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The Buddy Project

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Regina entered City Hall over twenty minutes late, frequently checking her phone and speeding up her walking pace upon the time it displayed.

'Councilor Mills! I'm surprised seeing you at the office again!' the desk manager chirped from behind the counter.

'Hi, Mary.' Regina offered her a brief nod, and put her handbag down with a sigh. 'I'm here regarding TBP, but I might've ran a little late. Would you mind checking if my client is still here?'

'They're waiting for you in 18C,' Mary replied immediately, flashing her a smile.

Regina looked up, frowning. 'They?'

Mary nodded. 'Your Buddy and her interpreter.'

At Regina's confused expression, Mary gestured towards the hall that lead to the offices. 'Just go already!' she said happily. 'They've been waiting for you for 30 minutes. Have a nice day, miss Mills.'

'You too,' Regina replied shortly, lifting her handbag, and walking off.

While the heels of the councilor clicked towards room 18C, Regina wondered whether her so-called 'Buddy' would be a foreigner, a refugee maybe, since she apparently was in need of an interpreter.
Regina had agreed on 'The Buddy Project', knowing that she'd never become mayor if she wouldn't. All the other councilors who could possibly be the next mayor, were spending hours upon hours volunteering for all kinds of charities in town. Regina was not much of an animal saver or a candle-seller, so she had agreed on The Buddy Project. The project was about people with steady lives and jobs being assigned to people who socially struggled in society, to give them a 'Buddy' with whom they could spend some time, or who could introduce them to other places or people.

Regina had found herself signing up unwillingly. She thought volunteering was overrated, or at least for her – her job was stressful enough without working unpaid hours. Besides, she was kind of allergic to people who were in need of help. She was a politician, yes, but her job mostly consisted of helping people indirectly by making phone calls, sending emails, or speaking publicly. Feeding old people or teaching someone proper English was definitely something else.

The door to room 18C was open, but Regina still knocked briefly before entering. Her eyebrows raised in surprise when she saw two young women sitting behind the desk. There was a beautiful blonde girl with long hair that curled slightly at the ends, and the other girl was a brunette with a high ponytail and ditto cheekbones.

'Councilor Mills! Such an honor,' the brunette spoke when she got off her chair. She offered Regina her hand: 'I'm Lily, Emma's interpreter. Have you ever had a conversation through an interpreter?' she asked patiently.

Regina hesitantly shook the offered hand, eyeing the mesmerizing blonde who had stayed seated and was gazing the ceiling with her arms folded, obviously trying hard to look severely unimpressed.

'Depends, what language?' Regina answered mumbling, turning towards the blonde and offering her hand to shake. 'I'm Regina,' she spoke, clearly over-articulating, when the blonde's eyes had shot towards her own. The blonde said nothing, but shook her hand and frowned.

'ASL. Sign Language,' Lily explained, while she took her seat again. 'Emma is deaf. Do you, by any chance, know how to sign?'

Regina pursed her lips together and chuckled. 'I'm a bit rusty. But I know some signs.'

'All right, that's great! When Emma signs, I'll interpret what she's saying in first person. So you can just pretend I'm not here.'

'I see,' Regina nodded slowly, offering Emma a small smile.

'Do you… read… lips?' Regina asked the blonde, while simultaneously signing, though somewhat hesitantly.

Apparently she could, because Emma's frown deepened for a second, then her hands started moving rapidly, and she ended with a sigh. Regina hadn't understood one sign - Emma was way too quick -, but she definitely got that the blonde wasn't happy.

When the room stayed silent, Regina's gaze shifted slowly towards Lily. The latter was staring at Emma and shaking her head, as if correcting her.

'Well? What did she say?' Regina asked impatiently.

Lily took a breath before answering: 'Do you excuse yourself when you're half an hour late?'

Regina immediately went into defense mode and wanted to explain to Lily that it wasn't her fault that she was this late, but stopped herself when she remembered that it was Emma who'd accused her, and not Lily.

While considering what she should answer, she watched Lily tapping Emma's shoulder to get her attention. Lily started signing and seemed to be slightly angry with the blonde. Emma's response was like watching a child being punished; she rolled her eyes and leaned a little more into her chair.

Regina finally took her seat as well, and turned her attention towards Emma once again. She made a circle over her heart with her fist, remembering that being the sign for 'I'm sorry'. Emma wasn't watching when she did that, so Lily nudged her, and Regina repeated the sign.

Now, Emma's eyebrows shot up, and she started moving her hands again.

'I'm impressed. I would be even more impressed if you wouldn't need to be sorry. Don't think you can run late every time just because you're such an important person. You wouldn't guess, since I'm here; but I have a life too, you know.'

Lily clearly sounded apologetic in her translation, wanting Regina to know that she didn't agree with Emma's boldness.

'Why… are you… so angry?' Regina still tried to sign and speak, but she couldn't remember the rest of the signs very well, and decided to let Lily do the translation.

Emma rolled her eyes again and answered:

'I'm going to tell you once. I do not want to be here. I'm not some cripple. And I do not need your help, councilor Mills.'

'Then why are you here?' Regina asked confused. Emma made a clicking sound with her tongue and gestured wildly towards Lily.

'Emma is a college student, but she's always been home schooled. She never had much of a social life. Her parents, - her foster parents, agreed to pay for some of her classes if she agreed to The Buddy Project,' Lily explained.

'So why is she so angry with you?' Regina asked Lily, still not getting the picture completely.

'I'm her foster sister,' Lily explained, carefully watching Emma. 'My parents are her foster parents. And I agreed with them. She should see people. Other people.'

Regina let that sink in for a bit. Then she inhaled deeply and moved a little closer towards Emma. When she spoke, it was almost a whisper.

'Then let me tell you a secret, Emma,' Regina started slowly, while checking if Lily would translate what she was saying, 'you and me, we share a problem. I do not want to be here either, but I have to. So, what do you say, let's pretend we're getting along nicely – you'll get your tuition paid for and I will become mayor.'

When Lily had finished signing, Emma watched Regina again. Her expression softened, as if she hadn't expected this from the uptight woman in front of her.

'Crude,' Emma responded after a long silence, making a quick gesture.

'As are you, dear. Which is why I think we can pull this Buddy-nonsense off perfectly. We'll show everybody what a perfect match we are and afterwards we never have to see each other again.'

'You'll be honored for companying a disabled person, I'll receive all the pity. I don't like that,' Emma signed, still looking pretty reserved.

Regina thought about that for a moment, before responding: 'Then show me why you need to be honored, Emma. The better you're doing in the project, the more you might satisfy your foster parents.'

Emma rolled her eyes again, though somewhat less offensive this time.

'I doubt they'll pay anything more than they intended to. They can't afford all my classes.'

Regina shared a look with Lily, who nodded in sad agreement after she finished translating.

'What career is it you wish to pursue, Emma?'

Suddenly, Emma looked away shyly. Her signing went smaller and, if possible, quicker.

'I want to work for the government, too. The system is fucked up. I want to be able to change it.'

When Emma finished, she put her hands on the table, still avoiding Regina's eyes. Regina however, awkwardly placed her hand on top of Emma's.

'That's wonderful, I think you should definitely give it a try, Emma. I'll tell you what; if I become mayor due to your benefit from this project, I'll pay for the rest of your classes.'

Emma's face lit up and shifted her eyes from Lily to Regina and back, not sure if she'd understood well. Lily gave her a small reassuring nod. Then, Emma's expression hardened again.

'I'm not taking any money from you. I'll work for my own money,' Emma signed, looking even more vulnerable with her mask back on.

When Regina let out a disappointed sigh, Emma shrugged and continued: 'but I'll work along with you.'

Now it was Regina's face that lit up. 'You're making the right choice, dear,' she beamed.

Emma offered her first smile: 'I'm not saying that I'll look forward to our shared afternoons.'

'I don't bite,' Regina replied.

'But I do.'

'Oh, I got that much already dear, I did,' Regina winked. 'So let's go through some practical stuff, shall we?'


 

They had agreed on taking a walk in the park the week after their first appointment. The three of them also decided on giving Lily the hours Emma would spend with Regina off – for their privacy, because she didn't want to keep depending on her, because Lily deserved some free time, and because Emma had to learn to do stuff without her interpreter.
Going to the park was Regina's idea; she didn't want to force Emma into social activities without knowing a little bit about her. While she still was opposed to the idea of The Buddy Project, the way the blonde had sat there during their first meeting, had touched something within Regina.

Emma arrived with a look of surprise when she saw Regina already sitting down on a park bench. She pointed at the brunette, and then at her wrist. She was simplifying her signing for Regina to understand her.

'Yes, dear, it seems I am capable of being on time,' Regina chuckled. Emma bit her lip to hide a smile, and then pointed at Regina again, followed by pushing both of her hands down very slowly.

'You want me to speak more slowly?' Regina asked. Emma nodded. 'Of course, I'm sorry. Please, come sit with me.'

Regina gestured at the empty spot beside her, but the blonde didn't move. Instead, she pointed at both of them, and then hovered two fingers of her right hand over the palm of her left. She wiggled her fingers as if they were walking over her palm. Then she shot a questioning look towards Regina.

'Sure, we'll take a walk. That's what I invited you to do anyway, wasn't it?'

Regina got up and gestured for Emma to lead the way. For the first few minutes, they were silently walking next to each other. Regina enjoyed the sounds of birds and the wind, and she could also hear the faint screams and laughter of children in the distance. She thought about what it would be like to lose her hearing, and if Emma was 100% deaf, and if she'd always been or if she'd become deaf later on.

Instead of asking about Emma's disability, she asked:

'What's your name sign?'

When Emma didn't respond, Regina rolled her eyes at herself and tapped Emma on her shoulder. The blonde looked at her lips immediately and Regina repeated the question.

Emma stopped walking and looked at the brunette for a moment, before slowly making the sign. She made two fists, and motioned them downwards, as if they were nodding. Regina repeated the sign. 'Emma,' she said out loud, and the blonde nodded.

'What does it mean?'

Now Emma repeated the sign she'd just made, only with her index fingers crossed over each other, instead of inside her fists.

'I don't know what that means, sorry.'

Now, Emma held up one hand, and started making smaller gestures with it.

'Are you spelling it out?' Regina asked, at which Emma nodded. 'Can you please slow down?'

Emma repeated her gestures, but it was still too quick for Regina to follow. The blonde noticed, and started to spell one by one.

'R-e-l-i-a-b-l-e,' Regina read out loud. 'Reliable? That's what your name sign means?'

Emma nodded once again.

'That's nice. I guess it suits you,' Regina said with a polite smile. Then, Emma held up two fingers.

'You have a second name sign?'

Now Emma held up her hand next to her head, and closed it into a fist. 'Emma,' she mouthed, and Regina repeated the sign once again. Next, the blonde touched both her index fingers with her thumbs, and made a circle.

'I know that one,' Regina said happily, repeating the sign. 'That's "family", right?'

Emma nodded, her eyebrows up as if asking whether Regina understood.

'So… this,' Regina made a fist next to her head, 'is the sign that your family uses for you? And the other one is formal?'

At Emma's approving smile, she asked, 'well, what does that one mean?' and as Emma started to spell out, she read out loud: 'S-t-u-bb-o-r-n. Stubborn. Yes, I guess that one suits you better.'

Emma rolled her eyes and poked out her tongue.

'Or maybe "childish" is even better! What's the sign for that?' Regina joked.

Emma tapped her nose with her pinky finger.

'I like that one,' Regina chuckled, repeating the sign. Then, she tried to remember and repeat Emma's formal sign and her family sign.

'So, Emma, which one do I use for you? I don't feel very formal around you.'

Emma's eyes raked over the brunette once again. Then her lips turned into a playful smirk as she made a fist again, stuck out her pinky finger and tapped her nose. 'Emma,' the blonde mouthed.

Regina let out a low chuckle. 'I'm honored I get to use my very own sign for you.'

Emma smiled brightly and gestured for them to sit down in the grass. Regina hesitated for a bit, but when Emma let herself fall down, she decided to surrender a bit of her dignity, scrunched up her tight skirt, and sat down next to the blonde.

Suddenly, Emma frowned. She motioned at Regina, and then at her head, shrugging, as if saying that she didn't understand.

'What's wrong?' Regina asked, worried at the sudden change in their conversation.

Emma slowly pointed at Regina, then at her head. The sign that followed, - her right index and middle finger tapping on top of her left ones -, Regina knew as the sign for "name". Then Emma spelled out: 'h-o-w?'

'Are you asking how I know your name? You just told me!' Regina answered, still confused. But Emma shook her head and repeated her signs, simplifying them as much as possible.

'How… do I know… about your name? I don't understand, Emma. You literally just explained it to me. Can you… uhm… use your voice, so I'll know what you mean? Did you ever learn how to speak?' she asked, watching the blonde's reaction carefully.

Emma clenched her teeth together at Regina's question and frowned. Then she shook her head, signing: 'No speaking. Hearing people speak.'

'All right, I'm sorry. Maybe write it down?' Regina suggested, already reaching for her phone, but the blonde stopped her by placing her hand on Regina's wrist.

'Writing… no,' Regina tried to translate out loud. 'Signing… your l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e… We b-u-d-d-i-e-s… I l-e-a-r-n ASL.'

Emma nodded and seemed slightly out of breath by her intention to let Regina understand the importance of what she was saying.

'Okay, no speaking, no writing. ASL is your language and if I want to be your Buddy, I'll have to learn it,' Regina repeated. Now Emma shook her head, but a smirk was beginning to show. She pointed at herself, then at Regina, and then spelled: 'b-u-d-d-y.'

'You're my Buddy?' Regina laughed understandingly. Emma nodded happily, and hooked her index fingers together. 'Buddy,' she mouthed.

'You're right, apparently I am the one who needs the other's help the most,' Regina admitted. She pursed her lips and looked away, as if deep in thought. Then she inhaled deeply and looked back to Emma again. 'So will you be my… Buddy, Emma?' The last two words she had signed instead of spoken.

When the blonde made a fist and nodded it, that being the sign for "yes", nothing could have prepared Regina for the warmth that was suddenly spreading through her body. The fact that this beautiful girl, who had disliked her from the start, was capable of the tiniest form of affection for her, made her stomach squirm. Apparently, she had done something right for her, too. It made her happy and frustrated at the same time; she didn't know what the feeling was.

'So, can you please try again to tell me what confused you when you were telling me your name sign?' Regina said, wanting to distract herself from her thoughts.

Emma shot her a smile that radiated patience, and did the sign for "name" again. Then she pointed at Regina, signing: "hearing", "signing", and spelling out "how" again.

Regina took a deep breath, thinking she finally understood: "are you asking me how I know about name signs? How I know how to spell?"

Emma threw her hands up in the air, looking relieved, and beamed at her once again. She watched Regina, eager for an answer, when the brunette looked away.

'I, uh… I took a few classes in high school,' she said. 'It was about the Deaf culture, we learned some signing and some manners. It just… it was a long time ago,' Regina added mumbling.

Emma narrowed her eyes and tilted her head. Regina could tell that Emma didn't buy her story, but was too unfamiliar with the brunette to ask her to elaborate.

Instead, Emma asked Regina what her name sign was.

'I don't have one yet,' Regina shrugged. 'Would you give me a name sign?'

Emma bit her lip and gazed mischievously at the councilor.

'Uh-oh… Will I regret this?' Regina laughed at Emma's expression. Emma nodded and Regina felt her stomach squirm once again at the twinkle in her eyes.

'Regina,' Emma mouthed, crossing her index and middle finger downwards, while waving them next to her own waist.

Regina hummed in surprise: 'That looks quite elegant. I guess it suits me!' But when she repeated the sign, Emma burst out laughing. There was no sound of her voice, but she doubled over, clapped her hand over her mouth and snorted.

'Emma… What's the original sign?' Regina asked suspiciously. Emma answered by waving her hand next to her waist, without crossing her fingers.

'Do I even want to know what it means?' The older woman squinted her eyes at Emma, who raised an eyebrow and shook her head.

'Emma,' Regina said in a fake-stern voice, but when she figured that wouldn't affect the blonde, she leaned into her and doubled the effort of her haughty look. Emma only snorted again, and made a gesture as if she locked her lips.

'Emma, you tell me right now, or I…'

But at the blonde's next move, Regina's jaw dropped. Emma had simply closed her eyes, which made communication impossible, and Regina was totally dumb-struck. She saw the victorious smile on Emma's lips which made the warm feeling in her body return, but decided to ignore it. She had to win this game.

Regina's first impulse was to tap Emma's shoulder, but those bright green eyes of course stayed shut when she tried. Next, Regina nudged her, calling her name out loud, even though she knew that that would be pointless. Then, she grabbed her hands and squeezing them tightly, while still calling her name.

Slowly, Emma opened her eyes, the smirk never leaving her face.

'Will you answer me now?'

Emma shrugged, her smile even widening. She gazed down to where her hands were clasped firmly in Regina's, and wriggled her fingers. Regina realized she was practically gagging the beautiful girl, and released her hands immediately.

'You can't fight me. I always win,' Emma signed slowly, her mouthing articulated well, so that Regina understood. When she was sure that the message was received, she closed her eyes again, and sat down on top of her own hands.

'I guess "childish" does suit you perfectly,' Regina chuckled, completely surprised that Emma had outsmarted her again.

While thinking of another tactic, she noticed Emma was shivering briefly upon a light breeze. The shivering made her wonder if the blonde was ticklish, and she decided to pinch the spot just beneath her ribs. Immediately Emma shot up, gasping for air, and swatting Regina's hand away.

'Aha!'

Regina went for her ribs again, but Emma saw her coming this time, and swatted her hand away again. The two women found themselves briefly in a hand-swatting fight, until finally Regina got hold of one of Emma's hands, the other one still hovering in the air.

'I say we call it even,' Regina spoke slowly, now copying Emma's playful smirk. 'I give you one hand. How about you spell out what my name sign means?'

Emma let out a breath and rolled her eyes, reminding Regina of a bratty teenager who finally got caught.

With her free hand, Emma made an 'L'-shape. She watched Regina carefully before continuing, building up the tension. The letter 'A' followed up next.

'L-A… Yes, Emma, continue…' Regina spoke dangerously, but when Emma refused to do so immediately, Regina reached for her ribs again with her free hand.

The squeal that left Emma's lips was so soft and so short that Regina wondered if she'd imagined it, but when Emma bit down on her free hand to stop herself from making any more sound, she chuckled at Emma's embarrassment.

'It seems I have something to negotiate with,' Regina stated confidently. 'Continue, Emma.'

After narrowing her eyes at the councilor once more, Emma finally spelled it out.

'L-A-T-E. Late? You connected my name to the word 'late' forever?' Regina said with a deep, angry frown.

At Emma's shy nod, Regina let out a low, guttural laugh that would be considered beautiful and irresistible, one that Emma would never get the privilege to listen to.

'You know what, Emma,' Regina said smiling, shifting a little closer to her, 'I'll guess from now on, I have a few months to prove to you that I won't ever live up to that name again. And when this stupid project ends, I surely hope that you'll provide me with a new one.'

