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Meet Me Halfway

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~ 112 Sunday Brunches Later ~

Emma brought the orange juice to her lips and decided that anything put into a wine glass or goblet was immediately made fancy and tasted better. That, or it could have just been that Cora always purchased the best of the best, and hand-squeezed orange juice made that list. She thanked Claude, the butler whom, after a particularly stressful Christmas Eve dinner, she had bonded with over the iron fist of Cora Mills, as he refilled her glass with juice.

"So when will you two be leaving?" Cora asked Henry, who in the last two years had sprouted like a weed.

He swallowed the large bite of turkey sausage he had placed in his mouth before grabbing his napkin and wiping at the corners of his lips. "Next Saturday. We'll be back by Monday night the latest."

"You've just finished school, dear, and you're already leaving so soon? Don't you think you want to fully settle in?" Cora had still yet to visit the cottage even after Regina and Emma had spent a weekend cleaning it up. Most of the furniture remained, but dusting the place did nothing to evade the insects and wildlife of the woods, which Cora continued to remind the family that no amount of bug spray could make them immune to the bacteria they possessed.

"Yeah." Henry beamed. "I have my first riding competition at the end of the summer, and Regina says I have to practise as often as I can. Are you gonna come watch?"

Emma smirked and turned a curious eyebrow to Cora. "Yeah, are you gonna come up?"

Cora pursed her lips and refrained from rolling her eyes. "We will see."

Emma caught Henry's eye, and they both shared a silent laugh. The boy had oddly taken to Regina's mother, which sometimes worried Emma, but he didn't exhibit traits of evil cackling or manipulation (other than conning his way into a later bedtime and a bigger allowance), and for the most part, she was happy to know that her kid got through to the scary dragon lady. That didn't stop them from teasing the older Mills, however. Every time they would return from their trips at the cottage, they would tell her stories of the biggest spiders they'd ever seen, rabid wolves set on the loose, and wild mustangs running free in the pasture. The look on Cora's face when she imagined such creatures was priceless. It nearly rivaled the look on Regina's face when she realized Emma and Henry had found a way to get under Cora's skin and live to tell the tale. Regina thanked Emma graciously, over and over, when the blonde first purposely annoyed the older Mills, and now it had become a past time of Emma's, and Henry's apparently.

"How is that. . .animal of yours?" Cora asked, bringing some cut up fruit to her lips.

"Donny?" Henry asked, continuing when he received a nod from the older woman. "He's just learned to do jumps now. We've been going up there whenever we can, and he's getting more lean and faster. It's like he knows when people are watching though 'cause he gets nervous."

"You'll just have to break him in," Cora said obviously with a wave of her hand. When Emma raised an impressed eyebrow, Cora continued. "Yes, I know things, Ms. Swan."

"Right," Emma muttered to herself, forking a piece of her spinach and goat cheese omelet into her mouth and nodding along.

"I've recently got in touch with Charlene Tremaine," Cora said.

It took Emma a moment to realize that Cora was speaking to her before straightening, her eyebrows shooting up high in curiosity. When she didn't recognize the name, she scrunched up her face. "That's. . .nice?"

Cora rolled her eyes and sighed as if talking to an imbecile. "She's the headmistress of the private school Regina went to as a child."

Emma tried to look excited at the news but failed to see what that had to do with her. "That's . . .also nice."

Cora glared at Emma, frustrated at her idiocy. "I'm able to get an interview with her if Henry is to attend her school. Usually they like to inspect the parents' background, their home, all the necessary inspections, but I'm sure I can persuade her to visit here."

Oh, Emma thought, mentally rolling her eyes. That's what Cora was up to. Emma was pretty sure that 'inspect the parents' background' was code for 'how much are they worth?' Though the disparity in their wealth had stopped causing drastic problems between Regina and Emma long ago, Cora never failed to bring it up. It was the one thing that Cora seemed to hold over Emma's head, but she was hoping after tonight, that would all change. "I appreciate that, Cora, but it's not necessary. Henry goes to a good school already, and he's the smartest kid ever."

The boy in question shrugged his shoulder but rolled his eyes affectionately at the compliment.

"Of course he is, dear, but just imagine how bright he can be and all the opportunities presented to him should he go to a reputable school," Cora argued.

"He can still have those opportunities regardless of where he goes. Bill Gates dropped out of college and look at him now," the blonde pointed out. She mentally high fived herself at that argument. She knew that fun fact would come in handy one day. "Plus, isn't private school like twenty grand?"

"And?" Cora dismissed with a flourish of her hand.

"A month." Emma deadpanned.

"If it's money that you're concerned about - "

Emma held up a hand and stopped the older woman with a dry laugh. "No. It's not." She turned to Henry who had silently watched their altercation. Before he had been nervous whenever they argued, but now he enjoyed watching it like a tennis match. Or an old-fashioned war. "Do you want to go to private school?"

"Do I have to wear a uniform?"

"But of course," Cora tittered at the question.

Henry scrunched up his face and shook his head. "Not really."

Emma smirked and motioned to her son while keeping her gaze on Cora. "Thanks for your suggestion though."

