In the end, it’s an innocuous comment from Henry that rocks the boat.
Two weeks have passed since Henry broke the curse 2.0, and brought the former residents of Storybrooke back to Maine, along with the town itself. It had taken over a month for Hook to come back to the Enchanted Forest with Emma and Henry in tow after Regina and Snow had sent him, and longer still for Henry to discover his own destiny: a mediator of sorts between light and dark; resetting one curse and breaking the other.
It had taken his willingness to sacrifice his own heart to save his mother’s; to give up the certainty of his life with Emma for the unshakable feeling that he had to save Regina, a woman he couldn’t remember but left a feeling of warmth and familiarity in his chest.
The moment he had made a move for his own heart, the clouds had rolled in, crackling with electricity as pain radiated through his head, his entire life with Regina, his mother, crashing back to him in waves.
With the residents of Storybrooke now home (for they all did think of it that way now, and not just for the indoor plumbing), with full memories of both lives but a town devoid of magic once more, the population tries to settle into something resembling normalcy. This includes Henry, Regina, and Emma all trying to cobble together some sort of routine, creating a joint custody calendar in an attempt to settle into some kind of permanent lifestyle.
It somehow works, against all odds, for two whole weeks. The first few days are confusing and awkward, and Regina and Emma both linger for a long time after they drop Henry off, scared to part from their son again, but it works. There’s no real fighting, few snarky comments, and zero threats.
In a word, it’s weird. But it’s a good kind of weird, Henry figures, and it’s enough for them to agree to a family dinner, all three of them, at Regina’s house on December 14th.
And the thing is, dinner goes smoothly. It’s easy, the way it was before Henry found out about the first curse, the way his memories (both real and fake) tell him it was with Emma. So he thinks little of it when he starts talking about the GameStation X, and how many cool games there are, and after he saved the world he’s probably earned one, right?
Regina laughs a little, before reaching for her glass of water and winking at her son. “I think I could manage that for the little boy that risked his life to save mine.” Henry smiles back, just like he was starting to before she lost him again, and takes his own sip of water.
Across the table, Emma clears her throat and gives a tight smile. “Or, you know, I think I might have that one covered. Weren’t you talking to Nicholas about skateboarding the other day? Do you need a new board?” Her eyes are focused on Henry, but when she starts to swirl some fettuccini on her fork, she takes a quick look over at Regina out of the corner of her eye.
And she doesn’t exactly like what she sees. Regina’s face is dark, her eyes flashing just enough to remind Emma of the stern mayor she met a lifetime ago.
“Yeah, I guess. I was really more listening to him, but Paige sounded kind of into it. Maybe we could all go skateboarding together or something when the snow melts.”
Emma tries to keep up with Henry’s conversation, though she can’t help but notice how Regina’s withdrawn, almost instantly after her comment, and doesn’t perk back up through the rest of dinner.
“Emma, may I speak with you in the kitchen a moment?” Henry’s headed upstairs to finish his homework (he’s with Regina for two days, until Wednesday after school), and Regina picks up their plates before walking through the swinging door.
Following behind her, Emma can’t help but shuffle as Regina fills the sink with water. “Uh, want help with that?” she asks when the silence gets to be too much. The water runs a minute longer before Regina turns, her eyes more vulnerable than she ever would have let them look two years ago, but the lines of her mouth are hard, the scar above her lip standing out with the pressure.
“Don’t you dare think that you can buy my son back to you with an extravagant gift. Christmas is very important to Henry, and if you pl—“
Emma’s mouth drops open. “Hey! First of all, that’s not what I’m doing to our son, and I think you know that by now.” Her brow furrows in anger and just a bit of hurt, and Regina feels her chest weigh just a bit heavier with guilt. “And you think I don’t know how important Christmas is to Henry? That he looks forward to Christmas Eve the same way every year, that he,” her voice catches, “has a special ornament he made when he was three? That you and Henry would always bake cookies and watch Frosty the Snowman, and…”
Trailing off, Emma crosses her arms and leans back against the island, a few feet from Regina. Shifting, Regina leans back, mirroring Emma before she asks, quietly, “You know that—“
“You gave me your memories with him?” She gives a sad smile, shaking her head. “Yeah. I figured it out after the curse broke. Some of the things I remembered just didn’t exactly make sense, and then once I remembered what you did for me and Henry…” Emma swallows, and blinks back the moisture that starts to blur her vision. “I, uh, never really got to talk to you about it, but thanks, Regina. I know it must have been…” Regina is watching her intently, and she stumbles, mumbling, “hard, and whatever. But thank you.”
Able to breathe easier again, Regina takes a moment, and then smiles gently, all traces of accusation gone from her features. “You’re welcome. If I had known I was going to see him again, know him again, I wouldn’t have done it that way, but at the moment…” it just felt right, she wants to say, but the words stick in her throat and Emma is giving her that gentle smile like she understands, and so she lets it go.
“I’d already pre-ordered him the system, before Hook came to find us.” Regina nods, turning around to start washing dishes. After a beat, Emma grabs a dishtowel and stands beside her, holding a hand out for the plate Regina’s rinsing. Quietly, she offers, “It’s a pretty expensive gift, though. Maybe we could both give it to him?”
Turning the water pressure down a bit, Regina raises an eyebrow as she turns to Emma. “You mean to share the credit with me?”