 


 

      Author's note: a name sign is a sign that usually a deaf person makes up for you. It consists of the sign of one of your traits, applied with the sign of the first letter of your     name. Hence "late" is waving your hand, fingers facing down, next to your waist; and "Regina" (in this case), is doing so, but with your index and middle fingers intertwined (which stands for the letter "R").

Chapter Text

For their second appointment a week later, Emma got to decide where they'd meet up. She had suggested a local bar called The Rabbit Hole, which Regina had eventually agreed on. She wasn't one for drinking beer with posh college students all night, but she was happy that Emma had chosen a public place to meet up. The more people who'd see them having fun, the better.

'You want a beer?' Regina assumed while settling down, before realizing: 'wait, you're over 21, right? How old are you anyway?'

Emma feigned offence and held up two fingers to the bartender, ordering them both a beer.

'Oh Emma, I don't drink, uh… beer. Well, whatever,' Regina mumbled, realizing her interference went unnoticed by the blonde.

'Age… you?' Emma spelled and pointed, still trying to keep her signing as simple and slow as possible. She was glad that Regina could at least understand her spelling, even though she wasn't sure about the story of her learning it in high school. Regina had told her that she'd taken up on ASL-class four nights a week now, so communication should soon go smoother. Emma had tried to hide her surprise when Regina had told her about the classes – she thought four nights a week was a lot for someone who'd told her that she wasn't into the idea of the project. But as Emma was happy that Regina wanted to make an effort, she had kept from venting that thought.

'Make a wild guess,' Regina smirked. 'But be careful, or you might be paying for your own beer.'

'You're buying?' Emma signed in surprise. 'No guessing… first, drink twelve beers.'

Regina let out a low laugh and shook her head. 'Want to make it into a bet, Emma?'

The blonde tilted her head as she thought about that, as it wasn't her intention, but she shrugged. 'Yes! But - you guess mine, too.'

As the bartender placed two beers in front of them, both women narrowed their eyes at each other.

'All right, closest guess wins, the other one pays,' Regina said, grabbing two coasters and pulling a pen out of her jacket pocket. She looked at the beautiful blonde once more and scribbled down "22". Then she handed over the pen to Emma, who wriggled her eyebrows and wrote her guess down.

'Here we go, three, two, one…'

Both women showed their coaster at the same time, Emma's reading "29". Regina's right hand slamming onto the bar in disappointment.

'Spot on,' she grumbled. 'How do you do that?'

Emma just shrugged and grabbed her beer. After a quick wink she chugged the whole thing.

'Hey! You didn't tell me if I was right,' Regina frowned, waving her coaster.

Emma grabbed the pen off the bar again, put a lot of effort into crossing out the "22", and scribbled down "19".

Regina let out a defeated sigh, grabbed her purse and threw a few dollars on the bar. Emma crossed her arms with a satisfied smile. But immediately after the bartender had taken the money, both women's eyes went wide upon realization.

'You're 19? Shit!' She grabbed Emma's empty beer glass and groaned when she noticed Emma had indeed chugged it down to the last drop.

'No more beer for you, young lady!' Regina said, pointing a stern finger towards the blonde. But Emma shook her head fiercely, her eyes wide with regret at her own mistake. She made both her index fingers into a hook, and tapped her fists on top of each other. When Regina didn't respond, she kept repeating the sign, a pleading look in her eyes.

'Joke?' Regina said when she finally remembered the sign. 'Who's joking? I'm certainly not,' she said, raising an eyebrow. Emma quickly tapped her own chest, grabbed the pen once more and crossed out the "19". Then she wrote "22", and added a little smiley face.

Regina looked at the coaster through squinted eyes.

'Emma, are you pulling my leg?'

Emma violently shook her head again, now pointing at the bartender. When he looked their way, she beckoned him with her hand, pointed at her beer, and then at herself. The black-haired bartender grinned at the two women who were clearly in a heated conversation, and introduced himself to Regina.

'Hello there, miss. I see Emma worked herself into some trouble again? I'm Killian, nice to meet you.'

'Hello Killian, I'm Regina,' the brunette said smiling, 'you seem to know Emma? She was telling me her age, when I found out that she isn't even allowed to drink beer yet!'

Killian laughed as he swung a towel over his shoulder, grabbed Emma's empty beer glass, rinsed it, and filled it up with beer again.

'I can assure you that this young lass is over 21, miss Regina,' he said as he put the beer in front of Emma. 'She is 22.'

Emma nodded. Regina slowly turned her head towards the blonde, a dangerous look in her eyes.

'So you lied… for free beers?'

'I wouldn't let her work for me if she were under 21,' Killian quickly interfered, winking at Emma.

'You work here?' Regina cried out in surprise, and looked around the bar. It had become really crowded, there was a line for the counter now. Emma mouthed a 'thank you' at Killian when the brunette wasn't looking. 'Now you owe me a drink,' Killian quickly signed, before moving over to help other customers.

'But I don't understand,' Regina said, facing Emma again. 'Working here is a social activity. Why did you sign up for the project? I see you have at least one friend here.'

Emma looked away and tapped her fingers on the bar nervously. Then she made the sign for "parents", and gestured around the bar.

'Your parents don't approve of you working here?'

Emma nodded, 'They don't know?' a nod, 'Does Lily know?' another nod.

'Talk another time?' Emma nervously signed. Regina pursed her lips and shrugged. 'Of course.'

To change the subject, Emma pointed at Regina's untouched beer, and looked at her with questioning eyes.

'Yes, well, about that.' Regina turned on her dangerous-mode again; 'why'd you lie about your age?'

Emma's eyebrows raised and her teeth showed in a guilty smile. 'Free beers?' she signed.

Regina shook her head. 'One of these days, Emma,' she began, looking up frustrated as the music turned up a notch, 'I'll get you back!'

Suddenly, Emma started snickering.

'What now?!'

Emma motioned at Regina's throat: 'you… yelling… at me?'

Regina looked caught, pouting at herself.

'Well ha-ha, let's make fun of the hearing woman,' she now mouthed.

Emma nodded confidently. Then, she slowly signed: 'People think… deaf is disability. I think… hearing is disability.'

Regina frowned at that statement. 'But… you can't just ignore that not being able to hear makes life more difficult, right? Without being disrespectful, I mean… I'm sure there's things I can do, that you can't.'

The blonde looked slightly hurt, but Regina imagined that she'd had this conversation multiple times and therefore could perfectly explain her side of the story.

'Examples?' Emma spelled out.

'Uhm, music,' Regina offered, pointing at the speakers.

'You hear, I feel,' the younger woman simply stated.

'All right… Phone calls.'

'Texting.'

'Fair enough. Calling someone in the distance.'

'Stomping your foot.'

'Hmm, all right. How about: hearing the voice of your loved ones, the emotion in their voice when they comfort you? Telling the difference between a whisper and a yell? The sound of laughter, the sound of…' she watched Emma carefully, '…moaning?'

Emma sat right up as she bit back: 'Screaming. Thunder. Crying. Glass breaking. Gun shots. Car alarms. Explosions. Cursing.'

Regina threw her hands up: 'all right, you make valid points. But… cursing? You don't tell me you never curse?'

Emma smirked.

'I do. Unlimited. But – no one notices.'

Regina bit her lip as she asked: 'can you teach me a bad word? Just so I know when you're gossiping about me. That's stuff they don't teach you in ASL-class.'

Emma snorted and told the brunette: 'you know… one… curse.'

Regina looked at her in surprise, but when Emma flipped her the bird, she laughed out loudly.

Emma smiled brightly at the laughing brunette, enjoying the sparkling in her squinted eyes, the dimples around her full lips.

'So - I can do everything… you can. But – you can't… do everything… I can,' she signed, wanting to make a point.

'What's that?' Regina quirked an eyebrow, her laughter slowly fading.

'For one…' Emma grabbed the now dead beer in front of Regina, and chugged it. 'Drinking beer. You softy.'

'Second…' Emma glanced around to find Killian, and beckoned him again. 'Can you… bartend?' she asked Regina, who let out a surprised huff.

'Can I bartend? Is water blue? Is the pope religious? Are you deaf?' Regina said confidently. 'I was a student, too, you know!'

As Emma signed her plan to Killian, he took over her seat with an amused smile. At Regina's questioning look, he yelled to speak over the music: 'you each take over the bar for ten minutes – who serves the most costumers in that time, wins.'

'That's not fair!' Regina yelled back. 'You work here!' she pointed at Emma.

'You, fifteen minutes,' Emma shrugged, and motioned for her to go stand behind the counter.

'Is everything a game with you, Emma?' Regina yelled, before being pushed towards the line of costumers. When she gazed from the number of waiting people, to all the different kinds of liquor, to the beer pump, Emma fake-yawned and tapped her wrist.

'All right miss Swan,' Regina gritted through her teeth, as she took off her blazer and threw it towards the smirking duo. Then she quickly put her hair in a loose bun, rolled up the sleeves of her blouse, and wet her hands in the sink.

She got the hang of bartending quite easy back again. It only took her a minute to find out how the cash register worked, and where all the bottles and the glasses were. She could do without the prying eyes of Killian and Emma though, but to say she was not having any fun, would be a lie.

The costumers that ordered beer were easy – they'd just hold up a few fingers, and the brunette would give them a refill. The cocktails and the liquors were more difficult; especially as the music got louder and louder, and Regina kept having more trouble understanding the orders. Occasionally she had to hover over the bar to move her ear towards the costumer, and even then she got some orders wrong. It was almost as if Emma and Killian had involved the DJ in their game – was the music supposed to be this loud?

After an exceptionally large order of 25 beers, the – apparently – rich student that had treated his friends, left Regina a tip of ten bucks. Out of habit, she put the money for the beers in the register, and the tip in her bra. Only when she heard the wolf whistle on her right, she realized that it was kind of a provoking move. She looked up and saw Emma waiting with her hand raised.

'Yes?' Regina nodded, hoping that she'd just order two beers, since there was quite a distance between them and herself. But of course, no such luck.

Emma's lips started to move rapidly as she placed their order, clearly messing with Regina as it was such a mouthful. Regina frowned, put her hand behind her ear as a gesture for her to repeat her order, completely oblivious to the fact that she hadn't understood Emma not because of the loud music, but because the blonde of course hadn't made any sound.

When she saw the smirk around Emma's lips while she repeated her order, Regina realized that Emma was doing a number on her. She narrowed her eyes, decided to nod, and picked a glass from the counter. She poured in the grossest combination of liquors she could think of, put a slice of lemon on the glass, and placed it in front of Emma.

'I didn't order this,' Emma signed, looking disgusted.

'On the house,' Regina smirked. 'Till the last drop, my dear. It's not polite to deny.'

Killian glanced at the clock: 'saved by the bell,' he signed and spoke, 'time to switch.'

Emma and Regina shared a look, as the brunette wiped her forehead with a tea-towel, and then dried her hands. As the two women passed each other, Regina put her hand on the small of Emma's back. The blonde's perfume hit her like a truck – it was unlike anything she'd ever smelled, but it was heaven. It just felt right – as if she could have immediately connected the smell to Emma, without having smelled her before. It paralyzed her for a second, but then she squeezed her arm lightly, so the blonde would turn and look at her.

'I'll guard your cocktail,' Regina winked, before letting her go again. She took the seat next to Killian, fanned herself with a coaster, and opened one more button of her blouse. She had expected Emma to have started already, but when she looked up, she caught the blonde staring at her. When Regina quirked an eyebrow, Emma quickly shook her head, and turned towards the impatient costumers.

As Regina watched Emma do her job, she became mesmerized by the blonde. The white tank top that she wore was stained in no time, which was kind of distracting, and the way Emma occasionally blew a loose strand of hair out of her face, did nothing to stop Regina from sweating. Only now she noticed Emma's biceps – when she reached for the shelf above her head, or when she rinsed glasses, the strong muscles in her upper arms showed. Never before had muscles elicited such a physical reaction from the brunette, but now she found herself breathing shallowly, lips slightly parted.

It was a sight to see how fast Emma worked – of course she couldn't hear a word the costumers were saying, but on the other hand, the music wasn't distracting her. She only glanced up to the person who was drawing the most attention, nodded, made the order, and placed the desired drinks on the bar. Then she settled the bill with a wide smile, before glancing up to whoever was drawing the most attention next.

Regina could definitely see how, in this situation, it was a privilege to be deaf – the drunks who found themselves neglected were cursing and yelling at Emma, but she didn't even notice. The costumers that had her attention, were all perfectly understood and happy, due to her ability to read lips. And the music, that would make Regina's ears bleed if it would go on for another thirty minutes, was only felt in soft vibrations by Emma – nothing that made it hard for her to think.

The brunette only wondered if the students at the bar knew Emma, and knew that she was deaf, because the most of them – that weren't on the edge of vomiting from alcohol surplus – seemed to wait patiently before Emma could look at them. Anyhow, when Killian waved at the blonde to announce that her ten minutes were over, he did it way too soon for Regina's liking.

Emma finished up her last order, put a strand of hair behind her ear again, and shot Regina a flashing smile. When had she suddenly looked so mature? She passed and fist-bumped Killian when he took her spot again (gone was the maturity), dried her hands, and fetched a wine glass from the shelf. Then Emma stooped to grab two bottles of wine, red and white, pursed her lips and shot a questioning look at Regina. The brunette pointed at the bottle of red, grinning at the fact that Emma somehow picked up that she was more of a wine drinker.

When Emma placed the glass, now filled with red wine, in front of Regina, she signed: 'no need to count?'

Regina playfully rolled her eyes. 'I was a little rusty, miss Swan. Had you given me some time to warm up, I would definitely have defeated you.'

Emma frowned, the wrinkles in her forehead somehow adorning; 'when… I become… "miss Swan", miss Mills?'

Regina let out a breathy laugh and shook her head, but as she thought of an answer, she started to blush. She didn't know why she called her that… - no, she knew, but it was embarrassing.

'You… surprised me,' Regina decided to go with. She took a sip of her wine to stop herself from talking.

'Didn't expect… me so fast?' Emma signed, a self-assuring smile on her face.

'Yes, well, that, and… you looked really good while doing it.'

Regina immediately cringed at her own choice of words. 'Bartending, I mean. I meant – I wanted to say that you really pulled the… the bartending thing off.'

Inwardly, Regina punched herself in the stomach so hard that she could actually feel some pain. As she tried to hide her face in her glass of wine, Emma's grin only widened.

'Suddenly… so… e-l-o-q-u-e-n-t,' she spelled out, before nudging the older woman with her elbow.

'Bold choice of words, dear,' Regina bit back. 'Sarcastic remarks are my thing, you hear me?!'

Emma suddenly lost her smile and stared at the brunette open-mouthed. When Regina realized what she'd said, she clapped her hands in front of her mouth.

'Oh my god, bad wording,' she quickly tried apologizing upon seeing Emma's reaction, but since she still had her hands in front of her mouth, Emma didn't catch a word. Soon, Regina realized that mistake too, and repeated her apology with her mouth now visible. She exhaled, closed her eyes, shook her head, and placed it in her right hand. Three socially awkward phrases in one minute. Way to go, Mills.

When she felt Emma tapping her upper arm, she inhaled deeply one more time before opening her eyes. The blonde was making the sign for 'joke' again. When Emma noticed Regina caught that, she continued.

'Didn't think… you fall… for that.'

Now, Regina's jaw dropped. 'You're pulling my leg again?'

Emma's fingers now slowly closed around Regina's lower arm. Regina shivered at the feeling.

'Please,' Emma rolled her eyes. 'I'm not that sullen.'

Regina didn't know whether to be angry or relieved. She only knew that her interest in the blonde only grew and grew.

'You know, miss Swan,' she said, deliberately slowing down at the nickname, 'it seems you are helping me to get my social skills back, instead of the other way around.'

Emma started to fake-laugh, still without a sound, slamming her hand onto the bar.

'I… have not seen… yours, yet!'

'Damn it, Emma!' Regina responded fake-angry, slamming her hand onto the bar too. 'I told you to accept a compliment!'

Emma, clearly caught off guard, just poked out her tongue to save herself from replying. But what she didn't expect, was for Regina to grab her chin.

'I would keep that inside,' she whispered, and she was sure that even Emma knew she was whispering, 'before I get any ideas.'

When Regina realized the boldness of what she'd said, she lost the grip on Emma's chin as if it were on fire. She quickly glanced around before grabbing Emma's cocktail that still had to be drunk. 'Use it to drink this, rather.'

Emma blinked at Regina's sudden flirtation that she'd taken back so quickly, and then looked at the cocktail.

'Together?' she signed hesitantly.

'Oh no, my dear. You deserve this, after all your stupid little jokes.'

Emma chewed her lip, thinking about how to gain control of the situation.

'You open… negotiation?'

Regina laughed at the now shy looking student.

'A good politician is always bribable, dear,' she said, raising a suggestive eyebrow.

'I… give you a compliment?'

'…my bribe rate is pretty high, though.'

'My compliments… worth much.'

'Try me.'

Emma glanced around, not sure whether she should say the one thing she was thinking. She decided to keep a little cryptic. Gazing from the cocktail to the brunette, she mouthed her thought, clearly articulating, but not signing. She kept staring intensely at the woman before her, not sure if she'd caught on.

Regina thought she'd read the words 'rather', 'you' and 'cocktail', but wasn't sure whether those words had fit into the sentence that she'd wish they would fit into. She didn't know how to react, because she didn't know if she'd understood. And now the girl was staring at her. Her beautiful green eyes wide, thousands of thoughts swirling in her head, a glimpse of a smile around her lips. Regina could only stare back. The feeling in her stomach got so intense that it became uncomfortable. Her brain got hazy, and she had to blink a few times to stop herself from leaning in.

'It's past twelve,' Regina said throatily, after checking her phone.

'Didn't know… I had a date with… Cinderella,' Emma signed.

'What's that sign?' Regina asked, mimicking the sign for 'date'. Emma blushed when she realized what she'd signed.

'M-e-e-t u-p,' she quickly spelled, deciding that she'd fix that later.

Regina nodded. 'Well, I'm not Cinderella, but after twelve my taxi driver turns into a gorilla,' she chuckled. 'By the way, we only scheduled two hours today.'

Emma's pressed her lips into a thin line. 'Fine,' she signed. 'Good night, miss Mills.'

When Regina saw the blonde's hurt expression, she lightly brushed her elbow.

'Emma, no, I didn't mean…'

'It's okay. Really. Bye.'

Before Regina could apologize, Emma had grabbed her coat and turned her back on the brunette. Regina could punch herself in the stomach again. Instead, she went after the blonde. After so many times that Emma had acted like she was hurt by something Regina had said, she now knew for sure, she felt, that she had really hurt her by referring to the project in such an oafish way.

'Emma, wait!'

But even if the music hadn't been so loud, she knew that Emma wouldn't have heard her call. Regina even remembered to stomp her foot, but with so many people surrounding them, it was a lost cause.