Cora huffed unamused at her foiled plan just as Regina strode in from the hallway, replacing her cell phone back into her purse. "I apologize for the interruption. There seems to be a problem with the stills I sent to the community center in Brooklyn."

"Are you still on that charity project, dear? I would have thought that by now you'd be running your own publishing company," Cora commented as Regina took her regular seat beside her mother.

"A lot of community centers are in need of public funding, Mother, and a lot of wealthy people like to be seen doing a good deed," Regina reiterated to Cora not for the first time. "I enjoy my work, and if I wanted to be sitting down in meetings all day, I would be running the hotels."

"It's never too late to do that as well," Cora muttered loudly to herself and drained her juice like a shot. Regina sent Cora a look that told her not to push her luck, but Cora glared in response and looked past her daughter to Henry. "My dear boy, how old are you now?"

"Turning twelve," he muttered with his mouth full of Belgium waffles.

"Are you aware we have an internship program? It's highly coveted, but I could guarantee you the job when you come of age," Cora enticed.

Before either Regina or Emma could say anything, Henry shrugged and shook his head. "I like writing. Business is more mom's thing."

Cora looked aghast as she turned to gawk at Emma who grinned smug at the older Mills and popped a roasted potato wedge into her mouth. "Regina taught me a lot. Planning on leaving me your empire?"

Cora scoffed and snapped for her plate to be taken away. "I'd rather frequent your brothel."

"Really? That's saying something," Emma shrugged in thought before catching Henry and Regina's eyes. "Speaking of which, we gotta get going."

"I assume brunch is cancelled on Sunday," Cora said as she followed the family to the front door where Claude was already waiting to open the door for them.

"Yes, Mother, we have far too much to do this weekend," Regina said.

"It's only Friday, dear, how much can you possibly have planned?"

"You can visit my brothel," Emma offered, biting her cheek to keep from laughing.

Cora looked sick at the thought and turned to kiss Regina's cheek goodbye. "Next week then."

The family hesitated, eyeing one another. Emma scratched the back of her head and shrugged. "It'd just be me and you next week."

Cora's face remained impassive. Although Cora and Emma could stand to be in the same room with each other, they never willingly bonded without some sort of buffer between them. Cora continued to make snide remarks about Emma's upbringing, and Emma continued to back talk to the older Mills, but there was always a line neither woman dared to pass for fear of losing the affection of their one common ground: Regina. It wasn't the greatest relationship, but they weren't tearing at each other's throats (as much). They were civil, and that was more than either Mills or Swans could ask for. Despite being civil, the idea of brunch with just Cora and Emma made both women flinch. Emma opened her mouth, ready to spew out a list of excuses to get her out of it, but Cora scoffed and turned to Regina and patted her daughter's arm for a hug. "I'll see you when you return, dear."

Emma exhaled relieved at the mutual understanding as Henry stepped up, giving the older Mills a hug when she released Regina. Both Regina and Henry looked at Emma expectantly. She winced stepping forward, but Cora had stepped back with a glare that said don't even think about it. Emma nodded at the silent understanding and waved. "Please thank your chef for breakfast."

Regina shook her head as she led Henry out the door, bidding Claude goodbye. Emma stayed behind, running her hands through her hair in an attempt to keep them busy as she tilted her head at Cora. "Would you actually teach me the hotel world?"

Cora raised an eyebrow surprised. There was no teasing in Emma's tone, and by the way she looked behind her to see that Regina and Henry hadn't noticed her absence yet told Cora she was serious. But she had learned over the last two years that Emma Swan had motives just as she did and huffed her disdain. "Goodbye, Ms. Swan."

They had a busy day ahead of them and they needed to get as much done as possible, which included their weekly meal with Cora. Now that breakfast was over and done with, all Emma and Henry had to focus on was in the form of the empty apartment they were currently standing in. They had taken separate cars to the Mills mansion for efficiency's sake. Right about now, Regina would be directing Ruby and Billy on what were the more fragile of her items. While they were working on Regina's condo, August and Frederick had returned that morning before the Swans had left for breakfast to complete the rest of the moving they had started the night before.

Now the apartment was eerily empty for the first time in eleven years. The couch with the loose spring was donated to Goodwill, all of Henry's comics and toys were packed away and on their way to the new house, and the only thing that remained was an empty fridge, bare cupboards, and the shower with the leaky faucet.

"It looks so much bigger without anything in it." Henry came to stand beside his mother, lacing their hands together.

A soft yet sad smile graced her face as she circled the big empty room. They lingered by the corner where the TV had been and recalled the countless hours they spent marathoning Star Wars. "Did you ever think we'd move out of here?"

The boy shrugged. "I think you always wanted to give me the best."

Emma released their hands and wrapped her arms around his shoulders from behind. "I tried at least."

He squeezed her forearm reassuringly. "You did more than try, Mom."

