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Close Quarters

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Close Quarters
Vacancy

Mulan threw herself on the grey couch in the living room. It was worn out and frayed, but she was well acquainted with it. Sure, it came from an aunt’s cousin’s childhood friend’s mom’s house, but it was still considered a family heirloom. In fact, a lot of the furniture in the house were hand-me-downs from the Fa family and it’s friends-like-family. The house itself actually belonged to Mulan’s grandparents, who allowed her to live in it for a small rental fee.

But today, there was an emptiness. After living for the last two years with Ariel and her fiancé Eric, the house was strangely quiet. Now it was just Mulan and Aurora with a rent that was too high for a Royal Ambulance EMT and a part-time waitress/volunteer/student. Mulan worked varying hours, but enjoyed a 4 day on, 3 day off schedule. It gave her plenty of time to take care of the house and of their Shitzu, Mushu. Aurora was on her third bachelor’s degree, this time focusing on global ecology and women’s studies, while volunteering at the Children’s Hospital, Perry’s Orphan Sanctuary and Whole Foods.

It wasn’t that Mulan was complaining. For the size of the 3 bedroom house in the Oakland Hills, rent was fair and they were able to include utilities. Her grandparents allowed her to bring Mushu, which was a big plus. The house itself was laid out to promote good energy and capitalize on the essential Feng Shui of the home. The house originally had 2 bedrooms, but a third one was added later by adding a divider and sliding glass door to the loft upstairs.

Mulan covered her eyes with her arm. They needed to find a roommate or two and quickly. She heard the door open and the soft tapping of Aurora’s sneakers on the floor as her girlfriend let herself into the house.

“Mulan, you have to get up. We have people coming over to interview for the rental spaces. You can’t just lie here on the couch.” Aurora lectured. Mulan lifted her arm and opened her eyes to see her blonde girlfriend standing in front of her in dark jeans and a hand-me-down t-shirt for some sort of long forgotten charity marathon in Alameda, dated sometime in 1984.

“Where have you been?”

Aurora sighed, “Don’t you remember? I told you I had two volunteer shifts today. One at the Sanctuary and three hours at the Farmer’s Market. It’s Friday.”

After grumbling, Mulan sat up and looked at Aurora with a curious glance. “Well, where’s the good from the market, woman? You always bring something home on Fridays.”

“I donated it. We’ve got plenty of food anyways.” Aurora argued as she moved past Mulan towards their bedroom.

“But I wanted the fresh vegetables!!” Mulan whined. She looked at her watch. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and her second day off. She wanted to do something productive, but felt like she wasted the entire day cleaning up what was left of Ariel and Eric’s room. It was clean when they moved out, but Mulan’s upbringing had instilled some level of mysophobia in her that caused her to clean a clean room. She and Aurora had agreed that getting two roommates might help their finances, so Mulan also rearranged the upstairs loft room so it looked more like a bedroom than another living room.

At promptly 4:00, the doorbell rang. Mushu barked from the laundry room where they had locked him up for the duration of the interviews. Their first guest was a young woman named Ashley. As they asked her questions about herself, Mulan and Aurora each made little notes on pink and purple notepads.

After the interviewers would leave, they exchanged notebooks and discussed their potential as a roommate until the next one arrived. Their conditions were simple: clean, drug-free, working, female and LGBT supportive. Eric had been an exception, since Ariel had already been living in the house when she started seeing him. Also, he could talk football with Mulan, which she appreciated.
Several more girls arrived, each going through the same interview process. The pink and purple notebooks kept moving back and forth between Mulan and Aurora as they shared their opinions on each girl. They looked over each notebook, making faces or giggling at the notes they left each other.

Aurora shook her head as she read through Mulan's notes. They were somewhat superficial, but not necessarily incorrect.
**Tiana** - if she moves in, she better be able to make creole food. I want dirty rice!
**Ashley** - part-time worker, has a baby, minimum wage, not yet 21, where is the BD?
**Merida** - GINGER; ok that was kinda rude. Um, she actually seems kinda fun. For a Ginger.
**Jasmine** - can definitely pay the rent. Going to UCB on Dr. Daddy’s money.

Mulan held up Aurora's notebook and leaned back on the couch, giggling at Aurora's facial response to her notes. She glanced at the page and saw very short but well thought out tidbits of information.
Tiana - cute accent, but not okay with the pet frog.
Ashley - very sweet, likes to clean, has a really cute baby, but promotes formula feeding.
Merida - foreign exchange student. No work visa. lots of hair.
Jasmine - likes cats. Not a good match for Mushu.

“Damn it!” Aurora hissed as she tossed the notebook on the table.

“What’s wrong? We’ve only seen four girls today. You don’t have to get frustrated.” Mulan replied as she leaned back into the couch.

“It’s not that. I double booked the next two! They’re both coming here at 6. Ugh, we can’t interview them at the same time. Let's do it as individual tours. I'll interview and tour with one and you do the other." Aurora suggested.

“But I thought you didn’t want anyone seeing the house until they’re the ones going to move in?” Mulan argued.

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I have a good feeling about this.”

The doorbell rang again and exactly 6:00. Mulan answered the door to find a slightly older woman with short dark hair standing on the porch in Louboutin heels and a black Chanel dress. “Is this the home that’s available for rent?” she asked curtly.

“Um… yes?” Mulan replied nervously.

“Are you telling me or asking me? I am the one inquiring.”

“Oh, sorry, telling you. Come on in. Um… I’m Mulan Fa.” the girl held her hand out to the older woman who took it delicately.

“Regina Mills,” she answered as she stepped into the foyer. She quickly took notice of the shoes by the front door and slipped out of hers easily. The door closed behind her as Mulan led her into the living room where Aurora was waiting for the next interview.

"Oh, good evening. I'm Aurora," the young girl stood up from the couch and held her hand out to Regina's. The woman took it and nodded to her in greeting. "Why don't I take you on a tour of the house?"

"Thank you. I understand that you have two rooms available?" Regina asked as Aurora guided her towards the kitchen.

Mulan watched as they left the room. She peeked outside and took note of the Tesla parked on the street. She whistled to herself, clearly impressed by the car. Two yellowed headlights came sputtering down the street with the sound of a tired exhaust accompanying the bouncing lights; a tell tale sign of poor suspension on the car. Mulan stood on the porch, enjoying the cool air as she watched the peculiar bug.

A yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked itself across the street and Mulan watched as a blonde woman in a red leather jacket stumbled out of the mustard colored vehicle. Mulan tilted her head curiously as she watched the young woman look around the neighborhood. She squinted her eyes at the house and then suddenly marched towards Mulan with determined focus.

"Can I... help you?" Mulan asked cautiously as the strange blonde woman approached her.

"Are you Aurora?" she asked as she thrust her hand forward. "Emma Swan, Alameda County Sheriff. We spoke on the phone."
Mulan's heart started racing. Why is the sheriff here? Did they find out that my grandparents had buried a dog in the backyard 8 years ago? Oh, god... did something happen to them? Is Uncle Yao caught at the card house again?? Wait.. she asked for Aurora...

"Um, no. I'm Mulan."

Emma grinned. "You must be the girlfriend. I'm here about the space for rent."

"Oh! Right, sorry. Come in. Um.. Aurora's showing someone else around, so... I guess I can take you upstairs first." Mulan said as she moved out of the way. "Oh, please leave your shoes by the door."

"Great!" Emma stepped inside. She sat down and removed her boots, then stepped happily onto the soft carpet in a pair of socks with donuts all over it. "Whew.. this place is huge. I mean, for Oakland Hills, that is."

"It's my grandparents' house, but they have another place so we rent it out." Mulan explained. "So.. you're a sheriff?"

"Yeah, Alameda county. " Emma explained as they walked upstairs. "You look kinda familiar."

"Oh, I'm an EMT. Royal Ambulance." Mulan led her up the stairs and waved her hand to the loft bedroom. It wasn't completely closed off as it was more a space that should have been open and a sliding glass door had been added to it. It was long more than it was wide, with just enough space for a bed, dresser, desk and perhaps an armchair. If you were creative with the space. The intention was for it to be a quiet, well lit reading nook. There had been two bookshelves at one time, clearly indicated by the discoloration of the floor against the wall. The room itself sat in a corner of the house where the ceiling began to slant, making the room feel smaller.

The slant of the roof had three skylights, perfect for bringing in morning light and since it was at an angle that never got the full onslaught of the sun throughout the day, it was blazing hot in the summer and always warm enough in the winter. But the best part that Emma found was the glass door that led to the balcony outside. She turned around on her heels and grabbed Mulan's hands. "I'll take it!"

"Huh? But... rent is $800."

Emma shook her head with vigor, "Yeah, yeah. I got it. Alameda County sheriff, remember? If you're worried about a criminal background," she said as she pointed to herself, "Alameda County Sheriff. Also, go Niners."

Mulan gasped. "You... you're not East Bay loyal... Shh! We can only say that in the confines of these walls. Beyond here...you have to play the Raiders facade."

"Personally, I follow the Niners, but I'm not an idiot. I know how the game is played here in the Bay."

It was as if they immediately clicked. Whether is was a respect for football or just a natural sense, Mulan just knew that Emma was the right fit for this house.

"So... rent is due on the 5th, it includes utilities and internet. We use U-Verse. Their contract has a better range in this area. We all share the DVR, but don't delete anything yet. Aurora's got eight episodes of Love It or List It and I'm way behind in Adventure Time."

"Seriously? You watch Adventure Time, too?" Emma asked excitedly. She was liking this house more and more.

"Uh, duh!" Mulan answered. "Come on, let me show you the rest of the house."


 

"I'm working on an organic garden outside," Aurora explained as she and Regina moved away from the back door.

"It's a beautiful space, Aurora. I can help you with that, if you like. Gardening is a small hobby of mine. Is the driveway available or garage for parking?"

Aurora shook her head, "The driveway is available when Mulan's Fit isn't in the way. I don't drive. It's not economical. Do you?"

"I have a Tesla." Regina answered.

"Oh... well that changes things then. I mean, it's a Tesla. I'll make sure Mulan leaves you a parking space." They walked along a hallway and the high pitched yip-yip of Mushu behind a closed door made Regina jump back slightly. Aurora hurried to block the door. "I'm so sorry, I forgot to mention that we have a dog."

Aurora worried that Regina would change her mind. So far, she liked her and she hoped that the woman would decide to stay. But the brunette's eyes lit up as she looked towards the door. "You have a dog? What kind?"

"A Shitzu. He's Mulan's, but since we moved in here, he's kind of the baby."

Regina smiled, "I love dogs. Can I see him?" Aurora smiled and nodded. Mushu's yip-yip became excited as they squeezed into the small laundry room where he had been hiding. Once inside, Regina sank to her knees and allowed the small dog to climb up her lap and nuzzle her face. Aurora grinned at the sudden change of aura she sensed from the older woman. She knew immediately from Mushu's reaction that Regina Mills would fit right in.


 

"This house is awesome." Emma said happily as she stood out on the balcony with Mulan. The night air was cool and the view from the balcony was nothing short of incredible. Emma took in the skyline of Oakland and the San Francisco bay, inhaling slightly as the faint but familiar salty air tickled her senses.

"You're gonna love it. We barbecue in the summer and I actually like doing dinner parties when Aurora lets us have company. But wait, I have to ask you... Giants or A's?" Mulan asked, giving Emma a sideways glance. The true test of friendship was dependent on Bay Area sports loyalty.

"Giants, duh. Although I get free A's tickets once in awhile."

"Everyone gets free A's tickets. They're kinda just happy you show up."

Emma nodded. "True. You? A's or Giants?"

"I'm SF all the way," Mulan said proudly. "Giants, Niners, Bi-Rite Ice Cream, the Castro and Ike's Sandwiches. I fly my city flag emblazoned with the Golden Gate... but I like it here in Oakland, too.. cause Fenton's. Duh."

"I'll be honest, not really into baseball. I mean, I can watch a game. Who could say no to a beer and a hot dog? But, football... that's something I love watching."

"Dude, me too! Football's my favorite, but the Giant's stadium is super close, so it's just easy and fun to go. We should go to a game one time."

A grin spread across the blonde's face, "Definitely."

"I've got another important question for you. Xbox or Playstation?"

"Both. I've got an Xbox One and I'm loaded up on zombie games."

Mulan's eyebrows came together, "I can.. kinda play those games. They freak me out a little. But I'll play."

"They scare me too, but it's still fun."

"I've got a Playstation 3.... and Assassin's Creed."

"Awesome." Emma replied, looking back out onto the skyline. Her heart was soaring. She would finally get to move out of her parents' house and be out on her own. She prayed that her mom wouldn't be a baby about it.


 

Aurora sighed. "I'm so glad you like Mushu. It's such a relief. I mean, Ariel and Eric were super cool with him, but some of the other people we've interviewed didn't like having a dog in the house or were cat lesbians."

"Cat... lesbians?" Regina echoed.

"Yeah, you know.. the kind of lesbian who loves cats and has awkward cat sweaters and stuff?"

Regina squeezed out of the laundry room, trying her best to keep Mushu on the opposite side of the door. "Wouldn't they just be crazy cat ladies?"

"I guess, but they haven't hit that level of crazy yet." Aurora agreed, squeezing out behind Regina. "Sorry about having to keep the door closed like this. Mushu likes to jump, so we keep him in here when there's company. Also, he tends to chew on shoes."

"Hmph, we'll see about that. He's adorable, but he's not getting his teeth near my shoes," the brunette said defiantly.

Aurora stopped at the end of the hallway and turned towards her visitor. "Oh, just so you know, rent is $800, due on the 5th of the month, utilities and internet included. Garbage day is on Tuesday, we have compost, recycling and a smaller trash bin. We try not to use it so much and I try to compost what I can in the garden."

Regina tilted her head slightly, "Do you mind if I see the rooms, then? I take it that was an invitation to move in? I suppose I can arrange for the movers in a week."

"Oh, of course! I mean, you have no idea how difficult it's been to replace Ariel and Eric. They were the last couple that was here. But Ariel ended up getting a job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so they got a place in Seaside."

"Sounds luxurious," Regina said, chiming in to the conversation. They stopped as they came face to face with Emma and Mulan in the living room. "Oh, did we perhaps speak too soon?"

Aurora and Mulan looked up at each other.

"Aurora, I'm.."

"Mulan, I..."

Mulan laughed. "Sorry, go ahead." Emma and Regina looked at each other curiously, then shrugged as if on cue.

"This is Regina Mills. I know we wanted to agree on who would live here, but I already offered one of the spaces to her, Mulan. I think she'll fit right in."

Mulan blushed. "Actually... I kinda did the same thing. This is Emma Swan... we kinda bonded over football."

"And the Giants." Emma added.

"And zombie games." Mulan chimed in again.

"I'd still like to see the rooms upstairs." Regina announced. Something rubbed her the wrong way about Emma Swan. Whether it was the goofy, overconfident grin on her face, her perfectly curled princess blonde hair or the way she rocked on her heels, there was something that Regina couldn't put her finger on. It made her feel hostile, but not so much in a way that she wanted to be outwardly mean. She could do mean. That was easy. But this feeling of borderline mean and teasing? She wasn't quite so sure what to do with it.

"Oh, of course!" Aurora quickly led her upstairs, and the sound of their chattering died out.

"I call the loft!" Emma shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

"Enjoy your hovel, peasant!" Regina shouted back from the top of the stairs. "I'll be taking the large, luxurious room down the hallway!"

Emma turned around to grin happily at Mulan. "I don't know about her, but this is gonna be awesome."

Mulan shrugged. "Aurora's got good taste.Oh, something important I need to bring up before we sign anything. Are you LGBT friendly?"

Emma rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't have answered the ad if I wasn't."

"You'd be suprised." Mulan replied.

"You think that Regina lady is an ally? I mean, she looks pretty straight." Emma added, tilting her head towards the stairs.

"No way," Mulan laughed. "Wait, you think? Maybe she's just an ally... but she's for sure a top. I mean, come on. With that swagger?"

"She looks like the type to always wear heels. Are those her Louboutins at the door? Imagine what those do for your calves! I say she's straight, but seriously would buy."

"Ahem!" Mulan and Emma jumped at the voice behind them. They turned to see a glaring Regina. Aurora was behind her, scowling at Mulan. "Thank you kindly for your opinion, ladies. I'll take that as a compliment. Aurora, it's been a pleasure and I look forward to becoming one of your housemates."

"You mean, you're not offended by these two?" Aurora asked incredulously.

"Normally I'd be appalled at anyone talking about me when I'm not around, but I said I'd be taking their comments as a compliment." Regina said as she slipped on her Louboutins. Emma whistled quietly, impressed at the type of shoes Regina wore. The older woman stood up rigidly and glared at the blonde sheriff. "Next time you find it necessary to whistle, I'd appreciate it if it wasn't while I was bent over. What was your name again?"

Emma gulped hard, "Um.. Swan... Emma Swan. Alameda County Sheriff."

"Well, Sheriff Swan," Regina spat out Emma's title as if it were poison in her mouth. "You'd best keep your attitude and your libido in check. Especially if we're to be cohabiting in this house. Besides, aren't you a little too young to be a Sheriff?"

The blonde shuffled on her feet, "Well... Assistant Sheriff. I'm aspiring upwards... sorry, I guess it wasn't fair to say that I was sheriff."
Mulan grinned, "I'd have voted for you. Hell, I will when it's time for elections and you're ready. You've got my vote, Swan!"

Regina rolled her eyes, "Well, Assistant Sheriff, it will be interesting to see if you've got any other little secrets. I don't intent to stick around to find out your life story, so don't count on being best buddies. This is temporary for me."

"Temporary?" Mulan repeated. She looked outside at the black Tesla. "Hey... is that your Tesla? Why are you renting if you have a Tesla?"

Regina tilted her head. "Not that it's any of your business, but it's because I have a Tesla."

"She's got a point..." Aurora smirked. "So, just give us a call when you're ready to move in, Regina!"

The woman waved as she approached her car. After she had put her purse in the vehicle, she stood up and looked up over the roof directly at Emma. "And for the record, Sheriff Swan, I'm not for sale. You can take your eBay reviews and 'would buy' to someone else!" With that, she got into her car and they watched with wide eyes as she drove away.

"Wow, foot in mouth syndrome, Emma?" Mulan laughed. She received a scowl from her new housemate. "So, uh... see you in a few days to move in?"

"Definitely. Besides, I'm not worried about Regina. She'll come around. No one can really resist the charms of a Swan." Emma replied with a cheesy grin.

Aurora and Mulan stood at the door, watching Emma leave in her sputtering Volkswagen. They grinned at each other, quietly sharing their excitement. The house wouldn't be quiet for much longer.

Chapter Text

Close Quarters
Episode 2: Housewarming

 

"Swan!" The voice that yelled from the top of the stairs echoed through the sliding glass door that separated Emma's loft into its own space. She sat up on her bed where she had flopped down next to her best friends, Graham and Killian.

"Who's yelling for you now? We just moved this bed in!" Killian whined. He stretched his long arms until his wrists touched the edge of the bed.

Emma groaned, "My other housemate, Regina. She's kind of uptight." The sound of footsteps thudded through the hallway until a dark figure stood at the sliding glass door of Emma's loft. "Oh, hey, Regina."

Simultaneously, three pairs of eyes looked up at Regina. She took a step back and glowered. "Emma... your boxes are all over the stairs. How am I supposed to get up the stairs with my things if your stuff is scattered everywhere... and you're here taking a break?!"

Emma sat up and frowned. "We'll move them in a second. We just needed like... five minutes, seriously. I mean, we just moved this bed up here!" Regina grumbled and walked away, clearly out of steam for the argument. "Christ, she's so snotty."

"But hot," Graham laughed. "Is she one of you or is she on our side? Cause, you know... if you're not gonna do something about it..."

"One of... that's kind of a rude question, Graham. Besides, I don't know." Emma elbowed him in the stomach playfully. "Come on, let's get the rest of the stuff up here." Killian and Graham hopped off the full sized bed and headed into the hallway, just in time to see several moving men usher a large queen sized bed, boxes, an armoire, desk, chair and more boxes into the room down the hall.

They looked back at Emma with a shrug. "Well, excuse me for making a civil servant's salary where I can't hire some moving guys to do all of this for us."

"You should be sorry!! These boxes are heavy!" Graham cried as he lifted a box into his arms. Sure enough, the writing on the side of the box warned him with large letters that read Heavy: workout gear.

"Lift with your legs, mate!" Killian laughed as he picked up another, not so heavy box. It didn't take them long to move in Emma's things. She didn't have much to begin with. Graham and Killian worked to put Emma's OneLess Desk into the corner beside her bed where she would perch her computer and use the corner of the desk for a haphazard nightstand. The other side of the bed had just enough room for an old wooden fruit box to be turned upside down and used as a second nightstand. Her loft-room slowly became a mix-and-match of old and new things: her dark wooden dresser that still had My Little Pony stickers on the side from when she was a little girl, the new grey and blue bed set her mom bought from Bed, Bath and Beyond to put in her new room, and an old department store coat rack that Killian found at the docks. It all worked out and Emma wasn't one to complain, especially because she finally had her own space. Even if it was down the hall from the world's crankiest woman.

Later that night, after Killian and Graham had gone home and all of Regina's things were neatly in her room, thanks to the movers, the girls sat together in the kitchen with herbal tea-filled mugs and zucchini bread.

"This is actually pretty good. I don't think I've had zucchini bread before," Emma said as she helped herself to another slice. "Usually it's bearclaws and donut shop coffee for me."

"Feeding into the stereotype then? Cops and donuts?" Regina smirked, chuckling at her own joke.

Aurora rolled her eyes at the obvious stab Regina took at Emma. "There's a pretty good diner nearby. It's the Montclair Egg Shop. We should go for brunch.”

Mulan raised her hand in the air, nearly lifting herself off her seat. “Oh! Oh! Me, me, me!”

“This is not a classroom. You can excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.” Regina said as she sipped her tea.

“No, I wanted to make a suggestion. We should have a housewarming party!” Mulan explained. She rocked back and forth on her seat with excitement. “Let’s barbecue outside, have a couple of friends over… ohhh, we’ll make it a potluck, that way everyone brings something and I don’t have to cook as much.”

“That sounded really cheap of you, Mulan.” Aurora pointed out. Mulan merely shrugged. “I suppose we could have a small party.”

“I’ll call Graham and Killian… and I guess my parents. My mom’s been asking when she can come see the place.” Emma said, grumbling. “And my partner, Ruby. I mean, my patrol partner. Not… like that.”

Mulan snickered. “Sure, sure. Sounds like a plan. Oh, but just a fair warning, my family likes to show up randomly. Especially when we have parties. Even if I don’t tell them, they have a six sense about gatherings. They show up…with food.”

“How is that a bad thing? You just said you wanted a potluck.” Regina said as she narrowed her eyebrows in confusion.

“Yeah, but when my family shows up, it’s tray after tray of food that only some people will eat. Sure, I love it when my aunt brings two trays of shrimp dumplings and there’s never enough leek and chestnut dumplings to go around… but not everyone wants to eat 100-year-old egg congee that Auntie Belinda brings over." Mulan lightly tapped her forehead on the table and sighed. "Just...be prepared."

"I'll call Belle. She's a friend of mine from my literature class,” Aurora said with growing excitement. She wasn’t one for parties, normally, but it was summer and even she enjoyed a small party here and there. “Anyone you’d invite, Regina?”

The older woman tilted her head back and folded her arms in thought. “Hm, probably just a close co-worker or two. They’re really the only people I spend any time with.”

“Great!” Emma exclaimed as she pulled out her phone. She began tapping away at the screen as she set up a calendar invitation. “So.. this Saturday?”

“Perfect.” Mulan agreed. “I’ll start cleaning up the house. I’m off on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week. It works out.”

Within a day, Facebook invitations had been sent out and Aurora was already working on a list of potluck participants with Regina over her shoulder. As they prepared, Mulan took to cleaning all aspects of the house when she was home while Emma made cheesy paper decorations and frequent beverage runs to stock up for the weekend.


 

Saturday came quickly and Mulan found herself in the backyard with two of her cousins, Chien Po and Yao, helping her at the grill. They stood around the blazing coals with beers in their hands as the noon sun just started to peak above them. Emma had run off to BevMo for a supply of ice and wine with a list of suggestions from Regina. The brunette had offered to go with her, not trusting Emma’s choice in wine, but she decided to stay and finish the large paella she had been working on all morning.

Aurora was carefully plating cookies on a tray when the doorbell rang. She excused herself from the kitchen, allowing Regina to continue working while she answered the door. She scurried across the living room which was decorated in construction paper chains, different colored crepe paper streamers and balloons that sat scattered all over the floor. She shook her head as she kicked one out of the way, recalling how Mulan and Emma sat up the night before blowing them up since both of them were too lazy and cheap to buy a helium tank at the party store.

She opened the door to find her classmate Belle with a large tray of macaroons and a box. Beside Belle was a tall Asian man who smiled as he recognized Aurora right away.

“Hi, Belle. Hey, Ling. Come in, come in. Belle, this is Mulan’s cousin, Ling Man. Mulan’s in the back with Chien Po and Yao. Go on through.” Aurora instructed.

“Hello, Ling.” Belle said quietly.

“Thanks. It’s Mah Jong night, so you know the aunts aren’t coming by, but Auntie Mei sent over a tray of Singapore noodles,” he added, holding up a foil wrapped aluminum tray.

“Oh, great. Just bring it into the kitchen. Regina’s in there cooking; she’s one of our new roommates.” After Ling had let himself in, effortlessly leaving his shoes at the foyer, Aurora turned to Belle. She took the tray from her friend and guided her inside. “Thanks for coming today.”

“Oh, thanks for inviting me. How are things with the new roommates?”

Aurora smiled and shrugged her shoulders, “They’re certainly interesting. For some reason, they constantly seem to be at each others’ throats, but they do it in such a way that you would think that they’re old friends. At least they keep us entertained.”

“Sounds like fun. I’m going to go say hello to Mulan in the back.” Belle said as she grinned.

“Go for it. She’ll be happy to see you. I’ll be in the kitchen setting up the dining table for the food. There’s beer, sodas and water in the cooler outside. We have more drinks coming in a bit, too.”

“Thanks. I’ll catch up with you in a bit.” Belle excused herself and Aurora retreated to the kitchen. She found Regina finishing up her dish over the stove, carefully garnishing the layer of rice with shrimp in a strategic decorative flower. “Looks good.”

“Thanks,” Regina answered. “I’m just about done here. Is the Baby Sheriff back yet?”

“Baby Sheriff? Oh, Emma. No, not yet.”

“Jesus, she takes forever! I’m dying for a glass of wine right now.” Regina sighed as she walked her large paella pan to the dinner table.

The long table was laid out with a black tablecloth that Regina had borrowed from work and already had various trays and plates of food set out. As Mulan had predicted, her grandmother sent over a roasted whole piglet, its browned and crisp skin glistening in the light that came through the surrounding windows. Aurora had scowled at it and complained about having to see the head of the piglet, but she was used to the kind of food Mulan’s family would bring over. Using a trick she had learned at work, Regina had propped a wok of water and two steamer baskets on bricks with a canister of flaming chafing gel beneath it to keep the dim sum that

Mulan’s cousins brought warm. Ling had set the tray of noodles right next to the dim sum, as if trying to keep the Asian food all together in one spot. On another side table was Belle’s macaroons, Aurora’s cookies and a strawberry cream cake from Kam Land Bakery sat together with small plates and a cup full of plastic forks.

The doorbell rang again. This time, Regina offered to answer the door as she pulled out her phone. “It looks like my co-workers are here. I’ll get it.” She excused herself, kicking two or three balloons out of the way as she waded through a sea of them to the front door. She opened the door to find her hotel’s pastry chef, Elsa and the Director of Catering and Events, Jefferson, standing together on the porch.

“I knew this was the right house!” Jefferson said with a grin. “That Tesla is a dead giveaway.”

“Hi, Regina,” Elsa greeted her. “This is a really nice place.”

“I got lucky,” the brunette replied as she stepped out of the way to let her colleagues into the house. “Just leave your shoes here at the door. The kitchen is to the right to drop off the food.”

“I didn’t know what to bring so… here’s a veggie tray.” Jefferson held up the black tray full of cut vegetables and ranch dip. The Costco label was still visible on the clear plastic cover.
Elsa held up two trays stacked upon each other. “I brought some cannoli and my sister decided she wanted to make lace cookies for you. Oh, and this is for later,” Elsa held up a skinny bottle with a smile. “Ice wine.”

“You’re a saint, Elsa. There’s more cookies and a cake in the kitchen.” Regina said, moving to close the door. “Just head to your right to the kitchen. Aurora will show you where to put things.” Elsa and Jefferson headed down the hallway, kicking more balloons to the side as they walked through.

“Wait!” a voice shouted. “Hold the door!”

Regina pulled the door open to find Emma struggling up the walkway behind her two cohorts, Graham and Killian. Killian had a case of Stella Artois balanced on his shoulder and another case of Anchor Steam in his free hand. Graham shouldered two large bags of ice while Emma followed with a full box of bottles.

The men greeted Regina as they walked in, taking a moment to slip out of their sneakers and promptly bring the beer to the backyard where Mulan and her cousins were. Emma waddled up to the door and grinned. “Thanks.. this stuff was heavy.”

“What the hell did you buy?” Regina asked as she peered into the box.
Emma leaned back slightly, showing her the various bottles inside. “Umm.. I picked up two bottles of the Inkblot that you highlighted, Robert Sinskey’s Abraxas, two bottles of Moscato, Kraken Rum from Killian, Blanton’s Bourbon from Graham, and a bottle of Belvedere.”

“I don’t know if I should applaud you or be concerned about the amount of alcohol that’s in there.” Regina said with a raised eyebrow.

“Hope the selection pleases you, Your Majesty.” Emma said playfully. “I’m gonna go set this down.”

“Stop exaggerating. I simply gave you suggestions for wine since you had such a dumbfounded look on your face when I asked for a red wine.” Regina rolled her eyes as she closed the door and followed Emma into the kitchen.

The kitchen counter was soon filled with bottles and red solo cups. Regina and Aurora took turns answering the door as Emma went around and introduced herself to everyone she came across. That is, after she, Killian and Graham had opened up half of the alcohol and began playing bartender for everyone. Emma’s partner, Ruby Lucas, arrived with an apple pie from her Grandmother’s shop and...donuts. As if Emma could resist since Ruby had made sure to get a good amount of bear claws.

Just when they thought everyone had arrived, the doorbell rang one more time. Regina answered it to find a petite woman with a pixie haircut and a taller sandy haired man standing there. The woman held a small boy in her arms as he jammed his fingers on her cellphone that he held in his little hands.

“Can I help you?” she asked warily.

“Is this where Emma Swan lives? We’re her parents. I’m Mary Margaret, but you may call me Snow and this is my husband, David,” the woman said cheerfully as she introduced herself. “And this little man is Neal, Emma’s baby brother.”

David held out an insulated picnic duffle bag. “We brought some food that I know Emma will love. Deviled eggs, potato salad and in the heated compartment there’s a tray of bacon macaroni and cheese.”

“Oh.. how thoughtful of you,” Regina replied carefully. She stepped to the side and held the door open. “Just head down the hallway to the right, you’ll find your daughter in the kitchen.”

David and Snow thanked her then headed straight for the kitchen, picnic duffle in tow. Regina raised her eyebrow, clearly seeing where Emma got her carefree attitude.

In the center of a crowd in the kitchen, Emma was halfway through her second ice cold manhattan that Elsa had made. It was so incredibly frosty that Emma held a napkin around it to keep her fingers from sticking to it. She downed the Manhattan and laughed as Jefferson shared a story about Regina and a three day anime convention she had to work through in the hotel.

“And then, the poor thing got called at 3am for a third disturbance complaint. When she got up to the room, it was full of people in animal costumes! She called in sick the next day and complained of being traumatized.” Jefferson said, wildly flailing his hands about.

Emma snorted as she tried to hold back her laughter. She looked up just in time to see a two-year-old boy scamper across the kitchen towards her. Without missing a beat, she scooped the child up in her arms and grinned. “Hey, monster! When did you get here?” Neal made a sound that should be akin to a roar, but sounded more like a high pitched giggle-roar.

“Hi, Em.” Snow said with a smile. David had set to work putting out the food they had brought. “We just got here. The roads up to this place are confusing. Your father got turned around three times.”

Mulan walked into the kitchen as she pulled off her cooking apron. Her cousins followed behind her with aluminum trays full of Korean barbecue, grilled chicken, grilled summer vegetables, burger patties and hot dogs. “All right! That’s the last of it! Food’s all in!” she announced.

Killian handed Emma another drink, this time it was a Moscow Mule with the vodka she had bought. Graham had been in the midst of a conversation with Ruby while Elsa, Jefferson and Belle chatted away in another corner. Regina had returned to the kitchen where she promptly poured herself of the Inkblot Cabernet Franc and sighed happily as she sipped it. She poured a glass of Moscato for each of Emma’s parents, who took them with a quiet thanks. She had no idea what they would like, but you really couldn’t go wrong with a sweet, refreshing moscato in a group like this. Aurora busied herself with retrieving the paper plates that they had stocked up on, making sure there were enough stacks for everyone. Mulan’s cousins decided that it was their duty to help Aurora, although she constantly swatted them away for their efforts.

Mulan held up her beer. “So, we want to thank everyone for coming today to welcome our new housemates, Regina Mills and Emma Swan!” The others held up their glasses, whatever they might be. “Now that that’s over with, let’s eat all this food, drink all this booze and warm this house up!”


 

The afternoon rolled by lazily as people fed themselves, chatted with new acquaintances and continuously drank the liquor that was no less than bountiful. Mulan walked into the kitchen, holding a fresh beer. She tilted her head curiously as she saw Aurora, Belle and Ruby standing in front of the dessert table.

“What’s wrong?”

“Wrong? Nothing’s wrong.” Belle replied. “Did you know that Ruby’s grandma is the owner of Mo’Pie Bakery?!”

“No way!” Mulan exclaimed. “I love that place. Is that where this apple pie’s from?”

“Yep!” Ruby answered proudly. “Granny insisted that I bring one for the party. The question is… do we split it up three ways… er, I guess four now. Or do we make enough slices for everyone?”

“You better be slicing a piece for me, if you’re going to do anything at all,” said a voice behind them. They jumped slightly and turned to find Emma leaning against the frame of the kitchen archway. She was clearly intoxicated, but wore a happy grin on her face. “Cause that is the best. shit. ever.”

“Okay, five ways.” Aurora said as she reached for the pie knife. Just as she was getting ready to put the blade to the flaky crust, they were interrupted by giggling as Elsa and Regina stumbled into the kitchen. “Damn it…”

Regina straightened her posture and did her best to look not-so-drunk. The almost empty bottle of ice wine was in Elsa’s hand and both women held semi-full glasses of the golden sweet wine. “What…” she began, clearly choosing her words carefully, “Are you ladies doing to that pie?”

“Oh, lord… Is that a pie from Mo’Pie? Holy shit snacks, I love that place! Their pies are so good… I mean, mine are great, but those… those are classic.” Elsa slurred. “Hey, Gina.. we need some pie.”


“Apple pie or…?” Regina asked, trailing off as she was clearly insinuating something that was not an apple pie. Or it was, in some references.

“Ha!” Mulan snorted. “I see what you did there.”

Regina rolled her eyes. “So, are we splitting up this pie or what?”

Emma had wandered over to the drink counter and made herself a mint julep with the organic mint plant Aurora kept in the kitchen.

“Yeah, we were… but now that you guys showed up, we need to re… re… um… figure out how to cut it.”
Ruby giggle, “Is it getting hard to math, Em?”

“Maths is hard! Especially after this tasty minty julepy.” Emma said, shaking her glass slightly to make the ice rattle.

Regina snorted as she waved her glass in the air, then held it out for Elsa to top off. “Whatever. You hot blondes do whatever you want. Just make sure there’s some there for me.”

Emma leaned over towards Elsa. “Hot blondes? Are you seeing her? Or… was she talking about Aurora? ‘Cause I dunno if Mulan would like that… or maybe she’d just agree.” Elsa shrugged as Emma’s eyes grew wide. “Wait, does she mean me? No way, she hates me.”

“Shut up!” Regina hissed. “Jesus Christ, Emma, you talk to much.”

“They fight like a married couple.” Belle giggled.

Ruby sputtered a laugh, “Emma fights that way with everyone. Including me. She’s the most annoying patrol partner ever.”

“I am not!” Emma whined.

“Shh!” Aurora hissed. “I’m gonna do it.” Suddenly, the girls fell silent as Aurora carefully divided up the pie into eight pieces. As if they were trying to hide it from everyone else in the house, they quietly passed around small paper plates and forks as she issued out slices like war rations.

Satisfied sighs echoed from each of the girls as they devoured their pies in a mix of drunken stupor or simple sugar rushes. Mulan was making visceral noises as she devoured her pie. Aurora rolled her eyes at her girlfriend, "Do you need some private time with that pie?"

"No...maybe."

Emma and Ruby made similar noises, moaning and sighing contentedly. Regina snorted in obvious derision, "Could you possibly be any more lewd with that pie? It sounds like a god damn porno in here."

"You watch porn?" Emma asked, looking up at the woman curiously. "Come on, tells us what kind you like."

"What?! That's none of your business!"

"She didn't deny it." Elsa pointed out. Regina shot her a death glare.

"Elsa!" Regina scolded her friend, catching Belle's eye roll in the corner of the eye. "Ms. Durand, if you roll your eyes that far, it's likely they'll get stuck that way."

"Rude! Don't speak to me like I'm a child." Belle retorted.

“Ladies, ladies...There’s one more left.” Mulan pointed out, interrupting Regina's stab at Belle. Not that Aurora's classmate couldn't hold her own. She was just as sharp as Regina. She sipped her beer, then scowled at the unpleasant mixture of flavors in her mouth as beer and apple pie met up for the party.

Regina felt a tug at her side as tiny hands pulled at her pocket. She looked down to see Emma’s brother looking up at her hopefully. Emma smirked. “He likes you.”

“I’m irresistible to anyone,” Regina answered haughtily. Her buzz had whittled away slightly after eating the pie. "What does he want?"

Emma shrugged, "Either the last slice of pie or your attention. He's two and you're a pretty lady. He's kinda got a thing for pretty ladies."

"Yeah, like his sister." Ruby snickered.

Mulan snorted again. She wasn’t sure if they were just drunk or if Emma was actually trying to off-handedly flirt with the woman who picked on her day in and day out.

After giving Neal five minutes of her undivided attention, Regina settled on the idea that he really just wanted the last slice of pie.

She announced the boy's need to Emma, who simply rolled her eyes and said, "Go ahead. Just watch out for your clothes."

Within moments of handing Neal the pie on a paper plate, the flaky dessert was turned into a mashed up mess of apples, cinnamon and not-so-flaky crust. A good portion of it was on his face and the rest on his hands. He gleefully showed the plate to Emma, so she would praise him for finishing his pie.

The blonde snickered, "Go show Mom. She'll love it."

Neal's eyes lit up as he held the paper plate in his hands and began pattering towards the living room. The girls followed him, suddenly interested in what Emma's mother would do with her cinnamon apple faced son. Emma, Mulan, Aurora, Regina and Elsa followed Neal out into the living room, leaving Belle and Ruby alone in the kitchen.

"So... have you known Emma a long time?" Belle asked, attempting to fill the silent void akin to new acquaintances.

"Oh, we're partners at work. Y'know, patrols and stuff. Also, she's a great friend. She saved my life once." Ruby looked over at Belle who was putting away empty cups and dirty plates into the trash bin, making sure to carefully separate which was compostable and which was trash. Ruby swallowed the knot in her throat. She had a soft spot for pretty and bookish girls, but this one took the cake with her Australian accent.

"That's so cool," Belle said coyly. "Aurora and I have known each other for a while. We met in an Ethics class. That's where I met my ex-boyfriend.”

"Oh..." Ruby mumbled. For some reason, her heart sank. It's not like she knew Belle, but she was somehow disappointed by this news of a boyfriend, even if it was an ex.

"He never took me to Mo'Pie, even though I've always wanted to go." Belle said pointedly, sidling up to Ruby. "Maybe you could take me sometime?"

That offending knot that kept building up in Ruby's throat now decided to sink into the pit of her stomach. She was horrible at this. For all her wit and sass, she locked up when a girl came onto her. "I.. um.. S.. wait... wh.."

Belle narrowed her eyes slightly as Ruby stumbled over her words. Was she wrong? Maybe Ruby wouldn't be interested in her. Perhaps the ex-boyfriend thing was too much, but Belle really couldn't hide the fact that she had been seeing her Ethics professor, Dr. Robert Gold. That was a bad mistake and his son Bae seemed to always find a reason to disagree with her. She wasn't that interested anyways. It was just that Dr. Gold had access to research materials she couldn't get to and he had that sort of... old world charm.

Mulan came skidding through the kitchen, shaking Belle and Ruby out of their awkward interaction. "Guys, guys... come out here with your drinks. We're gonna play a game!"

Belle snatched up her glass of wine as she brushed by Ruby, making it a point to lightly touch their hands together. "Maybe we can... talk.. later." Ruby swallowed that damn knot again as a new one had built up in her throat and nodded, utterly speechless.

When Belle and Ruby joined the others in the living room, Mulan’s cousins were saying goodnight with the excuse that they had Lion Dance practice in the morning. Mulan made sure they packed up extra food in plastic tubs for their families. At the very least, there was no way the food would go to waste. They said their goodbyes and waved to Regina and Emma, welcoming them to the house.

Emma was perched next to her mom with little Neal on her lap. The boy yawned and waddled from his perch on his mother’s lap to Emma, where he promptly climbed onto her legs and laid down.

"That's the sign for us to be heading out as well," Snow announced. She got up to scoop up her son from his comfy nest while David gathered up the cups and plates they had been using and put them away in the kitchen.

"Thanks for coming by today, Mom." Emma said as she helped hand off Neal.

"It was our pleasure, honey. Your roommates are very nice and this is a wonderful house. Just make sure you don't forget us and come back home once in awhile." Snow skillfully held Neal in one arm while she shouldered his supply bag with the other.

While Emma said her goodbyes to her family, the others set to work in the kitchen. They cleaned up the food and moved combined trays of comestibles to the counters so they could make room for their game. When Emma returned, she found them with ping pong balls and red and blue Solo cups in triangles of 6, filled halfway with beer and wine.

“Wait! I have an idea!” Mulan announced excitedly. She disappeared a moment later, leaving everyone in the kitchen with puzzled looks.

“What is she doing?” Belle asked Aurora. Her friend shrugged, equally confused by Mulan’s outburst.

“Really? Beer pong?” Regina sighed. “This feels like USF all over again.”

“You went to USF?” Emma asked incredulously. She barely attended junior college before going into the Police Academy, after a tour of service in the US Navy.

“I did my masters at USF. I started out at Cornell.” Regina answered, as if her education were something of a fleeting memory.

Elsa smirked, “Don’t mind her, Emma. She talks like it’s not a big deal, but her diplomas are all hanging up in her office.”

Regina sneered, “My mother sent them to me. She said they did no good sitting at home.”

“Your mother has a point,” Jefferson pointed out. “Look where those degrees got you.”

The brunette shrugged, “It’s not like I’m the General Manager, am I?”

“Not yet. But it’s not like you aren’t on the pathway to it,” Elsa pointed out.

“Ugh, it’ll take me forever to get my masters.” Belle whined. “Why did I go into Library Sciences?”

“Because you like books and literature,” Aurora reminded her. Although she was now on her third bachelor’s degree, after having completed her masters in Ecology.

“How about you, Emma?” Ruby asked. “We never really talked about it, since we met at the Alameda County office.”

“Oh, um…” Emma muttered as she shifted on her feet. She hated talking about her education. It wasn’t as glamorous as those around her. “I served in the Navy, then went into the Police Academy. That’s all.”

“Um, that’s kind of an awesome thing,” Belle said. Emma smiled a little.

“It seems very typical of you, but even I have to applaud someone who goes into military service. You have my appreciation. For now.” Regina agreed, partially rolling her eyes.

“If that’s a compliment from you, I’ll take it.” Emma grinned.

“That’s pretty much how I met Emma,” Killian said from the back of the group where he had been pouring drinks with Graham. “We were both stationed in Naples.”

“Fancy.” Graham snorted behind his beer. “Some of us just went straight into the Academy.”

“This isn’t a competition, you guys.” Aurora sighed.

Mulan came scampering back into the kitchen carrying three bent up hangers that were duct taped to suction cups. Where she got any of it was anyone’s guess. The sound of the garage door slamming shut echoed in her wake.

“We’re not just playing Beer Pong.” Mulan said as she began placing three of the bent hangars on either side of the table and two shot glasses. “We’re playing Quidditch Beer Pong.”

“What?” Ruby asked.

“Harry Potter, yo.” Mulan said plainly. “It’s just like beer pong, but you have to get the ping pong ball through the hoops first.” Sure enough, the bent hangers were made into loops. Mulan held up a small yellow bouncing ball, the type that costs a quarter from a machine at the grocery store.

“So how do you play?” Elsa asked, looking at the setup curiously.

“First we split into teams. There’s ten of us, so it’s perfect.” Mulan opened a drawer and pulled out ten stir sticks that had been pilfered from a Starbucks or Peet’s at one point or another. She marked five of them with a sharpie, then held all ten in her hand as she went around making everyone pull a stick. “Marked sticks on the Red Solo Cup side. Blank sticks on the Blue Solo Cup side.”

Regina rolled her eyes again as she ended up on the same side as Emma, along with Killian, Ruby and Belle. Aurora, Graham, Jefferson, and Elsa joined Mulan.

“Ok,” Mulan said as she held up the two balls. “There’s normally seven positions, but we’ll go with five. Two Beaters, a Seeker, a Chaser and a Keeper. Everyone takes turns in the different roles as we move through rounds. The job of the Seeker is to get this little yellow ball into the shot glass. This is the Golden Snitch. The Chaser from the other team can move the shot glass or try to distract the Seeker. If a ball lands in the shot glass, the entire team takes a shot. If a ball lands in the beer or wine cups, then the opposing team’s Keeper drinks the whatever’s in it.”

“Couldn’t we just play regular Beer Pong?” Aurora whined.

“Wait, wait, this could be fun!” Belle said excitedly.

“Why does the whole team take a shot?” Graham asked.

“Cause you’re a team. In real Quidditch, catching the Snitch basically wins the game. In Quidditch Beer Pong, the whole team goes down.” Mulan explained.

“Yeah, this will be fun.” Killian snickered.

“It is fun!” Mulan grinned and held up the white ping pong ball. “This is the quaffle. The job of the Keeper for this game is to get the quaffle in the beer cups, but they have to pass through the hoops. The beaters can try to block the quaffle with these.” Mulan held up some wooden chopsticks.

“This has a lot of things going on for a drinking game.” Elsa said. Mulan handed her a chopstick. “I’ll beat the shit out of that ping pong ball.”

“Seekers take the first position, then the Keeper. The Beaters and Chaser for the other team will try to beat the quaffle out or move the shot glass so the Snitch can’t get in.”

Regina and Emma stood on one side of the table, facing off against Elsa, Graham and Jefferson. As if in sync, the moment Mulan said ‘go,’ Regina and Emma took aim of their balls. Regina’s snitch casually sailed through the air and landed into the shot glass before Graham could even notice it. It landed at the same time as Emma’s quaffle made it through the large hoop, dodging Elsa and Jefferson’s chopsticks due to their drunken coordination. It landed in a cup and swam in the wine.

Mulan huffed. “Damn. Our team takes a shot and I’ll drink.”

“Good, my tolerance sucks.” Aurora shrugged. Dixie cups were dropped on the table as shots of bourbon were poured and passed around. After Mulan’s team successfully drank their shots and she had downed her wine, they switched the balls for the next round.

A second pair of chopsticks was handed off to Belle and Ruby as Killian took the role of Chaser. Mulan gripped the little golden ball in her hand as Elsa sidled up next to her with the ping pong ball. The golden ball was airborne first and landed in the shot glass by bouncing off the rim just as Killian tried to move it out of the way. Elsa threw the ping pong ball through a smaller hooper, completely bypassing Belle and Ruby who had locked eyes for a mere second, long enough to miss the ball. The ping pong ball landed in a corner cup.

“This game isn’t going to last very long,” Emma pointed out as she poured five shots of whiskey.

Sure enough, they managed to get two more rounds in before Belle and Aurora tapped out. They wandered into the living room to flop onto the couch with bottles of water. The teams were adjusted and each team lost a Beater. Mulan insisted that they could keep going until eventually Graham passed out on a chair in the kitchen and Elsa left to curl up on the couch as well. Jefferson said his goodbyes as he announced that his Uber had arrived to pick him up. Elsa had been the one to drive them to the party and he insisted that he needed to get home.

Giving up on the game, Emma, Mulan, Ruby, Killian and Regina sat around the half setup Quidditch Pong table with the dixie cup shot glasses.

“I’m shurp…shur…shurprised you can hold your liquor, Regina.” Emma slurred.

The brunette leaned back in her seat and lolled her head back, looking up at the ceiling. “I’m just full of surprises.”

“Hey, Em.. I know you can drink more than that. We used to drink all night in Naples.” Killian said. He poured two more shots and passed one to Emma. “Come on, it’s not like you’re working tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said as she took the shot from her friend. She took the shot and crumpled up the dixie cup, then tried to aim it into the garbage bin. She scowled as it barely made it halfway. “How the hell did I shoot ping pong balls into a cup when I can’t even make a garbage basket? Shiet… Oh, hey, Rubes… what’s up with you and Aurora’s friend?”

Ruby coughed on her water. “Wh-what?”

Mulan giggled. “Dude, if you were trying to be slick about giving her the eyes, you totes failed.”

Regina sat up straight again and leaned forward, reaching for a glass and a half bottle of wine. “She’s cute, at least.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “You think? Yeah, I guess if you like the bookish type.”

“Stop, stop. I mean, she’s nice and… I dunno… okay, maybe.” Ruby admitted. Mulan clapped excitedly.

“If you’re just gonna do girly talk shit, I’m gonna go to the living room. The couch better still have room on it.” Killian said as he got up.

“Bye, buddy!” Emma said, half jokingly. She enjoyed his company, but sometimes it was just nice to chat with other people instead of her two cohorts. Killian stood up and stumbled into the living room, finding the only place to crash was the recliner in the corner.

“We’ve got a lot of cleanup to do.” Mulan sighed.

Regina sipped at her glass of wine, red faced and sleepy eyed. “We can take care of it in the morning.”

“By morning, you mean noon, right?” Emma asked.

“Not all of us are prone to sleeping all day, Swan.”

“Get up early. It’ll be fun to see you hungover,” the blonde smirked. Regina rolled her eyes and took another sip from her wine.

It was nearing 3 in the morning when the girls decided they couldn’t drink anymore or stay awake. Mulan dragged her feet as she got up and gathered up Aurora from the living room and down the hall to their bedroom.

Ruby plopped onto the couch next to Belle and closed her eyes. A moment later, she opened them again to find that Belle had scooted over in her sleep to use Ruby’s leg as a pillow. Not one to complain, she sat there with a grin as Emma passed by with a smirk.

“Good luck with that, partner.”

“Already winning.” Ruby grinned.

Regina put away whatever glasses were left before heading into the living room to help Emma dish out extra blankets to everyone who had fallen asleep. “You don’t have to help.”

“We can’t just leave them here all drunk and passed out.” Regina said pointedly.

“Yeah, I know. But I can give them all blankets. You can go upstairs and go to bed.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

“You know, you’d be cute if it weren’t for that hella sketch attitude.”

“Hella sketch?” Regina repeated Emma’s phrase with a raised eyebrow. Now out of blankets and their friends sufficiently comfortable, Regina started for the stairs. She gripped the banister as she and Emma ascended to their rooms.

“You’re so not from California. Sketch is short for sketchy.”

“How am I sketchy?”

“Cause…” Emma began. “You’re like all sweet one moment and then you snap like an angry dog.”

“Do not call me a dog.” Regina glowered as she reached her door.

“Like a cute temperamental puppy. Kinda like Mushu.” Emma giggled, but Regina simply snorted her discontent and disappeared into her room. Emma flopped onto her bed and giggled to herself. “Yeah… totally like a snippy little puppy.” She was still smiling at her clever little quip when she fell asleep.


 

The next morning, Belle, Ruby and Aurora meandered around the kitchen making breakfast to stave off hangovers. Having spent some time working in her grandmother’s bakery, Ruby made muffins for everyone while Aurora and Belle worked on bacon, kale omelettes and cleaning up the remaining messes from the night before. They took out some leftovers that were suitable for breakfast and set those out as well so they would be consumed instead of starting the process of growing mold in the fridge.

Regina was the next to show up with disheveled hair and dark eyes. She promptly made herself a cup of coffee with the Kureig and sat down with a muffin. Elsa appeared moments later and did the same. They chatted about work, although it sounded more like groaning from the massive headaches.

A loud groan came from the doorway as Emma dragged her feet in. "Why are we up at 8am?" she whined. "Jesus, it's bright in here."

"That's just the hangover talking. The lights aren't even on," Aurora said as she handed Emma a cup of coffee. "Mulan already got up and went out for her run."

"Are you serious? Isn't she hungover?"

Aurora shrugged. "She should be, but she bounces back surprisingly easy."

"I thought Asians were supposed to have a low tolerance for alcohol." Ruby said. The others looked at her with wide eyes. "What? It's just a question."

Belle shook her head and smiled. "I need to get my things and head home. I have two papers to finish for class on Tuesday and I've barely gotten started."

"I'll help you!" Ruby volunteered. They disappeared from the kitchen together, just as Graham and Killian arrived to get coffee.

They all ate a meal of leftovers, muffins and coffee before dispersing to prepare to go home. Mulan returned after her run, gleefully sweaty and holding her phone. She looked around the house to show Emma something, but found her in the kitchen with Belle and Ruby, dividing up the alcohol spoils of the evening.

