday.”

A grin flicked on Emma’s face, “I like wine.”

Regina had made her way to her as Lucy started toward the counter for their drinks. There was an icy politeness on her face that Emma hadn’t seen since the days of Hanna.

“So are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” Regina asked, leaning in to whisper, taking her hand in hers.

“Nothing, Gin.” Emma insisted, “Just got cranky, I’m sorry.” She said kindly but took her hand from Regina’s.

“Fine.” Regina huffed and turned to disappear into the crowd but sent Emma a look over shoulder as she went letting Emma know that they were indeed fighting.

Lucy monopolized Emma’s attention for a bit but then casually backed off, allowing herself and Emma to mingle with the group, while never leaving Emma’s side. Emma liked it, thinking that she was very easy to be near.

Regina’s eyes always seemed to be on Emma; sharp and watching like a hawk, her scowl continuously growing.

Emma knew that Regina was an I-want-my-cake-but-I-want-to-eat-it-too kind of girl so she decided it was best to perhaps she should ignore her for a while.

Lucy was charming, brazenly charismatic. They spoke politely of work and the cities they had lived. When Lucy said she needed to leave early Emma was a bit sad to see her go.

Emma sat, chatting politely with everyone else for a while before deciding she was ready to go as well.

“Ginny, I’m tired. Are you ready to go?”

“Sure.” There was only a drop of chill to her tone.

The ride home was silent. When they arrived at Emma’s apartment neither woman tried to prolong the evening, saying a chilly goodbye.

Emma went straight to bed insisting that she was all right with how things were and with the juvenile fight.

She was wrong, however. When she woke the next morning she found that she didn’t want to do anything. She spent an hour lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling thinking about nothing.

Then she padded around the house looking for something she wanted to do. She rearranged a bookshelf and started a batch of laundry but gave up before she had really begun. She didn’t have many more days off like this so she decided to allow herself to vegetate.

She ordered Chinese food and putting a junk reality show on her bedroom TV, she got back into bed.

She watched bad television for a while, shrugging into pajamas to answer the door when the food arrived.

When Ruby called her, probably to get the scoop on the fight she and Regina were clearly having the night before or perhaps the scoop on Lucy, she just let it go to voicemail, not in the mood. She wasn’t depressed - she was just...blah. Not in the mood.

Regina called around dusk, which she also ignored.

She had eaten her fill then went back to lying in bed, the TV on something she wasn’t really watching, cuddling her pillow and not thinking.

The next morning she woke determined to ignore her inexplicably sore heart. She pulled out every book and sheet of paper she needed and revised her curriculum for the fourth time, removing anything she found dull or uninteresting and exchanged a few movies from her collection she planned to show her Art of Film class.

Then she got up and showered and called Ruby, “Wanna come shopping with me?”

“Food or clothing?”

“Food, but we could keep one another company.”

“Sounds good.”

She was trying her best at cheerful. She fucking hated when she and Regina fought...even though it seemed to happen all of the time...kind of….though not as much anymore...

When Ruby showed up she met a smiling Emma holding two cups of coffee.

“Thank you.” She said taking one and sipping. “So I tried to call you last night.” Ruby said as they moved slowly through the produce section.

“I know, sorry.”

“Everything all right?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”

“Because you called me instead of Regina to do your shopping with.”

“Ruby, no fair! Maybe I just wanted to see you more.”

“Hold on, hold on.” Ruby quieted her, “I know you love me and in a lot of ways we are closer than you and Regina are but you haven’t done anything without Regina in a while - a long while. You guys were fighting the other night so dish.”

“Regina’s dating.”

Ruby made a face like she had stubbed her toe, “Really? Wow. Not expecting that but hey, you’re dating right? You and Lucy looked like you were getting along well.”

“I hadn’t been sure I was going to but I guess now I am. I have my answer now too.”

“Your answer?”

“Yeah, I think karma or fate or whatever gave it to me. In the very moment I was going talk to her about whether or not I should date Lucy she told me she was dating before I could get a fucking word out!”

“What did she say exactly?”

“That she got a date.”

“Wait, wait, wait! Got a date is not the same as dating.”

“No, Ruby, you didn’t hear her. She sounded excited, like she had finally waited long enough after Ingrid to date.”

“Maybe she’s just not ready yet, Em. You know that when you two get together it will be forever; maybe she just wants to sow some wild oats first. You know, maybe she’s just not ready for the type of relationship you two would have…yet.”

Emma rolled her eyes, “I love you Rubes, but I’m not stupid. Also, that is exactly the excuse she used when I left town. Like, word for word. Look, it’s okay. I spent all day in bed yesterday not thinking about it and I think I’m ready to move on.”

“Ready to move on with Lucy?”

Emma blushed, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Ruby threw a green bean at her.

“Nothing has happened yet. I told Lucy I would be there last night so she came. That’s it.”

Ruby laughed, “You know I had been wondering why she came. It seemed strange that she wanted to. I guess now it makes sense.” Ruby studied Emma for a minute, “Are you sure you’re ready to move on, Em?”

“What am I moving on from?” she cried, waving her hands manically, trying to make her point. “Regina and I just need a normal friendship. No more hugging or cuddling or holding hands and definitely no more sleepovers.”

“I guess that’s healthy if you’re both going to be seeing other people. Though, I worry that you’re wrong.”