Emma kissed his temple before releasing him and walking to the middle of the room. "You took your first steps here." She pointed to the kitchen drawers. "And you once hid yourself in that drawer, and I freaked out when I couldn't find you." Her fingers trailed over the edge of the wall when she made her way to the wall that once held their corded telephone. The edge boasted markings of Henry's heights throughout the years causing Emma's eyes to water. It was like the end of era leaving this place, but she knew there'd be happier times ahead of her. Still, this was Emma's first real home. She was going to miss it.

"Hey Mom." Before turning, Emma wiped her eyes free of the moisture. When she looked up, Henry had walked up to her with his Polaroid in his hand. He had been walking around with it for days snapping their final moments in either apartments. He offered it to her with an understanding grin. "One more for the road?"

Emma grinned at the genius of her son, grabbing the camera just as Henry lined himself up with the height markings. He was a full three inches taller than the last time they had checked his height, and it blew Emma's mind that his teenage years would be spent in a new house just out of the city he had spent his entire life in. The camera flashed and it whirred to life, dispensing the picture out slowly. Emma pulled it out and let it dry on the counter before sidling up beside Henry and holding the camera high above them. "One more."

Henry and Emma made a stop-over at Regina's condo where the moving van was currently parked in front of the entrance, its back open and loaded with almost all of Regina's furniture.

"Hey Billy!" Henry ran ahead of Emma to greet the mechanic and part-time mover for the day.

"Hey little man," Billy nodded at Henry as he carried a carefully bubble wrapped photograph into the bed of the van.

"I thought Aunt Ruby was here."

"She's here. Now ask me if she was helpful." Billy nodded his chin behind him where Ruby was sitting on the futon just in front of the building's hedges.

Emma laughed apologetically and helped move other photographs into the van. "That's Ruby for you."

Regina had exited the building just then with her luggage in tow and followed Henry's sight line to see another woman currently on the sofa, grinning widely at the brunette bartender as they continued to chat.

"Who's that?" Emma asked as she joined the family, eyeing the pale, auburn haired woman.

Regina rolled a shoulder, frowning at the stranger sitting on her couch. "Her surname is French. She lives in the building."

Emma nodded at the information before patting Henry's shoulder. "Go upstairs and see if any of your stuff got left behind."

The boy nodded and sprinted into the building with his mother's key.

Regina turned her head just in time to see Billy attempt to lift her dining room table single handedly. "Be careful!" Regina barked. "You will chip the mahogany."

Startled, Billy gently set the table down, hands up in a surrender before calling out to Ruby. "Rubes! Stop flirting and come help me!"

Emma smirked when Ruby turned her head and glared before standing with her new friend. She saw her pull her phone out of her pocket and tap into it just as the French woman was doing the same. "Huh," Emma muttered low enough for only Regina to hear. "I thought Ruby was into Billy."

"Hmm?" Regina followed Emma's line of sight back to the two women by the couch just as Ruby was looking over her shoulder, grinning when she caught the auburn woman's eye as she made her way back to the van. "It just goes to show some people will surprise you."

They were both eyeing Ruby as she returned, both sporting the same knowing smirk on their face as Ruby frowned at them. "I guess it's true when they say, couples do start looking like each other after they've been together a while."

"Does that mean you're gonna stop tanning and take that red streak out of your hair?" Emma teased.

"Or perhaps you'll verse yourself in Ulysses. I hear she's a librarian," Regina added.

Ruby rolled her eyes and muttered "you guys suck" before lifting the dining table, its corners and edges newly wrapped in cardboard and bubble wrap and setting it inside the van with Billy.

Emma and Regina shared a laugh at Ruby's embarrassed sulk, but they had remembered they were in a hurry and proceeded to pack Regina's Benz with her luggage.

Ruby and Billy had done well to clear out Regina's condo while the family was at breakfast. Henry had come racing down to say that everything he had kept at Regina's was packed and in the van but the women had decided to have a look of their own. As soon as they stepped into the condo, big, white and ominous, Regina was already on her way to the fridge, pulling down the pictures she had collected of them over the years and stacked them into a neat pile. The stainless steel fridge Emma had first been acquainted with grew to include photographs of the family and art projects Henry had made at school. Now, with everything plucked from its magnetic hold, the fridge returned to its original stainless steel plainness. Emma retreated to the bedroom as Regina put the magnets in a baggie, checking all the closets and drawers in the washroom for anything forgotten, but just as her own apartment, everything that wasn't already part of the pre-furnished condo had been packed away.

She jogged down the steps, nearly losing her footing on the glass and held onto the railing tightly before she could fall. "That. That I will not miss."

"That's why I made sure our stairs were made of oak, dear." Regina placed the small stack of photos into her purse and sighed as she looked around. "This is it."

"Yeah." Emma held her hand out, coaxing Regina to stand with her in the center of the room.

Regina didn't hesitate to move around the island and latch onto Emma's hand. They edged their way to the grand windows and looked down onto the city below them. Regina leaned into Emma's side and wrapped her arm around the blonde's waist. "Are you ready?"

Emma chuckled. "We've been basically living together already. Now we just have a mortgage together."

"Not that. About..." Regina dipped her head as her mind swirled with the enormity of today, "...everything."

Emma looked amused for a moment before her nervousness shone through her eyes. "That's a lot to be ready for," she quietly admitted.

