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a dissertation on the merits of hating your hot roommate

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When Emma was given her roommate assignment questionnaire, she’d squinted at it.

Skimming over the blurb at the top of the sheet told her how important compatibility was, the significance a roommate apparently played in one’s college career. Emma had taken one look at the long-ass three page survey and shrugged, sloppily ticking off answers. A B C, rinse and repeat. She was finished in two minutes flat.

Her dearest friend Ruby, who squirmed beside her and opted to read each question carefully, deigning to actually think about her answers, took four times as long to complete her own.

At the time, Emma had grown bored and flicked her pen away from herself, watching it roll slowly off the edge of the table.

Glancing at Ruby in boredom, she could only think, sucker.

 

-

 

Move-in day is a no-go when Granny catches the flu two days before. Emma spends the week filling in a few shifts at the diner while Ruby takes care of her. Once Granny stops sniffling, she all but waves off their worries – “I’ll probably live longer than both of you, combined” – and shoos them off in Ruby’s packed car, so both their roommates have already settled in by the time Emma unloads in front of Mifflin Hall and waves Ruby off.

It’s a bit off balancing, already feeling behind the curriculum despite not having missed much but a speech by the dean and the crowded fervor of move in day. Thankfully, she only has to haul her heavy trunk and backpack up one flight of stairs. She slips her key into the lock and twists the handle, letting herself into room 108.

A pretty brunette scowling suspiciously at her entrance gives her pause, which – weird. She gives a small wave instead of saying as much, standard uni keychain dangling from her index finger in the name of goodwill.

“Hey, I’m Emma.”

Silence. Her greeting seems to echo in the small room before one impeccably groomed eyebrow quirks up. Emma really has no interest engaging in what is probably some power play, so they kind of just stare at each other to the point where she gives up trying to show her supposed new roommate how not intimidated she is. Instead, she shuffles from one foot to the other, letting her hand fall back against her hip.

“Emma Swan,” she begrudgingly amends.

“Miss Swan,” her roommate says, sound flat, as if Emma doesn’t deserve the least bit of enthusiasm; it makes her jaw clench.

“I suppose we’re roommates.”

“Uh yeah, I guess we are,” Emma says.

Her roommate blatantly looks her up and down, carefully detached interest offending Emma more than being so obviously checked out, or studied, really, feels more accurate. She shows her teeth, not a smile and not quite a sneer – Emma gets the distinct impression of a cat playing with its food – and coolly asks, “Can I trust you know how to close doors?”

“What?”

“The door, Miss Swan, to our room?”

Emma looks down at the hand still resting on the door handle, blinking at it as if it wasn’t her own. “Right,” she says lamely, before stepping into the room and letting the damned thing swing shut.

The whole Miss Swan thing is throwing her off.

“Good,” her roommate declares, her tone a measure of condescension that makes Emma feel like a bug being squished purposely against the shag carpet of their new room.

Her cheeks tinge red with a bit of anger and a hell of a lot of embarrassment, but she ignores the heat. Instead of leaving it like she usually would – which would feel like letting her win, which Emma, for some unfathomable reason, just can’t let happen – she lets her backpack slip onto the floor with a thump that makes her roommate look up and asks, “So what’s your name?”

An uncomfortable length of silence lingers for such a straightforward question. She bites back a sigh, already beginning to recognize that everything with her roommate will be a challenge, some invariable tête-à-tête over every tiny interaction they’ll have from now until the end of the semester. It might be exciting, if it wasn’t already so exhausting.

Her roommate's head tilts and she finally, finally meets Emma’s eyes. The mounting pressure in Emma’s spine ratchets up at once, filling the room and making her stand straighter.

She states, without inflection, “Regina Mills.”

Well, at least they’ll have a name to go by when they find Emma’s body in a ditch somewhere. “Great, nice to meet you, do you mind if I grab the bed on the right? I like to sleep facing the door and-“

She’s cut off quickly, Emma half expects to be dismissed formally, but Regina only says, “That’s fine. I’ve already unpacked my things on the left.”

“Cool.” Bitch.

Regina, of course, has already swiveled to face away from her, leaving Emma’s insides twisted with tension.

“Yes,” she affirms.

