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Kitchen Kisses

Chapter Text

Dark, shiny shells clattered against metal as the bowl was emptied, sauce splattering up the sides of the pan. She smiled at the fresh, salty fragrance which burst forth. There was nothing better in the world, Emma Swan was sure, than fresh mussels.

Flames licked the base of the pan as she shook it, coating the new ingredients with the sauce already simmering away. Sliding the pristine lid into place, she turned to survey the rest of her kitchen. Activity occurred in every corner as her team worked to get ready for the lunch rush. She caught her sous chef’s eye and nodded at him before turning her attention back to the new sauce she was working on as an accompaniment to the mussels. Most of it was already mixed with the shellfish but she had kept some back, sure there was something missing.

She loved cooking and relished the frenzy of a busy kitchen. But now she had risen to the position of head chef in a large restaurant she was able to delegate most day to day tasks, leaving her free to focus on what she truly loved. Inventing new dishes using any and every ingredient she could get her hands on.

Dipping a clean spoon into the sauce, she tasted it once more. Sharp, acidic, delicious. She knew once the cream was added, it would be divine. Yet it was still missing something. It didn’t yet have a signature flavour which would make it unique; an unmistakable Swan creation.

Her eyes scanned the spice rack before her, imagining how each one would work within the sauce. And then she saw it. Grinning, she plucked her chosen addition from the shelf, sprinkled a generous amount into the bowl and stirred.

“August, come here and try this,” Emma said, beckoning over her sous chef.

The man wiped his hands on a cloth and sidled over. Taking the offered spoon, he popped it straight into his mouth. Eyebrows rose.

“Good?” Emma asked, the edge of her thumb now trapped between her teeth, a nervous habit from her youth she had never been able to shake. Despite all her accolades as a chef, she continued to doubt her own ability at times.

“Awesome, Swanny,” August grinned. “What did you put in there?”

Emma smiled and picked up another spoon to try the finished sauce herself before pointing to the spice pot lying beside the bowl.

“And that’s why you’re the head chef,” August said, slapping his friend on the back. “Inspired. Are the mussels ready?”

Glancing at her watch, Emma realised she was in danger of over-cooking the beautiful local catch. She hauled the pot off the stove and set about picking out the mussels, discarding the few which hadn’t opened and placing the edible ones into a bowl. Once done, she added the new ingredient to the sauce in the pan and then poured in a generous helping of heavy cream.

“So, I was thinking of having these as the special tonight,” Emma said, as she ladled the finished sauce over the bowl of mussels. August was almost salivating at this point. “We’ve got a few boxes and there’s that big party booked in from the marketing agency. Should be able to shift most of them as starters, I reckon.”

“Sounds good to me,” August said as cracked pepper landed on top of the dish followed by a fresh sprig of basil. “Lemme try.”

Obediently, Emma pushed the bowl towards her friend and colleague as the man himself picked up a slender fork. He scooped out a shell with his fingers, skewered the small portion inside and pulled it free. Dipping the meat liberally into Emma’s new creation, he popped it into his mouth.

Teeth chewing her finger once more, Emma watched as the man ate her latest menu item. Only when the man had swallowed and reached for a second did Emma permit herself to eat one.

The taste exploded as soon as the perfectly cooked meat hit her tongue and she savoured the tang of the sauce before gulping it down.

“Winner, Swanny,” August said, nudging his friend. “Guys, come try these.”

Within seconds, the rest of the kitchen were gathered around, complimenting Emma and devouring the sample dish until there was nothing left but a pile of empty shells. August had taken it upon himself to slurp up the remnants of the sauce at the bottom of the bowl with a spoon, not wanting to waste a drop of the delectable nectar.

“I’ll go and tell Ruby to put it on the menu,” Emma said, picking up the pot to carry to the wash area before removing her chef hat and heading out towards the front of the restaurant.

“Killian’s here, by the way,” August said just as Emma was leaving.

“Today?” Emma frowned. “Why?”

The owner of Hook, Line and Sinker was not often present, something Emma was grateful for. His other businesses in New York took up the majority of his time and he considered the restaurant something of a hobby, albeit a profitable one. She hadn’t seen her boss for two weeks and felt the nerves coil in her stomach as she realised she would have to speak with him. No, not nerves, disgust.

“Something about this party tonight,” August said. “I think he wants the agency to do our advertising. I don’t know why we need to market this place though. We’re packed every night.”

The restaurant had indeed been a roaring success. Just three years old and already known throughout Maine as the best seafood restaurant the state had to offer. A twenty-minute drive from the state capital, Storybrooke had been a relatively unknown coastal town before Hook, Line and Sinker opened its doors. Much of the restaurant’s popularity had been due to Emma. Just a few years out of culinary school, the exceptional young talent had taken the helm eighteen months before and steered the restaurant to new heights. Although the owner, Killian Jones, recognised Emma’s value to his business, the man had not yet got his head around the fact that his affections towards the blonde chef were unwanted and unrequited.

“Right, well, I’ll go and say hi, I suppose,” Emma sighed.

“Need a bodyguard?” August joked.

Emma glowered at him. “Shut up. You know as well as I do that what he does is sexual harassment.”

Sobered, August looked guilty. He didn’t mean to make light of the situation and he knew Killian’s come-on attempts had a negative affect on his friend. Emma didn’t talk about it with him but he had seen the way she was shaken after the leering man called her into his office. Whatever happened, however, Emma refused to complain or report the behaviour. She had worked too hard to get where she was and was determined not to do anything which may jeopardise her job. Emma felt that were she to say something about Killian’s attitude, she may find herself unemployed and unemployable. The man was powerful and well connected.

The restaurant was half full when Emma emerged from the kitchen. She spotted Ruby speaking with two new wait staff and made her way over. Once her best friend and flatmate had finished briefing the young girls, she turned and beckoned Emma to follow her to the bar where she began to check the stock levels on their drinks.

“You know Killian’s here, right?” Ruby asked as she crouched down to open the fridge, the red streak dyed into her dark brown hair now visible to Emma, twisted into her neat bun in such a way that she presented respectably to customers and hid her wild side.

“Yeah, August just told me,” Emma said. “I’m going to pop my head in now. I wanted to tell you about the special I’m doing tonight. I thought I would try it out for the lunch crowd too but maybe just ten portions. Can you get your guys to report any feedback to me?”

“Market research? Sure,” Ruby said. “What’s the dish?”

Emma recounted the ingredients she had used to her friend who typed the details into her tablet. Promising to write the new dish on the specials board as soon as she was done at the bar, Emma left her friend and headed towards the seldom used office at the back of the restaurant. Before she could talk herself out of it, she knocked on the polished wood.

“Come in,” called the familiar Irish accent.

Opening the door, Emma forced a smile and stepped inside. “Hi Boss, how are you?” she asked, taking a seat before the man could stand and embrace her.

“All the better for seeing you, love,” Killian said, eyes unabashedly roaming over Emma’s body. Chef whites were hardly the sexiest clothes but the man was undeniably leering as he stared at the blonde. “How are you doing? Still single?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Emma said, ignoring the second question. “We’ve been busy. Tonight will be a big one too.”

“No time for dating, huh?” Killian grinned, leaning forwards and placing his elbows on the desk, hands clasped and extended towards Emma. “You should probably date someone you work with. That way you’d get to see them.”

“Yeah, tried that, didn’t work out so well,” Emma said, remembering how her last work-based relationship had dissolved into anger and betrayal and she had walked out of the kitchen less than a week later. “Anyway, I’m super busy but I just wanted to say hi. August says you’re here for the marketing agency this evening?”

“Sure am,” Killian said. “I want to take HLS to the next level. And I want you to come along for the ride, sweetheart.”

Emma pursed her lips but nodded. She loved her work and everything about cooking at the restaurant with the exception of her boss. Killian’s absence for the majority of the time made his infrequent visits bearable, however. They were enduring it if it meant she was able to keep doing a job she loved.

“When do you go back to New York?” Emma asked.

“Trying to get rid of me?” Killian grinned. Emma said nothing. “I leave tomorrow. It’s just a flying visit. One day, you’ll come down to the Big Apple and spend some time with me there. I’d like you to see my other businesses. Plus, my apartment has the most stunning view of Central Park.”

“I’m sure it does but I can’t leave this place,” Emma replied.

“I’m your boss,” Killian pointed out. “I give you permission.”

Emma was about to make up some other phony excuse when a knock on the door saved her from doing so. Ruby’s head appeared. “Sorry to interrupt. Ems, a customer is asking allergy questions and I don’t for the life of me know what to tell her. I mean, why would someone who was allergic to shellfish come to HLS?”

“Duty calls,” Emma said, standing up at once.

Killian leapt to his feet as well and circled the desk before Emma could move. He wrapped his arms around the blonde who stood, rooted to the spot, and hugged her tightly. Emma didn’t return the gesture, rather she tilted her pelvis backwards to avoid the feel of the man’s crotch pressed against her stomach.

“See you later,” Killian said as he pulled back and winked at her.

In the corridor, Ruby made a face. Emma wrinkled her nose and nodded her agreement. The duo headed over to the customer who required help without another word. Neither woman needed to voice what they both knew the other was thinking. They were lucky with their sexual preferences; women were definitely better than men.

Crowds of shoppers parted to pass around the little group standing in the middle of Monument Square and staring up at the billboard. Well, all except one group member who was watching the faces of her companions, trying to read their reactions.

“It’s perfect,” Mr Gold, the company’s CEO, said at last. “A triumph, Ms Mills. Congratulations. I know your mother would be very proud.”

Regina Mills let out a little sigh of relief. She knew the billboard was excellent and didn’t doubt her own abilities, or that of her team. But it was always nerve-wracking to wait for the client’s verdict. She was also quietly overjoyed that the old family friend thought her deceased mother would have been proud. Regina missed her mother every day and it brought some comfort to have her work validated by someone who had known her.

“I’m glad you approve,” Regina smiled. “I think this is a great start to your next campaign. The other boards will be erected overnight all over Portland and your digital ads begin running state-wide tomorrow. All going well, we’ll expand from there.”

Smiling, Robert Gold held out his hand to Regina. “Dearie, it’s been a pleasure,” he said. “What do you think, Gideon?”

Mr Gold’s son and heir to the independent children’s clothing brand, was still peering up at the new billboard, a slight frown on his forehead.

“Who’s the kid?” he asked. “I don’t recognise this photo from the shoot.” The image had captured a boy’s tousled hair and the top of his face poking through the neck hole in a fire-truck red t-shirt. His jeans were pale blue, white socks adorning small feet and a pair of sneakers waiting to be put on beside him. Although the child’s olive eyes were visible, Gideon was having a hard time remembering which of the child models they had hired would fit that look.

“Oh, that’s because he wasn’t there the day you came with the models,” Regina said. “This is my son, Henry. He was on site the day after when we were trying to get some product shots and my photographer captured this one. I know it’s not featuring one of the children you had selected but we thought it was rather powerful. It’s candid and truthful. Henry didn’t even know we were taking photos. He just started getting himself dressed.”

“He looks young. Must be at the lower age of our product line. What is he? Four? Five?” Mr Gold asked.

“Six,” Regina said. “Right in the middle of your age range.”

“It’s a great shot,” Mr Gold mused. “He’s very photogenic. I like this style too. It’s not staged and it shows that kids really do love our clothing. Would you be interested in him doing future campaigns?”

Regina had known this question would come up. As a marketer, she knew how important brand consistency was. But that didn’t mean she wanted to subject her son to the life of a child model. In fact, it had been her photographer who had persuaded her to use the image in the first place. She didn’t like the idea of her son’s photo being plastered all over Maine and even across the United States but since Henry was unidentifiable except by those who knew him well, she had agreed. And, she had to admit, Kathryn had been right. It was the perfect photo to launch the new clothing range.

“Not at the moment, I’m afraid,” Regina said. “The other marketing material has a variety of children from the shoot on it. Henry is just one of dozens wearing your brand.”

“I do hope this young man is joining us for dinner tonight,” Mr Gold said. “I’d like to thank him personally for lending his excellent hair and forehead to my company.”

Regina laughed but only to cover the nerves she felt at the suggestion. Henry in a restaurant? Eating in public?

“He’ll be with a sitter, I’m afraid,” Regina said.

“Nonsense,” Mr Gold said. “This dinner is a celebration of the launch of Golden Garments’ newest range and I think it’s fair to say your son is the forehead of our company right now. Please, I insist.”

Unwilling to say no to the biggest client Mills Marketing had ever landed, Regina found herself nodding in agreement, wondering as she did so whether there was any chance of the restaurant having something on the menu that her son would even consider eating.

Large bookings were always a source of tension in the kitchen. While the chefs appreciated the forewarning, they felt additional pressure to deliver exceptional food, timed to perfection throughout the night. Which would be possible if the group itself wasn’t twenty minutes late.

Emma was already cursing the marketing agency when the guests at last took their seats, before any orders had even come in. Ruby was fawning over them, at Killian’s request. He had come out briefly to introduce himself before disappearing. He was a good businessman but a terrible host and had retreated to the safety of his office as soon as the group were seated.

As she watched one of her trainee chefs prepare a cheese soufflé, Emma was distracted by a loud laugh from August. Turning around, she saw Ruby had entered the kitchen and the two of them were talking animatedly.

“What’s going on? Have they ordered yet?” Emma asked, glancing at the electronic screens where new orders would appear as soon as they were entered by the wait staff. Digital technology had done wonders for the efficiency of a large kitchen and Emma didn’t think she could ever go back to deciphering the scruffy scrawls of harried servers.

“The adults are almost all done,” Ruby said.

“There are kids in this group?” Emma asked. She didn’t dislike children but Hook, Line and Sinker was not the most appropriate place for a family with young kids to enjoy a meal out.

“One kid,” Ruby nodded. “The son of the marketing agency CEO. Um, but he’s fussy.”

“Of course he is,” Emma sighed. What kid wasn’t. “What have they asked for?”

“Beans on toast,” Ruby replied.

August snorted again and Emma’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re kidding, right? Do we even have a can of baked beans in this entire building?”

“I don’t know,” Ruby said. “What should I tell them?”

“You can tell them to go -”

“I’ll come and talk to them,” Emma said, interrupting August. There was enough swearing in the kitchen when the frenzied cooking started. They didn’t need to add to the vulgarity beforehand. Emma had grown up in households where swearing was not tolerated and it had taken some getting used to when she entered the world of commercial kitchens.

“Alright but I don’t know what good it will do,” Ruby said. “The mother seemed adamant the boy wouldn’t eat anything on our menu.”

Following Ruby from the kitchen, Emma glanced around at the busy restaurant, nodding at a few regulars as she wound her way through the chairs and tables until they reached the largest group. Men and women in office attire were talking loudly, drinks already half empty as they celebrated whatever commercial success brought them to the restaurant. Ruby led Emma to the far end of the table where a woman with perfectly styled short dark hair was crouched down beside a small boy.

“Ms Mills,” Ruby said. “This is our head chef, Emma Swan.”

The woman looked up from her position and then stood, holding out her hand. “Regina Mills,” she introduced. “Thank you for coming out here but really, there’s no need. Just beans on toast will be fine for Henry.”

Emma shook the offered hand before forcing a smile. “I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible.”

“Oh?” Regina asked. “And why not?”

“Well, we don’t have any beans,” Emma informed her. “Nor bread for that matter.”

“You don’t have bread?” Regina frowned. “You’re a restaurant. How do you not have bread?”

“We’re a high end seafood restaurant,” Emma replied. “The closest we get to bread are the freshly baked seaweed and kelp infused baguettes which come with our smoked fish pâté.”

“What’s pâté?”

At the question, Regina turned and crouched down beside Henry. “It’s a sort of thick spread you put on bread. This one is made from fish. Would you like to try some?”

“No,” came the immediate reply, head shaking.

“Are you sure?” Emma asked, addressing the boy directly whom she guessed to be about four years old. “It’s really nice.”

“I don’t like it,” Henry said, round face now upturned to Emma.

“But you haven’t tried it yet,” Emma said. “It’s delicious, I promise you.”

“Thank you, Miss Swan,” Regina said, standing up once more. “My son will be fine with some food I brought from home if you’re in agreement?”

Emma raised her eyebrows. “You brought your own food to my restaurant?”

“Yes,” Regina replied, unfazed by the offence she had caused the young chef. “My son doesn’t like a lot of food so I brought a few things I knew he would eat, in case you were unable to accommodate him. I assume that’s ok?”

Gobsmacked for a moment, Emma eventually nodded. The affirmation received a quick smile from the brunette before she turned and reached for her handbag. Seconds later, she had pulled out a packet of plain crackers, a carton of milk and an apple. Emma eyed the small selection with distain as they were placed in front of the young boy. Henry reached forwards at once and pulled the straw from the side of the milk. Regina ruffled his hair before turning back to Emma and Ruby who were still stood there.

“Thank you for coming out here but my son will be fine with this.”

“Are you sure?” Emma asked, calculating the nutritional value of the three items in her head and biting her tongue at the result she reached.

“Quite sure, thank you,” Regina replied. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to my guests.”

Sitting down before Emma and Ruby had even turned away, Regina reached to open the cracker packet Henry was struggling with before moving her attention to Mr Gold who was talking with his sales manager about the upcoming advertising campaign.

Ruby tugging on Emma’s sleeve snapped the blonde from her trance. She pulled her curious eyes away from the boy’s mother and retreated, without another word, into the kitchen.

The group’s orders had come through by the time Emma had returned and her staff were busy. She glanced up at the screen before checking in on August.

“We’re good, Chef,” he grinned, searing scallops in a pan as he spoke.

“Ok, yell if you need anything,” Emma said before making her way towards the fresh fruit and vegetable fridge and opening the door. Scanning the shelves, she mentally began to create a dish which would offer a young child the nutrition he needed.

Chapter Text

Corporate dinners weren’t Regina’s favourite calendar events but she had to admit she was enjoying herself. She had known Robert Gold most of her life and was able to reminisce about her mother with him after their conversation about marketing and the future of Golden Garments had wound down.

She was surprised at how well Henry was behaving too. By the time she had finished her own starter, a delicious mussel dish with a phenomenal sauce, he had almost eaten all his crackers and half of the apple had been nibbled at. As she was bent towards him, trying to persuade the child to finish his milk, a pair of polished yet clumpy black boots appeared in her line of vision.

“Chef Swan,” she said, looking up to see the blonde stood beside her son’s chair.

“I see you ordered the mussels,” Emma observed, eyeing the empty plate.

“I did. They were delicious,” Regina complimented. “What was in that sauce?”

“Ah, that’s a secret, I’m afraid,” the blonde grinned. She wasn’t in the habit of sharing her recipes with customers, even ones with rich brown eyes and a curious scar across her lip, the taste of which Emma had found herself pondering over for the past half an hour. “But I’m glad you enjoyed them.”

“Very much so,” Regina nodded. “Is that why you came out here? To get your ego stroked?”

Emma chuckled. “Us chefs do like to be complimented but no. I actually made something for Henry. I’m sorry we couldn’t accommodate your initial request so I took the liberty of putting something together for him.”

Before Regina could say anything, a plate appeared in front of her son. Henry, who had been trailing a toy car along the back of the chair beside him, turned to look at it. His mother did to.

“What’s that?” the small boy asked, eyeing the unfamiliar, bright food which had appeared.

“Your dinner,” Emma said. “That is, if you’re hungry.”

“Thank you, Chef Swan,” Regina said, tone harsh, “but my son doesn’t need any more food. And as I mentioned before, he’s rather picky with what he’ll eat. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time and ingredients, not to mention presented an unknown child with a meal without consulting his mother first. He could have allergies or dietary restrictions for all you know.”

Emma blinked. She hadn’t thought of that. In fact, she hadn’t thought at all. All she knew was the sight of the small boy eating such a pitiful assortment for dinner hadn’t sat well with her. She knew what it felt like to be hungry and she was sure the trio of items wasn’t going to be enough to fill up his stomach. And yet, as she looked into the angry eyes of his mother, she realised she had overstepped.

“I’m sorry,” Emma rushed. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I had some time in the kitchen and I felt bad about not having what your son did want to eat. I just thought … it’s Henry, right?” The small boy nodded at the question when Emma shot him a smile. “I thought Henry might want to try something different since he’s out celebrating with you and your company. But you’re right, I should have asked.”

“Yes, you should have,” Regina said, arms now folded.

Emma went to say something else but no words came. There was nothing else to be said, she decided. So instead she reached for the plate but her fingers were beaten to their destination by a smaller hand. She froze. Regina did too. Both women watched as Henry’s fingertips hovered over a carrot stick before moving to the dollop of hummus.

“Yuck!” he exclaimed as the dip covered his fingertips.

Regina reached forwards at once and wiped them clean. Henry scowled at the dish, as if the food itself had plotted to get him dirty.

“That’s what the carrot is for,” Regina said, picking up a stick and swiping it through the light brown substance. “See? This is hummus. Would you like to try it?”

“I don’t like carrot,” Henry reminded her.

“What about a cracker?” Emma suggested, pointing to the few left from his earlier meal.

Regina turned and raised an eyebrow. The blonde practically withered under the scathing gaze. She’d overstepped, again.

“Um, I’m gonna go back to the kitchen,” she said. “Shall I leave the plate?”

Loathe as Regina was to admit it, this was the first time in as long as she could remember that her son was showing any interest in food. Perhaps it was the colourful way Emma had arranged the plate or the fact that she herself wasn’t focusing too much on what he was doing. Already her son had reached out again and was now scrutinising a red strip of capsicum. Whatever the reason for his intrigue, there was no way Regina wanted to take away the object of his interest.

“Yes, thank you,” Regina said.

“Ok, good,” Emma said, offering the woman a half smile. “Does Henry have any allergies, by the way? Just so I can tell you if there’s anything on there he shouldn’t eat.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Regina said.

“Then why did you -?”

“You don’t give another person’s child food without asking, Chef Swan,” Regina interrupted. “Regardless of whether they do or do not have allergies, it just isn’t done. I can tell you don’t have children.”

The biting remark sent a jolt of anguish through Emma’s body. Tears sprung into her eyes before she could stop them. She whirled around and strode back to the kitchen without another word but it was too late; Regina had already seen the pain shining from those expressive green orbs.

Sinking back into her chair, Regina watched the blonde woman stalking away until she was out of sight. She sighed. The comment had been insensitive, she realised. And not intended to touch the nerve she suspected she had found.

“Mom,” Henry said. “What’s this?”

Forcing herself to forget those emerald eyes, Regina turned to her son.

“That’s capsicum, Henry,” she said. “It’s sweet. Would you like to try it?”

“No,” Henry said, dropping the strip of vegetable which had been pinched between his fingers.

Damn, Regina thought to herself. So close. Her gaze lingered on the plate before her son. The hummus looked rich and creamy, an array of vegetables splayed out from it in a perfect circle. Alongside the carrots and capsicum there was also cucumber and cheese, all cut into small, bite-sized pieces. Simple but effective, she thought. But nevertheless, the chef had crossed the line preparing the dish for her son. And anyway, it would be a waste. Henry didn’t eat this sort of food. As she looked at her son, however, Regina noticed that he was still observing the plate. He was curious, interested. Yet Regina knew she shouldn’t push. That never worked. So she forced herself to return to the conversation with Robert and the rest of the team, leaving Henry’s eyes still trained on the feast before him.

Emma threw herself into the preparation of the main courses as soon as she returned to the kitchen. As head chef, she often delegated these responsibilities and preferred to oversee when it came to large orders. August knew better than to ask what had happened in the restaurant. The shift had been unmistakable and he had sensed the tension radiating off the blonde when she came back into the kitchen.

By the time the final dessert plate had been sent out, Emma was exhausted. She wiped beads of sweat from her brow and told her staff to take five. The kitchen was a mess but it was also closed for the night, so they could afford a little downtime before they began to clear up. Stepping out into the back yard, she moved beyond the huddle of smokers and the other team members who were talking about an upcoming birthday party and walked away. The night air was cool; the spring warmth not yet seeping into the evening time. A few metres beyond the pool of light spilling from the open door, Emma stopped and leaned against the rough brick wall, head tipped back and looking up into inky blackness.

She was tired; the evening had been intense from a cooking perspective and having Killian on site always made her on edge. The man had appeared mid way through their preparation for the main meals and said goodbye. Emma had picked up a hot pan from which spitting oil was flying everywhere at that moment and the man retreated without the hug he had hoped for.

But it wasn’t the work that had drained Emma that evening. She liked being busy. She liked the focus and concentration that her work required of her. And although she had delivered exceptional dishes all night, as usual, she knew she had been distracted. Now she had a moment to herself, to process. She suddenly felt a desperate urge to get out of there and go to bed, burrow under her duvet and forget the day. She didn’t have the energy or the strength to deal with these emotions right now.

And so, barely two minutes after she had stepped outside, she returned to the kitchen and began to tidy away. Her team followed soon after and they worked together to straighten the place up. The empty dessert dishes were returned soon after 10:30. Emma wouldn’t have paid much attention were it not for the flash of colour which caught her eye as a waitress passed by.

“Wait,” she said.

The girl halted in her tracks and turned around. Emma took the plate from her hand and waved her on with the remaining dishes. She didn’t notice the frown the young woman shot her as she inspected the meal she was now holding.

The plate was almost full but some items had definitely been touched. There was an unmistakable gap between the capsicum and cheese and the hummus had several pock marks in it, where she imagined a certain small boy had dipped his chosen sticks. It wasn’t much; nowhere near enough, as far as she was concerned. But he’d eaten something more than crackers and an apple. Emma smiled.

Henry fell asleep on her lap before Regina had even finished her after dinner coffee. The group was diminishing as people filtered home, most of them facing a twenty-minute drive back to Portland. She was grateful she only had a ten-minute journey ahead herself. The move to the outer edges of the suburbs had been a reluctant one at first and not her decision. Now, however, four years after the relocation, she appreciated the lifestyle their location offered Henry. The cottage backed onto fields and the short walk to the boy’s school was far more enjoyable than through the congested, dirty city streets.

When it was just herself and the Golds left at the table, they asked for the check. After a mild disagreement, Regina conceded to allow Robert to pay for the meal and then stood up, cradling her son in her arms. Henry whimpered slightly but settled against her warm body as they walked out to the parking lot. Robert helped Regina settle the small boy into his car seat before he climbed into a sleek black Jaguar with his own son and took off.

Before she drove home, however, Regina needed to change her shoes. She hated driving in heels. As she was changing into the flats she kept in the trunk of her car, the roar of a motorbike reached her ears. She looked up just as a bright headlight burst into life, throwing herself and the scene around her into harsh relief. She squinted against the glare and averted her gaze, focusing once more on changing her shoes.

The engine revved and the beam swung away from her. Ostentatious machine, Regina thought to herself. The man is no doubt trying to make up for his personal inadequacies. Just as she was placing her heels into her car, the motorbike pulled up beside her and the noise died at once.


Shocked to realise she recognised the voice, Regina snapped her head to look at the blonde chef, still sat astride the large machine with the visor of her helmet up.

“You have a motorbike?”

“Yep,” Emma said, patting her pride and joy. “Been riding since I was sixteen.” The blonde wasn’t sure what had made her stop. She was still licking her wounds from the last encounter with the woman but something inside her had taken over and she had found herself braking as she passed the car.

“Oh, well, good for you,” Regina replied.

There was a pause before Emma reached up and pulled the helmet off, shaking out her hair in such a cliché way that Regina couldn’t help but smirk.

“What?” Emma asked, tousled blonde hair now hanging over both shoulders.

“Nothing,” Regina said. “I just didn’t realise people actually did that.”

“Helmet hair is a real affliction,” Emma said, tone solemn. “Just like high-heel-itis.”

Regina blushed and looked down at her plain black pumps. “Yes, well, I don’t like to drive in heels,” she justified.

“Hey, I feel ya,” Emma said, waving the foot visible to Regina and showing off her heavy motorcycle boots. “Did you enjoy the rest of your meal?”

“It was delicious, thank you,” Regina said. “You’re quite the chef.”

Emma was glad it was dark as her blush was hidden. She was used to getting compliments on her food but there was something about the way Regina said it that made her centre coil. In a way that was not appropriate in the middle of a car park beside a relative stranger after eleven at night.

“And Henry?”

She wasn’t sure what made her ask. It wasn’t like she wanted to get into another conversation with Regina about her son’s eating habits. It wasn’t her place and it was obvious the woman herself didn’t want to discuss it. And yet, somehow, the question had spilled from her lips, in much the same way she had found her hands travelling to the brakes and stopping her bike alongside Regina’s car.

“What about him?” Regina asked, head cocked coyly to the side. The look was testing, daring, challenging the blonde to see how far she’s push.

“Um, I was just wondering if he ate any of the dish I prepared for him,” Emma said. Clearly there was no point lying. Both women were equally aware of what the question pertained to. It also became aware to Emma that her internal filter had gone on vacation for the evening; an affliction which happened all too often.

Regina seemed to be deciding how much to say; how much to admit to the woman before her. Brown eyes raked over Emma’s face, the blonde growing increasingly more uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny.

“He ate a few pieces, I think,” Regina said.

“You think?”

“He doesn’t like eating when people are watching him,” the brunette elaborated. “But the pile of capsicum seemed to decrease.”

“And some of the hummus was gone.”

Perfect eyebrows rose in surprise just as Emma realised what her latest statement revealed.

“Pay attention to all half-eaten meals which come back to your kitchen, do you?” Regina quipped.

“There are very few of them, so yes, I suppose I do,” Emma replied. It was true. The number of plates which weren’t scraped clean by customers was minimal.

“Well, if you must know, I don’t think Henry ate any but I may have had a few pieces of cheese and hummus.”

Emma couldn’t help the smug smile spread over her face. The woman stood before her did not look like the type of person to indulge in cheese and hummus, no matter how delicious the combination was. In fact, Emma was willing to bet her week’s wages that Regina’s order was the one which had requested the dressing on the side of her pan seared sea bass.


“And what?”

“Did you like it?”

“Fishing for more compliments?” Regina laughed. Emma shivered at the sound.

“Perhaps,” she admitted, forcing herself to focus on Regina’s face and not allow her gaze to rove over the woman’s body. She did not want to come across as leering even though it was becoming increasingly impossible to deny to herself the physical attraction she felt for the brunette.

“Then yes, Chef Swan,” Regina said. “It was delicious hummus. I assume you didn’t milk the cow to make the cheese. Or should I compliment you on that element too?”

“I did cut those slices pretty perfectly,” Emma grinned.

“Then your knife skills are excellent as well,” Regina said.

Emma laughed. “Thank you.”

Silence fell. Regina regarded the woman before her quite calmly but Emma began to shift atop her motorbike at once, suddenly feeling nervous.

“I’d better be getting home,” she said. “Early start tomorrow.”

“Me too,” Regina said.

Emma nodded and picked up the helmet which had been resting on her bike, slipping it back onto her head.

“Um, have a good night,” Emma said.

“You too, Chef Swan, and thank you.”

“For what?”

“For the meal you prepared for Henry. I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to say what I did. But with Henry, well, let’s just say food is a touchy subject.”

Emma nodded slowly, not sure what to say. She wanted desperately to ask a question, to find out more. But she had already ended the conversation, the helmet was in place and she was ready to leave. She couldn’t reengage now.

“I understand,” she said at last, even though she didn’t feel like she understood at all. The only thing which was clear to her was that she had a burning desire to learn more about the woman before her and the little olive-eyed boy. “I’ll see you around, Ms Mills.”

The motorbike engine roared to life again as Emma turned the key. She glanced once more at Regina, still stood by the trunk of her car. Shooting the brunette one final smile, she slid the visor back into place, kicked the bike into gear and sped off. Regina coughed at the little cloud of dust which rose in Emma’s wake as she watched the motorbike brake at the parking lot entrance before turning and racing down the road, the sound of the powerful machine echoing through the night.

By the time Ruby got home that evening, Emma was already in her pyjamas on the couch. She always needed to watch television for an hour after a busy work shift to wind down before she could sleep. As soon as her friend had showered, the duo settled down to watch their latest Netflix binge-watching set.

“That marketing agency tipped well,” Ruby said. “I’m going to be able to take Belle away for her birthday and buy her that special edition book she was talking about.”

“Yeah, they seemed pretty happy with the whole evening,” Emma nodded. “Clean plates all round.”

“Except for the kid,” Ruby pointed out.


Ruby glanced at her friend. She had known Emma for five years, long before they had landed their jobs at the same restaurant and she knew something was wrong just from the way the blonde said that one word.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Emma said at once. She didn’t want to get into whatever it was that was filling her head with her flatmate that night. She didn’t even know what she was feeling or where to start. All she knew was that it was really none of her business. Although, if that was the case, why had she been unable to shake the memory of Henry Mills from her mind all evening?

Ruby was unconvinced by Emma’s answer but said nothing. Instead, she settled back against the couch, popped the lid off a beer and turned her attention to the next episode of Santa Clarita Diet.

Chapter Text

As Regina looked around the meeting room that morning, she had no problem identifying which of her staff had been the designated drivers the night before. While no one had gotten too drunk, a fair amount of alcohol had been consumed at the expense of their latest satisfied client. Several people were looking a little worse for wear as a result. She didn’t mind; her team had worked hard on the campaign and deserved to celebrate the win.

“Anything else to discuss before we wrap this up?” Regina asked, scanning her own list of pointers and confirming they had indeed covered everything.

The rest of her team shook their heads, at which she dismissed them. Meetings were never the most productive use of anyone’s time but sometimes they were unavoidable. After the initial launch of their marketing campaign for Golden Garments, Regina had wanted to gather everyone together and make sure their roles and responsibilities were clear going forwards. Satisfied that they were, she returned to her own office.

The view through the floor to ceiling windows of her corner office took her breath away, as it always did. She stood for a moment, overlooking the city of Portland from her twelfth floor height before she took her seat and fired up her computer. A flurry of email alerts made her groan but then she scolded herself. This was a good thing. Half of the messages were from potential clients, interested in her company’s services. The fact that they had landed the campaign for the well-known independent clothing company had caught people’s attention.

When she had joined her mother’s business after she completed college, Regina had been unsure about the viability of the core value of Mills Marketing. Her mother’s insistence that she didn’t want to work for large, multi-national corporations had made no sense to her; fresh out of Harvard Business School and focused on making profit. But over the years as she worked under and then alongside her mother, she had come around to the woman’s way of thinking.

It wasn’t about working for the biggest clients or generating the most money. It was about doing work which they believed; working for ethical companies who looked after their consumers and their staff. The majority of their clients were small, local businesses, many of whom had an environmental aspect to their business. From the products they made and the materials they used to the services they provided and the overall ethos behind their business plans. It didn’t take Regina long to realise how much more satisfying it was to work with companies for whom she genuinely wanted to do a good job. And due to their success rate, the money wasn’t bad either.

Regina relished the challenge of competing with the giant companies as well. Golden Garments was now rolling out their products across the United States, after being available only in Portland and Maine for years and were beginning to compete with other industry powerhouses. Yet the company hadn’t sold out their values and continued to make all of their clothes and source all of their materials within the US. Regina couldn’t wait to see what sort of results her team could produce.

Just as she began answering the first email, a knock on her door interrupted her. Her office walls were all glass, as was the door. Her mother believed in an open workspace and beyond the transparent sheets was a large room filled with desks where her team was working. Outside her door, she saw, stood her assistant. Regina waved him inside.

“Good morning,” she smiled. “Did you enjoy last night?”

“Very much so. Thank you for inviting me,” the bearded man replied.

“Nonsense, Graham,” Regina scoffed. “You’re as much part of the team as anyone else. Of course you were invited.”

A slight blush rose above the stubble. “Thank you, Ms Mills. I wanted to ask if you had any particular requests for your lunch.”

Regina glanced at the top of her computer screen and saw that it was already after eleven in the morning. “I’m still full from last night,” she admitted. “I hadn’t even thought about lunch. Can you just get me my usual salad?”

“Of course,” Graham nodded. “It was good food, wasn’t it? That chef is very talented.”

“Yes, she is,” Regina conceded. The dishes she had eaten had all been divine. But the other talent Emma had displayed also crossed her mind. She still wasn’t sure what the woman had done to that dish the previous evening but Henry had eaten something new. She couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. For too long the list of food deemed ‘acceptable’ to her son had remained stagnant. Plain crackers, white bread, pasta, canned Heinz beans, tomato sauce, plain yoghurt, strawberry jam, apples, pears, grapes, milk and apple juice. But now, perhaps, a vegetable could be added to the list in its natural form.

“Um, Ms Mills,” Graham said after several seconds had passed and it became apparent that his boss had become distracted.

“Sorry, Graham,” Regina said, snapping back into the room. “Could you get me a coffee before you head out to get the salad, please? I’ve got a busy day ahead of me.”

“Of course,” Graham nodded before leaving the room and setting off to complete his tasks.

Regina returned her gaze to her computer screen and tried to focus on replying to the email before her. It took longer than it should; thoughts of her son creeping into her mind every few seconds as she remembered the previous evening.

Just as she pressed send at last and moved onto the next email, Graham returned with her coffee.

“Thank you,” she smiled as she took the steaming mug.

“You’re welcome. Oh and I got a call from the restaurant. Apparently they found a toy car under our table and assumed it was Henry’s. Someone’s going to drop it over here this afternoon.”

“Seriously?” Regina frowned. “It’s a cheap toy. They needn’t waste their time nor fuel. Henry has a box full of cars.”

“Yes but that is his favourite one,” Graham reminded his boss.

“He hasn’t said anything about losing it,” Regina frowned. “How do you know it’s his favourite anyway?”

“I was sat next to him last night and it was the only thing he talked about,” Graham explained. He had known Henry for the whole of the child’s life and was rather fond of the little man. “He was spouting off all sorts of facts and figures. I’m sure when he gets back from school this afternoon he’ll realise its absence.”

Regina had to admit that was true. The duo had overslept that morning and it had been a rush to get out of the house and to school on time. Henry hadn’t even had a chance to notice the car was missing.

“Fine,” Regina said. “Well, when they drop it off, can you make sure reception say thank you on my behalf?”

“Of course,” Graham said. “I’m going to get your lunch now, unless there’s anything urgent you need me to do?”

“Can you please rearrange that conference call I am supposed to have with our AdWords advisor this afternoon to next week? I’m not going to have time today and the script is taking care of all bid changes anyway. The strategy direction can wait a few more days.”

Graham nodded and retreated once more to complete his tasks as Regina recommenced her chore of replying to emails. She sighed as she saw that two more had arrived in the time she had spent talking to Graham. Sometimes it seemed never-ending. I need a vacation, Regina thought to herself as she clicked reply and started to type.

Lunch at Hook, Line and Sinker was quiet that Friday. Emma was glad. She hadn’t slept well the night before. So she had left her staff to manage without her and retreated to the small office at the back of the kitchen. It was more of a cupboard than an office, in fact, but it was where Emma kept all her paperwork. Ahead of the weekend rush, she set about double-checking order forms and calling suppliers to make sure her kitchen was fully stocked.

“Em, do you have any plans this afternoon?”

Ruby had appeared in the doorway, hair already undone from its bun so the shock of red was visible once more. She had finished her shift and was heading to Belle’s. Her girlfriend was studying for her masters and had no class on Friday. Ruby went over every week to ‘help’ Belle write essays. Emma had a strong suspicion it became the least productive time of the studious woman’s week.

“No, just gotta get these orders in, why?”

“I found a toy which that kid from last night left here,” Ruby explained. “I said someone would drop it over to their offices in the city.”

“The city? You mean Portland?”

“As opposed to the tiny city of Storybrooke? Yeah,” Ruby said. “Figured you’d get there on your bike faster than anyone else. The parking where they are located is a nightmare.”

“You realise I’m a chef, not a delivery service, right? Send one of the wait staff and chuck them ten bucks.”

Emma wasn’t sure why she was resisting. In truth, the thought of seeing Regina Mills again had sent a jolt of electricity through her body. Her restless night had been plagued with images of the woman and her son, a flurry of emotions and memories coiling inside her. But she had woken up resolved to forget them and move on. Whatever was going on with the small boy, it was none of her business. And the fact that the woman had a son meant that the other reason Emma couldn’t stop thinking about the brunette was irrelevant. The woman was clearly straight. That was the end of it.

“I’m not paying one of them to run it into the city,” Ruby said. “They hate working split shifts enough as it is. Asking them to do this would just add insult to injury.”

“What about my injury?” Emma asked, leaning back in her chair.

“You love any excuse to ride that bike,” Ruby pointed out. “And don’t tell me you had any plans. I know you were going to sneak home and binge watch Grace and Frankie.”

Emma folded her arms but said nothing. What could she say? Ruby was right. “Fine, but you owe me a beer.”

“Deal,” Ruby grinned.

“Not from here,” Emma added. “We have to go somewhere else, so you actually have to pay for it. I know you fudge the books to cover the bottles you take.”

Ruby looked nonplussed at the accusation. She didn’t care if Emma knew her sneaky secret. It wasn’t like their boss needed the money and she and Emma between them were the only reason the restaurant was running so successfully. She deserved the occasional beer after a long shift.

“Fine, how about you join Belle and I tomorrow night after work? We’re going to that new cocktail bar in the city. Some of her college friends know the owner or something. Should be a good night.”

“I’m in,” Emma said.

“Awesome,” Ruby grinned. “Here.” She reached into the pocket of her slacks and withdrew the small toy car.

“You’re kidding, right?” Emma said as the item landed on her desk. “You want me to drive to Portland to return a Hot Wheels which costs about fifty cents?”

“You agreed,” Ruby pointed out. “And I think they’re worth more than that. Anyway, I’ve gotta head cos I’m already late to meet Belle. See you later.”

And with that she was gone, leaving Emma staring at the tiny car in disbelief. While it was true that she had no plans, she hardly thought it was worth her time to drive into the city to return such a worthless toy. But, a small voice in her head reminded her, you’ll get to see Regina again.

“Fuck it,” Emma said, slamming her notes shut, picking up the car and shrugging on her leather jacket.

It was soon after three when Regina had finally replied to all of the emails in her inbox. She smiled in satisfaction as the whoosh sounded to illustrate the final one had been sent. Spinning around in her chair, she gazed out over the city, rewarding herself with just a few moments of quiet before she began her next task.

Barely ten seconds had passed before there was a knock at the door. A quiet groan and Regina swung back around. Her eyes widened at the sight before her. Through the glass she took in her assistant, waiting patiently for permission to enter, and the unexpected figure hovering behind his shoulder. Hiding her surprise, she waved her hand and the duo entered, taking off her reading glasses as she did so.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Ms Mills, but Miss Swan was quite insistent that she should return Henry’s toy personally.”

“Was she now?” Regina said, eyes fixed on the blonde who was clad in black leather. “And you were unable to stop her from doing so?”

Green eyes gazed calmly back, reading the slight twinkle in Regina’s eyes and knowing that the brunette was teasing her employee.

Graham stuttered for a moment before admitting that Emma may have presented him with some delicious-looking desserts.

“I brought some for you too,” Emma said, producing the now half-empty box from behind her and holding it out.

Regina eyed it for a moment before dismissing Graham and asking Emma to take a seat. The blonde did, depositing the box of goodies she had gathered from the dessert fridge on Regina’s desk.

“Bribing my staff?” Regina asked, that same twinkle now directed towards Emma.

“I had some spare pastries and I didn’t want them to go to waste,” the blonde shrugged, leaning back in the chair and grinning at the woman before her. Emma was having to use all her self control not to drop her gaze down over Regina’s body, clad in a form fitting maroon dress.

“And you wanted so desperately to gain access to my office why?”

“I wanted to know what was so special about this,” the toy car landed on Regina’s desk alongside the box, “that it was worth me driving twenty minutes into the city to return it.”

Regina reached out and picked up the toy, slipping it into her bag at once so it wasn’t forgotten again. “It’s Henry’s favourite,” she explained. “Although I wasn’t aware it was missing until Graham told me the restaurant had phoned. I did tell him it wasn’t worth someone’s time and effort but he said the arrangements had already been made. I apologise for wasting your time but please know that Henry will be grateful.”

“Well, if it’s his favourite, then I suppose the journey was justified,” Emma smiled. “How is he?”

Eyebrows rose. “How is my son?”

Cheeks blushed. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

“You’ve taken quite the interest in my son’s wellbeing in the past 24 hours, Chef Swan,” Regina said. “Your concern for his meal last night led you to create that impressive spread for him and now you’re driving twenty minutes to return his toy.”

“Ruby, our front of house manager, asked me to come here.”

“And you agreed,” Regina shot back. “You’re the head chef at one of the most respected restaurants in the state and yet you drove here yourself. Surely you could have delegated this task to someone else if you so wished.”

“I could have.” It was true. There were any number of aspiring young chefs in her kitchen who would have been willing to return the toy had their boss asked.

“But you didn’t,” Regina continued. “Why not?”

Emma shifted in her chair, uncomfortable. She could feel Regina’s eyes on her, appraising her movements and trying to decipher the meaning behind them.

“I had nothing else to do,” Emma shrugged. “And I like the ride.”

“Yes, I’m sure city traffic is every biker’s dream,” Regina deadpanned.

Emma had to admit the traffic had been a nightmare. She had dodged and weaved as much as she could but it had still taken her longer to reach the office of Mills Marketing than she had expected. And then she had been stopped at reception and told to leave the toy there. She wasn’t sure what made her do it but she had kicked up a fuss and insisted she be allowed to see ‘Ms Mills’. When her assistant had appeared, Emma had produced the box of desserts and easily enticed Graham to escort her up to his boss. But now she was here; sat opposite the beautiful woman and suddenly it became too much. The air was cloying, choking, suffocating. Her bike leathers were tight, hot, unforgiving. She had to get out of there; she couldn’t put herself through this again. Crushing on a straight girl never ended well.

“Well, I delivered it.” She gestured towards the bag below Regina’s desk. “I guess I’ll be going now.”

Emma stood abruptly and turned to leave the office.

“Chef Swan, wait,” Regina called. Stopping in her tracks, Emma turned on the spot. Regina was standing now, the teasing smirk gone from her face. “Thank you,” she said, sincere and honest and unguarded for the first time since Emma had entered her office.

“No problem,” Emma said. “I’m glad Henry has his favourite toy back.”

“Not for that,” Regina explained. “For last night.”

“Oh, you’re welcome. It’s my job.”

“I don’t mean our food,” Regina clarified again. As someone whose job was communicating clear brand messages, she really was making a mess of this conversation. “I meant for Henry’s meal.”


“I … he … I mean, he’s fussy,” she finished at last.

Emma didn’t say anything. She could tell from the look on Regina’s face that the reveal was causing some sort of inner turmoil. But she also knew that what she had seen last night wasn’t fussiness. It was more than that; the way Henry interacted with his food reminded her of someone, of a time in her life she would rather forget. Only a few seconds passed before Regina continued.

“He doesn’t like much food but last night he tried something new. It might sound silly but that’s a big thing for him.”

“The capsicum?”

Regina nodded. “He’s … it’s hard,” she admitted. “He won’t eat many vegetables so if he’s willing to eat something new and it’s healthy, that’s an important step forwards for us.”

“I understand,” Emma said. And she did; more than Regina knew. “I’m glad I can help, even though I still feel bad that I overstepped. You were right, I shouldn’t have prepared anything without asking you.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Regina said. “If you had asked, I would have said no.”

“Why?” Emma couldn’t help herself, the question spilling from her lips before she had the chance to filter it and recognise it for the invasive, personal probe that it was.

Regina looked away from the curious green eyes before her. She didn’t talk about this with anyone. Not even Kathryn, her closest friend. Henry’s eating habits were the unspoken elephant in the room whenever the duo spent time with any of her friends. Yet for some reason she found herself wanting, almost needing, to confide in Emma. Why, she wasn’t sure, but something was making her talk. Perhaps it was the fact that the woman was a stranger. Perhaps it was that the woman’s dish the previous evening had been a milestone for Henry. Perhaps it was something she couldn’t, wouldn’t name. Whatever the reason, something was making her talk. And now she had started, she wasn’t sure she could stop.

“I’m scared to push him to try new food,” Regina confessed. “He resists everything. The only reason he ate that capsicum last night was because I was distracted and not watching him. Had I agreed to the meal, I would have been hovering. As it was, he had already eaten his crackers and apple so I wasn’t so focused on making sure he ate. On his own terms, he tried something new.”

“You know crackers and an apple aren’t providing him with enough nutrition, right?” Emma said, her voice soft.

“He eats other things,” Regina defended. “They were just the easiest to bring to a restaurant.”

“Ok,” Emma said. “But you’re still worried?”

A pause and then Regina nodded. The women were both still standing but after a moment, the brunette sank into her chair. Emma hesitated before taking her seat once more.

“How long has he been fussy?” Emma asked, using the word Regina chose earlier despite her own suspicions about what was going on with the small boy.

“It began over two years ago.”

“Have you spoken to a doctor?”

Regina nodded. “He says Henry’s underweight and has told me to feed him more. But it doesn’t work like that. No matter what I offer him; he won’t eat.”

“Have you spoken to a specialist?”

“What sort of specialist?” Regina asked.

“A child psychologist.”

Regina shook her head. “No, I haven’t.”

“Maybe you should,” Emma said. “Ms Mills, I -”

“Regina,” the brunette interrupted. “You can call me Regina.” As the head of the company, Regina was always addressed formally by her employees but for some reason, when it came to the blonde opposite her, the title felt wrong. Especially when, for reasons Regina didn’t understand, their conversation had taken an alarmingly personal turn and was tumbling towards her deepest, darkest worries.