"Oh, hey Mulan. Aurora's in the shower." Emma greeted her.

"Ugh, fine. I hella need a shower, but I guess I can wait. Is there food left?"

Ruby pointed to a plate on the table. "Some omelette and a muffin. Coffee?"

Mulan opened up the fridge and pulled out an orange juice carton. "No thanks, I have this unpasteurized organic OJ from Whole Foods I need to finish." She pocketed her phone and poured herself a glass of juice before sitting down to eat.

Graham, Killian and Elsa said their goodbyes and headed home. Belle announced that it was time for her to go as well, once Aurora had rejoined them in the kitchen. She walked her friend to the door, leaving Emma, Regina, Ruby and Mulan alone.

"So... Rubes..." Emma started playfully. "Something good happen last night? You know, when we all went to bed?"

Ruby shrugged. "She added me on Facebook, but it's just whatever. I mean, she said she had a boyfriend before."

"Had? As in past tense?" Mulan inquired.

"Yeah, I guess they broke up or whatever, so she probably isn't even interested in girls. At least we can be friends." Ruby said non-chalantly.

"And you're okay with that?" Regina asked as she walked over to the dishwasher to unload the glasses and clean dishes.

Ruby sighed. "I'll take what I can get."

Mulan pulled out her phone excitedly. She had known Belle for awhile, since she and Aurora were schoolmates. So naturally, she followed Belle on Instagram and Facebook. "Keep at it. Maybe you'll get lucky."

She handed her phone to Ruby who looked at it and grinned. On the screen was Belle's Instagram with a new photo from the night before. It was a selfie, taken at a strange angle to catch the ends of Ruby's long hair and just the corner of her face, but there was no doubt that it was Ruby's red lipstick on the person next to Belle. Her head was on Ruby's leg with the caption "Best. Pillow. Ever." and a couple hashtags: #slyfox #legpillow #hotcops

Ruby's grin was plastered on her face. Emma shook her head and smiled. "Yeah, good luck with that one, Rubes."

"Ha! We'll see. I better get going, too. I want more sleep before our shift tomorrow." Ruby escorted herself after saying goodbye to everyone, leaving the girls alone in their house.

"I like your parents, Emma. They're nice."

Emma rolled her eyes, "My mom's kinda weird sometimes. She's a schoolteacher, so being around her is like being treated like a fourth grader all the time. My dad's pretty cool, when he's not a dork. He's in the Coast Guard, so they live up in Pacifica."

"They drove all the way from Pacifica to come see you? That's nice of them," Regina said with feigned interest.

"Where's your family? You said you're from New York." Mulan asked.

"My father is usually busy working overseas, but my mother lives in New York with my sister. They keep threatening to come out here to visit."

"I'd like to see what your sister is like. I have a feeling she's the total opposite of you. All nice and sweet and probably blonde." Emma laughed.

"Actually...she's a redhead like my mom...and a competitive bitch. She's a chemist working for Hermes. She makes perfumes." Regina smirked. She didn't always get along with her sister, Zelena, but once in awhile, she did have a little pride for her.

They spent the rest of the day, lounging on the couch and munching on leftovers from breakfast and the day before, making it a point to stay far away from the alcohol. After several cups of coffee and a movie on ABC Family, the girls had fallen asleep to wave off the last bits of hangover.

Mulan sat up and looked around at her two new housemates who were quicky becoming friends and her girlfriend who had curled up on the lounge chair. Emma had passed out sitting up and Regina had unconsciously leaned against the blonde in her sleep. Mulan smiled. The house was definitely warmed this weekend and she began to look forward to her daily life with these three in it.

Chapter Text

Episode 3
Burning Man is 8 Days Long

Mulan was busy packing up Mushu's dog toys and portable gear while Emma crouched on the floor with the little Shitzu. "Seriously? Eight days? In the desert. You must be out of your mind."

"You don't understand, Emma. Burning Man is an artistic, cultural, communal event. the entire community itself is an actual functioning society. I'm packing so much fresh vegetables to barter, it isn't even funny anymore!" Mulan explained as she finished up packing Mushu's bag.

"Do you have to take him with you? I'll babysit him. Anything so that I'm not stuck at home here with just Regina."

The dark haired girl looked up and smirked. "Is it really that bad, though? I mean, yeah, she can be kinda bitchy sometimes, but I think it's all a front." Mulan shoved a bag of natural apple dog treats into the bag and zipped it up. "Maybe she picks on you cause she likes you."

Emma's face turned a shade of crimson that was impossible to hide. "Y..you're crazy. She's not a 10-year-old boy. Besides, she's not... wait... is she? You think Regina's gay? I thought maybe she was just an ally."

"Not sure, to be completely honest. Maybe you can use the next eight days to find out!" Mulan laughed.

Despite Emma's whining, Mulan continued to pack up the small RV she had borrowed from her Uncle Andy for the long haul to Black Rock Desert. They had talked about it for weeks. Tickets were bought ages ago and Mulan had been building a stash of non-perishable foods from Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. For the last week, Aurora had been packing bags and organizing boxes of food. They were ready to journey off into the desert with thousands of other people to experience a week of art and community. At least, that's what they insisted was happening.

Regina had shrugged it off and wished them a safe journey. Burning Man from her perspective was different. Her job suffered because of it. Occupancy in the hotels were low throughout the city, restaurants suffered except for the ones that drew in European tourists and there were no group contracts or small events happening for Regina to work on. Burning Man was the signal for the Bay Area to take a breath. The hippies were out of town.

It was Saturday evening and Mulan had already calculated the driving time necessary to get into the event space and set up camp before sundown on Sunday. The plan was to drive eight hours throughout the night and arrive at the desert campsite early Sunday morning. Although they had planned to leave around 9 pm, it was actually closer to midnight when they were finally packed up and ready to go. There were constant moments of Mulan remembering something she forgot or Aurora wanting to reorganize how things were being stashed in the RV.

Emma and Regina stood on the driveway as Mulan settled into the driver's seat of the RV with Mushu on her lap. She put the small dog on the passenger seat just as Aurora emerged from the back and moved the dog again.

"Don't eat all the kale chips in one sitting, Emma." Mulan said. She held up her own bag of kale chips and took one out to munch on.

Regina rolled her eyes, "I have a feeling those chips won't make it to morning."

"Not true," Emma pouted. "You sure you guys have everything finally?"

Aurora looked into the back of the RV. "I think so. I mean, there's still plenty of space but I don't think we should have anything else. We need room for our traveling companions."

"Oh right, Jewels and Saffron. They should be at their apartment waiting." Mulan said. "All right, we're headed out. Don't burn down the house and don't kill each other while we're away."

"Can't promise anything." Regina and Emma said in unison. They glared at each other for the unexpected timing.
As the RV pulled away, Emma snorted. "But 'Jewels' and 'Saffron'? How much more hippy can you get with names like that."

Regina purposely ignored her. "It's late. I'm going to bed." Emma shrugged and followed Regina into the house. After the doors were locked and the security alarm was set, they went their separate ways for the night.


 

Regina woke up to the scent of bacon and cooked butter seeping into her bedroom. She sighed. It was Sunday morning and she wanted nothing more than to sleep in. She rolled over and stared at the clock on her nightstand. It glowed a menacing 7:00am, reminding her that sleeping in was not an option. Certainly not with the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. She knew it was Emma and that the annoying blonde hadn't turned on the kitchen fan. Regina groaned tiredly as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and climbed out of it. She stretched her arms above her, working out the tired and constricted muscles in her body. Although it was just Emma in the house, Regina felt that it would be inappropriate to appear in the kitchen in just the short yoga shorts she wore to bed and her purple tank top. She pulled a light robe out of the closet and slipped it over her shoulders before heading downstairs. She held her phone in her hands, glancing at the emails that had come in overnight.

As Regina approached the kitchen, she paused. There was a strange sound that carried through the air as she moved closer to the door, trying her best to not make a single sound. It was melodious, yet somewhat off beat. She peeked around the corner of the kitchen entry to find Emma in a white tank top and red underwear, swaying her hips as she flipped pancakes.

"If it isn't love... why do I feel this way? Why does she stay on my mind?" Emma sang. She bounced on her heels and made a little shuffling movement with her feet, emulating a 90's dance shuffle. "If it isn't love, why does it hurt so bad, make me feel so sad inside... if it isn't love?"

Regina ducked behind the wall and covered her mouth with her hand to suppress the giggle that threatened to emerge. As much as she hated to admit it, Emma was exceptionally cute this morning. Honestly, she didn't know what it was about the blonde that irked her so much that she felt it was necessary to pick on her whenever she could. They had some moments where they had be civil... or at the very least, cordial with each other. At times it seemed as if Emma had tried to slip her a compliment here or there, but Regina was an expert at blowing off compliments. Maybe, just maybe, Regina had a teensy bit of a crush on Emma. Maybe. Not that she would ever let the blonde be privy to that information. Instead, she decided that this little singing incident would be worth keeping.

She quickly accessed the video camera on her phone and held it up around the corner, just in time to catch Emma spinning around with her iPod in her hand and headphones in her ears. Regina stayed hidden for a minute as she recorded Emma dancing away and singing to herself in the kitchen.

“Maybe she’ll take me back… I made a big mistake… Now I can feel it… I really love her! Love her? What?!” Emma made hand motions with the spatula as if she were talking to a crew of backup singers. “It took my heart, to shatter in a thousand pieces…before I'd ever drop my pride…losing love worrying about my image…really helped me realize that… if it isn’t love, why do I feel this way? Why does she stay on my mind?”

Regina put her phone away and smirked. She’d gotten enough footage that if she wanted to blackmail Emma, she had something tangible. She rounded the corner and knocked on the wall.

Emma jumped five feet in the air, halfway through her dance moves. She spun around and her eyes grew three times larger. She yanked the blaring headphones from her ears. They dangled from around her neck with the sound echoing in poor quality from the tiny white buds. “Regina?! I.. um… hi… I mean, good morning? Um… pancakes?”

“You were making enough noise that the whole neighborhood woke up.” Regina said calmly as she took a seat at the kitchen counter.

“I was not.” Although the other woman hadn’t said if she wanted breakfast or not, Emma was already plating up two pancakes and some bacon and placed it in front of Regina. “Coffee?” Without waiting for an answer, Emma began putting a coffee pod into the Kureig.

“Please.” Regina replied as she picked up her fork. “Tell me, do you often decide to make breakfast in your underwear?”

The blonde’s face turned red. She tried to dig up some sort of snarky comment to throw back at the brunette, but quickly decided against it. “You’re usually up and gone by the time I get up, so yes, I do.” Emma cleaned up the pans and equipment she used to make breakfast and sat down across from Regina with a plate of her own. She got up a moment later and retrieved the coffee. Emma set the steaming mug of black liquid in front of Regina and set to making her own.

“Your food is going to get cold." Regina said quietly as she cut a piece of pancake with her fork.

"It's fine. If I start eating before my coffee is ready, I'll choke."

"That doesn't make any sense."

Emma went to the fridge and retrieved a small milk carton and then her cup of coffee before sitting down again. "Sure it does. when I start eating, I don't like to get up. I'll end up choking on my food if I don't have something to drink before I start."

"You're an idiot.” Regina read emails on her phone while she ate breakfast. "If you chew slowly, you won't choke."

Emma held her fork up like a teacher's pointer. "I love food and I love eating, but I'm not gonna waste my day sitting down to a meal. There's always more things to do and not enough hours to do it in. That's why I eat quickly and get a move on."

"Don't point with your fork. It's rude," Regina scolded the blonde, although she didn't look up from her phone which was a complete contradiction when speaking about table manners. Emma huffed audibly, causing the other woman to sigh and put her fork down. "Your manners are atrocious. Additionally, dining is an experience, not a chore. One of these days, you need to experience a meal that isn't rushed through."

"Oh? Are you offering to take me then?" Emma teased, wiggling her eyebrows playfully.

Regina snorted haughtily. "Not in this lifetime, Ms. Swan.”

“Aww,” Emma smirked. “I bet you’d be all jazzed up and gorgeous for a date. Come on, you can tell me. Are you seeing anyone? A boyfriend, maybe? Or a girlfriend?” Now would be as good a time as any to get more information on Regina. The woman had been exceptionally good at keeping things to herself, so the rest of the household was still in awe of Regina’s mysteriousness.

“You’re awfully nosey this early in the morning. I hardly think my personal life is any of your business.” Regina answered as she got up from the table. She put her dishes away in the dishwasher and washed her hands. “Thanks for breakfast.”

Without another word, Regina disappeared from the kitchen. Emma shrugged and whistled quietly. “Par for the course with that woman…”


 

The first day passed on quietly. Other than their breakfast together, Emma and Regina hardly saw each other. The young Sheriff left for work while Regina had gone out for a morning run. When Emma returned home, Regina was out with Elsa having dinner. The next two days continued like this, either casually passing each other as they were coming or going, or having no interaction at all. Every time Emma thought she would have a moment alone to get to chat with Regina, even just to find out little tidbits about her, the older woman was either quick to excuse herself or decided to turn up the level of iciness in her attitude. She was aggravating, gorgeous and impossible. Ruby was right, Emma had terrible taste in women.

Emma sat on her bed and scratched at her head in frustration, making a mess of her long blonde hair. She picked a stray hair off of the bedspread and sighed. It had been three days that Aurora and Mulan were gone. She was getting pretty lonely at home. Even Mushu was gone and Regina wasn’t exactly the best company these days.

It was the just after lunch when Emma came home from dropping her car off at the repair shop. She loved her old Bug, but it loved to crap out from time to time. It was high time for a belt replacement and an oil change, so Emma had departed at the start of the morning and took a taxi home after leaving her car. Regina was gone when she came back. The only thing in the driveway was Mulan’s electric Honda Fit. She wondered where Regina had taken off to, although she hardly kept track of the woman’s schedule.

The front door opened and Emma froze on her bed. Regina worked in the city, so it was highly unlikely that she would be coming home this early in the day. Did I forget to lock the door? She shook her head violently as her thoughts ran a marathon in her skull. No… I know I locked it. Maybe it’s one of Mulan’s cousins? Wait, why am I freaking out? I’m a cop! I have a gun!

Filled with new resolve, Emma yanked her handgun out of its holster that was draped over a chair. Carefully moving out of her room and making as little noise as possible, she listened quietly for the intruder. She crouched at the top of the stairs, trying to gauge what the intruder was doing and if it was something worth risking her life for. What if there were two of them? Could she choose to pull the trigger and possibly take someone’s life? Did she trust her own skill and judgement to only injure the attacker? As these thoughts and questions of competence ran through her brain, the faint sound of the piano keys floated into the air and echoed through the house.
Who the hell sneaks into a house and plays the piano?! She listened as the tell tale notes of Sam Smith’s Not In That Way started to ascend into audible space. Emma crawled down the half flight of stairs to the first turn and peeked over the half wall that acted as a banister. Sitting at Mulan’s family’s baby grand piano in the living room was Regina, still dressed in her black suit and skirt with a high heeled foot working the pedals of the piano.

Emma held her breath. Not only did she want to stay hidden, but she felt that interrupting this rare moment was something she wasn’t willing to risk. The sound of the piano was soothing, beautiful and captivating. But what made her freeze was the most unexpected sound of Regina’s voice as she sang along. The first verses were low and soulful as the woman added her own acoustic flair. Emma took her phone out of her pocket and managed to prep it up on the edge of the wall and set it to record. Leaving the phone on the wall, she peeked around the corner where the wall stopped and became wooden railings. She watched Regina’s back as she moved along with the music, reaching for keys and leaning her body forward.

“I’d never ask you, cause deep down… I’m certain I know what you’d say… You’d say I'm sorry, believe me… I love you but not in that way. And I hate to say I need you… I’m so reliant, I’m so dependent, I’m such a fool…”

She wasn't sure what came over her. Either it was Regina’s surprisingly sultry voice or the words of the song that made Emma feel a sort of lump in her throat. She wiped a wet spot from the corner of her eye. Who was Regina singing about? Or was she just singing for the hell of it? When the brunette caught her dancing in the kitchen the other morning, Emma was more worried that she’d discover that she was thinking about Regina at the time. But this… this was sad. It was lonely and heartbreaking. Emma reached up and snatched her phone before she could be discovered. The music stopped and the sound of the piano cover closing over the keys followed. She quickly scrambled up the stairs and into her room, where she skidded out onto the balcony to pretend she was lounging in the sun.

“Oh.. you’re home.” Regina’s voice carried through the room to Emma, somewhat fading as it moved past the sliding glass doors.

Emma opened one eye and looked over at Regina. She swallowed a tiny lump in her throat. She was scared of getting caught, of having seen Regina in an intimate moment of music, the movement of her back as she played, her fingers as they pressed the ivory keys.
She decided to play it cool. “Hm? Oh, yeah. I fell asleep out here waiting for my car to be done at the shop. Wanna come out here and join me?”

Regina shrugged. It was a nice day out and Emma’s little balcony had a nice patch of shade from the neighbor’s tree next door. She walked through Emma’s room, rolling her eyes as the pile of clothes in the corner. The blonde was laying down outside on a pool chair with her arm over her eyes.

“Your room is a mess.” Regina scolded as she sat down on the empty chair.

“S’okay.” Emma mumbled. “I’ll get to it later.”

“How long have you been here?” the brunette asked quietly.

“Huh? Oh… I’ve been home for awhile and I fell asleep out here.” She tried her best to sound indifferent, but the image of Regina at the piano was burned into her mind’s eye.

“You heard it, didn’t you?” The question was so abrupt that Emma was caught off guard. “Don’t play dumb, Emma. You have the heaviest footsteps I’ve ever heard. It’s like the Tin Man was dancing upstairs.”

Emma sighed and sat up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“You did hear…” Regina sighed and stood up. “Whatever. I’ll be out tonight, so don’t worry about dinner for me or anything.”

“Regina, wait…” Emma stood up as well, ready to bolt forward if the woman were to run.

“What?”

“I’m sorry. I mean… it was beautiful… but really sad. I just… you can talk to me if you want.”

The dark haired woman narrowed her eyes. “It’s just music. Stop reading into it.” Regina left her there on the balcony, wide eyed, apologetic and stunned. She threw herself on her bed and sighed. Her heart was racing into her throat, threatening to jump out and do Stomp! performances. She pulled out her phone and opened up her gallery. The short video of Emma dancing in the kitchen in her underwear played on the screen with her slightly off beat voice singing along to music that was only playing in her ears.
Regina giggled slightly and sat up. “Well, she heard me,” she said to no one in particular. “I won’t expect that she’s sharp enough to figure out it was for her.”

Her phone buzzed and the screen lit up with a message from Elsa. “Are we still going out tonight?”

Regina tapped at her phone to write a response. “Sure. Where are we going, though?”

“I promised I’d go to White Horse with you and be your wingman… wing-lady. Whatever. Let’s just go. No expectations, right?”

“Right. Meet at 8?”

“I’ll meet you there.”


 

Regina found Elsa waiting outside of the White Horse on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 66th Street. Her blonde friend was chatting with a skinny Asian drag queen who’s black hair was done up in such a tall bouffant that made her tower over Elsa. The small woman turned at the sound of Regina’s heels and gave a quiet whistle. She looked over her friend’s outfit which consisted of dark skinny jeans tucked into a pair of Louboutin calf-high boots and a black drape shirt. She wore a simple white crystal Swarovski signature swan necklace and matching bracelet to compliment the simple black leather and chrome buckled belt around her waist.

“Wow… you clean up pretty nicely.” Elsa teased.

The drag queen waved her hand in the air, “Someone’s on the prowl tonight! Aren’t you just the sassy looking thing?” When Regina didn’t respond, the tall woman stuck out her hand. “I’m Crystaline.”

“Hello.” Regina answered quietly as she took the woman’s large hand in her own. The handshake was half hearted and shallow, but it was as expected for a meeting that would be forgotten in twenty minutes. Regina turned to Elsa, “Ready to go inside?”

“Sure, sure. It was nice talking to you, Crystaline. Email me and we’ll talk about that drag show in the city.”

“Oh, of course, pumpkin. You two enjoy yourselves!” The woman waved them off as her multiple bangle bracelets clanked together.

“What was that about?” Regina asked as they walked into the bar. Being that it was 8 in the evening, the bar was relatively quiet. But Regina knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

“Hm? Oh, she said some of her performance troupe friends were looking for a new venue to put on a charity event, so I told her about the hotel.” Elsa explained casually as they stepped up to the bar. She ordered herself a martini and bought a Blanton’s Manhattan for Regina. They found a table near a pillar and took up the seats immediately before the bar got too full.

“Looks like it’s going to get crowded tonight.” Regina said nonchalantly as she watched a DJ set up equipment on a folding table.

“Good, maybe there will be some young blood for you to play with.” Elsa grinned as she sipped at her drink. “Seriously, when’s the last time you went on a date?”

Regina shrugged, “I’m too busy working for that.”

“You can’t use that excuse anymore since they gave you a secretary and added three more people to your department.” While they bickered about work, the bar slowly filled up with more people.

Elsa began to play a game with Regina, evaluating the women that entered the bar and letting her companion give feedback on whether or not she found them attractive. Elsa’s sole conclusion was that Regina was excessively picky.

“What about her?” Elsa asked, pointing towards an androgynous girl with short blonde hair and tattooed arms. “She’s cute.”

“If I had any intention of dating a woman that looked like a man, I’d have done so already. Do you see how many dykes are in this place?” Regina argued as she finished her Manhattan.

“Jesus, you’re impossible. Are you ready for another drink?”

“Definitely.” Regina said as she stood up. “I’ll get it this time.”

She slid off of her stool and left Elsa at the table while she brought the empty glasses to the bar. As she waited for her second round of drinks, a finger tapped on her shoulder. Regina spun around and found herself face to face with Emma’s partner, Ruby Lucas.

“You’re Regina, right? Em’s house mate?”

“Oh… hello. Ruby, right?”

“Yeah. Didn’t expect to see a classy lady like you here.” Ruby said with a wink. “Are you here by yourself?”

“No, Elsa’s here with me.” Two drinks were placed in front of Regina and she handed her card to the bartender to hold a tab. “Well, it was nice seeing you, Ruby. I need to get back to Elsa.”

“Sure, sure. See you around!” the taller brunette waved as Regina left her at the bar to rejoin Elsa. She narrowed her eyes as she approached, finding Elsa chatting away with a blonde woman. They came here to help Regina find a date, but so far, all the attention was going to her friend.

Elsa waved as Regina walked closer to the table. “Look who I found!” she exclaimed. Emma Swan turned around and looked Regina in the eyes.

“Woah.. hi. Um… I didn’t expect to see you here.” Emma said quietly.

Regina moved past her and handed Elsa her drink. “It’s the closest bar,” she lied. “I take it you’re here with Ruby?”

“Yeah, did you see her? She dragged me along so she could meet up with Belle.”

“Aurora’s friend?”

“Yeah.”

The DJ had finally finished setting up and the colored lights in the bar began flashing and changing colors as music began to fill the space. It wasn’t long before Elsa was invited to dance, which she graciously accepted. Even if she came to be Regina’s wing-lady, she wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to have some fun.

Regina sat at the table with her drink and Emma. They said nothing to each other, but simply watched the people around them gather on the dance floor. Ruby joined them a moment later, carrying two beers.

“Sorry, Em. The keg blew so I had to wait for your beer.” Ruby said as she placed a pint of Guinness in front of her friend.

“No problem. I’m just keeping Regina company.”

“You were not.” Regina glowered.

“Would you rather I leave you here to the whims of all these bull dykes?” Emma said with a smile. Regina purposely ignored her and sipped at her Manhattan. “So… did you come here to help Elsa find a date or something?”

“No.” Regina answered sharply. “She’s not gay.”

“Like that means anything.” Ruby giggled. "So are you here to find yourself a date?"

Regina's face turned slightly red, although Ruby wondered if it was from the drink or her comment. "Elsa and I just decided to go out for drinks. Sometimes we want to drink somewhere that isn't a sausage fest."

Emma shrugged, "It usually is a sausage fest in here. It's cause of that lesbian DJ. They'll be in once the drag show starts." She smirked, "Wanna dance?"

"Are you speaking to Ruby or myself?" Regina asked.

Ruby snorted to hold back her laughter, "Definitely not me." She winced as Emma backhanded her arm. "Shit, Em... I was kidding."

Regina rolled her eyes, "You expect me to risk scuffing up my Louboutins in that crowd? You must be out of your mind."

"Jesus Christ, Regina. How do you sit comfortably with that stick up your ass?" Emma sighed.

"Excuse me?"

"Seriously, you need to lighten up a bit. We're just all out here having fun."

Ruby downed the rest of her beer and slid off the barstool. "Oh, I see Belle. I'll catch up with you later, Em."

Ignoring Ruby's departure, Emma ran her hand through her hair in frustration. She wanted to relax, but the image of Regina playing the piano and singing was still stuck in her head. She wanted to see that side of the other woman, the one that let loose and sang her heart out. Regina took another sip of her drink. "I can't dance like that."

"Huh?" Emma blinked a few times and tilted her head in confusion.

"I said, I can't dance like that." Regina repeated herself, nodding towards a pair of men who were twerking their asses into various crotches. "I'd be out of place and I don't plan on degrading myself to learn how to do that."

Emma sputtered as she lost control of her laugh. "Is that why you're being so pouty? No one in their right mind dances like that. You can thank Miley Cyrus for that public display of debauchery. Let's do something else. Come on." Without another protest, Emma hopped off the bar chair and snatched up Regina's manhanttan and her own beer. Using the cocktail as bait, she led Regina into the smoker's patio where a blue felt pool table sat ready for players. They were lucky tonight, since everyone else was on the dance floor, they had most of the patio to themselves. "You seem like a brainiac. I challenge you to a game of pool. If I win, you treat me to dinner."

Regina narrowed her eyes at her blonde house mate. She strode over to the wall mounted pool cues and pulled one down. She held it up to eye level and measured it for warping. "And if I win?"

"I'll do all the dishwashing for a week...and I'll clean the bathroom." Emma offered. Regina glared at her. That didn't seem like a fair trade off if her payment was dinner.

"Wash and wax my Tesla."

"What?!" Emma screeched. But she knew there was no way she could win this argument. "Fine, I'll wash and wax the hippie sports car."

"It's not a hippie sports car."

"It's electric." Emma pointed out.

"It also saves me on gas and I'm getting a Green Commuter voucher from work."

"Whatever. I'll wash your car. Do we have a deal?" Emma said, holding her hand out to Regina.

The dark haired woman looked down at Emma's hand, then smirked. "You're on."

Emma skillfully racked up the balls and offered Regina to break. She bit her lip slightly as Regina bent over the table to line up her pool cue. She watched from her peripheral vision as Regina reared back her arm and shot the cue forward, using her hip as momentum. The white cue ball rolled forward with exceptional force and scattered the other balls all over the place. A solid red ball landed into a corner pocket. "Solids." Regina called her balls and line up for the next shot. She managed to land two more balls before missing a shot and passing the turn to Emma.

The blonde smirked. "You're not half bad, Mills." She leaned over the table and landed two balls at the same time. "So, where are you taking me for dinner?"

"Don't get ahead of yourself." Regina sneered. "Hurry up and scratch so we can move on. My car needs a nice shine."

The match continued on until their drinks were depleted, leaving Regina with one solid ball and Emma with one striped ball. The elusive 8 ball sat precariously on the edge of a side pocket, less than an inch from one of Regina's balls.

"I've never had French food," Emma teased.

"Shut up." Regina hissed. She paced around the table looking for the right angle to aim from. But no matter where she stood, she couldn't find a spot where she wouldn't hit the 8 ball. Regina hoisted her hip onto the pool table and swung the pool cue behind her back. She leaned back to reach the angle she wanted and took aim. The power in her strike was lacking as the heavy white cue ball rolled dangerously towards her last ball. She prayed she could at least move it away from the 8 ball to give herself a second shot after Emma took her next turn.

The cueball tapped the remaining solid ball which barely grazed the 8 ball. The black sphere lingered on the edge, threatening to fall into the chasm of the pool table. Regina held her breath as she watched it wiggle a bit. She breathed once it appeared the ball was stopping. Her face suddenly fell as the 8 ball lost it's battle to gravity and disappeared into the side pocket. She hopped off the table and stalked around its perimeter to Emma. She stood right in front of her and glared. Emma swallowed hard. Regina's face was so close that if Emma were to lean slightly, she'd be able to catch the feisty woman's lips with her own.

"Um..." Emma stuttered.

"The day after tomorrow. Be ready by 7." Regina growled. She turned and stalked off into the bar to find Elsa.

"Y-yes, ma'am." Emma responded quickly, but she wasn't sure if she should be happy about her victory or terrified.


 

It was Thursday evening and Emma found herself pacing around the living room. She had thrown her bedroom into a chaotic mess trying to decide what to wear. Even after she settled on a pair of slacks and a red blouse, she managed to make more of a mess finding shoes to wear. Emma had tried on six pairs of heels, two ballerina flats and finally settled on a pair of black boots that hid well beneath her pant legs. Although she was satisfied with her appearance in the mirror, she debated changing into a dress or something fancier. However, she remembered that she had forgotten to hang up the dress from the last time she wore it and found it crumpled in a box with a pair of red platform heels. Disappointed, she stuck to her slacks and red blouse. She snatched up a black blazer to finish the outfit, but somehow she was still uneasy.

The carpet was nearly worn flat from where Emma paced. "Why did I even challenge her? This is gonna be bad. I know she hates me. Jesus, this was stupid," she mumbled to herself. "What am I gonna do? Maybe I'll just tell her that we can go somewhere cheap, like Denny's. No. Wait... Regina's too classy for that. Chili's, maybe? She'd probably just look down on me more." Emma crouched down and ran her hands through her hair in frustration.

"Emma? What are you doing?"

The blonde looked up from her musings and found Regina standing in front of her in a sleek black and purple cocktail dress. The black dress was a one shoulder piece with an asymmetrical skirt. Faint royal purple trim edged the skirt and sprayed out across the black fabric like an Italian floral accent. Emma stared at the 4" black heels that encased Regina's feet and slowly stood up. "I.. um... nothing. I'm fine. You look great," she stuttered.

"Thank you." Regina answered quietly. She pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear and Emma noticed the silver and white crystal Swarovski swan earrings. She wanted to tease Regina about them, but decided against it. "Are you ready?"

Emma nodded. "My car or yours?"

"For heaven's sake, my car. We'll die in that death trap of yours."

"It's not a death trap... most of the time." Emma pouted.

Regina took her house keys out of her clutch purse and headed towards the front door. "Let's get going. We wouldn't want to be late for our reservation."

Emma swallowed a knot in her throat. Oh shit... she made reservations?? She's way too serious. I thought she would even blow me off. She followed Regina out of the house and waited on the porch as the other woman locked the door. "Um... you know.."

"Yes?"

"It was just a silly bet. You don't really have to take me to dinner." Emma said quietly.

Regina shrugged as she walked towards her car. "I'm already dressed up and so are you. It'd be a waste not to go out and enjoy the evening," she said as she unlocked the Tesla in the driveway. "You look good in those colors, by the way."

Seeing as Regina would not be swayed once she had already decided to do something, Emma quietly muttered her thanks for the compliment and got into the car. It was her first time in such a luxury car. The black leather seats were surprisingly soft and the wood grain accents were still glistening. Although it didn't have a new car smell, it had the faint scent of Regina's perfume and leather. The interior lit up in a soft white light as Regina turned the car on. It was oddly silent compared to the rumble and clank that Emma was accustomed to from her old Volkswagen. The dash display lit up and automatically set itself for directions to Flora Restaurant and Bar. Emma swallowed yet another knot that had crawled up into her throat. She knew that Regina had high class taste, but she hardly expected to be treated to such a fancy dinner. Macaroni Grill would have been fancy enough for her.

They said nothing on their drive, but simply listened to Regina's Smooth Jazz station. Emma was surprised, although not by much. She didn't expect Smooth Jazz or Bossa Nova from Regina, but at least it fell in line with Sam Smith's soul category. The more she thought about it, she realized that perhaps Regina knew Sam Smith's music because he's a gay artist. Was that the reason why Regina played that song? Or maybe it was something as simple as it was the kind of music she liked. While the theories rolled around in her head, Emma hardly noticed when Regina parked the car in a parking lot around the corner from Telegraph Avenue on Franklin.

As they walked in silence towards the restaurant, they stopped at a street corner to wait for the walking light. The lights turned green for their side and Regina casually stepped off the curb. Emma's hands reached out quickly and pulled Regina back, crashing her body against the blonde's as a Honda sped around the corner. A blaring cop car followed and Emma shouted after the car, "Yeah, catch them! Jerks..." She released her grip on Regina and frowned. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine," Regina said quietly. "Um.. thank you."

"Don't mention it. That guy's an asshole, whoever they are. Probably some coked up idiot."

"Well, thank you, just the same." Regina said again as she checked the street before walking. They picked up their step to cross the street before the light turned again.

At the end of the block, they arrived at Flora Restaurant and Bar. Emma looked around nervously as Regina checked in at the host stand and took the lead. They were seated immediately at a small table for two near the back of the restaurant. It was quieter, although Emma had hoped for more noise so she wouldn't have to focus on the lack of conversation.

"I've never been here before," she admitted. The menu had no sort of names for the food, only descriptions of ingredients that Emma hadn't heard of before. She was somewhat lost and hoped Regina would give some sort of guidance.

"I haven't either," Regina said as she looked over the menu. "It's okay to ask questions if you need to."

Emma pouted, "I'll look like an idiot. Is there anything you suggest? I mean, I don't know anything about wine and this kind of stuff."

Regina sighed and put her menu down. "I told you, dining is an experience. Go for things you haven't tried before. There are things beyond a burger that are worth eating."

"But there's a burger on here." Emma pointed out.

"It's for the non-adventurous type. But you'll never experience anything if you stick to what you know."

"That's true..." Emma agreed, although that hardly helped her navigate the menu.

The server, a tall young man with a dark beard, slicked back hair and hipster black glasses greeted their table and introduced himself as Will. He smiled warmly and was keen on answering any questions Emma or Regina had.

Regina nodded and then looked over her menu again. She paused, then glanced towards Emma, "Do you want to get a bottle of wine?"

"Um, sure... but I'll leave it up to you."

"We'll start with the Cuvée des Moines Brut Rose split. Then if we could have a few more minutes with the menu."

The server was more than happy to oblige, considering that Regina had selected a $60 bottle of champagne that was only half the size of a normal bottle. Emma suddenly became even more nervous that Regina's tastes were far too out of her league.

After discussing the menu a bit more, they settled on a sort of salad with heirloom tomatoes, lamb, arugula and basil pesto and a salmon carpaccio to start. Regina ordered the bouillabaisse with a cacophony of seafood while Emma settled on the roasted pork shoulder. It seemed safe and for Emma, the price was between too high and too low. She didn't want Regina to think she was taking advantage of the free meal, although it was won on a bet.

Regina sipped at the sparkling pink champagne and looked across the table at her so-called "date." Although she didn't compliment Emma's appearance very much, the color red really did suit the blonde. Although it was clear that Emma was nervous by the way she constantly looked around at everything and sipped at her champagne as if it were water.

"You can relax, you know. I'm not going to bite."

Emma's face turned a shade red dark enough to match her shirt. "I'm sorry. I've just never been to a place like this before. It's pretty fancy."

A stifled laugh escaped Regina's lips. "This isn't fancy, dear. It's actually rather casual. Fancy is where you don't even pick from the menu and formal attire is required."

Emma's green eyes narrowed slightly, "Why would you go someplace where you can't even choose what you eat?"

"Food is art. Places like Atelier Crenn in San Francisco or The French Laundry in Napa only offer menus the chef decides on for the day. It's their gallery, so to speak. It showcases their art in food preparation." Regina explained. "Some take it to another level. Atelier Crenn presents the menu in the form of a haiku. You won't really know what you should expect when the menu says Recall an oceanic feeling, See the half moon floating, silky, smoky. From that, all I can gather is that there is seafood involved and something in a soup that's smokey and probably creamy."

"That doesn't make any sense." Emma said.

"And are you supposed to figure out what modern art is at first glance? The idea is to bring an experience that is beyond expectations. If you have no expectations, then the chef has a 50% chance of impressing you." Regina finished her champagne and looked around for the server. Will showed up a moment later, having caught her wandering eyes. Regina ordered the Tessier Pinot Noir Reserve and continued her conversation without skipping a beat. "People often walk into a restaurant with high expectations of what they want. Things like Yelp allow them to voice their dissatisfaction that it wasn't like Mom's home cooking or that the food in Spain was a thousand times better. What they don't understand is that the chef isn't trying to be your mother or to be compared to Spain. They have their own ideas and their own creativity. They want you to experience what they have to offer."

"I think I get that..."

"So just enjoy it and try not to think too much about it. We became a society that stopped enjoying food and only ate to stop a grumbling stomach. Fast food was good enough, highly processed food was the norm. We're now at an age where chefs put great care into what they serve. Even places like McDonald's has up'd the ante and has changed some of their menu to reflect the change in people's diets."

Emma smiled as Will returned with shining clean glasses and a dark bottle with a greyish round label. She hardly heard anything he said as he presented the wine and made a bit of a ceremony opening it. She was impressed on how he opened it while never putting it down on the table. Every time she tried to open a bottle, she had to put it down on the table to get leverage to get the corkscrew into the cork.

After Regina had tasted the wine and approved it, he poured two glasses and left them alone. Their appetizers arrived a moment later. The plates were bright and colorful and Emma found herself salivating at the mere sight. She realized that Regina was right. When she didn't have any expectations of what the food should look like, she opened herself up to be impressed.

Regina continued her lecture on food and wine culture as Emma tried her best to politely sample the two appetizers in front of them. She looked up in surprise as Regina called her name. "Were you even listening?" the brunette sighed.

"Oh, I am. I was just thinking... you're really passionate about this stuff."

"It's part of the business that I'm in. If I'm ill informed, I can't sell anything to my clients."

Emma nodded as she sliced a piece of heirloom tomato. "I mean, you kind of shine when you're talking about food and wine. I never gave it any thought, really, but you kinda put a new perspective into it."

Regina paused, then took a large gulp from her wine. Emma wasn't sure if the woman was hiding her expression with her wine glass or just thirsty. But she appreciated the view. Regina was not at all cut and dry as she had first thought. There was a sort of spark in her that seemed to surface here and there, but it was quick to disappear with a snide remark or an eye roll.

As the appetizers were cleared and the entrees were brought over, Emma managed to finish her first glass of wine. Although she wasn't as skilled as Regina in drinking wine and commenting on it, she was at least able to determine that it was a pretty good wine and that it had a mix of flavors in it. What those flavors were was something she couldn't describe, but she prided herself in being able to notice anything other than grapes. Will appeared again and refilled her glass, then topped off Regina's as well.

The conversation died as they ate dinner. Although Regina had spent a good amount of time talking, she had hoped to find out more about Emma. It wasn't that she hated her at all, but she was a kind of wild card in Regina's catalogue of people. It was almost too easy to read the blonde's emotions that appeared on her face. When she was nervous, Emma would fill the gaps of silence with drinking. She smiled a lot, but would look in another direction the moment Regina caught her smiling. Regina found this to be quite intriguing.
Once their dinner plates were cleared, Emma leaned back slightly to ease the tension in her belly. Between the wine and all the food, she was getting quite full. They sat there with a mostly clean table, finishing their glasses of wine. She nearly sputtered when Regina looked up at her with a serious face. "So, honestly...are you seeing anyone?" she asked.

"I... what?"

The brunette rolled her eyes. "It was a simple question. Are you seeing anyone?"

Emma shook her head, "No, not at the moment."

"Oh? Do you mean to say there's someone you're interested in?" Regina asked, leaning forward slightly.

"There is, but I don't think she's interested in me."

"I see," came the sharp reply.

"How about you?" Emma urged. "Are you seeing anyone?"

"No. I had a girlfriend in New York, but it ended long before I came out to California."

Emma's heart skipped a beat. There was her confirmation. It was all she needed to want to try to impress Regina further and win her over. But not tonight. Things were still cordial between them, although Emma was now determined to prove herself to this woman who seemed to be out of her reach.

"That's good to hear," Emma said. She immediately caught herself and backtracked her comment. "I mean, it's probably a good thing that you're not trying to maintain a long distance relationship. I couldn't do it. My last girlfriend decided to go off to Africa and join the Red Cross, so we ended it. At least it wasn't ugly. But no boyfriends for you either? You're a gorgeous woman, I figure you'd have offers left and right."

Regina shook her head, "No, I've never dated any men."

"Wait, never?" Emma blinked. "You mean.. you're a gold star?"

"I don't understand what you're indicating by that."

"A gold star." Emma repeated. "A lesbian who's never been with a man sexually."

Regina blushed. This was definitely not dinner conversation, although the wine in her head stopped her usual walls from shooting upwards around her. "Oh, then I suppose I am."

"Wow... you're kind of a rare breed. I'm impressed."

"Why is that?" Regina asked as she finished her wine.
Emma shrugged, "I dunno. It's like, a lot of women start off trying to be straight. They get boyfriends and try to fit in. I did when I was in high school. Dated a guy named Bae. Obviously it didn't work out. I just wasn't interested in him."

"I just never had any interest at all. I wasn't curious or anything. I just felt like they were... faceless people. Nothing significant to catch my attention." Regina explained. "Is that strange?"

"Not at all," Emma said with a smile. "Everyone is entitled to their own desires. Nothing is strange, but a lot is not what society calls 'normal."

Regina laughed a little, "You're surprisingly intelligent."

Emma frowned, "Was that supposed to be a compliment?"

"It is. I sort of had you pegged as a careless, clumsy blonde. It's refreshing to see this side of you." Regina said with a playful smile.

Their server returned a moment later, breaking up the somewhat flirtatious banter that had sprung up between them. After agreeing on the apple tart and a two cup French Press of Blue Bottle Coffee to share, he left them alone again. Although the flirting had stopped, Regina and Emma had reached a peak moment in their rivalry where a conversation wasn't laced with criticism. As they shared their dessert and enjoyed the local coffee, Emma shared a few patrol stories with Regina. In turn, Regina shared some horrific stories about working in the hotel industry.

"So this airline crew checks in and I'm not sure if the attendants were high or drunk or just stupid, but I get a call from the front desk because one of the girls is screaming in the hallway from the service elevator because her head is stuck," Regina said as she stirred her coffee. "Come to find out, she was stuck because she was trying to push her suitcase into the elevator and the door began to close on her head, like she was too dumb to move. The elevator would normally bounce back after detecting something in the way, but her idiot friends pushed the emergency stop button, so the doors stopped moving, right on her head!"

Emma did her best to hold the coffee in her mouth as she suppressed her laughter. "It must be fun to work in a hotel. You get to see all kinds of people."

Regina shrugged, "I'm sure it's not as exciting as car chases."

"Not half as dangerous either. My mom is always worried whenever I tell her stories about drug busts, but it's kind of in her nature to worry." Emma smirked and rolled her eyes.

"Why did you introduce your mom as 'Snow?" Regina asked curiously.

The blonde laughed, "Oh, so it's something my dad started. My mom has this weird attraction to animals. I mean, like seriously, woodland creatures and stuff. She's a magnet for them. Stray cats come to the house all the time. Lost dogs, squirrels, raccoons, you name it. They're never afraid to just walk right up to my mom, but the moment my dad, Neal or I get close, they go scampering away. So, my dad started calling her 'Snow White' and eventually it just became 'Snow.' The kids in her class call her 'Mrs. Snow."

"Excuse me, Regina Mills?" A voice interrupted their conversation and both women looked up to find a petite, thin blonde with hazel eyes looking at Regina curiously. Her eyes widened as she grinned, "It is you! Oh, my gosh! I thought it was you from across the restaurant."

Regina's face also lit up in a bright smile. She stood up and gave the other woman a superficial hug, "Kelly, it's so nice to see you again! How are things over at the Durant?"

Kelly shrugged, although she was grinning from ear to ear, "Oh, you know... day in, day out, contracts, proposals, the usual. I finally made it to Director of Catering, but you know how fluid our titles get with this business. I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to come and say hi." She turned to Emma and held out her hand, "Hi, sorry. I'm Kelly Highland. Regina and I worked together before, she used to be my sales rival. Are you her new girlfriend? You're so cute!"

Emma's face turned red as she shook the woman's hand. She wanted to say yes, but that would reveal her feelings much earlier than what she was ready for. Instead, she held up her hands defensively, "I, what?! No, I'm not her girlfriend! We're just housemates. We're not dating."

Regina sat down again and glowered slightly. The evening was going so well, but somehow... she was feeling irritated. Kelly frowned and turned back to Regina, "I'm sorry. You looked so cute together, I just naturally assumed that... sorry, Regina."

"It's fine," Regina said quietly as she flagged down their server for the check. "We were just grabbing some dinner since our other housemates are out of town at Burning Man."

"Oh, I see," Kelly nodded. "Well, I'll let you two get back to it. It was great seeing you, we'll have to catch up sometime soon." She excused herself and waved one more time to Regina before sitting down at her own table.

Emma tilted her head slightly, "Are you okay?" It was clear that Regina was no longer in a positive mood, but Emma wasn't sure why.

"I'm fine, I said. Were you finished? I'm just about ready to go home." Regina said sharply.

"Um, sure. Anytime you're ready." Emma answered quietly. The bill never arrived. Regina had arranged for the server to run her American Express card without bringing an itemized bill. She simply waited for the credit card slip, which she signed quickly. Regina slipped the second copy in her purse before Emma could even see the total. "Um, let me at least help with the tip."

"I've taken care of it already."

Regina said nothing on the way home. Although the night went relatively well, something was bothering her. Once they had returned and were in the house, they parted with a simple 'Thank you' and 'You're Welcome' before retreating to their rooms. She sat alone on the edge of her bed after changing into her pajamas, wondering why she felt so irritated with Emma. Holding onto a plush skull with a crown on its head; a prize she had won on a weekend trip to Coney Island when she lived in New York, Regina glared at it as if it had the answers.

"I don't know why I'm so pissed of at her. It's not like we're really dating or anything. I don't even like her that much, I guess. Ugh, but it just bothered me, the way she told Kelly that we're not dating." Regina sighed and flopped backwards on the bed, letting the soft plush skull bounce out of her hands. "Whatever, it doesn't matter anyways." With that final sigh of frustration, Regina crawled under the covers and closed her eyes to sleep, tucked in her nest of feather pillows.


 

Friday and Saturday passed with little or no interaction between them, save for a few momentary scuffles where Regina would nag about the forks sitting tines down in the dishwasher or where Emma would get upset that Regina recorded a repeat episode of The Walking Dead over an episode of Scandal that she hadn't seen yet. They had done such a good job of keeping distance between them that Regina was more than surprised to find Emma outside, late Sunday morning, in board shorts, a white tank top and flip flops, washing her Tesla by hand.

She stayed near the window and watched Emma, convincing herself that she wanted to make sure the clumsy blonde didn't scratch up her car. But her eyes were drawn to the excessively feminine lacy black bra that became visible as Emma's white tank became wet. Regina wondered if the woman was doing that on purpose to get her attention, but then reminded herself that Emma was the one who was quick to deny they were (or, as it was in Regina's head; could ever be) dating. Regina stayed hidden next to the window, peeking out every few moments or so to see what Emma was doing.

In the driveway, Emma's phone was connected to a Jambox speaker. She scrubbed away the bugs on the Tesla's fender as she grooved along to some 90's punk music. She was quite proud of herself, having found the time to wash Regina's car, even though the woman had been especially cold to her ever since their dinner date the other night. She wasn't even sure if she should call it a date, but for a few moments, it felt like one.

Regina had been particularly hostile, that what little interaction they had, it was spent bickering. First it was about leaving the Kureig on, as if it really mattered, but Regina seemed to be annoyed that Emma had a habit of leaving the tank half full and the power on. They avoided eating dinner together again, although that didn't save Emma from Regina nagging her about eating an unhealthy meal of Carl's Jr. Famous Stars and onion rings. Emma snapped and called Regina an unreasonable stuck up hipster, to which Regina slammed the door in her face. Another day it was Emma complaining about Regina hogging the washer and dryer, but it was followed by Regina bitching about Emma leaving her clothes in the laundry room.

When Mulan and Aurora returned home on Monday evening, they were glad to be back in the coolness of the Bay Area. Burning Man was fun, enlightening and hot, but after sunburns, contact highs, and walking around half dressed, they returned several shades darker and exhausted.

Dragging her duffle bag with her into the house, Mulan sighed as they walked in. Regina and Emma were shouting at each other from the top and bottom of the stairs with Emma staring up into the second floor with a scowl.

"You're supposed to put the toilet paper roll with the loose end to the outside!" Regina nagged.

"What the hell does it even matter? Jesus Christ, Regina, are you so bored that you're going to nit pick about the toilet paper now?!"

Regina stuck her head over the landing wall. "Why can't you just do the simplest things? Your damn toothpaste drives me insane!"

"Seriously?! I washed your god damn car and this is the thanks I get?!" Emma shouted.

"I didn't ask you to!"

"Yes, you did!"

"Only if I won the bet!"

"Let someone do something nice for you for once, shit! Can't you be a little appreciative?"

"Stop sticking your nose into other peoples' business, Swan!" Regina shouted with frustration. "I paid my debt, you got your dinner. Just turn the damn toilet paper around!"

"YOU turn it around if it bothers you so much!"

"Go to hell!" Regina shouted. The bedroom door slammed a moment later.

"Eat a dick!" Emma shouted back. She turned and found herself face to face with Mulan and Aurora. They smirked as the redness in her face spread to her ears. "Welcome home?"

Mulan laughed, "Glad to see things haven't changed around here."

"Did you two seriously fight the entire time?" Aurora asked as she put down her bag.

"No... well, kinda." Emma shrugged. "Trust me, we're glad you're home."

Mushu came running through the open door, barking happily. Emma scooped up the dog and squeezed him lightly. "I missed you, too, buddy! The Evil Queen is hiding upstairs in her room. You don't wanna go over there. She might breathe fire on you."

"I heard that!" came Regina's voice from upstairs. She had come out of her room to fix the toilet paper that was angering her. She looked down at Mulan and Aurora from the top of the stairs. "Welcome home. Sorry, but Emma's being a pain in the ass."

"You know what?" Aurora smiled. "Compared to the mass amounts of hippies we spent the week with, it's kind of nice to come home and see you two up to your usual. Makes things seem normal."

Mulan grinned. "I traded some campfire cornbread for a pound of organic coffee. We're going to put stuff away, then you guys can come have a cup with us."

Emma smiled, "Sounds good." Mushu barked his approval, then wiggled out of Emma's grasp to find his corner in the laundry room.

Regina sighed and started down the stairs. "I suppose I'll get the water going." She locked eyes with Emma and for a brief moment, Mulan noticed something that wasn't there when she left. Even though they were fighting, there was a certain change in atmosphere the moment they were in proximity to each other. She wasn't sure how, but she'd figure out what happened and if anything, if it was what she was expecting, she would do whatever she needed to push them in the right direction.

Chapter Text

Episode 4
Vegetarianism as a Fashion Statement
&
How Elsa and Regina saved Thanksgiving from a Tofurkey Nightmare

 

Emma sighed as she opened the fridge. Her stomach was growling to the point she swore there was an angry little Emma inside demanding food. But the current stock of kale, spinach, beets and other various hipster vegetables was not looking like an appealing snack. She held up a strange looking cauliflower and glared at it. Or perhaps it was broccoli. She couldn't tell.
"That's romanesco broccoli," Regina said as she walked into the kitchen. She was still dressed in her work clothes: a black maxi skirt with a slit up to her thigh on the right side and a grey cardigan over a black tank top. Emma swallowed an invisible knot in her throat that seemed to form from seeing Regina.
"Couldn't you just say its broccoli?' Emma asked as she stuffed the vegetable back into the crisper.
"No. It's different. The romanesco is one of the few things in nature that a fractal pattern occurs in. It's actually a very fascinating plant."
The blonde woman sighed as she poked through the fridge. "I don't want fascinating. I want food. What's up with this house and not having any beef? Jesus, I would kill for some processed frozen burger patties right now."
Mulan walked into the kitchen carrying two empty mugs. "Wow, you're in the same room and not tearing each others' heads off. Must be an off day," she said with a smirk. "What are you doing, Emma?"
"She's raiding the fridge for food," Regina explained as she poured herself a cup of tea from the Kureig. "But whining that there isn't any beef, even though she won't buy any herself."
"I'm bad at buying groceries. I end up getting more than I need 'cause grocery stores make me hungry."
Mulan walked up to the fridge and looked inside past Emma. "Sorry, with Aurora's eating habits we tend to not buy a lot of meats. Chicken, if anything. Our last housemates had a strict diet, too, so I got used to it. Ariel didn't eat fish, Aurora doesn't eat meat and Eric was gluten free."
"That's no way to live." Emma sighed, giving up on her attempts to find food. She walked around the kitchen feeling somewhat lost, opening and closing cabinets more for a sense of searching than actually looking for something. She opened a cupboard and noticed a mason jar filled with dark strips. She pulled it down and set it on the counter, eyeing the strips carefully.
"You're like a scavenging animal," Regina teased as she sipped at her tea. She had perched herself at the kitchen island to read the paper on her iPad.
"That's Aurora's jerky jar. She keeps some kind of turkey jerky or mushroom tofu jerky in there." Mulan explained. "The turkey stuff is all right, but I prefer regular beef jerky."
Emma wiped away a bit of drool from the corner of her mouth. She took out a dark strip of jerky and sniffed it. For something that was supposed to be made from mushrooms and tofu, it smelled a lot like regular beef jerky. She bit into it, savoring the flavor that was quite meaty and familiar. "This isn't tofu."
Aurora joined them in the kitchen and beamed at the sight of Emma with her jerky jar. "You found my stash."
Emma turned around with the piece of jerky hanging from her mouth. Regina rolled her eyes, "At least take the food out of your mouth, animal."
"Aurora..." Emma said carefully, "This... this isn't tofu. It's beef."
The strawberry blonde shook her head, "Impossible. That's chopped up tofu and mushrooms. I got it from an organic jerky seller at the farmer's market."
"Nope. I know my meats. This is beef."
The look on Aurora's face was one of complete mortification. Mulan held back a smile as she held her hand out to Emma for half of the jerky in her mouth. The young assistant sheriff tore a piece off and handed it to Mulan. After popping it into her mouth and chewing slowly, she frowned. "She's right, babe... this is beef jerky."
"That... that can't be... it's too delicious to be beef!" Aurora exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. "Oh, god... just finish the jar. I can't be eating that stuff!" She sat down on a barstool next to Regina and laid her head in her arms. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"Highly unlikely," Regina said, looking over at her distraught housemate. "Your reaction is purely physiological."
Aurora raised her head and looked at Regina with pouting eyes. "I'm the worst vegetarian ever."
"Can you really call yourself a vegetarian when you eat chicken?" Mulan asked, taking another piece of jerky from Emma.
"I only eat free range!" Aurora answered defensively.
"You haven't exactly been staying away from red meat... you know the Chinese sausage I keep in the freezer? The one you like when I add it to fried rice? That's made from pork."
Aurora's face turned green. "But... your grandma said it's tofu..."
Mulan laughed, "My grandma trolled you. Chinese sausage is pork."
"I... I need to excuse myself." Aurora said weakly. She slid off the barstool and disappeared from the kitchen, hobbling towards the bedroom as if she were dying from each step.
"Is she going to be okay?" Emma asked.
Mulan shrugged, "She'll be fine. She's a vegetarian on principle. Has nothing to do with her actual dietary needs."
"Could be worse," Regina smirked. "She could be a vegan."
"Out. Get out and take your blasphemy with you!" Mulan replied teasingly.


