"A what?" Emma sputters.
She's confused. She didn't expect tonight to become a night of revelations after their family dinner at 108 Mifflin Street, but somehow she's still listening to Regina's stories about the Enchanted Forest and soulmates and Robin Hood, the reason they're drinking in the first place.
"A lion tattoo, yes," Regina responds with a shrug. "Tinker Bell used pixie dust to show me my soulmate. He was there, with a lion tattoo on his wrist, his back turned, but I ran away."
"Wait, his back turned?" Emma puts her drink down on the mahogany coffee table of the study. She contemplates whether or not they're taking this drinking buddies thing too seriously because her head feels heavy and she has a hard time trying to keep up with Regina's story. "You didn't even see his face? How could you know he was your soulmate when you met him again years later?"
"Well, I saw Robin had a tattoo too, very similar to the one I remembered from the Enchanted Forest, and I just knew it was him," Regina replies before taking another sip of her cider.
Emma is too concentrated on the way Regina's lips make contact with the glass, but eventually snaps out of it and registers what she's heard. "So you just went along with it because he had a tattoo?"
"I… I suppose it felt right at that time, and well, Daniel actually told me to love again. In addition to that, your mother told me I should find my happiness and shouldn't let anything hold me back, which just made one thing lead to another…" Regina mutters in her drunk haze before she empties the glass and puts it on the table next to Emma's. "But I suppose it all started with that tattoo. Or Tinker Bell and her pixie dust."
Emma fights the urge to shake her head. Regina hasn't had many chances to make her own decisions, and then she just settles for a man with a certain type of tattoo just because pixie dust told her to. She feels like Regina and Robin both embarked on their relationship just because it was deemed fate. Soulmates and beliefs of the Enchanted Forest.
Honestly, if a certain type of tattoo is what's required to be the center of Regina's affections, she might as well get one herself. Not that she'd like to be that person in the first place. She and Regina Mills? What an absurd idea.
Regina places her hand on Emma's knee and Emma's drunk brain completely short-circuits because Regina's so close and she really just wants breach the distance between them like she may or may not have imagined countless times before, and... maybe it's not so absurd.
"Emma, you're awfully quiet. Is everything alright?"
Emma pulls away when she realizes she's gradually been leaning closer to Regina. Making a move would make her an asshole trying to take advantage of her heartbroken friend after her supposed soulmate has left to New York, and that just won't do; Regina deserves all the good things and Emma will help her find her happy ending no matter what.
"Yeah, sorry. Just thought of something. So tell me more about that happy ending you have envisioned," Emma replies.
They sit there drinking until the early hours of the morning. Eventually, Regina falls asleep on the couch, her dark hair sprawled out on a pillow and her beautiful face peaceful, without worry.
Regina seems to be alright, so Emma decides it's time to leave the mansion. She finishes her drink, which is completely unnecessary because she's had more than enough and will likely have a terrible hangover. As she's making her way out of the mansion, an idea springs into her mind.
Next morning, Emma wakes up in her bed in the loft to her little brother's crying and is reminded that she needs to find a place of her own soon. There's a pounding in her head, and she feels like she's going to be sick, which makes her scared to get up to get some much needed water.
Remembering that she can use magic to get herself a glass or (more appropriately) a bottle of water, she raises her right hand to summon one, but her movement comes to an abrupt halt when she sees her right wrist. It's covered with a bandage, quite similar to the one she had on her left wrist over a decade ago before she went to jail.
She desperately tries to recall the events of last night, but it's all a blur after she left Regina's.
She went to Smee?
She rips off the bandage and is faced with a tattoo of a lion cub staring back at her. It looks a bit like Simba from The Lion King, and she doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, because her life is like a messy Disney fan fiction already without pictures of Disney characters on her wrists.
She still ends up summoning water after her initial shock, and when she makes her way downstairs thirty minutes later, she's wearing a long-sleeved sweater that covers her wrists completely. She doesn't know what to do with the tattoo. Could she try to remove it with magic? Or at least glamour it so that no one else could see it?
On the other hand, if she's completely honest, she's growing fond of Simba. Surprisingly enough, Smee did a good job. It looks nice, and there's absolutely no ulterior motive for her wanting to keep the tattoo, thank you very much.
When the worst of her hangover passes Emma ends up glamouring the tattoo. She visits Granny's and asks Ruby if she can see anything on her wrist. Ruby scrunches her brow and says she can't see a thing.
She still wears long-sleeved shirts when she's around Regina just in case, because it would be incredibly embarrassing if the woman found out about Emma getting a lion tattoo after Regina told her that her long-gone soulmate had one. That just wouldn't do.
Life goes on, and Regina seems to be getting over Robin, and Emma drifts apart from Hook and eventually breaks up with him. She and Regina become better friends as they spend time with Henry and have movie nights featuring wine and cider after he's gone to bed. Life becomes good and easy; Regina smiles at her, they have their son, and everything feels so right.
When spring comes, Emma has grown so accustomed to the fact that no one can see her tattoo that she takes off her jacket and walks to Granny's in her white tank without thinking it twice. She's meeting Regina for one of their lunch dates.
She walks into the diner to see Regina sitting down in their usual booth already. As Regina raises her gaze to meet Emma's, a smile breaks out over her face, and Emma feels like she's going to melt.
She's given up on trying to pretend she hasn't fallen hopelessly in love with Regina. She's also given up on hoping that Regina would ever feel the same way about her. Why would she? They're best friends and co-parents, and that's more than Emma could ever ask for, so she once again hides all the romantic feelings she's harboring for the other woman as she sits down across from her.