The dismissal. Emma rolls her eyes and grabs her backpack, hoisting it onto her new bed. She takes out her laptop, pushes off her boots and climbs into bed. The first thing she does when she logs into the floor’s Wi-Fi is take to twitter.

Off to a great start, she types, wishing sarcasm translated better on the internet.

 

-

 

When Emma wakes up the next morning, it’s to the alarm on her phone vibrating against her hip telling her it’s time for student orientation. Yesterday’s clothes stick uncomfortably to her skin as she squints against the light coming from god knows where, until she realizes the curtains are thrown wide open, bathing the room in what should’ve been a cheerful glow, but instead just gets on Emma’s nerves.

Like Regina.

She shakes her head to clear the thought. After all, she only just met her roommate last night and Regina’s certainly gotten an early start this morning, if her perfectly made bed means anything. Plus they exchanged about four sentences worth of what could narrowly be described as pleasantries – not much to chew over. Besides, Emma isn’t the kind to start unnecessary roommate drama, even if Regina was brisk with her the night before. It could’ve been a fluke, moving in gets tiring and tired people get cranky, it only makes sense, right?

Emma squeezes her eyes shut, willing herself out of bed and away from the headache brought on by her absent roommate. She rolls off her single and loudly hits the floor on all fours, the pain in her knees effectively obliterating all thought processes.

After getting acquainted with the frankly gross shared showers on her floor, Emma spends the morning with a group of froshies trailing a third year named Graham. There are activities and games Emma doesn’t really take part in and Graham is kind enough to take pity on her when others try to corral her into joining. He distracts them with fun facts and his accent, sending them off for a themed scavenger hunt before plopping down next to her.

“You’re not much for this kinda thing, are you?” he asks, offering her a bottle of tepid water.

She declines the bottle, but not the conversation. “Never really been great at getting involved, I guess.”

“Really?” he grins at her, warm and open. She can’t help but grin back. “Hadn’t noticed.”

It’s sort of nice. Graham leans back on his elbows against the bench, relaxed and Emma kind of thinks she’s made at least one new friend. That is, until she spots Regina across the quad and her good mood inexplicably drops into a singular feeling in the pit of her stomach she can only describe as anger.

It must show on her face, because Graham leans over and gently asks, “You alright?”

She contemplates brushing him off but just says, “Spotted my roommate,” and points to Regina, who’s rubbing the bridge of her nose, apparently exasperated with everyone around her.

“You’re roommates with Regina?”

“You know her?”

“Do I know her? Oh, I know her alright,” Graham says, lowering his chin and smirking. It’s all a bit smarmy even if negated by his charm, but Emma gets it. They know each other, biblically.

“Doesn’t seem like your type.”

“She’s not.”

Emma shoots him a look. He’s being deliberately obtuse, judging by the sly look on his face. She rolls her eyes but takes the bait, asking, “Am I missing something?”

“You probably don’t know her well enough yet but Regina’s not really the kind of girl you say no to.”

At that, Emma instinctively turns to observe the subject of their discussion, glaring haughtily at a bunch of muscled jocks. Right on cue, as if she was eavesdropping on their conversation, she flips her shoulder length hair back. It’s damned ridiculous, Emma can almost imagine the slow mo - yet seems to be exactly the right move, because a bunch of the guys visibly soften towards her. Emma snorts and has to admit, the girl is stunning – if you’re into sharp, hostile women, that is.

“Sounds scary.”

Graham shrugs, looking with not-quite-not fondness in Regina’s direction. “She’s absolutely terrifying and pretty funny, weirdly.”

“I can’t imagine,” Emma says, so dryly that Graham’s laugh shakes the bench.

“I think you’ll find a lot of things about Regina you never imagined,” he counters, nudging her shoulder and laughing again. They drift off into companionable silence, driven by Emma's inability to respond to something so vague – and dumb.

She watches with a frown as Graham scratches his beard, deciding then and there not to think too hard over some nonsense a scruffy dope she just met spews, even if she already thinks of him as a friend.

 

-

 

Graham invites her to watch his band play at some bar that night, she makes a lame joke – “of course you’re in a band, you hipster,” – but he only chuckles, completely disregarding her age. Not that they have trouble getting in, with living in a college town and the fake ID’s Ruby’s somehow procured for them and her sweet natured new roommate, Mary Margaret Blanchard.