 

It was an uneventful Saturday evening when Regina volunteered to make dinner. Emma was out on patrol, so she decided on something that would reheat easily and feed all four of them. When Mulan asked what was on the menu, Regina smiled proudly as she announced she'd be making lasagna.
"Is it good?" Mulan asked.
"I'm from New York. If you call yourself a New Yorker and don't know how to make good Italian food, you're nothing but a poser," Regina said as she browned the ground beef in a pan.
"I like lasagna. But Aurora probably won't eat it."
"I'm making a vegetarian one for her in a smaller pan. I picked up an eggplant, squash, bell peppers and mushrooms to make the layers. She eats cheese, right?"
Mulan nodded, "Vegetarian. Not a vegan."
"Thank god," Regina smirked.
As Regina worked in the kitchen, Mulan sat at the island counter and chatted with her to pass the time. They spoke about food, mostly, since Mulan didn't share Regina's appreciation for designer fashion and 'up-and-coming' designers, nor did Regina care about sports. So Mulan dug around for something interesting to talk about.
"So... be honest with me, Regina. What do you think about Emma?" Mulan asked casually.
Regina paused from the careful layering she was doing with the lasagna. She tried to remain calm and collected, but her face had lost quite a bit of color. "What...?"
Mulan shrugged, "I dunno. You guys fight all the time. It's like we can't leave you two in the same room for more than ten minutes without someone putting their foot in their mouth and the fireworks start off again. I mean, if you hate her so much, I'm surprised you tolerate living in the same house. It's kinda hostile."
"It's not that...," Regina replied quietly. She slid the lasagna pan into the oven, then stood up and turned to the counter again to build Aurora's vegetarian lasagna. "I don't hate Emma. I don't know what it is. It's just that when I see her, I get all frustrated with her. But, I wouldn't want her to leave."
Mulan smiled playfully, "Well, good. 'Cause Aurora and I like both of you and we don't want either of you to go."
"Well, I doubt either of us want to go either."
"So, with all the tension between you two, maybe you should start dating." Mulan laughed. Regina lost her grip on the spatula on her hand. She fumbled around trying to catch it before losing it completely and watching the spatula land on the floor. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Regina snapped. She picked up the spatula and put it in the sink. Frustrated that she couldn't find another one, Regina returned to her lasagna with a fork and a sour glare.
"Hmm...if you say so. But don't you think that dating Emma might be fun?"
Regina whipped around and slammed her hands on the counter, leaning across the island to glare at Mulan. The young EMT just smiled in response to Regina's hostility. A voice brought them out of their face off as Emma walked into the kitchen with the world's most awkward timing.
"Hey, hey, hey. What's cookin'? I mean, literally. It smells good."
Regina backed away from Mulan and took a deep breath. She needed to keep it cool. "I thought you were working late." She put the lasagna in the oven just as the small countertop convection oven chimed that it was done preheating. Mulan sat back with an impressed grin. She hadn't even noticed Regina moving around the kitchen and preheating the ovens, although she prided herself in being observant.
Emma shrugged, "Yeah, but Ruby and I were called off. We gotta go back out later, though."
"Regina's making lasagna. She said we needed to experience real East Coast Italian." Mulan said with a smirk.
"I didn't say anything like that."
"Close enough." Mulan shrugged.
Emma excused herself to go wash up and get changed while Regina and Mulan waited for the lasagna. Aurora was still out with her volunteer group, but at least when she got home, dinner would be waiting.
Two thirds of a lasagna pan later, Emma and Mulan were leaning back in their chairs, rubbing their stomachs and groaning. Regina sat with them, sipping a glass of syrah. Although she had some lasagna as well, she didn't have nearly as much as Mulan and Emma did.
"Oh, god...I'm so full..." Mulan groaned. "I tried to tell myself to stop, but my hand just keeps bringing the fork to my mouth."
Regina smirked, "Is that a sort of compliment?"
Emma looked at her watch, "Crap. I gotta go. Almost time for patrol. Thanks for dinner. It was good, Regina." She excused herself, put her dishes away and hurried out, while Regina sat with wide eyes and her jaw hanging open slightly.
Mulan smirked, "What's wrong? All she said was thanks for dinner."
"She cleaned up after herself," Regina muttered. "I'm just in shock."
Mulan stared at Regina for a moment. She wasn't sure if the woman was being serious or if she was trying to be funny. She voted on the former, since Regina's jokes were characteristically sass-filled comebacks.
"On that note, I'll finish up the dishes. Since you made dinner and all. Thanks for that." Mulan offered.
"Are you sure? I don't mind cleaning up." Regina said as she finished her glass of wine. She looked at the bottle of Syrah on the counter and pondered finishing it. There was at least one more glass left to the bottle. "Well, in that case... I think I'll go soak in the tub since Emma's out for the night."
"You can't use the tub if she's home?" Mulan asked as she rinsed off dishes and loaded them into the washer.
"It's not that. I just... I dunno, I don't want to have the guilt of hogging the bathroom and making her use the guest one down here."
Mulan giggled to herself. She wanted to point out that Regina didn't hate Emma and that they should totally just make out and get it over with. But doing that might just piss off Regina and make her retreat into her little shell. So she shrugged as she rubbed off melted cheese from the casserole pan. "That's nice of you. Well, if you want, there's some bubbles under the sink in that bathroom that Ariel left behind. Some sort of local made stuff called Seafoam. Have at it."
After topping off her wine with the rest of the bottle and a quick thanks to Mulan, Regina headed upstairs to enjoy a quiet evening in the tub with her glass. For a bathroom that wasn't the master, the tub was fairly large and took some time to fill. Regina added the Seafoam bubbles and waited as the water and bubbles took over the tub.
Regina relaxed in the water until it became cold, enjoying a book on her iPad and finishing her wine. The wine swirled in her head as the heat from the water mixed with the alcohol. The water became cooler after a chapter, so she put her iPad to the side so it wouldn't get wet and got out of the tub. She dried off and threw on a robe before gathering her things and retreating to her room to put on her pajamas. A noise in the kitchen prompted her to peek over the edge of the upstairs loft to see the light of the kitchen reflecting onto the walls of the hallway. She threw her robe back on over her pajamas and quietly snuck downstairs to the kitchen to figure out who was poking around in the dark.
Regina half expected to find Emma digging through the refrigerator again. The blonde was always looking for something to munch on and was always disappointed when all she could find were organic baby carrots and celery. She was no doubt surprised to find Aurora in the kitchen, sniffling and trying to hide her sobs as she put a fork in her mouth.
"Aurora? What are you doing?"
The girl looked up with tear-rimmed eyes. "I came in here to have some dinner and got a piece of lasagna... but then I realized it was the meat lasagna."
"Aren't you a vegetarian? Why are you eating that? I made a veggie lasagna for you." Regina pointed out as she folded her arms.
Aurora choked back a sob, "I realize that now... but this one is so good... I can't stop eating it."
"And so that's why you're crying?"
"I'm the worst vegetarian ever!" she wailed.
Regina rolled her eyes. "I'm going to bed. Try not to become any more of a murderer throughout the night." She turned from the kitchen, leaving Aurora to sob into her food.


 

The next morning, Mulan found Emma in the kitchen again in her work uniform, looking through the fridge. Aurora groggily followed, dragging her feet from sleep.
"Hey, Emma. You're up early." Mulan greeted the blonde.
"Actually, I just got in. Ruby and I had a late night. Busted some kids but it took forever to process them and then we had to give someone a DUI." Emma replied.
Regina joined them in the kitchen a moment later to make herself coffee. She was still in her pajamas, which was strange for a Thursday morning. "Are you already leaving for work, Emma? It's unusual for you to be up this early."
The blonde closed the refrigerator door and pouted. "No, I'm just getting in. What happened to the last of the lasagna?"
The girls jumped in surprise as Aurora broke out in loud sobs. "I'm sorry! It was just so good, I couldn't resist!"
Mulan snickered, "So either you're losing your edge as a vegetarian or Regina just makes really good lasagna."
Regina smirked as she poured her coffee, "I'll take a little of both."
Emma continued to pout as she opened the cabinets for cereal. "Damn it... I was hella thinking about eating that all night." She looked up in time to catch a slight blush on Regina's cheeks. "You'll make some again another time, right?"
"I suppose…"
“By the way, what are everyone’s plans for Thanksgiving?” Emma asked as she poured herself some Special K. Her only milk option for the morning was almond, which she poured into her bowl with a look of defeat.
Mulan shrugged, “My family’s off to Hong Kong to visit relatives. I can’t go because of work. I don’t have enough time saved up to be gone for three weeks. Besides, I can’t leave Aurora for that long.”
“I’m not a pet that you have to babysit,” Aurora pouted, still upset about her vegetarian violation. “I don’t have any plans either. I’ll probably go volunteer somewhere if nothing else comes up.”
The girls looked over at Regina who was silently sipping her coffee. “What? I have to work,” she answered. “The hotel does a Thanksgiving luncheon, so Elsa and I have to supervise.”
Emma looked somewhat disappointed. “Oh… well, my parents always have these big Thanksgiving dinners and they asked me to invite everyone and some friends.”
“I’m down,” Mulan smiled. “I’ll bring some Chinese food.”
“Is that considered Thanksgiving food?” Aurora asked.
“It’s food. Who cares?”
Aurora grinned, “All right, I’m in, too. Is it all right to bring Belle?”
The young sheriff smirked, “Actually, I think she’s already coming as Ruby’s guest.”
“Well, that escalated quickly.” Mulan laughed. “So, Regina, you’re coming, right?”
“I said I have to work,” Regina said as she narrowed her eyes at Mulan. She thought she saw another flash of disappointment on Emma’s face. Regina sighed defeatedly. “Fine. I’ll come after work. I’ll drag Elsa with me.”
Emma cheered. “Thank you! You guys are like my second family and honestly, my mom drives me crazy sometimes. I’d rather have some friends to drink with than have to actually help my mom in the kitchen.”
"We've yet to see if you actually have any culinary ability. Every time it's your turn to cook, we have delivery Thai or pizza." Regina pointed out.
"I can cook!" Emma replied defensively. "I made breakfast that one time when Mulan and Aurora were gone at Burning Man."
"One meal. Not necessarily domesticated living." Regina replied with a playful smirk. "You'll never land a fiancée that way."
Emma shrugged, "Was that your way of asking me?"
Mulan and Aurora watched the playful yet harsh vocal combat between Emma and Regina. They looked at each other and shared a mutual eye roll and smirk.
"Absolutely not!" Regina hissed back. "You're messy and disorganized."
"If that's you're only requirement for a marriage prospect, you're a lot more shallow than I thought." Emma answered sarcastically.
"If I can't find someone to at least meet those basic requirements, then I don't need to waste my time."
"They really need to just get locked in a room for a day." Mulan muttered quietly to Aurora. The other woman giggled softly, which drew the attention of the bickering duo.
"Whatever. I'm going to bed." Emma huffed. She took her bowl of cereal and a spoon, then retreated to her room.
"Don't leave your dirty dishes upstairs!" Regina nagged.
"You sound like my mother!" Emma yelled back from the other room.
Mulan giggled. "Like an old married couple."
Regina snorted, "Who'd marry that beast of a woman?" Although the slight blush on her face did not go completely unnoticed by Mulan. They held their grins as Regina excused herself with her cup of coffee and returned to her room to work.


 

The days passed quickly and soon Thanksgiving descended upon America. Emma made sure that her parents understood she had to go home the next day. There wouldn't be any hanging around until Monday, not with Black Friday in less than 24 hours. The news had been rampant with reports on protests in Missouri which spread across the country like wildfire and with Alameda being so close to a key city like Oakland, Emma and Ruby were prepared to take action, even during the holiday season.
When she arrived at her parents' house in Pacifica just before lunch, she expected to find a turkey already roasted and on the dinner table and various side dishes scattered in the kitchen, ready for the perfect placement before everyone arrived. But what she found was a dull looking tofurkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and roasted brussel sprouts.
Emma frowned as she stared at the tofu abomination. "What is this?" she asked as her mother walked into the dining room.
"Well, hello to you, too." Snow replied. She set down a green bean casserole which Emma wrinkled her nose at. "It's tofurkey. Your vegetarian friends are coming, right? I wanted to make sure there was something for them to eat."
"It's just Aurora who's a vegetarian. What about the rest of us?"
"Oh...well, we didn't get a turkey this year."
David walked into the kitchen with Neil pattering along beside him in tiny slacks, a white Oxford shirt and a knitted brown and orange sweater. Which was matching to his father's outfit. "Hey, Em. Didn't know you came in."
"Hi, Dad," Emma greeted her father before crouching down to catch her squealing brother in her arms. "Hi, Tiny Aggro Monster! Look at you in your Dad suit!"
Neil scowled at his sister and wriggled out of her arms to run off into the living room. Snow shook her head, "It took half the morning to get that boy dressed. He definitely did not want to wear his outfit today."
"Where are his shoes?" Emma asked.
David laughed as he helped set the table. "He insisted that he didn't need it because we weren't going anywhere."
"The kid has a point." The blonde woman opened up her parents' wine cabinet and promptly pulled out a bottle of bourbon. "Anyhow, my friends will probably be here soon. Mulan and Aurora were going to drive up here separately, in case I need to take off with Ruby if we get called in. It's the holidays and people are crazy. People are complaining ing that there are others who can't celebrate Thanksgiving because of stores opening for Black Friday, so they go out and protest. Did you know there's a website that keeps a Black Friday death and injury toll?"
Emma's father frowned, "I saw that on the news. The atmosphere is bad, right now. But we'll do our part out here to make sure people stay safe." David retrieved two tumblers from the cabinet and brought them to Emma who filled the glasses with generous pours of bourbon.
"Enough of that talk," Snow said as she waved her hand. "I'll not have any depressing conversation at dinner tonight."
Emma folded her arms, "Mom, I know it sounds depressing but it's real. You can't just hide up here in Pacifica and think that everything is rainbows and sunshine."
The pixie haired schoolteacher sighed, "I understand that, Emma. But right now, at this moment, it's Thanksgiving. Let's be thankful for the lives we have and that this country hasn't erupted into a civil war. Now, help me finish up the vegan stuffing."
"That's exactly the sort of thing you'd say with all that privilege," Emma muttered.
"What did you say, young lady?"
"Nothing. I said that it's been a while since I did anything in the kitchen with you." The blonde dodged her mother's scrutinizing stare, but caught the glance from her father that told her he knew exactly what she said.
Snow nodded once, as if agreeing with herself, in the manner most would attribute to a Disney princess, "It has been quite some time. I'll admit, your father did a lot of the work, but we're a team and you're part of that." After a long groan from having to listen to her mother's 'inspirational couples speech', Emma dragged her feet as she followed her mother. She hated working in the kitchen, especially her mother's kitchen. Snow was territorial and to be completely honest, not the best cook. She knew her father actually made most of the meals and Snow was just doing the 'finishing touches.' What made it worse was that she had nagged her husband to make everything vegetarian and vegan. For some reason, Snow made the assumption that all of Emma's friends were herbivores.
The doorbell rang no more than fifteen minutes into her cooking assignment. Emma wiped her hands on a dishtowel and ducked out of the kitchen. "I'll get it!" She scurried to the door and opened it, finding Aurora, Mulan, Ruby and Belle hovering under the porch. It had started to rain and they did their best to avoid getting wet. "So glad you guys are here!"
"Hi, Em. I hope we're not late." Belle said with a smile. Emma stepped aside as the girls walked into the house. "We brought food."
"Is there anything with meat?" Emma asked expectantly.
Aurora frowned, "Really, Em?"
Mulan laughed. "After the debacle with your jerky, even I would start to expect something with meat in it."
"I didn't know!" Aurora protested.
Ruby shook her head, "Right... anyways, I was able to duck out of Granny's charity Thanksgiving thing and I managed to grab a couple pies. Hope everyone's okay with pecan, pumpkin and apple."
Emma showed her friends into the kitchen where they put down their trays of spring rolls, kale and bean casserole, pies and sweet potato salad. Her mother reintroduced herself, just as the doorbell rang again. Emma hurried to the door, half hoping it would be Regina and Elsa. She wasn't sure why, but there wasn't anyone she was expecting to see more than the housemate who irritated her the most.
Killian was at the door with a box of cookies. "Hey, Emma. Happy Thanksgiving," he said as Emma let him in the house. "Graham's right behind me. I saw him pull up."
 "Awesome. Thanks for coming, Killian."
"Anytime, love. It's been awhile since I've been to your parents' house."
Emma shrugged, "I guess it has." She held the door open as Graham was coming up the walkway. "Hey, buddy."
"Hiya, Em. I see Killian beat me here." Graham said with a grin. "I brought donuts."
"Classy." Killian teased.
"Hey, they're Krispy Kreme. I drove all the way to Daly City for them. Totally worth it, bro."
The boys continued their bickering all the way into the kitchen, where they promptly greeted Emma's parents. In no time at all, the dining room was filled with a cacophony of voices all talking together. Despite how warm and fun the setting had become with all of her friends and her family around, Emma still felt that something was missing. She was pretty sure that it wouldn't be complete until Regina arrived. If she arrived at all. There was always that fear from Regina that she would brush off anything Emma did, said or offered. It was like there was no winning with the dark haired woman.
It was nearly six when everyone stopped to finally eat. Drinks had been poured and everyone was seated in the dining room. The two empty seats next to Emma made her sigh. Killian nodded his head towards her and waved his phone quietly. She took her phone out of her pocket and looked down at his text.
"Why is there no turkey? Your dad always makes a killer turkey."
Emma rolled her eyes and texted back. "My mom thinks all my friends are vegetarians and got a tofurkey this year. I hardly think anything on this table has meat."
Killian poked Graham beside him and showed his phone to his friend. Graham's shoulders dropped visibly. They both eyed the tofurkey with caution. Years of being friends with Emma made them expectant of certain things. Hot cocoa with cinnamon, bearclaws, pancakes if they were around for breakfast, and at the very least, David's turkey at Thanksgiving.
The rain began to come down harder all around the house. The sun had long since disappeared, yet the festivities continued. While no one was particularly full, the various side dishes around the table had decent sized amounts withdrawn from them. There was one unified thought that existed in everyone's mind. They wanted meat. Particularly, turkey meat. Although Snow happily dove into the tofurkey, completely convincing herself that she was living a healthy lifestyle by doing so. A small thought in the back of her mind manifested into the eagerness to tell her co-workers about how much of a healthy person she was over the holiday.
After Emma had started on her second glass of bourbon, the door bell rang. She knew it had to be Regina. Of course, she was incredibly late, but at this point she didn't care. When Emma pulled open the door, she found Elsa standing in the doorway. The look on her face must have projected her emotions. Elsa smiled, "She's right behind me, Emma. Don't worry."
"What? Oh, no... I wasn't expecting anything." Emma replied defensively.
"May I come in?" Elsa asked. She held up a tightly sealed container. "I brought butternut squash soup."
"Sorry! Yes, of course! Come in!" Emma said as she moved away from the door. She looked past Emma expectantly, hoping to see Regina through the rain and dark. The definitive click of Louboutin heels echoed on the pavement as Regina walked up, carrying a large foil tray. Emma ran out into the rain and offered her open hands to take the tray from Regina. "Here, let me get that."
"Sorry we're late. It took awhile to close up from the luncheon," she explained as she followed Emma into the house.
"It's ok. How was the drive? I'm sorry the house is so far out. It's been raining pretty hard. Do you need a towel to dry off?" Emma began babbling as she escorted Regina into the house and closed the door. The tray in her hands was hot and incredibly heavy.
"I'm fine," Regina replied as she shook out a bit of rain from her hair.
Elsa and Regina followed Emma into the dining room, where everyone cheered at their arrival.
"They made it!" Mulan applauded. "Sorry, a lot of the side dishes a kinda gone. We tried waiting though."
Emma placed the tinfoil tray on the table, glad to be free of its excessive weight. She carefully peeled off the top layer of foil and nearly doubled over with excitement as a fully roasted turkey came into view. She spun around and threw her arms around Regina, who was trying to take a seat at the empty spot beside Emma's chair. "Oh my god, you saved Thanksgiving!"
Regina was at a loss for words. Sure, she was enjoying Emma's wholehearted embrace, but the situation was utterly confusing. "Excuse me?"
"The only thing that might have passed off as protein was tofurkey. Your real turkey saved us!" Emma exclaimed.
"Honestly, there were a few extra turkeys left over from the luncheon." Regina scowled as Emma hugged her. She managed to not snap as the blonde jostled her in excitement. "All right, great, there's a turkey."
"And soup!" Elsa added. Although she was certainly ignored.
"I heard you and I appreciate your soup," Mulan said reassuringly to Elsa.
"Enough, Swan!" Regina hissed, finally reaching her patience threshold. She calmed down quickly and rolled her eyes at Emma. "Let's just sit down now, okay?"
Emma released her grip on Regina and smiled. They sat down and resumed their dinner, now with everyone eagerly diving in to all the food. The conversations mingled as every tray became depleted, except for the tofurkey.
Ruby leaned over to smirk at Aurora, "No tofurkey for you?"
"It's Thanksgiving! While I appreciate the thought, nothing beats turkey on Thanksgiving."
Belle laughed, "Your vegetarian license is being revoked. Worse vegetarian ever!"
Further down the table, Emma nudged Regina with her shoulder. "Thanks."
"For what?" Regina asked as she poked her fork into a small pile of stuffing.
"For coming today and for the turkey. How did you know we didn't have one?"
Regina shrugged. "I didn't. But Elsa and I figured it wouldn't hurt to bring one."
"Well, you saved Thanksgiving." Emma replied with a cheesy grin.
"You're exaggerating."
The blonde rolled her eyes, "Happy Thanksgiving, Regina."
"Happy Thanksgiving, Emma."

Chapter Text

Episode 5
Black Friday and Secret Santas

 

After a surprisingly fun and simple Thanksgiving dinner at Emma's parents' house, Mulan, Aurora and Regina found themselves huddled together in a line in front of Best Buy at three in the morning. They each held steaming hot cups of coffee from a gas station as they waited with nearly sixty other people hoping to get in on the best deals of the year.
"Remind me again why we decided to do this," Regina grumbled from behind her Louis Vuitton scarf. She was bundled up in a black pea coat, jeans and a sweater to fight off the cold Bay Area chill.
"Look, smoke!" Mulan said gleefully as she blew clouds of warm breath into the cold air. "Didn't you say you wanted to get your Christmas shopping done early?"
"Yes, but this is just ridiculous. The store doesn't even open for another two hours! I can't believe how many people actually come out for this." Regina sighed as she sipped her ridiculously hot coffee, which tasted exactly like burnt gas station coffee should.
Aurora pulled her scarf tighter around her face. "Think of it this way, at least we're not the only ones who are completely insane and standing outside in the cold. There's crazier people in tents." She pointed further up the line to three small tents that had been pitched in front of the store.
Regina sipped at her coffee, "I honestly don't mind shopping on a normal day. I'm only really out here to keep you two company."
"Didn't Emma ask you to get her a laptop that's on sale?" Aurora pointed out, recalling the plea from Emma she had heard at dinner the night before.
Regina's cheeks flushed visibly. "Only because she wouldn't give up. Might as well get some Christmas shopping done early."
They continued minor conversation for the duration of the wait, only pausing occasionally to shiver the cold away. Time passed painfully by, made worse by the biting cold. It was going to rain soon. Mulan was sure of it. Whenever the air was so cold that it would almost snow, she knew it would rain.
The doors of the store opened promptly at 5:00am. After two hours of waiting, the best thing the Best Buy employees did was hand out warm cups of hot chocolate and apple cider as people walked in. The girls finished their drinks, then huddled behind a display of iPhone cases.
"Here's the plan," Mulan said quietly as she checked over her shoulder for crowd assessment. "Spread out and find what you're looking for. Whoever gets in line first, hold places for each other."
"Can you do that? Isn't that cutting the line?" Aurora asked.
"It's every shopper for themselves. Black Friday is ruthless. Don't let your guard down. Ready? Go!" Mulan took off in the direction of the televisions while Aurora darted off towards the home appliances. Regina found herself alone in mere seconds, so she headed towards the computers.
She reached into her purse and pulled out the printed web page of the laptop Emma asked for. Her housemate had given her a wad of cash to pay for the laptop, hoping to snag a decent one on a Black Friday discount. Regina found the laptop that Emma was asking for. It was a simple HP that was priced at $399.00. But everything about the laptop screamed 'sucker's deal' to Regina. She'd certainly be getting exactly what she paid for. Sure, it was touch screen, but anyone would be better off getting a tablet if that's what you wanted. Slower than a standard processor, small screen, and with only 500GB, the laptop Emma wanted was definitely not worth the effort.
Regina decided she would tell Emma everything that was wrong with her selection, when her eye caught sight of an Asus laptop sitting at the end of the display. It wasn't nearly as large as some of the other Asus computers, but what Regina knew of the manufacturer, they guaranteed power. The price was more than what Emma gave her, but Regina couldn't stand the idea of even purchasing a low powered computer, even if it wasn't for her.
She paced back and forth, trying to decide if she should buy it or not. She didn't have a lot of time. The store was becoming crowded with the Black Friday late comers. Mulan and Aurora would be waiting for her. With a final internal argument won, she put her hand on the last box of Asus laptops. She moved to walk off with it and felt a tug from the other end.
"I saw it first!" a heavyset woman with black hair glared at Regina with her hand on the box, gripping it with the strength of a rhino.
"Let...go..." Regina warned the woman. She narrowed her eyes and sneered in such a way that her father used to warn her about scaring off other people. She hoped it would work this time.
"Bitch, I don't think so!" the other woman snapped back. She pulled on the box which made Regina grip it harder.
"Let go of the laptop or so help me, I will destroy you if it is the last thing I do!" Regina stared hard at the other woman, who glared right back at her. The natural New Yorker in Regina rose up and caused her to lean forward. The heavier woman responded in kind.
"You gonna threaten me?! Bitch, this is for my son for college! Are you gonna be the ho-bag who stops him from getting a good education?!" the woman sneered, as if trying to pull at Regina's morality core.
Regina lowered her voice menacingly, "I need this for someone I care deeply about who is working incredibly hard to protect people like you with local law enforcement. If you honestly think your son can't survive college without a fancy laptop then you should rethink your faith in his abilities to learn. Google and the Internet do not make a good education!"
The two women glared at each other a moment longer before the heavier woman finally let go. "Whatever, bitch. He wants a MacBook Pro anyways."
Regina headed to the front of the store with her prize. Aurora and Mulan were already waiting in a line that snaked through three departments. She joined them, effectively getting ahead of twenty other shoppers in line.
"Wow, that's what Emma asked for? It's a snazzy laptop," Mulan commented as she peered at Regina's box.
"Actually, it's not. The one she wanted was far too simple, so I upgraded her. For Christmas."
"Pretty nice upgrade for someone who you argue with all the time." Mulan smirked. Aurora rolled her eyes and pinched her girlfriend's waist. "Ow! What?!"
"Be nice. I'm sure she'll appreciate it, Regina."
The dark hair woman shrugged, "It's the holidays. We're lucky if we get any generosity beyond this from me. This time of year is horrible."
Mulan gasped, "Why do you say that?! This time of year is magical! The lights and Christmas music!"
"And the baking! So much baking!" Aurora added. "Cookies and yule logs, cakes, chocolates..."
Regina rolled her eyes, "You sound like Elsa. She's got a jar of Christmas candy on her desk that's been constantly refilled since last week. It's not even December yet."
"Presents! Don't forget presents...and all the fun things to drink. Like hot buttered rum!"
"All of those things are fun, but people in general are horrible this time of year. They all walk around with an uninhibited sense of entitlement and constantly use the excuse of 'but its Christmas' as way to get what they want."
Mulan grinned as they shuffled forward in the line. "Yet here you are, upgrading Emma's laptop, based on your own good will. I think deep down, you like Christmas."
Regina snorted. "If I were in a different profession, perhaps so."
After another hour in line, the girls made their purchases and hurried home to get some sleep, having earned a few extra hours for putting up with the Black Friday mess. Once they got home, Regina placed the box in front of Emma's door with a post it note that read: The laptop you asked for was insufficient. I upgraded you. Merry Christmas. I nearly decked a woman for this.
When Regina got up later that morning and Emma was able speak to her, she thought she would never hear the end of the thank you's that the blonde showered on her.


 

December came quickly and soon everywhere was covered in holiday decorations, Christmas trees, bells, tinsel and lights. Let It Go played constantly, which somehow irritated Elsa every time she heard it play through the hotel lobby. Regina did her best to avoid the excessive holiday attitudes as much as possible. Emma, Mulan and Aurora soaked it up like water on a sponge. They set out to decorate the house with LED lights and Mulan hurried to be the first to make Christmas cookies.
Regina sat at the piano, practicing an unnamed jazz piece when Mulan, Aurora and Emma came through the front door, struggling to get a large Douglas Fir tree into the living room.
"Turn it to the side," Emma said.
"What does it matter? It's round!" Mulan answered. They managed to yank the tree through and plopped it onto the carpet.
"I'll get out the vaccuum," Aurora announced. Mulan ran into the garage to find the tree stand.
"A Christmas tree?" Regina asked, raising one eyebrow as she turned on the piano bench.
Emma brushed her hands off on her jeans, "Of course! You can't have Christmas without a real Christmas tree."
Regina rolled her eyes as she gathered up her sheet music, "Well, don't forget to water it." Just as she started to make her way up the stairs, Mulan emerged from the garage, balancing a tree stand and boxes of decorations in her arms. Emma rushed to grab some of the boxes that dwarfed the Asian woman. Somewhere, tucked up in her closet, was a small box of Regina's own Christmas decorations. She debated whether or not to take them out and contribute to the house tree, but her current state of Grinchiness took over and sent her straight to her room to bury herself in work.
As if to defy her anti-Holiday attitude, the Whos in Whoville, or rather, Regina's house mates, blasted Christmas music from the living room stereo as they set up the tree. After the length of one CD, which was N'Sync's Christmas album, curiosity got the better of her. Regina snuck out of her room and peered over the upstairs ledge to see Emma, Mulan and Aurora carefully taking ornaments out of storage boxes and placing them strategically onto the tree.
"You can't put Santa Darth Vader next to Santa Stitch. Too many Santas in one place." Mulan protested. Aurora frowned and put Darth Vader back in the box. "Can't we counter it with the Christmas pickle?"
"I didn't realize there would be specific placement," Emma commented as she hung up a candy cane.
"It's the color scheme. If you put too much of the same thing in one side, it looks unbalanced." Aurora explained. "Erica and Ariel were all about 'natural' ornaments. So generally stuff they would find in Muir Woods or by the lake. They kinda.. made ornaments. So everything looked like something from the Blair Witch Project last year."
"That sounds terrifying." Emma shuddered. "I hope you guys don't mind that I brought out my ornaments. There's a couple that my parents gave me growing up and it just doesn't feel like Christmas without them."
"Dude, that's awesome! I had to give my ornaments away to my cousins as I got older." Mulan said, scooting closer to Emma to see what she had. The blonde woman opened a small wooden box next to her and took out six ornaments wrapped in tissue paper. The first one was a swan made of blown glass. The second was a glass unicorn. One by one, she took out more delicate glass ornaments. A knight, a star, a dragon and a shooting star with a rainbow tail. Mulan ooh'd. "They're so girly and cute."
"Well, I'm not the girly princess my dad was hoping for when I was small, but it didn't stop him from going to this glass blower every year in Carmel to get another ornament. I brought my favorite ones with me. My dad gave me his favorite one that he made himself.” Emma held up a glass sheep that had still been wrapped up in the box. "Kinda wish Regina would join us. This is fun."
Mulan suppressed a giggle. “Why don’t you go get her? I bet you she’s just waiting for an invitation.”
In an attempt to save her pride, Regina scrambled back up to her room and shut the door as quietly as possible. Within moments, the sound of Emma’s footsteps, heavy as they were, ascended the stairs and stopped right outside her door. The knock was softer than the thuds her feet made. Regina stuttered, trying to sound nonchalant and succeeding in sounding hostile. “W-what?”
Emma jerked her hand back from the door, “Sorry… I didn’t want to bother you… we were just wondering if you wanted to come decorate with us.” Regina made her way across the room and yanked her door open, glaring at the blonde woman standing in front of her. She wasn’t sure why she was glaring. Emma took a step back and frowned, “Sorry, I guess I am bothering you. Um.. nevermind.”
“Emma, wait. Sorry. The holiday season makes me cranky. Too many people with horrible attitudes. I think I start to absorb some of it.” Regina admitted defeatedly.
“You can help us put up tinsel and candy canes…it might help get rid of some of that residual bad attitude.” Emma offered her hand with a smile.
Mulan, having grown quiet to hear the conversation upstairs, suddenly shouted towards the second floor, “We’d have candy canes to hang up if Emma and Aurora would stop eating them all!”
“I had three!” Emma shouted back. She turned back to Regina and rolled her eyes. “Aurora ate six of them, but Mulan won’t say how many cause she’ll just get in trouble.”
“Fine, I’ll come down. Just… wait a moment, okay?” she turned and headed towards her closet. She pulled a foldable step stool out of the corner and opened it up so she could climb up and reach for a box in on the top shelf of the closet. She pulled out a black lacquered box with a silver lock.
“What’s in there?” Emma asked.
Regina smirked. “Someone’s heart.” Emma ’s jaw dropped as she tried to fathom whether or not the other woman was teasing or being serious. “Oh, for heaven’s sake…it’s my box of ornaments from home.”
They both descended back down into the living room where Mulan was measuring out the distance between Christmas Chun-Li and Reindeer Pluto so she could hang up Aurora’s Christmas Pickle.
“Oh! The cookies should be done!” Mulan announced as she jumped to her feet and scurried into the kitchen.
Aurora looked up from the mess of lights she was trying to untangle. Regina’s box was far more interesting, so she gathered up her pile of lights and plopped onto the couch next to where Regina sat down on the floor. “Are these your ornaments from home?”
“Yes. I was going to bring them work and put them on the tree in the office, but Elsa took over the tree and it’s got blue crystals and snowflakes all over it. Mine might clash.” Regina said. She took out the ornaments, each wrapped in a piece of velvet. Although Emma’s collection had a theme, it wasn’t quite like the theme Regina had. First were several hearts. Not just cute little hearts, but every possible heart design that could be made into an ornament. Glass hearts, crystal hearts, metallic red and pink hearts, and the one that Regina declared was her favorite: a crystal human heart that looked as if it glowed.
“That’s mildly disturbing, but somehow really pretty, too.” Aurora said.
“It was a gift from my mother. My father was very insistent that my sister and I should have ornaments every year at Christmas, but my mother made sure there was a theme.” Regina took out more velvet wrapped ornaments, but this time it was several mirrors. Two were framed oval mirrors in a black frame and a silver frame. Another was a miniature handheld mirror. Lastly, she unwrapped a heart shaped mirror.
“If your theme is hearts and mirrors, what’s your sister’s?” Emma asked. “Also, had no idea you have a sister.”
“You didn’t ask.” Regina replied curtly. “Zelena’s ornaments are emeralds. Well, things that look like emeralds or gems. She was always into jewelry. But she has some mirrors, too. I don’t know why we go into the mirror theme, but when you have a lot on the tree, it’s very interesting. Especially in my parents’ house. The tree is usually in the library where there’s a chandelier and a fireplace, so the mirrors reflect all the lights.”
Mulan had reappeared with a tray of warm sugar cookie that she set down on the coffee table. “That sounds both really bougie and classy all at once.”
“Imagine how horrible it was as a child when you couldn’t play around because of all the delicate things around such a house.” Regina sighed, remembering her childhood of after school lessons and etiquette schools.
After the rest of the ornaments went up and the tree looked like a haphazard combination of four peoples’ tastes, they sat around with cups of tea and cookies. The Christmas music had been turned down and switched to ambient Christmas lounge music. Mulan bit into a cookie then grinned, “Oh my god, we should have a Secret Santa party!”
Emma swallowed the cookie in her mouth, “Oh my god, yes! Let’s do it! Who would we include?”
“Definitely Ruby and Belle,” Aurora said. “Maybe Elsa, too?”
Regina nodded, “I think she’d like that. She said her sister would be traveling with her boyfriend to see his family this year, so she’s kinda alone.”
“Killian and Graham, too.” Emma added.
“Really?” Regina scowled. A tiny flame of jealous set itself ablaze in her chest, but she held her thoughts in.
“Why not? They’re my best friends.” The blonde pouted slightly.
“That’s nine people. I think that’ll work out!” Mulan said. “I’ll set it up on Elfster.”
“What’s that?” Aurora asked.
Mulan pulled out her phone and showed them the Elfster app. “You get everyone to sign up and then you make your own wishlist of things you want. There’s a deadline to sign up and then it emails you who you got. You can look at their wishlist and get them something they want instead of having to guess.”
“Huh.. that’s actually quite brilliant.” Regina observed. “I’ll text Elsa and see if she’s interested. You just need our email addresses?”
“That’s it. I just add in your emails and it will send you the invitation to join.”
Within moments, the girls had texted their friends to announce the exchange and they set a date for a party at the house. Within one week, the names would be drawn and in two weeks time, they would meet for their first Christmas party as a group.


 

It was mid-afternoon when Emma and Ruby sat in the patrol car, watching a busy shopping area. Simultaneously, their phones chimed with the email notification sound.
“It’s either spam or we’re both popular,” Ruby laughed. She opened the email and shrugged. “Oh, it’s the Secret Santa.”
Emma groaned, “Shit.”
“What’s wrong?”
“I guess I can tell you since it’s not you. I got Regina.”
Ruby laughed, “So? Isn’t that a good thing? I thought you had a little crush on her.”
“Shh!!” Emma hissed, waving her arms frantically. “Don’t say anything. I swear, I think she actually hates me. It’s like she barely tolerates me and I don’t know what I did to her. Like oil and water.”
“Well, at least you can get something for someone you know fairly well. I got Graham.” Ruby said, rolling her eyes at her phone.
“But that’s easy. You have me as a resource. Graham likes outdoorsy things, camping gear, survival stuff… kinda… burly, manly junk.” Emma laughed.
“Great, let’s go to REI after work.” Ruby smirked. “I’d rather do this sooner than later and while I have you stuck with me.”
“Fine, but then you have to help me come up with something to get Regina.” Emma agreed.

That afternoon, when the Secret Santa names were sent out via email, there was general excitement. Mulan, having drawn Elsa's name was scrolling through websites for ideas. Elsa was one of the participants that signed up but hadn't added anything to her wish list. So, the first moment she could, she cornered Regina in the living room.
The hotelier was curled up on the couch reading a book on her iPad when Mulan plopped down on the cushion next to her with a grin.
“Hi,” she said.
Regina eyed her warily, peering over the edge of a pair of wire rimmed glasses she almost never wore. Mulan guessed that she always wore contact lenses. “Hello…” Regina answered carefully. “Can I help you?”
“Actually, yes, you can,” Mulan replied. She pulled out her phone and opened up her Elfster app. “I figure I can tell you since I didn’t draw your name, but you’re the only one who can help me.”
“Let me guess, you drew Elsa.”
“Exactly. But she hasn’t done anything to her wishlist, so I don’t know what to get her.” Mulan pouted. “Who did you get?”
“Not telling,” Regina snapped quickly. A light blush colored her face which did not go unnoticed by Mulan. “Elsa likes chocolate and crystals. No, wait… let me rephrase that. She likes good chocolate and exquisite crystals. Swarovski and Baccarat. As far as chocolate goes, Rechiuti from the Ferry Buildling, Tcho, Poco Dolce, or Jade Chocolate… wherever you can find artisan chocolates.”
Mulan made a humming noise as her thought process deducted the best possible course of action in gift shopping. “Thanks. I’ll come up with something from that. You’re not gonna tell me who you got?”
“What if I drew your name? That would defeat the purpose of this, wouldn’t it?”
Choosing to withdraw from her attempt, Mulan smirked before getting up from the couch. “Fine, you win. But if it is me, I like Adventure Time and Harry Potter.”
“Go away,” Regina growled. Mulan giggled as she walked away from Regina, waving her hand in the air as thanks.

Of course, it wasn’t long before Mulan told Aurora and Belle about how Regina reacted when asked about her Secret Santa draw. They were sharing a pot of tea in the afternoon to stave off the cold brought on by some drenching rain while they sat in the kitchen. Emma had taken off for a night out with Killian and Graham. When Regina came home from work, she headed up to her room to change and soon appeared in the kitchen in simple jeans and a long sleeve shirt.
“You’re home early,” Aurora said as Regina walked into the kitchen. “Want some tea?”
Regina shrugged, “Sure. Power went out on our block, so we closed the offices. The hotel will run, but there wasn’t much I could do from my desk at that point.”
“Must be rough. What do you do at the hotel?” Belle asked curiously. Regina sat down at the kitchen table with the others as Mulan slid a steaming cup of tea to her.
She nodded in thanks before picking up the hot cup. “I sell catering and events for the hotel. My market is social events and weddings. Elsa does tour groups and entertainment.”
Aurora grinned, “Have you done any holiday shopping yet? We were just talking about our Secret Santas. Neither of us drew each other, so we were comparing notes. I got Ruby.”
Belle’s face lit up, “Oh! I just remembered. Ruby likes wolf stuff.”
“Well, that escalated quickly.” Mulan snickered.
“What do you mean?”
“You and Ruby. Are you two exclusive now?” the young EMT with a penchant for gossip leaned forward with a grin.
Aurora’s friend blushed furiously, “Well.. um… maybe? I’m not sure. We hang out a lot. I don’t think we made anything official.”
“That’s totally dating by lesbian standards,” Aurora laughed.
Belle pouted, “But I’m not a lesbian…I just… I like Ruby, that’s all.”
Regina rolled her eyes, “Lesbian until graduation? We’ll see how long that plays out.”
“Who did you draw, Regina?” Belle asked, hoping to draw the topic away from her.
Now it was Regina’s turn to go on the defensive. “What is with you people? It’s called ‘Secret Santa’ for a reason. Meaning, it’s a secret.”
Aurora clapped her hands gleefully, “Ooh! Let me guess! Is it Killian?”
“No, I got Killian,” Belle chimed in. “Maybe it’s Graham?”
Mulan shook her head, “Doubt it.”
“Oh, oh! I got it!” Belle said excitedly. “You drew Emma!”
Regina drained her tea and stood up. Her face had turned a shade of red as she narrowed her eyes. “I’ve had enough of this. You’re the worst at keeping secrets. I’m not telling you who it is!” She stormed out of the kitchen, grumbling about a general inability to follow direction.
Aurora giggled, “It’s so fun when she gets so agitated about it.”
The date of their party was drawing closer. Ruby and Emma still hadn’t found their gifts, despite going to several different stores. One afternoon after their shift was over, they headed across the bay into San Francisco. Ruby managed to settle on a pullover hoodie from Patagonia with a layer of down for extra warmth for Graham. Emma told her about his trips to Tahoe and the backpacking excursions he liked to go on. They wandered around for half an hour before finding a grey and black pullover with a zip up collar that they both decided was a pretty good gift for Emma’s friend.
They headed to Union Square with Emma fussing the entire way about what she thought Regina might like. There were few items on her Elfster list, but the only common theme was that everything was a designer brand. Emma dragged Ruby into several stores including Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, French Connection UK, and Gucci. They hadn’t set a limit on spending for the exchange and Emma wanted to make sure she got something that Regina would really like.
“How about a purse?” Ruby offered.
Emma frowned, “I think she’s got a lot of purses. What if I pick up something she already has?”
The dark haired deputy shrugged, “I dunno. Get a gift receipt?” Her partner groaned. Ruby rolled her eyes as they exited Barney’s New York. “You’re thinking too hard about this, Em. I doubt she actually hates you and whatever you get her, I’m sure she’ll like it.”
Emma threw her hands up in the air in defeat. “It’s getting crowded. Let’s go home. I’ll do this later.”
Ruby smirked, “Fine, but you know you’re running out of time.”
“Don’t worry. I got this.”
Elsewhere in the city, Regina stared hard at her computer screen. The spreadsheet in front her her was starting to make her head hurt. Financial projects for the next year were due and she was a stickler for getting her forecasts pretty close to the nose. Elsa leaned over from behind her screen and smiled.
“You’ll burn holes into the monitor that way, Gina,” she laughed, making use of the pet name she had given her co-worker.
“Ugh, I can’t stare at this anymore. No matter what I do, I can’t wiggle these numbers anymore. This is the closest I’m going to get.”
The platinum blonde woman shook her head and opened a box of chocolates. She walked over and thrust the box in front of Regina. A look that said ‘go away’ was cast in her direction, but Elsa refused to move. “Just take one. You know I won’t leave until you do. Chocolate calms you down.”
Regina grumbled as she picked out a hazelnut truffle. “Thanks.”
Smiling, Elsa returned to her desk, popping a raspberry truffle into her mouth as she sat down. After a few moments of silence, with the exception of the clicking of their keyboards, Elsa peeked around the edge of her screen again. “So, who did you draw for the Secret Santa exchange?”
Regina could easily count the number of times she had been asked that same question on one hand. At this point, it was more than aggravating. She glared at her friend across the office, “Every single one of you is utterly hopeless! No means no! I’m not telling anyone and this whole thing is supposed to be a secret. Do any of you know what ‘secret’ even means?!”
Judging by the color of red on Regina’s face, Elsa knew when to back off. “Easy, lady. I was just asking.”
A sigh escaped Regina’s lips as she sent off her spreadsheet. “You’re not the first person who’s asked me and unlike everyone else, I plan to follow the rules of this game and keep it a secret. Are you almost done? I thought we were getting drinks at Bourbon & Branch?”
“I’m done, I’m done,” Elsa replied. “Let me just… finish this email.”
Regina groaned audibly, “Hurry up. I want to get in there before the hipsters start flooding the place.”
Elsa typed away at her keyboard furiously before hitting the send button and closing up her desk for the day. She gathered her purse and joined Regina at the door. “Ok, let’s go, antsy.”
“You’re not allowed to ask about the exchange.” Regina said pointedly.
“Fine.” Elsa replied. “Can we at least discuss what bottles of wine we’re going to have for the party?”
Regina rolled her eyes and walked ahead of Elsa in a half-hearted attempt to leave her friend behind.


