When Emma gets into bed that night, she starts to turn off the light but pauses after glancing over at Regina.
“Ready to call it a night?” Emma asks, frowning when she sees the book in Regina’s hands. “Or is something bothering you?”
“It’s this book Mal gave me tonight,” Regina says as she runs her fingers over the cover.
“I thought you loved it,” Emma says. She sits up and leans back on her hands, glancing over at her own book on her nightstand. “I know I love mine. I know you said that spellbook is rare, but friends give each other gifts, right? We did hunt down that dragonglass for her last month.”
“But she specifically asked us to look for it before we went through the portal. This is just…,” Regina furrows her eyebrows and stares down at her book. Then she inhales sharply and jerks her head up to look at Emma with wide eyes. “These are gifts .”
“Yeah,” Emma replies, dragging out the word as she tries to catch up with wherever Regina’s mind has headed. “I think that’s been established.”
“No. Gifts that she would give to someone she’s courting,” Regina says with an excited smile.
Emma feels jealousy clawing hotly in the pit of her stomach but manages to keep her voice steady as she says, “Oh, so she’s trying to date my girlfriend? Is that something dragons just do because they’re big and strong and can eat humans or whatever?”
Regina laughs and reaches over to take her hand. “No, Emma. She’s courting both of us.” When Emma just gives her a blank look, Regina sighs and says, “As a couple, Emma. It looks like she’s interested in a polyamorous relationship.”
“Oh.” Emma looks down at their joined hands and swallows. She can barely force out her next question. “So, what does that mean for us?”
“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Regina says, her forefinger hooking under Emma’s chin and lifting it until Emma looks at her. “I know I have history with her, but this is about us and her. And if you’re not interested, then we can just tell her. It might be a bit awkward at first, but we’ll get past it.”
Emma nods, considering. She squeezes Regina’s hand and smiles as she takes in Regina’s warm brown eyes and the dark hair curling over her shoulders and the way her fingers fit perfectly with Emma’s. She’s noticed Mal because it’s impossible not to, but she’s never thought about what it might be like to kiss her, take her to bed, wake up next to her. Well, not really thought about it anyway.
But, Mal is their friend and if she thinks something is there, maybe there is. Maybe now that she can think about something more between the three of them, she’ll find it.
“What if I am interested?” Emma asks in a quiet voice, unable to look away from Regina’s eyes, weirdly hoping that maybe Regina is curious as well.
“Then I think we need to talk,” Regina replies, leaning over and kissing Emma softly. “Together, with Mal. Even if you’re not interested.”
Emma nods. “Okay. And we can just see where it goes?”
“I think we can do that,” Regina says as she pulls Emma close and kisses her again, sinking down against the bed.
Except Emma has always managed to make every delicate situation in her life as awkward as possible. Which is why she is now hiding in the bathroom five minutes into their first quasi-date with Mal.
“Emma, just come out so we can talk,” Regina calls through the door as she rattles the knob from her side. “We all have magic, so it's not like we can't get in!”
“No, I'm not hiding. i just have--explosive diarrhea!” Jesus fucking christ . Emma winces and bangs leans her head against the wall. “So, it might be awhile?”
She’s committed now, and her cheeks flare with heat when she hears Mal’s amused chuckle on the other side. She does smile a bit when Regina shushes Mal and Mal hisses back, and this, this feels like normal for them. She grasps the door knob in her hand, longing to go back out to them both and maybe get somewhere, but she hesitates.
“If it helps, this is a bit embarrassing for me,” Mal says, her voice muffled by the door between them. “I thought my intentions were clear. Otherwise, I would have said something to avoid all of this.”
“Why didn't you just ask us out?” Regina asks.
“Why didn't you know that I was courting you?” Mal replies coolly. “It’s not like it's new for you.”
“It has been a very long time since all of that,” Regina says, in that tight snippy voice that Emma finds to be very cute. She can just picture Regina out there, hands on her hips, staring up at Mal through narrowed eyes. “And it's different when it's the two of us.”
Mal snorts in response, and Emma opens the door before the two of them get into a fight.
“So, I think we can all agree that this is new, right?” Emma asks as she pokes her head out.
Regina and Mal nod, and then Mal arches an eyebrow, an amused smile on her face.
“Were you worried that we were about to...how does Henry like to put it...throw down?” Mal asks, teeth glinting behind that red smile.
Regina suppresses a laugh, and Emma shrugs, blushing a little. “Maybe. Maybe I just started to feel better.”
“Don't dig that hole any deeper, my love,” Regina says as she presses a kiss to Emma’s cheek.
Emma leans into her side, wrapping an arm around Regina’s waist, and asks Mal, “So, how is this supposed to work? Like, are we, I don't know, dating or something now?”
“Nothing has to change,” Mal says as her eyes drift from Emma to Regina and then back again. “We can simply continue to spend time together with the assumption that if it works out, then matters can progress.”
“Romantically?” Emma says.
“If you would like to put it that way,” Mal replies, her gaze so heavy that there is no question in Emma’s mind that she's already thinking of the physical aspect.
Just the thought makes heat shoot straight through Emma, throat tight and stomach heavy at the thought of Mal taking them to her bed, hands everywhere, soft skin slowly revealed…
She sways into Regina and chokes out, “I'm going to get a glass of water.”
She can hear them laughing at her as she leaves.