Nodding, Emma started again. “Regina, I don’t want to speak out of turn and I know I only spent a short amount of time with your son but I think you should consider speaking to someone who has experience with this.”

“This? Fussy children? Aren’t all children fussy?”

“Not this fussy,” Emma said. “And I’m no expert but I don’t think this is normal fussiness.”

Regina averted her eyes from the piercing green pair before her. She wasn’t foolish. She knew what was going on with her son. But she had never spoken about it out loud; had never acknowledged it such a confronting way. It made it real. She had been in denial, she supposed, refusing to accept what she had suspected for months. Yet now, opposite Emma Swan, the realisation hit her like a tonne of bricks.

“I have a lot of work to do,” Regina said suddenly. “Thank you for returning the car and thank you for the desserts.”

Emma blinked at the abrupt switch. Much as she wanted to stay, to talk, to confide in the brunette, she recognised a non-negotiable dismissal when she heard it.

“You’re welcome,” Emma said, standing up for the second time. “Say hello to Henry for me.”

“I will. Thank you again, Miss Swan.”

“Emma,” the blonde said. “You can call me Emma.”

Rich chocolate eyes burned into hers for a split second before Emma spun around and left the office without another word.

Chapter Text

Regina woke early on Saturday morning, as she always did. Spring was delivering brighter mornings every day and pale sunlight seeped around the edges of her blinds. She rolled over and reached for her phone, noting that she had at least thirty minutes before she expected Henry to wake. Her mind began to wander.

After Emma Swan left her office the previous afternoon, she had been entirely unproductive. She couldn’t stop going over the conversation in her head and picking it apart, word by word. Yet it wasn’t meaning she was searching for, it was reason. Why? Why had she opened up like that? Why had she told Emma those things? Why had she confessed so much to a complete stranger? She hadn’t spoken to anyone in her life about Henry’s eating issues, at least not to that extent. Her closest friend, Kathryn, had tried to bring it up once, soon after the problem started and Regina had lashed out. It was never mentioned again.

Even her own sister didn’t broach the subject of her nephew’s eating habits. Regina was sure Zelena was aware that Henry wasn’t ‘normal’ when it came to food even if the woman herself claimed to be obtuse when it came to raising children. As far as Zelena was concerned, if Henry was still breathing at the end of her babysitting stint, she’d done a good job. The fiery redhead spent enough time around the boy to know something was amiss but she never mentioned it; not once.

Whatever was going on with her son, Regina didn’t talk to anyone about it. Which was why the display of vulnerability in the presence of Emma the previous day had thrown her so far off her axis that she was still struggling to right herself.

In the wake of that unexpectedly frank conversation, Regina was unable to focus on making any decisions for her projects that Friday afternoon. This led her to pick Henry up from his child minder on time, for once. He had chatted the whole way home and the conversation about what he and his best friend Roland had done at school continued as Regina prepared their dinner. She liked Henry to be in the room when she made his food, hoping he might become interested in that aspect of meals which may lead to a better appetite. She had also, daringly, chopped up some capsicum and added it to the tomato sauce for their pasta.

“What’s that?” Henry has said as soon as the bowl landed in front of him.

“Capsicum,” Regina replied as she took her seat, not wanting to lie to her son. “You had it last night at the restaurant.”

She didn’t say any more however and instead tucked into her own bowl, hoping that the lack of pressure and scrutiny might work as it had at Hook, Line and Sinker. Out of the corner of her eye, however, she watched as Henry poked at the small pieces of vegetable with a fork. Still, she held her tongue. It was several minutes later when Henry finally took his first mouthful, small and tentative. A win, Regina decided. The conversation recommenced and Henry filled his mother in on the epic block tower he and Roland had built.
“It was taller than me!” he exclaimed. “But Roland was taller than it still,” he finished a little despondently.

Regina praised her son, forcing herself not to compare her son’s stature to that of his friend and the others in his class. It was a constant challenge on the afternoons when she collected her son from the school gates or attended parent days. She knew every kid was different and developed at their own rate but she was also painfully aware there was a clear reason for Henry’s diminutive frame.

Their usual Friday night tradition to watch a movie on the couch saw them enjoying Finding Dory after dinner. Henry fell asleep before the fish family were reunited but Regina let it play on, engrossed in the storyline more than her sleeping son. When she lifted him into her arms and carried him through to his bed, she tried not to think about how light he was. She went to bed herself not long after that but sleep had taken a long time to wrap its blissful darkness around her racing mind.

And now, hours later, her morning thoughts were once again consumed. They alternated between her son and a pair of bright green eyes. But her thoughts of Emma all related back to Henry anyway. What did Emma know? Or suspect? And what was it about Emma that had broken through Regina’s defensive walls quite so spectacularly and, it seemed, effortlessly?


Her door was pushed open and a sleepy head poked around the frame.

“Hello my little prince. You’re awake early,” Regina said, smiling at her son and beckoning him into the room.

He padded across the carpet and pulled himself up into her bed. Regina rolled back the duvet and he snuggled underneath at once, rolling himself against his mother’s body.

“What are we doing today?” Henry asked, wriggling to get comfortable and landing a bony elbow in Regina’s ribs as he did so.

“Whatever you like,” Regina replied. “But I have to go out tonight, remember?”

“Is Aunty Kat looking after me?”

“No, Aunty Kat is coming with me,” Regina said. “I’ve asked Ella to come. She’s going to bring Alex and you’re going to have a sleepover. Won’t that be fun?”

Henry pouted. “Alex is a baby. Can’t I come with you and Aunty Kat?”

“No, sweetheart. The place we’re going isn’t for children. But Alex isn’t a baby any more. I know it’s been a long time since Ella has come here to look after you in the evening and you probably only remember Alex when she was a baby. She’s four now, so I’m sure she’d like to play some games before you both go to bed. Ella and Alex are going to sleep in the spare room so they can have breakfast with us tomorrow too.”

“Four is still a baby,” he argued. “I’m nearly seven.”

“You’ll be seven in five months,” Regina chuckled. “And we only use the word ‘baby’ up until children start to walk around. Then we say toddlers and that’s usually when they’re about one. So Alex is definitely not a baby any more.”

Not entirely convinced, Henry knew better than to argue with his mother and set about deciding how the duo were going to spend their Saturday together.

Weekend lunches at Hook, Line and Sinker were always packed and Emma was relieved when the final order came through and the end was in sight. She was eager to get out of the kitchen and take her bike to her mechanic. Something had sounded off on her drive back from Portland the day before and she wanted to get it checked out. Her bike was her pride and joy, so she hoped it was nothing serious.

“Rubes, I’ll be back before service starts again,” Emma said, popping her head around the doorframe to her friend’s office. Ruby’s workspace was even smaller than Emma’s and the lanky brunette usually sat with her legs poking out into the corridor. More than one preoccupied waiter had gone flying since she had become the front of house manager.

“Fine,” came the distracted reply. Ruby was notorious for leaving everything until the last minute and then almost drowning in paperwork towards the end of the month.

“Need anything?” Emma asked.

“A night out.”

Emma laughed. “Coming right up.”

She was surprised to realise she too was looking forward to the evening ahead. She wasn’t always in the mood to hang out with Ruby and Belle. The pair had been together for two years but were still besotted with one another. Sometimes it just served to remind Emma that she was alone. While she loved her job and had a great apartment and enjoyed her free time, she couldn’t help but miss having someone to share it with on occasion. Often those occasions were when she witnessed Ruby and Belle locked in a fierce embrace.

Maybe I just need to get laid, Emma mused, as she swung her leg over the motorbike and grabbed her helmet from where it rested on the handlebars. In fact, the opening of a new bar may be the perfect remedy to her solitude; at least for a few hours.

Kicking the bike into gear, the engine hummed to life. Listening closely, she noted that it sounded normal. But when she lifted up the kickstand, tapped the bike into gear and set off, she she heard the mysterious grinding once more. Grimacing, she wondered how much the repair was going to set her back as she drove, slower than usual, out of the parking lot.

Her mechanic wasn’t far away and she took the road gently, not wanting to do any more damage to her troubled bike. As she rode, her mind replayed the conversation with Regina the previous day. She had been thinking about it a lot since she left the brunette’s office. For the first time in months, she had burnt a dish, so distracted was she by the memories of that all too short conversation. August had looked at her curiously after the mishap but she had just shaken her head and got fresh ingredients from the fridge.

She hadn’t voiced her suspicions to Regina. It wasn’t her place. And yet, the woman had been surprisingly open with her about what was going on with her son. Regina didn’t seem like a sharer, Emma mused, yet their conversation had become personal rather fast. Why? Did Regina know? Had the beautiful brunette guessed why Emma was so outspoken? Was it obvious that Emma was speaking from a place of personal experience? It had been over a decade. It was in her past. And yet, seeing Henry, it felt like yesterday.

Her arrival at the bike shop interrupted her musings. Sean Herman came out to greet the blonde as she pulled in, shaking her hand and transferring grease onto once her clean palm. She tried to describe the noise but after several attempts to re-enact it, Sean just asked for the keys and climbed on the bike himself. He was barely gone for two minutes before he was back, announcing that the sprocket had moved out of alignment. Assuring her that it was a relatively easy job and that he wouldn’t charge her, Sean wheeled her machine further into his shop to get started.

As the mechanic began to work on her bike, Emma perched herself on his messy desk and continued her chain of thought from the ride. Putting herself aside for a moment, she focused instead on the boy. He looked healthy enough, she decided. Bright eyes, clean, shiny hair and a complexion identical to Regina’s. He wasn’t starving, exactly, but she doubted he was getting the nutrition he needed nonetheless. Emma knew how vital nutrition was for children and teenagers in particular. It was one of the reasons she had become a chef; her fascination with the fact that humans needed a variety of different food types to survive and be healthy. Was Henry healthy? From the glimpse into his diet she had gleaned, she feared not. And she was starting to think Regina shared the same concerns.

But what could she do? Emma thought to herself. It wasn’t like she and Regina were friends. Their paths weren’t going to cross again, were they? They lived and worked in different cities. They had no mutual friends and no doubt ran in different social circles. The only way Emma was going to see Regina again was if she turned up at the offices of Mills Marketing. Something told her that would be an unwelcome visit, despite their conversation yesterday. She had a sneaking suspicion that while the woman might have felt some initial relief to confide in someone as she did Emma, today would be a different matter. That Regina was suffering with a vulnerability hangover was a bet Emma was willing to take.

“Done,” Sean announced not long after he began his task. “Told you it was easy.”

“I should have been watching so I could do it myself in the future,” Emma said, hopping off the desk and walking over to her bike.

“Nah, it’ll be fine now. Sprocket was just a little loose. Anyway, you know I’m always happy to help you out,” he grinned.

Emma wasn’t sure whether it was because the man liked blondes or because there were so few female bikers but she always got preferential treatment at Sean’s. She wasn’t complaining, to be fair, and at least he didn’t hit on her. The man knew she was gay because she and Elsa had been to the bike shop several times over the years they were together. The man’s head had practically exploded when they turned up for the first time on that hot summer day. Again, Emma still wasn’t sure if it was because they were girls on bikes or blonde girls on bikes. Or a blonde girl with the legs of another blonde girl pinned tight against her leather-clad hips. To be honest, Emma realised, whatever the reason, she really couldn’t blame the man.

Thanking Sean once more, Emma set off towards her apartment, hoping to get a brief nap in before she had to return to work. If she was going to keep up with Ruby on their night out, she was going to need it.

The beat vibrated through every particle of her body as soon as she stepped over the threshold, tugged straight into the bustling crowd by Kat. Powerless to help, she followed her friend through the throng until they reached the bar. Kat squeezed herself between two other patrons, ignored their grumbles of protest and waved at the woman currently shaking a cocktail maker to whoops and cheers from the customers she was performing for. Turning around, she leaned against the bar and smiled at Regina.

“Good to be out again?”

Regina looked around and wrinkled her nose. Nights out had never been her style and the bar was packed. She knew that was a good sign and she was happy that the opening night was going so well. But she would rather be in a quiet wine bar where she could hear herself think and actually have a conversation with her best friend. Or at home with her son watching whatever trash was on television. And then Regina remembered that she was thirty-two, not seventy-two, and pulled herself together.

“I suppose,” she replied, knowing Kat didn’t want to hear her complaining and that she should try to enjoy herself.

“We’re going to have so much fun,” Kat squealed, half excited about the night itself and half about the fact that she had managed to get Regina out of the house and to a function without Henry for the first time since … since it happened. She sobered for a moment, wondering if Regina recognised the significance of the night and her son’s absence. But then she gave herself a little shake and decided to make sure Regina’s first night out in over two years was a celebratory experience and one neither of them would forget.

A tap on Kat’s shoulder made her turn around. Two drinks had been placed on the bar and a tall redhead now stood before them, grinning widely.

“Hey you two,” she shouted over the music. “Thanks for coming.”

“Awesome turnout, Zelena,” Kat called back, picking up the drinks and handing the apple martini to Regina before sipping her own cosmopolitan. “These are on the house, right?”

Zelena laughed and nodded.

“Thanks sis,” Regina mouthed before Zelena turned away to serve the next customer who was complaining that Kat and Regina had jumped the line. Which they had but neither cared. It was one of the perks of knowing the owner, after all.

Drinks in hand, the pair made their way across the bar and found an empty booth. People were already dancing despite it being early, so the newly renovated seating areas weren’t getting much use. Regina suspected there’d be couples draped all over them before the night was over. She and Kat settled in and began people watching; one of their favourite activities.

“Rubes, I need to go home and shower, seriously,” Emma moaned.

“We’re already late,” Ruby argued, pulling off her shirt as she spoke and unbuttoning her slacks.

The pair were in Emma’s office and both were supposed to be getting ready for their night out. But due to an unfortunate kitchen incident involving an inexperienced pot-washer and a clumsy chef, Emma now smelt rather strongly of prawns.

“I stink,” Emma protested, arms flapping by her sides as she too stood in just her underwear. She had hoped that shedding her chef whites would do the job. It hadn’t and the smell of fish clung to her skin.

“The bar will stink of sweat and beer by the time we get there,” Ruby reasoned. “No one will notice unless you get lucky.”

Emma didn’t answer her. She just huffed and reached up to unhook the dress shirt she had hung on the back of the door.

“Hold up, you didn’t tell me to shut up or insult me in some other way,” Ruby said, her own inappropriately short dress now in place. “Are you planning to get laid tonight?”

“Not exactly,” Emma shrugged.

“But you’re not planning to not get laid.”

Emma scrunched her face up in confusion. “Let’s just say I have an itch that needs scratching.”

Ruby squealed and jumped up and down. While the woman was deeply in love with her girlfriend, she missed the gossip which came with being free and single. She had been living vicariously through Emma but had to admit that the past few months had been rather quiet. The wild Emma which had emerged after her breakup with Elsa was running out of steam and the blonde was no longer bringing home a different woman every few weeks before moving on to the next one without a backwards glance.

“Oh we’re so getting you a hook-up tonight,” Ruby grinned. “Ok, we can stop off at the apartment for 5 minutes so you can rinse off. You’re right, by the way, you do smell.”

Emma punched her friend lightly in the arm and reached for a spare set of chef whites, not wanting to transfer even a hint of fishiness onto her evening outfit before she had a chance to shower.

Three appletinis, although Regina refused to call them that, in and the brunette was pleasantly buzzed. She and Kat had already fended off several men who had approached their table. Politely telling them that they were both happily married to men who had just gone next door to watch the game, the two best friends were considering calling it a night. Despite Kat’s initial enthusiasm, she was now flagging. Her photoshoot that morning had begun at six and she was thinking longingly of her bed. Regina was also keen to get home. She had come to support her sister and now she could go home satisfied that she had done so. Perhaps thirty-two was the new seventy-two.

“Ready?” Regina asked, glancing at her watch and noticing that it was close to midnight. Not bad for an old lady, she thought to herself.

“Yeah,” Kat said. “I’ll get us an Uber.”

She whipped out her cell and tapped the screen for a few seconds before announcing that their ride was four minutes away. They stood, reached for their jackets and made their way back across the club towards the door.

It was busier than ever, hot bodies pressed tightly together as thumping music filled the air. Kat’s fingers curled around hers and tugged Regina forwards, keeping the duo on track and together as they fought their way to freedom. As they neared the door, Regina noted that still more people were making their way inside, even though there was barely any room. Zelena’s liquor license must be pushed to breaking point, Regina mused as the crowd finally thinned right by the entrance.

“You good?” Kat asked, turning to Regina and making sure her friend had survived the scrum they had just passed through.

“Fine,” Regina said, shrugging on her jacket. “Let’s get out of here.”

Kat turned towards the door and then stepped back to let a little crowd of people enter. Regina waited too, checking her cell to see if Ella had sent another text. She had only heard from her babysitter once, letting her know Henry had gone to bed without any fuss. There was no news. Which was good, she was sure. Pocketing her cell, she looked up, prepared to leave the building before a pair of bright green eyes had her rooted to the spot.


Chapter Text


Brown eyes took in the woman before her; blonde hair tumbling over her shoulders, navy blue silk shirt clinging to the slender frame and perfectly fitting slacks making long legs seem impossibly longer. An energetic, drunken dancer bumped into Regina, jolting her focus and she snapped her eyes back up to the quizzical face before her.

“What are you doing here?” Regina asked.

An eyebrow rose. “Um, I’m here with Ruby and Belle,” Emma said, gesturing to the two brunettes stood beside her, both watching the interaction with interest.

“Oh,” Regina said. “I’m with Kat.” She pointed to her friend who was stood by the door, frowning back at the little group which was holding up their exit. “We’re just leaving.”

“Oh.” Emma couldn’t stop the hint of disappointment in her voice but she hoped the loud music covered the escaped emotion.

“It was nice to see you again,” Regina said after a pause.

Shooting the blonde a final, shy smile, she moved towards Kathryn who was now holding the door open for her and looking a little impatient.

“Wait.” At the shout, Regina turned at once. “Stay for a drink?” Emma asked, cocking her head to the side.

“Regina, the Uber is here,” Kathryn said, waving her phone at her friend as proof of this statement. “Come on.”

“We have an Uber,” Regina said unnecessarily.

“I can call you another one later,” Emma offered. “One drink. Please. I … I want to talk to you. Our conversation yesterday, I don’t think it was finished, do you?”

Regina tensed. No, she didn’t think the conversation was finished either but she wasn’t sure she wanted it to be continued either. If they did keep talking, what would happen? What would she say? What would Emma say? What might she reveal?

“Regina,” Kathryn repeated. “Are you coming?”

The brunette turned to her friend who was now stood with her arms folded. When Kathryn decided the night was over, there was no convincing her otherwise.

“Go ahead without me,” Regina said. “I’ll make my own way home later.”

Kathryn’s eyes slid past her friend and landed squarely on the mysterious blonde, behind whom two brunettes were whispering in a conspiratorial manner.

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure,” Regina said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Kathryn pursed her lips but said nothing. “Text me when you get home, ok?”

Nodding her agreement, Regina leaned forwards and kissed Kathryn on the cheek. With a final glance at the brunette, Kathryn left the bar. Regina waited until the door was closed before she turned back to Emma.

“So,” the blonde said, hands now stuffed into the pockets of her slacks, “what are you drinking?”

“Apple martini, please,” Regina replied.

“Coming right up,” Emma said. “Do you wanna grab a booth?”

Regina nodded and pointed to the one she and Kathryn had just vacated which was still empty. Emma followed her line of sight and promised to meet the older woman there as soon as she had their drinks. Parting ways, Regina weaved her way back through the heaving crowd while Emma, Ruby and Belle fought their way through to the bar. As soon as they got there, both brunettes rounded on the blonde.

“What was that about?” Ruby asked.

“Nothing,” Emma shrugged, leaning on the bar and waving to a server to get their attention.

“That wasn’t nothing,” Belle remarked. “That was something.”

“Well, you did say you wanted your itch scratched,” Ruby joked. “I guess you’re not wasting any time.”

“Regina isn’t going to scratch my itch,” Emma scowled. “She’s straight.”

Ruby and Belle both laughed. “Yeah right. Your gaydar is broken, Em. Did you see the way she was checking you out?” Ruby exclaimed.

“She wasn’t,” Emma scoffed.

“She called you Emma,” Ruby went on. “And you called her Regina.”

“Yeah, cos that’s her name.”

“Her name was ‘Ms Mills’ two nights ago,” Ruby reminded her. “What happened when you went to her office yesterday? I thought you were just dropping off that stupid toy car.”

“I did,” Emma said. “And nothing happened. We just got chatting.”

“About …?” Belle pushed.

“About none of your business,” Emma said just as a server appeared in front of them and she placed their order.

The two friends continued to question and tease Emma as they waited for their drinks. The tequila shots arrived first and the trio went through the motions as usual. It was a tradition to start their nights with a strong shot and Emma was glad; she got the feeling she was going to need it. The licked salt was washed from her tongue with the burn of the shot before she bit into the lime and the acidic juice soothed away the delicious pain. As soon as she had paid for the round, Emma picked up Regina’s cocktail and her own beer and pushed past the two smirking friends and made her way, slowly, across the packed bar.

“Sorry about the wait,” Emma said as she placed Regina’s drink down on the table and slid into the booth opposite the brunette.

Regina smiled and tucked her cell away. She had been texting Ella and letting her know she’d be back later than expected. She was glad she had asked the woman and her daughter to stay the night so they wouldn’t have to drive back to their house whenever Regina eventually did get home.

“No problem,” Regina said, taking a sip of her cocktail. “It’s busy tonight.”

“It’s their first night and everyone wants to check out a new bar,” Emma explained. “Looks like this business is going to be a hit.”

“Hopefully.” At Emma’s frown, Regina elaborated. “My sister owns this place. I was running her marketing campaign and by the number of people packed into this place, the Facebook ads did their job.”

“I’ll say,” Emma grinned. “You’re obviously very good at what you do.”

“So are you,” Regina said. She had thought back to the dishes she had enjoyed at the restaurant a number of times over the past two days. And those thoughts had not only been focused solely on the food. She was not, however, at the point where she was able to acknowledge those other musings.

“Thanks,” Emma said, blushing. It didn’t matter how many times people told her she was a good chef, the blonde was always going to doubt her own abilities. It was just in her nature. “Um, where’s Henry?”

“At home with a sitter,” Regina said. “I promised Zelena I’d come. It’s not really my scene to be honest but I’m being the supportive little sister.”

“What is your scene?”

The older woman wrinkled her nose. “Somewhere quieter so I can actually hear what my companion is saying.”

The song had changed and the pulsing bass was making it hard for Regina to understand Emma across the wide polished table which separated them. Without hesitation, the younger woman slid herself around the u-shaped booth so she was sat at a right angle to the brunette.

“Better?” Emma asked, leaning even closer.

Breath caught in Regina’s throat. “Y-yes.” For something to do and an excuse to break the piercing eye contact, she reached for her cocktail and took a generous sip. The alcohol was already warming her veins and she knew she should slow down. She wasn’t used to drinking these days and sensed that whatever was occurring between herself and the blonde could become dangerous if all her inhibitions were dulled by alcohol.

“So,” Emma said after she had taken several gulps of her own drink, “how’s Henry?”

Jumping right in, are we? Regina mused. She should have known the blonde had no tact when it came to sensitive subjects. That said, the brunette reminded herself, she was the one who had agreed to stay so they could continue their conversation. She still wasn’t sure what had made her say yes. She could be in an Uber right at that moment, heading back to her son rather than being sat beside the blonde with those striking green eyes.

“He’s good, thank you,” Regina said. “We went to the park today. He loves playing soccer.”

“Who’s we?” Emma asked.

“Me and Henry.”

“No one else?”

“There were other people in the park,” Regina said, “but no, it was just the two of us.”

Subtlety wasn’t Emma’s strong point. And yet, she still didn’t know for sure if Regina was single. But she wasn’t about to come out and ask her directly. After all, Emma reminded herself, the woman had a son so she must be straight. Or she went through IVF, her brain supplied helpfully. Green orbs travelled to the Regina’s left hand, fingers toying with the stem of her glass. No ring. But it is 2018, the blonde scolded herself. Just because she wasn’t wearing a ring, didn’t mean Regina wasn’t married or in a committed relationship.

“He ate some more capsicum at dinner last night,” Regina said after a short pause, interrupting Emma’s silent detective work.

“Yeah? Good,” Emma grinned.

Regina nodded slowly. “Yeah, it is good.” She stopped and turned away from her drinking companion and looked out over the busy bar. It was good that Henry was eating a vegetable. But …


Was Emma a mind reader? Regina thought to herself as she returned her gaze to the blonde. “But,” she nodded. She didn’t know what the end of that sentence was. All she knew was that there was a ‘but’ when it came to her son’s eating habits.

“Did you think any more about what I said?”

“Which part?” Regina asked. She wasn’t about to tell Emma that she had thought of very little but what the two of them had discussed the day before.

“About the child psychologist,” Emma said.

Regina shrugged. “I guess. I just don’t think we’re there yet. He’s only six.”

“You know, most people make the mistake of thinking eating disorders are something which affect teenage girls and no one else,” Emma began.

At the term, the first verbalisation of Regina’s deepest, darkest fear, the brunette whipped her head around and stared pointedly out over the dance floor again, willing the tears which had sprung, unbidden, not to fall.

“Anyone at any age can suffer from an eating disorder, Regina,” the blonde pushed on, knowing it was important for the brunette to hear the uncomfortable truth. “I know I only saw Henry eating one meal but from what you told me, this isn’t just a fussy kid. He has issues with food and I think you need to get him some professional help.”

“What would you know about my son?” Regina snarled, whirling around and glaring at the blonde.

Emma could almost see the defensive wall being reconstructed as the woman before her shut down, trying desperately to protect herself from the truth. But it was too late. And Emma wasn’t going to back down now; not when she knew she was close to getting Regina to admit what was really going on with her son.

“I don’t know Henry,” she agreed. “But I do know eating disorders.”

“Why? Because you’re a chef?”

“No,” Emma said. “Because I was anorexic.”

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Ruby asked Belle.

The couple were leaning against a table, sipping their drinks and observing their friend. They had been watching since the blonde had stalked off, trying to work out what was going on between the two women. Ruby knew full well that Emma was attracted to Regina. Anyone with a heartbeat would be, to be fair. But Ruby had been friends with Emma long enough to recognise when the blonde was infatuated.

“I don’t know,” Belle replied. “But I don’t think it’s going well, do you? She looks mad.”

“Emma must have said something stupid,” Ruby laughed as she watched the brunette spin back towards their friend. “Ooh yeah, she looks super mad now.”

They could only see the back of Regina’s head from where they stood but it didn’t look like the conversation was going according to plan. Emma was usually good at picking up women. She was charming, beautiful and had a certain something which had proved very popular whenever she was out. Tonight, however, Emma’s natural charisma didn’t seem to be working.

“Um, are they just staring at each other,” Belle frowned as she realised that Emma hadn’t said anything and it didn’t look like Regina was talking either.

Ruby leaned further over to try and get a better angle. “I think so. Is that weird?”

“Yep,” Belle nodded. “Come on, let’s dance. We can leave Emma to fail at pulling a woman way too hot for her.”

“She is hot,” Ruby agreed before cowering under Belle’s glare. “But not at hot as you.”

Leaving their now empty glasses on the table, Ruby laced her fingers with Belle’s and tugged her girlfriend onto the dance floor. The shorter woman melted into Ruby’s tight embrace as soon as slender arms encircled her frame and soon the two of them were grinding on one another, lost to the rhythm of the music.

“I … I’m sorry,” Regina said eventually. “I didn’t mean to … I wasn’t … I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok,” Emma assured her. “I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I just need you to understand that when I say I know what you’re going through, it’s true. I really do.”

“Henry’s not … he hasn’t got … I mean, he isn’t -”

“No,” Emma agreed. “From what I’ve seen, I don’t think he is anorexic. Yet. But he has issues with his food. Control issues. The way he interacts with his food and what you’ve told me about him, they’re textbook signs of anorexia.”

“Were you like that?”

“I was worse,” Emma said. “Much worse. Which is why I think Henry can be helped. If you go to see someone now, before it gets too bad, you can stop it from progressing. You can stop him from hurting himself.”

“Hurting himself? Like self-harming?”

“Anorexia is a form of self-harm,” Emma said. “You’re punishing your body. You’re depriving your body of the nutrition it needs to be healthy and strong. Henry’s just a kid so it’s not a conscious decision but that is what he’s doing.”

“You mean what I’m doing.”

Emma frowned. “What? No. That’s not what I mean at all.”

“I’m his mother,” Regina snapped. “Shouldn’t I be making him eat healthy food?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Emma said. “This isn’t your fault. You can’t force someone with an eating disorder to do anything. Pushing food on them has the exact opposite effect. Believe me, I should know.”

A dark look took over Emma’s face for a moment before she schooled her features into a smile. But Regina had seen. It was that same, brief flash of powerful emotion she had spotted when she sniped at Emma about not being a mother in the restaurant the night they had met. Two nights before. For some reason, to Regina, it felt like a lifetime ago.

“So what do I do?” she asked at last, deflating and leaning back into the couch.

“See a specialist,” Emma said. “The sooner Henry gets help, the better.”

“Is that how you recovered?”

“Yes,” Emma replied honestly. “I had an amazing therapist. She saved my life. Or perhaps she taught me the value of my own life and helped me to save myself.”

“You were that sick?”

Emma nodded. “But I’m fine now. I mean, I guess I’ll always be recovering but I don’t have any harmful habits when it comes to eating now.”

“And you’re a chef,” Regina said, realising that it seemed like an odd choice of profession for someone with an eating disorder. “You work with food.”

“Yes, it was a decision I made after I got better,” Emma said. “Part of my healing process involved learning about nutrition and all of the different vitamins in food which our bodies need. I suppose I may have gone from one extreme to another but perhaps that’s just how I work; I need a focus, a reason. For years I controlled how much I put into my body by limiting my intake as much as possible. Now, I control exactly how much nutrition I get. All of my meals are perfectly balanced to make sure I get what my body needs. To people who don’t know, it looks like I’ve got OCD but I think it’s the remnants of my illness. I’m just lucky that I channelled that focus into a healthier format.”


Emma nodded. “Yeah, I’m lucky. I survived. Not everyone does.”

A tear spilled and slid down Regina’s cheek. Without thinking, Emma leaned forwards and wiped it away with the pad of her thumb. Brown eyes locked on green as Regina’s olive skin seared white hot where the blonde had touched her.

“I … I have to go,” Regina said, sliding away from Emma and standing up.

“Wait, I told your friend I’d get you an Uber,” Emma said, following Regina who had already turned and begun to make her way across the still-packed bar.

“I can get my own,” Regina called over her shoulder.

Emma ignored her and stayed right on Regina’s heels. The brunette didn’t look back, however, and wrenched the door open, all but throwing herself out into the cool night air. She took a deep breath as soon as she was outside; as if the bar had been suffocating her.

“Regina, wait.”

She froze, cell in her hand.

“Regina,” Emma said again, circling the older woman. “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you or cross a line or whatever just happened to make you freak out.”

“I’m not freaked out,” Regina lied. “I’m tired and I want to go home to my son.”

“Let me get you that Uber,” Emma said.

Regina shook her head. “Thank you but no. I can get my own.” She gestured to her cell which was already open on the app.

“I’ll wait with you until it’s here,” Emma offered as Regina set about arranging a ride.

“There’s no need,” Regina said. “Look, they’re two minutes away.”

Emma ignored her and folded her arms. Regina scowled. The woman was stubborn. With her phone in her hand, she too folded her arms and moved towards the edge of the sidewalk to wait for her ride. After a few moments, Emma moved to stand next to her.

“Henry is going to be fine,” Emma said into the quiet of the night, not looking at Regina.

“You don’t know that,” came the choked response.

“I don’t,” Emma admitted, “but I have faith in him and in you. It’s not going to be easy but Henry is young and I don’t think he’s anywhere near beyond help yet.”

“Beyond help?”

Regina turned to look at Emma once more. The blonde offered a sad smile and nodded. “Some people get to a point from which there in no return. Either they don’t want to get better or the damage is already done.”


Another nod. “Make an appointment for Henry. The sooner the better.”

“Thank you,” Regina said, just as her cell started to vibrate and a blue Prius pulled up to the curb.

“You’re welcome. I’m just glad I could help. Have I helped?” she added, now questioning her own sense of self-importance.

“You have,” Regina nodded. “You voiced something no one else has dared say. You’re right that I didn’t think it could be anything serious because he’s only six. I kept telling myself he would grow out of it. Perhaps, underneath everything, I knew what was going on but I wasn’t ready to face it.”

“It’s hard,” Emma said. “I wish someone had gotten me help sooner than they did.”

The Prius driver beeped the horn, interrupting the two women. Regina held up her hand to the car, signalling for them to wait a moment.

“I need to go,” Regina said, unnecessarily.


Still neither of them moved. And then Regina handed her cell over. Emma frowned in confusion but took it anyway. “Can I have your number?” Regina asked, suddenly shy. “You know, in case I have any questions about Henry.”

“Oh, sure,” Emma said, typing her digits into the device and handing it back.

Regina saved the number and pocketed her cell. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Emma smiled. “If I can help in any way, please, reach out.”

The Prius beeped again. Regina shot Emma a final, tentative smile and walked over to the car and its impatient driver.

“Bye, I guess,” she said.

“Bye for now,” Emma offered. It wasn’t the end, that way. There was hope that the two of them would see each other again. Emma found herself yearning for that day to come sooner rather than later.

“Bye for now,” Regina repeated, the corners of her mouth raising slightly with something which looked almost like hope.

Chapter Text

Hangovers and children don’t mix. This was the revelation Regina had come to when she was abruptly jolted awake by her son on Sunday morning. It had been close to two in the morning when she had a last crawled into bed. As soon as the Uber driver had dropped her off, she had headed straight for her liqueur cabinet and poured a stiff measure of her homemade apple cider. And then another one. As Henry began to tell her all about the fun he and Alex had had the previous evening, she was regretting those final two drinks.

“And then we made a fort out of the couch cushions and Alex was the princess and I was protecting her from the dragon.”

“Who was the dragon?” Regina asked as she leaned over at looked at her cell. It was dead. In her drunken state, she must have forgotten to plug it in the night before.

“Ella was the dragon,” Henry said. “And she breathed fire and tried to get into the fort but I saved us.”

“Well done,” Regina yawned, flopping back onto her pillow.

Henry climbed on top of her and straddled her stomach, bouncing up and down. “Can we go to the park again today?”

“Maybe later,” Regina said. “Right now, can Mom sleep a little bit longer?”

“Are you tired?”

“Yes,” Regina said.

“What did you and Aunty Kat do yesterday to make you tired.”

“There was lots of talking,” Regina said. There was no need to tell her son that the conversation hadn’t been with Kat but rather a blonde whirlwind who had turned their world upside down with her blunt, straight to the point, factual approach.

“Talking isn’t tiring,” Henry said, bouncing up and down harder.

The need to pee suddenly became the only thing Regina could think about. “Off please,” she said. Henry slid to the side at once and the brunette rolled away and climbed out of bed. Her son followed her into the bathroom and hauled himself up onto the little chair in the corner. Regina sat on the toilet and went about her business as her son continued their conversation. Boundaries disappeared as soon as she became a parent.

“Talking doesn’t make you tired,” he insisted. “Running or climbing or playing football makes your tired. But talking is just moving your mouth. Look.” He pointed to his lips and mimed talking.

“True,” Regina agreed, standing up to flush the toilet and wash her hands. “But I was talking until very late.”

“How late?” Henry asked, trotting after his mother as she made her way back to bed.

“Very late,” Regina said, plugging in her dead phone before sliding herself under the duvet. Henry followed at once, his head resting on the pillow beside Regina’s so their noses were almost touching.

“Ten o’clock at night?”

“Later,” Regina gasped.

“Wow,” Henry mused. “Will I ever be able to stay up until later?”

“One day, my little prince,” Regina said. “When you’re older.”

“I can’t wait to be older,” Henry said, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling, wistful and optimistic.

Regina wished she felt the same way. For her, however, the road for Henry was filled with obstacle which, thanks to Emma, she was now able to put a name to. She knew hiding from the truth wasn’t mature yet she couldn’t help but long for the days when reality wasn’t quite so terrifying. Just one more day; one more day believing everything was fine. That’s all she wanted. As she looked over at her son, however, her eyes were drawn to his collarbone jutting harshly out of his skin. It wasn’t fine. Henry wasn’t fine. But now she knew what was wrong, she was determined to make things better, to make him better.

It was a testament to how terrible Ruby felt that she didn’t even have it in her to badger Emma about what had happened with Regina. The brunette leaned heavily on the bar for most of Sunday, delegating everything she could to her team of wait staff and wincing at loud noises. Emma wasn’t much better and squirrelled herself away in her office as much as possible, only emerging into the chaotic kitchen to help with a particularly large lunch order.

By the time Hook, Line And Sinker closed that evening, Emma and Ruby were more than ready for their day off. Shedding their work clothes as soon as they walked in the door of their apartment, the friends were curled up on the couch less than ten minutes later, Netflix already fired up.

“So, are you going to tell me?” Ruby asked at last.

“Tell you what?” Emma drawled, not taking her eyes off the television.

“Last night. Regina. Are you gonna tap that?”

Emma glowered. “Shut up. I told you, she’s straight.”

“Straight as a … um, as a bent thing,” Ruby finished at last, too tired to think up a witty retort.

“A boomerang?” Emma suggested.

“Or a paperclip,” Ruby added.

“A banana. A coat hanger. A broken bone. An open laptop. A -”

“Yeah, right, there are lots of bent things. Including Regina Mills.”

“I hate the word bent,” Emma scowled. “And I know you do too.”

“Fine,” Ruby agreed. “But you know what I mean. Regina isn’t straight, Emma. Both Belle and I agree on that. And you like her, right?”

Emma blushed. Her lip became trapped between her teeth as she hesitated in her answer. But Ruby didn’t need a verbal confirmation. She knew what Emma was feeling, possibly more clearly than the blonde herself. That Emma was attracted to Regina had been obvious. Ruby also knew that something was holding her friend back from admitting this crush. Which was strange. It wasn’t in Emma’s nature to hide her attraction to others.

“Are you going to call her?”

“I don’t have her number,” Emma admitted. “But she has mine.”

“Do you want her to call you?”

White teeth dug deeper into her pale lip for a moment before she nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

Emma wanted Regina to call more than anything. And the reason for that call wasn’t only about her attraction to the beautiful mother. Ever since the previous evening, Emma had found herself praying for her cell to ring, not because she wanted to see Regina but because she wanted to help Henry. Emma wasn’t big-headed enough to think she was in a position to offer advice and support as a professional. She had been a patient and was in no way qualified to take on the role of a psychologist or therapist. Yet she wanted to be involved, somehow.

If she was honest with herself, she wanted to be there to support Regina as much as Henry. That support didn’t have to come as a result of any kind of sexual relationship. Was Emma attracted to Regina? Of course. Had she already had a dream about the two of them from which she had awoken, body thrumming with desire? Yes, she had. But was Emma going to make a move? Of course not. Despite what Ruby and Belle thought, Emma had picked up on no signs of Regina being into women. True, her gaydar wasn’t the best but wouldn’t she have seen something? Emma had looked hot on Saturday night but after their initial meeting, Regina hadn’t been treating at Emma as anything other than an acquaintance. And surely that long stare when they first bumped into each other could be attributed to surprise.

“I hope she calls, Em,” Ruby said, pulling Emma back to the present. “You deserve to meet someone who makes you happy again.”

“I am happy,” Emma pointed out.

“Ok, you deserve to make someone who can make you orgasm.”

A pillow hit Ruby square in the face.

Regina’s hangover faded only in the few short hours between Henry going to bed and herself turning in for the night. Ella and Alex had spent the morning with the Mills’ and there had been a repeat of the dragon game from the night before; this time with two dragons for Henry to heroically fight off. When her son tackled her with tickles, she very nearly threw up on him and had to surrender to the prince far too easily.

Their afternoon had been quieter; just the two of them reading and doing jigsaws until it was time for dinner. Henry had insisted on beans on toast; a typical British dinner he had inherited a taste for during a family vacation there when he was three. It wasn’t unhealthy, Regina had convinced herself as she heated up the beans and spread a thin layer of butter on the toast. He ate half of the dish and most of an apple Regina had cut up. The apple juice remained undrunk, however, and when she tried to persuade him to drink it, the signs of a tantrum began to rear their ugly heads. She backed down, too tired and too nervous to push.

Once Henry was in bed, Regina pulled out her laptop and settled herself on the couch. Googling ‘child psychologist Portland’, she scrolled past the ads (because being in marketing she knew never to click them) and began to research.

It didn’t take long before she began to investigate beyond the professionals working in her area, the fears which had surfaced last night now bubbling upwards. The Google searches became more intense. The pages became more detailed. The information became more confronting. Eventually she slammed the lid shut, breathing harsh and shallow.

Emma’s words echoed in her head.

You can stop him from hurting himself. Did Henry know that he was causing damage to himself? And if he knew, was it deliberate?

I’m lucky. Would Henry be ‘lucky’? Or would he be one of the unlucky ones?

I survived. Not everyone does. But Henry would, wouldn’t he? Regina couldn’t even bear to think of what her life might be like without her son.

She saved my life. Would she be able to find a therapist who could do the same for Henry?

The laptop reopened and began looking into the specialists in her area, reading reviews and testimonials. She resolved to call first thing in the morning to book an appointment with the best child psychologist in Portland.

Emma’s body clock woke her up far too early for her liking. Having only one day off per week didn’t allow her enough time to get out of sync from her usual wake-up routine. But instead of hopping out of bed to shower as she would usually do, she rolled over and fired up her computer. Two hours disappeared into an endless loop of YouTube videos until Ruby barged into her bedroom, impatient to find out the day’s plan.

“Can’t we just do nothing?” Emma groaned as her best friend threw herself down on the end of the bed, fully dressed and full of beans.

“Nope,” Ruby said, the ‘p’ popped from her lips. “We get one day off a week and we’re making the most of it.”

“I think I’m still hungover from Saturday,” Emma protested. “Can we make the most of it by watching TV?”

“Come on, Ems, it’s a nice day,” Ruby whined, getting up and tugging open the heavy curtains so bright sunlight filled the room. Emma shrank back in disgust. “What if I said I’m up for a ride?”

At that, Emma perked up. It was rare for Ruby to want to get on the back of Emma’s motorbike. She was mildly terrified of the thing even though she knew Emma was a competent rider. And the promise of a mini road trip together was one that Emma could get on board with.


“If it’ll get you out of the house, sure,” Ruby said. “We can take McDonalds up to the lakes if you like?”

“Can I cook us something decent?”

Ruby rolled her eyes. No one would ever catch her making a drink or even carrying a plate when she wasn’t at work. “It’s your day off but yeah, if that’s what you want to do.”

Emma nodded and at last emerged from under her duvet. She showered and dressed before heading to the kitchen. The fridge wasn’t fully stocked but she managed to find enough ingredients to make several dishes which, combined, would deliver her body exactly what it needed to be healthy and strong.

Her obsession with nutrition had become such a part of her life that she barely noticed it any more. She was able to calculate most meals in her head so didn’t appear too neurotic when it came to balancing her intake. Ruby had lived with Emma for three years and it had taken only a few months before she accepted it as just a quirk of her friend. It had been over a year later when Emma finally told Ruby where the behaviour stemmed from. The taller woman had been sympathetic and supportive but from that moment on, Emma knew her friend looked at her a little differently.

At the end of the day, Emma was just committed to making healthy meals. The evolution of the smart phone and the ability to easily record and calculate her exact intake had been something which Emma had welcomed. Before she had been writing down her meals at the end of each day and searching for exact nutritional values of items on the Internet. She admitted it was an obsession. OCD was a common trait amongst people suffering from anorexia. But she and her therapist had agreed that this was a far healthier way to be obsessed with food.

Quinoa salad with wilted spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese accompanied egg mayonnaise and smoked salmon sandwiches. Two bananas were slotted into the bag, along with bottles of water. Ruby was no help with the prep work but did, grudgingly, wash up while Emma went to load up her bike in the underground garage. She had a detachable luggage box which she fastened onto the back and added the lunch to. By the time she got back to their apartment, Ruby was dressed in her bike leathers (a gift from her flatmate years before), Emma’s spare helmet tucked under her arm.

“Eager much?” Emma teased before disappearing to get ready herself.

Less than ten minutes later, the duo were speeding out of Storybrooke and heading towards the lakes. Ruby’s arms were wrapped tightly around Emma’s waist but as they drove, her eyes slowly opened and she began to enjoy the countryside flashing past as they left the city far behind.

Regina had just put down the phone with a new client when Graham knocked on her glass door with her lunch that Monday morning. Waving him inside, she took the salad and juice with a nod of thanks.

“I just got a call back from the office of a Doctor Archie Hopper,” Graham said. “Apparently he wants to speak with you over the phone before your appointment tomorrow.”

The man delivered the message completely without emotion but Regina knew he was curious. Who was this doctor and what was he a doctor of? Regina had personally made the appointment for Henry as soon as she arrived in the office, not wanting to get her assistant involved in her private family affairs. She had forgotten that any calls coming from the psychologist would be directed to Graham, however.

“Um, ok, thank you Graham. I’ll call him back now.”

Graham nodded once and left the room. Forgetting that she had been dreaming about her lunch throughout the entire length of the conference call she had just ended, Regina picked up her phone and typed in the number she had saved earlier.

After her research the night before, she had settled on Doctor Hopper for a number of reasons. His reputation was stellar, he had written a number of articles in the past few years on childhood eating disorders and he had worked for years as a paediatrician before making the switch to psychology. Although he had an MD, he didn’t agree with using medication in the majority of mental health cases and had trained as a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist before setting up his own practice.

As soon as Regina’s call was answered, the receptionist quickly put her through to Doctor Hopper to whom she introduced herself.

“Good afternoon, Ms Mills, or would you prefer Regina?” came the calm, reassuring voice.

“Ms Mills is fine, thank you,” Regina said. “My assistant said you wanted to speak with me.”

“Yes, I just had a few questions after I saw the notes my receptionist made. I see you’ve made an appointment for your son, Henry, tomorrow. You believe he may have an eating disorder, is that correct?”

A lump rose in Regina’s throat. “Yes,” she forced out.

“While I am more than happy to meet with you and Henry tomorrow and discuss everything then, I often find it better to meet with the parents beforehand so we can have a more open conversation without the child being in the room.”

“Oh, ok. If that’s what you think is best.”

“I do,” Archie continued. “Henry is only six, correct?”


“Then I think it would be easier for me to speak with you first to collect a little background with regards to his eating habits before I meet with Henry himself. He may not be aware of what he is doing when it comes to his food and he may also lack the language needed to explain his reasons. If I were to meet with you tomorrow at the arranged time, would you be able to bring Henry on Thursday? That way I’ll have a couple of days to review what you tell me before I meet him.”

“Yes, ok,” Regina said, not even bothering to check her calendar to see if she was available. Any appointments could be rearranged. Nothing was as important as her son’s health.

“Perfect,” Archie said. “I’ll have my receptionist schedule that second slot for you. Will your husband or partner be joining us?”

“No. I’m divorced,” Regina replied.

There was a pause and Regina heard the tapping of keys. Already a note was being added to Henry’s file. The thought made her gut twist.

“Ok, in that case, I’ll see you tomorrow, Ms Mills,” came the eventual reply.

“See you tomorrow,” Regina said before hanging up the phone.

Her lunch sat in front of her for a further ten minutes before she finally reached forwards to open it. She wasn’t hungry; she ate because she knew she needed to but the food was tasteless as she chewed and swallowed until it was all gone.

Chapter Text

The house was unassuming, standard, non-descript. Its bright red brickwork was identical to the homes on either side of it. The afternoon sunlight glinted off black paint on the front door as she gazed up at the building, appraising it, judging it. She glanced at the clock in the car dashboard. Fifteen more minutes.

Regina had already been sat outside for half an hour. It hadn’t been her plan to turn up quite so early but, unable to concentrate at her desk, she had climbed into her Mercedes and driven the short distance well before she needed to. And now she was waiting, nerves coiling in her stomach, trying to decide what to say. The problem was, she didn’t know what the questions were going to be.

She’d never been to a therapist or psychologist before. Kat had suggested it once in the aftermath of the divorce. Regina had used some rather choice words which left her friend with no doubt that therapy was never going to happen. And yet here she was. Except, Regina reminded herself, she wasn’t here because of her own problems. She was here for her son. She was meeting with Doctor Archie Hopper to talk about Henry, not herself.

But these professionals knew things, didn’t they? They could read people, could understand words unspoken, could get inside their patients’ heads and uncover their deepest, darkest fears.

Emma Swan would make a good therapist.

The thought sprang into Regina’s mind without warning. While it was true that she had thought regularly of the young blonde since their first, second and then third meeting, she hadn’t expected Emma to barge her way into her subconscious at that moment. She should be focusing on Henry, on her son, on his health.

But Emma’s the reason you’re here right now, her brain reminded her.

And it was true. Without Emma, without their conversation that Saturday night, Regina wouldn’t be sitting outside the office of a child psychologist, about to talk to a professional for the first time about the eating disorder she now believed her son to be suffering with.

