Actions

Work Header

every winter fades away (into the spring)

Work Text:

I think we deserve
a soft epilogue, my love.
We are good people
and we’ve suffered enough.

–nikka ursula, (x)


 

August

 

When Emma had been on her own as a kid, she’d learned to love the summer. Summer had meant being warm without the aid of coats and blankets she couldn’t afford, had meant no one would look twice at a teenager wandering around alone during school hours, had meant bicycles left outside houses that it had been easy to borrow, just for as long as she’d needed them. Summer had meant being surrounded by other kids and feeling as though she’d belonged , as though she’d been just like everyone else.

 

Summer for Henry is different– days at the beach with his friends, hours and hours of video games until Regina forces him out of the house, afternoons spent sketching stories into books with the author’s pen– and Emma couldn’t be more grateful for that. Henry belongs , is a kid just like every other, and she watches him bound around Regina’s yard with Neal and David and feels peace settle into her skin.

 

Neal gets a little too close to the grill and Regina swoops down to lift him into her arms, depositing him back in the safety zone. He babbles at her for a minute, his hands moving wildly with excitement as he tells her something no one can decipher, and Regina smiles at him and nods very attentively.

 

Emma flips the thick fries on the grill and watches them, the warmth in her belly like a bubble that grows and grows and grows to encompass all of her, and she thinks we should have another one . She’d meant to think she should have another one , because Regina is so good with kids and all she can think about is a younger Regina with a tiny Henry. But we . We should.

 

She can’t imagine raising a kid on her own, but it seems as perfect as a dream to do it with Regina again.

 

Regina is still with Neal, patient as she crouches beside him, and David dives down and snatches him, settling him on his shoulders on his next runaround with Henry. Regina calls out, “Watch the garden!” in alarm and sighs, long-suffering and so fond that it makes Emma’s heart beat a tiny bit faster. “Impossible,” she says, rejoining Emma at the grill. “I’m surprised he hasn’t taken a sword to my tomatoes this time.”

 

Emma shifts guiltily. Okay, yes , that had been her idea last week, but in her defense, Regina hadn’t been home and wasn’t supposed to know about it. When she’d found a vine sliced from her garden, Emma had taken full responsibility and Regina had lectured her for fifteen minutes about the example you’re setting for our son and had shown no sign of knowing that David had been involved or that he’d been the one who’d cut the vine in the first place. “That was–”

 

“Right,” Regina says knowingly, impaling a finished fry from the grill and blowing on it. “You know I’m not going to curse your parents again . My redemption is tolerating their idiocy for the rest of my life.” She takes a bite of the fry, closing her eyes and pursing her lips in satisfaction. Emma stares at her, dumbstruck for reasons she can’t explain herself. “Oh, this is good . Much better than that processed garbage from Granny’s.”

 

“You love that processed garbage from Granny’s,” Emma counters, raising her eyebrows.

 

Regina scoffs unconvincingly. “You know what Granny’s greasy foods do to me.” Emma knows. Last month, Regina had been half doubled over in her office when Emma had come by, and Emma had laid her down on her couch and rubbed her stomach as Regina had groaned out threats to Granny’s establishment. It had been...well, she wouldn’t have minded it at all in more pleasant circumstances.

 

Regina nudges her with her hip, as though she knows what’s going through Emma’s mind. Emma grins at her and Regina plucks the fry from her fork. “Try this,” she orders, and Emma’s lips part as Regina puts the fry into her mouth.

 

Her fingers slide against Emma’s lips for a moment, and then they’re gone and Emma’s left with Regina’s expectant look and the most amazing fry she’s ever eaten in her mouth. “This is phenomenal,” she sighs, her mouth still full, and Regina nudges her again and returns to the grill, her cheeks flushed in the breeze.

 

Emma’s flipping burgers on her own a few minutes later. Regina has wandered off to the kitchen to find Mary Margaret, and David has fallen into the garden and is trying desperately to escape without causing any visible harm. Henry is lying on the grass, knees up and face turned to the sun, and Neal is attempting again and again to climb onto his knees and toppling back down. This is family , the kind she’d dreamed about when she’d been a teen wandering Minnesota in summer, and she’s finally…

 

Her mother and Regina come back outside, Mary Margaret with a smile just for her and Regina making her way back to the grill. “Time to make your father take over,” she says, a casual hand sliding onto the small of Emma’s back, and Emma has to physically restrain herself from leaning into Regina’s touch.

 

Regina pauses, frowning suddenly. “Did you get bitten here?” she says, her fingers suddenly on the side of Emma’s neck. “I told you to put on bug repellent before coming out into the yard. The mosquitos here are more annoying than my sister on a bad day.”

 

Emma reaches up to touch her neck as Regina’s fingers skitter away, leaving goosebumps behind. “It doesn’t itch,” she says, shrugging. “When is Zelena getting here, by the way?”

 

“She’s waiting for her little prima donna to wake up from her third nap of the day,” Regina says sourly, but her eyes are bright when she talks about them both, Zelena and Robyn. Emma likes her eyes like this, sparkling and soft and gleaming with that endless love that Regina seems to possess, and she leans back against the grill to admire them and burns a hole into her tank top.

 

She yelps and Regina fixes it with a twitch of her fingers before she flicks her fingers again and David is yowling and springing out of the garden as though he’d suddenly, mysteriously, landed on a pile of very thorny roses. “Grill,” she commands him, settling down beside Mary Margaret on the lawn chairs. “Go do something useful, for a change.”

 

Emma heads inside to check the damage to her shirt and possibly her back, squinting in the bathroom mirror and standing on her tiptoes before she remembers that there’s something on her neck. At first, she thinks it’s charcoal from the grill, smudged in place there, but it’s too light and too...stylized, more like a pencil scribble than a mistake.

 

She studies it in the mirror, wiping at it until her skin turns red and the lines remain. They almost look like a word, barely visible, and for a moment she wonders if–

 

But no, it’d be absurd if it were a soulmate mark. She’d been in love in her life before, had seen light scribbles appear on her body and then fade away as she’d hardened again, and now she feels light and soft and had never needed a name on her skin to bring her home.

 

The last she’d expect now, surrounded by love and devoid of any desire for anyone outside her cocoon of family, is a soulmate mark appearing on her skin again. She can’t even make out the name to see who it is she’s supposed to be falling in love with now.

 

Never mind any of that. She shrugs it off and sticks a bandaid on her neck instead. It’ll fade again, whatever split moment of attraction that had triggered it gone as quickly as it had come, and it won’t matter anymore.

 

It’s that simple.

 


 

September

 

It doesn’t go away, though it doesn’t darken, either. Emma is trapped in a curious sort of limbo with it, and she’s glad when it’s finally autumn and she has an excuse to wear jackets again that mostly conceal the mark. Regina doesn’t ask about it again, though she does say threateningly when they’re back-to-school shopping, “If you ever dress Henry in an eyesore like that jacket…”  

 

“Let’s start with some t-shirts and work our way up,” Emma suggests, which earns her a horrified look from Regina before she makes a beeline for the plaid button-downs.

 

Henry gives her a pained look. “It was a nice try,” he says. “I think if I can get away without wearing a scarf every day this fall, I’ll count it as a success.”

 

“But your scarf is so handsome,” Regina says absently, fixing it in the space above his coat. Henry obliges, his eyes falling on a tee in the next rack wistfully. Emma snags it when Regina is distracted by a rack of severely overpriced shirts and sneaks it into their cart under a pile of slacks.

 

Regina sees it at checkout but she only quirks her eyebrow and puts it onto the checkout counter, and Henry pumps his fist and high-fives Emma before he jogs across the store to two of his friends. He’s still quieter than other kids his age, still more interested in fighting demons with adults than engaging in adolescent drama, but he’s also finally making friends more easily and they’re both privately relieved at it.

 

High school , Emma,” Regina says grimly, staring at the building that they can see looming from outside the shop. Storybrooke High School, a place Emma’s only visited to scare off teenagers breaking in in the middle of the night. “This is the final frontier. I spent my teenage years living with my mother and I’d still take that over dealing with… this .”

 

Emma snorts. “You have seen way too many Lindsay Lohan movies. Real life isn’t–”   like a movie , she nearly says, before she glances at the fairytale character beside her and reconsiders. “He’s going to be fine ,” she promises Regina. “He’s a smart kid with a good heart. And he can always write away anyone who pisses him off.”

 

Regina smiles, dark and predatory for a moment. “He won’t have to,” she pronounces, and Emma’s skin does a weird shivery thing when Regina’s gaze meets hers. Her neck itches and she rubs at it as subtly as she can, swapping to Regina’s other side before she notices the scribble under Emma’s skin again.

 

“Please don’t kill our son’s teachers this year,” she says, rolling her eyes upward in mock prayer. “Or put them under sleeping curses, or frame them for murder…”

 

Regina smirks at her. “As long as you can refrain from ripping out his girlfriends’ hearts,” she shoots back.

 

“Touché.” Emma winces. “How about we just…mutually agree to only scar Henry for life in the regular mom ways?”

 

Regina grins, her face lightening again. “And what exactly are those regular mom ways?” she echoes, and she’s looking at Emma as though there’s…something. Expectant and a little teasing, her eyes bright with mischief and something more.

 

Emma shrugs, sliding an arm around Regina’s waist to support her as they move toward the car with their bags. “Well, we could keep him in the same scarf for another decade. That should do it nicely.”

 

“Mmhm,” Regina says agreeably, and if there’s disappointment in her eyes, she doesn’t express it aloud. She leans into Emma, her head resting against Emma’s shoulder for a moment, and Emma strokes her back and takes the bags from her hands, dumping them all into the trunk.

 

It’s a nice day, and they’re not quite ready to head home yet. Regina’s the one to suggest ice cream, the weather warm enough to justify it, and they walk in the park with their cones, licking them as they circle the pond at the center of it. “Remember when we did this when I lost my memories?” Henry says suddenly, and Emma’s brow creases but he’s looking at Regina.

 

She nods, a shadow crossing her face, and Emma takes her free hand. Regina squeezes it in hers and says, “I thought it might…jog something.”

 

“It was weird,” he says thoughtfully. “Like deja vu, I guess. I felt like…like I knew this place, but I didn’t know why.” He snickers. “Then you got weird about Walsh and I was sure there was some conspiracy.”

 

“I did not–” Regina says, defensive.

 

Emma asks, “Weird about Walsh?” Walsh is not a memory she cares to relive, but she hadn’t known that Regina had known about him at all before the flying monkey jokes had become a family staple.

 

Henry gives his other mom a sly look. She shakes her head, her hand tightening in Emma’s. “Yeah. When I told Mom about Walsh, she got quiet and her voice went all high, like ‘ oh?’ ” He mimics it. “And I was pretty confused about why you’d introduced us at all back then or why the mayor wanted to hang out with me. So I thought that…”

 

Regina’s hand is still in Emma’s, her eyes fixed on Henry, and Emma licks her ice cream cone and echoes, “Thought that what?”

 

Henry shrugs. “I figured you two were, like…old flames or something, and that Mom came back to Storybrooke for you.”

 

Regina’s hand drops from Emma’s. Emma says, still bewildered, “You thought that Regina and Walsh were old flames?” Henry’s always had an active imagination, but that one’s a step further than even this whole town is made up of fairytale characters and you’re the savior .

 

Henry gives her a look. “No,” he says in a voice that suggests that she might be an idiot. “I thought you and Mom were. You were running around with her the whole time when you were fighting Zelena, going on secret missions and sending me off with whoever was willing to babysit. It was the natural conclusion.” He shrugs again, his eyes flickering from Regina to Emma.

 

Emma laughs. “I guess that made a little more sense than the Wicked Witch of the West attacking Snow White and the Queen,” she concedes. “But just a little.” She reaches for Regina’s hand again, but Regina’s moved her ice cream to it instead. “Though, I mean, if I were into women, your mom would definitely be first on my list.”

 

“I’m flattered,” Regina says dryly.

 

Her voice sounds a little strained, and Emma tries to lighten the tone. She hadn’t thought Regina would be uncomfortable with the idea of…well, Henry has two mommies , but the Enchanted Forest had seemed a little regressive. “What? Are you saying I’m not on your list?”

 

“Yes, Emma,” Regina says, and she barks out a choked laugh of her own. “If I were into women, you would definitely be on my list.”

 

Henry screws up his nose. “This is really more information than I needed,” he informs them, drifting ahead.

 

“What, that I have good taste?” Emma calls after him. “Your mom’s a babe!” It’s true . Emma might not be gay, but she can definitely appreciate a beautiful woman, and Regina is…pretty much the most attractive person she’s ever met. She’s pretty sure she’s been reduced to weak-kneed admiration on more than one occasion, and she’s straight .

 

It’s just…easy to forget that sometimes, when it comes to Regina. And Regina is her perfect match, her best friend, her family , and it’s…okay, yeah, maybe Henry has a point. It’s kind of a shame that they’re not together.

 

“I’m going home!” Henry shouts back to her, and Emma says, “Scarring him for life, check,” and kisses Regina on the cheek when he’s still turned toward them. Henry makes a face and runs ahead, rounding the pond to return to the car.

 

Emma’s lips tingle. Regina’s skin is…really, really soft. She rubs her neck with her knuckles, licking her lips, and Regina stares at her for a moment with the tips of her fingers pressed to her cheek. “We should head back to the car,” Regina says finally. “It’s getting chilly.”

 

“It’s fine,” Emma says, as airily as she can manage. Something about this conversation has her suddenly shaken, and she knows doesn’t want to examine why that is. “Henry has a scarf.” Regina elbows her in the side and she dodges it, losing half her scoop of ice cream in the process, and Emma whines as Regina stands by smugly, you deserved that .

 

But everything feels okay again after that, and Emma catches Regina’s hand again, their arms swinging together as they circle the pond and return to their son.

 


 

October

 

The mark seems darker when she peers at it now, and she angles herself right up against the mirror in her apartment to try to read it. It’s still just a scribble, grey like latticework under her skin, and when she touches it, she feels an odd lurching in her stomach. So maybe she is falling in love with someone. Maybe soulmates are different than she remembers. She’s heard that the name usually stays unreadable until you’ve fallen , and she wonders if it’ll just...stay in stasis forever if she doesn’t concede to whatever this silly supposed love is.

