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i.

About a month after they get home, things start getting weird. At first, Regina just puts it down to stress and some kind of delayed emotional reaction - to follow a boyfriend down into the underworld and then have the boyfriend not only try to kill your entire family (again) but also refuse to give up an inch of dark magic in exchange for returning to the world of the living - well. She can't blame Emma if she's less than fully rational, right now. If she wants to spend most of her time at her parents' apartment, if she finds it difficult being around Henry or any of the younger kids, if she takes every possible shift at work and doesn't seem to sleep a whole lot - it's all kind of...understandable.

It's not until Emma literally turns on the spot when she sees Regina come into the diner, and flees into the nearest storage closet, that Regina starts wondering if maybe this strangeness has less to do with the underworld and a little bit to do with - well. Her.

Which is - okay. Okay, so they haven't really talked about the whole curse-breaking ...thing. So they'd broken a little curse just by joining hands, whatever, it's not... Regina's a powerful witch in her own right, and Emma's the Savior, she's the product of true love or whatever it is that makes her so - so magical - it's not weird.

Maybe she should talk to Emma -

Regina stops that thought cold, because the idea of starting a conversation with so you know that thing that happened in the Underworld that I definitely haven't been wasting time thinking about, I just wanted to check that you weren't either - well. It's laughable.

Worse, it's ridiculous, and Regina Mills does not do ridiculous.

 

ii.

Sadly, it seems she's alone in that regard, because the next time she sees Emma Swan, it's early Saturday morning, and there's an unholy racket going on outside. When Regina opens her front door and steps outside, dressing gown tied firmly around her pyjama set and hair still a little messed from another slightly restless night -

She almost isn't surprised when she sees Emma standing on the sidewalk, hands on her hips, critically eyeing the opened-up hood of the - that's Regina's Mercedes.

"Emma Swan," Regina says slowly, starting down the garden path and letting her voice drop into a low, dangerous register. "What the hell are you doing?"

Emma turns - she's wearing that white tank top and jeans that Regina's quite sure shouldn't sit quite so low on anyone's hips - and gives Regina an incongruously sunny smile. "Good morning, Regina."

"Yes," Regina emphasises. "Good morning. It's...seven thirty."

Emma shrugs. "Wanted to get an early start," she says, indicating the car (Regina's car). "This could take a...while."

"This?" Regina asks, snorting. "What exactly is this?"

Emma frowns, confused. "Fixing your car, of course," she says, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "Henry mentioned it wasn't running quite...right..." she trails off, just a little unconvincingly.

"It needs new brake fluid," Regina says flatly. "That's all, I can take it to the mechanic and get that refilled in about ten minutes -”

Emma scowls at her, and folds her arms. "I said I'd take a look at it," she says. "And you know, sometimes what looks like a....brake fluid...thing...it can actually be a much bigger problem."

Regina rolls her eyes. Okay, so Emma's decided to...try and make amends by fixing the Mercedes. That seems about as logical as anything anyone in this town ever does, to be fair - never mind the fact that she's pretty sure nothing on her car actually needs fixing.

"Well," she says slowly. "Don't let me stop you."

Emma flashes her a broad grin. "Alright."

And she turns back to the car, leaning over the motor and twisting one of the valves open. Regina watches her for a few moments - biting her lip when Emma tries to tighten the valve she'd just opened and instead comes away with it in her hand - and then heads back towards the front door.

"Regina!"

Regina stops. "Yes?"

"Where - um," Emma clears her throat, wipes some engine grease on her shirt. "You going inside?"

Regina arches an eyebrow. "Clearly."

"Could..." Emma seems to cast about wildly for inspiration. "Could I maybe have a glass of water?"

Regina stares at her - and then lets her shoulders slump, giving up on understanding what the hell Emma is playing at. "Of course."

*

When she comes back outside ten minutes later - fully dressed now, and having downed a quick cup of coffee - Emma has managed to get engine grease on both arms, tied her hair back more securely into a low ponytail, and is swearing loudly at one of the Mercedes' brake gages. She straightens up and smiles when she sees Regina, rubbing one hand over her slightly sweaty face.

"Hey."

"Here," Regina says bluntly, handing over a glass of water; Emma takes it with a grateful smile, and raises the glass straight to her lips.

"Thanks," she says, taking a long, slow sip - throat moving rhythmically as she swallows, eyes falling shut. "Oh, I needed that. Thanks."

"No...problem," Regina says. She's not sure why Emma is treating a glass of water like it's some kind of Manna from the gods - especially since, as far as Regina can tell, she hasn't actually done any work on the car yet. "So did you...find anything wrong with my car?"

Emma grimaces at the glass still clutched in one hand. "Everything seems okay," she admits. "It does need some brake fluid, but I don't...have any with me."

"Ah," Regina nods, eyeing the toolbox by Emma's feet and trying not to smile. "What a shame."

"But," Emma says quickly. "Some of these gages are a bit tight."

Regina wrinkles her nose. "Really?"

"Yeah," Emma nods, loose strands of hair flying against her neck. "Look."

She steps to one side, so Regina can come closer and inspect the open hood of the car. At first glance, it all seems - well, Regina's not an expert, but it all looks completely fine. She's about to say so when Emma leans past her - her hip knocking against Regina's, her bare arm flexing as she pulls on a gear -

"See these?"

Regina nods mutely.

"They're all..." Emma very carefully doesn't make eye contact. "Tight."