 

Just days before Christmas, Regina, Emma, Mulan and Aurora were preparing the house to welcome guests. The needles that had fallen off the Christmas tree had been vacuumed. Holiday music played softly on the stereo while a imitation fire glowed in the electric fireplace. Instead of mounds of food, the girls opted for simple snacks and finger foods, mostly ad the urging of Emma who insisted they should be hanging out, rather than sitting around a table eating.
With little argument, the girls had gathered trays of finger foods and drinks. Hot wings, pizza, cookies, various hors d’oeuvres from Costco, egg rolls from Mulan’s aunt, and lamb chop medallions that Regina insisted on having to pair with her bottle of shiraz.
Everything was placed on the coffee table in the living room where they could make full use of the couch, the warm fake fire and the holiday music. Before everyone was scheduled to arrive, Regina and Aurora disappeared to their rooms to change into something that was appropriate for a gathering at home.
Mulan sat down on the couch and opened up a bottle of cider. She poured it into a red solo cup and leaned back. Jeans, a plain t-shirt and a track jacket was more than enough for the young woman. She sipped her cider and looked over at Emma, who was busy with the television. She had taken it up as her duty to find a football game to have on in the background. “So, Em…” Mulan spoke up coyly, hiding behind her cup of cider. “How are things going with you and Regina?”
Emma spun around so fast that her long blonde hair nearly whipped around her head and slapped her in the face. “Excuse me?”
Mulan shrugged, “Wow, slow down there, Linda Blair. I was just asking if you two had been fighting as much as usual. It’s been kind of quiet.”
The visible drop in Emma’s shoulders were a clear sign of her relief. “We’ve reached a… civil state, I guess. I mean, she isn’t nagging me about my stuff in the bathroom anymore… and she did get my laptop for me.”
“I ship you two so hard,” Mulan muttered.
“What?”
“Nothing.” Feigning innocence, Mulan looked up as Aurora came back into the living room in a purple sweater dress and Uggs. “That’s cute.”
“Isn’t it?” Aurora replied, twirling slightly. “Mulan, can you get me a soda?”
Mulan groaned, “Why can’t you get it yourself?”
“Because you’re my girlfriend and you’re supposed to do nice things for me.” Aurora pouted as she landed on the couch. Mulan got up and rolled her eyes, then smiled playfully.
“Only ‘cause it’s Christmas.”
“I love you!” Aurora called out after Mulan as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“Don’t you forget it!” Mulan shouted back.
Emma rolled her eyes and went back to surfing the television. Movement from the stairs caught her eye as she looked up in time to see Regina descending down in possibly the simplest outfit she had ever seen on the woman.
Skinny grey jeans and boots with a form fitting black cowl neck sweater with red accents on the shoulders and arms, mildly complimented with red lipstick and Regina’s usual black eyeliner made up her elegant apperance. Emma watched as she came down the stairs, then realized she had been staring. Without a word, Regina sat down on the armchair near where Emma was fiddling with the television.
“Hi.” Emma said weakly.
Regina raised an eyebrow, “Um… hi? Are you okay?”
The blonde nodded, “Yeah… uh… cute sweater.”
Aurora snorted, “Cute’ isn’t the word I’d use for it. It’s kinda sexy.”
“Thanks. Honestly, it was a hand-me-down from my sister. Red isn’t her color.” Regina said. She looked over the table at the various snacks and drinks they had brought out. She picked up an empty wine glass. Emma quickly picked up the bottle of shiraz and opened it for Regina, the proceeded to pour the glass for her. “Why.. thank you, Emma.”
“Sure… anytime.”
“You never really mentioned your sister before,” Aurora said. “What’s she like? Is she going to come visit sometime soon?”
Regina rolled her eyes. “Zelena is… well, we’re very different. I mean, she's a chemist. I’m a hotelier. But I always suspected her of being my mother’s favorite.”
Aurora shrugged, “I get curious about having siblings. I’m an only child. So is Mulan.”
“Trust me, sometimes they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. My sister used to pick on me when we were kids, but she does it in a way that makes it sound like she’s trying to be nice…I think she’s just upset because she was born a ginger.”
Emma snorted, “Did… did you just make a ginger joke?”
Regina sipped at her wine. “What? No. I love my sister. I just got better hair. It’s my father’s side.”
The doorbell rang and Mulan slid out of the kitchen to answer it in her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks. As if everyone timed it perfectly, Graham, Killian, Belle, Ruby and Elsa were all at the door or coming up the steps.
“Did you all come here together?” Mulan asked as she stepped out of the way.
“Well, it was more like we all kind of parked within a few minutes of each other. Though I think Ruby was following me and flashing her lights to scare me.” Killian grumbled. Ruby grinned. “Seriously, I thought I was going to get pulled over!”
“Maybe you wouldn’t have been scared if you didn’t have something to hide,” Ruby pointed out. “Been drinking already, mate?”
Graham stepped back to let Belle and Elsa in. He smirked, “He’s just a horrible driver.”
“I drive boats, not cars.” Killian argued.
Emma rolled her eyes from her seat in the living room. “You guys are like kids!”
It didn’t take long for everyone to settle into the living room. Bags of chips were opened and small paper plates were passed around for everyone to snack on. Elsa promptly poured herself a glass of wine and took up the armchair next to Regina. Ruby, Emma, Killian, Graham and Mulan argued about what channel the game was on until they figured it out and were sucked into the 2nd quarter of the football game. Belle and Aurora were busy chatting away about the organic scarf Belle was wearing and Aurora’s thoughts on vegan leather.
Around the time the chips were naught but crumbs and half of the food was gone, Mulan leaned back and drained the beer in her cup. "Ok, we're all thinking it. Present time?!"
"Finally!" Ruby sighed. "Seriously, this anticipation to know who got who is nerve-wracking!"
"So how does this work?" Belle asked as she reached behind her for the gift she had hidden beside her purse.
"One by one around the table?" Elsa offered. She refilled her wine glass then instinctively passed the bottle to Regina who refilled her own glass.
"Who goes first?" Aurora asked as she retrieved the gifts she and Mulan had bought from the closet. She plopped down beside Mulan on the couch and held the gifts in her lap.
"Oh! Here!" Pulling a 10 sided dice out of his pocket, Graham showed it to the others around him.
"Why would you have something like that?" Killian asked his friend, casting a wary glance at the dice.
Graham went slightly pale. "Um... I..."
"You got it from Endgame on Washington, didn't you? I thought I saw you there when I passed by the other day." Aurora said. "I was walking to the farmer's market and saw you at a table by the window. Right? That was you, I'm pretty sure."
Killian snorted, "You were at the game shop?"
Graham narrowed his eyebrows, "Fine. I was playing Risk: The Walking Dead Edition."
Emma smirked, "I didn't think you were the type. Are you secretly hoarding a collection of Pokemon cards, too?"
"Ha ha, laugh it up. None of you would survive in a game of Risk." Graham replied defiantly. "Anyways, does anyone have a piece of paper and a pen?"
Mulan rolled her eyes, "I bet you I'd survive in a game. That sounds like a challenge. Bring the game over next time and we'll play."
"You're on."
Regina busied herself with writing names on a piece of paper. Elsa leaned over and peered at the list. "Ohhh... I was wondering what you were doing."
"Since Graham has a ten sided dice, I'm just writing everyone's name down. Pick a number between 1 and 9."
"Seven!" Emma said excitedly.
"I was asking Elsa, but fine. We'll go around the room since you already started." Regina replied as she rolled her eyes and wrote down the number 7 next to Emma's name. One by one, they called out numbers and Regina wrote the number down on the paper. Mulan was scolded for not paying attention and asking for number 10, which Regina sharply reminded her that the instructions were to pick a number between 1 and 9. Mulan settled on 8.
The table was cleared except for the wine and beer glasses, to make room to throw the dice. The first roll turned up a 6. Aurora beamed as her number came up and she reached for the package in her lap. She handed it to Ruby excitedly. "Merry Christmas, Ruby."
"Ooh! Thanks, Aurora!" Ruby grinned and tore open at the package. Without missing a beat, Mulan scrambled from her spot on the couch and disappeared into the kitchen, then returned a moment later with a trash bag and began picking up the discarded wrapper. Ruby opened up the gift box and pulled out a pair of red, vegan leather gloves, handcrafted jewelry and a stuffed wolf toy wearing a red cloak. "Aww, it's so cute! Thanks!"
"Of course," Aurora smiled. She picked up the dice to roll for the next gift giver. A 8 landed next and Killian held up a gift bag towards Mulan.
"For me? Thanks, Killian!" Mulan said happily.
"Sure thing. Thanks for always letting us all hang out here at your place."
"Well, it's Aurora, Regina and Emma's place, too," she pointed out as she removed balled up tissue paper from the bag. After pulling out six balls of paper, she lifted the coveted gift from the bag. Mulan's eyes grew wide and she gasped so hard she nearly lost her breath completely. "OH MY GOD YOU GOT ME A FIT BIT THAT IS AMAZING AND YOU ARE TOTALLY AWESOME!!!"
Killian grinned. "Emma said you liked workout stuff, so I thought that would be cool."
"It's amazing! Thanks!"
"You're welcome." Killian picked up the dice and rolled a three. Elsa squeaked excitedly. Regina turned to her and raised an eyebrow. It wasn't even her number.
"This is a lot of fun. I've only spent holidays with my sister."
"You have a sister?" Killian asked as he put the dice to the side.
Regina narrowed her eyes at him. "Anna's engaged," she answered sharply.
"She's onto you, buddy," Emma snorted. Killian shrugged. "Whose turn is it?"
"My turn!" Ruby said excitedly as she shoved a large package towards Graham.
Graham blushed slightly, "For me?"
Ruby rolled her eyes, "Uh, yeah. It's a gift exchange, so it's not like you wouldn't get something." Graham took the package and opened it carefully. Killian frequently reached over to tear a piece of paper here and there to disrupt his friend. Graham swatted his hand occasionally. He pulled out the black and great Patagonia pullover and immediately put it on. He stood up and adjusted how it fit on him and grinned. "Thank god it fits."
"It's perfect! Thank you, Ruby. It's great for hiking."
"Emma mentioned that you liked hiking and outdoorsy stuff. Glad you like it." Ruby picked up the dice and rolled it, landing a 2. Emma's face turned red, which did not go unnoticed by her partner. "Your turn, Em?"
The blonde nodded and got up. "Hold on, I need to go get it." She scurried up the stairs to her bedroom, returning a moment later with a large bag decorated with white snowflakes on a blue backdrop. She nervously passed it to Regina and swallowed hard. "Here. Merry Christmas."
Mulan supressed a giggled and elbowed Aurora. They glanced at each other and smiled. Regina, however, lost the color in her face. She appeared flustered at first, then quickly regained her composure. "Thank you."
Watching Regina open the gift was the slowest and excruciating moments Emma had ever experienced in her life The palms of her hands immediately felt clammy and a cold sweat formed on her brow. Would Regina like the gift? Did she get the right thing? Ruby nudged Emma with the toe of her sock and made a motion for a deep breath. Emma inhaled, then exhaled slowly, trying to calm her heart that had climbed up into her throat and decided to become a drumline corps.
Although it seemed like forever to Emma, the actual moment where Regina took out the decorative tissue paper and pulled out the sleek, chocolate brown Louis Vuitton short trench coat then a small handbag and a cashmere scarf. Regina frowned slightly.
"Emma, you didn't have to do all this."
The blonde shrugged, "I didn't know what you'd like, so I figured it should at least be something that matches.”
The words on Regina's tongue suddenly disappeared into the air. "I... Um..." Emma looked up at her with a lopsided smile from her seat on the floor. Having nothing to say, Regina slid off the chair and threw her arms around Emma. "Thank you. I love it."
Mulan and Aurora made a silent cheer and gave Emma a thumbs up. Elsa was confused for no more than a brief moment, before she broke out into a smirk, then a full out grin.
They continued this dice-rolling routine as the progressed through the list of gift givers. Graham had given Belle a leather-bound collection of H.P Lovecraft novels, which she had admitted to never reading. Mulan gave Elsa a box of Recchiuti Chocolates and a Swarovski crystal snowflake to hang in her office. Although she was slightly opposed to it, Belle had given Killian a 6 month subscription to Match.com, per Emma's suggestion.
A moment came where the dice continued to roll on people who have already gone. Elsa and Regina were the last to go. Mulan calculated the probability in her head and grinned, realizing who was left.
Finally the dice settled on a 5. Elsa got up and went to the front door, where she had left a large package. She brought it over to the group and handed it to Aurora. The blonde tilted her head slightly in confusion.
"It's really big..."
Elsa nodded, “It is and I apologize for that. But I saw it at a street fair and thought it would be a perfect gift.”
Aurora pulled off the wrapping paper to find a wooden frame with six boxes and a chalkboard surrounding the frame. She turned it curiously as she peered at the back and saw the maker’s notes. “It’s a wall planter?! This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!”
“The woman I bought it from makes them from old chalkboards and pallets. You can write on the side to indicate what you’re growing in each planter. Her display version had basil, oregano, chervil, chives and sage growing in it,” Elsa explained.
“Wow, thank you! I can grow my own organic herbs! This is awesome. Thank you, Elsa.”
“Of course. Regina was the one who made the suggestion for something to grow plants in.” Elsa smiled, then turned to her friend. “It looks like everyone else has gone. It’s your turn.”
Regina’s face turned red. “What? Already?” Mulan smirked. Now she knew who Regina drew in the Secret Santa distribution. Her dark haired housemate pulled out a large box from behind the chair where she had been sitting. She passed it to Emma, but avoided eye contact. “Here, Emma… Merry Christmas.”
All the color in Emma’s face drained a second time. She didn’t even realize her hands were shaking when she took the package. The sound of the paper crinkling as she pulled apart the wrapper was muffled by some unknown blockage in her ears. What were the chances that she drew Regina’s name and Regina drew hers in a computerized randomization Secret Santa exchange. It was as if Emma were in her own personal cloud, surrounded by hazy realization that she was around her friends and she was opening a Christmas gift from her crush. It was like a teenager’s dream moment. Except she wasn’t a teenager.
The red Gucci leather motorcycle jacket slid easily out of the box. Emma admired its color and the soft leather before noticing the brand tag on the collar. She blinked a few times and turned to Regina. “This… I’ve always wanted a red leather jacket. How did you know?”
Regina shrugged, trying to play off how nervous she felt about Emma liking the gift. “I didn’t. I just saw it and it suited you.”
“But… it’s Gucci… You already helped me get my laptop. This is too much.” Emma argued.
“Ah! Ah!” Mulan squawked from her spot on the couch. “We agreed not to set a limit, so no talking about how much anyone spent. It’s the thought, not the price tag.”
“It ain’t about the cha-ching-cha-ching,” Ruby said with a grin. “Come on, Em. Put it on.”
Emma stood up and slid the jacket over her shoulders and pulled her long blonde hair out from the back. Regina blushed slightly and sipped at her wine. “Thank goodness it fits.”
Killian leaned over and whispered somewhat loudly to Graham, “How did they know each others’ sizes?”
Graham shrugged, “I think it’s a woman-y thing. It’s like.. they just know.”
Emma sat back down, quite comfy in her red jacket. “It’s great. I really like it,” she turned her head to the side and inhaled the scent of new leather.
They sat and chatted for the rest of the night, until the snacks were gone, the gift wrap and empty bottles were put away and everyone else was sober enough to go home. Killian and Graham left first. Regina offered a space in her bed for Elsa to stay, but her friend insisted on going home to share her chocolates with her sister. Belle and Ruby left after helping Aurora put things away in the kitchen.
Once the house was theirs again, the girls said their goodnights to each other and retreated to their bedrooms. Emma brought up a glass of whiskey while still wearing the red leather jacket. Aurora and Mulan curled up in their bed to fight off any of the cold that was starting to creep into the house. Meanwhile, Regina carefully hung up the coat and scarf Emma had given her, then sat on her bed for a few minutes exchanging her current Hermes purse for the new Louis Vuitton purse. She had a glass of wine with her that she sipped casually, but after a few more sips, she felt that there was something she still needed to do.
Regina changed into her pajamas and threw on her robe before quietly exiting her room with her wine glass and across the hallway. She knocked on Emma’s sliding door, hoping the young woman hadn’t fallen asleep yet. The lights were on, but she didn’t put it past Emma to fall asleep with everything still on.
The door slid open a moment later and Emma looked surprised to see Regina standing there. She blushed furiously as she was still wearing the jacket, but she had changed into her pajamas and was swirling the ice in her glass of whiskey.
“I see you like the jacket. I’m glad.” Regina held up her glass of wine. “Mind if I join you for a minute? I don’t like drinking alone and I really wanted to finish that bottle.”
“Oh… Um.. sure, I mean, yeah, you can come in,” Emma stuttered nervously. She stepped away from the entry and allowed Regina to enter the surprisingly warm space of her lofty bedroom. A cord snaked out from a side outlet to the deck outside. “I was just sitting out on the deck and finishing this drink.”
“Isn’t it cold out there?”
Emma grinned, “I’ve got a radial heater out there.” She grabbed a blanket with her free hand and tucked it under her arm, then used her foot to slide open the door to the deck. She nodded her head towards an empty lounge chair next to the heater that radiated heat that it was comfortable and imposing at the same time. A chill breeze blew some of the heat away and the chair was quite cold as Regina sat down on it. Emma put her whiskey down and shook out the blanket. She held it out to Regina with a smile. “Here. It makes things cozy out here.”
Regina took the blanket and draped it over her legs as Emma plopped down on the other chair and curled up under another blanket she had left out a moment ago. “Thank you again, for the coat and the purse and the scarf. I already changed my purse.”
A look of shock and excitement crossed Emma’s face. “I’m happy you like it. I was really worried that I’d have gotten something you already have. I mean, you’re pretty classy, so it was kinda hard finding something for you.”
Regina laughed softly, “I am quite classy. But you picked well. I really do like all of it. Besides, you’re looking pretty classy in that jacket.”
Emma wasn’t sure if that was a flirtatious line or if Regina was teasing her. Either way, she was enjoying the company. “Thanks,” she answered quietly.
“I… I don’t hate you. I just want you to know that.” The statement came out as such a quiet confession that Emma was unsure of how to respond. “I know that sometimes we get on each others’ nerves, but I think that’s to be expected of people who are living together.”
“Thanks. I thought you did, at first. But I realized after awhile that I think that’s just how we are. It kinda works for us.”
Regina laughed a little, “Yes, I suppose it does.” She finished her glass of wine and stood up. “Thank you for letting me sit out here with you and giving me one of your blankets. It’s actually really pretty out on the deck. I’m a bit jealous I didn’t take this room instead. But only a little bit jealous. You don’t have a proper closet.”
Emma stood up as well, draining her whiskey as she lifted herself from the chair. “Leave the blanket. I’ll bring it in.” She reached over and took Regina’s empty wine glass. “I’ll take care of these.”
“Thank you. Merry Christmas, Emma.”
“Merry Christmas, Regina.” The blonde smiled as Regina moved around the chair, but suddenly was caught off guard when the other woman stood in front of her and leaned in. A soft kiss was placed on her cheek before Regina stepped away and left her standing on the deck by herself. While she enjoyed spending the evening with friends and she loved the jacket, that single moment was the best thing Emma had ever received for Christmas. Her stomach suddenly felt empty and her blood ran cold with shock, before switching gears completely and turning her whole body and face red and warm. She stood there, staring at the space where Regina stood a moment ago, hoping to make this feeling last for as long as possible.
While Emma stood frozen out on the deck, Regina quickly ducked into her room and closed the door behind her. She couldn’t stop the pounding of her heart or its echo in her ears. She put her robe away and curled up under the covers of her bed, replaying the moment she kissed Emma in her head. Although it was a ‘friendly’ kiss on the cheek, she recalled every second and every detail. From the scent of Emma’s shampoo and the hint of wood and vanilla in her perfume, mixed with the fresh leather of the jacket and the remnants of whiskey, she recalled all of it to preserve in her memory and hold in her mind’s eye until she fell asleep, hoping her dreams would continue what she started.

Chapter Text

Episode 6
Visitors

Regina wasn't expecting the call she had received early one Saturday morning as she lay in bed halfway between sleep and urging herself to get up for her morning jog. It was May and while it was bright, warm and sunny during the day, it was freezing at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am when her phone went off. It was a ringtone she dreaded. Donna Murphy's matronly voice singing "Mother Knows Best" was a sign that her mother, Cora Mills had something to lecture Regina about. She only called for two things: to make Regina feel guilty for leaving New York or for lecturing her about what she was doing with her life.
She grumbled as she tapped on the screen of her phone and put it to her ear, curling up further into her blanket burrow. "Good morning, Mother."
Regina pulled the phone away from her ear as Cora's condescending tone resonated from the speaker. "Regina Mills, are you still in bed?! You are wasting your day! Why are you idling about?"
"I'm not idling, it's 5:00 in the morning here."
 "Well, it's 8:00 am here."
 "I'm well aware of that, but thank you for reminding me," Regina grumbled.
 "What did you say?"
 A cold chill passed through Regina's stomach as she realized she had sassed her mother, something that would've earned her a prompt lecture on respect and likely some sort of punishment. She hated that she still felt like her mother treated her as if she were a child at her age. "Nothing, Mother. How are you this morning?"
An aggravated sigh, which Cora made no attempt to hide, slipped through the speaker into Regina’s ear. Why the hell did she bother to call if it was just irritating her? She swore her mother did things just to piss her off or make her feel guilty for something she didn’t do. “Your sister is attending a seminar at Genetech and I decided it would be a good time to check up on you. We’re coming to California.”
Regina shot up into an upright position on her bed, throwing the blankets around her in a flurry of comforter and feathers. “You’re what?!”
“Don’t make a fuss, dear. I’m your mother and I worry about my little girl on the other side of the country.”
“I’m not a child mother. Is it just you and Zelena? What about Daddy?”
She practically heard Cora’s eyes roll around in her head. “Your father is in London for the next month on a contract. It will just be your sister and I.”
“Oh,” came the disappointed response.
Ignoring Regina’s tone, Cora continued on with her plans. “We’ll be arriving next Sunday afternoon at 2:20pm on American Airlines flight 3407. I’ve already booked rooms in San Francisco near where your sister’s conference will be. We’ll be staying at the St. Regis. Now, your sister will be quite busy and I don't expect you to take time off of work, but you should. I'm your mother after all. I'd like to see this house you're living in and if you've found a boyfriend and gotten over this...phase of yours. I have a list of things I would like to do while we're staying, so please make the necessary arrangements. Regina, are you even listening? Are you writing any of this down?"
Although she was sleepily making mental notes, Regina found no reason to write down any information for the simple reason that her mother would likely send her entire itinerary within an hour of this conversation. But she would pacify her at the very least, "Yes, of course I am, mother."
After thirty minutes of instructions, Cora curtly ended the conversation and Regina was free to take the now hot phone from her ear. She grumbled and buried herself into her blankets and closed her eyes, hoping that this conversation has been a dream and she would wake up to the smell of breakfast and Emma in her underwear in the kitchen again.
When breakfast finally carried it's enticing scent into her bedroom, Regina was already up and showered after her morning run. She wasn't able to go back to sleep. In fact, she thought about the upcoming visit for the entire duration of her jog. Firstly, she could hardly believe her mother still thought there was a chance that she'd be dating a man. She had made that quite clear in college that she was not going to fit her mother's perfect mold of a perfect daughter. Secondly, her father wouldn't be coming. If there was anyone she missed back at home, it was her dad. She hadn't seen her family since she left New York and for the most part, she was still enjoying her freedom.
Regina made her way down to the kitchen to find Mulan and Emma at the table with plates of eggs and turkey bacon.
"Morning, sunshine," Mulan said cheerfully.
 Emma tilted her head slightly, "You okay?"
 Regina paused for a second before helping herself to breakfast, "Yes, I'm fine."
 "Oh, ok. You looked a little sad for a moment." She watched as Regina fixed her coffee after putting her plate down next to Emma. Her heart raced at the idea of sitting next to her 'crush-that-she-couldn't-stand.'
After a moment of internal debate, Regina decided there was no point in keeping her mother's visit a secret from her friends. They would've found out sooner or later and her mother wanted to see the house anyways. "My mother called me at 5:00 this morning with the best wakeup call ever," she said sarcastically.
Mulan stopped mid-feed with a piece of egg on her fork, "Are you getting a new sibling?"
Regina scrunched her nose, "Oh my god, Mulan! No. She called because she's coming out to visit with my sister."
Emma grinned, "That sounds like fun. Are you close with your sister?”
Although the eggs and turkey bacon looked good, Regina found she had little appetite. But she needed to eat, so she took small bites to prevent herself from gagging. “We were, as kids. But my mother favors Zelena and spends whatever energy she has nagging me, so we grew apart. Everything Zelena did was perfect, especially now because she’s the big shot chemist and I’m just a hotelier.”
The blonde next to her frowned. Regina was always so confident, so seeing her beating up on herself like this was clearly bothering Emma as much as it bothered Regina herself. “I don’t agree with that.”
“Excuse me?”
Emma shook her head. “Look, we may bark and snap at each other, but I think you’re better than you tell yourself you are right now. I’ve never seen you like this. You’re confident, ambitious, and stubborn as an old mule. It’s what makes you so... well... attractive. Sure, you’ve got the looks, but you carry yourself with so much pride that hearing you talk about yourself so negatively is really pissing me off.”
Regina narrowed her eyes at the young deputy. “I’m in no mood to banter with you at this hour of the day, Swan.”
It was at this moment that Emma decided to put her foot down. Mulan sensed it right away and slowly sank further into her chair. Getting up would draw too much attention but she wasn’t about to interject. That could prove to be a dangerous choice.
Emma turned her attention fully to Regina. “We’re not bantering because you’re going to stop arguing with me and listen for once. You’re a strong willed woman who doesn’t let anyone or anything get in her way. I think you’re amazing the way you are, so don’t let a little visit from family get you so down. You’re better than that. If they treat you badly, just tell me. I’ve got your back. You do too, right, Mulan?”
Mulan jolted up in her seat. “Yeah, dude. I mean, of course. We’re homies. By ‘homies’ I mean my friends I have a home with. But also the people I’d throw down for, so, yeah. Homies.” She fidgeted in her seat, still surprised that Emma pulled her into the conversation. Mulan was pretty sure that these two were going to be brawling or making out in the next two minutes.
“I appreciate the sentiment, Emma. My mother and sister are just aggravating. I’m sorry if it frustrated you, but it’s frustrating me even more.”
Emma’s eyebrows knitted themselves together in confusion. “You’re... not mad that I just snapped at you?”
Regaining her confidence, Regina smirked. “No. It’s good to see you have a backbone. You’d make a terrible sheriff if you couldn’t even stand up for what you think is right.”
The blonde beamed and returned to her breakfast. Mulan sighed in relief or disappointment. She wasn’t sure which emotion was taking over at the moment.
Aurora came sleepily into the kitchen with her pink slippers dragging on the linoleum and haphazardly dressed in her pajamas and a fluffy blue house robe. She yawned as she sat down next to Mulan. “You three are awful loud. What’s gotten you worked up this morning?”
“Regina’s mom is coming to visit.” Mulan replied. She got up just as Aurora sat down to make her girlfriend a cup of tea.
Another yawn escaped Aurora’s control. “That sounds exciting. I hope she stops by to
visit.”
 Regina sighed, “Oh, she definitely will be stopping by.”
 Suddenly, Aurora snapped into alertness as all the sleep seemed to escape her body. “Wait, you mean she’s coming here? We can’t let your mother see the state of this house! Mulan! We need to clean, right now!”
Emma’s eyes followed Aurora as she scampered up from her seat and immediately began fussing over the arrangement of various items in the kitchen, as if the placement of the toaster was somehow going to affect anything. “Aurora, I think you can relax. How come you didn’t freak out like this when my parents came over?”
Aurora paused and pondered Emma’s question carefully. “Well... your personality has a lot to do with it. You’re so laid back that I didn’t really worry about your parents. Somehow, the idea of Regina’s mother coming to visit makes me think that the house needs to be absolutely spotless. When is she coming? I might want to redecorate.”
Mulan set down a cup of chamomile tea and guided her girlfriend back into her seat. “Sip your tea, honey. Calm down.”
Regina finished her breakfast and got up to make herself coffee. “My mother isn’t coming until next Sunday. We have a week...and you don’t have to redecorate. In fact, I think maybe we should hang a gigantic rainbow flag in the living room. Maybe a large print poster of two girls kissing. I don’t know,” she shrugged.
“I take it your mother didn’t take your coming out very well?” Mulan wondered.
After fixing up her coffee with a bit of sugar, Regina sat down and nursed it quietly for a minute before answering. “I wasn’t supposed to come out. How’s that for an answer?” She stopped herself, then took a deep breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. My father was the only one I could talk to openly about this. He fully supports me. I got careless in college. I was seeing this girl and a family friend saw us together and... well, the wrath I had to face when my mother confronted me about it was the prelude to one hell of a shit storm. Ever since then, she’s convinced that I’m in some sort of phase and that I’m going to stop at one point to marry some sort of rich tech guru out here in California. Otherwise, there’s no point to me being here and she thinks I should move back to New York.”
“You can’t!” Emma responded swiftly. “I mean, we like having you here...and... um... you know, Elsa would miss you...”
Mulan snorted, “Right... Elsa would miss her. You wouldn’t miss having Regina around, Em?”
 The blonde’s face turned red slightly. “I... I would, but I’m just saying...” Her response
was cut off by the ringing of her cellphone, which she thankfully answered on the other side of the kitchen. It was Ruby, calling her in early to cover a patrol route. “I gotta go, guys. There’s been a call off. Thanks for breakfast, Mulan. Regina, if there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
Before Mulan had a second to press Emma for more probing questions, the blonde ducked out of the kitchen and up the stairs to get ready for work. Shrugging, Mulan turned her attention back to Regina. “So, is there anything special you gotta do before your mom shows up?”
Regina rolled her eyes, “Build her itinerary. She’s booked her own hotel room, but she expects me to take the week off of work and take her around.”
“Anything particular in mind?” Aurora asked, calming down from her earlier episode.
“I guess I can do the touristy stuff. Alcatraz, Chinatown, Union Square, Muir Woods...” Regina answered. She really hadn’t thought about it. She hated the idea of taking time off of work, but she hated having to be her mother’s chaperone just as much. “I’ll come up with something.”
“Well, like Emma said, anything you need, just let us know.” Mulan offered.
A week flew by quickly and Regina felt she spent more time on the phone with her mother arranging her schedule than she wanted to. A few of the outings needed to include her sister, so she saved the more interesting things for after Zelena’s conference, such as the wine tour and yacht across the bay.
At promptly 2:20pm, Regina waited in front of the American Airlines arrivals curb for her mother and her sister. She had left her Tesla with Elsa for the week, since it didn’t provide a lot of space for luggage. In the meantime, she was equipped with a BMW 435i Grand Coupe rental that would allow her enough space and provided enough comfort for her mother to be satisfied with.
Cora and Zelena flew first class, of course. So they were out on the curb within 15 minutes of the plane landing. Regina straightened the hem of her skirt and her blazer as her mother and sister walked out of SFO looking like starlets in their tan trench coats, fashionable New York outfits and designer luggage.
“Regina, dear, why did you make your sister and I walk through that terminal without at least meeting us in baggage claim?” Cora asked in a menacing, yet sickeningly sweet tone.
Curbing her irritation, Regina smiled, “I can’t leave the car out here and it wouldn’t be right to make you walk to the parking lot. Not in those Jimmy Choos, mother.” She clicked the remote of the car and the trunk opened in one smooth motion.
Zelena motioned to an American Airlines baggage handler who was walking down the sidewalk. “Be a dear and load our luggage into my sister’s car, would you?” She slipped a large bill into the man’s hand and winked. Regina rolled her eyes. She knew Zelena clearly made more money than she did, but she certainly didn’t need to flash it around like it was free candy. Zelena flipped her red hair over her shoulder, then took cutesy little steps towards her sister. She threw her arms around Regina. “Gina! It’s so good to see you. You look like you’ve gained a bit of weight, darling. Is it that ‘healthy’ California cuisine? You poor thing.”
After half-heartedly returning her sister’s hug, Regina pulled away from her ginger haired sibling and opened the back door. “Actually, I’ve been working out. That’s what we do here in California. We’re all vegetarians who plant trees and do cross fit. We should hurry, I don’t want to be late for my Bikram Yoga class this evening.”
“Wait, we’re still waiting for someone.” Cora announced as the handler loaded the last piece of Gucci luggage into the trunk.
“Who?” Regina asked. Before she could even fathom who her mother brought along, a woman with curly blonde hair and bright red lipstick in a black dress came strutting out of the airport with a black alligator leather suitcase trailing behind her. Regina groaned internally.
“Regina, darling, it’s so good to see you!”
 “Maleficent... I didn’t know you were coming along.” Regina replied dryly.
 “Oh, it was a last minute thing, dear,” Zelena said as she poked her head out from the
car window. “Unfortunately Mal had to sit in economy. Flight was completely booked.” Maleficent rolled her eyes. “It was the most horrendous thing. There was a screaming
child nearby and it took all my patience to not silence it.” She rolled her suitcase next to the baggage handler and winked. “Careful with that, dear. It’s real Italian leather.”
Regina sighed as she opened the door for her mother. “Can we get going now?” “You’re awfully impatient, Regina. What’s gotten into you?” Cora asked.
“It’s nothing, Mother. I’m sure you ladies are eager to get into your hotel and I’ve got dinner plans.” As soon as she said it, Regina wished she hadn’t revealed her personal itinerary to her companions.
“Oh, where are we going?” Zelena asked.
 “We aren’t going anywhere. I need to meet with a client,” her sister lied.
 “Don’t interfere with your sister’s work, Zelena. I’m sure Regina has plenty planned for
us over the next few days,” Cora replied. She eyed Regina carefully, “Isn’t that right, dear?”
“Only the finest, Mother.” Regina answered flatly.
 Traffic into the city was bumper to bumper as usual during the 3:00pm rush hour. Thanks
to some construction on 2nd Street, Regina couldn’t even take any side roads. She was tempted on taking the Ceasar Chavez exit and making her guests ride through the Mission district, but she didn’t want to hear any comments on the various dissidents of San Francisco. She had grown to love the City by the Bay more than she had realized and actually found herself quite defensive of its idiosyncrasies.
After nearly an hour on the road and having to cut through Van Ness and the Tenderloin district, Regina pulled up in front of the St. Regis on 3rd Street. A bellman scurried out to assist with luggage as Cora, Zelena, Maleficent and Regina stepped out of the car.
“Checking in, ma’am?” the bellman asked.
“Of course, we are. Why on earth would we have shown up here with so much luggage otherwise?” Zelena snapped. The man blinked in surprise. He was used to the rudeness of travelers, but the look on his face told Regina that he was ready to call his Union Representative.
Regina had called ahead to a colleague at the St. Regis and arranged for special amenities to be sent to the rooms booked under Cora or Zelena Mills. It hadn’t even occurred to her that there were three rooms booked. But she had made sure that each room was garnished with wine from Napa, fresh fruits and an assortment of local San Francisco Bay Area treats: Tcho chocolate, fresh fortune cookies from the Fortune Cookie Factory and Cable Car passes.
While Zelena, Cora and Maleficent retreated to their rooms to freshen up and set about their first night in the city, Regina waited in the hotel bar with a glass of wine. She tapped away at the screen of her phone and held the device to her ear.
“Emma?” she asked as the other person picked up. “Yeah, I just dropped them off to the hotel. They brought an old friend along. No, not an ex. What the hell kind of question is that? Tell Mulan and Aurora that I’m not sure when I’ll be free. I might have to take them to dinner tonight. I’ll catch up with you three later. Oh, and if Elsa shows up, tell her what’s going on. I tried texting her but her phone is off. She’s supposed to be having dinner with her sister. No, I’m not trying to get out of movie night.” The sound of heels on marble alerted Regina to the arrival of her mother. “I gotta go. I’ll text you guys later.”
Emma ended the call with Regina and frowned. “I guess it’s just us for movie night, guys. Regina’s been kidnapped by her mom.”
Mulan pouted. “Weak. It’s not often that we’re all off at the same time and we can do movie night. After we got everyone together, too.”
Aurora and Elsa came out of the kitchen carrying two large bowls of popcorn, followed by Ruby and Belle who had red Solo cups and beers. “So, is she coming?” Aurora asked.
Mulan gave another pouty face. “No. She said she has to spend the evening with her mom and sister.”
“Laaaame!” Ruby whined. “It would’ve been fun with all of us here.”
Elsa sat down on the couch next to Emma. “Is it all right if I stay? I know Regina’s the one who invited me and she’s not coming...”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous, Elsa. We like having you around!” Aurora protested.
“For sure,” Emma agreed. “Besides, now that Regina’s not around, you can tell us all the stuff about her she won’t say.”
Elsa put her hands up defensively, “I can’t do that! Regina’s my friend. Besides...she’s pretty secretive with me, too.”
Ruby sighed, “How boring is that? Oh, where’s the popcorn?”
A bowl of popcorn moved through the living room until it settle in Ruby’s lap. Emma was hands deep into the cheese corn and piling into another small paper bowl on her lap. “You can at least tell us if she’s interested in anyone, Elsa.”
Elsa turned red as she helped herself to a bowl of popcorn. “I... well, Regina hasn’t said anything so I really don’t know if she’s interested in anyone,” she lied. What she didn’t realize that Emma had an uncanny skill of being able to detect when people were lying.
Instead of calling Elsa out, Emma simply nodded. “Fair enough. What are we watching anyways?”
“I wanted to put on this documentary about the abuse of women in Pakistan, but Mulan told me I couldn’t make everyone watch that.” Aurora pouted.
“So what are we watching?” Belle asked.
 “Pitch Perfect,” Mulan responded.
 “Oh my god, I know all the songs!” Elsa exclaimed excitedly.
 “Me, too!” Ruby chimed in
 Emma shoved a handful of popcorn in her mouth and quietly wished that Regina could
join them.
After waiting 15 minutes for a table at the highly popular Foreign Cinema, Zelena sighed in frustration as she sat down next to her younger sister in the waiting area. “Regina, I thought you had more pull in this city.”
“You should just be thankful the wait was only 15 minutes and not 15 days, Zelena. Do you know how hard it is to get a table at one of the top restaurants in this city without a reservation?”
Zelana rolled her eyes, “It’s not Morimoto’s.”
 “If you want that, go to Napa.” Regina snipped back.
 “Both of you, stop acting like childish hyenas. I’ll not have my daughters acting like
uncultured trollops.” Cora scolded them.
 “Regina,” Maleficent spoke up, “Do you honestly like living here? There’s... so many
homeless people.”
 “I don’t live in San Francisco, Mal. I live in Oakland, across the bay. Besides, there’s
homeless everywhere you go in any city,” Regina pointed out.
 The host called their name and escorted the ladies to a square table in the outdoor patio.
Regina was glad that this restaurant didn’t have any booths which would have forced her to sit uncomfortably close to her mother, her sister or Maleficent. Neither of which she would have enjoyed at all.
Of course, it didn’t take long before Cora embarrassed her youngest daughter. As they were seated, the host politely pulled out chairs and presented menus. Without missing a beat, Cora looked up at the young man. “I understand this is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in San Francisco?”
“Yes, ma’am. We are rated 4 stars on Yelp and are listed in the Zagat Top 100 listing of San Francisco,” the host proudly stated.
“Then a restaurant of your supposed caliber should not let a reservation wait fifteen minutes past their reservation time,” Cora pointed out. “I suggest you reconsider your operation before you go about boasting to your guests.”
Regina groaned internally. It was one thing to flaunt yourself and tell people how they were wrong in New York where it was commonplace to voice your opinions, but to do that sort of thing in San Francisco was highly inappropriate. It took her some time to adjust to the ways Californians internalize their frustrations. In the end, she learned that it avoided immediate conflict which could later be taken up with direct management via email. At least that way, no one was publicly embarrassed. Clearly none of that was going to happen with her mother in town. It was equally pointless to fight with Cora Mills about anything.


 

The musical hum of voices singing along to Pitch Perfect was not as harmonious as one would expect. While Aurora, Elsa and Belle were quite adept at carrying a tune, Ruby, Emma and Mulan struggled a bit to keep up. But at this point of the night, when the girls were at least three wine bottles into the evening, they hardly cared whether or not they sounded good.
Distracted by a buzzing in her pocket, Emma stumbled out of the sunken part of the couch where she had been sitting between Ruby and Elsa. “Hang on, you guys. I’ll be back. Got a call.” The blonde sauntered into the entryway, where she could still see the others but could take her conversation in a quieter setting. “Emma Swan, talk to me.”
The girls paused the movie and all turned to watch Emma, hoping to pick up bits and pieces of her conversation. The moment Regina’s name slipped past Emma’s lips, Elsa put on a fake-pout. “Why’s she calling Emma? I’m right here.”
Mulan snorted, “Jealous?”
 “Nope! Ok, maybe a little. Your house mate is stealing my friend.” Elsa teased.
 “I don’t think she wants Regina for the same reasons you do, Elsa.” Ruby snickered.
A ghostly white color washed over Elsa’s face, nearly matching her platinum colored hair. “Wait, what?” A cold knot of dread planted itself in her stomach, thinking that she may have let out Regina’s little secret.
Belle giggled, “Come on, it’s not like they’re good at hiding it. I mean, Emma’s horrible at hiding how she feels, but Regina’s just as bad!”
“Seriously!” Ruby whined as she tugged at Aurora’s sweater, “Why aren’t they just hooking up already?”
Aurora shrugged, “I’m about as confused as you are and we live with them!”
 “You should hear them fight!” Mulan groaned with a smile. “Totally married.”
 Emma ended her call and turned around, just in time to see all the girls simultaneously
duck away from her view. “What the hell, you guys?”
 Ruby turned slightly as Emma rejoined them. “What? We were waiting for you to un-
pause the movie.”
 “You’re all full of shit, you know that? I know you were totally listening,” the blonde
replied as she replanted herself in her seat. “If you must know, she’s dropping her mom and sister and friend off, then heading home. She should be back in time for another movie.”


 

While the girls at home were halfway through Pitch Perfect, Regina sat back down in her seat at the dinner table after her ‘bathroom break’ that she used as an excuse to call Emma.
Cora looked curiously at her youngest daughter as she sat down, “Regina.”
 “Yes, Mother?” the dark haired woman replied.
 “You’ve got some color to your cheeks. Are you feeling all right?”
 The color on Regina’s face darkened further, “I’m fine. It’s just warm in the interior of the
restaurant. Perhaps being sat out here in the patio was better than we expected.”
 Zelena rolled her eyes, “Don’t be fool, Mother. Regina’s glowing like a teenager.”
“Glowing?” Maleficent repeated. “You’re not pregnant, are you?!”
 “Regina Mills! What sort of mess have you gotten yourself into?!” Cora screeched. “I
knew letting you come out to California was a terrible idea. What will your father think?!”
Regina groaned, “Will you all calm down? I am not pregnant.”
 “Well, then if you’re not pregnant, it’s clear that you’re in love.” Zelena shrugged. “It may
be warm inside the restaurant, however it is certainly not generating enough heat to flush your cheeks so much. Therefore, a logical assumption would be that you are infatuated with someone. Pray that it isn’t a bussboy, Mother.”
Cora adopted a pained look of disappointment. “I do so hope you have better taste in men than some sort of laborer, Regina.”
“We’ve had this discussion, Mother. I am not interested in men and referring to the people working in a restaurant as laborers is awfully rude,” Regina pointed out.
“Fine, have it your way. If you insist on continuing this ridiculous charade of homosexuality, I cannot support whomever you’ve taken a fancy to.”
The sting of Cora’s words cut right to Regina’s heart as she hastily picked up her wine glass and polished off nearly the entire thing.
Maleficent smiled coyly behind her own wine glass, “Don’t worry, dear. We’ll find out who it is by the end of this trip.
“I am not interested in anyone and I would appreciate it if you stay out of my personal life, Mal.” Regina snapped back.
“Watch your tone, young lady.” Cora scolded.
Judging from how this dinner went, this was already going to be a very long week for Regina Mills.


 

Pitch Perfect had ended nearly half an hour ago and the girls were still debating on their next movie when Regina returned home.
“Oh, hey! You’re back.” Emma greeted her, attempting to act casually. Mulan cheered as Regina shut the front door.
“Sorry I’m late, everyone,” Regina apologized.
“Don’t worry about it! Family is important, especially when you live so far away from them. How was dinner?” Elsa asked as she made room for Regina on the couch. Regina helped herself to an empty wine glass and the open bottle of pinot noir on the table.
“I don’t want to talk about it. What are we watching?” she replied, dodging the question.
“That’s up for debate,” Ruby answered. “We’re somewhere between some old lesbian film that Belle dug up...”
“Go Fish’ is a pivotal artistic piece from the turn of the century that was one of the few films that really highlighted lesbians as people and not as romanticized sex objects.” Belle interrupted, defending her choice of movie.
Ruby smirked, “Of course. The other option is Into the Woods.”
 “Into the Woods,” five voices chimed in, ousting Belle’s artistic film out of the selection. “Fine,” Belle shrugged. “But you guys need to watch ‘Go Fish’ at some point.”
 Aurora refilled her wine glass. “Where did you find such an obscure movie anyways?”
“Women in Media 318. Our assignment is to research feminism in the lesbian community and have it ready to present before the end of the semester, since Pride Month is just around the corner.”
“Shh! No school talk. Movie’s starting,” Mulan hissed as she passed the bowl of popcorn to Emma. The blonde took it from her, happy to have the buttery snack in her possession.
It was after ten when the movie finished and the girls cleaned up the popcorn, wine bottles and glasses from the living room. After Belle, Ruby and Elsa had gone home, Mulan and Aurora decided to retire to their room for some quite hours of reading or web browsing.
Emma found Regina in the kitchen, crouched down in front of the wine fridge. She watched as the usually elegant woman pulled out a bottle of Cabernet Franc and snatched up her wine glass hastily. Emma leaned against the wall and held up her own empty wine glass. “Mind if I join you?”
Regina narrowed her eyes at Emma and the empty glass then sighed, “Only if we can sit on your balcony.”
“Deal.” The blonde smiled as she walked over the fridge and pulled out another bottle of wine, this time selecting a Syrah/Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. She really had no idea what she was grabbing, but she knew Regina liked red wine. At least she couldn’t mess up too badly in this instance.
With bottle and glass in one hand, Regina quickly swept past the front door and picked up her heels to throw them into her room. Once they reached the top of the stairs, she turned towards Emma who was right behind her. She leaned back slightly as Regina edged forward, causing the younger woman to grip the banister to keep even a hair’s distance between them. “I’ll meet you out there. I want to change first,” Regina announced.
“Uhh, sure... I should probably change, too.” Emma did her best to not loudly inhale the scent of Regina’s perfume that traveled into her senses. It sent her heart racing, nearly knocking
the support from her legs that kept her from falling backwards on the stairs. As soon as Regina disappeared into her bedroom, Emma rushed into her own room and changed into a pair of lounge pants and a thin pullover hoodie.
It wasn’t terribly cold outside, but it wasn’t very warm either. Emma laid blankets down on the lounge chairs and put a pillow on each to make them a little more comfortable. She dragged the small patio table between the chairs and brought the chairs closer together so they would be able to reach their wine.
While she busied herself setting up the balcony, she wondered to herself when she started drinking so much wine. She used to be the type of girl to drink beers and shots. Always with the boys, anytime they were at a bar, it was a beer and a shot. After living with Regina, Mulan and Aurora, she found herself researching wine on various websites and looking into Groupon packages for wine tasting classes. She wasn’t sure if she was doing it to fit in or if her drinking habits had changed. Emma prayed that she wouldn’t become a wine snob.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the sliding door opening and closing as Regina stepped out onto the patio. Emma looked at her house mate with confusion as she sat down on the lounge chair. She had always pictured Regina’s nightwear to be variations of lingerie, night gowns, negligees or fancy two piece pajama sets with collar necks and buttons. So seeing her crush walk out in Athleta track pants, a t-shirt fabric pullover hoodie and lightweight North Face jacket with a Ciroc Vodka logo made Emma’s jaw unhinge itself. She already thought Regina was gorgeous, but seeing her in such a casual state of dress was delightfully sexy.
“What?” Regina asked, narrowing her eyes at Emma with annoyance. She had already popped the cork on the bottle of Cabernet Franc and was pouring it into her glass as she sat down.
 “I... um... no, nothing. I just never pictured you to be a track pants and hoodie kind of girl,” Emma replied quietly as Regina courteously poured wine into her glass.
 “Did you think I wore suits to bed, too?”
 The blonde shook her head, “No. That’s ridiculous. I mean, I’ve seen you in your running gear.. but... Jesus Christ... you look good like this.”
 The honest response from Emma was so unexpected that Regina found herself blushing behind her wine glass. “Oh.. thanks.”
 They sat there on the patio, sipping their wine and not really saying much of anything. But Emma could practically hear the grinding of Regina’s teeth as the phone in her hand continued to buzz incessantly.
“You’re not going to answer it?” she asked as she picked up the wine bottle and topped off Regina’s half empty glass.
“It’s just my sister. I’ve had enough of them for today.”
“Wanna talk about it?” Emma offered. “You came home pretty irritated. I’m always here to be a sounding board if you need.” She stretched out on the lounge chair and tried to avoid staring at the woman next to her.
They sat in silence for several long, drawn out moments before Regina spoke. “My mother hates me.”
Emma raised an eyebrow curiously, then sat up to face Regina properly. “What do you mean?”
“Well, maybe that’s not quite how I should put it. My mother dislikes that I’m a lesbian. She’s always looking to match me with some Boston law student or a heir to some Hamptons family. They’re all men, first off. Secondly, they’re all unattractive men. Just people that my mother decided were wealthy or entitled enough to push our family into the upper-crust layers of New York society.” Emma watched as the wine in Regina’s glass swirled around its bowl from the idle turning of the glass. Was it a fidget? Regina didn’t seem the type to fidget, but Emma had never seen her so agitated. Well, not like this anyways.
“She tells me every chance she gets that my sexuality is a phase or some sort of rebellious form of acting out to embarrass her. It just hurts every time she says something like that... I mean, she’s my mother.” Another pause. Emma wasn’t sure if she should respond. She couldn’t tell if Regina was looking for an answer or some supportive words. In the back of her mind, Emma worried herself over what the proper response should be. But before she could decide if she should let her words fall out, Regina continued again, “My father supports me, but we don’t talk very much anymore. He just asks how I’m doing, if I’ve made friends out here in California or if I’m taking care of my car.”
Regina sighed as she emptied her glass, only to find it promptly refilled by Emma. “I know there isn’t much I can do about it, but it does help to have someone to talk to.”
Emma nodded slowly, “I get it, kinda. I mean, my parents have been pretty supportive, but there are times that I wish they weren’t quite so...into it. There’s all kinds of guides and outreach from other queer people to help you cope when the people around you don’t accept you as you are. But there isn’t a lot of help for those who have family that are too eager to be supportive.”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” Regina said with a confused look sculpting her brow.
“I came out pretty young. Unintentionally, though. Mom and I were shopping at Stanford Shopping Center and I might have been... what? Fourteen? Fifteen? Something like that. I didn’t have boyfriends. I mean, not real ones. I had a guy friend in my freshman year that I knew was gay and we pretended to date so that no one would bother us.”
Regina raised an eyebrow, "You dated a gay man?"
"Give me a break," Emma sighed, "It was for show. Anyways, my mom kept asking me what kind of person I was into. It was getting near prom season and I hadn't said anything about going. So she kept pointing people out, asking if they were my type. Tall guys, short guys, skinny guys, heavy sweaty guys.. you know, pretty much everything that walked by that didn't look married. So I was only half paying attention when she pointed to this gorgeous dark haired woman and I responded with a, 'Yeah, I'd go for that." Emma rolled her eyes. "My mother was so embarrassing, she walked over to the woman who was probably twenty something and told her that her daughter was interested in her and asked if she'd go out with me!"
A delicate snort-laugh escaped Regina, which earned her a pained look from her blonde drinking partner. "I'm sorry, I'm embarrassed for you, but that's kinda funny."
"Are you kidding?!" Emma stared at Regina, slack jawed and sinking further into embarrassment. "My mom's awful sometimes. She once brought a bi-curious TA home to try and set me up. She's way too involved."
Regina sipped her wine and smiled, "Count your blessings, Emma. At least your mother acknowledged you and who you are. My mother completely ignored it. I could never bring a girlfriend home. But my sister's had one or two awkward dinners with a boyfriend at the dinner table. Daddy didn't care for any of Zelena's boyfriends. But then, neither did Mother."
"So what does your Mom like?" the deputy tilted her head slightly, hoping she could get some idea of how she could win the favor of Regina's mother...in the future. If she ever got the courage to ask Regina out on a real date and get past the benchmarks to girlfriend role.
"Rich men with titles. Heirs to some affluent family line, that sort of thing. It's part of the reason I left New York. Everyone has a stick up their butt and it's always about who you know or where your weekend estate is."
"Why is all of that important? I mean, I'm sure that all happens put here, but no one hears about it. We tend to not care."
Regina sighed, "That's why I like it out here. I can date who I want. People don't meet me and say, 'Oh, Mr. Mills's youngest? Blah, blah, blah. My son is blah, blah, blah.' I'm tired of people trying to get me to marry their stupid idiot rich sons. No one acknowledges that I don't even like men. It feels like everything in New York was about titles and lineage.”
“Is she still planning to come visit you here at the house?”
“Oh... right, that. Yes, she is. I need to let Aurora know before she goes into a fit. I’m taking my mother and Mal to Alcatraz and down the Embarcadero tomorrow. Zelena has to be at her conference for most of the day. They have no idea how hard it was to get last minute tickets to the island. Then the following few days I’m taking them across the city and to Napa. So, I think by Thursday is when they wanted to come out here. Their flight leaves on Friday, so thankfully it’s not a full week of them hanging around here. I’ll lose my mind.”
Emma swirled her wine glass again in a weird attempt to look sophisticated, “Is there anything you need us to do? I mean, can we help in any way?”
Regina shook her head. “No, just do what you normally do. I don’t want to put up a show for my mother. This is the life I live and the life that I chose. I’ll not have her dictate what I do from across the country.”
The blonde woman grinned and tapped her glass lightly against Regina’s. “There she is, that cool, proud, woman that lives across the hall from me and yells at me for not storing forks with the handles up.”
Rolling her eyes, she returned Emma’s ‘toast’ with a smirk, “Which you haven’t done lately, thankfully.”
“I get it. What if one of us trips and hits the open dishwasher? Someone could lose an eye!”
“Actually it’s because when you take it out of the dishwasher, your hands touch the part where your hands should be touching. Not where your mouth goes.”
Emma blinked a few times as the idea light jumped to life in her head, “Oh... wow, that totally makes sense.”
“Thank you for sharing a drink out here with me, Emma. I better go to bed if I’m going to be walking around tomorrow.” Regina said as she stood up. Emma stood up as well and offered to take Regina’s wine glass.
“I’ll take them downstairs. Don’t worry about it.”
 “Thanks. Sometimes you’re actually pretty considerate.”
 The mood turned awkward suddenly as Regina didn’t quite want to move yet and Emma
was now fidgeting with the wine glasses. “I meant what I said the other day, Regina.”
“What was that?”
Biting her lower lip, Emma gave some thought to the words that wanted to tumble out of her mouth like a vocal avalanche. “I like you... I mean, I like you the way you are. Confident, strong... determined and not taking crap from anyone. It makes you... um... sorry, I don’t know what I’m saying.”
A small smile formed on Regina’s lips as she stepped closer to Emma. “Believe it or not, I think I understand what you’re saying...and thank you. For the record, I like you the way you are, too. Even if half of the things you do annoy me. I guess I just care enough to be annoyed.”
The sound of Emma’s own heartbeat was so loud in her chest that it echoed in her ears. She almost thought it was so loud that Aurora and Mulan could hear it downstairs. All she needed to do was lean in a little further. Regina was so close she could smell the mix of her perfume and her shampoo which was a cacophony of apples, vanilla, and toasted oak. If she tried to kiss her, would she get turned away?
The moment was gone as quickly as it came. Regina stepped back with a coy smile as if she were teasing Emma for taking too long. “Good night, Emma.”
“Um... yeah. Good night, Regina.” She watched as Regina walked away, finding herself alone on the balcony and wondering if she missed her opportunity.

Chapter Text

Episode 7
Table Games

The days spent with Maleficent and Cora wore Regina out completely. It wasn’t so much the nagging, that usually was the worst on the first day. But it was the constant walking, answering questions and debunking myths about California that wore her out the most. The day out in Napa was the most relaxing as the wine tastings mellowed out Mal and kept Cora interested in something other than Regina’s personal affairs. By the end of the day, Zelena would meet up with them and each night, a dinner reservation was set at some of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco. At the very least, Cora enjoyed the different varieties of cuisine and constantly commented on how there were similar restaurants in New York. Regina tried to pick the most iconic places in the city like State Bird Provisions. She even managed to call in a favor and get a reservation put in at Atelier Crenn and French Laundry.
There were a few, unexpected moments where Cora would stop being judgmental about California or Regina that she would actually appear to be enjoying herself. Browsing through the knick-knack shops in Chinatown or bartering with the Chinese jewelers for jade, it was almost as if Cora was not hating everything about the trip. Maleficent, on the other hand, took every second she could to tease Regina as if they were still children.
It was over dinner at French Laundry, when they had gotten through their fourth course in the twelve course menu that Cora brought up the subject that Regina had been dreading: visiting the house.
“Now, Regina, dear... where is it that you live?”
Regina sighed as she picked up her wine glass. “Oakland Hills. It’s a more affluent area of the city.”
Maleficent titled her head curiously, “But you say you live with three other women? Why in the world would you do that? Couldn’t you have gotten an apartment on your own?”
“Housing here is as expensive as New York City. Finding a place is hard enough, but finding an affordable one is near impossible. On average, a San Franciscan pays $3,500 for a single bedroom apartment in a decent complex. It becomes even more expensive depending on the area you choose to live in. Most people rent rooms to afford to live out here,” she explained.
Cora frowned, “Then you should come home. You can live in the Manhattan condo with your sister and come home on the weekends.”
“Thank you, Mother, but I’d like to continue staying out here. The people I live with have become very good friends. I like my job, I like the people I work with. I’m quite happy out here,” Regina answered, trying her best to remain calm and not become defensive.
Zelena smiled playfully, “Well, at the very least, we’d like to see this house youre living in and meet your friends.”
There it was. The comment that Regina was dreading. The reminder that her past wanted to connect with her present. She sipped gracefully at her wine, “Of course. I’ve already made arrangements with the girls. We’ll be having dinner at the house.”
“You mean you’ve learned some cooking skills, dear?” Zelena teased.
 “Try not to act so surprised, Zelena. I’ve always spent more time in the kitchen that you have.”
 “Baking apple turnovers and lasagna all the time does not constitute having any sort of culinary ability,” replied the red head.
 “Zelena, that’s enough,” Cora spoke up quietly. “I’m sure your sister has done well enough for herself to want to stay out here. At the very least, we know you’re not going hungry, my dear.”
“Is that a jab at my weight, Mother?” Regina said carefully, resisting the urge to narrow her eyes, lest she be caught by Cora and reprimanded.
Cora gasped dramatically, “Of course not, Regina. I’m hurt you would make such an accusation. I’ve only made the assumption that you’re not starving as you haven’t lost any weight either.”
Regina sighed. She wouldn’t win this argument, nor was she eager to try. She just needed to last through one more day...just one more night.