 

Still, if she’s falling in love and hasn’t noticed, maybe this could be kind of helpful. She runs through her encounters every day, pays special attention to every man she spends more than a few seconds with. Archie is a friend, but he’s just a friend, right? Maybe it’s her new deputy, but Aladdin is taken and she can’t look Jasmine in the eye for days until after she rules him out.

 

Maybe this is love at first sight, and the mark isn’t going to reveal itself until she realizes that. She thinks she’d be okay with missing out on that , and so she puts aside her curiosity about the mark and focuses again on her actual, definable life by the end of October.

 

There’s a minor incident with a new fairytale villain who pops into town and threatens to destroy Storybrooke, but those tend to go quickly, and Regina and Emma manage to banish him after a harrowing couple of days. “I want a six-month vacation after this one,” Regina declares, wiping her hands together after a magic show that leaves Emma still on a high. She can feel her insides… glittering , sort of, like the magic has sucked out all the blood from her body and replaced it with glowing purple energy. “Haven’t we run out of Disney movies yet?”

 

“The Mouse never stops,” Emma informs her. It’s the day before Halloween, naturally, and there are toddlers waddling through the streets as though there hadn’t been an enormous winged demon turning power lines to ash here ten minutes ago. “I don’t think the last movie had a solid villain, so we might get a few years off if we ever run out of bad guys.”

 

“Inspiring,” Regina remarks, and then she brightens at the sound of a shriek nearby. Robyn toddles down the road to her, dressed in an elaborate purple dress with what looks suspiciously like a replica of a heart in her hand.

 

“Auntie Regina!” she shrieks again. “Auntie Regina!” She trips on the sidewalk, and begins to fall, and then she vanishes in a cloud of purple and reappears in Regina’s arms. “Auntie Regina!” she says excitedly, unfazed. “Auntie Emma!”

 

“My,” Regina says, her eyes going wide in mock horror. “What a terrifying and magnificent Evil Queen!”

 

“No, no!” Robyn says, preening at them. “It me! Robyn! I the Queen!”

 

“She insisted,” Zelena says, rolling her eyes as she comes up to them. “Do you know what a pain it was to put that costume together? I had to yank out Neal’s heart for her so she’d have a prop.”

 

Emma takes a closer look at the heart in Robyn’s hand in alarm. Zelena and Regina are exchanging smirks when she looks up, and Emma glares at them. “This is plastic, you asshole.”

 

“Ashole,” Robyn repeats dutifully, and Emma makes a hasty escape before Regina kicks her ass over that one.

 

Regina catches up to her in another burst of purple, flicking her on the temple reproachfully. “She’s never going to stop using that,” she says, sighing. “Zelena, of course, thinks it’s precocious.”

 

Emma snickers. “She would.” They’re coming up to Regina’s house now, which is decorated only minimally for Halloween. As in, Regina has put up wards that send flashes of actually scary monsters into the minds of anyone who comes anywhere nearby with eggs or toilet paper. Emma had wondered after the curse how Regina’s house had emerged unscathed all these years. She’d gotten her answer after Henry had called her, frantic, and informed her that Regina needed an emergency carton of eggs.

 

Henry’s sometimes a little shit, and he knows it. He gets it from his other mom.

 

Tonight, though, he’s curled up on the couch when they come in, a giant bowl of candy on the table and a stack of horror movies in front of him. “I’m a little too old for trick-or-treating,” he informs them.

 

Emma blinks at him in mild horror. “So you’re not going to get us any candy?” Regina pokes her. She tries again. “You’re not…there aren’t any parties that you’re going to, are there?”

 

Henry rolls his eyes. “I’m a freshman, Mom. You think I get invited to the good parties? Paige is having some kind of thing at her house but her dad is…well, Jefferson…and after I was kidnapped twice last week, I thought I’d rather just stay in with you and watch some scary movies.” He frowns. “You beat the bad guy, right? You have some goo in your hair.”

 

Emma winces. Regina slides a hand into her hair, massaging her scalp for a moment as she retrieves whatever it is that had been stuck in there. “Just some ash,” she says, her breath tickling Emma’s ear for a moment, and Emma shivers.

 

“We beat the bad guy,” she says before Regina notices the shivering. “Which movies do you have?”

 

They pick out a few while Regina makes popcorn, and Emma settles onto the center of the couch so Henry can curl up next to her. Regina takes the seat on Emma’s other side as the movie begins, and says dubiously, “Really? This is what you want to watch?”

 

But she looks a little green, and Henry mutters under his breath, “She’s terrified of scary movies.”

 

“Excuse me?” Regina says, rearing up in outrage. “I’m terrified of scary movies? I am a scary movie.” Her eyes flash as they watch her patiently. “Monsters quake before me. Parents use me as the ultimate bogeyman. Eat your brussel sprouts, little one, or the Queen will– ” The first jump scare in the movie happens onscreen, and Regina sucks in a breath and buries her face in Emma’s shoulder, very subtly. Emma pats her on the back.

 

Regina sits back up after a moment. “I just don’t like the gruesome ones,” she says primly. “I have standards, you know.”

 

“Your still-beating hearts aren’t dripping blood,” Emma concedes, and Regina bobs her head.

 

Exactly .”

 

Emma gets the decanter with Regina’s cider in it when a trick-or-treater knocks on the door, setting the drink down on the coffee table before she snags two glasses and a set of coasters. Regina gives her one of her favorite smiles, the you-remembered one that makes her melty, and mutters under her breath, “I’m going to need some of that to get through this…” They look at her expectantly. “...Bad cinema,” she finishes, daring them to question it.

 

“Right,” Emma says, swallowing down some of the cider. It burns on its way down her throat, and she exhales, popping a chocolate in her mouth that complements it perfectly.

 

Henry eyes the cider, and he’s snatching Emma’s glass away before she can stop him. “No way it’s that different when it’s spiked,” he says, swallowing back a gulp and then sputtering. “Oh my god . What– that’s terrible !” He sounds scandalized. “You drink this?”

 

“I think there’s some apple juice in the back of my fridge,” Emma says, smirking. “You know, if you need something more your speed.”

 

Regina elbows her. “Do not taunt the fourteen-year-old into alcoholism,” she says warningly. “Henry, sweetheart, it is terrible. And will taste that way until you’re thirty. At least .”

 

“You guys are weird,” Henry grumbles, and he buries his hand in the popcorn and settles back against Emma, his head drifting onto her arm.

 

On her other side, Regina has tucked her feet up onto the couch and is nursing her glass of cider. She’s curled up against Emma, her eyes fixed on the screen with single-minded intensity, and she seems determined not to react when the monster comes onscreen. Still, she’s shaking ever so slightly, and Emma wraps an arm around her and pulls her in close until the next trick-or-treater arrives at their door and Regina gets up.

 

By the time the first movie is over, Henry has decided that he’s drunk. “I feel really woozy,” he says, standing up and teetering a little. “And my brain is all fuzzy.”

 

“It’s the candy,” Emma says, eyeing the empty popcorn and the bowl now full of chocolate wrappers.

 

Henry gives her a look. “I can handle some candy . I’m telling you, I don’t feel…” He bumps into the couch, and then blinks repeatedly as though he isn’t quite sure which symptoms he’s supposed to be feeling.

 

Regina is beginning to look alarmed. Emma says, “It’s the candy.”

 

Henry laughs too loudly. “I don’t know, I feel kind of…shiny! Like the world is all different colors. Do you know what I mean? And my head is really heavy– it wouldn’t be heavy from candy , Moms, how bad is that cider– are you both drunk? I think I’m drunk,” he finishes, rapid-fire. Emma watches him, bemused, and Henry screws up his face. “I don’t feel so good,” he says, and vomits all over the carpet.

 

Henry !” Regina flies up, rushing to him, heedless of the vomit. “Oh, Henry, baby–” Emma waves a hand to disappear the vomit and accidentally makes the entire rug vanish. Regina returns it with a glare and then urges Henry into the kitchen, his face pale. “You’re never touching my cider again.”

 

“It’s the candy,” Emma says to no one at all, digging into the bowl. She finds one chocolate intact under a sea of wrappers that neither she nor Regina had left in there. In the kitchen, Regina is fussing over Henry, practically forcing water down his throat. Emma contemplates the chocolate for a long moment.

 

Henry is put to bed soon after, still pale and swearing off alcohol forever, and Regina joins Emma on the couch. “It was the candy,” Regina finally concedes, staring at the empty bowl in mild dismay. “How did he manage to finish off all of that? Without me noticing?”

 

“I rescued one. Just for you.” Emma unwraps the last chocolate and pops it into Regina’s mouth. Regina’s tongue curls around it, grazing Emma’s finger and sending an odd heat into Emma’s belly. Emma drinks more cider.

 

There are only a few more trick-or-treaters, but there are a dozen more movies, and Emma puts in another before Regina can object. By now, Regina seems finally desensitized, enough that she’s making acerbic commentary at every stupid teenager in every movie. “They all got what they deserved,” she decides, waving at the screen.

 

“Okay, Regina,” Emma says, patting her hair. Regina’s head has landed in Emma’s lap, and her eyes are drifting shut. “That’s the last Saw movie for you.”

 

“No, I’m not done,” Regina protests, curling up closer to her. “I want to see…” Her voice trails off, and the next time she speaks, it’s an indistinguishable murmur that’s followed by light snoring.

 

Emma runs her fingers through Regina’s hair, smiling to herself, and tugs a blanket off the back of the couch to spread it over her. It isn’t long before she’s drifting off, too, arms around Regina on the couch as she sinks down. Her soulmate mark itches, but she thinks very little about that right then. She only thinks about how comfortable this is, cuddling with Regina on the couch as tinny screams of terror echo from the TV.

 


 

November

 

“So are you going to this...Thanksgiving thing?” Mulan wants to know, wrinkling her brow. They’re at the station on a quiet day, and there’s probably no excuse for Emma, David, Aladdin, and Mulan to be on duty except that it’s donut day and Granny has promised them fresh for the station today. “Belle suggested I come to the potluck at Granny’s, but I don’t know if I really understand the point.”

 

Emma shrugs. “I don’t know. It depends on what we’re doing.”

 

“We,” Aladdin repeats. “You mean the wife and son.” He high-fives David, which is really a betrayal, and Emma gives them both a dirty look. David gives her a look that both her parents have been giving her far too often lately, and she hasn’t bothered trying to decipher it.

 

But she doesn’t really have an answer, either. Regina pops into Granny’s some years, and others she stays home and sends Henry alone. Emma finds that she’s more and more reluctant to spend holidays without her family. Then again, the last time she’d mentioned Thanksgiving to Regina, Regina had muttered something under her breath about colonialist power narratives and gone right back to their magic lesson.

 

“So do you guys do Thanksgiving?” she finally asks Henry.

 

He makes a face. “It’s complicated,” he says. “When I was seven, Mom lectured me for an hour straight about atrocities committed toward indigenous people of the Americas, and then how giving thanks is a nonsense tradition embedded in American popular culture. And then…”

 

“And then?” Emma prompts.

 

Henry shrugs. “And then we ate turkey.”

 

“Ah.”

 

So that isn’t very helpful, not until Regina casually mentions that it’s her year to make the turkey for Granny’s potluck. Regina’s turkey is a magnificent thing, apparently, because no one will shut up about it. “I would have taken a hundred-year curse if it had meant more turkey,” Michael Tillman says, and everyone around him nods in heartfelt agreement.

 

Regina also takes it very seriously, which Emma discovers when she stops by the house three days before Thanksgiving and finds Henry and Regina clad in matching aprons, Henry carefully shredding one turkey while Regina slices another painstakingly. “Your apron is on the counter,” Henry says. “You’re not allowed to do any of the cooking, though.”

 

“I can help!”

 

Regina twists around to fix her with a deadly look, the kind that’s powerful enough to stop Emma in her tracks. “No,” she says, and that is that. Emma sulks and sits on the counter, picking out a few stray pieces of bone from what Henry’s already shredded, and when Emma reaches for a finished piece of turkey, Regina blasts her with a burst of magic so sharp that it sets Emma’s hair on end.

 

And they’re never allowed to sample, which is the worst . Even Henry’s puppy eyes don’t work on Regina pre-turkey. “You will have it at Granny’s just like everyone else,” she informs them, voice like steel. “I will not cede an inch.”

 

“It’s just turkey! ” Emma says, exasperated, which leads to her standing on the porch in front of a closed door, Regina glaring at her through the window of the living room as she whisks the gravy perfectly.

 

At least she’d gotten to keep her apron, which leads to more indecipherable looks from her parents when she puts it on to help with the carrot cake. And Regina seems to have forgiven her by the time Emma and Henry are summoned to her house to help transport the turkey to Granny’s. “ Careful , Emma.”

 

“Why aren’t you telling Henry to be careful?” Emma complains, and promptly trips on the sidewalk. Regina freezes her in place, turkey and all, and retrieves the food and sets it down inside Granny’s while Emma remains frozen, her leg up and her hands still outstretched. Mulan pats her head as she walks by with Jasmine and Aladdin, and Emma silently plots their deaths as she waits for Regina to return.

 

Regina unfreezes her only when everything is inside and everyone is, too, and she puts her hands in Emma’s frozen ones and thaws her out a moment later. Emma stumbles, nearly into her, and Regina touches her cheek and says, “This holiday is bullshit ,” and Emma grins at her like a fool until she’s steered inside.

 

They don’t all fit in a booth, so they push a few tables together and crowd around them. Her parents are bright-eyed in that way they get when they’re surrounded by happiness and can see only each other, and Robyn is hitting Neal repeatedly with a spoon while Zelena coos over them. Mulan and Belle are tucked in happily together, Mulan shooting glances at Zelena that might be… interested ?...while Jasmine murmurs something to her under her breath. Aladdin, Archie, and Henry are engaged in an intense game of Battleship on their phones, and Pongo has somehow made it into the store, his head resting on Regina’s lap as Emma squeezes in between her mom and the dog.

 

It’s nice, and it’s kind of perfect right up until Mary Margaret clears her throat loudly enough for the whole diner to hear and says, “I think we should go around and talk about what we’re thankful for before the meal this year.”

 

“Before the turkey?” Leroy says, aghast.

 

Ava Tillman says, “I’m not waiting for the turkey any longer.” There’s a surge of agreement from the crowd. Regina smiles that ridiculous smile she has just for the moments when she sabotages Mary Margaret without any effort at all, and Emma prepares to play the compromiser when Granny’s window is blasted open and an enormous snake bursts into the room.