“Rubes.” Emma stopped Ruby; looking her dead in the face, “Have you ever known Regina to not take exactly what it is that she wants?”

Ruby had to agree, “Alright, fair enough.”

 


 

Once home she unpacked her things and decided she would call Lucy for a real date.

“Hi, Lucy, it’s uh, Emma.” She told her voicemail “Listen I was just calling to see if you were busy tonight. I was thinking maybe we could go out. Anyway, give me a call back.”

Lucy called back just as she was through unpacking her groceries.

“Are you free tomorrow morning?” Lucy asked as soon as Emma picked up.

“Um, I think so. Why?”

“How do you feel about getting your hands dirty?”

“Um, what?” Emma asked thrown.

“Do you have a pair of boots?”

What?”

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at six. Wear something light and comfortable. Oh and closed toed shoes, preferably boots.”

“What? At six? No wa-”

“I’ll see you in the morning, professor.” And Lucy hung up.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Oh my god Rubes, you’ll never believe the day I had!” She cried into the phone the following night.

“What? What happened?”

“I had the best date! And it’s not even freaking over yet!”

“With Lucy?”

“Yes! I called her last night to see if she was free and she called me back asking if I was free at six this morning.”

“Six? A.M.?”

“That’s pretty much what I said but she told me to wear something comfortable and boots and to be ready by six then hung up.”

“Just hung up?”

“Yup. I was kind of pissed. No date beginning that early could be good.”

“I guess this was amazing?”

“Yeah, actually. She picked me up and we went apple picking!”

“Apple picking? As in...like the actual picking of apples?”

“Yeah, she wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I was starting to get kind of nervous after an hour of driving then we get there and it was so much fun! We picked for hours and then sat on the hood of her car eating tons of apples. Oh and have you seen her car?”

“She has the vintage mustang, right?”

“Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ll tell you though, Ruby, someone taught that girl well.”

“What do you mean?”

“She opens every door for me and calls me sweetheart, but not in a fake or macho way. She’s even picking me up tonight instead of meeting me.”

“She opens every door for you?”

Every single one, even car doors. She somehow beats me to my side of the car every time so that she can open the door for me. The one time I opened it first I could tell I hurt her feelings a little bit.”

“Wow.” Ruby breathed into the phone, “What would that be like?”

Emma laughed, “It makes me feel” she struggled for words, “I don’t know, is it lame to say sexy? Feminine? I don’t know. Oh my god, and that accent!”

“It’s true, it makes me want to sleep with her.” Ruby admitted.

“Anyway,” Emma brushed past that “she just dropped me off at home to shower and get dressed and then we’re going to get dinner. She’s going to ask Pete when she gets home but I thought I would run by you the idea of doubling tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“Yup. In like two hours.”

“Um, yeah, alright.”

“Great!”

Emma got into the shower next, excitedly tired and washed the thick layer of dust and dirt off of her body.

She had expected to have a passable fun time with Lucy at best but she had never expected to have one of the best dates - ever. She couldn’t believe it! Maybe...maybe this meant she really was ready for another relationship. She had stopped jumping when someone said anything in a harsh tone. She had stopped being self-conscious about the small knick of a scar in the bottom of her lip. Maybe...this was possible.

She shaved her legs and armpits then decided on a pair of tightly fitting yet attractive black pants and a black blouse wrap around top that tied at her waist looking both casual and dressy.

It had not escaped her notice that she hadn’t heard from Regina since the night at Granny’s. She knew Regina was working hard, probably harder than normal with her Child Protection case but she wondered if Regina was still angry about their fight. The date had given her hope in more area than one - she would call her and smooth things over the next day. Should she tell her about Lucy? She guessed she would wait and see if Regina told her about her own date.

At exactly six o’clock on the dot there was a knock at her door and Emma was surprised to find she had a smile on her face as she answered it, a small butterfly of date jitters emerging in her stomach.

“Hi.” Emma clicked on her smile, “Do you want to come in?” Whoa. Lucy looked...hot...maybe she was ready for sex too. That would be...nice.

Lucy smiled, handing her a daisy she had picked from somewhere, “No, we better go. I don’t want to leave Pete and Ruby waiting. Besides, it’s a first date so I have to be polite.”

“And coming inside would make you be impolite?” Emma teased.

Lucy grinned and bit her lip.

The butterflies grew.

Emma slipped into the car, hiding a smile as Lucy held the door for her.

“Ya ready?”

“Umhm.”

Lucy grinned and turned the car over. Emma yelped, the roar of the engine and the sudden blaring music scaring her.

“Sorry.” Lucy turned it down, “I have a soft spot for them so they tend to become a bit loud.”

“Who is it?” Emma asked and then frowned at Lucy’s look of shock.

“You don’t know who this is? You’re joking, right?”

“No, who is it?”

“It’s Heart! Only the best rock band of the 60s, 70s and 80s! Come on, you’re an American, you should know that!” She turned up the music and sang along loudly and off-key.

Emma laughed. Damn, the girl had charm, “Well I guess I just need to be educated.”

They arrived just before Ruby and Pete did and the four went in together.

“So,” Ruby said after watching Lucy pulled Emma’s chair out for her with fascination, “Where are you from Lucy? I gather New Zealand.”

“Auckland. Just moved here last year.”

“And how the hell did you end up in Storybrooke of all places?”

