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It's Always Worked This Way

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The first time Emma kissed Regina it was for the pure pleasure of walking away. The mayor's mouth was far warmer, far softer than Emma had expected, and the implications of violence the kiss initially contained vanished like smoke on the breeze. Emma pulled away. She walked out of Regina's office without looking back, her bootheels clacking arrogantly on the front hall floor. When she stepped outside the air was cold on her lips. She wiped at them, once, with her gloved hand, and zipped her jacket all the way up.

In third grade Julia Giamatti had taught Emma how to walk away. Emma sat against the wall while the remaining kids fought out the end of the day's dodgeball match. Julia sat with a thump next to her, rubbing the red mark on her cheek where the ball had struck. Emma's eyes narrowed. She felt her mouth go tight. She scanned the players, looking for Wilson and his over-enthusiastic side-arm.

"Don't bother," Julia said.

"He needs a lesson," Emma muttered.

"You're switching schools. You won't be here to give it." Julia stood up and walked to the other end of the line of kids. When she sat back down, Emma could see the bruise forming on her former best friend's face.

***

The first time Regina kissed Emma it was a test, an information-gathering mission. Regina broke the kiss and hiked her skirt up with both hands, then pushed Emma back against the sheriff's desk. Emma sat awkwardly as Regina put one knee up, knocking papers aside, then the other, pushing Emma back while straddling her thighs.

"Regina-" Emma started to say. Then she didn't say anything.

You pushed an opponent, you knocked them around, you kept them off-balance. Everything they said or did was a weapon to be used against them later. Regina leaned forward, brushing her lips across Emma's half-open mouth. The sheriff smelled of lemon and soap, of woodsmoke and leather. She tasted of coffee. Regina made a note of it all -- coffee from the diner, smoke from the burning leaves two blocks over, warm leather jacket, Mary Margaret's shampoo. Who was Emma now? What did she want? How could she be broken?

Regina thought of Emma in the shower. She felt something so sharp and unidentifiable that she pressed her mouth against Emma's. She used her teeth. So did Emma. Regina might have made a noise. If so, she didn't notice.

***

 

There wasn't anybody in town to scratch this particular itch, and by now Emma knew it. No drifters, no transient musicians, no guys in for the weekend on business. Everyone who was here was here, and they weren't going to leave.

Emma had never been all that discreet about her sexual relations. There was no need for it when one's partner was gone before daybreak. Emma couldn't imagine trying to have sex with anyone here in Storybrook. Or, rather, she could imagine it. Ugh. The flirtation, sure, that would be fine. And the sex would probably be good enough for her purposes. Emma had learned over the years how to make sure she got what she needed from people, whether or not they knew what to give her. But afterwards? Running into him at the diner? Avoiding him in the office? Would it be a secret affair, full of pretending to look away? Or would it be a, a relationship, one where Ruby would put down two mugs of coffee without asking?

The best feeling in every relationship, Emma knew, was stepping out onto the stoop in the city-quiet of four a.m., dressed and mussed and slightly sweaty and completely free. Bootheels on pavement as the paper-delivery trucks rumble by.

***

The hunstman had known what to do. Regina had taken pleasure in that and ignored the urge to compare him to Daniel. He was a hunter, with the patience to stalk a fox, to track a lost child, or to work with lips and tongue until Regina had taken what she needed.

She preferred him when he looked wary, and was cruel to him when he was kind.

***

When Scout Rutledge told Mark Stanton in sixth grade that everyone remembered their dreams, Mark called him a liar. Scout then called Mark a liar, and Mark called him one again, and Scout said Mark was a murgatroid subfreak, and Emma crossed the room in four steps and punched Scout in the stomach so hard he puked on the science room's plant display.

Emma got a five-day in-school suspension. That part was okay. She could do the time; Mark couldn't. His parents would kill him if he'd been fighting in school. The part that wasn't okay was that all the adults agreed with Scout.