 

“Oh, come on ,” Emma groans, rising to her feet.

 

Regina is just behind her with a sour, “Thanksgiving finally getting what it deserves,” which , they could die , but okay, probably fair. Mulan draws a sword that Emma hadn’t even seen on her, and the rest of the townspeople shift in their seats, unwilling to give up their spots over another new villain.

 

The snake’s eyes are…something’s weird about them, and Emma sways for a moment as it turns its gaze on her, rocking from side to side as Regina shifts in front of her. “Hypnosis,” she hisses. “Close your eyes and follow my lead.”

 

Emma closes her eyes. She can sense Regina, can feel even Mulan’s movements through some hypersensitized magic. Regina glows clearly in her mind, hurling fireballs at the snake that bounce off shimmering scales and scorch the walls of the diner, and Emma gathers her magic and feeds it into Regina’s flames, sending a deadly cocktail of fire and magic at the snake.

 

It shriek-hisses a deadly sound and rears up, writhing away from them and hurtling across the room. Granny shouts, “The buffet!” and Mulan chases the snake, but it’s too late, it’s headed right for– right for the–

 

–the turkey–

 

Emma’s moving before she can think, throwing herself into the air and crashing into the snake. She hangs onto it, her eyes wide open as she avoids the snake’s hypnotic glare, and she gasps out, “No one…touches…the turkey!” as the snake’s fangs burrow into her. She reaches out blindly, feeling venom dripping into her as the snake thrashes around, and Mulan’s sword finally, finally , is pressed firmly into her hand.

 

She waits one more dizzy moment before the snake twists away from the turkey, and she drives the sword into its side at last. It lets out another loud hiss, this time nearly a wail, and falls to the ground in a heap.

 

Ava says, her voice pitched high, “Is the turkey okay?”

 

Emma can’t remember much else for a long time, her vision blurry and her mind numb with poison. She remembers to worry about the scribble on her neck being seen under her turtleneck if Whale examines her, but that’s as far as she goes, and she remembers a soft, urgent voice calling to her. Emma. Emma, stay with me. You’re going to be all right .

 

She comes to and Regina is bent over her, David’s arm supporting her body as Regina’s magic works gradually on the venom. Regina is murmuring her name, still soft, still urgent. “You’re going to be all right, Emma,” she says, and she’s blinking back tears. Emma reaches out, her movements abrupt and shaky, and brushes a tear away.

 

Regina looks up and catches her gaze, and there’s no word for the relief and intensity that floods her eyes when she sees Emma looking down at her. “Emma,” she breathes, and she lurches up and wraps her arms around her. Emma holds her to her, her eyes drifting shut again. But for…better reasons. “Hey,” she says. “It’s okay.”

 

“Okay?” Regina demands disbelievingly, pulling away to jab a finger at Emma’s chest. “You nearly died to protect the turkey . Have you lost your mind? How is any part of this okay?” She’s still jabbing at Emma’s chest, but her hand kind of settles there midway through the final jab, pressed over Emma’s heart as her eyes gleam with new tears.

 

Behind her, Mulan and Aladdin are smirking, assholes . Emma says weakly, “I know what a big deal that turkey was for you,” and Regina’s teary eyes are suddenly even damper, even darker, and Emma doesn’t know how to interpret any of this. She suddenly has the uneasy feeling that she’d be better off… not . “And there was no way I was going to wait this long and still not get to eat some of it,” she says, glancing in sudden horror at the buffet table.

 

It’s gone . Every piece of turkey that had been on painstaking display has been eaten, the last few on the plates of some latecomers who step gingerly around the snake corpse as they carry it to their seats. Emma, noble savior of the turkey, isn’t going to get a single bite.

 

And Regina, who’s abruptly less teary-eyed and more disbelieving, sniffs, “Typical. You idiot . Do you ever think with anything but your stomach?” and turns away from her in a huff.

 

“Also that first reason,” Emma says weakly. “The noble one. Isn’t there any turkey left?”

 

It’s Henry who rescues her, of course, her personal savior when Regina isn’t willing. “Mom made them put aside a whole pan,” he pipes up. Regina glares at him in betrayal. Henry grins at them, unapologetic. “Granny has it in the oven.”

 

And oh, yes, it’s exactly as sublime as its reputation, and Emma remembers it nearly as well as she does Regina’s hand on her skin, siphoning out the venom until there’s none left and it’s just a hand, just on skin.

 

Emma’s soulmate mark stings with the touch, a reminder that she hasn’t yet unraveled, and she looks around the room, brow furrowed. The name must be someone here. It must be reacting to someone’s presence.

 

But there’s no one watching her but her parents, with those identical odd looks on their faces, and, of course, Regina.

 


 

December

 

December is extra cold this year, and Emma finds every excuse to wear scarves and turtlenecks, tugging them down on occasion only to study the mark on her skin. It’s getting darker now, no longer easily mistaken as a smudge of dirt but something far more noticeable, and it’s settled into her skin with more permanence than any she’s had before. She’s in love , says common sense, but she can’t imagine how.

 

Maybe she’s…tunneling through a portal every night when she sleeps. Maybe it really is Aladdin, though she can’t even muster up those kind of feelings for him when she tries. Maybe this is some weird case of mistaken identity, because Emma hasn’t been interested in romance in a long, long time. She doesn’t need a partner like that, not when she has Regina and Henry and the kind of family that she’d privately dreamed would follow love someday. She just skipped a step.

 

She knows her parents’ story, knows that they had their marks within hours of meeting each other. Mary Margaret’s is on her upper arm, and she’d been horrified when she’d seen it first and it had had another name than James . David’s is on his ankle. Regina had admitted once that when she’d first fallen in love as a girl, her mark had been on her wrist and she’d spent weeks frantically trying to hide it from her mother.

 

Emma’s seen unfortunate marks in the past, on foreheads and cheeks and once etched into the curve of someone’s finger, and she shouldn’t be so irritated when her own can be easily hidden by a scarf, but–

 

It’d be nice to be able to read it, that’s all. It has her cranky sometimes when she can’t explain why to the people around her, not without involving them much too much in something that shouldn’t matter , and Regina puts up with that…not at all. “What’s gotten into you?” she demands one day. “We haven’t had a Big Bad attack in weeks.”

 

Emma musters up a smile for her and finds a way to change the subject. “Just thinking, I guess. Why don’t you celebrate Christmas anymore?” Which is another question altogether. She knows that her first year in town, Regina had decorated her house and had a tree and everything picture-perfect. She’d driven past on patrol on Christmas Eve and seen Henry at the window, dressed in a red sweater decorated with gamboling reindeer and waving wildly at her.

 

But the next year, the house had been cold and silent, and it had continued like that for the years that had followed. Henry had opted to join the Charming celebration and Regina had reluctantly followed and never attempted to bring him back to her house instead.

 

Now, Regina shrugs. “It’s not an Enchanted Forest holiday, per se. Ours involves a lot more dancing naked in the snow.” Emma’s mouth goes very dry and Regina smirks. “That was a joke, Emma. But we don’t celebrate the winter solstice in quite the same ways. I only began it here because Henry wanted it, and once your parents took over…” She spreads her hands in uncertain explanation. “I didn’t see the point.”

 

“Oh,” Emma says, eyeing her. She can imagine Regina feverishly decorating trees and baking cookies and so fiercely determined to make Henry’s holiday perfect. She can’t imagine Regina at home on a family-centered holiday, all alone, stopping in at Mary Margaret’s only to make an appearance. “I always wanted…when I was a kid, I used to think that Christmas was the kind of fantasy that only kids with parents got. I’d get presents I didn’t want from toy drives and sometimes, if I was lucky, my foster parents bothered to get a tree. No need for a family holiday when you don’t have a family.”

 

Regina looks at her for a moment, eyes soft and pained as they always are when Emma talks about her past. “Is it different now that your parents are here with you?”

 

“Yes,” Emma says automatically, because how ungrateful would she be if she said anything else? But Regina watches her, her expression unimpressed as she waits for the truth, and Emma winces. It’s easier to put aside old resentments these days, as they’ve all settled into family and Emma really does belong. And yet…

 

And yet. “Sometimes…” she admits. “Sometimes it feels kind of like a reminder of what I’ve missed instead. I love Neal,” she says hastily, because she does , even if it’s more as an aunt than as a sister. “But it’s…different, you know? He’s getting the Christmases I wanted as a kid.”

 

She shifts, uncomfortable with her revelations, and Regina offers, “You can always come dance naked in the snow with me.” Emma laughs, the moment shattering and a few not-unpleasant images drifting through her mind.

 

“I’ll save you a slow dance,” she promises, and her admission is forgotten by the time she makes it back to the station after lunch. She has vandals to catch and Henry for dinner and there’s the still-lingering matter of the mark on her neck to contemplate, and she doesn’t have time for Christmas or regrets.

 

It snows in late December, and Emma is too busy to do much more than pick out gifts and pull up lights across her apartment. She won’t be there for Christmas, anyway, but it’s nice to have them anyway, a reminder that the holidays are close. She isn’t that sentimental. It’s for Henry when he sleeps over on the weekends.

 

She shovels walks and coordinates plows and takes emergency calls, keeping the town safe as best as she can, and she’s late when she finally stumbles into her parents’ apartment on Christmas Eve. “I’m sorry!” she says, tugging off her boots and rearranging her scarf around her neck. “Pongo ran off and I couldn’t leave him out in this snow. I had to–” She frowns, looking around the room. “Where’s Henry?”

 

“I thought you could pick him up from Regina’s,” Mary Margaret says, and her eyes are sparkling like she’s hiding a secret. Emma eyes her, wary at this…twist…but she sighs and obliges, trudging back into her boots and the snow.

 

The drive is a harrowing one, even if it’s just a few minutes away. The snow has picked up again, and visibility is low even with her brights on. Emma inches through the snow, wondering if Regina might let her teleport them back to Mary Margaret’s. It seems like the safer option, at this point, and it’d be a nice excuse to be back here in the morning. Regina might not be a Christmas fan, but Emma still doesn’t want her to be alone , and…

 

And…

 

She’s driven too far down Mifflin, she thinks at first, switching the car into reverse automatically. It’s difficult to see much in the snow, but there’s no way that that’s Regina’s house up ahead. It’s too bright, too colorful, wreathed with glowing lights and…is that a flock of reindeer in the front yard with a sleigh? They look as though they’re made of snow, delicately carved and moving ever so slightly with magic that Emma knows as intimately as her own.

 

“Regina, what the hell?” she mutters, parking her car and traipsing past the reindeer. There’s a little bit of mistletoe hanging from the center of the porch, and more lights floating in midair around her as she rings the doorbell.

 

And Regina opens the door, glowing as much as the fairy lights around her. And she’s wearing a Christmas sweater . “Merry Christmas, Emma,” she says, and takes Emma’s freezing hand in her warm one. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

 

Emma gapes around her. The house is… decorated , as elaborate as it had been that first year Emma had been in Storybrooke. Henry is sitting by the fireplace, drinking hot cocoa and beaming at her, and there’s a tree . An honest-to-goodness, gleaming tree with lights and baubles and looking as though it had come straight out of some heartwarming Christmas movie. “How–” she begins, and then stops, bewildered. “I don’t–”

 

“We thought we’d have Christmas at home this year,” Henry says cheerfully. “Just the three of us.”

 

“If that’s all right with you,” Regina says hastily. She looks uncertain for a moment. “Snow will still host tomorrow’s meal, of course, and I don’t think she wanted to give you and Henry up tonight, but I thought…” Her eyes are warm and so loving that Emma could drown in them, could drown in her , could drown in this quiet, perfect scene. “I thought you could have a family Christmas that fit you better.”

 

Emma can only nod, overwhelmed and afraid she might cry right in front of their son. Regina leads her to the fireplace, sitting her down beside Henry and near the tree, and she takes her own seat on Henry’s other side. “We had to use magic to do the decorations,” Henry says, “Because we didn’t want you to see them in advance, you know? But you haven’t been over in days . It was so easy to do everything else on our own.” He shoots a suspicious look at his mother. “It’s weird how much it snowed this past week, actually. Very convenient.”

 

“Hm,” Regina hums agreeably, leaning back against the couch. Emma feels as though…as though she’s teetering on a precipice, certain that she’ll be in tears by the end of tonight and unable to think about why. She hasn’t cried in…so long, but her emotions stick in her throat, thick and obstructing her breathing. There’s something about tonight– this– for her. For her .

 

How had a lost orphan girl no one had ever wanted found a family ?

 

She feels a hand on hers and looks down at her son in muted awe, looks up at his mother in gripped affection, and she rubs her neck and doesn’t understand how some soulmate mark could possibly appear now when she has enough people in her life to make her utterly complete. She’d never imagined…

 

“There are cookies,” Henry says, releasing her hand so he can leap up to get them, and Emma shifts into the spot he’d vacated as though drawn by magic, by some magnetic force that brings her closer and closer to Regina. Regina tugs down a blanket to wrap around them, and Emma curls against her, still without words.

 

They each open one present at night, and Henry picks the biggest one under the tree while Emma studies the gifts that have her name on them, debating between Regina’s and Henry’s until Regina nudges her. “Take his,” she says, which is unfair when she’s holding Emma’s gift to her in her hand. “Mine isn’t very exciting. It was more…” She waves around the room, looking a bit embarrassed.

 

“It’s perfect,” Emma breathes, and she’s finally managed to talk again. Regina kisses her cheek, tugging her back to her seat beside her as they watch Henry unwrap what appears to be David’s gift for him.

 

Regina is next, and Emma holds her breath as she unwraps the bracelet. Maybe it’s only because soulmate marks have been on her mind that she’s thought so much about Regina as a girl, hiding the words on her wrist from her mother. Since then, she’d noticed that Regina almost always keeps her wrist bare, and she’d thought too long and hard about what it would have meant to Regina to see a name fade away in a dark stable all those years ago.

 

She doesn’t know how to explain any of those things to Regina, and she manages only, “I thought you could…could have a reminder of what you have now,” that shouldn’t explain much at all. But Regina looks at her as though she understands, her fingers tracing the delicate links of the bracelet, and she holds out her arm so Emma can fasten it around her wrist. Emma keeps her fingers there for longer than she should, and it’s only when Henry clears his throat that she springs away.