Ruby goes off gallivanting for drinks once they settle into a little slot against the bar, watching Graham and the Wolves whip the crowd into a frenzy. It’s precisely how she imagined college, whispering and giggling with another new friend as they watch Ruby sweet talk herself a gin and tonic.

Three drinks in and halfway through the set, Mary Margaret comes back from the washroom clutching at the hem of her cardigan, looking as pale as a ghost. Ruby immediately offers to take her back to the dorm. Being the sweetheart she is, Mary Margaret is apologetic even as she looks about to throw up. Emma quickly assures her it’s no big deal.

“Take my jacket, Rubes. You’ll freeze out there,” Emma offers, already sliding her favourite red leather jacket off her shoulders.

Ruby shivers, looking hesitant, her right arm wrapped around a still paling Mary Margaret. “You sure? What about you?”

“I’m gonna stay for a little while longer, I’m sure Graham will lend me his or something.”

Ruby smirks at the mention of him, having goaded Emma about her “newfound boy toy” the entire night. Emma rolls her eyes and throws her jacket none too gently at her friend. Ruby though, catches it deftly and only winks in response, guiding Mary Margaret towards the exit.

Another roll of her eyes and she’s alone, unconsciously searching the room for nothing and something at once. When her eyes land on a head of perfectly styled brown hair, it takes her a second, the haze of alcohol and the flurry of activity surrounding her distracting Emma enough for her to begin sliding through the crowd. It’s not until she’s swaying slightly in front of Regina that she realizes she hadn’t meant to go over at all.

Regina looks surprised, or maybe just offended by Emma’s minor but visible intoxication. Neither of them choose to greet the other, the increasingly tense silence urging a familiar annoyance to grow in Emma and - how does she do that?

“Miss Swan, what a surprise,” Regina says coolly, not even attempting to be cordial.

The swelling frustration immediately melts into anger and Emma feels like she’s looking at Regina through a fisheye lens, her ears straining against the hum that’s replaced noise and music. Her eyes narrow and Regina lifts her chin a fraction in response; it’s then she’s sure last night had nothing to do with stress or fatigue, Regina was just a grade A, mean little b–

“Hi, I’m Kathryn.”

Like an elastic band pulled taut and released in the next breath, Emma comes back to herself with a blink; she realizes she and Regina have been glaring at each other for at least 30 seconds now. A pretty blonde she hasn’t noticed before waves at her from across the little round table, thawing the tension into something bearable with a calming smile.

“Hey, I’m Emma,” she replies, taking a step back to ensure she doesn’t get sucked back into Regina’s vortex of evil.

“Miss Swan is my new roommate,” Kathryn’s eyebrows lift in question; Regina’s probably been talking shit about her using only her last name or something stuck-up like that. The same indulgent smile remains, as cheerful as ever, like Kathryn hasn’t written her off just yet. Emma wonders how in the hell someone who seems so nice can stand her roommate.

“Oh,” Kathryn says and unexpectedly, just drops the topic altogether. “Are you here alone, Emma?”

 “Yup.”

“Why don’t you stay here with us? We know the lead singer and we could all have a drink together.”

“That’s really nice, thanks,” Kathryn smiles at her, then positively beams at Regina. Emma figures being invited to sit with them was an elaborate way for Kathryn to tease her. It must work too, because Regina purses her mouth and shifts on her stool, looking more put out than ever. Emma smirks, she likes Kathryn already.

“Graham actually invited me to this thing,” she says offhandedly, before taking a sip from her bottle. She watches from the corner of her eye, trying to catch a reaction from Regina, who remains uninvolved, taking dainty sips of her drink.

“Oh? Are you not a freshman?”                                                                                                                         

“Hmm? Oh no, I am, Graham was my orientation leader and we just got to talking.”

“Sounds like Graham,” Kathryn declares with a playful roll of her eyes. At Emma’s interested look, she continues, “We grew up together. I mean, we’ve known each other since we were kids and stuff and Graham used to throw these silly parties and invite every person he’s ever talked to in his life.”

Emma laughs, feeling a rush of newfound affection for Kathryn, who bounces on her heels with quiet energy. Even Regina looks vaguely entertained as she continues to spin stories of their wild youth together. The tightness at the corners of her mouth disappears, replaced with crinkled eyes that shine through the smoke of the bar. She almost looks like a different person.

