In the two weeks since getting back from Neverland, Emma hasn’t seen Regina once.
Well. Maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. She’s seen glimpses of Regina, mostly in the doorway when Emma is dropping Henry off after school. But glimpses aren’t the same. Not after over a week falling asleep to the sound of Regina’s breathing, stuck on an island and rarely more than ten feet apart. Not after he is everything and moving the fucking moon and the feel of mingled magics, electrifying and magnetic and somehow also like home.
But Emma doesn’t know if moving the fucking moon together means that she and Regina are at the sort of place where she could text “u ok?” and expect any sort of honest answer, and she tries asking Henry about it but all she gets from him is a troubled look and the response that his mom seems tired, kinda.
“She says she’s fine,” he tells Emma at Granny’s while Emma stares at him across the booth, trying not to think about how much taller he’s already gotten since he showed up at her door just under a year ago, how much older he seems to look each day. “But…” he continues, “She always says she’s fine. I don’t think she’s sleeping well. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night from bad dreams, and she’s always already up. No matter what time it is.” Henry bites his lip, swirls his spoon around his milkshake so that it clinks against the sides of the glass. “I think she maybe needs someone to talk to,” he finishes, eyeing Emma over his straw.
It takes Emma a minute to translate his look, innocent and sly and so very Regina that Emma almost starts to laugh. “Wait, you think I should talk to her?”
“Well, you’re the only one she likes! Other than me. But she won’t talk to me.”
“And you think she will talk to me? Kid, you might want to reconsider that one. Maybe also reconsider the 'liking' part while you're at it.”
Henry just rolls his eyes. “Fine, don’t believe me. But I know what I’m talking about. And I know both of you. So just…think about it.”
Emma does. And okay, taking apart toasters is still high on her list of Emma Swan’s Ways of Handling Problems, but she is starting to see the benefit in talking. (And one of the things that Emma never lets herself think about is how much, since the curse broke, she misses having Mary Margaret to talk to. Because she has a mother now. And that…that’s what she always wanted. Right?)
So maybe Regina needs someone to talk to as well. Because Regina’s list of Ways to Stifle Emotion Without Actually Talking About It is probably even more destructive than Emma’s, and, well, Emma gets the sense that it’s just not really working for her anymore.
Maybe it never was.
So okay, Emma’s not good at talking. But maybe right now all she really needs to do is listen.
Emma shows up on Regina’s porch the next night with two bags full of Chinese takeout and the few DVDs she actually owns. She takes a couple deep breaths before ringing the bell, offers up her best (if kind of nervous) smile when the door swings open.
“Emma.” Regina looks surprised to see her, one arm folded across her stomach and head cocked. She’s dressed casually, simple black pants and a basic sweater; backlit by the hallway, with fading makeup and eyeliner starting to smudge, she looks beautiful in a way Emma hasn’t seen before.
“Hi.” Emma shifts awkwardly, switches the bags of takeout to her other hand. It’s just starting to drizzle, air damp and heavy, and Emma shuffles a little closer to the open door, to Regina’s questioning smile and the warmth spilling out of the house.
“Henry’s at a sleepover,” Regina says. “Did he not…”
“No, I know. I’m not…I’m not here to see Henry.”
Regina merely raises an eyebrow.
“Okay, so, here’s the thing,” Emma barrels on, despite Regina’s silence. “Snow and David wanted the apartment tonight for…well, you know, and basically told me to scram. Which is kind of annoying, but hey, at least they gave me advance notice this time instead of letting me walk in on them.”
Regina grimaces, and Emma lets out an answering chuckle.
“Yeah,” Emma says. “Anyways. What with Henry being away tonight, I thought that you might similarly be at loose ends. So I have take-out, and some movie options, and I thought we could maybe…hang.”
“Hang,” Regina says.
Regina continues to stare, and when she doesn’t respond any further, Emma can feel her face start to flush. “I’m sorry, I should have called first. I didn’t mean to intrude. I’ll just…” Emma turns away, skin prickling hotter from embarrassment with each passing second.