 

“Open it,” he insists, eyeing the gift on her lap. “I was going to get you this really awesome new game that I wanted, but Mom had a better idea.” He’s grinning, and Emma eyes the bulky package dubiously. Well . She trusts Regina, at least.

 

She unwraps it carefully, more and more baffled as she sees the edges of the gift come into view. There are…seashells? Macaroni? Several little pom-poms? And then she finally slides it out and her breath hitches.

 

It’s a photo frame, made by a preschooler’s hands and elaborately decorated with various craft supplies. And across the top, in big letters, MY MOMMY . “I made it for Mother’s Day when I was in kindergarten,” Henry says, looking vaguely embarrassed at the admission. “But I thought…if you wanted…”

 

The picture inside is of the three of them from that barbecue in August, Henry in the center and Regina and Emma tucked in together behind him. They look flushed and happy, and the little grey mark on Emma’s neck is barely noticeable. “It’s just a little thing,” Henry says, and now he’s anxious, glancing from Emma to Regina for guidance. “I can still get that game–”

 

The tears finally spill free from Emma’s eyes, and she can’t seem to stop them, can’t seem to thank Henry or do much more than reach for him. She hugs him tightly, kisses the top of his head over and over again, and Henry mutters, “Fine, Mom, it was a good choice,” to Regina as she watches them both with wet eyes of her own.

 

It’s getting late, and Henry doesn’t even complain when Regina sends him to bed as though he’s still ten. He gives each of them a hug, whispering something in Regina’s ear that has her giving him a little shove as Emma watches curiously, and then it’s just the two of them in front of the dying fire. “Thank you,” Emma finally manages. “For…” She can’t even finish, can’t explain how much everything tonight has meant to her.

 

Regina just smiles, nestled in beside her, and she says grudgingly, “This wasn’t…the worst thing in the world.” She runs her fingers along the bracelet for a moment, pensive. “I think…for a long time, I associated Christmas with losing Henry to you and your family, even after we weren’t enemies anymore. But now…” She shakes her head, as wordless as Emma’s been all night.

 

Emma says suddenly, struck by a desire she can’t place, “I did promise you some slow dancing in the snow, didn’t I?”

 

“Emma,” Regina says, rolling her eyes, but Emma seizes her hand and tugs her up, certain that this is exactly how the night is going to end.

 

“It’s my turn to deliver,” she says firmly, leading Regina to the front lawn with only a quick stop for their boots. “I don’t think I want to give your neighbors a show, so we’ll have to keep the sweaters on, but…” She spins Regina and Regina laughs helplessly, both of them stumbling in the deep snow as the magical reindeer move back and forth, back and forth.

 

Emma catches Regina and tugs her in close, and then they’re swaying together. There’s Christmas music drifting out from the window, low but still audible enough to dance to, and Regina is pressed to Emma and Emma can feel something untie in her stomach, a peace that she can’t name. This is…nice, nicer than dancing has ever been before, Emma’s arms around Regina and Regina’s warm cheek pressed to hers.

 

Regina leans back for a moment and their eyes meet, their red noses brushing together and their gazes suddenly devoid of laughter. Emma can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t do anything but remain helplessly trapped in Regina’s eyes, and she drifts millimeters closer, a sudden tension rising between them. “We should…” Emma whispers, afraid. “We should…go inside now.”

 

Regina nods, very slightly. They walk together back to the porch, their eyes still fixed on each other, and Emma looks up before she can think about what it might mean. Regina follows her gaze, and they both hesitate, standing in place beneath the mistletoe.

 

“Well,” Regina says as an exhale, and Emma leans in and kisses her.

 

Fireworks would have been easier, would have made everything sharp and bright and clear; but kissing Regina is like warmth instead, like a heat that rises through Emma so steadily that she doesn’t notice she’s on fire until it’s too late. Emma sways in place, the kiss turning into a second and a third, each more tender than the last. Regina’s hands are on Emma’s cheeks, are stroking snow-wet hair from her face as she cradles Emma’s face in hers, and Emma can’t even close her eyes, can’t tear her gaze from Regina so close as she kisses her back.

 

It’s minutes– simple, perfect minutes of revelation– before Regina finally breathes out and takes a step back, her hands caressing Emma’s cheeks for a final moment. “Merry Christmas, Emma,” she says, a new smile on her face. It isn’t one Emma’s ever seen before.

 

“Merry Christmas, Regina,” Emma murmurs, and they go inside where it’s light and familiar and there’s no more mistletoe to confuse things.

 

And confuse seems about right, because what Emma’s feeling– what she’s been feeling for a long, long time– it’s impossible. It has to be impossible. How has she missed this, how could she possibly be–

 

She bids Regina a shaky goodnight and heads upstairs to the guest room, sliding off with trembling hands the sweater and scarf that she’s kept on all night. She steps in front of the mirror, her heart in her throat, and she knows exactly what she’s finally going to see.

 

The scrawl on her neck is finally clear enough to read, darker still than it had been hours before, and it says Regina in a familiar, heartbreakingly beautiful script.

 


 

January

 

So, first of all, Emma doesn’t even like women. At least, she doesn’t think she does. She loves Regina, but that isn’t exactly a newsflash, and being in love with Regina makes a certain kind of sense when she thinks about it for long enough. Because they’re a family, because they’ve been…kind of platonically married for a long, long time, because Emma had kissed her under the mistletoe at Christmas and had felt as though her world had been falling out from beneath her.

 

But soulmates should indicate attraction , which means sorting through a lot of emotions and also the fact that Regina’s lips are really full and she had spent a lot of time staring at her cleavage back when she’d been the Evil Queen. And she still gets a little tingly just thinking about touching Regina, thinking about Regina naked , thinking about making Regina scream.

 

Except maybe that’s all just…her projecting because of the name on her neck. So maybe she is bisexual, or maybe Regina is her one exception or something? Shouldn’t a thirty-something know her own desires by now?

 

But her sexuality is only a secondary concern right now. Her primary worry is exacerbated now, the scrawl on her neck no longer just an indecipherable scribble but something that anyone will be able to read, too clear to be mistaken for anything but exactly what it is.

 

Regina . Written across her skin as though it belongs there, as much as she belongs with Regina. Emma swallows when she sees it, thinks with dread about how Regina might react to this blaring klaxon of Emma is in love with you . She can’t lose Regina. She can’t lose their family.

 

At least it’s winter, and she can push off worrying about this for a few more months. No one questions her scarves and high-necked sweaters, even if Zelena makes one snide comment about how she’s better covered than the nuns lately. Regina elbows her and purchases Emma a new scarf in response, and Emma wears it more often than not, the soft material rubbing against the mark on her skin.

 

The Christmas snow might have been Regina’s doing, but the snow that follows it is all Maine. They get two snowstorms before mid-January, and Emma spends most of her time bundled up and jumping whenever Regina still manages to touch her skin instead of her coat. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Regina demands one time too many, and Emma nods shakily.

 

She also watches Regina’s ass when she walks into the next room, which is absolutely something that she’d done before all of this and is just…well, frankly, Regina’s ass is really distracting. Maybe that’s a girl-envy kind of thing, Emma can’t tell anymore. “I’m fine,” Emma says, a minute too late. “Just…cold.”

 

Regina frowns, propping Robyn onto her hip so she can feel Emma’s forehead. They’re babysitting tonight by Zelena’s demand– well, Regina is babysitting and she’d ordered Emma over so she’d have some adult company in the farmhouse while the snowstorm rages on outside. “You do feel cold,” she concedes grudgingly. “Sit down. I’m going to find you a blank–”

 

The lights flicker and then go out, leaving them in darkness. “Blackout?” Regina’s voice says from somewhere around her.

 

“Blackout,” Emma agrees grimly, reaching for Regina. Their hands meet and Regina tugs Emma closer, wrapping an arm around her to keep her steady against her. “Robyn okay?” Emma murmurs, feeling Regina’s warm breath against her cheek.

 

“Indeed,” Regina says, and then there’s a little pop of green and a bauble of magic appears in Robyn’s little hand, illuminating the three of them. Regina looks down at her fondly. “Smart girl,” she says, rubbing her back. “Do you do that when your mother puts you to bed?” Robyn gurgles an indecipherable response and snuggles up against her. “It’s getting late, anyway,” Regina says. “We should put her down and then make some calls. See if it’s just our power lines or the whole town’s.”

 

“We can’t,” Emma says suddenly, remembering. “The heat’s not working. We can’t leave Robyn upstairs.”

 

So they huddle together on the couch, Robyn chewing on her little green energy ball as Regina summons a pile of blankets from the linen closet. She’s humming as she holds Robyn close, a lullaby soothing enough that it has even Emma drifting off, and she wakes with a start what must be an hour later. Robyn is fast asleep, Emma’s head is on Regina’s shoulder, and Regina is stroking her hair absentmindedly. “We’re the only ones who’ve lost power,” she says. “Perks of being in a house out in the middle of nowhere, I suppose.”

 

Emma bobs her head, very slightly. Regina is still winding her fingers through Emma’s hair, and Emma is afraid to do anything to make it stop. “I tried teleporting us back to my place,” Regina says. “But snow tends to have an odd effect on magic sometimes. Almost…reflective. We disappeared and wound up right back here.” She sighs, slipping her fingers under Emma’s sweater and rubbing it where she can’t possibly know the mark is. Emma shudders and Regina feels it, misinterprets, and removes her fingers altogether. “And the snow hasn’t been plowed out here in days. So we’re stuck here until the power lines are repaired.”

 

“Fun,” Emma says.

 

“You should have heard Zelena when I called her. She sounded delighted .” Regina laughs softly. “I guess she’s finally hit the point where a break from being a mom sounds like vacation. It took me…longer.”

 

“How long?” Emma asks curiously. Her memories raising Henry had been artificial, ephemeral notes that had faded away like dreams with time. She has little flashes of them sometimes, knows instinctively that they’re pieces of Regina and struggles to hold onto them, but it’s like holding onto a cloud.

 

Regina gives a rueful chuckle. “For a few hours? Maybe when he was three or four. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to bear being away from him for longer than a day. He went camping with your father and Aladdin last month and I still missed him.” She shakes her head, lit in the dark by the green light that frames Robyn as she sleeps. “I think there’s still a part of me that’s so in awe of the fact that I have him that I can’t imagine letting him go for long.”

 

“I know what you mean,” Emma murmurs. “It’s…we have a pretty perfect thing going, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Regina echoes, and her lips curve into a smile. “These past…six months or so have been…” She hesitates, suddenly unsure of herself, and Emma shifts in closer to her. “Fulfilling,” she finally finishes. “And I can’t really put my finger on why, but…for the first time in my life, I really do feel content.”  

 

Emma’s breath catches in her throat, and they sit in silence for a long time, Emma’s fingers running over Regina’s where they have a protective hand on Robyn under the blankets. “Aren’t there still…aren’t there still some things you want?” she dares to say, because Regina is someone so full of love that she can’t possibly think this is enough.

 

Sometimes, when she pulls off the sweaters and turtlenecks and scarves before bed, she also has to face the writing on her neck. She stands in her quiet apartment and stares at herself in the mirror, reminding herself that even if she were in love with Regina, Regina won’t feel the same way. Someday, Regina is going to fall in love and have someone else’s name on her skin, and Emma is going to be…her best friend, pining forever.

 

And Regina seems to know what she’s asking because her eyes turn unfocused for a moment, contemplative. “I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe there was a time when I did. But now…all I can think about is how this…this arrangement we have…I would take it over bringing someone new into my life to unbalance it. I’m happy , Emma.” She squeezes Emma’s hand under the blanket. “And you?”

 

Emma shakes her head vigorously. “No,” she says firmly, and she’d known it before she’d ever been able to read the mark on her neck. “There’s nothing else in the world that I need.”

 

“Nothing?” And Regina’s eyes are mischievous when she turns, Robyn’s green magic reflecting in her brown eyes. Emma gulps, a little awestruck. “Emma, it’s all right if you do want…well, a woman has needs.” She curls her tongue in front of her teeth for a moment, suggestive. Emma’s mouth is sawdust-dry and she can only stare, her eyes wide and her heart pounding, and all she can think about is Regina’s tongue.

 

“I…” she says dumbly. “You–” She takes in a deep breath. “I…” Words don’t seem to be forthcoming, and Regina is laughing silently, her eyes sparkling brown and that unnatural green at once. “ God , Regina,” she finally manages, kicking her hard in the ankle with her socked foot. “You ass.” A second, less pleasant but equally wordless thought comes to mind, and her head jerks up. “Why? Are you saying you’ve been–”

 

She thinks about Regina with other people and is nauseous and aroused at once, imagining the planes of Regina’s body moving with some faceless man, imagining Regina kissing someone else like she had Emma under the mistletoe. And then Regina shakes her head and the image of a man dissipates, leaving her only with a very naked Regina in her mind, splayed out on her bed and waiting for Emma to–

 

“Really?” Emma says, mostly to stave off the image that has her subtly squirming under the blanket.

 

Regina laughs without a trace of self-consciousness. “Emma, I promise you, the only man I’m spending Valentine’s Day with is Henry Daniel Mills.”

 

“We should–” Emma begins before she reconsiders, bad idea, very bad idea , but Regina is still watching her expectantly. “We should do Valentine’s Day together,” she says. “If, you know, we’re not seeing anyone anyway and don’t want to deal with…all the pitying looks and condescending love advice–”

 

“You can just say you don’t want to be around your mother that day.” Emma kicks her again. Regina smirks. “Sounds like a plan,” she says easily, and sometimes it’s easy to shake off the things she says as nothing. Sometimes her eyes get heavy and lidded over and sort of sad, and Emma is transfixed and bewildered at once.

 

Robyn shifts in their laps, her energy bauble finally fading into dimness, and neither of them makes any move to spark another magical light. They sit in comfortable silence, Emma’s hand stroking the baby’s side, and Emma blurts out in the dark, “We should have another one.”

 

Regina says, startled, “What?”

 

“A kid,” Emma says, feeling foolish to have brought it up. “Maybe we could…adopt a foster kid, or a baby or…I don’t know. We’ve gotten pretty okay at this parenting thing, right? And Henry would be thrilled to have a little brother or sister.”

 

“You want us to co-parent another child,” Regina says slowly, and she’s still staring at Emma with what looks like an unreadable stare in the dark when the lights flicker and turn back on. In the light, it’s– an instant of soft-eyed wonder that might just be about the suddenly bright room.