It takes three seconds for Regina to ruin the illusion.

She doesn’t even have to say anything, just gives Emma a pointed look when she catches her ogling, though it might as well have been a fluorescent sign that flashed stop staring in neon yellow. Emma’s already got a halfway decent insult to sling at her when someone drapes a heavy arm over her shoulder.

“Nice to see you, Emma,” Graham lets go with a squeeze to her shoulder to lean over and hug Kathryn, who swats playfully at his sweaty arms. He tries with Regina next, only to get an index finger pushed hard against his chest. He snorts like he expected nothing else and says, “I didn’t think you would come together.”

“We just met up by chance.”

Graham lights up. “Now that’s what I call serendipity!”

“And that’s what I call three people being invited to the same event at a small pub, by you, no less.”

“You’re such a romantic, Regina,” Emma deadpans. A giggle escapes Kathryn, who quickly slaps her hand over her mouth. She shoots an impressed look at Graham, watching with rapt delight.

Regina doesn’t deign to respond, just slides off her stool with a dignified little push and drags Kathryn to the washroom without another word. Like winning a significant battle in a ceaseless war, Emma feels a small tug of satisfaction in her chest, though it’s a hollow victory when she’s watching Regina walk away instead of facing her down.

Graham steals her beer just as the girls disappear from sight and takes a good swig; she lets him because it’s gone warm and sticky and they easily settle into nonsensical small talk, jostling each other good-naturedly until Emma mentions, “Kathryn told me you two grew up together? That’s awesome.”

Graham grins that goofy, shit-eating grin of his Emma’s grown so weirdly fond of. “Yup, Regina too. Little Storybrooke, Maine. Her parents practically owned the town, still do, actually.”

“Were you like, childhood sweethearts or something?” Emma asks, unable to keep her face from screwing up as she involuntarily imagines Regina and Graham frolicking through a field of daisies, but Graham just snorts again.

Hardly, we barely even talked back then, the only reason we ever saw each other was because she and Kathryn both went to this riding camp thing. I mean, Kathryn and I went to public school and Regina… didn’t. Plus, she already had–“ he pauses abruptly, and something odd flashes across his features, but it’s gone just as Emma tries to read it. “Anyway, I didn’t really think we’d see Regina again after high school and then she comes here. Things happen.”

Before Emma can help herself or question why she would even want to know, she asks, “Preppy private school girl comes to crappy state college, why?”

“You’d have to ask her, Kathryn probably knows, they kept in touch after we left. I always just assumed Regina would go to some Ivy League school and she suddenly shows up here three years late.”

“Three years late?”

“Regina is our age; don’t you think she’s a little mature to be eighteen? Besides–” Graham says, and then wiggles his eyebrows purposefully. “I don’t go out with freshman.”

 

-

 

Regina begrudgingly agrees to walk home with Emma after last call. Whereas only twenty four hours ago Emma would’ve fumed over Regina’s reluctance to walk a whole twenty minutes with her, she’s smart enough to realize by now her roommate’s actually just that bitchy with most everyone – nothing personal.

Kathryn has an apartment with Graham and stays behind while he cleans up his set and collects, leaving Emma to wait for Regina by the entrance after a thank-you-for-coming goodbye hug from the latter and a startling but not unwelcome hug from the former. She watches from a distance as Regina presses a hand against her friends forearm, another one of those soft, open smiles bringing out the lines around her mouth.

Against the dingy stage lights, she looks so human and so like someone Emma would approach, that Emma feels a swell of disappointment. In remote moments, like now, she sees a distinct possibility for friendship. But like Cinderella at midnight, Regina merely points at the clock and breaks the illusion.

“Are you going to stand there gaping all evening or should we go, Miss Swan?” Regina asks tersely, suddenly standing far too close to her. Exactly like that, Emma thinks, before turning on her heel.

Ten cold and quiet-filled minutes later, with Emma clutching at Graham’s huge jacket, it occurs to her that she could maybe say something. The first unchecked thought that flies out of her mouth is, “Why do you call me that?”

Regina doesn't turn to look at her or acknowledge the question, but after a few seconds, says, “I don’t believe in name-calling, it’s juvenile.”

“You know that’s not what I meant, like, why do you call me by my last name? Did you forget my name already? It’s Emma, by the way.”