They covered family, three brothers and a single parent father, which explained the chivalry that Emma was shamelessly enjoying, and what she missed from New Zealand.

When their food arrived, Lucy made sure Emma’s drink stayed full and when they were through Lucy ordered the highest quality glass of wine for her to sip. Ruby watched these behaviors jealously and even smacked Peter hard in the chest when Lucy stood as Emma left the table, looking as though she was honored to do it for Emma.

After dinner they said goodbye to Ruby and Peter but lingered at the side of the car chatting, their bellies distended and full. After a while, with a small smile Lucy leaned over and kissed her softly.

Emma squeaked in response, not sure but accepted the kiss. It was strange to kiss someone else; this officially was her first kiss since Hanna.

A small threat of sadness whined somewhere in her mind. Until recently she had thought that right would have been Regina’s….though she was beginning to think that Lucy was a good person to give it to as well.

Lucy sighed, hands on either side of Emma’s stomach, “Was that okay?”

Emma smiled tentatively and nodded.

“Can I do it again?”

Emma thought about it and then smiled. Lucy leaned in slowly again; the kiss was soft and sure. Emma was surprised to find herself responding, a little sound releasing from her throat.

Egged on, the kiss became deeper, Lucy’s hands clenching her sides then skidding down to her hips, pulling her against her by her belt loops. Emma sighed again, remembering just how wonderful it could feel to be kissed like this.

Lucy’s hands respectfully but enticingly slid from her hips, up her arms and cupped her jaw, the kiss growing harder, more excited.

When she released her, Emma had to lean against the car heavily for a moment while Lucy grinned at her.

“Night cap at my apartment?”

“Hmm?” Emma’s head whipped around to Lucy, nerves suddenly hitting her.

“Would you like to come back to my apartment for a nightcap?”

Oh shit...she didn’t know...but she nodded anyway. Emma didn’t know if she was ready for this but there was no better way to find out than to try.

 


 

Butterflies fluttered spasmodically in Emma’s stomach as she sat on Lucy’s couch while Lucy turned some music on quietly and offered another glass of wine.

“What is this?”

“The wine?” Lucy asked looking at the bottle, “A Bordeaux.”

Emma nodded.

“Honestly,” Lucy said laughing at herself, “I know nothing about wine. I only got it hoping you would come home with me tonight. I’m a dry martini or dark beer type of girl. This isn’t bad though.”

“Hey, I like those things as well. Next time we will have martini’s.” Lucy beamed.

On the outside Emma followed the conversation flawlessly, confident and flirty but inside she was debating with herself. She knew why she was there, she had dated before; but did she want to do it? The kiss had been good, very good. Sleeping together after the first date wasn’t really something she felt ashamed of, not in the right situation but...

She thought of the feeling of hands on her. She had been lonely. She had been...horny...and she was never going to know unless she did it.

So when Lucy took their wine glasses and set them on the table and asked if she could kiss her again Emma sighed a little and said, “Please do.”

The kiss tingled Emma’s insides, keeping up with Lucy as it evolved from soft and smooth to quick and passionate.

She sighed as Lucy moved to her throat, letting her hands float up Lucy’s forearms and then a hand to land on the back of her head, intertwining softly in the curls as Lucy moved to her collarbone.

Her breath caught when, after a while, Lucy’s hands began to wander, cautiously. When Emma let out a small sound of encouragement Lucy pushed them backward, horizontal on the couch. Emma’s hands wandered Lucy’s back under her shirt enjoying the warm skin and sighed, arching a bit as Lucy carefully untied her blouse and buried her face in the dip just under her bra.

Emma gasped and twitched and sighed under Lucy’s hand as she touched, tweaked and brushed Emma’s skin.

Pulling Lucy’s top off, her hands were on a mission seeking out Lucy’s back and unhooking the bra. Pulling it off she pushing herself into Lucy’s skin arching so Lucy could get to her own back. She felt her mind slowly numb into the motions, feeling only the sensations her body presented.

She gasped as Lucy’s mouth found her breast, making her own light sounds of satisfaction. Emma wanted to lose herself in this...only...

Lucy fumbled with Emma’s pants button, undoing it and softly reaching her hand between the fabric of the pants and the fabric of her underwear, stroking.

The moment Lucy touched her there the feeling changed. She knew it didn’t feel good. She tried lifting her hips to her but no, it didn’t feel good. Lucy, unaware, easily hooked a finger over Emma’s panty line and slid down Emma’s sex. It made Emma anxious, even nauseated.

No, this wasn’t what she wanted. She couldn’t do it.

She grasped Lucy’s hand, pushing her a little so she stopped.

“What? Are you alright?”

Emma nodded, shame making her lip tremble despite her best wishes, “I’m sorry Lucy; I can’t.”

Respectfully and without a trace of disdain, Lucy pulled back, “Oh that’s alright, that’s alright.” She cooed, sitting back looking flushed - aroused - but kind.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Emma repeated, covering herself with her shirt.

“No, I’m sorry.” Lucy said softly holding the hand of Emma’s that wasn’t trying to hide the obvious fact that she was near tears, “I let myself get carried away. Get dressed, it’s all right.”

They both quickly dressed before Emma braced herself on her knees, her hands in her hair. Lucy had a right to know. “I might as well be honest with you, I just got out of a five year abusive relationship. This was the first date I’ve had since we broke up.”

