"We've been walking for a while, Ma." Henry is whining as they hike through the forest, looking for the perfect Christmas tree. He actually lets go of the sled they are both pulling.
"Oh c'mon kid, this is family fun!" Flexing her fingers, cold even in her gloves, Regina thinks that Emma has a unique version of fun. At times.
"He does have a point, dear." Regina is slightly out of breath. Emma is having an emotional type of sugar high. Regina's calling it the Christmas effect. "We still have to carry our tree all the way back home." 'If we're not using magic,' because for Emma, 'real'', involves sweat and runny noses, in the cold, boots calf high in the snow and frozen bits.
Emma is loving it. That makes sense, of course, but watching her is… it hurts and it makes her happy. Contradiction, by Emma Swan. Regina is more than willing to indulge the woman who holds her heart and never had what all children should. She wonders if maybe Henry picked up on that too. It wouldn't surprise her.
"You guys are party poopers, where's your Christmas spirit, Mills?!"
Emma turns around to face them as they trail behind her and the bow-saw dangerously slides off her shoulder, landing by Regina's feet.
"No, dear, we're just concerned for our lives." She smirks and gives a sheepish Emma Swan an amused eyebrow. "I am particularly concerned for your limbs. They do have their uses."
Emma sticks her tongue out to Regina. Which makes Henry laugh.
"Well that has a use, too."
"Ewwww, Moooooom!" Henry pretends to barf. "That's gross."
"That was the point, sweetheart, I am glad I managed." Emma's also caught the double entendre, if her crooked smile is any indication. Their banter and sass had always been something Regina cherishes, but trying to be "good" was never what Emma had wanted of her. She'd only wanted for Regina to be herself, which hadn't been that bad, truly, although she had done terrible things.
Now Emma truly has her heart, and Henry, too. She has a family, and a life to see that being herself is actually good enough.
Reaching a thick patch of trees, Regina decides they've had enough.
"I think we should look around here, Emma."
"All right. What are we looking for, Henry?" They both look at Henry expectantly.
"Well, in 'Today we learn how to cut a Christmas tree' they say we should look for a tree with a full body and even branches and a straight trunk."
They spread out in the glade of firs, looking for the perfect one. Emma goes straight for the gigantic unmanageable ones, and Henry is pointing at even bigger ones.
"Look, Mom, what do you think of that one?"
"That one would take half the living room, Henry. It's too large. keep looking." She does too, taking a few steps away from them.
The cold grass and snow crunch underfoot as she studies the trees. These are smaller, obviously sheltered from the sun by the canopy of bigger pines and oaks overhead. Then she steps around a sparse fir to see what lays near the edge of the glade.
A fir seems to glisten with dew, its body shape full and branches evenly spaced and a rich, healthy green. Regina feels a shiver as she steps closer. She turns and realizes the glistening is in the air around her. She hesitantly reaches out, and her hand passes through a curtain of light. It's a fairy circle. A lump forms in her throat. She sees Emma and waves to her. There's no recognition on Emma's face when Regina sees she passes through the light curtain.
The tree she stands next to catches Emma's attention. "Is this the one?"
Regina nods, taking Emma's non-saw wielding hand. Emma leans and kisses her. When Regina opens her eyes the fairy ring has faded from sight.
"Kid, c'mere, your mom found the perfect tree!"
Henry catches up to them, holding up Emma's beat up smartphone, "Okay," he pants, "I've got the rest of the instructions."
"What does it say?"
"We need to keep a little over a foot and half of trunk and just cut it."
Emma hefts the saw and kneels down. "All right everyone, take a step back. I got this."
Regina takes a step back, or three, and puts a firm hand on Henry's shoulder to keep him with her. They're watching Emma roughly measure where she's going to take the saw to the tree when Henry tugs at her coat.
She leans over and he whispers, "Do you think it's safe?"
"I heard that!"
"Just carry on, dear. Don't mind us."
"Maybe you could make sure she doesn't cut her hand, or make the tree fall on us?"
Regina actually turns to look at Henry, "She's the one with the saw, sweetheart."
"Magic." Henry shrugs.
"I heard that too! I said no magic, kid." Emma is looking at them, the bow-saw halfway through the trunk of the tree. "We're doing this the old-fashioned way, and that's all there is to it!"
Everyone hears an ominous crack just as Emma finishes speaking...
"Emma!" Regina is extending her hands and the falling tree stops in mid-air, levitating a few inches above Emma's head.
"Well, that's that." Regina is smiling, diffusing the fright that surprised all of them.
"You could poof all of us home with the tree while you're at it." Henry grins.
Emma is still crouched under their falling tree, hands in the snow. Regina studies her for a second. "No, Henry, we're going to carry the tree home, like your mother asked of us."
"Okay." Henry pockets Emma's phone. "I'll get the sled."
Regina lowers the tree to the ground next to Emma, stepping closer to offer her hand. She helps Emma up and into her arms.
"Mi hermosa corazón…" Regina shakes her head slightly, amused.
Emma blinks and blushes. "Thanks for the save."
"Thank you for the... experience," Regina replies.
"You just laughed at me." Emma pouts. She can't help but kiss it.
"And the kid."
"You are quite funny, Emma." Regina kisses the tip of Emma's nose next.