 

Thursday morning came in the blink of an eye. Since she offered to make dinner, Regina let her mother, Zelena and Maleficent traipse around San Francisco on their own until 5pm, when she would meet them at the Bart station and take them to the house.
Aurora was up early, frantically cleaning everything, whether it needed cleaning or not. Mulan and Emma both managed to excuse themselves for part of the day for work, although they would likely be home while Regina’s family was visiting. At 5:00am, Regina and Aurora drove to a nearby farmer’s market to pick up vegetables and then to the local Whole Foods for fish and free range chicken. Having Aurora along made sure that Regina was making environmentally safe purchases, even if she wasn’t going to eat any meat. They worked on the menu together, building an impressive lineup of vegetarian and carnivorous California contemporary dishes: Baby kale and English Pea tendril salad with Toybox Tomatoes, Dungeness Crab Cakes, Tea Smoked Duck Breast over parsnip puree and Tea Marbled Quail Eggs, and Elderflower Honey Caneles. Regina knew she’d be in the kitchen and out in the yard with the smoker all day, but at least she could try to impress her mother with her improved culinary skills.
While Aurora and Regina worked around the house, cooking and cleaning, Cora, Zelena and Maleficent spent a fair amount of time in Union Square, making sure to visit the designer stores in the area: Emporio Armani, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci. A stop to Bloomingdale’s and Barney’s didn’t hurt either. They managed to busy themselves for most of the day, and taking a quick stop to the hotel to drop off their shopping bags before venturing towards the nearest Bart station.
Zelena stood in front of a ticket kiosk and stared at the map. “All right.. Regina said to take the train to Lake Merritt.”
Cora scowled at the dirty kiosk and everything around her in the station. “This is awful, it’s as bad as the New York subway. It’s so... dirty here!”
“Mrs. Mills, don’t turn around,” Maleficent warned. “There is a man attempting to undress himself.” Cora, unable to resist the urge to ignore instruction, slyly turned her head in time to see a homeless man with a long beard and long white hair attempt to wriggle out of his pants while flailing his arms. She turned back around quickly. “Oh, dear... I warned you.”
“Don’t get sassy with me, Maleficent. Zelena, hurry and purchase the tickets. I do not want to stay here longer than necessary.”
“Calm down, Mother,” Zelena hissed, “Rushing me will not get the tickets to print any faster.” After a few moments, she procured three flimsy Bart tickets and handed one to Cora and Maleficent. “Let’s hurry down to the platform.”
The scent of track oil, people, sticky floors and urine mingled in the air as they descended to the lower level where the Bart trains ran under the city. Cora covered her face with a dark purple scarf. Luckily, the next train towards Oakland was quickly approaching. They hurried to the nearest car, although they found that they needed to move through three different cars to find seating together. Maleficent made a face at the dirty seat and gingerly sat on the edge of the cushion. Cora and Zelena took the lead from Maleficent and did the same, taking extra care to not touch anything more than necessary.
“It’s stuffy in here,” Cora grumbled.
“It’s stuffy in the subway at home, too,” Zelena pointed out. The train lurched into movement, suddenly picking up speed as it sped off towards the next station. “It’s just a few stops until we get off. Let me just text Regina and let her know we’re on our way.”

“Oh, god,” Regina mumbled as she checked her phone.
 “What is it?” Aurora asked as she set a low profile flower arrangement on the dinner table.
 “They’re on their way. I have to head over to the Bart station to pick them up.” She began pacing the kitchen, fussing over things that were previously insignificant.
 Aurora frowned as she watched Regina rearrange the placement of her wine cabinet.
“Don’t you think you should go and get changed, Regina? We’ve been cleaning all day.”
 Regina paused and looked down at her clothes, suddenly realizing she had been in yoga pants and a sport shirt all day and was covered in dust. “Oh my god, I have to shower! Christ, I look like a mess. I’ll never hear the end of it!”
Shaking her head, Aurora watched with a half smile as her friend scampered out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her room. Before long, the sound of the shower echoed down the stairs. Regina had barely closed the door enough in her rush to get freshened up.
She took the quickest shower possible and ran out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her and her hair still dripping wet. Of course, it was then that Emma Swan would come home early from work. Of course, that would be the moment that she happened to be walking by the bathroom. The intricate workings of space, time and fate had to pick that moment, when Regina was a frantic mess, and Emma was coming home, still dressed in her uniform, for both of them to nearly collide.
“Holy shit on a stick, Regina!” Emma screeched as she caught Regina by the arms as she nearly bowled the Assistant Sheriff over in the hallway.
“Jesus Christ, Emma!” Regina skidded halfway past Emma as the blonde caught her and spun her around so that they would avoid colliding. They stood there for a moment, staring at each other, with Regina’s hair dripping on her shoulders and Emma’s eyes locked on a set of brown eyes.
It was there again, that pull in the pit of her stomach. Emma knew what it was and she hated to admit it. When she first laid eyes on Regina, she had no idea what to think. She was hostile, naggy, and sometimes quite rude. But there was something irresistible, beyond the wall of sassy comments and upturned scowls. Here, in this one moment almost frozen in time, Emma wanted to admit to herself what she’d been pushing away since she first saw Regina Mills.
In the back of her mind, she could still hear her voice, echoing in the living room as she sang that sad, lonesome Sam Smith song. It was in that moment that she realized there was something more to her house mate. Something you couldn’t see right away and Emma wanted it. She wanted to see beyond that wall and find the woman within. Not only find her, but protect her. It was all of this that raced through her brain in the brief blink of an eye that she held Regina. But somehow, she resisted. She resisted leaning forward or pulling the other woman against her. Emma cursed herself... why? Why did she resist so much?
Regina’s mind was caught somewhere between reality and fantasy. She knew it, as she looked into Emma’s green eyes. She wasn’t sure what drew her away, but something in the back of her mind nagged her. “I... I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there,” she apologized, backing away from Emma.
The blonde lost herself in a fit of nervousness and reddened cheeks, “Oh, god, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching.”
“What are you doing home so early?”
 “I actually just came by to pick up something... Ruby’s waiting outside.”
 As if the realization finally sunk in, Regina turned a bright shade of red and held the towel tighter around her body. “I’m sorry, I gotta go! I can’t be out here like this!” She ducked into her room, overcome with embarrassment for having stood in the hallway in nothing but a towel.
Emma’s heart raced in her throat as she hurried to her room to pick up her jacket. The same red leather jacket that Regina had given her at Christmas. She had left it and made it a point to pick it up before the end of her shift, so that she would have something to wear on the way home.
After hearing Emma leave through the front door, Regina peeked outside of her window to see the blonde get into the patrol car with Ruby. She took a moment to allow herself to calm down. Emma Swan had ridiculous timing. She wasn’t sure if it was intuition or plain and simple dumb luck, but the blonde had always managed to be there are the right moment. Had she not been in a hurry, maybe Regina would have taken that chance. If she had time... she could have...
She shook her head and scolded herself. Not for daydreaming about Emma, but more for thinking that she could simply drop her towel and get what she really wanted. That sort of seduction trick may have worked on previous flings and girlfriends, but this time, she didn’t want to go down that path. She wanted something different. Something real.
“Aw, shit!” she hissed, realizing that she was running out of time. She hurried and dried her hair and put on a pair of fitted slacks, a satin purple blouse and her new favorite Louis Vuitton trench. She snatched up a pair of heels to match and raced downstairs while managing to put on her heels in tiny little hops. The Tesla was at Elsa’s apartment. In the meantime, the rental BMW was sitting in the driveway, waiting for her. She saw Aurora peek out through the dining room window and waved. The other woman gave her a thumbs up, then shooed her off with her hand. She was going to cut it close.
Or so she thought. Somehow, Regina got lucky with the lights and found herself waiting at the Bart station for her guests. When they came down the exit and onto the sidewalk where
Regina stood waiting amongst a line of taxis, they spared no moment of detail to regale her with their experience on Bart.
When they arrived at the house, Cora surprisingly had nothing to say. It was more than she expected. She didn’t want to admit to it, but Regina had not disappointed her as much as she let her believe.
“You say four of you live here?” Maleficent asked as they walked up the steps.
Regina nodded, “Yes. The house belongs to Mulan’s family. It’s well maintained and I’ve been tending to the garden with Mulan’s girlfriend, Aurora.” She opened the door to let her guests in. They were greeted by the scent of bergamot, which came from the tea smoked duck. “Oh, please leave your shoes here by the door.”
“Excuse me?” Zelena replied. “Whatever for?”
Regina did her best to not roll her eyes, “It’s a house rule. You don’t bring in dirt from outside into the home, so your shoes stay by the door. There’s house slippers, but no one uses
them.”
 “It’s because they have no housekeeper,” Maleficent said, as if she had just solved the
simplest question with the simplest answer.
 Aurora stepped into the entry from where she had been setting up in the kitchen.
“Actually, we like cleaning around here. It helps relax the mind and is good for your spirit.” She stepped forward and offered her hand to Cora first, “You must be Mrs. Mills, I’m Aurora.”
“Oh, it’s nice to meet you, dear,” Cora answered as her hand was taken up by Aurora’s. If there was something she had learned quickly about California, it was that the people here were much friendlier than what she was used to in New York.
Regina stepped back slightly, “Aurora, this is my sister, Zelena and an old family friend, Maleficent.”
Aurora smiled brightly as she stepped aside and gestured to the living room, “Welcome. Please, make yourselves at home.”
Like proper guests, they did as they asked. Maleficent and Zelena perched themselves on the couch, while Cora casually paced around the room, inspecting the decor around the living room. She took note of the piano and looked up at her youngest daughter. “Have you been playing the piano again, Regina?”
When she was a child, Cora insisted on her daughters taking part in every extra curricular lesson possible. While the piano was not her first choice, she did not necessarily frown on Regina’s excellence in it. Zelena, on the other hand, was adept at the violin. At one time, the Mills girls were musical prodigies in New York. But they found other interests, as children do, and although Cora pushed them towards their natural musical ability, she could not prevent them from pursuing other interests, thus eliminating her chance at having classical artists as children.
Regina shrugged, “Sometimes. It’s calming.”
“You always did have a talent for it, dear,” Cora smiled, “Perhaps you should reconsider. There is an excellent auditorium near Zelena’s campus where you could play again.”
Zelena sighed, “She’s not interested in coming home, Mother.”
“Excuse me,” Regina interrupted. “I’ll go get us some wine to start off the evening. Aurora, do you mind giving me a hand?”
“Oh, of course!” Taking a cue from Regina, Aurora followed her friend into the kitchen to be her sounding board. “Is everything all right?” she asked, once they were out of earshot.
Regina rolled her eyes, “It’s going to be like this all night. My mother makes it a point to try and convince me to come home, we bicker, they leave. I just need to get through the evening, so hopefully a bottle or two will smooth things over.”
With some assistance from Aurora, they retrieved some stemless champagne glasses that Regina had bought when she first moved in, and a bottle of Domaine Carneros Blancs de Blancs she was saving for a special occasion. Although this wasn’t quite the “special occasion” she had in mind, it would suffice.
“So, Aurora, what do you do?” Maleficent asked curiously as she sipped at her champagne.
“Well, I’m mostly a student. I’m studying global ecology. I also do volunteer work at the hospital and at a local orphanage. Sometimes I work at Whole Foods. What is it that you do?”
Maleficent tossed her hair over her shoulder, “I’m in the publications department of a fashion magazine in New York. It really is exciting work. Do Californians do anything like that?”
“There are plenty of credible publications here, Mal.” Regina answered with a slight bite to her words.
Maleficent grinned. “Oh, relax, Gigi. I’m just teasing.”
 “Don’t call me that,” Regina hissed.
 “Now, Regina, you don’t have to get upset,” Cora chimed in. “You know, it’s not like we get to spend a lot of time with you.”
 The front door opened, drawing the attention away from Regina for a moment. She sighed in relief as Mulan walked into the entryway. “I’m home!” she announced. Aurora got up and greeted her girlfriend, updating her on the situation she would be walking in to.
Mulan and Aurora returned to the living room. “Hello, I’m Mulan Fa, one of Regina’s house mates. You’ll have to excuse me and my dirty uniform. I just got off work.”
“Oh, you’re in the medical field? How impressive,” Zelena purred from behind her champagne glass.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m an EMT. If you don’t mind, I’m going to go get changed and wash up.”
Cora smiled, “Please, don’t alter your routine on our account. We’re quite interested in how Regina’s been getting on out here in California. It’s good to see her friends.”
Something didn’t feel right. Regina wasn’t sure what it was, but it was clear that Cora was being more than amicable. Generally, she couldn’t stand any of Regina’s friends back in New York. But maybe it’s because her friends were different here. Maleficent had been a childhood friend, but at one point or another, she had a group of college friends her mother did not take a liking to at all. Whatever it was, it was causing her mother to act overly nice and Regina wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that.
Desperate for a distraction, Regina decided it was time to start dinner. She stood up and excused herself to prepare the dining room, eagerly taking Aurora with her again. While they busied themselves in the kitchen, Mulan put on her best pair of jeans and casual polo shirt, then returned to the living room. It was an unspoken request, but she knew Regina would need her help in pacifying her guests.
Mulan picked up an empty champagne glass and poured herself a bit of the sparkling wine, then sat down on an empty armchair near the fireplace. "So, how are you enjoying your visit to California?"
"The subway is dirty," Maleficent whined.
"Well, of course it is. It's a subway," Mulan smirked. "It's also government funded and managed by a Union, so... you can see where the challenge is in that."
"I'm actually enjoying the weather," Zelena piped in. "People warned me that it would be excessively warm here, but it's not awful at all."
"Drive about 30 miles inland. It's like a desert out there. Also, we're in a severe drought, so it's insanely dusty and dry beyond the hills."
Cora frowned, "Isn't the state doing anything about the drought?"
Mulan shrugged, "They're trying. Los Angeles County did an interesting preservation thing with these plastic shade balls to help with the reservoirs, but up here in the North, we're struggling because we have all the farms and orchards. But we're also a largely agricultural state. If our farms can't produce and maintain, we lose a lot of our state income."
The eldest Mills woman nodded, somewhat impressed with Mulan's knowledge. "You're very smart. It's so rare to find young people these days who are well versed in their State's economy."
"Aurora and I like to maintain substantial knowledge of current events in our area." Mulan replied.
"It's a sign of intelligent people," Zelena added.
Regina stepped out of the kitchen to retrieve her guests, just as the front door swung open. Emma paused and nearly lost the composure of her jaw when she took note of Regina's outfit. The purple blouse, which was one that Emma hadn't seen before, was clearly highlighting the brown in Regina's eyes. Or perhaps Emma may have been the only one who noticed, but to her, it was as clear as day.
"Hi," she said quietly as she closed the door behind her.
 "Oh... Hello, Emma." Regina answered. "I.. I wasn't expecting you home so early."
 "I, um... Ruby and I... our patrol was cut."
 "Gigi!" Zelena called out to her sister, smirking to herself as she took note of how docile Regina had become. "Aren't you going to introduce us?"
 "Oh, right... sorry." Regina apologized. She was suddenly self-conscious about her appearance, standing next to Emma as they walked into the living room from the entry. Emma, in all her casual charm, wasn't in her uniform, but still had on a pair of jeans and her Alameda County Sheriff's Department workout shirt on. Her blonde hair was tied back and it was clear she had spent a day out in the sun. "This is Emma Swan. She’s our other house mate and lives in the other room upstairs.”
Zelena stood up to greet Emma, taking her hand and smiling coyly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Emma. I'm Zelena, Regina's older sister. This is our mother, Cora Mills and our friend, Maleficent."
Emma nervously rubbed the back of her head with her free hand as Zelena grasped her other hand with both of hers. "Hi, umm.. welcome. I hope you've enjoyed your stay so far."
Cora narrowed her eyes at Emma, "My goodness, you're certainly something, aren't you?"
 "I beg your pardon?" Emma squeaked, feeling nervous and a bit attacked.
 "Mother, please," Regina pleaded as she stepped forward. She felt it coming on, some sort of criticism or rudely inappropriate comment. It was a familiar scene, where one of Regina's friends would be harshly judged by Cora and then deemed unacceptable for her daughter to be associating with.
"Oh, Regina, you really do need to relax," Cora sighed as she stood up. "Ms. Swan, it's a pleasure to meet you. Pay no mind to my daughter. She's high strung."
Emma held back a scowl. "I don't think she is."
Cora was slightly taken aback by Emma's response, but she recovered quickly, "As I was saying, I was curious about this." She reached out and tapped the printed sheriff's star on Emma's shirt. "Are you perhaps in the civil service?"
"Oh, I'm the Assistant Deputy Sheriff at the Alameda County Sheriff's department. I'm sorry, I just got off work. I should probably change." Emma apologized.
The older woman clapped her hands together and smiled, “My, that’s quite a title there. You know, the Mills family has always had an appreciation for those in the civil service, especially being from New York. Regina’s father and I contribute to the New York Police Department and New York Fire Department relief fund. It’s been our duty as New Yorkers, ever since the attack.”
“I… thank you.” Emma responded. “Sorry, I’d like to go get changed, if you don’t mind.”
Zelena smirked as she waltzed back to one of the armchairs. “Please, don’t hesitate on our account, Ms. Swan. I trust you’ll be joining us for dinner? It seems Gigi has put out quite a bit of effort this evening.”
Emma nodded, “I’ll be down in a bit.” The young Sheriff excused herself and headed up the stairs. Her exhaustion from the day was catching up to her and she felt her feet were suddenly heavier than when she first walked into the house.
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” Regina said quietly as she hurried up the stairs after Emma. She caught the blonde as she reached the top of the stairs and grasped her hand. “Emma, wait.”
The electric sensation that ran from her hand through her arms and into her chest nearly caused Emma to shiver as Regina joined her at the top of the stairs. “What’s up?” she replied as calmly as possible.
Regina stood in front of her with her gaze focused on the ground. “I’m… I’m sorry, if my mother offended you or if my sister said anything mean. They’ve always been like this with my friends.” She held onto Emma’s hand, as if it were her lifeline to keep herself from falling down. She wasn’t sure where she would fall. Down the stairs? On to the floor? Or into the vastness of her own consciousness.
Emma smiled, “I’m not offended.” Regina looked up at Emma and felt herself get swept away in her gaze. “I get it, they’re your family. Maybe they’re not as cheerful and disturbingly meddlesome like my parents are, but I think in a way, they’re looking out for you.”
“I feel like they push their own opinions on me and look down on me when I want to live my life the way I choose,” Regina tensed. She let go of Emma’s hand and allowed her arms to drop at her sides. “I just… I don’t want you to get dragged into their drama.”
This was her chance. Her one moment. Emma decided if she didn’t take it or if she didn’t lay the groundwork for what she wanted, she would never get there with this woman. “So..? How do you want to live your life? What is it that you want?”
The bait worked. Regina reached out and grasped both of Emma’s hands and leaned forward to softly press her lips against Emma’s. That spark that they both felt when their hands touched suddenly caught fire as the younger blonde woman slipped her hands out of Regina’s grasp and wrapped around her waist.
There were passages in books that Regina had read, where love was described as an unstoppable force of emotion that flooded every part of your being without regard for what you think you want. It was indescribable and terrifying. But it was just as amazing as Regina had hoped it would be. The years she spent with other women didn’t compare to this single moment in her life. For the first time, a simple chaste kiss was more than enough to ignite feelings she didn’t even realize she had.
The moment they parted, Regina could feel her heart in her throat and her breath struggling to escape. “This… this is what I want. I don’t know why or how, but I want you.”
Emma could barely get her own words out, partially from shock and partially from the overwhelming sensation of success. “I…” Emma stammered, just to get the single syllable out. She cleared her throat, hoping it would help loosen the words that were stuck to her tongue. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
At first it was mind blowing, then it became funny. It occurred to both of them that from day one, they had been fighting off a natural urge to be drawn together. Now that it happened, Emma’s heart was bouncing all over the place that she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry or do both at the same time.
Regina stepped back and smiled. “Can we talk later?”
“You’ve got all my attention, Regina.” Emma answered with a smile. “I better go get changed and you better go get whatever it was you needed before they start wondering where we wandered off to.”
“I’ve gotten what I needed,” Regina replied coyly. “I’ll see you downstairs.” She watched Emma hurry into her room to change before she ducked into her own room and snagged a small box. She had picked up a striking pair of emerald earrings a few weeks ago and although she was loathe to give it up, they made the perfect excuse for Regina to have disappeared while her guests were downstairs. She rushed down the steps and into the dining room where Mulan and Aurora were finishing setting up the entrees and wine glasses.
“Oh, Gigi, there you are. Where did you go?” Zelena asked with a smirk.
“I remembered that I had something I wanted to give you,” Regina replied, handing the small box to her sister. “I was at Tiffany’s and came across these emerald earrings. I had planned to ship it home, but since Mother called, I figured it would be best to give it to you directly.”
Cora nodded, “It’s nice to finally see you two getting along.” She looked directly at Mulan, as if she purposely wanted Regina’s friends to be aware of what she had to say. “When these two were small, they would fight over the most trivial things. Who was going to equestrian lessons first, who would get to go upstate with their father to pick apples, all sorts of ridiculous things.”
“Mother, we’re not that awful,” Zelena pouted. She opened the box and beamed. “They’re beautiful, Gigi. Thank you.”
“Just please… stop calling me ‘Gigi.’ No one has called me that in years.”
“Gina’ does suit you much better,” Maleficent giggled.
“I prefer ‘Regina,” came the clear, nonchalant voice of Emma Swan as she joined them in the dining room. Regina turned and caught her eye, which caused her to become overly aware of the color rushing to her face.
“Why don’t we sit down to dinner?” Aurora suggested, drawing attention away from Regina who was looking rather uncomfortable.
Cora, Zelena and Maleficent sat down first with Cora at the head of the table. Zelena took the seat near her mother and Maleficent seated herself beside Zelena. As if by natural order, Regina took the other seat beside her mother. She winced to herself as she realized that this had always been their seating style, even at home. Their mother at the head of the table, Zelena to Cora’s right and Regina on her left. Their father, if ever he was home, always favored the seat next to Regina since they had a habit of sharing their plates, despite Cora constantly nagging them not to.
“Mind if I sit here?” Emma asked as she pulled back the seat next to Regina. Mulan held back and excited squeak as she sat down next to Maleficent.
“No, not at all.” Regina nodded as Emma pulled out the other seat next to her for Aurora, then sat down beside Regina. After she had settled herself in, she slyly brushed her hand against Regina’s under the table, causing the other woman to twitch slightly and jerk her hand away.
Now Emma was confused. Not more than twenty minutes ago, Regina had melted into her arms. But here, she was backing away at the slightest touch. Had she done something wrong? Or maybe she had just imagined that Regina kissed her upstairs. No, that wasn’t possible. Emma knew it happened, so why was Regina acting as if she hated her again?
Dinner was livelier than Regina had expected. Cora engaged in active conversation with Emma, completely enthralled with the young Sheriff’s position in the local law enforcement. Mulan and Zelena had somehow began a minor debate on biochemistry applications in the medical field, while Maleficent and Aurora discussed plant-based materials used in new lines of fashion.
As the food dwindled down to empty plates, Regina kept the wine glasses full from her private stock, winning some approval points from her mother for the selection. Zelena tried her best to embarrass her sister by telling stories of when they were children, but Maleficent won the ‘flashback contest’ by sharing a story of Zelena and Regina getting completely lost in the Lower East Side and were lectured by a drag queen about wandering the streets of New York. Regina’s attempts to defend herself were for naught. She almost found it comforting that her friends still smiled at her and sincerely wanted to know more. Not to further shame her, but to really understand where she came from. It was different from the types of friends she had in New York.
Maleficent waved her arms dramatically as she continued the story of the drag queen. “Oh, she was a large one. Heavy set, short grey hair, decked out in black and purple sequins. She said her stage name was ‘Ursula’ and that her inspiration was the sea witch from The Little Mermaid. Just imagine a seven and nine-year-old Regina and Zelena, just staring up at this queen who mother hen’d them back to the subway.”
“You were lectured too, Mal,” Zelena interjected. “The trains were re-routed because of construction and we got off at the wrong stop. What else are drag queens going to do with three private school girls looking lost in front of Lucky Cheng’s?”
“You three were lucky nothing horrible happened to you,” Cora scowled. She turned to Emma with a pleading look in her eyes, “This is why it is so important for officers like you to protect our children. They’re prone to getting themselves in trouble and I blame myself for that incident, for firing their chauffeur that morning.” Emma merely gave a sheepish smile in return.
Regina rolled her eyes, “Mr. Kassik hit a tree with our family Lincoln, Mother. He was elderly and had asked you to retire and you told him no.”
“Kassik had been with our family since before you were born. It would be like saying goodbye to your own uncle.” Cora pouted.
“We don’t have an uncle,” Zelena said, rolling her eyes in the same manner that Regina did.
Mulan let out a quiet whistle, “Wow, but you had a chauffer when you were growing up? The closest thing I had to a chauffeur was one of my older cousins or Aunties would come and pick my cousins and I up from school or drive us to kung fu lessons… usually in a lowered Honda Civic. Except for Cousin Liu. He drove a Del Sol.”
“I’m curious,” Maleficent said suddenly, “Are all three of you ladies single? I find it hard to believe that four women in one household could all be single. It’s like the Golden Girls but no one is old and sassy.” Clearly Maleficent had forgotten that Regina mentioned Aurora and Mulan being girlfriends. Or perhaps she understood it as ‘girls who are friends’ and not ‘intimate lovers.’
Zelena smirked, “Oh, I’m sure Gina has the sass covered.” She grinned as her younger sister purposely gave her a sideways glare and sipped at her wine.
Aurora held back her urge to announce that the whole house was gay, but Regina’s earlier fretting had been signal enough that the queer lifestyle wasn’t exactly acceptable to her family. While Aurora didn’t agree with it, she certainly didn’t want to cause trouble for her friend. “We’re… a bit more career focused,” she said carefully.
“I can respect that,” Maleficent replied as she nodded. “Zelena’s been toying with this new one and she won’t let me meet him.”
Zelena blushed slightly and folded her arms. “Robin is nothing serious. Besides, he has a son and I’m not very good with children. Gina’s always been better with the tiny humans.”
Emma smiled as she looked at Regina beside her, “I do have to agree. When my parents and brother were here, Neal really attached himself to you.” Regina just shrugged and tried to play it off like it was nothing special.
Zelena refilled her wine glass and continued her story. “When we were in high school, Gina used to babysit these twins for a neighbor and she would bring them over to the house. Mostly because we had a big library. But I had never seen such well behaved children and she was able to feed them vegetarian lunches. Their parents were importers of Japanese beef for the local restaurants.”
“Oh, the Douglass twins. I remember, they were your babysitting kids first. They insisted that Zelena had to make them kobe beef hamburgers for lunch because that was their father’s strict diet.” Regina said as she recalled her earliest job. “But wait, go back. You’re dating some guy named Robin?”
“I don’t care for him.” Cora said bluntly.
Zelena sighed, “Mother doesn’t approve of him because he has a son.”
“That’s not it at all, Zelena,” Cora sighed. “He’s one of those…social justice warriors. You met him when he protested your laboratory.”
“Things happen for a reason, Mother.” Zelena replied. She left it at that, but Regina seemed to catch a different tone than one of a girl protecting her lover. She would let it go for now, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t dig it out of her older sister via text message later.
“See, it is because of things like that that I sincerely hope you consider finding a husband soon, Regina. You have such wonderful friends here, I’m sure they could find a suitable man for you.” Cora said in her most exasperated voice. “I do worry for you, dear. I just want you to find happiness and to not grow old and be lonely.”
Aurora opened her mouth to protest, but Emma was quicker to the punch. “Mrs. Mills, I do hope you will forgive my rudeness, but Regina is her own woman. She doesn’t need to do anything she doesn’t want to. I don’t know what things are like out in New York, but here in California, people are encouraged to find their own path and live their lives the way they choose.”
A heavy silence fell into the room as Zelena, Regina and Maleficent both shrank back, prepared for the wrath of one Cora Mills. To their surprise, there was no sharp rebuttal. Maybe it was Emma’s status as a law enforcement officer, but Cora actually took a few moments to stew in a look of shock before carefully crafting her face into a wry smile. “When you walked into the door, I realized you were something different, Miss Swan. It takes a lot for most people to speak out against me as you just did, that includes my daughters. In fact, I’ve fired employees for similar transgressions. But you…It shows your strength as one who serves and protects. I hope, if anything, you can help find a match for Regina. Someone who has your spirit, preferably an officer or perhaps… the Chief of Police in one of your local areas?”
Regina wanted to shrink further into her chair and hide. First off, she had no idea what Emma was trying to do. Second, did her mother just honestly suggest that Emma match her with someone for marriage? How would she respond? Not knowing how this situation would turn out was giving Regina anxiety and clammy hands.
Emma nodded, “I’m sure there is someone in the force who could be well suited for your daughter. In fact, I’d put money on it. But only if she wants it. It’s her life, not ours. It’s not right for others to make decisions for our lives. We’re not children anymore.”
Mulan looked at Aurora from across the table with wide eyes. After the years they had spent together as a couple, they had developed a sort of telepathic communication between them. Although they didn’t actually hear each others’ voices, they certainly understood the thought process they shared. Right now, the only thing that they caught was that Cora asked for someone like Emma for Regina and Emma pretty much offered herself. Mulan made a hand motion of an ocean wave and mouthed, “This ship sails itself!”
Cora nodded, “I see. Then, Miss Swan, I implore you, as a mother. Please watch out for my daughter. Help her find a good husband, make sure she stays out of trouble and please continue to support her.”
Zelena pouted, “Why aren’t you ever that nice to my friends, Mother?”
“You don’t have a reliable friend like your sister does. If one of your friends was a member of the NYPD, then maybe I wouldn’t have to worry so much. Besides, you’re living in the Manhattan condo. I can check in on you anytime.” Cora finished her glass of wine as if signaling her final say in the conversation. Maleficent snorted slightly as she held back a laugh. Zelena shot her a look of death in return.
With the plates emptied and the wine nearly gone, Regina instructed her guests to sit in the living room and topped off their wine. Cora snatched up Emma immediately to have her share more stories about her profession. Mulan was motioned to follow along, as she qualified for a somewhat elevated status due to being an EMT. Neither Regina nor Zelena understood their mother’s fascination with those who worked in emergency services. Their father was a real estate broker for an acquisition firm. So there was definitely no connection there.
Leaving Cora and Maleficent to be entertained by Emma and Mulan, Regina and Aurora moved about the kitchen and started putting things away and prepping the dishwasher. Zelena, having found more interest in her sister, watched for a few minutes before stepping in. She tapped Aurora on the shoulder. “Sorry, dear… do you mind if I have a few moments alone with my sister? I’ll help clean.”
Aurora frowned, “But, you’re a guest… I…I’m sorry, of course. I’ll just be in the other room if you need any help.” Relinquishing her role as Regina’s kitchen assistant, Aurora’s shoulders visibly drooped as if taking away her temporary identity was damaging. But it wouldn’t be right for her to get in the way of her friend’s family.
Regina rolled her eyes as she scrubbed a baking pan free of food particles before putting it into the dishwasher. “What are you up to now, Lena?”
Zelena tossed her red hair and picked up plates and utensils from the dining table, carrying them over the sink where Regina continued to scrub and load. “Oh, are we using our childhood names now? All right then. I just wanted to spend a little alone time with you, Gigi.”
“You never want to spend alone time with me. Either you have something to argue or something to say. So spit it out.”
It was hard to hold back her amusement. Zelena was almost giddy with the words that were dancing on the edge of her tongue. “Fine. Did you honestly think you could hide that look on your face all evening? It’s so fun to watch you try and pretend you’re not happy.”
“What are you talking about?” Regina sighed as she put away more plates. She finished loading up the dishwasher and closed the door.
Zelena placed her hand on the counter and leaned forward towards her sister until she was right beside her and speaking softly in her ear. “I saw you at the top of the stairs earlier. You know, when you were talking to Emma. From that chair I was in, you can see everything.”
The color in Regina’s face drained until she was ghostly white. Zelena was the last person she wanted knowing about her and Emma. She looked at her sister defiantly, “Checkmate, Zelena… so what is it that you want?”
“Want?” replied the red head, feigning a look of disbelief. “Why, Gigi, what sort of person do you think I am, trying to exploit the fact that my little sister is in love?”
“I’m not ‘in love.” Regina argued.
“Don’t try to fool me, dear. I may work for a makeup company, but I am still a biochemist. It’s fascinating to watch you as this is all happening. It’s not every day you get to see a person actually falling in love. Mother may not see it, but I can. Your pupils dilate specifically when you look at her. Your hands are clammy, which you seem to think that rubbing them together and placing them on your lap will help alleviate that. It didn’t, all evening. You were almost literally hanging on every word she said. The color of your face when she spoke out against mother. Even right now, you’re lightheaded and you feel like you’re drunk but you’ve only had two drinks. Which is quite low for you.” Zelena’s barrage of small truths caught Regina off guard, something she hated feeling.
Defeated, she looked away from Zelena, “So, what now? Are you going to run off and tell Mother so she can lecture me again and make me feel awful for it?”
Zelena stepped back and folded her arms, “No… I’ll keep this between us. A secret between sisters.”
Responding to the most unusual thing she had ever heard, one of Regina’s eyebrows crept slowly upward. “Are you even serious right now?”
Now it was Zelena’s turn to blush. “Look, don’t… don’t think about it too much. You’re my little sister and I actually want you to be happy. If Emma Swan makes you feel that, I’m not going to try and sabotage it. I like teasing you because it’s fun. But I don’t want you getting hurt. If she breaks your heart, I will end her.”
Neither woman knew how to respond. For the first time since they were children, Regina actually felt like they were family. Like they were truly sisters who had once relied on each other. Zelena made a point to never show her softer side, especially to Regina.
“I… I honestly don’t know what to say, Zelena.”
“I love you, Regina. You’re my little sister. Sometimes, when our father wasn’t around because he was off on another trip, I felt like it’s been you and me against Mother’s strict rules. To be completely honest, I was happy when you moved out. Not because I wanted you gone, but because I felt like you were finally going out to live your life the way you want. I’m glad to see that you are.”
A heavy silence fell between them, like years of being superficial and resentful of each other were all washed away and replaced with a thick cloud of unspoken love between siblings. Regina moved faster than Zelena had ever seen. She had her arms around her sister’s waist and her face buried in her shoulder. Zelena couldn’t remember the last time they really hugged each other like this. She tossed the dishtowel in her hand onto the counter and wrapped her arms around Regina’s shoulders.
“I love you too, you red headed monster,” Regina muttered.
“Let’s finish up before Mother starts calling for us,” Zelena replied as she let go of Regina and picked up the dish towel again. “For the record, I think that willful woman might be the only one suited for you, Princess.”
“Thanks, I think.” Regina smiled as she finished washing the rest of the dishes. After they loaded up the machine and turned on the wash cycle, they refilled their wine glasses and returned to the living room where Emma was telling everyone about a car chase she had been involved in.
For the first time in the entire trip, Regina felt relaxed and actually happy to share this moment with her mother and sister. Even Maleficent was welcome company. Her past and her present…and perhaps even her future, all gathered together in this one house where they laughed together, shared dinner and wine, and built even the tiniest semblance of an amicable relationship.


When the wine faded from their senses and the alcohol lost its battle against dinner, Cora announced that it was time to go. Their flight the next day was not until early afternoon, but heavens forbid Cora skip out on a few hours of beauty sleep.
Regina gathered the keys to the rental as Cora, Zelena and Maleficent said their goodbyes and made sure to thank Mulan and Aurora for hosting the evening. Exchanges were polite enough, but there was an underlying respect and perhaps a mutual understanding that while Regina had a home in New York, these woman made her home in California.
Emma stretched and joined Regina at the door. “I’ll go with you.”
Regina narrowed her eyes, “Why? I’ll be fine. I can drive down to the Bart station.”
The blonde shrugged. “How about it’s because I want to? Also, technically you shouldn’t be driving. You’ve had a bit to drink and I don’t want you getting a DUI.”
Finding no room to argue with a cop, Regina handed the keys to Emma. “Fine, you drive, then.” She slipped the keys into Emma’s hands to deliberately brush her fingertips across her palm. The sensation caused the smallest ripple of a shiver to course upwards on Emma’s arm and making the hairs on her skin prickle. She was confused again. First they kissed, then Regina avoided her slight touches at dinner and now it was like she was flirting again. She wasn’t sure what to think, but she was grateful for the brief connection she had with Regina.
Fatigue had caught up with Maleficent and Cora as they immediately drifted to sleep in the back of the car. Regina sat in the passenger’s seat with Emma behind the wheel while Zelena chatted their ear off.
Emma had barely any alcohol a dinner, which was why she drove past the Bart station and continued towards Highway 80 to San Francisco. Zelena frowned, “I thought we were going to the station.”
“It’s pretty late and I think we’d feel better if we just drove you to the hotel. It’s not that far away,” Emma said as her eyes watched the road in front of her.
“Thank you, Ms. Swan, you’re awfully considerate.” Zelena answered.
“I’m a cop. It’s kinda my job to make sure you get to where you need to be safely.”
Regina sat quietly in the passenger’s seat, smiling to herself. Before, where she had seen Emma as childish and irresponsible, she saw a woman who was strong, independent and mature. She wanted to reach out and touch her, even just on the arm, to reestablish the connection she had shared earlier that day. But she would have to wait.
The drive over the Bay Bridge was brightly lit and Zelena enjoyed seeing the city lights over the water. She chatted with Regina a bit, sharing her experience from the past few days and laughing when Regina complained about taking their mother around without her. Emma simply listened quietly and was quite pleased that she had the opportunity to hear Regina speak so freely. Usually, when they did have a conversation, Regina was withdrawn and perhaps shared only as little as possible to keep away anyone who would inquire too much. But Emma wanted a part of that. She wanted to see beyond Regina’s walls and really allow herself to love the woman beside her.
They arrived at the St. Regis with no incident and little traffic. Emma offered to wait while Regina escorted her mother, sister and Maleficent to the lobby.
Zelena slipped out of the car on the driver’s side and passed by Emma’s window. The blonde rolled the glass down and smiled. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Zelena.”
“You as well. I see you’ve made quite the impression on my mother.”
Emma chuckled, “I think she just likes cops in general.”
Zelena folded her arms on the edge of the window and smirked, “Just between you and me, I want you to take good care of my sister… and for the record, if you hurt her, in any way, I will end you. If you break her heart, you’ll pay ever so dearly for it.” The color drained from Emma’s face as Zelena smiled brightly and stepped away. “Goodnight, Emma Swan.”
Leaving Emma alone in the car, Regina walked her family into the lobby of the hotel. Cora stopped and grasped Regina’s hand once they were inside. She turned to her daughter and reached over to brush a bit of hair out of her face. “What’s wrong, Mother?”
Cora shook her head and smiled, “I want to keep telling you to come home. Your father and I miss you. But I won’t push you anymore. You’ve found good people to be with and you seem to be happy here. Now, I know you have to work tomorrow, so we’ll just say goodbye tonight.”
Regina bit her lower lip, suddenly aware of how much she missed her family. They fought frequently and Cora was always strict. Nevertheless, they were her family and although she often forgot, there were many happy times in her memories. There was a comfort in her mother’s nagging, her sister’s teasing and even Maleficent’s presence. It was the bit of home that she couldn’t take with her to California. “I promise, I’ll come home to visit.”
“Well, I hope next time you do come home, you’ll be bringing a nice boyfriend along with you.” Cora nodded.
“Mother…” Regina’s voice trailed off as Zelena approached and placed her hand on Cora’s shoulder. “Have a safe trip home. Please tell Daddy I miss him.”
“You should call home more often,” Zelena pointed out. “Father’s always wondering what you’re up to these days. Call him once in awhile.”
Regina nodded, “I will. Go get some rest. Make sure you text me once you land back at home.”
Cora laughed, “You’re taking away my role of being a parent. Ladies, let’s head upstairs. I need to make sure we’re packed and I’d rather not sleep in too long.”
“Of course, Mother.” Zelena replied, rolling her eyes. Maleficent nodded as she tried to block a yawn. She was clearly done with the trip and ready to go home.


After saying goodbye for another ten minutes, Regina emerged from the hotel and climbed into the passenger seat of the BMW.
“All set?” Emma asked.
“Yeah. Let’s go home,” the older woman replied.
The drive out of the city was met with a wall of silence. Now that they were finally alone, neither woman knew what to say. Regina had asked to talk after they kissed earlier, but now it seemed as if she didn’t want to open up again. Emma nodded once to herself as her internal thought process came to the conclusion to break the tension in the air. “Do you mind if we make a stop for a moment?”
Regina shrugged, “I suppose. Is everything all right?”
Emma steered the car towards an Emeryville exit and took a side road alongside the docks overlooking the bay and the Bay Bridge. “I just wanted to talk for a bit. Just the two of us.”
“Oh.”
She wasn’t sure how to react to that response. All night, since they kissed, Emma had been confused. Regina’s behavior was hot and cold, so she was still questioning where she stood in the mix of everything. She parked the car in an empty parking spot for people visiting the dock and rolled down the windows. The night air was a welcome distraction as it blew through the car and pushed her hair away from her face.
Emma turned in her seat to face Regina, who was looking directly at her. “Um… about tonight…” she began.
Regina’s soft fingertips brushed against Emma’s cheek, effectively stopping the words that were trying to tumble out of her mouth. That familiar sensation of electricity shot through her and traveled over her shoulders, down her back, all the way to her toes. The blonde sheriff could count how many times she had felt that same reaction in her body on one hand and every single time, it had been with Regina.
“I’m sorry,” came the quiet reply. “I may have been a bit distant this evening… that’s not really fair to you.”
“It’s fine,” Emma said reassuringly. “I didn’t want to push you… I mean, we’re still figuring out what this is, right?”
Regina moved closer as she leaned over the center console. She tangled her fingers through Emma’s hair and brought her face within inches of her own before placing a kiss on her lips. The response was natural, as if they had always done this. Emma leaned in further as Regina’s fingers curled into her hair. Her lips parted slightly and Regina took the opportunity to explore the kiss further. Again, Emma responded by deepening the kiss by reaching for her partner’s free hand. Their fingers interlocked naturally and neither let go as they parted only far enough to speak.
“I think we both know what this is,” Regina whispered. “But… I know it sounds selfish, but can we keep this to ourselves for now?”
Emma was still reeling from the kiss. “That… wow… I… I don’t think I’ve ever felt so lightheaded after a kiss before.”
“There’s more where that came from. But let’s take it slow, all right? I don’t want to be part of the U-haul stereotype.”
“One step at a time.” Emma agreed. At this point, she’d have agreed to anything that Regina asked. Every part of her was intoxicating and she wanted nothing more than to continue basking in her newfound drug.
The car was back on a moment later and as soon as they were back on the freeway, their hands rejoined together. Regina was ecstatic. Her heart never beat so hard or so fast before. There was something about Emma that made her scared, nervous, happy, anxious and excited all at once.
When they finally arrived back at home, Mulan and Aurora had already gone to bed. Quietly, they went upstairs and stopped in the hallway. Regina took Emma’s hand in hers and kept her eyes focused on the floor. “Um… if you like… I wouldn’t mind if you stayed with me tonight. Just.. Just to sleep. I don't think.. I mean, I don't want to rush into things." Emma tilted her head curiously and Regina found the words she was trying to say were threatening to come out broken and jumbled up. She took a deep breath and looked up into Emma's green eyes, suddenly losing herself in that gaze.

Chapter Text

Episode 8
Taking Over Tiana's

 

There was a liberating sensation to owning your own business. Tiana was quite sure of this from the moment she opened the doors to her own cafe in Oakland, which she appropriately named Tiana’s. It wasn’t meant to be anything extravagant. She specialized in making fresh New Orleans desserts and pastries, heavy chicory spiced coffee from the South and a limited availability Cajun special every day. She didn’t need a lot of help, so Tiana kept a small staff of a handful of college students. It was something different and maybe not for everyone, but Tiana was happy with it. The cafe kept her busy while her young musician husband, Naveen, traveled and performed. When he was home, he played in the cafe, offering pop up jazz nights for whomever walked in. It had been a few months, but she was already starting to see regulars. This alone gave her the motivation to keep going and to make the best pastries and desserts in the Bay Area.


 

The bells on the front door of the cafe jingled as one of Tiana’s early customers came in. With a smile, she had a steaming cup of hot rose hip tea and a slice of her spiced pecan pie ready for her guest.
“Good morning, Aurora.” Tiana greeted her as the young woman walked in. She was dressed in running gear and her chestnut colored hair was tied back with a pink scrunchie.
“Morning, Tiana. Wow, my tea is already ready? How do you remember all this?” Aurora asked as she picked up the biodegradable paper cup and the slice of pie.
Tiana’s coffee shop was set up somewhat like a bar. There was a long counter with sleek stools and a three prong outlet and USB plug at each seat. The rest of the cafe was scattered with squishy leather couches, mismatched coffee tables and small wooden study tables for students. It was warm, cozy and even featured an electric fireplace. Aurora settled herself onto a bar seat and wrapped her hands around the paper cup. Tiana turned to a row of pour-over filters balanced on mugs and carefully measured some coffee into each one. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at Aurora, “You’re on a routine. Every Monday and Thursday morning, you’re here between 5:30 and 6:00am.”
Aurora laughed lightly and shrugged, “I didn’t even realize that I was that predictable. Monday and Thursday are when I have my running time before I head over to the farmer’s market.”
“Well, it’s always a pleasure to see you,” the young owner replied. The morning rush of commuters who stopped by the shop would soon arrive and Tiana moved around behind the coffee bar to prepare.
"What's on special today?" Aurora asked as she bit into a piece of pecan pie.
Tiana grinned as she looked over her shoulder again, “Shrimp Étoufeé with rice. I'll fix ya up with some for later.” This was more of a direct instruction than an offer.
“I’m a vegetarian, but I’ll take some to go. My girlfriend will enjoy it for lunch.” Aurora said as she finished her pie.
“Oh, that’s right. I remember meeting her when y'all had that room for rent. Naveen was so busy and off on a tour for at least a year, but our apartment lease was up. It actually worked out great this way.” Tiana disappeared into the back kitchen to box up some of the special while Aurora waited.
Aurora frowned, “Sorry about that.”
“Now, you stop that nonsense right now and don't put another drop of worry into that. It turns out, since I didn’t get the room, Naveen’s uncle had bought this place and Naveen and I were able to take the apartment upstairs,” Tiana explained from the kitchen.
As the sun was barely beginning to brighten the streets outside, the bell of the front door chimed, signaling the start of the morning rush.
“Oh, now this is a surprise.” The woman with a platinum blonde braid said cheerfully as she walked in, followed by another woman in a suit with shoulder length dark hair.
After boxing up Aurora’s order, Tiana poked her head out of the kitchen and waved. “Good morning, Elsa, Regina! I’ll be right there!” She scurried out past the coffee bar and handed Aurora the bag with two full containers, one of rice and one of shrimp etoufee. “Here you go, darlin'. I’ll just add it to next week’s order. See you Monday?”
“Oh, sure.” Aurora took the bag and smiled. She turned to Elsa and Regina and tilted her head curiously, “This is a surprise. I didn’t know you come here, Regina.”
“You three know each other?” Tiana asked as she set about making Regina’s espresso and Elsa’s iced latte.
“I’m Aurora’s roommate,” Regina said simply as she took out some money from her purse. Elsa tried to shove a few dollars into Regina’s hand, but the other woman simply took it and tossed it into the tip jar.
Tiana laughed as she covered up the drinks and handed them to the women. “So you’re the one who got the room! I applied, too. What a funny coincidence that y'all ended up visiting me here.” Regina paid for the drinks and thanked her quietly with a nod.
“But what are you doing here, Aurora? It’s very early,” Elsa commented as she sipped at her latte.
“I stop by sometimes after a morning run. Usually before I go to the farmer’s market. Are you headed off to work?”
“Yes, and we need to hurry, Elsa. The Bay Bridge is going to get backed up if we don’t get back on the road,” Regina pointed out. “Thanks for the coffee, Tiana. See you later!”
“Bye!” Tiana waved as Regina and Elsa took off. She suddenly turned to Aurora. “Headed out, too?”
The chestnut blonde nodded, “Yeah. I better get going. I don’t want to be late for setup at the market. Take care, Tiana. I’ll see you next week when I stop by.”
The door chime rang again as Aurora left, just barely missing the sudden stream of people that began coming to really start of Tiana’s day.


 

Afternoons were always a hit or miss. It could be completely dead or packed with students and startup hipsters. Today, however, was not one of those days. It was too early to close, but the emptiness of the cafe made it all too tempting. There were a few people in the cafe, tucked into corners either reading or studying. While the minimal occupancy was bad for business, even for an hour, it was still better than exam season when every table was crammed with students and the coffee line was almost non-stop.
Tiana fixed herself a cup of tea and pulled a stool up to the register where she began running her receipts for the first half of the day. At least she’d have an easier time when she closed if half of the work was done.
Of course, it was always when she started doing some productive work other than serving customers or baking that something would interrupt her. Today it was the entrance of two uniformed officers, strolling into the cafe casually. Tiana immediately stood up and moved towards the edge of the counter to walk to the other side when she realized the officers looked a bit familiar. More regulars.
“Afternoon, Sheriff Swan. I’ve got bear claws and a chocolate muffin,” Tiana said with a smile.
Emma took off her sunglasses and placed them on her head. “Hi, Tiana. Deputy Lucas is gonna buy my coffee today. Oh, and I’ll definitely take a bear claw.”
Ruby frowned, “I am?”
“Yeah. It’s a favor for bothering me all day.”
Tiana started making a latte and a double cinnamon mocha for her regular officers. “Bothering you?”
The dark haired deputy folded her arms and tilted her head, causing her long dark ponytail to swing to the side. “I was not. Emma here has a new fling and she won’t tell me about it.” They sat down at the counter just as Tiana set down the mocha and lattes in house mugs.
“I’m not seeing anyone,” Emma defended herself.
“Horse shit.” Ruby pouted. “But fine, I’ll buy your coffee this time.”
Tiana laughed as she put down a plate with a warm bear claw in front of Emma. “I’m sure he’s a great guy.”
Emma shook her head, “I’m not into guys.”
The embarrassed blush colored Tiana’s cheeks as she hid behind the serving tray in her hand. “Oh my word, I’m so sorry, Sheriff Swan. I didn’t mean to assume… I mean.. Lord, help me, I’ve been living out here in California long enough, I should know better than to make assumptions. Sometimes I just can’t kick that old South mentality.”
“It’s okay, Tiana. But for the record, I’m not looking.”
Ruby threw her hands up in the air, “See! This is why it’s all horse shit, Em. You were totally looking last week! We were just sitting in the car looking at the Her app on your phone!”
“Christ, you guys are loud. I came out here to study quietly but then you two show up and it’s like a Raiders tailgate party in here,” whined a voice from behind them.
Emma and Ruby spun around in their stools and knocked their knees into each other as they looked up to see Mulan standing behind them with her laptop in her hand and a stack of spiraled guidebooks. “Oh, hey, Mulan. I didn’t know you came over here.”
Mulan shrugged, “I wandered past one day while walking Mushu. Tiana applied for one of the rooms before you and Regina showed up. So when I saw her name on the sign, I got really excited cause she swore she makes the best jambalaya.”
“I do make the best jambalaya.” Tiana smirked. “Wait, so let me get this straight… Aurora, who I see at least twice a week, is Mulan’s girlfriend, who lives with you… and Regina? The woman who comes in with Elsa, the woman with the platinum blonde hair?”
Emma tilted her head slightly, then looked at Mulan before turning back to Tiana. “You know Regina and Elsa?”
The cafe owner nodded, “Well, sure I do! Those ladies come in here before work sometimes and get coffee for the ride over the bridge.”
“Yeah, Regina lives in the room across from Emma’s and Elsa is her co-worker. Although she’s pretty much part of the group now, too.”
“Don’t mind me, I’m just a tag along.” Ruby rolled her eyes. “Christ, it’s like you lesbians run in packs.”
“We do not run in packs, Ruby.” Mulan said as she poked her in the shoulder. “Like you have any room to talk. You’re dating Aurora’s friend Belle. Who you met at the housewarming party!”
Tiana grinned, “I think it's just right that y'all are friends and that my little place here is to your liking. Y'all are welcome here any time and I hope you enjoy hanging out here.”
“Thanks, Tiana,” Ruby smiled. The radios on Emma and Ruby’s shoulders buzzed with static voices for a moment before Ruby clicked the button to respond. “Oops, gotta go. Can we get these to go? Em, we got a 933 on Hesperian.”
Tiana quickly took their drinks and poured them into recycled paper cups, then sealed them with covers as Emma shoved the last piece of bear claw in her mouth. She took the cup and drank a little coffee, then winced as it burned her tongue. “Ow! Shit, okay. Let’s go. Later, Tiana. See you at home, Mulan!”
Mulan and Tiana waved as Ruby and Emma rushed out of the cafe.


 

Aurora and Belle walked through the courtyard of the university after sitting through a long lecture on women's history, when both of their phones began buzzing.
"Wow, that's weird that we're both getting messages at the same time." Belle commented as she pulled out her phone. She made a face. "Oh, it's a group text."
"From my girlfriend. She's supposed to be studying for an EMT exam. She must be at Tiana's." Aurora replied as she looked at her phone. The message was sent to herself, Belle, Elsa, Regina, Emma and Ruby.
Mulan: Guys, Tiana's husband is going to be back in town and she's opening the cafe for a jazz night on Friday at 7:00! It's going to be open mic. We should check it out together!
Regina: I didn't know Tiana was married. Her husband is a musician?
Aurora: Naveen is a saxophonist. But I hear he also plays the guitar, trumpet, standing bass and piano. I'm in. Who else wants to go?
Belle: I'm free. Rubes, you're going to come, too, right?
Ruby: Sure. Emma's debating still.
Mulan: Tiana says she's going to make beignets. I'm sooooooo in!
Elsa: It's open mic. Regina, maybe you should sing!
Regina: You're joking, right?
Emma: Did you say beignets?!
Emma: Oh, but I’d totally come, too. Are you gonna sing, Regina?’
Mulan: Yes! Let this be a thing!
Regina: …I suppose. I’m going to blame my mother for putting the idea in your heads that I have any musical inclination at all.
Ruby: I heard your mom said you were a musical prodigy as a kid.
Regina: Times change.
Elsa: Don’t let her fool you. We sing Wicked in the car on the way to work.
Regina: Oh my god, Elsa! Shut up.
Mulan: Great! We’re all in. I’ll tell Tiana.