Lucy took her hand and squeezed. “You’re not ready. That’s okay. You’re worth the wait, Emma. Do you want to see me again?”

Emma wasn’t sure, the tears ebbing. She wanted to want Lucy to push her back down. She wanted to want the feeling of Lucy’s hands on her. “Of course.”

“Would you like me to take you home?”

“Please.” Emma nodded.

She felt better with her apartment insight. “I’m sorry again.”

Lucy shook her head, “Don’t be. I’ll call you soon, okay?”

Emma nodded and kissed her cheek before getting out.

As she walked up she saw something strange on her porch. A bottle of wine?

She picked it up and knew Lucy was waiting for her to get inside safely so she waited until she was inside to read the note left with it.

It read “I came to bury the hatchet but you weren’t home so can we bury it tomorrow? I don’t like it when we are not speaking. Love you –R”

 


 

She went over her syllabi and lesson plans yet again the following morning, trying to find any possible flaws but knowing there was nothing to find. She decided to get dressed and go for a long run. She had been running more than usual in the last year, helping to tone her body and soothe her mind.

It didn’t surprise her at all when her thoughts drifted to Lucy. The date had been amazing but when she thought of her now she had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. They had gotten to third base the night before and instead of feeling energized by the new attention she wasn’t sure she wanted to call her again. She needed to think. Maybe she should see if Archie could schedule her for an emergency session.

That night at exactly 6:15 Regina knocked on her door.

“I know you think that I haven’t been around because we’re fighting but that’s not the reason. Well, that’s not the only reason. I have been working a lot.”

Emma smiled, just happy to see her, “Hello to you too.”

“Hi.” Regina smiled her crooked smile and pulled her into a tight hug. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No, not yet. I was about to start cooking.”

“Can I join you?”

Emma laughed, “Of course. Work been bad, huh?”

“Very bad.”

“Is that just because of the abuse case or is it because of something else?”

“I don’t know.” Regina leaned against the doorframe leading into the kitchen, “It brings back memories of...well I suppose you know. It is good to see you though; you look good.”

Emma smiled and wrapped her arms around Regina again, resting her head on her chest, her hand over her heart before she remembered that she wasn’t going to do things like this anymore. She cleared her throat and headed to the stove “I was going to make pasta.”

“Sounds good.”

Regina watched her work for a bit.

In the silence Emma felt the hairs on her neck stand at attention under the pressure of Regina’s eyes.

“So where have you been the last few days?” Regina asked conversationally, “What have you been doing?”

“Mostly getting ready for classes to begin. Did you see I finished the living room?”

“I did! Congratulations, you are finally moved in.”

Emma laughed, “It only took most of a year.”

They cooked together, things falling into their natural rhythm.

“So are you okay?” Emma finally asked over empty plates and a glass of wine. “I mean since everything that happened at work; are you all right? I can’t imagine it was easy.”

Regina sighed, “No it wasn’t. This poor child had her leg broken in three places.”

There was a knock on the door that made both of them jump. She exchanged a look of surprise with Regina before getting up to see whom it was.

She felt the blood drain from her face when she saw Lucy standing on the other side. She didn’t know how to make this not be awkward, so with a smile Emma swept the door open, “Hello!”

“Hi!” Lucy said smiling charmingly.

“I won’t stay, I can see you have company. I just wanted to drop off this.” She held out a burned CD that read The Essentials.

“What is it?”

“It’s Heart. You said you needed to be educated, well here you go.”

Emma laughed and thanked her.

“Em,” Regina said approaching, carrying her ringing phone, “Mom is calling.”

Emma flushed feeling overwhelmed and took it, silencing it.

“Hi.” Regina said politely -coolly. “We haven’t officially met. Regina.” Her arm reached over Emma’s shoulder to shake hands stiffly.

Lucy’s eyebrows drew together at Regina’s tone but she shook it anyway. “Lucy.”

Both women looked at the other then as though understanding something for the first time. Emma, distracted by the phone, missed the exchange entirely.

Lucy smiled and squeezed Emma’s fingers, “Um, yeah well, Emma I’ll call you later, eh?”

Emma nodded, jittery in her nerves and closed the door, taking a deep breath as she did.

You don’t have any reason to feel badly, she reminded herself. Regina is dating. You are allowed to date. There is no reason to feel so bad and there is no reason for Regina to be weird possessive tendencies aside.

She turned to rejoin Regina in the kitchen and was surprised to see she hadn’t left her side. She yelped a little and grabbed Regina’s arm for support.

“You’re dating.” Regina accused in a soft almost sad voice.

Emma took yet another deep breath, “Maybe. We just met. What? You’re dating!”

Regina settled herself against the wall, her arms crossing frostily, “That’s where you’ve been the last few days isn’t it?”

“Ginny,”

“No, it’s alright Em. I should have known after the barbeque. I saw you guys talking so much that day I just thought” She broke off, “I can’t believe you’re dating.”

Emma shot back, “So are you.”

“Oh no, Emma. Don’t misunderstand.” Regina laughed, hands on her hips ready for the fight that was coming, “I’m not dating, I’m a date-ing. I had one date and it was not with a sexy foreigner who brings me mixed tapes. Are we in the nineties again? Have you slept with her?” Emma opened her mouth to protest but Regina cut her off, “On second thought, I don’t want to know. You could have at least told me.”

Regina gathered her things and said in a much softer voice, “I better go” as she passed by her out the door, kissing her forehead as she left.