"So what are you saying?" Regina looked almost fearful as she caught the vulnerability in blue-green eyes.

"I'm saying," Emma pulled Regina to her and gave her one final, sound kiss. "Let's go home."

Regina murmured pleasantly against Emma's lips, intertwining their hands together before leading them toward the door. They nearly collided into Henry upon their exit, but luckily the boy had stopped short.

"There you are," Henry huffed. "Aunt Ruby said you guys had to do something quickly or something."

Emma rolled her eyes at what Henry had inadvertently overhead but thanked the gods he had misunderstood. She remembered at the last second that she had a copy of Regina's ring on her keychain and moved to the island to remove it and place it down firmly on the counter. Upon seeing Emma, Regina was prompted to removing her own key, along with the one that opened the lobby door, and left it beside the blonde's.

With a heavy heart, they gave the condo one final goodbye before making their way to the door again.

"Wait!" Henry stopped them from leaving and wedged his way in between the two women. He raised the Polaroid up above their heads, making sure they squished in together. "This is the last one."

The camera flashed as the picture dispensed of the trio as they stood together in a home they had called themselves a family in.

The house in Queens offered a bigger space for the growing family, and it was located in an area that was nearby a good school while still close to the city for Emma and Regina to work. It had taken weeks of courage for Emma to propose the idea of living together, but when Regina chuckled and asked what they were currently doing since their belongings were split between the two apartments, Emma had jokingly answered they were overpaying in rent.

Emma's apartment was too small and out of the way from Regina's studio, and Regina's condo, while lavish, didn't have the space for an ever growing Henry. It had been a gruelling year, visiting open houses, communicating with realtors and financial advisers, and saving up the funds for the down payment, but they had finally gotten it - a house they would all be living in as a family.

It was a simple three-bedroom house that was in sore need of a paint job if Regina had any say in it, with a small lawn out front along the driveway and a yard out back that connected tightly with the neighbours behind and beside it. There was no white picket fence or tire swing hanging off a tree, but as Emma exited her bug with Henry, catching Regina's eye as she slipped out of the Benz, she grinned feeling like it was already home.

August and Frederick were already inside putting together Henry's bed when the family and the moving van arrived. In their haste to empty the van in time for Ruby and Billy to use it, August and Frederick had littered the lawn and living room with the Swans' belongings. Emma could tell it was a mess that made Regina wince.

"Already on it," Emma assuaged before Regina even thought to speak up as she tied up her hair into a loose bun and lifted a box labelled with her clothes into her arms.

"Hey, you made it," Frederick greeted, exiting the house and clapping Emma on the shoulder.

"Where's Kathryn?" Emma turned, walking backwards toward the house - her house - her house with Henry and Regina.

"She's not feeling too well right now, but she's coming tonight. Wouldn't miss it."

Emma gave an embarrassed smile then nodded her head to her old mattress resting against the brick wall of the exterior. "Can you bring that into the spare room? There's one already in the master."

Regina cocked an eyebrow as she tugged her luggage free from her trunk. "Frederick, if that mattress doesn't make it into the house, it won't be the end of the world."

"Hey," Emma whined. "There are good memories on that."

"Gah, don't!" Henry covered his ears and bolted into the house.

Ruby laughed out loud as she exited the backed-in van and air high-fived Emma. "Good one."

Billy jogged over to help Frederick with the mattress and smirked. "Should we get some disinfectant first?"

Regina sent both laughing men a death glare that shut them up immediately. They quickly scampered into the house with the mattress, Ruby following close behind with one of the bubble-wrapped photographs, leaving Regina to direct her glare at Emma. "Put your clothes away."

Emma looked down sheepishly. "Yes, dear."

It took a good few hours to get everything inside the house. Once the van was cleared, Frederick bid the others goodbye and drove it back to the rental agency with Billy. They were nowhere near unpacked, but as morning turned into afternoon, the major necessities were out of the way. That being said, everyone inside the house realized that the air conditioning had was in need of replacing making the house as hot as the outside with its summer blazing sun. August had finished setting up Henry's bed, and he and his honorary nephew decided to spend their time laying about the room with a few of the kid's comics and a fan blowing their way. His clothes at least were hanging in the closet, but his new desk had yet to be set up.

Dozens of Regina's photographs were lining the main hallway, still encased in its protective bubble wrap, waiting to be hung up on the walls. The futon was situated in front of the flat screen that remained unplugged and unhooked to any sound system, DVD player, or VHS player, an item Emma refused to part with claiming there was no other way of watching Disney classics than by rewinding the cassette. Still, she enjoyed the DVDs Regina had gifted them with, only for the special features, of course.

All that needed to be set up was the bed in the master bedroom, a task delegated to Emma and Ruby. Their only hindrance in the whole process was when Emma accidentally dropped the bag of screws for the bed frame causing both women to scour on their hands and knees for the missing screws, washers, and bolts. After less than an hour of getting the frame ready, they heaved the queen sized orthopedic mattress onto it nicely.

"So you had sex on this bed too?" Ruby asked with a smirk as they placed the bed sheets onto the mattress.