She is surprised, then, when Regina’s cool fingers wrap around her wrist in a loose grip.
“No, Emma, wait. I didn’t mean…you just surprised me. Take-out sounds lovely, I wasn’t feeling up to cooking. Please, come in.”
Emma follows Regina to the kitchen. Regina’s barefoot, surprisingly short without her heels. Has to raise herself up on her toes as she opens a cabinet and lifts down two plates, and Emma should not be paying this much attention to the arch of Regina’s feet, to the deep purple polish on her toes.
“Nuh-uh,” Emma says firmly when Regina sets the plates down on the counter, and Regina frowns over her shoulder, confused.
“I thought we were having dinner.”
“We’re having take-out,” Emma corrects. “You don’t eat take-out on plates. You eat it out of the carton, sitting on the couch in front of the TV.”
“You eat take-out out of the carton,” Regina retorts. But she puts the two plates she’d gotten down back in the cabinet anyway, retrieves instead a bottle of wine and two glasses that she dangles between her fingers.
“This way,” Regina says, sidestepping Emma to exit the kitchen. “If we’re going to watch a movie we might as well go downstairs. At least the couch isn’t white. Also the TV is bigger.”
“I’m sorry, downstairs? Isn’t this downstairs?”
“The basement,” Regina clarifies, and gestures with her head for Emma to follow her.
The basement is huge, with an overstuffed leather sectional facing a TV that takes up most of the near wall. Bookshelves line the other three walls, and there’s a pool table towards the back of the room, along with one door that clearly goes outside, and another that Emma thinks must just be to a closet but turns out to lead to a wine cellar and what Regina tells her is a cider press.
“Now, if you’re quite done snooping?” Regina has poured them each a glass of wine, hands Emma’s over as Emma ambles back to the couch, unloading the bags of food onto the coffee table.
“Man,” Emma says, eyeing the TV. “I didn’t even know they came that big.”
Regina smiles, though there is something slightly pained in the expression. “Henry wanted it,” she says simply. “He pushed very hard before…” she falters, and her face twists a little, mouth tight, eyes dark and sad and deep. “Well, before. I thought that maybe it would…I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure he’s ever even used it,” she finishes quietly. “If he has, it certainly hasn’t been with me.”
“Maybe we could all have a movie night together at some point,” Emma offers. “I mean, if you’re up for it.”
The smile that Regina offers now is much more genuine. “I’d like that. I’m sure Henry would too.”
They settle on the couch, looking at the array of containers in front of them. Regina raises an eyebrow.
“I’m not sure you brought enough food.” She fishes out two pairs of chopsticks from one of the plastic bags, passes a pair to Emma. “Are we sharing everything?”
“If you don’t mind? I mean, I’m not sick or anything. But I get if you’re not comfortable sharing. I should have let you get plates, I—”
Regina cuts Emma off before she can dig herself any deeper into a babble hole. “I’m fine with sharing,” she says, and picks up a carton at random, taking a bite. Her eyebrows raise slightly. “Spicy,” she says. “I’m impressed.” She takes a few more bites, periodically smiling at Emma, and Emma’s not staring at Regina’s mouth as her lips close around her chopsticks, she’s not.
“Here,” Regina says, and extends a piece of chicken towards Emma. “Try.”
Emma takes the bite reflexively, somehow inhaling rather than chewing and then almost choking while Regina looks on in concern, one hand hovering in the air like she’s not sure if she should start pounding Emma on the back. “Good,” Emma manages, when she gets her breath back, her brain starting to seriously short-circuit because did Regina just feed her? Ultimately not brave enough to return the maneuver, Emma fumbles passing off her carton of food to Regina.
Regina is just soft in a way Emma has never seen before. She is faded lipstick and disheveled hair, and a too-big sweater that keeps slipping off her shoulder. She is a laugh and a blush (Regina blushes?) when a piece of chicken slips out of her chopsticks and drops to the floor, and Emma’s eyes almost fall out of her head when Regina picks it up and pops it in her mouth.
