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 “Hey, uh, give this to your mom for me,” Emma mumbled casually, shoving a large, expensive-looking dark chocolate bar across her desk.

Henry cocked his head. “Where’d you get this?” He picked it up; it was much heavier than he expected. It was wrapped in gold foil and covered by a thick black wrapper sporting what looked like French. Gold foil peeked out the ends, the middle tied with red ribbon. Real ribbon. “They don’t sell this at the store.” This, Henry knew. His mother loved dark chocolate, a fact she thought he didn’t know but, of course, he did. He knew the brands he’d seen in her “secret” hiding spots; this wasn’t one of them. Nothing was this ornate, and it definitely wasn’t sold at the local drugstore or grocery.

“Somewhere,” Emma muttered, suddenly very interested in the sagging pile of paperwork on her desk. “I forget...whatever.”

“Did you order it online? I’m gonna Google it.”

Henry pulled out his phone with a smirk, causing Emma to jump up, her chair clattering from the sudden movement. “Put that away. What do you care?” she spat, far more defensively than intended. Her eyes were wide, mouth open. He could see her chest rising and falling far too quickly for someone standing still. Pink tinged her fair cheekbones.

“What do you care?” he countered. Henry Mills may have been 16, but as the product of two smart women, he wasn’t stupid. He knew his mother was flustered and defensive, two qualities he didn’t like to see. He didn’t want to push her, but, nevertheless, he was intrigued. He’d never seen Emma get this way outside of something magical or dangerous — and usually it was a combination of both. “Why don’t you just give it to her yourself, you’re at the house all the ti—”

Shit. Whoa. In an instant, it all made sense. Everything snapped into focus. Monday night. Emma was over for dinner, as usual, the trio gathered around the kitchen table, the formal dining room eschewed years ago.

“How was your day?” Emma asked mother and son, followed by enthusiastically depositing a fork full of chicken into her mouth. She hummed happily.

“Should we leave the room?” Regina smirked, winking at Henry. “Would you like to be alone with your chicken?”

“If you were a less-amazing cook, I wouldn’t have this problem. So it’s kinda your fault,” she grinned, reloading her fork.

“Nice try, dear.” Regina sipped a glass of red, eyeing Henry, silently requesting an answer.

“Uh, I had an English test and got a 98.”

“Do better next time!” Emma barked. She tried to look angry and failed completely, green eyes bright and merry. The emotion, which in years past had been as easy to conjure as a breath, had seemed to fade from her abilities. She was happy. Actually, truly, happy. Since their return from Neverland, life had amazingly become normal, an adjective she never thought she’d know personally.

Regina continued to help Emma work on her magic, just in case it was ever needed. But shockingly, it wasn’t. Gold had split town with Belle, for good they all assumed; that was three years ago and no one had heard from them since. Portals, if there were any remaining, stayed closed. Monsters and new fairy tale residents were nowhere to be found. Magic was, for the most part, retired, and life went on. Emma had her own place by the Harbor, Regina went back to running the town, and The Charming/Swan/Mills makeshift extended family — which now included two younger siblings for Emma — settled into a familiar, easy life together.

"Your mother thinks she’s very funny,” Regina noted formally, as if Emma were elsewhere.

Your mother is right here,” Emma mumbled around a mouthful of food, causing Regina to roll her eyes,

“Well, I got asked out on a date,” Regina noted, lips smugly curling around the fork.

Henry’s mouth opened slightly while Emma began to cough violently. She alternately sipped water and tried to clear her airway through sharp hacks.

“Are you alright?” Regina asked, eyes wide.

Emma offered a thumbs-up and a nod, the last few coughs clearing her airway and returning her breathing to normal. “Sorry,” she replied softly. “I caught a...currant.”

Regina’s eyes remained on Emma for a few seconds, searching, then she continued. “Yes, well, I was in the office and Dr. Hauer stopped by.”

“Why?” Emma asked. Her eyelids lowered. She irrationally disliked Hauer, the new (and only) vet in town. The woman moved to Storybrooke six months earlier to set up a practice in what everyone else in Maine believed was a former Mennonite community that went rogue and was now entering the secular world. Christina Hauer was tall, blonde, attractive, outgoing, and confident. She quickly became a popular Storybrooke resident, rankling Emma even more. When she thought about why, her brain annoyingly supplied the fact that she was jealous because another woman had seemingly absorbed her role as favored newcomer, which was even stupider as Emma had relinquished her “newcomer” status long ago. She didn’t think about Hauer much. Until now.

“She asked me to dinner.”

Irrational dislike skyrocketed into pure hate in a millisecond. A small lightbulb popped in the fixture that hung over the sink, the acrid smell of hot copper singing their noses as a tendril of grey smoke rose toward the ceiling.

Regina waved her hand, removing the smell and cooling the overheated, cracked bulb.

“Emma?” Regina looked on concerned. She felt the woman’s magic spike, a vibration she could feel in the air as surely as a wind gust, but she didn’t understand why.

“I’m alright, just a...surge.” She shook her head side to side, as if to dislodge something, “Not sure where that came from, I’m OK.”

Henry tilted his head and caught Regina’s gaze: “You like girls?”