Emma made a face and shook her head, tossing the pillows by the headboard. "No, I'm not gonna answer that."

The brunette laughed out loud and plopped down onto the pathetically made bed. She stared up at the ceiling and patted the spot beside her. Emma followed suit and laid down beside her best friend.

"Granny's gonna watch Henry tonight, right?" Emma confirmed with the younger brunette.

"She wants to see your place too, but you know what she said?" Ruby's face scrunched up and her voice deepened to a gruff to imitate her grandmother. "I wouldn't miss Emma's opening if my joints were as spry and limber as they used to be."

Emma laughed at the impression with the brunette as they settled comfortably on the bed for a moment of relaxation.

"He's sleeping over too, so if you and Regina want to..." Ruby waggled her eyebrows and grinned wolfishly, earning herself an eye roll and a smack from Emma.

Realization sunk in after a few minutes when Emma finally took in the fact that she was now her own boss. She sat up partially at the thought. "God, it's only in a few hours. I have to go there soon."

"Well who told you to move the same day your bar was opening?"

"We had to be out of our places by today," the blonde argued. She covered her eyes with her fists. "It's gonna be a busy weekend."

"You'll get through it," Ruby said with a squeeze of Emma's arm. "You always do."

The blonde smiled shyly, a silent thank you in her eyes as they continued to rest from the exhausting day that still wasn't over yet.

"You're all grown up," Ruby whispered.

Emma nudged her shoulder bashfully. "I'm older than you."

"I'm happy for you," Ruby said seriously, turning her head to show her intent. "You've got a house now, Em. You have a family and your dream job. Everything you always wanted."

There was fear in Emma's eyes for a moment as she kept her gaze on the lightbulb above them. "All I gotta do is not mess it up."

Ruby threw her arm over Emma for a lying down hug. "You won't."

Emma jogged down the stairs, oak as Regina had promised, and bypassed the living room, making a mental note to call the cable guy by the end of the weekend before pushing her way through the swinging door and stepping into the rather large kitchen. Regina's dining room table had already been set up in the dining room, but they had managed to clean up the breakfast table from Emma's to match the cabinets and counters of the new house. The breakfast table and kitchen floor was littered with appliances, mostly Regina's since Emma's best friend was the microwave, but the couple found out the blonde had a penchant for baking, and most of the cupcake and cookie trays belonged to Emma.

Regina was putting away the groceries they had managed to salvage from either apartment into their proper locations. Despite the mess, Regina looked every bit as comfortable as if she were standing in her old kitchen.

"Hey," Emma greeted with a grin. "Our bed's done. All settled in?"

Regina walked to a box on the table and pulled out a large baking pan and fluffed out her apron. "I was going to make them something as a late lunch."

Emma aided the woman by unpacking the dishes, utensils, and the newspaper wrapped glasses from a separate box. "I don't think there's time to make a lasagna. Raincheck?"

"Are you turning down my lasagna?" Regina feigned shock, hanging the apron on a newly installed wall hook. "That's a first."

Emma rolled her eyes, unable to admit the butterflies in her stomach that wouldn't settle down were squashing down her appetite. Instead, she continued unpacking in their comfortable silence, placing what they could in cabinets or drawers. Emma had finished her box first and lifted herself up onto the counter and began popping wayward bubble wrap. She smirked when Regina looked up at her with a glare and popped another bubble defiantly.

"You know," Emma said casually, dropping the bubble wrap onto the counter beside her. "We have a whole house we have yet to christen."

Regina stopped her unpacking, pausing as she stretched up to place mixing bowls on the highest shelf of a cabinet. Inches of skin, browned from the sun peaked from under her thin t-shirt and denim cut offs. The heat proved to be too much even for the Latina, and Emma couldn't help but be more than happy about that. Regina raised a coy eyebrow and drew back on her heels, leaning back against the counter opposite Emma and mischievously played with the collar of her shirt. "And how do you plan on rectifying that?"

Emma swallowed hard, not expecting Regina to take the bait. She composed her features and rolled a shoulder non-chalantly, but her eyes darkened considerably. "Well, the kid will be at Granny's soon, and I don't really have to go into work. See I'm a business owner now."

Regina shook her head, a content smile on her lips before she finished with her own box and made her way to nestle in between Emma's legs.

"Shouldn't you be on your way soon?" Regina questioned, checking her watch for the time.

Emma nodded animatedly, her hands finding Regina's sides and tugging at the shirt she was wearing to bring her in closer. "I'm gonna go in an hour or so."

"You can't be late to your own grand opening, dear," Regina said lightly.

"I like to make an entrance," Emma shrugged coyly.

"You did learn from the best."

The blonde grinned and leaned her head in to close the distance between them. Before their lips could connect, she felt Regina's arms snake their way up and behind Emma's neck and tug on the strands of hair there. "I'm so proud of you," Regina whispered breathily into Emma's mouth.

"Of me?" The blonde asked in almost disbelief.

Regina nodded. "You'll do an amazing job, Emma."

"You're the one that helped me get the loan," Emma downplayed with her eyes averted though she pressed their foreheads together.