“Five second rule,” Regina says, a smirk playing at the corner of her lips while Emma stares and stares.
And there’s this look that Regina gets when she does something that she knows will surprise Emma, a look that’s mostly amusement with a hint of a challenge, but also (and Emma’s pretty sure she wouldn’t have been able to recognize this even just a month ago) maybe a little bit hurt. Like Regina doesn’t want this part of her to be so much of a surprise.
Emma wonders if this is the Regina Henry grew up with, before everything went bad. She wonders what she would have done if she’d met this Regina when first bringing Henry back to Storybrooke.
They eat in silence for several minutes, before Emma leans over to place her carton of food on the coffee table, and then turns so that she is more fully facing Regina. Regina looks tired, purple smudges under her eyes and a droop to her shoulders that Emma isn’t used to. She’s staring into her wineglass, corners of her lips turned down and worry wrinkles creasing her forehead.
“Are you okay?” Emma asks. She’d meant for more of a lead-up, can’t say she blames Regina for the way she startles and stares.
“I’m fine,” Regina says shortly. “Why?”
“I just…I’m pretty sure you haven’t left the house since we got back from Neverland. And Henry says you haven’t been sleeping, and you don’t…well frankly you don’t seem okay.”
“So you’re asking a question you’ve already determined the answer to.”
Regina sighs, long and tired, swirling the wine in her glass.
“I’m fine,” she says again, but her tone of voice is less than convincing. “I still...worry about Henry, I suppose. Neverland is a bit too close for comfort.”
It’s not a lie, but Emma can tell by the way that Regina hides behind her glass that it’s not the full truth, either.
“Having him home again helps,” Regina murmurs, sounding almost as though she feels guilty for the admission.
“Good,” Emma says. “That’s—that’s good.”
She doesn’t push Regina farther.
“Why are you really here, Emma?” Regina asks. They’ve polished off most of the food and broken into a second bottle of wine, and Regina’s got one elbow propped on the back of the couch and her head resting in her palm.
“I told you—” Emma starts, but Regina cuts her off.
“That your parents are engaging in activities I’d rather not think about, yes, I know. That doesn’t explain why you’re here. Surely most of this town would jump at the chance to entertain the Savior. Why pick this, instead of them?” She doesn’t say why pick me, but Emma can hear it anyway.
“Because they’re not what I want,” Emma snaps. Regina raises her eyebrows, shifting back slightly at the vehemence in Emma’s tone, and Emma closes her eyes, offers Regina an apologetic half-smile that comes out more like a grimace. “Sorry,” she mutters. “But…I’m tired of the whole Savior thing. I just…I just want to be me, for a change.” Emma runs a tired hand over her face, tries not to think about how intently Regina is looking at her, about the coil of answering warmth she feels low in her stomach. “You’re right,” Emma admits, toying with her chopsticks, “there are a lot of people I could hang out with. But anyone I saw—they’d want to talk about Neverland. About what a hero I was. Saved the day again.” Emma blows out a frustrated puff of air, takes another gulp of wine. “Except here’s the thing, Regina, I didn’t do jack shit. You did. So I really don’t want to spend the evening with well-meaning friends retroactively turning the whole thing into some big adventure. I want to spend it with my son’s mom, the person who saved his life, and also the only other person who truly understands just how much hell that week was. And I guess—I guess I was hoping that you might want that too.”
Regina’s both quiet and still for a very long time. Long enough for Emma to start to wonder if she’d actually spoken out loud, or if her whole speech had just taken place in her head.
When Regina does move, it’s to pull a blanket off the back of the couch and spread it over both their laps. It’s not huge—soft and snuggly as hell, but only throw size—so she and Regina have to scoot a little closer together so they can both properly fit.