"You think this is good?" Emma asks, clearly checking for Regina's approval.
"The tree is perfect." Regina tucks some of Emma's hair back. "Let's go home?"
"Is it holding up straight?" Emma is laying on the floor, adjusting screws in the trunk.
"Yeah, Ma, I think." Henry's helping, she can hear them from the kitchen. "We should ask Mom."
They should. Because it's nice to be asked.
That's her cue. Regina pulls off her apron and sets it on the counter, taking the tray of hot chocolate mugs and moving out quickly through the house to the living room.
"You bellowed?" She sasses at Emma looking up at her from her back on the floor.
"Is it straight?"
"Not much of anything you do is straight, dear."
Emma curls her lip at Regina. Regina smirks back. "Just tell me which way to move it."
"A little to the right, towards me."
Emma dives back under the tree and does something Regina can't see, but the tree jerks several inches toward Regina. "Too far."
From beneath the boughs Regina hears an unmistakable growl. Another adjustment and the tree tilts slightly back toward the left. "That's good."
Sitting up, careful not to touch anything, Emma uses her teeth to pull the index tip of Regina's 'special Christmas tree' gardening gloves.
"Let me help you…" Regina kneels in front of Emma and helps her pull the sticky gloves off.
"Thanks." Emma's tone is warm, admiring almost.
Regina offers Emma a mug of hot chocolate in exchange for the gloves. Her eyes settle on Emma's humming face as she takes an appreciative first taste of chocolate and cinnamon goodness.
Emma's legs splay out in front of her. After a sniffle over the steam, Henry gingerly drinks from his own mug.
Regina settles back on the couch and sips at her own hot chocolate, content to simply watch them both enjoying the drinks she has made for them and warming up from their adventure in the forest. Warming up from the inside.
Emma sets aside her mug and looks up the length of the tall tree. "So, decorations next?"
"There are several boxes in the attic," Regina says.
Regina leads the way upstairs to a door at the end of the corridor of bedrooms. A twist of a skeleton key - she gives Emma a wry smile - and the trio is inside a narrow staircase leading up into darkness. Regina reaches over her head to a small pullstring lightbulb. It casts a faint light pool around them and Henry leads the way up the stairs.
Emma takes Regina's hand before they reach the top step. The light has illuminated a short space that fills the headspace under the pitched roof. There are old furnishings up here, and a few chests of old clothes. Regina points when Emma turns to her curiously. "Henry knows."
Indeed Henry is in the midst of pushing aside a large leather trunk Emma thinks might have been Cora's; it looks like a steamer trunk. Regina must have brought the woman's things up after her mother's passing. Behind the trunk however, Henry has thrown open a brightly painted box. "Here," he says excitedly.
Emma follows Regina forward and the two look on as Henry removes and stacks five non-descript white boxes of various dimensions. "These are the balls and bells," he explains. "We've got lights, garlands and icicles too."
While Emma fills her arms, Regina steps away and opens another chest, withdrawing a shirt box tied with braided child's shoelaces. She looks over at Emma, the woman's arms brimming with boxes, and says, "I think we have enough for the tree, Henry. We'll come back when we decorate the rest of the house."
Henry stands carrying several boxes himself. "Okay."
"Careful on the steps," she warns as he rushes to leave, Emma preceding him. She picks up a box herself, putting her other cargo on top of it and follows after them.
Once settled, Emma and Henry first figure out how to disentangle the lights for the tree. Regina is glad to let them decide what to put up. She opens the boxes of ornaments, smiling to herself as she goes through Henry's handmade angels and snow covered balls, or glued together garland. All the crafty things he would always rush home with, excited to be able to put them up himself. Each had increased in complexity to match his growing motor skills. The angel he had brought home when he was four, however, was still her most precious. He'd glued together precut parts given to him by the preschool teacher and drawn with fat crayons on the white paper bits, telling her proudly it was her face. Because she was his angel.
When he was still quite little, she could lift him up so he could choose what was the most appropriate branch of their tree for his art.
Emma steps up to Regina and gingerly reaches for the angel in her hands. "You wanna put this one up?"
"It's Henry's," Regina says, letting it leave her fingers into Emma's. Henry looks over at the sound of his name.
"You still have those," he says.
"Yes, of course I do," Regina replies. "Every one."
Henry moves alongside Emma and looks at the angel in her hands. "Oh, when did I do that?"
"When you were four," she reminds him.
He reaches into the box and withdraws another. "Now this one I remember. I was eight. Miss Armpit had us trace onto cardboard and then use acrylic paints."
Regina laughs, fondly remembering him telling her his teacher's name the first time at eight years old. She once again corrects, "Miss Amphitrite, dear."
"Really? Who?" Emma asks.
"She is Ariel's mother."
"Ariel? You mean the Little Mermaid?" Emma questions incredulously.
"She was the art teacher. But she told us she'd been an Olympic diver when she was younger," Henry says.
Henry puts his "Miss Armpit angel" onto the tree. Regina looks at the decorated tree and smiles. It's really beginning to look and feel really like a holiday, for the first time in several years. "It's a lovely tree," she remarks.
"Did you use to put up Christmas trees in the Enchanted Forest?" Henry asks.
