The bus slides up to its last stop and Emma glances out of the window to the apartment she'll have for at least six months, cold and grey looking through the cloudy glass. But, she thinks: it's affordable, it's in a decent location, and it's a place of your own. You need this. The baby needs this. With a sigh, she slings her bag heavy on her shoulder and steps out.
The elevator is already closing by the time she slips in so she skips it to jog up the stairs instead, her bag hitting heavy against her knees on the way up. It's only on the third floor, but she's out of breath by the time she makes it to the door, her heart beating hard like her knuckles against the door.
She figured she'd have some time before Regina answered; over the phone she had seemed so businesslike, like someone who might always be in the middle of something, who'd hear the door ring and only reluctantly answer it after waiting a minute.
But instead, the door swings open almost immediately, and Emma blinks, a little startled. And, ultimately, unprepared for the person on the other side, for her dark hair and tall heels, for eyes that cut sharply from her face to her shoes, then to the bag on Emma's shoulder and the string bracelet on her wrist. (Emma forgot she had it on, but she feels it now beneath Regina's eyes)
Emma's heart beats a little quicker. She should have worn something fancier. "Uh, hey." She tries a smile, and steps forward, extending her hand. "You must be Regina."
Regina glances briefly down at her hand and then up again, stepping back from the door. "Yes. Shall we get on with it, then?"
Blinking, Emma can only follow dumbly. Get on with it? Shit.
Regina is wearing heels and a gray business dress; her steps soften a little as they move past the hardwood into the carpet.
"Anyway, this is the living room." Regina says, and flicks her hand absently to the small living space where a coffee table sits surrounded by old, stiff furniture. "It's where I do most of my work, and so I would appreciate silence at all hours of the day." She glances at her suspiciously, her eyes narrowed. "Including weekends, of course."
When Emma nods Regina continues on like a train departing, moving steadily to the next room. "This is the kitchen; most of the cupboard space is already taken. Though…" Regina glances at her small bag, a black eyebrow rising. "I suppose you'll be eating out of plastic cans and paper plates?"
"Oh, no I got a plate and some silverware in here." Wrapped up in newspaper and at the bottom of her sparse belongings, beneath her cheap, folded clothes.
"Right." she can see Regina's disapproval on the curve of her mouth and the way she looks away, flicking her wrist in the distracted, idle way people do with sluggish, persistent flies. "I'll show you to your room."
Great. Lugging her bag a little higher on her shoulder, she follows quietly behind her.
"Well," she steps to the side. "Here it is."
The door opens to an already furnished room, and Emma doesn't have to guess which one is smaller. There is a mattress already set up on its four poster bed, smaller than a motel room's bed, but larger than the beds in some foster homes, fitting snugly between a desk and a closet.
Near her bed is a small window where she can see the roofs of the buildings below, their red brick shining in its new sheen of rain, partially covered by the branches of a tree. The midday light is tilting in, covering her mattress in leaf-shadows.
"Cool." She says, and drops her bag. It's more than she's had in a while.
"This all belongs to the previous occupant. I can arrange for it to be taken out if you have other belongings you want to put in."
"No, no." Emma says, "This is fine."
There is a red loosely knitted blanket on the mattress, already folded into the corner of the bed; she doesn't know if it's something the previous roommate left behind or something Regina figured she'd want, but she appreciates it all the same. It's something to color the place, at least.
"Well." Regina says, leaning against the door. "I suppose I'll let you settle in."
"Thanks." She watches her retreat and then, because she still wants this to work out, she asks. "Hey, um. Thanks for showing me around."
"It's a small place. It was hardly any work."
"Yeah, I guess." Emma shrugs, musters up another smile. "So do you like living here, then?"
Regina sighs and the sound is as dry as the turning of a newspaper. "Dear." she says and tilts her head, a quiet reaffirming sign of disinterest. "I leave early and I come home late, and you probably have some work to attend to, as well. It's doubtful we'll be seeing very much of each other, and even if we do, it's doubtful we'd get along very well. Let's not waste our time pretending otherwise."
Emma straightens, her arms instinctively coming to cross around her chest, but she doesn't have the chance to say anything else. Regina is already moving down the hallway to someplace else.
Emma lies in bed watching the dim, grey light filter in through the blinds. Her alarm clock is blinking green numbers back at her, telling her that it is already five am, and that if she plans to make it on her bus than she'll have to get up now.
But she can hear Regina moving around in her tall heels, closing cupboards and opening doors, and Emma turns over and slides deeper into bed sheets instead.
Lying still, she presses a palm against her flat stomach, the faint curve of her pelvis bone, the hard muscles of her abdomen, the parts of her that will disappear in a few months – softened by fat and something else. It should feel like a miracle having a new life lift up from beneath her skin. Knotting together, like hooks, building something new.
But she only just turned twenty-two. And she's alone. And while that isn't anything new, it never really ceased to horrify her.
Sighing, she closes her eyes and waits for the sounds outside to quiet down, for the solid step of heels to travel between rooms and floors to the door, and out to the hallway.
- x -
She finally does make it out of bed and onto the bus, collapsing into one of the squeaky leather seats. Leaning against the window, she takes a moment to reorder herself, to prepare for the rest of her day: all the noise and complaints, circling tables with the same smile and trying to hear words through the clatter of cups and plates and conversation while all the thoughts gather inside her head like clouds.
Not all of them are about the baby. In fact, very few of them are. Sometimes, she fails to think about him (her?) for days at time, not yet accustomed to thinking about anyone else; she relies on more complicated, selfish disappointments, instead.
Like why doesn't Regina like her? She'd been on time. She'd been friendly. She even smiled and tried to shake her hand. All the things she refused to do as a kid…so what makes her so unimportant this time? So quick to be tossed aside?
In the clutter of the diner, with the weight of plates on her arms, Emma decides that she's not going to care. She'll go through the six-month lease, drop it and then find something else. She'll figure it out.
And then, as she steps in, her feet heavy and her arms aching, she finds Regina in the living room, barefoot and sitting on her couch with a clunky laptop opened in front of her, paperwork piled messily around her; she is filling out sentences with the smooth, competent flicks of her wrist, pressed down by the ink in her pen.
It softens something in Emma. "What are you working on?" she asks, already forgetting her plans.
Regina hums. "Paperwork."
"Not really." Regina absently brushes back a black strand of hair, revealing the hard lines around her mouth and the thin furrow that is developing between her dark eyes. She looks up at Emma and sighs. "Are you going to come in? Or just hover by the door all night?"
She shrugs off the door frame. "Sorry," she says, and watches as Regina returns to her paperwork, lining sentences and filling in blanks. "Busy day, I guess?"
"You could say that."
Stomach lifting, Emma crosses her arms and starts to smile. "Oh yeah? Why?"
"I'm really in no mood for a conversation," she drawls, never lifting her eyes from the paper.
"Right." Emma sighs, and moves on to the kitchen. It's a clean, orderly space that smells vaguely of spice and coffee, and among the glass cupboard doors and the stainless steel sink, she finds an ancient looking kettle on the stove. It's completely out of place, but like the cluttered laptop in front of Regina, she can't imagine it belonging to anyone but Regina.
She's not much of a tea drinker, but still, leaning out the doorway, she asks, "I'm going to make some tea, want some?"
"No." Regina's voice is muffled from the distance and the wall. And then, in a louder voice, she calls out. "But don't let it boil all the way, dear. I'm trying to get some work done, I don't need a headache."
"You're a headache." She mutters to herself.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." She calls out a little louder turns back to the stove.
The kettle is ancient, so it wobbles a little when the water starts to boil, but she manages to turn it off before the low whine starts to build into anything more. She steals a bag of tea and hopes Regina won't notice.
It's an unfamiliar flavor, some dark amber color that's a little too sharp, but it feels warm and soothing cupped between her hands, so she carries it close to her chest, and feels the warm steam lift against her cheeks and her chin. It takes her all the way to the couch to plops silently down next to Regina.
Regina immediately stiffens. "What are you doing?"
Emma tries to look indifferent. She wants to be able to plop down on the couch, charmingly defiant and uncaring to the fact that she often fails to command the interest of others. But there are gaps between who she is and who she wants to be, and so she is stuck acting them out instead, pushing them out from within and hoping they feel more convincing to others.
She forces herself to sip her tea, to wait a second more before asking: "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Regina sneers, "Why are you sitting here? On the couch?"