“It’s getting a little cold down here,” is all Regina says, and Emma hopes she’s right in translating that to I do.
Later, Emma will blame her confession on the wine. Not this new softness to Regina, the way she’s turned toward Emma on the couch, their knees brushing together. Just the wine.
“Snow told me I’m not what she wanted,” Emma says.
Regina’s head snaps up. “She said what?”
“When we were in Neverland. That was her big secret in the Echo Caves. That I may be great and all, but what she really wants is a baby. She wants ‘another go.’”
Regina looks completely at a loss for words, which, Emma thinks, has got to be a first.
“So full truth?” Emma continues. “Maybe I’m also here because you’re the only person in this town who won’t be excited about that.”
Regina reaches out, rests one hand on Emma’s blanket-clad thigh.
“Snow’s an idiot.” Regina’s tone is matter-of-fact, rather than sympathetic, which is somehow enough to loosen the knot in Emma’s chest.
“See?” Emma says, and if there’s a slight tremble in her voice, the smile on her face is also real. “I knew I could count on you.”
Regina makes a noise that’s half-huff half-snort, squeezes Emma’s leg before pulling her hand back to pour them each another glass of wine. She licks her lips a few times—lipstick almost entirely faded, now—and is looking at her wine glass rather than at Emma when she speaks again.
“I’m not fine.”
“What I said before—I’m not fine. I’m trying, so hard, for Henry, but I’m just…I’m just not.”
“What is it?” Emma asks.
“Everything,” Regina whispers, and Emma doesn’t think she’s ever heard so much exhaustion in one word before. “It’s everything. I’ve spent the past year jumping from one crisis to the next, and now there’s no crisis, and it should be great, I should be relieved, but everything that I haven’t had time to let myself think about is just there, all the time, this constant onslaught, and it’s…it’s overwhelming, and draining, and I don’t…I don’t know how to deal with it.” Emma watches Regina’s throat move as Regina swallows several times. “Anyways,” Regina says, voice husky. “Sleep is currently…unpleasant. So I’ve been avoiding it. Which probably isn’t helping either. I didn’t—I didn’t realize Henry had picked up on it.”
“It’s not your—”
“Some of it is. Maybe not all of it. But some of it.”
Regina stares at Emma for a long time, eyes so big and full, before finally offering her a small smile. “Well,” she admits, voice still raspy but also slightly teasing. “Maybe some of it.”
Emma’s not sure what’s to blame for what happens next. Maybe it’s the genuine hint of humor in the curve of Regina’s lips, or the tiredness etched into the corners of her eyes. Maybe it’s the way she scrunched her nose before smiling, or the play of shadows across her face. Maybe it’s the scars on her temples that Emma only sees when Regina runs a hand through her hair.
Maybe it’s still just the damn wine.
Whatever it is, Emma finds herself reaching out until their fingers are tangled together on top of the shared blanket. Regina looks down at their hands, then back up at Emma. Her head tilts, a little, dark hair falling against the smooth skin over her bare shoulder, and Emma has to resist the urge to reach out and touch it. Squeezes, instead, the long fingers lightly entwined with her own.
“I really am sorry,” Emma says. “For the part that I’ve played in…everything. I am so, so sorry.”
“Thank you,” Regina whispers, not quite willing to meet Emma’s eyes. She takes a moment to clear her throat before continuing, “If we don’t start the movie now, it’s going to get too late.”
“Right,” Emma agrees, recognizing from the look on Regina’s face that the conversation is over. She passes Regina the clicker from the side table, and Regina busies herself with cueing up the movie, looking at the remote and the TV with perhaps a bit too much intensity, a bit too much focus on not looking at Emma.
They’re still holding hands.
At some point halfway through the movie and their third bottle of wine Regina’s head finds its way to Emma’s shoulder, and Emma’s feeling warm and boneless and just dizzy enough that the weight of Regina’s head feels like a welcome anchor.