 

Friday came faster than Tiana expected. She expected a small crowd for jazz night, but thanks to her regulars spreading the word about the event, the cafe was packed. Every seat was full and there were even people standing around. Tiana had called in all of her part-timers and assigned them stations to keep things moving while people ordered coffees, snacks and beignets.
A small riser was placed it the corner for Naveen to play on with a single microphone on a stand. A guitar, electric piano and saxophone sat on stands around the platform. All around the cafe, chairs, couches and tables had been moved around to make more space. A long leather couch and two mismatched armchairs sat in front of the stage for those who wanted the best view. Of course, these seats went to the earliest arrivals, so as the cafe filled up, Mulan, Aurora, Belle, Ruby, Elsa, Regina and Emma all managed to squish themselves together on the front row seats. This was mostly achieved by Belle and Aurora double seating themselves on the armchairs with Mulan and Ruby. Emma did her best to keep her hands to herself instead of reaching out for Regina’s hand as they sat next to each other. They had agreed to keep their relationship a private matter for the time being, so public flirting was out of the question. She meant to ask Regina exactly why she felt this way, why they had to hide the fact that they were seeing each other, but she figured the other woman had her reasons and she would open up in time.
Behind the counter, Tiana called out orders to her staff. Mowgli, an East Indian foreign exchange student, stood diligently in front of the fryer in the back kitchen where he manned the production of beignets. He was quite proud of his production speed as he had mentioned that making beignets was similar to panipuri, which he would help make at his uncle’s street stall. Meanwhile, Tiana’s other two employees, Kida and Merida, were assisting her in the front by making coffee drinks, plating snacks and helping keep the tables clean.
This wasn’t their first jazz night, but it was certainly one of the busiest. The dishes would pile up, but they would take turns clearing out the dish pit while Naveen performed. Tiana prayed that she had enough plates and silverware to use without having to break into the paper plate and to go box supplies.
The clock ticked closer to 7:00 as the crowd settled in for the performances. A clipboard with a pen attached was placed at the edge of the platform for people who wanted to sign up and sing. When Naveen finally emerged from Tiana’s back room office in a simple black oxford shirt tucked into grey slacks, he was surprised to see the crowd had grown since the last time he had done a jazz show. Tiana waved at him from behind the counter and he gave her a smile and a two finger salute.
Naveen set up his amps and looper pedals for a solo performance. After testing out his equipment, he picked up the guitar and began strumming a soft melody. Piece by piece, he used each instrument and the looper pedals to create different layers of bass and rhythm. He started up the music without any warning, slowly bringing the audience into a hypnotizing melodic ambiance that he created. Tiana grinned from behind the counter. She was familiar with this and she loved getting lost in this sound, especially while she was baking. It was relaxing and when Naveen played, wherever they were, it felt like home.
After a few starting songs, Naveen called up the people who had signed up to sing. A few of the names were ones he recognized from Tiana's staff's friends that came to visit the cafe option. The first singers were Megara and Esmerelda, two of Kida's friends who Naveen remembered meeting one morning as they volunteered to help with decorating the cafe for its grand opening. They sang a guitar heavy version of "No Ordinary Love" which spurred an outpouring of applause from the unusually feminist and queer crowd. Merida's classmate, Ellyonwy had signed up as well, offering up a jazzy rendition of Tegan and Sara's "Love They Say" although it was quite a bit off key and her slight accent slipped out in between phrases. But that was the raw beauty of an open mic night.
Tiana popped up behind the couch where her group of regulars had gathered. She leaned on the back near Emma and smiled, "So, Regina, I hear you've got the blessed voice of a nightingale. Are you singing for us tonight??"
Regina looked over at Tiana and shrugged, "The girls nagged me. They wouldn't stop blowing up my phone until I agreed."
Ruby laughed, "Liar. Elsa called you out and it was settled in less than ten texts."
"It's like it automatically became a thing after Emma said she'd watch," Aurora pointed out with a smirk.
Emma put her hands up defensively, "Hey, no fair. All I did was offer support."
"Christ, you guys, I'm singing. Not donating a kidney," Regina interrupted their bicker as she rolled her eyes.
"You girls... Bless your hearts. I can't wait to hear you sing, Regina," Tiana said as she stood up. "I'm really glad you ladies could come tonight. I see all of you separately, it was surprising to know that y'all are friends."
Mulan half-snorted her suppressed laughter, "Lesbians run in tight circles."
After another instrumental piece, Naveen called Regina up to the stage. As he took up the guitar, Regina moved the microphone to the keyboard where she placed her fingers on the keys. Naveen nodded to her and she started the first few notes to Colbie Calliat's "Realize." Emma expected something deep and soulful, like that first Sam Smith song she had heard Regina sing. The slightly more upbeat song wasn't heavy with longing, not at all like that time she had secretly heard Regina sing. She hardly realized that she was completely focused on Regina, watching her fingers move across the keyboard and the slight glisten of tiny beads of sweat forming on her brow. Emma definitely didn't notice that Mulan and Aurora were watching her become completely entranced in Regina's performance, although they certainly couldn't deny that their roommate was good. But watching Emma's reaction was a thousand times more amusing.
Elsa, having heard Regina sing dozens of times in the car, excused herself and approached the counter where Tiana had returned to manning her station. Another woman stood in line in front of her as she waited to order some hot tea for herself. She overheard the conversation the woman was having with Tiana as she dug through her wallet.
"It's so nice of you and your husband to bring these jazz evenings to the neighborhood, Tiana. It's a welcome addition to the area," the woman said as she took out money and showered Tiana with compliments. "Does your shop normally cater to the queer community? It seems like there's a lot of lesbians who come here."
Tiana shrugged, "It doesn't matter to me either way if my clientele is gay, straight or even if they're frogs. This is a safe place and everyone is welcome. If that's what makes my guests happy, it's all I need."
Elsa smiled as she listened in on the conversation. Not necessarily to eavesdrop, but it was surprisingly easy to ear despite Regina and Naveen playing on stage and singing together. But hearing Tiana's response warmed her heart. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cellphone and sent one message to the group text.
Elsa: Just overheard a conversation with Tiana and the woman in front of me. I'm at the counter. Tiana's proud to have an LGBT safe place. Might have to make this the new hangout, ladies.
After she put her phone away and stepped up to the counter, she realized that Tiana had stepped out and she was replaced by Kida. Elsa seemed to catch a lump in her throat and barely managed to squeak out her order for tea. Kida turned and looked over her shoulder to see Tiana and Merida peeking out from the kitchen and waving her on.
She wondered if Elsa ever noticed her. Whenever Kida worked and Elsa had come into the shop, she was always with Regina and they were always in some sort of hurry. But Elsa had noticed, at least once or twice. It was a bit hard not to notice Kida. In fact, while most people found it hard to not comment on Kida's unusually white hair or dark skin or blue tattoos, Elsa, unexpectedly found herself noticing other things. Was it her blue eyes or maybe it was the defined cut of muscle on her arm that sparked just a hint of envy. Or... Elsa shook her head. She had no idea what was going on in her brain. She looked up to find Kida tilting her head curiously as her eyebrows crept upwards. "Are you okay?"
Elsa cleared her throat. "Ah... Um, yeah. I-I'm good."
Kida smiled, "No iced latte today?" Elsa shook her head, wondering why she was having a hard time speaking. Perhaps she had something caught in her throat. "Tell you what. The tea is on me. Don't worry, Tiana won't mind."
Reaching over to accept the tea from Kida proved to be a difficult task. Elsa's sleeve caught the curled wire edge of a display rack of madelines. In a quick reactionary movement, Kida caught the display while Elsa managed to stop a few madelines from falling. She reached down to pick up a runaway cookie and placed it on the counter. “Sorry,” Elsa apologized sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about it. The damn thing is in the way most of the time anyways,” Kida replied as she offered Elsa her tea again. “Enjoy the show.”
Elsa reached out for the tea and felt the slight brush of fingertips on hers, just for a brief moment. She tried to stuttered out a thank you, but retreated back into a level of shyness she hadn’t experienced since she was a teenager.
With a slight blush, Elsa mouthed a thank you and returned to her seat just as Regina was finishing her song. Emma tapped Elsa on the shoulder and pointed to the cup. Written in bold, black sharpie was a ten digit phone number. She looked over her shoulder at the counter, but Kida was gone and Tiana had taken her place again.


The jazz night was a success. The girls told their friends and colleagues outside of their circle and the buzz continued to grow. Before long, thanks to Tiana’s conviction of creating a safe space for anyone, her business grew exponentially and kept her quite busy. Tiana was grateful for the activity and even if Naveen would be taking off for another short gig, she knew he'd be back again for another fun jazz night. As Elsa suggested, the girls decided that this would be the new hangout and now made it a routine to stop by as a group, once a week to sit, talk and drink coffee.
Tiana's started out as a little Creole cafe near Lake Meritt on the edge of the park area. Now, as she hung a crisp, brightly colored rainbow flag outside from the awning with Mowgli's help, she felt a new sense of pride. Tiana's now had an identity and Tiana herself was more than happy to display her support and dedication to her safe place promise.
She stood outside of the cafe with her hands on her hips as she looked up at the new flag. Just beyond the door, Merida was carefully applying a printed decal on the window corner that read "This establishment is a Safe Space. When you feel like you don't belong, you belong here. #LoveIsLove.”
Emma, Ruby, Elsa, Regina, Aurora, Mulan and Belle approached the cafe and stood by Tiana as they looked up at the new sign and flag.
Tiana turned around and smiled at the girls, "Afternoon, ya'll. I've got bear claws, beignets and chicory coffee ready for you."
"Nice flag," Mulan said.
"Even better sign," Aurora pointed out.
The young cafe owner held the door open as her regular group of ladies walked in, "Welcome back. My little home is your little Southern home."

Chapter Text

"I'm telling you, they're totally hooking up!" Mulan protested as she tried to convince Ruby and Belle to believe her theory about Emma and Regina.

"No way," Ruby said as she shook her head. "Emma would've told me. I mean, come on... We're partners!"

It was a warm afternoon in the early fall, because the heat in the Bay Area could never be consistent with what the rest of the country knew about seasons. In the peak of summer, it would still be a bit chilly. But in the midst of fall, the Indian Summer heat would kick in and make every Bay Area resident suffer in three digit temperatures. Which was a wonder why the girls, this afternoon consisting of Aurora, Mulan, Belle and Ruby, sat around at Tiana's drinking coffee.

The door of the coffee shop opened and a familiar platinum blonde walked in. She made a beeline for the squishy couches and armchairs that the girls occupied. She put her purse down and sank into the couch next to Aurora.

"Long day, Elsa?" Belle asked softly.

"Extremely. My sister is getting ready for her wedding soon. Or rather, her fiancé Kristoff is prepping everything and I'm continuously trying to get Anna to stay focused. She's great at planning parties but all the other details are lost with her.” Elsa leaned back into the couch and put her arm over her eyes.

Tiana walked over and placed a cold iced latte in front of Elsa. “Everything all right, sugar?” she asked. Elsa moved her arm and smiled up at Tiana. “Looks like you’ve had quite the day. It’s the weekend, shouldn’t you be relaxing?”

“I’ve been helping my sister and her fiancé with their wedding plans. It’s kind of exhausting.”

"You have a sister? Well, why haven't you brought her by?" Tiana asked, half scolding Elsa playfully.

"She's pretty busy, but I'm sure I can bring her around one day."

The chime on the door rang again as a raging dark haired woman cursed in Spanish while the puppy eyed Sheriff Swan followed her in.

"Uh oh. Here comes the Queen and her white knight. Play it cool, guys," Mulan hissed.

Regina and Emma joined the others at the couches, although Regina was rolling her eyes and Emma was waving her hands in the air as she defended herself. "I said we could have taken your car, but you insisted on taking mine. It was your idea to ride together here!"

“Ay dios mio! We’d have taken my car if your rickety yellow monstrosity wasn't blocking my Tesla! God, that thing is a pinche death trap on wheels. How you've managed to keep such a thing for so long is nothing short of a miracle!” Regina barked. If she wasn’t so snippy, Emma would have found the peppered bits of Spanish in her ranting rather sexy.

"Totally married..." Mulan muttered to Ruby.

"Did you say something, Mulan?" Regina snapped, turning slightly to face the other woman.

"Huh?! No, well... I said 'Tropical.... Berry...? Tea? I mean, you seem tense. Maybe some tea will help you relax?" Mulan offered as Regina's shoulders visibly loosed as her tenseness faded.

"She thinks my car is going to get us killed." Emma pouted.

"It will." Regina sneered. "I need coffee. Tiana, is there a fresh batch ready?"

"It's mid-afternoon, darlin'. I'll make you a pour over."

Elsa yanked on the back of Regina's jacket as she stood in front of the couch, effectively pulling her onto the cushions. "Relax. What's going on? You two don't normally ride in together."

A slight hint of pink colored Regina's cheeks as Elsa looked at her curiously. She turned her head and folded her arms, putting on as much defense as possible. "She blocked the Tesla with her monster. Besides, it's a Spare the Air day. May as well car pool."

Aurora smirked, "Right... Spare the Air day. Almost forgot that was going on since Mulan and I biked over here, like we normally do."

Emma appeared behind Regina somehow, though no one seemed to realize she disappeared for a moment. She handed the older woman her coffee as she leaned on the back of the couch. Regina took the hot cup from her and looked up, "Did you-"

"Two sugars, no cream. I got it, babes," Emma replied casually. She realized her own mistake the moment the words rolled out of her mouth.

Regina nearly spit out her coffee as it burned her tongue. She glared at Emma for her response. "Excuse me?!"

"Woaaaah... We're on pet names now?" Mulan grinned.

"What?! No! I just... I give everyone names like that." Emma defended.

"Calling someone 'kid' or 'hon' is different when you're arresting them," Ruby said pointedly.

Emma sighed, “Jesus Christ, I can’t even be friendly without you guys jumping down my throat.”

“It’s because you keep sticking your foot in your mouth,” Regina grumbled.

“There’s no winning with you, is there?” Emma looked down at the other woman and shrugged.

Tiana returned to the small group and set down a plate of steaming hot beignets covered in white powdered sugar. “Well, now that y’all aren’t bickerin’ and hollerin’ like this is the Kentucky Derby, I’ve got something I want y’all to try.”

Belle picked up one of the beignets with a napkin. “These are different from your normal beignets, Tiana. Trying something new?”

“Autumn is already here and with all those fancy coffee shops makin’ up Pumpkin Lattes and pumpkin cakes, I decided to try somethin’ of my own. Pumpkin beignets. There ain’t gon’ be no place that can beat my beignets, but I gotta bring somethin’ to the season, right?” Tiana folded her arms proudly as she stepped back. “Y’all help yourself and let me know whatch’all think ‘bout them beignets.”

Mulan eagerly picked up a beignet and took a big bite. Powdered sugar sprinkled itself across her face and onto her shirt, though she hardly cared since she was reeling in the warm, spiced pumpkin treat. Aurora sighed, “Mulan, you’re such a mess.”

“Sorry,” Mulan apologized sheepishly as she took a napkin from Aurora and wiped her face, then dusted off her shirt. “Thanks, honey. Seriously, you guys. You gotta try these! They’re so good!”

Elsa bit into one beignet and gasped quietly, “Oh, wow! There’s cream custard in this one!”

“I made that one,” a small voice said. Elsa and Regina turned around to match everyone else’s gaze behind the couch. Kida stood back nervously as she fidgeted slightly. She pushed a bit of her greyish white hair behind her ear, trying to not focus on the blonde and made every attempt to focus on everyone else. Normally, she’d have so much more confidence, but standing this close to Elsa made her skin prickle.

The blonde woman bit her lip and smiled, “It’s really good.” She felt a nudge at her side and saw Regina smirking at her.

Kida wrung her hands together before taking a shallow breath and regaining her composure. “Tiana wanted me to find out how the beignets were. Plate’s almost empty, so I guess you guys like them.”

Ruby grinned as she slapped sugar off of her hands. “They’re amazing! Is Tiana going to put them on the menu for the season?”

“Actually, she’s planning on holding a Halloween party here and those beignets are going to be one of her feature items. You guys will come, right?” Kida asked. “Naveen will be back and he’s going to bring a few friends over to perform. We’re even going to open up the back patio.”

Emma’s eyes grew wide as she grinned, “Definitely! We’d hate to miss this, right guys?”

“Oh! Oh! Honey, let’s be Korra and Asami for Halloween,” Aurora said to Mulan, clapping her hands excitedly.

Mulan held up her arms and flexed, “I’m gonna be Korra. ’Cause I’m totally buff and I wanna run in and say, ‘I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!”

Ruby leaned in towards Belle as they whispered amongst themselves, then giggled. “We’re in and we’ve got the best costume idea.”

Aurora tilted her head slightly, “What’s your idea? It can’t be better than our Korrasami idea.”

Belle grinned, “It’s a secret.”

“Is there gonna be a costume contest, Kida?” Emma asked.

“I…huh. I’m not sure. I’ll talk to Tiana, but I don’t see why not.” Kida shrugged. “Um, are you going to come, too, Elsa?”

Elsa fidgeted with the hem of her blouse. Watching her friend become withdrawn like this, Regina decided to take charge. "Of course she is, right, Elsa? We'll come together." Emma appeared as if she wanted to protest, but Regina stopped her by looking up directly at the sheriff. "You're coming, too."

“Oh, um.. duh. Of course I’m coming. I’ll come as the Sheriff.” Emma said.

“Booooring!” Mulan replied in a sing-song voice. “You gotta do something different. Coming in uniform does not count. I could show up in my work uniform and just say ‘I’m

Korra as an EMT. That’s no fun.”

“I… I actually haven’t done anything for Halloween since I was six.” Regina admitted.

“Wait, what? Are you serious?” Ruby asked incredulously. “I’m suddenly very sorry for you.”

“I’m not looking for pity.” Regina snipped as she folded her arms. “My mother didn’t think it was worth the effort for my sister and I to do anything for Halloween past first grade. So we were the two in our normal uniforms while everyone else in school had a costume on for Halloween.”

“No dressing up? No candy?” Mulan asked, her eyes growing wide in disbelief.

Regina shook her head, “None of that. Zelena and I have had absolutely no cavities and neither of us needed dental work until we were about twelve or so when I had a tooth that naturally came in crooked and Zelena had to have her wisdom teeth removed. Mother was very strict about sweets. But Daddy used to always sneak a candy bar onto our pillows overnight, so we would hide in mine or Zelena’s room every November 1st to eat our Halloween candy bar. Just the one.”

Tiana had rejoined them for a moment to send Kida back to the kitchen and came upon Regina’s retelling of her Halloween-less childhood. “Well, don’t you worry about that, sugar. We’ll have plenty of sweets and things, so y’all can make up for any missed cavities in one night. But you gotta come in costume. It’s a Halloween party after all. Naveen’s bringing some of our friends from Naw’lins back with him. Louis is amazing on that trumpet and Ray sure can strum a banjo like he’s got the stars’ blessin’. Lottie will be here, too. She’s my very best friend since we was just a couple o’ youngins. I can’t wait for them to meet all of you. It’ll be fun!”

“Looking forward to it, Tiana.” Aurora smiled. “Besides, Mulan and I are totally going to rock out this costume contest, even if it’s just between us.”

“That sounds like a grand idea, Aurora! I’ll keep y’all posted about the party. There’ll be signs up in a few days.” Tiana said as she turned her head towards the kitchen. “Y’all enjoy your afternoon. I’ve gotta go check on Mowgli and the crawfish po’boys he’s workin’ on back there.”

After Tiana left, Elsa turned to Regina and scowled slightly, “Why’d you poke me back then?”

“What?” Regina had forgotten that she nudged Elsa with her elbow when Kida was there. “Oh! Right… so, did you ever give your admirer a call?”

Mulan perched herself on the arm of the couch next to Elsa. “I’m so nosy. So what happened with that? I mean, obviously she’s still interested. Did you see how nervous she was coming over here?”

Elsa shook her head, “That doesn’t mean anything. What if she’s just a shy girl?”

Ruby smirked, “Doubt it. We’ve all seen her working and she’s pretty headstrong. Emma and I came here one time and she and Merida were going head to head on the proper way to brew coffee. The girl certainly doesn’t back down.”

“You didn’t answer the question, Elsa. Did you call her?” Belle asked, reiterating Regina’s original question.

“We’ve… texted. A little bit.” Elsa admitted.

“That’s it?” Emma asked as she finished her coffee. “No meetup or anything?”

“I… I do not know what to say. I’ve never really been on a date or anything before.”

Regina pursed her lips to one side as she gave the comment some thought. “Never? I always thought maybe you were too busy to date anyone.”

Elsa shrugged, “It never really occurred to me. I think Anna once called me ‘asexual.’ It’s just been me and Anna since our parents passed away, so I’ve never really focused on dating at all. Just… I don’t really think about these kinds of things unless someone connects. I just haven’t found anyone to seriously connect with.”

“But Kida makes you nervous, so… that’s a good thing, right?” Aurora asked.

“I… I guess?”

Ruby leaned back in her seat, “Either way, whatever you like is up to you. We’re still your friends. It’s not like we’re really going to push you to do something you don’t want to. But if you are interested, maybe a little more effort won’t hurt.”

Regina put her hand on Elsa’s shoulder and smiled, “If you need advice, we’re all here. Besides, I’m just a desk away from you. You can talk to me anytime.”

“Thanks, everyone. It’s nice to have such supportive friends. That’s… it’s something I’m not really used to either. But I’m glad you’re all here.” Elsa smiled as she pulled out her phone. “Ok. Then maybe you guys can help me with how to ask Kida out for a drink?”


 

The house was empty, except for Aurora working diligently in the kitchen with the sewing machine she had borrowed from Mulan’s mother. Mushu laid down by her feet, snoring as loudly as one would expect from a little dog. He suddenly rolled over and started barking as the front door opened, announcing the arrival of one of Aurora’s housemates, although she couldn’t say which one. Everyone had such unpredictable schedules that any one of them could come home at any time. Mulan and Emma were both on flex schedules that were dependent on emergency calls and public behavior. Regina was slightly more consistent, however she would often be gone for an entire day as she entertained potential clients or directed another event at her hotel.

Mushu got up and scampered over to the door, barking excitedly as he greeted one of his people. Mulan’s voice echoed as she picked up the yapping beast. “Hey, buddy! Yeah, I’m home early. Are you by yourself?”

“In the kitchen, honey!” Aurora called. Mulan and Mushu walked into the kitchen together. She set the dog down on the tiled floor and whistled softly.

“Working hard on our costumes? Do you need me to do anything? I kinda feel bad that you’re doing all the sewing.”

Aurora lifted up a blue tunic with fur edging. “Try this on. I want to make sure it fits.”

Mulan took the shirt from her and held it up against her chest. “Wow, you’re really going for accuracy, aren’t you?”

“I’m not half-assing this project. If we’re going to be Korra and Asami, we’re doing it right.”

“I love it when you’re all in project mode.” Mulan grinned as she stepped close to Aurora and kissed her cheek.

“Yes, yes, I love you, too. Now go try on that shirt.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mulan scurried off to try on the blue top while Aurora continued working on another piece of their outfits. She managed to find a Future Industries patch, which she was hand sewing onto her black and burgundy jacket. When Mulan returned, she ran into the kitchen with the sleeveless top on and flexed like a body builder.
"I'm the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!!" she roared as she jump kicked the air.

Aurora giggled, "You look adorable. Now, stay still." She stood up as Mulan froze in her flexing pose and adjusted the shirt in some areas with safety pins. "It fits well." She rubbed her hands up and down Mulan's waist a few times, to which she felt her girlfriend's core tighten. "Mulan, are you flexing?" she scolded playfully.

Mulan smirked as she lowered her arms and brushed her hands down Aurora's shoulders. "I can't help it! And it fits well cuz you're pretty handy with that needle and thread, so...y'know. Give yourself some credit." Leaning over, and kissed Aurora's jaw.

A hesitated sigh escaped Aurora as Mulan's hands began to travel down her arms and around to her waist, snaking their way under her shirt. Despite herself, she could feel herself giving into the caresses. "Mulan, what if someone comes home?"

"They're both at work," Mulan growled as she nipped at Aurora's ear. "It's just us for awhile. We can take our time, baby, in slow motion...." she gently sang.

"I... Oh, what the hell..." Aurora gave in with a smile and took Mulan by the hand to lead her into their bedroom. As exciting as it might be to fool around in the kitchen, there was comfort and a sense of privacy in their bedroom, which Aurora preferred. Mulan was clever. Aurora could resist her being handsy, but Trey Songz was like sexual kyrptonite. Especially when Mulan sang his songs. It only took a few lines for Aurora to give in, every single time.

"It's the shirt, isn't it? You can't resist me like this!"

"You better hope I don't rip that shirt off of you, Mulan."

"I need to wear this more often."


 

It was several hours later when Emma came through the front door, just before dinner. She looked around at the darkened house and peeked into the kitchen. Only finding the scattered half-completed costumes that Aurora had been working on, she wondered if they had gone out. Or, as the most fantastical scenario played out in her head, maybe they fled the area because of a zombie outbreak. Emma giggled to herself. No way would there have been an outbreak. Not because the probability of zombies was low, but because she was on the police force. If there was an outbreak, she wouldn't have been coming home early. Sure, before dinner was early. Anytime she made it home before Regina did was early.

"Hellooooooo? Anyone home?" Emma called out. Mushu came waddling into the kitchen after hearing her voice and nudged his head on her ankle. "Hey, little buddy. At least someone's here to greet me."

Mulan emerged from the first level bedroom in pajamas. Her hair was clearly disheveled and it looked as if she just picked up the closest shirt on the floor and put it on. Emma quickly picked up on the 'sexually refreshed aura' from her housemate and smirked. "Oh, Em...you're home. Sorry, we ended up taking a nap... Aurora's still passed out." Mulan yawned as she dragged her feet into the kitchen and sat down. "Sorry, we didn't make anything for dinner."

"No worries," the sheriff reassured her friend. "Lemme just call Regina and see if she's had dinner. Maybe she and Elsa wanna go grab something to eat."

"Okay. I'm gonna go lie down again... I guess I needed to catch up on some sleep." Mulan yawned again.

“Yeah, okay,” Emma replied with a grin. She put her phone to her ear as she watched Mulan shuffle back towards her bedroom. At least someone was getting some action. She and Regina hadn’t gone past talking and maybe cuddling in Regina’s bed or on the balcony. Emma’s attention shifted as the phone on the other end picked up. “Hey, it’s me… well, I know you know it’s me, it just felt weird to not say something. Anyways, we’re on our own for dinner tonight. Mulan and Aurora are having a night in and I think they want the house to themselves for a bit. So… are you up for dinner? Elsa, too, if she’s with you.”

Within half an hour, Emma waited at the bar of Michel Bistro. She wasn’t normally a wine drinker, but Regina had suggested the place so Emma decided she would make her best effort to impress her love interest. While she sipped on a glass of Pinot Noir from the appellation d’origine controlee list, she carefully reviewed the rest of the listing with her phone open to Google. She looked up all the different wine types and vineyards, hoping to get a better idea of what Regina might like. Even if she couldn’t order for her, she still wanted to be familiar with the wines and keep up with conversation, if it veered to the wine list at least.

“Cabernet Franc, Chinon Reserve le Grande Boqueteau,” whispered a soft voice in Emma’s ear. The French was so on point that she shivered involuntarily. She spun around and found Regina behind her with a sly smile on her face. “If you were wondering what I wanted to drink.”

“I… um… didn't see you come in.” Emma stuttered. She waved down the bartender and ordered Regina’s wine as the other woman made herself comfortable in the seat beside her. “No Elsa?”

“We get to spend some time together and you ask about Elsa?” Regina scolded her lightly. Although she tried to act a little hurt, she couldn’t hide her smile. There was something intriguing about Emma trying so hard to look at the wine list. The Google search on her phone that sat on the bar did not get past Regina’s eye for small details.

“Sorry,” Emma apologized. “That’s not what I meant. I just… I thought she might be coming.”

“Relax, I was just teasing you. Loosen up a bit,” Regina said as she picked up her wine glass. While she took some time to inhale the bouquet of scents in the glass, her free hand reached over and took Emma’s in her own. The blonde blushed furiously, which Regina caught from the corner of her eye. Her hand was hot and slightly damp, clearly a sign that Emma was nervous. “What’s wrong? You’re all tense.”

Emma took a sip of her own glass of wine. “This is the first time we’ve had dinner together ever since that time when Mulan and Aurora went to Burning Man.”

“Hmm…you’re right. Well, this time it’s not because of a bet. I actually want to spend this evening with you,” Regina smiled. She was in a playful, casual mood and she turned towards Emma, crossing one leg over the other and slightly tapping the sheriff’s thigh with her knee. “What were Mulan and Aurora up to?”

“Having a private evening in, I imagine. When I came home, the lights were all out and Mushu was running around by himself. They holed themselves up in their bedroom, so… yeah, you can imagine what they’ve been up to.”

Regina wrinkled her nose. “I’d rather not. If I think about it, it’s not going to get out of my head and it’s going to torment me when I see either of them. It’s just one of those things you don’t want to think about your friends doing, but good for them.”

“Fair enough,” Emma agreed. They ordered some food to keep themselves relatively sober while drinking. Although conversation was pretty standard, it felt comfortable. When it was just her and Regina, she felt like they could talk about nothing and it would still be interesting.

Emma was rattling on with another work story while Regina sipped her wine and watched her. It wasn’t that the story itself was terribly exciting, but it was the way Emma became so animated as she recounted chasing down a suspect in Pleasanton, through the fairgrounds and finally tackling him into a bush. No, it definitely wasn’t the story that had Regina’s attention. It was Emma herself. She loved her job and she gushed endless amounts of pride for it. It was admirable, and in Regina’s personal opinion, very adorable to see Emma so excited. She realized something and frowned. “Say… I’ve only seen you one time in your uniform. Do you leave it at work?”

The blonde tilted her head, “Huh? Oh, yeah. They stay in my locker until I need to dry clean them. I have enough to rotate through, but it means I’m at the dry cleaner every week. The one closest to us is where I usually go. The old Korean lady that runs it keeps a weekly tab for me.”

Regina ran her finger along Emma’s arm softly, “You know… I’d like to see you in it one time. Preferably not when I’m wrapped in a towel and rushing somewhere.” Maybe the wine was getting to her or she was just in that sort of mood, but Regina felt incredibly relaxed and somewhat flirtatious. This didn’t happen often as she generally kept herself and her emotions in check. It was obviously Emma’s fault.

A cold ice cube-like lump formed in Emma’s throat and she swallowed it, fighting back a shiver as the chill ran through her core. This side of Regina was incredibly irresistible. They had been taking their relationship pretty slow and Emma knew it was worth the wait, but she’d have given up almost anything to just get a bit further with the woman in front of her. “I’ll be sure to wear it home.”

Regina smiled and spun a quarter turn on her chair to face forward again. “Good. I’ll be expecting it.”

Food arrived at the counter in front of them and Emma wondered if it was conjured magically. She didn’t remember ordering anything… or maybe Regina ordered stuff while she was talking. While that was the most likely conclusion, she couldn’t remember a point where Regina stopped and ordered anything. She watched as Regina skillfully moved a whole halved beef bone onto her plate. Emma made a face, utterly confused as to why Regina would’ve ordered beef bones. Though she had no idea if it was something else, the menu was kind of in French.

“It’s bone marrow,” Regina explained.

“Wait, so you just eat the inside of the bone?” Emma asked as she peered at the other bone, still sitting on the serving plate. Clearly it had been left for her.

“It’s good,” came the response. Regina took a small spoon and scooped out some of the sponge-like marrow. It looked weird, with its grayish-brown color and pasty texture, and Emma involuntarily made a face at it. Regina spread some of the marrow onto a piece of toasted bread and then very delicately sprinkled a few bits of rock salt on it from the serving plate. She held it up to Emma expectantly, “Here.”
The blonde froze. There was pasty brown-grey bone stuff in front of her face and the most gorgeous woman in the world holding it. She was caught somewhere between not wanting to put something weird in her mouth and wanting to do anything this woman asked of her. More importantly, Regina was holding the bread as if she wanted Emma to eat from her hands. Was she being hand fed by this woman? The young sheriff wanted to faint from disbelief. Not that it was something Regina wouldn’t do… it was simply the fact that it was being done to her, Emma Swan, of all people. Maybe she was putting Regina up on a very high pedestal, but Emma counted herself as incredibly fortunate that she was in this moment of her life.

Hesitantly, she leaned in and took a bite from the bread in Regina’s hand. It wasn’t quite what Emma had expected it to be. The marrow was buttery, soft and incredibly rich.

The bit of salt that Regina had sprinkled on was just enough to compliment the beefy flavor.

“It’s… it’s good!” Emma said in surprise as she swallowed the small bit she tried.

“I told you,” Regina smirked. “Go ahead and get the second one. There's plenty of other things to eat.” Although it was all food Emma would’ve never ordered on her own, she was glad she got to try something new with Regina. “Now, let’s talk about the Halloween party.”

“Halloween party?" Emma repeated, halfway between putting a bite of a petite filet in her mouth that she was splitting with her girlfriend.

“Yes, you know, the one at Tiana’s? That we’re all going to? You’re not going as a cop.” Regina said sternly.

Emma finished shoveling food into her mouth, chewed for an agonizing minute before swallowing hard and catching her breath. “Are we going as a couple?”

Regina gave the option some thought before smiling, “Yes. Or rather, we’ll go as a group, with Elsa. She doesn’t have anyone to really ‘pair up’ with and she said she likes projects like these… so, do you want to hear my idea?”

“For all three of us?”

“Did you assume that the two of us and Elsa would make four people? Yes, all three of us.”

“So what’s your idea?” Emma asked warily. After learning that Regina was somewhat deprived of a Halloween-filled childhood, she was curious to see what the woman would come up with.

“I think we should go as Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto,” the dark haired woman said firmly. There was a small smirk on her face that gave Emma the feeling of certainty. This is what Regina had decided they would do and whether or not she agreed, it was going to happen. “I’ve already spoken to Elsa about it and… well, I had to make her watch several episodes on Netflix, but she’s in for going as Callisto.”

Emma didn't want to know the answer to her question, but she already knew what it would be. “So… I guess that mean’s I’m Gabrielle?”

“You certainly don’t have her personality, but you’ll match up nicely to her build and…I think you’d look good in that season 6 red two piece.” Regina explained thoughtfully. She reached out and touched one of Emma’s soft blonde curls gently. “What do you think?”

“I… I’m not cutting my hair.”

Regina laughed, “Goodness, no! I like your hair the way it is. We can just straighten it a bit, for one day.”

“Elsa’s going to be Callisto?”

“Well, she could be Gabrielle, but if anyone suggests that Xena and Gabrielle make out, I’d rather it be you.” Regina smirked, knowing that Emma would get worked up a bit at the idea. It might out them as a couple, or it could come off as a dare. Either way, it was Halloween and this would be the first time in over twenty years that Regina could really enjoy herself with it.

“All right, since I don't want Elsa having to lock lips with you, I’ll be Gabrielle,” Emma agreed. Somewhere in the Bay Area, she was sure that Elsa was having a sneezing fit with all this talk about her. “I’m surprised, though. I didn’t think you’d be familiar with the series. My mom and I used to watch it together.”

Regina swirled the wine in her glass, frowning that it was nearly empty. “It was one of the few shows I could watch in my father’s study while he worked. Zelena and I actually used to watch it together. On Monday nights, when the show aired, our mother would be out at some socialite event with other socialite women. So Zelena and I got to sit in Father’s study while he worked and we would watch Xena together. Zelena lost interest after awhile, but I kept watching. Father even bought a VCR to record the episodes if I couldn’t watch when it aired.” She finished her glass of wine before flagging the bartender down for a refill. Once she received her fresh glass, she smiled at Emma, “It was probably because of that show that I felt pretty comfortable with being a lesbian. I mean… if it was on television, or at least their relationship was portrayed as pretty gay, I felt like it wouldn’t be so horrible for me to pursue what I really wanted.”

“Huh,” Emma replied quietly. “That’s actually pretty cool. So somewhere, deep down, under that classy exterior, is a tiny little nerd version of you?”

Regina leaned over and kissed Emma’s jaw. “Let’s keep that between us, all right? Let me nerd out a little bit with you.”

“I think it’s hot.” Emma grinned.

“In any case, I’m glad you agreed to be Gabrielle… Elsa already started making the outfits and ordering pieces online.” She reached over and patted Emma’s stomach. “You don’t have a beer gut under there, do you?”

Emma sucked in her waist slightly, “I’m a cop. I promise, I won’t disappoint you.”


 

The evening of Tiana’s Halloween Bash quickly approached. The young cafe owner and her employees had closed for the day to set up the cafe. Tables and chairs were moved around to create dance space and lounge areas while the riser was brought in for Naveen and his friends.

The coffee tables were put away in the storage area behind the cafe and folding banquet tables were set out with black tablecloths to put out Tiana’s specialties: tiny spoons with warm grits and greens, fried green tomato sliders with bacon, miniature crawfish boil cups, individual berry cobblers and apple tarts, her signature pumpkin beginets, bite-sized chicken and waffles with bourbon maple drizzle, Louisiana crab cakes, vegetarian gumbo in miniature bread bowls, and self-serve beverage dispensers filled with hurricanes and zombies.

Tiana stood back with Mowgli and looked over her buffet line. It was food for a hundred, although there were only about a good fifty people that were invited. Nevertheless, one could never have too much food.

“Mowgli, you’ll be ready if all this get’s swept up like a typhoon, won’t you?” Tiana asked.

The boy nodded, “Of course, Miss Tiana. There is more prepped in the back and I will be rushing the moment you tell me to fire another set.”

“Atta boy. Now, hurry on and get those heat lamps going. I don’t want any of these crab cakes gettin’ cold. Ya’ll better make sure you eat before we get started, too.” Tiana reminded him. She looked over her shoulder where Kida and Merida were dumping apples into a large metal basin filled with packing peanuts. “How are ya’ll doin’ over there?”

Merida looked up, “I think we’ve got a wee bit too many apples.”

Kida shrugged, “I’m not sure how well these apples are going to ‘float’… some of them are getting buried.”

“We canna use any water. There’s a bloody drought!” Merida reminded her.

“Hopefully no one gets a packing peanut up their nose then.” Kida laughed.

They had decorated the cafe with all sorts of Halloween decor, with Tiana’s guidance, to give it a more seasonal look. Elaborate masquerade masks hung on the wall, Dia de los Muertos candy skulls decorated the tables, streamers of black, gold and orange hung from wall to wall and small bundles of hay stood in various parts of the cafe with dried corn ears and uncarved pumpkins at the base. In front of the cafe along the patio, carved pumpkins that the neighborhood patrons had made all lined the edge of the fence that marked the patio perimeter.

“Oy, Kida, is that pretty blonde you’ve been fancyin’ comin’ in tonight?” Merida asked.

The other girl shrugged, “I hope so… I think she is, with her friends.”

Tiana smirked, “Oh, you mean Elsa? I’ve got a pretty good feelin’ that she’s just gonna knock everyone off their feet!” Emma had let it slip that she, Regina and Elsa had a pretty good plan for their costumes and Tiana was sure as spit that they’d put out some amazing effort to win the contest.

There was quite a bit of time before the party started, so Tiana gathered her staff, her husband and his band and took them to the back kitchen where they enjoyed their own dinner of crawfish gumbo, cornbread, fried green tomatoes and dirty rice. It was loud in the kitchen as their voices echoed and laughter filled every space. A wide grin spread across Tiana’s face. This was the kind of moment she always dreamed of having, in her own kitchen in her own place. She said a mental prayer to her father before joining in the conversation and serving another spoonful of gumbo to her friends.

Once they were fed and the kitchen was cleaned, the crew set about getting their costumes together and preparing to open the doors. Merida and Kida came out of the bathroom together, dressed as Winnie and Sarah Sanderson. Merida’s excessively curly red hair was trussed up in a two pointed up-do and she donned on a black and green robe and dress. All they were missing was someone dressed as Mary Sanderson to complete the trio. Esmerelda would be arriving later that night to play that role.
Naveen and his band dressed up as a crew of skeletons in suits with painted white skull faces. Tiana took inspiration from the voodoo culture of her hometown and American Horror Story by modifying a tuxedo into a more feminine Papa Legba outfit, complete with top hat decorated with tiny plastic skulls and white and black skull facepaint. In fact, standing near the stage with Naveen and his crew, they appeared to be a bona fide group of voodoo creeps.

The first to arrive was Tiana’s friend Lottie with several gifts and prizes in tow. She was dressed as Marilyn Monroe. She and Tiana squealed excitedly and proceeded to chatter on about everything that Tiana missed about New Orleans. Soon after, more guests arrived.
Ruby and Belle appeared together as Red Riding Hood the Wolf and Beauty, the Beast with matching wolf ears and fluffy tails. Ruby's tail was hidden under a long red riding cloak that she wore over black patent leather pants and a black halter top. Belle's blue and white villager dress went surprisingly well with her wolf ears and matching tail. She carried her phone and wallet in a hollowed out book that she used as a purse.

Not long after they entered the cafe, the front door burst open with Mulan dressed as Avatar Korra. She had blue streamers that were rolled into her hands and attached to her bracers that she flicked outward like she was a real waterbender. "I'm the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!" she roared excitedly. Aurora walked in after her in a Future Industries jacket and pants. She completed her Asami Sato look with bright red lipstick, a black wavy wig and an electro-glove that lit up as if real electricity was generating from it.

Belle squealed and scurried over to Aurora, "Oh my god, you guys look so good!"

"Thanks," Aurora laughed. "We were up sewing until the last minute. But look at you and Ruby! You guys look great!"

"I was pretty sure we would win the costume contest as Red Riding Wolf and Beauty the Beast, but you two look amazing!" Belle complimented her, taking up Aurora's wrist and examining her glove.

“I wanted to bring Mushu, but he wouldn’t keep his sky bison arrows on. But we took a family photo first!” Mulan said as she pulled out her phone. “I was gonna use a non toxic paint to spray Mushu’s fur, but Aurora got mad and said it would be cruel.”

“It is cruel.” Aurora grumbled defensively.

“Anyways, since I couldn’t put it on him with paint, I made him a little headband and a sweater to wear.” Mulan held up her phone to show Ruby and Belle. She was playing a short video of Mushu walking through the kitchen in a white sweater that gave him an extra pair of legs and a wide flap of a tail. A tiny headband with a pair of horns and an arrow finished the tiny sky bison costume.

Ruby squealed, “Oh my god, that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!”

Aurora leaned over towards Ruby and swiped the screen on Mulan’s phone to a photo of herself, Mulan and Mushu all in costume and taking a selfie together. Belle peered over Ruby’s shoulder. “You guys are so cute. Did you come by yourselves?”

Aurora stepped back and nodded as Ruby returned Mulan’s phone. She passed it to her girlfriend who decided at that moment to make their little family photo her background screen. “Yeah, we decided to take Mulan’s Fit over here. It’s really annoying to take public when you’re in costume and it’s getting dark earlier, so we didn’t want to ride our bikes.”

"Where are Regina and Emma?" Ruby asked.

Mulan rolled her her streamers and shrugged, "They left earlier than us and said they were picking up Elsa."

"They went together?!" Ruby exclaimed. "Fine, maybe you're right and they're hooking up, but now that makes me kinda mad that Emma never said anything to me."

"We live with them and neither one will say anything!" Aurora pointed out as she threw up her hands in exasperation.

Tiana swooped in beside Belle and clapped her hands together, "Ya'll look incredible! I'm so glad you were able to come tonight! Please help yourself to the food! There's plenty to eat, we've got a water-free bobbing for apples bin, my husband and his band are about to get started and there's plenty of hurricanes to go around."

"Thanks, Tiana! Everything looks so awesome," Aurora smiled. She turned to find Mulan, but her girlfriend had already found her way to the buffet and was munching on a crawfish boil cup. "Mulan already found her way over."

"Oh my god, these are so good, T!" Mulan exclaimed from the buffet line. "Honey, come on! You gotta try some of this."

Aurora glanced at Tiana and received a reassuring pat on the shoulder, "Don't you worry, sugar. There's plenty of vegetarian snacks over there."

"You're awesome," she replied thankfully. "Be right there, babe."

The door opened again and more costumed guests arrived. Esmerelda came in and completed Kida and Merida’s Sanderson Sisters trio. A couple dressed as the X-Men, Rogue and Gambit followed afterwards, though it was no one that Ruby, Belle, Aurora or Mulan recognized. Killian and Graham came in afterwards, dressed as a pirate and Robin Hood. They meandered over to where Mulan and the others were chatting and started up the conversation of where Emma might possibly be and if Regina would be with her.

The band started up in full swing with a jazz version of ‘Thriller.’ The guests helped themselves to Tiana’s full table of snacks while Mowgli skillfully kept put with Tiana’s orders for more food. Many more guests arrived, mostly cafe regulars all dressed in a plethora of varying costumes. Some were dressed in pretty standard costumes like firemen or nuns or Minions, while others donned on more elaborate costumes like Frodo, Darth Vader or one of the Starks.

“God, could they be any later?” Ruby whined. “Emma wouldn’t say a thing about what she was wearing tonight.”

Killian frowned, “Didn’t they do any of their costumes at home?”

Mulan shook her head, “We didn’t see a thing. I mean, we knew they were going to pair up and do something, but Regina wouldn’t let anything slip and Emma managed to get by without having to talk about it.”

The door opened again, allowing for the chill breeze that was picking up outside to blow into the cafe. Belle looked up and her jaw nearly unhinged itself from her face. “Oh my god, they’re here.”

The others looked up and a tangible silence fell among them for a moment. “Holy shit…” Graham mumbled.

Regina had managed to either get extensions put in or was wearing a wig, but her normally short dark hair was now straight and long. Other than her simplified makeup, the surprise came in the completely leather bodice and skirt with metal armor accents as she lead her pack of Xena costumers. Complete with sword and chakram, leather boots and an ‘eat shit’ smirk on her face, she owned the Xena look completely.

Right beside her, Elsa was dressed in a similarly revealing leather bodice and skirt with her platinum blonde hair left loose and dark makeup to accentuate feigned madness in her eyes. She glanced over and waved excitedly at the girl dressed as Rogue, breaking her Callisto character image for a moment.

Following closely behind, Emma wore a red two piece skirt and short tank, clearly showing her fairly toned stomach. Her hair had been ironed somewhat flat and the sides were pulled back behind her head, fastened simply with a small band. She had a plastic sai tucked into each boot with a Ninja Turtles logo on the pommel. Regina had attempted to order replicated ones, but Emma had stopped her and just picked up the cheap version instead with the excuse that although it wasn’t accurate, it was safe for Halloween and she was a cop. Halloween Safety was deeply engrained into her ethical code.

Mulan was the first of the group to hurry over to her friends. “Oh my god, you guys! This is insane!!”

Regina raised an eyebrow, “Insane? Why?”

“Well… I don’t think anyone expected you to go all out like this! It’s amazing!”

They were ushered into the cafe by their friends, who simultaneously ‘ooh’d’ and inspected their outfits.

“Oh!” Elsa chirped as she pulled the girl dressed as Rogue into the circle, “Everyone, this is my sister, Anna. I told her to come ahead without me since I was riding in with Regina and Emma.”

“Hi, everybody! It’s great to finally meet all of you. I mean, Elsa’s told me all about you, so it’s like I kinda know you. But not really, since this is the first time we’re meeting. But I almost feel like I know you all!” Anna blabbered excitedly. She pulled over the man dressed as Gambit and offered a large grin, “Oh! But this is my fiancé, Kristoff.”

Kristof leaned back slightly towards Anna, “You’re rambling again.”

“What? Oh, sorry.” She turned to her sister and grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Elsa.”

Elsa shrugged, “It’s fine, Anna. I’m glad you can finally meet my friends. This is Mulan and Aurora, they’re the ones who live with Regina and Emma,” she explained as she went around the circle. “Killian, Ruby, Belle, Graham, and… well, you’ve already met Emma and Regina.”

“Your Rogue costume is so accurate,” Ruby said, appraising Anna’s outfit. “How did you get the white streak in your hair? It looks so natural!”

“It is!” Anna said excitedly. “I’ve always had it. So being Rogue for Halloween made so much sense this year! Elsa made it for me.”

“You sew?” Aurora asked as she turned to Elsa.

“A little bit,” the blonde admitted. “It’s something fun to do during Halloween.”

“She made ours, too,” Emma said.

“Well, now we know why you two had to leave early and why you left together,” Aurora said, still admiring Regina’s outfit. “I mean, you guys look so amazing!”

A smile formed on Regina’s face. She tried to act cool, but she was equally excited to be in such a fun outfit. If she had known it would be this much fun to spend time with friends and dress up, she'd have participated more often when she was younger.

The party was well underway with Naveen's band playing lively Halloween classics with a jazzy twist, including the generally annoying standards like "Monster Mash."

Ruby and Mulan managed to challenge Emma at the apple bin, taking turns digging for apples in the tub of packing peanuts. The blonde sheriff was halfway in the bin before she surfaced triumphantly with a shiny honeycrisp apple between her teeth.

"So, between the three of us, you're dating Regina on the sly, aren't you, Em?" Ruby asked with a grin.

"What?" Emma said through a mouthful of fruit. "Don't be ridiculous. She's bossy and arrogant. Totally not my type."

"Come on, that's bullshit," Mulan said, poking Emma in the side with her elbow. "If you're going to tell anyone, it should be me and Ruby. Cause... You live with me and Ruby's your not-Regina other half."

Emma rolled her eyes, "You guys are crazy. Regina and I can't even talk without yelling at each other. She hates me."

"Okay... So that means you're still trying to get with her?" Ruby prodded. Emma sighed, wondering how long much longer she'd have to hide.

Across the room, she took note of Regina standing with Elsa and Anna, surrounded by other guests, mostly women, all commenting and complimenting their outfits. She wanted to be proud to be with the woman everyone was gawking at… but then, she wasn’t. Or she was, but no one knew it. At least, not really. They were certainly trying very hard to get the secret out, though. But at the same time, she was definitely feeling jealous. Who were all these women and why did they have to be going after Regina? Emma felt a little heat creep up into her cheeks.

Somewhere in her peripheral radius of hearing, she continued to half-listen to Ruby and Mulan go on about what sort of couple she and Regina would be. Most of the time, they were spot on. Other times, they thought of scenarios that were completely out of style for both women. Like tandem bike riding. That was definitely not a thing they would do… they’d probably race instead.

The gaggle of women surrounding Regina and Elsa had condensed around her girlfriend as Elsa seemed to have wandered off with Belle, Aurora and Kida. Emma smirked and tugged on Ruby’s sleeve. “Look… Belle and Aurora have cornered Kida and Elsa.”

Mulan groaned, “Gawd, I don’t know what’s more fun… being nosy about Elsa or trying to get you to admit you’re sleeping with Regina.”

Emma rolled her eyes again, “I’m not dating her and we’re definitely not sleeping together. Where do you come up with these ideas?”

“Umm… cause you left a basket of laundry in the laundry room and there were some black lacy ones that don’t look like you’re style, but the Superman undies are totally your style… so you’re doing your laundry together,” Mulan explained.

“Nope, those black ones are mine, too. They’re Jack Skellington ones on the front. They just have black lace edging.”

“Damn it!” Mulan cursed. She’d find a way to get Emma or Regina to admit they were seeing each other. It was only so obvious and a total setup for a rom-com. Mulan was determined to see this to its’ eventual wedding end credits. At least, that’s how it played out in her head.

Nearby the edge of the food table, Belle waved at Ruby and gave her a small thumbs up, then pointed to Elsa. Ruby grinned and gave a thumbs up back.

“No, seriously, if you watch Glee carefully, Rachel and Quinn should’ve seriously gotten together.” Aurora said, as she explained what a ‘ship’ was to Elsa and Kida. Belle smirked. She’d heard this lecture many times before.

“Does it only work for television?” Kida asked, somewhat confused.

“No, it works for non-television people, too. Or not even people. Like Kermit and Miss Piggy are technically a ship. BrAngelina is a ship. Or… well, whatever you can think of. If the two people are actually together, they’re canon. If they’re not, it’s non-canon but still a ship,” Aurora explained. “It’d be like, if you two were to date or something. You’d be a ship. Mulan and I are a ship.”

“You’re a ship! You’re a ship! Everyone’s a ship!” Belle giggled. Aurora flashed her an aggravated glare, but Belle simply laughed it off. “What? You sound like an Oprah episode. Should I look under my seat for a key to a new Ford Fusion?”

Elsa nervously pushed her loose hair behind her ear. “I… would not be opposed to maybe… seeing if dinner is an option?”

The color quickly drained from Kida’s face and she nearly matched the color of her own hair. She could play it cool as long as the thought of possibly going out with Elsa was unspoken. Now that it was out in the open, she was completely flustered. “Yeah…I’d like that.”

Aurora nearly squealed out loud as she grasped Belle’s wrist violently. “We’ll let you two talk. Come on, Belle. I wanna see what Mulan and Ruby are up to. They have Emma pinned in the corner.”