 

Zelena is sweeping into the room a moment later. “Where’s my little darling?” she demands, swooping down to snatch the baby from them. Robyn wakes up immediately, howling in protest, and Zelena’s eyes narrow. “What have you done to her?” she demands, flouncing up the stairs with her. Regina shakes her head, leaning back against the couch as Mulan and David appear in the doorway.

 

“It took a while to get the plow out here for the electrician to take care of the lines,” David says in apology. “And Zelena decided midway through that she couldn’t be without her daughter for another moment, so she was…company.” Mulan snickers and then flushes, looking surprised at her own mirth. “How about a ride home?” he offers, sticking out a hand to Regina. Mulan takes Emma’s hand, tugging her up as blankets fall to the floor.

 

They ride in silence back to Regina’s house, listening to David regale them with all the sheriff happenings that they’ve missed. “We’re going to have to have a talk with Little Miss Muffet about acceptable outdoor winter activities. And have you seen Dopey’s latest plan for neighborhood heating?” Regina leans against the window of the jeep, watching the white outdoors flash past, and she sits up only when David pulls up in front of her house. “Here’s your stop,” he says agreeably. “Emma, where are you tonight?”

 

“The station, I guess.” She owes Aladdin company on his shift. Snowstorm season is exhausting at times. “Wait,” she says suddenly, and bolts from the car after Regina. “Regina. Regina!”

 

Regina turns halfway down the walk, waiting patiently for Emma to catch up. Emma skids to a stop, sliding on a patch of ice before regaining her balance and taking in a deep breath. “About what we talked about,” she says, biting her lip. “Right before the lights went on?” She’s afraid to say having a child because wow , that had seemed like a much more viable discussion topic in the dark.

 

Regina throws back her head and laughs, her rich voice enough to make Emma flush in the dark. “You truly are the most ridiculous woman I know, Emma Swan,” she says, and turns toward her house again.

 

“Is that a no?” Emma says meekly.

 

Regina keeps walking. “No,” she says, the word floating over her shoulder back to Emma.

 

It takes a moment to register what she’s said. “What– is that a yes ?” Emma demands, her eyes widening. Regina makes her way up onto her porch, opening the door and then closing it again as she laughs to herself. “Regina! Regina !”

 


 

February

 

They haven’t talked about the kid thing again, but somehow, Valentine’s Day had been an easier topic. As friends, of course, even if one of them has a mark on her neck that means…not exactly that. But Storybrooke is covered in pink and red and Regina is the mayor of the town, which means, she insists, that she should have a date as well. “It’s just…embarrassing if I don’t,” she says, sighing heavily.

 

“You didn’t have a date last year,” Emma objects. “I remember Valentine’s Day. It was the night that ritzy new place opened up on the docks and they gave the mayoral office two invites for their grand Valentine’s opening. You brought me and we got free food– oh ,” she says, her eyes widening. She’d worn her black leather dress and Regina had been in a stunning formal red number, and they’d people-watched and speculated on the lifespan of each couple in the room, snickering to each other with their heads close together.

 

“You can’t be worse than my date last year,” Regina says, not missing a beat. Emma gives her a sour look that Regina ignores entirely. “Pick me up at eight. Wear something casual.”

 

Casual ?” Emma repeats, suddenly suspicious. This doesn’t sound like a standard Regina date, and she wonders, suddenly–

 

It’s been taunting the edges of her mind for weeks, Regina’s look of mischief and the tongue-curl when she’d said a woman has needs . What does a Valentine’s Day with Regina entail? Are they doing this as friends? As friends who kissed for much too long under the mistletoe? As friends who are currently filling the role of informal significant other for each–

 

She shakes away that thought, wincing. There’s no way Regina had meant that this is that kind of date. For one thing, she isn’t into–

 

She’d peeked once, had glanced into Regina’s dressing room when she’d been late for a trip. She’d seen toned legs and stomach with a little bit of softness to it, had seen the curve of Regina’s spine to her bra strap and a barely covered ass– and somehow, moments after her mind had gone blissfully blank, she’d thought to peer at Regina again and see if there’s a name anywhere on her skin.

 

There’s nothing. This is all onesided, whatever it is, and there’s no way that Regina is planning some kind of…romantic woods outing, or something.

 

Regina remains a mystery, one that gets a bit clearer when she gets a follow-up text on Valentine’s morning. Bathing suit. Dress like it’s summer. She obliges, thoroughly baffled, and then spends ten minutes at the pharmacy shivering in shorts while she waits in line with chocolate. Henry’s going to be one happy camper while they’re out.

 

“Henry isn’t home,” Regina informs her when she opens the door, her eyes sliding over Emma’s shivering torso for a moment. Emma puts a nervous hand on her neck, rubbing against the bandaid she’d stuck over her soulmate mark. “He had a daytime date with Violet, and now he’s over at my sister’s for the night with Robyn.” Which is a mixed signal if Emma’s ever heard one, and Emma doesn’t know what to anticipate at all. She shifts in the cold, passing the flowers to Regina, and Regina smiles a slow smile, inhales, and then says, “Emma, please tell me you thought to do a heating spell.”

 

Oh . “Oh,” Emma says lamely, and Regina flicks her wrist and she’s suddenly warm , blessed warmth that reaches from her toes to the top of her head. “Where– where are we going?” she finally asks, following Regina into the foyer as she puts the flowers into water. It had been an absurdly expensive bouquet, and Regina handles it like she knows it.

 

Regina gives her another smile, this one less certain than the last. “Henry says you used to go boating a lot in New York. I know it’s…the middle of winter, but the water isn’t frozen at the lake, and I thought we could…” Her voice trails off, the uncertain smile still on her face. It’s incredibly endearing, as is the pile of kayaking supplies no one would ever use and the tandem kayak that Emma can see in the living room when she takes a step forward.

 

Emma says, “You like kayaking?”

 

“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” Regina says, and her hand brushes against Emma’s bare arm teasingly. She’s wearing a robe, and Emma watches with distinct interest as she slides it off, leaving her in a tight little shirt and shorts of her own. Her legs are exactly as impressive as Emma had remembered. “Let’s go,” Regina says briskly, showing no sign of noticing Emma’s awe, and she waves her hand and they disappear, reappearing with the kayak at the edge of the lake nestled in Storybrooke’s woods.

 

“A dark nighttime date in the middle of the woods. Definitely the mayor keeping up appearances,” Emma says, and Regina nudges her and then crouches down by the water. “What are you up to?”

 

“Shh,” Regina says, her brow furrowed, and she shuts her eyes for a moment and murmurs something under her breath.

 

The lake lights up. It’s from within , as though someone had strung glowing lights of different colors beneath the surface, and it has the lake shimmering like an incandescent rainbow. Emma stares, feeling the spell like another warmth to her skin, and Regina says, “Okay. Let’s…get into this thing,” with her eyes narrowed at the kayak.

 

She’s still tense when they manage to leave shore, rowing with her back too straight and her shoulders stiff, and Emma says, “Why did you pick this if you didn’t want…” She gestures around her, knowing that Regina can’t see.

 

Regina shrugs, twisting a bit so Emma can hear her. “I wanted to do something for you.”

 

“You already do too much for me,” Emma murmurs, and Regina shakes her head, ever so slightly, and doesn’t respond.

 

They get into the rhythm of it after a while, moving leisurely through the enchanted lake in silence. Regina begins to slow after a while, and Emma says, “C’mere,” and finds the spot on the back of Regina’s seat that releases, tossing it onto an outcropping of rock. Regina leans back, her head landing on Emma’s lap, and Emma runs her fingers through Regina’s wet hair and says, “How is this?”

 

“Peaceful,” Regina admits grudgingly, looking up at her. “I didn’t think it’d be this quiet.”

 

“Not many people out there stupid enough to go kayaking in the dark in the middle of the woods,” Emma says, and Regina grins up at her for a moment, her eyes drifting shut as she shifts on Emma’s lap. Emma is suddenly very aware of Regina’s lips, brushing against her thigh just below where her shorts have ridden up, and she doesn’t know if it’s accidental or if

 

She can feel the frisson of excitement like a tangible thing, so close to reality that Emma is breathless with anticipation. Henry has been sent out for the night. They’re having a solidly romantic date right now. It’s Valentine’s Day . And Regina has needs she hasn’t been afraid to express.

 

Oh, my god, is she even into women? Is Emma ? Will Emma have any idea what to do if Regina makes a move tonight? There’s an uncomfortable heat pooling at her center at the idea of it, and Emma’s never been more grateful for the rush of cold water that she splashes into the kayak, Regina gasping in outrage as she manages to soak her even more.

 

Her lips are still resting on Emma’s inner thigh, and Emma doesn’t know how to respond to that . “I’ve been thinking about what we talked about during the blackout,” Regina says, her eyes closed and her words quiet.

 

“Uhh,” Emma manages, her mouth dry. This is it, then. She steers them casually, shifting the kayak so it’ll return to the shore.

 

Regina apparently, is thinking about something else entirely. “If we did adopt…you’d have to move in,” she says, decisive and pragmatic, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to invite Emma to move in with her. “No agency is going to give custody when the guardians aren’t even living together. Even if our situation is…a bit different.”

 

“That…makes sense,” Emma says, still staring at Regina. Because they’re definitely talking about Emma moving in , and Aladdin is never going to let up on the wife jokes now. And she’s going to have to find a better way to hide the writing on her neck if she’s going to see Regina every morning and night in pajamas, and–

 

“A little girl,” Regina says, quietly wistful. “Maybe not an infant. Someone old enough that she…” She stops, her eyes open as she watches Emma solemnly.

 

“That she doesn’t have much of a chance for a family,” Emma finishes, staring down at Regina in quiet awe. “You’d do that?”

 

“No birth parents,” Regina says in response, twisting in Emma’s lap to sit up again and fix her with a hard glare. “We’re adopting an orphan with no family ties.” She’s too close to the back of the kayak, close enough that they might flip their boat, and Emma can’t bring herself to care.

 

She stares instead at the dip of Regina’s shirt, the cleavage visible from beneath it– and how , when Regina’s so tiny, does she manage to find all the right bras and shirts and bathing suits to accentuate her breasts so perfectly– and then drags her eyes back up to Regina’s. “Had your fill of birth moms?” she says, swallowing audibly.

 

“Just about,” Regina says, and she licks her lips– licks her lips , what are they doing , Emma holds her breath for so long that she’s dizzy and there’s only a kayak paddle between them–

 

The kayak flips, and they both crash into the water at once with shrieks and flailing. Emma manages to shove the boat so it doesn’t smack them on the head, and Regina says, “Oh, come on !” in such a fury that Emma laughs helplessly instead of saving her paddle.

 

They float through the incandescent water, bumping into each other and the kayak still floating merrily behind them, and Emma makes it to shore first and drags Regina up, flopping onto her back. Whatever mood there’d been in the kayak– if that had been a mood at all, if Emma isn’t just projecting all over Regina– is gone now, and Emma’s still laughing when Regina sits up, glares at her, and then falls back onto the ground to laugh beside her in equal surrender.

 

“Hey,” she says finally, twisting her head so she can meet Regina’s eyes. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

 

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Regina agrees, and she leans over and presses a kiss to Emma’s lips. It’s chaster than it had been on Christmas, their lips closed and no fluttering of kisses, but it lasts for a long time and is very, very soft. Their faces are wet and their hair is tangled and Emma loves Regina so desperately that she would fall into a dozen lakes just for another kiss like this.

 

Instead, she puts a hand on her neck, realizes suddenly that the bandaid over her mark has been washed away, and knows with regret that it’s time for the night to end.

 


 

March

 

Things are…different since Christmas, though not in any way that Emma can place. Maybe it’s just knowing what it is that’s written on her skin. Maybe it’s because Regina is suddenly…

 

Or maybe she’s reading too much into Regina’s behavior after all, because there are no more kayak dates like Valentine’s Day. There are a few more discussions about adoption and several visit with Henry to nearby adoption centers and social services locations to get their paperwork in line, but that’s a long process and one very far down the road right now.

 

Not that it’s stopping anyone from giving her those damned significant sidelong glances. Aladdin nearly falls over laughing when she first admits what they’re doing, and Mulan says, “Emma, don’t you think it’s time you…” and then heaves an exasperated sigh. Mary Margaret buys a dozen onesies with logos like My Mommies Love Me! and 2 moms = twice the love before Emma finally says, bright red, “We’re not adopting an infant, Mom, please .”

 

Regina doesn’t get half the grief Emma does, which strikes Emma as both unfair and also safer for the denizens of Storybrooke. At least Emma’s been spared most of Zelena’s commentary, which is worth a dozen Aladdins, so .

 

Still, she can’t help but wonder if people’s reaction to this adoption is why Regina flat-out refuses to come when Emma goes out for drinks with the other ladies. “I’ll be your designated driver if you need,” she promises, squeezing Emma’s hand for a moment. “Now, shoo.”

 

Emma hadn’t planned to get drunk at all– hadn’t really planned on going without Regina, if not for the fact that Mary Margaret needs a babysitter when she’s inebriated– but somehow, by the end of the night, her brain is woozy and she’s done a lot of shots and her lips taste like someone else’s lip gloss. “Help,” she groans into her phone. She’d stabbed randomly at her favorites, the names blurring together as she tries to find the one with an R, and Ruby had been only too glad to help her from a realm away.

 

Well, after the, “Mulan tells me you and Regina are back to the babymaking, huh?” that sounds like she’s restraining laughter.

 

Emma stares at her phone in disgust. “Since when do phones even work in Oz?”

 

“The Sprint coverage map is outstanding ,” Zelena says from the other side of the table, where she’s sitting on the same chair as Mulan. Jasmine nudges her. It strikes Emma as patently unfair that Mulan gets to spread insinuations about her love life when Mulan is clearly–

 

Is clearly–

 

Nothing is very clear right now, up until Regina swoops into the bar and tugs her up, a hand on her back and another one on Mary Margaret’s as she guides them to the car. Emma gets the front seat, which means that she hasn’t said anything yet to piss Regina off, which is good. And unexpected.

 

Lots of this night has been.

 

Regina takes Mary Margaret home first, and then it’s a few quick turns to Emma’s apartment, where Henry is thankfully not staying tonight. “How was your night?” Regina asks, tugging her away from where she’s trying to unlock a neighbor’s door and positioning her in front of her own. She drops the key twice before Regina unlocks it for her.