To no one’s shock, her joke is ignored. Regina gives her a withering look Emma is unfortunately starting to get used to. “We’re roommates, Miss Swan; I knew your name and face even before you hobbled into our room. Late by days, might I add.”

“I didn't hobble or whatever,” Emma counters, before she realizes, “You’re really good at deflecting questions, aren't you?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Are you like secretly seventy five or something? Is that why you talk like you belong in the forties?”

“Not everyone speaks like they belong behind the counter of a fast food restaurant, dear.”

Emma sucks in a sharp breath, clenching her fists. Hysteria rises in her chest at the ridiculous term of endearment Regina’s expertly weaponized, but the sudden awareness that this non-argument could possibly go on forever if neither of them gave makes her relent, “Jesus, lady, just answer the damned question.”

“No.”

You’re a pain in my ass, Emma almost says, and thinks better of it. Of the two hundred or so days she’s to spend cooped up with Regina Mills, at least one or two might be spent civilly and conjointly ignoring each other.

Her mistake is turning to look at Regina, dark eyes glittering against the wind, hair blown awry; seeming for all the world like Mother Nature had a personal vendetta against her. Emma can’t help the twist of her mouth then, or how she’s suddenly invading Regina’s personal space, or when she just blurts out, “You’re a pain my ass.”

Regina doesn’t react but for the curling of her lower lip – and Emma thinks it’s cruel, how she can flex and fade from a pretty girl in a bar to her roommate with the hard smile and the harder eyes – even if she almost looks amused. For the first time that night she deliberately looks at Emma, voice dripping velvet when she drawls, “The feeling is mutual.”

 

-

 

Emma gets less than three hours of sleep in total.

She drops in and out of consciousness the whole night, each time waking to find her eyes on Regina, across the room, in bed. At one point, after staring incessantly at the line of Regina’s rigid spine in the dark in lieu of actually stalking up to her and asking her what the hell her problem is, Emma decides that either Regina is a robot created to torture her into… something or the design of their room makes it empirically impossible for her to actually not watch her roommate.  

When her alarm clock reads 6 AM in angry red, she drops out of bed, throwing on a sweatshirt and getting the hell out of her strangely suffocating dorm room.

She even makes it a good ten minutes before she’s going out of her mind and calling Ruby out for reinforcements, waking her up with a pathetic, “Rubes, save me.”

Once her best friend is capable of coherency, they make plans to meet at some breakfast place. She takes the bus, full of students who are half as awake as she is. Unusually enough, a cat who no one seems to notice stares at her for the entirety of the ride, making Emma shift uncomfortably in her seat. It proceeds to follow her off the bus, which, well great, what is she gonna do? Call the police?

Ruby takes great pleasure in her cat stalker though, feeding it little bits of her croissant after they settle down at a table on the patio. “Don’t encourage the cat,” Emma whines.

“I’m not, I’m feeding him,” Ruby lets the cat eat a berry off her hand. It bends in something akin to a bow, lapping elegantly at her hand. She beams. “Look, he’s saying thanks! What a polite kitty.”

Emma watches the cat weave itself between her legs, rubbing against her shin, imploring her to love it. Unconvinced, she nudges it away with the heel of her shoe instead and says, “This thing followed me off the bus. I think it’s obsessed with me.”

“Don’t call him a thing, Ems. Besides, why did you wake me up at this ungodly hour? This isn’t Boston, we don’t need to wake up early to prep for the morning rush, you know.”

“I just needed to get out of my room.”

“At six am? What’s really going on? Oh my god, are you on a walk of pride? Did you and Graham –“

“It’s walk of shame and of course not!”

Ruby makes a noise of disbelief followed by a questioning look, the one where her left eyebrow tilts at an impossible angle, which makes Emma squirm in her seat, feeling like a liar even if she’s told nothing but the truth. She stuffs her home fries into her mouth and ignores any and all looks of disgust, Ruby should be desensitized to her more repulsive habits by now anyway.

“Seriously, it’s just Regina and I… kinda got into it last night,” she mumbles through a mouthful of food.

Ruby doesn’t miss a beat. “Oh Emma, you should never sleep with your roommate! I made that clear to MM as soon as I could, she’s gonna stop blushing any day now. It’s kinda cute actually. Oh and she owns like, ten cardigans in pastel blue, can you believe it? I mean one I get but –“

At Emma’s dumbstruck look – mouth hanging open, a half chewed home fry hanging perilously over her lip – Ruby seems to pause and reassess.