Chapter Text

 

At the first tone that indicated that her phone had started dialing, Regina clenched her jaw. Had she literally just tried to call a deaf person?
Well, it was her only hope now – why had she said such a stupid thing? Why did she have to refer to the project, as if she'd been waiting for the two hours to be over…? The opposite was true, in fact, and so she understood that Emma had been insulted. If she'd only stopped and listened… or, well, looked…
At her texts, in which she asked for them to meet up again somewhere next week, Emma had only responded with an 'okay' or 'yeah'.

'This is Lily Page, interpreting for Emma Swan. How are you?'

Regina jumped when the phone was picked up.

'H-hello miss Page, this is Regina Mills.'

'You are speaking to Emma.'

'Of course. Hello Emma. I'm… I'm fine. How are you?'

There was a silence, in which the two foster sisters were probably communicating, and a short 'Fine' followed.

This was weird, should she voice her apology to the sister of the person the was apologizing to?

'Miss Page, please tell Emma that… Could you just please tell her that I-…'

'It's me, miss Mills. You're talking to me. It's only Lily's voice you hear.'

It gave Regina an idea.

'I know, dear. Would you mind if I'd just want to talk to your sister?'

A long silence.

'Yes, I would mind. I'm your project, am I not? Not Lily. I'm surprised you're calling outside of our scheduled appointments, really. I'd start talking – I wouldn't want to waste any more of your precious time.'

Okay, wrong move. She wanted to ask Lily about the best way to apologize, but apparently, she gave herself more reason to apologize.

'Emma, listen, I made one mistake…'

'No, you didn't. You told me what you were really thinking of.'

'I can assure you that I was not thinking of how I was wasting my time. Absolutely not. Please.'

'I remember you telling me differently. That this project is a complete waste of your time.'

'That's true, I said that, and I still think so. But Emma, you are not a waste of my time. Please don't be angry with me. I had a little drink… I felt awkward… I mean, NO! Not awkward with you, but because of you. I mean, you… you're something else. And I like that. I like that you're outsmarting me. I'm just not used to it.'

Another long silence.

'I'm not angry with you. You just need to be put into place sometimes.'

'You're… not angry? Then why all this behavior?'

'I still want you to apologize.'

Regina rolled her eyes at her phone. This girl!

'And how does the princess wish that I do that?'

'You've seen something of my world. I want to see yours.'

'What do you mean?'

'Show me your home.'

Regina looked around her, as if contemplating what it would be like to have Emma over. Wouldn't that be really awkward?

'Why… uh, why would you want to see where I live?' Regina asked, afraid to insult Emma again by denying her request.

'I want to know what you're like. I want to have a look behind the mask that you occasionally wear.'

All kinds of thoughts went through Regina's mind; why would Emma bother? Why would she care? But the only thing the brunette voiced was: 'You know? My birthday is next week. I'll be having a party at my home. You're invited.'

The translating and the response took a while.

'We have a deal, Regina.'

'Be there at 8 p.m.'

'I will. You'll turn 30 next week?'

'That's right.'

'So my Buddy will be an old lady. That's great. People think I'm helping you cross the street, but no, it's you accompanying me.'

Through Lily's translation, Regina wasn't sure if Emma had meant that sarcastically, and didn't know how to respond.

'Regina? I thought you'd figure me out by now,' Lily continued translating.

Regina let out a loud sigh.

'I think I'll never figure you out completely,' she admitted. 'But I think I like that about you.' She quickly shook her head. 'Lily? Please don't translate that last part.'

'I have to, miss Mills, since you said it out loud. Not translating it wouldn't be fair. A hearing person would've heard it,' Lily spoke for herself.

'Oh, okay. Well, I guess I see you next week then,' Regina awkwardly stuttered.

'Yes, I'll see you next week. Bye!'

And the phone call ended. Regina stared at the device in her hand as if it had started singing the national anthem. But before she could even process the weird conversation, it started ringing again.

'Hello?'

'Miss Mills? This is Lily again. I'm calling you myself now, Emma is out of the room.'

'What can I do for you, Lily?'

'I was wondering if we could talk about Emma. Are you free this afternoon?'

'Well, ehm, yes. How about lunch time?'

'That works for me. Let's meet at the diner.'

'All right Lily, I'll see you then.'

'Goodbye!'

As the second phone call ended, Regina wondered if she'd done something wrong again. She was however happy that she could talk to Lily, as she hoped that she would tell her a little bit about Emma. That mysterious, beautiful deaf girl drove her crazy, but occasionally in the best way.

Regina finished most of her work before lunch time and grabbed her coat to go to the diner where she'd agreed to meet Lily. When she arrived, she already saw the brunette waving at her.

'Hello, miss Mills!'

'Please, it's Regina.'

Usually, she'd prefer the formality of her last name, but it right now that felt awkward. She sat down in front of Lily and smiled.

'I'm happy that you agreed to see me,' Lily returned the smile.

'I wanted to talk to you about Emma.'

'So I figured.'

The both of them ordered a coffee when the waitress arrived, both clearly not sure what to say.

'Emma is… she is really dear to me,' Lily started. Regina curled her lips.

'I could see that. I'm sure your love for one another is unconditionally.'

'It is, yes. And because of that, I don't want her to be hurt.'

'I do not intend to hurt her, Lily. Absolutely not, it's just that…'

'Emma has thick skin. Very thick, Regina and I wanted to talk to you… One, to tell you how so, and two, because it seems to become thinner when she's around you.'

Regina opened her mouth, but couldn't think of any response that'd make sense, so she closed it again.

'Emma and I don't know who her biological parents are,' Lily decided to start with. 'My mother knows, but we don't want to. Emma was given up as a baby, right after it had become clear that she was deaf. Ever since she knows that that was the reason, she has started to grow that thick skin of hers.'

Regina furrowed her brows. 'That's terrible. What kind of parents would do such a thing?'

Lily nodded. 'That's what we thought. My mother took her in when I was six – Emma was only a few months old. Mother worked at the hospital where Emma was left, and had taken pity on her.' A watery smile showed. 'All three of us started learning sign language at the same time. Our father knows some signing as well, but he's almost never around. We don't really need him though, apart from financially - our mother is so full of love. So protective. But that, in the end, is what made Emma even more miserable.'

Regina shook her head, completely sucked into Lily's story. 'Why's that?'

'Our home became a safe haven. Within the four walls of our house, Emma was understood completely. But although she is a tough girl, deafness somehow made her look vulnerable, always. That's why she never left home. Mother chose to have her home-schooled, via Skype and an interpreter. Emma was already in puberty when we realized that having no hearing friends was breaking her up – and she was afraid to leave the house, scared that nobody would understand her.'

'She doesn't seem to be afraid to go outside now,' Regina said. 'So what changed?'

'Mother sent her to speech therapy. Emma had never learned to talk – but we all believed that if she would, if she would gain some social skills, her life would improve. But upon learning how to speak, there appeared to be a very bold and angry girl under all that vulnerability. A girl living with a disability that reminded her of why her biological parents would leave her. A constant reminder of her own failure, of how she wasn't even capable of parental love.'

A small part of Regina's heart broke while Lily told her the story.

'Part of speech therapy was to get a loaf of bread without the use of her hands – just her voice. But when it was Emma's turn at the shop, a group of kids her age started laughing at her. She fled and vowed never to speak again.'

'I imagine it took a while after that before she dared to leave the house again?' Regina asked.

'On the contrary. The incident built up a fire within her, a drive to show the world that she was as much a human being as any other person – even if she'd choose never to speak. She asked me to hang out with me and my friends, which I was hesitant about. I talked about it with mother and she too thought that it was a bad idea. We both still think she should learn to speak, because that's way easier than for everybody to learn ASL.
But apparently, Emma found her way into society anyway. I don't know how she got the job at the bar, I found out by accident. She made me swear not to tell mother that she works there – she is afraid she'd disappoint her.'

'I don't get it – Emma kind of has a social life now. Isn't that what you and your mother would want for her? Even if she got it without speaking? And where does your mother think she goes, when she's at work?'

Lily stared at the other brunette for a while before answering: 'Speech therapy.'

'Ah. That explains a lot.'

'Mother doesn't even know she quit. We made a deal that, for Emma, speaking at home isn't necessary. That's why mother doesn't notice that Emma isn't improving. She's paying a lot of money for the therapy, but Emma is saving up that money to go to college.'

'While your mother thinks she's only paying half of it, she's actually financing the entire thing,' Regina nodded.

'That's right. You know Emma wants to work for the government, she wants to fight rights for people with a disability. Having one herself could help her in one way, but it could blow up in her face, too. Especially if she doesn't want to speak. She thinks she's making a point, but people will only laugh at her because she's the one who doesn't want to adapt, and…- Regina? Why are you crying?'

'I'm – I'm not crying,' Regina said softly, looking up to the ceiling to send back her tears. 'It's just a really touching story. Especially since… I agree with you. If she truly wants to pursue a career like that… she should speak. But it's heartbreaking to convince her to do so.'

'It is. For Emma, trying to speak and failing, is the proof that she's not normal. But she is, she is normal. She's deaf, but perfectly normal. If only she'd see that…'

'Now I understand her reaction at the bar,' Regina breathed. 'She freaked out when I referred to our meet up as some kind of a business transaction.'

'I know. And that's why I wanted to talk to you. Now you know.'

Regina smiled through her tears.

'Thank you, Lily. Emma is wonderful. I will keep her history in mind, but also treat her like she should be treated.'

'Are you going to tell our mother?' Lily asked softly.

Regina thought about that.

'I'll tell you a little bit about my own family. I lived with my parents and a sister, too. Zelena, my sister, moved away a long time ago - she went to an institute in Europe. She is deaf, too. That's why I know a little bit about sign language – not much, though. Mother had started learning ASL, but quickly found that Zelena should speak instead of sign, so she sent her away. I believe Zelena is living like a hearing person now, but I haven't seen her in years. I know she's terribly angry with my mother. She feels like she took her identity, by ignoring her disability. So to answer your question: no, I won't tell your mother. I do believe that Emma should speak however, but I'm planning on convincing her – not forcing her.'

Lily nodded slowly. 'I think that's for the best.'

'Lily?'

'Hmm?'

'Will you please not tell Emma about my sister? I don't want her to feel like I'm dealing with her because I might feel guilty for Zelena.'

'I won't, if you won't tell her that we had this talk. I think she should tell you herself.'

'Deal.'

 


 

 

Emma ran down the stairs, toothbrush in her mouth and running a comb through her hair. She ignored the stomping that she felt when she paced to the kitchen to rinse. The tapping on her shoulder that followed, was however hard to ignore, so she turned around.

'Where are you going?' her mother signed surprised.

'Speech therapy,' Emma signed back. She immediately startled herself: why didn't she tell her mother the truth?

'In those clothes?'

Melly let her eyes go over the black pencil dress that Emma was wearing.

'It's my teacher's birthday. He's having a party.'

'A party? After your therapy? I didn't know you two were that close. Did you buy him a gift?'

Emma nodded and pointed at the wrapped package on the kitchen table.

'That's nice of you. And when is your next appointment with your Buddy?'

Emma turned away to hide the blush on her cheeks. 'Next Tuesday.'

'All right. Well, I hope you have fun tonight, sweetheart.'

'Thank you, mom. Gotta get ready now.'

As Emma finished up her hair and her make-up, running up and down the stairs a few times in the process, Melly smirked to herself. She really didn't know Emma's speech therapist had such an influence on her foster daughter.

At 7:56 PM, Emma finally found herself ready to go. It was a fifteen-minute drive to the address Regina had given her, so she definitely would be late.

'At what time you'll be back?' Melly signed when Emma was about to leave.

'Don't know. Mom, I'm 22. I have a key. I live in my own part of the house. Everyone else my age already moved out. You don't need to wait for me and I don't need directions anymore.' Emma rolled her eyes.

'Of course. I know. I guess I'll see you tomorrow morning then,' Melly signed with a proud smile.

'Will you say hi to Lily for me? Thanks. Bye, mom!'

Emma planted a kiss on her mother's cheek and turned around to leave, when she felt the stomping on the floor again. When she looked over her shoulder, Melly was in the door opening with a wrapped package in her hand.

'I'm sure you thought about this then.'

Emma rolled her eyes again.

'Yes, mom. That's what you get when you keep belittling me.' She snatched the package from her mother's hands.

'Bye!'

As soon as Emma was driving towards 108 Mifflin Street, her nerves started to peak. She was nervous not only to see Regina again, but there'd be a lot of people at the birthday party. People that she didn't know and people that wouldn't know how to talk to her. She was prepared though – she brought her earphones with her and was mentally ready to lash out at anyone who would laugh at her for whatever reason.

She gulped as she reached her destination – she had expected anything but a huge white mansion. After a few deep breaths she put in her earphones, plugged them into her phone and got out of the car. At the vibration of the car windows, she felt there was some music on nearby. The light in the hallway of the mansion seemed out, so she decided to walk towards the lights from the backyard.

At the back of the mansion, a huge yard showed, lit by small candles. There were five long white tables, stuffed with food, there was a bar, and about forty people were walking, talking and laughing. A small look around told Emma that she was the only one her age. A nudge against her arm almost made her drop Regina's present.

'…listening to?' she caught from the tall guy who had nudged her. He pointed at his own ears, laughing, and then plugged one of Emma's earphones.

'Aren't we good company?' she read from his lips, while she tried to snatch her earphone back.

Emma showed him her long finger and turned around. Great. This was why hearing people suck.

Contemplating whether to leave again, she felt a soft hand caressing her shoulder. The hand squeezed, and Emma immediately relaxed. When she turned her head, she already knew she'd be gazing into the brown orbs she had hoped to find earlier.

The brunette that still had her hand on Emma's shoulder, flashed her a smile and then tapped her nose with her pinky. 'Emma!'

Emma couldn't help but return the smile. Regina was wearing a dark blue designer dress, long at the backside and a bit shorter towards the front. She looked stunning. Emma greeted Regina by planting a kiss on her cheek, startling both of them. The blonde waved her hands, tapped her chin and then her chest with her middle finger, saying: 'Happy birthday!'

'I'm so happy you came!' she read from Regina's lips, rather than following her hesitant signing.

'You look so old,' Emma jokingly signed, at which Regina rolled her eyes.

'Did I say 'happy'? I meant: thank you for coming, you may leave again,' Regina shot back, smiling.

Emma nodded: 'All right. Goodbye. I'll take this with me, then.' She pointed at the wrapped present in her hand, and then at the porch where she just came from.

'You brought me a present?' Regina pointed at the package, looking surprised, 'you may stay!'

Emma grinned widely and offered the present to the birthday woman. Throughout the unwrapping process, the blonde kept grinning, which made Regina slightly suspicious.

'It's a clock,' Regina said, not sure whether or how to say 'thank you'.

'Open the box,' Emma signed impatiently, at which Regina raised her brows and followed directions. When she unpacked the clock, a small note fell out of the box. Regina picked it up and smiled at the cursive handwriting.

"Since you're late anyway, you won't need to keep track of time."

Regina glanced at the clock in her hand, and started laughing out loud. The display looked as if all the numbers had fallen down, stacked up where the number six should be. Written above, taking up the rest of the space, was an italic "Fuck it, I'm late anyway."

'I was late once!' Regina yelled, still laughing. 'You're taking down my image! Besides, it was you who was late today.'

Emma just shrugged. 'I feel like we're even now, don't you?'

Regina's laughter didn't fade as she cupped Emma's cheek in her hand. 'Thank you Emma. I really like your gift.'

And just as Regina started to lean in to kiss her cheek, Emma thought about how the both of them had had so much physical contact in the last few minutes. Was that weird?

Emma inhaled sharply as she felt Regina's cool lips on her hot cheek. She closed her eyes for a moment, but they shot open again as she felt hot breath against her ear.

'What did you say?' Emma immediately signed.

Regina looked caught, which made Emma suspicious.

'Regina, did you whisper something?'

Slowly, the brunette shook her head. 'No,' she articulated carefully. She received a squinted stare from the blonde.

'Please, have a look around the house. And if any assholes try to be funny again, just punch them in the face. Honestly, 95% of the people here are jerks.' Emma was sure that Regina hadn't used her voice for the last part.

Regina picked up a glass of champagne from the tray next to her and offered it to Emma. Then she held up the clock, as if indicating that she was about to put it away.

'But why did you invite them to your party, if they're all jerks?' Emma asked her.

Regina smiled, breathed out and looked around. Her answer was the first time she signed a full sentence, although slowly, without speaking or mouthing. 'I wanted to be a politician, and apparently, it comes with the job.'

Chapter Text

Emma had spent most of the night observing people. From wherever Regina stood, she always tried to keep an eye on the blonde, and she rarely seemed to be engaged in conversation. Honestly, Regina even was surprised that Emma was still at the party. She'd hoped to spend more time talking to her, but with the formality of a birthday party came a lot of catching up with people Regina hadn't spoken to in a long time.

She wasn't sure whether it was because of the backstory that Lily had told her, but Regina felt some kind of proud feeling for Emma still being at the party. At least she was trying. Regina could imagine that it would be hard for Emma to talk to people who were at least fifteen years older than her – Regina was one of the youngest politicians in town herself – but she hoped that Emma would find someone to talk to anyway.

When around 11:30 PM most of the guests had left, with only about five people still at the party, Regina finally found some time to talk to Emma again.

'So, how's your night?' Emma signed, before Regina could even properly approach her.

'I'm having the time of my life,' Regina answered, accompanied by her classic sarcastic eye roll. She walked up to Emma, who was seated on a dwarf wall next to the pool.

'When… real party?' Emma signed, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

'What do you mean?'

'These stiff… and uptight people… your only friends?'

'Hey!' Regina folded her arms and shot an angry look at Emma.

'I wanted… to see you, Regina.'

Encouraged by the liquids she had consumed all night, Emma got up to stand in front of Regina.

'Not your way too fancy dress.' The blonde let her gaze go over the brunette's body. 'Not your fake politician-smile.' Now, her eyes went over Regina's lips. 'Not the way… dressed up your house… like the president is visiting.' Emma pointed at the tables, the bar and all the leftover food.

Regina was about to answer, when her attention was pulled by the last guests who were about to leave. She let herself get kissed on the cheek by them, thanked for the night and wished a nice evening, before waving the last visitors off.

Regina bit her lip as she watched Emma stare at her.

'Are you leaving, too?' she asked, but the blonde shrugged.
'You have all night… convince me… you're not boring and uptight.'

'I guess I have some making up to do, don't I?' Regina smiled. 'Wait here. I'll be right back.'

Five minutes later, when Regina walked back into the backyard again, Emma had to swallow really hard not to lose her mind. The politician's fancy dress was replaced by a pair of sweat pants and a loose fit t-shirt. She was barefoot now and her hands were tucked in the pockets of her pants. She had gotten rid of all her jewels – only her make-up had remained on her face, and her hair was still perfectly styled.

'You look slightly out of place, dear,' Regina signed and spoke, smirking. Emma, who was still by the pool, looked almost paralyzed as she watched the brunette walking up to her. When the two women were next to each other again, Regina almost giggled at the image: Emma all dressed up, and she herself in her lazy clothes.