“I like people ,” she corrected, her cheeks coloring a shade. She had talked to Henry about sex and love, but not about herself, sex, and love. That was an entirely different conversation, and until now moot as she hadn’t ever traditionally dated in this realm. She wanted to, she seriously considered it, but ultimately decided the risk was too great. She looked at Emma, who was unmoving, watching silently.

“But you don’t date anyone,” he noted.

“Well, no one has asked me. And, frankly, there was never an overabundance of candidates, anyway.”

A second bulb popped with a sharp crack.

“Emma, what is wrong?” Concern and fear tinged her words. Her heart squeezed as Emma’s green eyes seemed soft and lost, with a hint of moisture. Her skin suddenly looked pale and her plate was still hall-full of food.

“I…”

“You need to lie down, you don’t look well.” She rose and held Emma by the shoulders, encouraging her to rise. “Henry, would you get a damp washcloth and meet us at the couch?”

He nodded and headed for the stairs, one mother shepherding the other into the parlor.

“Oh, my God, you like Mom!” Henry whispered in disbelief, his mouth suddenly refusing to close. He leaned against the nearby filing cabinet for balance. It was as if everything he knew, everything that seemed slightly fuzzy and off a hair forever, had shifted. He closed his mouth, as if the action were foreign, opened it again, and exhaled; it all made sense now. Lips curling into an open-mouthed grin, his voice returned to normal. “Get out! You like her. Holy shit !”

Emma looked like someone who got caught breaking into a home in the middle of the night, shocked face illuminated by a flashlight as she walked out the back door with an armful of electronics.

“I...uh….”

“Jesus, Ma, what the hell?” Henry covered his mouth stifling a laugh, he didn’t want to make this worse, but it bubbled out against his will.

Emma’s blonde curls curtained her red face as her head hung low. She braced herself, straight armed, against the desk.

“Stop swearing, alright? Your mom probably gets a shooting pain in her temple every time you do. She probably thinks she’s having a stroke right now.”

“So, you’re….” Henry looked at her sheepishly, unsure of how to continue, “...too?”

“Bisexual, yes.” Emma straightened herself up and met her son’s gaze. She wasn’t going to hide during this conversation. Was it awkward? Yes. Something to be embarrassed about? No.

“Have you had any other girlfriends?”

“Up here? No. But in Boston and before, yeah.”

“Alright...cool.” Was that the right thing to say? Henry had no idea, other than it didn’t matter or bother him one bit. That was good as he had discovered both his mothers were bisexual in the past 5 days; hell of a week.

Emma’s thumb and index finger spanned her forehead. Henry walked over quietly and placed an arm on her shoulder. “You alright?”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “This is just...I don’t know how to have this discussion with you. I didn’t expect it to be today. And I never thought it would be about Regina.”

Emma sat back down and leaned back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other. Her racing heart slowing as a breath slowly leaked out. Henry pulled a chair around to sit closeby: “You really like her, huh?” His voice, seemingly lower every day, was soft and tender, teasing over.

“You OK with it?,” she squinted. Emma had no idea what she’d do if he said no.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not like you could change that — not that I want you, too,” he quickly added. “I just...I just want you to be happy. And I want Mom to be happy. And I feel like, when we’re together, we’re happy. I really like how it is now.”

She looked up and smiled, warm and wide, then reached out to squeeze his hand. “I do, too.”

“So what are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know. Is she going out with the vet?”

Henry bit his lip, trying not to smile at the way his mother refused to speak her rival’s last name. “Why, are you gonna meet her behind the gym and kick her ass?”

“I could!” she noted, far more defensively than she intended.

He chuckled. “I don’t know. She hasn’t said anything. And I hadn’t thought about asking because now my Mom has the hots for my...Mom. Oh, man.”

Emma leaned closer. “Is that a problem?”

“Not because of the...gayness.”

“Really?” she laughed. “ ‘Gayness’ ?”

“Whatever. I don’t want to think about Mom and anyone . She’s my Mom.” He narrowed his eyes, trying to look menacing, “and that goes for you, too. So now I have to think about my Mom and my Mom, which is, like, awkward-squared.”

“Man, you are such a nerd.”

Brown eyes twinkled. “You love me.”

“Lucky for you.”

He stood and kissed her on the cheek. “Yeah, it is. I mean, she barely had any friends before you blew into town.”

“That’s on you, man. You came and got me.”

Henry patted Emma’s knee. He wasn’t normally this tactile with her, but it felt right at the moment. “And I’m glad I did. You’re, glad, too, right?” She nodded. “And I think Mom is. She’s happier than I ever remember. But as far as boyfriends...or whatever, I never saw one.”

“Not even Graham?”

“She did it with Graham?!?”

The mouths of mother and son dropped open, for different reasons.

“Uh, shit. I don’t think you’re supposed to know that!” Emma groaned. “Don’t let on. She’ll kill me.”

He nodded, he didn’t want her on the outs with this mother. “She wouldn’t kill you. I’m pretty sure you’re her best friend. But I won’t,” he promised. She could see it in his eyes, he wouldn’t. “Like I said, I like how it is now. I like our….” he searched for the right adjective, “... unique family.”

“I totally thought you were going to say ‘weird.’”

“It was my first choice.” He appraised his mother with a grin. My Mom likes my Mom. OK.  He wandered over to the water cooler and began filling a tiny cup. “What about Ruby? She has a girlfriend. Ask her what to do.”

