With a last final sigh, Neal's mouth goes slack and he drops the washcloth he's been so carefully chewing for the last few unending hours. He's been teething all this week, and Snow and David are at their wits' end because he is their first baby, if not their first child. Emma took him, just for a evening. Then Regina ran into her and the woefully unhappy namesake of Baelfire while she was on her way home from the office. Emma didn't ask for help, and Regina didn't volunteer, not really, but then they were in the car to Regina's, while she searched her baby books for teething remedies. Wanting to get distract the miserable little guy just a little, led to their drive to nowhere with Neal in the backseat.
Teething rings have both advanced and not changed at all since Henry was teething, and like his nephew, Neal doesn't like rubber. His disgust for the fancy giraffe that Snow thought he'd love, even though they went to the trouble of getting it shipped to the PO box Regina keeps near Storybrooke, is comical, because the internet was entirely convinced that he would adore it. He does like the camomile soaked washcloth that Henry never did, and it's not an ice spell worthy of the Snow Queen to keep it cool while he chews it in his carseat.
Storybrooke only has so many roads, and they've driven most of them in some combination or another before Emma nearly drives through a stop sign in the middle of nowhere and they trade drivers. Emma yawns into her hand and teases Regina that doing paperwork takes so much time than just putting it in the drawer. It's not the workload from the town that has Emma so worn down, but they don't talk about that. They also ignore that the Bug's clutch is far more clunky than Regina's Mercedes, and the brakes are stiffer. There's really no one else out tonight and she adjusts. Emma's been helping with her brother whenever she can. Regina's not sure how she'd define Emma's position, because as an adult, she's almost a third parent in the house, but a baby is a huge responsibility, and an exhausting one.
She hasn't spent much time with Emma lately, and Henry says she's always tired, keeps falling asleep during their movie nights. Wondering if Emma needs to find a place where she can sleep through the night, Regina pulls to the end of the road and slips the Bug into reverse to turn around. She starts to ask Emma if she wants to take the road through the trees or along the cliff, but Emma's head lies against the seat rest. Unlike her brother, her mouth is shut, but her breathing's just as regular. Regina turns down the radio and checks Neal in the mirror. He's also fast asleep. She's always liked the trees, so she takes the winding road through the forest for the second time.
When she starts to get tired, she pulls the Bug into her own driveway and stops. Snow trusts her with the baby for the night after a few stern text messages, and he's easy enough to carry inside still in his carseat. Emma's still fast asleep in the car when Regina returns for her, and she stands in the doorway for a long moment, wondering how to wake her gently. She could just teleport her inside. It would be easier, but it seems rude. Emma should be asked to stay. Reaching for her shoulder, Regina stops, her hand half-buried in Emma's soft blonde hair. She's beautiful like this, vulnerable and small. Regina carried Henry in from her car thousands of times, and little Neal reminds her of that. Was Emma carried in by her foster parents? How many times could she fall asleep in the car and know she was safe?
Crouching down, Regina looks up into Emma's soft eyelashes and the gentle curve of her still lips. "You're safe now," she promises, her voice a whisper that's swallowed up in the darkness and rustling leaves.
After the first night Emma slept over, the guest room became hers. Not in any official sense, but her toothbrush moved in to Regina's spare bathroom, and she borrows Henry's shampoo enough that Regina gets her one of her own. The bed's hers, and when Regina starts to strip the sheets for laundry day, she discovers that Emma's washed them herself. She finds the baby blanket then, tucked in between the pillows. She folds it and leaves it there, more in a place of honor after she makes the bed. She doesn't press, even though she's curious, and it's several nights later that Emma sits down next to her on the sofa, beer in hand, and explains that it made Snow sad to see the blanket in Emma's drawer, but having it on the bed was too-- Emma's not sure what and something in her voice; the way her hands twist the wet paper of her beer label, and she's small again.