Emma swipes at her forehead with the back of her hand and sits back on her heels to survey her progress in the new vegetable garden she and Regina planted a month ago. Even though she feels like she’s been working for the better part of the day, there are still some lingering weeds that she hasn’t pulled up. Groaning, Emma swallows and considers stopping for a break to grab some water.
Emma jumps and looks over her shoulder to see Mal standing a few feet away holding a tray with two glasses on it. She nods and shifts so she can just sit on the grass, resting her wrists on the top of her knees. Mal wrinkles her nose when she looks around and a blanket appears beside Emma; Mal settles on it, legs tucked neatly under her.
“Did you make that here?” Emma asks as Mal offers her a glass and Emma takes it. She catches a glimpse of pale skin revealed by the deep V-cut of Mal’s shift and looks away quickly.
Mal nods. “When I called her, Regina mentioned that you were planning on doing some gardening today while she went into the office. I thought you might need something cool to drink at some point.”
“So you just let yourself in?” Emma says, eyebrows raised.
“Prerogative of the girlfriend,” Mal replies with a smiles. She shrugs. “Or so I’m told.”
Emma’s mouth twists. “Right. Guess that makes sense.”
She then chugs half of the lemonade while Mal pretty much just stares at her, fingernail tapping lightly against her glass.
“Um, thanks for the lemonade,” Emma says quietly as she flicks some grass off her pants leg. “I was really thirsty.”
“Of course,” Mal says. Then she leans over and places her hand over Emma’s, asking, “Emma, is everything all right? I sense that you’re not completely comfortable with this arrangement, and if there is anything I can do, I will.”
“I--” Emma licks her lips and stares down at Mal’s hand, long fingers that feel like they’re burning through Emma’s pants leg. “It’s not that I don’t like the idea. But it feels like…”
“Feels like what?” Mal presses, pulling her hand away until it’s resting on the ground next to Emma’s knee, thumb just brushing the crease of Emma’s jeans.
“Like I’m cheating on Regina,” Emma mumbles. She shakes her head and continues, “I know that we’re all in this together, but it still feels like a betrayal to want to touch you or even…”
Mal chuckles. “You and Regina can be so much alike. Do you feel like you’re betraying her when you talk to me alone or confide in me?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Emma says with a frown. “But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Relationships aren’t just sex, Emma,” Mal replies, drawing out Emma’s name in that same way Regina does that makes Emma feel both irritated and flushed all over. “And you know that. It’s not like what you and Regina have built is just about sharing a bed together.”
“It’s a big part of it, though. At least, for us, it is,” Emma says quietly. She smirks and says, “And I’m assuming for you as well.”
Mal rolls her eyes and smiles as she says, “Of course sex is a part of it. And yes, a big part of it for me. My point is this: so far, nothing about our relationship has changed beyond your knowledge of how I feel for you and Regina.”
“But it will,” Emma murmurs. “And I don’t know if--ever since Regina and the Queen merged back, you’ve been a part of our lives. We became friends . And I was always a little jealous that it felt like...it always felt like she wouldn’t have made it through all of that without you. And I worry that if this goes badly then…”
“You’ll lose me?” Mal asks. When Emma nods, Mal reaches up to cup her cheek, thumb tracing over her cheekbone. “Oh, Emma. I’ve been through far worse than a relationship not working out like I planned. No matter what, I’m not going anywhere. There is nothing you can do to drive me away. Believe me. Regina definitely tried.”
Emma laughs and smiles at Mal, relaxing into the touch of her palm against Emma’s cheek. On instinct, Emma turns her head enough to press her lips against the curve of Mal’s palm. Mal’s eyes widen, her mouth falling open, and Emma bites her lip as she looks at Mal and those blue eyes and pinned back blonde hair, and she leans forward. Mal moves as well, pulling Emma close into a soft kiss.
Emma clutches at her shoulder, head spinning at having her this close, sighing against her mouth when Mal pulls away for a moment before chasing Mal’s lips with her own, kissing her more insistently.
“Well, I certainly feel left out,” Regina says with a light laugh, and Emma squeaks, jerking away from Mal. She looks up at Regina, and the smile on Regina’s’ face fades; she drops to her knees beside Emma and says, “No, Emma, it’s fine. I promise. I was just joking.”
“I’m sorry,” Emma mumbles. “I didn’t mean to freak out. I was just surprised and I’m still, I don’t know, adjusting.”
“It’s all right, dear heart,” Mal says, reaching over to take Emma’s right hand in her own.
“She’s right, Emma,” Regina says as she cups Emma’s face in her hands. “This is what we want, right? Unless you’ve changed your mind?”
“No, I want this,” Emma says insistently.
“Okay.” Regina smiles and then kisses her, slow and deep, her right hand moving to the back of Emma’s neck as her tongue flickers against Emma’s bottom lip.
Emma moans into her mouth and reaches for her hips, fingers hooking into the belt loops of Regina’s slacks. But Regina pulls away too soon, eyes warm as she drifts her lips over the tip of Emma’s nose. And then she turns to Mal and tilts her head as Mal cups her jaw and kisses Regina while Emma watches, eyes fixed on the way they move together, even as Regina’s fingers press against Emma’s skin, soft and an anchor.
It’s overwhelming, but then they both turn to her with smiles, and it starts to settle, solidify into something that feels like a foundation rather than diving out of a plane without a parachute. Like a new kind of home taking root deep in her chest.