"I see," Regina says quickly, going to step away - her feet feel glued to the spot. "Well, I'll be sure to mention that when I -"

"I'll take care of it," Emma says, cutting her off. She steps away from the car - Regina breathes a tiny sigh of relief. And then she leans past Regina, bending over to retrieve something from the toolbox at their feet.

Great.

"Here," she says, straightening up with a smile, brandishing a bottle and a dirty cloth. "I'll just."

She stops, cheeks flooding with colour; Regina feels her stomach muscles tense up. "You'll just?"

Emma turns away, unscrewing the bottle with a suddenly business-like air and garbling, "Lubricatem."

Regina raises one eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

Emma pauses, then douses the cloth in engine lubricant and turns back to the car, very deliberately ignoring Regina completely before speaking again. "I said, I'll just lubricate them."

For God's sake.

Regina presses her hands against her thighs, trying to keep a hold of what little composure she has left right now. "Well," she says, slowly. "You do that, I'll be...inside."

"Mmh," Emma nods, cheeks still very pink - looking for all the world like she regrets every last choice that brought her to this exact moment in time - Regina turns tail, and flees inside the house.

As soon as she's got the door shut behind her, she leans against it, and breathes out heavily.

Damn Emma. Damn her, and her inability to speak without stumbling into innuendo, and her complete lack of filters whenever she opens that mouth of hers, and her stupidly clingy tank tops, and how clumsy she has to be to get oil all over both her arms, and -

By the time Regina's had a long, hot shower, and spent a disproportionate amount of time on shaving her legs,  Emma's fled the scene. Regina's Mercedes stands by the fence, gleaming in the sunshine; and Regina has to admit that the brakes do run better.

 

iii.

Regina usually works late on Friday evenings; Henry's started working part-time at the animal shelter, so there's no one to cook dinner for, and she likes having a little extra time on her own at the office, just to get caught up on bits of paperwork and reading through various policy documents. She's just worked her way through a particularly dense 30-page outline for new roadworks on the edge of town, and is considering celebrating with a measure of scotch from the bottle she keeps in her office drinks cabinet (an admittedly superfluous piece of furniture, but it helps smooth over tense meetings, sometimes).

And then Emma knocks on the door, and lets herself into Regina's office. "Hi, Regina, am I bothering you?"

Regina stares at her. She's not sure if - in the past however many years Emma's worked as the town Sheriff - she's ever just dropped by Town Hall. "Uh," she says blankly. "No, of course not, come in."

Emma smiles at her, and steps further into the office. She's clutching a paper file awkwardly in one hand, and she's wearing - Regina blinks - dark blue jeans and a waistcoat unbuttoned to the third button. When she sits down, Regina's half-sure she sees a flash of black lace below her collarbone -

"How can I help you?" she asks curtly, stacking the papers on her desk with methodical precision and pressing her knees together under the table.

Emma grins a little craftily, and lays the file on Regina’s desk. "It's these expenditure forms for the Sheriff's office..."

"Right," Regina nods, slightly bewildered. "You're over budget?"

"No! I mean, kind of."

Regina leans back in her chair, thinking longingly of her bottle of scotch. "Go on..."

"I just - haven't had time to go through everything yet," Emma says lamely. "And they were due to get filed with your secretaries today."

"I know that," Regina says, lip curling. "No need to remind me of my own office's deadlines, Sheriff."

Emma's eyes go very wide for a second - and then she nods quickly. "Right, of course, you're the Mayor."

"Yes," Regina nods, wrong-footed again. "I...am."

"So I was hoping..." Emma seems to calculate a risk, and then looks up, meeting Regina's eyes with a direct stare. "For an extension."

Okay

Regina stands up, and crosses to her drinks cabinet. Professionalism be damned, she needs a drink. "Scotch?" she asks, without turning around; in the small, suddenly stuffy space, she swears she can hear Emma swallow.

"Sure."

Pouring two generous measures, and fishing a couple of ice cubes out of the freezer in the corner, Regina returns to her desk.

"Thanks," Emma says quietly; Regina waves dismissively, and sits back down.

"It's a Friday," she says, by way of explanation, and Emma smiles.

"Right," she says, having downed half her scotch and gasping slightly. "So, this - this extension..."

Regina takes a small sip of her drink, and sets it down on a coaster. "Are you sure you need it?"

As far as she's aware, all they've asked for from the Sheriff's office is a breakdown of their expenses over the last tax year - records of which should definitely already exist on their computer system, and would just need to be transferred into the Town Hall's spreadsheet -

Emma nods vigorously. "Oh yeah," she says quickly. "Absolutely...no way I could get it done in time...I've just had so much on my mind, you know, with..."

Regina sighs. "Of course," she says, quietly. "Should have thought of that. You've - been through a lot."

Emma wrinkles her nose. "What?"

"Nothing to be ashamed of," Regina says quickly, aiming for efficient and landing somewhere near gentle. "It was...traumatic, for you especially, with - everything."

"Oh," Emma says, after a short pause. "You mean the stuff with Killian."

"Um." Regina pauses, eyes flickering uncertainly over Emma's strangely blank face. "Yes, of course, is that not - what you were referring to?"

Emma doesn't say anything, just shrugs. "I guess," she says, sounding deflated.

"Perfectly understandable," Regina says smoothly, carefully ignoring the way Emma rolls her eyes at her own hands. "If you can get the expenditures filed by Monday, that absolutely won't be a problem."