Something in her sinks, and she reminds herself to be still, to keep her eyes level. "You know, I just so happen to live here. Filled out the papers. Agreed to pay rent. Even got a tour of the place from your scary ass." She says. "I should be allowed to sit down in the damn living room."
Regina lifts a dark eyebrow, her eyes sharp and focused, and even removed of her heels and make up, she look severe. But just as Emma thinks she might have to find a way to sink through the couch cushions, Regina looks away and returns to her work. A few seconds of agitated silence pass, but Regina doesn't turn to her again, she remains focused, flipping through the stack of papers at her side and Emma slowly relaxes.
As it turns out, the tea is a really good decision. The steam warms her cheeks and hands, and the tight muscles curled in her arms and legs slowly start to unwind. She starts to feel warm, to the point of forgetfulness, and in the quiet, soothing sounds of the living room, the flicker of the paper and the idle clicking of the pen, Emma sinks heavily into her seat, asleep.
It feels like no time passes at all until she is being prodded awake again, "Miss Swan." Her voice isn't sharp, but it skirts quickly across her thoughts like a metal hanger on a rod, lifting her slowly from sleep. Still, she doesn't open her eyes. "Emma." she says, a little firmer, "Wake up."
"What?" she mumbles sleepily.
"You fell asleep."
"It's late, dear." Regina says, "You should be in bed."
"Okay." But she doesn't move.
"Well I'm not carrying you there."
Emma imagines getting up on her own, walking barefoot across the cold hardwood flooring, to her small room with that springy mattress and its cool sheets, and immediately decides against it. The cushions are warm and soft against her cheek, and, as she nudges closer, she can feel the warmth of Regina's body close to hers. "Then I'm sleeping here."
"You are not." Regina scoffs.
"Because you snore."
"Do not." Emma mutters and hides her smile in a soft cushion. She knows she does.
There is a pause and then a long, drawn out sigh. "Alright," Regina mutters, and Emma can hear the faint crack of her joints as she stands up, her warmth disappearing. "Come along, dear."
Smoothly, Regina's hands slide down her arms and behind her elbows. There is a motherly assurance in her, something both comforting and stern, and so when she tugs gently for Emma to stand, she can do nothing but obey. Standing up awkwardly, she follows the direction of movement and slides her arm over Regina's shoulders, comforted by the angle of her body against hers; she lets herself be directed to her own room.
Shy, but smirking, she asks, "You gonna tuck me in, then?"
She can feel Regina's chuckle against her body, low and deep. "You would never be so lucky."
Emma wakes in bed from the jar of her alarm clock, her room still dark and cool. The streetlights are still on outside, but the sky is becoming lighter, yellow gathering in corners of the sky. Regina is already up. She can hear her moving swiftly across the kitchen tiles, the clack of her heels, the click of a metal pan, and the smell of coffee.
For a moment, Emma stays in bed, pressed down by worries. She'll need to get ready soon. She'll need leave earlier than yesterday – she just barely managed to catch her bus. But if she wakes up now, if she joins Regina in the kitchen, she might harm what felt like development last night.
Oh fuck it. Rising from bed, she pulls a sweater over her head and goes into the kitchen. Regina is standing in front of the counter with a black coat folded over her arm, sipping coffee as she flips through a newspaper; barefoot, Emma is nearly soundless, but Regina seemingly hears her anyway, looking up at her the moment she leaves her room.
Her forehead crinkles. "You're awake?"
"Uh." Emma squints at her in the light. "I hope so."
"But you don't have work until eight." Emma tilts her head with a frown and watches as Regina's expression flickers briefly with guilt. She sighs, "When you turned in your application, I checked with your employer to make sure you were actually working there."
Of course she did. "I ride the bus to work. It'll drive past you if you don't get there early enough."
"Oh." Regina says.
"Why are you up so early?" Emma asks, as she wades into the kitchen. The light has a dim steel color to it, drifting down to touch the cold corners of the kitchen.
"What do you mean?" Regina has that crinkle on her forehead again, partially hidden by a black strip of hair that falls out of place. "I told you I go to work early."
"I know, but why." Emma wonders how many casual questions she is allowed before it starts to feel grating. "You don't have a huge commute, right?"
Understanding broadens Regina's forehead. "No, I don't," she sighs and leans back into the counter. "I guess I just like getting there before anyone else. I can get most of my work done that way." She pauses, takes a sip, and says, "And the office is still mostly empty."
"Oh." Emma chuckles, "So not a big fan of your coworkers?"
"They are not my coworkers," Regina looks away, "They're my employees."
Something in her voice makes Emma drop the subject and glance around the kitchen instead. The counters wiped and the table cleared. She faintly remembers the smell of something cooking, the click of the stove turning on and the sizzle of a hot pan. But everything is as clean and empty as it had been the night before.
"Didn't you eat?" She asks, before she can stop herself.
Regina looks up at her with a frown. "What?"
She says, "I don't think I've seen a single dirty dish in this place," and takes out her bowl and the little packet of cereal she picked up from her work yesterday (she's mostly a reformed thief). "I'm starting to think you don't actually eat."
"I clean up after myself." Regina says, a dark brow lifting on her forehead. "Which reminds me. Your cup is in the second cupboard over there."
"Oh." Emma glances in the direction and finds her ugly grey mug behind the glass cupboard, sitting among all of Regina's nice, fancy cups, the white and porcelain kind that have little blue fish ingrained on their rims. She smiles, "Sorry. That must have killed you, a little."
"Thanks though." Emma says, and slowly picks through the dry corn flakes. "You didn't have to clean up after me."
Regina only hums again, and sips her coffee. But there is something soft to her expression. Maybe it's just the way she's drinking her coffee, with her thumbs hooked over the rim of her cup, but she looks different, though she is dressed just as sharply as the day before. But she is looking out the window, watching the light touch the morning clouds in broad strips of yellow and red, and the calm serenity on her face is hard to look away from. So Emma stays.
And because she is watching, she notices the shift, after she finishes her coffee and washes her cup, setting it aside, she gathers herself up into someone else: someone who has to find her briefcase, check her watch, gather her papers together and slide them all into a briefcase, carrying with it a laptop and more than a few hours of hard work.
Emma watches the way her shoulders straighten beneath her coat, lifting her up from the woman who sips coffee and taps her thumbs against the rim of the cup to the person who walks swiftly from one room to another. Unassailable. Indestructible. She'll leave for work early, warn people: I have no time for you. We won't like each other. She won't act surprise when they don't.
When Regina steps out into the living room, Emma says, "Have a good day." Because she wants her to. Because suddenly it seems like she won't.
Regina pauses at the doorway and glances back at her – and though it is partially hidden by the door and by her hair, Emma thinks that there is a smile there, curved briefly on her mouth. She steps out into the hall.
The apartment is empty when she comes home from work. It only takes a few minutes of flipping channels in an empty living room to start wandering the apartment instead, a small place filled with very little mystery. Except for one room, always closed.
Knocking hesitantly, "Regina?" she asks.
There is no answer, so, tentatively, she opens the door. It's as empty and bare as her own room. There is a large white bed in the middle with cream white sheets tucked into the corners, the coverlet folded neatly at the end, pillows propped up on both sides. There is an old analogue alarm clock sitting on a stack of books.
Curious, she moves closer and sets the clock aside.
The first book is almost predictable. It's as large as a textbook and the spine crackles a little when she opens it, looking barely used despite the highlighted passages and notes written in its margins. It says something about business and Emma pushes it aside, uninterested.
Beneath that is a small novel, well-worn pages, yellowed with age and crinkled at the edges from where a hand absentmindedly bent it as a bookmark and then tried to straighten it out again. The cover is a faded red, but she can see the simple black words clear enough: Don Quixote.
Chuckling, she moves it aside. She expects some other little mysterious novel beneath it, well-loved and well read, but what she finds instead is a thick book with the words The Ministry of Motherhood branded on it with large letters. Her stomach curls.
Without thinking, she quickly sets each book back in place, returns the clock and walks out of the room.
She slides into her bed and lays down into the cool sheets, feeling a heavy hand of dread in her heart. She closes her eyes, but she can't stop seeing the word Motherhood branded hot beneath her eyelids.
Worse: she can't stop imagining Regina in her bed, writing notes in the margins, highlighting passages, crinkling the corner of the pages, reading everything there is to know about being a mother. A secret yearning tucked carefully away in her heart, into a room locked behind a closed door, beneath a ticking clock.
She hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep until she wakes up in a dark room. Blearily, she blinks at her clock, only an hour later, and sinks back into her pillow; she closes her eyes and breathes deeply. From the open door, she can hear Regina in the living room: the dry, flicker of paper, an idle, clicking pen, the glide of ink.
