„Henry?“ Emma called while entering the huge foyer of the Mills' mansion. Her voice was shaking slightly, not only because Henry had been urgent on the phone, but also because the front door was wide open, which was more than unusual for the neat woman who occupied the building together with her son. No, their son. The blonde gently shook her head and smiled, thinking about how far Regina and she had come. From fighting over Henry to actually being friends; really good friends even. Her thoughts trailed off to several fights, discussions, compromises, family dinners, and lunch-at-work-appointments over the past years.
Their relationship had developed so naturally since they had first met, it was only a matter of time until Emma realized it wasn't because of Henry or her mother or anybody else that Regina and her got along this well. It was because of them. She felt the bond between them, the connection. The more she knew about Regina, the more she realized how alike the two of them were. She knew Regina thought the same way. She even had told her once. Sure, she had been lying on the couch at her office, being too drunk to even sit up, but Emma held onto the slurred words Regina had said that night like they were a lifebelt.
„Y'know, Emma. I've been thinking. And you know what? We've come a long way, don't ya think? We've come a long way and maybe some day this will be the only thing I'll ever be proud of. But you know what? I wouldn't care. Because this is good. We are good.“
This hadn't sounded like the Regina she knew at all, but Emma knew she had been honest. She could tell by the tone of her voice, even if the words came out more incomprehensible than usual. After that, Regina had started drunkenly rambling about being proud of raising Henry, too, and several other things like her closet and the town. But those were the words that stood out to Emma. Even just thinking about them made Emma's stomach go wild. She thought about how Regina had looked at her that night with so much honesty and infatuation in her eyes, and she felt her cheeks burning.
Get yourself together, Swan, she thought, you're not in lo- She didn't even let herself finish that thought.
Emma then remembered why she was in Regina's mansion in the first place. Henry had called her several minutes ago, asking for help with an operation. What kind of operation it was, he didn't want to tell her on the phone. But Emma could tell – superpowers or not – it was something that was important to him, therefore it was important for her, too. The fact that Regina would be included in that operation just reinforced this. Henry had told her to be at 108 Mifflin Street as soon as possible, so Emma went straightaway to her yellow bug after they ended the phone call. But now there was no sign of Henry even being in the house at all. No shoes on the floor next to the front door, no coat at the coat rack, no scarf either, not even keys on the shelf. Just the wide open door. Emma walked the few steps into the kitchen. She turned around into every direction. Still, no sign of Henry.
„Emma?“ she suddenly heard from her left. The voice sounded surprised and slightly confused – but warm and somehow excited. She'd recognize that voice anywhere, she was sure of that.
„Regina! Oh, I'm so glad to see you here,“ Emma sighed and turned towards the other woman, who had her arms crossed in front of her chest.
„This is still my house, dear, where else would you expect to meet me?“ Regina said, raising one of her eyebrows and lifting her right hand to a vague gesture. Emma slightly rolled her eyes, to which Regina just smiled. But then she took a small step towards the blonde and asked in a worried voice: “What are you doing here? Is there something wrong, Emma?“
„Nah, nothing. It's just... Henry. He called me to see him for an operation,“ Emma answered quickly, and tried to relax her posture in order to calm down herself and the woman in front of her, who had immediately winced at the mention of Henry in connection with possible danger. “The front door was open, so I figure he's gotta be around here somewhere, right?“
„Yes, I mean, I think so. He mentioned something about the backyard, if I remember correctly. So there's no need to worry,“ Regina answered, still kind of puzzled. Then she laughed. “Did he tell you what kind of operation he was chasing after this time?“
„Nah, the kid was as secretive as always. I was hoping you had a clue, since apparently he's going to include you as well,“ Emma laughed right back and tried to ignore the stirring in her stomach at the sound of Regina's laugh.
„Oh, he is?“ the brunette sounded genuinely surprised.
„Yeah, that's the only piece of information I could get out of him.“ Emma gave her a big smile and gestured towards the backyard with her thumb. „Shall we simply check in on him?“
Regina was definitely surprised to find Emma Swan in her kitchen but to her, it was a rather pleasant surprise. She had expected to see Emma at the earliest on Saturday, at Granny's for their monthly family dinner together with the Charmings, and Henry of course. But she was happy to find out she'd spend more time than expected with the blonde. She liked spending time with Emma, especially since they'd grown this close. It felt so easy in a way she never knew was possible: Around Emma, she felt warm and safe and just comfortable. They could talk seriously in one minute and burst out laughing like children in the next one. Emma was able to push Regina out of her comfort zone – in the best way possible. For Regina, there was close to nothing inappropiate to say.