Emma stares at her, looking - disappointed? Regina's given up trying to understand her, she really has. "Okay..." she says slowly. "But what about...if I need more time than that?"

"The budget review happens on a fixed date, Sheriff," Regina says, more curtly than intended. "I'm sorry, but my staff will need to start processing everything early next week."

"I understand," Emma says, grimacing, and then - propping one elbow on the desk between them and leaning forwards to lean her chin on her hand - fixes Regina with what can only be described as a plaintive stare. "But I've just...had so much on my mind..."

Regina casts her eyes to the heavens. "Emma, you know you can ask your deputy to do this, don't you?"

Emma flushes crimson; clearly, an angle she hadn't considered till now. "I already said I'd do it..."

"You're the Sheriff. You can delegate."

"I know, but -" Emma twists her lips together. "I want to make sure it's done right for...you."

Regina stares very hard at her glass of scotch, suddenly wishing she'd poured herself a larger measure.

"Tuesday," she hears herself say. "Noon."

Emma stares at her, looking - disappointed, again?  "Well," she says, after a long pause. "Thank you."

Regina shakes her head with a stilted smile. "Just make sure it's filed then, and no later."

"Are you sure -" Emma cuts herself off, and then squares her shoulders. "Could I. Do anything? For you, in return?"

Help.

Regina clenches her jaw, and shakes her head stiffly. "No," she says quickly, hearing a treacherous kind of wobble in her voice. "No, that'd be - that'd be fine, just...file it with my secretaries, uh..."

She stands up, too quickly - blood rushes to her head, leaving a strange, shaking kind of sensation in her abdomen. Emma looks up at her, lips half-parted and quirked into a confused smile. "Okay, sure," she says, slipping into a small grin as her eyes travel over Regina's clenched jaw, the muscle working in her taut neck. "Thanks."

Regina gives her a quick, tight smile. "Of course," she says quickly, gesturing feebly at the door. "Now, if that's everything..."

"Uh huh," Emma says, picking up her - totally useless, and Regina knows it - paper file and heading towards the door. Regina follows, because she may be ready for the ground to open up and swallow her whole but that doesn't mean she can't have some manners, and opens the door for her.

"Tuesday," she says, and reaches out to touch Emma's wrist - why - her thumb slipping over the pulse point. "No later than noon."

Emma gives her a small smile. "Right," she echoes, and goes to move past Regina - and drops her file. "...Oh, uh, sorry -"

She bends down to pick it up - Regina stares determinedly at a spot just above eye level - and comes back up slowly. By the time she's at full height again, she's somehow swayed closer to Regina, and there's really no way to avoid seeing that, even out of the corner of her eye -

Enough. When Emma makes eye contact again, Regina stares her down. She's biting her lip just slightly, almost without knowing that (or why) she's doing it, and for a moment it seems like Emma right about to do something -

And then Emma blinks, and turns quickly to go. "Bye -" she manages, before all-but running down the corridor, taking her (not completely useless, as it turns out) paper file with her.

 

iv.

Regina barely sees Emma the following week; in fairness, she barely sees anyone - the budget review takes up almost all her waking hours, and at the end of every working day she wants nothing more than to collapse on the couch at home and open a bottle of wine. She sees Emma at the grocery store once, though - well. She thinks she sees Emma at the grocery store, but by the time she's rounded the corner with her shopping cart all she actually sees is a flash of blonde hair and a glimpse of a red jacket as whoever-it-was disappears behind a display of soup cans and flees the store. The abandoned cart that Regina does find, though, contains a packet of cookie dough, a six-pack of beer, and one solitary bunch of grapes, so she thinks her guess is probably accurate.

Henry, she notices, goes suspiciously quiet whenever she brings up Emma; once, over dinner, she asks him if he's noticed anything strange about Emma's behaviour lately. His whole face turns an alarming shade of red, and he starts shovelling mashed potatoes into his mouth so quickly she's worried he'll choke - and then he's excusing himself with a mumbled excuse about homework, and dashing upstairs.

"I meant because of Hook," Regina calls after him. "If she's still...upset, or something." Somehow, her tone convinces no one. Certainly not herself.

Later that evening, Emma calls her up for some magic back-up. "Found something...weird," she says over the phone. "By the town line. Worth checking out."

"Of course," Regina says, already pulling on her jacket. "I'll be there in five minutes - are you still at the station? I can pick you up -"

"No!" Emma cuts her off, sounding panicked. "No, let's not drive, I want to be...stealthy..."

"Stealthy," Regina echoes blankly.

"In case there's something - hiding out there."

"Well," Regina says after a short pause. It's not the most outlandish thing Emma Swan has said to her recently, after all. "Alright."

They arrange to meet at the town line in half an hour, and Regina starts looking for a scarf and gloves - it's been threatening to rain all morning, and there's a bitter chill in the air.

*

It's started raining by the time she gets to the town line - freezing-cold water droplets that cling to her hair and her shoulders, no matter how tightly she pulls the scarf around her neck.

This better be important.

Emma's waiting for her at the line, looking startlingly out-of-place in a plaid shirt and - cut-off jeans. In November.

"Hi," she says, with a miserable twist of her mouth.

Regina rolls her eyes. "Emma, it's freezing -"

"I'm fine," Emma says, unconvincing if only because her teeth are chattering. "Let's go look, okay? I found the...thing just through here..."