Emma listens to the quiet, incidental sound outside her room, lulled by the steadiness of it, of Regina at work. It lets the thoughts inside her head slow down, calming, finally, and after a while, she sighs and relaxes back into her bed.
She's half asleep when she jolts up, again, surprised by the grumbling of her stomach.
The living room falls silent. Regina's voice drifts in, scandalized. "Was that your stomach?"
Blood rushes to her face, "Oh come on. You didn't hear that."
"How could I not? My god, I thought we were experiencing an earthquake."
"Is there some kind of wild beast in your room?" Huffing, she drops her head back to the pillow, but Regina continues on, relentless. "Or else you've trapped some other poor, starving creature in there with you."
"Oh my God." Emma groans, but she can hear Regina laugh through the rooms, a low rumbling sound that prickles pleasantly on her skin, and it's maybe the best sound she's heard in a while. So…whatever.
"Well." Regina slowly sighs, regaining herself. "Have you had any dinner, at all?"
She shrugs. "Yeah, some."
"No. Not a liar. I stole some fries off a customers' plate." Her face still pressed against the pillow, she smiles, "Don't worry about it, though. He totally had it coming. Didn't even tip."
"I wonder why."
Regina hums and then seems to come to a decision because there is the sound of movement, papers pushing aside, the click of a laptop closing, the creak of floorboards. "Come along, dear. I'll make you something."
She nearly falls out of bed. "Really?"
Regina only hums, already in the kitchen, standing behind an open refrigerator door. Her arms look dark against its white plastic door.
"You really don't have to, though." Emma quietly pads into the hallway, her arms instinctively crossing around her chest. "I can whip something up for myself."
"I know, dear. But it's hardly any trouble." She says, and looks up, her eyes dark and full of warmth. "So what do you like to eat?"
The question stops her. "Uh." Emma says, and flicks through the thoughts in her head, wonders really if she even knows that, if she had ever thought about it, at all. There was food she could fit in her jacket and food she couldn't. "I don't know, actually." She says.
"No favorite childhood meal?"
"Not unless you've got canned soup in there." Emma smiles and brushes back her hair. "You learn to eat just about anything in foster care."
Regina's face flickers briefly, but it might have only been the dim light in the kitchen because she turns around to face the refrigerator again, only a moment later, her voice even. "Sit down, dear." She says, "You'll like what I make."
Emma does, and, leaning against her elbows, she watches Regina move swiftly in the kitchen, opening cupboards and closing them, beating ingredients all in a bowl until all there is to see are the hard lines of her back as she stands in front of a deep saucepan, the hot sizzle of oil flicking up in sound and smell as she scoops out dollops of batter.
It only a few minutes later that a plate is pushed out in front of her, smelling rich and warm and comforting. "Oh my god." Emma groans after a bite, "This is so good." Glancing up, she catches the pull of satisfaction at the corner of Regina's mouth. "What's it called again?"
"Barriguitas de vieja." Regina says, and smiles wanly at Emma's blank expression. "They're just little pumpkin fritters. Snack food, really."
Emma fits one in her mouth and brushes off her fingers, and tries to swallow enough not to speak through her chewed food. "I mean, don't let this get to your head or anything, but they're probably the best thing I've ever had in my life."
Regina rolls her eyes, but Emma can see the corner of her mouth quirk up as she looks away, brushing her fingers through her black hair. Emma eats three more before she decides to let her stomach settle a little.
Leaning back, she sighs happily and pats her stomach, "How'd you learn to cook so well?"
Regina lifts an eyebrow, but looks unsurprised. She must be getting used to Emma's carelessly random questions. "I'm not sure." She rests against the counter. The wine glasses hanging behind her clink quietly and she glances back, shifting slightly away. "Over time, I suppose. My father taught me a few recipes, but I learned the rest."
"Well, you're really good at it." Emma picks up another fritter, tears it in half. Steam lifts up from the soft dough, "Thanks, by the way."
The kitchen is quiet for a little while, the seconds passing without much notice as Emma finishes eating, gathering the crumbs on her plate and sucking them off her fingers; she glances up only incidentally, finding Regina still watching her, her eyes dark as they follow the path her fingers make from the plate to her mouth.
Her stomach flutters, and Regina's eyes find hers, quickly flitting away again.
Straightening, Regina clears her throat. "Well." Her hand makes a tentative attempt at smoothing down her dress shirt. "I should return to my paperwork."
Emma feels warm and full, and suddenly hates the thought of returning to her room. "I'll follow."
Regina pauses and tries to disguise the wary twitch of her mouth with a smile. "I don't know, dear." she brushes back an errant strand of her black hair. "You'll just fall asleep again."
"Nuh-uh," Emma smirks, and sets the plate in the sink. And then, remembering, quickly grabs the sponge and soap to scrub it clean. "And if I do, I promise I won't snore."
"Yes you will." Regina scoffs, but she slowly relaxes, leaning against the counter.
"You can just kick me out again, if I do."
"Fine." She sighs, "But I really won't carry you out this time."
"You got it."
She does end up falling asleep again, on the cushion next to Regina, and although Regina tries her best to keep her word, Emma wakes up in her own bed and a vague, foggy memory of Regina's arms around her waist, her body warm against hers.
As the days pass a routine lifts up between them almost effortlessly. There is conversation in the mornings, coffee and newspaper and Emma trying to wake up as she waits for Regina to get out of the shower. There are the evenings, after the long hours in between, where Regina will greet her with paperwork and a brief, close-mouthed smile in the living room, an extra portion of food tucked away in the fridge for Emma to eat. She'll sit with Regina, always.
It's not that she forgets about the baby – because she doesn't – but with her stomach still flat (and Regina's door always closed) she's allowed herself to imagine her life continuing as it is – undeterred by change like a train on tracks, incapable of being put off course. Not by a baby or the end of a lease. Not by the foggy, vague dreams she sometimes wake up from in the middle of the night, the memory of a touch, of dark eyes and so much skin; she'll lay in the dark, breathing in the last of these memories and then letting them evaporate into the morning. So that she can plop down next to Regina at the end of the day, and everything can remain the same.
- x -
She's in the middle of unloading plates onto a table when it happens; it's as sudden as dropping a plate, the clatter loud and echoing through her body, she can only toss the napkins and silverware on the table and rush to the bathroom. Her stomach curls like a fist inside, and she hadn'tforgotten (a child should never be forgotten) but things had been so good. And it's not too much to ask for. For something to simply remain.
But god damn. She throws up, alone, kneeling on the yellow tiles of the bathroom. It rackets in her blood, right in her ear: the baby, the baby, the baby.
Somebody at the table must have asked for her manager, because he finds her only a little while later – he is a big guy, a high school football star that never got recruited for college, and because he's always been kind, or at least never unkind, so when she hears him settle against the sink she forces herself to wipe her mouth and look up at him. She's not sure if he's ever been a father, but he's got a good face for one.
His mouth settles. "God damn it, Emma." He grunts. "You can't come into work sick."
Her thoughts flicker for only a second. She should tell him, she knows, but he'll figure it out eventually. They all will. "Sorry." She mumbles, and shifts away, her knees starting to hurt. "I think it was just food poisoning, anyway."
"Not great for our image, Emma." He crosses his arms. "Take the rest of the day off."
"I said I'm fine."
"And I said go home." He grabs a handkerchief and tosses it on top of the sink. "Get cleaned up, too." And then he's gone, leaving her in the quiet of the bathroom, her stomach churning like white ocean waves against the docks.
She breathes in, and then out.
And then she calls Regina.
"Emma?" Regina asks over the line. There is the quiet murmur of a voice that doesn't belong to either of them.
"Oh, sorry." Emma frowns, slowly standing up from the floor. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
"You're not interrupting, dear." She says, but there is a pause only a moment later, the distinct sound of arguing over the quiet hum of static, words passing too quickly to be picked up on; they fill the quiet in sharp, unfamiliar notes before finally she hears Regina's sigh, familiar and reaffirming, focusing back on her. "I'm sorry for that, dear. Is everything alright?"
She sounds so concerned that for a humiliating moment, tears prick in Emma's eyes, a sudden heat at the back of her eyes. It's a warm, red shame that makes her swallow and tilt her head back, staring up at the ceiling. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm all good." Somebody opens a door outside, and the cold air brushing up through the hallway calms her. Get back on point. "I just wanted to tell you I'll be home earlier than usual."