Her fingers moved without conscious thought. Unlocking her cell, scrolling through her contacts, finding the one she was searching for and hitting call. Only when the cool glass of her phone screen touched her cheek did she realise what she was doing. Startled, she tugged the device away from her face and hung up. Glowering at her cell as if it had tricked her, she tossed it onto the seat beside her and went back to staring up at the house from which Doctor Hopper ran his practice.

Did his neighbours know? Regina mused. Of course they did. To a passer by it may look like a normal family home but the neighbours must know that it had been converted into a practice for the venerable doctor and his small team of child psychologists. The locals would know. Anyone who saw Regina walk up those steps would know why she was there, would know that her child needed help, would think that –

Her cell’s ringtone cut into her train of thought. She turned towards it, buzzing interminably against the chair. The screen displayed the caller’s name. Shit. Should she answer? Or should she just let it ring out.


“Hello? I got a missed call from this number. Who is this?”

There was no point lying. “It’s Regina. Regina Mills, from Mills Marketing. We met -”

“Yeah, I remember,” Emma interrupted. “Regina, hi. Um, how are you?”

“I’ve been better,” the brunette admitted.

“What’s wrong? Is it Henry?”

The evident concern was touching but also cloying. She didn’t want or need others asking after the health of her son.

“Henry’s fine,” Regina said.

“Ok … so why did you call? I mean, I’m glad that you did,” the blonde stuttered, “but … yeah, why did you call?”

There was a pause as Regina tried to work out how to answer the question. She wasn’t sure why she had called the blonde. It had been instinctive. Which was strange because she had never called the younger woman before in her life.

“I don’t actually know,” Regina said. “I just … did.”

“Ok,” Emma said slowly. “Is there something you wanted to talk about?”

“I’m outside the office of a child psychologist right now.”

“Oh, ok. Um, have you had a meeting already? Is Henry inside talking to them without you?”

“No, my appointment is at four,” Regina said, noting that she had five minutes before she would be late for that appointment. “And Henry isn’t here. It’s just me.”

“I see,” Emma replied, even though she really didn’t understand what was going on.

“The doctor wants to meet with me before he meets Henry,” Regina continued without prompting. “He thinks it will help him to build up a better picture of Henry’s history and his current eating habits than if he asked Henry directly.”

“That makes sense,” Emma replied.

“I don’t know what to tell him,” Regina blurted out.

There was another pause. “Just tell him the truth.”

Regina swallowed thickly. “I’ve never been to see a therapist or a psychologist before. I … I’m scared.”

“They’re just going to ask you some questions about Henry,” Emma reassured her. “That’s why you’re doing this, remember?”

A wave of guilt crashed over Regina. The chef was right. This wasn’t about her, it was about Henry. She needed to put her fears about self-preservation aside and be strong for her son. It didn’t matter what had happened in the past to lead to this point. What mattered was giving Henry’s psychologist all of the information he requested so he was in the most informed position to help her son.

“I have to go,” Regina said. “I’m going to be late. Sorry I called you.”

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Emma said. “If you need to talk to someone about this, you know you can call me. But maybe, wait for me to pick up before ending the call next time. Or are you one of those people who hates to use their own minutes?”

Regina couldn’t help but chuckle. “No, I’m one of those people who makes rash decisions and then comes to their senses.”

“The rash decision being to call me?”

The brunette nodded before remembering Emma couldn’t see her. “Yeah, I suppose.”

“Well, you can be rash all you like,” Emma said. “I know what you’re going through. Or at least I know what Henry’s going through.”

“I think that’s why I called,” Regina said. “I’m so far out of my comfort zone here and I don’t have anyone I can talk to.”

“You can talk to me,” Emma said. “And Henry’s psychologist. You’d better go, by the way. You’re going to be late.”

“Shit, you’re right,” Regina said. She missed the slight gasp from Emma at the swear word. There was something about the put-together, straight-backed, corporate powerhouse that was Regina Mills which just didn’t quite suit cursing. “Um, thanks. I think you’ve helped.”

“Let me know how it goes?” Emma offered.

“Erm, yes, ok,” Regina agreed. It wasn’t exactly like she could turn down such a request. And, she realised as she ended the call, she didn’t want to. The fact that she, for the first time, had someone in her life who understood what was going on with Henry was a breath of fresh air. She didn’t know Emma, not really, but she did know she could count on the blonde to be there for her. And Henry.

Reminded once more of why she was sat outside a psychologist’s clinic, she opened the door and climbed out of the car. Her handbag slung over her shoulder, she marched through the intricate wrought iron gate and up the short flight of steps to the front porch. A small plaque on the wall instructed her to push number two on the intercom, which she did, and seconds later she was buzzed into the building.

“Ems, are you ready?”

Ruby’s head appeared around the door frame to Emma’s room where the blonde was sat on her bed, staring at her cell phone.

“What?” she asked distractedly, looking up from the blank screen.

“Work, Emma,” Ruby frowned. “We’ve got the staff briefing before this evening’s service starts. You coming?”

“Right, yeah,” Emma said, climbing off her bed and reaching for the freshly laundered chef whites which were on her dresser. “Are you driving or are you coming with me.” Already the blonde was changing into her bike leathers which had been slung over the back of a chair.

“Driving,” Ruby replied. “I’m going to Belle’s after work. Um, are you ok?” she asked as Emma looked around distractedly as if she was searching for something.

“Where’s my cell?”

“In your hand,” Ruby replied, pointing to the device which was gripped firmly in slender fingers.

Emma glanced down, saw her friend was right and pocketed the object. “Right, I’m ready.”

“Are you ok?” Ruby asked again. “Who were you talking to just now?”

“Regina,” Emma admitted.

“The hot brunette?”

“Do we know another Regina?” Emma asked, leading the way out of her bedroom and down the corridor. “Yeah, that Regina.”

“What did she want? Ooh, was she calling to ask you out on a date?” Ruby exclaimed, suddenly excited at the prospect. She missed double dating with her best friend.

“No, she didn’t. And I told you, she’s not gay.”

“We’ll agree to disagree on that,” Ruby said, gathering her handbag and keys from the side table in the hallway as the duo prepared to leave the apartment. “So if she wasn’t calling to ask you out, why did she call?”

To be fair, Emma still wasn’t clear how to answer that question. She had a feeling Regina wasn’t quite sure what had led to the phone call either. “She wanted my advice about something in relation to her son,” she offered eventually.

“What about her son?”

“I … I can’t tell you,” Emma said. “It’s private.”

Regina hadn’t explicitly told Emma not to share what was going on with Henry but the blonde got the sense it wasn’t something she would want broadcast. The fact that the older woman was someone who didn’t talk much about her problems or share her concerns with others was apparent. Emma respected that; she hadn’t had much privacy as a child and understood why others may value keeping their family issues within the family. She tried not to think about what it might mean that the beautiful woman had been so open and honest with Emma.

“Whatever,” Ruby said. “But I know there’s something going on between you two.”

“Come on,” Emma said, tugging her leather jacket on and ignoring her friend. “We’re going to be late.”

To say she felt out of place would be an understatement. Regina perched on the edge of the red armchair as she looked around, taking in the brightly decorated room. She supposed the majority of people who attended sessions in the office would be children but Regina hadn’t expected the space to be quite so … playful.

There were boxes of toys stacked neatly around the room and a cluster of beanbags in a corner. Another corner hosted a costume and dress up area. Shelves along one wall were stuffed, higgledy-piggledy with countless books and Regina spotted several titles which Henry had in his bedroom at home. There were several paintings on the walls but rather than the pensive, thought-provoking pieces she imagined a therapist would hang up, these were bold and colourful and the type of artwork which kids were drawn to.

She shuffled a little further back in the chair as she continued her appraisal. Doctor Hopper’s receptionist had shown her through and promised her the wait wouldn’t be long. The man himself was on his way back from a supervised home visit with another patient and had got caught in traffic. Regina didn’t mind waiting; it was offering her the chance to become more comfortable in the room.

She realised with a jolt that she didn’t think Henry would have the same problem. He would love this room, with so many different activities and the fun seating spaces. Of course that was why the space was decorated as it was and it made Regina feel happy about her decision to choose Doctor Hopper. The online reviews were right; he knew how to connect with children on their level.

Just as she was feeling a little reassured about the whole process, the door opened and she jumped to her feet.

“Hi, you must be Ms Mills,” the man said as he entered. “I’m Doctor Hopper but you can call me Archie if you prefer.”

“Nice to meet you,” Regina said, holding out her hand to shake the doctor’s.

The man strode with confidence across the room and shook Regina’s hand, smiling warmly at her. He had pale ginger hair, wore circular horn-rimmed glasses and carried a tattered old briefcase. He looked, Regina decided, like had stepped out of the 1970s.

“Take a seat,” Archie said, rounding his desk and doing so himself. Regina sank back into the red armchair she had just vacated and crossed her legs, sitting bolt upright, expectant.

“So,” Archie said, firing up a laptop he had pulled from his case. “Let’s jump right in. We’re here to talk about your son, Henry, correct?”


“And he is six years old and you believe he may have an eating disorder?”

They really were jumping right in, Regina mused. “Yes.”

“Ok, so I’m going to use our meeting today to gather as much information about Henry and about your family life as I can and then when I meet him on Thursday, I’ll be in the best position to speak with him and understand what’s going on. Just to let you know as well, all of these appointment will be recorded using this Dictaphone,” he pointed to the small device on his desk, “just so I can refer back to conversations at a later date if necessary.”

“Ok,” Regina said. She had already ticked the box consenting to the sessions being recorded on the new patient form the receptionist had asked her to fill out. At her verbal agreement, however, Archie pressed the record button and a little red light blinked to life.

“Any questions you have as we go through, please don’t hesitate to ask them. I know this is a scary time for you and I want to reassure you that I am here for you just as much as I am here for Henry.”


Archie paused in his task of opening up the new client file titled ‘Mills.Henry.ED’ and looked at the boy’s mother. She was nervous, as all parents were who entered his office, but there was something about the woman before his desk that day which made him think her coming to him had caused some real inner turmoil.

“Right, before we get started talking about Henry, can you ask me why you came here today?”

Regina blinked, surprised. “My son has an eating disorder,” she said simply.

“And what made you come to the decision that this was a problem which required the assistance of a child psychologist?” Archie asked.

“Someone suggested Henry might need a professional’s advice.” Emma’s words echoed in Regina’s head once more; on a constant loop since their drink on Saturday night.

“Do you agree?”

“I think so,” Regina nodded. “I guess I’d been hoping he would grow out of it or that it wasn’t as bad as I thought and he was just going through a fussy stage.”

“But now you don’t think either of those scenarios will happen?”

“No,” Regina said, eyes now fixed on the fingers fidgeting in her lap. “No, now I realise that my son is suffering from something and I’m not in a position to help.”

Archie offered a sympathetic smile, missed by the brunette who was still staring at her twisting fingers. “Firstly, Ms Mills, you are most definitely in a position to help your son. The fact that you’re here today and that you’re going to come back on Thursday with Henry shows me that you are helping him. And secondly, while I may be the one to talk with Henry and try to understand the root cause of his eating disorder, as his mother, you are going to be the one helping him on a day to day basis. Never, ever think that you cannot help. The truth is, Henry can’t do this without you.”

A tear dripped down Regina’s cheek, soaking instantly into her pale grey skirt, the stark truth of the words stabbing her in the heart. Then man was right. Henry was only six; he couldn’t do this alone. Regina was going to have to help him every step of the way. And she would. She would do anything for her son to be well again. She wiped her eyes before she looked up but she knew she wasn’t hiding anything from the man sat opposite her. She also doubted it was the first time a parent had sat across from him and wept. Having a sick child, for that was what Henry was, she realised, was physically painful.

“I know,” Regina said quietly. “It’s just a bit overwhelming.”

“Let’s start of with a few simple questions,” Archie said. “I see you’ve already filled in the form with regards to Henry’s basic information.” He tapped the clipboard which his receptionist had placed on his desk. “So let’s talk about Henry. What does he like?”

“Plain crackers, white bread, pasta, canned Heinz beans, tomato sauce, plain yoghurt, strawberry jam, apples, pears, grapes, milk and apple juice,” Regina reeled off. “Oh, and he just started eating red capsicum.”

“I meant in life generally,” Archie offered gently. “But let me make a note of that for when we get onto his eating habits later.”

Regina blushed. Why had she assumed that the doctor wanted to know about Henry’s limited food intake? Was that what her son had been reduced to? A list of food? He was so much more than that. Archie finished typing the foodstuffs into Henry’s file, the doctor’s memory well trained to remember lists with ease, and smiled at the woman.

“Ok, so aside from pasta and strawberry jam, what does Henry like?”

“He loves to play soccer,” Regina said. “He loves all sports actually. He wants to start playing football but he’s too young and … and I’m worried he’s too small.”

“So he’s an active kid,” Archie said. “Does he play these sports with his friends?”

“Sometimes,” Regina said. “Or sometimes I’ll take him to the park and we’ll kick a ball around.” Bushy eyebrows rose in surprise. Regina chuckled. “I know, I don’t look like that sort of mother but out of my work clothes, I’m a different person.”

“Do you work a lot?” Archie asked.

“Yes,” Regina admitted. “I’m the CEO of a marketing company which my mother started. It’s a pretty full on job.”

“So while you’re at work, where does Henry go before and after school?”

“I have a great child minder who looks after him until five,” Regina said. “I’ll admit I’m not always on time to pick him up. But I always make sure I drop him at school. The morning routine is mine and Henry’s; I’d never want anyone else to do that with him. And in the evening, we always eat together.”

Not wanting to get onto the topic of food just yet, Archie continued with his questions. “And how is Henry doing in school?”

“Great,” Regina said, beaming with pride. “He’s bright. Really bright. Reading is his favourite subject and we always read a book before bedtime. His teachers love him. They always talk to me about how obedient he is and how well he plays with other children. He’s very popular. He has a lot of friends. Once a week he goes to his friend Roland’s house after school instead of the child minder. I often take Roland at the weekend as well, to give his parents a little break.”

“And developmentally,” Archie says, “how was Henry when he was growing up.”

“You mean like learning to walk and talk and everything?” At the nod of confirmation, Regina continued. “Right on time, if not early. We had an app which tracks your baby’s progress and sends you alerts when you should start looking out for new things. Mal freaked out when Henry turned one because he hadn’t started walking yet. A few days after his first birthday, he was toddling all over the place.”

“Who’s Mal?” Archie asked.

Regina did a double take. She hadn’t even realised she had said her name. She never said her name. She never talked about that time.

“Mal is my ex wife,” she replied. “We had Henry together. Well, I carried him. He is a sperm donor baby.”

“You told me yesterday on the phone that you’re divorced,” Archie said. “Does Mal have any contact with Henry?”

A darkness overcame Regina’s face. “No,” she replied. “We’ve not heard from her in over two years aside from the divorce papers I was served with a few months after she walked out.” The familiar pang of sadness overwhelmed her body. This was why she didn’t talk about it; it was too painful, too raw, too unforgivable.

“I’m sorry,” Archie offered.

“Yeah, me too,” Regina said.

“So you’re raising Henry alone,” Archie pressed on.

“Technically yes but I have a good support network. My sister lives near me and my best friend is over a lot too.”

“That’s great,” Archie said. “Support for you is just as important as support for Henry. Have you spoken to your friend or your sister about Henry’s eating problems?”

“No,” Regina said. “I suppose it’s become the elephant in the room. They must know about something’s going on but we don’t talk about it.”

“You said someone recommended you speak to a professional,” Archie said. “Who was that?”

“Oh that was Emma.”

“Who’s Emma?”

“She’s ….” Regina stopped, unsure how to define her relationship with Emma. She could hardly call her a friend. Three meetings, none of which had been organised, and a short phone call didn’t constitute a friendship. “She’s an acquaintance.”

“An acquaintance,” Archie repeated. “Who told you to see a child psychologist?”

“She saw Henry eat a meal,” Regina explained. “And she suffered with anorexia herself. I think she recognised the signs and wasn’t afraid to come out and tell me what I needed to hear.”

“What did you need to hear?”

Regina swallowed thickly. “That my son has a problem and he needs help.”

“Let’s talk more about that now,” Archie said. “When did you first notice Henry’s attitude towards his food change?”

“November 2016,” Regina said.

“Over two years ago,” Archie said slowly, making a mental note to come back to the significance of that time frame but not wanting to question the triggers just yet. “And what changed with regards to his eating habits?”

“He just suddenly refused to eat anything that wasn’t on that list I gave you. For about a week I just kept cooking food for him as I always had but he only ate a few items. He was never a fussy kid before. He ate everything. And then he just stopped. He’d pick out anything he claimed he didn’t like, even if he’d been eating it fine the month before, and leave the simplest of foods on the plate.”

“And what happened after a week?”

“He got a bad cold,” Regina said. “It was the first snowfall and I just gave up trying to feed him food he wasn’t going to eat. I needed him to regain some of his energy so I made him a big bowl of pasta and tomato sauce. He didn’t eat it all but he ate without complaining. I guess from then on I just took the easy option.”

“And what is the easy option?”

“Food he’s not going to scream at me about,” Regina said. “That list I rattled off, that’s the only food he’ll eat without throwing a tantrum. If I add anything else, he has a meltdown. I’ve tried hiding new food under things I know he likes. I’ve tried being strict, bribing him. I’ve tried everything.”

“You said he’s started to eat red capsicum,” Archie said, consulting his notes. “Is that a new development?”

“Yes actually,” Regina said. “Last week.”

“Well, when it comes to vegetables, his list was looking rather sparse before then. How did you manage to get him to eat it?”

“We were at dinner,” Regina said, “and Emma made him some hummus and vegetables.”

“Your acquaintance Emma?”

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “She is the chef at the restaurant and she had come out to offer Henry something to eat because there was nothing on the menu he would have eaten. I’d already fed him but he seemed to be interested in the plate she prepared. I left him to it as I had some clients to entertain but when I turned around, he’d eaten a couple of slices. The next night I put some in his usual tomato sauce and he ate it.”

“That sounds like progress,” Archie said.

“I agree,” Regina said. “But I’m not sure it’s enough. Henry is small for his age. And even from that list of food, he never clears his plate. I’d never force him to eat anything but I am worried he’s not getting enough nutrition. Emma thinks he may be harming his body.”

“Medically, he may be,” Archie nodded, “but I can’t say that without seeing him and without a full medical exam. However, if a growing child doesn’t get the nutrition needed, then you are going to see stunted growth, slower development and future medical problems may begin to present themselves.”

Regina swallowed thickly. She had noticed Henry’s small stature but his school work and development was still great. But what if he was doing damage now which wouldn’t become apparent until later.

“Does Henry talk about his weight?”

“No,” Regina said. It was one of the reasons she hadn’t labelled Henry’s habits as an eating disorder. He had never once mentioned feeling fat or overweight.

“Does he talk about good foods and bad foods?”

“Not in the way that good foods are healthy and bad foods make you fat,” Regina said. “He has a list of food he’ll eat but I don’t think they’re low in calories. Anyway, he’s six, would he even know about that?”

“You’d be surprised,” Archie said. “But Henry hasn’t mentioned anything about his physical appearance in relation to what he will and won’t eat?”

“No, never.”

“Does he eat a good amount of the food he will eat.”

“He always leaves something on the plate.”

“Does he eat at a normal pace?”

“No, he’s a slow eater. But so am I. My mother said it was poor manners and bad for your digestion to inhale food. I guess Henry saw that in my eating habits from a young age.”

Archie nodded and made some more notes. There was over a minute of silence before Regina eventually broke it.

“What can we do, Doctor Hopper?” The question was desperate, pleading, a mother who didn’t know how to help her child and craved answers.

“I’ll talk to you more about that after I’ve met with Henry on Thursday. For now, however, I have a few questions for you personally.”

Regina nodded her consent, leaning forwards to take a sip of the glass of water the receptionist had poured for her. “Go ahead.”

“You said Henry’s eating habits changed in November 2016. That would be around the time your wife left, correct?”

It was a punch to the gut. Not of realisation; she wasn’t blind, she knew the significance. But the bluntless had knocked the wind out of her.

“Yes. She left in October.”

“I’m sorry to be asking you about what I’m sure was a painful time in your life but I believe it may be very relevant to Henry’s behaviour. Can you tell me a little more about what happened between you and Mal?”

“I wish I could,” Regina said, a bitterness to her tone.

“What do you mean?”

Suddenly Regina felt like she was the one seeing the psychologist but she continued. She knew it was important Doctor Hopper understood as much as possible before he met with Henry.

“She left,” Regina said. “I came back from work one day after picking Henry up from his day care centre and she’d gone. Packed her bags and disappeared. There was a note on the table. It just said that she was sorry but that she wasn’t ready to settle down and be a mother and that she couldn’t stay any longer.”

“She wasn’t ready to be a mother? But Henry was four at that time. She’d been a part of his life from the beginning, correct?”

“Yes,” Regina growled. “And that’s what hurt the most. It wasn’t that she had left me. I was heartbroken but that was nothing compared to the way I felt about the fact that she had disappeared from our son’s life.”

“Did Mal want children?”

“It was my idea,” Regina admitted. “But we talked about it for over a year before we actually decided to do it. I was twenty-five. I knew I was gay and wouldn’t ever get pregnant from a partner. Mal and I met in college. We’d been together for five years, married for two. I thought we were ready. I thought it was time to take the next step.”

“When she was part of the family, how was she with Henry?”

“Good, I guess,” Regina said. “I thought she loved him as much as I did. She wasn’t the most maternal mother figure but she cared for him right alongside me. I never felt like I was Henry’s only mother and that Mal was just there to help me out.”

“But then she left.”

“I still don’t understand it,” Regina sighed. “I don’t understand how she could leave him.”

“Did you ever ask her?”

“No,” Regina said. “I’ve not spoken to her.”

“Not once? Not even during the divorce?”

“She left everything to me,” Regina said. “There was no arguments over the house or our joint bank accounts. She severed all ties.”

“Does she pay alimony?”

“No but I got more than enough in the divorce settlement. Mal was a successful lawyer, my company is profitable. We don’t have money concerns.”

“After she left, did you try to contact her?”

“Of course,” Regina said. “Her cell was disconnected. All her social media accounts were gone. She left. She upped sticks and disappeared from our lives in a matter of hours. None of our friends have heard from her either. No one even had the slightest hint this was coming.”

“What did you do?” Archie asked. “That afternoon, when you came home, what was your reaction?”

“I … don’t remember,” Regina said. “I was in shock, I think. Numb. I went to bed.”

“And Henry?”

“The next day I woke up and he was lying in bed beside me, asleep. I remember crying, not for me but for him. His mother had walked away and left him without any explanation. He doesn’t deserve that. No one deserves that.”

“Those following few days and weeks, what happened?”

Regina paused to think back. It was a time she avoiding reminiscing over but she understood its importance to the doctor. “I took some time off work. A month, I think. I barely left the house. Kathryn, my best friend, took Henry to school and picked him in the afternoon. I just lay in bed all day. Henry would come and join me when he came home. It took over a month for him to learn to sleep in his own room again once I’d pulled myself together.”

“Did you tell him what had happened?”

“I didn’t know what had happened,” Regina said. “I just said that Mommy had gone away and that she wasn’t able to live with us any more.”

“Did he ask questions?”

“Of course. He was a curious four-year-old.”

“Did you answer them?”

“As best I could,” Regina said. “I don’t lie to my son.”

“During this time, what were your eating habits like?”

Regina laughed darkly. “Bad but not in the way you’re thinking. I ate crap for weeks. Junk food. Fast food. Anything I could get delivered, so I didn’t have to cook. By the time I eventually hauled myself out of bed, none of my work clothes fitted.”

“So you dieted?”

“I hit the gym,” Regina said. “Ate healthily. As I always did. Life went back to normal.”

“After one month of you living in your bed,” Archie said.

“Yes,” Regina. “I had grieved. I had dealt with my feelings and I was ready to move on.”

“Move onto what?”

“My life with my son,” Regina said. “Mal was gone but Henry is still here. My focus became only on him.”

“And that’s when you noticed his eating habits changing?”

“Yes,” Regina said. “The first day I went back to work, I came home and cooked him some stir fried rice with vegetables and he wouldn’t eat it. We got into a fight. I was tired and stressed and I just wanted him to eat his dinner so we could get on with our evening. He threw the bowl across the kitchen and I sent him to bed without dinner. About half an hour later I felt bad and went in with some bread and strawberry jam. I was too tired to cook again.”

Archie nodded and made some more notes as Regina replayed the words she had spoken in her head. This was her life she was reliving but she had never looked at it from an objective position before. Now, knowing what Doctor Hopper must be thinking, the realisation hit her like a tonne of brick.

“This is all my fault, isn’t it?” she whispered.

The laptop lid closed quietly and Archie rounded his desk to take the only other adult sized chair in the room, alongside Regina’s.

“No, it’s not,” Archie said. “But I think we’re making progress when it comes to understanding what has triggered your son’s eating problems. I’m not here to place blame or to point fingers. I’m here to help Henry get better. The only way I can do that is to understand his history. As his mother, you’re a big part of that history so I need to know what you have been through and how it might have impacted your son.”

“So it is my fault,” Regina said, teary eyes now locked on the kind blue eyes of the psychologist.

“No,” Archie said. “Not at all. But something which happened in your life has had an effect on Henry. His experience of your divorce and the disappearance of one of his mothers has resulted in this eating disorder. I see it a lot in young children with difficult relationships with food. I haven’t met Henry yet and I’ll reserve my official diagnosis until Thursday but I think the reasons for his disorder are not related to body image.”

“What are his reasons then?”

“I’m not going to speculate any further until I’ve met with Henry,” Archie said. “You’re welcome to sit in for our session by the way.”

“Would you recommend that?”

“At first, perhaps, while Henry gets comfortable with me and in this space. But further down the line, you and Henry may decide it’s better if he sees me alone. It’s a personal decision, however, and I’ll leave it up to you.”

Regina nodded and sniffed, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. A tissue appeared in front of her and she took it with a nod of thanks.

“We’re out of time for today but I think you’ve given me all the information I need for now. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Just one. Can you help Henry?”

Archie offered a sad smile. “I’ll do my very best. He’s young, he’s not displaying the signs of an eating disorder which is triggered by body consciousness and he has a supportive mother who is going to be there for him. So yes, I think I can help him.”

Standing up, Archie held out his hand. Regina stood too and shook it. Handing her his card, Archie reassured the brunette mother that she could call him any time she needed to. She thanked him and left the office.

She was exhausted, she realised when she sat in the car. Emotionally drained from the intense session. Talking about Mal had left her feeling vulnerable. She never spoke of her ex and now she remembered why. It was still too painful. Before she set off towards Henry’s child minder’s to collect her son, she pulled out her cell, intent on checking her work emails. But a text caught her eye first.

I hope it went well with the psychologist. Remember, if you need to talk, you can call me any time. From Emma

Chapter Text

It was rude to not reply, Regina decided. And yet she didn’t want to share quite how confronting the session had been. She was still feeling raw, vulnerable. So she settled for neutral.

It was a good first meeting. I’m confident this doctor will be able to help Henry. Thank you for your support. Regina.

With her cell connected to the car sound system and her driving playlist selected, Regina pulled away from the curb outside Doctor Hopper’s office and headed towards Henry’s child minder’s. Her appointment had run a little longer than expected and she was already late. But Ursula was used to it and assured Regina it was no trouble as Henry packed up his toys and got ready to leave.

By the time they were home, it was already dinner time. Looking in the fridge, Regina realised she needed to go shopping but set about making some pasta for Henry, half a capsicum being added to the tomato sauce.

“Do you want a drink, my little prince?” she asked as she sat her son down to do some colouring while she cooked. She encouraged him to be in the kitchen when she cooked to try and engage him with the food preparation process. Plus, the last time she had left him unattended in the living room, her mother’s antique vase had been broken. Henry claimed no knowledge of the incident.

“Apple juice please,” he replied.

Regina got him his request at once, flicking on the kettle as she did so in preparation for a peppermint tea for herself. As their dinner cooked, Henry chattered away about his day. Just before Regina served up, she glanced at her cell. Nothing from Emma. She noticed, with a hint of surprise, that she was disappointed. Shaking the thought from her mind, because her life really was complicated enough already, she dished out the meal and placed Henry’s plate in front of him.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing immediately to a piece of capsicum.

“That’s what you had last week at the restaurant and on Friday night, remember?” Regina said, her patience already wearing thin. She knew it wasn’t Henry’s fault; she’d had a long day. But it was hard sometimes to go over the same conversations. “It’s called capsicum. It’s a sweet vegetable.”

“I don’t like capsicum,” Henry said, arms folded.

Regina sighed and rubbed her forehead. She could feel the ache of a migraine coming on. “Honey, you do. You ate it twice last week.”

“I don’t like it. I won’t eat it.”

“Fine, pick it out,” Regina said. She was too tired to argue.

She tried not to pay attention as her son went through his entire dish, diligently picking out the vegetable pieces. By the time he decided that his plate was acceptable, Regina was finished and she was sure his food was stone cold. That didn’t seem to bother him, however, and he began to spear, one by one, pieces onto his fork.

Tuesdays were never busy at Hook, Line And Sinker but three of Emma’s kitchen staff had called in sick. She found herself working side by side with August for the majority of the day as the team had to work to complete some basic prep work for the week ahead as well. By the time service ended, she was eager to get home.

“How was your day off?” she asked her sous chef as they finished up the orders for the following day, the rest of their team having been dismissed.

“Quiet,” August replied.

“How’s your dad?”


Emma patted her friend’s shoulder sympathetically. She admired August for taking care of his ailing father and knew he would be devastated when the time came to say goodbye. Marco had been a big influence of his son’s life and shaped the man he had become. Emma wished she had had someone to do that for her. Emma’s discovery of her love for cooking saved her from the downward spiral her life was becoming. But it had been luck, not the gentle guidance of a parent. Unlike August, Emma hadn’t had someone to keep her on the right path. Somehow, however, she had stumbled onto it after several years wavering on the edge.

“How was your day off?”

“Good. Ruby and I went up to the lakes on the bike. It was nice to get away from the city for a while.”

“No hot date with this brunette sex goddess she told me about.”

Emma glowered. “Whatever Ruby’s told you is bullshit.”

August laughed. “She told me you ran into the sexiest woman in the world, aside from Belle, on Saturday night but that you think she’s straight even though she was eye-fucking you the whole time.”

Crass though it was, Emma had no doubt that was the exact language her best friend had used. She had also forgotten how much of a gossip Ruby was. Usually it didn’t bother her but for some reason, when it came to Regina, she felt a stab of annoyance.

“Yeah, well, nothing happened,” Emma said, stuffing the last of the order forms into their files, picking up her cell phone from her desk and grabbing her bag.

“But you like her?” August asked, chef whites already slung in a bag and his jacket over his shoulder. He was always eager to get home to check on his father.

“It doesn’t matter if I like her. She’s straight,” Emma said.

“Emma, you know your gaydar is broken, right?”

The blonde didn’t reply. It was true; she wasn’t great at judging the sexuality of others. She liked to think it was because as far as she was concerned, there were more important facets which made up a person. Her obtuseness, however, did leave her at a severe disadvantage at times. Was this one of them?

“Whatever, she’s not into me, ok? And anyway, she’s way out of my league.”

“Well, that may be true. Ruby did say this woman was sex on legs.”

Emma punched him in the arm but August just laughed. “I’m kidding. You know you’re gorgeous too, right?”

“Stop hitting on your lesbian boss, that’s an order,” Emma teased.

“Ok, ok, see you tomorrow, Chef,” August said as they reached their bikes.

If asked, Emma would deny that she hired August partly because he was a fellow rider. He was an excellent chef who had excelled at the practical interview. But she couldn’t deny it was fun to talk about bikes as they worked.

“Are you ever going to upgrade that thing?” Emma asked as August struggled to kick start his old Harley Davidson.

“Never,” he grunted as his heavy boot thumped against the metal, the engine stubbornly refusing to turn over.

Helmet in place, Emma straddled her own bike, lifted the stand, turned the key and pointedly started the bike with the touch of a button. August shot her a filthy look. She just laughed and tapped the machine into first, preparing to drive away.

“See you tomorrow,” she called before sliding her visor shut and accelerating out of the parking lot and onto the main road.

“Show off,” August muttered as the powerful bike zoomed away from him just as his own spluttered back to life.

It wasn’t until Emma got home that she finally checked her cell and saw the message from Regina. She tapped out a reply as she rode the way up to her apartment in the elevator, sending it just as she stepped through the doorway. For some reason, the revelation that she was coming home to an empty space hit Emma a little harder that evening. Ruby often stayed at Belle’s but as she curled up on the couch, cell balanced on her knee, with a bowl of fruit salad she had made that morning, sprinkled with granola, she realised she wanted company. More to the point, she missed company. She pressed the home button on her cell, illuminating the screen to see if she had missed a message from Regina. She hadn’t. Sighing, she turned the tv on and set about trying to find a program she could watch without ‘Netflix-cheating’ on Ruby.

The nightmare evening started soon after Henry had gone to sleep. A phone call from the head of her PPC marketing team had called her in a panic, trying to explain in technical language Regina didn’t fully understand that something had gone wrong with one of their large clients. Logging into the account on her end, it didn’t require Regina to have a Masters in code writing for her to see that the script which was supposed to be controlling the bidding had gone awry.

Pausing all the active campaigns on the account, Regina set to work. She had ended up on a conference call with one of their technical team as well as the account manager and the head of the PPC team. It had taken them over two hours for them to identify the problem and fix it. The cause, however, remained a mystery but the technician assured her she’d have answers by the morning. She and the account manager calculated the issue to have cost the client only a few hundred in wasted expenditure. Regina instructed the frazzled woman to wait until the morning to speak to the client and to direct any complaints to her at once.

By the time the ordeal was sorted out, Regina was buzzing and exhausted in equal measure. Too hyped up to sleep, even though it was close to eleven, she made her way to the couch. Settling down with a glass of well deserved wine, she shut off her work phone for the evening and picked up her personal cell. It was then that she finally saw the reply from Emma, sent an hour earlier. A grin spread over her face as she read it.

Sorry for the late reply. I don’t have my cell on me while I work. I’ve already lost one to the fate of soapy water. I’m glad to hear the meeting went well. Do you want to talk about it? Emma

Did she want to talk about it? Frankly, Regina had done enough talking for one day but the idea of having someone, of having Emma, to confide in after these meetings with Doctor Hopper was a welcome one. She hadn’t even considered whether she would tell Kathryn or Zelena about Henry’s appointments with a child psychologist. As far as she was concerned, telling them wasn’t an option. They both cared for Henry. In fact, they loved him very much. But from what had been said today, Regina predicted that much of the work the little family had to do was going to stem from what happened with Mal. She didn’t think she could deal with the two women she was closest to finding out what was causing Henry’s eating troubles.

But what about when Emma found out? It wasn’t like she relished the idea of the blonde discovering that Regina was the reason her son was sick. While she had no definitive answers for why her wife left, Regina couldn’t help but feel it had a lot to do with her. In the weeks that followed the disappearance, she had unpacked every tiny detail of her marriage. It hadn’t been perfect, that she knew, but was she really so unlovable that the woman couldn’t even stay for Henry? That was what her anger, and the anger of Kat and Zelena had focused on; the abandonment. It seemed they were all so busy being angry on Henry’s behalf that all three had neglected to notice the impact her departure had on the small boy.

Which, Regina decided, made it all her fault. She wasn’t attentive enough; she was too self absorbed. It was her fault. She knew Doctor Hopper had said she wasn’t to blame but she couldn’t help it. Henry’s eating disorder was her fault.

I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about it just yet but thank you for the offer. Take good care of your cell – try not to drop it in any water sources. Regina

The opening credits of the movie she had found to watch had barely ended when her cell vibrated.

You’re welcome. I’m more than happy to talk if and when you’re ready. Know that you’re not alone and know that none of this is your fault. Emma.

Fault. How had she known? Did that mean Emma suspected that Henry’s eating disorder stemmed from something she had done? Which meant, by definition, it was her fault. She groaned and threw the cell to the far end of the couch where it bounced happily on a cushion. Before she had turned back to the screen however, it lit up once more. Unable to stop herself, she reached for it.

And don’t take that last message the wrong way. I just know how therapists work and they always want to find a root cause. Just because something triggered him, doesn’t mean you’re to blame. Emma.

Ok, did the woman have psychic abilities? It was possible. The woman seemed to have some kind of mystical power which enabled her to get the truth out of Regina. The past few days had been so hectic, the older woman hadn’t had the time to consider the possible reasons why Emma had managed to burst so spectacularly into her life.

Regina didn’t think she would describe herself as heartbroken any more. The pain in the aftermath of Mal’s disappearance had been unimaginable but it had morphed into anger soon afterwards. Anger at the woman who had left her and their son. A month of barely leaving her bedroom, of wallowing and crying and eating, and then Regina snapped out of it, forcing herself to put Henry first. Now, of course, she could see that perhaps one month was too long and that she had neglected him. But the point was, emotionally, she had moved on. Regina no longer thought of Mal every day, pined for her ex wife every hour, missed her other half every minute. If the woman was to turn up on her doorstep, she wouldn’t take her back. In fact, she may punch her in the face.

It had been over two years since Mal left and during those years, Regina hadn’t even considered dating again. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel ready. It was more that she hadn’t met anyone who had interested her. Had that changed?

The fact that Emma Swan intrigued her was undeniable. But was she sexually attracted to her? As the question popped into Regina’s head she let out an audible laugh. That was ridiculous; of course she was. Emma was beautiful. And, she realised, exactly her type. Blonde, tall, confident, independent, career-driven. Let’s not forget those green eyes, her brain supplied helpfully.

Ok, she’s gorgeous, Regina admitted to herself. And gay. That much had been apparent to her since the first time she had met Emma. The blonde’s gaze had lingered on her breasts for far too long. Her behaviour in Regina’s office the following day confirmed her suspicions. The way the blonde had been rendered temporarily speechless in the bar on Saturday night had been the final nail in the coffin. There was no doubting Emma’s attraction to Regina.

But that didn’t mean Regina wanted to date her. Did it? Could it? Could she?

Two realisations dawned on the brunette at the same time. First, yes, she did want to take Emma Swan out on a date. Second, Emma Swan was the only person in her life who understood what was going on in her life and, as such, was off limits. If she was to ask Emma out, if they were to date, to get together and then if it were to all fall apart, she’d lose the one person she could openly and honestly talk to about what was happening with Henry. No, she couldn’t do it. It was too much of a risk.

But what if it didn’t all fall apart?

It was well after midnight when Emma finally went to bed. She checked her cell phone again, even though she knew she wasn’t getting a reply. She had overstepped. She had said too much. She had pushed too far and now Regina had shut down. Cursing herself under her breath, Emma slammed her cell back onto the nightstand and reached for the light, plunging herself into darkness. She knew she wouldn’t sleep but it was better to try than the mope.

Only a few miles away, lying in the middle of her queen-sized bed, Regina stared at the ceiling, fingers twisting together on top of the sheets. The digits needed to be kept busy, they needed to do something, they needed to do anything else other than send a text to the woman who wouldn’t leave her mind.

Soon after three in the morning, she caved, her willpower overwhelmed by a tingling of desire and excitement she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

The buzzing of metal against wood woke Emma up. Her sleep had been restless, distracted. On autopilot, she reached for her cell and read the message.

Maybe I would feel better if I talked about the session. Would you like to meet me for lunch tomorrow? Regina

A smile spread slowly across her face before she snuggled herself further into the pillow and began to type.

Of course. But would you be able to come to me? As a chef, lunch is kind of when I work … But if you come to the restaurant, I can take a break and offer you a free meal. Emma

Emma was just dropping off when Regina’s reply lit up her cell screen.

Deal, but no freebies. I don’t want you thinking I’m a cheap date. I’ll be there at about 12:30. R

Chapter Text

Regina knew that having a glass office door meant that she could always see who was about to enter but she still expected visitors to do the courteous thing and knock. Kathryn, apparently, felt that simple gesture was beneath her.

“Who was that on Saturday night in the bar?” she asked on Wednesday morning, marching in unannounced and sitting down opposite Regina.

The brunette said nothing. Instead she turned her disgruntled attention back to her computer and finished writing the email she had been in the middle of when the quiet solitude of her office had been interrupted. Kathryn didn’t seem offended. She just sipped her coffee and pushed the identical cup she had bought her best friend across the desk towards her.

“Good morning, Kat,” Regina said after she had sent the email and reached for the steaming drink. “How are you?”

“Busy, and don’t change the subject. Who was that blonde you stayed behind to talk to? And why haven’t you been returning my calls?”

“I’ve been busy too,” Regina offered by way of a reason for her lack of contact. She had been planning to call Kathryn that evening, in fact.

“Busy with the blonde?”

“No, with my son and with work,” Regina said.

Kathryn huffed. “Are you going to make me ask you again?”

“Ask me what?” Regina smirked. She did rather enjoy winding her friend up.

“The blonde from the bar,” Kathryn said, leaning forwards now. “Who was she?”

Regina relented. She was going to have to tell Kathryn sooner or later. “That was Emma Swan. She was the chef at the restaurant I took Mr Gold and the team to on Thursday last week.”


“And what?”

“And why did you stay to have a drink with her?”

“Because she invited me,” Regina answered.


“I suppose you’d have to ask her that.”

Kathryn frowned. “Why are you being so coy? Is something going on between you and this woman?”

“Not exactly,” Regina replied. It was true. There was nothing going on between her and Emma. Not yet, anyway. And she didn’t want to tell Kathryn anything to do with Henry’s eating disorder nor Emma’s role in the initial diagnosis.

“What does that mean? Regina, do you like this woman?”

There was a pause and then; “yes.”

Kathryn squealed and clapped her hands. “Oh, I’m so happy for you, Regina. You deserve to meet someone new. So, spill the beans. What happened on Saturday night?”

“Nothing’s happened yet,” Regina said.

“But you’re seeing her again?”

“Yes,” Regina admitted.


Regina glanced at her computer screen. “In about an hour.”

“What?” Kathryn exclaimed. “Where?”

“At her restaurant.” Kathryn opened her mouth to say something but then shut it, frowning. Regina elaborated. “We’re meeting there for lunch.”

“She’s taking you to lunch in her own restaurant? Isn’t that a bit … big-headed?”

“Emma’s a very talented chef but that’s not the reason,” Regina replied. “She can’t exactly get away from her work during normal ‘dating’ hours, as it were, so she suggested I come to her and she’d take a break.”

“How romantic,” Kathryn deadpanned.

“Well, to be fair, this isn’t really a date. There are a few things we need to talk about first.”

“What things?”

“Just things. Family stuff, you know?”

Kathryn nodded. “What have you told her about your marriage?”

“Nothing yet,” Regina replied. She didn’t feel it was necessary to expand and say that any context in which Mal was discussed that day would be in relation to Henry, not the two of them beginning to date.

“This is exciting, Regina,” Kathryn grinned. “I’m so pleased to hear you’re finally ready to move on. It’s been a while now and I was starting to worry you’d never want to date again. Also, how do you go on one night out and meet someone you’re interested in? How is that fair?”

“Maybe it’s fate,” Regina shrugged.

“You believe in fate?” Kathryn asked.

“I don’t know.”

If someone had asked her a week ago whether she believed in fate, Regina would probably have said no. But the moment Emma Swan entered her life, everything seemed to have been tipped on its head in the most unexpected but necessary way, she was now reconsidering. As far as she was concerned, however, Emma hadn’t appeared in her life so she could start dating again. She was in her life for Henry. The fact that the two women were attracted to one another was a happy coincidence which Regina hoped very much would not get in the way of her son’s treatment.

“When do you have to leave for this date?” Kathryn asked.

“In about fifteen minutes,” Regina replied. “Why?”

“Cos I do actually have to talk to you about work. This wasn’t merely a social call.”

“Go ahead,” Regina nodded. She and Kathryn worked together on a number of marketing campaigns. Her best friend’s photography skills was one of her company’s secret weapons. Their ability to offer clients the full package, including professional photography services was one of the biggest draws of the marketing firm.

Kathryn pulled out her laptop and opened it before jumping straight in to discuss her new campaign idea for a local bike rental store.

Hot oil spat from the pan as the scallops landed in it. She flicked the bowl with a practiced wrist as she used her other hand to stir the sauce the seafood was to be drizzled in. The kitchen was noisy, as it always became when the orders started to stack up, but Emma didn’t mind. In fact, she could use the distraction.

Emma wasn’t usually one to get nervous before a date but her stomach fluttered that Wednesday afternoon as the clock moved closer to twelve thirty. She had already told August that she had a meeting and would be taking a break. It was right in the middle of their lunch service but mid week was never too busy and she was confident her staff could manage the workload.

It’s not a date, she told herself as she tried to calm her nerves. Regina wanted to talk to her about how her session with Henry’s psychologist had gone. Emma was there as a confidant, nothing more. But, her brain unhelpfully supplied, she had used the word ‘date’ in that last text.

Forcing her mind off their brief text conversation, Emma transferred the cooked scallops to their plates which were already prepped with the cauliflower puree, roasted parsnips and pomegranate seeds. The sauce was dripped artistically over it to finish the dish.

“Service,” she called as she wiped her hands on a towel and started to prepare her next dish.

At least she didn’t have to worry about what to wear when she met Regina. Chef whites were hardly sexy but it was better than having to plan an outfit. Plus, she knew Ruby would have never let her hear the end of it if she had changed at work for the meeting. Already her roommate had been a nightmare when it had been revealed that Emma was meeting the brunette. Ruby had gloated all morning when she had discovered that the two women had been in contact and that a date had been set.

“I told you your gaydar was broken,” Ruby had grinned when Emma finally confessed why she had been wearing a goofy smile over her morning coffee.

“It’s just a casual meet-up,” Emma had insisted. Even with Regina’s wording in the text, she was reluctant to label their rendezvous as a date.

And, she reminded herself as the seconds ticked away towards the time of the non date, this was about Henry.

“Em,” Ruby shouted, poking her head around the kitchen door. “Your hot date is here.”

“Shut up and tell her I’ll be five minutes,” Emma called back. “And serve her a glass of the chenin blanc if she’s drinking.”

“Sure thing,” Ruby grinned before disappearing.

Emma turned her attention back to the now empty pan and poured the scallops she had put aside for her and Regina into it. Four minutes later, the dishes were ready and she was pulling off her chef hat.

“If you need me, just come over, ok?” Emma said to August as she picked up the perfectly garnished plates and left the kitchen.

Regina settled herself into the chair at the table Ruby had shown her. The tall brunette had smiled knowingly at her when she had arrived and welcomed her once again to Hook, Line and Sinker. Regina felt a desperate need to know what Emma had told her colleague and friend about their relationship.

The table she had been seated at offered a beautiful view over Storybrooke harbour. The last time she had been to the restaurant, she and her party had only been able to enjoy the twinkling lights of the docks at night. Now, however, she was able to see the boats themselves bobbing gently on the water, a few small vessels coming and going from the port. It was a beautiful location, she mused, just as Ruby appeared beside her with a glass of wine.

“Emma told me to give you this and say she’ll be a few minutes,” Ruby said, placing the drink in front of the woman.

“Emma told you to give me wine?”

“Yep,” Ruby replied. “Well, she told me to serve you this particular wine if you said you were drinking with your lunch.”

“A question you failed to ask me,” Regina remarked.

“You looked nervous,” Ruby shrugged. “I figured you could use a little Dutch courage. Don’t worry, Emma’s great. And she’s crazy about you.”

“She is?”

“Not mental crazy but crazy in a good way,” Ruby blundered onwards. “Crazy in the way that she talks about you as if you’re just a friend because she refuses to believe her gaydar is broken. I’ve been telling her you’re into her since we saw you in the bar. And I think she knows it deep down. Whenever you come up in conversation, it’s obvious she can see there’s something going on. I mean, it’s not like she talks about you much but when she does, she goes all squirmy and embarrassed and -”


The front of house manager’s cheeks reddened abruptly at the sound of her best friend’s voice. Regina had to bite back a smile as she watched the guilty woman turn on the spot to face the blonde who had appeared behind her.

“I’m sorry, Ems. I didn’t mean -”

“Can you get me a glass of the wine too and fetch us some water please?” Emma said, gaze hard, letting Ruby know her loose lipped behaviour would be addressed at a later date.

“Sure. Coming right up,” Ruby nodded before she scurried away.

“Hi,” Emma said, eyes falling on Regina for the first time.

“Hello,” Regina smiled.

“Wow, you look amazing.”

Even sat down, Emma could tell that the dress Regina was wearing fit her like a glove. Deep red, ending mid thigh and completed with a tailored jacket. Her hair and make up, as always, were perfect.

“Thank you,” Regina blushed. “You look … like a chef.”

Emma laughed and glanced down at her own chef whites and was reminded of the two dishes in her hands. She moved forwards and placed down their plates before taking the chair opposite Regina. Before she could say anything more, Ruby appeared with her own wine and their water but left without a word.

“I hope you like scallops,” Emma said. “I’m sorry I didn’t wait until you arrived to offer you the chance to order but I wanted to cook for you and didn’t want to leave you out here to entertain yourself while I did so.”

“Thank you, Emma,” Regina said, admiring the food in front of her. “Scallops are one of my favourites and this dish looks incredible.”

“I chose the wine to match with it too,” she explained.

Regina reached for her glass and raised it towards Emma. The blonde grinned and picked up her own. The sides chinked lightly together as their eyes met, gazes lingering for longer than could be considered normal but neither woman was willing to look away.