"Hi. Did you order already?" she asks as she picks up one of the two menus that Ruby has undoubtedly brought to the table before she arrived.
Regina stays quiet, so Emma looks up from the menu to her friend's face. Regina looks suspicious, her brow scrunching in confusion and her head cocking to the side.
"Emma, why is there a glamour on your wrist?" Regina finally asks.
"Wha- oh," Emma realizes that her wrist is on the table now, visible to Regina, who can apparently see the glamour that has been there for months. "Never mind that, honestly…" Emma feels her face getting flushed.
"Emma, are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?" Regina asks, voice full of concern as she brings her fingers to Emma's wrist.
Before Emma can register what's happening and pull her hand away, she can feel the glamour fade under Regina's touch.
"You were hiding a… tattoo?" Regina murmurs as she traces the outlines of Simba until Emma pulls her hand away and hides it under the table because this whole situation is just too much. All this hiding for nothing. She just really hopes Regina won't connect the dots and… "Was that a lion?"
"Yeah, The Lion King. Big fan. Just got sick of the tattoo," she lies quickly. "It was a drunken mistake."
"But you haven't always had a glamour there. When did you get it?" Regina looks like she genuinely wants to know, but Emma can't be sure there isn't an ulterior motive to her question.
"Doesn't matter." Emma dismisses the question and grabs the menu to have something else to look at other than Regina's beautiful puzzled face.
Emma is relieved to notice Regina lets the topic slide, and they end up talking about Henry instead. She feels her heartbeat decrease back to normal and the blush on her cheeks fade as they talk about Henry's science project. She just hopes Regina won't think more of the tattoo. If Regina ever found out, she could easily connect the dots and Emma just couldn't deal with the humiliation that would come with it. Crushing on your friend is one thing, but falling in love with your best friend who will never reciprocate your feelings and who's become the second-most important person in your life - the only more important person being your shared son - is another.
"Emma," Regina starts after falling silent for a moment, her eyes scanning Emma's wrist that's back on the table. "Did you get that tattoo after I told you about Robin's?"
Emma tries really hard not to look like a deer caught in the headlights. She attempts to pull off a casual amused expression that just may end up looking pained instead. "What, you think I'd do something like that? Hear your… soulmate has a tattoo so I just have to get one for myself, too?"
"Yes," Regina replies, her voice calm and clear.
Emma's heartbeat quickens again and she can feel a blush rising up her neck and reaching her cheeks. This is not how it was supposed to go. In fact, she had been really hoping the truth would never come out so they could avoid this awkward exchange altogether.
She wants the Earth to swallow her whole so that she doesn't have to have this conversation. For a second, she wonders if she could just poof out of the diner, but that would make everything even more awkward in the long run since she would have to face Regina eventually, anyway.
"I need some fresh air," she says as she stands up and makes her way outside without looking back. She can't believe this is happening. She can't believe she thought she would be able to magically hide a tattoo from Regina, either.
Emma's trying to even her breathing and calm down when she hears the door behind her open. She doesn't have to turn around to know Regina has followed her.
"So, Emma," Regina's low voice says behind her. "What was the reason for your 'drunken mistake' as you put it?"
"Oh, my God, Regina," Emma whines as she turns around to face the other woman. "Can we just get this over with? I had an attack of jealousy. I got a lion tattoo, because if that's what it takes to be your soulmate, of course I would." She realizes she's speaking too loudly and there are tears on her cheeks, so she inhales deeply to calm herself down and lowers her voice. "I have feelings for you and you don't have feelings for me, and I'm totally happy to just be your friend, so if we could just stay like that, because… I just don't wanna lose you."
She refuses to look at Regina during her confession. She simply can't. She doesn't want to see the pity on her friend's face. She knows how it looks like when people don't want her. She doesn't have to see it on Regina's face, too.
"Emma," Regina says quietly as she moves closer to her. "You could never lose me."
Emma finds the courage to look up at Regina. She tries to find something that would indicate that her feelings are unwelcome, but she can see neither pity nor dismay. Instead, she finds an encouraging smile adorning Regina's face, which is confusing to say the least.
"What?" she manages to get out as Regina laces her fingers with hers.
"Idiot," Regina says, and Emma is almost ready to protest, but then Regina's lips are on hers and oh.
The kiss is short and tentative, just a brush of Regina's soft lips against Emma's, but it still makes her stomach do somersaults because Regina is kissing her.
"I'm confused," she blurts out before she can stop herself.
"Oh, Emma," Regina says, smiling and shaking her head as her thumbs trace patterns on Emma's hands. "Your feelings are anything but one-sided. You were so clueless. I just wanted you to see it for yourself first, which you evidently have."
"Are you serious?" she asks, even though she can always tell when Regina is lying, and this time, she's not. She just can't believe Regina could reciprocate her feelings.
"Do I look like I'm joking?" Regina says as she raises her brow. They're still holding hands.
"No," Emma answers quickly. She can feel a small smile starting to creep upon her lips. "So, you like me?" She still needs to make sure.
Regina kisses her again, and this time it's more firm, Emma's bottom lip between Regina's as Regina wraps her arms around Emma's neck. Emma responds to the kiss enthusiastically, her hands moving to rest on Regina's hips as she tries to swallow a grin. It all just feels so right, and Emma can't believe they're actually here after all that they've been through.
As they break apart, Regina grins back at her. "I more than like you. Everything about you… except for that tattoo. It's ridiculous, but I suppose we can live with it." Regina laughs and shrugs.
Emma laughs. Her insecurities are still there, but at the moment, she won't let them get to her. She feels happy and light as she brings her arms around Regina in a hug the other woman responds to immediately.
"I more than like you, too," she mutters into Regina's hair.