"We didn't celebrate Christmas. We had a winter holiday though, it's called Yule."
"Oh! That's what Snow meant," Emma says. "She was asking me about some you-thing. Yule, huh?"
"Yes, it was a way for us to celebrate that Winter was half over. That Spring would come soon, as part of the natural cycle."
"What was that like?" Henry asks. His eyes are glistening with curiosity, the same he has when he looks at his book.
"I am not sure what to say." Regina is a bit nervous. She's never enjoyed Yule. Like she's never enjoyed Christmas. Until Henry.
"Oh come on, Mom, you're great at telling stories." He grabs a fluffy pillow off the couch and settles himself on the thick rug on the floor before it.
"I'd like to know too." Emma's hand softly strokes her lower back before she leans in to grab another pillow and goes to sit on the rug by Henry, resting against an armchair with her pillow for cushion.
"Very well." Regina sits on the couch, two expectant faces looking at her. She's struck in that instant, as she is many others, by the amazing and beautiful resemblance she's come to cherish between her son and his mother.
"I should warn you, I have never really enjoyed Yule myself, because my mother never cared much for such frivolity. Our celebrations were always quite hollow."
"I think it's sad your mom didn't like Christmas." Henry blurts it out with a frown.
Regina takes a breath and holds it for a short moment. She's looking at her son and his compassion.
"I think it's sad too, Henry." She smiles at him, because it is sad, and she remembers thinking the same at his age. "My father just told me to hold it in my heart." She smiles wistfully. "Papi was… he thought of the holiday as a nice time. We had a few special things."
"Your father's traditions?" Emma's voice trails off.
"He… I suppose what I treasure most is the apple tree. It was a Yule present from him when I was twelve."
"So, you got plants as presents?" Henry asks.
"Yule is a celebration of nature's cycle. Plants and baby animals were frequent presents."
"So, who knew, Regina Mills, tree hugger." Emma chuckles and Regina is grateful for the lightening of the mood.
"And don't you forget it," Regina replies.
"So what's up with the feast? And there's a dance?" Emma asks.
"Traditional celebrations were days of feasting in the Royal houses and courts."
"Castles?" Henry asks.
"So you hung out with kings and queens and stuff?"
"When I was very young, we went to my grandfather's castle. They held feasts for days. And the last night, all night, from sundown to sunup on the longest night of the year, there was a huge ball." She turns to Emma. "We did the same in White Castle for many years while Snow was young."
"So she's trying to recreate something from her childhood."
"Possibly. The few memories that are good."
"We had parties in a lot of the group homes where I lived," Emma says. "But it was simple stuff. A few presents from Toys for Tots, and a donated meal from the Salvation Army."
Regina meets Emma's eyes as the woman looks away from Henry. "There were a lot of gifts given from the lords to their vassals and the peasants' children."
"Really?" Henry asks.
"Yes. It was a sign of being able to care for those who depended on you for their protection to be able to provide lavish foods and toys, which were useless, simply because one could."
"Showing off," Emma says.
"In a manner of speaking. It was one of the reasons my mother disliked it, I think. Everything was meant for a purpose. Frivolity, toys, served no purpose. Even dancing was only a courtship ritual. She despised charity."
"Charity was sometimes all we ever had to wrap ourselves in," Emma says quietly. "I wonder if Snow is going to do anything like that for this celebration."
"We should ask her!" Henry throws in.
"You could, you are the White kingdom's Princess. It wouldn't surprise anyone if you wanted to be involved." Regina smiles, she knows Emma dislikes the title, but it is hers nevertheless.
"I'm no princess."
"Just like you say you are no Savior, dear. They are your people too." Her people too, Regina thinks, whether they want it or not. But there are the people you're given and the people you choose.
Emma sags back onto her pillow. "Well, maybe I can do some good with the darn thing. I'll bring it up tomorrow when I see Snow and David at the warehouse where they're putting on this thing."
"It'd be cool for everyone to get together for Yule, or Christmas, or whatever," Henry says. "We shouldn't all be doing different things, we're family."
Emma glances at Regina before answering Henry, "Everyone's already coming to the Yule feast or ball thing."
"But what about Christmas morning? And the presents?" Henry asks. Regina smiles indulgently at him, thinking already of the present she has set aside for him that is hidden in a corner of the shed.
"Well, how about you extend an invitation to your grandparents to spend Christmas Day here, with you?" Regina blinks. She just offered that, didn't she? She twists her lips from a frown to a pained smile.
"Regina?" Emma asks. Flabbergasted, she looks like her father. Charming.
"Quickly accept before I change my mind."
Henry rumbles up from the floor and throws his arms around her. "Thank you, Mom!"
"You're welcome, sweetheart." She wants to say 'don't mention it', but then she would really want him not to mention it, and it seems pointless.
Henry seems thoughtful though. Emma has picked up on it, too. "What is it, kid?"
"Well…" He's looking at the carpet. The tone of his voice tells her she's about to be cornered by a puppy eyes look. "Archie and Pongo are going to be alone for Christmas, too, and Ruby and Granny…"
"Archie and Pongo?" Emma's face is scrunching up, no doubt at the mention of the dalmatian. "Kid..." She sighs and looks at Regina.