"Getting sent home." Emma says, "Apparently a young blonde throwing up in the back is bad for a diner's image."
"Oh, Emma." Her voice is an odd mixture of concern and admonishment, impossible to tell which is more prevalent. "Are you home now?"
"No, I'm gonna take the bus."
"Oh, no, dear. I'll drive you home."
"Oh." She can hear the quiet sounds of Regina gathering up her belongings, her coat and papers, closing drawers and binders. Beneath that, is a voice rising up again, the one from before, becoming sharp again. "You – you don't have to do that."
The line hums with static, and though Regina is probably covering the receiver with a hand, she can hear the argument picking up again. But it's short, because it's only a moment later before Regina is sighing in her ear again. "Are you still at your work, dear?"
"Vallecito road, correct?"
"I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"Uh. Thank you."
"Of course." Regina hums, followed shortly by a click.
Regina parks the car at the curb in less than twenty minutes, walking up in her brisk, business lady power-suit and her usual scowl; Emma can't help but feel a little bit lucky when she sees her at the front door, refusing all the service that wants to direct her to a table with smiles and menus, becoming hesitant in the face of her stubbornness. When she finds Emma standing at the back, she gestures impatiently in a way that says, come along, dear, hurry up. We're going home.
"You're probably tired, dear." Regina says as she opens the door, dropping her keys at the desk beside it. "Do you want to go to bed? I can make you some chicken soup when you're hungry."
In that moment, Emma decides she'll play up the sickness a little bit. If it's going to attract Regina's maternal instincts… well. She's done more shameful things than fake sickness to get a little attention. "A little, but I think I'll take a nap on the couch, if you don't mind?"
"Of course, dear. Wherever you like."
She figured she'd close her eyes and just relax for a little while. She didn't expect to actually fall asleep, and yet, once she situated herself on the couch, and Regina had tucked that red loosely knitted blanket around her shoulders, she found herself slowly drifting off.
There is the familiar sounds of the house: the window slightly cracked open, the wind cool and smelling faintly of the sea, the blinds tapping gently against the glass, and Regina, flipping through dry paper.
It's a book, and a familiar one at that. Peeking through her eyelashes, she recognizes its red faded cover and yellow, worn pages. Regina is quiet, humming occasionally when she reads a part she's likely read a hundred times before, and when she isn't flipping a page, her hand rests on the top of Emma's foot. Her fingers absentmindedly rub soothing, soft circles along the arch.
Emma watches her quietly, watches the strand of black hair fall in front of her eyes, and how it softens her face. She doesn't bother to brush it away; she moves only to turn a page or brush her fingers along the top of Emma's toes, stroking back and forth.
She would have preferred to remain that way – but Regina is attentive, she senses changes in the quietest of moments, like when she had slipped out of her room, nearly soundless, and Regina looked up at her just as she looks up at her now, finding her awake.
She smiles, just a small smile, showing now teeth. (It makes Emma's heart flutter.) "How do you feel, dear?"
A hand reaches over to gently touch her forehead. "You still don't have a fever." Her lips purse in thought and as she moves her hand away, she curls a strand of Emma's hair around her finger and tucks it gently behind her ear. "You might still wake up with one, though. You should go back to sleep."
"Yeah." Emma says, and stretches her toes. Regina's hand squeezes involuntarily around her foot. "It's probably just food poisoning, though."
A dark eyebrow lifts. "Are you accusing me of poisoning you?"
"No." Emma chuckles. "I don't think you'd choose to do that with food. If you wanted to poison me, that is."
"Oh Really?" Her eyes crinkle. "And why is that?"-
"It'd be too insulting. Me throwing up afterwards. You'd probably want an apology." Regina squeezes her foot a little harder, probably for punishment, but it feels pretty good anyway. She hums and stretches her feet, scooching down closer to Regina. "No, it was probably the diner."
"Oh, so only the place you work at. That's far better."
"But not as surprising." Emma says, sleepily. She feels warm and comfortable and when Regina starts to stroke a warm hand up and down her leg, from the curve of her knee to the top of her foot, she starts to struggle with staying awake. "Gonna fall asleep." She warns.
"That's probably for the best." Regina says, her voice gentle. Emma wants to be closer, the desire blooming so suddenly in her, so wildly, that she has to struggle to keep from moving, from following her odd, careless urges. "You might still be sick. Sleeping will help."
"I'm sleeping here?" Emma murmurs.
"Yes." Regina pinches her toe playfully. "But I really won't carry you this time."
"So you say." Emma chuckles. And because she's sleepy, and warm, and comfortable, she can't resist when the desire hits her again, as solid and powerful as a fist to the chest. To be closer. It lifts up on her elbows and moves her across the couch so that she can plop her head down on Regina's lap.
Regina's hands hover awkwardly over her head. But it's only a moment before they settle, her fingers warm against the curve of her forehead. They encourage Emma to sink deeper into her lap.
"I'll be getting up soon." Regina warns.
"Sure you will." Emma murmurs.
"I will." But she doesn't sound very convincing, so Emma nudges her cheek closer.
Her clothes have a clean smell to them, tinted with lemon, the hot press of an iron, and the faint human smell of her skin. Emma closes her eyes, and feels the gentle direction of Regina's fingers, combing through her gold hair, her fingernails scraping gently against her scalp.
"Hm," Emma murmurs. "That feels good."
"Yes." Regina clears her throat, "Well." When Emma peeks through her eyelashes, there is a faint blush on her cheeks. Closing her eyes again, Emma listens to the gentle sounds of the house, the sound of the wind outside, the click of the blinds against the window pane, Regina's fingers combing through her hair.
"You didn't get in trouble today, did you?" She doesn't realize she's said it until the fingers in her hair pause.
"What do you mean?"
Forcing her eyes open, she looks up at Regina. "For leaving early?"
Regina hums and quietly continues combing through her hair. It's nearing the late evening, and the light filtering in casts shadows in the house and in Regina's face. Her eyelashes are dark and lovely against her skin. "Don't worry dear." She says, and returns her hand to her forehead, digging lightly at the base. "It wasn't an issue."
"Okay." She murmurs. She's already starting to fall back to sleep. "As long as you don't get fired for me."
"I wouldn't get fired." She sighs. Maybe it is because Emma's half asleep. Or that her head is on her lap. Or maybe Emma isn't alone in feeling that careless desire to be closer too. But for whatever reason, Regina continues. "My mother has worked too hard to get me here. She wouldn't fire me over taking a half-day off."
Emma absorbs it silently, the way water absorbs light, reflecting back images of the sky. Mother. Sharp voice. Angry. "What day is it tomorrow?"
"We should hang out."
"We always hang out." Regina says, and must immediately feel embarrassed, because her fingers snag awkwardly in Emma's hair. Emma winces and Regina makes a small, fretful sound in the back of her throat, and her fingers become gentle again. "Sorry, dear."
"S'kay." Emma murmurs sleepily. "But we should do something. Together. For fun."
"You'll have a fever."
"It's very likely."
"If I don't, you have to do something with me."
"Very well." Regina sighs, like she's indulging a child, but Emma can see a small curve to her mouth. "No fever and we'll do something tomorrow. Together."
Regina says, "Now sleep." And Emma does.
She wakes in the morning, her cheek pressing against Regina's thigh, and for a moment Emma thinks Regina must have stayed there all night, stiff as a board, brushing her fingers through her hair; but after a second, blinking blearily, she notices the slight changes in her appearance: the clean, newly applied make up, the glint of silver earrings through her dark, freshly styled hair, the new dress, grey and only slightly more casual than the one she wore the day before.
Regina doesn't look away from her magazine, but she must know Emma is awake because her fingers start to make their path through her hair again, scratching pleasantly at the base of her neck. Emma hums with pleasure.
"So," she says, and eventually lifts her head enough to rest against Regina's knee instead. Regina glances down at her; a finger paused at the corner of one of the glossy white pages. Emma smiles. "No fever."
"No." Regina sighs. "Unfortunately."
"Oh come on." Emma chuckles. "It's going to be fun."
Regina glances doubtfully out at the window, "It looks freezing outside."
"Well." Emma lifts herself up from the couch. "Thankfully, we've got coats and jackets."
Regina harrumphs. But she doesn't back out of her deal. She makes breakfast while Emma showers and they eat quickly as they clean up the kitchen, so it's only a half hour later until Regina is locking the door behind her and they are shivering in the cold, autumn air, the brisk air smelling of the sea.