She leads the way through the woods just behind the town line, careful not to cross any of the marker's they'd set down during the last curse; no one's actually tried leaving Storybrooke since they got back from the Underworld, after all.

After ten minutes, they emerge into a clearing by the river. The rain's falling heavier now, and the chill seems suddenly far more noticeable now they're out from what little cover the trees were providing.

"Emma," Regina says, with an outbreath that forms a cloud of condensation. "How much further?"

"It's...just a little further this way..." Emma says, squinting in the gloom.

"What exactly are we looking for?" Regina asks her - Emma turns around, and starts to say something - and then she trips, and stumbles backwards, towards the river - "Emma -"

Regina lunges after her, grabs onto Emma's shirt and pulls her away; Emma manages to regain her balance, but not before both sneaker-clad feet land in the icy water.

"Now look," Regina says, exasperated; when she drops Emma's shirt, three buttons come away, and Emma's midriff is half-exposed. "Great."

Emma grins at her. "Damn it," she says, somewhere between a smirk and a guilty conscience. “Really liked that shirt."

Regina just rolls her eyes. "Let's get back," she tells Emma. "This thing can wait till you've warmed up, and dressed slightly more appropriately."

"Oh..." Emma looks up, inexplicably, at the sky. "You know what, I'm okay, let me just show you -"

And before Regina can utter so much as a single word, Emma's plunged off through the undergrowth growing on the riverbanks, heading further away from the road.

*

After ten minutes of following a soaked-through and shivering Emma along the riverbank, Regina's had enough. "Stop," she says, stopping Emma in her tracks with the single word. "Emma, what exactly are we looking for?"

"It's uh..." Emma points at the ground ahead of her. "Tracks."

"Tracks," Regina repeats flatly, coming up beside Emma and staring at the ground. "Emma."

"They were here, okay," Emma says defensively. "There were huge...claw... prints."

"Of course there were," Regina sighs. "And, don’t tell me, now they've been washed away in the rain?"

"I guess they must have been," Emma says, her voice starting to shake - Regina looks at her, alarmed, taking in the blue tinge to her lips. "Sorry."

"Never mind that, let's get back to somewhere warm," Regina says, taking Emma's arm. "You're going to catch something."

"I - oh!" Emma says, with the air of someone who's trying very hard to sound like they've only just thought of whatever they're about to say next. "I know a place!"

"Emma -"

Emma grabs her hand, and pulls her back into the forest.

For about a minute, Regina stumbles blindly after her - Emma's hand is holding hers, Emma's hand is holding hers, Emma's hand is holding hers -

And then they come into a clearing, and there...there's a cabin.

Of course there is.

"C'mon," Emma says, cheerful. "My mom told me about finding this place, it's mostly empty... The dwarves use it as a day base in the summer sometimes..."

"Of course they do," Regina manages, holding back a shaky, disbelieving laugh as Emma pushes the door open and fumbles along the wall for the cord to turn on the lights.

The cabin is small, and cosy; there are quilted blankets and rugs piled up on top of a wooden chest of drawers; there's a fireplace, and a stack of timber stacked up neatly beside it; there's a couch, and a small table, and a... set of pillows?

"How...lucky," Emma says, not quite daring to meet Regina's eye. "I'll just...see if I can find something to wear..."

Regina bites back a biting comment; she's pretty sure Emma knows exactly what she's going to find when she crosses to the chest of drawers.

"Oh, great!" Emma says anyway, unfolding an oversized sweater and showing it to Regina. "Perfect, just a sec -"

And she's - she's taking her shirt off. Regina clears her throat, and goes to look at the fireplace for lack any other, safer options. There are coals in the grate, and a box of matches laid out nearby; everything's ready. Out of the corner of her eye, she's aware of Emma undoing the last button on her shirt, and rolling her shoulders to drop it to the floor.

Once the sweater is safely on, Regina turns to give Emma a distinctly unimpressed stare. "Okay," she says, turning to the door. "If you can stand walking in the wet shoes, we can go now -"

"Oh no..." Emma says, gesturing at the window; when Regina glances outside, she almost bursts into laughter. It's started snowing. Of course it has. "Regina, I'm sorry, I don't think...Not in these sneakers..."

"Of course not," Regina says, arching an eyebrow as Emma kicks off her shoes and sinks down onto the couch with a smug kind of grin stretched across her lips. "That would be positively unwise."

"Totally," Emma hums, pulling her knees to her chin and wiggling her bare toes. "It's cold, though, we should light a fire..."

"Lucky there's so much firewood here," Regina says - Emma flushes, but doesn't argue. Sighing a little, Regina picks up a few pieces of timber and stacks them up in the grate before snapping her fingers to start a crackling, glowing fire. "Better?"

"Loads," Emma sighs, stretching on the couch and smiling; Regina eyes her mistrustfully, and sits down next to her.

For a while, they just watch the fire. Emma keeps shifting, trying to get comfortable - her knee knocks against Regina's a few times, and then her hand brushes Regina's arm as she pulls on the sleeves of the sweater - "Sorry," she smiles blithely. "Just getting comfortable."

Regina gives her a distinctly unimpressed stare, taking in the sodden jeans, the inches of bare calf protruding from them. "You should take those off," she says - and then flushes when Emma narrows her eyes at her. "I mean, they're wet, denim is...slow-drying, it's not...You'll be more comfortable."

Emma shrugs, and smiles angelically at Regina's stony expression. "If you think I should."