"But Ma, you said nobody should ever be alone for Christmas." She must admit, their son runs a tough bargain. He has Emma wrapped around his little finger. Especially since he started calling her "Ma".
"Well yeah…" Regina rolls her eyes. She's already putting up with the idiots, she might as well have someone enjoyable to talk to.
"Why don't you call Archie and ask him yourself, Henry? I will handle the Lucases, and Emma can have the joy of talking to your grandparents."
"Yes, Mom!" He's already running to the parlor for the downstairs phone receiver.
Regina chuckles lovingly. It's so good to have him home.
"You totally rolled on that, Mom," Emma teases.
"And you weren't about to?"
Strong but gentle arms wrap around her waist, once she accepts the hand helping her off the couch.
"Yeah… but it's your house."
"Yes, and now it looks as if my home will be positively overflowing with holiday cheer." Regina lets her voice roll with mock dismay. Emma rolls her eyes and Regina can't help but end with a smirk. They know each other too well.
Emma nuzzles her neck, under her ear, where the younger woman likes it most. "Thank you."
"I am going to regret this, aren't I? There isn't a chance this little gathering could go well."
"There is always a chance," Emma says.
"That's your White optimism speaking."
"I love you." Regina leans slightly away from Emma still resting against her neck to see her precious face shining with the brightest smile.
Emma's fingers sift through her hair and the gesture makes Regina close her eyes. She wonders if this is what it means to simply have someone to lean on. She feels much better.
"I know. There isn't a chance you'd be doing this if you didn't." Emma kisses her lips tenderly. "And I've got you."
"You've got me?"
"Yeah." Emma is playing cryptic, as she does sometimes, so she doesn't have to explain how she feels. It means whatever she's trying to say is important, and Emma wants her to know it is.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I know you hate that kind of intrusion, and I won't leave you alone to deal with it."
It's important because that's how Emma commits.
Just entering the warehouse is a challenge. There's people everywhere. Emma takes Henry's hand to pull him away from a nun on a ladder with … Grumpy holding the sides down below. The nun waves to her and Emma thinks of her name - Astrid - just as Grumpy smiles big in her direction as well. It's a bit startling and she stumbles over her own feet.
"Emma, you all right?" Henry takes her hand. "Mom wasn't exaggerating when she said their Christmas is big."
"No kidding." Snow's gone all out.
"Hi there, sister! You came to help?" Grumpy sounds...cheerful.
"Hello, Leroy," and Emma's surprised that her voice actually doesn't sound as surprised as she feels. "Is Mary… my mom inside?"
"Hi." Henry's never quite forgiven Leroy for his school play disaster.
"Hey, munchkin," Leroy says to Henry. "Yeah, she's in the middle in there, as always."
"Thanks." Emma backs up and then turns around only to sidestep - thank god for fast reflexes - a pair of men traipsing through with a stack of wood planks heading into the warehouse. "What?"
"Just setting up the stage," one says. She thinks it might be Ariel's Eric. She recalls Regina's story about Miss Amphitrite the night before.
"Cool," Henry says. "Is there going to be performances?"
"No, it's for the high table," Eric replies. "For the Royals and your grandparents, we will be sitting up there for the feast, and then it'll be where the orchestra sets up for the ball."
"Wow! A whole orchestra?" Henry pulls away from Emma and follows the men. "Can I watch?"
"We're just going to be hammering, kid, you stick with your mom."
"I didn't even know Storybrooke had a whole orchestra…" Henry's trying hard not to pout, given the grimace he's making with his mouth.
Emma would've been okay with Henry going off. She's still working on being comfortable as the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and being Henry's mom at the same time is kinda like being squeezed. But she takes him by the shoulder and starts looking in earnest for her mother's dark head among the throng. Finally, a veritable veil of garlands and plexiglas sheeting parts and she spies Snow bent over a table. She's pointing at something on a drawing and talking with Marco - Gepetto - and de-aged August - Pinocchio.
"He's been coming to school."
"That's gotta be weird," Emma says, remembering too easily the scruffy biker-writer who had pushed his way into her life a couple years ago in his efforts to get her to break the curse.
"Yes," Henry shrugs, "it's totally weird. It's Storybrooke though."
"He's getting a bike for Christmas. And he wants a leather jacket with sunglasses like yours. He says it's to practice for when he gets a real motorcycle."
Now that Emma believes. She laughs aloud.
"Don't tell him, but I have August's motorcycle in the station yard. I'll just hold it 'til he's old enough. He is gonna grow up, right?"
"Man that would be cool. You think I could have one too?" Henry chuckles, "Yeah, Emma, he's gonna grow up. You broke the curse."
"Your mother would kill me, then you, then me again, if I even answered that question without checking with her first."
Henry grins at her.
"She totally would." They only cut their laughter short when they reach Snow.
Snow looks up at the sounds and smiles at Emma. "Hey?" Emma starts.
"Hi, Grams." Henry's forgiven his grandmother, but sometimes, it sounds like maybe he misses Mary Margaret just as much as Emma does.
Snow's smile widens at Henry. "Hello, Henry. What brings you by?"
"We can help for a little while, but I also wanted to talk with you." Snow's wide smile falters a little as she turns to Emma's voice. "It's just holiday stuff," Emma says. Snow's been working on being less demanding of Emma's time, and for the most part it's made things easier.