“So I’m guessing that’s not what you meant?” she says after a minute of that creepy eyebrow thing. With a smirk, she pushes Emma’s chin up to get her to close her damn mouth.

Emma pushes her hand away roughly. “No! Jesus Christ, Ruby! I meant we got into a fight because I basically told her she’s a raging bitch and she was all ‘likewise’ ‘cause she talks like she’s fucking eighty. I’ve never even had a civil conversation with her before.”

Ruby studies her for a few seconds, chin in her palm. Emma takes the opportunity to stuff a whole pancake into her face. “She is pretty though, in that don’t-come-near-me-ever kind of way.”

Emma almost drops her toast in surprise. Ruby seems to read her mind, lifting her shoulders and tilting her head cutely. “I went on her facebook the other day after you tweeted me. Did you expect me not to?”

The cat Emma’s forgotten about meows in response, agreeing to whatever Ruby’s saying probably because she’s still feeding it, now with food from Emma’s plate. She stares at it with narrowed eyes and laments, “She’s the worst.”

Her plate gets pushed aside and with a dull thump, replaced with her forehead. Ruby hmms in agreement and pets her lightly, comforting and not the least bit patronizing. So basically the total opposite of Regina, Emma thinks, squeezing her eyes shut tight. The cat purrs and rests on top of her foot and Emma wonders if it’s possible for her to get a new roommate assignment three days into her first semester.

 

-

 

She toughs it out, primarily because she’s too lazy to figure out how to get a new roommate.

A week passes without much incident. After dragging her feet back to be given the silent treatment, Emma promptly stays the hell away from Regina, who seems only pleased by this new development.

When she’s brave enough to sneak peeks at her evil cylon roommate however, she sometimes catches Regina looking right back at her, studying her like a scientist would an alien. The whole thing aggravates her to the point where she almost wants to throw a pen at her roommate – might as well, considering how Emma is sure Regina is efficiently cataloguing her findings, discovering new and innovative ways to exploit her weaknesses.

For example:

“You snore,” Regina notes out of the blue. Emma tears away from her essay. Not having really spoken except for stolid pleasantries in three days, a stunned silence follows in which they make extended eye contact – her, wide-eyed and unmoving and Regina, eyebrows raised and thoroughly unimpressed.

“What?” She asks dumbly.

“You snore,” Regina repeats, back to staring at her computer screen, typing purposefully and without break.

Emma gapes, “I do not snore.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Prove it.”

“Am I supposed to videotape your incessant wheezing like some lurker? No. Get yourself some breath right strips, Miss Swan,”

“So now you’re interested in my health?”

Regina tilts her head back and scoffs, “I’m interested in my sleep.”

“Fine.”

“Good.”

Emma squints, the conversation so reminiscent of their first that it makes the embers in the pit of her stomach flare into fire.

“Exactly,” she snaps, immediately cooling some at the satisfaction of having the last word. She almost congratulates herself too, until she lifts her head and catches Regina’s eye, which means Regina’s looking at her, and with a look of contained something. A twitch in her left cheek blooms into an ugly smirk, until she believes their eye contact’s sufficiently demoralized Emma.

Instead of the gratification building in her chest, Emma’s left feeling childish.

 

-

 

The cat reappears soon after. She’s walking past the alleyway with the busted lights – the one that gives her the creeps, when it steps out from behind a trash can and trots alongside her, following her to and from class, then disappearing just as she steps into the lobby of her building. It happens again, and again, and again, until eventually Emma just kind of lets the cat shadow her without wanting to punt it like a football.

She kind of grows fond of him too, starts feeding him when she suspects he might be her good luck charm, because every time the cat is near, Regina is nowhere to be found. Of course, it’s not as if they bump into each other often outside of essential shared space, it’s just – well, they have, bumped into each other.

She’s grabbing lunch alone, ditched by Ruby and Mary Margaret for some dorm hall emergency when she hears her name being called. Emma’s already scowling as she spins around to Graham artfully slung over the back of Regina’s chair, waving a fork he looks ready to throw to grab her attention.

“Emma, over here!”