By the end of that bottle, Emma’s pretty sure they are actually full-on cuddling, Regina pressed against Emma’s side, legs drawn up onto the couch and head now resting closer to Emma’s chest, while Emma’s got an arm wrapped around Regina’s shoulders. She can smell the faint traces of Regina’s perfume and shampoo, and it’s at least half as heady as the wine itself.
When the credits start to roll, Emma disentangles herself from Regina, and Regina shifts so that she is sitting up more fully. She’s a bit of a mess—cheeks flushed and eyes a little glazed, and it’s somehow completely adorable.
“I should probably go,” Emma says. A look of—disappointment?—flickers across Regina’s face, but is gone so quickly Emma thinks she must have imagined it.
“Of course,” Regina nods, then hesitates. “You’re welcome to…” she trails off instead of finishing her sentence, and Emma lifts her eyebrows, curious.
Regina just shakes her head, offering Emma a tight-lipped smile. “Nothing.”
Sleep is currently…unpleasant.
Emma licks her lips. “Um,” she says. “You know, I’m clearly in no shape to be driving to Granny’s. I was going to walk, but it sounds like the rain has started to come down pretty hard. Would it put you out too much if I crashed on your couch?”
This time, Emma is sure she’s not imagining the relief that visibly washes over Regina.
“Of course not. Though you don’t have to stay on the couch. I’ve got a guest room, upstairs. There’s a real bed and everything.”
“Nah.” Emma shrugs. “Couch is good. I actually might watch another movie, if that’s all right. What do you say? Up for a marathon?”
Regina laughs, rich and rumbly. “A marathon sounds perfect. Let me just get you some blankets while I’m still thinking of it.”
Regina has to catch herself on the back of the couch when she stands; she blinks several times before muttering something that sounds suspiciously like “fuck it,” and lazily waves a hand. A neat stack of blankets and pillows appears on the floor in a poof, and Regina drops inelegantly back onto the couch.
“Show off,” Emma snorts.
Regina falls asleep less than ten minutes into the second movie, tucked up this time against the opposite arm of the couch. Even in sleep, Regina radiates tension, brow furrowed and both hands curled into fists. Emma smoothes some hair back from Regina’s face, lifts Regina’s head a little to tuck a pillow under it, and spreads one of the extra blankets over her. Regina grumbles a little but doesn’t wake up; lying there on the couch, hair mussed and mouth slightly open in sleep, she looks so tiny and so utterly human that Emma feels her heart turn over. Emma watches as Regina’s face shifts from worried into a full-on frown, and impulsively bends over and lightly kisses the corresponding wrinkle on Regina’s forehead.
Regina’s eyes fly open, and Emma silently curses herself, feeling a hot blush spread throughout her entire body. Regina stares up at Emma, squinting a little in confusion, before offering Emma a tentative half-smile.
“Sorry,” Emma squeaks, while Regina looks at her with that questioning—and is that hope, in her eyes?—gaze. “I didn’t mean to…um, I just…water,” she gets out, and bolts for the bathroom. After splashing some water on her face, Emma presses her hot forehead against the cool glass of the bathroom mirror, and hopes that Regina is too sleepy to remember this tomorrow.
Emma wakes up the next morning with a crick in her neck and a faint throbbing behind her eyes. She’s alone on the couch, both blankets now spread over her, but the indent she can still see on Regina’s pillow indicates that Regina can’t have gotten up that long ago.
Emma pushes herself to her feet with a wince, stretches until her back cracks, and folds the two blankets as neatly as she can on one end of the couch before making her way upstairs.
She finds Regina in the kitchen, standing over the stove in a floral apron and singing along to the radio, and Emma leans against the doorway, arms folded, listening. Regina’s voice is mesmerizing—low and throaty, and makes Emma feel a melancholic ache deep in her belly that has nothing to do with the cheerful lyrics of the song.