"Is there something specific you want to do?" Snow asks. "I can make it happen."
"Yeah, actually." Emma feels shy for just a fleeting second, then she figures she should just come out with it and relax. "I was wondering if I could plan the part of the party where you give away toys to the kids."
Emma winces inwardly at the suddenly incandescent glow her mother gives off between the brightness in her green eyes and the smile on her face.
"That would be wonderful, Emma! It's a great sign of what we want the town to be about to give away gifts." Snow has managed to make this about appearances, missing the part where she's doing it for the soul of Storybrooke, not politics.
"See, we used to get gifts from charities in the homes, and it would mean a lot to me to do something for the kids the same way."
Snow's brightness fades a bit, but then she rolls her lower lip between her teeth and nods. "Is there a particular way you want to do it?" she asks, sounding cautious.
"It's usually someone dressed up in a Santa costume, distributing candy and toys."
"Do you want to wear this costume?" Emma hears the hesitation in Snow's voice.
"I want to be part of the gift-giving. Make it special."
"I'll help you, Emma." Granny's voice sounds firm behind her. When Emma turns, the elder Lucas nods once in greetings and decision. Ruby's at her shoulder.
"Eugenia?" Snow queries the older woman.
"You'd do this?"
"It'd be fun," Eugenia Lucas says with a smile. "I can make toffee and fudge, and I am sure Ruby will love the opportunity to make me, what's the word…"
"Cosplay, Gran." Ruby's right behind Henry. She ruffles his hair.
Emma smiles and glances at Snow, looking for approval.
"I guess that would be all right? You want to do it as the dinner is winding down?"
"Will that be very late?" Emma asks. "Some kids might be gone by then."
"So you want to do it before we eat?"
"We can do it with dessert!" Henry chirps.
Emma thinks about her celebrations. "That's the way we did it when I was a kid."
"There is gonna be dessert, right, Grams?"
Snow nods. "Then we'll do it that way, too." Her voice sounds like a decree, and Emma is both pleased and nervous, because she is having such a hard time with the fact that her mother just does stuff like that. Decree it, and it happens.
"And yes, Henry, there will be dessert. Your favorite, actually."
"Eugenia, will you need a place to change before you eat?" Snow's in full organizing mode.
"I wasn't exactly planning to wear a fancy dress," the older woman says. "Not my place. I'll be happy in the costume." She looks at Emma. "What are you wearing for the feast and ball, girl?"
"I don't suppose I can get away with an elf suit, huh?"
Snow shakes her head. "You need a proper dress." Emma winces; the glowing smile is back. Undoubtedly, Snow is picturing her in something frilly and pink.
"Emma." Ruby's laughing at her bit. "imagine Regina's face if she finds you in an elf costume for the ball."
"Regina would wear the most amazing gowns when we had the Yule ball at White Castle. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Her darker skin when she wore white… That one year, she wore a red dress like her apples, with white ribbons in her hair. I had a white dress with red ribbons from her dress in my hair."
It surprises Emma to hear the note of nostalgia - good memory - in Snow's voice. "How old were you?" she asks, carefully, wanting to store away this information of a time before.
"I think I was Henry's age." Snow's smile is quick, but it's there. "She made me dance, she taught me."
"Dance?" 'Oh god', Emma thinks. "I don't suppose we're doing anything modern in the way of dancing, huh? I've never actually… uh, just… no."
"That's what a ball is," Snow says. She chuckles. "We'll get your dress at the dressmaker's and then I will teach you to dance."
"Don't worry, Ems, we'll get you all proper for your Ladylove."
Emma feels Ruby's backhanded slap to her butt and rubs the spot, looking ruefully at a gleefully smirking Ruby Lucas, the wolf playful in her eyes.
"Who's getting a dress?" David's voice sounds amused.
"Emma, so she can be pretty for my mom," Henry answers.
David studies her a moment. "Well then, I'm sure you'll look fantastic, sweetheart."
He turns to his wife. "Snow, do we have any idea where to get mistletoe? Kathryn was telling me it'd add to the romance of the evening."
"That's a great idea, but we're going to need a lot. I don't think the flower shop actually sells any."
"I think Regina's got loads in the backyard, she was talking about getting rid of some last week." Emma grab's her phone and hands it to David. "Here, why don't you call her and ask? I'm sure she'll help."
"Oh yeah," Ruby supplies, "she's got some in the trees at the edge of the forest."
Her phone is in his hands, the number is dialed. Suddenly they all go quiet and watch David with attention.
"Well...no, God no! It's David." He grimaces. "No, no, everyone's all right. No, nothing's blown up."
Ruby is chuckling already. Emma wonders if her keen hearing actually hears the other side of the conversation. Emma would believe it. She rolls her eyes.
"Yes, I promise." David clears his throat, "Well yes, I called to ask you something."
He startles on the spot. "Yes...uhm…We were wondering if you'd agree to supply us with mistletoe for the Yule ball."
He's quiet for a moment. Then he blushes and Ruby is bent in half with laughter. "Yes, that'd be great. I...I'll come to help you."