Emma watched her go, stunned. She had expected Regina to be a little unhappy that she was dating, protectively jealous as always but damn!

She stood by the open door. What the shit? Why did she feel so guilty? God, the Regina roller coaster was dizzying, did this mean that Regina did have romantic attachments to her or that she simply didn’t like that Emma hadn’t told her? Or perhaps some other convoluted reason to be grumpy...she didn’t know.

She stomped her foot angrily and decided not to stay home.

Her mother was in her pajamas when she arrived but happy as always to see her.

“I still haven’t gotten over how nice it is to see you when I know you’re living only a few miles away.” Mary said sitting down with her at the kitchen table. “Can I get you something? Cocoa?”

Emma shrugged.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing I’m just,” she hit the top of the table, “angry!”

She was pissed. What right did Regina have to make her feel this way?

“Why are you angry?” Mary studied Emma for a moment before asking, already knowing, “What did she do?”

Emma let her head fall with a thud onto the tabletop, groaning, “She’s fucking frustrating!”

“What happened?”

She was sure her busybody mother would do something - involve herself in some way if Emma told her but fuck it. She took a deep breath and let the story spill.

When she was done Mary just nodded for a few minutes, thinking. “Well it sounds like Lucy is a very nice girl but it also sounds like you know how you feel. If you were ready to be with someone besides Hanna - or perhaps Regina - in that way then you would have been able to allow things to happen naturally.”

“I know that.” Emma sighed, frustrated with her mother’s answer. That was not the point!

“This also sounds to me,” Mary continued, “very much like the fight you two were having not so long ago that could have been solved with a simple conversation.”

Uggggggghhh! She was tired of thinking, wondering and worrying about what role Regina played in her life. “You don’t think Regina said enough by being the first to start dating?”

Mary just shrugged.

 


 

Emma didn’t feel much better on her drive home. She popped in the CD that Lucy had given her and decided to go for a drive through the forest.

She liked the music; it was upbeat and enjoyable.

Her mother was right. This was like the fight before...kind of. Either way they weren’t communicating when they should - had they learned nothing?

With a groan she turned her car around and headed toward Regina’s house.

She would be the bigger person and make it right.

When she pulled up the house was dark. This surprised her; Regina rarely went out at night because of Henry. She decided to wait outside for a bit just in case Regina simply ran to the store or something like that.

She played Lucy’s CD through before beginning to feel stupid. Thoughts of Regina out on a date flashing through her mind.

Ugh, gross. But...possible...probable...

She scribbled out a note that read, “Hey, came by. Waited for a bit. I guess you’re out. Let me know if you want to talk. – E”

When she arrived home she was surprised to see a note waiting for her, “Came back to talk to you. I waited for a while but it’s getting late so I need to go. Call me if you would like. – R”

Emma laughed, had Regina been here waiting for Emma while Emma was there waiting for her?

She decided not to dwell on it. She needed to go to bed. Her new semester began tomorrow so she didn’t have time for all of this crap.

A message was on her phone from Lucy the following morning, which both pleased and stressed her.

It read “Break a leg on your first day of the semester.” Emma smiled; she couldn’t believe that Lucy had remembered!

She got up and showered, fiddling with her hair and then taking far too long to choose her outfit. She wanted to seem young and relatable yet professional. Instead all she felt was sick.

She found parking easily in the faculty lot and bought a cup of coffee, lingering next to the coffee cart as she sipped it. She checked her phone again, shifting the syllabi, notes and other assorted books and papers she was juggling.

She still had not heard from Regina. Hadn’t she gotten her note?

She sent her another text message, “I don’t know if you remember but today is my first day of school. I’m meeting Ruby and Peter tonight at The Rabbit Hole at 10:30 if you would like to join us. I know it’s late for you but since one of my courses is a night course I don’t get out until 10.”

After the message was sent she knew she had to head into her class.

Everything went smoothly that day and that night she headed home to be picked up immediately by Ruby. Then in tandem they head straight to the bar feeling as though she could take on the world.

“I can’t fucking believe it, Rubes!” she babbled, “It was amazing!”

There had been two texts from Lucy on her phone when classes were over, one asking how it went and one asking if she wanted to get a drink to celebrate. She decided not to answer until the morning. Lucy was kind of wonderful; she didn’t think it was fair to see her again until she had worked out if she wanted to continue dating her.

And where the hell was Regina?

Working probably.

She and Ruby arrived first and ordered drinks.

“What is that you’re humming?” Ruby asked absently.

“Oh.” she chuckled, sorry. “Have you ever heard of this band called Heart?”

“Uh, Crazy On you? Magic Man? Barracuda? Yeah.”

“Lucy burned me a CD. I like it a lot.”

“Hmmm. And will we be seeing little miss bright eyes tonight?”

Emma worried her lip, “No. I didn’t invite her. She asked if we could get a drink tonight but I haven’t responded.” She told her quickly about the rest of their date and Emma’s panic.

“So now you’re not sure you’re ready?”

“I guess. She’s great. She really is but I’m just not sure...I don’t know...I just have this weird feeling in my gut when I think about it.”

“I see. Okay well, tell me more about your day. How was it?”

“Really scary.” Emma laughed, breathily. “I felt like a moron most of the day but I think it actually went very well.”