Regina shook her head. "I taught you how to talk to investors and how to efficiently manage a business. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink."

Emma chuckled. "Your mom was right about that horse obsession, huh?"

Regina rolled her eyes and pushed on Emma's shoulder before joining her hands behind the blonde's neck again. A flash of nerves passed through Emma's eyes, but before it could come to full fruition, Regina leaned forward, eager to kiss the fears away.

Before their lips could connect, the ringing of Regina's phone separated them for the second time. The brunette huffed and extracted herself from Emma's legs and fished into her purse for her phone. Emma took the time break up the cardboard boxes and flattened them against the wall to be taken to the recycle bin. When Regina had ended her call, she found the brunette with a frustrated frown on her face.

"I need to return to my studio. There's something wrong with the prints I sent to the community center, so I have to make sure I still have the originals at least." Regina was already pushing her way out of the kitchen and pulling on the thin cream-coloured cardigan she had draped on the coat rack. The heat may get to her, but Regina always made it a point to dress appropriately for business, and the cardigan hid the casual attire the sun had forced her to wear.

Emma followed with her purse and her brows furrowed. "How long will that take?"

Regina stepped into Emma and pressed a firm kiss to her lips. "I promise I will be there tonight."

"Okay." Though neither could ignore the uncertainty in the blonde's voice. "Love you."

Regina pulled open their front door and called up the stairs. "Henry! I'm just on my way to the studio. I'll be back in a few hours."

"Okay!" Henry's muffled voice sounded from his room.

Regina gave Emma a smile that reached her eyes as they lingered in the doorway. It was an exhausting day, and it was only going to get more stressful, but in that reassuring smile, Emma calmed down some. Regina winked. "I love you too."

The Barrel was bustling with life ever since Emma had removed the red rope of the entrance line over an hour earlier. Before opening, she had gone to her bar in midtown hours earlier to make sure everything was clean and set up for the night. The live band that would be performing for the time being were already set up and doing their sound check, and by the time the rest of her employees came in, a motley crew of people whom she had become friends with over the past few weeks, she was ready to give them a pep talk. Instead, they had joked around for the better part of the hour before Emma sobered up as opening grew closer and closer, wishing everyone good luck.

An hour into service, and so far, things were running much smoothly than Emma had anticipated. She wiped down the counter as her workers tended the bar and took a moment to take in the scene before.

She remembered walking by the place on one of her and Regina's trips of scouting residences. Back then, it was just a large empty space with a small room above that Emma had converted into an office space. She had persuaded Regina to take a look inside, but when she inquired about the lease, the down payment on the space made her turn her tail. It was Regina who encouraged her to take out a loan after Emma had flat out refused the brunette's offer of buying out the lease for her. They had been in a precarious situation then, old wounds nearly torn wide open, but after careful communication where Emma relented on help from Regina, and with both Henry and Regina's encouragement, Emma had gotten the space and remodelled it as she pleased.

The walls were made of dark wood that boasted photographs of the city taken by Regina herself. A large area in front of the bar was designated dance space that stopped just short of the raised platform that held the live band. Emma planned on supporting upcoming artists by hiring them as the band of the week, and so far, she had quite a few inquiries about it. The music brought in new people, and she was hoping it'd be a mutual benefaction. So far, so good by the looks of the dancing crowd. The far side was lined with booths that were more secluded and away from the general populace. It was closer to the back where the pool table and dart boards were located.

The Barrel was a place where Emma could see herself just coming in to every Friday if she was just a regular patron, and by the happy chatter around her, she was hoping it would become a place others would frequent regularly as well. She knew she couldn't base her predictions on this one night. Hell, she'd probably still be in the red after a year, but she had her own place and her family beside her, and that was a start.

Speaking of which, she noticed that Regina had yet to return from her studio, and that had been hours ago. She bit her lip in worry, debating on calling Regina, but the presence of a familiar person shook her out of her thoughts.

"Look at you, hotshot," August grinned. "Do I have competition?"

Emma laughed, bringing the loose strand of hair that escaped her pony tail back around her ears. She adjusted her tie and suit and tossed the rag into the sink behind her. "Gin, right?"

Emma wasted no time in grabbing August's favourite brand of gin, smirking when she tossed it in the air and caught it, pouring his drink behind her back.

"Now you're just stealing my thing," August teased, accepting the drink.

"Please, you know how many good bartenders can do that?" Emma scoffed motioning to her own as they did various tricks with shakers and shot glasses. "Your thing was the smoking hot babes dancing on the fireman's pole."

August shrugged, not denying the fact as he held out a twenty for Emma. "Your first dollar."

Emma waved it off. "On the house."

"Come on, how poetic would it be that your first dollar at your own bar came from your favourite boss?" August argued. "And not some stranger ordering a beer?"

Emma retrieved a twenty from her inner jacket pocket and held it out proudly. "Actually he ordered rum, and my first dollar came from-"


Killian emerged from the crowd with none other than Maleficent under his arm. The sight of the curly haired blonde made Emma share a silent look with August. "Another, if you please, love. And surprise the lady."