Emma cocked her head, “You’re right, good idea. Wait, you think about me and your Mom and have that weird voice and you look like you’re gonna puke, but you sound totally normal when you mention Ruby and Dorothy.”

Henry finished his water and dropped the cup in a wastebasket. “I have no problem thinking about them,” he smirked.

“Ugh, God. Shut up!”

A sharp “Ha!” pierced the air. “Not so much fun, now is it, old lady?”

***

“Omelette me, Rubes!” Emma plopped down at the middle of Granny’s lunch counter, not her favorite spot by a longshot, but her preferred seat at the far end had a food in front of it and a purse next to that.

“‘Please’ would be a nice addition,” replied the brunette calmly as she glided by carrying full plates in each hand and one on each forearm. Emma was always impressed by that feat and would swear there was magic involved except she knew Ruby possessed none. Maybe it was some wolf-balance thing. Meals deposited to Table 8, Ruby sauntered back and filled Emma’s cup.

“Good morning, Ms. Lucas!” Emma chirped so cheerily it was offensive. “How are you doing this fine day?”

She rolled her eyes and leaned a trim hip on the counter. “Ugh, don’t ask. Kansas was up all night with some bug, poor babe. I was up all night with her.” As much as the words and delivery depicted a rough overnight, Ruby’s eyes were warm at the mention of her true love’s name.

“How is she this morning?”

“Sleeping, thankfully.” Ruby grabbed a plate from the pick-up window separating the kitchen from the counter and slid it in front of Emma. “Here, want this to tide you over? Got an extra.”

Emma hummed happily and dug into a plate of silver dollar pancakes topped with whipped cream. Ruby turned her head and lifted the nearby coffee pot as Emma chewed her first mouthful of sugary goodness. “Refill, Dr. Chris?”

Emma turned slowly to find Christina Hauer occupying her favorite seat and her good mood evaporated in an instant. Hauer had just stepped out of a diner ladies room, but looked like she could have walked off a magazine cover shoot. She folded her athletic 5’11” frame onto the stool ( My stool , Emma grumbled to herself) and smiled at Ruby, blue eyes sparkling. Two rows of even, white teeth split her lips and anchored an angular face. High cheekbones sat on either side of a refined nose and underneath thin, almond eyes that held a mixture of mirth and mystery. She was seriously beautiful, Emma admitted, and her personality only made her more attractive.

“Hi, Sheriff,” she offered brightly, catching Emma’s stare. “No, I’m good. I have a 9 o’clock, anyway. Gotta run.”

“Hey, doc.” Emma tried to sound disinterested, but didn’t pull it off, at least not to Ruby’s enhanced hearing, which not only picked up the tone, but also her thrumming heartbeat and increased blood pressure. Emma pulled out her phone and tapped around, eager for an alternative to making small talk with the vet.

Ruby knew what an angry, agitated animal sounded like internally, and even though she possessed no lupine qualities, the woman who just ordered an omelette sounded like she wanted to vault over the seats and sink her teeth into the good doctor’s neck. She noticed Ruby staring intently and offered a cautious: ”What?”

The waitress raised one black eyebrow and one side of her pursed lips. “We’re talking after breakfast,” she replied. It was not a request.

Hauer left a cash next to her plate, shouldered her leather messenger bag and walked toward the door; Emma could feel the woman pass behind her. “Thanks, Ruby,” she winked, over her shoulder. “You’re the best!”

“That’s what it says in the ladies room,” she smiled.

Emma’s head snapped up, lips set in a line. “Hey, you’re taken!” she hissed.

Frustration, irritation, and something Ruby couldn’t quite put her finger on rolled off the blonde in waves. “Hey, back off,” Ruby ordered. “Yes, I am taken. I love Dorothy and I could never find a better person. But there’s nothing wrong with some harmless flirting. Jesus, Em. Chill out.”

Ruby headed for the kitchen, while Emma sulked, embarrassed at her overreaction. She knew Ruby was pissed if she used Dorothy’s real name; that only came out in heavy situations. She returned with Emma’s breakfast and placed the plate in front of her without a word.

“Rubes, I’m sorry,” Emma sighed. “My head’s all fucked up right now and I took it out on you. Forgive me.”

Ruby examined her friend, who looked like the picture of remorse and defeat, all slumped shoulders and sad eyes. “What is up with you, woman? And why did you want to throttle Dr. Hauer 5 minutes ago?”

“Was it that obvious?” she asked, biting her lip.

“To me, yeah. To her, no. What’s your beef?”

“I don’t have one, really. Well, kinda, I…”

Clearly struggling, Emma dipped her head. Ruby patted her on the forearm. “Eat, then I’ll take my break. We’ll talk. OK?”

Fifteen minutes later, Ruby sat in the far booth, across from Emma, like an oracle.

“You like Regina.”

Emma shook her head and squinted. “How did you know?”

“I can smell it on you.”

“How?”

“I just can. Are you doin’ it?”

“No! That’s the problem.”

“Wow.” Ruby whistle low and slow. “That’s impressive.”

“What do you mean?” Emma was now truly confused.