Emma shrugs, taking another plate and focusing hard on her task. “Parents do it all the time, you know.”
“Those parents tend to be spouses, dear.” Regina turns with a smirk just in time to notice a flush run across Emma’s cheeks and her drying get more intense. Softening her features, she runs the last plate through the water and turns toward Emma with the plate extended. “It isn’t…the most terrible idea, I suppose.” Turning the water completely off, she rests her hip on the counter. “I’ll be filling his stocking myself, however.”
Emma looks up, nearly dropping the plate before she sets it down on the counter beside her. “Uh, Christmas Eve is next Wednesday, so he’ll be with me, Regina.”
Regina’s brows shoot up. “Excuse me? It’s Christmas Eve. I’ve spent it with Henry every year, and I’ll be doing the same again.”
Pushing away from the counter, Emma’s jaw drops down a bit. “Yeah, well so have I, in a way.”
“No, you haven’t! You simply remember spending it with him.”
“That’s the same damn thing, Regina!” Emma’s arms shoot out in exasperation and she turns around to pace the small space between counter tops.
Regina’s fingers fall to her hips as she shakes her head. “Oh, no it is not, Miss Swan. I’ve actually spent Christmas Eve with him for the first eleven years of his life, and if you think—“
“It’s Miss Swan again?! Well I remember spending every Christmas Eve with him until he was twelve, so the way I figure—“
“Whatever you figure is based on something that isn’t real, so—“
“Yeah, but it felt real, OK!” Both women freeze. Slightly breathless from frustration, Emma’s chest heaves as she tries to form her thoughts. Looking at her shoes, Emma exhales, before adding, “It feels real.”
Regina feels her own indignation deflate, but her face remains resolute as Emma looks her in the eye. “You know what I’m talking about, you saw how real it was for the rest of this town under the curse.” Starting to waver, Regina swallows, not ready for the path this conversation is taking.
“And you told me, Regina. You said that our past wouldn’t be real, but that our future would be. And it was, it was real because our past felt real, and you can’t take that away from me, OK, you can’t.”
Regina waits a long moment, just meeting Emma’s eyes, and seeing the desperation to keep her son. A desperation that Regina knew all too well, and still fears returning. Turning back to the sink, she reaches for a fork and begins scrubbing it.
“I suppose it would be rather…cruel, to take that away from you, Emma.” Unable to see the other woman, Regina simply hears the relieved sigh that passes her lips. “And it might be acceptable to share this, as well.” She passes Emma the fork after rinsing it, and offers her a tentative smile. “After all, Henry must be feeling rather torn over these two sets of memories himself, I’d imagine.”
Both women finish cleaning the few pieces of silverware that remained in silence, before Regina leads the way out of the kitchen and into the dining room, stopping at the decanter of cider at the bar. Without asking, she pours Emma a glass, and they each take a seat back at the now-cleared dining table.
“Since we are planning to spend Christmas Eve,” Regina hesitates, “together, I suppose that we should discuss how to handle sharing Christmas day, as well.” Emma gives a crooked smile, before leaning back in her chair and raising her glass to Regina in agreement.
All things considered, the minor blow-up between Emma and Regina actually clears the way for things to become even more civil, almost friendly, between the women. The tentative co-parenting plan they’d begun leads to a lot more crossover between Emma’s time with Henry and Regina’s time with Henry. Instead, their once weekly dinner becomes a thrice weekly dinner, and both women tend to linger at the other’s home while Henry settles in, discussing who’ll give Henry what present, and what kind of ingredients they still need for the cookies.
The decision to have Christmas Eve at Regina’s is pretty much an instant one. Even though Emma has her own place now that a dozen Storybrooke residents have decided that with the boundary gone, they needed to explore the world and leave their apartments open for rent, it’s still a new home and she’s never been one to have too many things in the first place. Needless to say, it’s a little too sparse and depressing for what they’re planning. (Plus Regina’s kitchen is so much better.)
Emma shows up with Henry a little after ten in the morning, and Regina gives her a little disappointed look, tapping her watch before bending down a bit to give Henry a hug. Emma rolls her eyes and mumbles, “It’s just ten minutes, your Majesty,” before sliding past to the foyer and shaking off her coat.
Cookies are first, and all three of them head into the kitchen where Regina’s laid out a million and one ingredients and set an iPod dock in the center of the island.
“Woah, Regina. What is all this?”
Raising an eyebrow, Regina gestures to the spread. “The ingredients for the cookies, dear. As discussed.”
Emma shakes her head, hoisting a brown grocery bag up to the island where Henry is watching both of his mothers. “Uh, when I asked if you had eggs and butter and stuff, I meant for the mixes.” As she pulls out a variety of cookie mix packages, Regina clucks her tongue, and walks to stand beside her son, resting her hand on his back.
“It seems I should have been more thorough with transferring those memories,” she whispers to Henry dryly. At her son’s smile, she gives one of her own to Emma, who has emptied the bag completely. “Henry and I always make cookies from scratch, so if you’d like the pack those back up,” she waves at the boxes.
“Well, Henry and I always make them from mixes.” Both women turn to their son, waiting for a verdict. His eyes wide, he holds both hands out in front of him and backs away, shaking his head.