Emma looked as if there were a thousand things that she wanted to say about Regina's appearance, but when she finally managed to sign again, she said: 'Do you ever wonder what it's like?'

'What do you mean, dear?' Regina asked confused. Did she mean being deaf, or being with…?
She noticed Emma's breathing became more rapid, and the blonde closed her eyes for a brief moment.

'Please stop speaking,' Emma slowly signed. Regina looked even more surprised, but then Emma explained: 'Please, just… let us be even for a moment.'

'Emma, I… I don't think I'm capable yet. I don't know enough ASL to have a conversation without you reading my lips…' Regina pleaded as the air became thicker.

Emma only shook her head. 'You're capable of much more than you think. Just… please.' She let her fingers trail over the brunette's lips, as she saw the other woman briefly close her eyes and nod.

'Do you trust me?' Emma signed.

Regina swallowed and stared into sea-green eyes before nodding her fist. 'Yes.'

At that, the blonde started smirking again. 'You'll wish… you wouldn't.'

Before Regina could even ask what that meant, she felt a tug on her arm. Right before her eyes, she saw Emma jump into the pool, still in her pencil dress, before losing her balance herself and falling in, too.

The water was cold, icy almost, and the sudden change of temperature made her scream.

'Emma!'

Regina spit out some of the water that had entered her mouth, and wildly moved her arms to rise to the surface. The pool was not very deep since she could stand everywhere, but it was definitely deep enough to submerge completely.

'Emma!' she yelled again, half-angry and half-surprised because she didn't see the wicked blonde anymore.

Suddenly, she felt a warm hand clapped against her mouth. She turned around and looked into the most beautiful face she'd ever seen; the wet blonde locks surrounding Emma's face like a mermaid's.

'I said… no speaking,' Emma signed, smiling widely. And before Regina could start about the insane trick Emma had pulled, the blonde signed: 'Come down with me.' She took a deep breath and disappeared beneath the surface.

Regina only blinked a few times, before mimicking the act, and moving under water.

As soon as she submerged completely, Regina noticed the absence of all scents and sounds. Not that she didn't notice before, but when she opened her eyes, she understood immediately why Emma would want her under water. Down here, they were alike. They both couldn't hear a thing, and see very little. In a weird way, it was peaceful.

Regina tried to blink to see better, but she could only make out Emma's silhouette vaguely. She thought she saw the other woman wave at her, so she shyly waved back, before she was out of breath and rose to the surface again.

Just a second later, Emma showed herself, too. Both of them wanted to say something, both of them didn't. Almost simultaneously, they took a deep breath and disappeared beneath the surface again.

Regina felt like her body would explode when she felt Emma's hands looking for hers. She didn't know what was happening, but she suddenly radiated so much warmth that she didn't mind the cold water anymore. Emma's presence made her feel like she was on drugs, and Emma's unpredictability made her feel drawn closer to the woman every second.

From the sweet caresses of Emma's fingers, Regina noticed that Emma was trying to tell her something. Regina squinted to see better, but to no avail. At no reaction from Regina's, Emma swam even closer, if possible.

The brunette felt fireworks go off in her chest when she felt Emma's finger prodding her there, probably meaning 'you'. Then, she saw both of Emma's hands coming up to her, her fingers starting to trace her facial features. They softly caressed her forehead, her eyelids, her nose, cheeks, and finally her lips. Regina thoroughly enjoyed the feeling - it felt so much like they were kissing, although they weren't.

The older woman felt her chest grow tight - she didn't want to go up for air, but she had to. She knew that the second she'd surface, she would be incredibly scared of what she'd just felt. Down here, everything was just a dream.

When she surfaced eventually, gasping for air, she was followed shortly by Emma, who still smiled up to her.

Regina pointed at her, waved her hand in front of her own face, and then moved her fist with her pinky and her thumb stuck out. 'You look beautiful, too.'

Then, Regina looked around, and pointed at the water, repeating her gestures. 'And this, all of this, is beautiful too.'

She placed her fingers on her chin, letting her hand take a bow from there. Then she pointed at her own eyes with two of her fingers, and then gestured between the two of them. 'Thank you for showing me this.'

Emma only kept staring up to her, clearly not sure how to respond. Then her mischievous twinkle showed itself again, and she pulled Regina back under water again.

Regina could faintly make out the gestures Emma was making, but not clear enough to understand. She made a gesture with two of her hands together, followed by one with a hand next to her head. After four repetitions, Regina lost her patience and pulled Emma back up again.

'Can you repeat that, please?' Regina signed, once the two women could look at each other again.

Emma pushed her lips together and shook her head, grinning.

'No, not that again,' Regina signed, biting her lip at the blonde who was clearly testing out her nerves.

'Remember that I know your… w-e-a-k-n-e-s-s,' Regina spelled out.

Emma clawed the fingers of her left hand into her right and pushed – to show Regina the sign for 'weakness'.

Regina squinted her eyes and pointed at Emma's hands: 'And that gesture looks a lot like it.' Then she formed her own hands into claws, wriggled her fingers dangerously, and reached for Emma's waist.

As soon as the greedy fingers found Emma's ribs, the blonde let out a high-pitched squeal, and immediately dug under water. Regina was having none of Emma's escape plan and simply pulled her back up – just to tickle her again.

Clearly, the blonde was trying to keep herself from making any sound, by pushing her lips together. Regina's fingers, however, were too skilled: Emma writhed and squirmed and occasionally hid her face under water to scream, albeit laughing. Regina couldn't help but immensely enjoy the feeling of Emma's wriggling body against her own, the joy that radiated from her face and the need to be as close to each other as possible.

Only one thing in their little interaction disturbed her: Emma's undying need to not make any sound. Regina felt the younger woman's stomach jerk against her own waist again, breathed in slowly, and left her hands resting against Emma's ribs when the blonde was about to dig her head under water again.

'Please, let me hear you,' she whispered softly into blonde locks, making sure that Emma wouldn't notice. And suddenly, the two women found themselves in a tight embrace in the middle of the pool. Emma's nose was buried in the cape of Regina's neck, her arms wrapped around her shoulders, as the brunette's hands were still on the blonde's waist. That was the exact moment both women knew there was no going back from what they were feeling – just as they both knew that either of them were too stubborn to act on it.

'If you feel the way I do right now, please tell me. Use your voice,' Regina whispered into thin air, doing so carefully so Emma still wouldn't notice that she'd said something. Still in their embrace, so it was impossible for Emma to watch Regina's lips, she continued: 'I don't even know if you like women. If you've ever been with a woman before. If you'd be interested to try. I don't even know if this is a good idea, Emma. But I want it to be, I want it to be a good idea. You have no idea what effect you have on me. You are incredible and I want to know you in every way possible.'

From the moment she'd started talking, it was easy to continue, knowing that Emma would never hear a word. It felt as a relieve to finally voice her thoughts, even though nobody would catch up on them.

When Emma moved herself free from their tight embrace, a stern look hovered over her face.

'I said, no speaking, miss Mills,' she signed, the wrinkles in her forehead deepening.

Ah, shit. So she did notice.

Regina made a circle with her fist over her heart, though not apologizing with full intention, as she definitely wasn't going to repeat what she'd just said. Apparently, Emma caught up on her half-hearted apology, as she pointedly began to spell out her full name. 'Regina Mills!'

Now, it was Regina who had an advantage, and she started to smirk.

'I'm sorry dear, I'm not repeating either.'

At Emma's frustrated expression, she folded her arms and her grin widened.

'You want to play a game?' Emma signed with short, angry movements. Boldly as she felt, Regina kept staring her in the eye, and answered: 'Yes.'

Emma, suddenly not so quick with some kind of sharp retort, poked out her tongue. A gesture that Regina mimicked immediately. Why was it that this girl brought out even Regina's childish side?

To add fuel to the fire, Regina hit the surface of the water just right to splash a fair amount of water in Emma's face. The blonde opened her mouth in shock, wiped her hair out of her face, and spread the fingers of both hands, letting them attack each other, meaning: 'War.'

Emma leapt for Regina's waist to make her collapse and push her under water, but Regina was quicker and managed to swim away. She swam a few yards and looked over her shoulder, wanting to show her victory-face to the blonde, but Emma seemed completely out of sight.

'Uh-oh,' Regina mumbled softly, before Emma emerged at her backside. Before Regina could even register what was happening, she felt Emma's fingers dig into her own ribs, now making Regina scream and squirm.

'E-Emma-a-a!' she cried out, laughing. 'I'm no-o-o-t even t-… ticklish!'

She tried to grip the blonde's hands to get them away from her, but Emma was too nimble. She felt Emma's little squeezes everywhere, from her waist to her back, from her neck to her thighs, making her laugh uncontrollably, and the water splashing up everywhere.

When she finally managed to get away for a few seconds, Emma watched her with a cocky smile.

'You really think… someone who signs… doesn't exceed in tickling?'

To emphasize her words, she wriggled her fingers again, copying Regina's movement from a few minutes before.

'But this is… war… right?' Regina signed, lightly out of breath, repeating the sign she just learned.

Confused, Regina looked up to the sky for a moment – rain drops had started falling from the sky. She shrugged, since both of them were wet already, and leapt to pull on Emma's arm.

As the two bodies collided and the tickles started again, neither of them were sure whether to pull the other's body against their own, or dodge the other one's fingers. Their limbs tangled in attempt to make the other one squirm the hardest, while occasionally pulling each other under water. Regina completely shut down her brain, and only acted on the pure need, need to have de blonde's body closer…

It was arousing her, the unpredictable jerking of Emma's hips, every spasm hitting her somewhere else. Emma's own prodding fingers in her sensitive flesh, carefully avoiding the parts of her body that would be too intimate – it made her want more, and that made her want to stop.

But then, when Regina hit a particularly sensitive spot, Emma couldn't shut or hide her mouth in time. A full blast giggle erupted from her lips, a loud and long one at that, and the sound made Regina immediately drop all her actions.

She stared at the young woman for a minute while overthinking that what she just heard was the most beautiful sound ever.

Emma looked extremely scared for a moment, but then saw the opportunity to catch Regina off-guard, and pinned her wrists to the side of the pool.

Emma's smirk was a dangerous one, as she knew that Regina now was defenseless. Holding on tight to her wrists, Emma's face disappeared halfway into the water, and when she emerged again, her cheeks were blown up. Regina didn't have to guess what the blonde was about to do, but since she definitely wasn't excited to receive the pool water mixed with some saliva in her face, she had to think fast.

'You can't kiss me with a mouth full of water, dear,' she spoke slowly, as she still couldn't use her hands. Emma's eyes went wide, and then her brows furrowed. Regina knew that she contemplated having read the brunette's lips wrong.

'Have you ever kissed a woman, Emma?'

The blonde didn't respond, but the answer lay somewhere in her intense staring.

'It can be soft, so much softer than a man's kiss. A woman's lips can be so addictive, it makes you want more.'

Regina knew that she was winning their little battle when she saw Emma having trouble keeping the water inside her mouth.

'But a woman's kiss also can be wild and hot. Those are the sexy kind, the ones that can't be interrupted, even if the house were on fire – you keep devouring each other.'

Oh, she was taking this way too far, and she knew it. No way back now.

After another minute of intense staring, and the rain intensifying, Emma decided to swallow the water as well as her pride. She was so close, and Regina was still pinned to the wall, there was no way out…

And then the entire backyard lit up by a strike of lightning. Both the women jumped and looked up to see where it came from – and then came the thunder.

'It's not far from here,' Regina mumbled, a little taken aback. 'We, uhm… we probably should…'

She tried to find her senses back, but for all Regina knew, they were somewhere at the bottom of the pool.

'Come on,' Emma gestured. 'Let's… become dry. I don't want… us to be …'

'What's that last word?' Regina asked.

'F-i-s-h-s-t-i-c-k-s,' Emma spelled out, before she winked and helped herself out of the pool.

Regina blinked, and then threw her head in her neck, laughing.

'Oh Emma.'

Chapter Text

Regina was in her office, working on some kind of boring infrastructure project, when her phone bleeped.

E: Can’t fail to notice that you’ve backed off a bit in the last few weeks. What happened?

She let out a long sigh after reading Emma’s text. It was true, ever since her birthday, Regina had tried to keep some kind of distance between the two of them, but only since Emma seemed in need of some space. The memories of the things she had said to the blonde kept coming back up, and she regretted them more and more. She was embarrassed, really, to have said such things. Not only was the whole incident it really inappropriate for their footing, but clearly the brunette had picked up on the wrong signs - otherwise Emma wouldn’t have fled so quickly after getting out of the pool… Or maybe she would’ve brought it up later, or maybe they would find themselves in a comparable situation soon after… But none of that happened, so Regina’s conclusion was that she should back off a bit, just as Emma had done.

That, of course, she wouldn’t tell Emma.

R: I’ve been busy. I’m sorry. You didn’t seem to have a lot of time on your hands yourself, though.

E: I spoke to Mr. Gold – initiator of TBP.

Regina shivered – she knew Mr. Gold very well, and he surely wasn’t the most sympathetic man around.  

R: And you’re still alive and breathing?

E: Barely.

R: All your limbs still attached?

E: To my own body, even.

R: I have an appointment with him this afternoon.

E: I know. That’s why I’m texting you.

R: Uh-oh. Did he tell you there was someone even more deaf than you? Someone more in need of a Buddy?


E: No Regina, it seems you’re the most hopeless case they could find.

R: You’re such a Drama Princess.

E: That’s right, and you’re the Queen.

Regina chuckled softly at their interaction – as if there never had been any awkwardness. She didn’t quite know how to respond, but her screen showed three dots, indicating that Emma was typing, so she waited patiently.

E: I’ve been somewhat reserved because Mr. Gold threatened to close our case.

Regina frowned at her phone – why would Gold do that?

E: Apparently, he’s happy with the way things are going between you, me, and the world, so he wants to end our formal agreement soon.

R: I’m surprised, we’re not into this project for too long, why end things already? I mean, not that I should care – it’s what I wanted. Besides, I never contacted you because of the project, but because of you, and you know it.

E: I don’t want it to end.

R: I thought you were even more opposed to it than me? We’ll keep in contact after the agreement ends, Emma.

E: That’s not it. I’ve been thinking.

R: I’m calling the newspapers. 

E: Shut up and read me out. So Gold is running for mayor too, right? The only possible explanation for him to end our agreement, is that he senses that I’m doing too well under your wing, and that’ll give you some major credit – you’ll get a bump in the polls for sure. That’s when I thought, maybe we can exploit this whole project for the benefit for both of us.

R: You have my attention.  

E: What if we play this stupid thing along and show everybody how our appointments have increased the quality of my life, blah, vomit, blah. We’ll even do some interviews and let them take pictures of us.

R: I can see how that may beat Gold’s idea – but what’s in it for you?

E: Well…

R: Well?

E: That’s where I’m making an appeal to you as a friend. I’m starting college again in three weeks. I was hoping you’d have room for an intern.

R: Oh Emma, I simply cannot favor you, and you know it.


E: But imagine the headlines! “Charity project turns into job” – “Disabled person into politics due to The Buddy Project” – “Regina Mills values handicaps well”!

R: So
now you’re a disabled person.

E: If everybody wants me to be, why not comply?

R: I don’t know about this.

E: “Mayor Mills beats councilor Gold by a vast majority…”

R: I’ll think about it.

E: I knew it! You’re awesome, Regina! You’re the best person ever!

R: Emma – I said I would think about it.

The next message was a picture of Emma, smiling widely at the camera. Regina shook her head and laughed.

R: Always the charmer.

E: I haven’t even begun to charm you.

Regina bit her lip when she formulated her response.

R: Because, that would look like…?

The next picture she got, was a selfie of Emma, winking.

R: I do have a soft spot for winking.

E: Noted. You free tomorrow night?

R: I am.

E: Great! We’ll discuss how to start my amazing plan then.

R: Emma. I’ll. Think. About. It.

E: I’ll see you tomorrow!



 


Three weeks later, Regina of course found herself behind her desk, waiting for Emma to arrive and start her first shift. The blonde had her talked into a corner way too quick for someone without the ability to speak.
Regina had decided that she would see how this would work out – she would be responsible for Emma and therefore able to end her internship any moment, if any of them would feel awkward.
As Emma had predicted, news had spread fast, and Regina had received nothing but commendation so far for her decision to work with the deaf girl; and they hadn’t even started the actual working together yet.

Regina was extremely nervous to start with her new intern, which everybody had noticed by her being irritated very quickly today – even more than on other days. That was probably why all her blood rushed to her head when Emma entered the room;

‘Miss Swan, what are you wearing?’ she hissed.  

Emma stopped dead in her tracks and looked down her own body. When she couldn’t see anything inappropriate, she looked at Regina again, a questioning look in her eyes.

‘You look like-…’ Regina let her gaze go over the blonde’s choice of clothing once more: a pair of grey slacks, white blouse with the top three buttons left open, and a pair of shiny black heels. The perfect attire for anyone working at City Hall, if it weren’t for…

‘Me. You look like me.’

Regina sighed, got up from behind her desk, and spread her arms to display herself – she was literally wearing the same.

At the sight of her supervisor, Emma started grinning and held a hand in front of her mouth not to make any sound.

‘You think this is funny?’

‘Hilarious,’ Emma signed.

‘Well I think you overdid it a bit, don’t you?’ Regina responded verbally, trying to stay calm.

‘I actually don’t see the problem, Regina, but if you wish for me to take it off…’

‘Oh stop that!’ Regina yelled, becoming even more red in the face if possible.

‘Everybody already can see that I’m favoring you, I don’t need you to be my copy! Can you imagine what it says about me; you looking like that?’

‘Woman! Can you chill?!’ Emma signed, slightly taken aback by Regina’s outburst.

‘What’s that?’

‘C-h-i-ll,’ Emma spelled patiently, at which Regina rolled her eyes.

‘I suppose we’re not at the slang part of ASL-class yet,’ Regina muttered.

‘Yes, about that,’ Emma signed, taking a step forward. ‘as you know, I’ll be working here three days a week, four hours a day. I’m entitled to an interpreter during 25% of my working time, so that means there will be someone for an hour, three days a week.’

‘Will that be your sister Lily?’

‘I don’t know, yet. Maybe, some days, yes.’

The air in the room tensed as Regina thought about Emma having an interpreter. She preferred communication directly with the blonde, and she knew she was totally capable of that. Or maybe not totally, but she was certainly improving in ASL-class.

‘Are you…’ Regina cleared her throat, ‘are you sure you are in need of someone?’

At Regina’s sudden insecurity, Emma’s response was careful. ‘Yes, I think so. I also have to communicate with the rest of the people at City Hall, right?’

‘Right,’ Regina nodded. Then she raised a questioning eyebrow at Emma, who clearly wasn’t done talking yet.

‘And… and with you. I mean, you’re doing great, our communication is improving, but… businesslike, you see?’

‘You think I can’t do it?’ Regina asked, now signing along with her words, to emphasize she thought that she could.

Emma looked up to the ceiling, as if the answer would be found there, and looked back at Regina.