“Usually when I can smell a person’s scent on another they’re bonded in some way, usually physically. You’re, like…” She stopped and rested her chin on her fist. “You’re not together at all? Like, she doesn’t know how you feel?”

“I haven’t said anything, hence the vet problem.”

“I love how you hate Hauer, by the way. It’s hysterical.”

“Yeah, anyway…”

“For me to smell Regina’s imprint on you, that means...shit, I think you’re soul-bonded.”

“But Regina didn’t do anything. And I didn’t do anything!”

“She didn’t have to. You bonded yourself to her just by your feelings. Boom.”

“Does she know?”

“I doubt it.”

“That sounds rapey.”

Ruby chuckled. “It’s the furthest from it. Ever hear of liege homage?”

“What do you think?”

She nodded. “Oh, right. I swear, I forget you weren’t there with us. Anyway, it’s kinda like that. A person would pledge themselves and their work to their lord, it was a sacred oath, a bond. That person basically said, ‘You are my man. I’m yours’ in a non-sexual way. You, my friend, have somehow done that with your soul without realizing it. Except I suspect you do mean it in a sexual way, and you know, love and stuff. Your soul pledged itself to Regina without you even realizing it. Do you have any idea how powerful that is?”

Emma’s green eyes were wide, her mouth open. “I didn’t mean to do that! I mean, I feel that but I didn’t mean to do that without her permission. I didn’t try to do anything!” Her voice was panicked and high, her chest rising and falling.

“I know, relax!” she reached out and grabbed Emma’s hands, which shook slightly. “I know. Deep breaths.”

Once her breathing was under control, Emma spoke, her voice small. “Was it my magic?”

“Maybe?” Ruby replied softly. “I don’t know magic well. But I do know the heart wants what it wants. And your heart wants her.”

“But she’s going out to dinner with the vet.”

A light bulb blew inside a sconce on the far wall.

“What the hell?” Ruby gasped.

“That was me. It’s been happening when I think of them two of them.”

“Holy shit,” Ruby laughed. “It’s just dinner, they’re not getting married. The town’d lose power for a month.”

“Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”

“I just figured you guys were on the down low for whatever reason and I was trying to respect your privacy. I thought you were together. That’s how strongly she’s imprinted on you. You’re not you anymore, you’re basically both of you.”

“What do I do now?”

Ruby patted Emma’s hands. “You need to talk to her and tell her what’s up.”

“But what if she doesn’t want me? What if this screws up everything we’ve got?” Her heart hurt as she thought of dinners and Sundays, hanging out and all the fun they had just naturally being together as a family.

“Em, you gotta talk to her. I’ve never heard of this being undone, it’s usually a forever-thing. You can’t ignore it. It’s not fair to you...or her.” She held Emma’s gaze and continued: “One more thing: You need to help me and Kansas plan Storybrooke Pride for June.”

***

The deep, rich fragrance of Sumatra wafted under Henry’s nose as he balanced the tray and a paper bag in one hand and a heavy backpack on the opposite shoulder. He refused to sling it over both arms, he wasn’t a loser.

“Hey, Ms. Anna.” He smiled as he walked into the office and found the grandmotherly woman beamed back at him. He always thought she was the Little Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe, but his mother would neither confirm nor deny. Didn’t matter, they rarely talked about the old days, anyway.

“Henry! How lovely to see you.”

“Is my Mom free?”

“She is, and—”

“—she’s very happy to see her son,” Regina smiled warmly, walking into the outer room. “I heard your voice and I couldn’t resist.” The natural smile she displayed only for him was so intense he nearly buckled under the wave of adoration he felt every time she trained it on him. She walked over, kissed his cheek, and took the tray out of his hand. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Been awhile since I visited, thought it would be fun.”

She dipped her head, humbled by his thoughtfulness, still amazed at how their relationship recovered after a few very rocky years. “Wonderful idea. Anna, please hold my calls.”

“Certainly.”

They sat on the couch perpendicular to her desk as Regina hummed a grateful Mmmmm with her first sip. “Thank you, sweetheart. What are you drinking?” She smirked and raised an eyebrow.

“Hot chocolate,” he winked.

“Huh. Smells like French roast. And don’t think you can wink and get away with that. I know your mother caffeinates you to the gills.”

“She cranks herself to the gills,” he corrected. “If I happen to be there and have a couple of cups with her, well, I’m just being polite. And you taught me to be polite. She also bought me a coffee mug that says #1 STUD, so it would be rude not to use it.”

She laughed and shook her head. “You’re too clever by half.”

Regina reached out and fixed the collar on his shirt, she couldn’t resist, and stole a chance to stroke his cheek. Her fingers found a hint of stubble, producing a pang of melancholy. It seemed like just yesterday his cheek as smooth and cubby as it rested under her chin when she carried him to bed. Now, they were drinking coffee and catching up like old friends. She realized the older he got, the more she relished her time with him as it was, she theorized, becoming more precious by the day. He’d no doubt be off to college in a couple of years, and visits home would be few and far between.

“Oh…” He dug into the paper bag and produced a chocolate croissant. “Wanna split it?”

“I shouldn’t…” The protest was automatic, but weak, and she smiled softly as she took the offered half on a napkin. “So, what’s new?”

“Nothing. I really just wanted to stop by and say Hi. I like surprising you…” he grinned, “...in a good way.”