Everyone remembered their dreams, sometimes. Except Emma.

***

The hardest part wasn't remembering the lies. It was remembering all the different truths. Regina knew that Mary Margaret cared deeply for Henry. And she knew that Snow had betrayed Daniel to Cora. She knew that Emma was the blameless victim of a war between Regina and Snow. She also knew that Emma would destroy her family. Storybrook held everything Regina needed to keep herself and her son safe. It also held every danger and curse.

Like all curses this one took root where Regina could least afford it. In Henry. When she came home to find Emma sitting with their shared son, Regina paused for a moment in the doorway. Her fingers felt cold, her heart pounded, and for a moment she couldn't hear their greetings over the roaring in her ears. It was a roar that sounded strangely like Cora's laughter.

After she threw Emma out, Regina told herself that she was angry at Emma's presumption. She dreamed that night of her mother, and woke in tears.

***

Emma had forgotten why she'd stormed into Regina's office this time. One more damn thing in a string of damn things that all seemed to come back to this woman. This poised, coiffed, perfectly in-control woman. Regina always dressed like a guidance counselor, a case worker, a probation officer. Cleaner, neater, calmer, and determined to rub it in.

Emma knew how she herself looked, knew how she operated. Rough and tangled at the edges, things falling through or away but never the important things. Fighting with Regina was like fighting a pane of glass. There was no purchase there, nothing to grab and pull.

The second time Emma kissed Regina it was merely to have something to hold on to.

Emma's hands found the belt of Regina's skirt and tugged. The belt stayed tight but the shirt came free and Emma pulled at it greedily. Here, this was an edge she could get her hands under. She slid her fingers over Regina's stomach, her sides, her back, and was not aware that the whimpering noise was her own.

Emma noticed that Regina had both of her hands tangled in Emma's hair. She noticed, but didn't care. The mayor was kissing her so hard there wasn't room to breathe. At one point Emma thought she heard Regina mutter something which might have been "got you," but she was afterward never certain.

After a few moments -- minutes, probably -- Emma pushed free of Regina. There was no pleasure in walking away. Her bootheels clomped dully on the hallway floor.

***

Regina planned the seduction. She had to know, had to understand what it was Emma wanted. What made the other woman tick. Once you knew desire you knew weakness. Cora had taught Regina that.

She showed up at Mary Margaret's apartment with a reuseable bag of fresh groceries hung over one arm. Emma invited her in with the now-typical expression of wariness, frustration, and anger that framed all their encounters. Regina wondered if the frustration was entirely due to their adversarial relationship or if there was something more.

Regina cooked in Mary Margaret and Emma's kitchen. She remembered the royal kitchens of the palace and was briefly grateful to the dark magics for bringing her to a world with gas oven ranges and running hot water. She loved to cook. It was a skill of hand and heart that no-one could take from her or say she had not earned. A person -- well, a Rumplestiltskin -- might say that her magic hadn't been truly earned. (Though, thinking of Daniel's lifeless body, she would dispute that. Vigorously.) But the skills of knife and flame were all hers.

"Huh."

Regina looked up at Emma's noise of surprise. "Yes, Sheriff?"

Emma's eyes narrowed. "I can tell when people are lying, you know." She sat easily in her chair, the calm relaxation of a person who lived in a state of wary guard. Regina recognized it.

"Mm, yes. You've mentioned." Now it was time to mince the pancetta. Regina laid the strips of cured meat on the barely-used cutting board she'd found under the sink. "I've found I don't need to lie to people."

"You're not lying now." Emma drank a swallow of wine, watching Regina intently.

Regina glanced up, brushing the slivers of meat into the waiting bowl. "I wasn't aware we were saying anything to lie about."

Emma shrugged. "The cooking. You're not lying. You brought all of this over in order to cook me dinner, because you wanted to."

"Of course." Regina kept her eyes on the gas burner, making sure it was just right. "Why would I lie about that?"