They stop briefly at a corner café with white brick walls and green painted shutters; Regina orders a coffee and pays for Emma's scone despite her protests. They walk around in the cool air, Emma leaving crumbs everywhere until Regina sighs and hands her a napkin she had coveted, hidden in her pocket for this very purpose.
It is midday by the time they're walking around the small lake and Emma doesn't notice that Regina has stopped until she's walked a few paces ahead of her.
"Regina?" She calls out, but Regina doesn't look up.
She is standing silently, dark scraps of her hair blowing across her face as she stares out at the little park in the distance, nestled between the trees. Emma frowns and turns to look at it, not really thinking of its significance until she hears it. The scramble of children in the distance, shrouded only by the little huddle of parents, and though the delighted screeches of their children is muffled by the wind, the sound is still carried all the way to Regina.
Regina's face breaks out into a smile, so wide and beautiful that Emma's heart clenches in an edgy spasm of joy.
"Do you want to sit down?" Regina asks, her eyes clear and bright, "There are a few park benches over there."
Emma breathes out. She wants to say no. She wants to walk on with Regina, and forget about the children, leave them in the distance, where the one knitting together in herself can exist only in her distracted thoughts. But Regina's smile is something stunning, and it would be an unnecessary cruelty to take it away.
"Sure," She smiles.
They select a bench closest to the children, the wood still cold and a little damp from the morning frost. Regina brushes off the water briskly and doesn't seem to care that she her coat will get wet, regardless. She watches the children jump along the green bars and swing sets, dropping down into tanbark and sand, their faces flushed with the cold and their laughter. She watches with a yearning like hunger, and Emma feels the thought pulse fatly in the back of her head, repeating with purpose: mother, mother, mother.
Emma startles when Regina speaks a few minutes later, her voice suddenly as clear and crisp as the cold air. "Have you ever wanted children?"
Emma tries hard not to think about the book she had found in her room, tucked beneath all the others, held down by a ticking clock. She tries not to think about the children she had seen grow up in those homes, living despite themselves and others. She doesn't let herself think about the child she is carrying now, the bundle of cells hooking together to create hands and feet and skin and a beating heart.
"I don't know." She says, and stares out at the children. "I haven't really thought about it."
Regina hums quietly. But there is a sardonic screw of her mouth, a smile that is not a smile. After a moment, in a voice like a sigh, she says, "I have."
Because she has to say something, she asks, "You want to have children?"
"Yes." Regina says. She is staring out at the playground, at the children and the shivering mothers, holding close to their coats, watching their children with close-wary eyes. She sighs, "I was going to have a child."
Emma's heart drops, a sickening twist, like fingers curling into a fist. "Oh."
Regina tilts her head to the sky, the tree branches waving in the wind, the yellow and red leaves flapping back and forth, back and forth. "I was on the wait list for an adoption."
Her throat thick, she asks. "What happened?"
"My mother." There is something immensely cold and familiar about that clipped tone of Regina's voice, and Emma flinches, thinking of the long road of high way she had been abandoned on, bundled in a loosely knitted blanket someone must have made, that someone must have loved. It never ceases to surprise her, even after all these years: knowing just how much harm a child can suffer from their parents.
"What did she do?" Emma asks, and shuffles closer, because she needs to.
"I'm not entirely sure. I'm afraid I might never know for sure. Not in detail." That smile curls nastily, strange and hollow on her mouth. "But one moment I was being told the time line, that I could expect a child in three months. I was being told the sex, and about the parents, whether it would be a closed-adoption or not…and then." She flicks her hand, the same way she had shown Emma to the living room, the way she'd dismissed a conversation. "It was closed up. Dropped. I was no longer an option for their agency. Or any other, for that matter."
Emma's heart feels like it is swelling up, filled with so much, it's pressing up against her ribs and urging to come out, to expand past itself. "I'm sorry." Her voice wavers. "I – how?"
"She has connections." She shrugs, like it doesn't matter, and maybe it doesn't. Maybe she doesn't care how, just the fact that it did. "She thinks children are such a waste of my potential. They would be too time-consuming."
Emma is watching her and so she sees it happen.
She sees the wobble in her chin, her face wavering like the images floating in the shallow puddles of water on the ground, soft and malleable. "But I wanted so much…" Regina gasps, and then covers her mouth. A trembling hand muffles her cry, her sob, her words, "I wanted so much to be a mother."
Emma scoots closer until she can feel the warmth of her body pressing against Regina's, until she can feel the shudder of her ribs with each breath. "I'm sorry," She whispers, her arm sliding skittishly around her back. She presses until she is fit close to Regina, her head against shoulder.
Regina doesn't shake her off. She muffles the sounds she is making with her hand, and then slowly lets it fall, reaching for Emma instead. Her hand clasps around Emma's shoulder, her fingers hard enough to bruise, but she lays a weary, tear-stained cheek on the top of Emma's head, and Emma doesn't dare move – she can't.
She stays there, feeling the warmth of Regina surrounding her. It's then that the realization comes over her. It's not exactly shocking. Maybe she had made the decision weeks ago, without really thinking. But she knew that this baby in her would belong to Regina.
She always had difficulty imagining herself with a child. She didn't know what it would look like. But she can imagine it with Regina. Kneeling beside a bathtub with a blue towel, her sleeves rolled up as she tenderly scrubs the dark mat of hair on the baby's head (somehow she knows it will be dark, it will come to resemble Regina despite both her and Neal's genes).
She would hoist the baby, wrapped in a towel, onto her hip and carry him to his room, singing quietly in his ear, lull him to sleep with stories and songs about love, about putting things back together. Emma can imagine it so well, so perfectly, the baby and his mother. The love they would both have for each other. She shudders and leans closer.
Because it's cold, they do end up turning in early. It's quiet as they trail back into their apartment, the cold bursting in through their jackets and the silence heavier than before, but there is something holding them tentatively together, something that makes Regina walk closer than she had before, her hand brushing against Emma's, pausing briefly on her back and on her shoulder as they make their way back home.
It flickers in Regina's eyes, briefly in the small space of the doorway, before they enter. They're close together, and for a moment Emma is sure she will lean up and finally kiss her.
But she clears her throat instead and nods to the kitchen, "Want a glass of wine?"
Regina blinks, and looks away. "Sure, dear." She sighs.
Regina is sitting in the stiff looking armchair when she returns, her eyes closed and her head resting on the back of the cushion. There are hard lines starting to form between her eyebrows, tightening the small facial muscles beneath her skin.
"Here you go." Emma whispers, and watches as Regina's eyes snap open, focusing sharply on her and then slowly softening again.
"Ah." She reaches for the glass, holding it delicately with two fingers. She glances at Emma's empty hands and frowns. "None for you?"
"No, I'm fine." Regina just stares at her and Emma has to conquer the urge to press a hand against her stomach. "Really, it's fine. Your tastes are too expensive for me, anyway."
The corner of Regina's mouth pulls up. "Well. I'll be sure to pick up some variety, then." She takes a dainty sip. "I'm sure we can find boxed wine somewhere near here."
Rolling her eyes, Emma chuckles and leans her chin on her hand. There is nothing else to say, so she remains quiet, lets the moment settle. It's not uncomfortable, but its heavy, filled so much with the day's circumstance. She should probably go back to her room. Give Regina some space. Leave her to her thoughts.
But there is something moving through her blood, pumping too quickly through her heart, making her legs heavy and sluggish. She wants…she wants too much.
"I'm glad..." Regina quietly clears her throat, "I'm glad we went out, today."
Emma blinks and looks up. Regina is watching her quietly, her expression soft and lovely in the midday light. There are smudges from her make up along the edge of her eye, but it looks only like a shadow, like when she stays up too long in the dark and the long hours start to make up the expression on her face. But she is smiling, her mouth stained dark from the wine.
"Really?" Her voice sounds like the frown on her face, and Regina chuckles.
"It was…" She drifts off, her fingers absentmindedly following the rim of her glass. "I've never told anyone about that before." Regina looks back at her, an odd smile on her mouth, her eyes dark and tender. There seems to be a moment of deliberation, shifting in her seat, before she hesitantly lifts an arm out for Emma, reaching for her. All Emma can do is stumble forward, her heart beating hard and fast in her ear, sitting on the foot cushion beside Regina's knees.
With a quiet sigh, Regina's hand smooths across her cheek, her thumb gliding quickly beneath her eye. "You're a very sweet girl, Emma." Regina murmurs, and gently captures a blond, wayward curl, tucking it gently behind her ear. "A very sweet girl."