“No way. I remember doing it both ways, so please don’t ask me to pick.” Regina’s eyes soften at her son’s nervous voice, at the soft cracking of certain words that imply his impending adulthood, and she feels a prickle of fear that there may not be many more of these days left. Looking over at Emma, she watches her walk over to put her hand on top of Henry’s head, ruffling his hair just a bit.
“Sorry kid, you’re right, we’ll try not to do that to you.” Emma poked at a bag of flour. “OK, so let’s try doing this from scratch, I guess. But no promises that mine are gonna turn out edible.”
Henry laughs, pushing up the sleeves of his sweater and rushing to the sink to wash his hands. “That’s OK, ma, mom always makes enough for me in case mine turn out bad, too.” Henry doesn’t seem to notice, but Emma and Regina look over at each other, expressions identical as they notice the distinct names he has for each of his mothers.
Instantly some of the tension dissipates and Regina turns on some music, before starting to instruct Emma.
“Don’t you have anything but Trans-Siberian Orchestra on here? I need some happy Christmas music, Regina.”
Regina rolled her eyes, sliding one tray into the oven. “Of course I do, there’s plenty of classics on that list.” The song jumped to “White Christmas” and she nodded her head toward the speakers. “For example.”
Emma slumped against one of the barstools, scrolling over a series of songs. “Not what I meant. Everything you have is sung by the Rat Pack. Look, we’re making cookies from scratch, like you wanted, so I’m gonna pick the music for a while, right Henry?” Ignoring his mothers, he hums along to the current tune a little louder and focuses on frosting one of his finished cookies.
“You are no help,” she grumbles, and pulls her phone out of her pocket. She’d barely muted the song before Mariah Carey’s voice breaks through the quiet kitchen. Regina scoffs from her place by the oven, and Emma turns up the music. “See, now this is a classic.” Emma sneaks around Henry, grabbing one of his cookies and poking him in the chest as she takes a bite. “‘All I Want for Christmas is You.’”
“Ma! C’mon, that was one of mine.” His complaint trails into a laugh as Emma’s free hand takes his wrist and she starts dancing with him around the kitchen. With a small shudder at the other woman’s less than perfect voice (although, she’d admit, it wasn’t entirely displeasing), Regina turns, putting together another batch of dough.
She can’t suppress the grin that spreads across her face watching her son and his other mother, swinging and jumping and laughing as they spin around. It had killed her to be away from him for an entire year, but knowing that it had been like this, easy and happy and warm, it makes it just a little easier.
“Mom!” Henry barely shouts before he and Emma are practically plowing into her, and she drops her spoon on the counter as each one takes a hand, pulling her into their foolish game. It’s silly and absurd and incredibly fun, she realizes as she hears herself laugh loudly.
The cookies are done, made for themselves and for the party at Granny’s later tonight, and so they sit in the family room with cups of hot chocolate (cinnamon for Emma and Henry, of course), ready to watch Frosty the Snowman. Henry is sprawled across one of the easy chairs, and Emma and Regina are on opposite ends of the sofa directly in front of the TV. Trying to be subtle, Regina spends the majority of the film watching Henry watch it, her worries easing at the effortless smile that rests on his lips.
When she chances a glance at Emma, she finds the other woman looking over at her already, and she feels her cheeks get warm. But Emma just offers a smile, and leans further into the couch, tucking her legs underneath her and letting her feet drift just outside of her square of cushion.
The familiarity is unusual and out of place, but as Henry sings along to the cartoon, she brings her own feet up beneath her and rests her head gently on her arm.
Of course, it can’t be all smooth sailing. While Emma certainly had memories of decorating Christmas trees, and specific ornaments, the talent to make said ornaments look nice was clearly not transferred.
“The heaviest ones go toward the bottom, dear, as I’ve said five times, now.”
“This thing is practically a freaking bowling ball, Regina, it’s gonna snap a twig if I put it down there.” Dropping the strand of lights she’s carefully unrolling (not untangling, because she coiled it neatly the last Christmas) to the couch, she bends down next to Emma and reaches for the ornament in question.
Fingers curling around Emma’s own, Regina feels a jolt of electricity shoot between them, and they both jerk back, ornament falling to the ground with a thud. Looking between them, Emma licks her lips and jokes, “That thing is seriously well-made, no wonder it’s so heavy.”
Regina furrows her brow, looking down at her hands. Glancing to make sure Henry is in the other room, Emma leans forward. “Magic is gone, isn’t it? I thought when Henry reset stuff—“
“It is gone, I can assure you.” Regina is focused on her hands, her fingers rubbing along the other hand where they’d touched.
“Hey, moms? Can we break for lunch? I’m getting kind of hungry.” With a shake, Regina stands back up and nods.
“Of course, Henry. Why don’t you help Emma with the tinsel, and I’ll put together some sandwiches.”
Glancing over her shoulder as she walks out of the room, Regina feels her stomach flutter as she sees Emma focused on her own hand, her fingers absent-mindedly playing with the ones that had touched her own.
Lunch feels stilted, the easy familiarity the three had been experiencing all day suddenly gone. Emma knows that her part in the awkward tension stems from the jolting touch she’d just experienced with Regina, and she’s almost positive the same can be said for the other woman. A year ago it wouldn’t have been too big of an issue, she figures (for a lot of reasons), but Henry is old enough now to recognize the tension for what it is.
“Did you two get into a fight?” OK, well, he kind of recognizes it for what it is.