“Excuse me professor, I’d like to talk to you about extra credit.” Emma jumped. God damn it, what was with women sneaking up behind her at this freaking bar?

“Lucy!”

Emma stumbled to her feet shocked and instantly guilty. She purposely hadn’t invited her tonight, “What are you doing here?”

“I brought her.” Peter said nonchalantly, kissing Ruby hello.

Lucy excused herself to the bar and Ruby attacked Peter punching him repeatedly, “You brought her? What the hell Peter?”

“What?” He cried genuinely confused. “I thought you two were dating now.”

“Ginny’s coming!”

“So?” He cried, his confusion mounting.

“She is?” Emma asked surprised then shook her head, pulling Ruby off of him, “It’s all right. Ginny knows I’m seeing Lucy. It’s all right.”

“I don’t understand,” Peter mumbled to Ruby when Ruby hit him again “if she’s not seeing Regina then why does it matter that Lucy is here?”

“Because they’re being stupid, that’s all.” Ruby said in a whisper she thought that Emma couldn’t hear.

“Hey!” Emma cried, “Wait. What?”

Lucy reappeared through the crowd.

“Hi.” Lucy said smiling brightly and without warning leaned in planting a huge kiss on Emma’s lips. A mix of desire and discomfort flooded her stomach. Did she want to pull her in again or did she want to get the hell away from her?

Pulling away Lucy winked a very alluring...and confusing wink and sat next to her, “So tell me about it.”

Emma went to speak but the words dried on her lips. Across the bar, face looking as though it had just been slapped, Regina had clearly frozen in the process of taking her wine from the bartender's hand.

“Ginny.” Emma said standing but Regina’s face cleared, covered by the polite mask that Emma hated and she made her way through the crowd.

Emma’s heart beat in her gut sickly. Was she really so jealous seeing Emma date? Perhaps she needed to treat Regina with more caution...since clearly Regina was insisting on acting like a jealous ex...suddenly.

Regina smiled as she approached her and handed her a perfectly shaped deeply red rose, “Congratulations on your first day.”

“Uh thanks - Gin.” Her brows furrowed, concerned by the look she had just seen. Emma went to lean in for their customary hug but before she could pull her in, Regina turned to the crowd of her friends.

Emma blinked, stunned. Had she just been rejected or had Regina simply turned away unaware? What the hell was happening?

Regina greeted everyone including Lucy warmly then took a seat across the table.

The group was unnaturally silent. Ruby was busy shifting tense glances between Emma, Regina and Lucy - Peter was constantly shifting confused glances between Ruby, Emma, Regina and Lucy - while Lucy looked between everyone bewildered. Emma was staring resolutely at the ground, wondering if she should just go home. Only Regina was able to force a look of comfort and eventually broke the silence, “So tell us about it. How nervous were you? Did you get sick like you thought you would?”

“Um,” Emma stammered. “Well, everyone was very polite.” She said softly above the running monologue of questions in her head. “It was interesting to see the difference between classes. Some were incredibly outspoken while others didn’t say two words. I guess I think it went really well. They all seemed to come to class ready to like me, well most of them anyway.”

“You said this is your first semester, right?” Lucy asked, taking Emma’s hand.

 


 

On the second glass of wine, Regina pulled Lucy into a conversation asking her all the same questions Ruby had asked on their double date. She was attentive and easily flattering. Emma watched their interaction warily. There was a touch of jealousy in her chest, her little green monster waking from its doze...but she had no idea which of the two it was for.

Not long after that Regina yawned and excused herself, insisting she had to go home and relieve the sitter.

Lucy seemed to perk up a bit after that, perhaps no longer intimidated by Regina’s presence but Emma was ready to go. She waited the length of another drink before whisperingly asking Ruby if they could call it an early night. Ruby nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly.

“I’ll take you home.” Lucy offered and Emma hesitated; it didn’t seem like the best idea but there was no way to refuse politely.

“Are you alright?” Lucy asked awkwardly as they pulled out of the lot. “Everything seemed to get very uncomfortable when your friend arrived.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry.” Emma sighed, “We’re fighting right now.”

“That’s all right, I can understand a fight.” Emma hadn’t noticed the silence until Lucy cleared her throat, “So have you listened to that CD?”

“Yeah, I have!” Emma said brightening. “I really love it. I don’t understand how I didn’t know who they were; especially because I already knew so many of their songs.”

“Well that’s how it works, right?” Lucy turned up the CD, smiling at Emma and taking her hand. “I’m so glad that you like it. That makes me happy.”

Emma propped her elbow on the car door and shifted a little so she was just a bit too far away to hold hands.

Emma’s heart picked up and her stomach churned.

Alright. That was it. She couldn’t be in a relationship with this woman who was sweet and held the car door open for her and took her apple picking. She wasn’t ready. Lucy wasn’t the one she wanted. As much as she hated it, Regina was permanently and implacably on her mind. She had seen both sides of the coin. Hanna had been terrible. Lucy had been wonderful. And yet, it was still Regina that she wanted. She had to get over that before she could date anyone else. She couldn’t let Lucy dangle, waiting for Emma to stop missing someone else’s lips. Because clearly that was exactly what was happening. If she felt this guilty over Regina seeing her kiss Lucy then yes, there was more to the story...still. It wasn’t right. Regret filled her because she knew she did like Lucy - she liked her a lot. She wondered if they could possibly try again later when Emma’s head was clearer.