"You want Emma?" His eyes bulge. Ruby looks like she's going to pee herself; her face is red and she has slapped her hand over her mouth, dancing in place with the other around her middle. "No, I didn't mean want… please, I don't want to know."
"Yes, okay." His smile is a lot warmer and he looks a lot less horrified. "I will tell her. Thank you, Regina."
He hangs up, and hands the phone back to Emma without a word. Everyone is expecting a report apparently, but David shrugs. "She'll help. And Emma, she wanted you to remember your main purpose for visiting the warehouse this morning."
Emma nods. "Yeah. I've got a message from Regina… from all of us, really." She takes Henry by the shoulders and tugs him partially in front of her. "We'd like you to come to the house for Christmas Day."
Snow and David exchange looks, Granny and Ruby do as well, with Ruby giving a nod, which Snow finally returns. "We… did she say what time would be acceptable?"
"Anytime," Henry says. "We're doing presents in the morning."
"Presents?" Snow looks worried at that. Emma wonders if she's thinking what to get a former Evil Queen stepmother for a present, or if she's thinking about her as Regina, the young woman who taught her to dance at her first ball.
"And I'm supposed to wait for you guys to arrive before I can open mine, so don't come too late, please?"
"We won't make you wait too long, Champ." David settles a hand on his shoulder. "I'll make sure to thank your mom when I'm at the mansion for the mistletoe tomorrow." He's looking at her saying that.
"We're going, too." Ruby smiles at Snow. Suddenly Emma is grateful that even Pongo is coming to their Christmas gathering.
"That's great," Emma says. "Now, can I steal Gepetto from you for my presents giveaway plans?"
"Oh, no," Snow says, and she and Ruby exchange looks. "We'll leave the boys here to work on gifts lists with Gepetto. You are coming with us to find your dress."
Emma closes her eyes and rolls her head with a sigh. "Now?"
"No time like the present."
Emma concedes. "All right."
"I do have to stop by the restroom first though," Ruby's laugh chimes, "Regina's simply too funny for my bladder."
Emma leans close to Ruby as they follow Snow out of the warehouse. "All right, spill, what did she tell him?"
"It's been an interesting weekend." Emma is coming down the stairs at the mansion. Henry fell asleep the second they kissed him goodnight.
"To say the least." Regina is before her, and damn these legs of hers will be Emma's death. "I am glad it went well with your parents."
"Yeah, me too." They're in the foyer. Emma doesn't feel like going anywhere, but she's a bit nervous about what she needs to discuss with Regina. "Thanks for helping with the mistletoe."
"I do have some, it had to go anyway." Regina links their fingers, "I know it's Monday tomorrow, but… stay?"
Emma smiles as she pulls Regina into her for a kiss. It's tender and loving; Regina's lips are soft, so soft and warm. It's becoming harder and harder to leave. She kisses Regina's jaw to her ear, in that spot of her neck she loves so very much. Just for her.
"I'll take that for a yes." Regina chuckles. Her voice is low and husky, gentle. Emma loves it when Regina is affectionate. Everybody thinks she's the ice queen type but Emma knows better. Regina is warm, she's generous and tender, she's got so much to give. Her heart is so big, it's like pouring the bag of marshmallows on top of the best hot chocolate.
"If you give me some of that hot chocolate you're hiding. There's no way we finished that big jug you prepared this morning." She gives Regina a kiss right there, underneath the ear. It's like a shiver vending machine. You kiss the right spot and Regina shivers every time. Sometimes she even moans.
"I see it's to be blackmail." Regina has her arms encircling Emma, petting her hair with one hand and kneading at her lower back with the other. Emma would purr if she knew how. She waits, grinning in Regina's neck.
Regina sighs, faking exasperation. "Go feed the fireplace. I'll be right over."
Emma, still grinning, kisses Regina on her magic spot for one last shiver, hearing the cherished moan, and then makes her way over to the living room. She focuses on getting the fire roaring, feeding it a couple of logs, so that she and Regina can be comfortable for the relaxing part of the evening.
Maybe with the right setting, she can bring up that text Neal sent her, and Regina won't keep for too long the worried look she always gets when they discuss Neal.
"Here, dear, why don't you join me over here by the tree." Emma notices a few pillows have been thrown with a blanket not far from the tree, under a light fixture. Regina is carrying a tray with cookies and hot chocolate. She settles it on its legs, on the floor.
"Sure, but isn't the couch more comfortable?" Emma is curious, but also cautious.
"I want to show you something."
Regina produces a shirt box tied with braided child's shoelaces. She settles herself close to Emma, the box in front of them.
She delicately unties the shoelaces to reveal the content of the box. "These are a lot of Henry's crafts, and also photographs." Emma breathes in the scent of kept memories in boxes, in attics, and Emma decides to be patient and let Regina explain, because it feels like they're going to look at treasures of very intimate and secret things. She doesn't want to break the spell.
"In most of the albums I have, the ones you've already seen, a lot of the photographs are very…"
She's looking for her word but Emma decides to help her. "Posed, or meant in a certain way?"
"Yes. I… I wanted a lot of things to be perfect, I wanted Henry to have everything, to be happy, to never feel like I wasn't a good mother to him."
"You're a great mom, Regina."