“What? No!” “Why would you say that, Henry?” Their questioning denial comes out on top of each other, and both women flush while Henry gives them a unconvinced stare.
“I just thought,” his sigh is long and loud, “that we were fine, you know, being a family.” At the wide eyed face Regina makes (and Emma’s pretty sure her own is identical), Henry rushes on. “Or whatever it is that we are. Family-ish, I guess.”
Emma’s not certain, but her full year of actual memories, and her eleven years of fake memories, tell her that Henry’s using his I’m-disappointed-but-I’m-gonna-stuff-my-feelings voice. (She also can’t be entirely certain that it sounds the same way her own does, but she’d be willing to bet on it.) Setting down the crust of her sandwich, she leans across the table and takes his hand in hers.
“You’re right, Henry.” Regina cuts in before Emma can even start. Her smile is unsteady, like a fawn’s first steps, and Emma watches it grow surer. “We are, I suppose, a family, of sorts.” Her voice hitches on the word family and Emma’s stomach flutters. “After all, Miss Swan certainly has proven herself rather a fixture in your, in both of our lives. It seems we will be bound to her loud chewing forever.”
The jibe is flat, too covered in actual familiarity to be the slightest bit painful, and Emma quirks her lips in a smirk. Henry is smiling back at his mom, the worry that had knit his brows almost gone.
Regina isn’t looking at her, but her resolve to not do so is even more telling than Emma being able to look her in the eye. Clearing her suddenly dry throat, Emma squeezes Henry’s wrist and adds, “Your mom’s right, kid. I think we’re all stuck together now, for good or, apparently, not so good.”
Emma watches the profile of Regina’s mouth twitch up before she tries to stifle the movement.
The tree is finished, and the presents are all neatly placed below. They’re right on schedule (as Regina says with way too much pride), and they should be heading to Granny’s in an hour or so. Henry’s been begging to open just one present, c’mon! for the past half hour, despite it being about seven hours before midnight, which tradition dictates allows him to open one.
Pouting just enough to still be cute and not a preview of the teenager he is about to become, he goes up to his room to get changed while Regina fixes them a light dinner with Emma’s “help”.
“Would you just rinse this if you insist on acting like a lunatic!” Regina thrusts a head of lettuce toward Emma, who is standing almost three feet away from Regina, and has been since lunch. Emma does as she’s told, taking the lettuce with downcast eyes, and making sure her fingers don’t brush Regina’s again.
A small part of Regina stings at the apparent (aggressive) rejection, but she tries to wave it off. Really, what does she care if Emma doesn’t want to touch her?
She figures she must be chopping a little too loudly, because the next thing she knows, the water is turned off, and Emma’s sliding (carefully, of course) next to her at the counter. “Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just,” she breathes out and stays silent, until Regina stills her hand on the knife. “I guess, it’s like we just defeated magic,” Regina huffs, “and got things back to normal. And now, if this means that magic is here again, and we’re gonna have to go to Narnia and rescue Mr. Tumnus from a talking lion, I’m gonna lose my mind.”
Regina raises an eyebrow, and continues chopping. “I believe you’ve been reading those books incorrectly, dear.”
Emma sighs loudly. “I just want to be a family, for at least, like, a month or so. I’d like to work a dull job and watch TV and, I don’t know, breathe.” Regina’s hand stills and she looks over at Emma, offering a softer look. After all, she knows well what it is to crave a life of normalcy you’d once had. She sets her knife down.
Slowly, she reaches out her hand, and settles it gently onto Emma’s where it rests on the edge of the counter. Her fingertips grazed Emma’s knuckles slowly, almost intimately, and both women hold their breath.
Well, nothing of the magical variety Emma’d fears. But, Regina muses, breath quickening slightly, the feeling of their skin brushing together certainly is conjuring some kind of reaction, if the fluttering in her stomach is anything to go by.
Regina’s tongue darts out to wet dry lips, and when she looks back at Emma, all traces of her melancholy musings are gone, replaced by a sort of curious confusion.
Drawing her hand back to the cutting board, Regina picks up the knife and slowly begins chopping the tomatoes once more. “See?” she husks before clearing her throat. “Nothing magical there.”
Out of the corner of her eye Regina watches as Emma stills beside her, her fingers flexing over and over before she feels her leave and the water start to run again.
“Emma! Merry Christmas Eve!” Emma is barely through the diner door before Ruby’s arms are wrapped around her.
Laughing, she pulls back and pats Ruby’s arm, noting the empty glass in her hand. “Merry Christmas Eve to you, too, Rubes. Started celebrating early, did you?”
“Well, you’re certainly making up for lost festivities from last year, aren’t you, Ruby?” Regina and Henry take their place beside Emma after shaking off their coats. Emma turns at Regina’s comment in surprise, ready to jump in and smooth things over before Ruby can get upset, but is surprised to find a small crinkle in the corner of Regina’s eyes. Regina’s joking? With her enemy?
Ruby smiles wide, giving Regina a small wink and leaning forward conspiratorially. “Well, you know as well as I do how lacking we were for the proper refreshments over there.” Regina’s lips purse as if she‘s holding back laughter, and Henry looks up at Emma in confusion.
Join the club, kid, she thinks. Out loud, she can’t help but gape, “Uh, what the hell happened between you two back in the magic kingdom?” Ruby gives Emma an even bigger wink and waits a minute before letting out a loud bark of laughter.