Emma stood. "Why do you want to cook dinner for me?" Regina noticed the way her bootheels clacked on the floor, strong and certain. Emma was certain, oh, yes. About all sorts of wrong things. Regina glanced out of the corner of her eye at the other woman. Her hands looked strong. She flushed, stirring the pancetta into the onions. Emma's hands had felt strong. They had felt strong and capable and full of urgent heat against her skin. Why? Why had Emma done that? What did she want? "I thought you were coming over to trick me. Henry told me, in fact, to not eat anything you made. And he offered to hide in the old coal chute and make sure you didn't enchant me."

Regina's semi-erotic thoughts vanished, replaced by the cold certainty of reality. Everyone was out for themselves. She simply had to find out what they wanted and use it to protect herself. And right now Emma wanted Henry. There had to be a way to use that. "You encourage his fantasies. It's not good for him."

The noise of Emma's palm slapping the counter was loud in the apartment. "Dammit!" She glared at Regina. "I'm not encouraging him!" Her gaze flickered away for a moment. "At least, not where there's no proof," she amended.

"Leave town," Regina said. She added the eggs and tomatoes and lowered the heat. "Leave him with the people who know him and know what's best for him." Leave him with me, she did not say aloud.

"I know him."

"Not like I do."

Emma leaned in, studying. "You believe that," she said. "But you're wrong. The best way to keep him safe isn't to hold him in a prison. It's for you to let him go. Walk away and let him live."

"I find it amusing that you are urging me to walk away from someone I love, " Regina replied. "I'll presume it's because you don't know any better. But I do not abandon the things that matter in life. Or the people. I watch over them." She tilted her head, a slow smile forming. "I wonder why you aren't walking away, yourself. Since you think so highly of it."

"I don't know, Regina," Emma replied. "Maybe I'm a grown woman and I can choose to re-think my strategies." Her gaze flickered for a moment, dropped, then returned. "What about you? Who else have you watched over?"

Regina felt it again, the roaring in her ears. Daniel. Father. Daniel. She spun back to the stove and quickly rescued the omelet from the heat. At absolutely no point, no point whatsoever, did Regina allow herself to contemplate the girl she used to be. By the time the food was served her hands were no longer shaking. Emma had, thank goodness, poured them both more wine.

"This is delicious," Emma said awkwardly into the silence. "And I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say or do any-- "

"-- You didn't," Regina interrupted. "You didn't do anything."

The pause grew between them, filled the air over the table. Regina looked up and smiled calmly, thinly. Emma met her gaze with an expression that Regina could not take apart. Was that pity? No. Sympathy? It couldn't be sympathy. And Emma's eyes were very clear, her expression direct even though Regina couldn't read it.

"Anything?" Emma asked diffidently. "I didn't do anything?" She spun her wine glass slowly, a quarter turn one way and then back, in her fingers. "There are things I might mean to do. That -- " She paused and took a swallow of wine that was more nearly a gulp. Regina watched her throat work. " -- that maybe don't involve leaving so fast this time."

Regina felt her breath catch. Her ears flushed, and she didn't bother trying to tell herself it was from the wine. She smiled, looking down at her glass. "This time?"

"Yeah. You know, maybe I can stay." Emma had abandoned any pretense of eating dinner.

So had Regina. "It's your apartment, Sheriff." She couldn't look away. Regina found that she almost didn't care what it was Emma was after, in this moment. Maybe it -- whatever "it" was -- was all a scheme to wrest Henry away. But Regina didn't think so. It didn't seem plausible that Emma was that devious. Maybe Emma really did simply want to do whatever it was she was proposing. Maybe this wasn't a clever plan to crack Regina's defenses. Maybe --

Regina didn't get up when Emma walked around the table and leaned over her chair. She didn't protest when Emma pushed her chair back. And the thought that filled her mind when Emma kissed her was "maybe this can be mine."