 

“It was good!” Emma says brightly, and then groans at the headache that that enthusiasm has spurred. “I need…to sleep.”

 

“I’ll get you into pajamas,” Regina decides.

 

“No!” Emma says hastily. “No! I have…my scarf,” she says, which makes perfect sense and she doesn’t know why Regina looks so baffled. She stumbles to her bedroom, stretching out in bed in her dress and shoes and the scarf around her neck.

 

Regina shakes her head. “ Ridiculous ,” she says, awash in fondness. “Don’t strangle yourself in your sleep. Our son will never forgive me.”

 

Emma beams up at her. “You look really pretty,” she says, which is always a given and she also doesn’t know why she’s said it. Except that Regina looks…really pretty. And now her cheeks are a little pink. “I kissed a girl,” she adds, which is the main takeaway from the night.

 

Regina’s eyes round for a moment, and she doesn’t say anything for a long pause. “How’d that go?” she finally says, her voice carefully disaffected.

 

Emma doesn’t have the capacity to register much of it. “It was nice,” she says, a little dreamily. “Much nicer than kissing boys. Softer,” she says thoughtfully. “And with more…” She looks down at her own body. “Boobs,” she decides. It had been very, very nice.

 

Regina looks as though she’s trying not to laugh. “I see,” she says.

 

“Do you think I’m a lesbian? Shouldn’t I have known that by now?” Emma asks, frowning. “Belle lectured me on compulsory heterosexuality. Did you know she’s really smart?”

 

A shadow crosses Regina’s face. “You kissed Belle?” she says, and there’s an expression on her face that might mean that she’s thinking about locking her in a prison for another few decades.

 

“No, no,” Emma says, waving her hand. “I kissed Mulan.” Regina doesn’t look appeased. “Then she kissed your sister. A lot.”

 

“Lovely,” Regina says dryly, but there’s a note of relief in her eyes.

 

“It was nice,” Emma says dreamily. It had been, if not quite up there with mistletoe kisses and drowned in the lake kisses. She can’t really remember why she’d ever thought she’d preferred men, or why she’d liked them at all. Though, to be fair, she’s very drunk right now. “I wish you’d been there. You wouldn’t have ditched me to kiss your sister.”

 

Regina suppresses a laugh. “I imagine not, no.” She brushes the hair out of Emma’s eyes. “Why did you wind up calling me?” she asks finally. “Or…getting Ruby to call me. We need to switch our family plan to Sprint,” she says as an aside, and then she returns to the question that’s hurting Emma’s head to come up with an answer to. “Jasmine was still sober when I got there.”

 

“I don’t know,” Emma admits. “I wanted to.”

 

Regina says, “To kiss me?” Which is weird, because they’d already talked about that, hadn’t they? A while ago? Or were they talking about that just now? Emma can’t remember.

 

“To call you,” Emma says, squinting up at her. “But that, too.”

 

Regina’s eyes are soft and dark and probably the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. Okay, so yes, maybe she is a lesbian after all. Bisexuality had made some sense until the girl-kissing had started and been so nice . Huh. She should probably think more about this when she’s sober. “Goodnight, Emma,” Regina says, and she leans down to her.

 

The kiss is gentle, brushing against her forehead instead of her lips, and Emma would pout except for the way that even that kiss makes her warm and safe. Regina’s thumb is brushing against her cheek, and her smile is the new most beautiful thing that Emma’s ever seen.

 

And then she’s gone, and Emma curls up in bed in her shoes and dress and scarf and dreams of smiles that could light up the world.

 


 

April

 

It’s a warm spring, which is what she’s been dreading since autumn. By mid-April, they’re at sixty-degree weather and sunny days, and Emma wears turtlenecks and struggles to be nonchalant about it. “I don’t know,” she says when Mary Margaret asks her if she isn’t overly warm, solicitous as a real mother. “I just…I get cold faster these days?”

 

“You know, I might not have a superpower,” Mary Margaret says wryly. “But I can tell when you’re lying to me.” She doesn’t say much more about it, though, and Emma’s relieved. If the most overly involved person she knows isn’t questioning her wardrobe choices, she should be fine for at least a few weeks.

 

Still, though, that’ll only work for the next few weeks, and by the last few days in April, Regina is strutting to work in little black dresses that have Emma gaping after her, suddenly very glad that she is at least gay enough to appreciate them. Jasmine’s tops are getting shorter and shorter, and even Mulan is coming to work in capris. The weather is warming up, and Emma is sweating in her winter wardrobe and hoping desperately that it doesn’t show.

 

The last few days in April are also when Emma starts to notice that people are whispering about her. There are conversations that stop abruptly when she enters a room, and knowing glances that she returns with wrinkled brow and baffled stare. “–It’s got to be something kinky,” Granny is saying to Zelena at the counter when Emma walks in one morning, and she smirks when she sees Emma. “Speak of the devil.”

 

“What? How was that about me?” Emma demands. Zelena quirks an eyebrow and twirls a hair against her neck, giving her absolutely nothing for the first time in the history of Zelena’s existence. Emma shakes her head. “Fine. Whatever. You people are…” She pauses, remembering that she actually needs something from Granny. “Wonderful, wonderful human beings. It’s a pleasure to know you,” she finishes, ignoring Zelena as best as she can. “Listen, Granny, I was wondering if we could talk.”

 

“About?” Granny says, her eyes flickering slyly down to somewhere around Emma’s shoulders.

 

Emma takes a step back, even more confused. “Regina,” she says finally. Granny’s eyes snap up to hers, her smirk widening. Emma soldiers on. “I…I know she’s been having a rough time at work with that new construction project at the edge of town. Lots of all-nighters and people treating her like crap –” She can feel her voice rising and lowers her tone. She’d overheard one of the hired contractors yelling at Regina earlier and had punched him in the face by instinct. Regina had been livid at her, but the contractor had just snorted and muttered, of course you would , and stalked out of the room.

 

She wants to punch him again, dammit. “Anyway,” she says, struggling to keep her cool. “I thought Henry and I would cook something nice for her tonight and surprise her in her office. But she makes pretty much everything , and I don’t think that it’d really impress her if we just…botched all her favorite dishes. But there’s that paella you made for Mary Margaret’s birthday this year that I’m pretty sure changed her life, and I know you refused to give out the recipe but…” She twists her hands helplessly, unsure how she’s going to convince Granny when even Regina swallowing her pride and asking hadn’t been enough.  

 

But Granny’s eyes are surprisingly soft, and Emma thinks that she must have a soft spot for Regina after all. “That’s…very sweet,” she says gruffly. Zelena snorts and Granny fixes her with a dark look. “I’ll tell you what,” she decides. “You pick up my ingredients and I’ll make Regina her treat for you.”

 

“Oh, my god,” Emma says, leaning on the counter in relief. “I could kiss you.”

 

“I don’t think your lover would like that very much,” Zelena says, her lips twisting into a smirk. Emma stares at her, alarmed at the suggestion in her voice.

 

“My …what ?”

 

Granny slaps Zelena’s arm. “Don’t scare her off. Heaven knows that we’ve all been waiting for this for long enough.” She shoos Emma off with a hand. “Go. Get those ingredients and I’ll have this ready for you by dinnertime.”

 

“Waiting for what ?” Emma repeats, but she’s already moving, no time to question them when Regina is under stress and this might be the only thing that’ll help.

 

She’s wandering through the aisles of the supermarket, searching for the perfect bell peppers, when she hears Aladdin and David in the next aisle. “I don’t want to think about it,” David says, his voice an octave higher than it should go. “Whatever they’re doing, it isn’t my business.”

 

“Of course it’s your business. She’s your daughter,” Aladdin insists, and Emma freezes and slips behind a kitchen scale, listening intently.

 

David snorts. “And she’s your boss, so maybe it’s time to find a better fixation than Emma’s love life.”

 

“Love life?” Emma repeats aloud, rounding the corner to fix them both with piercing stares. Aladdin gulps. David looks pained. “What love life am I supposed to have now?”

 

David refuses to meet her eyes. “ Dad ,” she says, folding her arms. She’s going to get answers , whether she likes them or not. The closest thing she has to a love life is the mark on her neck and the unrequited crush on Regina, and if someone out there is pretending that they’re dating

 

Maybe she has a doppelganger. Maybe there’s some new magic afoot that’s wiped her memories of a relationship. This is Storybrooke, and anything can happen– except, apparently, someone telling her the truth. Aladdin says, “Whoops, it’s our shift,” and makes a beeline for the exit, David stumbling out the door after him.

 

“It’s been your shift for three hours!” Emma calls after them, and finally sighs and dials Mulan’s number. Mulan will roll her eyes and call the whole thing a waste of time, but she won’t lie to her. Probably.

 

Mulan picks up the phone and says, “Zelena and Aladdin both called me. I’m not saying anything .”

 

“Please,” Emma begs. “Just tell me why everyone thinks I’m dating someone –”

 

“Regina,” Mulan says dryly. “We all know who you’re dating.”

 

“I’m Emma , Mulan, I’m literally your boss , can you–” Emma stops cold. “Oh.” Her blood is thrumming in her veins, and her is suddenly pounding. “I’m not…” she says, and her voice falters.

 

“It’s the turtlenecks, Emma,” Mulan says kindly. “Everyone just figured it was a love bite at first, but it’s been weeks. Maybe longer.” She swallows, sounding very uncomfortable. “I want you to know that I’m not judging your…your sexual habits–”

 

Emma hangs up the phone, a little too violently. It flies from her hand and hits the red peppers, sending half of them crashing to the ground.

 

She’s much too late with the ingredients for Granny by the time she finishes cleaning up the aisle and enduring a lecture from the grocer, and she stumbles back in by three o’clock, shamefaced. Granny gives her a long look and Emma says, “We’re not dating .”

 

“Whatever you call it,” Granny says briskly, and she sends Emma out of the diner while she gets to work.

 

Henry . Does Henry know about this rumor? Do his classmates ? Her mind is conjuring up worst-case scenarios from Mulan’s revelations, and her heart is…still thumping painfully, lost somewhere around the Regina, we all know who you’re dating . She hasn’t even come out yet. Has everyone just…always assumed–

 

She rubs her neck under her turtleneck and sees Marco on his ladder, eyes knowing on her hand. She snatches her hand away and calls Henry, who just sounds bewildered at everything she’s saying. “I’m not dating your mom,” she finally blurts out.

 

There’s a pause on the other line, and then a tentative, “Mom, did you two have a fight?”

 

“What? No! Of course not!” Emma sputters.

 

Henry says, his voice calm and understanding. “It’s okay if you fight. It’s a high-stress time for Mom right now, and I know that it’s not always easy to deal with her when she’s all snappy. But you two love each other, and you’ll get through this–”

 

“I’m not– Henry , come on! Don’t you think we’d have told you if we were dating?”

 

Emma can nearly hear the shrug over the phone. “I figured it was implied,” he says. “Hey, you two should have that dinner today without me, okay? Work things out. Save me some paella.”

 

“Henry–”

 

“Bye!” Henry hangs up, leaving Emma tempted to hurl her phone at something else. Instead, she swallows her pride and lingers at the diner, waiting for Granny out of sight so she won’t get kicked out again.

 

And it smells amazing . Regina’s going to be blown away, and Emma doesn’t care if anyone assumes this is a date, okay . So what? She’d be lucky to date Regina. As long as Regina doesn’t know about this, she doesn’t care what people think.

 

She carries the platter carefully through the street, winding through traffic and ignoring some significant stares as she steps into Town Hall and makes her way upstairs to Regina’s office. She knocks on the door– “This is after hours ,” Regina barks out from the other side of the door, “And I’ve had enough of you to–”

 

She pulls open the door and her eyes widen. “Emma,” she exhales. “I thought you were the contractor again.”

 

“Did he come back here?” Emma demands, forgetting her surprise. “I swear, if he tries anything around me–”

 

Regina waves her off, turning her attention to the paella instead. “What is this?” she asks, her voice even gentler than it had been when she’d said Emma’s name.

 

Emma shifts, suddenly shy. “Dinner. I know it’s been a rough few days. I talked to Granny about that paella you loved that she made that one time, and she…” Her voice trails off. Regina’s eyes are wide, back on Emma instead of the paella, and there’s an expression on her face that Emma can’t read. “Anyway,” Emma says finally. “I thought you could use some company tonight. If you want…”

 

“I always want,” Regina says softly, and she puts a hand on Emma’s back and guides her into the office.

 

They eat in silence in front of Regina’s fireplace, Regina savoring every bite and looking at Emma again and again with that same enigmatic expression, and her free hand rests on Emma’s back, barely a touch but enough that it’s all Emma can think about. “This project should be wrapped up in a few days,” Regina says suddenly. “And after that, I’d like to…to do something for you. For this.” She gestures at the paella. “And for giving that contractor a bloody nose. Do not do that again,” she adds quickly, fixing Emma with a deadly glare.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Emma says meekly, and then remembers herself. “But listen, you don’t have to do anything for me. I wanted to do this. And hey, I got paella out of this, too!” She waves at the platter, still more than half full. “I still can’t believe Granny agreed to make it.” She groans, finally understanding why. “Oh, fuck .”

 

“What is it?” Regina asks.

 

“It’s…” Emma chews on her lip and she’s probably better off not sharing this with Regina, but she can’t stop now that she’s started. “It’s dumb. People are…really blowing my wardrobe out of proportion.”

 

“The turtlenecks?” Regina says instantly, and Emma looks at her in alarm. Regina shrugs, a sour look passing across her face before she pastes on what’s definitely a false smile. “Emma, if you’re seeing someone, you don’t need to hide it from me. I’m…” She swallows. “I’m happy if you’re happy.” And she looks so sad as she says it that Emma wonders, for just a moment, wonders if she’d misread Regina and maybe

 

“It’s a soulmate mark,” she bursts out, touching the spot. “I have this…this name on my neck and I don’t have any other way to hide it– I’m not seeing someone , I’ve just been stuck–”

 

Regina’s eyes grow even more dim, and Emma’s said the wrong thing, somehow. But Regina reaches out to her, waves a hand and closes her eyes and says, “There. No one will be able to see it now.” Emma feels the shiver ripple across her skin and knows that it’s her mark fading into invisibility. Regina removes her hand from Emma’s back, and Emma lets out a little whine of discontent. “No more rumors,” Regina says, and there’s a note to her voice that makes it suddenly clear that she knows exactly what those rumors had been. “You can have your privacy back.”