“I’m just teasing you, Emma. You can put your jaw back now.” Looking down at Henry, Ruby ruffles his hair in a move that makes him smile but also pull back, trying to tame it back down. “Wanna get some hot chocolate, Henry? I’ve got cinnamon…”
The second Henry turns to follow Ruby, Emma drags Regina by the arm over to the coat rack, where she begins slipping hers off of her shoulders. “Alright, I knew that you had all come to some sort of understanding over there, at least enough so that David and Mary Margaret didn’t attack you the second we were all back, and all,” she hangs up the coat, freeing her hands to gesture wildly at Ruby, “but you’re like buddy-buddy with them?!”
Regina pushes Emma’s hands down and takes a seat at an empty table. “Don’t point, dear, it’s rude.” Emma sits down across from her, eyes still wide in confusion. “And no, I am not buddy-buddy with any of them, including Miss Lucas.” Sneering, but less so than usual, she adds, “Especially not your parents. But we have all reached an understanding, as you put it, and it seems we are all willing to coexist as peacefully as can be achieved.”
“OK, but that still doesn’t explain whatever the hell that was. She winked at you for crying out loud.”
Regina stares at Emma for a moment before her lips twitch into a smile. “Why, Miss Swan, you almost sound…jealous.”
With a tilt of her head and an unamused eyeroll, Emma says, “Yeah. That’s it.”
Regina laughs, just a little before relenting and leaning forward as Ruby had done. “It’s not that we’re friends by any means. But during our travels, Ruby mentioned to me that the curse hadn’t been the worst thing that had happened to her.” With soft eyes, she continues, “In fact, she said that it had given her something she rather valued.” She give Emma a pointed look. “Normalcy.”
Before Emma can respond, Henry comes over to their table, carrying three mugs very carefully, two with hot chocolate, and one with tea.
“Thank you, dear.” Henry smiles up at his mom and slides into the booth next to her, taking a sip of his hot chocolate.
“Thanks, kid.” Taking a sip, she hums in enjoyment. Looking up, she sees Regina’s brow cocked at the noise, and feels the smallest blush break across her cheeks.
“Merry Christmas, everyone!” Snow’s voice cuts through the small chatter in the diner as she and David walk through the door, a few errant flakes following them in before they can shut the door.
An echoed response follows, and when Emma looks over at Regina and Henry, she smirks at the sneer stretched across Regina’s lips. “Still?”
Regina blows on her tea before bringing it to her lips. Over the rim she murmurs, “I said we were not buddy-buddy, if you recall.”
A little less than two hours later, the party is in full swing and raucous rounds of carols are being sung (poorly, in most cases) by most of the crowd. As usual, Regina is not one of those singing, but, rather, sits beside her son, her hand on his back as he joins in with the others.
“You don’t sing? What, is your voice terrible or something?” Emma slides into the booth on the other side of her, sandwiching Regina between the rest of her newly appointed family. With the noise of the crowd, Emma is forced to lean in close to Regina, practically speaking into her ear.
With a small shudder at the presence of someone beside her so suddenly (and absolutely no other reason whatsoever), Regina shakes her head. “No, I don’t sing, Emma. But you seem to enjoy doing so, no matter how flat you are.”
Emma sucks in a breath as though she was about to launch into an argument. Cutting her off, Regina turns her head just to the side facing Emma, and gives her a small smirk, softening the blow. Emma turns toward Regina, her mouth opening in protest, but a stumbling Dopey draws her attention just in time to see him crashing toward the booth.
Sliding over toward Regina in just the nick of time, she manags to avoid getting spilled on with whatever he was drinking. Regina freezes, realizing just a second before Emma does that her move had brought them rather close, and Emma’s face is now just a few inches from her own.
Sucking in a breath, Regina tries to lean back a bit, only to have her knees knock against Emma’s with her movement.
Suddenly the air feels thick and thin at the same time, and her head is heavy with the contradiction. Emma braces her hand on the table in front of her before pushing back, and giving Regina some space.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, as Regina tries to process why, exactly, there is a twinge of disappointment on the edge of her mind.
Clearing her throat as she stands, Emma puts her hands on her hips and surveyes the diner. “Well, I guess drunken stumbling is our cue to take the kid home?”
Regina nods, rubbing Henry’s back as she stands. While the three of them make their way toward the coat rack, David and Snow come to stand beside them. “Are you heading out?” Snow’s voice is light but hesitant, and Regina can see the disappointment on her face.
“Yeah,” Emma says over her shoulder as she hands Henry his jacket. Behind her, Snow rubs the small belly she’s grown in the past five months, and nods, resigned.
“Alright, well drive safely back to Regina’s, it’s started to snow again.” Emma nods, before turning to face her parents.
“We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon?” David’s voice is less airy, more desperate than his wife’s had been. Regina watches the neutrality crack on Emma’s face, and she offers her parents a real smile and a nod.
“You will. Don’t forget the potatoes.” An awkward laugh overtakes Snow and David, and after a stilted moment (which Regina savors, just a bit), Emma opens the door and ushers Henry and Regina out into the cold.
The car is parked a little ways down the block, and as Henry walks ahead, Regina slows, allowing her and Emma a bit of privacy. Not knowing if it’s her place or not, especially considering the parties involved, Regina hesitates, wondering if she should ask about the strained relationship between Emma and her parents.