"We can - hang them up to dry faster -" Regina stands up from the sofa, scooping up Emma's discarded shirt and draping it over one end of the mantelpiece while Emma wriggles out of her jeans behind her. When she turns around, Emma is sitting bare-legged on the sofa, holding her jeans out with a wide-eyed innocence that Regina doesn't buy for one second. "Oh, give them here."

"Thank you," Emma murmurs, when Regina's hung up the jeans and sat back down next to her; whether by accident or not, they're sitting closer to each other now, and when Regina shifts back to lean against the couch, their thighs press together.

The fire has started heating up the cabin in earnest. It's really quite warm, suddenly, and Regina's never been more aware of how thin the fabric of her tailored suit pants is, but her skin feels like it's burning up anyway -

"Magic," she says suddenly, starting forwards. Emma blinks at her, confused.

"What?"

"The fire, Emma," Regina says, catching a slight laugh in her own voice. Damn it, this isn't funny, she's absolutely not amused - "I lit it by magic."

"Mmh," Emma hums, stretching both feet out to be closer to the fire - her sweater slips further up her thighs -

Focus.

"I can get us back by magic," Regina says quickly, and Emma's stares at her for a second too long before nodding.

"Oh yeah! Of course you can," she grins, standing up and picking her clothes off the mantelpiece. "Funny, I forgot completely...Slipped my mind."

"Mine too," Regina says, trying to sound a little more composed now that there's a concrete plan in place. "Don't worry about it, we can just...go now."

"Yep," Emma nods, stepping closer to Regina and looking at her expectantly.

...Right. She's waiting for Regina to magic them back.

"Yes," Regina says, uselessly; she glances around the cabin, at the fireplace, the couch, the pillows. It seems, almost, like a waste, to leave already -

Which is ridiculous, of course, because there's really no need for Emma to sit here half-naked just because she got rained on -

"Regina?" Emma's looking at her through half-lidded eyes, her lips half-parted, her cheeks very pink in the firelight -

"Right," Regina says, and with a click of her fingers the fire goes out; she takes Emma's hand - and yes, that is necessary, never mind the fact it's never been necessary before - and, with one last look around the cabin, she waves her spare hand to take them back to Storybrooke.

 

v.

When Emma shows up at 108 Mifflin Street with a duffel bag full of clothes and an apologetic smile and something termites at the loft - "Mom and Dad are staying at Granny's with the baby but there's no more rooms " - well. Regina's not even surprised.

It's...nice. They manage to find a routine; Emma gets up long after Regina's already showered, and Regina leaves enough coffee in the pot for her before heading out to work. After school, Henry swings by the Sheriff's station and does homework there for a while until Emma can drive him home; Regina gets started on dinner, and Emma helps out with the chopping and preparing whenever Regina lets her set foot in the kitchen.

In that first week, there are only a few evenings where Emma isn't doing a late patrol or where Regina doesn't have work to finish in her study. The one evening they do both have free, Regina lets Henry stay up late, and the hours are filled with a movie night and a few rounds of Wii Sports before Regina cites a long day and gets an early night.

Regina's been getting a lot of early nights.

*

The next morning is a Saturday; Regina sleeps in later than usual, after a restless night spent tossing and turning and, occasionally, waking up from jumbled confusing dreams.

...Alright, not that confusing, she wouldn't exactly need a crystal ball to interpret them.

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she stumbles towards the bathroom, pushes the door open, and -

Emma shrieks, and jumps to her feet. There's toothpaste smeared about her lips, and a blue toothbrush clutched tightly in one hand, and she's -

Emma is -

They stare at each other for a heart-stopped moment; and then Emma grabs her towel, and clutches it to her front. It sort of covers her chest, and then falls to just below - then falls to the tops of her thighs. There's - her shoulders are bare, there's a faint red blush to her neck and her cheeks, and she's -

Emma is smiling at her.

"Sorry!" she rings out, far too cheerfully. "Probably should have locked that."

"Yes," Regina replies mechanically. "Yes, you probably should have."

"Just -" Emma gestures with the toothbrush. "Give me two seconds?"

Regina nods hastily. "Of course."

Emma watches her, with a curiously amused grin; after what feels like centuries - her hair is falling in damp ringlets down her back and over her shoulders, drops of water pooling over the tops of her breasts, and she's.... "Regina?"

"Yes," Regina says, nodding for emphasis and making a concerted effort at eye contact.

"Uh -" Emma gestures awkwardly with the toothbrush again. "Two seconds?"

"Yes, I..." Regina flushes, feeling the heat rush to her cheeks. She's supposed to get out first. "Of course, of course -"

She retreats from the bathroom hastily, pulling the door behind her with a too-loud slam. Dimly, she hears Emma let out a quiet laugh, and then the sound of water running into the sink.

Breathing heavily, Regina leans against the hallway wall, and waits for her heartrate to return to normal. She can't even blame this one on Emma, this was -

Although -

Regina wrinkles her forehead, trying to think back. Emma had been... She hadn't physically been brushing her teeth when Regina opened the door, had she? No, she'd -

She'd just been sitting on the edge of the bathtub, holding the toothbrush in one hand.

"Emma," Regina calls, through the door; there's a bubble of ridiculous, infectious laughter pressing against her ribcage, but she thinks she pulls off something approaching a stern tone of voice. "Emma, were you waiting in there for me?"

No answer.