“Well,” she began biting off a small piece of pastry. “This is the kind of surprise I like.”

Regina looked at the smirk on Henry’s face and all she could see was Emma. They looked so much alike these days, especially when they were up to no good. Like last month, when they volunteered to repaint the tool shed in the backyard and Regina walked out to find them in the middle of a paint fight, rolling around on the grass covered in Sherwin Williams High Reflective White.

“Are you mad?” she cried. “What are you doing?” They stopped rolling, each landing on their side. They sported twin guilt-fueled looks of surprise for about a half second, then Henry squeaked, “Ma started it!”

“Wow, way to narc tattle tits!”

“Emma!”

“Sorry, but I don’t want to raise a rat.” Emma grabbed her paintbrush and in an instant flicked it at Henry, or tried to, but she hit Regina, tiny splatters of white paint speckling her black t-shirt, which probably cost more than all of Emma’s shirts combined. She swore she saw a flicker of lavender in deep brown eyes as they lowered and her jaw, clamped shut, slid forward in extreme annoyance.

“God, Regina! I’m sorry!”

Without a word, the brunette reached into the open paint cain and pulled out a wet, dripping brush, advancing on the blonde. “Shit!” Emma scrambled back as quickly as she could, got to her feet and scrambled away as fast as she could, yelling, “No magic! No magic!”

Henry Mills was always mature for his age, older than his years. And this served him well as he grew and quickly realized how much his mother gave and gave and gave. To him, to Emma, to the town. For a person who was formerly the most wretched person in her realm, the rebound post-Neverland had been nothing short of...magic. Except Henry knew there was no magic involved at all. It was simple: The person the town thought had no heart had the biggest one of all.

The older he got, the easier it was to see. And his mother asked for so little in return, so he worked as hard as he could to give it all he got. He worked hard at school, did his best to keep his laundry off the floor and put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. She loved it when he dressed nice, which is why he was sure to bring a Polo, dockers and shoes — not sneakers — to Emma’s when he stayed over last night. She loved it when they ate together and talked, went on a walk in the neighborhood or at the beach, or when they just sat together on the couch and read in silence. She would never demand they spend time together, she hadn’t for years, but as he grew and truly saw that giving so little would bring her such happiness, it was easy to do it. He knew his mother loved it when he made an effort, any effort, to be near her. He simply loved making her happy. They were studying Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in freshmen art, his teacher explaining the composition, when it hit him. His mother was like God: reaching out, straining, all concentration and focus trying to connect with Adam. And he had been Adam, languidly reclining, extending his fingers, which he couldn’t even bother to straighten, with barely a modicum of effort. He didn’t want to be like Adam anymore.

He saw that while he could sometimes be ungrateful or lazy when it came to appreciating all this mother did for him, he was a teenager after all, Emma was the polar opposite. She thanked Regina for everything, expressed gratitude for every single kindness, be it a napkin or a glass of water, a dinner or a gift. He figured it was the foster kid in her. He had asked a couple of times about her childhood, and she had kindly and efficiently shut him down in that concrete way the left no room for appeal. Over the past year he had started reading about the system in general. Some of the books, which he made sure to hide from both mothers, were graduate level and way over his head; they went back to the library quickly. Then he found newspaper and magazine articles online, which were more understandable, specific, and tragic, so awful they made him wish for the abstract psychobabble of the scholarly works he couldn’t fathom so he could forget what he read. Piecing together what it may have been like for her drove him to bring as much happiness to Emma as he could, which was why he was drinking coffee with Regina: to bring her happiness just by a simple visit and, possibly deliver some for Emma, by finding out what was going on with Dr. Hauer.

The task was easier than anticipated when Regina circled them there without any prompting or verbal maneuvering. They had been talking about school and her day, when she set her cup on the coffee table and folded her hands in her lap. Henry knew something big was coming, this was one of her tells for Serious Business.

“Henry…” ( Tell #2, he thought, using his name, then pausing thoughtfully) “do you have any questions about what I revealed at dinner last week?”

“About what?”

“Dr. Hauer inviting me to dinner.”

“Oh.” He caught her eyes and tried to look surprised, like he hadn’t been thinking up a way to bring the woman up since last night. “Questions like me asking for advice on how to pick up girls?” He grinned as Regina laughed and lightly swatted his arm. “Or do you need advice?”

“I’m serious,” she chuckled. “Are you...OK with that?”

“With you liking women or Dr. Hauer?”

“Both, I suppose.”

“I have no problem with either. I just want you to be happy.” Although he did have a problem with Dr. Hauer in that anything that went on between them would upset Emma. He couldn’t think of a specific reason to object, short of “Emma loves you and you should be with her.” And that was information that, while true, was not his to tell. He chuckled to himself realizing that 10-year-old Henry would have spilled that information in 3 seconds flat. “Are you going to have dinner with her?”

Regina nodded. “Tonight. We were supposed to go out last night, but she had a work emergency. I know it’s our night, so if that’s a problem, I will reschedule.”

Shit. What to do? He wasn’t sure what Emma would want, not that she even knew he was here fishing around about the veterinarian, anyway. Think quick, think quick, think quick… He looked down as if he were pondering. Got it , then looked up again.