Mal feigned boredom as she glanced around the area, lingering on the band before finally turning back and catching Emma's eye.

"Hey, never thought I'd see you here," Emma mused as she replaced the bill and poured rum into a tumbler for Killian. She made her most expensive, girliest and strongest drink for Maleficent. Oh, sweet revenge. "Having fun?"

Maleficent scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Hardly."

"Not too shabby there, Swan," Killian saluted with his glass, ignoring Maleficent's comment. "Though if I recall correctly, you claimed to be a dancer, did you not?"

"Yeah, not really in that business anymore, Jones," Emma said crossing her arms over her chest.

"Pity," Killian said. "Though if you pull yourself away from the counter for a moment and find me on the dance floor, I'd be much obliged."

Before Emma could remind him that she was still very much with Regina, Ruby came stumbling over, completely crashing into Maleficent, spilling the blonde's drink over her dress, and stomping on Maleficent's six-inch heels.

"Oh no," Ruby apologized profusely, making little attempt to clean her mess. "I'm so sorry. I must be drunk."

Maleficent gaped at her ruined dress, noticed the suppressed smirk on the "drunken" Ruby, and growled. "Does everyone around you have a problem with holding their liquor?" She stomped away, not bothering to wait for an answer.

Killian watched her leave, continuing to sip his rum as if an angry Maleficent were an every day occurence. "I suppose I should follow her."

They watched him trail after her, but when the familiar sight of Tania Bellil crossed his path, he immediately detoured and followed Regina's new friend.

"What the hell was that?" August questioned Ruby with a laugh.

Ruby ignored him and leaned over the counter to whisper to Emma. "That was the girl with the Manolo Blahniks, right?"

Emma gaped at her best friend completely bewildered but nodded.

"Told you I keep my promises." She reared back and suddenly her face brightened. "Oh! There's Belle."

As quick as she had come, Ruby was gone as soon as the auburn haired woman from Regina's condo had walked in through the door. August turned to Emma with a curious look but shook his head, deciding not to ask. He promised not to make too much trouble and left Emma at the counter where she filled in a few more orders and greeted a few more familiar faces who had made it out for the night, one of them being from the newly legal Ashley.

"Emma!" The young blonde squealed as she leaned over the counter to give her a hug. "This place is awesome! Congratulations!"

Emma grinned at her enthusiasm and shrugged her thanks.

"I'm gonna miss having you as a neighbour," Ashley admitted with a sad smile.

"You know we'll still visit each other. I owe you how many years of babysitting jobs?"

Ashley waved her hand dismissively. "As long as Alex and Henry can still play together, don't even worry. You guys have only been gone a day, and all I keep hearing is Alexandra asking where Henry is."

The two blondes shared in a laugh when the sound of one of Emma's employees at the other end of the counter caught her attention.

"I'll get back to you, Ash, but I gotta check this out real quick." Emma grabbed the closest bartender beside her and motioned to her friend. "Here, Sean. Can you get her a drink?"

Emma was off just as Ashley and Sean held gazes and grinned shyly at one another.

"Sean," he offered his hand to her.

"Ashley." She shook it, pink tinting her cheeks.

The classic rock covers mixed with the originals the band was playing permeated the air as the crowd danced to the beat. Emma maneuvered past the other bartenders to get to Tamara, the furthest one at the end. When the broken bottle of Grey Goose crunched under Emma's foot, Emma could see the reason behind the worry in the woman's face. She reassured her, simply telling her to clean it up and get a new bottle and not to worry. She released the breath she had been holding and decided that if that was going to be the only thing going wrong tonight, then Emma counted herself lucky.

She remembered that an important aspect to any business was to keep customers happy, so she removed herself from the bar once the broken bottle situation was handled and mingled with the crowd. She greeted familiar faces, co-workers who had worked with her at both August's and the restaurant, and introduced herself to new ones. She was building rapport, as Regina had stated, and rapport bred customer loyalty.

She found Fredrick and a newly pregnant Kathryn at the back by the dart boards. They were laughing at the fact that despite Frederick's athleticism, the millionaire heiress was schooling his ass in darts. Killian had apparently made it into Tania's good graces as they were dancing in the middle of the dance floor, Ruby and her new friend Belle not too far off. She caught August's eye as he no doubt was attempting to con someone out of their money in a game of pool. He would complain about shin splints in his leg for the first two games, losing intentionally, but when the third came around with the stakes at double or nothing, we wiped the table clean, shrugging innocently at his winnings.

She had good friends who had come out to support her in her new bar, and Emma couldn't be more thankful for that. Woah, the thought hit Emma suddenly. This is all mine. She bit her lip to contain her euphoric grin, but the feeling of something missing struck her hard. Regina still wasn't there. Resolved on her decision, she disappeared past the washrooms to the small office room upstairs. She had all the time in the world to build rapport and serve drinks. She wanted Regina to be with her tonight to celebrate.

As she pushed open her door, she stopped in its entrance, the worry she had flooded out of her at the sight of Regina. The brunette had apparently gone home - to their home - and changed into the sleek black number she was wearing now as she sat with her legs crossed on Emma's desk.