After they’d all returned to Storybrooke, and Emma had relearned the painful truth about her parents’ decision to send her to this world, things had been rather tense; old wounds reopening and all. And matters hadn’t been helped by Snow’s announcement a few days following that she and David were expecting another child, reopening a second round of wounds ever fresher than the first.
“It’s fine, Regina. Like I told them, I just need some time.” Henry reaches the car a few feet ahead of them, shifting on his feet to stave off the cold.
“I didn’t mean to interfere, I just—“ Emma shakes her head as she reaches her bug, unlocking the doors after a few tries.
Once Henry is in, she opens the door for Regina and shrugs. “I know, and thanks.” Regina smiles, pulling her feet into the car before Emma closes it, gently.
“Can I open one now?” Henry bounces on the balls of his feet, enough to remind Emma of the little boy that she knew in her memories. False memories, of course, that were real but not hers. Still, with Henry in pajamas he’s quickly outgrowing and cheeks red from the warmth of the house, she can almost believe that they are as real as this moment.
“Hmmm, it’s not quite midnight, kid.” Emma flops onto the couch in front of the tree, earning a glare from Regina.
“It’s eleven thirty!”
Regina laughs, raising her eyebrows in question at Emma. “I suppose we could let you open just one?”
Emma tries to look stern but it lasts approximately zero seconds before Henry’s large grin breaks her resolve. “You heard your mom.” With a small jump Henry is running toward the tree, dropping down beside it to reach for a series of boxes.
“Which one should I open?” Emma gets up from the couch and walks over, taking a spot next to her son on the floor.
“This one, Regina?” Emma points to a red and green striped box, sitting directly in front of her.
Regina walks over, setting her glass of water on the mantel before kneeling down elegantly beside Emma. “I suppose that would be a good choice. Let me just go get a trash bag to—“
“Let it go for now.” Regina glowers at being told what to do, but Emma shrugs and points to Henry bouncing to open the package. “Watch your son open his gift.”
The surprising intimacy of Emma’s sentence catches her off guard, and she weakly nods, settling into her spot once more. Henry looks for a tag, reading that it is from both his mothers before he pulls off the neat ribbon Regina has put around the box.
It’s a blur as Henry tears the package open, the movement immediately followed by a loud shriek as his GameStation X is revealed. “OH MY GOD, THANK YOU GUYS SO MUCH I LOVE IT, THANK YOU!” Jumping up, Henry runs around Emma to crouch between both mothers, throwing his arms around them, and pulling them into a crushing hug.
Regina and Emma both smile, laughing at their son’s enthusiasm. When Henry finally pulls back and sits down to open his new system, Regina looks at the clock on the wall. “OK, you opened a present, so I think it’s bed time, young man.”
“Not yet, you and ma have to open one too.” Pulling back from his present for a moment he reaches for the closest gifts to him, one wrapped beautifully (much like his own had been), and the other wrapped not quite so beautifully.
Handing them each a gift from the other, Henry smiles and sits back down on his feet, hugging the box to his chest. “OK, mom, you go first.”
Regina pauses a moment, soaking in the easy way he speaks to her; a way she thought she’d never hear again. Blinking back tears at the dark thoughts, Regina looks down and recognizes Emma’s messy writing of her name on the package.
“From Emma, I’m assuming.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Regina smiles her politician’s smile before gently pulling the package open. Inside is a small box holding a bottle of perfume. Your Majesty is written in flowing script across the front of the bottle.
“I couldn’t resist!” Emma is trying to hold back laughter at Regina’s disgusted face, but after a moment fails miserably.
“I wish you would have, dear.”
Emma’s laughter stutters, and she sits up. “Hey! It actually smells really good.”
“Hmm. I’m sure you think so.”
Emma straightens even further. “Hey, are you telling me I—“
“Ma, it’s your turn,” Henry steps in, thrusting her package at her to open. With a small glare at Regina, Emma tears her package open, revealing a set of cookie sheets and a box of cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and a few other cookie-baking items.
Emma looks up at Regina with a somewhat forced smile. “Thanks, Regina.”
Shifting in her spot, Regina gesturs with one hand, the other holding the bottle of perfume. “For your new apartment, that is still so desperately in need of basic items like cookware.” Her voice softens, and she clears her throat. “And, I thought that, perhaps, we could have Christmas Eve at your home next year.” Emma’s smile loosens, and her shoulders relax.
“Thank you, Regina. Really.”
“Of course, now that I know you simply buy your ingredients pre-packaged, it seems a waste.”
Rolling her eyes, Emma leans back on her hands and yawns. “Alright, kid. It’s bedtime.”
Henry reluctantly parts from his new present and kneels with a wide grin. “Goodnight moms! Thank you guys so much!”
“Goodnight, Henry.” “Night kid, Merry Christmas.”
Henry leans over, giving Emma a one-armed hug before standing up and walking the few feet to Regina and repeating the motion. “Not yet, ma, it’s not midnight.” His tired voice trails off as he starts to head to the stairs. “But Merry Christmas.” Starting to walk up the stairs, he turns at the landing and looks over to where his mothers had followed him to the foyer.
On the landing he shifts, and his arms bounce against his sides. “I love you both.” Without another pause, Henry turns and walks up to his room, shutting his door.