‘I’m still slowing down for you. That’s all right, but maybe… a little help sometimes is not such a bad idea,’ she signed, emphasizing her pace by going extra slow.

 

Regina furrowed her brows at that. ‘Then don’t. Don’t slow down.’

Emma let out an audible sigh, which brought Regina on the edge of having another meltdown. To hide her irritation, she started collecting some files that needed to be copied.

‘Or maybe,’ she stated while stacking the files on her arm, making sure to face Emma, ‘you should be the one adjusting to me.’

Emma could only stand and stare at the brunette, who was walking around the office, not sure what had made her edgy. But the fact that Emma didn’t respond, only fueled Regina’s frustration.

‘You want to be the honorable one, don’t you? Then talk. We don’t need an interpreter if you talk, Emma. Don’t look at me like that – I know you don’t like it, but if you’re so dedicated to not being treated like a disabled person… then don’t act like one.’

To empower her words, she dumped the whole stack of files into the arms of the blonde.

‘You won’t be able to keep up with the rest if you don’t, Emma,’ Regina added, to soften her earlier words. ‘Now copy these files for me, please.’

Without looking at her shivering intern, Regina went to sit behind her desk again. But when after a minute the blonde hadn’t moved an inch, she looked up again. The look in her eyes confused Regina; it was a mixture of anger and sadness, and the emotion had the blonde clenching her teeth. Her grip on the files she was holding was so tense, her knuckles had turned white.

‘Something you want to say, Emma? It’s just me in here,’ Regina tried carefully, but it made the blonde explode.  

Emma dropped the files, which caused a loud clattering noise, and the papers flew everywhere.

‘I’m not your fucking assistant. Bitch!’  Emma signed, emphasizing every word, ending by slamming her four fingers to her chin. She left an astonished Regina behind as she angrily walked away.

The brunette dropped her head in her hands. This was definitely not how she had planned for Emma’s first day to go. She knew she would have to bring up the talking thing somewhere along the next few months, but she didn’t want to do it like this. The words had slipped out, just because Regina had been so worried she’d say anything wrong. And now she had - she couldn’t have said anything worse.

She breathed deeply a few times, got up from behind her desk again, and sank down to her knees to collect the files that were all over the floor. She knew she had to find Emma and apologize, but what would she say? “Hey, I’m sorry I said that I’d want you to talk, but I still go by that statement”? Or maybe, “Hey, I’m kind of a bitch at work, you should get used to it”?  


Regina sighed again and decided that she’d just go with whatever would come up if she found her intern. She put the files Emma had dropped in a neat stack on top of her desk and went looking for the blonde. Now, Regina tried to imagine, if I was being insulted by my supervisor, where would I go?

Luckily, the familiar backside of a blonde head was found in the first place she looked. On the balcony attached to the canteen, the younger woman stood, facing the city, and a faint cloud of smoke circling her head.

Carefully, Regina decided to join her on the balcony, ignoring the weird impulse to tightly hug Emma’s frame.

At the footsteps, making the platform tremble just a little bit, Emma turned her head. As she saw who was approaching her, she frowned, and turned back away again.

Regina ignored her second impulse, which was to take away the cigarette that Emma was holding, and decided to go for a less offensive approach. She went to stand next to her intern, placing her hands on the balustrade, and stayed silent for a bit. So long, Emma hadn’t fled, which was probably a good sign.

‘So… you called me a bitch,’ Regina decided to go with, after waving her hand in front of Emma’s face to get her attention.

Emma raised a sarcastic eyebrow, and put the cigarette between her lips so she had two hands to sign. ‘So there’s a slang word you know. Ironic, isn’t it?’

‘What is?’

‘You, knowing the sign for “bitch”.’

Emma seemed to put just a little bit too much effort in slamming four of her fingers to her chin again. She took the cigarette out of her mouth again and looked at Regina expectantly.

‘I think we may have started out a bit wrong today,’ Regina said slowly, trying not to get distracted by the smoke.

Emma’s left eyebrow went back to its position on her forehead, trying not to look impressed.

‘And I’m sorry. You should know that I was extremely stressed this morning… And you did not deserve the way I talked to you.’

Emma nodded slowly but surely, accepting her apology. Then she looked down at her shoes, and up to Regina again to see if the brunette would continue.

‘What I’m not sorry about, is my request for you to copy some files. While you, indeed, are not my assistant, you are my intern, and you should do what I ask of you. We talked about this, Emma, and if either of us finds this to be too hard, I’ll look into getting you another supervisor. But if we want this to work…’ 

Emma interrupted her by raising a hand. 


‘We didn’t talk about me being here to do your stupid chores,’ she signed, cigarette between her index and middle finger this time.

‘You think I didn’t do stupid chores?’ Regina asked in offence. ‘You’re not the president of the States yet, Emma.’

‘Neither are you,’ the blonde signed with a huff. ‘So why don’t we split the chores and let us be even again?’

‘I… because…’

Regina pursed her lips when she saw Emma’s amused look. How was it that the blonde had talked her way into victory again?

‘Because I work here for seven years now, and you are my damned intern, Emma! Would you… would you just stop making that face every time you’re winning a discussion… after you…-’ Regina hissed.

Emma’s grin only widened, making Regina at loss for words.

‘You know I have a stupid, stupid soft spot for you, but I’m going to put my foot down now. When we’re at work, you’ll do as I say. And I did warn you that whenever I’m at work, I’m not very nice, so you should deal with that. Just as I’ll have to deal with your interpreter,’ Regina then rattled.

Emma only nodded and made the sign for “chill” again, which Regina now recognized, and offered the brunette her cigarette.

‘I don’t smoke,’ Regina growled. ‘And neither should you,’ she added, when Emma took a puff herself.

The blonde just shrugged and carefully blew out the smoke right in the face of her supervisor. She jumped when a firm hand grabbed her wrist.

‘Now that’s rude, miss Swan,’ Regina spat.

Emma rolled her eyes and mouthed: ‘Miss Swan? Again?’

The blonde had definitely started working on Regina’s nerves again, so the older woman felt herself grow bold. She squinted her eyes as she told her intern: ‘You just made me remember that I knew some more sign language beforehand. The rude gesture you just made - where I’m from, it means you want to bed the person who’s face you’re blowing your smoke into.’

As Emma’s eyes grew wide, Regina smirked and nodded. ‘Now, we don’t want anyone to think inappropriate things, do we? So I suggest you keep that smoke to yourself.’

Finally, Regina let go of Emma’s wrist, convinced that she’d made a comeback in their conversation. But then, Emma took a last puff, flicked away the butt and deliberately held in the smoke.

‘I’m going to copy some files, boss,’ she signed with the expression of an angel. Then, her eyes grew wide, and her hand flew towards her throat. The blonde looked like she was suffocating, but just as Regina started to worry, Emma took a step forward, and blew all of the smoke right into the brunette’s face again.

As Regina found herself completely speechless, Emma shrugged again, and mouthed: ‘oops’. Then she winked, and turned on her heels in a way that was far too elegant for Regina’s liking.

‘It wasn’t just a suggestion!’ Regina yelled after her, but her words fell dead as the blonde had already turned her back towards her supervisor.

Regina balled her fists as she thought about how this conversation had so quickly turned around again.

‘You’ll be the death of me, Emma Swan,’ she muttered. ‘And I’m not sure if I’m enjoying it…’

 

 


 

 

 

At a little past three in the afternoon, Emma was back in Regina’s office, both of them significantly calmer than they had been an hour before.

‘Lunch break?’ Emma signed proudly, placing her hands on her hips like some superwoman.

‘Lunch?’ Regina spoke in a disbelieving voice from behind her desk. ‘You’ve been at work for one hour!’

‘I copied all of those stupid files for you,’ Emma signed, looking strangely like the teenager she sometimes resembled. ‘And put them back into place.’

‘Congratulations,’ Regina responded, severely unimpressed. She averted her gaze, but noticed Emma kept staring at her. When she looked back up again, Emma still wore her proud smile.

Fine,’ Regina sighed heavily, ‘I suppose we could go for a coffee.’

As the two of them walked into the canteen, they passed an oddly smiling Mr. Gold.

‘That man never fails to creep me out,’ Emma signed, while Mr. Gold in question was barely fifteen feet away.

‘Emma,’ Regina hissed reprimanding, but then realization fell upon her and she hummed softly. She ordered a cappuccino for both of them, received a small paper with a number from the canteen lady, and sat down next to Emma.

‘I think he got himself a nice new name sign,’ Regina signed slowly, without mouthing along. Emma shot her a questioning look, and Regina spoiled her thoughts by clawing her fingers in front of her upper body, but with her index fingers stretched out.

Emma smirked at Regina’s invention. ‘It’s your colleague you’re officially calling a creep now, miss Mills,’ she signed, making Regina’s jaw drop in sudden alarm.

‘What if he understands ASL?’ Regina signed, gazing Mr. Gold from the corner of her eye.

Emma shook her head, ‘He doesn’t. I can tell.’

A loud “ping” sounded and Regina’s number was called.

‘I’ll get them,’ Emma said, smiling reassuringly. She left a bewildered Regina when she went to pick the cappuccinos up.

‘How… did… Could you hear that?’ Regina asked out loud again, when the blonde returned, still completely taken by surprise.

Emma grinned as she placed one of the cups in front of Regina, and took a sip of her own cup.

‘Yes, of course. I mean, come on, you didn’t believe I was really deaf, did you?’ the blonde signed nonchalantly.

‘…What?!’

‘Regina. Oh my god.’

Emma couldn’t hold back her laughter as she rolled her eyes and pointed at the screen behind the brunette. It displayed their order number, followed by a bright red “Order ready”.

Regina frowned, disappointed in herself, and growled: ‘All right. You got me there.’

Emma sat right up in her chair, fumbling with her blouse to put her cleavage on display. ‘I work here for seven years now,’ Emma signed faltering, mocking Regina’s earlier statement.

‘Yes, yes, Swan, I forgot about the screen, I get it - … - wait, is that supposed to be me? Is it me you’re mimicking? Because…-’

Emma grinned and nodded, pulling her blouse even further down.

‘Because I do not flaunt around like that. Oh my god. Swan, button up.’

‘Am I embarrassing you?’ Emma asked, her bottom lip between her teeth.

‘Yes, and yourself, and it’s only your first day, so I’d behave,’ Regina whispered, knowing damn well that she could’ve used no sound at all.

‘What’s it with my last name again, anyway?’ Emma asked, while buttoning up again. She didn’t fail to notice that Regina shifted around awkwardly, too self-conscious to leave her blouse open, and too proud to button up as well.

‘It just slips off my tongue easier when I’m angry with you,’ Regina shrugged.

‘You’re angry with me quite often, then,’ Emma replied.

‘You make me angry quite often. It’s like you know how to push my buttons.’


‘I’m not denying that I like pushing your buttons, Mills.’

The two women stared at each other for a while, before Regina offered her intern a sincere smile again for the first time in a few weeks.

‘So, you want to continue learning how to gossip on expert level?’ Emma asked, taking another sip of her cappuccino to metaphorically break the silence.

‘You do that a lot?’ Regina asked, trying not to speak or mouth again.

‘Of course! Like I told you, being deaf has its benefits.’  

‘All right. So what do we call… her?’ Regina pointed at the canteen lady, but Emma pulled her arm down immediately.

‘Rule number one. Most of the hearing people don’t sign, but they’re not stupid. If you point, they know you’re talking about them.’

Regina nodded; that made sense.

‘So you make up a name for them…’ Emma explained, thinking about a sign and making a gesture as if she was enlarging her breasts, ‘and make sure to use it, instead of pointing.’

Regina repeated the sign Emma just made up for the canteen lady and grinned. ‘This is great. I can express the worst things about everyone in here!’ she exclaimed, but after an amused look from the blonde, she added: ‘Which I won’t discuss with my intern, of course. That’d be highly unprofessional.’

‘I’m warning you, this can be addictive,’ Emma signed, smirking.

Regina took another sip of her drink as she thought about it. ‘You’re probably right. I won’t indulge in gossiping about…- wait.’

The brunette squinted and eyed the short-haired lady who’d just made an appearance in the canteen.

‘Can there be one exception? I’d love to be able to talk about… her… even when she’s around,’ Regina signed, careful not to point.

‘That’s… M-a-r-y, right?’ Emma spelled. Regina nodded.

‘Yes, I can’t stand her. She makes my blood boil with her rainbow and unicorn attitude,’ she explained.

‘Does she talk to birds, too?’ Emma signed, grinning.

‘Probably. Remind me to lock her up in a cage with them at the next opportunity,’ the older woman sneered.

‘Wow. Remind me not to pick a fight with you,’ the blonde grinned, at which Regina quirked an eyebrow.

‘It’s way too late for that, dear. Speaking of time – we should get back to work again.’

As she got up, she fiddled with her blouse one more time, to see if everything was covered up nicely. When she looked at Emma again, the blonde’s never-fading smirk greeted her.

‘Oh stop it,’ Regina growled. ‘Tomorrow, you’re wearing your usual clothes again.’

Regina picked up the two empty cups and threw them in the trash, when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

‘I’m happy I wore this today, though,’ Emma signed, the mischievous twinkle from a few weeks ago back in her eyes.

‘Why is that?’

‘Now I know the distraction by each other’s cleavage is mutual.’

Regina inhaled sharply through her nose.

‘Get back to work, Swan!’

Chapter Text

The rest of that day had been quite uneventful, just as the following morning, as Emma would always start her shift after lunch.
Regina was happy that she still had her own office and wouldn’t need to share her workspace with Emma – she was sure the blonde would distract her in some way. Not that her intern wouldn’t barge in every fifteen minutes anyway... But Emma made her go through all different kinds of emotions that she definitely won’t need at work. One moment Regina would be concerned for Emma’s social life, career, and ability to talk; the next moment they were flirting shamelessly with each other, only to act if that never happened five minutes later. Oh, and the way Emma managed to outsmart, be rude to, or irritate Regina in some way, surely wasn’t doing any good for her blood pressure…   

Still, the brunette secretly couldn’t wait to see her intern again. That feeling quickly faded when there was a knock at her door, and a tall red-haired man carrying a stack of files walked in, introducing himself as Archie Hopper, Emma’s new interpreter.

‘But I’m just a temporary solution,’ he added nervously. ‘They’re trying to get Emma’s sister paid to do the job. As the two of them are more familiar with each other, you see.’

Regina nodded shortly. ‘I see. Thank you, Mr. Hopper. You may go back to Emma now,’ she added, seeing how he awkwardly shifted from one foot to another.   

‘Uhm, yes. Well, I… Emma sends you a memo,’ he stammered, holding up the files and offering Regina a polite smile.

She didn’t respond, but closely gazed the interpreter as he carefully put the files down on her desk, a small post-it on top. She eyed the yellow note and huffed in offence when she saw what was written on it:

Can you copy these files for me, please? E.”

‘You can take these with you again, Mr. Hopper,’ Regina said while scribbling something underneath.

“Not playing this game. R.”

‘I’ll have you know, miss Mills, that I’m not Emma’s personal assistant. I’m merely her interpreter, and…’

‘Well, she sent you, didn’t she? Go tell her!’ Regina bit back, shoving the files back towards the red-haired man.

‘Yes, of course,’ he nodded submissively, his moment of courage ending right then and there again. With a polite nod, he grabbed the files and the note, and left Regina’s office.

With a loud sigh, Regina continued her work, answering an email about her attendance at a meeting tomorrow afternoon, only to be disturbed again by a knock on her door.

‘Mr. Hopper, didn’t you just leave?’ Regina said when a red tuft of hair peeped around the corner, now putting less effort in hiding her frustration.  

‘Yes, well, Emma sends another note…’

‘I thought you weren’t her assistant?’

Archie nodded: ‘That’s right, and I’m telling her at the next opportunity…’

Regina grimaced as she took a small yellow paper plane from the man. She growled something about ‘…forgot to grow up…’ while unfolding the post it, and gazed annoyed at the ceiling after reading the message.

“I think you are, miss Mills. E.”

Regina knew that she could just ignore the message. That she could just not respond and continue her work, she knew she could. And she should.

So of course, she decided to scribble something on the unfolded post-it.

“’Not your fucking assistant’, as you phrased it so beautifully yesterday. But someone else is, I gather…? R.”

She eyed Archie, who was patiently waiting for her to finish, before folding the post-it again and handing it over to him.

‘Return this to Emma, please. And I suggest you stand up to her this time. Remember she’s just a college student with an insane amount of luck to be allowed her internship here,’ she said, talking some courage into him.

But not three minutes after he left, there was the knock on her door again.

‘Mr. Hopper!’ Regina yelled, slamming her hands flat on her desk.

‘I’m sorry, Regina, this is the last one,’ he said, waving a new yellow note in the air.

‘It’s miss Mills,’ she growled, snatching the note away from him.

“Yeah, I guess he’s funny. So, are you copying these files for me now? They’re ready for you to pick up at my desk. E.”

‘Now she’s done it,’ Regina mumbled, before wrinkling the note in her hand and standing up.

‘I’m going to see Emma, you can come with me, Mr. Hopper,’ she said, walking straight past him. As she paced towards the area where Emma was working, - an office she shared with most of the other interns and secretaries -, she felt her irritation flame within her balled fists.

‘Have you gone completely out of your mind?’ Regina shouted as she spotted those familiar blonde curls behind a large monitor. Six heads shot up and watched Regina in agony – except for Emma, who hadn’t even noticed Regina had walked in.

‘Miss Swan!’ she yelled even louder, accompanied by a firm stomp of her foot. Now, Emma looked up, waving happily at Regina, completely oblivious to the thundercloud above her head.

‘Have you gone insane?’ Regina repeated, not even bothering to sign as she heard the faint panting of Archie, who had finally managed to keep up.

When he didn’t start signing though, Regina thought that she’d go insane herself.

‘You better start translating,’ she spat, pointing at Archie, ‘because I’m going to tell you once,’ now pointing at Emma. ‘And don’t think that I’ll even consider slowing down.’

Regina looked around and noticed the other interns again, who were still watching her. The brunette rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t you have work to do?’

Then she turned at Emma and Archie again: ‘Miss Swan, get up and follow me. No funny business. Mr. Hopper, come with us,’ she said through gritted teeth, turning on her heels. ‘And try to grow a spine while we’re on our way!’

 At the nearest copy room, Regina gestured for them to enter. As the door slammed shut, she finally began her tirade.

‘I’m going to be honest with you Emma: I don’t think your behavior is funny. You might’ve come away with it a few times, but somewhere along the past two days I’ve finally gathered some immunity for you. And I say finally, because I should have told you this way earlier: I. Am. In. Charge. I did warn you when you told me you wanted to do you internship with me, this is different than our earlier meet-ups. We might’ve been “equal” at some point, which is what you were looking for, but that’s not what should be happening within these walls. My job is on the line here, and if you’d take this more seriously, yours is too.’

Emma nodded carefully, clearly intimidated by the raging brunette.

‘Yes,’ Archie translated completely unnecessary, earning himself a scowl from Regina.