"I am a better mother now, Emma. When he was very little, when his whole world resided with me, I was the most dedicated mother, we had a perfect life for just the two of us. But when he started to grow into himself… when it came time to let him be his own person, I… I constricted him because I was terrified he would leave me. He wasn't happy. He sought you out."
"Yeah," Emma takes her hand, and as she often does, kisses Regina's knuckles softly, "to bring me home with him."
"I didn't see it that way then."
Emma chuckles. "I thought you were a crazy bitch with a stick up your ass."
"That first night, dear, I thought you were an insignificant insect, very much like your car, on my front porch and my shoe was too expensive to squish you with."
There's a smirk on Regina's lips.
Emma is smiling too; she knows better now. "It was so weird. The kid showing up, after all these years never ever allowing myself to linger too long on who he was, where he was, what his parents were like."
Emma scoots closer to Regina, pushing the box over to her slightly.
"I looked at your house and I thought, wow, maybe his mom's an ass but she's loaded. And then you rushed out, you were so scared and worried, so possessive, too. I saw on your face all the things I've always dreamed of seeing in a mother. For me."
"Emma…" Emma's fingertips gently touch Regina's lips.
"I thought you were absolutely breathtaking." Emma kisses Regina's lips with her fingers between them. "I thought you were so fucking hot. I thought I was losing my mind. I knew you were going to drive me nuts."
"You found me attractive then?" It's incredulity in Regina's voice.
"Don't you know?" Emma blushes, "I've thought you're beautiful since the very first moment I laid eyes on you, Regina. I just didn't know how to handle all the aggressiveness, the tension. I don't think I truly realized how much I've been attracted to you until later."
"You infuriated me. I thought of killing you."
Her hand weaves through Regina's hair to the nape of her neck. Regina leans her forehead against Emma's.
"I thought of kissing you too."
"Often I wished you had. The insane angry sex we'd have had…"
Regina giggles. There isn't a sound Regina can produce that is happier and sweeter to Emma's ears than a giggle. She has different ones, but this is the spontaneous one, the one that makes Emma feel like she is good at something at last.
Regina backhand slaps Emma's thigh. "Miss Swan you are so cliché."
"What?" She smiles defiantly, taking a kiss from Regina's lips before dropping in her ear, "Tell me you never thought about me fucking you standing up against your front door or on top your desk at the town hall."
Regina swallows hard. That's all the answer Emma needs. "I have no idea what you mean."
"You're lying." She whispers it softly in Regina's ear with a chaste kiss to her cheek. "Show me all the goofy photos of Henry that didn't make it to the albums."
Regina nods with a fond smile. And reveals the contents of the box. There are albums, because even with these shots, it seems Regina wasn't able to throw out a single picture of the kid nor let them be stacked to deteriorate. They're organized like the other ones in the albums in Regina's parlor and she ordered his crafts with sheets of silk paper between each of them to preserve the glitter and paints, leaves and other glued collages.
They go through each of them slowly, enjoying their trip down memory lane. Regina tells the stories and answers each of Emma's questions with deference. These photographs are spontaneous and warm, livelier. Regina's in a few of them, too.
When they're done, and Regina quiets down under Emma's marveling gaze, Emma asks softly, "Do you think maybe we could start taking pictures, too? Make albums to keep the new memories? He's not too old, right?"
"Albums with photos of you in them? No, he's not too old, and neither are you."
A tear rolls from Emma's eye; Regina kisses it away. And the next one. And the next one. Until she's covering Emma's face with tender kisses and they're both laying on the floor, among boxes of ornaments, glittery garlands, photo albums, pillows and blankets.
Emma's sigh is loud, heavy with emotions. "Can you keep these albums in your library with the others?"
"Do you like them better?" Emma loves all the albums she's seen. But she likes these the most, because they show Regina is human. They show Regina is a good, kind hearted mom with a smile and goofy grimaces, stained sweaters and disheveled hair. That's actually possible, and not only because sometimes Regina is so high after making love that she forgets - or maybe she doesn't care, Emma never dared to ask, just in case - to fix her hair in that perfect way her hair just is.
"Because Henry looks happier?"
"Because you aren't trying to be perfect and you look more like you, and he looks like a kid with food in his hair, snot on his nose, paint on your shirt, and dirt on both your shoes."
Emma hoists herself on one arm and leans over Regina so she can look into her eyes. "Because you're just Henry and Regina in these photos, no pressure, no expectations."
She feels Regina's arms cross at the nape of her neck. She's being pulled to Regina's face and chest. They lie down quietly for a long time. Regina smells so good, her skin is soft and the beat of her heart is always soothing.
Emma closes her eyes, in Regina's neck, by her favorite spot under the ear. Regina is petting her hair, in gentle regular strokes. It hits her like a ton of bricks, but it's not unbearable or anything. It's just that she's never had this before and it's a little scary, a little intimidating, but really, really good. She's home now. It's Christmas. She has a family. She belongs.
"Emma?" Regina's voice tells her she knows Emma is apprehensive about something.
"I need to tell you something."
"Then tell me."
"I don't want to ruin the moment. I like it."
"I won't get mad."
"I like this moment too."
"I ruined it already…" Emma sighs in defeat.