Somewhere near the stage, where the couches and tables had been moved out of the way, Killian had managed to weasel his way into dancing with Lottie. The Southern heiress loved the attention and was enjoying the sailor’s rugged demeanor.

“You’re a very convincing pirate,” she giggled. Her white dress swirled around her knees as Killian spun her around.

“I am a man of the seas,” he said suggestively. What he was suggesting was beyond his own knowledge, but it sounded good in his head.

A hand tapped Killian’s shoulder as someone else made his attempt to step in and dance. Graham grinned as Killian courteously obliged, albeit rather hesitantly.

“My, what’s your name, handsome?” Lottie asked as Graham took her hand.

“It’s Graham. Well, Robin Hood for tonight,” he said in his most charming tone. He looked up just in time to catch the ‘what the hell, bro?’ look from Killian.

Tiana, who had been watching from her perch by the hurricane dispenser, giggled to herself. At least Lottie was having fun and from what she recalled in their few interactions, Killian and Graham weren’t half bad. They were friends of Emma’s, after all. From what Emma had told her, getting her friend to hook up with a cop or a sailor wasn’t a bad option. It wasn’t the fanciful prince that Lottie had always gone on about as a child, but at least they weren’t layabouts. That was the the thing that Tiana couldn’t stand the most. Laziness and no ambition were the worst combinations and they had no business being around her.

It was nearing time for a break for Naveen, so Lottie decided to take up the microphone with Tiana. Mowgli brought over a small table and with Merida’s help, they quickly put the prizes on the table for a display.

“Evenin’, y’all,” Tiana said warmly as she spoke into the microphone. “I’d like to thank y’all for coming today. Let’s have a hand for Naveen and the Firefly Players.” She paused as the guests cheered for the performers. Naveen removed his hat and bowed graciously as Ray and Louis lowered their heads in thanks as well. “I hope y’all are enjoying the food and I just want to remind everyone to drink responsibly with them hurricanes back there. But let’s get on with the important part of the evenin’, the costume contest! Our guest judge tonight is Miss Charlotte La Bouff, all the way from New Orleans. Lottie was kind enough to donate prizes for all of your great costumes.”

Lottie excitedly bounced up and down before eagerly taking the microphone from Tiana. She was holding a small clipboard in her hand that she had used to take notes and make her selections of winners. “Thank you, Tia! Now, let’s get this contest started. I’ve been watching y’all this evenin’ and I gotta say that I am impressed. Why, y’all’re dressed finer than guests at a Mardis Gras party and let me tell you, them folks put out a lot of effort down at home.”

Tiana smiled and shook her head. It was good to see Lottie again and it reminded her why she loved being friends with this warm hearted heiress. As if on cue, she held up one of the first prizes. Lottie looked at it quickly and turned to the crowd again, “All right, y’all. This is for the most creative costume. The prize is $150 for dinner at Hard Water in San Francisco.” She glanced down at her clipboard and looked up at the crowd again, “Red Riding Wolf and Beauty, the Beast! Why don’t y’all come up here and come get this.”

Ruby whooped from her corner near the apple bin. She grabbed Belle by the hand and they made their way to the stage, ears and tails fully visible at this point. Emma threw her hands into the air with a double thumbs up, to which Ruby responded with her own double thumbs up.

A cold hand planted itself on Emma’s bare waist and she nearly screeched loudly, only to find Regina smirking at her side. “Jesus Christ, you scared me. How’d you get away from the admirers?”

“It’d have been easier if you came over to save me.”

“But… you’re the Warrior Princess. Aren’t you supposed to fight your way out and save me?” Emma laughed. Regina pinched her waist half heartedly. “Ow, shit. I was just kidding.”

“Oh, stop being a baby. I barely pinched you at all. It’s…” Regina blushed as she reached out for Emma’s waist again. “It’s… all hard. You’re making it difficult to poke at you, stop it.”

“I can’t help that I have rock hard abs,” Emma grinned.

Regina rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest, “Yeah, you sure do…”

Before Regina could get distracted further by touching Emma’s waist, Lottie was with the microphone again and the next prize. “All right, y’all.. next prize is for the best couple. This was really hard one to pick ‘cause some of y’all are precious! So, for a two night stay at the Cedar Gables Inn along the Napa River with cooking lessons from a Culinary Institute trained chef goes to… Avatar Korra and Asami Sato!”

“See! All that sewing was worth it,” Mulan cheered.

“Oh, good! I was worried that these pricks on my fingers were going to be a waste.” Aurora teased as they made their way to the stage. She graciously accepted the prize from Lottie, then squealed as Mulan picked her up and carried her off of the stage like she was the prize.

“Y’all were just too damn adorable!” Lottie giggled. She quickly turned back towards the audience and waved her hand at the final prize. Tiana rolled the table closer to Lottie so she could show off the entire package. “Now, this grand prize is a doozy! This is a San Francisco VIP Weekend getaway. Two nights in a Golden Gate Suite at the Fairmont Hotel, Hornblower Dinner Cruise tickets, passes to the Academy of Science and the de Young Museum, $100 Lyft ride credit and a $500 American Express gift card! Good lord, this is a big prize.”

Tiana looked up at her friend. This was an extremely extravagant prize and she wasn’t quite sure Lottie’s father, as kind and generous as he was, would be keen on her giving such a large donation for a costume contest. She’d have to ask Lottie about it later. For now, it was time to announce the winners.

Regina instinctively reached for Emma’s hand as they waited for the announcement. She wasn’t sure they would win, but the thought of spending a weekend with Emma in the city as tourists was rather appealing. Even if Elsa was with them, it would no doubt be a fun weekend. But then the small worries about continuing to hide her relationship with Emma and how she would be able to do that while sharing a room with Elsa started to plague her few seconds of thought. Most suites only had a King sized bed and a pullout… so would she share a bed with Elsa? That thought was rather disappointing. As much as she loved her friend, she’d have preferred to sleep with Emma instead. These tiny thoughts clouded her mind and she realized quickly that her fingers were still interlaced with the Sheriff’s. She quickly let go of Emma’s hand and smiled at Elsa. Emma looked over, wondering what caused the sudden disconnect.

“Even if we don’t win, you two look great in these costumes,” Elsa said quietly. She smiled at both of them, admiring her own work.

“You’re the one who did the work, Elsa. Thank you,” Regina replied. “Either way, I had fun.”

“Same here,” Emma chimed in. “We’ll have to get a picture later. My mom’s been texting me all night for one.”

“All right, y’all! Here we go!” Lottie’s voice echoed over the crowd.

“Drumroll, Ray!” Tiana said to the lanky performer. He picked up the drum sticks and rapidly tapped on the drum.

“The winners of the best overall costume goes to… Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto!”

Elsa’s mind went blank. Did… did they just win? Emma was shaking Regina by the shoulders. Apparently the other woman had gone into a mild state of shock as well. Anna was pulling Elsa by her arm, ushering her towards the stage. Where did Anna come from? Elsa couldn’t remember. She was simply trying to process the idea that they won. Her hard work, Regina’s ideas and… well, at least Emma brought her participation and solid abs to the group, all of it paid off.

Tiana took the microphone from Lottie, who was gathering up all the prize details to give to the winners. She smiled brightly as she looked around the room. The evening had been a success. All that hard work and honest effort paid off in a night of fun and new friends. “That may have been the end of the costume contest,” Tiana announced into the microphone. “But the night will still go on! There’s plenty to eat on that buffet line and the Firefly Players have plenty of music still to play. Y'all enjoy yourselves and thank you for being a part of our first holiday party here at Tiana's! Remember to be safe going home and if y'all need a ride, just ask one of my staff. We're happy to call you a taxi, Über or Lyft. Merida, Kida, Mowgli, y'all just wave your hands in the air for a minute so people know where y'are. There ya go! Thanks again and Happy Halloween, everyone!" The staff raised their hands and waved them about from various places in the cafe. They had a list of taxi numbers and there was an in-house iPad set up to call a Lyft or Über.

While people began to disperse into groups, Emma picked her way through the crowd. The Sheriff was the only one whose brain seemed to function enough to retrieve the prize folder. Regina and Elsa managed to join her at one point, where they were taken off to the side by Lottie who explained all the different components of the prize.

Meanwhile, the band picked up their instruments and started playing again and the revelry of the evening continued. Once she was done with Regina, Elsa and Emma, Lottie was swept up into the dance floor again by Graham, followed by Killian who made every attempt to cut in. Tiana moved around the room with Merida and Kida, picking up empty cups and discarded plates that didn’t make it to the trash. They were done with food for the evening, so Mowgli emerged from the kitchen and joined them, enjoying the festivities and cleaning up as he went.

“You look like you had fun,” Tiana said quietly as she passed by Kida.

The young girl turned to her employer and grinned, “Elsa asked me out to dinner!”

“That’s great, sugar! See, you were lookin’ a might flustered earlier but there ain’t nothin for you to be worryin’ about. Am I gonna hafta schedule you a different day off?” Tiana asked as she stacked some plastic cups together.

Merida spun past them as she gracefully snatched up empty plates, “Dinna worry ‘bout that, boss. I’ll cover fer Kida.”

Elsewhere in the cafe, amongst the dancers and huddled groups of new friends, Elsa, Emma and Regina looked through their folder of prizes.

“I can’t believe we won,” Regina muttered. She flipped through the pages, reviewing each one carefully. The folder itself was contrived of letters, mostly formerly written promissory notes from the various businesses. “So when do you two want to make use of this?”

“Actually, I’d like for you two to use it.” Elsa said quietly. “Anna’s wedding is coming up soon and she still needs a lot of help. My weekends are going to be pretty busy.”

Emma frowned slightly, “Are you sure about that, Elsa? I mean, it was your handiwork that won us this prize.” Not that she didn’t want to spend an entire weekend alone with Regina. But it didn’t seem fair. Alternatively, she knew it would be easier to keep her relationship under wraps if it were just her and Regina. Then they could just have fun without worrying about being discovered. Maybe Elsa knew they were seeing each other? Emma wondered if that was why she was stepping out of the trio for the prize.

Elsa clapped her hands with a smile as an idea formulated in her mind. “Tell you what, you two use the weekend passes, but we’ll do the Hornblower Dinner together.” She knew how Regina felt about Emma, but if they weren’t dating yet, Elsa was sure the weekend trip would at least put them a step closer. She had been trying to convince Regina at work that she should go out with Emma, but was immediately shot down every time.

Regina nodded, “I think that will work out nicely. Emma?”

The blonde smirked, “Are you… bringing a date?”

Now it was Elsa’s turn to blush. “Um… well, I wasn’t planning on it, since it was supposed to be the three of us… but, I mean, if you guys don’t mind. That is, if things work out well between us.”

“She’ll adore you,” Regina placed a hand on her friend’s bare shoulder. Elsa looked up at her with pink hues still coloring her face. “See you on the ship.”

Chapter Text

Regina was nervous. She could feel it in the very core of her being. She shivered from the overwhelming intensity of it, feel it make her hands shake and her breath ragged. When was the last time she really felt like this? Maybe in college? The cause of it was Emma Swan. Sure, they lived across the hall from each other in the same house and she spent nights on the balcony just talking with the quirky blonde or even in her own bed, curled up together watching a movie on her iPad. But this time, something was different.

She sat on her bed with the paperwork for the weekend laid out in front of her. Everything was lined up, booked and settled. But she was too worked up to sleep. Her bags had been packed and repacked at least 3 times as she re-evaluated what she was bringing for the weekend in San Francisco. Twice, she changed her underwear selection. First it was casual, then it was sexy. Even as she stared at the Academy of Science passes, a nagging thought in the back of her mind told her that sexy lingerie was too much. She didn't want Emma to think she was trying to seduce her. She could, if she wanted to, and she knew it. But something about being with the young sheriff made her want to keep things private and carefully consider how she moved in this relationship. Regina felt a little guilty about that, but she knew she was making the right decision. It didn't seem like Emma was bothered by it and Regina was grateful for the respect the other woman had given her request.

Halfway through reading a pamphlet on the exhibits at the Academy, Regina's phone buzzed on the nightstand where it was charging. Emma's name appeared on the banner with a simple, "Hi. Are you still up?"

Regina unplugged her phone and rolled her eyes. It was nearly midnight and Emma was texting now? She tapped away at the screen, "Yes. Aren't you working?"

"Yeah," came the already bored-sounding reply. "We're parked on University just keeping watch. Nothing going on tonight. I just wanted to chat for a bit."

"I've been packing," Regina explained as she typed out each word into the text area, carefully assessing her grammar as she went. "Mulan and Aurora already left for Napa. They took Mushu. It's kind of lonely here now. I wish you didn't have to work tonight."

It took a few minutes for Emma to respond, which initially made Regina feel anxious. She wasn't sure why. It wasn't as if she'd never flirted with anyone before. But Emma was different. At least it seemed that way. When the phone buzzed again, Regina felt the tension leave her body. “I wish I didn’t have to work either. I’m trying to keep Ruby from peeking at my phone. She’s so nosy!”

“Does she know it’s me you’re talking to?”

“Not yet. But she keeps looking over here. I must look like an idiot. Your texts always make me smile.”

Regina tilted her head to the side inquisitively, although no one would have seen her reaction. “Really? You know, you’re actually quite charming when you’re texting me.”

“I’m charming all the time.” The response made Regina laugh to herself. A second message came in right after. “I dunno. I stumble over my words when I’m with you. You’re something else, Regina Mills.”

The dark haired brunette felt the heat rise into her face. She thought carefully before typing her response. “Is that your way of complimenting me? You’re lucky I find you attractive, Swan.”

“Really? Just attractive? Not my winning personality?” Regina could almost see Emma wriggling her eyebrows at her suggestively. 

“That’s up for debate.”

The phone fell silent again, but Regina felt satisfied that she successfully teased Emma and won the conversation, if there was anything to compete about. She didn’t expect a response as she slid off the bed to put everything away and get ready to sleep. She still hadn’t brushed her teeth or set her workout clothes out for the next morning. But when the phone buzzed again, she nearly stumbled across the room and half leapt across her bed to grab it. Another bright smile crossed her face as she read Emma’s response. “I gotta go. Duty calls and Ruby is getting relentless. Just want to say good night. Can’t wait for tomorrow.”

Regina bit her lower lip in withdrawn excitement as she responded. “Goodnight, Emma. Be safe out there. See you tomorrow.”


 Ruby reached out for Emma’s phone again. “Jesus, who the hell are you texting?!” she said as she fought the blonde’s arms that blocked her thieving attempts. 

“No one. It’s just Mulan. Hey!” Emma fought back, swatting Ruby’s hands away. 

“I call bullshit. Mulan and Aurora are in Napa.” Ruby argued. “Belle told me that they left tonight. I expected pictures of the food from their cooking lesson.”

“Fine, it’s my mom.” Emma lied.

Ruby snorted. “Yeah, right. I bet it’s Regina. You’re hitting that, aren’t you?”

“I’m not,” Emma replied. That in itself was true, somewhat. “If anything, we’ve just reached a mutual understanding. I mean, we’re not yelling at each other at home like we used to.”

The dark haired deputy rolled her eyes. “Sure, okay. Say I believe you and you’re not hooking up with Regina. Why aren’t you? I mean, she’s got some seriously hot legs and those eyes… if it’s a possibility, you should go for it. We’re kinda all hoping you would. It’s like fate is telling you to be with her. You both selected each other for Secret Santa last year, you somehow lost that bet and went to dinner with her and then you guys win a costume contest together. But it’s like… the big huge prize. The powers that be are pushing you together.”

Emma paused. She wished she could tell her partner that she wasn’t totally off. She wanted to tell Ruby, whom she trusted with her life, that Regina was different from anyone else she had dated before. She made Emma’s heart beat louder than an EDM baseline. Seeing her made her lose all sensibility. Everything about her, now that she was aware of her own feelings, made Emma want to freeze time and just stay with her. She didn’t want to say she was in love. That would definitely be jumping the gun and no Californian in their right mind ever made that kind of commitment this early on. But if what she was feeling was pretty close to it, she was traipsing the border. 

“I think we’ve at least become friends.” Emma said, pushing her eagerness to share her new relationship with someone. She hadn’t even told her mother and she told her nearly everything. 

“Well, I guess that’s a step better than where you were,” Ruby shrugged. The CB radio on the car hissed and fizzled with sound until the dispatcher’s voice echoed, alerting them of a domestic violence call. “Guess we’re headed out. Let’s get going.”

Emma started up the car as Ruby grabbed the radio and responded to the call. Pulling away from the curb, they headed down University towards the source of the summon.


Waiting in the lobby of the Fairmont was excruciating. Regina kept checking her watch as the minutes ticked closer to 3:00pm. Emma was late. At least, it felt like she was late. Or rather, Regina was excessively early. She knew Emma had the swing shift the night before, then had a pickup shift she traded to get the weekend off. While it killed Regina’s hope of driving into the city together, as if they couldn’t do that on any other day, in the end it meant that they would have more time together playing around in San Francisco. 

She got up at 6:00am, after sleeping in just a bit, to go for her morning run. Afterwards, a stop at Tiana’s for a cup of coffee and a bagel, then back home to shower and load up the car. It was no surprise she was packed and ready to go by 10:00am. Regina had agreed to meet Emma at the hotel at check in, since Emma would barely have time to pick up her things after her shift. Regina insisted that she pack her things early and that she would bring her bags to the hotel and the sheriff could just meet her there. But there was a lot of time between 10:00am and 3:00pm, even if she had to account for traffic across the Bay Bridge. Regina spent four hours trying to occupy herself as her thoughts ran wild over the possible things that could happen over the weekend. She was even particular about the clothes she would wear for the day. Even when she dressed down, she looked very well put together. For the day, she settled on a pair of dark skinny jeans and a pair of low Jimmy Choos with a white blouse and a black drape jacket. It could have easily been one of her work outfits, but she felt the jeans were pretty casual, even for her. 

Regina tried to keep herself calm throughout the day. She stood in a wine shop for at least half an hour, staring at a bottle of an Australian shiraz blend, wondering if buying alcohol was insinuating that they should get drunk, which may in turn lead to seduction. Then where would they take things? Were they ready for that? Was she ready to take that next step? Things didn’t escape her rapid fire thoughts as she grabbed lunch from Pañera, pondering on what Emma would think about her ordering food from a semi-fast food place, versus a local sandwich shop. It wasn’t until 2:00, when she was coming home from her wandering that she realized she spent the day thinking only of Emma and what the blonde would think of her. When did she become such a major part of her daily thought process? Regina couldn’t tell anymore. It seemed as if somehow, within a moment’s time, Emma Swan had become her rhyme and reason.

Which was why she was now sitting, quite aggravated, in the hotel lobby with not only her own suitcase and dress bag next to her, but Emma’s overnight duffle bag and a plaid red and black backpack. She considered, for a brief moment, walking down to Union Square and buying Emma some decent luggage. But knowing the young sheriff, it would be a useless purchase as the well worn second hand bags and backpacks worked well for her. She considered getting a matching set for both of them and...Regina stopped herself. It was her worst habit and one she struggled to let go of. She was thinking too far ahead. Matching luggage. Regina scoffed at herself and crossed her arms. Too soon. It was way too soon for matching anything.

An elderly Hispanic bellman stopped in front of her and smiled. "Help with your luggage, ma'am?"

Regina looked up at the kindly man and smiled. He looked a bit like her father. "No, thank you. I'm waiting for someone."

"I do not hope he keeps you waiting too long. If he does not arrive, please allow me to assist you," he offered.

"Um, that's very kind of you, but I'm fine. Thank you." She repeated. He shrugged and walked off to return to his station by the door. Regina grumbled to herself and glared at her watch. 3:02. Where was Emma to guard her from kind but creepy old men? She promised herself she would give her girlfriend a stern earful when she arrived.

Regina was so lost in her own bellyaching that she didn't notice when Emma walked through the lobby doors. The blonde looked around, trying to find Regina in the front desk area of the lobby, drawing all sorts of attention to herself. It wasn't until she heard the sharp footsteps of a hotel manager walk by her that Regina looked up to see the suited thin man approach the blonde woman in a well fitted officer's uniform. Emma was still in her work clothes. Dark navy blue slacks and a crisp tan button up shirt with short sleeves suited the young sheriff. Her belt was weighed down with pouches and her gun holster, complete with issued handgun strapped tightly into place. Her curled blonde hair was tied back in a low ponytail with a few loose ringlets framing her face. Emma certainly looked the part. Her hands were on her hips, or rather, resting on her belt. She actually appeared imposing, standing there with her back straight, eyes narrowed and the rigid lines of her biceps just barely visible beyond the hem of her sleeve. Regina swallowed a knot in her throat and shifted uncomfortably. Emma looked good in her uniform. Not that Regina hadn't been expecting her to look amazing, but actually seeing her in her full outfit and having a moment to appreciate the view was a lot more nerve wracking than she originally imagined. 

Emma noticed her then, staring across the lobby at her with her jaw slightly unhinged from its usual tightly clamped closure. She excused herself from the manager and walked across the lobby to where Regina was sitting. The look on Regina'a face was one she never planned on forgetting. Slack jawed and wide eyed, she knew she had captured Regina's attention. Her boots echoed on the marbled floor as she approached. "Sorry I'm a little late," she apologized. “The manager thought something was wrong. He didn’t even pay attention that my uniform is from another department.”

Emma's appearance had knocked the wind out of her. All the irritation Regina had built up a moment earlier was gone and all she could do was slowly shake her head. It took some actual effort to find her voice. "I... You... Um... Let's go check in," Regina mumbled, stumbling clumsily over her own words. She prided herself in being so well put together. Elegant and classy, the example of upper society New York upbringing. So why was it this clumsy, laid back blonde was the one causing her to act like a teenage girl? If she saw herself acting this was, she’d walk right up to herself and slap her sense back into place. 

Emma tilted her head slightly as Regina seemed to stew in her own thoughts for a moment. She hadn’t moved, but was standing in front of her, chewing on her thumbnail with her eyebrows nearly fused together. She reached out and carefully picked up her bags, just past Regina. “Right, let’s go check in.”

That seemed to wake Regina up as she lowered her hand and refocused her eyes on Emma. She nodded silently before gathering up her things and moving to the check in line at the front desk. 

The sheriff took this moment to watch Regina curiously as the other woman fumbled through her bags looking for the organized folder of information for their weekend. The strange thing was that Regina almost never fumbled around. Every move, as Emma had observed countless times, was purposeful, calculated and elegantly executed, even if it was something as simple as preparing her coffee in the morning. A thought crept into her head that gave way to a silly grin on Emma’s face. Regina was nervous…and it was the cutest thing Emma could recall seeing in a very long time. She was going to enjoy this weekend.


The room they were assigned was 2108, a corner suite with stunning views of the city and edges of the San Francisco Bay. Ceiling to floor windows opened up the living room immensely and gave the apartment-like suite a sort of luxurious appearance. The living room had all the usual amenities: HD television, coffee maker, mini bar, small dining table, couches and armchairs. In the corner of the room, facing the windows, sat a bronze and dark wood telescope for viewing the city. Emma whistled excitedly as she hurried into the room and dropped her bags on the couch.

“The view is insane!” she squealed. She immediately adjusted the telescope for her height and peered through it to see the shoreline of Sausalito. “You can see across the bay from here, Regina!”

“That’s nice,” Regina answered quietly. Emma turned around to ask her what was wrong, but stopped her words in their near escape when she saw Regina carefully inspecting everything in the room. She rolled her suitcase behind her as she looked behind the television, around the couch and behind the curtains. The blonde continued watching as Regina moved into the bedroom beyond the pair of white French doors. The bedroom had one king sized bed centered in the room with a beautiful window view of the Presidio and the Golden Gate bridge. While Emma would have been impressed with the room alone, Regina seemed to be searching every unseen corner for something.

“Can I ask what you’re doing?” she asked as Regina knelt down by the bed and used her phone to point a flashlight underneath. Emma wondered if Regina might believe in bodies under the bed or some other weird urban legend. The logical side of her knew that was ridiculous, but some people honestly believed in that sort of thing. She bit her lower lip slightly as Regina scooted along the bed, unknowingly giving Emma a rather enjoyable rear view. 

“What? I’m checking the room.”

Emma shrugged, “What are you hoping to find?”

Regina stood up and brushed off her jeans. “Nothing. But San Francisco is an old city and it attracts a lot of tourists. I’d rather not contract any sort of bed bugs or something.”

“Bed bugs?” Emma shuddered at the thought. “So, what’s the verdict?”

“Seems clear. I expect no less of the Fairmont, but you can never be too careful with the amount of travelers.” Regina answered. With that, she rolled her suitcase to the rack near the bed and lifted it up, before opening it an organizing her outfits onto the bed. She arranged her clothes in order of what she planned to wear for each day and activity they were planning. Tonight was simple. They were going to enjoy a night in and have dinner and drinks at the Tonga Room on the first floor. The next day would be spent at the deYoung Museum and the Academy of Science, then dinner with Elsa on the Hornblower. She had it all planned out in her head. 

Once she had successfully hung her clothes in the wooden armoire, she folded her arms and looked at the bed, trying to assess what side she wanted to sleep on. Regina was particular about how she slept and having been accustomed to sleeping alone, she felt she needed to carefully determine their sleeping arrangements in her head. She turned to ask Emma what side she wanted, but found that the blonde was in the living room with the television on. She walked through the doors to find Emma with her duffle bag open and half dressed in her uniform as she was in the middle of removing her shirt.

Regina turned around and held her hands to her face, immediately feeling the warmth in her cheeks. “Um…what are you doing out there?”

Emma pulled her shirt off and tossed it on the couch. “Huh? I’m changing. We can’t go out with me in my uniform the entire time. Wait… did you just turn around because I’m changing? Regina, it’s okay. You can look.”

The other woman shook her head with her back still towards Emma. “I-I’m not! I was just… I thought I forgot something, but it’s not important. You’re not going to leave your things out there, are you?”

Emma held up a grey buttonless polo shirt and a royal blue three-quarter sleeve button up, debating on which one to wear for the day. She opted for the blue shirt and shook out the wrinkles half heartedly. “What do you mean? Where else am I going to put them?”

Regina took a breath to calm herself. Hopefully Emma was dressed and it would be safe to turn around. But for some reason, the thought of seeing the blonde in just her bra and uniform pants was incredibly distracting. Regina turned around and folded her arms, as if it were some method in keeping herself in check. Emma wasn’t dressed and even worse, she was trying to work wrinkles out of a shirt. Regina leaned against the frame of the doorway to the bedroom. “Are you planning on sleeping out here in the living room?”

Satisfied that most of the wrinkles were gone, Emma spun the shirt around on her arms and adjusted it onto her back with one fluid motion. “Why not? I mean, I don’t want to intrude on your space.”

Emma was in the middle of buttoning the shirt when Regina walked over to her with her heart pounding an echoing beat in her ears. She took Emma by the wrist and turned her to force the blonde to face her. Silently, she pushed Emma’s arms to the side and slowly began unbuttoning the tiny black plastic buttons that had been set just moments before. Regina refused to look up at Emma as she worked the buttons undone. Her heart was still pounding as she slid her hands beneath the shirt and brushed her fingers against Emma’s waist, wrapping her arms around her. 

Emma’s internal monologue went into complete nonsense. They had little moments where they kissed or cuddled, she was the one who normally instigated, not Regina. This was a delightful change, but it was making her head swim at the same time. Regina’s hands moved up Emma’s back underneath the shirt as she pressed herself closer to the blonde. Unable to resist, Emma caught Regina’s lips with her own, sending tingles down her body and making her stomach do ten point Olympic flips. Regina didn’t resist or move away. She responded to Emma’s kiss with a playfully seductive graze of her tongue against her partner’s lips. 

Just when Emma thought her head would explode, Regina’s hands had moved up to her shoulders and were sliding the shirt off of her. For a split second, Emma thought Regina might have a second personality that made her a sexual wildcat. That was, until the dark haired woman stepped away from her with a smirk and the somewhat wrinkled blue shirt in her hands. “Two things, dear. One, you’re not sleeping out here. That bed is huge and I won’t accept that you’d leave me alone in there. Two, you’re not going out with this wrinkly shirt.”

All Emma could do was nod with her jaw unhinged. Who was she to argue with a gorgeous woman who managed to strip her shirt off while effectively rendering an Alameda County sheriff into a useless puddle of human emotion. Emma tried her hardest to keep her thoughts to herself. If that was a taste of what Regina was capable of, she wanted more of it. She wanted to drown in every moment of it until she passed out if she could. 

Regina returned to the bedroom with Emma’s shirt as she shakily took out the ironing board and iron. It had been years since she felt the way she did just then. Her hands were shaking and her whole body felt as if it were on fire from the inside out. A million thoughts ran in her head. It started with initiating another kiss, then sleeping together, then dates through the season… on and on the thoughts continued, firing rapidly in Regina’s mind as they pushed up fantasies of the future. But she stopped them, warning herself that to continue her train of thought might completely derail what they were slowly building. Regina had already decided that she wanted to be with Emma, so she wasn’t going to let her overzealous imagination run her this time.

She tried her best to focus as she ironed Emma’s shirt carefully. The sheriff was quietly moving her things into the bedroom, still dressed in her uniform pants and bra. After rummaging through her bag, she changed into a pair of black slacks and boots, then draped her red leather jacket onto the bed. As Regina finished ironing the shirt, Emma sidled up behind her and wrapped her arms around the other woman’s waist, burying her face into her hair and neckline.

“Y-your shirt’s ready,” Regina stuttered.

“Thanks,” Emma replied quietly.

“I’m sorry,” came the soft apology. Regina turned around in Emma’s arms, then wrapped her own arms around her neck. 

“For what?”

Regina draped the shirt across Emma’s shoulders and she instinctively responded by snaking her arms through the sleeves, still maintaining contact with Regina by keeping at least one hand on her waist. Regina’s hands moved from around Emma’s neck and down her collarbone onto the top of her chest. “I… I mean, just now… it…”

“Was amazing,” Emma said, finishing the sentence. “Don’t apologize.”

Regina shook her head, “I mean, I’m sorry if that seemed rushed. I couldn’t help myself and… I still want us to do things slowly. I…” She struggled for a second, trying to piece out her thoughts. “I want this to mean something for both of us, Emma. I don’t want to feel like we’re giving in to lust or some fantasized ideology of romance.”

This was where Regina’s honesty had historically burned bridges in previous relationships. A minute ago, she was elated from having that mind-blowing kiss with Emma and now she was instantaneously scared that the woman she had grown fond of would turn her down. That would certainly make for an awkward weekend. Although, it wasn’t as if she couldn’t just go home. It would be waste and she had no idea what she would tell Elsa if she cancelled dinner. 

Her premonitions were halted again by Emma placing a soft kiss on her lips and offering the sweetest, yet goofiest grin. “I get it, Regina. You don’t have to worry with me. I wasn’t planning or hoping for anything to move faster than what’s comfortable for you… I mean, for both of us. I told you before, you’re something else, Regina Mills. I don’t want this to be a passing moment in my life. So we’ll move at whatever pace is best for us, okay?” 

“I… thank you,” Regina smiled as she leaned in and kissed Emma one more time before letting her arms slip away to let the other woman finish getting dressed. 

Regina had the night planned out in her head. When she could spare moments at work, she had looked up dining options near the Fairmont, although she was quite familiar with the area, she still searched for something she may not have tried before or something she usually would have avoided. Having a date with different tastes certainly changed her normal thought process of what to eat and where. 

As Emma finished changing and was busy fixing her long blonde hair from its earlier ponytail, Regina sat on the edge of the bed, looking at the Tonga Room's menu on her phone. The cuisine was a bit kitschy for her tastes, but she was sure Emma would enjoy it.

"What are you up to now? I hope you're not working," Emma pouted as she stepped out of the bathroom. Her hair was brushed out and slightly curled from the ponytail and its own natural waves. 

"No, I'm just looking at the dinner menu." Regina replied without looking up from her phone. Emma rolled her eyes and walked over to her companion, then swiftly snatched the phone from her hands. "Hey! Give that back!"

"Stop trying to plan everything, muffin. How about...we go to dinner and then you let me decide the next move?" Emma offered as she held up the phone away from Regina's reach.

The other woman narrowed her eyes at the sheriff, "Why? What do you have planned?"

"Nothing," Emma grinned. "That's the fun part. Let's just go find something interesting and let the mood take us where we want to go."

"Your mood isn't an entertainment compass. What if someplace is booked and we can't get a table?"

"Then we'll wing it."


Regina was reluctant in allowing Emma to just 'wing it.' They took dinner in at the Tonga Room as Regina had planned, but after two shared Scorpion Bowls, her hesitation was melting away. They were given a table near the edge of the pool that centered the room which had a clear view of the Island Groove band that began to set up on a boat moored on the water.

  The atmosphere was lively as the band begun to play and diners slowly gave in to their inclination to dance. It took quite a bit of convincing and a signature Mai Tai for Emma to convince Regina to get up with her and dance. They joined a conga line that wrapped itself around the restaurant and passed by other tables. Regina felt ridiculous at first, then slowly lost herself in the joviality. After the conga line broke and the music switched to a faster beat, the salsa lessons her father gave her as a child resurfaced in Regina's memory. 

It was either the alcohol in her system or the satisfying food in her stomach or simply the presence of a captivating companion that lent its hand to Regina feeling incredibly relaxed and understanding what it meant to just 'let go.' Emma's smile was constant and just seeing how much fun the blonde was having made Regina enjoy herself even more. 

Out of breath and the alcohol nearly evaporated from her head, Emma wanted the night to continue. She sat back down in her seat and sipped on the melted ice that watered down the remaining ounces of her Mai Tai. "Want to go someplace else?"

Regina sat down and fanned herself with her hand, "Like where?"

"I have something in mind." Emma replied with a smile.

They paid their tab and left the restaurant. Regina worried about walking too far in her heels, but Emma assured her they weren't going far. Once they were out on the street, Emma checked the oncoming traffic before tugging Regina's hand and leading her across the street to the Mark Hopkins hotel. With every step, Regina checked over her shoulder, down the street or on a corner for a police officer to stop them from jaywalking. They made it, with no incident, safely to the hotel. Emma confidently led Regina through the lobby to the elevators. She pushed the button to the top floor and earned herself a glare from the other woman.

"Where are we going?" Regina asked once they were in the elevator.

"Just wait," Emma said with a wry grin. The elevator doors opened and they walked down a short hallway to a pair of glass doors. As Emma pulled the door open, Regina's senses were greeted with soft yellowed lights, the scent of an lacquered wooden dance floor and a big jazz band. People were on the floor, dancing to live swing music while bartenders mixed up classic cocktails. The biggest sight was beyond the dance floor, crystal chandeliers and 20's metro design. All around the room, giant windows encased the venue with floor to ceiling windows. From anywhere she stood, Regina could see the vast expanse of San Francisco below, out to the water and over to the opposite shoreline. The sun had set and the city was lit up in thousands upon thousands of lights, even across the Bay Bridge where the cars moving across the iconic passage between Oakland and San Francisco made it appear as if tiny glowing ants were marching across. "Top of the Mark." 

"I've heard of this place but I've never had a reason to come here." Regina mumbled  quietly.

"The view alone is worth it." 

Regina smiled as they walked over to a table by a window. "The company is worth it."

Another round of drinks re-ignited their alcohol buzz and it didn't take long for Emma to drag Regina out onto the dance floor again. Where Regina had excelled in salsa moves back at the Tonga Room, Emma now had the opportunity to show of the swing dancing she had learned as a teenager. Surprised she was able to retain any of it, they engaged in twists and spins until they were both out of breath, pressed together and relatively sweaty.

Although they didn't want the night to end, they knew they had a full day coming. It would not help either of them to be tired. After they finished their dance, both women walked somewhat unsteadily back to their hotel and to their room. 

Emma immediately kicked off her jeans and stripped out of her evening clothes while Regina rolled her eyes and instinctively picked up after her. The blonde wanted to flop down on the bed and just pass out, but after watching Regina go through a nightly routine, she figured it was best if she at least brushed her teeth. She was still finished before Regina and she groggily dragged her feet into the bedroom where she threw herself on the bed. 

"You're taking up half of the bed," Regina complained as she walked into the room. Emma only made a sort of weird growling noise and tucked her legs in. The space beside her was opened up for Regina and the dark haired woman smirked. "You're so kind, Ms. Swan."

"Just a fair warning, I grab onto things in my sleep. Pillows, mostly." Emma said as she rolled over onto her back.

"I'm well aware," Regina said curtly. "You fell asleep when we were watching that movie in my room." She pulled back the covers and frowned as Emma refused to move. Mustering up whatever strength she could, she yanked the covers from beneath the lazy woman and shook them out. A cool draft from the sheets fell over Emma. She shivered and curled up even more. "I'm only half sorry for that."

"You're evil. That was cold!" Emma whined as she shivered. 

Regina rolled her eyes and climbed into the bed. Without hesitation, she curled up next to Emma and wrapped her arm around the fetal positioned blonde. "Better?"

Emma loosed up and grinned with her eyes closed, "I could live with this."

"Good, now can you turn off the lights?" Regina smirked. 


Emma stared at herself in the mirror as the shower ran, filling the bathroom with steam. She hardly slept. It wasn't that the bed was uncomfortable or that Regina stole the covers. It was that instead of Emma being the one trying to cuddle, Regina was the one who remained attached to the blonde's side all night. She slept comfortably in the crook of Emma's arm and used part of her chest as a pillow. Emma, on the other hand, had woken up in the middle of the night to find Regina latched onto her. It was sweet at first, then her shoulder went numb. When she was able to move her arm, she tried to sleep on her side. Like a magnet, Regina latched onto her again, clinging to her waist and breathing softly into her back. Emma could still feel the heat of her breath below her shoulder blade. It seemed like every time she managed to find a comfortable spot, Regina would latch onto her again and Emma became so overly conscious of her presence that she couldn’t go back to sleep. She finally got at least an hour and a half’s worth of uninterrupted sleep when Regina got up for her morning run and shower. But the moment she came back, she ushered Emma out of bed and into the bathroom to start getting ready for their day. Now she was staring at her own reflection with the darkest circles under her eyes. 

A knock came at the door, jolting Emma from her personal scrutiny. “Em? Are you okay in there?” Regina asked through the door. “The water’s been running for at least fifteen minutes.”

Emma looked over her shoulder at the door. Had she really been standing there staring at herself for fifteen minutes? Not that she doubted Regina. That woman moved through the morning as if she were part of a rigorous machine. Emma looked down at herself and realized she really did move in a sort of daze. She managed to get her shirt off and her pajama pants were crumpled on the floor. All she had left was her underwear, but she didn’t seem to make it past that. 

“I’m fine… just on the slow moving end. Sorry, I’ll be done soon.” she said through the door as she lazily finished undressing.

Regina leaned against the door, hoping her voice would carry through enough. “I’ll be right back, dear. I’m just going down to get us coffee.”

Emma pulled the sliding wooden door open slightly and poked out her head. “Why don’t you just use the coffee maker in here?”

“Not a fan of that packet stuff. Is… your hair isn’t even wet. Are you sure you’re okay?” Regina asked as she attempted to pull the door open. Emma held it tight and smiled tiredly. “You look like you need the coffee. I’ll be back and we’ll talk.”

“Okay,” Emma agreed without another thought, then closed the bathroom door. Endless clouds of steam seemed to escape into the bedroom and moisten the windows that were now pouring in the first bright streams of morning light over the horizon.

Regina was already dressed for the day. Marooon colored skinny jeans with a black and silver accented Gucci belt, heather grey fitted t-shirt and a long crocheted black drape sweater gave her the look of a modern hipster. Emma would’ve found it amusing, but Regina had to admit it was rather comfortable. She paired her outfit with some black Toms and grabbed her wallet and phone. As she headed down the hallway to the elevator, she wondered what was bothering Emma. First off, she looked exhausted. Regina couldn’t put her finger on why. She felt like they slept through the night. In fact, she felt quite rested. Normally she was a light sleeper. She had grown accustomed to being woken up by every sound, tremor or ‘gut feeling’ that passed through her senses, as if her body refused to accept the fact that California has earthquakes. Except last night with Emma. For some reason, Regina’s sleeping self felt so comfortable, she was able to sleep through the night. 

She worried that maybe Emma wasn’t comfortable sleeping with her. Maybe they weren’t a good match. Regina reminded herself that they did start off their acquaintance with bickering. Although it was partially her fault, her instant attraction to the sheriff was what sparked the hostility. When she first met Emma, she didn’t think it was attraction at all. It was just some arbitrary unknown feeling that made her want to nitpick at everything the other woman did or said. She smiled to herself, thinking back on the first thing she nagged Emma about. Her comment about Regina as if she were some sort of Ebay purchase. Would buy again, A++. Regina shook her head to herself as she got into the elevator. Emma sure had a way with words. 

The terrifying thought that maybe Emma wasn’t happy with her came back. Was that why she couldn’t sleep? A sinking feeling fell through her stomach as the mental image of Emma calling things off suddenly became a nearly real threat. This mental anguish would have continued if it wasn’t for an incoming phone call. Regina expected to see Emma’s name on the screen but was actually quite relieved when it said “Wicked Sister of West End.”

Regina slowed her steps as she answered the phone. She figured Emma would take her time getting ready and the Academy wouldn't be open for another two hours. They had plenty of time. “Yes, Zelena?”

Zelena’s deceptively cheerful voice echoed through the phone. “Good morning, little sis! I figured you’d be awake at this hour. Although it’s quite late for us here, I imagine you just finished with your morning jog. Want to chat?”

She sighed as she continued to follow the scent of fresh coffee. “I’ve been done with my jog. You never want to just chat. What do you need?”

The all too familiar cackle resounded clearly in Regina’s ear. “Nothing, darling. I heard you have a date weekend. How is it so far? Is Emma taking care of you?”

"Who told you?" Regina grumbled into the phone. 

"Oh, what does it matter? All I want to know is if I need to put a certain sheriff in her place or if she's taking care of you, sis." Zelena said with a bit more conviction in her voice. When Regina didn't respond, Zelena sighed defeatedly. "Fine, if you must know, Mulan is the one who said you'd all be out for the weekend. Winning costume contests and all."

Regina hesitated for a moment as she weighed the outcomes of opening up to her sister or not. But they were trying, or had been trying, to rebuild their relationship. At this point, Zelena was the only person she could talk to about Emma, since she was the only one who actually knew they were seeing each other. She sighed, "I don't think I'm a good fit for her," she admitted sadly. "And when did you become all buddy buddy with Mulan?"

Zelena scoffed. "What sort of nonsense are you babbling on about? If you ask me, you're practically made for each other. She's hilarious where you're a complete stick in the mud."

"Aside from you taking the opportunity to be rude, Zelena, it doesn't seem like Emma is comfortable with me. We shared a bed last night, but she looks like she didn't sleep at all. What if she just naturally doesn't feel comfortable with me?"

"I think you're overthinking this, Gigi. Granted, you're a difficult person to sleep with. As kids, you were often kicking off the covers or kicking me when we had to share a bed. I highly doubt that it has anything to do with being compatible. Or, have you thought about this from Emma's perspective?" Zelena asked.

Regina stopped walking to lean against a pillar in the lobby. "What do you mean?"

A very audible sigh passed through the phone into her ear. "I'm guessing that you find her company very welcoming and were able to sleep quite easily. But perhaps she's a nervous wreck. Imagine it in her head. She's sleeping next to someone she cares deeply for and you haven't done anything sexual, but sharing a bed can be very intimate. Perhaps she couldn't sleep because she's conscious of you being so close. Also, you're a clinger."

"I am not," Regina argued.

"You are. But that's not the case. You need to talk to her. It won't do you any good to be worrying about this. It's very likely that all of this is completely in your head. You really should stop doing that, you know."

"Doing what?"

If the rolling of Zelena's eyes produced an any sort of sound, Regina could hear it through the phone. "Listen here, Gigi,you have an awful habit of living inside your own head. You either imagine the worst possible outcome or the ideal outcome of what you want and then end up being sorely disappointed or heartbroken. Every single woman you've date in college, you broke up with because they 'let you down."

"That isn't... well..." Regina paused, realizing that Zelena had hit the nail directly on the head and drove it home. "You're right, I need to talk to her."

"That's better. You tell me if she does something to hurt you and I will fly out there immediately. But you better step up and be honest with her first." Zelena tone was firm, but Regina smiled to herself anyways. It wasn't often that she got a big sister pep talk. She wouldn't admit it to Zelena, but she was grateful for it. "Now, what are your plans for today?"

"Wait, you haven't answered my question about you being friends with Mulan," Regina reminded her.

"You know," Zelena said with a light hearted laugh, "It really started out with an email exchange after we came to visit. Mulan was able to give me some insight into practical application of a couple of theorized projects my research lab has been working on. So... within the course of it, I think we've become science buddies."

"Right..." Regina got up from the pillar she was leaning against and continued her trek to the coffee shop around the corner of the hotel. The shop wasn't far and while Zelena rambled on about what was going on at home, Regina walked casually to the tiny cafe she had passed on her run. Zelena was still talking when she stopped in front of the store windows. "Zelena, I have to go now."

"Oh.. really? Well, I suppose I can cut this short."

"We've been on the phone for at least twenty minutes. I need to get back to Emma and I promised her I'd bring coffee." Regina sighed.

"All right, fine. Go bring your girl her coffee. But I expect a report back from you once the weekend is over." Zelena demanded. "Enjoy your date, Gigi. Be honest and stop over thinking everything."

Regina groaned, "Okay. I'm serious, I need to go now."

"Love you, Princess."

"Love you, too, Monster." The phone was hot in Regina's hand as she pulled it away from her ear. The chill of the air was an incredible contrast to the heat generating from the phone and it sent a shiver down her back. "Finally. Now, let's get that coffee. Poor Emma's probably wondering where I've been."


Emma managed to get through a shower without falling asleep, which was an accomplishment in her books. She was still exhausted when she changed into her jeans and a simple heather grey t-shirt. Regina hadn't returned yet, so Emma took the opportunity to dry her hair and sit on the couch to relax until her companion returned. 

She wasn't sure when she fell asleep or for how long when the door opened and Regina came in trying to balance a pair of coffee cups in a drink carrier with a white wax paper bag tucked between them. She got up to help Regina who was holding the door open with her foot and precariously pinching her keycard in between her fingers. Emma took the coffee from her and smiled. "Hi."

"You look better," Regina said as she came through the door. Emma put the coffee down on the small dinner table by the window. She held up the paper bag and wiggled a coffee cup out of the carrier. "I brought you a bearclaw and a latte."

Emma took the paper cup and pastry bag from Regina, then leaned forward and kissed her lightly. "Sorry, I didn't sleep too well."

The color drained from Regina's face. She knew she must have looked like a ghost because she swore she physically felt the blood rush out of her cheeks and turn into an ice cold weight in her stomach. She took her coffee in both of her hands and silently walked over to the couch and sat down. Emma frowned slightly as she gathered up her coffee and bearclaw, then unceremoniously plopped down on the couch next to Regina, squishing herself as close to the other woman as possible. "You were gone for a while. Are you okay?"

Be honest with her. Zelena's voice echoed in Regina's ears as she sipped her coffee and tried to fight the rising chill in her body. "Emma...are you comfortable being with me?"

The blonde tilted her head slightly and gave a crooked smile. "What are you talking about?"

"I mean, do you like being with me or am I a difficult person to be with?" Regina asked, slowly finding her voice. 

"What's wrong, Regina? This isn't like you. You're all...shy. Or sad. It's strange and I'm really confused." Emma answered. "Of course I like being with you. We're still starting out but you're my favorite person to be with. You're really classy and refined, but you're kind of a nerd and sometimes you're really elusive, but I like learning more about you. You're like...I don't know how to explain it. But it's fun being with you."

The troublesome chilly weight in Regina's center faded away with each of Emma's words, but a lingering worry refused to leave her mind. "I figured you didn't sleep well. I thought that maybe you weren't comfortable being with me and you couldn't sleep comfortably last night. I'm afraid that it's a precursor to what this relationship would be like. Then I thought, maybe you’d want to break up with me.”

Now it was Emma's turn to frown. She realized early on that Regina was incredibly perceptive but she had no idea that the woman had the ability to completely get lost in her own imagination. She put her coffee down on the table next to her bearclaw, then gently reached over and took the paper cup from Regina’s hands. She set the coffee down next to her own cup then turned and faced the woman next to her as she tucked one leg underneath her. Her eyes were probably still black from lack of sleep and she knew she didn’t look her best, but she still smiled as she placed her hooked finger under Regina’s chin to raise her head. Emma focused her green eyes on the reflective brown ones in front of her, almost losing her own train of thought just by staring at Regina. 

Now that she had the other woman looking at her, she took both of Regina’s hands in her own. “Listen to me, Regina. I’m not going to break up with you. You’re way too much fun and… I want more of you in my life. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t sleep last night because I was really nervous. Plus, we were drinking last night and I tend to wake up in the middle of the night if I go to sleep kinda drunk. So when I woke up, you were right there and even in your sleep, you’re incredible. I mean, you’re beautiful. All I could think about was you and how close you were to me. I mean, you were using my arm as a pillow for half of the night. But I didn’t want to move because I didn’t want to not be touching you. I… I’d like to take things further, but I don’t want to rush you. I know you asked to take things slow, to not make this public and I’m okay with that. Just… sometimes I’m guess I’m kind of a pervert and we’re adult women. There’s things I want to do with you that… well, you get what I’m saying, right?” Emma rambled, but she tried her best to hide her smile as the color returned to Regina’s face to the point where she was clearly blushing.

“I… I’m sorry,” Regina apologized quietly as she turned away from Emma to hide the heated redness of her face. 

“For what? You don’t have to be sorry for anything.”

“I never really explained anything to you and then I get all worked up in my own head and start projecting my fears on you and it’s not fair,” Regina tucked a bit of hair from behind her ear. Emma gazed at the spot beneath her ear and wondered to herself just how sensitive Regina would be in the spot if she leaned in and kissed her there. “I overthink everything, especially in a relationship. I can’t really help it, but I start thinking about a million possible outcomes of the future and I tend to make those my expectations. I want this time to be different. I don’t want to hold you to some lofty ideals that I’ve made up in my mind and then get disappointed if things don’t turn out the way I imagine them.”

Emma leaned back against the couch and scrunched her lips in thought for a second. “Would it make you feel better if I told you that I actually thought about what it would be like to take you home to my parents and introduce you as my girlfriend?” The look of shock on Regina’s face made Emma want to laugh. She sat up and grinned. “I think we all think of the future and if the person we’re with is going to be ‘the one.’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But I also think it’s important to focus on what we’re doing right now because now is the moment we’re living in.”

Regina smiled a little then, her earlier fears were driven away by Emma’s reassuring words. “When did you become so wise?”

The blonde shrugged, “I think part of that comes from being in the military. I didn’t see a lot of combat in Italy, but being that close to the parts of the world like Iran where there’s a lot of fighting… it kinda puts your life in perspective. We only have today, this single moment that we’re living in. It could be gone in any moment. I realized that worrying too much about what could happen only takes away from you experiencing what’s happening around you right now. It’s okay, Regina. Imagine whatever future you want. Just don’t forget that you’re not in the future right now and it can always change, good or bad. It will just be.”

“There’s consequences, Emma.” Regina argued.

“True, but you learn from them and live with them. It makes us who we are. So, how about we just worry about today and don’t let the future run us? Whatever ideals you have going on in that head of yours, I’m always willing to listen. Who knows, we might be imagining the same future.”

Regina wasn’t sure if what she was hearing was a dream or if Emma was actually giving sound advice. Either way, she was suddenly conscious of a tugging sensation in her chest and a hitch in her throat. Emma was right and for the first time, Regina stopped worrying about what could happen and only thought about what she wanted right then and there. She leaned over towards Emma and pressed her lips against the sheriff’s, allowing the natural intoxication of their connection to release the tension in her heart. Emma responded to the kiss with a smile and wrapped her arms around Regina, drawing her down against her as she lay back on the couch. She could have stayed there for hours, just taking in the overwhelming feeling of Regina’s body against hers and the increasingly wanton kisses that teetered on the edge of seduction.

Emma tilted her head to kiss that spot below Regina’s ear that she had set her eyes on earlier. The other woman shuddered and sighed breathily before pushing herself up to look down at the blonde whose eyes were glazed over. “We have plans for the day, you know.”

“You mean we can’t stay here and just do this all day?” Emma pouted.

Regina slid off of the couch and stood up, then offered her hand to Emma to help the other woman sit up straight. “Come on, I don’t want us to be one of those couples that stays indoors and does…whatever. You said to live in the moment. Let’s go make some memories so we remember these moments.”

Emma smirked, “Now you’re getting it. So where are we headed first?”

“The Academy of Science. There’s a walk-through atrium that’s full of butterflies and an aquarium.” Regina said as she went into the bedroom to grab their jackets. 

“You said aquarium. I’m sold.” Emma grinned. As Regina gathered her purse and jacket, Emma quickly broke off half of her bearclaw and inhaled it to put something in her stomach. She was able to play it cool, but even the few minutes she spent with Regina on the couch had her worked up. She tried to wash down the bearclaw with coffee and mildly burnt her tongue. “Ow, damn it. Still hot.”

Regina walked over to Emma and draped her red leather jacket over her shoulders. “Coffee is hot, dear.” She leaned in and kissed Emma again, realizing that she somehow could not get enough of feeling the other woman’s lips against her own. Regina intensified the kiss by running her tongue against Emma’s lower lip and wrapping her arms around her waist. They stayed like that for more than either woman realized until Emma broke the kiss to breathe. Regina smirked playfully, “Feeling better?”

Emma took a deep breath and allowed the air to fill her lungs again. “Was I feeling bad?”

“I mean about your burnt tongue.”

“Forgot all about it.”

Regina laughed and took Emma’s hand. “Like magic.”