And then the tap is turned up, the sound of running water increasing in volume -

"What was that?" Emma's voice sounds thin and wavery and not at all convincing. "Sorry, I couldn't hear you..."

Regina can't help the single hiccup that escapes her throat; but then she presses her fingers to her lips, and heads back to her bedroom, and laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

*

Emma sulks all morning; Regina hands her a cup of coffee, and watches out of the corner of her eyes as she stabs viciously at her plate of eggs. The air between them feels strangely oppressive, and Regina - Regina, who got dressed in a purple silk blouse and tight-fitting slacks, and brushed her hair out until it shone against her shoulders - can't figure out a way to break the silence. All at once, it's like they're right back to a month ago, like the last couple of weeks haven't meant anything, like she sat in her bedroom and laughed out of sheer, delighted happiness earlier for absolutely no reason -

"Emma?" she asks, tentatively; Emma just takes a sip of coffee, and grunts. "I was...thinking we could spend some time together today, maybe."

Emma's head snaps up at that, her eyes very wide. "Yeah?"

"Well," Regina says, flushing slightly. "You've been here all week, and I've barely seen you. Henry's working till later, so..."

"Yeah," Emma says quickly, nodding so vigorously that a few curls are shaken free from where she's pinned them back. "Yeah, sure."

"He's staying at Nick and Ava's tonight, so we have," Regina emphasises, raising an eyebrow. "All day."

She winces at that, wondering for a second if maybe she's strayed too far into stilted one-liners, if it sounds as hollow to Emma's ears as it does to her own -

There's a deep pink flush to Emma's cheeks, and she seems unaware of the fork she's half-raised to her mouth; Regina breathes out, and smirks into her coffee cup.

Game on, Ms Swan.

 

vi.

The day passes in a strangely...easy blur.  They head down to the harbour first, where Emma buys a seashell fridge magnet for Henry; they stop for lunch at Granny's, and by unspoken agreement get their food to go when they see David and Snow sitting in one of the booths; they walk up towards the edge of town, taking their time, talking the whole way. There's a lot to talk about - Henry wants driving lessons; the Sheriff's station needs new desk chairs; Regina vents for about half an hour about an agricultural dispute she's in the middle of trying to resolve. And then there's the other things, the things they haven't really...talked about, ever. Coming back from the Underworld, and breaking that curse, and -

"I'm glad," Emma says, into a comfortable silence that's fallen around them as they walked up a steeper bit of path.

Regina frowns. "Glad?"

"You were there," Emma half-smiles.

"Oh."

Silence again, and then Emma starts to talk more quickly, almost stumbling over her words. "You know, I could have tried to get us all home anyway, I know my magic was stronger down there - all the dark shit, maybe, I don't know - but I wasn't that anymore, I was just...me... and you're - obviously you're way more powerful, and anyway it needed - I guess it needed - "

"Both of us," Regina cuts in, finally taking pity on Emma's half-formed, rambling sentences. "Of course it did. I cast the first dark curse, I could get us out of that Storybrooke and back into the real one, and you..."

Emma looks at her. Regina clears her throat. "I guess I needed you," she says, before she can stop herself.

Emma's face breaks into a wide, radiant smile, and Regina feels her stomach muscles tighten. God damn it, she was going to be in control today.

*

Dinner is lasagna and a bottle of red wine back at the house; and then, with the stillness settling over both of them like fog, they watch a film from opposite ends of the couch.

Regina lets Emma pick out the film, and it really shouldn't surprise her when it turns out to mostly be a series of badly-written action sequences in between drawn-out sex scenes.

By the time the action hero - a muscular, foul-mouthed and guarded spy for the British government, or something - has a busty damsel in distress going down on her for the third time, Regina is pressing her knees tightly together, her arms folded and her hands curled into fists against her ribs. She knows her cheeks must be red, but far more distracting is the heat pooling low in her stomach, the feeling of someone taking a key and winding up an invisible spring just below her navel -

Finally, after another interminable action sequence and a steamy, drawn-out kiss, the credits roll.

"Well," Emma says, with a sidelong glance at Regina. "That was...way more awkward than I thought it would be."

Regina snorts. "Of course it was."

There's a short pause, and then Emma says, in a very small voice, "Sorry."

Almost immediately, Regina feels the annoyance lift from her shoulders - she turns to give Emma what she hopes is a reassuring smile, and uncrosses her arms to press her hand to Emma's forearm - "It's fine," she says, all-too aware of the shape of Emma's bicep under her touch, of the warmth radiating through Emma's thin shirt - "It was...enjoyable enough."

Emma's lips quirk into a surprised kind of smile. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Regina nods.

Her hand is still on Emma's arm.

Emma seems to become aware of this at the same time as Regina does - her muscles tense almost imperceptibly under Regina's fingers, and then relax as she starts to breathe more evenly, still looking Regina squarely in the eye. For a long few seconds, they just stare at each other - Emma's inching ever-so-slightly closer, and Regina can feel herself swaying towards her - 

"Oh, that reminds me," Emma says, rearing back and shattering the stillness. Regina breathes out sharply, head reeling; okay, so they're not - so Emma wants to stop there, fine - but that doesn't quite explain why she's now smirking at Regina with something unquestionably and undeniably hungry in her eyes - "You've had a stressful couple weeks..."

Regina swallows sharply, unable to quite figure out an appropriate response to this new, and dangerous, tone to Emma's voice. "Yes?"

"You seem -" Emma raises her eyebrows. "Very tense."

Oh, Emma.