‘I want you to agree to some terms before we continue your internship,’ Regina then said. ‘I want you to agree to follow my orders, and don’t give them out yourself. I want you to start your days by asking me what your tasks for the day are – and then tell me when you finished them.’

Emma made a single gesture, which Archie quickly translated as: ‘Okay’, at which Regina rolled her eyes again.

‘That is, if you want to stay,’ the brunette asked, somewhat calmer. Emma immediately nodded again.

At the ‘Yes’ Archie provided, Regina barked: ‘Thank you, Mr. Hopper!’

The red-haired man jumped and took a step back.

‘Can you please leave us for a moment?’ Regina then asked him, her tone slightly softer. He looked from the one woman to the other, nodded, and quickly disappeared through the door.


‘Anything else?’ Emma signed slowly. She reminded Regina of a kicked puppy, which immediately had its effect on the council woman. She took a deep breath.

‘I want…’

I want you to talk. For god’s sake, Emma, I want you to speak. Say something. Anything. For your own good.


‘…you not to think that we can’t be “equal” outside of City Hall,’ she finally managed, picking up her own signing. ‘You know how I liked our time together when we started having our meet-ups. We really had something nice going.’

The corner of Emma’s mouth slightly curled up and she nodded in agreement: ‘But then Gold happened,’ she signed.

‘Then your stupid idea happened,’ Regina corrected her.

‘And your line happened to be crossed really fast…’ Emma said with a roll of her eyes, but Regina slapped her hands.

Don’t make this about me.’

The two women stared at each other for a while, the air around them tensed, but not in a bad way anymore.

‘You can just be really annoying, Emma. And the only thing I’m asking you, is if you can hold that up until after work.’

‘Being annoying is not just some switch I can turn off, Regina.’

The brunette stopped signing, folded her arms and quirked an eyebrow: ‘Isn’t it?’

‘No.’

‘Then tell me, miss Swan,’ Regina articulated very precisely, where she would’ve normally dropped her voice, ‘is it a coincidence that you’re wearing a blouse again after I specifically told you not to?’

She took a step closer and loosely tugged on Emma’s collar. The blonde’s breath seemed to hitch.

‘What a cliché, right?’ Emma signed, laughing softly. Regina frowned in confusion.
‘Two coworkers… in the copy room…’ Emma explained, gesturing around.

‘What are you implying?’

‘Do you remember your birthday? When we were in the pool together?’

If she remembers!

Regina literally felt how her heart started pounding rapidly in her chest, and her muscles tensed up. This was the first time Emma referred to that incident… Finally… Regina almost thought that she’d imagined it. She had tried to ignore the unusual feeling in her stomach that Emma seemed to cause, from the moment Emma had left that night. But now, here in the copy room, after she’d just given the blonde an earful and they both were still here, now she allowed herself to feel it again.

‘Of course I remember,’ she said, her voice breaking halfway through her sentence, thanking the gods that Emma wouldn’t notice.

‘Then this would be the moment to kiss you,’ Emma signed slowly, making sure Regina understood every gesture. When now the brunette’s breath hitched, Emma added:

‘And I would. If you hadn’t just lectured me about the difference between our work and private life.’

Regina inwardly cursed the blonde, herself, and everything on the planet.

‘I’ll see you around, miss Mills,’ Emma signed politely, before turning towards the door.

‘Wait!’ Regina said, but when Emma didn’t respond, she leapt forward to grab her wrist. But when Emma turned around, Regina was at loss for words. She released the blonde’s wrist again.

‘It’s a shame I have to work tonight, or I would’ve asked you to have dinner with me,’ Emma signed. Upon Regina’s frown, she elaborated: ‘At the bar. Still a college student, you know.’

Regina shrugged and huffed in the most casual way possible, feeling like a complete moron, especially after the raging speech she’d just given.

‘Oh, right,’ the brunette nodded. ‘Well, maybe I’m in for a nice glass of red wine tonight,’ she said, wanting to punch herself in the face for such an unnecessary comment.

‘I’d like for you to stop by. And not as my supervisor,’ Emma winked. ‘I really have to complete my task, now. Bye, miss Mills!’

And she was gone.

Regina had to take another minute or two in the copy room to progress what had just happened.

Emma liked her, that was for sure now. She would’ve kissed her… Or at least she told her she would, which at least implied that Emma harbored some unusual stomach feelings for her, too. 

She didn’t even care that all of the things she had just lectured about were thrown into the wind, because Emma had won their conversation again. She didn’t even care that everything she just said would be useless if the two of them would keep up their flirting. She didn’t even care that the blonde had only needed a minute to turn Regina from an angry business woman into a grinning teenage girl.

Smiling, Regina placed a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and felt the strange impulse to cheer. Instead, she softly chuckled into her fist, but when she saw her own reflection in the window, she composed herself again.

Emma would’ve kissed her.

 

 


 

 

That night, Regina decided to, indeed, pay a visit to the bar where Emma would be working. She’d dressed casual, which meant that people could still see she was a politician from a mile away, but at least she was wearing pants instead of a pencil skirt.

She’d told herself that she had no intention of anything happening; she would just have a drink, and maybe leave again if she’d become bored.

The moment she spotted Emma however, wearing a black polo which read ‘The Rabbit Hole’, she knew that she could stare at the blonde for days and not become bored.

When Emma spotted Regina too, her mouth fell open in mock-surprise, serving tray in one hand, pointing at the brunette’s legs with the other.

‘Problem, dear?’ Regina said, taking a seat at on a barstool, flaunting her legs by slowly crossing them.

‘Who knew the boss owned any s-k-i-nn-y-s?’ Emma signed one-handed, careful so her tray wouldn’t drop. Before Regina could answer, the blonde turned to go serve the drinks. Regina followed every movement, feeling her stomach clench upon the elegant way Emma moved around.

‘Do I need to remind you that we’re not at City Hall?’ Regina signed, when Emma had walked back behind the counter. At Emma’s quirked eyebrow, she continued: ‘I’m not your boss tonight.’

Without having even ordered anything, Emma pulled out a glass and a bottle of red wine, which she placed in front of Regina. ‘How convenient,’ she signed with a wink. Then she turned away again to serve other customers.

 

Regina became half frustrated and half impressed – frustrated because Emma was behaving quite arrogant by moving away every time she made a point. Impressed, because it was working – Regina found herself craving for some attention.

Now I see why you care for her so much,’ she suddenly heard a voice behind her. She turned around and saw a widely grinning Lily walk towards the counter.

‘What… what do you mean?’ Regina tried, but already knew that Lily had caught her red-handed.

‘The way you stare,’ Lily explained, taking up the seat next to Regina, waving happily at Emma when she noticed her.

‘My sister is deaf – that doesn’t mean I’m blind, miss Mills.’

Regina pursed her lips together, unable to think of an eligible response.

When Emma placed a beer in front of her foster sister, Lily continued. ‘I thought it was strange you were so into helping her after only a few meet-ups. But you’ve just totally explained yourself…’

‘Miss Page…-’

‘I mean, Emma is a hot piece of ass, but who knew that you would be into a hot piece of ass? A women’s ass, that is…’

‘Miss Page! Care to speak up a bit?’ Regina sarcastically gritted through her teeth.

‘What? Afraid Emma might catch up on something?’

‘Well, yes, you… oh my god.’ After a pointed look from Lily, Regina buried her head in her hands, blushing furiously.

‘I guess it’s a good thing that you forget,’ Lily shrugged, taking a sip from her beer. ‘But again, she’s deaf, not blind, and you’re kinda drawing attention to yourself right now.’

Lily hadn’t even finished her sentence, or Emma walked up to them.

‘What did you do to her?’ she signed accusingly, pointing at Regina, who lifted her head up again.

‘Is she bothering you?’ Emma asked her, now pointing at Lily.

‘No – no, please, everything is fine. Please get back to work,’ Regina answered. Emma frowned and crossed her arms.

‘You just told me about how you’re not my boss right now, so you’re not to give me any commands, Regina,’ she signed playfully, which made the brunette gulp.

From the corner of her eye, Regina saw Lily covering her mouth with her hand, before saying: ‘you’ve got it bad.’

Regina, who was still in an awkward staring contest with Emma, clenched her teeth together and tried to answer Lily without moving her lips: ‘you better shut the hell up right now.’

Of course, Emma caught up on the two communicating without her being able to understand, and she gazed from a flushed Regina, to her grinning sister, and back.

‘What are you two talking about?’ she signed, scowling.

At Regina’s visible panic, Lily started to laugh out loud. ‘That’s for hearing women to know, and for deaf girls to… never hear,’ she mocked her sister.

Emma flipped her the bird, pretended to spit in her beer, and turned around to serve other customers once again.

‘Well, don’t you two share the sweetest bond,’ Regina commented, to distract Lily from the previous situation.


‘Yes, you wouldn’t notice the difference if we were sisters by blood,’ Lily chuckled. ‘I adore that girl with all my heart.’

It took every ounce of willpower for Regina not to respond with: ‘Me too’.

After a long silence, in which both women regarded Emma, Lily turned towards Regina again.

‘So, you want her, huh?’

‘Miss Page, I think it’s highly inappropriate for…’

‘So you want her.’

‘That completely depends on how one interprets…-’

‘Regina?’

‘Okay, yes, I… I would like for us to be… more than we are now. Or, at least, explore what’s beyond what we are now.’

‘What are you now?’

‘Buddies,’ Regina said in a loathing voice. ‘I don’t know. Colleagues? Friends, maybe? I don’t even know if she likes… – me, or even women in general, or the mere idea of two people together…-’

I know.’

‘Does she know?’

Lily turned her head to gaze at Emma again for a few seconds.

‘Trust me, she knows,’ she assured Regina with a small smile.

‘How do you…-’

‘I’ve never seen her look at anyone like that. I’ve never seen her this comfortable around a hearing person before. She doesn’t shut the hell up about you. And then there might be a small hint in the fact that…’

A smirk crept over Lily’s face again, as she started to play with her coaster.

‘What?’ Regina asked eagerly. ‘There might be a hint in what?’

‘She’s been begging for me to be her wing-woman every time you’re not looking.’

‘She’s been what?’

‘Apparently I’m here to play your match-maker. She’s been gesturing for me to send you to the storage room for the last ten minutes.’ Lily pointed at the door that would lead there, to make her point.

Suddenly, the politician was fuming. Why didn’t Emma have the balls to come up to her herself? She frowned, sought eye-contact with the blonde, and beckoned her with a finger. Then she pointed towards the storage room.

Emma’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at Regina’s mad expression, but she threw her towel on the side anyway and followed the brunette through the door.

‘You don’t get to provoke me and then suddenly play coy, miss Swan,’ Regina said when the door slammed shut behind them. She talked fast, so fast that she couldn’t keep up her own signing.

‘I don’t like this game! I want you to tell me what you want, because it’s making me insecure, and I don’t do insecure.’

‘I’m sorry?’ Emma signed in utter confusion.

‘Having your sister to play match-maker? That’s… very teenager of you, and to be honest, I’m a bit disappointed. I thought the two of us were on a higher level of communication.’

‘I honestly don’t know what you’re saying,’ Emma responded once again.

‘No, you don’t get to play the deaf card now, Emma!’

‘I’m not telling you that I can’t understand you, I’m telling you that I don’t know what you’re talking about!’

‘Oh, yes, all right, so you didn’t tell Lily to send me in here with you?’

Emma blinked at the raging brunette, processed what was happening, and burst out in laughter.

Regina was caught so off guard by the sound, she forgot to act offended.

Eventually, Emma snapped three of her fingers together, answering Regina’s question with a definite ‘no’.

‘No?’ Regina repeated the gesture. ‘You didn’t?’

Emma shook her head, still laughing softly. But at Regina’s relieved expression, she started laughing louder again.

‘Your sister is even worse than you, you know that?’ Regina sighed, making Emma fist pump the air.

‘That was in no way a compliment regarding you, Emma.’

Emma nodded her fist. ‘Yes it was. And you know it.’

‘No it wasn’t.’

‘It was.’

‘It wasn’t.’

‘It was.’

Fueled by a little bit of frustration and a lot of attraction, Regina stepped forward and grabbed Emma’s hands, to prevent her from talking. She was very close to Emma now, and there was nothing she could do to stop her own body from pushing against Emma’s. When she looked up into the blonde’s eyes, her heart bounced in her chest like crazy.

‘It was,’ Emma mouthed one last time, before Regina decided that it was a challenge, and it was time to shut her up completely. She moved her head forward another few inches and pushed her lips against Emma’s, effectively preventing the blonde from responding in any way.

Immediately, she felt Emma sigh and relax against her body, making Regina close her eyes as well. She released Emma’s hands to grab the blonde’s neck with one hand; the other one against her waist. A feeling of complete euphoria rolled through her body, and she could think of nothing else but to enjoy every spot her body connected with Emma’s: their legs entwined, hips pressed together, chests heaving against one another’s.

Emma’s lips were softer than she’d expected. Regina was driven by the extreme need to kiss the woman in front of her again, and again, and again… until she finally felt a pair of hands gliding over her thighs, finding their destination on her ass, eliciting a gasp from both women.

Emma apparently took the gasp from the brunette as an invitation to deepen the kiss, so she pushed Regina backwards against the wall, squeezing her ass, and opening her mouth for Regina’s tongue to enter. When that happened, the hand on the blonde’s waist moved to her neck as well, together with the other one grabbing fistfuls of hair to pull her closer against Regina’s mouth.

‘Wanted to do this… for so long…’ Regina murmured against Emma’s lips, making Emma stopping the kiss in confusion.

‘What was that?’ Emma mouthed, making Regina shake her head.


‘Never mind. Don’t stop kissing.’

She pulled the blonde back against her and moaned softly when their tongues connected again; the vibrations making Emma smile against her lips.

A loud scream made Regina tense up completely – Emma, who hadn’t heard anything, started kissing along her jaw.

‘YES!’

That same voice again, making Regina grab Emma by the shoulders to stop their making out.

Emma frowned at her, a little offended, but when Regina nodded towards the door, she turned around quickly.

‘It worked!’ Lily yelled, grinning widely, walking up to the two woman with her hands outstretched.

Emma stared at Lily’s hands, still frowning, and then started signing rapidly.

‘If you think we’re high-fiving you for this… You can get a high-five to the face, you juvenile, idiotic, evil pervert!’

Now, Lily held up her hands in defense.

 

‘Hey, come on! It worked!’

Emma didn’t even know what to respond anymore, so Lily grabbed the opportunity to ask for details.

‘So, who started it? How long did it take before you two…? Oh my god, I am a genius.’

While Lily kept rambling, Regina and Emma shared a look, and Regina stepped forward. She grabbed Lily by the shoulders and turned her around.

‘Hey, the first person you should tell about this, is me!’ she said, squirming while Regina pushed her towards the door.

‘We’ll call you when we’re ready to evaluate,’ Regina stated simply, trying to push the door shut with Lily on the other side of it.

‘No, come on! You have to give me details!’ Lily begged between the small opening of the door.

‘We’d love to, Lily… but that requires for us to be finished, and unfortunately for you… we aren’t.’

Smirking, Regina pushed the door shut, turned around, and leaned against it. She saw Emma staring at her, open-mouthed. Regina widened her grin.

‘I have no idea what you just told her… but that was so sexy,’ Emma signed in awe, just before she pounced.

The last thing Regina registered from the outside world, was the fading sound of Lily’s clicking heels.

Chapter Text

 

‘Emma, you can’t… Emma, stop,’ Regina mumbled only half-heartedly, trying to stop the soft neck-kisses the blonde was providing. Regina couldn’t help but grin at the fact that her words nor her squirming did anything to stop Emma from what she was doing. 

Regina had been afraid that it would be terribly awkward between the two of them once they’d show up at City Hall again, but it turned out to be anything but. Emma had pecked her cheek so self-evidently when she’d walked into Regina’s office to announce that her shift was going to start, it had startled her. Their kissing in the storage room last night apparently broke the seal of awkwardness. The downside of it all was that their supervisor/intern relationship was completely thrown out of the window again.


‘Emma, wait.’

Regina carefully pushed Emma’s shoulders, to show her she was serious about stopping this time, and stared into big, confused eyes. The beauty and the desire in them made her feel like a lovesick teenager, almost distracting her from what she was about to say.

‘We shouldn’t… uh…’

Her brain felt a bit cloudy from the dilemma whether to stop Emma’s caresses, so it took her a bit more time to recall the signs she wanted to use.

‘Just because you can talk, doesn’t mean you should all the time,’ Emma took over the conversation, rolling her eyes and grinning at the other woman. ‘There’s better things to do with that mouth…’

For the last part of the sentence, Emma only traced Regina’s lips with her index finger.

Regina got caught up in the feeling, showing the younger woman a defeated smile, before taking the finger between her teeth.

‘I know,’ she signed, tapping her head, and simultaneously biting down slightly. Emma feigned being hurt by dropping her jaw, making Regina place a chaste kiss on the top of her finger. Then, she sucked it in softly, while signing: ‘But you are a little minx, and as much as I might like that when were not at work, we’ll have to talk about your behavior when we are at work.’

Emma sighed audibly, retracting her finger. ‘You’re so boring.’

When Regina saw that last sign, she grabbed the hand that had made the gesture.

‘You might regret that later,’ she whispered seductively, squinting her eyes and moving her head forward dangerously when she realized that would have more effect than a whisper.

‘I can’t wait,’ Emma signed smirking, not backing off in the slightest. She managed to plant another quick peck on Regina’s lips, before the brunette cut to the chase.

 

‘So, obviously we can’t do this when we’re here, or around other people,’ Regina said, gesturing between the two of them. ‘Not until… we figured out whatever this is ourselves.’


‘I figured out what this is already,’ Emma signed, grinning mischievously. ‘This is me being insanely attractive and you not being able to resist that.’

Regina tssk’d and rolled her eyes.

‘It’s your humbleness that I’m attracted to, miss Swan.’

‘So you are attracted to me,’ Emma responded with a satisfied smile, feeling a nervous flutter in her stomach as the brunette formally spelled out her last name.

‘Who knows,’ Regina signed haughtily, then tapping her chin as if she were thinking. ‘Oh wait, I do know. And I’m not telling you, unless you behave.’  

Emma’s mouth fell open slightly at the council woman’s comment, but she quickly processed what was being said, and she folded her hands together in a pleading way. At Regina’s unimpressed look, she rapidly fluttered her eyelids.

‘Nice try,’ Regina laughed. ‘Now, be a good intern, and follow me to my meeting.’

Regina turned to grab some files off her desk. ‘You’re going to take notes for me,’ she told her intern as walked towards the door, where she was held back by a hand around her wrist.

‘Me?’ Emma asked, a finger pointed at herself. Regina took a look around her office and said: ‘I don’t see anyone else here whom I might be talking to. Unless you’re suggesting that I’m talking to one of my plants, which would imply that I have gone insane. Is that what you’re telling me?’

Emma slowly shook her head and gulped.

‘No… but… me?’ she repeated again.


‘Yes, miss Swan. I’ve arranged for Mr. Hopper to show up at the meeting as well. I’m sure you can figure this out.’