With the help of the concierge and the bellmen of the hotel, the wait for a taxi wasn’t very long. Emma shared the other half of her bear claw with Regina as they waited for a few minutes, then laughed when the other woman complained about how sweet it was. “You’re going to turn into Wilford Brimley and start doing ‘diabetus’ awareness commercials,” Regina scolded her. Emma only laughed that she made the reference.

The ride to Golden Gate Park was uneventful. A bit of traffic downtown wasn’t even worth calling ‘traffic’ as it was just a holdup of cars because of a homeless woman with a cart that refused to move from the middle of the street. But taxi drivers are ruthless in San Francisco and Regina tried to hide her terror as the driver swerved into the oncoming traffic lane to get around the homeless woman. Emma was off-duty and out of her jurisdiction, but she clearly ground her teeth as well after watching the driver. 

By the grace of some higher power, they arrived at the Academy with no incidents. After redeeming their tickets at the will call booth, Emma took Regina by the hand and led her into the Academy. Large displays and banners of the featured themes of the month peppered the lobby. They decided to go to the atrium first which spanned all three floors in an impressive towering living rainforest. As they walked through the guided path, multi colored butterflies hovered around them, passing through groups of people as if they were part of the atrium itself. A large monarch butterfly landed on Emma's head and Regina immediately took out her phone to snap a quick photo. On the second floor of the atrium, various displays had live reptiles living in carefully monitored habitats. An employee was holding a white python around her shoulders and talking about the unique qualities of the serpent. Regina stopped to listen for a few minutes, then was offered the opportunity to hold the snake. Emma watched in both terror and amazement as Regina willingly accepted, then carefully held her arms out for the handler to place the snake on her shoulders. It wrapped itself around one of Regina's outstretched arms and then turned its head towards her. Emma made sure to take several pictures of Regina holding the snake, somehow finding the scene somewhat heartwarming and seductive. The dark haired hotelier handled the serpent gently and it responded by snuggling around her shoulders and flicking it's tongue towards her face. After the handler took back the snake, she returned to Emma's side and looked through the photo gallery in the sheriff's phone at the images of herself and the snake. 

Once they had walked through the bulk of the atrium, Emma asked to see the aquarium on the basement level. They headed downstairs through a series of steps that led to a darkened underground display of the water beneath the atrium. Emma stood in front of the large aquarium staring into the water at the fish passing by. Regina took a few more photos of Emma by the tank and smiled as the blonde took her by the hand to point out different fish. Having grown up in Pacifica, she had gone on several fishing trips with her dad as a kid. Emma shared stories about her fishing trips while they walked through the aquarium displays. Regina found herself captivated by the deep sea displays, watching the jellyfish and nautilus float along the artificial currents silently. 

She stood in front of the large jellyfish display, her eyes fixated on the translucent creatures bobbing along in the water. Emma sidled up behind her and wrapped her arms around Regina's waist. "This is fun." Emma said quietly.

"Mmm," Regina hummed in agreement. She had been so focused on making sure no one saw them that she almost always wiggled out of Emma's grasp when she hugged her like this in public. But today was different. This was their date weekend and ever since their conversation earlier that morning, Regina promised herself she would stop worrying about the endless possibilities and just enjoy being in Emma's company. She turned slightly in Emma's arms to kiss the other woman lightly. Emma blushed at the contact and tightened her grip around Regina's waist a little tighter. Regina smiled and turned back towards the tank. "Let's do this again sometime."

Emma gasped playfully, "You mean...a second date?!"

A laugh escaped Regina's lips as she kissed Emma again. "Hopefully, if you say yes, we'll have lots of dates."

"Then, yes."

After they had their fill of watching jellyfish swim around, they explored the other exhibits of the Academy. Around noon, Emma's stomach began to growl audibly despite having had a bearclaw earlier. They took in a light lunch at the Academy Cafe with Regina not-so-subtly reminding Emma that they had dinner reservations with Elsa later that evening.

Once they finished lunch, they walked across the park to the DeYoung Museum. While the exhibits in the museum didn't interest Emma as much, she made an effort to engage in conversation with Regina about them. It was mostly Emma asking her companion to explain the exhibit to her, but for the most part they enjoyed themselves as they walked around together. Since Regina felt comfortable enough, she continuously held onto Emma's hand as they toured the museum. It felt natural to just grasp the other woman's hand and when they did separate, Regina was quite conscious of the disconnection. 

Before long, Regina looked at her watch and realized that they needed to get ready for dinner with Elsa and possibly Kida. They took a taxi back to the hotel to change and freshen up. Regina insisted on showering again, so Emma took the opportunity to take a quick power nap to try and catch up on her sleep. She was acutely aware of the sound of running water in the shower, so the moment it stopped, she was jolted awake. She dug out her nicer outfit for the evening, which ended up being a figure hugging dark steel grey pants suit, satin royal blue blouse and a pair of royal blue heels her mother had bought her. It was Snow's intention to make sure that her daughter always had something nice to wear, in case there was ever something formal she needed to attend. Now she silently thanked her mom as she surveyed her appearance in the mirror of the living room. 

Regina emerged from the bathroom in a fresh set of matching black underwear. Emma caught a quick glance before deciding to stay in the living room, before she became too distracted. Their conversation was brief as Regina moved in and out of the bathroom and the bedroom to get dressed. After her hair was dried and styled, she stood in front of the mirror in a black v-neck long sleeved dress and a silver accented belt cinched around her waist. She carefully applied her makeup and selected her favorite black Louboutin pumps to match her outfit while Emma finally decided to lay down on the bed and play with her phone.

"Emma, what are you doing?" Regina asked from the bathroom as she fixed a pair of black crystal earrings to her lobes.

"Candy Crush," Emma replied casually.

"Are you ready? We have to be at the dock by five. The boat will sail at five thirty." Regina walked back into the bedroom and smiled as she looked down at Emma. The blonde was on her back with her phone held up above her face and her long hair splayed out beneath her. "Wow... That outfit really suits you. I didn't figure you for the feminine type, but...you look good. I kinda like you in a suit. Are you having fun?"

"I don't normally dress up, but I can once in awhile. I clean up pretty good." Emma sat up and grinned before she put her phone away and stood up, taking a moment to balance herself on her heels. She sauntered over to Regina, towering over her by a few inches thanks to the platform on her shoes. "Today was a lot of fun, playing around at the museums with you."

Regina smiled back and casually pushed some of Emma's blonde waves back into place  before leaning upwards for a quick kiss. "I had a lot of fun, too. Best date I've had in years." She gathered up her Louis Vuitton trench coat and insisted that Emma bring a coat as well. The blonde wasn't quite as prepared, so she snatched up her usual red leather jacket and carried it.

Once Regina had determined that they were ready to go and she had packed a smaller purse to match her dress, they headed down to the lobby and requested another taxi to the pier. It was just about half past four when the taxi dropped them off in front of the Hornblower pier. Hand in hand, they checked in at the kiosk for their reservations, then decided to wait for Elsa. Regina checked her phone and found one text from her friend with an estimated arrival time of fifteen minutes.

The boat's crew hadn't opened the gates yet, so Emma took Regina by the hand and walked her over to a steel rigging that jutted out on the dock where the boats were anchored. She leaned against the rigging and pulled Regina in front of her, holding both of her hands between her palms.

"Are you cold?" she asked as she rubbed Regina's hands between her own.

"Not particularly. I don't mind the cold very much. It's the heat that irritates me." Regina explained.

Emma took a moment to really look at how well Regina was put together. The dress fit her figure nicely and her shoes gave her at least a two and a half inch height increase. But all Emma could think about was how lucky she felt that she was the one that Regina chose to be with this evening. She hoped they could continue this, even if it meant continuously hiding until Regina was comfortable enough to be open about their relationship. She wanted to see if they would really make things work, if she really would be the woman she could take home to introduce to her parents. Unable to fight against her better judgement, she pulled Regina down to her gently and kissed her warmly.

Regina wanted to resist at first, especially since they would be meeting Elsa soon and there was a high chance of being seen. But just like before, Emma's kiss was intoxicating and the ability to not want her went flying out of her mental window. She placed her hand on Emma's cheek to cup her face as the other woman's hand slipped on her waist. Emma could hear her heart pounding in her chest. Kissing Regina was different from anyone else she's ever been close or intimate with. There was always a spark or some sort of immediate reaction that made her want more. Maybe it was in the way her body responded or the way Regina seemed to sigh happily every time. Whatever it was, Emma couldn't seem to get enough of it.

When Regina finally straightened herself and broke the kiss, they both smiled at each other with the same silent communication in their heads. It wasn't that they needed to say anything, it was a feeling they both seemed to share. They were enjoying this, their company with each other and whatever it was they were feeling. Regina wouldn't dare say 'love' in her head. That was definitely one of her lightspeed thoughts. But it was something...something she wanted to keep chasing. A million thoughts ran through Regina's mind as it had always done, but this time she convinced herself to not be scared. She would face this head on and remind herself to live for what was around her, not for what it could be.

"Wow... I had a feeling, but I never expected you two to look this good together," a voice disrupted Regina and Emma's wistful gazing as they both turned to find Elsa and Kida standing no more than fifteen feet away. "So, is it official? You're dating?"

Emma turned back to Regina to see the woman she adored become a ghost. Their secret was out.

Chapter Text

 

Emma was panicking. Not the sort of panicking where one would wave their arms in the air like Kermit the Frog while screaming. It was more of a silent internalized panicking that teetered on the edge of screaming out loud and running away. She kept looking at Regina, hoping the other woman would have something to say or at least do something. Emma made a jerking move to yank her hand away from Regina's, but her companion held on with a firm grasp. She knew she wasn’t the only one panicking. She could see Regina’s jaw tighten as she clenched her teeth together.

“No more running…” Regina mumbled to herself. Her hands were getting clammy. She could feel it and she was pretty sure Emma could too. Then, a sort of light went on over Regina’s features as she smiled calmly and walked over to where Elsa and Kida stood. “Hi, Elsa. I’m sorry, I wasn’t sure just how long you’d be before you got here. The ship won’t be boarding for a few more minutes, I think.”

Elsa folded her arms and smirked, “Regina Mills, you don’t get to use that sales smile on me. Can we please stop pretending that Emma isn’t your girlfriend now?”

“Wait, she knows?” Emma asked as her voice hitched an octave higher. “I thought no one knew.”

“I didn't know,” Elsa replied before Regina could defend herself. “But you’re both horrible at hiding it. You didn’t really think no one would pick up on it? Regina, do you even realize how little you smile unless you’re getting a text from Emma?”

“I... what? Are you serious?” Regina asked. She suddenly tilted her head towards Kida and frowned, “I’m so sorry you’re getting involved in this.”

Kida held her hands up and smiled, “Don’t mind me. I’m here for Elsa.”

The blow horn that signaled the boarding time of the Hornblower suddenly echoed across the pier. Regina’s timing had been wrong, but she couldn’t have been more thankful for it than she was now. Using the moment to break up the conversation, she suggested that they board the yacht and get a drink. She certainly felt like she needed one at this very moment.

Emma caught up with Regina as they walked down the pier to the yacht. “Are you sure about this?” she asked warily.

Regina nodded. “I can’t keep hiding us. I’m terrified of my own anxiety, but I’m only holding us back. We’ve been having so much fun this weekend. I would rather not go back to just pretending it’s not happening.” Emma visibly relaxed and took Regina’s hand in her own again. Regina flashed a quick smile towards the sheriff and held up their joined hands. “Just, don’t let go. Non-literally, of course.”

“One day at a time,” Emma reminded her. “We’ll live in the future tomorrow.”

Regina half snorted a laugh, “More wise words from Sheriff Swan?”

“Hmm… more like they’re my dad’s quips. He and mom really have these weird sayings and one-liners that they think are so clever. Their personal one is ‘I will always find you.’ Honestly, I think it’s kind of annoying.” Emma groaned. They walked onto the boat and moved to the side so that Elsa and Kida could catch up to them. The crowd of people that were also boarding had managed to separate the two couples, but at least gave Regina and Emma a moment to talk. 

Once Elsa and Kida caught up, they checked in with the hosts of the dining cabin to get seated at their table. They were seated near a window at a white linen table for four. Before Elsa could drill Regina again with questions, a woman in a black button up shirt that was obviously too big for her, approached their table; service was quick, but of course, they did only have three hours on the water to have dinner and entertain themselves. Regina promptly ordered a bottle of champagne to start their dinner. Of all things, she had to order the Dom Pèrignon. 

Elsa raised her eyebrow at Regina from across the table, signaling her disbelief that she ordered the most expensive thing on the champagne list. Either Regina was in a celebratory mood or she just threw her last care out of the window.

"Hey, so...Kida, it's good seeing you outside of Tiana's." Emma said, breaking the strange silence that settled amongst them.

Kida pushed an errant strand of platinum hair behind her ear and smiled. "Thanks. When Elsa asked me to come with her, Tiana immediately took me off the schedule so I could have the night off."

"That's really sweet of her. We all really like Tiana and her place is a great addition to the neighborhood." Regina said. She had lightened the clamping of her jaw on her teeth, but she was still feeling the tendrils of panic wriggling around in her stomach. It was a struggle, to suppress her emotions that felt as if they would drown her with their intensity. It was anxiety of her own built up worries, that she was fighting against. It took on a physical manifestation in her gut. But what was it really? Was it the idea of anyone knowing that she was in a relationship? Did she even really know the answer herself? She had told Emma that she wanted to not come out about their relationship for fear of her own preemptive thinking. That she was afraid of building walls too high for Emma to break down. Could there have been something more than just that? Regina wasn’t sure, but it lingered there in her heart, whispering more quiet words that made her anxious.

It wasn't long before the server returned with the bottle of champagne, glasses and an ice bucket on a stand. After ceremoniously opening the bottle and making a bit of small talk, they were served half a glass each and the remainder was left in the bucket to top off their glasses as they chatted. She took their orders for their entrees quickly, then finally left the table so they could talk.

Elsa folded her arms over her chest. "So, can we hear the story now?" She picked up her champagne glass and sipped at it, taking note of the bubbles that rose to the surface and released the scent of the wine. If going out to dinner with Regina had taught her anything, it was to never just drink anything without taking a moment to appreciate what it is. Now she found that it was her natural inclination to do so. 

Regina sighed in defeat, although she wasn't quite sure if she was actually being 'defeated.' She glanced at Emma for a moment, then gave her a reassuring smile. She would get through this and she wouldn’t keep her head down. Not this time. ”Okay, fine. Yes, we're dating."

"Since when?" Elsa urged, her smile growing bigger as she leaned forward. 

Emma shrugged, "Around the time that Regina's mom came to visit. She doesn't know, though."

"Actually..." Regina started hesitantly. "My sister knows."

Emma bit her lip. "Um... I know."

Elsa's focus darted back and forth between Regina and Emma as she quietly listened in. Regina narrowed her eyes at Emma and frowned. "What do you mean?"

"W-well, I mean I had an idea that she knows. Your sister didn't say anything outright, but she...er, she definitely let me know the conditions of dating you." Emma confessed. Regina still looked confused and a little aggravated at this point. She picked up her champagne and took a bigger swig of the liquid, wincing as the carbonation hit her throat the wrong way. "When I drove you guys back to the St. Regis that last night your family was visiting, Zelena let me know she'd lay the law down if something were to happen to you."

Regina sat back in her seat and grumbled as she finished her champagne, which Emma quickly refilled halfway. "That sneaky ginger witch...the reason why she was that confident was because she saw us. She was sitting in that armchair in the living room and you can see the top of the stairs from it. I tried to play it off but she admitted she saw me kiss you that first time." Not even realizing her glass had gone empty and that Emma had refilled it, Regina took another large sip. Elsa and Kida passed a glance at each other and grinned. This was getting interesting.

“I don’t get it,” Elsa said as she took the champagne bottle and topped off everyone else’s glasses. “So this has been going on for a few months now… Why hide it? First off, you two are a really good looking couple. When we saw you outside, you look really happy…so, I guess I’m just confused about why you wouldn’t tell any of us. We’d all support you.” 

Regina bit her lip and looked out of the yacht’s window beside her. How could she tell her best friend that she’d been hiding her relationship? A new girlfriend should be something to be excited about, something that someone would share with their closest friends. But she had kept it from everyone, even Elsa. She’d have kept it from her sister if Zelena hadn’t been so criminally observant and sitting in the right place at the right time. Admitting the reality of being in a relationship with Emma Swan, accepting that she had feelings for the plucky blonde sheriff, and going so far as sharing it with friends would make it real. It would turn it into a tangible thing that they would have to face and accept. Regina hadn’t been sure she was ready to do that. She’d seen enough of her relationships go through a sort of emotional gauntlet and maybe there was a part of her that thought if she pretended it wasn’t happening, it wouldn’t ever go down in destructive flames.

But after the last day she had spent with Emma, just the two of them playing in the city and actually having the freedom to act like a couple, she realized that hiding was only keeping them from growing. The futures she imagined in her head could never exist if she never gave their relationship the chance to try to move towards a future. It was Emma who helped her see it. But she didn’t react the way she had expected. She was gentle and supportive; she gave firm advice but wasn’t forceful about it. There was no ultimatum or pushing towards a solution. It was only Emma quietly agreeing to stay beside her and to move at the same pace in their relationship. If they continued this, it remained to be seen. But that was the promise she was given now and that was what pushed Regina forward now.

It was Emma who spoke first, breaking the revelation of thought that had passed through Regina’s consciousness in mere moments. “We wanted to take things slow. I guess we were just being extra cautious because we live together. Could you imagine how weird things could get if we rushed into everything, started sleeping together and then broke up, but lived in the same house? Talk about uncomfortable!” She laughed, making the situation a bit more jovial. But in a brief moment, she caught Regina’s eye and smiled. It was her way of showing her support for the woman she cared about. For Regina, that spoke volumes.

“I think that’s really smart of you,” Kida said quietly. Elsa looked at her companion and smiled. Kida was slightly younger and still in college compared to herself. But the girl was wiser than she appeared and Elsa found it rather attractive in itself. “It’s weird, you know? We live in a society that’s now reliant on Tinder and iPhone apps to find a date. Then they hook up, go out for a few weeks and break up. The modern relationship barely lasts longer than a raindrop in California. What you’re building is something that is meant to last and I think that’s really important in this age.”

Elsa nodded in agreement, "Regina, if you and Emma want to keep things private still, we respect that. I just want you to know that your friends will support you. Mulan, Aurora.. Belle and Ruby, and of course, myself. We've all been watching the two of you and have been wondering when you would finally get together."

A sense of relief settled on Regina's shoulders and perhaps her entire body relaxed for it. She reached over and squeezed Emma's hand, then smiled at her friend across the table. "No, we're done hiding. We're probably not going to climb on top of the Golden Gate and shout it to the world, but there's no reason to pretend this isn't happening." 

Emma felt lighter somehow. She wasn't sure if she had been weighted down by their secret, but it certainly felt relieving to let it go. She leaned over and kissed Regina's temple lightly. "We'll tell the others personally, though. They're our friends and it's probably better if we tell them face to face instead of texting or something."

"All right, newlyweds," Elsa teased their starry eyed gazing. "This is now an official double date."

Time around them seemed to take its cue as the first course salads arrived. The champagne was gone, so the next moment Regina caught the attention of the server, she ordered a bottle of the highly acclaimed Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon for the table. Kida politely declined the empty glass and settled for water since she had to work the next morning. Elsa commended her on her sense of responsibility and playfully offered to drink her share of the wine.

They chatted throughout dinner, Regina and Emma regaling their jaunt through the Academy of Science and their excursion into the nightlife of the city the night before. Elsa shared the horror stories of putting together her sister’s wedding, since Anna still lacked the interest for the details beyond the reception and how much chocolate she wanted for dessert. They asked Kida about her major and she lectured them on her archaeology courses and how it was her dream to go on research digs in foreign countries. 

Music started up and all around the yacht, people got up from their tables to dance on the center dance floor. Given the size of the venue and the atmosphere of the crashing waves around the ship and the glow of the lights from the city, the whole room felt like some sort of elaborate wedding celebration. Elsa was determined to make the most out of the evening. She hardly ever went out, except to dinner once in awhile with Regina or Anna and Kristoff. Afternoon coffee at Tiana’s or movie night at Mulan’s was hardly worth calling a night out. She excused herself from the table and tugged Kida’s hand, guiding the younger girl out onto the dance floor. Regina and Emma watched for a bit as awkward dancer Kida tried to keep up with Elsa, who was surprisingly graceful. After a bit more urging from across the dance floor, Regina and Emma joined Elsa and Kida.

The music wasn’t like the upbeat Latin tunes from the Tonga Lounge or the jazzy swing music from the Top of the Mark. This time, it was a mix of top 40 pop songs from the last three decades that really added to the whole wedding reception vibe. The girls danced anyways, enjoying themselves and even breaking apart for a bit to dance with strangers. The other diners were friendly and whether they were dancing with men or women, everyone seemed to be having a good time. 

After some time on the dance floor, Regina ducked out by herself to the upper deck for some fresh air. She stood against the railing, admiring the city from across the water as the yacht passed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. She inhaled the crisp bay air, enjoying the sharp chill on her face. The music from below faintly passed through the glass windows and became a soft thumping beat in the background.

Dinner was not exactly something memorable as far as the food was concerned, but Regina was happy with how the day went, even if her secret relationship with Emma was out in the open now. She felt relaxed and relieved that she didn’t have to hide, although she reassured herself that it was for a good reason and it helped put a good foundation stone in for something much more meaningful and long lasting compared to her previous relationships. There was only once that she felt this sort of connection with anyone.

“Why are you out here all by your lonesome?” a voice asked behind her. Regina turned around and found Elsa walking up to her, holding her dress hem up as she glided towards her friend in some impressive ice blue heels.

“Cute shoes,” Regina commented as Elsa joined her side.

“Thanks. They were on sale at DSW. What are you doing out here? Emma’s quite the dancer. She may still be going at it with Kida and some random people on the dance floor.” Elsa laughed.

Regina folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the railing. “It was getting stuffy in there. I needed some fresh air.”

Elsa tilted her head to the side slightly and gave her friend a warm smile. “You look happy.”

The hotelier looked up at the night sky, through the splotchy clouds that blocked the starlight as she brushed a bit of hair away from her face. She looked back at Elsa and smiled back, “I am. I’m sorry I kept this a secret from you, Elsa. You’re my best friend and I really wanted to tell you.”

The platinum blonde waved her hand, “Stop apologizing, Regina. I get it. You’re not the only one who gets relationship anxiety. Honestly, I’m at a complete loss at what to do in this sort of situation, but luckily Kida is incredibly patient.”

“How’s that going, by the way?”

“Slowly. Which works out for both of us since I’ve got work, she’s got school and I really don’t know how to go about this whole dating thing. It’s pretty new to me. I’ll take any tips if you’ve got them.” Elsa grinned. “But I’ll be honest, Regina. I’m really glad you and Emma are together. It’s just one of those things that is so mismatched it’s perfect.”

Regina narrowed her eyes at Elsa and shivered slightly. “What do you mean?”

“You two are almost complete opposites. The rough and rugged sheriff with the high class city born hotelier? It’s almost right out of a movie. Like you two are the RomCom characters that clash heads and then over time and bickering, you grow into a loving relationship.” Elsa explained. She laughed at the idea in her own head. “I’d pre-purchase tickets for that.”

“What sort of title would that movie have?”

Elsa giggled, “Swan Queen?”

“I get the ‘Swan’ part because of Emma’s name but why ‘Queen?”

“Doesn't your name mean ‘Queen’?” Elsa asked as she craned her neck to the side with a smirk.

“Oh… you’re right, it does.” Regina laughed. “Thanks, by the way.”

“For what?”

Regina smiled. “For letting Emma and I have this weekend together. It would have been fun with you, but I think just spending time together really put some perspective into our relationship.”

Elsa shrugged a little and pushed back some hair that was blowing in her face with the wind. “It was unintentional, I really did have to sit Anna down and make her do some wedding arrangements with me. Kristoff was more involved than she was. But I’m glad it worked out for you.” 

“There you two are. We were looking all over for you.” Regina and Elsa turned around to find Emma and Kida half jogging towards them while both carrying two drinks. It was less jogging and more walking with energetic steps. Emma smiled as she approached her companion and offered her a drink. “Blanton’s Manhattan, on the rocks.”

Regina pouted, “I don’t drink my Manhattan on the rocks, though.”

“Trust me, it was safer this way. Wasn’t sure where you went, but Kida and I decided to get you two something to drink. Didn’t want to lose half of it walking around.” 

“How thoughtful. Thank you,” Elsa took the drink that Kida offered her and nodded slightly. “What is it?” She eyed the drink in her hands, which looked like water with ice.

“Sapphire and tonic,” Kida replied. “But if you’re not a fan of gin, this one is a Ketel One and tonic.” Holding up the similarly colored drink for Elsa to see, Kida pushed her long hair back with her free hand and shivered. 

Elsa smiled and sidled up to Kida’s side and pressed her side against her. “You’re cold. Why don’t we go inside?”

Kida nodded thankfully, “You’re not cold? You feel like ice.”

“The cold doesn’t bother me,” Elsa replied with a smile. “But let’s head in. I’d feel awful if your memory of our double date with these two is that you were turned into an ice statue.”

“Sounds like a good plan. Regina? Emma? Are you coming?” Kida asked. Elsa was already halfway towards the stairs that led back into the cabin.

“Be there in a second. We’ll meet you two at the table.” Emma said. Once they were gone, she turned back towards Regina who had her back against the railing and was quietly sipping at her Manhattan with a straw. “Has anyone ever told you that you look stunning?”

Regina half-laughed, “Is that the best you can come up with? Here I have a world class personality and you’re complimenting my looks? You’d think with all this feminism in California, you’d have come up with something better than that.”

Emma bit her lip nervously and took a sip of her whiskey. “Um… well, I didn’t really know what to say… but… I just…”

“Oh, relax.” Regina sighed as she stepped closer to Emma and kissed her lightly. She lingered for a few seconds more, just to enjoy the feel of Emma’s lips on hers for a moment longer. “You taste like whiskey,” she whispered.

The blonde laughed, “So do you.”

“This weekend has been amazing, Emma.” Regina said quietly. She pressed her forehead against Emma’s, purposefully keeping her lips just a breath away from the blonde that every word brushed her lips like spoken wisps.

Holding her drink in one hand and snaking her arm around Regina’s waist, Emma pulled the other woman closer to her so that their bodies were pressed together. “I’ll admit, I didn’t imagine we’d be here like this when I first moved in with Mulan and Aurora. But I’m glad things turned out the way they did.”

“What would you have done if I actually didn’t like you?” Regina asked with a devious smirk.

“Probably annoy the shit out of you because I would still constantly try to get your attention.” Emma laughed. “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m incredibly stubborn.”

“No, I’ve definitely noticed that.” 

Emma leaned in and kissed Regina’s jaw before pulling her closer in an embrace. Regina was so focused on being held by Emma that she hardly noticed that it was cold anymore. Maybe it was still cold and she had gone numb or perhaps Emma Swan had a way of blocking it. Either way, all she could focus on was the woman who held her so close, as if she would float away if she didn’t. 

“Regina…” Emma whispered in her ear. “I…”

A lump formed in Regina’s throat in anticipation for what Emma might be saying. She guessed at it, wondered if Emma would actually go through with it and held her breath for moment trying to gauge her own reaction. If Emma said what she thinks she’s going to say, Regina had no idea how she would respond. Were they at that point in their relationship? She had always been wary of those words. She had only heard them sincerely, from one person before. All the others had said it half heartedly or as a way to try and preserve a relationship that Regina was already cutting off. Over time, they became just words. But right now, from Emma… if she were to say it, Regina was almost ready to believe it.

But the blonde seemed to be frozen in her own thought. Regina frowned slightly and kissed her cheek. “What is it?”

“I… sorry, I’m thinking of how to say what I want without my brain jumbling it all up,” Emma explained. “I think, after that first time I heard you sing that song… the Sam Smith one, after that I’d have done anything for as long as it takes to get you to like me.”

Regina laughed a little and touched her cold fingers to Emma’s cheek, “Emma Swan… I already liked you when I sang that. I remember it very clearly. I was driving back home from work and the thought just hit me. You irritated the hell out of me and I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t like you had done anything to me. But I just felt drawn to you and being attracted to you certainly wasn’t the first thought that came into my mind. And then I realized that you irritated me because my own emotions didn’t know how to behave towards you. I didn’t know how to act towards you.” She kissed Emma again, smiling inwardly as she felt the other woman relax against her. She realized that she had been tense the entire time. “Well, you certainly didn’t make things better for yourself with your eBay comments.”

Emma blushed, “Sorry… I mean, I’m really sorry about that. I don’t think Mulan and I knew how to react. You kinda swept in with a lot of style and class with your suit and your Louboutin shoes and that Tesla. Which, by the way, I thought was incredibly hot and presumptuous at the same time.”

“Presumptuous?!” Regina slapped her open palm on Emma’s arm lightly. “You’re lucky I like you now.”

“Yeah, I really am lucky.” Emma replied. She kissed Regina again, this time lingering as long as she could, as if she could lose herself completely in the moment. She pulled away and smirked playfully, “So wait, you mean to say you were mean to me because you like me? You really are a 10-year-old boy in there!” 

Regina pulled away and took another drink from her glass. “You know, I was fantasizing about what we could do when we get back to the room, but now I’ll just keep it to myself.” She started walking back towards the stairs to the lower deck while Emma stood right where she left her with a gaping space in her arms where Regina had stood. She looked back to flash a devious smile at Emma before starting down the steps.

“H-hey! Wait! Reginaaaaa…” Emma whined, hurrying after her. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!”


The remainder of the dinner cruise was spent chatting with Elsa and Kida over their last drinks as the yacht did its last turn past Alcatraz and back towards the pier. After standing on the street under a light for a good twenty minutes finishing their conversation, Regina and Emma took an Lyft back to the Fairmont while Elsa and Kida walked back to where Elsa had parked her car. 

Chilled to the bone from being out on the water, Regina announced that she would warm up in the shower. The night wasn't even close to being over, but the day's activities were finally taking their toll. While Regina showered, Emma called down for a bit of late night room service. By the time Regina was done and changed into her pajamas, two Irish Coffees sat on the table in front of the television. Emma was curled up in her flannel pajama pants and a Giants t-shirt with her hair pulled up into a half-hearted bun. She looked up and saw that Regina was making full use of the luxury terrycloth robes the hotel provided. It was oversized, but she moved comfortably in it.

"What's this?" Regina asked with a smile, knowing full well what the cream topped drink was that Emma held up for her.

"Nightcap," Emma replied. She moved over on the couch to make room for her girlfriend. The fact she could give Regina that title made Emma grin, effectively convincing herself that she looked like an idiot.

"You haven't had enough to drink?" Regina asked as she settled into the couch next to Emma. The blonde still smelled of seawater and a faint hint of outdoorsy musk that somehow translated into allure in Regina's senses.

"We spread our drinks out so much that by the time we got in the Lyft, I was sober again." Emma took a sip of her coffee and winced as she burned her tongue slightly. "Not that I want to be drunk or anything. It's our last night here and I figured it'd be good to relax."

"It's been a good weekend. I'm glad we got to do this." Regina mused. She sipped at her drink and licked at the cream that managed to stick to her lips.

"Me too," Emma answered. She leaned forward and reached for the remote, lazily flipping through the late night hotel channels. Not that there wasn't much on. Anderson Cooper, a Metalocalypse rerun, old Family Guy episodes and infomercials were the bulk of what the simple channel selection had to offer. She flipped the channel again after a commercial for a Ninja chopper and blushed when the television showed a couple mid-sex scene. She checked the channel listing and rolled her eyes, "HBO. Go figure. Must be Real Sex reruns."

Regina smirked as Emma changed the channel again. "You can watch if you want. It's not like I'm a prude."

Emma shrugged, trying to play off her nervousness. She could still smell the shampoo in Regina's hair and having her so close was toying with her senses and better judgement. "I-I'm not into that kinda thing," she stuttered, obviously trying to cover up her interest.

"I thought you said this morning that you've fantasized about doing things to me," Regina teased her as she shifted her legs and somehow managed to loosen the robe around her, revealing her blatantly sexy nightwear. Emma swallowed a knot in her throat. Regina's nightwear was different from the yoga shorts and t-shirt she wore at home. Tonight it seemed as if the woman specifically pulled out a satin and lace chemise in royal purple with white embroidery at the laced edges. Regina leaned in closer to whisper in Emma's ear, as if she immediately could sense the blonde's nervousness. "Things like on the tv just now?"

Emma practically froze in place. She didn't know if she should respond, but she feared that if she did, she'd lose any semblance of self-control. Regina was definitely toying with her now. Emma’s deductive reasoning fired off questions in her head at a million thoughts per minute. Was she dreaming? Was there something in the Irish Coffee? Maybe she was passed out drunk and this was a hallucination? No. All of the answers were no. This was a real thing and Emma was too busy freaking out in her own head. She needed to focus. Suddenly things were happening at breakneck speed. The weekend shifted completely from having a secret relationship with incredibly G-rated intimacy to encroaching upon NC-17 territory. Regina leaned in and nipped at Emma's ear. The neurons in her brain fired so quickly that Emma nearly lost consciousness. She put her hands on Regina's shoulders and gently pushed her away. "Wait."

The look in Regina's eyes reflected utter confusion. Emma grimaced internally as the woman next to her frowned. "What...I don't understand... You mean you don't want to do this with me?" Her voice cracked slightly, doing little to mask her feelings of disappointment, unworthiness and rejection. Regina's exes had always found her irresistible. She had a consistent history of seducing a woman within one or two dates. Was her sexual appeal completely lost to the one woman she actually wanted to build a relationship with? All of her fears and anxieties took a new form. Now they began to manifest as feelings of being inadequate, unappealing, and worthless. She blamed herself. She pushed Emma in all sorts of directions and she never really made her feelings clear. This was going to end badly.

Emma noticed the change in Regina's behavior. It was instantaneous and incredibly obvious as Regina shifted from emanating sexual energy and aggressiveness to becoming withdrawn and on the brink of tears. She ran her hand through the back of Regina's hair, tangling her fingers through the dark waves and half curls. "God, no... That's not it at all. You... Jesus, I don't even know how to describe just how incredible you look and how turned on I am right now." Emma explained as she bit her lower lip. "I just want to make sure... Please don't do something you're not ready for just for me. Yes, I want you. But I want you to want me to want you...if that makes any sense. Oh my god, I'm talking in circles."

The relieving warmth of Emma's words resonated through Regina's body. The fear that was building up scurried back into the recesses of her mind. Her confidence returned and with it, the need to feel Emma's hands on her returned, even stronger than when she first got out of the shower. She removed her robe completely and although the air in the room was slightly cooler, her body felt like it was on fire. She slipped one leg over Emma's hips and straddled her thighs. The blonde's hand moved from being tangled in Regina's hair to fall comfortably at her waist. She touched her forehead to Emma's as she draped her arms over the other woman's shoulders. "Stop talking. I want you so much I can hardly think straight. I don't want to hold back anymore. So, please...don't you hold back either."

Regina took Emma’s other hand and placed it on her hip. Instinctively, Emma wrapped her arms around Regina completely and pulled her close, pressing their bodies together. She could feel the warmth of Regina’s skin, the comforting weight of her body and the seductive heat of her breath as she leaned in towards her neck. The moment Regina’s lips touched the skin on her neck below her ear, Emma’s sense of control flew out of  her hands. Everything she had been holding back came boiling to the surface of her consciousness and took over.

Emma turned her head to catch Regina’s lips with her own, establishing that familiar connection between them. Regina felt the change, even a slight one, in their kiss. It was laced with desire and it created a heat that spread from the center of her chest throughout her entire body. She wanted more. At this point, she could no longer be satisfied with just kissing Emma. She needed to touch her, to feel her completely. This was it and there was no turning back. 

“Whatever you want to do,” Regina whispered, “I’m all yours, Emma.” She received another impassioned kiss as an answer to her admission. Her heart raced and she could feel her skin tingle with excitement as Emma’s hands grazed the satin of her chemise down to the hem where the lace touched her thighs. Warm fingertips eased the lace edging upward to her hips and pushed the nightgown up to her waist. Emma pulled back from the kiss to look directly into Regina’s brown eyes. There was a lustful darkness there that drew Regina in, as if the bright green irises she had grown accustomed to were now beckoning her into a darkened forest that would swallow her completely…and she welcomed it. She wanted nothing more than to absorb Emma’s presence, her entire being and wrap herself securely in it. 

Emma rubbed her thumbs on Regina’s hips for a moment and she stared directly at the woman straddling her. She felt words wanting to tumble out of her mouth, but nothing sensible pieced itself together. There was nothing she could say at this moment that would make sense. Everything she wanted to say, she would have to do it with her hands and her lips. She moved her hands upwards on Regina’s waist, hooking her thumbs on the chemise to continue pulling towards the ultimate goal of removal. 

Growing somewhat impatient, Regina placed both of her hands on Emma’s and helped her pull the nightgown over her head, then held it out to the side before dropping it seductively. Emma sucked her breath inward as she took in the view of Regina’s bare, olive hued skin, the curve of her breasts, the barely visible definition of muscle on her stomach. Emma ran both of her hands along Regina’s back, purposely brushing her fingertips along her spine, causing the other woman to release a ragged sigh and arch her chest forward. She could feel Regina’s hips press into her. Her body was almost pleading for itself. Emma rewarded her eagerness as she place one hand beneath Regina’s breast, lifting it slightly to her lips. 

Regina felt like her body would melt from the touch. She leaned forward, scolding herself internally as the movement made Emma stop playing with her breast. Although she would’ve loved more attention, she wanted to feel Emma’s skin against hers. Regina reached behind Emma’s back and pulled her Giant’s shirt up and over her head. It also landed somewhere on the floor near Regina’s nightgown. Emma shivered slightly and pulled Regina against her for warmth. They sighed at the contact, enjoying the comforting sensation it gave them to feel their bodies pressed together. Regina leaned her head against Emma’s for a moment and smiled at her. There was a silly tickle in her heart that she could only equate to contentment. Then she bent down and bit gently at Emma’s neck. “I didn’t say we should stop…”

“We’re not,” Emma replied. She was surprised by the sound of her own voice, lost in its husky sensuality. “But these have to go.” Her fingers tugged at the royal purple panties that Regina still had on. 

Regina ran her hand through her hair as she slid off of Emma’s lap and stood up to shimmy out of the offending fabric. Once she had shed the one thing she had on, she returned to her position on Emma’s lap, straddling her legs and very literally opening herself up to the woman’s attention. But Emma didn’t want to squander the moment. She rubbed her fingers on Regina’s thighs and along her hips again. The need was too great and Regina’s voice came out as a pleading whimper to feel Emma’s hands. 

Using one hand to support Regina’s back, Emma ran her fingertips up along her waist, across her breasts and down the center muscle line of her stomach before stopping to tease Regina’s inner thigh. “You’re awful…” she growled.

“Shh…” Emma hissed quietly. Her fingertips explored Regina’s body. It was no surprise just how wet she had become, just by Emma teasing her. There would probably be payback for this, but Emma decided it was worth it. After a few moments of playing around, she was unable to resist herself either. She pulled Regina to her, drawing her down in another fervent kiss as she entered her with one slender finger. 

Regina let out a low growl, as the sensation sent shivers through her entire body. It was as if she waited for this for god knows how long, like it was some sort of unknown thing she craved without ever having experienced it. She pressed her hips into Emma again, riding her deeper. The blonde was surprisingly perceptive and slipped another finger into her. Regina shuddered and leaned her head on to Emma’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around her as if she was the only thing keeping her grounded. She reached up to tangle her fingers into Emma’s hair. Regina half snarled in frustration as the loose bun stopped the wandering of her hands. She managed to find the hair tie that held up Emma’s long, straw-colored locks and removed it as carefully as possible. Emma shivered slightly as her hair came cascading down her back and Regina’s fingers played across her scalp. Regina hardly noticed how her hips moved naturally, as Emma kept pace by curling her fingers into Regina’s core. Her thumb found its way onto her clit and she used it as an anchor while Regina rocked her body against her. She was close and they could both feel it. The pressure from Emma’s thumb cause Regina’s vision to go blurry as her climax rippled from Emma’s fingertips to her entire body. She cried out pleasurably into Emma’s shoulder, gripping her body tightly against her as she rode out the orgasm. Emma could hardly contain her own arousal, watching Regina shudder against her and slow the movement of her hips to a gentle rocking. She moved to pull her hand away, but Regina’s muscles tightened around her fingers, nearly locking them in place. 

“Don’t… move…” Regina sighed as her body stilled and she breathed deeply to calm her heart that raced uncontrollably. “You feel really good… I mean… I feel really good. Or… I’ll stop talking now.”

Emma smiled. She kissed Regina’s forehead as she let her lean against her for support. As her body began to relax, she moved her fingers just slightly. Regina shuddered again and sucked in her breath. “Sorry… I’m going to move my hand.” A silent nod was all she received before she slowly pulled her hand away. Regina sighed from the loss of contact, but she smiled contentedly. “You okay?”

Regina nodded again and kissed Emma’s neck from where she lay her head. She just needed a moment to catch her breath. That had to have been the first time that she came so hard that she couldn’t breath. But she wasn’t through with her girlfriend. Not yet. She kissed Emma’s neck again, then below her ear, then back down along her collarbone. Emma sighed in response and tilted her head back. 

Regina’s hands wandered down from Emma’s neck as she drew light lines across her shoulders and chest with her nails. Emma made a sort of satisfied humming noise as Regina trailed soft kisses along the lines she made across her chest, stopping briefly to give attention to each breast as she moved across her body. Emma reached up and brushed her hand through Regina’s hair, curling her fingers through her dark locks as her girlfriend slid off of the couch and onto the floor in front of her. 

“These need to go. They’re in my way.” Regina instructed, tugging loosely on the waistband of Emma’s flannel pants. With little hesitation, Emma shed the last few pieces of clothing she had on and shook out the tangles Regina had put into her hair. “I like your hair down like that.”

Emma blushed slightly as she settled back down onto the couch. “Really? It’s long and messy most of the time.”

Regina pushed herself up towards Emma and leaned forward for a soft kiss. She smiled as she pulled away, settling back down on her heels in front of Emma. “You look good no matter what. Now… enough talking. We weren’t finished.” Her hands slid onto Emma’s knees and up her thighs, gently pushing her legs apart. 

Emma pulled her breath inward, already self conscious about her state of undress and the obvious result of her arousal that was likely staining the couch. A creeping thought of how many other people may have used this couch for the same thing threatened to invade her mind, but she shook it out as quickly as possible. This was easily achieved as Regina playfully ran a fingertip through Emma’s wet center. 

Whether she audibly begged for it or if her body just gave Regina the signal, the other woman responded almost immediately with two fingers sliding into Emma’s heated core. Just the feeling of Regina’s fingers entering her was enough to black out Emma’s consciousness. She leaned back against the couch and closed her eyes as she idly played with Regina’s hair. Emma wasn’t sure if she really cried out the moment she felt Regina’s tongue touch her clit or if it was just in her head, but she knew she reacted. The sensation was so intoxicating that she was quite convinced that she had gone into some sort of trance. With her eyes closed and her senses only focusing on the heat of Regina’s tongue on her, the feeling of her fingers filling her and curling against her most sensitive places, Emma was so close to the edge she thought she might fall into an actual abyss. 

Regina, having had several flings and lovers throughout college, had always taken into account that not all women would be the same. But Emma, somehow, was something she had never experienced and she couldn’t get enough of her. The feeling of her body responding so willingly to her touch and the mere taste of her kiss, her skin, her wetness, was enough to give Regina a lustful high. The moment she touched her lips to Emma’s clit and sucked on it gently was the push into oblivion that made Emma arch her back and reach out for Regina’s shoulder. Her fingernails dug into her skin as she came, though Regina pushed her orgasm as far as she could by continuing to toy with her clit on her tongue and press into her rhythmically with her fingers.

Emma snapped her eyes open as her orgasm died down and her body became extremely sensitive to Regina’s touch. “Stop… I can’t…” she pleaded through raspy breaths.

Regina smiled to herself as she gave Emma’s inner thigh a final kiss before sitting back and slowing removing her fingers. She looked up to find the blonde with her head back, sweat forming in tiny droplets on her forehead and her hand over her chest as she tried to breathe. Satisfied with herself, Regina got up and titled her neck slightly to stretch it before sitting down next to Emma and wrapping her arms around her. “Are you okay? Breathe slowly.”

Emma laughed at herself. “I’m fine…I just need a moment.” After a few more slowed breaths, she yawned and drew in enough air to settle her lungs. “That.. was incredible. Definitely worth waiting for.”

Regina stood up again and held her hand out to Emma. “Come on… it’s cold out here. Let’s get into the bed.” 

“All right,” the blonde replied as she untangled her hair again, then reached down to collect their clothes. 

“Leave it,” Regina instructed. Emma looked up at her in confusion. It wasn’t like Regina to leave clothes laying around. Maybe she was too distracted to care? She wasn’t sure, but she left the clothes where they lay anyhow. “We can get them in the morning… I’d rather sleep with you like this.”

Fireworks went off in Emma’s head with the excitement of being able to sleep next to Regina with nothing between them. She followed her into the bedroom where, despite being completely naked, Regina still kept up with her routine of washing up and brushing her teeth before getting into bed. Emma did the same, although it felt weird to walk around completely naked. She had been used to walking around the house in her underwear, but not completely nude. She always had roommates or her family, so even wearing just her underwear was living it large. 

When she came out of the bathroom with minty fresh breath, clean hands and face, she found Regina curled up on her side under the covers. Emma slid in next to her, taking a moment to get used to the feeling of being naked in a foreign bed. Regina waited until her girlfriend was comfortable before moving her pillows around a bit to sleep closer to Emma. She found a spot as the little spoon and pressed her back into Emma’s torso. 

“You’re really warm,” Regina muttered quietly. “Except your hands. They’re freezing.”

Emma smirked and wrapped her arm around Regina’s waist, pulling her as close as possible. “They’ll warm up. Sometimes I’m like a heater.”

“I’ll kick you off if you burn me up in the middle of the night,” Regina warned her with a smirk. She pulled away for a moment to reach over and turn off the light beside the bed, then settled back into Emma’s arms. “Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?”

Regina shrugged, “For everything this weekend. Going out, drinking together, dancing…just everything.” She turned again to face Emma and kissed her softly. “Now that I know how incredible you are with those hands, too… you’re going to have a hard time getting rid of me.”

Emma laughed. “Hey, I’m stuck, too. I’ve found a girl with magic in her fingers and there’s no way I’m giving up on that.”

“I’m not staying with you just for the sex, you know. Which, I have to admit, was incredible. But don’t let that get to your head.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Regina smiled and turned one more time to resume her little spoon position. “I really do like you, Emma.”

“Me too, Regina.” Emma replied. She kissed Regina’s shoulder before laying her head down on the pillow and closing her eyes. “Goodnight, babe.” But the silence and soft breathing from her girlfriend was the only reply Emma got and it was more than enough.


Mulan and Aurora pulled into the driveway of the house, expecting to still find it empty. It was already 4:00 in the afternoon when they finally got home, but Regina’s Tesla and Emma’s Bug were both parked in front of the house. 

“Guess they came home early? Maybe the weekend wasn’t that fun.” Mulan said as she put her Fit into park.

“It’s movie night, remember? They’re probably waiting for us. I wonder if Belle and Ruby are here too.” Aurora pointed out.

“Oh my god, I totally forgot today was movie night! I hope they ordered a pizza or something. That food up in Napa was swanky, but I could totally use some grease.” Mulan unloaded their bags out of the trunk and purposely tried to be tough by carrying all of them at once. Aurora followed her to the door with Mushu in her arms.

“Well, hurry up and open the door. Mushu probably needs to pee.”

Mulan struggled with her key for a moment, then managed to unlock the door and push it open with her toe. Regina looked up from her spot on the couch and got up to hold the door open. “You know… you could’ve texted one of us to open the door for you.”

Aurora shrugged, “Mulan didn’t think of that.” She set Mushu down and he barked gratefully before running towards the back door. “Poor guy held it in the entire ride home.”

“Hey, you’re back!” another voice greeted them from the living room. Belle looked up over the back of the couch and waved. Elsa turned around as well to offer a greeting. “Sorry, it’s just us right now. Emma and Ruby went off to go buy some drinks and pick up dinner.”

“Thank god, we’re starving.” Mulan sighed. “What are we eating?”

“They’re getting Indian food from High Peaks Kitchen,” Regina answered as she closed the front door. “We ordered you some palak paneer, Aurora.”

“You guys are the best,” she grinned in response. “Let’s go get washed up and put our stuff away before Em and Ruby get back, Mulan.”

“Okay.” They disappeared into their bedroom while Regina returned to the living room with Elsa and Belle.

This week was Ruby’s turn to pick a movie, so Inglorious Bastards sat ready to be played while Regina, Belle and Elsa poured themselves a bottle of wine. Mulan and Aurora joined them soon after. Mulan grabbed a few beers from the fridge and a wine glass for her girlfriend. They were just getting settled when Ruby and Emma came through the front door with two paper bags full of food. The scent of curry permeated the brown bags as they set them down on the coffee table.

“Glad you guys made it back okay,” Emma said to Aurora as Mulan got up to get utensils for everyone. 

“The drive wasn’t so bad, but there was traffic come back. Napa’s a nice place to visit, but it’s so hoity-toity. It was a nice weekend. How was the city?”

Elsa smirked, “Dinner on the Hornblower was nice.”

Belle gasped, “Oh! Did Kida go with you? Is this a thing now?” She took the warm box of rice and tandoori chicken from Ruby who was pulling boxes out of one bag.

“Yes, Kida came with me. We had a good time. I don’t know if anything is ‘official’ but we’re just spending time together,” Elsa said as Emma handed her a box with lamb rogan and rice. “Thanks, Em.”

Mulan returned with utensils and plopped down on the floor next to Aurora’s feet. “I only heard part of the conversation. Anything else fun happen over the weekend?”

Ruby dug through the bag and pulled out two boxes of plain and garlic naan for everyone to share. “Oh, Belle and I went out to dinner at Dirty Water. Not too bad. Great drinks. Totally watched this guy try to propose and get turned down by his girl. It was kinda sad, but amusing at the same time.”

Emma pulled out two more boxes from the bag she had been digging through. In one box was her own chicken korma, then she handed another box to Regina and sat down next to her. “Here you go. I got you the lamb vindaloo since you didn’t answer my text.”

“Oh good, you read my mind,” Regina grinned as she took the box. “Thanks.” She leaned in and kissed Emma lightly before reaching over and picking up a fork from the center of the table.

Mulan’s jaw dropped. “Wait… wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT. What the hell was that just now?”

Emma looked up with confusion. “What?”

Aurora reached down and gently tapped on Mulan’s jaw to remind her to close her mouth. “So…is there something you two wanna tell us?”

“Oh, right,” Regina said with a smirk. She knew they were going to ask and instead of trying to make a big ceremony out of it, she and Emma had agreed to just be natural with it. “Yes, this is actually a thing now. I’m dating Emma.”

Ruby slapped her hand to her forehead, “God damn it, Emma! You made me lose $50!” She reached into her wallet and pulled out a $50 bill she had been holding and passed it to Mulan. “But I’m totally happy for you.”

“What the hell?”

Mulan laughed, “Guys, we’ve had a feeling you two were seeing each other for like, hella weeks. Ruby and I made a bet if Emma would actually say anything to her cause you’re work-wives. I bet that you wouldn’t say anything to her.”

Emma laughed, “Sorry, Rubes. I hadn’t even told my mom and you know how she always manages to get everything out of me.”

“So, why was it a big secret?” Belle asked as she opened up her dinner. “Mulan’s right though. We all had a feeling you two were dating already.”

“We had our reasons. We weren’t ready to tell anyone if we weren’t even sure what we were doing,” Regina explained. She tried to make it as simple as possible. 

Mulan looked over at Elsa, who was the only one not reacting and was neatly mixing her sauces into her rice. “Did you know, Elsa?”

The platinum blonde looked up and smiled, “Not until this weekend. I mean, I had a feeling. We all did. But it just so happened that my timing is impeccable.”

“Actually, the only person who knew was my sister. But that’s also because she’s frighteningly observant.” Regina said.

“Yeah, she is,” Emma grumbled. 

Regina laughed as she rubbed her hand along Emma’s back. “Relax, she’s a harmless monster. Zelena’s all talk.”

Mulan was grinning from ear to ear, holding her hands to her mouth as if trying to hide behind them. She looked up at Aurora who was smiling back at her. “The ship!” Aurora cheered.

“It sailed!” Mulan answered. She giggled excitedly, “Augh, you guys are so cute I can’t stand it! It’s like we’ve been waiting for this to happen and now that it’s a thing I’m so giddy! Sorry, I’m like a little kid.”

Emma rolled her eyes, “Thanks, I think. But I’m glad we’ve got you guys as friends and that you’re all supportive of it. Do you know how awkward it is when your friends don’t like your girlfriend? Seriously, it’s so weird. You five, you’re good friends.”

“Yeah, friends who are hungry and want to watch Tarantino!” Ruby insisted.

“All right, all right,” Regina laughed as she picked up the remote and pushed play. “Since it was your week to pick the movie, Ruby.”

“Now it’s official,” Emma said quietly as she leaned into Regina’s side slightly. Her girlfriend smiled back at her before pushing her back with her shoulder. 

“Now it means that I can do this,” Regina grinned as she reached over and stabbed a piece of Emma’s chicken with her fork and popped it into her mouth. “I like being ‘official.”

“Shh!” Ruby hissed, “Tarantino time!”

Regina rolled her eyes at Ruby and grinned. It was the perfect way to end one of the best weekend of her life. Surrounded by the best friends she’s had since she was a child, a girlfriend who made every thing around her feel like new and a house filled of warmth, comfort and the family she found out here in California. Leaving New York was worth this and for once, Regina didn’t have a single regret.