When they pulled up to Emma’s apartment Lucy turned the car off and turned to Emma a little, perhaps expecting conversation, perhaps expecting a kiss; either way Emma jumped before it could happen.

“Lucy, I’m sorry,”

“I know.” Lucy said with a huge sigh, “It’s that other one, the best friend right?”

Emma sighed, guilt gripping her. She shouldn’t have agreed to a date in the first place, “I hate her a little bit, especially right now but she’s supposed to be my one.”

“Do you think she thinks so too?”

“At times. I don’t know but the point is that it isn’t fair to you to lead you on. I’m not ready for a new relationship. I thought that perhaps I wasn’t over my abusive ex, Hanna but I think really I’m not over Regina. I’m sorry, Lucy. I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t be. I knew something was up at the barbeque so I can’t be upset now. I’m glad I got to get to know you a little bit and I’m glad you told me before things went any further. Thank you for that.”

Emma gripped her hand tightly, “Any other time in my life, Lucy...”

Lucy nodded a little.

There was nothing left to say after that. She said goodbye and allowed Lucy to get her door for her one last time, chivalrous to the end.

Fiddling with her keys she did her best to find the right key to open the door so Lucy would stop waiting for her. As she stepped onto her porch her security light clicked on and with a scream she dropped her keys. Regina sat in her porch chair. Had she been crying?

“What the fuck, Regina?”

She waved Lucy away heart pounding. Lucy waved back unhappily and left.

“Ginny, what the fuck are you doing here? How long have you been here? Did you come straight from the bar?”

“No. I dropped Henry with your mother first.” Regina stared at her hands for a second, “So you’re like dating. You’re dating dating; bring you CDs, kiss you in public kind of dating. When did that happen? Have I really been that busy or did you just keep it from me?”

“What? No, it’s not like that. Do you want to come inside?”

Regina stood but instead of following she grabbed Emma.

“Wha-”

Regina didn’t respond, just pulled Emma slowly to her, wrapping her arm tightly around her waist. She smoothed Emma’s hair back, out of her face and slowly deliberately leaned down and kissed her.

Soft, light, wonderful.

Had Emma thought that Lucy’s kiss was a good one? She couldn’t remember. The kiss, though featherweight, turned Emma’s legs to jelly, making her sag a little in Regina’s arms. A small sigh fell from Regina’s lips and she pulled her in again, firmer, her hand balling into Emma’s shirt at her side. Emma’s breath hitched as she felt Regina slip past her lips, teasing her, putting everything she had into the kiss.

When Regina released her she was dizzy and breathless as if she had stood up too fast.

Regina picked up her things and headed down the steps, snapping Emma back to reality, “You’re leaving?”

Regina shrugged, looking somehow cold and vulnerable in the August warmth, “I suppose I needed to do that one more time, but yes, I am leaving.”

Emma couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t fucking believe it. “No!” She yelled at her not caring that it was late and she had neighbors, “No, you get your ass inside Regina Mills. I am SICK of this. Now!”

Regina looked at her like she had never seen her before but followed directions.

Emma slammed the door behind her, “Are you kidding me?” She shrieked, “Are you fucking kidding me? You kiss me and then you leave. Are you kidding me?”

Regina crossed her arms aggressively but the look on her face said she knew she shouldn’t have done it.

“God!” Emma ranted, “What is it with you? It’s always up and down with you; you can’t decide what you want! You sleep with me and then you don’t know if you want to be with me. You say you wanted to marry me but then you do nothing about it. You get upset I didn’t kiss you when we were drunk and then you’re platonically sterile for over a year. You start dating without saying anything to me and then you come to my house in the middle of the night and you kiss me.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, calming herself and then spoke, “I don’t understand you. I don’t know what I am supposed to expect from you. What do you want? I don’t know how to behave! If you want to be with me then fucking be with me! Jesus Regina!”

Despite Emma yelling at her, Regina’s voice was soft, a rarity “I told you Emma, I’m not dating. I went on a date, one date. One terrible date with a terrible woman whom I have nothing in common with. One date.”

“Great.”

“I was giving you space.”

“What? I can’t hear you.”

“I was giving you space, Emma! I was giving you space after your loser ex girlfriend walked all over your heart and your face. I thought you weren’t ready to date. I thought you weren’t ready to be with anyone else because I thought that when you were ready you would be with me!” Regina’s voice was rising until she yelled angrily, “I thought that you would tell me when you were ready. I thought you would make it known to me somehow so I could stop playing the dutiful fucking best friend who was helping you through and take the place I am supposed to have in your life! You are supposed to be with me, goddamn it. That house is supposed to be yours. We are supposed to be five years into our relationship. We should be married by now! My son is supposed to be yours! You belong next to me, not kissing random women in bars!”

Emma’s heart was beating so hard in her ears that she couldn’t think straight, it almost hurt. “You’re proud, Regina Mills. You’re too proud. Why couldn’t you just have said that? I mean, what am I supposed to do? Should I have a large sign made that says Ginny, I love you or Ginny, this would be a good time to make any kind of move.”

Regina grabbed her roughly pulling her by the neck to her kissing her deeply, searchingly and longingly until Emma couldn’t remember her point as Regina’s tongue sparred softly with her own.

Shuffling backward into the living room, they hit the back of the couch, teeth clenching hard.