“To Henry,” Emma offered just before they sipped their respective drinks.

“To Henry,” Regina repeated.

Emma waited for Regina to take the first bite before starting on her own plate. The duo ate in silence for a few minutes before Emma began the conversation.

“So, how has your week been so far?”

“Busy and intense, both at work and home,” Regina admitted. “What about you?”

“This meal has been the highlight in an otherwise uneventful few days,” Emma smiled. “I’m glad you texted.”

“I almost didn’t.”

“What made you hesitate?”

“My life is complicated enough right now. I don’t need to add another element to it.”

Emma cocked her head. “You think this lunch is complicated?”

“I think it could become complicated, yes,” Regina replied.

“And what complications do you think might arise?”

Regina smirked. “What do you want me to say, Miss Swan?”

Biting back the groan at the use of such an address, Emma forced herself to continue. “I’m just curious about what could be complicated with two women getting together for lunch.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that we are meeting to discuss the eating habits my son, my first meeting with his psychologist and your experience of having an eating disorder. But at the same time, I took twenty minutes to choose this outfit before I left the house this morning, you’ve cooked us scallops and your flatmate told me that she’s been telling you I was gay since last weekend but that you don’t think I am because your gaydar is broken.”

Emma rested her cutlery down and took a generous sip of her wine before answering. “Yeah, I suppose that could be considered complicated.”

“Indeed,” Regina nodded. “So you can see why I was hesitant to text you.”

“What made you change your mind?”

There was another pause and Regina tried to decide how much to reveal. “I decided it was worth the risk.”

“What risk?”

“The risk that you’re the only person I can talk to about what is going on with Henry but at the same time you’re the first person I’ve met in a long time who I’m actually interested in getting to know. The risk that I want you to be two people in my life. I want you to be someone I can confide in and lean on when it comes to Henry. But I also want you to be that special someone I can take out for dinner and go to movies with and go for moonlight strolls along the harbour front. I’d say it is pretty risky and complicated to look for one person to fill both roles.”

Emma was stunned into silence at the honesty of Regina’s reply. The brunette herself seemed a little taken aback at how upfront she had been but it was probably best to put everything out on the table to begin with. There was no denying it; the situation was complicated. The best thing to do was to make sure everyone involved was going in with their eyes wide open. Emma reached across the table and took hold of Regina’s right hand, the fingertips of which were playing with the stem of her wineglass.

“I want to be both those people for you, Regina,” Emma said. “And I know this is complicated and I think you may be right saying there is a risk here. But can I offer some reassurances?”

“Please,” Regina nodded, her fingers curling lightly around Emma’s hand.

“I haven’t known you long,” Emma began. “And I don’t know you well yet. But I want to get to know you and I hope I get the opportunity to do so. But I need you to know that whatever happens between us, and believe me I want there to be some sort of ‘us’, I will always be there for you when it comes to Henry. I know what you’re going to be facing with him and I know you’re going to need support. So regardless of how we work out, please know I will always be someone you can talk to. I know we met less than a week ago and that seems like a crazy thing to say but I feel a connection with you, Regina. Whether that connection leads to us dating or just being friends, I need you to know you can confide in me.”

“I don’t want to be friends with you, Emma.” The blonde’s face faltered before the older woman continued. “I want to date you. But thank you for saying those things; it means a lot.”

“You’re welcome. And I want to date you too.”

“Even though you think I’m straight?”

Emma glowered. “I am going to kill Ruby.”

Regina laughed. Emma felt her heart rate quicken at the sound. “I think she was trying to put in a good word. She just did a terrible job of doing so.”

“Did she scare you off?”

“Never,” Regina replied. “I like you, Emma. I just hope I don’t scare you off by putting too much on you talking about Henry’s illness.”

“I can take it,” Emma said. “I told you, I want to be there for you.”

“Since we’re being honest, there’s one more thing I need to say.”

“Go ahead.”

“I don’t want you to be meeting Henry again too soon,” Regina said. “I know you’ve already met him but if we were to start dating and then break up, I don’t want him getting hurt. Before I reintroduce you two, I want to be sure there’s something here.”

“I understand entirely. But just for the record,” Emma leaned forwards, “there’s definitely something here.”

Regina grinned. “Yeah, I think so too. We should probably start getting to know one another and prove we’re both right though.”

“Agreed. So, why don’t you start by telling me what happened at this meeting yesterday?”

Chapter Text

“Ok,” Regina agreed. After all, the whole premise under which the two of them were meeting was to talk about Henry. At least that was the reason she had texted Emma in the first place. Now, of course, they were undeniably on a date. “Well, Doctor Hopper wanted to meet with me to discuss Henry before his appointment tomorrow so he could learn as much as possible about him, I think. I gave him a history of his eating habits and a little about our life.”

Emma nodded as she listened, finishing off the last of her dish as she did so. Regina’s plate was already empty. The blonde couldn’t help but be pleased at how well her food had been received.

“Did he ask about anything in particular?”

“He wanted to know about Henry as a kid in general, not just his eating habits. Which was refreshing, I realised. I don’t want him to be reduced to a list of food. He’s more than that.”

“Of course he is,” Emma said. “And did Doctor Hopper have any insights?”

“I think we both did,” Regina admitted.

Emma frowned. “What does that mean?”

“It means that I realised a few things when I was talking to him. There were some events from our past which I hadn’t put together before but after talking everything through, I think we’ve already identified what caused the eating problems. It wasn’t something I had put much thought into. I had never considered tracing back to work out exactly when Henry started to be difficult when it came to food.”

“Can you share this insight with me?” Emma asked.

Regina reached for her wine but didn’t drink from the lifted glass. It was just something to hold, to ground her. “I’m divorced,” she said quickly. “Henry’s eating changed shortly after my wife left.”

“Oh, ok,” Emma said. “Um, I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Regina said shortly, before taking sip of her wine. “I guess that was something you were going to find out pretty soon anyway but it’s hard to talk about.”

“I understand,” Emma offered. “We don’t have to discuss it. But you and Doctor Hopper talked about the impact the end of that relationship had on Henry?”

Regina nodded. “Yes. His difficult eating began the month afterward she left.”

“Well, that makes sense. People who suffer from eating disorders often experience a triggering event. There’s this misconception that everyone who is anorexic or bulimic is trying to make themselves thin but often the reason they start controlling what they eat has nothing to do with their body image. It just develops into that over time.”

“That was the other thing,” Regina went on. “Henry doesn’t talk about his body in the way someone with an eating disorder might. Doctor Hopper doesn’t think that’s what his eating habits are about.”

“Did he say what he thought it was about?”

“No,” Regina replied. “He said he wanted to wait until he saw Henry tomorrow.”

“This ‘Doctor’, is he a psychiatrist or a psychologist?” Emma asked.

When she had been suffering, Emma had met with any number of experts from a variety of professions. From therapists to nutritionists to psychologists to psychiatrists, every person she met with had offered her a different reason for her anorexia and attempted to help her using different techniques. Some had been successful, others hadn’t.

“Psychologist,” Regina replied. “He used to be a doctor, hence the title. I don’t agree in medicating children unnecessarily and would like to solve this problem without any prescribed drugs if possible.”

“Good,” Emma said. “I was just asking.”

“Were you … I mean, when you were sick … your therapist, did they …?”

“Prescribe me drugs?” Emma offered. Regina nodded, cheeks a little pink. She hadn’t meant to pry but she couldn’t deny that she was curious about the blonde’s own experiences. “Yes but I was much further along than Henry was. I was anorexic and that’s not what I’d say about your son. I had to be given medication. I was hospitalised. I had to be put on a much more rigorous treatment schedule than Henry needs. I … I was killing myself with what I was doing.”

“And you think Henry isn’t doing that?”

Tears had sprung into Regina’s eyes suddenly. The thought had been an unexpected and unwelcome one and she had been unable to stop her body reacting. She found herself wishing she and Emma had chosen to meet in a more private place. It felt like everyone in the restaurant was staring at her, even though she knew that wasn’t the case. Another sip of wine did nothing to calm her emotions.

“No, I don’t think he is,” Emma replied. “He’s still eating, right? Even if the types of food are limited. He’s not anorexic but he does have an eating disorder. That said, he’s also young. With the right help, I think he’ll be able to start enjoying a normal, healthy diet again.”

“I hope so.”

The two women went quiet, both taking the opportunity to drink a little more wine. Regina glanced at her watch as well, realising she was going to have to leave soon to drive back to Portland for a meeting with a client that afternoon.

“You can ask me about when I was sick, by the way,” Emma said softly. “If you’re going to talk to me about Henry, I know you’re going to have questions about my own experiences. I want you to know that you can ask me anything you want.”

“It’s not … triggering?”

Regina had been googling. She knew that some survivors of eating disorders struggled to talk about their past and didn’t want to be the cause of any pain or problems for the young blonde. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to know. She did. She was very curious about the extent of Emma’s eating disorder as well as how the woman had gone from starving herself to being one of the state’s most well known and respected chefs.

“No and if you ask anything I’m not comfortable talking about, I’ll tell you,” Emma said. “I’ve been better for over ten years. It’s in my past and I have a very positive relationship with food now. Clearly,” she added, her arm sweeping to her left to indicate the restaurant. “I’m not pretending that I went through the same thing Henry is but I can relate. And I think I can relate to what you’re going through. I saw what my illness did to my foster parents. At the time I didn’t realise how much pain I was causing them. It’s one of my biggest regrets.”

“You were fostered?”

Emma nodded. “I grew up in the system.”

The answer was short and Regina understood not to ask any more. But she couldn’t deny that her interest was piqued. A childhood in foster homes can’t have been easy. Was it an event which had taken place somewhere in the child protective services system which had caused Emma to develop her own eating disorder? The blonde had invited questions but Regina decided to hold back, sensing it wasn’t the right time.

“Henry is meeting Doctor Hopper tomorrow after school,” Regina said, changing the subject. “I haven’t told him about it yet. Do you think I should?”

“Do I think you should surprise your son with a therapy session? No. Tell him,” Emma said. “I’ve been tricked into attending counselling before and it doesn’t go well. He may be young but it’s important he doesn’t feel blindsided.”

That made sense, Regina realised. She hadn’t been deliberately keeping the appointment from Henry but she wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.

“What should I tell him?”

“Henry must know he eats differently to his friends,” Emma reasoned. “Tell him the truth. Tell him you’re going to meet someone who is going to help him learn about the importance of eating different types to food.”

“Yes, that’s a good way of putting it, thank you,” Regina agreed.

“Are you going to be in the room for the appointment?”

“Yes,” Regina replied. “At first. Maybe after a few weeks it might be good for Henry to have some time on his own with Doctor Hopper so he feels like can talk without me listening. Henry might want to share something he doesn’t want me to know.”

Emma knew that feeling. Her foster mother had been in the majority of her therapy sessions and it was the few she had been absent from during which the blonde made the most progress. She loved her foster mother but there were things she wasn’t willing to talk about in front of her. To this day, Mary Margaret didn’t know the main cause of Emma’s anorexia. And she never would. Emma vowed not to ever tell; she wouldn’t be able to forgive herself for the guilt the woman would inevitably feel if she found out the truth. It was Emma’s cross to bear.

“I think that’s a good idea. Henry needs to know you’re there for him but I can also imagine that there may be some memories he has of your divorce which he doesn’t want to talk about in front of you. Things he thinks might upset you. I … can I ask about your ex wife?”

Regina looked at her watch again. “Another time?” she offered. “I’m not avoiding telling you but I do have to get back to the city for a meeting. A conversation about my divorce requires more time than I can spare right now and I don’t want to short change you.”

“Of course,” Emma smiled. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Thank you,” Regina said, waving over a waiter and asking for the bill, despite Emma’s protests. “I told you, I’m not a cheap date and I’m not accepting freebies.”

“But I didn’t even offer you the chance to choose your meal and I forced a not inexpensive glass of wine on you,” Emma pouted.

“Firstly, that dish was divine. I saw it written on the specials board when I walked in and I would have chosen it anyway. Secondly, you paired that wine perfectly. If you ever decide to change careers, you’d make an excellent sommelier. And finally, I asked you to meet with me to talk about Henry and I will pay for the meal to say thank you for your advice and support.”

“Ok but next time, it’s my turn to pay,” Emma replied.

An eyebrow rose upwards. “Is that your way of asking for a second date? The first one hasn’t even finished yet and it was made under the pretence of discussing my son.”

Emma grinned. “But it went so well. I can’t wait to organise the next one. And I’m more than happy to talk about Henry. He’s part of your life and he’s dealing with something I can relate to. If our second, third and fourth date are all about him too, I’ll be happy.”

“The fifth date has to just be about us then,” Regina teased just as she handed her debit card to the waiter to pay.

The blonde laughed. “Deal. So, second date. Are you game?”

“Yes but how does it work? Dating a chef?”

Emma sobered. It was true. Her schedule meant that dating was difficult. At the times when most people weren’t working, Emma was usually in the kitchen. “I have every Monday and every other Wednesday off.”

“Shall we say Monday night then?” Regina asked. “I’ll leave it to you to choose the restaurant.”

Emma beamed at the suggestion. “Perfect. I can’t wait.”

“Me neither,” Regina admitted.

“But if you want to talk about how Henry’s sessions went before then, you can call me,” Emma offered.

“I may just do that,” Regina replied, gathering up her purse and standing up.

Emma stood too. She didn’t want the date to end but understood Regina had to get back. The two walked over to the door of the restaurant where they paused. Then, seeing that Ruby was staring at them from behind the bar, Emma pushed the door open and led Regina outside. It was a warm day, the sun beating down and making it feel like mid-summer, not April.

“Well, thank you for coming all the way out here,” Emma said. “I had a great time.”

“Me too,” Regina said as the duo made their way slowly over to her car, the black Mercedes glinting patiently in the parking lot. “And thank you for your support and advice. I don’t have anyone else I can talk to about this.”

“What about your sister or your friend from the bar on Saturday night?”

Regina shook her head. “I don’t want to get them involved at the moment. Maybe one day, but not yet.”

“Well, when you need to talk, you know where I am,” Emma smiled.

“I do, thank you.”

They had reached the vehicle now but neither woman was in any rush to end their date. Reluctantly, however, Regina reached for her keys. If she didn’t get going soon, she was going to be late for her meeting.

“I’ll call you,” Emma said as the woman unlocked her car and placed her handbag inside.

“I look forward to it,” Regina replied.

Emma hesitated for a moment before leaning down and pressing a soft kiss to Regina’s cheek. The tenderness of the act made Regina’s heart pound and she felt a smile bloom on her face as the blonde pulled away.

“Goodbye, Regina,” Emma said, hand now resting on the open car door.

“Goodbye, Emma. I’ll see you on Monday.”

“I can’t wait,” Emma said as Regina slid gracefully into the seat. “Drive safe.”

The car door snapped shut and Emma stepped away as the engine purred into life. With a final glance through the window, Regina shifted the car into drive and pulled away. Emma watched her go, not heading back into the restaurant until the vehicle had turned onto the road and driven out of sight.

Regina had decided to tell Henry about his appointment with Doctor Hopper over breakfast that Thursday morning. She hadn’t been putting it off, exactly. She and Emma both agreed that the boy should know about it. But she had been a little nervous, not wanting the news to result in a tantrum. It had gone surprisingly well and the boy had accepted that instead of going to Ursula’s after school, he would be picked up by his mother to meet with someone to talk about eating.

“Mum, do I have to eat with Doctor Hopper?” Henry asked as she buckled him into his car seat outside his school that afternoon.

“No, my little prince. Doctor Hopper is going to talk to you about eating but you don’t have to eat anything.”

“Why does Doctor Hopper want to talk about eating with me?”

“Like I told you this morning, he wants to help you learn about different types of food.”

“But I don’t like different types of food,” Henry pouted as they began to drive.

“Maybe Doctor Hopper will help you learn to like different foods.”

“No,” Henry replied, arms crossed.

Regina didn’t say any more. She didn’t want to put Henry on the defensive before they had even reached the appointment. Instead she moved the conversation on and began to ask Henry what he had done that day at school. It didn’t take long for Henry to forget all about the upcoming meeting and soon he was regaling his mother with tales of what he and Roland had gotten up to that day.

By the time they arrived at Doctor Hopper’s office, Henry and Regina were both feeling lighter. The sight of the redbrick house sobered the boy’s mother slightly as she parked outside and shut off the engine.

“Is this the doctor’s?” Henry asked, peering out of the window. It didn’t look much like his paediatrician’s, the small boy mused.

“Yes,” Regina replied.

Henry said no more. Sitting patiently as his mother unbuckled him, he reached for her hand as soon as he was stood on the sidewalk.

“Come on,” Regina said, leading him up the steps and pressing the intercom. Henry scuffed his shoe against a small pebble on the step as Regina announced their arrival and waited for the front door to be released. “Let’s go,” she announced when the mechanism whirred.

They walked inside and up to the second floor where Doctor Hopper’s practice was based. Regina pointed out the small toy box in the corner but Henry shook his head, pressing himself closer to his mother’s side. She didn’t push and instead kept his hand clasped firmly in hers as she spoke to the receptionist. Once asked to take a seat, Regina did so. She was somewhat surprised when Henry climbed into his lap but allowed it, curling her arm around his back and reaching for a book on the table beside her to keep him entertained. They had barely read two pages when the door to Doctor Hopper’s room opened.

Henry’s eyes followed the girl who emerged with her mother, the pair heading to the receptionist to pay and make another appointment. She looked about ten, Regina thought, and her long blonde hair was braided down her back. Regina found herself wondering what she was seeing Doctor Hopper for. The girl’s mother caught her eye when she turned and Regina blushed. The mother, however, offered a sympathetic smile before guiding her daughter out of the office. Henry’s focus turned to the open door of the room from which the girl had emerged.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Regina asked, realising it would be a good idea for Henry to go before the session started. But the boy shook his head, pressing himself closer against Regina as he did so.

Returning her attention to the book she was still holding, Regina began to read but had said less than a sentence when Doctor Hopper emerged from his room.

“Good afternoon, Ms Mills,” he smiled. “And you must be Henry.”

Regina coaxed Henry from her lap and stood up beside her son. “Yes. Henry, say hello to Doctor Hopper.”

“Hello,” Henry said quietly.

“You can call me Archie if you like,” Doctor Hopper offered. “Please, come on in.”

With Henry’s hand clasped once more in hers, Regina followed the doctor and led her son into his office. The boy looked around with interest at the colourful room. Regina smiled slightly when she saw his attention was drawn to the large collection of toys in the corner. Already, she could tell he was relaxing.

“Take a seat,” Archie began.

Regina did so, half expecting Henry to climb up into her lap again. Instead, however, he took the smaller chair which had been placed next to hers and was obviously meant for him.

“So, Henry, how are you today?” Archie asked once his new patient was settled.

“I’m ok,” came the quiet response.

“Great,” Archie grinned. “I’m glad to hear that. How was school?”


“Yeah? What are you learning about at the moment?”

“I learned maths today.”

“Maths? Great! I love maths. What’s your favourite subject.”

“Reading,” Henry replied.

Ever since he had learned to read, Henry had devoured every book which had been placed in his hands. Regina had always read to him before he went to bed and now the boy loved to read his own stories, with the help of his mother only when he came up against a tricky word.

“Reading is lots of fun,” Archie said. “I’ve got lots of books here, see?” He pointed to the bookshelf in the corner. “Maybe later we can find a book to read together.”

“Ok,” Henry grinned. “I’m a good reader.”

“What else are you good at?”

“Playing football,” Henry said. “I’m really good at kicking.”

“I bet that’s lots of fun. Do you play football at school?”

“Not really,” Henry said. “I go to the park with Mom. She’s not very good at kicking.”

“Hey,” Regina piped up. “I’m getting better.”

“A bit,” Henry conceded. “But I’m the best.”

“That is true,” Regina smiled. Henry beamed with pride at the praise he had received.

“What else do you and your mom do in the park?” Archie asked.

Henry thought for a moment. “We sometimes take a picnic. When it’s sunny. We play football and then we eat lunch.”

“Yum, I love picnics. What’s your favourite thing to eat on a picnic?”

“I like apples.”

“Me too. Apples are great. Do you like red apples or green apples?”

“I like red apples better. Green apples aren’t so nice.”

“What about bananas? Do you like bananas?”

Henry wrinkled his nose. “Yuk. No.”

“What other fruit do you like?”

“I like pears and grapes,” Henry replied.

“What about oranges?”

“No,” Henry said, shaking his head.

“So, aside from apples, what else do you and your mom pack for your picnic?”

“Sandwiches,” Henry said.

“Oh I love sandwiches. My favourite sandwich is chicken salad.”

“That’s the same as Mom,” Henry said, turning to his mother. “You like that too, don’t you?”

“I do,” Regina smiled.

“What do you have in your sandwich, Henry?”

“Strawberry jam,” Henry said. “It’s my favourite.”

“Strawberry jam is great. Do you like strawberries? They’re a fruit we didn’t mention.”

“No, I don’t like them.”

“Ok,” Archie said. “So tell me more about school. Who’s your best friend?”

“Roland. He’s six. Like me.”

“Do you and Roland like to play together?”

“Yeah,” Henry enthused. “We play loads of games.”

“Do you want to play a game with me?” Archie asked.

“Ok,” Henry nodded. “What game do you want to play?”

“I’ve got lots of toys over here,” Archie said, standing up. “Why don’t you come and pick one out.”

Henry nodded and slid from his chair, following the doctor across his office. Regina stayed where she was. Although Archie hadn’t said anything, she understood that it was important for he and Henry to bond and get to know one another before the conversations related to Henry’s eating habits began. She watched as her son began rummaging through the box, Archie sat cross legged beside him. Minutes later, the two of them had set up some kind of game which saw Henry’s team of dinosaurs take on Doctor Hopper’s army of toy soldiers. Regina pulled out her cell phone and began to check her work emails, listening all the while to her son’s conversation with his doctor.

The rest of the session sped by and before Regina knew it, Archie was thanking them for coming and asking her to bring Henry at the same time next week.

“Henry, do you think you can go and ask my receptionist, Gretel, if she has a special sticker for you for being so good today?” Archie asked.

“Yeah,” Henry nodded. He turned at once and made his way importantly out of the room.

“Well?” Regina asked, knowing Archie had wanted a little time with her without Henry listening.

“He’s a great kid but he does have some issues when it comes to food,” Archie said. “I never brought up the subject myself. Today was about getting Henry to trust me. But whenever he mentioned meals or food, I asked a few questions. He’s very set on what he does and doesn’t like and seems to not be willing to change his mind on any of those items you listed last week.”

“Yes, he’s stubborn,” Regina nodded. “Is there anything I can do?”

“It’s important Henry feels like he is eating new things because he wants to, not because either of us are forcing him to,” Archie said. “These habits started, as I suspected, because he lost control over one area of his life. When your ex wife left, his world was rocked. At such a young age, he wasn’t able to understand exactly what had happened to change his living situation. When a child goes through a substantial shift such as losing a parent from their day to day life, they often grasp onto something which they can control. In Henry’s case, that was his diet. By controlling what he ate, he was able to ground himself.”

“He told you that?” Regina asked, peering out of the office and seeing her son chatting away to Gretel who was holding a large book of stickers for him to choose from. She had been listening to most of the conversation between Henry and the psychologist but at times she had gotten distracted by her emails and missed bits.

“No, he didn’t,” Archie said. “But from what he did tell me and the way he talked about you, I’m making an educated guess based on years of experience.”

“Did he mention Mal?”

“No,” Archie replied. “He said it was just the two of you. He mentioned that he was a prince and it was his job to keep you safe though.”

Regina felt her eyes burn. Little Prince had been her nickname for her son his entire life. But she had never intended for him to consider himself her protector. She was the adult. She was supposed to protect him. “He’s a sweet boy.”

“He is,” Archie replied. “And I’m confident I can help him. I will talk with him more about food next week but in the meantime, just keep doing what you’re doing. He’s small for his age but he’s not unhealthy. As long as he keeps eating, you have nothing to worry about. If you have the opportunity to offer him something new but without any pressure, feel free to do so. I’d recommend trying strawberries, for example. They’re coming into season now and since he likes the jam, he may be willing to try the fruit in its natural form.”

“Ok,” Regina nodded. “Thank you, Doctor Hopper.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you at the same time next week. Any questions before then, please give me a call.”

Regina and Archie shook hands before the mother made her way out into the waiting area. The psychologist’s next appointment was already there. A sulky-looking teenage boy with sunken cheeks and greasy hair texting furiously. Regina averted her eyes and headed to her son.

“Mom, look. I got a Batman sticker!”

“Very cool,” Regina smiled. “It’s Gretel, right?”

“Yes,” the woman said, standing from where she had been crouched beside the small boy. “Did you want to make another appointment?”

“Same time next week please,” Regina nodded. “Can we make this a standing appointment for now?”

“Absolutely,” Gretel replied. “Shall I set up a direct debit too?”

Minutes later, Regina and Henry were emerging onto the street. Henry was talking about a Batman comic he had read the last time he was at Roland’s house and wondering out loud whether they could stop at the comic store on the way home and buy a new one. His own collection had started at Christmas and was already quite sizeable.

“Since you were so good today, I think you deserve a little treat,” Regina smiled as they reached the car. “In you get, my little prince. Let’s see if we can get to the store before it closes. And when we get home, maybe you can read it to me while I make you dinner.”

“What’s for dinner?” Henry asked as he was buckled safely into his seat once more.

“What would you like?”

“Beans on toast?”

“Ok,” Regina nodded. “Let’s go get you that comic.”

It wasn’t until later that night, after Henry had read a sizeable amount of his new comic and finally fallen asleep, that Regina picked up her cell phone. She didn’t want to tell Emma everything in a text but she did feel some sense of need to fill the blonde in on how her son’s first session had gone. Whether it was because the two of them were now dating or because Emma was her only confidant, Regina wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she wanted to tell the younger woman about the appointment and she couldn’t wait until Monday to do so.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week disappeared and before Regina knew it she was sat on her couch on Sunday evening, Henry curled into her side as they read a book together. It was a Roald Dahl; The Giraffe, The Pelly And Me. One of the things she loved about being a mother was the chance to relive her own childhood through Henry’s.

“One more page,” he pleaded as they reached a good place to pause and Regina slid his Batman bookmark into place.

“Tomorrow,” she said, kissing the crown of his head. “Right now, you need to go to bed. You’ve got school in the morning.”

Henry pouted but didn’t argue. Instead, he sat up and stretched, his little body having been twisted into an unnatural position in an attempt to snuggle as close as possible to his mother. Regina gave the best snuggles.

“When do I have to go back to see Archie?” Henry asked quite suddenly.

He hadn’t mentioned his meeting with the psychologist much since the previous Thursday. Regina had referenced it a few times but the conversations which followed had been short. She didn’t want to push him and she wasn’t sure what there was to say anyway. Nothing had changed when it came to his eating habits. She had, as Doctor Hopper had suggested, bought some early season strawberries when she had gone to the farmer’s market that Saturday. Rather than making a big deal out of it, she had rinsed the fruit and left them in a bowl on the coffee table. She wasn’t sure but she thought one or two might have been snaffled when she was out of the room. She hoped, at least.

“We’re going to go back on Thursday,” Regina said, hauling herself off the couch and guiding her son towards the bathroom so he could brush his teeth.

“Can I play with his toys again?”

“I’m sure you can if you ask nicely,” Regina nodded, handing over the little red toothbrush with the dollop of paste on the bristles.

Henry smiled happily up at her before starting to brush. Regina reached for a hairbrush and decided to try and tackle the mop which was developing on top of his head. She didn’t get very far before he ducked out of reach. She gave up; a handful of conditioner when he had his bath the following evening would see to the tangles.

Once his teeth were brushed, the little boy took off out of the bathroom and thundered down the hallway to his bedroom. By the time Regina entered, Henry was sliding underneath his duvet, pulling it right up to his chin.

“What are you hiding?” she asked. Her son was not subtle.

“Nothing,” he said, eyes blown wide; the picture of innocence. Regina tugged his duvet down to reveal his new comic book, half hidden beneath him. “Five minutes?” he asked.

“Five minutes,” Regina agreed, switching on his bedside lamp so he could read without the main light on. “And then I’m coming to say a final good night.”

“Thanks Mom,” Henry smiled, pulling the hidden comic out in plain view and starting to read.

Regina spent the five minutes clearing up their dinner plates and the small pile of pans she had used to cook. It had been nothing fancy. She wasn’t the best in the kitchen anyway and with Henry’s eating, any effort she put in was usually wasted. She tried, whenever possible, to make the tomato sauce they had on their pasta from scratch. The capsicum she had added that evening had been eaten without a word. Next time, she was considering added a small amount of onion.

By the time she returned to Henry’s room, he was already falling asleep. She gently removed the comic book from his limp grip and placed it on the bedside table so he could read it the following morning if he woke early.

“Goodnight my little prince,” she said, leaning down to kiss his forehead.

“Goodnight, Mom,” Henry mumbled back, sleep already creeping into his subconscious.

Returning to the living room, Regina reached for her discarded cell phone. She hadn’t checked her emails all weekend but she couldn’t resist now. However, before she could do so, she was distracted by a text from Emma which had been delivered in her absence. A smile spread over her face when she remembered she had a date with the blonde the following evening.

Do you like Italian food? E

She replied at once in the affirmative and then set about checking her emails while she waited for Emma’s response.

What’s your address? Is it ok if I come and pick you up? E

Regina hesitated before she replied. Was Emma planning to pick her up on her motorbike? Regina didn’t want to sound like a wimp but she really didn’t think she wanted to be climbing on the back of what looked to her like a death trap. But she couldn’t tell Emma that, could she? The woman clearly loved to ride and Regina didn’t want to put her off.

Of course you can. My address is 108 Mifflin Street, Portland. What time should I expect you? R

Before Regina had even had a chance to start prioritising her tasks for the following work day, Emma had replied.

7:30. I’ll see you tomorrow. I can’t wait. E x

Loathe as Emma was to involve her best friend in her dating life, she had come to the conclusion that she had no other options. In an attempt to keep Ruby distracted, however, Emma found herself balancing the laden breakfast tray in one hand and knocking on her roommate’s door with the other late on Monday morning.

“Come in,” called the sleepy reply.

Fumbling the door handle down, Emma made her way into the dark room.

“Morning,” she said brightly, placing the tray on Ruby’s cluttered desk and pulling the curtains open.

“Ouch,” Ruby groaned, shielding her face from the bright sunlight which had been thrown across her bed. “What did you do that for?”

“It’s after eleven,” Emma said, turning around to grin at the brunette. “Oh, Belle, I didn’t realise you stayed over,” she added as she realised there was more than one person occupying Ruby’s bed.

“Hi Emma,” the shorter woman yawned, pulling the duvet up so it was definitely covering her naked body. “Yeah, I came over some time after midnight. Finally finished my paper and wanted to see this one.”

Ruby giggled and squirmed as Belle looked at her. Emma decided she didn’t want to know what their hands were doing underneath the sheets.

“Well, I’ll leave you guys to it. Rubes, I made breakfast for you. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough that you can share with Belle. I’ll just go and get you another coffee mug.”

“You made me breakfast? You cooked on your day off?” Ruby frowned, pushing herself up into a sitting position and only just catching the duvet before it fell and flashed her bare breasts to her flatmate. “Why?”

“I have a favour to ask,” Emma admitted.


“Can I borrow your car?”

Ruby’s forehead furrowed harder. “My car? Why? What’s wrong with your bike?”

“It’s … inconvenient,” Emma finished at last.

“Inconvenient for what?” Belle asked.

“More than one person.”

The blush which rose up Emma’s cheeks gave her away in an instant and it took the brunette no time at all to work out which second person Emma was going to be travelling with.

“Do you have another date with Regina?” Ruby gasped.

“Another date? When was the first one?” Belle asked. She had been so wrapped up in her college assignment that, it transpired, she had fallen woefully out of the gossip loop.

“Yeah, I’m seeing her tonight and I said I’d pick her up. So, can I borrow it?”

“I have conditions,” Ruby said.

“I made you breakfast,” Emma protested. “Isn’t that enough?”

“No,” Ruby said, shaking her head. “I need you to tell me every single detail about your date. That’s condition number one.”

“And condition number two?”

“Is that you admit Belle and I were right about Regina being gay.”

Emma scowled at the triumphant look on her flatmate’s face. Smugness was not a pleasant characteristic. From the look on Belle’s face, however, it was one both women in the couple shared.

“That’s it?”

“Oh and you’re not allowed to have sex in my car,” Ruby added. “I just had it detailed.”

Emma wrinkled her nose. “I’m not going to have sex in your car, Ruby. That’s gross and I think Regina is a little more refined than that.”

“Are you saying Regina is more refined than us?” Ruby asked, mock offended.

“Are you saying you and Belle have sex in the back of your car?”

Belle blushed but Ruby just nodded in the affirmative, completely unabashed. “So do we have a deal?”

“Sure,” Emma said. “I’ll tell you the basics of our date, I promise you Regina and I won’t be having sex on the back seat.”

“And?” Ruby prompted.

“And you were right.”

The mumble was barely audible. Emma hated being wrong but she couldn’t deny that when it came to Regina’s sexuality, she had woefully misread the situation.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that,” Ruby said, leaning forwards and cupping her hand around her ear. Beside her, Belle was grinning too.

“You were right,” Emma huffed. “About Regina being gay, you two were right, ok? Is that good enough for you?”

“Sure is. Thanks, mate,” Ruby said. “Can you pass me the tray? Is that bacon I can smell?”

Best friends were very useful when it came to babysitting duties, Regina acknowledged. But the free service was probably not worth it when it came to Kathryn. The woman’s incessant questions were testing Regina’s patience, her nerves already strained after a long day at the office.

“Where is she taking you?” Kathryn asked, practically bouncing up and down on the edge of Regina’s bed.

“I don’t know. An Italian restaurant, I think,” Regina said, not turning around from where she was gazing at her closet. Despite the racks groaning under the weight of her clothes, she had nothing suitable, Regina decided. She glanced at her watch. Emma would be there to pick her up in ten minutes. “Henry, have you washed your hair yet?” she called out of the open bedroom door. Her son was supposed to be old enough to take care of his own bath time but he generally needed a little assistance when it came to actually getting clean.

“Yes Mom,” came the yelled response.

“Ooh, I bet she knows all the best places, what with being a chef,” Kathryn said, more to herself than Regina, oblivious to the familial exchange which had taken place. “Where did she train?”

“I don’t know,” Regina said, reaching for a grey dress with a plunging neckline.

“You don’t know much about this woman, do you? And not that one. Grey is not a date colour. You need something brighter,” Kathryn said as Regina turned around holding her selected outfit.

“Well, it is only our second date,” Regina reasoned, returning to her closet to find another option. “We’re going on this date to get to know one another.”

“Does she know about she who must not be named?” Kathryn had refused to say Mal’s name ever since the woman had walked out and left her friend broken-hearted. Regina wasn’t sure whether the taboo was a good thing or not. Not talking about the breakdown of her marriage was second nature to her now but she was starting to think that ignoring what had happened was not the healthiest way to deal with the divorce.

“She knows I was married before,” Regina replied, reaching this time for a red dress which she knew made her ass look amazing.

Kathryn nodded her approval at the selection and leaned back on her hands, observing her friend who was now fishing for underwear which wouldn’t show through the clingy material.

“You like this girl, don’t you?”

“I do,” Regina nodded. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind.” She gestured towards the door.

Kathryn grudgingly took her leave. Regina never used to be prudish about changing in front of her. The two of them had attended boarding school together and seen one another naked more times than she could count. Ever since she had given birth to Henry, however, Regina had insisted on privacy.

“I’ll go and check on the kid,” Kathryn offered.

“Thanks,” Regina said, waiting until Kathryn closed the door before she stripped off.

No one but Henry had seen her without clothes on in over two years. And in the final weeks of her marriage to Mal, the two of them hadn’t been intimate. Regina had thought nothing of it at the time but perhaps the spark had gone out between them. She knew that the stretch marks marring her stomach were there as a result of her pregnancy. She knew that her breasts hung a little lower than they used to because she had breastfed her son. She knew that she had successfully lost the weight she gained while she was pregnant in the months after he had been born. Mal had never made her feel any less beautiful after the birth. But there was still a part of Regina that felt self-conscious. She tried not to think about what it might mean if she continued to date Emma. The blonde’s body was flawless, she could tell.

By the time she emerged from her room, the dress in place, hair brushed through and make up applied, giggles were emanating from the bathroom. Kathryn might not have kids of her own but she was great with Henry. Regina left her evening purse on the hall table before making her way through to the bathroom.

“Henry, your hair isn’t even wet,” Regina sighed. “You haven’t washed it.”

“Yes I have. It dried fast,” he insisted. “Why are you dressed like that. You look pretty.”

“Thank you, and I have a meeting. That’s why Aunty Kat is looking after you tonight. And it looks like Aunty Kat is also going to have to help you wash your hair,” she said pointedly, hands on hips. “No arguments. No messing around please. Shampoo and conditioner. We need to get those knots out.”

Henry pouted but handed over the shower head to Kathryn who took it and began to fiddle with the taps, the jet of water carefully pointed away from the small boy until she got the right temperature.

“Thanks, Kat,” Regina said, patting her friend’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t be too late.”

“Oh take your time,” Kathryn said, shooting her friend a wink. “Henry and I will be just fine.”

Regina smiled at the blonde and then leaned over the bath to kiss her son goodnight. She tried not to think about the defined rib cage jutting out from beneath his olive skin. He wasn’t sick; not yet. And he was going to get better before his health was affected.

“In bed by eight please, young man,” Regina said.


“If you ask Aunty Kat nicely, I’m sure she’ll read something to you,” Regina nodded. “Lights out by eight fifteen,” she added, more to her friend than to her son.

“Yes Ma’am,” Kathryn said before directing her attention at getting Henry’s hair wet.

“Goodnight Henry. Bye Kat. I’ll see you later. And if you dare come out of this room before we’ve left, I’ll kill you.”

“Duly noted,” Kathryn called after her retreating friend, just as the doorbell rang.

Regina felt a flutter of excitement and nerves in her stomach as she made her way down the corridor. Right on time, she noted as she slid her cell phone into her purse. Checking her hair and make up in the hallway mirror one last time, Regina opened the door.

“Hi,” Emma smiled, peering over a large bouquet of red roses.

“Wow, hi,” Regina said as she took in the romantic gift.

“These are for you,” Emma said, handing over the flowers with a shy smile.

Regina took them, unable to resist burying her nose in the closest flower and breathing in the sweet scent. “Thank you, they’re beautiful,” she said, looking up and taking in her date for the first time. Emma was wearing a cream dress with beautiful detailing along the plunging neckline. “Oh Emma, you look beautiful,” she said before a frown crossed her face.

“What?” Emma asked, alarmed at the reaction. She loved this dress and it had never made someone look like that before.

“How do you ride your bike in a dress?” she asked.

Emma laughed. “I borrowed Ruby’s car. I didn’t think you were the sort of woman to climb onto the back of a motorbike.”

“Good deduction,” Regina smiled. “Um, come on in for a moment and I’ll just put these in some water.” She waggled the flowers slightly.

“What about Henry?” Emma didn’t want to overstep and she respected Regina’s decision to keep her dating life separate from her young son.

“He’s in the bath,” Regina said. “Kat is washing his hair. She’s babysitting tonight while we go out.”

Emma nodded and followed the woman who had stepped back to allow her into the house. Leaving the blonde hovering by the door, Regina disappeared into the kitchen. There were a few clatters and bangs as the woman sorted through her cupboards and then the sound of running water. Moments later, Regina returned with a beautiful crystal vase, now proudly sporting the red blooms.

“Perfect,” she declared, setting the flowers down on the hallway table. “They even match my dress.”

“You look stunning by the way,” Emma said, realising she hadn’t yet complimented her date.

“Thank you. Are you ready to go?”

“Yes,” Emma said, unlatching the front door and leading the way out into the cool evening air.

Chapter Text

The drive to the restaurant was pleasantly passed with small talk as the two women filled one another in on how their weekends were. Emma didn’t have a typical weekend break from her work but she had enjoyed her free Monday before getting ready for her date with Regina. The brunette, on the other hand, talked about the trip she and Henry had taken to the zoo that Saturday afternoon. The small boy was obsessed with the tigers.

“Where are you taking me?” Regina asked when Emma parked the car on the side of a street. She knew the city well but the area she found herself in was unfamiliar.

“To the best Italian restaurant in Maine,” Emma replied with confidence.

Regina peered through the window of the car and frowned at the dark street. It didn’t look like the ideal location for a popular restaurant. Before she knew it, Emma had appeared outside her door and was opening it for her. Taking the offered hand, Regina climbed out of the car and smiled softly at her date.

“Very chivalrous of you,” she commented.

“I try,” Emma grinned, locking Ruby’s car and offering Regina the crux of her arm. At once, Regina slid her hand through the gap and rested her fingers lightly on Emma’s forearm. Together, they set off down the street.

After barely fifty yards, they stopped outside a bright red door.

“Seriously, where are we?” Regina asked, looking around for some sign that they were indeed outside of a restaurant. The only clue that they were about to enter a commercial dwelling was delicate calligraphy on the bricks to the right of the door, announcing the name: Scarlet’s.

“You’ll see,” Emma said as she turned the door handle and led the way inside.

In contrast to the quiet, empty street, the busy room which greeted the couple felt like a wall of sound. Regina gaped at the bustling space. There were full tables everywhere she looked, waiters moving effortlessly between them with plates balanced on their hands. Music with a distinctly European flair was playing in the background but it was muted by the chatter of the other patrons. Deep red drapes adorned the windows and scarlet lampshades cast a warm glow over the space. Candles on each table added to the romantic air.

“Ciao, Emma.”

Regina turned in the direction of the Italian accept and saw a slender black haired woman strolling towards them with a wide smile on her face.

“Ciao, Sabi,” Emma said as the woman reached them, leaning forwards to place a kiss on either cheek. “Come stai?” [How are you?]

“Adesso che ti vedo, bene,” Sabi replied. [After seeing you, better.]

“Effettivamente, è passato troppo. [Same, it’s been too long.] This is Regina, by the way,” Emma added, switching to English for the last statement so her date could understand.

“Nice to meet you,” Sabi said, in a thick Italian accent but otherwise perfect English. “Come, your table’s this way.”

Emma and Regina followed the woman who led them across the restaurant towards a small, secluded table near the rear.

“You speak Italian?” Regina asked as they weaved their way between the tables.

“A bit,” Emma replied as they reached their table. “Thanks, Sabi. Say hi to Will for me.”

“Of course. I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your orders. The specials are written on the board over there,” she said, handing over a short menu to each woman before pointing to a chalk board.

Regina cast her eye over the menu. Every item made her mouth water. She loved Italian food and she could tell the restaurant was going to be quite the experience.

“It all looks so good,” Regina remarked. “What would you recommend?”

“Well, I know I didn’t give you the chance to order your own meal on our first date and I know some women don’t like it when someone else orders for them but would you permit me the honour of doing just that?”

Regina offered a soft smile. “Why not? I think I can trust you to choose something I like.”

“Every dish they make here is incredible. Will is the best Italian chef in the city.”

“How do you know Will? And Sabi? And Italian, come to that?”

“I spent a semester in Rome as part of my culinary training,” Emma explained. “Will and I were in the same intake and he met Sabi in Italy. She was the head waitress at the restaurant where we worked. They fell in love, got married and she moved back here with him. As soon as he finished his schooling, they opened this place. It’s word of mouth. Most of the people in here are Italian. I keep telling them to expand but Will doesn’t want to compromise the quality of his cooking.”

“It’s that good?”

“The best,” Emma nodded sincerely just as Sabi returned to their table.

“Do you know what you want?” she asked in English, not wanting to shut Emma’s date out of the exchange.

“Yes,” Emma replied before continuing in Italian. She missed speaking the beautiful language and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to speak it once more. Plus, she also wanted their meal to be a surprise for Regina. “Possiamo ordinare per favore una porzione di gnocchi alla zucca, ravioli, e tagliatelle ai fruitti di mare? Ah e una bottglia di Prosecco?” [Please can we order a portion of the gnocchi and pumpkin, the ravioliand the seafood tagliatelle? Oh and a bottle of Prosecco?]

“Certo,” [Sure] Sabi smiled before heading in the direction of the kitchen to put in her order.

“Prosecco, huh?” Regina asked, picking up on the brand in amongst the unknown language. “What are we celebrating?”

“Life?” Emma shrugged. “Our second date?”

“Sounds like something to celebrate to me,” Regina replied.

“I think so. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again since you left the restaurant last week.”

“Me too,” Regina admitted. “I, um, I’d not actually been on a date in years before last week. Sorry if I’m a little rusty.”

“You’re doing just fine,” Emma said, reaching across the table and resting her hand atop Regina’s.

“You make it easy,” Regina replied. “I feel comfortable with you.”

“Comfortable enough to tell me a little about your marriage?” Beneath Emma’s gentle fingers, she felt the brunette’s body tense slightly. “Sorry, you don’t have to. I just thought it was a conversation we should have sooner rather than later and then we don’t have to speak about it again. I just, yeah, I’d like to know a little about your history, if you don’t mind?”

“Here we are,” Sabi announced, interrupting the slightly awkward moment as she appeared with two slender flutes and a bottle of Prosecco balanced in an ice bucket. The two women stayed silent as the Italian opened the carbonated drink with barely a pop, the mark of a well-practiced hand. Once their two glasses were filled, she shot Emma a curious look before disappearing to serve another table.

Emma waited until her friend was out of earshot before curling her fingers around Regina’s hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to push you. We don’t have to talk about anything you’re not ready for.”

“No, I am ready,” Regina replied. “But I’m afraid this won’t be the only conversation we have about my ex.” Frowning, Emma prompted Regina to continue. “Henry’s eating disorder, his eating habits, they changed in the weeks after Mal left. Whatever is going on with him, it has its roots in my divorce. So if you’re going to be the person I talk to about my son, I’m afraid you’re also going to have to hear about my marriage. If … if you’re not ok with that, if that makes you uncomfortable or -”

“Regina, stop,” Emma said, firm but gentle. “You can talk to me about anything you want. I told you, I’m here for you and Henry. And yes, there’s something between us and I want more than anything to explore it. But I said I would be here for you to talk to about what was going on with your son. I’m not backing away from that. If you need to talk about your ex so I understand what’s going on with Henry, that’s fine by me. She’s your past, right?”

“Yes,” Regina said, her hand turning over so she could lace her fingers together with Emma’s. “She’s very definitely in my past. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in over two years.”

“Ok then,” Emma smiled, her thumb now rubbing backwards and forwards against Regina’s hand. “So, how long were you two married?”

“Six years but we were together for nine in total.”

“And Henry?”

“I carried him,” Regina replied. “I’d always wanted children and after two years of marriage, Mal agreed that we could try to get pregnant through IVF. We used an anonymous sperm donor. My egg took the first time round. I felt like it was a sign, that I was destined to be a mother.”

A soft smile graced Regina’s face as she thought back to her pregnancy. They had been the most magical nine months of her life, although her journey into motherhood was equally incredible. She missed the flash of pain which crossed Emma’s features, distracted by memories of her son.

“Mal left when Henry was four,” Regina said. “She just walked out. Henry and I returned to the house one afternoon and she’d disappeared. She left a note saying she wasn’t ready to settle down and be a mother. I tried to call her, to contact her through mutual friends but she just vanished. No one knows where she is. Divorce papers arrived two months after she left but the lawyer claimed to have no knowledge of where she was when I called their office.”

Emma’s fingers, which were still threaded through Regina’s, tightened slightly. “I’m so sorry. That’s a horrible way to end a relationship.”

“Yes, I didn’t take it well.”

“Understandable,” Emma said. “I mean, it’s not like you had any closure. She never even gave you the opportunity to ask what had gone wrong.”

“I know but my reaction, it seems, may have led to Henry’s eating problems.”

“How so?”

“Doctor Hopper thinks Henry started controlling what he ate because he felt like he had no control over other areas of his life. One of his mothers disappeared with no explanation and he was confused and hurt. In order to regain some sort of control or power, he stopped eating certain foods.”

“That makes sense,” Emma said. “Feeling like I lacked control over my life was definitely something which contributed to my own problems with food.”

“What did you not have control over?”

Emma bit her lip. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to share her darkest triggers with Regina just yet. She wanted to be open and honest with the brunette, just as she had been allowed access into the challenges faced by the woman and her son. But was it too much? Was Regina ready to deal with what Emma had suffered through?

“You don’t have to tell me,” Regina offered after a few seconds of silence, correctly reading Emma’s hesitance.

“I want to,” Emma said. “One day. Just, not today. Is that ok?”

“Of course,” Regina nodded. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“I feel bad,” Emma sighed. “I’m asking you to talk about your divorce, to talk about Henry’s eating disorders but I’m not sharing any of my past with you.”

“I’m not going to push you to tell me anything you’re not ready to share,” Regina said. “I just hope we have many more dates in the future and maybe one day you will be ready.”

“I’m sure I will be,” Emma said. “To future dates.” She raised her full Prosecco glass and clinked it against Regina’s.

The two women shared a smile before both taking a sip of the light bubbles. The refreshing drink slid easily down, reminding Emma of hot days spend outside cafes in Rome and the late night strolls she, Will and Sabi had taken through the winding city streets.