 

Emma says shakily, “How…how do I know that you made the mark vanish for yourself, too?” It’s meant to be playful but it comes out wrong, too uncertain and hopeful and lost at once. She puts down her plate, her appetite gone, and she’s going to do it, to put herself out there and tell Regina the truth–

 

Regina says, her voice strained, “Emma, you can’t possibly think I’d subject myself to seeing that,” and Emma looks at her in surprise and consternation at what had just been revealed. Does she mean– is this–

 

She swallows, preparing to tell Regina the truth, and then Regina’s phone rings and interrupts the moment. Regina snatches it up, looking relieved, and Emma can hear the tinny voice on the other end. “This is Storybrooke Social Services,” Rapunzel’s brisk voice comes from the other end. “I have some good news for you.”

 

And then there’s no time for contractors or paella or a mark on Emma’s neck, not anymore.

 


 

May

 

It’s Mother’s Day, of all days, when they finally get the follow-up call from Rapunzel. They hadn’t thought that there’d be anyone at all in Storybrooke at first, had sent out applications as far as Boston, and the house has been in a state of protracted waiting for weeks. Emma’s staying in the house kind of permanently, though there’s the not-insignificant matter that her guest room is being slowly redecorated for a young girl and this can’t last for too long–

 

Regina looks at her for a long moment when she points that out, and then she says, as though it’s obvious, “Well, my room is big enough for two,” and Emma is so stunned that she doesn’t say anything when Regina leads her patiently into her room and climbs into bed, turning the corner of the blanket down for Emma.

 

“Don’t you have a spare room in the basement?” Emma finally manages, slipping under the covers and staying as close to the edge of the bed as she can.

 

Regina gives her a dirty look. “You’re not living in the basement . This girl is going to need a stable home.” And that is that, until morning comes and they wake up wrapped together and stumble downstairs for Henry’s attempt at Mother’s Day breakfast.

 

And that’s when the phone rings and Rapunzel says, apologetic, “I’m sorry. We had a runaway situation for a week or so, but she’s back with us if you–”

 

“We’ll be right there,” Regina says into the speaker on her phone, and Emma and Henry both shovel food into their mouths as quickly as they can. Regina sighs, long-suffering and affectionate, and says, “Five minutes,” before she goes to wash up.

 

Emma finds her in the master bathroom in front of the mirror, shaking as she stares at her reflection, and Emma wraps her arms around Regina and holds her tight. “You’re going to be great,” she whispers. “Any kid would be lucky to have you as a mom. I know mine was.”

 

Regina twists around in her arms and kisses her cheek, close enough to the corner of Emma’s mouth that it reawakens a lot of confusing emotions, and Emma holds her close until the shaking stops and Regina stands straight in her arms and says, “Let’s go meet our daughter.”

 

The rec center where Storybrooke has its new social services office is flashy and well-funded, thanks to a mayor who’d accepted no less, and inside, the rooms are clean and kids are playing soccer and chasing each other through the gym. “I know she’s older than you wanted,” Rapunzel says, twisting a hand through her still-lengthy hair. She’d been the one who’d first suggested this program in the first place, and she might be a kid without much training but she’d gotten all the right people on board and Storybrooke doesn’t have much in the way of professionals, anyway. “And our policy is really to foster first as a trial period before we start talking about adoption. I’m not entirely sure Olivia would consent to adoption.”

 

“Olivia,” Emma repeats, finally placing the name on the paperwork, and she follows Rapunzel to a girl sitting on the bleachers, scowl firmly in place. She’s eight, maybe nine, with skin the brown of Regina’s eyes and a hollowness to her movements that bespeaks years of negligence. “That’s the kid Aladdin brought in last week for petty theft.” Aladdin’s always had a soft spot for little thieves, and Emma can relate a little too much to chastise him for letting them off. She’d barely seen Olivia before she’d been brought back to Storybrooke Social Services with a stern warning.

 

“Oh, no,” Olivia says, looking up at them with sudden wariness. “You can’t lock me up again. Aladdin said –”

 

“Olivia,” Rapunzel says kindly. “These are Regina, Emma, and Henry. They’d like to have you as a guest in their house, for as long as you’d like.” She turns to them. “Olivia came over from the Land of Untold Stories, and she’s had some trouble…adjusting.” Emma knows enough of her story from Aladdin’s recounting. She’s an orphan whose mother had died at birth and left her to the questionable kindness of strangers, and she’d made her way through life by picking pockets and being scrappy as fuck.

 

Olivia’s voice rises. “These are the foster parents you found for me?” She jabs a thumb at Regina. “Isn’t she supposed to be evil? And she’s–” Her lip curls when she looks at Emma. “She’s just going to lock me up again.”

 

Regina flinches. Henry says, “That’s not true,” but he’s already looking at Olivia with distrust. Olivia shrugs sullenly, looking satisfied at Henry’s wariness. “My moms just want to help you.”

 

Regina regains her composure, kneeling down on the bleachers so she can look up at Olivia. “We have a room all made up for you,” she says patiently. “And there’s still some breakfast on the stove. Henry made French toast and it’s…very sticky.”

 

“I already had breakfast,” Olivia mutters, but she can’t conceal the flash of interest in her eyes when Regina speaks. “I don’t need anything from you.”

 

And Emma knows her, knows this girl and what it means to a nine-year-old when people promise her a home for the first time. Olivia is looking away from them studiously, grinning for an instant when one of the kids trips on his soccer ball and scores for the other side, and Emma says slowly, “That’s okay,” as Regina stares at her in betrayal. “This doesn’t have to…be anything, got it? Room and board and as much food as you want. That’s what we’re offering you.” Olivia blinks at her, eyes narrowed as she searches out Emma’s agenda. Emma says, “Think you could handle living with the…with the Evil Queen and the fuzz for that?”

 

“What’s the fuzz ?” Olivia demands, scornful. “That’s a terrible nickname.” But she’s finally staring at them, unafraid and a little curious, and Emma sticks out a hand to her.

 

Olivia ignores it and stands up, walking past all three of them to stare at Rapunzel. “Maybe a week or two,” she says finally. “If I don’t like it there, I’m leaving.”

 

“Deal,” Emma says.

 

Olivia narrows her eyes at her again. “I didn’t ask you,” she says haughtily, and she marches from the gym toward Rapunzel’s office without another look back.

 

“I like her,” Emma says thoughtfully, turning to Regina. Regina is watching Olivia’s retreat, her eyes shining with pained wanting already, and Henry squeezes both their hands between his and tugs them to the office.

 

Olivia watches them warily when they get into the car, and Emma tries to shove the booster seat they’d bought out of sight before she can see it. She sees it anyway and scowls more fiercely, and Emma can feel it, remembers being too old and deciding right then to run away from her group home.

 

It only gets worse when they get home, Olivia staring up at the mayoral mansion with marked distrust, and Regina says quickly, “Let’s show you around.” The conversation is stilted and uncertain, and Olivia shrugs in response and mutters under her breath until even Regina’s patience is strained.

 

When they get to the guest room, Emma winces in advance and says, “We can– of course, we’ll age this up for you a little–” Regina waves a hand and the pink fades into a lighter shade, the stuffed animals and toys vanish and are replaced with a desk and a computer, and the books on the shelves are suddenly Henry’s old favorites from when he’d been ten.

 

Olivia jumps back, her eyes wide, and then steps into the room, looking around carefully. “I guess I could get used to this Evil Queen magic,” she says finally, and it’s the loudest she’s been since they’d gotten home.

 

Regina pauses, gripped by a question that Emma can’t pin down for a moment, and then she says, “It’s just Regina.”

 

Olivia watches her for a moment, twisting hair between her fingers before she says unsmilingly, “Okay. Just Regina.”

 

But she wolfs down French toast and nods when Henry asks her if she wants to watch a movie with him, following him to the living room while Regina washes dishes. Emma watches her fingers skitter against the counter for a moment, sees Regina’s bracelet disappear off the spot next to it with expert skill, and she waits until Henry is setting up a movie before she brushes up next to Olivia and steals back the bracelet.

 

She dangles it between her fingers as she leans against the wall in the living room, watching as Olivia’s eyes widen and her fingers twist her hair more furiously. Emma winks at her. Olivia watches her guardedly, and Emma says, “Enjoy your movie,” and saunters out of the room, feeling as though she’s finally done something right.

 

Regina is done drying the dishes when she returns to the kitchen, and she’s looking around on the counter frantically when Emma comes back up behind her. “I got you,” she says, sliding the bracelet around Regina’s wrist. “Might be good to keep in mind that we have a pickpocket in the house now.”

 

Regina closes her eyes, her head bowed forward in defeat. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispers, and Emma stares at her back in alarm.

 

“You’re Regina Mills,” she says, rubbing Regina’s shoulders. “Of course you can. You won over Henry when he was going through that whole…the-curse-is-real phase.”

 

Regina gulps out a laugh that might be a sob. “It was real, Emma, you sweet idiot.”

 

Emma inhales at the flush that runs through her, the shiver of Regina’s voice murmuring her name like a caress. “And you still won him over, didn’t you?” she says, her voice low and as confident as she can muster. “We’ll do this. This kid is going to love you, Regina.” All kids love Regina, and Olivia might be a tough cookie but Regina’s best with those.

 

Regina twists around, Emma’s hands trailing across her back to fall to her side. Regina’s eyes are gleaming, and she says, “She’s going to love you, too.” She reaches to touch Emma’s shoulder, her knuckles stroking Emma’s neck over a mark she can’t see. “How could she not?” Emma is caught in her gaze, knees a little weak at what Regina is saying, and this isn’t the right time to tell her about the soulmate mark– they’re adjusting , what if this ruins everything, what if–

 

And then Olivia walks into the kitchen and says, “Henry said you have juice,” and the moment is gone. But Olivia is watching them with that same wariness, and Emma might be reading too much into her but underneath it there’s a grudging respect building.

 

When Regina gives her the juice, she takes it and flees for the door again, and then she hesitates. “Thank you,” she says, almost shyly, and Emma slides an arm around Regina’s waist and feels the equally shy, “You’re welcome,” vibrate through her as Regina murmurs it.

 

They go to Granny’s for lunch and order pizza for dinner and Olivia follows Henry around the house, taking her cues from him. Henry is enthusiastic and regales her with stories of witches and magic and every realm he’s been to, and Olivia drinks it all in, still mostly silent but not nearly as sullen. And at bedtime, she smiles at Regina and allows the careful hug that Regina offers, an arm slipping around her waist for a moment and a kiss pressed to the top of her head.

 

When Regina pulls away, there’s a cautious wistfulness in Olivia’s dark eyes. Emma says, “Hey, good night, kid,” retrieving the handheld PS3 Olivia had snagged from Henry’s room from under her pillow. Regina gapes. Henry pouts.

 

Olivia scowls and then laughs, leaning back against her pillow, and says, “ Fine .” She hesitates again, and it’s nearly a whisper when she says, “Good night, Emma.” The surge of love bubbling up within hits Emma so hard and unexpectedly that she nearly stumbles, reeling against Regina’s steadying arm with the force of it. It’s that easy, falling in love with this hard-eyed kid who isn’t hard at all, and she’s already gone.

 

“I know,” Regina says softly when they’re out of the room. Emma hasn’t even spoken yet. “Me, too.”

 

Emma shivers, both of them lingering in the hallway as Henry remains in Olivia’s room, and she doesn’t understand how fast this has happened, how quickly this girl is in her heart. But she’s spent three decades trying to keep people from breaking in, and she’s never had much success, has been brokenhearted because of it and made whole again for the same reason, and she finds that it’s harder to distrust now when she’s so surrounded by love.

 

“I didn’t get you a Mother’s Day gift,” she says finally, which isn’t what she wants to say but isn’t wrong, either. “I was going to…I made reservations at this spa, actually, but then…” She waves helplessly at the mostly-closed door at the other end of the hall. “You know. Mother stuff.”

 

Regina’s eyes crinkle into a smile. “I was going to make you dinner,” she admits, and they both laugh in near silence, their foreheads falling together. “But I’m sure there’s something else we can come up with for each other.”

 

“Something else?” Emma says, and there’s something breathless about that suggestion, something else that can be anything in this moment–

 

“Mm,” Regina says, stroking her cheek.

 

Emma leans forward and kisses Regina, and this is more like Christmas again, quiet, little kisses that shouldn’t mean much except for how they do, Regina swaying with her as they stand in silence and their hands move aimlessly along each other’s bodies. Henry passes them in the hallway to retreat to his own room at some point, silent and without interrupting; and Emma knows that it must be time to end these kisses but she can’t dream of ever stopping, not when she’s so gladly drowning.

 

Regina kisses her again tenderly, her teeth catching Emma’s lip so gently that when she releases it, Emma wants to sob. Instead, her breath catches in her throat and she finally dares to ask, ten months– no , four years– after it had begun, “What is this?”

 

Regina’s eyes shine. “What it should be,” she murmurs, and she takes Emma’s hand in hers and leads her to their room.

 


 

 

June

 

What it should be . The house is brighter these days, and each day is different than the last, a little girl stumbling through her first steps in a home and two mothers stumbling just as much. Olivia runs away twice, once to Aladdin and once in the middle of the woods, where they find her with a location spell while she’s shivering in the rain. Emma gathers her into her arms and Olivia doesn’t pull away, buries her face in Emma’s shoulder and cries when Regina wraps her arms around them both and doesn’t let go.

 

There are more kisses, still cautious and gentle but building more and more until Emma is trembling with need some nights, until Emma can’t even look at Regina without flushing when she does that wicked smirk. One night in June, Regina’s fingers dip low enough to graze Emma’s center, and Emma is kissing her hard and fast a moment later, grinding against her with such need that they’re both writhing together a few moments later, the heat in the room so intense that they almost don’t hear when Olivia wakes up screaming from a nightmare.

 

She’s too old for nightmares , Emma thinks grouchily for a moment, but Regina, who still wakes up sometimes haunted by her dreams, tosses on a robe and runs to curl into bed with Olivia instead. Emma softens and forgives, but it takes a few minutes, her heart still pounding with the almost that had overtaken her.

 

She doesn’t tell Regina what the mark on her neck says, but she thinks that Regina must know by now. By silent agreement, they aren’t talking about them yet, not while there’s a little girl to acclimate to their family. They’re being responsible, putting motherhood first, and quiet kisses are more than Emma’s ever dreamed of, so .