“I didn’t know you could sing,” Emma says, when Regina’s voice trails off and the radio switches to commercial. Regina jumps a bit, spinning to face Emma; she has a streak of…something…on her right cheek, and some flyaway hair at her temple, and that combined with her apron and slippers is pretty much one of the most endearing things Emma has ever seen.
“Well.” Regina clears her throat, blushing a little. “I’m not winning any awards. But I do enjoy it. I took lessons, as a girl. I find it’s still…comforting.” She pours Emma a large mug of coffee, which Emma accepts gratefully, taking a large sip before peering over Regina’s shoulder to the pan on the stove. She can feel her face light up.
“French toast?” Emma exclaims, and Regina laughs.
“I may not have personal experience with them, but I do know what this world expects when it comes to sleepovers. It was this or pancakes, and I had bread I wanted to use up. So yes, Emma. French toast.”
Regina waves Emma to the table, follows her a few minutes later with two full plates and coffee refills for both of them. Breakfast is uneventful, mostly featuring small talk revolving around Henry, but Emma finds she appreciates the domesticity of it. Appreciates the way the kitchen smells like sugar and hazelnut coffee, and the way the the sun is falling just right on Regina’s hair. Appreciates the strains of music from the radio, and the way Regina hums when she eats (not even just when there’s music playing).
“I should probably head out,” Emma says, when they’ve finished breakfast and she’s down to her last few swallows of coffee. “Let you go pick up the kid.”
Regina nods, clears both their plates and trails Emma to the front door.
“I’m glad we did this,” she says. “Thank you, for coming over last night. I really…appreciated the company.”
Emma flashes her a quick grin. “Me too. Maybe we could do it again sometime?”
“I’d like that.”
There is a beat of awkward silence while Emma shifts her weight on the porch. “Right,” she says finally, giving Regina one last smile. “I’ll um—I’ll let you get to it. Take care of yourself, Regina.” She reaches out to squeeze Regina’s arm, and jogs down the path.
Emma’s almost to the gate when she hears Regina call out, “Emma, wait.” She turns, and Regina is striding down the walk, still in her slippers and apron straps flapping in the wind. She’s panting a little when she gets to Emma, and Emma stares at her, bemused.
Regina cuts her off with a kiss, one hand on Emma’s hip, the other tangled tightly in Emma’s hair. The kiss is gentle, at first, tentative, but then Emma’s responding and Regina’s doing things with her teeth and tongue that make Emma actually fucking weak in the knees.
When they break apart, the only thing that Emma’s capable of saying is an extremely articulate, “um,” and Emma could swear, in that moment, that Regina’s smile rivaled the god damn sun.
“Maybe we could go pick up Henry together,” Regina says, and brushes a thumb over Emma’s swollen lips.
“I—think I could get behind that plan,” Emma agrees.
Regina’s smile widens, eyes squinty and crinkled and honey-warm, and Emma reaches up to cup Regina’s cheek in her palm. Emma kisses her again, softer this time, and when she finishes Regina rests her forehead against Emma’s.
“Henry,” Regina breathes, like she’s reminding herself, breath warm and coffee-scented on Emma’s face.
“Right,” Emma whispers back. “You might—you might want to get dressed first. Maybe consider shoes.”
Regina huffs a laugh. “Maybe,” she agrees. She pulls back a little, laces her fingers together with Emma’s and gives Emma a tug towards the house. “You can help,” she says, and Emma’s breath quickens because helping Regina get dressed is not going to lead to picking up their son on time. Maybe she should offer to do the dishes instead. Or take a cold shower.
Regina hesitates, when they’re back inside, and here Emma can see the insecurity and vulnerability and hope written all over Regina’s face. In the creases at her eyes and mouth, in the tentative upturn to her lips. In the slight tremble of her smile, in her feather-light touch as she brushes a piece of Emma’s hair off her face. Emma catches Regina’s hand in hers, kisses Regina’s fingers. The creases soften.
“I’ll get changed,” Regina murmurs, “and then we can go. Together.”
“Together,” Emma echoes, and Regina’s eyes sparkle.