"I do," Regina nods, biting her lip tightly to keep from laughing. "Do I?"

"Mmh," Emma - there's really no other word for it - purrs. "I think..." she leans behind the sofa and pulls out a small basket of - don't laugh, Regina - scented oils. "You should get...a massage."

Don't laugh, don't laugh, don't laugh -

"Emma," Regina manages to say, before her shoulders start shaking. "Emma."

Emma blinks at her, a vulnerable kind of openness emerging from behind the sultry gaze. "Yeah?"

"You -" Regina pauses, wrestling with the words; and then, quite suddenly, realises that she doesn't have to. "You," she says again, letting her mouth curve into a slow, steady smile. "You."

And -

Leaning forwards, taking that fucking basket of massage oils out of Emma's hands and tossing them aside with what she hopes is a suave, cavalier kind of air -

She cups Emma's face in both her hands, Emma is close enough now that Regina can count each individual eyelash and each of the tiny freckles dusting her nose, can see every uncertain thought as it flickers across her pupils -

Their lips meet with a sigh that sounds like letting go.

For a long, long, second, Emma is perfectly still under Regina's touch; and then her lips are parting slowly, then she's kissing Regina back with a fervent urgency, then she's leaning forwards and letting her forehead knock against Regina's, then their mouths are moving in fast, hurried motions, neither of them able to slow down enough to quite care about the noises they're making, the soft whimpers that keep whispering out from Emma's lips, the low, hungry hum building in Regina's throat -

"Emma," she breathes, her lips tracing the outline of Emma's name against her skin. Emma turns her head slightly, presses a series of warm, open-mouthed kisses to the edge of Regina's mouth, to the scar above her mouth, to the dusting of bronzer stroked along her cheekbone - "Emma."

Emma doesn't reply; her hands have found the hem of Regina's shirt, and now her fingers are sliding under the material; Regina pulls her closer by the shoulders, and Emma takes the motion in the way it was intended. Her palms glide up over Regina's sides, fingers sliding over each individual rib; she pauses with one finger just hooking under the front clasp of Regina's bra, and stops there. Regina growls in frustration, and Emma smiles against the corner of her mouth. "Easy."

"Easy?" Regina repeats, her breath coming out in short, shallow pants - "Easy, Emma?"

She turns her head to catch Emma's mouth in a deep, open-mouthed kiss, gripping her shoulders tightly, leaning forwards until she's got one arm braced against the armrest of the sofa and her hips are just hovering over Emma's waist. Emma hums in surprised, gratified response - tips her head back to kiss Regina with renewed vigour -

And then her hands are sliding out from under Regina's shirt, coming to rest at Regina's hips instead, thumbs digging into the skin above the waistband of her pants with something like - promise, Regina thinks wildly -

Emma shifts beneath her, and in one fluid movement she's leaning forwards and Regina is following, Regina is letting Emma guide her backwards until she's lying back against the couch and Emma is kneeling over her. One of Emma's hands leaves her hips and finds Regina's arm instead, trailing down the exposed skin and curling around her wrist, holding her -

Holding her wrist above her head, against the armrest -

"Yeah," Emma says, and ducks to press a kiss to Regina's lips, teeth catching her bottom lip. "Easy, Regina."

Regina lets out a shaky kind of whimper, and stays absolutely still. Emma smiles against her mouth, and shifts until her hips are pressed against Regina's. Regina rolls up against her, until Emma's hand tightens imperceptibly against her waist; she stops, and Emma relaxes her hand, lets it glide back to the front of Regina's shirt, starts undoing the first button - then the next - the next, and then Regina is helping her, fingers clumsy, overeager, but she gets the top button undone and shrugs the shirt off -

Emma watches her with something warm hiding behind her small, contained smile. Regina pauses, tensing slightly; suddenly she's not sure, suddenly she feels altogether too exposed with her shirt off and her chest heaving and flushed -

Emma's hands slide up from her navel to cup her breasts, and Regina arches her back involuntarily.

"Yeah?" Emma asks, her voice low, husky; Regina bucks her hips, nods jerkily in response, and Emma ducks her head to press her lips to the exposed skin, slowly skimming along the lace lining of the bra.

"Yes, Emma - " and then the words stick in her throat, because Emma has undone the clasp and pushed her bra open, pulling back for one slow, appreciative stare that goes right to Regina's gut. And then she ducks her head down again, and closes her lips over one nipple. Regina's hands are clenched into fists at her side, and she's panting with every outbreath as Emma sucks it into her mouth, her teeth grazing the sensitive skin just hard enough and her tongue laving over the spot immediately after, hot and cold, sending shivers running down Regina's spine. "I want -"

"I know," Emma whispers, the words coming out as warm exhales against Regina's skin, raising goose bumps in their wake. "God, I know."

She's pressing kisses along the curve of Regina's breasts and then moves along one collarbone, hands roaming up and down her sides - Regina feels her hips tense in anticipation - Emma switches to the other breast, then, and lets one hand come up to lightly curl around the nipple she'd just kissed and teased into hard, sensitive arousal -

"So beautiful," Emma murmurs, when Regina feels a full-body shudder run from the top of her spine to the soles of her feet. "So beautiful."

Regina presses her lips tightly together, lets one hand drift to the back of Emma's head and tangles her fingers in blonde curls. Dimly, she's aware of Emma smiling against her skin, in between hot kisses and tiny, careful nips with her teeth and slow, languid licks along every inch of exposed skin; and then, when she brings her free hand up to tug on Emma's forearm, she's aware of how fully-clothed Emma still is.