 

On a sunny day after school has ended for the year, Regina takes off and Emma swaps her shift so they can all go to the community pool together. “I’m not going in,” Regina says immediately, and Henry nudges Olivia until she fixes Regina with a puppy-eyed glare that is somewhere between terrifying and endearing. Regina sighs. “We’ll see.”

 

It becomes an extended family trip by the time they make it to the pool, David carrying Neal into the water on his shoulders and Mary Margaret sunning peacefully as she determinedly pretends that she isn’t sucking in a breath every time David swings Neal around. Olivia is most fascinated by Zelena, and she follows her around like a tiny acolyte, drinking in every ridiculous thing Zelena says. Henry brings Robyn into the pool, holding her carefully and flushing when Mulan praises him.

 

“I think our son has a crush,” Regina mutters under her breath. “Maybe it’s time we told him that his mother has the same taste in girls as he does.”

 

“Okay, it was one drunken kiss,” Emma objects, poking Regina. “And Henry had a crush on Mulan when she was a cartoon , so–” She glances warily at Zelena, who is smirking in Mulan and Henry’s direction. “Zelena isn’t going to try to kill him over this, is she?”

 

“Zelena will respect his good taste,” Regina says serenely, and Emma looks at her askance. She gives Emma a tight-lipped smile that says nothing , which is completely unfair if she’s been hiding some crush of her own on Mulan, and–

 

Regina kisses her cheek and Emma forgets what she was annoyed at. She takes the sunscreen out instead, pulling off her t-shirt to apply it on her arms and legs. “I’ll do your back if you do mine,” Regina murmurs, her lips grazing Emma’s ear, and Emma swallows hard and promptly drops the lotion. Regina smirks. Emma elbows her.

 

And then Regina slides off her robe, leaving her in nothing but a slip of a bikini. Emma gapes at her for a moment, eyes wide and mouth dry, and Regina says, “Pass the sunscreen, please.” She rubs it on slowly in agonizing strokes, and Emma just wants to– touch her , the crowd at the pool and their whole family be damned. Fine . Two can play at this game.

 

She stretches in her one-piece, letting her arms and legs flex with the movement, and Regina’s eyes are suddenly glued to her body. “Do you mind?” she says sweetly, gesturing at her back. Regina’s hands are trembling just barely when she rubs in the lotion, sliding across her shoulder blades and moving in a circular motion across her back.

 

“You could use a good massage,” Regina murmurs invitingly. “You’re so tense.”

 

“I can’t imagine why,” Emma shoots back. Regina squeezes her ass out of nowhere and Emma yelps, shooting up and banging her head against Mary Margaret’s pool chair.

 

Mary Margaret rolls her eyes under her sunglasses. “Get a room, children,” she says, and Emma sputters and gestures accusingly at Regina. Regina smiles, perfectly innocent except for the glint in her eyes, and Mary Margaret shakes her head. “I thought the turtleneck stage was bad.”

 

“We weren’t even dating then!” Emma protests, and then remembers. “We’re not even dating now! I…think?” she pauses, frowning at Regina.

 

Regina says, “Do my back.” It’s an order, and she stretches out, hands splayed against the deck of the pool and her rather magnificent back displayed before Emma. Emma bobs her head, distracted again, and rubs lotion into her skin at the nape of her neck, massaging it in as she moves downward. Her fingers dip into the back of the bikini bottom, and she grins to herself when Regina’s breath hitches. “Make sure you get under the strap, too,” she says, her voice breathless.

 

“All in good time,” Emma murmurs, stroking the skin along Regina’s spine. Mary Margaret makes a disgusted noise and puts down her book, flopping back on her chair and shutting her eyes.

 

Regina is silent, waiting for… something , and Emma moves a little faster, savoring the touch of her skin as she moves toward the strap. It’s a practical one, a thick line that crosses her back, and Emma frowns suddenly. There’s a scratch beneath it, something dark snaking out across Regina’s skin–

 

She pulls up the strap a bit and her fingers freeze. There, in the upper center of Regina’s back, is the word Emma , scrawled into her skin in Emma’s handwriting. Emma stares, wordless and flabbergasted. Mary Margaret snorts, no longer pretending that she’s not watching. Regina says, “Well, then, time to swim!” and gets up, striding toward the pool at top speed.

 

“What– Regina! ” Emma shouts, and she’s flying after her, lifting the spell over her own mark– how had Regina known which magic to use so quickly with Emma’s, of course – and tackling Regina, right at the edge of the deep end of the pool. They tumble down together into the water with a splash, flailing and gasping for breath, and then Emma’s toes finally hit solid ground and she yanks Regina to her. “You asshole !” she finally sputters. “You– that mark–”

 

“Your mark,” Regina says, her eyes gleaming as she floats in the water against her. “I don’t even know how long I’ve had it. I just…saw it one day on my back and it wasn’t a surprise , except that it had taken so long to come.” She laughs, brushing a kiss to Emma’s very wet nose. “I was waiting for you .”

 

Emma shakes her head, breathing raggedly in disbelief. “How could you think it’d be anyone else?” she demands. “Even now?” A memory comes to her, a walk around the park in September before Henry had started school. “I told you you were always going to be my first choice.”

 

“You were my only,” Regina says, and Emma kisses her, tugs her closer until her legs are wrapped around Emma’s waist and they’re pressed together in the water, laughing helplessly and kissing with all the tentativeness and the uncertainty gone. Regina’s teeth graze Emma’s neck and Emma cups her ass underwater, where no one can see, and she squeezes until Regina gasps in response and winds her legs around her more tightly, her lips on her name on Emma’s neck over and over and over again.

 

Someone who is definitely Zelena hoots and splashes them and they fall apart again, even Olivia beaming from where she’s tucked against Henry at a safe distance. Henry gives them a thumbs-up, looking only slightly ill. Mary Margaret is smiling out at them with exasperated affection, and David is twirling Neal again, his face bright with it. Regina buries her face in Emma’s shoulder again and Emma holds her tight, filtering out everything else but Regina in her arms and their family around them, smug and mocking but still so full of love.

 

And Emma drinks it all in, helpless and joyful in the undertow.

 


 

 

July

 

“How much longer does my mom have the kids for?” Emma asks, leaning back in the warm water. There’s still a thin layer of bubbles in the bathtub, but they’re beginning to pop enough that she can admire Regina’s body against hers in the gaps between the bubbles.

 

“She said until the official fireworks tonight,” Regina says, her eyes still closed. “Then she made some very pointed suggestions about how we spend our alone time today. I thought we were going to be the ones to embarrass her with our relationship.”

 

Emma winces. “We should have expected it, given the number of times they’ve scarred me for life when I’ve walked into their apartment–”

 

“My vengeance is a failure,” Regina says, twisting herself so she’s on her side, still resting against Emma’s shoulder. She nuzzles Emma’s neck where her mark is and Emma strokes her back in response, right where she can touch Regina’s Emma mark. “I suppose I’ll have to just…live happily ever after instead.”

 

“They do say that’s the best revenge,” Emma agrees compliantly. “Though I don’t think they expect your enemies to be quite so invested in your relationship. Or be your…girlfriend’s mom.” She stumbles over girlfriend because it sounds so juvenile, so unlike what they are to each other.

 

They’ll have to fix that. Someday.

 

“She must have some limit,” Regina says morosely. “I’ll just have to keep…ravishing her daughter until she hits it.”

 

“Ravishing, check,” Emma agrees, her hand sliding down between them to slip into Regina– only to discover something unexpected, hidden by the bubbles. “When did you put that on?” she says, delighted.

 

Regina smirks into her neck. “Earlier. You were very distracted when I walked in with the towel at my waist.” She nips Emma’s ear and Emma flips them over in the bathtub, splashing water over the side as she plants her knees on either side of Regina. Regina kisses her gladly, a lazy hand massaging Emma’s breast as Emma slides onto the toy she’d strapped on.

 

They move together at an almost glacial pace at first, Regina breathing hard and Emma rocking gently onto her, and Emma can feel the need beginning to build within her after a few quiet moments. “Now,” she pants out, and Regina thrusts up hard as Emma meets her, Emma pressing Regina against the bath wall and sucking vigorously enough on her neck that she’s going to have to turtleneck it tonight in July . She’s screwed, and she can’t find a reason to be sorry about it.

 

Regina tweaks a nipple between her fingers, rolls another with her tongue, and she’s squeezing Emma’s ass as she drives into her, her free hand toying with Emma’s opening. Emma is overly sensitized, is babbling out curses and Regina’s name, “I love you, I love you, fuck you, Regina, fuck me ,” and Regina shifts just enough that she hits a spot inside Emma and Emma comes, rocking on the strap-on as she extends her orgasm for as long as she can.

 

She slumps against Regina and remembers, suddenly, the spell she’s been working on in anticipation for this exact moment. She slides the harness off Regina, ignoring Regina’s eyebrows shooting up, and she focuses all her magic on her throat and eliminates her need to breathe. Regina hisses out a sound that might be impressed, and Emma slides down her body, into the water, and spreads Regina’s legs.

 

She kisses her center, flicks her tongue against Regina’s clit, and sucks gently, feeling Regina’s thighs clamp against her in response. She parts them again, forcing them down against the sides of the bath, and Regina buries a hand in her hair, pressing Emma deeper into her core.

 

Emma responds enthusiastically, sliding her tongue in and spelling out letters against Regina’s most sensitive places, and Regina thrashes against her and slides deeper into the tub and finally yanks her up as she’s about to come. “Need to see you,” she gasps out, grinding desperately against Emma’s leg, and Emma drives her fingers into Regina and twists them until Regina is tremoring against her, kissing her desperately until they can both taste Regina on her mouth and choking out her name.

 

Emma maneuvers within her until Regina finally slumps, utterly spent, and presses her lips to Emma’s shoulder. “That was amazing,” she says, curled against Emma. “But if you’ve put me in the turtleneck zone, again , we’re not talking.”

 

“There’s supposed to be a breeze at fireworks tonight?” Emma says meekly. Regina pokes her arm, hard . “There must be some kind of spell to remove–”

 

“I’m not removing it,” Regina says, outraged.

 

Emma watches her with not a small bit of amusement, and then there’s a tinny ring from inside the bedroom. “No,” she groans.

 

“We have to,” Regina reminds her. “If it’s Henry or Olivia–”

 

“It could be a demon ,” Emma retorts, but she’s rising unsteadily, wrapping a towel around herself as Regina does the same. “And then we’ll have to waste our entire July Fourth weekend on a terrible villain that wouldn’t stand a chance against Pongo because no one in this town can be bothered to try to…”

 

“Jasmine,” Regina says briskly, snatching Emma’s phone up. “What can I do for you.”

 

“We have a problem,” Jasmine says, sounding exhausted. “And this is completely your fault, Emma. I told you not to trust Aladdin with the fireworks.” Emma groans. “He and David had an idea for a better way to deploy them, and now we’re out fireworks and a magic carpet.”

 

Emma cringes. Regina has fixed her with a dark glare. “All of them?” she demands into the phone.

 

“All of them,” Jasmine confirms, and Regina lets out a curse.

 

“Ravish his daughter once and he’s had his revenge,” she’s muttering as they find their clothes. Emma tugs on her jeans and settles onto the bed, distracted at the way that Regina moves when she’s naked, sleek and soft and very kissable. “This was supposed to be my victory. Not his.” She stops suddenly to glower at Emma. “What are you looking at?”

 

“You,” Emma says honestly, and Regina sighs and moves into her arms, climbing onto her lap to kiss her sweetly. “We can take care of this, okay? We’re magic , remember?”

 

She can feel Regina calming in her arms, weaving her fingers through wet, tangled hair. “That we are,” Regina says finally, brushing her nose against Emma’s. Emma kisses her again, her fingers moving in circles around Regina’s back.

 

The bath is cold by the time they remember to let the water out, and Regina tugs on one of Emma’s oversized t-shirts and cooks a quick dinner for them, batting Emma away with a spatula as she slides her arms around Regina’s waist and rests her chin on Regina’s shoulder. “You’re impossible,” Regina says, but it’s with her eyes glowing, and she sneaks a kiss before she finally pushes Emma away.

 

They head out to the beach after dinner with the rest of the town, and Emma finds Henry and Olivia running barefoot in the surf with Violet and points them out to Regina. It’s still touch-and-go sometimes with Olivia, but there have been no more escapes, and the occasional thefts are fewer and far between. Olivia sits at their table like she might belong , and Emma wants nothing more fiercely than this family they’ve all built together.

 

The fireworks are due to start at eight-thirty, and the beach is packed, the townspeople restless as the last barbecues are put out and the kids playing in the surf return to their families. Henry slides down beside Emma and Olivia lays her head on Regina’s arm, and Regina murmurs, “Ready?”

 

“Ready,” Emma says, and they raise their hands together, shooting fireworks into the skies. They’re blue-white and purple-red at first, merging together in explosions that have the townspeople gasping, and they grow and change into multicolored fireworks, different sizes and delayed bursts and in shapes that grow more familiar as they get the hang of it.

 

Emma does a fair approximation of Olivia’s face in the sky, letting it brighten and brighten until it explodes into a mass of color, and Olivia giggles aloud. A bright green mass of fireworks join theirs, swooping and bursting, and Emma thinks it’s Zelena at first. But Zelena is distracted, head close to Mulan’s where they’re sitting, and Robyn is curled up in her stroller with her hands raised to the sky and green light lancing from them. “That baby is a safety hazard,” Emma mutters.

 

“She’s cute,” Olivia says defensively. Regina laughs, kissing Olivia on the temple and then Emma on the lips, making fireworks one-handed so she can put her other on Emma’s cheek.

 

Emma drops one hand, too, kissing Regina back, and she says suddenly, their voices mostly inaudible past the booming fireworks, “Listen, Regina, I know our…our marks kind of say it already, and I’ve been known to say it when we–” She stops suddenly, eyes flickering to Olivia and then Henry. Henry stares determinedly up at the fireworks, his hands moving casually to his ears as his face screws up in disgust. “But I just…I wanted to…” She stumbles over the words.

 

Regina puts a finger on Emma’s lips, eyes gleaming with the colors of the fireworks overhead. “I love you, too,” she says.

 

“I love you,” Emma says fervently, and she leans forward, turning her attention back to the skies as their fireworks build and build and build until they’re brightening the night, rainbows of colored light emanating from the center of each spiral.