“No, no, no” Emma slurred tongue tied as she fell over it onto the cushions and Regina fell with her, landing on her with a hollow grunt. “This isn’t how I want it to be. I’m fucking angry with you. I fucking pissed!”

“Then stop being angry with me.” Regina growled, rolling off of her and ripping her shirt over her head.

“No!” Emma growled yanking her mouth back to hers, her tongue forcing into Regina, her teeth biting down on Regina’s bottom lip.

Regina whimpered, standing beside the couch so she could give Emma’s legs a yank, making her land on her back with a thud.

“Well then what the fuck do you want me to do?” Regina snarled, shoving Emma’s skirt out of the way.

“Fucking figure something out!”

Emma’s panties flew across the room and with a toe-curling gasp from Emma; Regina was inside of her, her fingers buried as deeply as she could force them.

Fuck!” Emma’s body bowed into Regina’s. “Fuck!” Forcing open the button of Regina’s pants, she thrust inside, gentleness forgotten as she greedily slid two fingers into Regina’s center, curling mercilessly and pulling against the top of her walls.

Regina dropped to her knees by the couch, hunching over Emma unable to control the sounds coming from her mouth.

Furiously they pumped, contorting their bodies; their angry grunts warring with their wails.

“Fuck!” Regina cried, slamming into Emma with all she had. She circled; she curled pulling high screams of moans from Emma.

Their lips met, their tongues fighting, lipstick smearing, teeth grazing.

“God damn it!” Emma screamed, bucking wildly. She shoved Regina’s face away too angry to kiss her and instead bit Regina’s nipple through her thin bra.

“Fuck. Em. I’m go-” Emma didn’t let her finish, twisting her fingers and pulling back, holding the pressure.

Regina exploded, falling onto Emma writhing over her and swearing harshly.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.” Emma wailed, higher and higher joining Regina, their bodies slamming together as they rode out their orgasms wave after wave.

Regina dropped to the floor in front of the couch as Emma fell back against the cushions. They laid next to one another not touching and breathing hard.

“Do you feel better?” Regina finally asked, making Emma burst into a fit of laughter.

“God yes, I do.”

“Do you want to do it again?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Bedroom?”

Regina sighed a moment and then both got up running for the bedroom, squealing and laughing. As soon as they passed the door Regina spun her around, catching her in her arms.

A small unconscious moan dropped from Regina when she pulled their lips back together. This time it was soft, their lips parting to allow the other entrance. Regina cupped Emma’s jaw, holding her to her. She walked them backwards until she could softly rest Emma on the bed.

Emma let out a small mousy “oh” when Regina pulled herself on top of her, resting flatly and taking her lips again.

Emma’s hands trailed up and down Regina’s sides, cupping her head, squeezing her shoulders, touching her back. Her mind was spinning, lost in a wonderful haze where only she and Regina existed.

Another oh fell as Regina striped them of their clothing and they could rest against one another naked.

Emma wrapped her arms around her, pulling her as close as she could, letting her face press into Regina’s shoulder as lips made their way back and forth across her skin.

Emma let her hands gather Regina’s hair, pulling her head back so she could see her face, holding Regina’s eyes. “I love you.”

She said it, point blank, clearly and obviously. There could be no denying it.

She watched Regina’s cheeks reddened, her bottom lip twitch and tremble slightly and a tear from each eye dropped onto Emma’s cheeks. Regina sighed, rubbing her cheek against hers and said, “Oh, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Emma’s arms enveloped her again, pulling her to her. Regina gasped and slid her hands between them, softly brushing Emma’s nipples.

Emma’s eyes went wide and then closed, humming lightly.

A knee pushed its way between Emma’s legs, pressing into Emma. She clutched Regina’s shoulders, breath hitching and brought up her own knee pressing it into Regina. The warmth there, the wet, it was dizzying. She let out a moan as she felt Regina press, slowly sliding up and down. “Oh god.”

They rocked this way for a while until breaths combined they had to release and enter one another, tongues finding nipples, jaws, ears.

They kissed. They held. They came together, meeting as one person and they fell asleep on top of the blankets perfectly comfortable.

 


 

Emma woke late in the morning but Regina was still sound asleep, Emma’s own human cocoon. She slipped out of her arms and to the restroom then the kitchen. She made coffee, waffles with strawberries, eggs and bacon.

Regina appeared in the doorway clad only in one of Emma’s shirts and wordlessly took a cup of coffee. She leaned against the far wall and watched Emma cook.

Emma hummed as she did, safe in her happy place. “We could do this you know.” She said, her back still to Regina.

“Hmm?”

“We could do this. We could be a family.” Emma turned to look at her, leaning against the counter herself, afraid of what she would see on Regina’s face but it only held a beautiful serenity.

“Then, yes we could.”

Emma smiled because she knew that Regina meant it.

She took Regina’s hand and pulled her to her, resting her face against Regina’s throat.

“Are you sure you want me?” The words echoed in Regina’s chest against Emma’s ear.

“Yes. I’m sure.”

Regina was silent for a moment before she said, “Okay.”

“Okay.” Emma repeated.

They stood that way for a while, comfortable.

Finally Regina said softly, almost amused, “We have to call your mom.”

“And Ruby.”

“Do you think you can handle one last move?”

“The last?”

“Yes.”

“I think I can do that.” Emma said content for the first time in many years. “Then what?”

Regina smiled and purred in answer, “Then we start our life.”