Well, except for my true feelings for this woman of course, Regina thought sarcastically but stopped herself right there. She was surprised by that thought that almost felt like a reflex, leaving a stirring in her stomach and a soft pink shade on her cheeks. Regina knew for quite some time now that she had fallen for the saviour, but actually admitting to it? Never. She timidly cleared her throat and tried to avoid Emma's look while walking through the dining room.
Quietly looking for a distraction, Regina opened the balcony door to her huge backyard. She was suspicious of their son's operation. He hadn't mentioned anything of that sort in the last few days, so Regina had no clue as to what waited for the two women in the backyard of the mansion.
It took a load off her mind when they entered the backyard to see their son safe and sound, busily sorting out what seemed to be old photographs. Regina couldn't make out what they showed from the distance, though.
„Moms!“ Henry shouted while looking up from his pictures. “Finally, you're here. I've been waiting for an eternity.“ He smiled at his two mothers, trying to look as busy as possible as he rearranged the photographs for a seventh time. His gaze roamed quickly over the two woman now standing in front of him, their hands almost touching without either of them noticing. Henry looked down at the pictures and bit back a grin. This is totally gonna work, he thought.
„Hey, kid. What's up with all these photographs and the sneakiness?“, Emma said, and ruffled Henry's hair. He scrunched his face exactly the same way Regina always did, which made Emma laugh out loud. She exchanged a look with the brunette, who started laughing, too.
„Hey!“ Henry exclaimed, but he couldn't help but chime in. „Well! Are you ready to be let in on Operation Duckling?“
„Operation Duckling?“ Regina asked surprised.
„Yes. It's perfect. No one's gonna suspect a thing, believe me.“ He grinned at them. Not even you two, he added in his thoughts.
„Suspect what exactly? What are we even supposed to do?“ Emma asked, and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
„Information will follow immediately, but first: Are you ready to bind yourselves to this operation for the rest of the day and if necessary even longer?“ Henry asked in an over-serious tone. He gave his mothers a look as if they were about to storm a castle to win back their kingdom.
The two women exchanged a smile and nodded their heads yes. Regina was now eager to find out what this Operation Duckling was about, and she thought it was a fun alternative to her boring paperwork at the mayor's office to be around Henry and Emma and play detective or whatever else Henry had in mind for them.
The boy in front of them cheered. „Yes! Now I may introduce you to Operation Duckling. As you can see, I already started collecting photographs of me as a kid. These are all I could find for now, but I know there are a lot more in the attic – as well as our camera equipment.“
He stopped and eagerly waited for his mothers' reaction. Regina nodded and smiled at his direction. Emma smiled, too, though her head was levelled at the table between the trio. One of the photographs appeared to have aroused her attention. Regina's cheeks blushed as she followed Emma's look toward a small picture of Regina and Henry. It was one of the few pictures of the two of them together. Regina remembered the moment very well. Archie was the photographer, he had been visiting to check in on her. She still remembered his excitement about seeing her and the little boy bond. In the picture, Henry was playing with building bricks, though he probably had no idea what exactly he was supposed to do with them. Regina was sitting in front of him, hugging her knees and smiling at Henry as if she had finally found what she'd been looking for her whole life.
„When was that?“ Emma said softly, ripping Regina out of her memories.
„I remember that day so well. But I have no idea when exactly it was. I figure Henry was about a year at that time?“ the brunette answered and smiled, still touched by the memory.
„It's beautiful,“ Emma whispered while she looked directly into Regina's chocolate eyes.
Henry didn't dare to break the moment, but when he realized neither of the two womenn was going to speak up again, he raised his voice: “So. I bet you're asking yourself what I'd want to do with all of these pictures. I'm gonna re-enact them! And you need to help me. I'm gonna go into my room, looking for some similiar clothing. And you two are going to go into the attic and find some more pictures and the camera equipment.“
„This actually sounds like a really good plan. Though I'm not sure about how many photographs we're going to be able to find. But we'll do our best, I promise. We better get started then, it's already half past six. Any contradictions until now, Miss Swan?“ Regina asked and felt her stomach stirring at the thought of being alone in the attic with Emma.