“That’s not a problem,” he stated. “Ma’s coming over to help me with a level on Destiny I haven’t been able to finish. I meant to ask if that’s OK. Is it?” He prayed his mother was available tonight to help hold up his end of the ruse. If he and Emma were in the house, his mother’s date couldn’t go too far, he reasoned, then had to physically fight back a shudder at the thought of what he’d be stopping because, ewww, Mom . He then registered he’d have to fill Emma in on his mother’s plan — and his. Shit. This meant another stop at the coffee shop to reup on goodwill offerings before visiting Emma at the station.

“Of course,” she smiled. “I was going to leave dinner for you, I’ll just make enough for Emma.”

Henry grinned: “I don’t think that’s possible.” Regina laughed and kissed her son on the cheek.

***

Unsurprisingly, Emma was free that evening. Surprisingly, she had been grateful for Henry’s intel and thought his plan was solid, though her stomach did drop out from under her when he explained why he wanted them at the house when Regina was dropped off. “Uh, good move,” she nodded, suddenly queasy at the possibility.

Henry called her after Regina had been picked up and told her the coast was clear. Emma didn’t want to be hovering like an overprotective father when Hauer showed up (though the thought of her opening the door with her Glock on her hip made her smile, Oh, you’re here for Regina, are you? ). She was also worried she’d blow every lightbulb in the house if she watched the women walk away. She didn’t know specifically why lightbulbs were imploding when she thought of Regina and the vet, just that they were. But, without Regina, she had no other means of investigating the phenomenon. Ever since that dinner, Emma had been trying at to control it at home: Picturing the women at dinner and not ruin lightbulbs. So far, she’d replaced all of the bulbs in her apartment — twice.

“Do I have to pretend play Destiny? That game is boring as hell.”

“Nah, it was the best I could think of in the moment. Wanna eat?”

Emma smiled and flung an arm around his shoulder, which disturbingly was now an inch or two higher than hers. Her stomach was tied in knots, worrying about the date, worrying about what she might say to Regina after the date, but whatever Regina had going in the oven smelled wonderful. It was worth a try: “What do you think?”

***

Chris Hauer had driven the pair out of Storybrooke to a Thai restaurant one town over. Given they were two high-profile women in a low-profile town, she thought a little anonymity would make their get-to-know-you dinner easier, more natural. The wine went down smoothly and conversation flowed easily, Chris talking about her life pre-Storybrooke and Regina reciting the cover she’d concocted. It made her think: What would she do if she ever got seriously involved with someone who wasn’t privy to the town’s — and her — true origins? She’d have decisions to make, but it didn’t have to be this evening. The lights were low, the company was good, she could just relax tonight.

“May I ask you something?”

Regina smirked: “In my experience, a loaded question is coming.”

“True,” Chris nodded. “I need a better lead-in.” She paused, then figured it was OK to continue. “What’s the deal with you and Sheriff Swan? You have a son together? I assume you...” She left the blank space open, hoping Regina would fill it in.

Regina swallowed a sip of wine, the dabbed her lips with a napkin. “Henry is our son, yes.”

“You were...involved long?” Chris did the math, no way they could have been married when they had him, at least not until recently. And obviously they weren’t now.

“It’s complicated,” she smiled, hoping that would end the discussion for now. She realized she needed to bring Emma in on a cover story they both could agree on in the future.

Chris nodded and Regina’s tight chest loosened mercifully with an exhale. “Well, she’s obviously a fool,” she chuckled, lifting her glass to her mouth. Regina’s eyes narrowed: “Why would you say that?”

Chris tilted her head, surprised she had to explain, she was simply trying to compliment her date. “Because she was involved with you in some way and somehow let you go. She’s very attractive, obviously...Though I saw her at the diner recently and she inhaled a plate of food faster than I’d ever seen. She should be a competitive eater.” Chris chuckled at what she thought was a witty observation.

Regina had noticed Emma’s propensity to wolf down her food the first time the three of them ate together. A snarky remark was on the tip of her tongue, but instinct told her to hold off. She did, and was incredibly grateful when she later realized why. She, Emma, and Henry were having Sunday dinner at The Charmings not soon after when David relayed the story of a stray puppy he found the previous day. “The strays,” he laughed, “I’m going to lose a hand to them one day. The minute I put the food out they fly for it and eat it so quickly, I’m surprised they don’t get sick.”

“Well, you can’t blame them, the poor things don’t eat regularly,” Snow added, a hint of sadness in her voice. “And when they do, Gods know what they’re eating.”

It was nearly enough to make Regina lose her appetite when she saw Emma staring wide-eyed at her parents. No one else noticed. As usual, Regina saw things in Emma that most everyone else missed. After that dinner, she noticed Emma deliberately trying to slow her eating when they dined together. From that point on, she always made double what they needed for dinner and ensured Emma had a full bag of wrapped and portioned leftovers when she headed back to her apartment.

“How does she keep her figure?” Chris grinned at her banter, the wine had loosened her tongue considerably, a fact she was beginning to realize. “No, you know what? I’ll stop.”

Regina’s reply was measured, crisp: “No, go on.”