“So, I guess that’s all you need to know about my failed marriage,” Regina said. “Mal left, she’s never made any attempt to contact me or Henry, she’s out of her lives and I’m left to clean up her mess.”

“Henry’s not a mess.”

“No, I didn’t mean that,” Regina clarified. “But Mal’s behaviour has led to his eating disorder. My life is a mess, I guess. And it’s affected my son. Now Henry and I have to find a way of dealing with our heartbreak in a way that’s healthy.”

“Did you talk to Henry about what was happening after Mal left?”

“No,” Regina said. “And I think in hindsight that was a mistake. I just shut down. I disappeared into a ball of depression and comfort eating and crying for a month. Of course my son was going to pick up on how upset I was. One of his mothers had disappeared and the other one didn’t get out of bed for weeks. He was so young and I thought he wouldn’t understand. But I think keeping him in the dark contributed to his need to find something in his life which he could control. The fact that he found that control over his diet is now becoming obvious.”

“Identifying the cause goes a long way towards helping Henry overcome his problems,” Emma said.

“Is that what helped you?”

“Yes,” Emma said shortly.

“And you’re … cured?” Regina wasn’t sure what the correct terminology was when it came to anorexia. It wasn’t a disease or virus. Could you be cured?

“An eating disorder is like an addiction in many ways. You’re never completely cured. It’s psychological, it’s in your mind. You have to learn how to overcome it. I guess you have to retrain your brain to think about food in a different way. For almost two years, I convinced myself that putting anything more than the bare minimum I needed to survive into my body was a failure.”

“How did you overcome that?”

“One of my therapists helped me to learn all about nutrition and how our bodies need different vitamins and food groups to be strong and healthy. But by that time I was already at the point where I had damaged my body. I had had an epiphany. None of my other therapists had any success because I wasn’t ready to get help. By the time I started to get better, I was in a different mind-set. I’d had the wake up call I needed to kick-start my recovery. And it’s an ongoing recovery. I was sick for so long. I’ll always be recovering.”

Just as Emma finished, their meals arrived. Almost reluctantly, the two women’s hands slid apart as Sabi placed three plates in the centre of their table, and two side plates in front of either woman so they could share their feast. “Here we are,” she announced. “We’ve got the gnocchi with pumpkin, the seafood tagliatelle and the ravioli special. Can I get either of you anything else?”

“Can we have some water please?” Regina asked.

“Of course,” Sabi nodded. “Buon appetito.”

Regina turned her attention to the plates in front of her. It looked and smelled amazing.

“Dig in,” Emma invited, eager to know what her date thought of the choices she had made for the two of them.

Regina diligently took a little of each dish, looking forward to experiencing the tantalising flavours wafting up from the plates. Emma stacked up her own portions as well before gesturing for Regina to start.

The taste exploded on her tongue at the first bite and she moaned at the sensations, both delicate and rich at the same time.

“Wow,” she murmured. “This is phenomenal.”

“Yeah, Will’s an amazing chef,” Emma nodded after swallowing her own first mouthful. “I’d forgotten how good, actually. I haven’t been here for months.”

“Then I’m honoured you chose our date to return,” Regina said before taking another mouthful just as a jug of water and two glasses appeared on the table before Sabi whisked herself away to continue serving the busy restaurant. “God, I have to bring Kat here. She loves good food.”

“How did you and Kat meet?” Emma asked, deciding to steer their conversation away from eating habits for once. After all, it was a date and there was far more to both women than the respective eating disorders which had affected their lives.

“Boarding school,” Regina replied. “We were in the same dormitory at the age of eleven. I suppose we were forced to be friends under the circumstances but we actually get on really well. She’s more like a sister than a friend in some ways.”

“You went to boarding school?”

“Yes. All Mills children have been educated at Forest Hill School for over fifty years. Henry is the first child who won’t be attending.”

“You don’t want him to board?”

“No,” Regina said. “I appreciate that my parents thought they were giving me the best education available but the truth is I would rather have gone to a public school and been living with my family. I had friends at school but it was lonely. My older sister, Zelena, left after my first year and went off to college and I spent most of my teenage years with friends rather than family. I loved my friends but it wasn’t the same. I was always counting down the days to the holidays so I could come home and see my parents. My father died when I was fifteen and I blamed myself for not being there. I felt like I’d missed out, I’d wasted the short time we had together. That’s why I chose to go to Harvard. I didn’t want to be far from my mother. Turns out that was a good decision too because she died young as well.”

“I’m sorry to hear you lost both your parents,” Emma offered.

“Thank you,” Regina said, a sad smile on her lips. “At least I knew them though. You were in the foster system, right? Do you know who your birth parents are?”

“No,” Emma replied. “I tried to look for them when I was eighteen but they didn’t want to be found.”

“I’m sorry,” Regina said. “Did you at least have a good foster family?”

“The one I ended up in was fine, I guess,” Emma shrugged. “I got passed around a lot when I was younger. I came to Mary Margaret and David when I was thirteen and stayed with them until I was eighteen. That was the longest I spent in any home. They were good people. They cared. But I think they overloaded themselves. Six foster kids at a time, all with our own issues, they didn’t have enough time to dedicate to each of us and I guess that’s where the troubles stemmed from.”

“Are you still in touch with them?”

“Yes, I spend Christmas with them each year. They live in San Francisco and it’s nice to go home and see my foster siblings.”

“How many foster siblings do you have?”

“There was three kids who were there for several years with me,” Emma said. “A few other children came and went. But only two of them go back for Christmas.”

Regina wanted to ask about the third foster sibling but there was something about the way Emma suddenly became very interested in a piece of gnocchi which made her hold her tongue. She wasn’t willing to push further if Emma wasn’t ready to talk.

“So, San Francisco. You’re from California then?”

“Yep,” Emma nodded. “At least, I spent all of my childhood there. I moved to New York when I was eighteen and started working in professional kitchens but ended up back on the East coast when I decided to go to culinary school.”

“Where did you attend?”

“The Culinary Institute of America,” Emma replied. “It’s in Napa Valley.”

“Yeah I know where it is,” Regina said. “That’s an amazing school. My family used to holiday in that area. The highlight of our trip was eating in the restaurant.”

“Really?” Emma asked. “Small world, huh?”

“Indeed,” Regina nodded.

Green eyes locked with brown, both women marvelling at how they had found one another. It seemed so serendipitous that their lives had collided at the time they had. If Emma hadn’t gone to speak to Regina in the restaurant about Henry’s requested order. If she hadn’t overstepped and made that vegetable and hummus platter. If the two of them hadn’t met in the parking lot. If Henry hadn’t forgotten his favourite toy car. If Emma hadn’t bribed her way into Regina’s office. If they hadn’t met in the doorway of Zelena’s bar opening. Was it meant to be? Were all these moments, these choices leading to this connection which fizzled between them?

“I’m glad we met,” Emma said softly.

“Me too,” Regina said. “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly looking to meet someone. Since Mal left, I haven’t been interested in dating again.”

“I was the opposite,” Emma admitted. “I’d been working through my own breakup in the months before we met and I was just thinking that I missed being in a relationship, that I missed having that one person I could share everything with. And then I met you.”

“I haven’t had that connection with one other person in a long time,” Regina murmured. “And after what happened, I didn’t think I would ever have it again.”

“And now?”

Emma’s slender fingers crept across the table and interlaced with Regina’s which were laid beside her now empty plate.

“I know we haven’t known each other long,” Regina began, looking up and catching Emma’s gaze, “but I already feel close to you. I can talk to you in a way I can’t with Kat or Zelena. You make me feel safe. Like I can tell you anything and you won’t judge me.”

“I won’t,” Emma said. “Never, Regina.”

“But you won’t share your past with me,” the brunette said, her eyes giving away the hurt she felt at the imbalance. She didn’t want to push Emma but she was aware that so far their relationship had been more about her than the younger woman.

Emma withdrew her hands, fingers coming to knot together in her own lap, under the table and out of sight of her date. “I will. I want to,” Emma said after a few moments of silence. “Just, be patient with me? I don’t talk about my past much. Even Ruby doesn’t know some of what happened. I want to share my history with you, Regina, but I don’t want to scare you off.”

Reaching out her hand towards the blonde, Regina waggled her fingers, encouraging Emma to take hold once more. After a few seconds, she did.

“Emma, I’m not going anywhere. Whatever’s between us, however new it is, it’s special. I can tell. And if you’re not ready yet, I’m not going to push you. But I need you to know that I am here and whenever you are ready, I’d love to hear your story.”

“I want to tell you,” Emma said, fingers squeezing Regina’s palm. “I will tell you. I just need a little time, ok?”

“Take as long as you need,” Regina nodded.

An hour later, after they had shared a divine tiramisu and finished off the bottle of Prosecco (Regina had one more glass than Emma who had stopped so she could safely and legally drive them home), Sabi brought them the cheque.

“How was everything?” she asked as Emma slid her card onto the bill.

“Delicious, thank you so much,” Regina smiled.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. And it was lovely to meet you, Regina,” Sabi added as she typed the details of the payment into the portable card machine. “Emma hasn’t brought anyone here in years. This is her special little secret corner of Portland. I can tell she likes you.”

Regina shot a dopey look at the blonde who was blushing. “Thanks, Sabi,” she scowled as she punched in her pin number. “Say goodbye to Will for me. Tell him I’ll be in touch soon to arrange a coffee or something.”

“How about we all have dinner one day?” Sabi suggested. “Do you still have every other Wednesday off?”

“Yep,” Emma nodded.

“We’re closed on Wednesdays,” Sabi explained, handing Emma her receipt. “I’ll text you and we’ll arrange something.”

“Perfect,” Emma said, standing up and moving around the table to pull Regina’s chair out. “It was great to see you, Sabi.”

The two women kissed on each cheek and then Sabi turned to do the same to Regina. The brunette followed suit and offered the only word of Italian she knew. With ciaos exchanged, Emma placed her hand gently in the small of Regina’s back and steered her towards the door.

Despite it being almost May, the air was cool as the pair stepped out into the street. Regina pulled her coat a little closer around her and Emma took the opportunity to slide her arm around the shorter woman’s shoulders. Regina nestled close to the blonde at once as the two of them set off down the street towards Ruby’s car.

It wasn’t a long drive back to Regina’s house and the conversation flowed as easily as it had done all night. Emma didn’t want the evening to end as she pulled up outside the large family home. It was a big house, she realised. Bigger than two or even three people would require.

“We rattle around in there,” Regina said, as if she had read Emma’s mind. “We don’t even use the upstairs rooms. After Mal left, I moved down into the old guest bedroom on the ground floor. Henry wanted to be near me so we converted the office into his bedroom. I should probably move house. It’s too big for just the two of us and there are so many memories. It might be healthy for us both to have a fresh start.”

“It’s a beautiful home,” Emma said.

“It is,” Regina agreed. “And I loved the house when we first moved in. I guess that’s why I haven’t moved before now. I don’t quite feel ready to let go.”

“I understand,” Emma said, her tone a little despondent.

“I’m not talking about Mal,” Regina added hastily. “I’ve moved on from Mal. Please don’t think I want to get back with her in any way. She … she walked out on our son. I’ll never forgive her for that.”

“Ok,” Emma said. “But you still have memories of her here. Happy memories.”

“Tainted but yes,” Regina said. “We had some good times. But maybe the dark times that followed are unhealthy. Maybe moving would help Henry get better.”

“Perhaps,” Emma nodded. “Talk to Doctor Hopper about it.”

“I think I will,” Regina said. “Thank you. And I’m sorry for bringing Mal up again. Ex-wives aren’t great discussion points for dates.”

“She’s a part of your past,” Emma said. “And a part of Henry’s present problems. You can talk about her as much as you need to. Don’t worry, I’m not the jealous type.”

“You have nothing to be jealous of,” Regina assured her.

“Good,” Emma said. “And neither do you, for the record.”

“What does that mean?”

“Just that I’m not seeing anyone else at the moment,” Emma shrugged. “And I have no intention of seeing anyone else.”

Regina nodded slowly. “Good. Because I am the jealous type and I don’t like the thought of you dating anyone but me.”

Emma felt the heat coil low in her stomach at the sultry tone her date had used. No, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that she was going to date anyone else. Not when she had a chance with Regina.

“It’s late,” Regina said after a pause. “I should get inside and relieve Kat.”

“Ok,” Emma said, opening her door and hurrying around to help Regina out. The woman was perfectly capable of standing up on her own but Emma was happy to take the opportunity to be both chivalrous and to clasp Regina’s dainty hand in her own.

Together, fingers interlaced once more, they walked up the wide garden path to the grand black front door.

“Well, thank you for dinner,” Regina said, turning to face her date at the top of the steps. “I had a wonderful evening.”

“Me too,” Emma smiled.

“When can I see you again?” Regina asked.

“I have Wednesday off this week,” Emma offered. “Or is that too soon?”

“Not soon enough,” Regina replied at once.

Emma’s heart melted just a little at the tender smile the brunette gave her. “I can’t wait,” she said, stepping a little closer.

“Me neither,” Regina murmured, her fingers squeezing Emma’s.

Their eyes locked once more, green orbs trying to read the expression in rich chocolate. Emma desperately wanted to kiss Regina, to feel those plump lips against her own. But she was hesitant. She didn’t want to push too far, too soon. Both women liked one another, of that she knew. But they also needed to take it slowly. Their lives were complicated enough without them rushing into whatever was between them.

“Goodnight, Emma,” came the eventual whisper from the perfectly painted lips.

“Goodnight,” Emma replied.

Regina hesitated for a moment before rocking up onto her toes and placing a kiss on Emma’s cheek, just as the blonde had done at the end of their first date. Emma’s skin tingled at the touch and Regina ducked her head shyly as she fished in her bag for her house keys. Locating them all too quickly, she turned to slot the sliver of metal into the lock.

“Well, goodnight. Thank you again for dinner. I had an amazing evening,” Regina said, key twisting in her fingers.

“Me too,” Emma replied. “I can’t wait until Wednesday.”

“I’ll text you the details once I’ve planned something,” Regina said.

“Ok,” Emma said. “Goodnight again.”

“Goodnight,” Regina said for a third time, the door now ajar and light spilling from the hallway onto the porch.

“Night,” Emma said a final time before turning and walking back down the garden path, knowing if she didn’t leave in that moment, she wouldn’t be able to resist kissing the beautiful brunette.

Regina watched until Emma had climbed into the car, pausing only to wave before she sank into her seat and started the engine. As the vehicle pulled away from the curb, Regina finally stepped into the warmth of her house and closed the door against one of the best dates of her life.

Chapter Text

“How’d it go?”

Regina sighed at the question which greeted her as soon as the front door had closed against the dark night.

“May I at least take my coat off before you start on the third degree?” she asked, turning to face her best friend who was stood in the hallway.

“She brought you roses,” Kathryn said, nodding to the large bouquet on the side table.

“She did,” Regina said, unable to stop the soft smile which graced her lips at the sight of the flowers. The air smelt faintly sweet, their aroma floating throughout the hall.

“Henry asked who they were from.”

Regina’s heart sank. This was what she had been afraid of. She didn’t want her son to know she was dating. At six, he was probably too young to understand anyway but she was very wary of what the introduction of a new person into their lives could do, especially in light of Doctor Hopper’s comments.

“What did you tell him?”

“That they were from a happy client at work,” Kathryn replied. “I got the feeling he doesn’t know about Emma. Am I right?”

“Yes,” Regina said, moving past the flowers and beckoning her friend to follow her into the lounge. “I haven’t told him anything about her. I don’t want the two of them to meet until I know if there is something between us that is worth pursuing.”

“And is there?” Kathryn asked as she sat down on the couch beside her best friend.

Regina didn’t reply at first. Instead she kicked off her heels and curled her feet up beneath her. Turning to face the persistent blonde, she couldn’t help but smile again.

“I think so.”

Kathryn squealed, at which Regina gave her an admonishing ‘shush’. “Oh Henry won’t wake up. He’s fast asleep.”

“How was he this evening? Did he let you wash his hair? Did he go to bed on time?”

“Hair washing was fine. Hair brushing … not so much. And as for bed time, let’s just say he’s sleeping now so I did my job. Anyway, stop changing the subject. Tell me everything. Where did you go? What did you eat? Did you kiss?”

Regina’s cheeks pinked at the last question. Kathryn’s eyes glittered at the realisation that her best friend was quite simply smitten.

“How’d it go?”

Emma looked up, key still in the lock, and spotted the lanky brunette lounging on the couch, TV remote poised in her hand and take away containers scattered across the coffee table.

“Geez, can I get in the door first?” she scowled.

“You’re in,” Ruby said, pausing whatever it was she had been watching and sitting up. “Tell me everything.”

“Now?” Emma whined. “Can’t you wait until tomorrow morning? I’m tired.”

In truth, Emma was wide awake, her mind whirring with thoughts of her date. But that was exactly why she didn’t want to talk to Ruby. She needed time to herself to digest what had happened between her and Regina; what had been said, what hadn’t been said. Sadly, Ruby wasn’t one to be kept waiting.

“Yes now. You borrowed my car on the condition that you would tell me everything. So, sit, and tell.” She patted the couch beside her before reaching over and plucking a beer off the table, holding it out to the blonde.

Emma gave in because she knew there was no use in arguing with Ruby. She crossed the room, grabbed the beer from Ruby’s fingers and plopped herself down with a sigh. “What do you want to know?”

“Did you kiss?”

“Jumping right in, are we?”

“Ignoring the question, are we?” Ruby shot back.

“No, well, yes,” Emma said. “She kissed me on the cheek.”

“The cheek?” Ruby frowned. “Like the way Granny kisses me on the cheek when I go to see her?”

“No,” Emma grumbled. “Don’t say that. It was sweet. Kinda tender, I guess. I don’t know. I kissed her on the cheek at the end of our first date.”

“But you didn’t kiss,” Ruby clarified.

“Not on the lips, no,” Emma said.

“Why not?”

The blonde sighed and flopped back against the cushions. “I don’t know.”

“Did you want to kiss her?”

“God yes. You’ve seen Regina. Who wouldn’t want to kiss her?”

“So why didn’t you?” Ruby asked, confused as to what was holding Emma back. The blonde wasn’t usually shy when it came to expression physical affection for women she was dating. More than once Ruby had walked into their apartment to catch Emma and whichever woman she was seeing at the time in a rather compromising position.

“We’re taking it slow, I guess,” Emma said. “It’s complicated.”

“Complicated for who?”

“For both of us,” Emma replied. “We’ve both got some stuff in our past that we’re talking about before -”

“Before you kiss?”

“Before we take our relationship to the next level,” Emma replied.

“What stuff?”

“Private stuff,” Emma shot back.

Ruby looked a little affronted. “Private stuff I don’t know about?”

Emma took a swig from her beer before answering, trying to buy some time and work out how she could tell Ruby the truth without hurting her.

“Look, there are some aspects of my past I don’t share with anyone, ok?” Emma said at last. “Not even you. Not even Elsa. But for reasons I can’t tell you because it’s not my place, I want to talk to Regina about this part of my life before we get more serious.”

“You want to tell a woman you met two weeks ago something you won’t tell your best friend of five years and didn’t tell the woman you were in a long term relationship? Why? What is it about Regina that means she gets to know some big secret that I’m not entitled to know?”

“Rubes, please, just leave it, ok?” Emma pleaded. “I can’t talk about this with you right now. I need some time to think. This is all happening super fast, I know, and I can’t explain it but there’s something about her. There’s something between us; something special.”

“More special than our friendship?” Ruby asked, placing her own empty beer back on the table with a thud.

“It’s different, ok?” Emma sighed. “I’m not deliberately keeping something from you.”

“But there is something you’re not telling me, right?” Ruby asked.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect our friendship. You don’t need to know.”

“But Regina does?”

Emma reached over to hold Ruby’s hand and flinched as the brunette pulled away from the gesture. “Rubes, please. I … I can’t talk about this.”

“Right, of course not. Because I’m not Regina,” Ruby said, pushing herself off the couch and bundling the empty take away cartons into the delivery bag. “I’m going to bed. Night.”

“Hey, Ruby!” Emma said, jumping up from where she sat as her best friend strode away from her. “Are you seriously just going to walk away because I won’t tell you about something that happened years before I met you and has nothing to do with our friendship?”

“Friends tell each other everything, Emma,” Ruby called over her shoulder. “So yeah, I’m walking away. Leave my car keys in the dish by the front door. See you tomorrow.”

Emma gawped after the brunette who disappeared into the kitchen to deposit the trash and then returned to her view only fleetingly before heading into her bedroom and shutting the door with a snap of finality.

Did that just happen? Did Ruby really just get mad at her because she wouldn’t tell her something she openly said she wasn’t ready to share?

Sinking back onto the couch, Emma’s hands wrapped around the beer bottle, the solid cool surface making her feel somewhat grounded. Her world was rocking back and forth at the moment. First she meets Regina and Henry. Then she recognises the signs of an eating disorder in the young boy. Then she realises how she feels about Regina. Then they start dating. And then she realises that she has to tell Regina. She has to share her secret. It wasn’t fair to ask Regina to talk about her past, to confess to the triggers which had caused Henry’s eating disorder if she didn’t talk about her own.

Considering their differences when their eating disorders started; Henry being a four-year-old boy and Emma a fifteen-year-old girl, there were some surprising similarities. Ok, the events which triggered the eating disorders bore no resemblance but their respective reactions were the same. Both Henry and Emma had sought to take control of some aspect of their lives. At the feeling of being out of control, of being helpless and vulnerable, Henry and Emma had both turned to their diet as a way of establishing power.

Regina needed to know Emma’s history. She needed to know what had happened, how Emma had been stripped of her power, of her control. Emma’s past wasn’t the same as Henry’s experiences but she understood how he felt. She could relate. And that meant she could help. But before she offered to do so, she needed to tell Regina the truth.

And then there was the small matter of Regina not wanting Emma and Henry to meet. She respected the brunette’s reasoning. She understood it. But she also wanted to get to know the small boy. Their brief encounter at the restaurant had replayed over and over again in Emma’s mind since that evening. She had always loved kids. She had always wanted kids. And if she and Regina continued to explore whatever was between them, Emma hoped that she would not only become a part of Henry’s life but be someone who could help him overcome his eating disorder.

They had to tread carefully, however. After what had happened with Mal, the thought of which sent a wave of anger throbbing through Emma’s body, Henry didn’t need any more loss in his life. When he met Emma, in whatever capacity they chose to introduce her, they had to be careful. She couldn’t appear in his life only to disappear if she and Regina didn’t work out. And at the same time, she had no right to remain in his life if their relationship did end.

Sighing, Emma drained the last of her beer and stood up. Her busy brain wasn’t going to let her sleep any time soon but wallowing on the couch wasn’t going to do any good. Turning off the lights, she left the empty bottle on the kitchen counter and headed into the bathroom to get ready for bed. She had hoped she would drift off to the sweet memory of Regina’s lips pressed against her cheek but it seemed that wasn’t to happen.

For the first time in months, when Emma closed her eyes that night, she saw his face.

Henry had thrown a tantrum when he had been told his mother was going out again for the evening on Wednesday. Regina’s heart clenched as she held him against her chest, trying to soothe his cries. She felt guilty, of course. But at the same time, she didn’t want to pass up a rare evening Emma had free from the restaurant.

“Henry, I promise you we’ll spend all weekend together,” Regina murmured in his ear, rocking him gently back and forth.

“I want you to stay,” the boy sniffled. “I don’t want you to go.”

“I have to, my little prince,” Regina said. “But you’ll have fun with Aunty Zee, right? You had fun on Monday with Aunty Kat, didn’t you?”

“I want you,” Henry repeated.

Regina glanced up at her sister who was leaning against the door frame. “Zee, come here,” she said softly, beckoning her sister over. “Can you take him?”

“He’s crying,” Zelena frowned.

“Yes and he needs comforting,” Regina said. “Please, I’m going to be late.”

The redhead sank onto the couch reluctantly. She had never been great with kids. Henry was fine if he was happy but she wasn’t sure how to deal with the red
-faced boy currently sobbing against his mother.

“Henry, sweetheart, I have to go. Aunty Zee is going to let you watch TV for half and hour and then read you a bedtime story, ok?”

“No,” Henry cried, fingers gripping more tightly to Regina’s neck.

Regina’s heart broke a little as she pried her child’s hands from her body and shifted his weight to Zelena’s lap. The redhead looked apprehensive but wrapped her arms around the squirming, crying child.

“I’ll be back around ten,” Regina said, standing up. “He’ll calm down after I leave and if he doesn’t, call me and I’ll come back.”

“Sure,” Zelena said. “Go, enjoy.” Although she didn’t want to be left alone with her upset nephew, Zelena was pleased to see that her little sister had found someone. It had been too long, in her opinion. After Mal left, her sister had shut herself away from the world, despite Zelena’s coaxing. And this woman, whomever she was, had broken the cycle. If she had to suffer an evening with a crying child in exchange for Regina’s happiness, she was prepared to do that.

Emma wiggled the second earring until it slid through her piercing and then observed herself in the mirror. Satisfied, she glanced at her cell phone and saw that Regina was due any second. The brunette had been cryptic about the evening plans, repaying Emma for her mystique regarding their date on Monday night. All she knew was that Regina was picking her up at eight.

Exiting her bedroom into the living room, Emma saw her flatmate sat on the couch. The two of them had barely spoken since their argument on Monday evening. Emma had tried to start a conversation but Ruby had shut it down. Any other contact had been strictly work-related. It had only been two days but Emma missed their friendship desperately.

“Hey,” she said, sidling over to the brunette and leaning against the back of the armchair which was never sat in because they always just shared the couch. “Any plans for the evening?”

“Belle’s coming over,” Ruby said, not taking her eyes off the television.

“Nice. Say hi to her from me,” Emma said.

At that, brown orbs slid across to the blonde, taking in Emma’s attire. “You’ve got another date with Regina.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah,” Emma said, just as her cell phone vibrated. It was a text, letting her know the older woman had arrived outside their apartment building. “She’s here. I’ll see you later.”

Ruby didn’t answer.

Leaning against the side of her car, Regina looked up at the building before her. It was nice enough, she decided. Close to the restaurant and probably had a good view of the ocean from the higher floors. Emma hadn’t told her the apartment number though; just the address. Regina wondered why.

And then she was there; stepping out onto the top step in a shocking pink dress, blonde curls tumbling over her shoulders. Regina’s heart quickened at the sight of her, the guilt at leaving her son abated slightly. She liked this woman; really liked her. She deserved to be happy. That meant taking time for herself, away from motherhood.

“Hi,” Emma said, walking carefully down the steps in her high heels.

“Hi,” Regina said, smiling at the woman now approaching her car. “I love that dress on you.”

“Thanks, yours is beautiful too,” Emma said as she reached her date, eyes roving up and down the sleek black number the brunette was wearing. Her gaze settled on a white box in Regina’s hands.

“Oh, these are for you,” Regina said, holding out the gift. “I was going to bring you flowers but since you didn’t give me an apartment number, I figured you wouldn’t want to go back up to put them in water. Chocolates seemed simpler.”

“Chocolates from Treat Time? I love this place!” Emma exclaimed, taking in the gold embossed logo on the front. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Regina smiled.

“And, just so you know, I didn’t not want you coming up to my apartment.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t?”

“No, of course not,” Emma said, reaching for one of Regina’s hands with her spare.

“Ok,” Regina nodded, accepting the gesture but not believing the blonde.

Emma could sense the scepticism and decided to explain. “Look, to be honest, Ruby and I had a fight after our date on Monday night. I didn’t think you showing up at the door would help matters.”

“You had a fight? About me?”

“Indirectly, yes,” Emma said.

“Henry was screaming when I left the house this evening,” Regina admitted quietly. “He didn’t want me to go out again. My sister’s there looking after him but I feel really guilty.”

Emma swallowed thickly before forcing out the words she knew she needed to say. “Do you want to postpone this?”

“No,” Regina said at once. “No, that’s not what I want.”

“Do you need to postpone this?” Emma asked.

“No,” Regina said, more softly this time. “He’ll be fine by now. Zelena is with him and she’ll call if there’s a problem. But it was hard to leave. And now, hearing that you and your best friend have been arguing … are we making a mistake? Is this too complicated?”

Emma bit her lip. She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t been thinking the same thing. Ever since Monday night she had been wondering if it was all worth it. For her, for Regina, for Henry. But then she had walked out of her apartment that evening and her heart had skipped a beat at the sight of the beautiful woman leaning regally against the side of her Mercedes. And the answer had come to her, easily, effortlessly, without thought or reason.

“I don’t think this is a mistake,” Emma said. “It might be complicated but what relationship isn’t? I want to give this a chance, Regina. Because I haven’t felt like this in a long time and I think whatever we have is worth fighting for.”

Regina’s fingers twisted their way between Emma’s as she stepped closer to her date.

“Me too,” she murmured, looking up into the delicate face above her.

Green eyes bore down, flitting between the wide brown orbs and the full, red lips. Regina could practically feel Emma vibrating with want against her body, the blonde mere inches away. It was obvious the younger woman was restraining herself, was holding back, was hesitating. But Regina was tired of hesitating. She was tired of pretending. She was tired of concealing the way she really felt about the woman before her.

Emma couldn’t hold back the moan as plump lips pressed against her own.

Chapter Text

It took Emma a moment to realise what was happening but as soon as she did, her arms wrapped automatically around the smaller woman’s frame, pulling their bodies flush together. This time it was Regina’s turn to moan as she felt Emma press against her. Emma’s mouth, too, was beginning to get involved. Her lips moved slowly, testing the waters. Regina tilted her head a little, acquiescing to Emma’s silent request to dominate as their mouths tentatively opened. The tip of Emma’s tongue traced Regina’s lip before pressing inside, tasting the older woman for the first time.

She didn’t think she had ever felt so much from a first kiss. Emma’s whole being had been reduced only to the woman in her arms. She forgot about her argument with Ruby. She forgot about the fact that her boss was coming back into town that weekend. She forgot about everything else in her life except the brunette whose tongue was now dancing against her own.

It was too much and not enough all at once. It was overwhelming and scary and wonderful and too fast and everything Emma had ever dreamed of.

“Regina,” she gasped, pulling away, heart hammering.

Wide brown eyes looked up, alarmed. “Sorry,” the brunette said, making to step out of Emma’s embrace but finding her progress stopped by the strong arms still encircling her.

“No, don’t be sorry,” Emma said, encouraging the woman back against her. Regina came willingly closer. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Never apologise for kissing me.”

“The way you said my name,” Regina frowned. “It sounded … strange.”

“I’m just a little overwhelmed,” Emma said. “I mean, that kiss, it was amazing and it made me feel -” She stopped. It was too soon to tell Regina what that kiss had done to her.

“Me too,” Regina said softly, understanding without the need for words what Emma was feeling. Because she had felt it too.

Emma smiled down at the woman still held in her arms. Unable to stop herself, she bent her neck and placed a gentle kiss on the upturned lips, a sense of relief washing over her at the realisation that she could now show Regina how she felt, confident that the brunette shared her emotions.

It was only a short kiss, ending all too soon when Emma pulled back and unwrapped her arms. “So, where are you taking me?”

“What?” Regina frowned, mind still fogged by the breathtaking kiss.

“The date,” Emma prompted. “I know we kinda did this backwards, kissing at the start of the evening and all, but don’t think you’re getting away with not feeding me.”

Regina laughed and nodded, reaching out to open the passenger door and standing back to allow Emma to sink into her car. Once her date was safely sat down, she closed the door and hurried around to her own. Seconds later, the two of them were driving off down the street.

It was after eleven when Emma finally let herself into her apartment later that evening. In fact, she and Regina had arrived at the building over half an hour earlier but the two of them had been unable to tear themselves away. Emma’s lips felt a little swollen but it had been worth any tenderness. Regina was an unbelievable kisser. Making out over the central console of the Mercedes hadn’t been the most romantic of settings but once their lips met, their surroundings melted away and nothing else mattered.

She had expected the living room to be in darkness when she got home and wasn’t entirely happy when she saw Ruby sat on the couch, Belle beside her. She didn’t want to have another argument. It would put a dampener on what had otherwise been a perfect evening.

“Hey,” Emma said, tossing her keys into the bowl by the door and toeing off her heels.

“Hi,” Belle smiled. “Did you have a good evening?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Emma said, making her way into the room and towards the living room.

“Emma, wait,” Belle called after her. Sighing, the blonde swivelled on the spot and forced a neutral look onto her face at the woman now peering over the back of the couch. “Ruby has something she wants to say to you.”

A frown appeared on Emma’s forehead. “She does, does she?”

“Yeah, I do,” Ruby said, now turning to look at her flatmate. “I’m sorry, ok?”

Emma’s arms crossed over her chest. “You are? Because that didn’t sound very sincere.”

This time it was Ruby’s turn to sigh. “I know. But I am. Really. I hate it when we fight.”

“Me too. Especially when there is no reason for you to be mad at me.”

“I felt left out, ok?” Ruby said, a little exasperated.

“Left out? What are you, ten?”

Ruby shot her girlfriend a sideways look and received a glare which clearly said ‘you promised to do this.’ In Emma’s absence, Ruby had relived the argument the two of the had had and Belle had told her flat out that she needed to apologise. If Emma wasn’t ready to talk about something in her past, that was her prerogative and even as the best friend, Ruby had no right to push Emma into talking about something she wasn’t ready to share.

“I felt left out of some part of your past,” Ruby said. “I thought I knew everything about you. I thought we shared everything. It was a shock to find out you were keeping something from me and then I guess I got a little jealous that there was some big secret that you were willing to share with Regina but not me.”

Emma’s arms slowly unfolded and she made her way back towards the couch, sinking into the vacant armchair.

“I’m not deliberately keeping something from you, Rubes,” Emma said softly. “This thing, it’s not something I talk about. Ever. It’s not a good memory. It’s a part of my past I don’t want to think about or remember. And if I tell people, if I talk about it, those memories come back. I haven’t talked about it with anyone for years. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the past and it’s over. It doesn’t affect me on a day to day basis which is why it’s never come up with you or with Elsa or anyone else I’m close to.”

“But it’s come up with Regina?”

“Not yet, but it will,” Emma said. “Or it should. Look, it’s hard to explain without you knowing the full picture and if you really want to know then I’ll tell you but -”

“No,” Ruby interrupted. “No, you don’t need to tell me.”

“I don’t?”

“No,” Ruby repeated. “That’s what I was trying to say. I’m sorry about what I said on Monday. I overreacted and I shouldn’t have put pressure on you to tell me something which is none of my business, especially after you told me you didn’t want to share whatever it is. So it’s fine. We’re fine. I mean … we are if you forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you, Rubes,” Emma said, crossing to the couch and hugging her friend in a sort of bundle against the cushions. “You’re my best friend. I love you to bits.”

“I love you too, Ems,” Ruby said, her own arms wrapped tightly around Emma’s back.

Belle smiled at the sight, glad her scolding words to her girlfriend had done the trick. When Ruby had told her about the argument she and Emma had had, the student had been shocked. She couldn’t understand Ruby’s reaction and had admonished her for prying into something Emma so clearly didn’t want to talk about. Evidently her words had done the trick and the two best friends had made up.

“So,” Ruby said, “are you going to tell me about this date? Please tell me she didn’t kiss you on the cheek again.”

“Um, no, she didn’t,” Emma said, a smug grin blooming across her face as she settled back into the armchair.

“Tell us everything,” Ruby said, she and Belle both leaning forwards in identical poses at the realisation that the blonde had gossip to share.

The drive to Doctor Hopper’s office that Thursday afternoon was quiet. Regina wasn’t sure if Henry was feeling apprehensive about the upcoming appointment or if he was just tired. He had gone to bed late the night before. Although he had stopped crying soon after Regina left for her date with Emma, he had somehow managed to talk Zelena into allowing him to stay up and watch a movie. By the time Regina arrived home, the boy had only been asleep for an hour. Under normal circumstances, the redhead would have been scolded for falling for such a classic trick but Regina was still on a high after her date and just hugged her sister goodbye and said thank you.

Greeting the receptionist, Gretel, Regina and Henry took their seats in the small waiting room. Henry selected a book from the small pile on the coffee table and the two of them read quietly together while they waited for Doctor Hopper’s previous appointment to finish. The same mother and daughter from the week before emerged less than ten minutes after they had arrived. The woman offered Regina a smile of recognition just as the psychologist emerged to get his next patient.

“Good afternoon Henry,” he said, smiling when he saw the small boy. “How are you today?”

“I’m good, thank you, Archie,” Henry said. “Can we play with your toys again?”

Sliding off Regina’s lap before an answer was even given, he trotted over towards the man and entered the room. Regina followed, relieved that at least Henry wasn’t resisting these meetings.

“We can play later but first I wanted to talk to you a little bit,” Archie said. “Is that ok?”

“Sure,” Henry said, climbing up into the chair which he had sat in last week. “What are we talking about?”

“Actually, I wanted to talk to you and your mom about why you’re coming to see me. You’re a big boy, Henry, and I think it’s important you know what I am here to do and how I can help you.”

“Mom said you were going to talk to me about food,” Henry said, remembering the conversation he had had over a week before.

“Yes,” Archie said, shooting a sideways look at Regina who nodded. The man had phoned her earlier in the day to discuss his plans to talk to Henry openly about the aim of the meetings. Both had agreed that a direct approach would be more beneficial as it was important Henry began to acknowledge his eating habits as something which needed to be changed. “I am going to talk to you about food and do you know why?”

“No,” Henry said, quite simply.

“Well, have you ever noticed anything different about what your friends eat and what you eat at school?” Archie asked.

“Mom makes me lunch for school,” Henry said. “I don’t like the food they cook there.”

“What does your mom make for you for lunch?”

“Sandwiches with strawberry jam,” Henry replied. “They’re my favourite.”

“What else do you have for lunch?”

“I have an apple or a pear,” Henry said. “And a yoghurt. Mom has a special pack which keeps it cold because yoghurt is yucky when it gets warm. I drink some apple juice too.”

“And your friends, do they eat lunch at school or do their parents make them lunch?”

“Some of them eat the food at school. But some of my friends bring lunch too. Roland’s dad makes him lunch every Friday as a treat.”

“And what does Roland’s dad make for him?”

Henry paused for a moment, as if trying to remember. “Last week he had a sausage roll,” he said. “And the week before I think he had a sandwich with chicken, like the ones Mom eats.”

“So Roland has different things for lunch every week?”

Henry shrugged. “I guess.”

“Do you ever have different food in your lunch?”

“Some days I have an apple. But then some days I have a pear. I get grapes as well sometimes.”

“What about in your sandwich. Do you ever have anything different from strawberry jam?”

“No, I don’t like other food.”

The answer was simple, definite, unquestioned. And yet the whole point of the sessions was to get Henry to question, or at least re-evaluate, that statement.

“When was the last time you tried something different?” Archie asked.

Henry tilted his head to one side, thinking hard. “I ate some cappitum when we went to the big dinner with Mom’s friends from work.”

“Cappitum?” Archie frowned.

“Capsicum,” Regina supplied. “Yes, Henry, you’re right. You tried some capsicum when we went to that restaurant and now we have it in our tomato sauce, don’t we?”

“That’s great,” Archie smiled. “It’s lots of fun to try new food.”

“No it isn’t. New food tastes bad.”

“Hey Henry, I have a fun fact for you. Did you know our tongues are covered in teeny tiny taste buds which help us taste the flavour our food?” Henry’s little head shook. “And did you know that as we get older, our taste buds change and we start to like different food?”

“What food?” Henry asked.

“It depends,” Archie said. “When I was little, I didn’t like olives but now, I love them. Regina, is there a food you didn’t like when you were a child that you like now?”

“Oh yes,” Regina nodded. “I didn’t used to like mushrooms but they’re one of my favourite things to eat now. I always get mushrooms on my pizza.”

“So when I grow up, you think I will like olives and mushrooms?” Henry asked, pulling a sceptical face. In his mind, that was never going to happen. Grown ups were clearly insane.

“Maybe,” Archie said. “But the important thing is that our tongues are learning to like different tastes. So it’s always important and fun to try new food even if you didn’t like it before because your taste buds might have changed.”

“Mine don’t change,” Henry said. “I don’t like new food.”

“What about the capsicum?” Archie offered. “You didn’t use to eat that but now you do. Capsicum is nice, right? It’s a healthy vegetable but it’s sweet too. Does it make the tomato sauce yummy?”

“I guess,” Henry said slowly.

“Well, I reckon there are lots of other types of food which are out there that you haven’t tried yet but when you do, you’ll find out they’re yummy too.”

“But I don’t want to try them,” Henry said. “I don’t like them.”

“Do you know why we eat, Henry?” Archie asked, switching tact as he felt the small boy begin to get defensive. The whole point of speaking with Henry about food was to educate him, not to make him resistant to change.

A little frown appeared on the boy’s forehead. “So we don’t get hungry?”

“Yes but also to give us energy, to make us grow and to keep us strong,” Archie replied. “Our bodies need food. Our tummies tell us when it’s time to eat because we all need to put good energy into our body. Things like candy and chocolate won’t make us grow big and strong but other food like vegetables and meat and bread and pasta will. It’s important we eat a lot of healthy food when we’re children too because that’s when our bodies are growing the most.”

“Is that why I’m small?”

Regina whipped her head around to stare at her son. “What do you mean?” she asked, interrupting Archie who had also started to speak. She had no idea that Henry had acknowledged his diminutive stature in comparison to others his age.

Henry turned to look at his mother. “I’m small, aren’t I?” he said. “Roland is bigger than me. And Tilly. Tilly’s a girl and she’s bigger than me. Is that because they eat vegetables but I don’t?”

“It’s important that everyone eats good meals,” Archie replied. “If you don’t eat enough or you eat bad food or food without the right energy, your body will not be as healthy.”

“So I’m not healthy?” Henry asked.

“You’re eating some good food,” Archie said at once, not wanting to worry or trouble the child. “You like tomatoes, right? Tomatoes are healthy. And pasta is healthy too. You drink milk and apple juice, they’re great for growing children. In fact, none of the food that you like is unhealthy. The problem is, you’re not eating lots of different foods. If we eat the same food over and over again, our bodies might start to need different energies.”

“Like what?”

“Well, meat like chicken and fish are very good for you. Do you like chicken or fish?”

Henry shook his head furiously. “No, I don’t like them. They taste yuck.”

“When did you last try to eat chicken?”

The small boy turned to his mother, unable to answer the question for himself.

“I cooked us some chicken for Christmas but I don’t think you ate any of it,” Regina offered. She tried not to think about that day. Christmas was supposed to be a happy occasion but the festivities had dissolved into a tantrum when she had presented Henry with the full roast she had prepared. After an hour, she had given up and cooked him some pasta, too tired and upset to try and coax him into trying anything on his plate.

“Because I don’t like it,” Henry replied.

“But maybe your taste buds have changed since you last tried chicken,” Archie said. “Do you think maybe it would be a good idea to try it again and see if you like it now? You’re six, right? You’re growing up. Maybe you like food now that you didn’t like when you were five?”

“Really?” Henry asked, confused as to how a person’s taste could change so quickly.

“Maybe,” Archie nodded. “Do you think you might want to try?”

Henry looked up at his mother who was smiling nervously. He didn’t pick up on the nerves, of course, but he could see that the woman wanted him to say yes. “Ok, I’ll try some chicken,” he said at last. “But just one tiny piece. If I eat the chicken, will it make me bigger than Roland?”

“Not one piece on its own, but if you keep eating different healthy food, then I think you’ll grow up strong and healthy and happy.”

“Can we play games now?” Henry asked, his legs swinging back and forth from the chair, tired of sitting and talking.

“Sure,” Archie said. “But while we play, I want you to tell me all about your friend Roland. He sounds like fun.”

“He is fun,” Henry enthused. “Today, in school, we painted a picture together.”

“Yeah?” Archie asked, getting up from his chair and beckoning Henry to follow him over to the toys. “What was the picture of?”

“We had to paint a picture of our best friend. He painted me and I painted him. I had to sit in a blue chair when he painted me. Then we swapped and he sat in the chair so I could do the painting. He did me funny with big eyes and my hair all crazy.”

Archie laughed. “That sounds funny. How did you paint him?”

“I painted him with big long legs cos he’s so tall. And I painted him with Monkey.”

“Who’s Monkey?” Archie asked.

“His toy monkey,” Henry said. “Roland got it when he was a baby. It’s his favourite. He brings Monkey to school and keeps him in his bag all day. When he gets sad or hurt, he hugs Monkey and it makes him feel better.”

Regina smiled over at her son and his psychologist, both now sat cross-legged on the floor beside a large box of toys. Satisfied that Henry was happy, she reached into her bag and pulled out her cell. She had promised Emma she would let her know how the session went. Plus, it had been over an hour since she had contacted the blonde and that was a long time for them. Ever since their first date, the two women had been in near constant contact.

Henry has agreed to try some chicken. Got any simple recipe ideas? R x

Oh the perks of dating a chef, Regina mused to herself as she slid her cell phone back into her bag and turned her attention to her son who was now telling Archie all about his own favourite toy; a stuffed Spiderman that Zelena had given him on his third birthday.

Chapter Text

It was just chicken. Chicken. That simple, easy meat which you turn to when the idea of browning some mince seems like too much work. Chicken. It was the first thing she learned to cook. Beyond pasta, at least. Chicken. A simple, inoffensive, relatively bland (when nothing is added) meat which everyone liked. Right?

The pack stared up at her from the work surface. Almost tauntingly. Regina had cooked chicken countless times before. She had taken to adding it to her own dish after it became apparent that Henry wasn’t interested in it being a part of the main meal. But today, for some reason, the challenge seemed insurmountable.

It was Sunday evening and she had decided it was time. After Henry’s agreement to try some chicken in his therapy session earlier in the week, Regina had wanted to let some time pass by before she presented him with the new food. No, not new. Before his eating habits had changed, the young child had regularly eaten chicken. As Doctor Hopper had reminded her, this wasn’t about liking or disliking food. It was about control. And in order for them to make progress, she knew Henry had to be the person making the decisions. So she had waited a few days before taking the next step.

Henry hadn’t mentioned the promise he had made the psychologist. Regina had hoped he would but when it came to Sunday afternoon and it didn’t come up, she decided to bite the bullet and take matters into her own hand. Which is why she was now stood in the middle of the kitchen, staring at a pack of chicken breasts as if it was her arch nemesis.

“Mom, where’s my yellow pencil?” Henry asked. As usual, he was sat at the small table while his mother cooked their dinner.

“Have you looked in the box?” Regina asked without turning around, knowing full well that her son would not have searched the crate where his art supplies were kept.

“No,” he admitted, sliding off his chair and wandering over to the box tucked on a shelf by the door. “What’s for dinner?”

“Pasta with tomato sauce,” Regina replied. “With chicken.”

There was no reply. Slowly, she rotated on the spot. There was no sign her son had heard her announcement. He was knelt in front of the shelving unit, rummaging through various pens, pencils and crayons. She turned back to the counter and ripped the plastic from the pack of meat before dumping the fillets all out onto the chopping board.

Emma’s week had been long. The weekend had been even longer thanks to the presence of her boss. Killian had arrived in the middle of service on Friday evening and hovered around the restaurant ever since. Emma had taken to grabbing the nearest hot pan whenever he appeared in her vicinity and had avoided the majority of his attempts at physical contact. On Sunday evening, she was counting down the minutes until the end of her shift that night as she sat in his office, feigning interest in the reason for his visit; his plan to launch a digital marketing campaign.

“So, I’m going to need you to put together the specials menu a month in advance, to fit in with our advertising plan,” Killian finished.

“A month?” Emma exclaimed, sitting up straighter and suddenly taking notice. “I can’t do that. The specials I create are based on the day’s catches. That’s the whole point of a special; they use the best ingredients available at any time. And when it comes to seafood, it’s unpredictable.”

“Yeah, well, an AdWords campaign needs to be created in advance so that’s not going to work.”

“Can’t you just advertise our set menu?” Emma frowned.

“The specials are what we’re known for,” Killian replied. “Your unique dishes are what people come here for.”

“Yeah, and they’re unique because I create them using the best ingredients I am presented with each day. That’s why they’re always different and unusual. If you make me plan in advance, then you’re basically just expanding the set menu. I will have to only use ingredients I am guaranteed to be able to get.”

“I’m just telling you what I was told by the marketer I spoke to. They need to know our dishes ahead of time.”

“Well, that’s not possible,” Emma replied.

“Do you want to tell them that?” Killian asked. “This is the top advertising company in the state.”

“The top … wait, are you talking about Mills Marketing?” The brunette had mentioned the fact that they had just received the award during a phone call the previous afternoon. Emma had called in between her shifts and spoken to Regina who was out at the park with Henry at the time. The blonde had found herself wishing she could join them.

Killian nodded. “Yeah. A group of them came in for that dinner a few weeks ago. I had a phone call with one of their account managers last week and I have a meeting with the company director tomorrow.”

Emma balked. Regina hadn’t said anything about being in contact with Killian. That said, her calendar was probably so busy she wasn’t even aware of upcoming appointments until it was time to attend them. “Oh, right.” She wasn’t sure how she felt about Killian and Regina meeting and working together. No, she knew exactly how she felt. She wanted to keep that lecherous man as far away from the beautiful woman as possible.

“So, unless you’re going to call them and explain to them why they can’t have your menu in advance, can I expect your plans for May by the end of next week?”

“Um, fine, if that’s what you really want,” Emma sighed, already trying to think of a few new recipes she could jazz up as specials while guaranteeing she’d always be able to get the ingredients. She knew it wouldn’t allow her to serve the best food possible but if that was what her boss wanted and her agreement would end the meeting, so be it.