Just when Regina thought that Emma was having a breakdown because she wouldn’t be able to keep up, this task being way too hard for her, a wide smile showed on her face.

‘I won’t disappoint you,’ Emma signed thankfully. Regina nodded shortly, starting to walk away again, when she was pulled back at her wrist for the second time.

Before she could blink, Emma’s soft lips were pressed against her own again.

‘Emma!’ she cried out when Emma took a step back, looking like a child who’d just stolen a cookie. ‘Not. In. Here. We just cleared this up.’

Emma nodded shyly at the reprimand. ‘But…’ she signed, hesitating to continue, but doing so anyway at Regina’s impatient look.

‘It’s hot when you go all bossy on me. I just can’t help myself.’

Regina felt the beginnings of a smile tug at her lips, so she turned around quickly, not wanting to betray herself. Walking away, she tapped her head, leaving Emma in wonder if she was just scratching an itch, or telling her ‘I know.’ 

 


 

 

Regina and Emma were the last ones to attend the meeting, Mr. Hopper already being seated at the large table in the middle of the hall. Regina gestured for Emma to take the seat next to him, but instead she walked up to the empty chair on the other side of the table, earning herself an eye-roll from the brunette.

 

As soon Regina had taken the seat next to Mr. Hopper, Mayor White welcomed everybody to the meeting.

‘It seems we are in the presence of three unfamiliar faces,’ Eva White said, smiling warmly. ‘Would you please be so kind to introduce yourselves?’

Everybody’s attention was drawn to Mr. Hopper, who was making rapid hand gestures as he gazed the blonde across from him.

Regina opened her mouth to introduce Emma, but the intern looked at her sternly and then began signing while looking around the table.

‘Hello everybody. My name is Emma Swan and this is my interpreter, Archie Hopper. I’m studying politics and currently doing my internship with miss Mills. As you probably all gathered, I am deaf, so I need sign language in order to communicate. Mr. Hopper provides that communication between you and me. Every word you hear him say, was formulated by my brain. Basically, he’s my voice. Although I’m pretty sure I don’t have a male voice of my own,’ Archie translated expertly.

A few people chuckled at hearing him say that he didn’t have a male voice. Emma saw everybody taking a few seconds to process, after which Archie translated a few ‘nice to meet yous’ for her.

The blonde smiled; they would get used to it. The proud grin she felt from the brunette across the table, made her blush lightly.

‘Thank you, Emma,’ Mayor White said, copying the gesture Archie made – bringing her fingers from her chin a few inches forward. Emma appreciated the effort by repeating the sign once again.

‘And who do we have here?’ the mayor continued, her gaze shifting to the other side of the table. A tiny brunette who obviously felt regarded waved shyly.

‘Hi everybody, my name is Belle French. I’m Mr. Gold’s intern.’

She gestured at the man sitting beside her, who was smiling confidently.

‘But aren’t you his girlfriend?’ Regina blurted out before she thought it through. As Belle started blushing, Regina realized how hypocritical she sounded.

No, she thought, because Emma’s not my girlfriend.

Yet.

‘Yes, miss French and I are in a relationship, miss Mills. How very observant of you. We can assure you, however, that Mayor White is aware, and we made some very clear agreements on the fact. Our private relationship won’t affect our work in any way.’ 

Mr. Gold’s snarky tone didn’t go unnoticed by anyone.

‘Thank you for your concern, though.’

Regina forced herself to smile, and turned her attention back to the mayor.

‘So, both of the next mayoral election candidates are assisted by an intern now. That’s fantastic. As you know, I am to step down from the office in a few weeks – so I’d like to officially open the election period next week.’

Everybody nodded, as both Regina and Gold eyed each other nervously.

‘As for this meeting, I’d like to discuss my last project as mayor. This morning, I signed the contract for the renovation of City Hall.’

Emma jumped as she felt a soft kick to the shin. She looked up and caught Regina’s gaze – the brunette was frowning and seemed to be fidgeting. Upon a better look, Emma noticed that her supervisor was making signs at her – barely noticeable, but those were definitely signs.

Emma caught the words ‘money’ and ‘renovation’, followed by ‘disabled’ and ‘charity project’. She nervously looked around to see if nobody was catching up on their quiet conversation, and signed back: ‘renovation instead of project?’

Regina placed her fist on the table, putting back a strand of hair with her other hand for distraction, and tilted her fist. ‘Yes.’

Emma gasped softly and felt a fire starting to roar deep within her guts. This was why she wanted to be a politician, she told herself. But it made her incredibly mad.

Not feeling comfortable mentioning it however, she decided to stick to her task – take notes for Regina. While Eva White talked about what would be happening in the next few weeks, Emma tried her best to watch everyone’s face (and the mayor’s in particular), she focused on Archie for translation, and occasionally got distracted by Regina. Just the other woman’s presence was enough to make her pause and appreciate how beautiful she was. Watching her lips reminded her of how they felt against her own – and the memory was pretty damn well enough to keep her attention off anything else.

Just as her mind had floated to a place where she positively admired Regina’s stern and bossy side in contrast to her passionate and sweet side, everybody around her was standing up.

Confused, she sought out Archie’s eyes, who was also standing up and translating the last part of the mayor’s talk, being ‘see you all next week!’.

Panicking, Emma looked down at her notebook. The only things that made sense were the date and time, and the words “City Hall renovation”. The rest was just scribbles – little hearts, flowers and some undefined squares.

While Emma was staring incredulously at her notebook, Regina had approached her, an amused smile at her lips.

She softly caressed Emma’s arm and started to speak slowly as she turned around to face her.

‘I wasn’t aware being homeschooled consisted of being able to read through interpretive drawing.’

Emma gulped, trying to come up with a witty retort, but failing. She shyly put her hands behind her back. Regina thought the blonde had never looked more adorable, and she decided to mention it by just spelling out the word.

‘Shut up!’ Emma signed back, somewhat insulted. ‘You’re just distracting.’

‘Is that so? What did I do to distract you, then?’

And Emma knew, once again there wasn’t an answer she could come up with.

‘Just wait until it’s my turn to distract you, Mills,’ Emma signed more confidently than she felt.

‘It’s about dividing attention, dear Emma,’ Regina signed smirking, spelling out the blonde’s name rather than using her name sign.

‘Excuse me, ladies?’ A voice sounded from the entrance, making Regina turn her head, followed by Emma in reaction to her, just a few seconds later.

‘My name is Sidney Glass, I’m a journalist for the Daily Mirror. I was wondering if I could ask you two a few questions – it’s about The Buddy Project.’

Regina turned her head again to discuss it with her intern, but she was met with a confused look.

‘What did he say?’ Emma asked her, making Regina realize that Mr. Glass had been standing too far away for Emma to understand him. Hesitatingly, Regina started to translate what Mr. Glass had said. She spelled out his name, then the name of the newspaper he was working for, and then signing ‘interview.’ Proudly, Regina realized that this was her first translation between Emma and another hearing person.

Emma regarded Mr. Glass, shrugged, and then nodded. ‘All right!’

‘Please wait a moment,’ Regina said to both of them, before hurrying to the hallway. She looked around, but everybody seemed to have left already.

‘I’m sorry, Mr. Glass, but Emma’s interpreter has already left home. I’m afraid we have to schedule your interview somewhere next week, so we can--’

Emma clapped her hands to interrupt her. Then she pointed at the brunette. ‘You can do it.’

‘Me? No, no, I…’ Regina laughed awkwardly, shaking her head. ‘I mean, I could… but…’

‘But you won’t?’

Regina remembered the uncomfortable feeling when she’d translated Mr. Glass just a few moments ago, as well as the satisfaction when she’d got it right.

‘But I… I’m not a good enough ASL-user. What if I make mistakes? I won’t do that to you, Emma,’ she signed voiceless. Glass watched the entire silent conversation patiently.

Regina expected Emma to tell her that she could, to make her feel comfortable by telling her that she wouldn’t make any mistakes, to encourage her to try it… She had not expected Emma to catch fire.

‘So you’re trying to tell me that I have to take your notes, to write down everything that’s being said without me hearing a single word, because I have to stand up for myself? Because it’s a tough world out there? I have to just suck it up? Mistakes happen? Yeah, well, it’s a tough world out there, so suck it up, Regina. Mistakes happen.’

Regina inhaled sharply at Emma’s silent outburst, not sure what to say.

‘So be my interpreter, Regina. Please.’

Emma’s face had gone softer after a moment of intense staring. Overwhelmed by the feeling of not wanting to let Emma down, Regina nodded.


‘You’re right, Emma. I’ll do it,’ she signed, as well as said out loud. ‘I’m sorry Mr. Glass, Emma and I have come to an agreement,’ she said, turning to the man who was still patiently waiting. ‘We can answer some questions now, if you’d like. I’ll be Emma’s interpreter.’

Sidney nodded happily and gestured for the three of them to sit down. Once he got his recording device and his notebook out, he turned to Regina to ask his first question.

‘For how long have the two of you known?’

Regina thought about that for a bit, and answered him: ‘A few months. Our first introduction was about nine weeks ago.’

She felt an impatient tapping on her arm and was met by two questioning eyes.

‘Oh, erhm, right.’ Of course, she would have to sign everything – Mr. Glass’s questions and her answers, even if Emma wouldn’t be answering them.

‘Miss Mills, you’re the youngest candidate ever to run for mayor,’ Sidney continued his next question. ‘What do you think your chances are, and have they increased since The Buddy Project?’

‘Well, I don’t assume my involvement in TBP has any connection to the upcoming elections,’ Regina said smiling, followed by signing her own words. ‘There is no way that I hope to gain votes by doing charity work – that would mean I wouldn’t be in it for the right reasons, right? I signed up as a Buddy because assisting citizens in need of social contact is such a wonderful initiative. And if it gets me some extra votes, well, that would just be a happy coincidence.’

It took her a minute or two to sign all the words she’d spoken in the right context. When she’d finished, Emma grew a wide angel-like smile, nodding in agreement, and rising her right hand to sign: ‘B-u-l-l-s-h-i-t.’

‘I agree,’ Regina provided her translation.

As Sidney took a few notes, Emma sneakily winked at her supervisor.


‘And what was the reason that miss Swan felt in need of a Buddy?’ Signey asked Regina, when he put down his pen. She opened her mouth to answer, watched Emma, and asked the journalist: ‘Why don’t you ask her?’

Sidney watched her as if she’d gone insane, but nodded, and turned to the blonde awkwardly.

‘WHY – DID YOU – SIGN UP FOR – THIS – PROJECT?’ Sidney shouted at the top of his lungs, articulating slowly and making all kinds of unhelpful gestures, making both Emma and Regina snort.

‘Can you speak up a bit?’ Emma signed, earning herself a slap from Regina.
‘I’m not telling him that,’ Regina signed mutely, but smirking.

‘What I was trying to tell you, Mr. Glass, is that you can speak directly to Emma. I will interpret what you ask her, but we don’t need to act as if she isn’t here. And no need to shout – she isn’t going to hear it if we scream it directly into her ears,’ Regina patiently told him, contemplating to experiment with that last part, trying to keep up with her signs.

Sidney nodded, still looking slightly uncomfortable.

‘Care to answer the question, Emma?’ Regina asked her intern.

When Emma started signing, Regina noticed the blonde kept her pace very low, making it easy for Regina to keep up.

‘I thought it would be a wonderful addition to my education, to have someone to practice my social skills with. As I’m studying politics, I guess one can never have enough acquaintances. How lucky I was when my Buddy turned out to be a politician herself, I still can’t wrap my head around.’

Despite the very slow signing, Regina was a few seconds behind with her translation, but she managed anyway.

‘And the fact that what I just told you, is actually a big fat lie, you don’t need to know, Mr. Glass,’ Emma continued signing.

‘And the fact that what I just told you…-’ Regina watched the smirking deaf girl wide eyed as she was already halfway her translation, ‘…provided me with this internship, makes me very happy,’ Regina decided to say, making the ‘cut it’ gesture towards Emma.

‘Thank you Emma,’ Sidney mumbled, writing some keywords down. As he did, Regina quickly asked Emma what the hell she thought she was doing.

‘Having some fun with you and that lunatic over there,’ the blonde grinned.

‘Well, cut it off. My first time is hard enough as it is,’ Regina answered, scowling at her. ‘I don’t feel like twisting your every sentence because you’re in a funny mood.’

When Sidney looked up again, he asked: ‘Can you please elaborate on the activities that you’ve done together?’

Regina translated his question, just pointing at Emma and herself and signing ‘activities’, becoming very aware of the fact that hearing people used way too many words.

‘We took a few walks in the park, went to a bar several times,’ Regina answered him. ‘Emma attended my birthday party.’ She looked at Emma to see if she had any additions.

‘Felt each other up in a pool, made out in a storage room,’ Emma signed, smiling like a princess. Regina took in a breath and cursed the blonde inwardly when she noticed Sidney’s awaiting gaze.

‘We saw a movie and played tennis,’ was the first thing Regina came up with. She nodded to make herself more believable.

‘Tennis?’ Sidney repeated, mimicking Emma’s sign for ‘making out’. He seemed happy to have caught up on a sign.

‘Yes, tennis,’ Regina smiled through gritted teeth.

‘And now that you’re practically colleagues, will you still involve in activities outside of your work? Or is it all business related now?’ Sidney asked.

Emma was of course happy to answer. ‘I’m planning on feeling her up some more. Steal some kisses when nobody’s looking. Eventually have sex on her desk. But I’m not sure if Regina’s ready for that, yet.’

Despite Regina’s visibly growing fear and anger, Emma did nothing to stop her own rambling, happy to take her time in the answer she was providing. Regina watched the blonde intently, before making up the translation and articulating carefully: ‘I actually have planned a whole weekend next week, to thank Regina for all the amazing work that she’s done.’

As the shock washed over Emma’s face, Regina continued: ‘I’m not telling what I’ve planned yet, but I’m happy to take pictures and send them to you afterwards.’


‘I would like that very much, miss Swan,’ Sidney smiled. ‘We can attach the pictures to the article, I’ll just wait a few extra days before publishing.’

After Emma had realized she had made it very hard for herself, the rest of the interview went more smoothly. There were some questions about how Emma had managed to work herself up from ‘disabled person’ to ‘intern at City Hall’, and while she actually wanted to answer that her supervisor found her irresistible, she answered more truthfully this time.

Sidney ended the interview by asking how they thought their future as Buddies would look like, and if they were okay with doing another interview within a few months. Emma and Regina both agreed.

‘I want to thank you for your time,’ Sidney said, packing up his stuff. ‘And I’d love to see the pictures of whatever you’ll be doing next week.’

Emma had to stop herself from snorting again, finding the double meaning in Sidney’s innocent sentence hilarious. As he left the room, the two women turned to each other.

‘Having sex on my desk, Emma?’ Regina shouted, not even caring that she was talking to a deaf person. Her eyes were blazing.

‘Come on, it was funny!’ Emma pleaded. ‘And you got me back already. I have to plan a whole weekend for us!’

‘And that better be the best goddamn weekend in my entire life, young woman!’

‘I loved watching you struggle,’ Emma signed grinning, knowing all too well she was poking the bear.

‘Yeah? Well, I’ll make you struggle when you beg me to be bent over that damn desk, and I refuse because of your ridiculous behavior.’

‘So you have thought about us having sex.’ Emma’s grin only grew wider with every word, and Regina knew she was losing their discussion.

‘It’s pretty hard not to, when you’re trying to do an interview and a translation, but there’s an annoying blonde talking about feeling you up all the time!’

Emma bit her lip, still smirking, and put her hands behind her back. She walked backwards, slowly, shaking her head to make her hair fall partly in front of her face. Then she loosened a button of her blouse, making Regina realize she was going to imitate her again.

‘It’s about dividing attention, dear Emma,’ Emma signed, mimicking her supervisor by pursing her lips together and swaying her hips.

‘That’s not what I look like,’ Regina grumbled, slowly walking towards the blonde. ‘And you just made dividing attention absolutely impossible,’ she added, nodding at the button Emma had just loosened.

Emma winked at her, beckoning Regina with a finger, still walking backwards and loosening another button on her blouse. Just as it sprang open, her back had hit the wall, and Regina’s lips were on hers.

Regina let out a low moan as she pressed the blonde up against the wall, her hands already sliding towards the parts of her body that had become accessible through her open blouse.

‘It seems I have forgotten my pen. It’s a pretty expensive one.’

As soon as Sidney’s voice reached Regina’s ears, she broke the kiss, grabbed the blonde’s collar and almost threw her across the room to create as much distance between the two of them as possible.

‘Oh, well, yes, it would be really inconvenient of course. To lose a pen,’ Regina said with as much empathy as she could muster. Her left hand casually went through her hair as she watched Sidney pick up his pen, and she tried to ignore Emma, who seemed to be really interested in one of the floor plans on the opposite wall.

As soon as Sidney had left a second time, and Emma had turned her head towards her supervisor again, Regina pointed at the door.

‘Off to work!’ 

Emma could not stop herself from blowing her a kiss first, before buttoning up and rushing out of the room.

Chapter Text

 ‘That’s amazing!’ Emma signed into her front camera. On the little screen that displayed Lily’s face through FaceTime, her sister was beaming.

‘So I’ll start next week already!’ Lily signed back. Emma nodded enthusiastically. It had been a few weeks since she’d started her internship at City Hall now, and Lily finally had got her license to be her sister’s interpreter. Archie had been great at his job for the past few weeks, but Emma couldn’t help but find him a little boring. She would have loads and loads of fun with her sister.

‘I’m going to tell Regina,’ Emma signed, wanting to hang up, but Lily waved for her not to.

‘How is she? How are the two of you?’ Lily wore a smug smile, making Emma roll her eyes.

‘She’s still hot,’ Emma signed. She and Regina were still exploring whatever it was between them – they had stolen the occasional kisses along the past few weeks, but they hadn’t had the possibility (nor the courage) to get more intimate yet. ‘As long as she doesn’t start about speaking,’ she added with a shrug.

‘Emma,’ Lily spelled disapprovingly. ‘You know I’m kinda with her on that.’

‘That better be the last time you say that, or I’m gonna fire you,’ Emma signed playfully, while starting to walk towards Regina’s office, phone still in front of her face.

‘You like being in that position, don’t you?’ Lily shot back. ‘You don’t scare me, girl, I know you love me way too much to fire me.’

Emma winked in the camera.

‘You want to say hi to Regina?’ she asked her sister, as she arrived at her supervisor’s office. She knocked on the door, counted to ten, and pushed open. As Emma wouldn’t be able to hear Regina’s approval, the older woman had suggested this system. They really needed to get one of those ‘available/busy’ signs.

‘Sure,’ Lily nodded, but as Emma entered the office, she noticed at least seven construction workers, three of them up a ladder and disappearing halfway into the ceiling. The walls were only half-painted and there was dust, wood and tools everywhere. Upon walking in, she had accidentally knocked over a bucket full of paint.

‘Oops,’ Emma mouthed, as one of the construction workers turned to her and made some agitated gestures.