Realizing she overstepped an invisible line, Chris tried to backpedal and held up her hands. She meant to compliment her date, not insult her...whatever the sheriff was to her. Thinking she could talk her way out of it, she certainly had before, she pressed on: “Hey, I meant no offense, it’s just...she’s really the sheriff? She seems way too...laid back to be law enforcement.”

“What do you mean ‘laid back’?”

“Like, casual. But I don’t suppose there’s any danger in town, anyway, right?” Chris grinned, trying to force the mood into levity, We’re just joking around! Isn’t this fun? , and salvage the evening.

Cool, low tones emanated from red lips along with the timbre of the former mayor — alone, disconnected, angry, and unsatisfied. “I assure you, Emma Swan is the most caring, courageous person I have ever met. I have seen her save people time and time again from mortal peril, putting her life on the line repeatedly. Yes, she is the sheriff of Storybrooke. And a damn good one.”

Long vein bulging on her forehead, Regina finished her wine — it was good, it’d be a shame to waste it — as Chris signaled for the waiter and uttered one word as she stared across the table at her stiff backed and stone-faced date: “Check.”

***

Emma and Henry were dozing on the couch when they heard the front door open and shut. The click-clack of high heels on hardwood followed, then the sound of Regina depositing her keys and purse on the table in the foyer. They both knew she’d leave her heels by the table and come in to check on them, which is exactly what she did, footfalls padding softly into the room.

“You’re asleep already?” she asked, looking at the cable box. “It’s barely 9.” Her heart warmed at the scene, mother and son, each tucked into their own side of the couch, curled up with blankets they must have brought from upstairs.

“I had track after school, if you recall,” Henry recited formally, eyes still closed. He sat up, surreptitiously squeezed Emma’s knee for luck, then kissed her on the cheek. He groaned as he stood, then crossed to kiss Regina on her cheek. “Growing boy. Sleepy. All that.”

Regina stole a hug and kissed him on the temple — she couldn’t reach the crown of his head in bare feet anymore. “Love you, sweetheart.”

He shuffled out of the room the blanket gathered around him like a cape. “Love you, moms,” he announced as he hit the stairs, silently projecting courage Emma’s way.

Regina turned to Emma, “And you?”

Emma opened one eye: “I ate too much of your mac and cheese. I think I’m in a food coma.”

“There’s my Emma,” she smiled softly. She didn’t intend the possessive pronoun, it just slipped out as naturally as the woman lay curled on her couch cocooned in a blanket.

Emma patted the cushion next to her. “I like that,” she confessed bravely. “Join me.” Regina did, tucking her legs daintily under her as she sat. “Nice dress. New?”

Regina looked down at the lavender tea-length garment as if she was appraising it for the first time. “Yes.”

“How’d it go?”

“The dress was the highlight,” she sighed, sinking back into soft cushions. It felt good to relax. She didn’t have to put up a front or impress anyone while she was with Emma. “The wine was good, too, though.”

Emma’s heart soared at the dismissive tone in which Regina described her date. Suck it, vet!

“Sorry to hear that.” The reply was automatic. She wasn’t sorry, but Fuck, yeah, choose me! was probably not the best move.

“Don’t be.” Regina lay her head back, closed her eyes, and exhaled. The couch seemed to have magical sleep-inducing powers this evening.

The pair lay in silence for a few minutes, eyes closed, relishing the companionable silence and the quiet company. Emma’s heart was hammering, though. Should she bring up this soul business? With the vet seemingly out of the way, there was no clear and present danger to her ideal future. She could wait. But should she?

“Regina?”

Eyes closed, the brunette hummed back. “Mmmm?”

“I’m not sorry.”

That was unexpected. The words confused her and the tone, well, it was deliberate. “What do you mean?” She opened her eyes and sat up to find Emma mirroring her position. Her eyes were set and intense.

“I’m not sorry your date went bad.”

Regina searched Emma’s face for a clue she was joking, a quirked lip, a twinkle in her eye, a grin she couldn’t swallow. But there were none. She was as serious as Regina had ever seen her, a circumstance that made her hug her arms around her torso to ground herself for whatever was coming. She weighed her response carefully, but could only come up with one syllable: “Why?”

Emma looked down for a second, then up, and held her gaze. “Because I think...no, I know....” she pulled a ragged breath in, then eased it out just as uneven. Regina didn’t think it was possible for a person to look confident and vomit-on-their-shoes nervous at the same time, but there it was, right in front of her. “I wanted to be on that date with you, but I was too scared to ask.”

Regina didn’t expect that admission, not at all. But the moment she heard it, she knew it was real. And true. And right. Because she was in love with Emma Swan. Thoughts and emotions ran riot in Regina’s head, but all Emma saw was a beautiful woman with an open mouth sporting a look of wonder. Or confusion. She couldn’t be sure, but soldiered on, but not before taking Regina’s hands in her own.

She locked her eyes on Regina’s, are sure and certain as she’d ever been: “I love you.”

A rush of hope rocketed up Regina’s spine, her heart suddenly so full it nearly hurt. She had realized she loved Emma not long after they returned from Neverland as they fell into an easy, happy, familial rhythm. It was so good, and her track record on hope and love so bad, Regina made the painful decision not to risk it. She never admitted or overtly acted on her feelings for fear she’d ruin it all — again. The risk hurt, yes, but she wagered upsetting or driving Emma away with her surely unrequited feelings would hurt more — and Henry, as well. In a lifetime of secrets, it was her deepest, and she held it, tiny and precious, in her heart.