"That certainly took you long enough." Regina's voice had lowered an octave to a tone that did unnatural things to Emma's core.

"What's a woman like you doing in a place like this?" Emma asked coyly, reiterating the first words she had ever spoken to the woman. She shut the door behind her with a resounding click and closed the distance between them.

"My partner owns the bar, though she seemed to have forgotten about little old me."

"What an idiot." Emma trailed her nails up Regina's thighs, parting them enough to situate herself between them. "Were you here all this time?"

"Just the last fifteen minutes." Regina tugged Emma towards her by the tie, eyeing the outfit with approval. "I had to find ways to entertain myself."

"That's a euphemism if I ever heard one," Emma teased, planting her hands on the desk of either side of Regina's body. "Are things good with the stills?"

"All settled," Regina reassured. "Jefferson sends his congratulations."

Emma grinned. "I think Tania and Killian are hitting it off."

Regina laughed out loud as her hands settled on Emma's shoulders, kneading out the tension there. "She'll eat him for breakfast."

"Not really the image I want when I'm between your legs, Regina," Emma joked, leaning completely into her. "I'm so glad you're here."

"Where else would I be?" Regina asked, moving her head up just a bit to press her lips against Emma's.

The kiss was slow and insistent, and Emma put as much gratitude and affection as she could into it. She wouldn't be here if it weren't for Regina. Sure, she had her dreams of being her own boss when it was just her and Henry, but when Regina presented the idea that her dream could become a reality, Emma grabbed onto it, thankful that Regina had been there the whole time through offering advice and business perspectives that Emma wouldn't have known otherwise. She knew businesses failed because owners went into it for the wrong reasons, but Regina had helped to map out why Emma could succeed. Now all Emma had to do was not fail.

Regina pulled back and placed a gentle kiss to the corner of Emma's lips when she felt the tension return to Emma's shoulders. "What are you stressed about?" Regina coaxed gently, her words as melodic as the soothing rhythm of her massage.

Emma bit her lip and let her fears flood her for a moment more as she grabbed onto Regina's waist as if she were a life raft. "Do you know that 33% of start ups fail within the first year?"

Regina raised a curious eyebrow at the factoid.

"I read that book you suggested," Emma shrugged.

Regina tugged Emma in closer by the shoulders as her hands continued their massage. "Then you also know that 44% of businesses are still up at the five year mark."

"That's less than half," Emma complained.

"It's a risk," Regina said assertively, ever the voice of reason.

Emma sighed and grabbed Regina's hands and brought them in between them, squeezing them tightly. "It's going to be really hard at first," Emma warned.

"I know."

"I could be working a lot."

"We've already talked to Henry about it."

"I just-"

Regina removed her hands so that it was she who was holding Emma's. Her thumbs roved soothingly over the back of Emma's hands as she dipped her head to lock gazes with the worrisome blonde. "I know the risks. I know the sacrifices you have to make, the ones we all have to make. I'm not going anywhere, Emma. I hope you aren't too."

Still Emma continued to avert her eyes. "It might be a while before we're in the black."

"Then we will handle it. Together. Whether you accept it or not, I am your partner in this, wherever you need me." Regina cupped Emma's face to hold the blonde's gaze.

It was a simple enough promise, but right then and there, it was all Emma needed to hear. She wasn't alone in this, and although this bar could be sink or swim endeavor, she and Regina wouldn't let it go without a fight. She smiled genuinely, feeling almost foolish at her near panic attack. "I love you, you know that, right?"

Regina smirked. "Do you think I just buy a house with any old stranger?"

"Old?" Emma scoffed. "You are six years older than me."

Regina pulled back entirely, her hands retreating to cross over her chest and her death glare etched expertly on her face.

Emma tugged Regina's hands away and laced them back around her neck. "And super hot, might I add."

Regina rolled her eyes but allowed the contact. "Good save, dear." She pecked Emma quickly before sliding off the desk and tugging Emma's hand along with her. "Come along, dear. You have people to charm."

"So I was thinking," Emma began as Regina held the door open for them, "karaoke Wednesdays. Think it'll be a hit?"

Regina stopped in her tracks and gaped at Emma. "You cannot be serious."

"Just you and me then, huh?" Emma smirked. "Do a little Total Eclipse?"

Regina rolled her eyes and left Emma standing in the entrance of her office door as she descended the stairs. She looked over her shoulder and grinned wickedly at Emma. "We could do that, or we can christen your office."

Emma laughed, biting her lip just to contain the grin that wanted to burst across her face. There was still so much to be done with the new house and the new bar, but Emma just had a feeling that it would all work out. It wouldn't be easy, and it'd be a hell of a bumpy ride, but it would be worth it. She had her kid, happy and healthy, and she had Regina, a woman she never believed could ever love her, picking her up whenever Emma doubted herself. She was pretty damn lucky.

She patted her jacket pocket, feeling the small velvet box she had hidden in there before leaving the house, and chased after Regina, pressing her lips to the brunette's ear when she caught up with her. "I have to ask you something."