The flutter in her heart echoes low in her belly. Her skin hums, warm and hazy, and she should think more about this, because she is twenty two years old, pregnant, and living out a lease of only six-months. But she's never wanted anything so much, and it's so very rare for anything to ever be returned.
She scoots closer and watches Regina's face carefully, waiting for the flutter, the clear sign of whether she should continue or if she's just messed everything up. The fingers cupping her cheek move slowly, smoothing down her jaw to the curve of her head, her fingers curling in her gold hair.
Emma breathes out in a hurried rush and lifts up and over the chair's arms into Regina's lap, guided by Regina's hands, she slides snugly in place. There is only a moment of struggle, Regina breathing shaky, warm puffs of air against her jaw as she reaches blindly for a place to put her wine.
Once it holds at the corner of the desk, her arm curls around her waist, instead, bringing her close, close, close. A warm, red mouth covers hers.
They moved to the bed fairly quickly, Regina guiding with her hands and her hips to where she wants Emma most, and now they're spread out in bed, clothes discarded in heaps on the floor. There are spots in her body that are already beginning to darken from the trail of Regina's mouth, and though the late-afternoon light is quickly darkening, becoming the late evening she isn't near done with this, yet.
She's hovering over Regina, resting on her arms and knees as Regina's hands glide smoothly up and down the back of her shoulders. The space between them expand and diminish like a beating heart, Emma's mouth pressing against her neck to touch and nip, coasting up the slope of her jaw with the salty-sweet taste of her skin at each touch, their bodies rocking gently together.
She is following down the slope of Regina's throat, up on the other side, sucking at her pulse, and it feels good, so much better than anything she's had before, because Regina's hands are warm and firm as they draw circles on her shoulders, pressing hard against the line of her back, and it means something, it means – well, it must mean something.
It's then, as Emma follows the curve of Regina's neck, that she hears a noise – and while Regina makes a lot of it in bed, there is a large range to the sounds she makes (from the hot-quiet pants to the sharp, growing demands to the soft, breathy noises between them all, those low, helpless whines) and the noise she makes now is nothing like that. It shakes oddly in her chest and comes out in strange little bursts, puffing against Emma's ear.
For a terrifying moment Emma thinks she might be crying – but when she looks up, she finds Regina face breaking out in those blissful, hard laughing lines, her eyes crinkling as she tries in vain to free herself from the long, blonde hair that's invading her face.
"Oh my god." Regina chuckles. "You have so much hair." Emma blinks, and in the brief moment where she wonders whether to laugh or roll off the bed and leave town, Regina stops her from moving at all, her hand gliding up from between her shoulders to the back of her head, her fingers curling into her hair.
"I can get a hair tie." Emma says, and tries to get up, because the one on her wrist isn't there, but Regina's fingers only tighten, pushing Emma's head down again.
"Don't you dare," Regina whispers against her ear.
And then they're suddenly switched, the mattress bouncing a little as Regina slides her legs over Emma's waist, resting lightly on her hands, just above Emma's shoulders, that dark red smile hovering only inches from her mouth. "I like you just like this." Regina whispers, and closes the space between them, her mouth warm and firm against hers.
A quick, ticklish feeling darts across her skin and Emma sighs, feeling the hazy, warm hum of her skin. They've done this for a few hours and she's already so worked up, it won't take much more. She can already feel the beginning of it, that high, quivering feeling, expanding inside of until she feels wide open and breathless, aching just from the feeling of Regina's mouth trailing down her chest, leaving flushed blotches of reddened skin behind.
By the time Regina reaches her hips, Emma is panting, her thighs quivering beneath the firm direction of Regina's fingers, guiding her leg over her shoulder. It's all a little too much – Regina's mouth, planting kisses along her skin from the curve of her knee, and then lower, and lower, and Emma gasps, her hips jerking up, her lower back separating from the mattress.
She can feel Regina's smile against her skin, her hand sliding from its place on her stomach to push her thigh wider, opening her up – and it's never really been this easy before, she's struggled with pleasure just as it has struggled with her, getting locked up somewhere in her muscles and in her joints, but with Regina, with those dark, delighted eyes so full and warm and filled with something -
"Fuck," She gasps, and writhes against Regina's mouth. It blooms within her with a sudden ragged immensity, her fingers grasping desperately along the sheets and her toes digging into the mattress, it rushes like fire through the muscles in her thighs and through the rest of her.
Gasping, her back curls and she falls back into the bed.
Through the haze, Emma watches Regina smirk and wipe the corners of her mouth, crawling towards her again. A pleasant heaviness curls in the muscles in her thighs, and she sighs, sinking into the mattress, into sheets and pillows.
There is only a moment or two of wondering – about whether or not this will become like all those other nights, with people she only vaguely remembers, in cheap motel rooms, leaving in the early morning with her socks balled up into her shoes and her clothes cold against her body, slipping out before anyone notices.
The mattress shifts, sinking until Emma can feel the bare brush of skin against her back. "Mhm." Regina hums quietly and brushes the tip of her nose against her neck.
Emma shivers, and smiles, glancing back at her. "What?"
She can't quite see her, through the haze of her hair and the dark shadows covering them both, but she can feel Regina scooting closer, her hand following up the curve of her leg and over her hip, pushing down gently with the pads of her fingers, "Turn over," She whispers.
Emma smiles, and obeys, lifting up the sheet and turning awkwardly onto her side, facing Regina, close enough to see the faint crinkles around her eyes, the folds of skin that shows that she's smiling, even in the dark. Regina continues her quiet inspection of her skin, her fingers traveling over her arms and ribs, pausing every once in a while to circle the faint marks from her mouth and from where touches of her lipstick smudged off.
She's warm, and sleepy, and forgetful. She says, "We should do this again."
Regina's fingers pause on her skin, curling in, and with a blink her eyes are open, watching the small, smiling lines expand on Regina's face, "Yes, we should." She clears her throat, the faint blush spreading in her cheek evident even in the darkening light. "If you want to, of course."
It makes her heart beat warm, like in one of the few car rides she liked, half-asleep in the back of a car with the rhythm of the road beneath her and the sun beating down on her arms and neck, she'd lay her head in the glass and imagine a house at the end of the road, past all the other houses, to someplace new. To some place better.
"Yeah, I do." She says. A few minutes pass, and the feeling is still bursting in her, she can't help but scoot closer, chuckling, "And you thought we wouldn't like each other."
Distaste ripples across Regina's face almost immediately and Emma can't help but laugh. "Ugh." Regina huffs and slaps her on the leg, but it only makes her laugh harder, giddy from the feelings in her chest and the lightness of breath. "Enough." She demands, but the effect of her voice is softened by the muss of her hair and the smudge of her lipstick.
Emma chuckles and presses until their bodies are flush against each other, smiling at the disgruntled frown on Regina's face. "Okay, okay." Emma smiles, and nudges her with her nose. "I'll stop."
"Good." She mutters.
"You were right about one thing, though." Regina glances at her wearily. "With all those early mornings and late nights, we've hardly seen each other at all."
"Oh, shut up." Regina huffs at her and Emma laugh, melting into the mattress. She settles there, into the bend of Regina's arm, and the curve of her ribs, into the small space that seems fitting for another person to rest, to catch her breath. They lie there together, breathing quietly and listening to the faint tapping of the branch against the window, flickering faintly in the yellow haze of the streetlights outside. It's peaceful, and warm.
Emma can feel the slow, steady descent into sleep, a warm fog curling pleasantly around her. But there is something sticking out from her thoughts, wanting to reach itself into words. She's only half-surprised when it does. "Why did you think we weren't going to get along, though?"
Regina shifts, her arm curling up from its place around Emma's back, a hand settles along the curve of her hip. She hums, her own face softening in sleepiness. "For a lot of reasons, I suppose," she says, her fingers ghosting along her warm skin. "I've had quite a few people come around here. Some would finish the lease, others wouldn't. But I've never been wrong before."
"Huh." Emma lays her cheek against Regina's shoulder, her skin pleasantly warm and smelling of sweat and something else, like the pages of her old books, like brittle leaves. She feels herself sinking into the mattress, into Regina's warmth, and the small comforts of the room. "I must be special." She mumbles, half smiling at the old joke of herself.
But Regina smiles, and combs her fingers through her hair, dropping a kiss at the top of her head. "You are." she whispers.
They get into a habit with each other.
Mornings waking up in the same bed, which happened to always be Regina's since she refused to listen to the rusty coils in Emma's bed, squeaking in every movement, completely embarrassing during sex. They had dinners and quiet afternoons, all morning in bed on Sunday.