“Oh…” Regina’s eyes were wide and soft as tried to get her overstimulated, unbelieving brain to spit out her own truth.

Hearing the underwhelming response, Emma dipped her head, shame staining her face red as her plan had backfired. She fucked it all up. Again. “I’m so sorry, I guess I, like, soul-bonded myself to you or something? I didn’t mean to, it just happened because I love you so much it’s ridiculous.” Her eye suddenly looked hopeful, a lip curling up at one corner in a sheepish grin. “Like liege homage. I think it’s like that.”

She stopped rambling and watched as Regina’s mouth opened...and closed without a word.

“You know, forget it. Just forget I said anything, I—”

“Emma,” she breathed, lifting her dipped chin with her fingers.

“No!” Emma vaulted off the couch, having quickly segued from embarrassed and remorseful to nuclear pissed at herself. Her arms were folded across her torso, as if to keep her broken heart from exploding into a million pieces. She stood a quarter-turn away from Regina, she couldn’t bear to look at her. “I gotta go.”

Regina stood and yelled, far too loud, she later realized, at the blonde’s retreating form: “I love you, you idiot!”

Emma halted and slowly turned, the expression on her face hysterically funny if the situation hadn’t been so charged. “What?”

Exhaling in frustration, Regina stood and walked over to her, gripping her forearms. “I love you,” she explained.

“Really?” Now it was Emma’s turn for confused disbelief, eyes impossibly soft.

“Yes!” she laughed, a watery bubble making the syllable stick in her tight throat. She stepped into Emma’s arms, which circled her body like they were always meant to fit in that exact position. “ Yes .”

Regina leaned in and brought her lips to Emma’s. The kiss was tentative at first, as Emma was convinced Regina would pull away at any second. But she didn’t. Initial unease overcome, Emma threaded a hand into lush black hair and really kissed the woman, lips parting, tongues meeting in slow, deliberate strokes.

Suddenly, the air was humid and thrummed with electricity, a deafening crack sounding as a massive wave of magic rippled outward, shaking the floor and walls, their hair whipping with the gust. Two pictures fell off the foyer walls, something crashed in the kitchen, and Henry thundered down the stairs yelling, “MOMS?”

Bare size 11s landed at the bottom of the stairs with a thud, as he looked on in panic. He expected to see an evil wizard, a monster or a demon, not his mothers holding each other close and nuzzling one another. “What the hell happened?” he cried, his heart thudding too loud and his head too panicked to process what was before him.

Then the looked, really looked. He saw his mothers holding each other looking deliriously...happy. “Was that…you?” he squinted.

Regina laughed, loud and long, she couldn’t help it. Words were hard to come by in the past half hour, but the emotion perfectly expressed her state. It was contagious, Emma soon pulled under as they held each other and giggled until their eyes watered, their heads nodding in the affirmative.

Slowly Henry’s heart rate settled, his breathing returning to normal. Apparently his moms were together — a fact about which they were very happy. He walked over and settled himself between them, placing a hand around their waists. “Is that gonna happen every time you kiss, because I need sleep.”

His mothers held him close pecking him on the cheek, affection he gladly accepted. The moment was broken by Emma’s cell, blaring out the emergency ringtone. She broke away reluctantly and answered the phone.

“Hey...yeah….no, pretty sure it’s nothing.” She winked at mother and son. “Regina and I will go check it out, but it’s nothing. Tell everyone to relax, OK?...I’ll call and let you know what we find. OK….bye.”

She smirked. “The station’s getting blasted with calls about an,” she chuckled on the last word, “earthquake.”

“You didn’t want to tell them it was True Love’s Kiss?” Regina teased.

“That’s what it was?” Emma’s eyes were wide.

“Yes, you…” she paused, thinking it might not be the best way to start a relationship, repeatedly calling Emma an idiot, “...silly.”

“I thought it was just our magic.”

“Our magic is very powerful, and when you mix it with True Love…” Regain threaded her arm through Emma’s; denying herself physical contact for so long, she didn’t want to stop touching her.

“Wow.”

Regina kissed her on the cheek and laid her head on Emma’s shoulder. “Wow, indeed.”

“Do you guys have to go check out this fake earthquake?”

“Nah, I’ll call back in 10 minutes and tell them everything’s cool.”

Henry headed for the stairs, holding onto the railing as he walked up backwards. A mischievous glint in his eye, he wanted to see the reaction to his next question. “So, if that’s what happens when you kiss, what’s gonna happen if you…” He raised an eyebrow and tried to look superior as realization dawned. “HENRY DANIEL!” Regina gasped, trying not to laugh. Emma sported an evil grin as she rushed the stairs: “You fresh little shit!” she hollered, racing after her son.

“Mom!” the shouted, the request for assistance clear as he scrambled up the steps as fast as he could, “HELP!”

“You’re on your own,” Regina called after them. The racket up the stairs was so loud, she was shocked she didn’t see a shin pop through the ceiling. It was followed by a tremendous thud overhead. “If you two break that vase in the hallway…” She headed up after them, shaking her head and smiling as wide as she could ever remember.

 

The End