Her grimace deepens even if it’s not Graham’s fault he doesn’t know she spotted them a good ten minutes ago and has been trying to gracelessly avoid them for another five.  It’s also not his fault the sight of his arm curled over Regina’s shoulder makes her uneasy, but she gets a little angry all the same and plasters on a smile only because Kathryn is cheerily waving her over.

Without much choice except a potential friendship-wrecking escape act, she marches over while peering covertly at Regina, who is doing what she does best, simultaneously doing jack shit and appearing as if it’s more important than anything Emma ever hopes to achieve in life; right now, it’s avoiding chitchat by sipping slowly at a cup of coffee.

“Emma, hey! How’s it going? Come, sit,” Kathryn welcomes, patting at the seat next to her until Emma slips into it, lining her up directly across from the bane of her college experience. They make eye contact, but Regina only assesses her carefully and without an ounce of good humour.

It makes her spine straighten in her chair – an obvious enough shift for the muscle at the corner of Regina’s mouth to tic, something Emma’s recently noticed corresponds to her level of discomfort; a full blown smirk for the price of her embarrassment. She distracts herself by fully engaging Kathryn, eager to get away from Graham’s arm and Regina’s glower.

She couldn't possibly have known her roommate would take it as some kind of challenge.

She’s in the middle of a riveting conversation about hair products when Regina interrupts (rudely might she add) with a feigned, casual: “You certainly are an early riser, Miss Swan,”

Emma almost moans with frustration, because the thing is, Regina never just says anything, and Emma’s learned that no matter the nonchalance Regina likes to wrap her statements in, whatever comes out of her mouth is always gifted with intent. Emma almost thinks she may be reading a little too much into it, taking her English elective a little too seriously, when Regina leans in just that little bit more, her elbows sitting on the edge of the table, too close to Emma for her to read this as anything less than threatening.

She’s sure she's busted then, but didn't think Regina would however subtly mention the fact that she’s been determinedly avoiding her roommate since her phone call with Ruby. It’s not like they talked all that much before Emma started consciously not talking to her.

And it’s not like Regina had a problem with it, as long as she got her petty shots in once or twice a day, except now Emma counts to ten in her head and plain refuses to participate. This all-embracing version of indifference is nothing like an attempt to bruise Regina’s ego – but Regina’s probably got this sinister idea of why Emma’s been taking pains to not be in the same room as her, like she’s plotting murder or casting a spell, when the actual reason is a lot less ominous and just really awkward.

She’s got a crush, is all.

Kathryn prods her shoulder with her own, like she doesn't notice Regina and Emma practically sharing a breath and says, “Regina was just telling us how she’s found someone who gets up earlier than her, never thought I’d see the day.”

“Yeah, early riser, that’s me.” She rubs at the back of her neck, desperate to steer the conversation away from wherever Regina was trying to drive it to. Probably off a bridge.

“To be honest, I just like to get to the dining hall first; you get your pick of hot breakfast food nobodies picked at yet,” Emma explains. A convincing enough lie, especially since she simultaneously stuffs a taco into her mouth. It certainly makes Regina lose interest, particularly when Kathryn and Graham start laughing, teasing her for her honesty.

Regina’s mouth sets into a thin line when Emma starts a distraction-cum-discussion on the merit of hot versus cold cereal with Kathryn, whatever it was she wanted to say thankfully locked away for now. She leans back into Graham’s forearm and he makes quips about oatmeal as a contender against cereal while tracing little circles on the bare skin of her arm, which she either doesn't notice or firmly ignores.

The familiarity of it mesmerizes Emma, even as her heart plummets directly from its rightful place behind her lungs into the acid rising in her stomach.

 

-

 

“You know what, Ems?”

“What?”

“I think I've figured out why you hate Regina Mills so much.”

“Because she’s annoying and rude and constantly gets on my nerves?”

“No.”

“Because when we’re not ignoring each other, we’re arguing like two eleven year old girls? Most of the time I forget what we’re even arguing about.”

“No.”

Ruby.”

“I think you’re jealous.”

“Ruby, I know it’s part of the college experience but lay off the crazy sauce for a while, would you?”

“Listen, Emma, you’re jealous of her. Her and Graham, you totally have a thing for him and it’s making the green eyed Emma in you hate her; I mean I’ve never seen you act like this or talk about someone this way before. It’s the only explanation.”

 

 

Oh.”