It was impossible not to think about the baby. It no longer existed in the brief, distracted thought; it began to build inside of her, in the low swell of her belly and the nausea that would occasionally twist inside of her like a hand clenching and unclenching, forming new things. Sometimes she thought she would tell Regina, she could feel the words in her throat like fish bones, painful and refusing to be swallowed down.
Sometimes she'd imagine saying it in the quiet after sex, when Regina sighs and curls around her back, her front brushing against her back, a hand resting in the small dips of her body - the words would rise up from inside her like a tidal wave, spilling out, bursting against land and folding buildings, immediately devastating, (Sometimes the confession was different. Sometimes she'd say I love you, instead. But it always seemed to end the same.)
It happens when Emma comes home a little earlier. She finds Regina already there, her black coat dropped on the desk where her purse is, her belongings spilled out in small organized clusters, and while it's not unusual to come back to Regina already home, there is music humming a vaguely familiar tune, and above the voice of the recorder is Regina, her voice like gold round light that rings out along the copper pans and glass cupboards, shimmering off wine glasses and white marble counters.
It halts her. She stands in the doorway, watching the slow sway of Regina's hips as she hovers over bowls and pots, singing in the late evening late, pausing only to spoon a taste of sauce into her mouth, tilting her head and then humming to herself, a brief prelude before she returns to the song, her voice sailing high and strong, like birds arching in the sky.
And it just swells inside of her, the love – it rising from beneath her breast and onward, traveling up and out like a wave in its familiar sea-swell, lifting up again to crash against the shore over and over again. She breathes out, and remembers to breathe in. She doesn't move, but Regina finds her anyway, looking up just as she closes the oven door.
She doesn't startle. She smiles, instead, the corner of her eyes giving into a crinkle of affection. "You've been spying on me," She accuses as she moves back to the cutting board, wiping her hands at the front of her apron.
Emma's heart is still caught in the rise and fall, but she's pulled into Regina's smile, all the same. "Was not." She wades into the warm kitchen light. Regina hums, and doesn't pause in the competent cut of her knife, dicing up tomatoes. "You – uh, you sing really good."
"Well." Regina corrects, popping a slice of tomato in her mouth. "I sing very well."
Emma scoffs and retaliates, lifting up onto the counter. She scoots her butt all the way to the back, and when her feet gently hitting the cupboard, Regina snaps up with a glare.
"Off." she warns.
"Why?" She smirks, and leans back, spreading her legs. "You liked me here just a few days ago."
Her eyes darken and flicker quickly from the bend of her legs to the curve of her body. "Hm." She smirks and taps a finger against her mouth, stained red from the tomato. "I did." She steps forward, determination striking out of her dark eyes.
Warmth immediately lifts up from her stomach, spreading in warm, bright blotches of red skin on her chest. Regina is soundless even in heels and can cross any distance in only a few steps; her fingers leave small marks on her jeans as they smooth up her thighs, and then drag back down with the sharp edge of her fingernails.
"But, dinner." Emma gasps.
"You first." Regina purrs, and though the oven is, the importance of it dims and slides away, sending her closer to steal a kiss. But Regina teases her instead – she nips at the corner of her mouth and then the curve of her jaw, up to her ear and then briefly at the top of her chin before she sinks her teeth into the bottom of Emma's lip, pulling it into her mouth to suck.
It's enough to make her frantic, her knees opening wider to welcome the slow passing of Regina's hips as she feels a mouth travel down her neck. There is a corner of skin, behind her ear, that Regina likes to suck, and it makes the air between her skin and her clothes heat up, her heart beating quickly until all she can feel is that need, urging her closer, closer, closer. Her heels hook around the back of Regina's knees and pull her closer, flushing at the delighted laugh that is mushed against her mouth.
It's important – these small touches. It's not the touch that delivers that hot, intimate pleasure that rises up in her skin, but it's gathers in importance each time she feels it, feels the tip of Regina's fingers brush along her jaw, turning her chin, tucking in her hair or rubbing a thumb along her wrist.
And as Emma tilts her head back, among the feeling of her mouth is Regina's fingers, warm and tomato stained, traveling up her arm and pausing on her neck, drawing warm circles into the base of her throat.
It's this simple, intimate touch that pulls it out of her.
She doesn't hear herself say it, but when Regina's mouth halts suddenly, tragically, the dread settles in her; she can feel Regina's lip twitch and curl before the warmth of her disappears completely, and all Emma can hear is the quiet sound of her heels against the hardware floor, slowly backing away.
Opening her eyes, she looks at Regina and shivers, the hot, flushed arousal quickly turning into terror. She watches Regina's eyes glitter dark, becoming wet, her voice a quiet warbling note that's caught in her throat. "What?" she says, and must hate the open, jagged sound to it, because when she speaks again, its with teeth. "What did you just say?"
She's not sure. She's not sure – the words have started to stitch together in her head, all urging to come out, they press up and out of her throat, gathering into one sharp, damaging thought in her head: I love you, I'm pregnant, I love you, I'm pregnant. It could be either one, really, and she's not sure which one would devastate her more.
"I'm, I'm sorry." She stammers, and Regina's face hardens, becoming stone.
Emma shivers, feeling the cold brush of air prickle along her skin, something like grief sinking in her stomach. "Yes." she answers quietly like a gulp, wanting to swallow her words.
Regina nods, "I see." Without another word, she turns around to face the white marble counters and the cutting board and all the bowls and pans, but it's silent, and the music is gone, just a soft hum of static now, the stereo playing on a used tape.
Quietly, she says, "Regina." But it falls flat in the silence, hitting the stern, sleek lines in Regina's back as she continues chopping vegetables. Emma's stomach starts to churn, becoming sick with anxiety. "Regina," she whispers, "Please tell me what you're thinking."
Regina laughs, a sharp jarring sound like a dish suddenly breaking on the cold kitchen floor. "What am I thinking?" Regina sternly sets her knife side, turning towards to face her with an aggressive smile, baring her teeth. Emma presses back into the cupboard and feels the click of of the door behind her. "You want to know what I am thinking?"
"Yes." Her voice wobbles.
"Alright then, I'll tell you in a minute." She says, smiling coolly. "First, I think I would like to know what you were thinking."
"What I was…?"
Regina steps forward. "Yes," she sneers. "I want to know what you were thinking. When you were fucking someone else – however you managed to find the time, between shifts of work or when we were together. Did you slip out when I was asleep?" A new horror crosses Regina's face, turning itself quickly into a smile as she steps closer. "Is that it? Did you wait until I fell asleep before slipping out to fuck somebody else? Who was it? Must have been someone in the building, someone you could have just knocked on the door to get some fun with in the few hours before crawling back into bed with me."
And oh god. "No, no, Regina. I would never –"
Regina flicks her hand in that quick, dismissive way, but it's her eyes that quell the words in her throat. "I want to know what you were thinking." She says, stepping close enough to feel the anger in her, working in her jaw and clenching in the delicate muscles along her wrists, in her fingers. "I want to know what you were thinking when you crawled onto my lap in that chair. When – when you kissed me. And we – was it just for something to do? Just to have somebody to fuck. Or – " Her breath overtakes her, a hard, angry laugh coming out instead, "Oh, did I tickle your edgy bone? Is that it? Fuck the scary lady in your apartment building, and then laugh about it with your boyfriend?"
"God, Regina, no." Her arms reach blindly to grapple along the hard fingers that clench themselves into fists at Regina's side, but they snap away, quickly, immediately harsh. "I've only been with you since – since I came here. It's not recent, it's just – I knew I was pregnant when I signed the lease."
Dark, suspicious eyes narrow at her and then flicker down, and although she isn't showing very much, it's there. Regina finds it too because some of the stiffness in her shoulders give away, softening – not in forgiveness, but in understanding, at least.
"How – how long." She says.
"Well." Regina quietly steps away. Suddenly, it seems that she is the middle of a hundred different decisions: whether she should become comforting or turn away from her completely; pick up the ritual of cooking, instead. Finally, she sighs and brushes her hair briskly behind her ear. "What are you going to do?"
Her eyes are hard and black and Emma looks away. "I don't know."
There is a moment or two of silence before Regina speaks again. "Are you going to keep it?" There is a spasm of contempt in her voice, dry and cold in the air, and it sinks painfully in Emma's stomach.