Emma was obviously taken by surprise by this quick plan, but she couldn't disagree. It was a good plan. Especially because it involves spending time with Regina, she thought. „Let's go, then,“ she said, and smiled.
After climbing what felt like a hundred stairs, Regina and Emma finally reached the door to the attic. The two of them shifted around awkwardly, both suddenly very aware of the distance between them and Henry. They weren't sure if he was out of earshot, though. Emma took a quick look around. This part of the mansion was obviously less visited, and less cleaned than the rest of the building, as she noticed by several cobwebs spreading across the ceiling. Regina, who registered the blonde looking up, tried thinking of an excuse, but the small space in front of the door in combination with Emma's sheer presence made it hard for her.
„We don't often use the attic. It's more of a storage room,“ she mumbled as a distraction and fiddled with the key and the lock. “You better lower your expectations, dear. You won't find any gold or treasures of any kind – well, unless you count my collection of baby clothes of Henry.“
Emma blushed slightly, embarrassed to be caught staring. She cleared her throat and said: “Sorry, I didn't mean to stare. It's just, um, interesting to see new parts of the mansion that don't look like they're out of a furniture catalogue.“
Regina shot her a playfully withering glance, pushed open the door and said: “I'll take that as a compliment, so thank you.“ She then made an inviting gesture for Emma to enter the dark room. Emma stepped forward, unsure of what to expect. She quickly poked her head through the door and looked to her right and left. She couldn't make out anything dangerous or unusual, mostly because the darkness had swallowed the room completely and it was impossible to see anything at all, so she entered the room. Regina followed right after her and their hands brushed lightly against each other as she circled Emma to get to the light switch on the right side of the room.
The lights flickered a few times before they fully went on. The room was smaller than Emma had expected; it was barely half the size of the kitchen-parlour-bedroom-combination at her parent's apartment. There wasn't a lot of room to fit furniture, but Regina had managed to use the space as well as possible. Emma spotted a couch, some shelves and wardrobes, a bedside table, several cartons, and a set of chairs at the opposite corner. Every piece of furniture except for the shelves were covered with blankets or tablecloths. The shelves had neatly sorted cartons and boxes on them, all labelled with their content in Regina's beautiful, curved handwriting. Emma read 'Christmas decorations', 'Whiteware', 'Documents I', 'Documents II', 'Photo albums', 'Henry's drawings', 'Documents III' and various others.
She gave Regina a smile and pointed to the labelled boxes: “How about we start over there?“
Regina crossed the room towards the shelf in question. She kneeled in front of it and pulled out the 'Photo albums' box. „I totally forgot I labelled these!“ she exclaimed surprised, and turned around to face Emma.
Emma grinned at her. She said casually: „Well, that definitely saved us some work. We could use the time to look at the pictures instead. I'm sure Henry wouldn't mind a tiny peek.“
Regina smiled back at her widely and answered: “I'm sure he wouldn't mind. Don't forget about the camera equipment, though. I'm not exactly keen on climbing this mountain of stairs for a second time.“
„You mean to say it hasn't always been your dream to go on a fateful journey, to a far-off place, together with me as your companion to save our son's happiness?“ Emma said in ironic shock and raised her eyebrows, perfectly mimicking the way Henry had talked earlier, which made Regina laugh out loud. Emma joined in on her laughter and she could feel her heart make several jumps.
„Would you mind putting these on the table? You can sit down on the couch, too. Just fold back the tablecloth,“ Regina said, and stretched out her arm to hand over the box of pictures to Emma. The blonde took the box and did as she was told. She put the box on the corner of the table in front of the couch and sat down after she removed the tablecloth from three quarters of the couch. She shifted around awkwardly and tried to make herself comfortable.
As Regina continued the search for the camera equipment, Emma told her: “You know, I could help you if you told me where to look. I feel kinda useless.“
Regina looked up from behind the chairs and pulled a strand of hair that had fallen into her face behind her ear. „You're not useless! It's just really not necessary, dear, but thank you,“ she said,“But if you want to, you could check if I labelled the box with the photographs correctly.“ She disappeared behind the chairs and several cartons again.