Emma turns toward Regina, who is suddenly making a beeline for the kitchen to grab a trash bag. Emma follows her, and when Regina begins to clean up the wrapping paper, she starts picking up pieces, too.
“Thanks, Regina, for sharing this with me.” Regina pauses before taking a piece of wrapping paper Emma holds out to her. “And I don’t just mean this year.”
Regina nods, standing. “Thank you for taking care of him. For taking Henry when I had to give him up.” Emma notices the light in Regina’s eyes, the moisture that is gathering there reflecting the glow of the trees.
Emma takes the garbage bag from Regina’s hand. “I guess that’s kind of what we do, isn’t it?”
After a beat, Regina shifts, wrapping her arms around herself. “Well, I suppose you can set that down, since we’ll be using it in the morning. And it seems we better be off to sleep, as well.” Emma sets the bag down as she’s told, and walks to the stairs, where her overnight bag is sitting in the guest room.
“Goodnight, Emma. Merry Christmas.”
Emma looks over her shoulder and nods, before continuing on into the guest room.
Emma's mind wanders as she changes into sleep pants and a tank top, and brushes her hair. She still has one gift to give to Regina, and now is a better time than any, she supposes.
Reaching into the side of her duffle bag, she pulls out a package, and walked across the hallway to knock on Regina’s door. After a moment, Regina pulls it back with a curious expression. “Is everything alright?”
Emma nods, and Regina lets the door open further, to reveal a soft-looking cotton robe in dark gray. “Yeah, it’s fine. I just, I wanted to give you this, but not in front of Henry.”
Regina’s eyes widen, and Emma gapes. “Oh, god, it’s not anything inappropriate or anything! I just thought it might embarrass him.” Giving Emma a gentle smile, Regina steps back from her door, and walks over to her vanity.
After a moment’s hesitation, Emma steps across the threshold to Regina’s room. Scanning the space, she notes how warm it feels, with the usual stark white and black that fills the rest of the house gone, making way for a softer cream color everywhere.
“I actually have something similar, it seems.” Opening a drawer, Regina pulls out a square box, wrapped perfectly with a bow on top, and turns to move further from the door, taking a seat on the chaise lounge near the window.
The room is dimly lit, the overhead lights off in favor of smaller table lamps that leave a soft glow to the room. Deciding to follow after Regina, Emma stands beside the empty end of the chaise before taking a seat.
Emma feels her eyes still on Regina’s form as the other woman runs her fingers over the edges of the box, smoothing out the already crisp lines of the wrapping job. Clearing her throat, Emma passes her gift over, a plain shoebox with a bow holding the lid on.
“Here you go, I wanted to…” Regina looks up, taking the box from her hands. “Well, just open it first, I guess.”
The room is silent save for the gentle scraping of the ribbon on the cardboard, as Regina unties the box and pulls the lid off. Emma watches as she picks up the first piece of paper lying in the box, on top of several other papers.
Holding her breath, Emma prays that this was the right thing to do, that she hasn’t screwed everything up by bringing all of this up again.
“Is this…?” Regina scans the document before looking past it to see the rest of the stack, quickly thumbing through to answer her unfinished question. Looking up quickly, she meets Emma’s eyes, her own wide and glistening with unshed emotion.
Emma nods. “When I went back to Manhattan to pack up our things, I tried to get as many as I could find. It’s not everything, I know, but it should give you a good idea, I think.” Regina’s face opens in a watery smile, and Emma breathes out a sigh of relief.
“I know how hard it must have been for you this past year, being without him, not knowing what his life was like with me. Trust me, I understand that.” Pulling her feet under her on the chaise, she continues. “I thought this would let you see what it was like, I thought it might give you some kind of,” a deep sigh, “relief, or whatever.”
Setting the box down gently on her lap, Regina places the lid on before reaching across and taking Emma’s hand in her own. Grasping tightly, she squeezes once, and smiles even brighter before nodding. “It will. It does, Emma. Thank you,” she punctuates each word with a squeeze.
Regina pulls back from Emma slowly, her fingertips trailing over the back of Emma’s hand, leaving a phantom tingle on her skin. With a small caress to the box, Regina pulls it to her just a moment before setting it down next to her on the floor, then picking up her package for Emma.
She taps the gift gently as if in thought before passing it over, her eyes staying trained on the present. “This is for you, Emma.”
Resisting the urge to tear the paper open (as she assumes Regina wouldn’t look too fondly on her leaving a mess in her bedroom), she instead peels back one corner before sliding the item out. Regina takes the paper from her without question and sets it, folded, on her box of Henry’s schoolwork, event tickets and other memorabilia.
With the paper cleared, Emma looks down at the leather bound book sitting across her lap heavily. Her hands shake as she flips the cover back, tears springing to her eyes in confirmation of what she believed could be inside.
The book is a photo album, filled with photos of Henry at various ages, and a quick flip to the next page reveals writing on the back of each photo, indicating age, date, and a brief description. She feels starved for everything as she flips hurriedly through the pages, finding out that the entire album is full of her son’s smiling (and sometimes not-so-smiling) face.
“Regina…” she trails off, unable to think of what to say, her throat constricting from the rush of emotion.
Regina slides over on the chaise until she is as close to Emma as possible, and she pulls the album until it is sprawled half across her lap and half across Emma’s. Dragging her fingers across half a dozen photos, she smiles down at the young boy.
