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The You’re Henry’s birth mother?  appeared on her side when she was sixteen, but the full complexity of the situation doesn't hit her until she is weakly saying, “Hi,” back to her son’s mother.

Only, there is no flash of recognition, no sudden startle-and-doubletake people usually do when they meet their soulmate.

Emma is sure nobody else will say those words to her. Not like this. And the way her heart tugs every time she sees Regina definitely isn't a mistake.

The markings never make a mistake.

And yet, Emma says nothing.

 

*

 

When she undresses for bed, she traces the words burned into her side. It's probably just her imagination, but they look redder.

If her son wasn't enough to make her stay, this definitely is.

 

 

*

 

"Ms Swan, we need to talk." The woman sweeps in like a tidal wave, ignoring Emma's startled look and lack of presentable clothes. Emma can only close her gaping mouth and follow her into her own room. "You have to leave Storybrooke."

She comes bearing apples, which is really not helping with the Evil Queen image. She glances at her unmade bed that Emma clearly just stumbled out of, and then at the lone chair which has her jacket and jeans thrown haphazardly, and chooses to remain standing.

Emma leans awkwardly against the wardrobe, runs a hand through her hair. "I just want to get to know—"

"Your nothing. He is my son."

Emma is grateful she's interrupted; she isn't really sure how she would have finished that sentence.

 

*

 

The kid argues that she's supposed to be the Savior, that she is to find everyone's happy endings.

"The Evil Queen has taken them all, so only she can have hers."

Emma asks if that means he is Regina's happy ending. He sits quietly for the first time since she's met him, and he is still thinking when she walks him home.

 

*

 

When the apple-basket-and-threats combo fails, (though Regina can't really have thought it would work) she tries to get Emma arrested again. Then there's the chainsaw incident, when she doesn't try to arrest her, and— Emma is sure this is deliberate, that she's being targeted because of her handwriting somewhere, on Regina. It has to be.

(She cannot actually hate Emma. That cannot be it.)

She dithers for a week but finally asks Henry about his mother's mark, and he tells her how it says Regina in an untidy scrawl around her ankle, and, "Why do you care so much, anyway?"

Well.

She's definitely glad she didn't lead with the reason why she cares so much.

Maybe she should leave. Kid deserves permanence and she is in no position to promise that.

 

*

 

Then he decides to jump inside a fucking mine, because it's Regina's determination added to Emma's sheer boneheadedness, and really, they should have seen this coming.

So they find a reason to work together.

And work together they do. Soon after the mine, there's Emma's desk, and against Regina's office door and later, in the Mercedes. The windows fog up and her leg cramps like a bitch that one time, but all in all it's the best working together in a while. And if Emma's breath catches when she watches Regina's face as she lets go, or if her heart jumps every time she sees her, or if it plummets when they don't kiss (they never kiss) it's her business, and nobody else's.

Another reason she has to be grateful for the hurried fumbles is that there is no reason for Regina to spot the loopy cursive against her side. If her shirt never entirely comes off, it's not suspicious at all.

 

*

 

Of course Emma Swan's only chance of a family would be like this. The first ever unrequited soulmate in history.

The woman tries to set up her best friend for murder, and she supports the other candidate when Emma runs for Sheriff. In return, Emma carries her out of a burning building. She watches as Henry prints posters and Regina tears them off. She keeps one in Henry's storybook, for- for posterity, she supposes. Or for laughing at it later.

(Maybe they'll have a later.)

The bedroom window is always unlatched, though. Because that's where they've relocated— "My bedroom is more convenient", see?

And when she misses a night, Regina drags her in by her arm the next night and leaves a bruising kiss on her thigh that is a stark deep pink against her skin by the time they're done. She still pretends to be asleep when Emma sneaks out, but if this were about anybody but Emma Swan, she would call herself hopeful.

 

*

 

And then the curse breaks.