“Great. Now, you’d better get back to work. The rush is going to be starting soon,” Killian said.

Emma nodded and stood up, her heart sinking as her boss did the same. Before she could stop him, he circled his desk and wrapped his arms around her. She grimaced and tried to keep her distance as much as possible, stepping away as soon as his grip lessened.

“Safe journey back to New York,” Emma muttered as she stepped out of the room.

Regina stared at the bubbling water, fusilli pasta cooking merrily away below the surface. In her right hand, she absent-mindedly stirred the simple tomato sauce she had made. She’d left out the capsicum. The cooked chicken pieces, cut into small strips, had been taken off the heat and now rested in the pan on the side. She was trying to decide whether to mix the meat in with the tomato sauce or place the pieces on the side. What would be less intimidating to Henry?

Let him decide, she reasoned. Two plates, presented differently, and he could choose. She drained the pasta and separated the servings into the waiting bowls. Pouring half of the tomato sauce onto one dish, she then placed half of the chicken pieces on the side. The remaining meat, she added to the second half of the sauce. A quick stir, and that too was added to the other bowl.

“Henry, did you wash your hands?” she asked as her son re-entered the kitchen after being tasked with that exact activity.

“Yes,” he said, holding up dripping wet fingers as if to prove a point.

Nodded her acceptance, Regina picked up both bowls and crossed to put them on the table which had been cleared of Henry’s colouring tools. As she put the dishes down, Henry climbed back up into his chair.

“Which one would you like?” Regina asked.

“They’re different?”

“I put the chicken in the sauce on this one,” Regina explained, pointing to the bowl on the right, “and the chicken is on the side for this one.”

“But they both have chicken?”

“Yes,” Regina said. “And you’ve eaten chicken before.”

“Have I?” Henry asked, frowning up at his mother with a sceptical look. Surely he would have remembered such an event.

“Yes, you have,” Regina nodded. “You ate it … when you were younger.”

Henry wasn’t listening and didn’t seem to notice the pause Regina had fumbled through. He was already staring at the dishes, sizing them up. On the one hand, he could eat from a bowl which looked a lot like his usual dinner. He could just make out the lumps of chicken in amongst the tomato sauce but it didn’t really seem very different. On the other hand, he could eat the bowl which had this new food pushed to one side. If he picked that bowl, he could avoid eating the chicken easily. But then his mom would be mad. If he picked the first bowl, maybe he wouldn’t taste the chicken because of all the yummy tomato. It was, he decided, a dilemma.

“This one,” he said at last, pulling the chosen bowl towards him.

Regina silently drew her own meal towards her and picked up a fork. Much as she wanted to watch her son, she and Emma had talked about how important it was that this was not made into a big deal for Henry. The blonde had suggested not doing anything fancy with the chicken. Just cooking it in a pan with a little salt and oil. Strong flavours may put Henry off. So too would his mother’s pressure. This had to be Henry’s decision but it also had to be muted, nothing special, nothing important. If the boy sensed the worry and stress throbbing through his mother, surely he would refuse to try the new food.

Spearing her own dinner with a little more force than necessary, Regina placed the first mouthful onto her tongue. It was good, she decided. In fact, the traditional tomato sauce that she made multiple times every week had certainly been enhanced by the addition of chicken. She was just waiting to see if Henry felt the same.

Across the table, Henry was prodding a naked chicken strip with his fork. He had come to the conclusion that if he was really going to try this food, it was not going to be allowed to hide behind anything. He glanced up through his long lashes at the woman opposite him. Regina wasn’t looking at him. She had pulled out her cell. Strange, he thought. She never used her phone at the table and whenever Aunty Zelena did that, Mom got mad. Eyes dropped back down to the chicken, fork hovering. And then it plunged. A single fusilli spiral, coated with tomato, was placed in his mouth. The chicken lay untouched.

“Who are you waiting to hear from?”

Emma jumped and turned towards her sous chef. “What?” she asked, distractedly, slipping her cell back into the front pocket of her apron and continuing to stir the clam chowder she was making.

“You’ve checked your phone three times in five minutes,” August pointed out. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Emma said, ladling a portion of the food out into the bowl and calling for service.

“Yeah right, it’s your new girlfriend isn’t it?”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Emma muttered, turning to see which order she needed to start preparing next. Pan-fried salmon with saffron, local spring vegetables and a creamed parsley reduction.

“But you are waiting for her to contact you,” August prompted, grinning at his friend.

Emma blushed. There was no need to answer the man. It was obvious to everyone who knew her that she was completely smitten with Regina. What they didn’t know was that she was currently anxious to receive a reply to her own message. Regina had texted to say that Henry wasn’t yet eating the chicken. Emma’s response had been to encourage the brunette to engage Henry in conversation, about anything other than the meal, and see if he tried the new food on his own.

Before she transferred the seasoned salmon pieces to the sizzling skillet, Emma checked her cell one more time.

“What did you learn in maths with Mrs Davis?” Regina asked, after Henry had finished telling her about his P.E. lesson where he and Roland had run races.

“We’re doing the five times table,” Henry announced. “It’s really easy. See: one times five is five. Two times five is ten. Three times five is fifteen. Four times five is twenty.”

“Great,” Regina smiled. “What’s eight times five?”

Henry opened his mouth to answer but then faltered. Regina could see the cogs turning in his brain as he went through the chant silently, not yet able to complete the mental arithmetic without the pattern. “Eight times five is forty,” he announced triumphantly after several seconds.

“Excellent,” Regina grinned. “Well done.”

Henry beamed back proudly and stabbed his fork into his bowl and stuffed the next load into his mouthful. Regina’s eyes went wide. It took Henry a couple of chews to realise that a piece of chicken had been caught up with his pasta. Desperate not to make a big deal of it, Regina blundered on.

“So, the five times table is great because every answer ends in either a zero or a five. It’s nearly as fun as the ten times table where they all end in a zero. Do you remember that one?”

Henry swallowed thickly before answering. “Yeah. One times ten is ten. Two times ten is twenty. Three times ten is thirty. Four times ten is...”

The rest of Henry’s chanting faded into the background as Regina forced the tears which had formed not to fall. He had done it. He had eaten something new, something different. More than that, he had eaten something which provided important nutrition. She didn’t dare hope he would eat more. That piece had been a fluke; she could tell by his face that he had not realised what he was eating. But somehow, for some reason, he had decided to go with it and chew rather than spit it out. She doubted he would go for a second piece, however.

Emma was scolding a new addition to her kitchen staff for being about to send out a plate of subpar food when her phone rang. The heat of the kitchen often transferred to her temper. Chefs weren’t known for being level-headed. She shooed the red-faced youngster away, telling her to redo the entire dish and reached into her pocket.

“What?” she snapped, answering without looking at the screen.

“Sorry, is this a bad time?”

“Regina,” Emma said, mellowing at once when she recognised the voice. “Sorry, no, it’s fine. We’re just a little busy here.”

“I can call back,” the woman said at once.

“No, no, just give me a minute,” Emma insisted. She held the phone away from her ear and called across the kitchen, instructing August that he was in charge for the next five minutes. The man winked at her as she retreated into the back hallway, off which her office was located. “Hey, sorry. I can talk now. What happened? How did it go?”

“He ate it,” Regina said.

“He did? Regina, that’s amazing,” Emma exclaimed, sitting down in her chair, a grin blossoming on her lips.

“Well, he ate two pieces,” Regina said. “Not all of it.”

“That’s still massive. He tried something new and not something similar to the things he does eat. Chicken is a whole new food group. And he ate not one but two pieces. I think that means he’s genuinely trying. If he’ll agree to eat chicken regularly, he really will be improving his nutritional intake.”

“I know, I know. It’s a breakthrough. I can’t believe we’ve made an improvement after only two sessions as well.”

“You must have found a great psychologist,” Emma said. “It took me months before I started to improve my eating habits. The sooner the better, especially when it comes to nutrition.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line before Regina spoke again. “Your recovery, the fact that you learned so much about nutrition, what prompted it?”

Emma froze. Regina hadn’t asked her anything about her anorexia or recovery. Any information which had been shared was offered by the blonde and only in relation to Henry. It wasn’t that she didn’t talk about what she went through. She did. Ruby knew all about it, aside from the trigger which caused the disorder. Elsa had known the details too. Even August knew bits and pieces. Anyone who had seen Emma prepare or eat a meal knew the woman was unorthodox when it came to food and she didn’t mind telling them why.

She planned to share her story with Regina in the future; hopeful it would help her understand what Henry went through. The problem was, Regina’s question was related to one of the biggest events of her life and she wasn’t sure she was quite ready to dive into that painful part of her past.

“Can I tell you tomorrow night? We’re still going for dinner, right?”

“Yes we are and of course,” Regina said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I was just curious.”

“You have every right to be curious,” Emma assured her. “And I will tell you. I just think it’s a conversation best had face to face rather than over the phone.”

“I understand,” Regina said. “I’ve got to go. Henry’s in the bath and he’ll need help washing his hair. I just wanted to let you know how it went.”

“I appreciate that, thank you,” Emma said. “I’ve been thinking of you both all evening.”

“You have?” Regina voice suddenly softened.

Emma couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, I have. I think about you a lot, actually.”

“I think about you too,” Regina said.

“Good,” Emma said. “Look, I wish I could talk to you all night but I have to get back to the kitchen and you have to go and wash your chicken-eating son.”

Regina laughed. “That’s the weirdest nickname ever but yes I do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I can’t wait. I’ll pick you up at seven.”

“See you then. Have a great night, Emma.”

“You too. Bye.”


There was a pause and then the line went dead. Emma slid the phone back into her apron and returned to the kitchen, an unwavering grin in place for the rest of the evening.

Chapter Text

“Shall I just assume from now on that you need me to babysit every Monday night?” Kathryn asked as she entered Regina’s home.

“Perhaps,” Regina smirked. “It’s Emma’s only night off from the restaurant.”

“I’ll put it in my diary,” Kathryn grinned, shrugging off her light jacket and hanging it up on a peg by the door. “So it’s going well?”

Regina nodded, beckoning Kathryn to follow her into the living room where Henry was playing with his race car set. A red vehicle was whizzing around the track the two of them had built earlier, bright hazel eyes following its path.

“Henry, Aunty Kat is here,” Regina announced.

“Hi,” the small boy said without looking up.

“His latest obsession,” Regina muttered. “So, in bed by seven thirty. He’s already had his bath. He can have a story if he asks you politely. And if he says he’s hungry, he can have an apple or pear from the fruit bowl.”

“Fine,” Kat says. “What I want to know is, where are the lovebirds going this evening?”

“Shhh,” Regina admonished, shooting a glance at Henry. The boy, however, was far too interested in his race track to listen to his mother and best friend gossiping. “Not here.”

Leading the way out into the hallway, Regina set about making sure she had anything in her purse as she began to tell Kathryn the evening’s activities. Although both women kept their first respective dates a secret, the plans had since become more open. Emma had texted her that morning asking if she had seen the latest chick flick to hit the movie theatre. When Regina replied that she hadn’t, the blonde bought tickets for the late screening, which they’d enjoy after a meal at a new Lebanese restaurant Emma wanted to try.

“So that’s why you invited me to stay over,” Kathryn said once Regina had told her all she knew. “The two of you are going to be getting busy in the back row of the movies until the early hours.”

“We’re not sixteen,” Regina scoffed.

“No, you’re worse. At sixteen it might have stopped at making out. Now I don’t even want to know what you two might get up to.”

“Yes, because I’m really the sort of woman who’s going to let her date fuck her in the movie theatre,” Regina deadpanned.

Kathryn just shrugged and reached out to place a wayward hair back into the style Regina had carefully created. The brunette turned towards the mirror beside the front door and scrutinised her make up. As she was reapplying her lipstick, the doorbell rang. Turning, she saw Kathryn still stood in the entrance hall, a shit-eating grin on her face.

“You’re not moving from that spot, are you?”

“Why should I?” Kathryn answered. “I’ve met her already.”

Regina hardly thought the brief moment the two blondes had been near each other in the entrance of Zelena’s bar constituted a meeting but she didn’t argue. It was inevitable that her best friends and the woman she was dating would meet sooner or later.

“Fine. Just don’t say anything … Kat-like,” she finished eventually.

Kathryn mimed crossing her heart, a move which did not fill Regina with confidence, but she turned to open the door anyway.

Regina was used to having her breath taken away by the blonde but the sight never failed to make her heart flutter. Stood on her porch, dressed in short royal blue dress, Emma smiled almost shyly at her date. Regina couldn’t believe it possible but it seemed Emma didn’t know quite how beautiful she was.

“Hi,” Emma said after Regina had been left temporarily speechless by the long legs emerging from beneath the dress hem.

“Hello,” Regina replied, eyes dragging back up the woman’s form. She didn’t want to objectify Emma at all but her physical attraction to the younger woman was unavoidable.

“I brought you something,” Emma said, holding out the Tupperware which had been by her side.

Regina took the gift and opened the lid, peering inside eagerly. “Pastries? Did you make these?” A modest nod from the blonde and Regina gazed back down at the delicious-looking, intricate sweets. “Wow, they look incredible, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Emma said. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, let me just get my purse and put these in the fridge,” Regina said, turning around and spotting sight of Kathryn who were grinning at her. “Oh, Emma, I suppose I should introduce you properly to Kathryn. She’s looking after Henry again. Kat, this is Emma. Emma, this is my friend Kat.”

“Hi,” Emma said again, holding out her hand as the other blonde moved towards her.

“Lovely to meet you,” Kathryn smiled, shaking Emma’s hand. “Regina has told me all about you.”

“All?” Emma asked, suddenly feeling nervous. As that emotion flooded her body, however, she remembered that realistically Regina knew relatively little about her. After tonight, however, that would change. Would Regina come home and tell her best friend about Emma’s past?

“That’s a lie, Kat,” Regina said as she returned from the kitchen where she had deposited the treats, having overheard what her friend had said.

“Yeah, you’re right. You’ve not told me anything about Emma. It doesn’t stop you talking about her all the time though,” Kat grinned.

Regina blushed. Did she really talk about Emma that often? Thinking back over the afternoon she and Kat had spent shooting images for a new campaign that day, she was forced to conclude her friend may be telling the truth.

“Right, let’s go. Kat, call me if there’s any problems with -”


Regina’s eyes darted past her smirking friend and landed on her son who had padded out of the living room, holding a broken racing car in his hands. At the scene in the entrance hall, the front door open with a woman standing just inside, the small boy frowned.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Henry, darling, I’m going out for dinner this evening, remember? That’s why Aunty Kat is here.”

“Yeah, I remember. Are you going to yes with her?” he asked pointing to Emma who was stood awkwardly in the doorway.

“Yes, I am,” Regina said simply. “Henry, this is my friend Emma.”

“She’s a cook,” Henry said. “She made me some food. With the cappicum.”

“Yes,” Regina smiled. “Emma cut up some capsicum for you when we went for dinner with some people from my work.”

Henry shuffled forwards. “Are you cooking for my mom?” he asked, peering up at Emma.

The blonde glanced at Regina before answering. She knew the older woman had wanted to keep their dating a secret from Henry but it seemed rude to not answer a direct question. Also, it wasn’t like a six-year-old would make the connection between she and Regina going out for dinner and the two of them tentatively starting some sort of relationship.

“Not tonight,” Emma said. “We’re going out to a restaurant tonight but I hope to cook for her one day.”

Had Emma looked up at her date, she’d have seen a soft expression grace Regina’s features. But instead she was looking at the small boy who was appraising her. And then, quite abruptly, he was turning back to his mother and holding out the broken toy.

“Can you fix it?” he asked, thrusting the pieces into her hands.

“Aunty Kat will mend it for you, my little prince,” Regina said. “Emma and I have to go or we’ll be late for our dinner.”

“Ok,” Henry said, taking the toy back from Regina and moving towards his guardian for the night.

“See you tomorrow, sweetheart,” Regina said, bending down to kiss the crown of his head.

“Night, Mom,” Henry said, already distracted by Kathryn who was trying to reattach the disconnected wheels of the car.

With a silent look and brief nod to her friend, Regina followed Emma out of the house and closed the door behind her.

“Sorry,” Emma said at once.

“For what?” Regina asked.

“For … I dunno, not hiding when Henry appeared. I know you don’t want him to know about us.”

Regina reached up and cupped Emma’s cheek. “Honey, it’s ok. He was going to find out sooner or later.”

“He was?”

“I hope so,” Regina replied. “I mean, isn’t that where this is going?”

“Now I’m the one hoping,” Emma grinned, her own hand coming up to cover Regina’s where it still lay, fingers intertwining.

Regina stepped towards her date and craned her neck up to place a soft kiss on the blonde’s lips.

“Hi,” she said when she pulled away. “I’ve been waiting to do that since you arrived.”

“Me too,” Emma said, chasing the woman’s retreating mouth and kissing her again, a little harder, a little longer.

Regina’s fingers slid around to cup the nape of Emma’s neck, stroking the soft hair which lay there. Emma’s hand moved to press lightly against the small of Regina’s back, pulling their bodies closer together.

“Ok, that’s what I have been waiting to do since last week,” Emma said, pulling back after several seconds.

“I think I’ve got you beat,” Regina smirked.

Emma’s eyebrows quirked in confusion but a second later she let out a soft gasp as she found herself pressed up against the wooden column of the porch, Regina’s tongue begging for entrance into her mouth. She granted it at once, fingers fisting in the material of the woman’s jacket as she pulled her closer. Regina dominated the kiss, plundering Emma’s mouth and allowing their tongues to dance and twirl. It was perfect and intense and passionate and starting to make her feel light-headed when suddenly the moment was broken.

Light from the open front door cut through the smoky darkness, piercing their closed eyelids and ending the kiss abruptly.

“Geez, you guys, I can hear you moaning through the door,” Kathryn exclaimed as the two women turned to her.

Beet red, Regina shot her friend daggers before reaching for Emma’s hand. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“You mean before your son catches you dry humping on the porch, good idea!” Kathryn called after their retreating backs.

Regina and Emma didn’t say a word to one another until they were sat in Ruby’s car, once again borrowed by Emma for the date.

“So …” Emma began.

“Shall we pretend that never happened?” Regina offered.

“The kiss or the interruption?”

“The interruption,” Regina said at once. “The kiss definitely happened. There’s no way I’m pretending that didn’t happen.”

“Good,” Emma said. “Because if you had wanted to forget that, I’d have had to kiss you again to bring back your memories.”

Regina felt her stomach do a little flip. She didn’t think she had ever met someone quite like Emma Swan. “I suppose there wouldn’t be any harm in making sure I don’t forget.”

Leaning across the car, Emma placed a surprisingly gentle kiss against the older woman’s mouth. It was brief; too brief, perhaps, and then she was pulling away and starting up the engine to drive to their dinner reservation.

“I met with your boss today,” Regina said after they had ordered a mezze platter to share and already started on their bottle of red wine.

“Yeah, he told me yesterday he had an appointment with the head of Mills Marketing. Figured that was you,” Emma said. “He also told me he wanted all of my specials for the next month by the end of the week.”

Regina shook her head. “Yeah, the marketer he spoke to on the phone is new. And an idiot apparently. I’ve already had words with him. He clearly knows nothing about industry-specific campaigns. We do usually ask our clients to provide a list of upcoming events but that isn’t possible for a high end restaurant like yours. I told Mr Jones that and he seemed to understand. Adverts for daily specials won’t work because of the ad approval process and planned specials aren’t going to be, well, special. Our campaigns be focusing on the main menu items and you.”

“Me?” Emma frowned.

“You’re making quite the name for yourself, Chef Swan,” Regina smiled. “The research my company did found that people are seeking out your dishes without knowing the name of the restaurant. They want food cooked by the famous Emma Swan.”

Emma blushed. People Googled her? Should she be embarrassed or proud? She went with just relieved that Killian had been dissuaded that planning her specials menu a month in advance was a viable idea.

“Well, thanks for talking Killian out of forward-planning specials,” Emma said.

“Of course,” Regina said. “Stupid idea. Does that man know nothing about running a restaurant?”

“Pretty much,” Emma nodded. “Without me and Ruby, HLS wouldn’t be in business.”

“He’s handsy too.”

Emma’s eyes darkened in an instant. “He touched you?” she all but growled.

“I thought you said you weren’t the jealous type,” Regina said, a teasing tone to her voice as she registered the blonde’s strong reaction.

“I’m not. I’m protective,” Emma clarified. “What did he do?”

“Nothing,” Regina said. “I mean, he wasn’t exactly shy about the fact that he thought I was attractive. I assumed you hadn’t told him we were dating and I figured it wasn’t my place to say. He made a few comments when we were having our meeting and then when he went to leave, he hugged me. Not exactly what I would have expected from a man who’s supposed to be a prominent businessman. Anyway, his hands weren’t exactly on my back.”

“Bastard,” Emma snarled. “Did you tell him where to go?”

“I pushed him away and told him we’d be in touch with the marketing proposal and budget by the end of the week,” Regina replied. “Then he left.”

“You should have told him to never come back,” Emma muttered.

“If I turned away every client who tried to make a pass at me, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am,” Regina said. “I’m used to it. I can handle it.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” Emma sighed. “What makes men think they have the right to hit on beautiful women?”

“I’ve been hit on by women as well,” Regina smirked.

“Not the point,” Emma said quietly.

Regina frowned at the reaction of her date who was now staring at the wine glass she was twirling between her fingers. She knew workplace harassment was a serious issue and one which had been in the media a lot recently, quite rightly, but she couldn’t help feel Emma was taking this personally. Reaching across, she stopped the distracted action of the younger woman’s hands by wrapping her own over them. “Hey, what’s going on?”

It was now or never, Emma realised. Regina had practically handed her the topic on a plate. And yet, the blonde mused, it was still too soon. She couldn’t talk about that; not yet. She hadn’t prepared. She hadn’t expected to talk about it. This date was supposed to be when she told Regina about her recovery, not her downward spiral. She had arranged a phone call with her old therapist for later that week, hoping that speaking with the one other person who knew about her past might help her open up to Regina. But she wasn’t ready. Not tonight. Yet, it was clear from the look on Regina’s face that she needed some sort of explanation. She deserved one too.

“I haven’t told you much about my eating disorder,” Emma began, looking up at last to meet Regina’s concerned gaze.

“If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to,” Regina said at once.

“No, I do have to. I want to. I just … I don’t talk about it. Ever. With anyone. That’s what Ruby and I had our fight about. She was mad that I was going to tell you something that she doesn’t even know.”

“Emma, please, you don’t have to tell me about something in your past if it’s not something you want to share or talk about. Just because we’re dating -”

“No, it’s not that we’re dating,” Emma interrupted. “My ex and I were together for four years and she didn’t know. I want to tell you because I think it will help you and Henry. Not that Henry and I have anything in common when it comes to the events which led to our eating problems. But the way we dealt with what happened to us is the same. And I can’t justify sitting across from you, handing out advice and telling you my opinion without first sharing with you how I came to know so much about what Henry is going through.”

“So you’re telling me as a way to prove your expertise?” Regina asked.

“I want to tell you because I think you need to know. And I also think that maybe not talking about it wasn’t the healthiest. The thing is, I’m not quite ready to share that part of my past. The story of how I became anorexic is dark, darker than I want to discuss right now. I do, however, want to tell you how I started my recovery.”

“Just tell me whatever you feel comfortable sharing,” Regina offered. “I won’t judge. I won’t push. I just want to know you, as much of you as you want to show me.”

Emma nodded once before she began. “You asked me yesterday why I became obsessed with nutrition and it got me thinking. I just transferred one way of controlling my eating to another. I went from eating the bare minimum to creating meals which had the exact right number of calories. Sure, it’s healthy when it comes to my body but it can’t be psychologically healthy. For over ten years I’ve been obsessive when it comes to eating and it’s second nature now. When this mezze dish comes, I’ll be able to calculate the nutritional value of each item in seconds. That’s not normal. It’s a form of OCD, actually. So perhaps the reason I can related to Henry so well is because I’m not recovered. I still have an eating disorder, just not one that is clear cut like anorexia.”

“Emma, you told me once that you can never recover from an eating disorder,” Regina said softly. “You just have to take one day at a time. And you’ve found a way to do that. Yes, it’s still related to food but, like you said, it’s healthy.”

“Not psychologically,” Emma sighed. “It’s like I’m trying to make up for the damage I’ve done.”


Emma nodded. “Prolonged eating disorders can lead to health problems. The event which kick-started my recovery, that made me realise what I was doing to myself, happened two weeks before my seventeenth birthday.”

Regina poured a little more wine into both their glasses before taking Emma’s hands in her own and offering a gentle nod of encouragement.

“I’ll tell you more about how my illness started later. But let me just tell you about how it ended first. It might sound backwards but as far as measuring the impact each event had on my life, the end is far more important.”

“I understand,” Regina nodded. The way her marriage had broken down had probably affected her in many more ways that the entire relationship had.

“When I was sixteen, I was hospitalised. After over two years of not eating properly, my body was very weak and the organs were beginning to shut down. I was tube fed, monitored all the time, forced to take part in these crappy group therapy sessions which only allowed us a chance to exchange tips on how to reduce our food intake even more. It was bad; hell. The darkest days of my life. I wasn’t getting any better. The tube feeding was keeping me alive but I was so weak and so damaged already that my body wasn’t recovering. They ran tests all the time. I didn’t take any notice of them. I didn’t care. It wasn’t until years later that I realised how close to dying I came.”

“Is that what made you turn things around?”

“No,” Emma said quietly. “Six months after I arrived at that place, my doctor came to me. They call it amenorrhea.”

Emma trailed off. Regina waited patiently, knowing that the blonde needed some time.

“Since I had arrived in the hospital, I hadn’t had my period. I thought that was normal. I hadn’t been menstruating for over a year, actually. But it was only once I was admitted into the specialist ward that my cycle was monitored. I remember the look on her face, this mix of pity and resignation. She was saying, ‘I’m sorry but you did this to yourself’.”

“Did what?” Regina asked.

“Made myself infertile,” Emma said at last. “I was just a teenager. It wasn’t like I was hoping to get pregnant any time soon. Hell, I’d never had a boyfriend and I already knew I was gay. But that wasn’t the point. I had always imagined myself being a mother some day. I had always dreamed that I would carry a child, would build a family. And suddenly that dream was gone. I had been too sick for too long. My ovaries had stopped producing eggs and judging by how long I had been starving myself, the doctor said there wasn’t a chance of them starting again.”

“Emma, I’m so sorry,” Regina murmured. “I can’t imagine how that feels.”

“Thank you,” Emma said. “But it was the piece of news I needed. I was dying. I was killing myself and that day was the first time I had acknowledged it. My actions had directly led to my body being damaged beyond repair. I made an appointment with a nutritionist that afternoon and never looked back. I suppose the same way that one event started my downward spiral, once I had hit rock bottom, the only way was up.”

Just as Emma finished, the waiter appeared with their sharing platter. The two women forced their hands apart from the middle of the table, politely answered his questions about whether they needed anything or wanted more drinks, and waited a few seconds before he was out of earshot.

“Emma, I … I don’t know what to say,” Regina said. “I can’t even begin to try and imagine what you went through.”

“It’s in my past,” Emma said. “I’m healthy now. I worked really hard to rebuild my strength and live a balanced lifestyle. But amenorrhea isn’t always reversible.”

“Did you -”

“No,” Emma said shortly. “I haven’t had a period since I was fifteen. Saves me a fortune in sanitary products but …”

The joke fell flat. It was no laughing matter, for either woman. Emma was thinking back over her childhood dream of having a family, a dream she had destroyed for herself when she was a young teenager. Regina was trying not to cry; not to show how her heart ached for the woman sat before her. She wished she could make it alright, that she could help Emma. But she knew she couldn’t and that hurt.

“That’s why I want to help you help Henry,” Emma said, forcing herself back on track. “He’s not sick. Not like I was. I think he can make a full recovery because the habits haven’t developed into limiting food intake, he just controls the type of food. But if his disorder worsened, he could do damage to his body. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Thank you,” Regina said. “I want that too. I just wish you had had someone who could have been there for you.”

Emma offered a sad smile. “Yeah, me too.”

“If it’s not too late, I’d like to be here for you now,” Regina offered.

White teeth trapped a pale lip. It was Emma’s go-to move when she was nervous. It wasn’t the proposition which was making her heart thud, however. The idea of Regina being someone she could turn to was wonderful, not nerve-wracking. The anxiety stemmed not from the idea of sharing her life, her hopes, her dreams, her fears with Regina, but what would happen if one day the beautiful brunette was gone from her life.

“You already are here for me,” Emma said quietly. “More than you could possibly imagine.”

“It’s the least I can do,” Regina said. “Without you, I wouldn’t have gone to see Doctor Hopper with Henry, I would have still been denying that he has a problem. You saved him, Emma.”

“I hope so,” Emma smiled.

“I know so,” Regina said. “He ate chicken for the first time in two years yesterday. That’s such a breakthrough.”

“Tell me all about it,” Emma grinned, spearing a piece of falafel on her fork and transferring it to her side plate.

Regina hesitated. She had hoped Emma was going to share more, was going to talk about the other event; the one which had triggered disorder. But now wasn’t the time. The blonde had shared enough for one day. Regina had to admit, Emma had been far more open with her during the past thirty minutes than she had ever been before. She had shared a painful part of her past and Regina was thankful that Emma trusted her enough to do so. She didn’t want to push. So instead she conceded to Emma’s prompt and began telling the blonde all about the meal she had shared with her son the previous evening.

Chapter Text

Regina was on a high for the next two days. She couldn’t help it. Despite the subject matter which she and Emma covered during their date on Monday evening, that time with the blonde still filled her with happiness. Every time she saw the young woman she felt that way, regardless of what they did or said or shared together.

Work was busy but she didn’t care. It didn’t matter, not in the grand scheme of things. Emma was healthy and Henry was going to be better soon, she could feel it. Graham seemed surprised when she merely shrugged at the news that one of their clients had postponed an urgent meeting by two weeks. The brunette usually hated it when important appointments were missed or delayed. But Regina didn’t mind that day. She just thanked him for telling her and went back to appraising a new Facebook Advertisement campaign, humming softly.

When Henry had a tantrum about his science homework on Tuesday evening, Regina sat calmly with him. His task was to list the five senses and then what he could see, smell, taste, touch, hear in his house as well as which body part allowed him to do it. The boy wasn’t struggling to understand the homework but it was a new concept for him to be doing school work at home. His teachers usually only set take-home work like this once every few weeks. Aside from reading, Henry’s evenings were usually free from ‘school’. He was only six, after all.

But even as his book flew across the room, tears streaming down his face because he wasn’t allowed to play with his race track, Regina was happy. She picked up the book, flattened out the crumpled pages and returned to her son, calmly explaining to him that he needed to get the work done before they could move on. After an hour, they managed it and Henry, perfectly cheery once more, snuggled up on his mother’s lap for half an hour of playing with his race cars before bed. Regina held a remote too and both Mills’ watched their respective vehicles zoom around the track.

“So, what do you think?”

“Huh?” Emma asked, looking up from her cell phone when she realised her friend had stopped talking.

Ruby scowled down at the blonde who was sat in her tiny office at the back of Hook, Line And Sinker, supposedly organising supply deliveries but in reality replying to a text from Regina. “Did you hear a word of what I just said?” the lanky brunette frowned.

“Um, sure,” Emma lied. “Belle’s graduating next month. You’re arranging … something.”

“It’s a little more than something. I’m organising a vacation, Emma. I want to take her to Paris.”

“Paris?” Emma repeated. “As in Paris, France?”

“No, Paris as in Paris, Maine,” Ruby sneered. “Yes, Paris, France. Belle has always wanted to go to Europe and she’s worked so hard these last two years. In fact, ever since I met her she’s been studying her ass off. I can’t wait for her to be finished and have some free time. Plus, she’ll be a Master of English Literature, whatever that means. I want us to celebrate in style.”

“Are you gonna propose?”

Ruby blushed. “How did you know?”

“Because it’s Paris and the two of you are completely in love and also because I found the engagement ring. You really shouldn’t leave something like that in the draw of the side cabinet, Rubes. It could get stolen.”

“You stole my ring?” Ruby gasped.

“Technically it’s going to be Belle’s ring,” Emma laughed. “And no, I didn’t. I just pushed it further back just in case your soon to be fiancée to be goes looking for something in there. I take it you wanted the proposal to be a surprise.”

“Thanks,” Ruby smiled. “So, um, what do you think?”

“I think I’m really happy for you and Belle is one lucky girl,” Emma said standing up and hugging her best friend. “Congratulations.”

Ruby hugged her back. “Thanks but I meant about the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

“Wow, when it comes to Regina you really don’t take anything else in, do you?” Ruby teased. “I’m going to need some time off for the vacation. Two weeks. Do you think Killian will be ok with that?”

“You have annual leave,” Emma pointed out. “He can’t stop you going. Plus, your team are good, thanks to your training. I’m sure we can all survive without you for a couple of weeks.”

“Thanks,” Ruby grinned. “I need a break from this place, to be honest. And Belle has been working so hard these last few months. Once her thesis is submitted, we can finally relax together.”

Emma smiled back. That sounded like something she wanted to do too, she realised. She couldn’t remember the last time she had taken some vacation days. The young chef loved her work, even when it was busy and stressful, but perhaps a little space from the restaurant would do her some good. Perhaps she’d take some time away after Ruby returned. They couldn’t both be absent at the same time. The two of them practically ran the restaurant. Maybe she could take some vacation during the school break so she could spend time with Regina and Henry. Emma stopped that thought right there. No, she couldn’t think like that. Not yet.

“So, what’s your girlfriend up to?” Ruby asked, pointing to the cell phone which had just lit up on Emma’s desk.

Without looking, Emma knew Ruby was right with her guess of who was texting her. “She’s not my girlfriend but she’s fine, thank you,” Emma said.

“When are you seeing her again?”

“Monday, I guess,” Emma sighed. “Our work hours suck for dating, don’t they? I’d forgotten about that.”

“It’s easier when they don’t have a kid at home, to be fair,” Ruby pointed out. “I can go over to Belle’s after work or she go come and study in our apartment and be there when we get back. I think we see each other most days.”

“Yeah, well, Regina can’t exactly leave Henry, can she?”

“Have you met the kid yet?” Ruby asked, perching herself on Emma’s desk and swinging her long legs back and forth.

“You mean besides when we both met him here? Yes, briefly. On Monday night. He kinda wandered into the hallway when I arrived to pick Regina up.”

“Oh my God. Did he catch you making out?”

Emma rolled her eyes at the look of excitement on Ruby’s face. The woman loved scandal and gossip. “No he didn’t,” Emma told her. “But Regina’s best friend did.”

Ruby squealed and clapped her hands, miming for Emma to tell her all about their interrupted kiss.

“I don’t like it!” Henry yelled, arms crossed tightly over his chest.

“Henry, it’s exactly the same as what I cooked for you on Sunday,” Regina said, trying to remain calm. The happy vibes from her date with Emma had at last worn off and faced with Henry’s meltdown over his dinner, she was struggling to cope.

“I don’t like it,” Henry repeated. “I don’t want it.”

“You ate chicken on Sunday, remember? I made it exactly the same. It’s on the side of your dish again. Can you please try a piece?”

“No,” Henry said stubbornly, pushing the bowl away with enough force that some of the pasta pieces flew over the edge, landing with a defeated splat on the table.

Regina sighed and replaced the cooling food into the bowl. “Fine, then can you just eat the pasta and tomato sauce?”

“What’s in it?” Henry asked.

“The usual tomato sauce I always make,” Regina replied.

“With capsicum?”

The fact that Henry had finally learned how to say his new vegetable was ignored. More importantly, Regina was realising that she had made a mistake. “Yes, Henry. There’s capsicum in it.”

“I didn’t want that with the chicken,” he said simply.

“So if I had made you the tomato sauce with no capsicum, would you eat the chicken?”

Henry thought for a moment. “Yes.”

“Ok,” Regina nodded. “Then I’ll do that next time.”

“But I don’t want the chicken today,” Henry said. “I don’t want it in my bowl.”

“Fine,” Regina said, spearing the pieces with her fork and adding them to her own lukewarm meal. “Will you eat what’s left in there now?”

Henry pulled the bowl back towards him and peered down, inspecting the contents. Regina was wondering if he suspected her of hiding pieces of chicken beneath his usual dinner. She hadn’t. She would never do that. After realising that Henry’s eating habits were all about control, she knew that tricking him into eating something was not the way to go. Every decision and step forwards in this journey had to come from Henry. Clearly two pieces of new food in one dish was too much.

“Ok, I’ll eat this,” Henry agreed, picking up his cutlery and digging in without another word.

As soon as the small boy was in bed, Regina called Emma. She had been itching to speak to the blonde ever since the meltdown over their meal. The call rang and rang and eventually went to voicemail. She didn’t leave a message but she shot Emma a quick text just saying that it had been a difficult evening with Henry and that she hoped the blonde had a good shift at work.

She had forgotten that Emma’s Wednesday evening off was only every other week. She wished, not for the first time, that the blonde’s work allowed her to keep more sociable hours. It sounded strange given how short a time she had known Emma but Regina found herself missing the blonde in the evenings after her son had been put to bed. But that wasn’t about to change, not with Emma’s job. Regina poured herself a glass of wine and settled onto the couch, resigned to distracting herself with work for until she went to bed herself.

“Good work tonight, team,” Emma said, smiling around at her staff. It had been a surprisingly busy mid-week evening and she had asked everyone to stay behind in order to thank them for their hard work and recognise their dedication. She knew the stress of a commercial kitchen sometimes created a difficult working environment and whenever service got a little heated, she made sure her staff knew they were appreciated.

Dismissing her staff, Emma stifled a yawn and pulled off her chef hat before leaving the kitchen. August caught up with the head chef as she was making her way back to her office. “Hey, that so-called sous chef has to go,” he said. “Did you see that sea bass he cooked tonight? He’s shit, Emma. We have to fire him.”

“When you say we, you mean I,” Emma replied. “You know I hate firing people. It makes me feel bad.”

“His food makes the customers feel bad,” August shot back. “Really bad. Like food poisoning bad. That fish was raw and he was about to send it out. We would have had a real problem if the server hadn’t stopped the order. Delegate the job to me. I’ll fire him. I’ll happily tell that idiot where to go.”

“He’s new,” Emma said. “Let’s give him a chance.”

“It’s been six weeks, Ems,” August said. “This is your food, your reputation. Come on, you know I’m right.”

Emma quirked her mouth to one side. August was right. The man was not meeting the high standards set by Emma and the restaurant.

“I’ll speak to him tomorrow. Tell him he has until the end of the week to impress me or he’s out,” she said as she pulled her cell phone from her bag.

“Thanks,” August said. “And Ems, when you talk to him, tell him to hold off on the salt, ok? This is a seafood restaurant but people don’t want to feel like they’ve just swallowed a mouthful of the Antarctic as they eat.”

But Emma wasn’t listening. She had seen the notification regarding the missed call from Regina, four hours earlier and the text. Without glancing at the time, she returned the call and held the phone to her ear.

“August, I’ve got to call Regina. Um, see you tomorrow, yeah?”

Eyebrows rose before August looked at his watch. “Emma, it’s almost eleven.”

This time it was the blonde’s turn to look surprised. “Shit,” she exclaimed, pulling the phone away from her ear and ending the call. “I forgot it was so late. Damn, I hope I didn’t wake her.”

The trilling of the cell still held in Emma’s hand answered that question for her. “Oops,” she grimaced as she answered the call and shooed August from her office. “Regina, I’m so sorry. I called before I realised how late it was. Did I wake you? I’m so sorry. I just saw your text and -”


The familiar voice interrupted the rambling blonde and stopped the flow of apologies. Emma sank into her chair and pulled her hair from its elastic, suddenly feeling tired after her busy evening, the adrenaline of the kitchen activities wearing off.

“Hi, I’m sorry,” Emma tried again. “Did I wake you?”

“No,” Regina replied. “I was working. I … I don’t feel much like sleeping, to be honest.”

“What happened?” Emma asked.

“I think I pushed him too fast,” Regina replied. “This evening’s dinner contained capsicum and chicken and apparently that was too much. Or maybe it was because I didn’t tell him we were having chicken. I don’t know, to be honest. All I know is that my son refused to eat the chicken I cooked. It’s like we’ve taken a step backwards.”

Emma could hear the despair in the older woman’s voice and she ached to take her in her arms, offer some semblance of comfort. The words escaped before she could stop them.

“Can I come over?”

There was a pause. Emma held her breath, hardly daring to believe she had asked. She shouldn’t have but there was no taking them back now. Regina, on her end, was trying to decide if it was a good idea.


“I’ll be twenty minutes,” Emma said. “I just have to go home first and grab …” The line went quiet again.

“I have a spare toothbrush you can use but perhaps some pyjamas,” Regina offered, correctly translating Emma’s silence as hesitation.

“Pyjamas,” Emma repeated. So did that mean she was staying the night?

“Unless you sleep naked.”

There was a sharp intake of breath and then: “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Chapter Text

She was hovering, Regina realised. The unexpected turn of events which had transpired from the phone call with Emma meant that the brunette had walked back and forth from the living room to the kitchen six times in the past half an hour, just so she could be near the front door. She had managed to talk herself out of just sitting on the chair in the hall and waiting for the doorbell to ring.

Emma had said she would be twenty minutes. She was late. Had something happened? Had Emma changed her mind? Had there been an accident? Was this all a bad idea?

Before Regina had more time to analyse her turmoil of emotions, her cell vibrated.

I’m outside. Didn’t want to ring the bell and wake Henry. E x

Smiling at the thoughtfulness, Regina stood from where she had been perched on the arm of the couch and hurried out to the hallway. Opening the front door, she couldn’t help the smile which blossomed over her face at the sight of the blonde. And then she took in what the woman was wearing and gulped. Motorbike leathers. Regina didn’t think she’d ever seen a sexier sight.

“Um, wow,” she said, eyes glued to the tight material wrapped around Emma’s body.

Emma smirked. She knew she looked good in her leathers and was pleased to see that even if Regina wasn’t keen on climbing on the back of her bike any time soon, she at least appreciated the visual.

“You like?” Emma asked, holding her arms out wide.

“It seems I do,” Regina said, eyes now locked with Emma’s. “It’s a new discovery, I’ll admit.”

“Leather fetish, duly noted,” Emma grinned as Regina stepped back and invited the woman to enter her home. “Sorry I’m late. I had to take a quick shower because I realised I smelt like fish. An occupational hazard.”

Regina laughed. “It’s not a problem. Do you want to leave your overnight things here for now?”

Removing her backpack from her shoulders, Emma placed the bag on a chair before turning back to Regina who had closed the front door. Their eyes met once more, a beat passed, and then the two women were locked in a fierce embrace. Emma moaned into the kiss, feeling Regina’s tongue prying her lips apart. Hands roamed over the cool leather, caressing and stroking with more confidence and more unadulterated desire than ever before.

“I missed you,” Emma breathed when they broke apart, foreheads resting together.

“I missed you too,” Regina replied, hands now resting on Emma’s slender hips. “It’s only been two days. Is that crazy?”

“If it is then we’re both crazy,” Emma pointed out. “I don’t think I could have waited until Monday to see you again.”

“Me neither,” Regina said, pulling back and smiling up into the blonde’s face. “And tonight, when everything went wrong with Henry, the only person I wanted to call was you.”

“Tell me what happened,” Emma encouraged.

“Would you like a glass of wine before we dive in?” Regina asked, ever the good hostess.

“Please,” Emma nodded. She wasn’t nervous exactly. True, her stomach had been doing somersaults on the ride over to Regina’s mansion; a combination of anticipation and excitement. Because she knew that this evening was going to take their relationship to a new level. Irrespective of what happened, she was going to be staying the night. She didn’t know, or even care, if that meant she would be sharing a bed with Regina or sleeping in a guest room. The fact that she had been invited in whatever capacity meant a lot to Emma.

Regina knew it was a significant step too. She hadn’t expected it to happen so soon but she couldn’t deny that she was just a little excited. But first, she decided, both women could do with some wine. She reached down to take Emma’s hand. Fingers laced together, she led the blonde into the kitchen.

Emma marvelled at the beautiful home she was walking through. If Regina ever came to the apartment she shared with Ruby, Emma was going to be mortified. Artwork adorned the walls, every item of furniture was stylish and ornate and there wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen. When she walked into the kitchen, her jaw dropped.

“Oh my god, this is amazing,” she gasped, gazing around at the bespoke units, sleek black counter tops and a large island in the centre. Every appliance she could ever dream of was featured, from a juicer to a slow cooker to a large five ring stove taking centre stage against the back wall.

“Thank you,” Regina smiled. “We did some advertisements for a kitchen design company a few years ago and they offered to fit this for me at a discounted price. It’s just a shame that the only thing I get to cook in here is tomato sauce.”

“And chicken,” Emma pointed out, her fingertips now running lightly over the flawless marble surface.

“Well, perhaps,” Regina shrugged.

Emma turned towards the woman who had retrieved a bottle of red wine but had stopped in the act of pouring out their glasses, remembering the setback that Henry had suffered earlier that evening.

“Hey,” Emma said, crossing to where Regina stood and taking her hands in her own. “He’ll get there, ok. It’s a process. It’ll take time. And yes, sometimes you’ll have bad days but you and Henry are going to get through this. You’re going to be cooking up all sorts of exciting dishes in here soon enough.”

“You think so?”

“I know so,” Emma said, leaning down to kiss Regina lightly.

The kiss was short but Regina chased the pale lips as Emma pulled away, needing to feel the blonde against her. Emma’s hands flew to the counter against which Regina was leaning, steadying herself as the brunette clutched at her cheeks, deepening their embrace in an almost desperate way. Emma understood. She let Regina take what she needed, feel what she wanted. Emma wanted it too, in all fairness. But this evening wasn’t about her own desire; it was about supporting Regina.

When they broke apart, Regina was breathing heavily. “I love kissing you,” she murmured, eyes still closed, Emma’s body pressed close to her own.

“Right back at you,” Emma said, placing a final chaste kiss to the plump lips before stepping away. “And while I could kiss you all night, do you want to tell me about this evening with Henry first?”

Regina nodded and turned to finish pouring the wine. Handing one glass to Emma, she reached for the blonde’s hand again and led the way into the living room.

“Actually, I should take these leathers off before I get comfortable. In fact, I won’t be able to sit comfortably in them. Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” Regina said. “Turn left out of this room and the bathroom is the second door on your right.”

“I’m not naked underneath here,” Emma pointed out.

Regina swallowed. “Right, but still, if you want privacy.”

The blonde correctly deduced that the idea of her undressing in the middle of the living room would probably lead to the evening taking a different course. So she nodded and retreated into the hallway. Once in the bathroom, she peeled off her leathers, revealing the skinny jeans she was wearing beneath and a tight white tank top. Checking in the mirror that her hair wasn’t suffering too much from its short time beneath her helmet, she returned to the living room.

Regina was curled up against the arm of the couch, cupping her wine with both hands. A flash of her future suddenly appeared in Emma’s mind. She couldn’t help the swell of excitement she felt in her heart at the thought.

“Come and sit,” Regina said, holding out the blonde’s wine. Emma obeyed at once. With the blonde beside her, she began to recount the evening’s events.

As Emma listened, she sipped her drink and nodded her sympathy. She understood what Henry was going through. Eating new food, after having such a limited diet for so long was hard. She remembered how it felt to eat different food again; the taste, the flavours, the smell. And she had been seventeen, able to rationalise and understand the importance of eating different types of food. Henry was only six. He wasn’t yet able to comprehend how important it was that his diet improve and diversify.

“It’s a process,” Emma said when Regina had finished. “You’re going to have good days and bad days. It sounds like Henry felt blind-sided by the meal. Perhaps from now on you need to make sure he knows what to expect so that he can prepare himself, as it were. If he needs to be in control, having forewarning of what meal is going to be cooked gives him an opportunity to be involved in the decision making. He might have told you he didn’t want chicken and capsicum together.”

“So you’re saying this is my fault?” Regina asked, defensive at the suggestion.

“Not at all,” Emma reassured. “I’m saying that you can learn from this and move on. Both you and Henry are feeling your way forwards blindly but one of the most important things is that you communicate. He’s only six but he has his own opinions and thoughts. He’s aware of the world around him and what he likes and doesn’t like.”

“I always ask him what he wants for dinner,” Regina said.

“Did you ask him tonight?”

“Yes, he said he wanted pasta and tomato sauce. I made him exactly what he wanted.”

“With two added ingredients that weren’t mentioned in the description,” Emma pointed out. “Perhaps if you had said that you were going to add in the capsicum to the sauce and cook some chicken, he would have either agreed or told you that he didn’t want one or the other.”

“So it is my fault,” Regina sighed, no longer accusatory but resigned to the fact. She drained her wine glass and placed it on the coffee table.

“No,” Emma said. “It’s no one’s fault. It’s just something the two of you are going to have to learn how to deal with in the future. It’s a journey, right? There are always times when you’re going to stray from the path or feel like you’re going in circles or even backwards. But you’ll make it. Henry will make it. Just, be patient, ok?”

Regina nodded and rubbed her hands over her face. She was suddenly exhausted. “You’re right. I was expecting too much too soon. After he ate the chicken on Sunday evening, I just assumed that he would automatically eat it any time in the future. I guess it doesn’t work like that. He did this with the capsicum as well, actually. Ate it without a problem one day and then refused to eat it the next time I served it. This isn’t going to be plain sailing, is it?”