"No, darling, you haven't. Tell me what you're thinking." She feels a kiss to her forehead.
"I got a text from Neal." Emma waits. She listens for Regina's reaction. She's cursing herself but, really, she didn't want to keep anything from Regina too long. Emma used to do that, before. Loving Regina is teaching her a thing or two.
"What did Baelfire want?" Regina's voice is calm. She did say she wouldn't get angry. It sounds like Regina already knows what's coming next.
"He's coming to town with his fiancée Tamara to visit Gold and Belle for Christmas. He's staying over until the weekend."
"He wants to see Henry." Regina's tensing a bit, but still no temper shows through.
"What do you think is best?" It's not like it's the first time Regina asks her what she thinks when it comes to parenting Henry. It's just that it always surprises her as if it were.
"I think Christmas Day is booked. And I don't want Henry to have to worry or anything." She pauses for Regina's reaction, but when none comes, she goes on. "We should ask Henry what he feels like doing. Maybe we can offer for Henry to see Neal the next day. Like in the afternoon. But maybe we should have lunch with the kid, and Neal and his fiancée. What do you think?"
"I don't want Henry anywhere near Gold." There's a death sentence in Regina's tone of voice.
"Will you tell me what happened with him some day? The whole story I mean."
Regina's sigh is as heavy as Emma's earlier. "I will, but not tonight."
"'kay." Emma can work with that. Regina always walks her talk.
"I suppose your idea of having lunch with Baelfire and his fiancée would be agreeable. If Henry wants to see him at all. At the diner."
"That's a good idea, Ruby can keep an eye on them for us if they stay for dessert or something."
"I am not leaving our son with strangers, unsupervised, without having made a few things clear."
Regina's arms around her tighten. Emma kisses Regina's throat and jaw. She caresses the arm encircling her with her free hand. She waits, never stopping, but not assailing, and gently, Regina relaxes around her.
Emma thinks for a moment how to put a smile on Regina's lips again.
"Do the thing." Emma is smiling already, she never tires of seeing it.
"What thing, dear?" It's not exactly a code or a game, but Emma's said it a couple of times, and Regina is a dork, against all odds. Chances are high she knows exactly what thing Emma wants her to do.
"You know, the thing."
"What thing, dear? I am a witch, not a mind reader." She can feel Regina's smile poking at the corner of the her lips. Regina knows.
"The thing. With your fingers." Emma bites her lip the instant it comes out, because yes, that is what she said.
"I do many things, with my fingers, Emma." Of course. It's not like she didn't walk right into that one.
"The thing with your magic." Emma deflates and gives in. Mills one, Swan zero. "The Emma Swan Magic thing."
Suddenly, the ceiling comes to life.
Emma turns into Regina's arms so her back is to the floor but she still has an arm around her shoulder and neck. There are lights of all colours threading from Regina's hands, mixing and dancing on the ceiling. And then snow is falling. Actual snow is falling from a beautiful gray and pink sky, with clouds moving around, looking like polar bears. And a frozen lake, with an ice skating girl. She's got blond hair and a red coat.
"Regina!" Emma actually squeals. "It smells like roasted chestnuts!" Because there is an old man pulling a smoking cart walking around with a big white moustache.
"How do you even know…" Emma is in wonderland. "You can tell stories?"
The snow gently stops, the sky and clouds dissipate; a smile lingers on Emma's lips.
"I used to, when I was younger."
Emma is looking at Regina now, resting on her elbows by her side. "You're amazing."
"You've said that." Regina does that; when she's moved, she collects herself like she's not affected.
"Could you make it last?" Emma has an idea.
"What do you mean?"
"The things you create, the scene."
"You mean like snapping a photograph?"
"More like a movie." Emma nods in her hands. "Like in Harry Potter."
"A moving picture." Regina's tone is ruminating; Emma knows she's thinking. "Would you like to have something special?" Regina asks. "Some particular scene?"
"Yes." Emma feels shy suddenly, because it's another thing Regina doesn't like to talk about and Emma's been lucky with the whole Neal situation already. "For Snow."
"For your mother?"
"Yeah, I… it was an idea for a present."
"You want me to use magic to create a present for your mother?"
"Maybe you just teach me, and I'll make it."
"Emma, I didn't say no," Regina responds, "but why? What is it you want to make your mother?"
"I thought that maybe, if she could see like I do that magic isn't always to hurt people, and what you can do, or what we can do together, it could… help."
"Help for what?"
"They miss the Enchanted Forest."
"Is that it?"
"And maybe it could help you and my mother be in the same room without wanting to hurt each other." Emma deflates.
"You really want this."
"I saw how devastated she was when we were there. It's really wrecked, Regina."
"And I did that." Regina's voice is not bitter, just matter of fact.
Emma dares a look at Regina, still on her elbows. Regina seems deep in thoughts, her eyes are swimming with eddies of emotions Emma can't really translate. She doesn't think she should ask, but it feels right somehow to be able to witness Regina without a mask, or a shield. To get a peek behind the Great Wall.
"I suppose we could try, together."
Emma rests her head on Regina's chest. "I love you."
"You better." Emma closes her eyes, revelling in the feeling of Regina's fingers combing through her hair.
She's almost asleep when she hears Regina's voice again. "I love you too."