‘…deaf or something?!’ she caught, reading his lips. It helped that he pointed at his ears.

‘Sorry,’ she mouthed, quickly walking backwards and closing the door again.

‘What was that?’ Lily asked on the little screen.

‘They’re reconstructing City Hall,’ Emma explained. ‘It’s terrible, Lily. The money they’re using was originally destined for a community center for disabled children. But Mayor White decided that City Hall needed it more.’

Lily shook her head in disappointment. ‘But luckily, you’ll be mayor in a few years, Emma.’

‘Yeah,’ Emma laughed half-heartedly, ‘not if I keep forgetting simple stuff… like that Regina only told me a few hours ago that she’d be working in the Main Hall today.’

As she said it, she headed downstairs to where Regina would probably be.

‘Everyone forgets stuff,’ Lily tried to cheer her sister up. Emma bared her teeth and took in a breath. ‘If you would’ve been there, witnessing her rage upon those construction workers… yeah, that’s probably not something you would forget.’

She saw Lily breaking down in laughter, throwing her head in her neck. ‘I wished I could’ve seen that!’

As Emma shook her head, wincing, Lily added: ‘but it does turn you on, doesn’t it? The council woman’s mad side?’

‘Lily! I’m so not taking you to her now,’ Emma signed as she stood in front of the large doors that would lead to the Main Hall.

‘I’ll just tell her you said hi, okay?’ Before Lily could protest, Emma waved at her and pressed ‘End call’. She pushed one of the doors open, still shaking her head, smiling at her sister’s boldness.

Despite here being about fifteen construction workers as well, Emma noticed her supervisor immediately. She was all the way across from her, sitting in a corner, focused on a lot of paperwork in front of her. Her right elbow was popped up on the table and her head rested against her hand. From the looks of it, a vein in her forehead was about to explode. Emma thought she looked adorable, completely frustrated by the reconstruction going on, unable to have found herself a nice quiet corner.

As Emma walked up to her, thinking about how she wanted to help her relieve some of that frustration, her gaze fell upon one of the construction workers right above Regina’s head, repairing one of the overhead beams. He was wrenching a piece of wood; apparently to replace it with the wooden beam behind him, currently balancing on a ladder. Emma jolted as she saw that he didn’t seem to notice that his wrenching made the new piece of wood move slowly towards the edge – the edge Regina was sitting right beneath.

She considered running all the way up to him, but that would take too much time – the beam would drop before she’d make it. The other construction workers weren’t aware of what was going on either, and she also couldn’t warn one of them in time.

With all her might she jumped up and down, waving her arms, trying to get someone’s attention. She stomped her feet and clapped her hands, but she knew that it was of no use as there was apparently a lot of noise going on.

As a last resort, she started to run to the other side anyway, but she knew she would be too late. Even before she was halfway across the hall, one of the construction workers stopped her by grabbing her arm.

‘…doing?’ she caught, his gaze half worried and half angry. She huffed in frustration and pointed at the piece of wood on the ladder.

The guy who still had her arm in a firm grip turned around, but when he yelled ‘MARCO!’, the beam was already halfway to the ground.

Regina, who heard a male voice thundering a name, looked up from her work. Then she heard another voice, a low female one, screaming: ‘REGINA!’

Then everything went black.

 


 

 

 

As Regina tried to open her eyes, she also tried to remember when she’d closed them in the first place. She relived a faint memory of the inside of an ambulance – the smell of medical supplies, and the white lights above her head that made her nauseous.

 

Moments before that; someone telling her not to worry, not to move. Someone telling her that she’d be taken care of.

Rough hands that had lifted her – at least three times.

The sting of a needle in her arm. The sting of a needle in her upper lip.

People pacing around the room, softly murmuring.

And now the incredible headache that was so severe, she still felt like vomiting.

‘I think I’m going to-…’

Regina had shot up right, trying to warn someone, but had started retching already. Luckily, a nurse was nearby, who quickly fetched her a bucket.

While involuntarily emptying her stomach, a painful sting went through her upper lip. Her left hand shot up to touch it, but was met by a few layers of bandage.

‘Some way to wake up,’ the nurse smiled after Regina had thrown up a second time, and placed the bucket on the ground with a scrunched nose.

‘I think I’ve been awake the whole time,’ she countered. ‘I’m just a little lost on the timeline.’

 

‘Do you remember what happened?’

‘Yes. No. I think someone hit me on the head?’ Regina guessed, because actually, she had no idea. Since being vulnerable was not one of her strong suits, she tried to act like everything was under control. She even tried to get up, but was stopped immediately by the nurse.

‘Please stay in bed, miss Mills. I’ll go get the doctor for you. There is also someone out in the hallway for you, can I send them in too?’

Her mind immediately formed an image of long, blonde hair. Emma. Would she be here?

The brunette nodded, but stopped moving as that made her dizzy again. As the nurse disappeared through the door, she thought perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea to stay in the hospital bed a little bit longer.

‘Miss Mills, I’m so sorry.’

The voice of a man with a Mediterranean accent came through the door. As she glanced over, she saw an older man standing there, holding a bouquet of flowers in his hand. 

 

‘Who are you?’ she asked, a little harsher than she had meant to. As the man clearly was having a dilemma whether to give her the flowers or place them on the bedside table, she cleared her throat. He finally looked up and realized that she indeed might have no idea who he was.

‘My name is Marco. I’m the one who dropped the wooden beam on your head. Not on purpose, of course. I feel so guilty, miss Mills. I should have been more careful. Will you please accept my apology?’

He shyly held the flowers in front of himself.

‘I, uh…’ Regina sighed and dropped her head in her IV’ed hand. So she was hit by a piece of wood. That explained her headache. ‘I don’t really remember what’s going on, Mr. Marco. Forgive me.’

Marco seemed disappointed that she didn’t accept his flowers, so he awkwardly searched for a cup to fill with water, and placed the bouquet in the cup. It was a pitiful sight.

‘I think it might be too early for you to accept my apology. Which I totally understand, miss Mills. I promise you that I’ll pay every penny of the hospital bill-…’

‘I have health insurance,’ Regina interrupted him, wishing for him to stop talking. She decided there would be time to be mad when her head wasn’t trying to kill her. For now, she just wanted peace and quiet.

‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ Marco asked hopefully. ‘I can get you some water, or I’ll ask that pretty blonde girl to come in, or if you want me to leave I’ll just-…’

‘Sir, I don’t want to be rude but… Wait, pretty blonde? Emma’s here?’

Marco seemed happy that Regina had actually replied to something he said, so he proudly raised his hand above his head.

‘About this tall. A few years younger than yourself… And I think she’s the shy type. I haven’t heard her say a single word.’

‘Yes, that’s Emma. Is she here? Why didn’t she come in?’

‘I think she went outside a few minutes ago, to get some fresh air. But she hasn’t left your side before that. Even forced her way into the ambulance with you, that one.’

‘Will you please get her for me, Marco?’

The elder nodded and smiled. ‘I’ll vote for you, miss Mills,’ he assured her, before he mumbled another apology and went to get Emma. Only moments after he left, a doctor came in.

‘Hello miss Mills. I’m doctor Lucas,’ the tall brunette introduced herself while the two women shook hands. ‘You look way better already than when you came in.’

‘I feel fine,’ Regina replied. ‘I’m just a little dizzy. And I’m missing out on a few details about what happened.’

‘Ah, so you’re a tough one,’ doctor Lucas said with a smile. ‘I’ll just run a few tests and then we can see if you can go home already.’

 

‘I’m sure everything is alright,’ Regina mumbled, as the doctor took out a little flashlight.

‘Why don’t you let me be the doctor, hmm? Then I’ll decide if I’ll let you run the town,’ doctor Lucas winked.

As soon as she shone in Regina’s eyes with the little flashlight, the politician’s eyes went wide. She grabbed the bucket again and started dry-heaving.

‘I’m sure everything is alright,’ doctor Lucas repeated, just a little too complacent. ‘Except for your obvious concussion. And the cut in your lip. Do you remember what happened?’

Regina wiped her mouth with the back of her IV-less hand boasted: ‘A wooden beam fell onto my head.’ Then she frowned, and finally gave in: ‘but I don’t know how it fell. Nor what happened to my lip.’

Doctor Lucas nodded. ‘After the beam fell, it hit the ground and splintered. We had to remove a piece out of your lip. And since that’s the only piece of skin we had to sew up, we can definitely say that you were incredibly lucky, miss Mills.’

Regina touched the bandages on her lip, frowning in concern.

‘A small scar will remain,’ doctor Lucas said, ‘but I’ll give you an anti-scar cream that will heal the wound as much as possible.’

The politician held up the hand with the IV in it: ‘and this?’

‘It’s just painkillers. The nurse will remove it as soon as you’re free to go.’

As Regina nodded, considering indeed how lucky she had been, doctor Lucas continued: ‘Your concussion will last a few weeks. I’ll give you some anti-nausea pills and more painkillers. You’re off work for three weeks. See that you’ll get plenty of rest in that time. Rest means: no chores, no TV, no phone, no laptop. Maybe you can ask some family members to take care of you.’

‘Three weeks of rest? What do I do in that time?’

‘Well, rest,’ the doctor laughed. ‘With the medication and the amount of pain you’re in, that won’t be a problem for the first few days. And after that, if you’re afraid you’ll bore yourself to death… think about what you’ll write in your letter to thank your guardian angel.’

Regina rolled her eyes at the doctor.

‘As for a detailed story of how this all happened… I’ll maybe leave that to your other guardian angel, the one on earth.’

At Regina’s confused look, doctor Lucas pointed at the door. Two familiar green eyes were watching her with great concern.

 

‘Emma,’ Regina breathed out. She ignored the urge to jump out of bed, and instead watched the doctor leave.

‘After the nurse clears you, you can go home,’ doctor Lucas smiled over her shoulder. As the tall brunette passed Emma, she signed ‘thank you’. The blonde nodded and signed ‘thank you’ back.

‘Come here,’ Regina said softly, confused as to why Emma was still standing at the door. Emma visibly took in a breath and walked closer to the hospital bed. Now, Regina could see that Emma’s eyes were red and puffy, as well as her nose. Her eyelashes were still wet.

‘What’s wrong?’ Regina asked, concern ghosting over her face.

‘I’m surprised you asked for me,’ Emma signed hastily.

‘What? Why wouldn’t I…?’

‘I saw it all happening, Regina,’ Emma signed, starting to fully cry again. ‘God, I’m so goddamn mad at myself. You have no idea!’ 

‘Emma!’ Regina got upright in bed again at the blonde’s outburst. ‘It wasn’t your…’

Don’t. Don’t even try to tell me it wasn’t my fault. I was there. I saw what was happening. And I didn’t do anything! I didn’t. Fucking. Do. Anything.


A small voice in Regina’s head said that, at this very moment, she was glad that Emma didn’t speak, because she would’ve been screaming and the sound would’ve made the brunette vomit again.

But when she actually processed what the blonde said, Regina got confused.

‘I… I don’t get it. You weren’t actually in the Main Hall, were you? Or have I forgotten? I believe Marco told me that you were with me in the ambulance, and I certainly don’t remember that, so maybe I don’t recall you being there either?’

Emma covered her face with her hands and shook her head. Completely elaborating on her guilt trip made her lose all hope.

Regina, who was becoming more concerned for the blonde than for herself, carefully pulled her hands away.


‘Please tell me what happened,’ she whispered, the sound more comfortable for her own head.

‘You were right,’ Emma signed slowly, softly hiccupping while tears were streaming down her face. ‘I’m the reason you’re in the hospital. I was there. I saw you. I saw you were in danger. But nobody saw me trying to warn you. And when I finally decided to use my voice, it was way too late.’

Emma took a step back and kicked the wall. Then she turned towards Regina again. ‘I could’ve saved you. And I didn’t.’

Regina was staring at the furious blonde open-mouthed.

‘Well?’ Emma signed. ‘Tell me. Am I fired? Are we done, you and me? Should I pay you?’ She kicked the wall again. ‘I’ll leave the fucking country if you don’t want to see me again, Regina, because honestly, I’ll get that. And what the fuck are you gawking at?’

‘It was you,’ Regina mouthed, completely ignoring the blonde’s rambling. As the realization kicked in, tears welled up in her eyes. ‘It was you,’ Regina repeated. ‘I heard you.’

‘Yes, well, h-oo-r-a-y. That was way too fucking late, wasn’t it? If I-… Regina, what are you doing?’

As Regina carefully swung her legs to one side of the bed, she beckoned her intern.

‘Please come here,’ she signed, still teary eyed.

Emma was about to start filleting herself again, but conceded as she finally caught up on Regina’s mood, her rage instantly cooling down. She circled her fist over her chest, before she all but ran right at the open arms of the brunette, reminding herself at the last step that Regina was concussed, slowing down just in time not to knock her over.

The two women cried in each other’s arms silently for a while. Then, after a few minutes, Regina tapped the blonde’s head as to tell her she was about to say something.

‘You smoked,’ Regina frowned.

Emma, thankful for the change of subject, signed: ‘did Marco tell on me?’

‘No, little skunk. You stink.’

Emma snorted as she received a playful shove to the shoulder. Then she embraced the brunette again.

‘Aren’t you mad?’ Emma signed, after the two parted for a second time.

‘I probably will be,’ Regina admitted. ‘And I’ll promise you, you haven’t seen the last of that. But I’m in too much pain to act on it yet. And I’m very happy that you’re here. And that I’m still here.’

‘So there’s a fight coming?’

‘You bet there is, yes,’ Regina nodded, knowing she wasn’t even joking.

‘But first, three weeks of bedrest,’ Emma tried to save them both, for now. ‘I spoke to Mayor White already. She knows about what happened and I promised to email her the doctor’s results. She said you should keep to whatever the advice was.’ Regina let out a frustrated sigh.

‘I’ll never stay in bed for three weeks. That’s physically impossible.’ But then, her face lit up. ‘What if… someone made sure I could stay in bed all day?’

Emma panicked visibly.

‘I… I’m not sure if… would you want me around?’

‘Would I be asking if I wouldn’t? See it as… pay off. Maybe I’ll be less mad after three weeks.’

Emma nodded hesitantly.

‘You’re right, I probably won’t,’ Regina signed, her haughty glance making her look disturbingly like her old self again. ‘But you have to start somewhere.’  

 

‘You’re lucky my guilt level is so high that I don’t even mind you exploiting me,’ Emma finally countered, half joking, half self-pitying.

Both women were relieved when the nurse came in to clear Regina off her IV’s, and they finally could go home.

 

 


 

 

 

‘Do you need anything right now, my queen?’ Emma tried to curry favor.

‘Yes,’ Regina signed, deciding she liked the sign for ‘queen’, representing a royal sash over her chest. ‘I need another question answered.’

It was the third day at home, and Regina had slept most of the time. But one thing had wandered her mind while she was awake. She invited Emma to sit on her bed by tapping lightly on the duvet.

‘What is it?’

‘How did you manage to get into the ambulance?’

Regina had never seen someone change their facial color so quickly. Emma almost matched the jacket she was wearing.

‘I just hopped in, why?’ she signed nervously.

‘For someone who is used to communicating through facial expressions, you’re a bad liar, Emma.’

‘I told them I didn’t have a car.’

‘Still a lie.’ Regina already knew the answer after Emma had started blushing, but she wanted her to tell the truth.

‘Told them I was your sister.’

‘No.’

‘Your mother.’

‘No!’

‘Your daughter.’

‘Emma!’

‘An interested medical student?’

Regina kept glaring at the sweating blonde, not even bothering to reply.

‘Fine! I told them you were my girlfriend.’

‘You did, didn’t you?!’ Regina grinned. Emma huffed, folding her arms, frustrated at getting caught.

Regina scooted closer, eyeing up the blonde, both silent for a while.

‘You know I’ll be mad at you, right?’ Regina signed, feeling her heart beat in her chest rapidly at what she was about to say.

Emma just nodded.

‘And you know we’ll be having a major fight?’

Emma nodded again, not sure where the brunette was heading.

‘I’m willing to give you a choice.’ Regina looked down, and grabbed one of Emma’s hands.

‘Are you going to fight me as your boss-…’ Regina made a circle from the side of her head with their joined hands, ‘or your girlfriend?’ she added, hooking their index fingers together.

Emma gasped at Regina’s insinuation, not sure if she understood well. But when she stared at the brunette, the twinkling in her eyes made very clear that she’d understood particularly well.

‘Who would’ve thought you would be the one to ask me?’ Emma signed with a smirk. Regina however, was not pleased with the blonde’s bumptious answer.

‘This offer expires… in five… four… three…’

‘No! Stop!’ Emma laughed and pulled the hand that was counting off down.

‘Is that a yes?’ Regina smouldered.

Emma smiled widely. ‘I’ll be your girlfriend.’

‘I want to hear a “yes”.’

Emma rolled her eyes and nodded her head as well as her fist. She jumped as Regina suddenly grabbed her chin.

‘No, Emma,’ Regina said softly. ‘I said, I want to hear a yes.’

Emma took in a breath again. Her smile disappeared and she leaned back a little.

Regina didn’t want to push, but also wanted to make sure that Emma knew she was serious about this, so she waited patiently, carefully eyeing the blonde before her.

As Emma felt all kinds of things at the same time, - fear, betrayal, excitement, disappointment -, she unintentionally shook her head. She knew this was what their fight would be about. She knew Regina was right on some point, but she also knew that it was her own right and choice not to speak. Regina had pulled a bit of a nasty trick to put Emma on the spot like this – especially after recent events –, on the other hand, it made her feel so happy that Regina brought their relationship up, and that she was the one asking the question. Some compromise… But, Emma decided, she owed this woman one.

Without answering, Emma placed a soft kiss on the brunette’s lips, careful not to touch the spot that had been stitched up. Frustrated that because of the wound, they couldn’t make out, she kissed Regina’s nose, her forehead, her eyebrows, her cheeks. As Regina closed her eyes, Emma kissed along her jaw, nipping the skin, and soothing with her tongue. As she reached her ear, she nibbled on the lobe, which immediately caused the brunette to shiver.

Emma brought one hand up to Regina’s waist, the other to her neck, pulling her closer. After she briefly licked the shell of her ear, she took a breath and finally whispered the long awaited ‘yes’ in Regina’s hair.  

As Regina felt the tickle against her skin that was more than just a breath, she thought her chest would burst open. The blonde’s whisper had been barely audible and articulated poorly, the ‘s’ sounding like another consonant, but Regina knew what she had heard.

Tearing up with pride, Regina let herself roll back onto the bed, pulling her girlfriend with her. She buried her face into the blonde’s neck, careful not to push on her own wound. Just as she wanted to voice her thoughts, she felt Emma shaking in her arms.

At first, she thought the blonde was laughing. When she heard the sniffle, she knew Emma was crying. Regina was about to comfort her and tell her how proud she was, and that it was all okay, when the blonde got up. The fury in her green eyes, made Regina’s confusion complete.

‘Emma? What are you doing?’

‘I need time.’

And before she knew it, Emma had left, leaving Regina softly crying too.