“I’m afraid not,” Emma said, reaching out and patting Regina’s thigh, trying to offer some comfort. “But it will get easier. Henry might be the one who has to make these decisions and choose to eat new foods but he has you beside him to help. He’ll be just fine, I promise.”

“You can’t promise that.”

“Perhaps not but can I promise to be here for you. For you and Henry, whatever happens, however long this takes.”

Brown eyes scanned the earnest face before it. It was too fast, it was too soon, it was too much. They had only met a month earlier. And yet Regina saw no trace of hesitation in Emma’s face. She meant it. She believed that she would be a part of Regina and Henry’s lives as they travelled along this journey of recovery.

“I hope you are,” Regina admitted quietly. “I’m not sure I could do this without you, to be honest.”

“Of course you could,” Emma said. “You’re Henry’s mother, you want what’s best for him and you are going to help him through this. But you won’t have to do it alone.”

“I know I can and I will,” Regina said. She had no doubt about that; not really. Not even after the evening’s step backwards. “I will always be here for Henry. It’s just that before I met you, I didn’t have anyone who was able to support me. Kat and Zelena are great but they don’t understand. Even before I’d dared to label what was going on with Henry, I didn’t talk about it with them. I love them both but they can’t relate, not the way that you can. You’re the one person I can talk to about this, Emma.”

“You can talk to me any time,” the blonde said, now reaching to grasp Regina’s hands in her own. “Whatever you need, whenever you need it, please call me.”

“Even if you’re at work?”

“I don’t usually have my cell on me in the kitchen but I will always return your call as soon as I can. I just promise to look at the clock first next time.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Regina replied. “I’m glad you called. And that you asked to come here tonight. I needed this. I needed to see you.”

“Me too,” Emma said. “And not just because I missed you but because I wanted to be here, to support you.”

“You have no idea how much that means to me,” Regina said, fingers squeezing Emma’s, trying to relay the intense feelings swirling through her veins.

“It means a lot that you’re willing to confide in me about something so personal,” Emma replied. “I know you say that you can’t talk to Zelena or Kat about this but the fact that you’ve chosen me to be your confidant makes me feel, well, special.”

“You are special,” Regina said, leaning forwards and kissing Emma. “Really special.”

“I think you’re incredible, Regina,” the blonde said, shuffling closer so that her thigh was pressed against Regina’s shin, curled delicately beneath her body. “And I know we came together because of Henry but I believe that we would have found one another either way. We have a connection, something I’ve not felt with anyone before. Do … do you feel it too?”

“Yes,” Regina murmured, craning her neck to kiss Emma lightly once more. “Yes, I feel it.”

The two women fell silent, content to just be with one another, taking the time to absorb what had been said, processing the revelations which had transpired. It was only Emma’s yawn that broke the moment.

“You’re tired,” Regina remarked.

“A little,” Emma admitted. “But if you want to talk more then I want to listen.”

“No,” Regina said. “I’m done talking. It’s almost midnight and I have to be up in just over six hours.”

Emma made a face. She was not a morning person. Thanks to her work at a restaurant which opened at eleven, she rarely had get up before nine. “What time do you leave for work?”

“I walk Henry to school at eight thirty,” Regina said. “Then I come back and drive to the city. What about you?”

“I usually head in at about ten,” Emma said. “But I can disappear before the kid wakes up tomorrow. I know you don’t want him knowing about me yet.”

“I’m not going to hide you, Emma,” the brunette smiled. “I know what I said and I know this is new but I’d like to think you’re going to be sticking around.”

“If you’ll allow me to,” Emma smirked.

“I want you to,” Regina said, kissing Emma once more. “And Henry already knows you exist. I don’t have a problem with you meeting him again tomorrow morning. But if this is too fast, please tell me. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or pressured into anything if you’re not ready.”

“Oh I’m ready,” Emma said, eyes darkening slightly.

Regina bit her lip, heat coiling inside her at the look of desire which flickered over the beautiful features. “Um, yeah, about that. Where would you like to sleep?”

Emma’s throat became suddenly dry. “What are my options?”

“I have guest bedrooms upstairs,” Regina said. “I made one of them up with fresh sheets while I was waiting for you to arrive.”

“A guest bedroom,” Emma repeated. “Is that where you’d like me to sleep?”

“I’ve slept alone for over two years,” Regina said quietly. “Aside from the occasional night when Henry has a nightmare and crawls in to sleep beside me, I’m not used to sharing my bed with someone else.”

“The guest room is completely fine with me,” Emma said at once.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Regina replied hurriedly. “I’m not saying I want you to sleep in the guest room or that I don’t want you to sleep in my bed.”

Emma frowned slightly. “So, what are you saying? Just tell me, Regina. I’m not going to judge you or feel unwanted or pressured. I just want to know what’s going on in your mind.”

There was a short pause where Regina looked anywhere but at the blonde. But then she gathered her courage and locked her impassioned gaze on those striking emerald orbs. “Will you come to bed with me. I just want to be held. I … I miss the feel of someone’s arms around me.”

Emma’s heart broke a little as she saw the suddenly loneliness and vulnerability of the brunette before her. She also felt intense anger at the woman who had dared to walk away from Regina and Henry. That anger, however, was soon replaced with a sense of humbleness as she realised what an honour it was to be asked to be the one to hold Regina once more.

“Of course,” Emma replied. “Lead the way.”

Their empty wine glasses left on the table, Regina stood and pulled Emma to her feet. Fingers still laced together, she led Emma out into the hallway where the blonde picked up her backpack, leaving her discarded leathers draped over the back of the chair. They then continued down to the room which had been transformed into a bedroom after Mal left. If Emma thought it was strange for the master bedroom to be on the ground floor, she said nothing.

“You know where the bathroom is,” Regina said, gesturing to the corridor behind her. “There’s a new toothbrush in the top drawer of the cabinet in there. I’m just going to check on Henry and do my teeth. I’ll be five minutes.”

“Ok,” Emma said softly, looking around the tasteful room.

Regina disappeared and Emma unzipped her bag. She had packed two sets of pyjamas. In truth, she usually slept in a pair of sleep shorts and a ratty old t-shirt. But she had managed to dig out a slightly wrinkled black silk nightdress and a pair of plaid pyjamas which her foster parents had gifted her a few Christmases earlier. Not knowing the exact direction the night would take, Emma had wanted to have options. From the way Regina had spoken, it sounded like Emma would be there for comfort, not climaxes.

She stripped off her jeans and socks before pulling her tank top over her head. She unhooked her bra but decided to leave her panties on. A few seconds later, the plaid was in place. She picked up her discarded clothes and stuffed them back into her bag before heading for the corridor. The bathroom door was closed, however, so Emma assumed Regina was in there. She returned to the bedroom to wait her turn.

Should she sit? If so, where? On the bed? No, that was too presumptuous. There was a chair in front of the vanity, was that appropriate? No, too personal. That was where Regina kept all of her make up, creams and perfumes. So she was left with standing, awkwardly, at the end of the bed. No, that was weird too. Panicked, Emma looked around the room, desperate for somewhere she could place herself which would seem normal. As she was turning on the spot, however, Regina returned.

“What are you doing?” she asked, seeing Emma standing with her hands on her hips in the middle of the room.

Emma whipped around, looking like an animal caught in the headlights. “Um, I was … I was trying not to be awkward,” she admitted.

Regina laughed softly. “You did a great job.”

A flush rose up Emma’s cheeks. “I’ll just go and use the bathroom,” she muttered, moving past Regina. But her progress was stopped by a hand encircling her wrist. She stood rooted to the spot, face still burning. Regina moved to stand in front of the blonde and lifted the drooped chin with her finger. Plump lips grazed against Emma’s, a silent reassurance.

“I’ll be waiting,” she murmured, eyes flashing with desire.

Emma, dumbfounded, took a moment to resume her journey towards the bathroom. Regina watched her go before setting about getting herself dressed for bed. Taking her cue from Emma, she pulled on one of her more modest sleeping outfits. The cream silk of her pyjamas was cool against her skin as she pulled back the sheets and slid between them, waiting patiently for Emma to return.

It was true what she had said to Emma; she was used to sleeping alone. She had weaned Henry off spending the night in her bed in the months after Mal had left. While he joined her on occasion, in the event of a bad dream or a loud thunderstorm, for the most part, this was her space. Of course, Henry crawled in beside her every weekend morning but that was different. When it came to her nights, Regina was alone. Until now.

The door opened and Emma stepped back into the room. Regina smiled at her through the dim light, having turned off the main overhead bulb and switched her bedside lamp on instead. The book she was in the middle reading, however, remained closed that night, resting peacefully on the table beside her charging cell phone.

“Did you find the toothbrush?”

“Yes, thank you,” Emma said, moving towards the unoccupied side of Regina’s bed. Although the brunette hadn’t needed to have a ‘side’ for over a year, she was accustomed to staying on the right of the bed and rarely woke up to discover she’d rolled to the space which used to be occupied by Mal.

That night, however, it was a different blonde who was pulling back the duvet. Emma’s eyes met hers and she hesitated, sensing the emotional thoughts which were racing through Regina’s brain.

“Are you sure?” Emma asked, not wanting to push the brunette too fast.

Instead of answering, Regina reached her hand out and pulled Emma, gently, onto the bed. Emma went willingly, sliding herself beneath the sheets and laying down on her back, head resting against the fluffy pillow. Regina’s position mirrored hers, the brunette having returned her hands to the top of the duvet. Both women stared at the ceiling.

And then, quite suddenly, Regina rolled to her left and threw an arm over Emma’s waist. Startled momentarily, Emma soon responded by curling her arm around Regina’s shoulder, allowing the crux of the woman’s neck to rest on her bicep. Regina smiled and craned her face up to look at Emma.

“Is this ok” she asked.

“More than,” Emma reassured, her other arm crossing her body to land on Regina’s hip, thumb softly stroking over the silk.

Regina smiled and accepted the kiss Emma dropped to her lips. She was expecting it to be hard to control her desire lying in the blonde’s arms. And while she knew her attraction to the younger woman had in no way waned, it wasn’t sexual gratification she craved. What she needed more than anything was to feel safe and supported. Emma was giving her that.

“Thank you for staying with me tonight,” Regina murmured against Emma’s lips before they kissed again.

“Of course,” Emma said when they broke apart briefly. The kiss resumed but it was soft, unhurried, a promise silently exchanged between both women rather than a prelude to sex.

“Are you comfortable?” Emma asked when at last the kiss was broken and Regina’s head rested on her shoulder, the heat of her breath ghosting over the blonde’s breast even through her pyjamas.

“Yes, sort of,” Regina replied.

“Sort of?”

“I have a confession,” Regina said quietly.

“Go on,” Emma encouraged.

“I can only get to sleep on my right side. I always sleep facing the opposite wall.”

“Then why are you lying on your left side now?” Emma asked.

“Because I didn’t want to turn my back on you,” Regina said. “You’ve been so sweet and understanding and I didn’t want to make you think I was being cold or distant. That’s the last thing I ever want to be with you, Emma. I just can’t sleep in any other position.”

Emma couldn’t help but smile at the adorable excuse. “Roll onto your right side,” she murmured, removing her hand from Regina’s hip so the brunette didn’t feel like she was pulling away. Regina did as requested, her head now back on her own pillow, hands cushioning her cheek as they always did. And then she felt Emma shift. The blonde gently followed Regina to her side of the bed, moving her body slowly so it aligned perfectly with the older woman, moulding their curves to one another. With her right elbow bent, hand buried beneath the pillow, Emma slid her left arm over Regina’s waist, pulling their bodies flush together. A sharp intake of breath was heard.

“Is this ok?” Emma whispered, her breath hot against Regina’s neck.

“Perfect,” Regina said, one hand reaching down to cover Emma’s where it rested on her stomach, fingers naturally twined together. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Emma repeated. “Holding you like this is something I’ve dreamed of doing.”

It was true. Although in her dreams she usually ended up spooning the brunette after a long night of passionate love making. But that could wait. She didn’t want to push Regina and she knew now wasn’t the time. She was more than content to be holding the beautiful woman in her arms, feeling the sinfully soft silk against her fingertips.

“Goodnight, Emma,” Regina whispered after a short silence.

“Goodnight, Regina,” Emma replied, unable to stop herself pressing a kiss to the nape of Regina’s neck, breathing in the sweet, intoxicating smell of the woman whom, she was quite sure, she was falling hopelessly in love with.

Chapter Text

The trilling of her alarm filtered through her sub-consciousness, rousing her from a deep sleep. Reaching blindly towards her bedside table, Regina tapped her cell phone screen until it shut up. Only after the high pitched sound had stopped did she register the arm looped around her waist.

After a fleeting moment of panic, a smile spread slowly across her face as she remembered who was sharing her bed with her. Judging by the deep breath she could hear from the woman behind her, Regina deduced that her alarm had not woken her bed companion. And she didn’t want to either. One morning without her usual Pilates and workout routine wouldn’t hurt, Regina decided. Setting her alarm once more for an hour later, she relaxed back into the embrace of the woman pressed tightly against her and closed her eyes.

The second alarm came far too soon and Regina groaned when she was once again woken up. This time, Emma shifted against her as the brunette reached to shut off the noise.

“Morning,” came a sleeping voice.

“Good morning,” Regina said, returning to the position she had been in for the past seven hours. “How did you sleep?”

“Wonderfully,” Emma said, her arm wrapping a little more firmly around Regina’s waist, pulling their bodies closer. “You?”

“I don’t remember the last time I slept so well,” the brunette admitted quietly.

Emma smiled at that and pressed a kiss to the nape of the older woman’s neck. “Being woken up at six is worth it if it makes you happy.”

“It’s seven,” Regina admitted.

“What?” Emma frowned, pulling away slightly. “Why?”

“Because when my alarm went off at six I decided I would rather spend an hour being held by you than to get out of bed and do a workout,” Regina explained. “I couldn’t bring myself to leave you, to be honest.”

“Aren’t you going to be late?” Emma asked, sitting up and rubbing her face.

“No, it’s fine. Henry doesn’t get up for another half and hour and I’m sure my form won’t be too badly affected from missing one session.”

As she spoke, Regina rolled over and placed a hand on Emma’s shoulder, coaxing her to lie back down. The blonde went willingly. Once she was on her back once more, Regina snuggled closer, draping one leg across both of Emma’s and pressing herself against the blonde’s side.

“Your form, huh?” Emma said, a smirk on her lips. “And what sort of form might that be?”

“I’m quite pleased with my downward dog shape at the moment,” Regina remarked. “And I just found a great new cardio sequence which I was going to practice today.”

Images of Regina in tight yoga pants arching into downward dog flashed into Emma’s mind. She squeezed her thighs together, a movement which Regina felt thanks to the position of her own leg.

“Maybe next time you can join me in my studio,” she purred, pressing a kiss to the side of Emma’s neck.

“Your studio?”

“I have a workout room and Pilates studio in the basement,” Regina said. “I hate paying extortionate gym membership to use poorly maintained and dirty machines so I converted the basement space a few years ago. Pilates is the best way to start the day.”

“I disagree.”

Regina looked up, quirking an eyebrow. “Oh you do, do you?” she teased. “And what, Miss Swan, is the perfect start to your day?”

“This. You. Us,” Emma said, pressing a kiss to the upturned lips.

When she pulled away, the look on Regina’s face made her melt just a little bit. Those big brown eyes were shining with intense emotions; emotions which Emma was responsible for making her feel.

“I love waking up to you too,” Regina admitted. “I can’t believe you held me all night.”

“I’ll hold you every night if you’ll let me,” Emma murmured before kissing the brunette again.

Regina reached up to cup Emma’s cheek, pulling their mouths more firmly together. If either woman was aware of the other’s morning breath, they didn’t care. It was irrelevant compared to how the kiss made them feel. Emma’s tongue tangled with Regina’s, chasing it back into the brunette’s mouth as she dominated the kiss. She then switched to trapping Regina’s lower lip between her teeth, nibbling ever so softly before laving the flesh with her tongue. Regina whimpered, pulling herself even closer.

Winding her arm around Regina’s back, Emma gently encouraged Regina to roll on top of her. The brunette went willingly, placing her knees on either side of Emma’s hips, their mouths never once disconnecting. Settling atop the blonde, Regina threaded her fingers into Emma’s hair, deepening the kiss as she took her turn in control. Emma own hands were now sliding up and down the silk-covered back, trailing from the nape of her neck down to the waistband of her pyjama bottoms. Oh, how she craved to move lower but she didn’t want to push. Their position was already far more intimate than anything they had enjoyed so far.

Regina, however, was overcome with desire and unable to hold back. Untangling one of her hands from the blonde mane, she slid it down Emma’s body until she cupped a small, firm breast. Emma moaned, arching up into the touch as Regina’s teeth bit lightly into her lip.

“Fuck,” Emma mumbled into the kiss, a thumb brushing over an erect nipple through her pyjama top.

The kiss resumed, as did Regina’s gentle movements over the blonde’s breast. She alternated between squeezing softly and flicking her thumb until Emma became so worked up that her hips canted uncontrollably, bumping against Regina’s pelvis. While the movement caused a throb of arousal to flood the brunette’s veins, it also served to remind her where they were, what time it was and in what direction their activities appeared to be heading. She forced herself to break the kiss.

“Henry will be waking up soon,” she said, breathing heavy.

Emma, whose hands had been gripping Regina’s hips lightly, nodded her understanding. She allowed her arms to fall to either side, silently granting permission for Regina to move off her. The brunette, however, was reluctant to do so. Instead, she leaned down and placed another kiss on the swollen lips below her. Emma whimpered, her self control evaporating at once as she wrapped her arms around Regina’s back once more, puling their torsos flush together.

The sound of tiny feet thundering down the hallway suddenly reached Regina’s ears. In a flash, she rolled away from Emma, pulling the duvet up to make sure they were both covered, even though they were fully clothed.

“Henry,” Regina said, the explanation for the dramatic change unnecessary.

“Shall I -?”

Before Emma could ask if she could hide, the door to Regina’s bedroom flew open and the little boy himself appeared in the room, clad in Superman pyjamas.

“Mom, why are you still in bed?” he asked, used to his mother being in the kitchen by the time he woke up. Before the answer to the question had been given, however, the curious child had a second query. “Why is Emma in your bed?”

“Good morning, my little prince,” Regina said, sitting up and patting the bed to encourage Henry to join her. But the boy stood stock still, staring at Emma. It was clear he wanted an answer before he moved any further into the room. “Um, Emma came over last night after you went to bed.”

“Did she cook you dinner?” he asked.

“No, we just talked,” Regina said. “And then it was very late and I invited Emma to stay the night so she didn’t have to drive back home in the dark.”

“Is Emma your new girlfriend?”

Regina was shocked at the question but not as stunned as Emma. She had no idea what the brunette had told her son about her sexuality but it was obvious Henry understood that Regina dated women. The blonde turned to see Regina’s gaze on her, a silent apology written on her face. They hadn’t had that conversation yet, although it was probably due. Ideally it would have been one they would have had in private, just the two of them, involving words rather than the exchange that was occurring through facial expressions while Henry waited for his answer.

There was more to talk about, Emma knew, but she had come to the realisation soon after she met Regina that she wanted to be a part of the woman’s life for a long time. If ‘girlfriend’ was the first label she was to be given, it was one she would wear with pride. She offered the brunette a shy smile and a nod. Regina returned both before looking at Henry who was still stood in the same spot.

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “Emma is my girlfriend.”

“Can we have breakfast now? I’m hungry.”

Regina wasn’t sure what reaction she was expecting but it wasn’t that. However, she supposed there would be plenty of time in the future to discuss what was happening between herself and Emma with her son.

“Breakfast, right,” Regina said, remembering that she did indeed have to feed her son before he went off to school. “Give us five minutes and we’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

Henry turned and exited the room, the door left wide open as he trotted down the corridor. Once he was out of earshot, Regina turned to Emma.

“I’m so sorry about that,” she offered.

“Don’t be,” Emma said. “I think that went pretty well.”

“Considering we hadn’t spoken about what exactly is going on between us, yes,” Regina agreed. “But I will have to talk to him later; make sure he understands what this all means. I suppose we should have that conversation as well some time.”

“I guess so,” Emma said. “But right now, your son is waiting for his breakfast. What does he usually eat?”

“Toast and strawberry jam,” Regina replied as she climbed out of bed, Emma following her lead.

“Every day?”

“Every day,” Regina nodded, crossing to her closet and opening the doors to begin the process of choosing her work outfit.

“What do you eat?” Emma asked, her clothes from yesterday already in her arms.

“Fruit, yoghurt and muesli, normally,” Regina said. “Why?”

“Can I make you pancakes?” Emma offered. “Henry might like them too. He could put his strawberry jam on them.”

Regina stopped rummaging through a drawer for some light denier pantyhose to go with her black dress and red jacket she had selected and turned to look at Emma.

“Sorry,” the blonde said, reading the look on Regina’s face as incredulous. “I over-stepped.”

“No,” Regina said, schooling her features into a more acceptable expression. “I mean, perhaps, but it’s sweet you want to do that. I just think it would be a waste of your time. He won’t eat them.”

“Would it hurt to offer him the option?” Emma suggested. “Whatever you want to do, I’ll take your lead on this. He’s your kid and you get to say how we approach this. I just thought it might be a good idea. He knows I’m a chef so maybe he’ll see it as different to trying food cooked by you. Like it’s my job or something. And pancakes are relatively healthy. They have eggs in them too which is a great source of protein.”

“I suppose we could ask him,” Regina said, a soft smile on her lips. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Emma said. “I’m just gonna go and get changed in the bathroom. Shall I meet you in the kitchen?”

“Sounds good,” Regina nodde.

Emma smiled but instead of leaving, she crossed the room and placed a gentle kiss to Regina’s lips.

“What was that for?” the brunette asked when the woman pulled back.

“Do I need a reason to kiss my girlfriend?” Emma smirked.

Regina felt a fluttering in her stomach at the term. “No,” she whispered. “No you don’t. And neither do I.”

Her mouth flew back towards Emma’s, arms wrapping around the startled blonde as the kiss deepened. Emma soon joined in, the clothes she had been holding dropping to the floor as she encircled her own arms around the shorter woman.

“Mom! I’m hungry.”

For the second time that morning, the women’s passion was interrupted by Henry, this time only vocally. Flushed from both arousal and embarrassment at the situation, Emma crouched down and picked up her clothes before making her way out of the bedroom and into the bathroom, leaving Regina to hurriedly get dressed so she could join her son.

By the time Emma entered the kitchen, Regina was already there, pouring a glass of milk for Henry who was seated at the table. At the appearance of the blonde, Henry turned to look at her. Emma suddenly felt like she was under intense scrutiny. Perhaps Henry’s apparent acceptance of the new label she had been given wouldn’t translate to his acceptance of the relationship in general.

“Henry, do you remember what Emma’s job is?” Regina asked, handing over the glass of milk.

“She’s a cook,” Henry said before sipping his drink and giving himself a milk moustache.

“She is,” Regina nodded. “Emma is a chef.”

“What’s a chef?”

Regina looked at Emma, prompting her to provide the answer.

“Um, well, a chef is someone who has gone to school to learn how to cook,” Emma said, stepping a little further into the room, taking the question as an invitation to become part of the conversation.

“I don’t learn cooking at school,” Henry frowned. “I learn maths and reading and art. Mom, why don’t I learn cooking?”

“Because you have to be older to go to cooking school,” Regina explained. “Emma went to a school just like yours when she was six. But when she was an adult, she went to a special school where she learned how to cook.”

“Oh, ok,” Henry said, returning to drink more of his milk.

“Emma is going to cook me some pancakes this morning,” Regina pressed on. “Would you like some?”

“Pancakes,” Henry repeated slowly. “What are pancakes?”

It broke Regina’s heart that her son didn’t even remember pancakes, a dish she and Mal occasionally allowed the boy to indulge in when he was younger. Emma, seeing the look of sadness cross her girlfriend’s features, jumped in to provide Henry with his answer.

“Pancakes are a yummy breakfast food. You can put strawberry jam on top of them. I make pancakes using eggs and flour and milk.”

“Milk like this?” Henry asked, holding up his cup.

“Exactly,” Emma nodded.

“And flowers?”

“Flour,” Emma corrected. “Chefs put flour in bread and pasta. It comes from a plant but it’s not a flower like a rose or a daisy. It’s a white powder.”

“Flour is in bread?” he asked. That was odd. He liked bread. Did that mean he would like pancakes?

“Yep,” Emma said. “And pasta. Eggs are in pasta too.”

“Like the eggs which come out of a chicken? Roland told me eggs come from chicken butts.”

“Henry,” Regina admonished.

Emma managed to smother her laughter and force a straight face before she replied. “Exactly like that. Eggs are in lots of food actually. Including pasta and pancakes.”

There was a pause, as if Henry was considering this alternative breakfast option. “I want toast and jam, please,” he said at last, turning to direct this request at his mother.

“Ok,” Regina said, knowing not to push. “Emma, I would love to try some of your pancakes. There are eggs and milk in the fridge and flour in the cupboard beside the dishwasher. Any other cooking ingredients you’ll need will be in there too.”

“Great,” Emma said. “Pans, mixing bowl and a sieve?”

“Cupboard to the left the stove for the pan and sieve, top cupboard to the right of the microwave for a mixing bowl,” Regina said as she set about pulling two slices of white bread from a bag to toast for her son. “Henry, did you remember to put your reading book in your school bag?”

“Yes Mom,” Henry said. “Can I have some more milk?”

“Of course,” Regina said, turning from the toaster only to find Emma holding the carton out to her. “Thanks,” she smiled, a tingle flowing through her veins at the display of domesticity.

“You’re welcome,” Emma said as she went back to sieving the flour into a bowl.

Twenty minutes later and Henry’s morning toast had been devoured, jam stains on his cheeks as evidence of his enjoyment. Regina had finished making Henry’s school lunch and was sat at the table, hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee. The two of them were talking about their plans for the weekend.

“Here we are,” Emma said, placing a tower of pancakes in the middle of the table, followed by two plates.

“Wow, they look good,” Regina said. “Let me get the strawberries from the fridge.”

“Already got them,” Emma smiled, returning to the counter where she grabbed the bowl of early summer fruit she had found in the fridge as well as a jug of cream.

“Thank you,” Regina murmured as she looked at the spread before her. “I feel completely spoilt.”

“You deserve it,” Emma said simply as she sat down in the third chair Regina had placed alongside the small table and pulled a plate towards her. “Dig in.”

Regina did so eagerly, trying hard not to pay any obvious attention to Henry’s reaction to the appearance of the pancakes. Emma, however, was watching the small child. He was staring at the new food, an unreadable expression on his face. It might have been, Emma thought, curiosity. Alternatively, he might also have been frowning at the fact that a relative stranger had gate-crashed his breakfast with his mother. She desperately hoped it was the first.

After Regina slid three pancakes onto her plate, Emma copied her, leaving one pancake on the serving dish. She had deliberately cooked more, just in case. Regina then scooped strawberries onto her plate and added a modest amount of cream. Emma did the same, although she was a little more generous when it came to the silky white liquid. She knew she could counterbalance the high quantity of saturated fat by carefully planning her meals the rest of the day.

“Well?” she asked when Regina had swallowed her first mouthful.

“Delicious,” Regina declared. “So light and fluffy. Mine never used to be like this.”

“I’ll give you my secret recipe,” Emma smiled.

“I’d rather you just cooked them for me yourself when you stay over,” Regina said, a slight smirk on her lips.

“Mom, we’re going to be late,” Henry piped up.

“We’ve got time, sweetheart,” Regina said, glancing at the clock above the door. “But why don’t you go and put your school clothes on. And put those pyjamas in the laundry please. You’ve dropped jam down them. I’ll be with you as soon as I’ve finished these pancakes and we’ll do your teeth and wash your face.”

Henry frowned slightly but did as he was told, sliding from his chair and disappearing down the corridor.

“Is he ok with me being here?” Emma asked.

“No idea,” Regina admitted. “I’ll talk to him about it later.”

“Ok,” Emma said. “But if he’s not ok with this, Regina, I know that we can’t keep seeing each other. I know Henry needs to be on board before things go any further.”

“Woah, what?” Regina said, putting down her cutlery. “No, Emma, don’t say that.”

“It’s true,” Emma reasoned. “Henry comes first. After everything he’s been through. After what happened with Mal, I think you and I both know that we have to be really careful when it comes to imposing any significant changes on his life.”

Regina sighed. She knew Emma was right. Of course Henry came first. Any mother would put her child first. And with Henry they had to be particularly cautious with regards to new relationships.

“I’ll talk to him,” Regina repeated. “And yes, I know he needs to be ok with this but I don’t want to stop seeing you.”

“I know you don’t,” Emma assured her. “I don’t want to stop seeing you either. I’m just being realistic.”

“Can you be optimistic instead?” Regina asked.

Emma laughed. “I’ll try.”

The two women finished their pancakes quickly and then stood to continue their days. Emma insisted on washing up while Regina attended to Henry. She put the spare pancake in a Tupperware and slid it into the fridge so Regina could eat it later if she wished.

By the time she entered the hallway, Henry was almost ready for school. He was in the middle of arguing with his mother about not wanting to wear his sweater on the way to school.

“It’s cold outside,” Regina insisted.

“It’s not. It’s May now. It’s summer.”

“Not quite but fine. Put it in your bag, please and then you’ll have it if you get cold during the day.”

Henry relented and stuffed the small item of clothing into his backpack. Regina spotted Emma watching the interaction and beckoned for her to follow.

“Henry, I’ll be right back. Can you put your shoes on please?”

The small boy obediently headed to find his black school shoes which were neatly lined up by the front door while Regina and Emma retreated to the brunette’s bedroom.

“So, it takes me about fifteen minutes to walk Henry to school and back,” Regina explained once they were out of earshot. “I then have to drive into the office. Much as I would like to spend the morning with you, I have a staff meeting at nine thirty. You’re welcome to stay here for as long as you like. I know you don’t have to be at work early.”

“Thank you but it’s fine. I’ll head out too. I’d feel a little weird being in your house without you,” Emma admitted.

“I understand but you really would be welcome,” Regina smiled as she set about making sure she had everything she needed for the day.

“Maybe next time,” Emma said.

“Next time?” Regina repeated, looking over her shoulder and winking at the blonde. “What makes you think there’s going to be a next time?”

“Oh there’s so going to be a next time,” Emma laughed.

Regina grinned back at her before turning, tossing her cell phone into her bag and zipping it up.

“Right, I’ve got to get going or Henry will be late.”

Nodding her understanding, Emma picked up her overnight bag and slung it over her shoulder. “I just have to change back into my leathers,” Emma said. “Give me two minutes?”

“On one condition.”

“And what’s that?” Emma asked, recognising the teasing tone in her new girlfriend’s voice.

“A kiss.”

Emma grinned and agreed at once, wrapping her arms around Regina and pulling her close for a short, passionate embrace. Regina moaned softly, almost regretting asking Emma for such a kiss, knowing the memory of the feel of those soft lips against hers were going to haunt her for the rest of the day, in the best way.

When the kiss ended, an eventuality they were both reluctant to accept, the two women returned to the hallway to find Henry emerging from the kitchen. “Are you ready, my little prince?” Regina asked.

“Is Emma coming with us to school?” Henry asked, his brow furrowed.

“Um, would you like Emma to come with us to school?” Regina countered.


Emma felt her heart drop. Regina too felt a wave of apprehension as to what may be in store for the two women. “Ok, that’s fine. Emma has to go to work anyway,” she said quickly.

“We’re going to be late,” Henry said. “Come on, Mom.”

He marched past the two startled women and headed to the front door.

“The door has a Yale lock. Just make sure you pull it firmly when you leave,” Regina explained to Emma, looking apologetic. It wasn’t that she had invited Emma to join them on the little family’s walk to school but both women were painfully aware of the evident dismissal Henry had just given the blonde.

“Fine,” Emma muttered. “I’ll speak to you later.”

Regina glanced down the hallway to check Henry wasn’t looking before turning to place a soft kiss on Emma’s cheek. “I can’t wait.”

The younger woman watched as mother and son left the house. Despondent, she made her way to get her motorbike leathers and then returned to Regina’s bedroom to get changed. Once she was ready to leave, she headed for the door. As she passed the kitchen, she glanced in, wanting to get another look at the beautiful room. She frowned when she saw the Tupperware box she had placed in the fridge on the side, open.

Curiosity piqued, she dumped her bag in the hallway and headed inside. Half a pancake rested in the pot but the other half was nowhere to be seen. Crumbs littered the side and a few had fallen to the pristine tiled floor. A smile spread slowly across Emma’s face. She pulled out her cell phone, snapped a picture of the evidence and sent it to Regina before tidying up. The remaining half of a pancake safely back in the fridge, Emma resumed her journey and left the house.

Chapter Text

Regina and Henry set off towards the school in silence. Henry walked a little ahead, his bag swinging from his hand and banging against his leg. By the time they got to the end of the first block, he held it out to his mother, tired of carrying it already.

“Put it on your back,” Regina said, wanting him to start taking a little responsibility.

Henry sighed dramatically but did so, sliding his arms through the straps and hoisting the oversized bag onto his shoulders.

“So,” Regina started, feeling almost awkward to instigate a conversation with her son, “do you have any questions about Emma?”

“Like what?”

“Like what might happen in the future and how Emma might come to our house sometimes,” Regina suggested.

“Is she moving in with us?”

“No,” Regina replied. “Emma and I have only known each other for a month but we like each other and we want to spend time together.”

“Are you going to get married?”

“That’s not how it works, Henry. When you meet someone new, you get to know each other for a while first. Then if you like each other, maybe you move in together. And then after a while maybe you decide to get married.”

“And what if you don’t like each other?” he asked, turning around to look at Regina over his shoulder.

“Then the relationship ends and you might find someone you like better the next time.”

“Is that what happened to you and Ma?”

The question stopped Regina in her tracks. Henry stopped too, sensing his mother was no longer keeping pace with him. He swivelled on the spot, big hazel eyes taking in the surprised look on the face of the woman who had always been there, who had always been in his life. Unlike her.

“You remember Ma?”

“Yes,” Henry said. “She left us. She didn’t want to be a part of our family. She went away and never came back.”

Regina crouched down and beckoned Henry to her. He went willingly, needing to be close to her just as much as the brunette needed to hold her son. She pulled him into a tight hug, tears pricking her eyes as she felt his little arms wrap around her neck.

“Henry, what Ma did, it wasn’t our fault. She wasn’t ready to be a part of our family. It had nothing to do with you,” Regina assured him. In truth, however, she still had no idea why Mal had left. She didn’t think she’d ever know and she’d made her peace with that. But not being about to explain it to Henry was always going to be difficult.

“Is Emma going to leave too?”

“Emma and I have only been together for one month,” Regina said. “When you start a relationship with someone, you never know how long it is going to last. But we really like each other and I want to spend time with her. I want her to spend time with you as well, if you’d like that. But it’s really important that you know that whatever happens between me and Emma, you come first.”

“What do you mean?” Henry asked.

“I mean that my number one priority is you. You’re my little prince, remember?”

“What’s priority?”

“Priority is the order of importance. And in my life, you are the most important thing.”

“Not Emma?”

“No, not Emma. I like Emma but I love you and I always will.”

“Will you love Emma one day?” The question was innocent enough but its implications made Regina’s heart beat a little faster.

“Maybe,” she said, unwilling to tell her son how close to the present that ‘one day’ seemed to be. “But that doesn’t mean you will be any less important. You will always be my number one. And that also means that if you’re not happy with Emma coming to our house then she won’t.”

“Do you want Emma to come to our house?”

“Yes,” Regina replied simply. “I like spending time with Emma. She makes me happy.”

Henry pondered this, regarding his mother who was still crouched down so their eyes were on the same level. “Did Ma make you happy?”

“We were happy, yes,” Regina admitted. “Or I was. Maybe Ma wasn’t happy.”

“Do you make Emma happy?”

“I hope so.”

“I want you to be happy, Mom,” Henry said after a moment. “I don’t like it when you’re sad.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m not sad. I wasn’t sad before I met Emma.”

“You were sad when Ma left.”

Regina swallowed. “You remember that?”

Henry nodded. “You cried a lot. I wanted to make you smile again but I didn’t know how. I tried to play with you but you weren’t happy.”

The brunette wrapped her arms around her son, overwhelmed at the boy’s kindness. Even at the age of four, Henry had been aware of the turmoil of emotions his mother had been feeling. Beyond that, he had tried to help and, it seemed, felt powerless to do so.

“Henry, that time was hard for me but I always loved you. I know I wasn’t smiling a lot for a few weeks but you being with me helped a lot. You were very kind to me when I was sad. I remember playing with you in my bed and I’m sorry if you were sad because I was sad.”

“I was sad because Ma left,” Henry pointed out. “And because you were sad. I didn’t want you to be sad.”

“I didn’t want to be sad either,” Regina said. “And after a month I wasn’t sad any more, was I?”

“No,” Henry sad. “You were happy again.”

Regina looked into the young face, the emotions flickering over it too complex for a six-year-old to have to deal with. “But you weren’t happy, were you?”

Henry shook his head. “I missed Ma.”

“And I didn’t talk about her to you,” Regina said, a statement rather than a question.

“We never talk about Ma. Talking about Ma makes you sad.”

“Do you want to talk about Ma?”

“Maybe,” Henry admitted. “Sometimes.”

“How about we talk about Ma with Archie this afternoon,” Regina suggested.

“Does Archie know Ma?”

If Regina wasn’t mistaken, she thought she saw excitement in Henry’s small features. Much as she hated Mal for leaving, Regina would have given anything to provide Henry with the opportunity to see the woman who had disappeared from their lives without explanation. Henry deserved as much.

“No, but he knows what happened and he wants to help us. I think he would be a good person to talk to about all of this and we have your meeting with him today.”

“Ok,” Henry nodded after a moment.

“Ok,” Regina repeated. “Now, I think we’d better hurry and get you to school before you’re late. Are you ok?” The conversation had been rather intense; far too intense for the early hour and the sidewalk location, in Regina’s mind.

“Yes,” Henry said.

Regina stood, knees protesting after she had been crouching for so long and the duo resumed their journey in silence. Both Mills’, however, were remembering the blonde woman who had disappeared from their lives without a backwards glance.

The unexpectedly long walk to school meant Regina was running late for her meeting. Her morning was then full of tasks which demanded her fullest attention so it wasn’t until lunch time that she had a chance to read Emma’s text. She stared at the photo the young woman had sent for a full thirty seconds before finally registering what she was seeing and what it meant. A smile spread over her face at the realisation. She was itching to call Emma and celebrate with her but knew her girlfriend, yes, girlfriend, would be working. It was progress and hopefully the meeting with Archie would be the start of Henry recognising and addressing the issues which triggered his negative relationship with food.

The drive to the psychologist’s office that afternoon was quiet. Regina managed to get a few words out of her son about how his school day was but then he just stared out of the window. Regina didn’t push; presuming that the small boy was already thinking about the upcoming conversation the two of them were due to have.

If Archie sensed the tension when the pair of them walked into his office, he didn’t say anything. Instead he started their session as he always did and asked Henry questions about his day at school and what he had done at the weekend. It was only after ten minutes or so that the bespectacled man glanced towards Regina and saw the woman fidgeting slightly.

“Regina, is there anything you would like us to talk about with Henry?” Years of working in the industry had enabled the psychologist to trust his intuition when it came to unspoken thoughts.

“Actually, yes,” Regina said, turning to Henry and smiling softly. “Henry and I would like to talk about Ma. We had a little talk this morning, didn’t we, Henry?”

“Yes,” Henry nodded. “But then I had to go to school because we were nearly late and Mrs Davis doesn’t like it when we’re late.”

“Ok,” Archie said. “Let’s talk about Ma.” He didn’t need to ask who Ma was. He had heard Henry call Regina ‘Mom’ and there was only one other person the small boy could be referring to.

Henry glanced at Regina as if seeking permission. It broke Regina’s heart as she realised her son had been scared to talk about the woman who helped raise him for the first four years of his life. How had she let this happen? How had she turned one half of his family into a taboo subject? It was no wonder he had control issues. His life had been turned upside down and no explanation was ever offered.

“So, Henry and I were talking about Ma this morning,” Regina began, sensing that Henry wanted her to take the lead. “Henry was only four when Ma left and I thought he was too young to understand. But now he is a big boy and I think he is old enough to talk about what happened.”

“I understanded when I was four,” Henry piped up.

“Understood,” Regina corrected automatically.

Henry hesitated for a moment, a frown on his face at the interruption. Surely grammar wasn’t the point here. “I understood when I was four,” he repeated. “Ma didn’t love us so she didn’t want us to be a family any more.”

Regina balked. What could she say to that? It was true, after all. At least, it was the only explanation Regina had ever been able to come up with to explain why Mal had walked away. But it couldn’t have been because of Henry. Her son couldn’t grow up believing he wasn’t loved. Except … was that what had happened?

“Henry, Ma loved you very much,” Regina said, knowing that to be true, despite the woman’s actions.

“But she left me.”

“No, she left me,” Regina said sadly. “Ma left me, not you. She didn’t leave because she didn’t love you. She left because she didn’t love me.”

“Then why doesn’t Ma come to visit me? Katie’s dad comes to visit her on the weekend now because he doesn’t love her mom any more.”

“I don’t know where Ma is,” Regina admitted. “I didn’t want her to disappear from your life, Henry. But I didn’t know how to find her.”

“She ran away from us?”

The boy didn’t need a verbal answer. It was written all over his mother’s face. Archie, who had been listening to the conversation, piped up.

“How did that make you feel, Henry?” He hadn’t been planning to dive into the root cause of Henry’s eating problems quite so early in their sessions but since the boy appeared to be willing to talk, he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

“I was sad. I missed Ma. And Mom was sad too. So that made me feel angry.”

“Why were you angry?” the psychologist asked.

“Because Ma made Mom sad,” Henry replied. “And I couldn’t make her happy again. I was angry with Ma and Mom was sad with Ma and I didn’t know how to make it better.”

“Henry, it wasn’t your job to make things better,” Regina said softly. “You were only young. It was my job to make sure you were happy and I didn’t do that. I’m so sorry you had to feel that way.”

“But then you started being happy again one day,” Henry went on. “You were smiling and you took me to school and you started cooking again. You didn’t cook when you were sad. People brought food to the house in little boxes. And then you were happy and cooking and I didn’t know why.”

“How did that change make you feel, Henry,” Archie asked.

“I don’t know,” the small boy said.

In truth, he didn’t have the vocabulary to describe the emotions. Later in life, he would be able to recognise them as helplessness during those four weeks when his mother had festered in her bed, eating junk food and crying, followed by confusion and powerlessness when his mother’s demeanour switched, quite abruptly, back to how it was. Everything returned to normal, with one glaring difference. No Ma.

“Regina, perhaps it would be a good idea for you to tell Henry how you felt,” Archie suggested.

“Ok,” the brunette nodded, happy to take the lead from the psychologist rather than wading blindly through the unchartered waters she and her son had entered. “So after Ma left, I was really sad.”

“I know,” Henry interrupted. “You cried a lot.”

“I did,” Regina agreed. “And I felt very sad for weeks. I didn’t know how I was going to continue. Ma and I had been your parents and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to look after you on my own. But Aunty Kat and Aunty Zelena were very kind and they helped me to see that I was a good mom to you and that I was strong. So one day, I made myself get up from my bed and have a shower and cook you breakfast. I made you bacon and eggs.”

“I remember,” Henry said.

“You didn’t eat them,” Regina continued.

“I wasn’t hungry.”

Regina had thought little of it at the time but with the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, that interaction had been of monumental importance. Would things have worked out differently if she had insisted her son eat? Was the fact that she had capitulated at once to his refusal the reason he had latched onto his ability to control what he ate and the power he therefore wielded over his mother?

“Then we walked to play group together and I went to work,” Regina went on.

Henry nodded his agreement. Regina said nothing more. That was it; the mourning of her relationship had ended and life had gone back to normal. She had re-established their routine and been ready to move on with life. Henry’s fussiness when it came to his food had emerged but she hadn’t connected it with the absence of his other mother. How hadn’t she? Was she so self-involved that she hadn’t seen the impact her divorce had had on their son? Apparently she was.

“Henry,” Archie said quietly, drawing the boy’s attention back to him. “Do you think you’re old enough to understand something quite complicated?”

“Yes,” Henry said at once. “I’m nearly seven.”

“Ok, good,” Archie smiled. “Because I think it’s really important for you and your mom to understand what happened then so you can learn how to eat healthy food now.”

“Food?” Henry frowned. What did food have to do with any of this? They were talking about Ma, weren’t they?

Archie glanced at Regina who nodded her consent for the man to share his insights. She trusted him implicitly to tell Henry what he was capable of understanding as well as providing him with the necessary information which may help him to change his attitude towards food.

“Adult relationships are complicated,” Archie began. “And sometimes parents break up because they are unhappy. They decide that they will be better moms and dads to their children if they are not together any more. But what happened in your family is that only one of your moms was unhappy. When your ma left, your mom was very surprised and sad, is that right, Regina?”

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “I didn’t know that Ma was unhappy so when she left, I was surprised first and then I felt very sad.”

“Your ma disappeared from your life, Henry, but she also disappeared from your mom’s life,” Archie continued. “When you saw that your mom was sad, you wanted to make her feel happy again but you couldn’t. Your mom needed time to be sad before she could be happy again. But when that day came, you were surprised again because you didn’t know what had changed. It was confusing, right?”

Henry nodded. Yes, that was a word he knew which described how he felt. It was confusing. One day his mom had been sad, the next day she had been happy. Why? What had made her happy? He had tried to make her happy for a month and nothing had worked. So why did she start smiling again?

“Sometimes adults make the mistake of thinking that children don’t understand,” Archie went on. “We think we are cleverer than children so we don’t tell them important things. Your mom didn’t think you were old enough to understand what had happened, so she didn’t tell you. Which is why you were confused. Because things changed and you didn’t know why. Just like the way your ma left one day, your mom was now happy.”

“But I wanted Mom to be happy,” Henry pointed out. “I didn’t want Ma to leave.”

“I know,” Archie nodded. “But there were two big changes in your life and you didn’t know how to stop another big change happening.”

Henry said nothing. He was too young to be able to understand the reason behind his subconscious decision. It was only years later that he had recognised the truth behind Archie’s words.

“Moms and dads look after children and make lots of decisions for them. What school you go to, what you wear, what you eat. Children don’t have to think about these things; they just happen. In the same way that your ma leaving just happened and your mom being happy just happened. Even though you were only four, Henry, you wanted to make sure nothing else changed in your life. The problem was, because you were young, you didn’t know how to tell your mom this. So you told her you didn’t want to eat the bacon and eggs.”

At that statement, Henry frowned. That made no sense. Bacon and eggs wasn’t a change. He liked bacon and eggs. Or, at least, he had liked bacon and eggs. He had eaten neither since …

“I was confused,” Henry said slowly, remembering the word his psychologist had used earlier.

“You were,” Archie agreed. “And that day, when you told your mom you didn’t want to eat the bacon and eggs, you realised that you could control something. You didn’t know what had happened to make your ma leave and you didn’t know what had happened to make your mom happy again. But you learnt that you could control what you ate. Food became very important to you because you had power over which meals your mom cooked for you.”

“Power? Like a superpower like Batman or Spiderman has?” Henry asked.

“Exactly,” Archie nodded. “And your superpower was to get your mom to make what you wanted to eat. The problem is, you only asked for a small number of meals. You forgot that growing boys need vegetables and meat and lots of other types of food to be healthy.”

“I’m sick?” Henry frowned. Sick was the opposite of healthy, he knew that.

“Your body needs more than what you’re giving it,” Archie said. “Like the bacon and eggs your mom cooked for you. And vegetables like carrots and broccoli and meat like fish and chicken.”

“I ate chicken,” Henry piped up.

“Great!” Archie grinned. “Did you like it?”

“It was ok,” Henry shrugged.

“And after you ate the chicken, did anything change in your life?”

“Like what?” Henry asked.

“With your mom,” Archie suggested. “Was she different?”

Henry thought back to that meal he had eaten with his mother the previous weekend. “She smiled when I ate the chicken,” Henry remembered. “But everything else was the same. Except Emma.”


“Mom’s girlfriend,” Henry supplied.

Archie glanced at Regina who looked a little red in the face. She hadn’t mentioned Emma to Archie since their first session when she had referred to the blonde as an acquaintance. The psychologist didn’t need any more information to understand that there was much more to Emma and Regina’s relationship than his patient’s mother had let on.

“How does Emma make your mom different?”

“She smiles more,” Henry replied. “Mom says Emma makes her happy. But …” The small boy trailed off, suddenly shrinking back into his chair and staring at his hands.

“But what, Henry?” Regina asked quietly.

There was a pause and then Henry thrust his body forwards and announced the fear which had been bubbling beneath the surface since that morning. “But what if Emma makes Mom sad again? What if Emma leaves like Ma left? I don’t want Emma to come and live with us if she’s going to leave. She can’t do that. It’s not fair.”

Small arms crossed firmly over the heaving chest with a finality as Henry flung himself back into the chair, glowering. Regina took in her son’s body language, recognising it as defensive, protective. He didn’t want to get hurt again. He didn’t want his mother to be hurt again. It was up to her to reply to the small boy’s outburst, she knew. Archie was sat in silence, waiting, watching.