Regina promises, almost more gently than she intended, that she'll keep Emma's blanket safe. Emma laughs, but the tension leaves her shoulders. Regina drinks the second beer with her, and they talk, first about nothing, then Henry, then parenting and Emma's parents, who mean so well and often fail so earnestly to be what Emma needs.
"It's not like I need them to be mom and dad. I mean, I can drive, I can ride a bike, I have a job--"
Nodding, Regina runs her thumb over the smooth glass between her hands. Next to her, Emma adds another shred of damp paper to the pile and keeps tearing the label of this beer. Her fingernails work at the paper, stripping it off as if she could strip her discomfort along with it.
"You're your father's superior, that can be difficult."
Emma's hands still. "Yours was your butler, wasn't he?"
That's not quite the right word, but Regina nods. Setting her immaculate beer bottle beside the shreds of Emma's fidgeting, Regina stands, lifting Henry's old story book from the shelf. It has a place of honor, because their struggles now are no longer written in this book with excessive literary flourish, but recorded by Henry, in a book of his own. Regina pages through and stops on a picture of her father. He stands behind her like a shadow, and that's how she remembers her, always with her, serving her increasingly violent whims as if that could make up for the suffering he was unable to save her from.
"He smiled more than he does in this book," she says, meeting Emma's warm green eyes. "At least, at first, when he was the head of my household. He liked trying to find things that made me happy, little diversions and special festivals that the villages were throwing. He tried to take me away from the King when he could, and then even that was harder to do, and he didn't smile much anymore. I remember him smiling when I was small, and how much he laughed and cheered when I was learning to ride."
"Sometimes parents can't save their children from pain," Emma says. Looking at her, Regina nods, but Emma's eyes must to see through her and read the love and hatred she carries for her father. Emma touches her arm, perhaps emboldened by the beer. "I'm sure he wanted to help you."
Regina's smile fades so quickly after its birth that it's an ephemeral thing. Emma's is much stronger, and her face glows, as if she can coax Regina's back out. "He did," she says. Trading the book for her beer, she keeps her eyes on Emma's because when she looks at her, hope warms her belly. "He loved me."
"But that's not all parenting is." Emma's statement hangs in the air like mist.
"It's the bare minimum," Regina agrees. Reaching Emma's hand, she wraps her own around it. "And it's a good start."
Breaking her lips free from Emma's, Regina fights to see her eyes. Emma's flesh presses against her, her fingers slip deep within her, but it's her eyes that are the most intoxicating. They never intended, and then they weren't, and then they did, and kissing her is home and safe and as promising as a sunrise in the depths of winter. Her body races, heart aching, chest straining, and she holds Emma's face to hers, watching her as they orgasm in echoes, one after the other.
Emma kisses her again, shutting her eyes. Regina listens to her breathing, tugs her closer and they catch their breath. This unintended intimacy recurs like an old habit, as if they meant to be only casual users of a drug that has drawn them both in. They haven't admitted their addiction, and sometimes they spend the night in the guest bedroom instead of Regina's because that makes a difference.
She traces Emma's face in the dark. Her fingers slip over the sweat on her skin and Emma's smile makes her want to kiss her because touching her lips with her fingers isn't enough. Never is. They stare over this cliff together, as if taunting the sea below to swallow them. Love is a more frightening affirmation of death than sex, and they're treading water up to their necks in both. The darkness spirals around them, forcing them ever closer because together they can fight it back. Together, they let it pass through them, because darkness is like the quiet between heartbeats, the pause before the light.
Emma makes light within her, sending a spark through her body that makes her next orgasm something richer than the physical sensation. They toy with magic, sharing it like life force. drinking and feeding from each other. Desire fades into satiation, contentment, and life, because what is sex but that affirmation? The final fight against death, against stillness and a lack of being.
Only later, when they're spent and so wrapped in each other's magic that their fingertips are tingling, do they wonder why they need this part of it as well. The sex is incredible, and magic's not to be trifled with, but Emma's magic draws her in, captivates her in a way that she doesn't understand. It's as if that part of them needs to touch, and this is how they do it. This is their understanding, their meditation.