„Well, um, sure, if you don't have any problems with that,“ Emma stuttered and carefully opened the lid of the box. She didn't want to invade Regina's privacy in any way. In general, she didn't like looking into boxes that weren't meant for her eyes or seeing things she shouldn't. Who knows what kind of pictures could be inside this box. Emma felt herself blush from the sudden train of pictures inside her mind and shook her head softly. Pull yourself together, just for another hour or so, she told herself. She glanced inside the box and spotted a picture of Henry in his castle, the playground they'd been to together a few times.
In the picture, he was about 5 years old. His clothes were covered in mud, his hair was ruffled up by the wind and he was smiling with a big, goofy grin right into the camera. Emma let out a giggle.
Regina turned around to Emma, who was staring into the box of photographs. Even in this old attic full of old furniture and dust and probably dozens of cobwebs, Regina thought Emma looked beautiful with the wide smile painted on her face by seeing those old photographs of their son.
„Regina, you need to see this!“ she said, giggling, and held a picture towards her. Then she patted the space next to her on the couch. „Sit down, come on!“
„Alright, fine! But we'd better not forget about the camera equipment,“ Regina said laughing and stood up to walk around the chairs. Suddenly, she stopped. Her look was fixed on the door. Regina was certain she hadn't closed the door after entering the attic. Of course, she said to herself, Emma must have closed it. But why would she do that? Her brain was working, but she couldn't find an answer.
„What is it?“ Emma asked after noticing Regina standing in the middle of the room. She turned around to see what the other woman was staring at. Her gaze fell immediately on the closed door. She knew for a fact that it had been open after they had both entered the room, because she was afraid of falling down the stairs backwards and breaking her neck when she saw Regina kneeling in front of the shelf to get the box of photographs. „Um, stupid question, but did you close the door?“
„No. I thought you did?“ Regina said after finally averting her gaze from the door. She looked right into Emma's eyes and could see the confusion in them that was in her look as well. „Perhaps it was the wind?“ she said, and walked towards the door. She pressed down the handle and tried to open the door. Nothing. She tried again. No chance; the door wouldn't open. Regina turned around to face Emma again. „Apparently,“ she concluded with raised eyebrows, “Someone has locked the door from the outside. We're trapped.“
Emma wasn't sure what to say to this. To be quite honest, she could imagine far worse situations than being locked in a rather small room together with Regina Mills. She shrugged and asked: “Henry?“
„Most likely, yes,“ Regina said and scoffed, “But why would he do this? I mean, he even made us search for these photographs.“
Emma tilted her head to the side and raised one eyebrow. She had a feeling she knew what was up with this whole situation. It made perfect sense. Henry's unexpected call, Henry insisting on Regina and Emma being together in the attic and now, the closed door. She said: „Well, unless...“
„Unless what?“ Regina asked. She crossed her arms in front of her chest. She had an assumption but – no, this couldn't be it. Henry wouldn't have any reason to do such things. Except for – Did he know? Did he know about Regina's true feelings for Emma? But how? No, this couldn't be possible. There has to be a logical answer to this situation that didn't involve Henry finding out about Regina's best hidden secret, or so she thought.
Emma shrugged again. She said: „Unless he just set this whole re-enacting old photographs up as an excuse.“
„What? Why – Uh, why would he do this?“ stammered Regina. She was caught off-guard by the blonde's words. Of course Regina thought of the same thing, but how could Emma possibly get behind this? Panic overcame her. God, does Emma know too?, she thought. She let her gaze wander towards the other side of the room, away from Emma. She didn't want her to see her blushing.
„I, um, I don't know. Maybe he, um, knows – No, wait, I mean, maybe he wanted us to – Um, I don't know,“ Emma stuttered. Suddenly, she had realized what she was implying and cursed herself for not just keeping quiet. Well done, Regina sure won't get suspicious or anything, she thought sarcastically. She thought of something – anything really – to say to lift the awkwardness from the situation. „How about we try to call him to open up the door?“ she mumbles, still reserved.
„I'm not sure if he's able to hear us from here. Or, as a matter of fact, if he's willing to open the door,“ Regina replied, happy for the conversation to take another turn, “But we could try to.“
They both started calling their son's name, but didn't get an answer. They tried calling louder, but it was useless. Either Henry wasn't able to hear them or he didn't want to hear them.