"Emma," she says weakly, nudging lightly at Emma's calf with one toe. "Emma, let me -" she plucks at the sleeves of Emma's shirt, and mercifully Emma understands immediately, pulling away and sitting up fully to tug the shirt over her head before throwing it to the floor. She's wearing a simple, black bra that hugs her breasts snugly - Regina stares, and Emma smirks at her and pushes her breasts together with both hands, arching her spine and tipping her head back -

Regina reaches up and pulls Emma blindly back down on top of her, leaning up to press her lips to the crook of Emma's neck. Emma hums contentedly - the noise shifting abruptly into a surprised whine when Regina scrapes along her skin with her teeth, sucking hard on the spot until there's a small, purpling mark there and Emma is hissing her approval against Regina's hair. When Regina drops her head back onto the couch, hands resting firmly on Emma's waist and heart racing so quickly against her ribcage that she thinks she might be about to pass out, Emma gives her a half-laughing, impressed kind of smile.

"Why, Madam Mayor," she says quietly, carefully watching the way Regina shudders at her words and ever-so-casually sliding one hand down Regina's stomach to undo the button on her suit pants. "I didn't know you had it in you."

Regina's breathing too heavily to form a coherent response - Emma's fingers are nimbly undoing the zipper and pulling at the grey material, she raises her hips just enough to let Emma pull them down a few inches - but she manages to arch her eyebrows all the same. "You'd be surprised," she says, the simmering tone slightly undermined by the tremble in her lips. "Ms Swan."

"Mmh," Emma nods, oh so casual now, fuck her - Regina almost growls - and slides one finger under the elastic of Regina's underwear, lets it skim over the sensitive, sensitive skin - "Sure I would."

And then - then she's tugged Regina's underwear to one side, fingers nimble, and pressed her thumb to her clit. Regina lets her mouth fall open in a soundless, helpless gasp - Emma starts circling her clit with two fingers, watching every tremble running up Regina's stomach, every time her chest heaves with a shuddering exhale -

And they're here, they're here, Emma's here and Emma is hers, and Regina can do nothing more but clutch at Emma's legs with her hands, hips shaking as Emma slides two fingers into her with infinite, patient precision.

"Fuck," she gasps, when Emma stops with her knuckles pressed against her pubic bone, and crooks her fingers; she feels herself clench around the movement, feels her hips rolling upwards in helpless response. "Fuck, fuck - fuck -"

"So long," Emma says quietly, starting to pump her fingers in and out, building up to a fast, relentless rhythm. "Took me so long, I never...All this time, it was you, it was us, it was - Regina, I came home, I…"

Regina nods mutely, her hips rocking into Emma's hand, her hands clenching and unclenching at her sides; they're words that go right through her, but words she'll need to hear another time, when her head is clear, when Emma isn't fucking her on the couch -

"Emma," she says, and that's all she manages, "Emma, Emma, Emma -"

Emma leans forwards, braces herself on the couch above Regina and ducking her head to kiss her deeply. The realisation that she's going to come hits Regina a second before it happens, with a shaking, trembling shaking of her muscles that starts at her core and spreads outwards - she kicks uselessly against the couch, grinds her hips up into Emma's hand, kisses Emma urgently, with little coordination, her tongue moving in erratic, urgent movements and her lips forming a silent mantra, Emma, Emma, Emma. Emma kisses her through the orgasm, her thumb stroking against Regina's clit and drawing every last scrap of sensation out of her until Regina's whimpering against her lips.

Regina drops her head back against the couch with a last, pitchy kind of moan, and Emma breathes out, eyes glassy as she watches Regina start to regain control of her breathing. She draws her hand away, and - with a small, evil smile - raises it to her lips. Sucks two fingers into her mouth, eyes falling shut, moaning when Regina grips onto her hips and pulls her back towards herself. They kiss slowly, all the urgency dissipating into thin air; and now Regina can focus on how soft Emma’s lips feel against hers; how her back feels as she runs both palms up and down it, fingers sliding over the light ridges of Emma’s spine; how their hips fit against each other like they’re never supposed to be anywhere else, and maybe they aren’t.

“I’m really glad that worked,” Emma hums, pressing soft kiss after soft kiss to the corners of Regina’s mouth. “I was running out of ideas.” 

Regina frowns at that. “Ideas?”

“Mmh,” Emma admits, her smile audible; Regina feels affection blooming across her lungs, sudden in its warmth. “Seducing you.”

Seducing -“ Regina stops mid-laugh, and runs the events of the last couple of weeks back through her mind. Emma fixing her car. Emma showing up at her office to ask for an extension. Emma conveniently finding them a cabin when they’re caught in the rain. Emma needing a place to stay and Regina walking in on her in the bathroom – Emma deciding Regina needs a massage – holy shit. It’s like every weird moment of the past few weeks has suddenly become clear, and transparent, and so…so…endearing, what the hell – that she can’t help but laugh. “Oh, Emma.”

“Ugh, drop it,” Emma laughs.. “It worked, so.”

“Um,” Regina says, brought up short. “I…guess you’re right.”

Emma gives her a broad, broad smile, and Regina feels something inside her unlock; and she knows, no matter the ridiculous, probably internet-fuelled schemes she’s been conned into participating in to get there, she would do anything to have that smile directed at her again.