Their act of creation.
Emma's eyes shine and she wants to look away because she can't look at her, can't see her disappointment, her surprise, her--
Tears well, then run from Emma's eyes. She grabs Regina's hand and kisses it. "Okay."
"I don't know if it will work."
"We moved a moon," Emma says. "Surely we can move an egg, or ping it, or whatever we have to do."
"Using magic to try to have a baby is not 'pinging'."
"Boop," Emma teases, resting her hand on Regina's stomach. Her magic reaches through Regina, welling inside of her in a mirror of Emma's tears. Flooding over the banks of what should be happiness, they tempt fate, and the twisted gods of this story. Perhaps this is what their magic seeks, an outlet, a need more powerful than either of them. Procreation is messy and sacred, and together, they want--
Emma kisses her, teasing with the tip of her tongue. "You'll be so cute pregnant."
"You did not agree to have a baby because I'll look cute pregnant."
Shrugging, Emma examines Regina's belly beneath her fingers. "It's a side benefit."
Considering how much Emma despised and feared her own pregnancy, her enthusiasm is a gift. Regina never imagined trying to get pregnant because she spent most of a decade hoping it would never happen to her. Working through that fear and hatred, she holds Emma tight, burying her face in her shoulder. "Whatever your reasons, thank you."
"Don't thank me," Emma mutters into her hair. "Your ankles are going to hurt, and you won't be able to wear your entire wardrobe, especially the shoes."
"But I'll have you," Regina insists. It's almost possessive, this desire to hold part of Emma within her.
Tugging her down to the sofa, Emma sits down and holds her close. "Some people would not consider that a fair trade."
Staring at Emma's hands, Regina surrenders to being held, being hers, and, to hope. "I chose you."
"And you chose this," Emma teases. Her chin rests on Regina's head, and they're safe here, just like this. "Remember that when you hate me for doing this to you."
"Emma, I--" She stops, because there aren't words for this. She can't explain. Everything she can think of: trapped fish and nudging strangeness and some kind of strange little parasite are all terrible things to call their daughter, but she moves within Regina, because she's a separate life. A new one.
"You okay?" Emma stops, and she's there, right in front of Regina's eyes. The snow falls soft around them, scattering the golden light of the street lights. She can't grab Emma's hand and let her feel through her thick coat, and maybe there's nothing to feel outside of herself, but she takes Emma's hand anyway. "Should we go back?"
"No," she replies. No, they can't go back. Henry's at home, studying for his finals, and Granny's is full of people. This snow-covered sidewalk is theirs alone, and she wants to stay here, with Emma, only Emma and the little fish. "What was it like when Henry moved?"
"Uncomfortable," Emma recalls, brushing snow from Regina's hat. "Kid kicked like a mule. I've now been kicked by one of those too, and I think he was worse. You see, the mule's outside of your ribs, not under them--"
"I'm here," Emma promises. She wraps her arms around Regina's back, closing them into a circle of arms and thick coats. "It was kind of weird, and wonderful and awful because he was real, and he could move on his own, and I was his fishbowl. I couldn't decide if he was crashing into the walls, trying to get away from me or if he was just saying hello."
Forgetting for a moment that their daughter floats inside of her like one of the myriad snowflakes, Regina kisses Emma's cool cheek. "He knew you loved him."
"I don't know if I did," Emma says, then shrugs. "I let him go."
"Because you loved him," Regina repeats, and as if she agrees, their own little fish nudges her again, demanding that she pay attention. Her little gasp becomes a smile, and Emma's concern fades.
"Is she doing it?" Emma peers at her belly, as if she could see it through the thick wool. "Right now?"
"I guess," Regina pauses, needing to steady herself. She lifts Emma's chin and meets her eyes. "She's saying hello."