Silence spread between them as they both tried to avoid each other's looks. Then, Regina couldn't take the awkwardness anymore and walked towards the couch. She sat down next to Emma and tried to sound casual as she said: “If we're stuck in here, we might as well take a look at the photographs. This way it wasn't for nothing to even come up here.“
Emma smiled thankfully at Regina for saving the situation. „Yeah, that's a good idea,“ she said, “We need to pass time anyway.“
They took the box of photographs from the table and put it between them. Then, Emma took the picture she was looking at before and showed it to Regina. In the picture, Henry was wearing a funny, red-green Christmas hat, a brown sweater with a red-nosed reindeer, a pair of jeans, and red-green fuzzy socks. He was dancing in front of a huge Christmas tree that was about twice his size. His arms were over his head and he was laughing.
The brunette smiled and said: “That was on Christmas – obviously. Henry was 6. We baked a pie together and then I put on some Christmas music and he started dancing like this.“
„That's so adorable!“ Emma said, and her eyes were shining with happiness. „What about this picture?“ she said, and grabbed the next one off the stack.
Regina took the box that was between them and put it on her right side, so that she could move over to Emma and get a closer look at the picture. Their legs and arms were touching and Regina felt her skin tingling. She threw a quick sideways glance to Emma, whose emerald eyes were gazing at the picture.
In the picture, Henry was very young, still a baby in fact, and he was sitting in his booster seat in the back of Regina's car. He was sound asleep and the moonlight threw shadows of leaves on his face and surroundings.
„That's when I took him for a car ride because he wouldn't stop crying. He was supposed to sleep. It was 3 A.M., I think. I didn't know what to do anymore, and then I remembered reading about driving babies around if they can't sleep,“ Regina answered and laughed, “It's actually quite ridiculous if you think about it, but here's proof. He fell asleep while driving around.“
Emma looked at Regina with admiration. „That's amazing, Regina.“, she said softly.
Regina waved it off. „Everybody else would've gotten him to bed without driving through half of Storybrooke first.“
„But you didn't give up,“ Emma said with a smile.
They went through half of the stack like this: Regina told the story behind the picture, and Emma fell harder and harder for the brunette, which showed in her eyes – and that simultaneously, made Regina fall harder and harder for Emma.
„What about...“ Emma started and looked for their next picture. She took the first one off the stack and held it up for both of them to see. „What about this one?“
This picture showed Henry at Granny's, a huge mug of hot chocolate with cinnamon in front of him. He had a big milk moustache. He was grinning goofily into the camera and sticking his tongue out.
Regina smiled at the memory of this picture. „Oh, that was a great day,“ she sighed.
„Look at the milk moustache!“, Emma giggled and held the picture closer to them. Regina put her hands around Emma's so that she could take a better look. She laughed softly.
Suddenly, there was silence between them. Each of them was more than aware of their fingers touching and slightly intertwining. Regina averted her gaze from the picture to look at Emma's face. Emma felt Regina's look tingling on her, or maybe it was just the blood rushing through her cheeks. She turned to face the brunette and locked eyes with her. They were so close to each other, they could feel the other one's breath on their lips. Neither one said a single word, too afraid to break this fragile moment. Regina felt as if she had gotten lost in the eyes of her opposite. Emma opened her mouth as if to say something, but her head was empty. Whereas her heart, oh, it was almost bursting. She closed her mouth again and was finally able to tear her gaze away from Regina's eyes. She looked at Regina's full lips and – afterwards, no one was really sure if minutes or seconds had passed – back to her eyes.
That was the moment both of them rushed forward; eyes closed as their lips met. They started out soft, lips brushed against lips, but as soon as they had interlaced their fingers, the insecureness fell off of them and made room for a different feeling – passion. All the feelings both of them had suppressed for so long came bursting out.
When their lips parted, Regina opened her eyes to look right into Emma's. She gave her a shy smile which the blonde returned.
„So...“ Emma sighed, still feeling kind of dizzy, but in a good way.
„So...“ Regina repeated playfully. Her heart was still beating so fast and loud, she was afraid Emma might hear it.
„So, it seems Henry's plan has worked out,“ Emma said with a goofy grin.
„Indeed it has,“ Regina replied happily.
What both of them hadn’t noticed was that, as soon as their fingers dropped the photograph of Henry to intertwine, the picture had fallen to the ground, sending forth a wave of light as soon as it touched the floor. The light filled the small attic, centering on the two women, reaching the walls and disappearing through the lock of the door. A barely audible click proved the door had been unlocked.