She wishes she knew the answer; in her mind, the baby is in Regina's arms; it's her baby's head against Regina's chest, and Regina's hands rubbing along its back, warming his forehead with her cheek and the occasional kiss. But – but would she be there? Would she be somewhere in that room – kneeling with her on the bathroom floor, standing with her as she sings songs of love that both them have had to learned through themselves.
"I don't know." She says, and then even quieter. "I thought maybe – maybe you would want to?"
"Want to – what?" Regina snaps harshly. "Have the baby myself?" There is a malicious cant to her tone, and it pulls Emma's chin up, her heart clenching in an edgy spasm of grief, because it seems suddenly possible that Regina would turn away from her own yearning to be a mother, if faced with Emma as her only option; that even now, as a bundle of knots and feet and a beating heart, Emma should ruin her child's chance of being loved, of being wanted.
A warm red shame burns in her cheeks and pricks at the back of her eyes, and she looks away, to the window, and then to the wide, copper pots, to anything that might distract her enough not to cry.
There is a tentative touch of fingers on her wrist, as halting as the quiet, grey warble of Regina's voice. "Emma?" Shivering, Emma decides at that moment that, no, she can't do this. Sliding off the counter, her bare feet find the cool kitchen tiles, and move quickly to where she dropped her shoes, socks bundled up in the boot, her keys sitting in a small bowl on the desk, she grabs them both on her way to the door.
"Wait. Emma, wait!" Regina's stricken voice nearly stops her, but her muscles are moving from memory now, moving from all the years of slipping from one place to another, leaving homes and arms and warm, empty beds. "Emma, please! Don't go, please, don't go!" The words bounce off the door as she closes it; but it echoes in her head even as she leaves, the sound of something like panic.
Stepping outside, the cold, open air stings on her wet cheeks and stuns her still for a moment. She looks up at the swaying trees, turning in the wind, its leaves flapping back and forth from yellow, to red, to yellow again. She moves thoughtlessly into the cold, following the wet, vaguely familiar sidewalk until she comes across a bench, sitting absently on its cold, wet wood.
Regina finds her only twenty minutes later, walking up the cold, icy sidewalk in a dark coat, the wind flapping it against her body. "God damn it, Emma." She says when she's close enough, her face fraught with both distress and irritation. "You just had to leave when I was making dinner, didn't you? I had to go all the way back and to turn off the oven. It'll be cold by the time we come back, so congratulations."
Having no idea how to respond, Emma just shivers and pulls her coat closer against her body. "Oh, Emma." Regina sighs, and then begins to take off her own coat.
Emma's throat closes at the irrepressible mom in Regina, struggling, always to get free. Then why…? "No," she says and shifts a little farther away on the bench. "I'm fine."
"Emma." The coat appears at her side, hanging off Regina's curled fingers. "Just wear it."
"Please." Emma might have fought it a little longer, but there is a quiet note of pleading in her voice, and something in Emma gives. Without looking up, she reaches for the coat and slides her arm into it, pushing her cold fingers through and then dragging her other arm through it. Warmer, Emma sighs and pulls it closer, the collar tickling beneath her ear, smelling vaguely of that sharp, business lady perfume Regina always wears.
Regina quietly sinks into the seat next to her. "So." She sighs, and quietly brushes a lock of hair behind her ear. "You're pregnant."
Emma looks away. "Yeah," She stares up at the playground, empty this time; she can't help but wonder where they are now, the children and those worried, huddle of parents, if they are warm in their own homes, the children safe and happy, knowing only the home they've grown up in, built up on permanence.
Regina clears her throat and gently brings Emma's attention to her. "You said…." Her eyebrows furrow, her mouth becoming a straight, worried line. Emma can't see her eyes; they flicker off to some point above her head, black as ocean water, depthless and inscrutable in both her thoughts and desires. "You said you would want me…?"
Her heart shivers, her voice as airy as the cold wind bursting through her clothes. "Well I'm not going to fucking force you into it – I just, when we were in the park together, and you told me about – about the adoption, I don't know, I thought maybe -" she huffs out a breath and drags her fingers through the windblown tangles in her hair, "But if you don't want it, then – "
"No, no." Regina scoots closer, her fingers finding her knee and pressing tightly with the grip of her fingers. "I do want it. I want it very much." Emma blinks and looks back. Regina's face is open, fearfully so, like the bare, blunt face of a cliff, evident of where water had carved away things, where stone had given beneath the weight of time and heavier things. "I thought – I thought maybe you were joking, or playing with me, or something." At Emma's look, she cringes, "I don't know why, I know you would never have joked over something like that, I just –" she breaks off with a sigh, irritably brushing her hair away from her face. "I'm sorry."
"Okay." Emma whispers. Her thoughts are moving too quickly, because, because - "So…you do want the baby?"
"Yes." Regina says in one breath, rushing out of her. "Very much."
"Alright." Emma swallows, and then shifts on the cold wood. Her mind blanks, emptying out all her relief to fill with other small, selfish disappointments. But at least her baby will be safe. At least her baby will have found home. She clears her throat, "I'm not really sure what the whole – the whole process is, or whatever. But I think you have to like, legally adopt him, and stuff."
"Yes." Regina says slowly.
"Alright." Emma looks away from her sharp, focused gaze, watching her closely. "Good." She breathes out, and then quickly, with an awkward, fumbling courage, says, "And maybe, maybe I could come over, every once in a while? Just, just to say hi." Regina's face expands with surprise, her eyebrows lifting and her mouth turning down into a sudden, harsh frown, forcing Emma's words out quicker, breathless and ragged. "Just. I know you probably didn't want an open adoption, or anything but maybe – if you – if you – "
"Emma." Regina's voice feels somehow identical to the hand on her knee, gripping with the force of all the flesh and bones in her long-fingered hand. "Emma, I want you too." The hand on her knee squeezes, and somehow, so does her voice, closing around her. "I want you too."
"Right." It seems too good to be true. Like a joke; Emma barks out a hurting laugh. "No, you don't."
Regina frowns and straightens her spine. "Yes I do."
"No," Emma turns her head away, "You want a baby. You want to be a mother, and I – I want to give that to you. I do." She thinks of foster homes and their doors, closing, and opening and closing again. "But you don't want me."
"Don't tell me what I want." Her voice isn't sharp, but there is a steel warning in it that cuts all of Emma's words from her mouth, falling back into the pit of her stomach.
Regina pulls in a deep breath and lets it out again, scooting closer, touching a hand hesitantly to Emma's cheek. "It's true," she whispers, and gently tucks in a strand of her hair behind her ear. "I didn't expect you, at all. I've always wanted a child, though. Always."
"As a girl, I imagined I'd have one with my husband. And then I thought I'd do it alone, as a single mother." Regina continues to affectionately tuck away her hair, gathering strands to push over Emma's ear. "For the longest time, I thought I'd have nothing at all." As she speaks, Emma can feel the gentle quiver of her fingers, pausing on her cheek to catch a tear, her thumb stroking in a small circle, smoothing the salty sting along the small crinkles along Emma's eyes.
"I never imagined my life taking any of the turns it has taken." Regina continues quietly. "I never thought I'd fall for a young, foolish girl. Who can't cook, or dance, or sing. Who has a terrible taste of music." She makes a quiet, breathless noise, a happy sound, "But here I am, anyway," she leans forward, pressing her mouth gently against her cheek, a kiss that travels to her ear, "And so yes. I do want you."
Emma closes her eyes and imagines for a moment all the quiet, cold houses she's ever lived in, the houses with sunlight pouring in through the windows and mothers turning their heads away, with kitchens filled with other children who are sometimes remembered and sometimes forgotten, with parents who call her darling, or sweetie, not for familiarity but because her name always coasts along the edges, never remembered. She exists in people's memory in a nameless, vague sort of way way, a soft blur of movement: blonde hair and blue jeans, dropping off suitcases and picking them up again, moving through the halls and out of the door again.
"Why?" she croaks.
Regina is suddenly right beside her, the spaces around them closing as Emma's forehead finds the small intimate space between the shoulder and head and a hand draws soothing circles down her back. It's as Regina presses a kiss to the top of her head that she feels it – that feeling, again, the one she had on the car ride, so long ago: the long stretch of road, the steady rumble of the car, the warmth of the sun spreading along her neck and arms, and the feeling that somewhere, beyond the houses and hours and passing street signs is a home.
And as Regina presses a careful finger to her chin, lifting her head, she travels it all at once – the long hours, the long stretch of road, passing quickly through the years of loneliness – all just in the span of a few seconds, crossing the space between her and Regina. At the soft touch of Regina's mouth, she thinks, this is it, this is the place, this is home.