“I know that I said your memories of Henry, at least the ones before last year, weren’t real, and I…apologize…if I hurt you.” Meeting Emma’s eyes, Regina continues, their faces close together as though Regina can’t bear to say these words any louder than a whisper.
“I didn’t mean to do so, but it’s true: your memories with Henry aren’t real, not for you.” Emma can’t help the pained expression that takes her features, and Regina’s brow furrows in sympathy as she reaches to take Emma’s hand again, her thumb caressing her knuckles.
“They’re not real, but I know that they feel real, as much as anything else. And so, I think that you should have something, that you should have these real, tangible photos of your son,” her hand stills, “of our son.
“It was incredibly hard, some days unbearable, to be without any memento of Henry in the Enchanted Forest. And I don’t think that you, that either of us, should ever be without them again.” A tear crests down Emma’s cheek and she swipes it away with her free hand as she squeezes Regina’s back with her other.
Her voice is thin in the still air as she whispers, “Thank you.”
Both women sit in silence, hands clasped together almost desperately as they thumb through the photos of their son, Regina in remembrance, and Emma in discovery. Long minutes pass until a loud winter wind gusts against the near window, startling them out of their reverie.
Looking over her shoulder at the window, Emma sighs. “I suppose we should get some sleep.” Regina nods, pulling her hand back and standing up slowly. Emma feels an immediate chill as the warmth of Regina being at her side dissipated, and a shiver runs up her spine without warning.
Standing, too, she closes the album and holds it tight to her chest as she walks to the door leading to the hallway. Shifting on her feet in the doorway, she hesitates before Regina. “Well, um, Merry Christmas, Regina.” The other woman nods, tight lipped, and Emma feels herself falling toward her with one arm stretched out, going in for a hug.
Taken by surprise Regina stiffens, until Emma’s arm settles across the back of her shoulders, her cheek pressing against Regina’s jaw as her arm squeezes. After a moment, Regina brings her arms up, wrapping around Emma’s back and pulling her even closer, a sigh escaping her mouth and disturbing several strands of blonde hair.
“Merry Christmas, Emma.” Slowly, Emma pulls back, her hand grasping Regina’s forearm as it fell to her side. In a gentle caress, she lets her hand run down the length of Regina’s arm, settling on her wrist when she feels another spark, just like she’d felt at the tree, earlier that day.
Her heart stilling, Emma searches Regina’s face for a reaction, but finds somewhat wide eyes that are searching her own. After a beat, Emma’s fingers, still resting atop Regina’s wrist, feels the air shift above her. When she looks up, she sees the smallest wisp of pale lilac smoke dissolving, swirling down toward them.
In its place is left a slowly growing sprig of mistletoe, the leaves curling outward as it grew. Emma swallows harshly, her heart starting to race. Her head feels foggy as the implications of what is happening, of magic being back, fought with the sudden need she had to look at Regina, to see what she was thinking.
Her throat feels like sandpaper as she swallows, and looks down again, meeting Regina’s wide brown eyes. The other woman appears to be just as conflicted as she, her pulse racing beneath the fingers that rest over her wrist, and her lips part as she takes shallow breaths.
Regina’s tongue darts out to wet her lips, and suddenly, like a ton of bricks, the realization that Emma really, really wants to taste those lips crashes over her. Along with the realization that, in fact, she’s been wanting to do just that for a rather long time.
Stepping an inch forward, Emma tries to gauge Regina’s reaction, but only catches sight of her chest rising and falling a few seconds faster. “Regina…” her eyes dart between Regina’s lips and eyes as she takes another step, now completely in Regina’s space, inches from kissing her.
Feeling movement beneath her palm, Emma looks down to find Regina’s arm sliding up, until their palms were touching. Her breath hitches as Regina presses her fingers between Regina’s own, interlocking their fingers.
“Emma,” Regina whispers, her breath ghosting across Emma’s lips a millisecond before they both close their eyes and lean in, lips brushing against each other as they stood beneath the mistletoe. The kiss is gentle, tentative and almost chaste, but lasts long seconds before both women pull apart almost breathless.
Emma takes an immediate step forward, needing to be in Regina’s space again, and she catches a whiff of something dark and sweet: the perfume she’d given Regina. Eyes opening slowly, Regina’s focus darts between Emma’s own eyes, twinkling beneath the light pouring in from the hallway. With a smirk she dips back down to capture Regina’s mouth with her own once more, the kiss deeper, heavier than the last had been but just as tender.
Unable to stop herself, Emma’s tongue darts out to swipe Regina’s bottom lip just as she pulls back with a smirk. The near-whimper that comes from Regina almost makes Emma falter, but she pulls her hand from Regina’s to snake around the woman’s back, pulling her body closer as she smirks.
Resting her forehead against Regina’s, Emma teases, “It looks like you didn’t hate my gift so much after all.”
Emma follows her words with another quick kiss, and when Regina’s tongue prods for entrance, she parts her lips in response, pulling the album from her chest to wrap both arms around Regina.
Short nails cling to the thin material of Emma’s tank top as they kiss deeply. When Regina speaks again, her words are quiet and near Emma’s ear. “It would seem that way, Emma.” She presses a small kiss to Emma’s jaw, and murmurs, “Merry Christmas,” as the mistletoe disappears.