“Henry, Emma and I are starting a new relationship. She’s not moving in and she’s not leaving. But if we decide that we don’t want to be together in the future, it will be because of me, not you.”

“So one day you’ll be sad again?”

“Maybe,” Regina admitted. “That’s the risk you take when you start a relationship with someone. You never know if it’s going to end one day or if it’s going to last for the rest of your lives.”

“I don’t want you to be sad, Mom,” Henry said quietly.

“I don’t want to be sad either, my little prince,” Regina assured the small boy. “But being with Emma makes me happy.”

“I know, you told me that this morning,” Henry reminded her.

“So if Emma makes me happy for one month or one year or ten years and then we break up, I think the sad feelings I’d have would be worth it because of all the happy memories we’d have shared. And then maybe we’ll be together forever and I’ll never have to feel sad again.”

“You think you and Emma will be together forever?”

“I don’t know,” Regina said. “No one knows things like that. But I know I like her a lot and I want to be with her for a long time.”

“Does she like you too?”

“Yes,” Regina said.

“How can people go from liking each other to not liking each other?” Henry asked.

“That’s a great question and one I can’t really answer,” Regina replied.

“Do you think you’ll stop liking Emma?”

“I hope not but I don’t know, Regina said. “So how about I make a deal with you?”

“What deal?”

“I promise to tell you when my feelings towards Emma change so that you always know what’s happening. That way, if something is going to change like Emma is going to be visiting our house more because I like her more or Emma isn’t going to come around again because we decide we don’t want to be together, you’ll know.”

Henry pondered this for a moment. The seconds felt endless to Regina who was trying to work out if she had done the right thing. Wasn’t Henry too young to understand these things? It appeared, from what had been said already, however, that she had woefully miscalculated her son’s intelligence, to his detriment.

“You’ll tell me when something is going to change, so it’s not a surprise like it was with Ma?” Henry said eventually.

“Yes,” Regina promised.

“I don’t like surprises,” Henry stated.

“I know,” Regina replied. “That’s why you like to know what we’re having for dinner and what I’ve made you for lunch.”

Henry nodded his agreement to that fact. He did like to know what he was going to eat in advance of the meal. That chicken had been a surprise yesterday and he didn’t like that. Emma being in his mom’s bed that morning had also been a surprise. He didn’t like that either.

“Will you tell me when Emma is going to come to our house again?” Henry asked.

“Of course,” Regina assured. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about her coming over last night. We didn’t have a plan to meet up but then she came over after you went to bed.”

“Will Emma cook at our house again?”

“The pancakes?” Regina asked.

“Maybe. Or something else.”

“Do you want her to cook something at our house again?”

“I don’t know,” Henry admitted. “It made you smile this morning.”

“It did,” Regina agreed. “Those pancakes were really good.”

“Yeah, it was tasty,” Henry said quietly, verbal confirmation that he had indeed snuck a few bites before school.

“Maybe you can ask Emma to cook you something next time she comes over,” Regina suggested.

“Like what?”

“Anything you want,” Regina said. “Emma is a chef, remember? She can make anything in the world.”


“For sure,” Regina smiled. “And maybe Emma can make something different to go on top.”

“No tomato sauce?”

“It’s up to you,” Regina said.

“I’ll think about it,” Henry said, sounding far more mature than his six years.

Regina let out a shaky breath. That, she was sure, was progress.

“How about we go and play with some cars for the rest of the session,” Archie suggested, sensing that both mother and child were wiped out from the intensity of the conversation.

“Ok,” Henry said, sliding from. “Mom, do you want to play with us?”

“Sure,” she nodded, standing up and following her son who was leading the way toward the box of toys.

Archie caught the woman by her elbow just before they moved to sit on the floor. “Today was a breakthrough,” he said quietly, the words inaudible to the boy who was rummaging loudly through the box to find the cars he wanted to play with.

“Yeah?” Regina asked, herself sensing the step forward but keen to have it validated.

“He’s a very intuitive child,” Archie said. “His self-awareness as well as the way in which he recognises the emotions of those around him may have triggered this behaviour in the first place but it may also be the key to helping him establish a healthy diet again.”

“I hope so,” Regina murmured.

“Have faith,” Archie said, offering a soft smile. “We’re making progress. Just make sure you keep your promise to him about Emma. Sudden change in his life could be catastrophic.”

Regina knew that even before Archie had said anything but it still drilled home the fact that the budding relationship was something she needed to be careful with. It hadn’t been planned. She hadn’t been looking for a girlfriend but equally she hadn’t fought what she felt for the blonde. Maybe she should have. Maybe she was putting Henry at risk by opening his world up to the possibility of change again. Emma could become, her heart quickened at the thought, a second mother figure to her son but then equally she could become another woman to disappear from his life. Regina knew the latter wasn’t what either she or Emma wanted but neither of them could predict the future.

“You deserve some happiness,” Archie said, correctly reading the expression on the mother’s face. “Don’t feel guilty about having met someone. Just make sure that you keep Henry in mind.”

“Of course,” Regina said. “He’s always going to be my number one.”

“Mom, you can be the red car,” Henry interrupted, thrusting the chosen toy into his mother’s hand. “Archie, here’s the yellow motorbike for you.”

Both adults took their assigned vehicles, settled themselves on either side of the boy and began to play.

Chapter Text

Everything somehow felt lighter the moment Regina and Henry stepped out of Archie Hopper’s office that Thursday afternoon. They still had a long way to go but they were on the right path. Henry’s awareness and his realisation with regards to his eating habits had been a breakthrough in terms of the way in which the duo could approach food and meals. Regina, on the other hand, knew it was important for her to better communicate with her son when it came to anything which might affect him.

Which was why, on Friday evening, Regina asked if Henry would be happy for Emma to join the two of them in the park the following afternoon.

“Can we still play football?” Henry asked. Because it was important to recognise your priorities in every situation.

“Of course,” Regina nodded. “In fact, I think Emma would like to play football with you. She’s probably better than me.”

“Probably,” Henry agreed. His mother’s ball skills were pretty appalling. It wouldn’t be difficult to be better than her.

“So, is it ok for Emma to join us?” Regina asked.

“Will Emma eat lunch with us too?”

“No,” Regina said. “She has to work at lunch time. She’ll come to meet us in the afternoon after she’s finished. We will already have eaten our lunch.”

Henry paused for a moment and then nodded. “Ok.”

Regina beamed. She knew she had wanted to keep her love life hidden from her son but she understood now that it was important to be transparent with Henry. He already knew of Emma’s existence and it seemed pointless to hide their relationship. Plus, the amount of time she got to spend with the blonde was so limited, Regina didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see her girlfriend. Emma had messaged her earlier in the day to see what the Mills’ had planned for their weekend and had been keen to join them in the park when the invitation was extended. If Henry was happy for her to do so.

“What would you like for dinner, Henry?” Regina asked as soon as she had finished texting Emma to let her know she was welcome to meet them the following day.

“Beans on toast,” Henry replied, already resuming his interrupted game with a wooden train set.

“Ok,” Regina agreed. “But do you remember when Archie said it was important for you to try to eat different kinds of food?”

“Like what?” Henry asked, not looking up.

“How about some cheese?” Regina suggested. “People in the UK where they eat lots of beans on toast sometimes put grated cheese on the top. Then it melts because the beans are hot and it’s delicious.”

“Cheese,” Henry repeated. “That comes from cows, right?”

“Yes. Cheese is made from milk.”

“It doesn’t look like milk,” Henry frowned. “Does it taste like milk?”

“No but it tastes nice. Would you like to try some on your dinner?”

Despite Henry not having the widest palate, the fridge in the Mills’ house was still well stocked. Regina had always enjoyed good quality food and there was a small stock of different cheeses which she would sometimes eat in the evening after Henry had gone to bed or when Kathryn or Zelena came over.

“Can you put the cheese on a different plate?” Henry asked. “Then I can try it first so if I don’t like it, I can still eat my food.”

“Good idea,” Regina nodded. “And well done, thank you for agreeing to try something new.”

“Can we watch Finding Dory tonight?” Henry moved on, ignoring the praise.

“Again?” Regina sighed. “Henry, I love that movie but we watched it a few weeks ago.”

“It’s my favourite,” Henry pouted, eyes blown wide in the way he knew his mother couldn’t resist.

Regina didn’t want to raise a bratty child. Henry’s control issues when it came to food dictated their lives enough and she was wary of handing him too much power. But she also wanted to make him understand that his decision to try something new for dinner was a big step forwards.

“Ok,” she nodded. “Because you’ve agreed to try some cheese, and if you do actually try some when we eat, yes we can watch Finding Dory again after dinner.”

Henry beamed up at his mother and nodded enthusiastically at the deal. “Can we have dinner now? I’m hungry.”

Lunch service had never dragged so much as it did that Saturday. A combination of anticipation, excitement and the fact that the restaurant had been uncharacteristically quiet meant that by the time the final order came through, Emma was itching to be out the door. August teased her as she shouted instructions for clean-up over her shoulder before racing out of the kitchen and into her office to change.

“You know, if you break your neck riding like a loon to get there, that would be ironic,” Ruby said, leaning on the door frame and watching Emma hop on one leg as she wrestled her foot into her leather pants.

“I think the word you’re looking for is tragic, not ironic,” she said, shooting her best friend a smirk.

“Whatever,” Ruby waved off. “Just drive safe, ok? No woman is worth becoming road kill for.”

“Charming,” Emma said, straightening up and shrugging on her leather jacket. “But I get your point. I will drive sensibly to the park, Ruby, thank you for your concern.”

“Just looking out for you, babe,” Ruby replied before taking an appraising look at the woman before her who was now applying some mascara in a compact mirror, her pale lip trapped between her teeth. Ruby knew what that meant. “I’ve not seen you like this before.”

“Like what?”

“Flustered. Nervous. Unsure of yourself. You’re usually so confident when it comes to women.”

Emma closed the mirror and slid it into her bag before standing and getting ready to leave. “Yeah, well, it’s not about Regina today. It’s about Henry.”

“Ah, the kid,” Ruby nodded. “You need to win him over to get into the mother’s pants.”

“Shut up,” Emma said, punching her friend lightly on the arm as she exited her office. Ruby followed her down the corridor towards the parking lot so the conversation could continue. “Regina isn’t like that. But I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t important that Henry likes me. I’m dating his mom. Of course he needs to be ok with me.”

“Kids love you, Emma,” Ruby reminded her friend, realising that the woman needed reassuring, not teasing. “Don’t worry, you got this.”

“I hope so,” Emma said. “Thanks. I’ll see you for this evening’s service.”

“Enjoy your date,” Ruby called after her friend as she left the restaurant’s back entrance and headed towards her motorbike.

“Mom, you’re extra bad today!” Henry exclaimed as the ball Regina had been attempting to throw at him landed metres away and bounced off.

“Sorry, Henry,” Regina called after the boy who was now running to collect the runaway toy.

In truth, she hadn’t really been concentrating and that had only exacerbated her already mediocre skills. Emma had already texted her to say she was on her way and Regina was keeping her eyes peeled for the blonde, not wanting her to miss them in the busy park.

“Next time,” Henry shouted, the ball now back in his hands, “hold it like me and throw it better like me.”

The ball sailed towards Regina who reached half-heartedly towards it but knew she was never going to catch it. While Henry was scathing of her own ball skills, he wasn’t exactly Tom Brady and the ball soared over her, at least two metres higher than she could ever reach. She turned to fetch the missed ball only to have her breath caught in her throat as she saw who was stood behind her, wayward ball in her hands.

“Hi,” she said after a moment. Two letters and one syllable was all she could manage. That damn leather.

“Hey,” Emma smiled, tucking the ball under her arm. “Quite the thrower you’ve got there.”

“Mom!” Henry exclaimed, running up to the two women. “Did you see Emma catched my ball?”

“Caught,” Regina replied. “And yes I did. Well, I didn’t see her catch it but I can see that she’s holding it. Well done, Emma.”

The blonde blushed at the compliment but also felt rather smug at the fact that she was clearly making Regina a little flustered.

“Great throw, Henry,” Emma said, handing the ball back to him. “Is football your favourite sport?”

“Yes!” Henry grinned. “I’m going to be a quarterback when I’m older.”

“Wow,” Emma smiled back at him. “Do you want to practice your throwing a bit more?”

“Can you do it instead of Mom? She sucks.”

“Henry,” Regina scolded. “Don’t say that. It’s rude.”

“But it’s true,” Henry pointed out. How could something that was true be rude? It was important to always tell the truth, wasn’t it? The world of grown-ups really was confusing sometimes.

“Maybe your mom just needs more practice,” Emma suggested. “How about you go back to where you were and throw the ball to me and I’ll throw it to your mom? That way, we can all play together.”

“Ok,” Henry agreed, turning and trotting back across the field.

As soon as his back was turned, Emma leaned down to kiss the woman beside her, something she had been itching to do since she spotted the little family.

“Hi,” she said when they broke apart.

“Hi yourself,” Regina said. “Leather again? Really?”

“Safety first,” Emma chuckled. “Gimme a minute and I’ll get rid of it.”

She put down the bag she was carrying and unzipped her jacket. The pants weren’t as hard to get off as they were to get on and her jeans underneath ensured her undressing was entirely appropriate for the middle of a park in the afternoon, surrounded by families.

“Mom, Emma, hurry up!” Henry called, having reached the spot where he had been standing to play earlier, only to find that the new woman to join their game had started undressing. Women were weird.

“Ok, I’m ready,” Emma said, stuffing her leathers into her bag and standing up, straightening out her tank top.

Regina, however, just gawped. She might have spent a night in Emma’s arms, engaged in a rather heavy make out session the following morning and she had certainly admired the blonde’s physique on their dates. She had yet to realise, however, quite how chiselled the blonde’s body was.

“What?” Emma said when she noticed that the brunette was staring at her, slack-jawed, again.

“How often do you work out?” she said, eyes glued to the defined planes of the blonde’s stomach she could see through the thin white tank top.

“Oh, four mornings a week,” Emma said, glancing down at her own body.

“I’m … I … You’re …”

Emma laughed and leaned forwards to peck Regina lightly on the lips. “You can be speechless about my body late, honey. Right now, I think your son wants us to play with him.”

Moving past the still stunned woman, Emma jogged a little way away before signalling for Henry to throw her the ball.

Thirty minutes later and Henry announced he was hungry. Making their way over to the picnic rug which Regina had laid out, the boy immediately reached for the bag where his mother had packed a few snacks. Pulling out an apple, he started munching.

“Um, so I kinda made something,” Emma whispered to Regina as the two of them sat down side by side.

“What kind of something?” Regina asked.

“Cookies,” Emma admitted. “I baked them this morning before work. They’re just simple chocolate chip. Nothing fancy. Do you think …” She glanced at Henry who was now watching some of the other children in the park.

“Let’s try,” Regina shrugged. It was impossible to predict what Henry would or wouldn’t eat but since their meeting with Archie, he had already tried cheese with some success and had agreed to allow Regina to cook both chicken and add the capsicum to his usual tomato sauce that evening. “Henry, would you like a cookie?”

“What cookie?” he asked, turning to his mother.

“Emma made us cookies,” Regina explained as the blonde herself pulled a box of the treats from her bag. “They’ve got chocolate in them.”

The fact that Henry’s self-imposed dietary restrictions included his refusal to eat anything unhealthy had always worried Regina. She would almost be able to understand if a child refused to eat vegetables and fruit but Henry had stopped eating candy, chocolate, potato chips and every other type of food that children usually loved. It was one of the reasons she had been concerned that the eating habits were closer to an eating disorder linked to his weight. The cookie, therefore, would be an interesting test.

“Are they nice?” he asked, peering into the box now the lid was removed.

“Well, my friend Ruby said they were delicious but I haven’t tried one yet. I hope they’re nice.”

“You’re a chef,” Henry said slowly. “So you should have cheffed a good cookie.”

“Chefs still ‘cook’ food, Henry,” Regina corrected. “But yes, I’m sure Emma has cooked us a very nice cookie. Would you like to try one?”

Henry gave the food a final appraising look before taking a defiant bite of his apple. “Maybe later.”

“Ok,” Regina said, knowing not to push. “Well, Emma, I would love to try one of your cookies.”

“Help yourself,” Emma smiled, waiting for Regina to choose her own treat before selecting one herself.

They weren’t going to win awards any time soon but they weren’t bad, Emma decided as she chewed the first bite. Regina, however, let out a little moan of delight. Mid-chew, the blonde turned towards the sound.

“Something the matter, dear?” Regina asked, reaching over and brushing the crumbs from Emma’s lip.

“Um, no,” Emma stuttered, swallowing the mouthful of cookie she had. “But I’m sure as hell going to bake for you more often if that’s the noise you make.”

Regina shushed Emma dramatically even though there was no way Henry, who wasn’t even listening, had any idea what they were talking about. That said, Regina mused, it seemed her son was far more aware of everything going on around him than she gave him credit for. Their meeting with Archie on Thursday had proved that.

“I don’t get to indulge in sweets very often,” Regina admitted. “I have to work hard to keep my body in this shape. Unlike you.”

Emma frowned. “I work out four days a week and I wouldn’t say my diet was unhealthy. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of that. In anticipation for eating this cookie I spent ten minutes planning what I was going to eat for lunch and dinner to counterbalance the fats and sugars in it.”

The brunette could have kicked herself. What was supposed to be a compliment about the blonde’s physique had cut far too close to the bone. Of course Emma took great care of her body. It was an obsession; the blonde had said as much. Emma knew better than anyone how important it was to ensure her diet was healthy and that her body was strong.

“Emma, I’m sorry,” Regina began. “I didn’t mean that. I know you’re healthy and I know you take care of yourself.”

“I’m naturally skinny, alright?” Emma pushed on. “And I build muscle easily. I don’t do a million crunches a day to get these abs.” She slapped herself in the stomach, a little too hard, as if she wanted to feel pain as well as make a point. “My muscles have always been defined but I work out in healthy ways to make sure I keep them in good working order, not to make them bigger.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just … I guess I’ve always been the opposite. I don’t build muscles easily and I have to work out every day to stay looking like this. I have to be careful about what I eat and -”

“Let’s finish this conversation later,” Emma interrupted, glancing at Henry who should not be overhearing the two women discuss food in such a way. “What’s next on the park activity agenda for the Mills family today?”

“Whatever Henry wants,” Regina said. “Henry, would you like to go to see the ducks?”

“Can we go to the playground?” he asked. “Ducks are boring.”

“Ok, sure,” Regina nodded, finishing off her cookie and beginning to pack away their possessions. “Would you like a cookie for the walk over?”

Henry looked at the food again then up at his mother. He could see that she desperately wanted him to take one and, he had to admit, they did look good. “Half a cookie,” he said after a moment.

“Half a cookie it is,” Regina said, breaking one in two and handing one piece to Henry. “I’ll save the other half in case you want it later.”

“Ok,” Henry said. “Can we go now?”

The adults stood and finished the packing process, Emma stuffing her leathers into her bag along with the leftover cookies. By the time they set off towards the playground, a quarter of a cookie had disappeared.

“Wow!” Henry exclaimed as he spotted Emma’s motorbike that was parked neatly beside Regina’s Mercedes when they returned to the parking lot over an hour later. “Is that yours?”

“Yep,” Emma nodded, patting the saddle and smiling at the young boy who was still gawping at the motorbike.

“Mom, can I ride on it? Please?”

“No way,” Regina said firmly, arms crossed.

Henry pouted. “Why not?”

“Because firstly you don’t have a helmet. Secondly you don’t have any protective clothing like Emma.” She gestured towards the woman who was now dressing in her leathers as if to illustrate the point. “And finally, we’re going home and Emma is going to work so even if I did decide to let you climb onto the back of that death trap -”

“Hey!” Emma exclaimed but Regina just ignored her and carried on.

“- you’d end up at a restaurant and not at home with me so that wouldn’t be very useful, would it?”

“Ok, but some other time then?” Henry asked, eyes flicking between Emma and Regina, unsure which woman ultimately had to grant permission. His gaze settled on Emma. It was, after all, her motorbike.

“Hey, it’s not up to me, kid,” Emma said. “Ask your mom.”

Regina pursed her lips. She really didn’t like the idea but she didn’t want to tell Henry no flat out if his interest in Emma’s motorbike meant he was accepting the idea that the blonde would be in their lives more in the future.

“We’ll see,” she said eventually. “But for now, get in please, young man.” She opened the door to the Mercedes and Henry obediently hopped inside. “Say goodbye to Emma please, Henry,” his mother added as he buckled himself up.

“Bye Emma,” Henry said. “Thanks for the cookie.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

“I liked the pancake too,” Henry admitted. “Can you make me one tomorrow morning? I want to have it with my jam.”

“Tomorrow morning, huh?” Emma repeated, glancing at the slightly surprised looking brunette beside her. “What do you say, Regina? Shall I cook you and Henry breakfast tomorrow?”

“I’d love that,” Regina replied softly. “Would you like to come over after work?” Unspoken words, inappropriate for Henry’s young ears, raced through both women’s minds but the darkening of deep brown eyes and the slight drop in the timbre of Regina’s voice spoke volumes.

“I would,” Emma nodded, already feeling a tingle deep in her core at the anticipation of going to sleep with her arms around Regina again.

“Yay,” Henry exclaimed, interrupting the moment. “See you tomorrow, Emma.”

“Bye Henry,” Emma said, waving as the boy’s mother closed the car door and walked to her own. Emma followed, leathers now in place. “So, I guess I’ll see you tonight.”

“I guess you will,” Regina said.

“I can’t wait,” Emma murmured, pressing a light kiss to Regina’s lips before stepping away and swinging her leg over her bike, jamming her helmet in place.

A little round face pressed up against the rear window and watched in wonder as the woman waved at him once more, turned on the machine and manoeuvred out of the space. Henry gasped as the blonde kicked the bike into gear and accelerated away.

“You are never in a million years getting on the back of that thing,” Regina muttered under her breath as she started her own vehicle and pulled smoothly out of the parking lot, heading home.

Chapter Text

The door to the mansion swung open mere seconds after Emma had slipped her cell phone back into her pocket.

“You know, Henry is a heavy sleeper. He wouldn’t wake up if you rang the bell.”

“I kinda like our tradition,” Emma shrugged, stepping over the threshold as the brunette moved aside to let her into the house. “Hi, by the way,” she added, pecking Regina lightly on the lips.

“Hi,” Regina smiled. “How was your shift?”

“Busy,” Emma sighed, sliding her backpack from her shoulder. “Saturdays are always crazy. I don’t understand why Killian is investing in marketing, to be honest. We’re at capacity almost every night.”

“I’m hurt,” Regina deadpanned.

Emma laughed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that your work isn’t valuable. I just don’t know how you can help us. We need to build an extension to the restaurant, not bring in more customers we’ll have to turn away.”

“Being in demand is always a good thing,” Regina pointed out. “Anyway, we haven’t even started the campaign yet. It could be a complete bust.”

“I highly doubt it. I’m sure you’re excellent at your job.” It was true. Emma didn’t know anything about marketing or what Regina’s world involved but she was sure the brunette excelled at whatever she turned her hand to.

“I try,” Regina smiled. “My team is great and I trust them to be delivering a good service to my clients. Anyway, how about we stop talking about work. It is Saturday night, after all. Would you like some wine?”

“Please,” Emma nodded. “But can I first get out of these leathers?”

“If you must,” Regina smirked. Her eyes had already been drinking the blonde in, encased once more in the tight black material.

“For you, I would endure an evening sat uncomfortably in leather,” Emma said solemnly.

“You’re sweet, but I’d rather you were comfortable than here as an object for me to look at. Feel free to get changed in your pyjamas if you want.”

“Are we having a slumber party?” Emma teased.

“Essentially,” Regina pointed out. “Would it make you feel better if I put my sleepwear on as well.”

“It would make me feel something,” Emma said, eyes darkening.

Regina chuckled. “Go and get changed. I’ll meet you in the living room with some wine.”

Making her way down the corridor into the rear of the house, Emma entered the bathroom and pulled off her leathers. It was a hassle, wearing her protective gear, but she would rather have to undress and dress wherever she went rather than lose all the skin on her body if she crashed.

With the leathers discarded, Emma had a dilemma. Once again, she had packed two sets of pyjamas. She suspected that come the end of the evening, the silk slip would be entirely appropriate, if only a short-lived piece of clothing. However, for sitting on the couch drinking wine, surely the plaid set she had worn before was more suitable. Opting for sensible over sexy, at least for now, Emma quickly got changed before heading out to the living room.

It was empty when she walked in but two generous glasses of red wine were waiting on the coffee table. Emma sank into the couch and curled her legs underneath her, looking around the room and taking in the space. She was unsurprised to note that Regina’s house was beautiful and filled with expensive furniture and decorations. But there were still splashes of Henry here and there. A colourful chest pushed against the wall was ajar, toys peeking over the lip as if eager to come out and play. At the far side of the room a complex web of wooden train tracks covered the floor, the engines which ran on them scattered on the carpet. Opposite the television, hung proudly on the wall, were three framed portraits of Regina and Henry. They looked like professional photographs, two candid and one posed shot. Emma’s heart swelled at the sight.

“Kat took them.”

Regina had entered the room to see Emma gazing at the images.

“They’re beautiful,” Emma said softly, turning towards the woman. “Wow, you’re beautiful.”

“I feel overdressed,” Regina replied, smoothing down the delicate black material of her negligée. The silk garment stopped mid-thigh, edged with lace. It was one of her favourites.

“I feel hideously underdressed,” Emma said, the plaid suddenly frumpy and boring. She had definitely chosen wrong.

“I should change,” Regina said, realising she had misread the tone of the evening.

“No,” Emma said, jumping up off the couch and striding over Regina who was still hovering by the doorway. “No way,” she added, arms now wrapped around the brunette. “You’re not changing and you’re not going anywhere. Well, except to the couch.”

“Ok,” Regina whispered, arms reaching up to loop around Emma’s neck. “If you insist.”

“Oh I insist,” Emma smiled, kissing Regina lightly.

When they broke apart, the two women made their way to the couch and settled side by side. Emma leaned against the arm, legs curled beneath her while Regina nestled her shoulder into the back cushion so she was facing Emma.

“Cheers,” she offered, raising her glass in a toast towards the blonde.

“Cheers,” Emma replied, clinking the lip of her drink against Regina’s. “To a successful first day spent with Henry. At least, I think it was successful.”

“Very,” Regina nodded. “I think the motorbike won you a few brownie points. Plus, he actually asked if you’d cook him pancakes. That’s a breakthrough in anyone’s world. He also announced that he wants to practice his football with you, not me, from now on. So yes, Emma, I would say that was a success.”

“Sorry to have replaced you as his football coach,” Emma laughed.

“Please, I’m happy to give up that position. I accept that I am terrible at football. And if it means Henry is wanting to spend more time with you, then you can certainly be his football coach.”

“Thank you for inviting me to join you guys today,” Emma said, voice now soft. “I had a great time.”

“Me too,” Regina replied. “And I’m sorry about that comment. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Forget about it,” Emma said, waving away the apology. She knew she had overreacted. Even though she was no longer anorexic, comments about her weight still got her back up.

“No, please, Emma. Let me apologise properly. I didn’t mean to offend you and I didn’t think about how my words would affect you. I know you’re healthy and I know you take great care of yourself and your body. I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious. You’re beautiful and your body is fit and healthy. I know you work hard to keep yourself in great shape and I shouldn’t have made you feel bad about it.”

“I know,” Emma assured the brunette who looked cut up about the entire ordeal. “I know you didn’t mean to upset me and to be honest I overreacted. Even though I know you were complimenting me, I find it hard when people notice my body, especially the fact that I’m slim. For years I was told I was too skinny. Now I’m at a healthy weight and I know that but in my head I always assume that when people notice my size, they think I’m underweight.”

“I didn’t mean that,” Regina said at once, taking Emma’s hands in her own. “You’re beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Emma said, ducking her head, suddenly shy. “I guess I’ll always just be self-conscious about my weight.”

“I am too,” Regina admitted. “Isn’t every woman?”

“Your body is gorgeous,” Emma said at once. “You’re beautiful. And anyway, I’m with you for who you are, not what you look like.”

“You’re saying that because you haven’t seen me without clothes on,” Regina murmured, eyes downcast.

“Is that what this is about?” Emma asked, realising that perhaps the comment was less about her body and more about Regina’s lack of confidence in her own skin.

Regina shrugged, still avoiding Emma’s gaze. “I’ve had a kid. I’m older than you.”

“You’re thirty-one, I’m twenty-seven.” Emma pointed out.

“I’ve had a kid,” Regina repeated.


“So that changes your body,” Regina sighed. “Being pregnant, breast-feeding. I wouldn’t do anything differently because it gave me Henry and I gave him the best start in life. But my body … changed.”

“Regina,” the blonde said, reaching out and lifting Regina’s chin with the tip of a finger until their eyes met, “you are beautiful. And if you’ll let me, I’d like to show you just how beautiful I think you are.”

“What about the wine?” Regina asked. Their glasses were still half-full.

“I’m in the mood to drink something else,” Emma said, voice low and eyes dark.

Regina swallowed. “Ok,” she whispered before standing from the couch.

Emma’s breath hitched as the olive skin of Regina’s bare thighs became eye-level. Fingers appeared in front of her vision and she reached out to interlace them with her own. Pulled to her feet, she followed Regina, silently, into the bedroom.

“I’m nervous,” Regina said quietly when the door was closed behind them, the bedside light the only illumination in the room.

“If you don’t want to -”

“No, I do,” Regina interrupted, turning to face the blonde who was stood slightly behind her. “I do. It’s just … been a while.”

“Well, it’s been a while for me too,” Emma offered.

“Over two years?”

“Not quite, but let’s not think about anyone who came before. Tonight is about us, right?”

“Right,” Regina nodded. “Let’s just take it slow. Is that ok?”

“Whatever you want,” Emma said, slipping her hands around Regina so her palms rested on her lower back.

“I want you,” Regina said, leaning up to press a soft kiss to the blonde’s lips.

No more words were needed. Both women melted into the kiss, mouths parting at once to allow their tongues to meet. Regina threaded her fingers through the long blonde locks, caressing the nape of Emma’s neck as the younger woman’s hands moved down to cup the swell of her ass. She moaned lightly, pressing herself closer to the toned body against her.

Emma could feel the heat of the brunette’s skin through the thin silk layer, burning against her palms and fuelling the fire raging in the pit of her belly. Without breaking the kiss, she began to walk Regina backwards towards the bed, hands squeezing softly at the pert ass. When they reached the edge of the mattress, Regina sat down, leaning back and pulling Emma with her. She went willingly, the two of them eventually breaking the kiss so that Regina could manoeuvre herself up so she was lying with her head of the pillow, Emma hovering above her.

“Are you ok?” the blonde asked, wanting to make sure this was really what Regina wanted.

Nodding once, Regina resumed their kiss, fingers now reaching to unbutton Emma’s pyjama shirt. Within seconds, the plaid was hanging open, a rush of cool air hitting the newly exposed skin. The chill was immediately countered by two warm hands landing on her slender waist and sliding upwards to cup her breasts.

Emma moaned into the kiss, her arms trembling with the effort of holding herself up while Regina’s thumbs flicked over her nipples, stiff and tender at the stimulation. The brunette smirked into the kiss, squeezing the small globes harder as her tongue took control of the kiss. Involuntarily, Emma ground her hips forwards, rocking against the woman below her and shifting the silk slip upwards as she did so. Regina shivered at the combined sensations of her girlfriend’s movement and the soft fabric.

Hands slid from Emma’s breasts up to her shoulders, pushing the material away. The kiss broke once more as Emma sat back on her haunches, shrugging the shirt off. Through the dim light, Regina gazed up at the woman sitting astride her. Her body, as Regina had expected, was exquisite. Her muscular stomach appeared even more defined in the low lighting and Regina couldn’t help but reach out and rake her fingertips up and down the soft skin, feeling the toned physique.

“Come here,” she murmured, beckoning Emma back down so their kiss could continue, hands moving to cup the neglected breasts once more.

This time it was Emma’s turn to dominate the kiss, her own hands now sliding up Regina’s sides, the silk bunching as she went. Skimming her left hand around the brunette’s ribcage, she cupped the generous globe. Regina’s breasts were larger than her own and Emma’s fingers encircled one eagerly, a light pressure applied. The brunette let out a whimper of approval.

Teeth scraped against Regina’s lip as the older woman’s hands began to slide lower, skating up and down the smooth skin of Emma’s back until they reached the waistband of her pyjamas. Fingers dipped beneath them a few times before Regina slid her hand down to cup Emma’s ass. The nibble on her lip turned into a bite as the blonde’s hips canted forwards, desperate for a little friction to relieve some of the building pressure within her.

“Off,” Regina mumbled into the kiss as her fingers began to push at the one remaining article of clothing Emma was wearing.

Obediently, and willingly, Emma sat up and swung her leg back so she could shimmy off her pyjama pants. Returning to her previous position straight away, now completely naked, Emma went to lean back down to kiss her girlfriend when a hand in the centre of her chest stopped her progress.

“What?” she asked, paused in her descent.

“I just want to look at you for a moment,” Regina admitted, pushing lightly on Emma so she was sat upright once more.

Emma bit her lip but didn’t move, a flush creeping up her face as she watched Regina’s eyes drinking in the sight before her. Legs spread wide on either side of the brunette’s hips, Emma felt a little exposed but the look of lust in the deep brown eyes was worth the vulnerability. They journeyed from the small patch of cropped blonde curls at the apex of her legs up her stomach, over her breasts and then up to meet those dazzling emerald orbs.

“So beautiful,” Regina whispered, fingers now raking up and down Emma’s thighs which were resting either side of her waist.

“Not too skinny?” Emma half-joked.

But Regina didn’t laugh. Instead, she beckoned Emma back towards her and pressed a tender kiss to her lips. “Perfect,” she murmured, arms encircling the naked woman.

Emma melted into the kiss, her self-consciousness disappearing as fast as it had come, replaced by something which had been bubbling beneath the surface since she saw Regina in the park that afternoon. Desire.

In one fluid movement, Emma rolled onto her back, pulling Regina with her so suddenly the brunette was lying in the crux of her open legs, the front of her silk slip pressed against Emma’s exposed centre. She moaned at the sensation, kissing Regina with even more passion.

Regina, too, was feeling the need to move things along. Somewhat awkwardly in her new position, she began to wrestle her slip up her body. With Emma’s help, she pulled it off and over her head. The fabric landed silently on the floor where it was flung but neither woman cared. Already their lips were locked together once more, their chests pressed tightly against one another with no barrier between them for the first time. Only Regina’s lace underwear remained.

Much as Emma wanted the chance to gaze with reverence on the brunette’s body as the older woman had done, she resisted. It was obvious that Regina was a little self-conscious and Emma didn’t want to make her feel under a spotlight. Her hands, however, roamed freely, skating up and down the perfect skin from her breasts down to her butt, touching every inch she could reach.

And then Regina began to move southwards and Emma’s reach became more limited, the brunette’s supple body sliding lower, peppering her body with kisses. She groaned and arched her back as the tip of her tongue flickered over her nipple before a hot mouth sealed around her areola. Threading her fingers through thick, dark locks, she held Regina to her chest, willing the brunette to continue the delicious torture which was causing the ache between her legs to reach an almost unbearable height.

But she needn’t have worried about that because Regina was just as impatient. After laving both of Emma’s breasts with equal attention, she slithered further down, her tongue trailing over the twitching muscles of the blonde’s stomach as lean thighs parted to make space for her.

When her kisses reached Emma’s hips, Regina pulled away slightly, shuffling herself backwards and settling more comfortably. Emma propped her head up on a pillow, not wanting to miss a second of what was about to happen. Small hands landed on the inside of her thighs, fingers stroking softly and making Emma’s core clench in anticipation. Regina noticed the movement and smirked.

She had thought she would be nervous, would have forgotten what to do. It had been so long since she had made love to a woman and she had spent so many years of her life with Mal. She and her wife had fallen into a routine, both knowing the other so well that their movements became second nature. Their sex had become more perfunctory than romantic, especially after Henry was born and their lives became busier. It was pleasurable, always, but that was because they each knew the best, easiest, more effective ways to get the other off. It wasn’t exciting, or new, or adventurous. But now, laying between Emma’s spread thighs, Regina knew that would never happen between her and the blonde.

Eyes locked with Emma’s, Regina lowered her mouth to the younger woman’s glistening core. Her tongue trailed a long, slow, almost torturous line up Emma’s centre, parting her labia and tasting the tangy liquid already coating her sex.

“Fuck,” Emma hissed, eyes snapping closed at the sensation.

Regina smirked into the folds beneath her lips and repeated the action, licking a little more firmly up until she reached Emma’s clit. The hard little bundle of nerves protruded eagerly, waiting, desperate to be stimulated. Regina wasn’t one to deny her lovers so she trapped it between her lips, sucking it softly into the warmth of her mouth. Emma’s fingers tangled themselves in her hair, anchoring the woman against her. She needn’t have bothered. In that moment, there was nowhere else in the world Regina Mills would rather be.

The tip of Regina’s tongue teased the sensitive mass still encased in wet warmth. Emma’s hips bucked uncontrollably so Regina hooked her arms around the toned thighs, palms resting on the blonde’s flat stomach in a gentle attempt to still her body. Secretly, however, she was thrilled to have been able to achieve such a reaction.

Moving from the over-stimulated nerves, not wanting Emma to come too soon, Regina slid her tongue back down between Emma’s folders, tasting the richer flavour which gathered at her entrance. Circling the muscles there, she probed gently inside, feeling Emma’s body part willingly to accept her. It wasn’t enough, however, so she unhooked one arm and brought her fingers to join the party. She glanced up at Emma to check she was on board, knowing that some lesbians were not keen on penetration. The lustful look on the blonde’s face and a slight nod, however, was all the reassurance she needed.

One digit slid smoothly into the tight, hot heat. Both women moaned in unison at the sensations experienced by their bodies. Emma reached for Regina’s other hand, still lying on her stomach, and laced their fingers together, needing to feel the connection. They were already connected, of course. Regina could feel the pulsing walls of the blonde wrapped around her finger, her whole being reduced to the sensation of Emma’s body squeezing her own. She set a slow, steady pace, pushing in and out, in and out, as her tongue returned to draw circles around the tender bud of nerves.

Emma’s hips began to rock, gently, matching Regina’s pace, encouraging the brunette’s thrusts. Taking the hint, Regina added a second finger. Emma’s body was already aroused and wet, the addition sliding easily alongside the first. A moan sounded from the top of the bed and Regina’s hooded eyes trailed up to see her girlfriend; back arched, head thrown back, chest heaving. She was close.

Redoubling her efforts, Regina sped up the thrusts of her fingers, curling the tips as she pulled out so they pressed against the inner wall of her girlfriend. Emma moaned louder, her hips widening as if to encourage Regina closer. Mouth pressed hotly against her clit, tongue lashing it faster and faster, fingers buried deep inside her core, there was no way Regina could get closer to Emma, however, much as she wanted to.

The tell-tale fluttering of an orgasm surrounded Regina’s fingers. She pumped harder, wanting to carry Emma up to the top and over the edge. Her teeth grazed lightly against the tight bundle of nerves as her name tumbled from pale lips. Emma’s fingernails scraped against Regina’s scalp as she came, her back arched high off the mattress as waves of pleasure crashed over her. Regina was relentless, continuing the movement of her mouth and fingers as Emma’s body rippled in pleasure. Her heart sang as she heard her name chanted breathlessly into the room, the blonde overwhelmed at the sensations.

When at last her body relaxed, slumping back onto the mattress, Regina slowed her fingers and slid them from the blonde’s core. She sucked both into her mouth, cleaning them of the younger woman’s essence and savouring the flavour she knew she was already addicted to.

“Are you ok?” Regina asked after she had settled herself on her side, lying beside the blonde whose eyes were closed.

“You,” Emma panted, “are going to kill me.”

“In a good way?” Regina grinned as the blonde turned her head towards her and batted her eyes open.

“The best,” Emma confirmed, pressing her lips hotly against Regina’s and delighting in the taste of herself mixed with her girlfriend. “That was … the best first time I’ve ever had.”

“Really?” Regina said, eyebrows raised. “Is there much competition for that spot?”

Emma laughed, rolling onto her side and throwing her leg over Regina’s, pulling their bodies flush together. “Are you asking for my number?”

“Perhaps,” Regina admitted. “Bad time?”

“No,” Emma said, kissing Regina lightly on the lips. “I’ve been in one long term relationship, dated four or five women and had a handful of one night stands.”

“A handful?”

“Seventeen,” Emma said simply. “Including you, I’ve slept with seventeen women in total.”


Although Regina didn’t roll away, Emma could feel the tension flowing through her girlfriend’s body.

“It’s too many. I shouldn’t have told you,” Emma sighed. “I should have lied, told you half that number.”

“Eight point five women?” Regina replied. “No, Emma, it’s fine. You told the truth. I asked, you answered.”

“Yeah and now you’re upset,” Emma said. “I’m sorry, Regina. I didn’t mean to spoil this evening.”

“You didn’t,” Regina said. “I just wasn’t aware you were quite so … experienced.”

“Now I feel like a slut,” Emma remarked.

“No, that’s not what I meant. I guess I mean I feel inexperienced by comparison.”

“Regina, I think the orgasm you just gave me proves you are anything but inexperienced. And even if you think you’re out of practice, you read my body like a book. If that was what you managed to do our first time, you have nothing to worry about.”

“Are you sure?”

“I promise,” Emma said sincerely, following the statement with a kiss. “I said that was the best first time I’ve ever had and I meant it. Seventeeth time’s the charm, right?”

“Yes, because that’s a saying,” Regina chuckled sarcastically.

“It is now. Or at least, it will be.” Emma rolled Regina gently onto her back, fitting her body into the cradle made by the brunette’s legs. “Speaking of which, what charm am I?”

“Third,” Regina replied quietly. “You’re my third charm, Miss Charming.”

Emma placed a soft kiss to the inside of Regina’s thigh. “Let’s hope that saying really is true.”

Regina was about to answer but the words died on her lips as Emma’s mouth covered her sex. She quivered at the sudden rush of warmth and stimulation, remembering how it felt to be touched, to be worshipped by another woman. Her legs tightened around Emma’s head, trapping the woman there as a dexterous tongue swiped through her folds.

“Oh God,” Regina gasped, head lolling back against the pillow as Emma’s mouth captured her clit.

This was going to be embarrassingly quick, the brunette thought. Even if Emma hadn’t just broken a two year dry spell, the way the woman’s mouth was working against her was enough to tip anyone over the edge. Regina groaned as she felt Emma’s tongue move back down, leaving her tender nerve bundle to rest for a moment as she explored further.

Fingers fisted in the sheets on either side of her body as Emma probed her entrance, pushing lightly inside and curling against the ridged wall. As she did so, the blonde’s nose bumped against Regina’s clit, pressing insistently against it as the pressure deep within the older woman rose and spread. It felt like fire; flames licking her insides, moving through her veins in an all consuming way.

Was this what it had always been like? Had she just forgotten the overwhelming sensations which could be created by a lover? No, Regina realised. This was Emma. This was all due to the blonde head now bobbing between her legs.

“Emma,” she gasped as the woman returned to focus on her clit.

Green eyes snapped open, locking with her own. Even without seeing her mouth, Regina could tell the blonde was smirking. Smug at her own talents. Regina had to admit the blonde was entitled to such an opinion. But it was more than smugness. It was also pride and satisfaction in herself at having been able to bring Regina so much pleasure.

“Come for me, Regina,” Emma murmured, breaking away just to say those four words before sealing her mouth once more around Regina’s core.

White hot pleasure flooded Regina’s body, a silent cry of ecstasy on her lips. Hands flew from the sheet to Emma’s head, gripping tight, as if daring the woman to move away. Moving was the last thing on the blonde’s mind, however, who would happily stay nestled in the crux of the older woman’s legs until the day she died.

Eventually, however, Regina’s grip lessened and she instead pushed lightly on Emma’s scalp, too sensitive for anything more. Placing a final kiss to both inner thighs, Emma crawled her way back up Regina’s body.

Laying down beside her spent lover, Emma curled herself into Regina’s side, holding her gently as her breathing returned to normal.

“Emma,” Regina murmured after at least a minute.

“I’m here,” Emma replied at once, holding the brunette a little tighter. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good,” Regina said, rolling onto her side so they were chest to chest. “I don’t want you to go. Ever.”

She snuggled closer, Emma’s arms wrapped around her body. Regina was vaguely aware that she was lying on her left side. She never settled on her left side. But sleep was already claiming her satiated body.

“Do you think we should get out of bed to put some clothes on before we sleep?” Emma asked.

“In a minute,” Regina whispered, reluctant to break the spell which had fallen over them.

“Ok,” Emma nodded, pressing a kiss to Regina’s forehead and closing her eyes.

Chapter Text

“Mom! Is Emma here? Her big motorbike is outside. Can I go on the motorbike? Why don’t you have any clothes on?”

At the last comment, Regina yelped and hurriedly tugged the duvet so it was fully covering her body. At least she was the one sleeping with her back, and butt, to the bedroom door. Her naked form was shielding Emma’s, the sleepy woman in whose arms she was lying. The blonde herself was waking up a little more slowly.

“Henry,” Regina said, the word jolting the blonde back to consciousness as green eyes snapped open.

“Where’s Emma?”

“Right here, kid,” the younger woman said, raising her head and grinning at the small boy who was stood in the doorway over his mother’s shoulder.

“Can I go on your motorbike?” Henry repeated.

“Um,” Emma began, glancing at the red-faced woman around whom her arms were still wrapped, “ask your mom.”

“Mom,” Henry said, waiting until Regina rolled over so she was looking at him before he continued, “can I go on Emma’s motorbike please?”

“Can we talk about this while we eat breakfast?” Regina suggested. In fact, she didn’t remotely want to even entertain the possibility of Henry sitting astride a motorbike but she was more concerned with not having any conversations at all with her son while lying naked with her back pressed against Emma’s bare front. It was, to say the least, distracting.

“Ok,” Henry said, moving further into the room and climbing up onto the bed. Regina and Emma simultaneously pulled the duvet even closer around them. “Emma, when are you going to cook breakfast?”

“Are you hungry?” the blonde asked. Henry nodded, now sitting beside his mother. “Give us ten minutes to get dressed and then I’ll start cooking. Would you like to help me?”

“Get dressed?” Henry frowned. “But you’re a grown up. I’m six and I can dress myself.” Wow, adults were weird.

“I meant cook,” Emma said, forcing herself to hide a smile.

“Oh, ok,” Henry said. “Mom, I’m going to help Emma make breakfast.”

Regina nodded. “I heard. Why don’t you go and wash your hands and we’ll meet you in the kitchen?”

Henry obediently slid from the bed and disappeared out of the room. Regina rolled back over, still with Emma’s arm around her waist. The blonde seemed unwilling to loosen her hold and the older woman wasn’t complaining.

“So, I guess we fell asleep before we put clothes on last night,” Regina said, unnecessarily.

“I guess so,” Emma nodded, pulling Regina even closer so their naked bodies were pressed tightly together. “I’m not complaining.”

“I mooned my son,” Regina replied. Clearly she had grown too warm during the night and shifted the duvet away from her warm body, inadvertently giving her son an eyeful. To be fair, Henry regularly saw Regina naked. It was more the fact that Emma was naked too that had shaken the mother.

“We’ll make sure we get dressed next time,” Emma said. “Good morning, by the way.”

“Good morning,” Regina said, pressing a kiss to Emma’s lips. “And what makes you think there’s going to be a next time?”

“Are you telling me this was a one-time thing?”

Regina smirked, unable to pretend. “I sincerely hope not.”

“Good. Me neither.”

Emma leaned forwards to kiss the woman, a soft, gentle pressure despite the heat she already felt as a result of their naked state. That was something she liked about her relationship with Regina. It wasn’t all about the sex. In fact, Emma didn’t remember the last time she had waited so long before sleeping with the person she was date. And yet she would gladly have waited as long as Regina wanted. When it came to the brunette, what they had ran deeper than their physical attraction.

“This is nice,” Emma remarked when the kiss ended, fingers trailing up and down Regina’s back.

“It is,” Regina agreed. “But my son is waiting for you to make him breakfast. Are you sure you want him to help?”

“It might be a good idea,” Emma replied. “If he gets interested in how meals are made, he may be more willing to try new things.”

“Did that help you?”

“Yes,” Emma nodded. “And became my career path to boot. But the first step was getting involved in the preparation of my own meals. I guess it was a control thing but it definitely helped me improve my diet.”

“Let’s hope the same is true for Henry,” Regina said, wistful.

Emma pressed another kiss to Regina’s lips. “Me too. Come on, we’d better get dressed. Do you mind if I grab a quick shower?”

“Go ahead,” Regina nodded. “I’ll have one after you.”

“Or we could have one together,” Emma suggested at once.

Regina’s eyes darkened. The idea of showering with the blonde was incredibly tempting but also highly inappropriate. “Another time?” she suggested. “We told Henry we’d be ten minutes.”

“True,” Emma admitted. “Ok, can I borrow a robe to walk to the bathroom. Unlike you, I don’t flash six year olds.”

Regina swatted at Emma’s shoulder before pointing to the back of her bedroom door where her own dressing gown hung. Emma placed a final kiss to Regina’s lips before releasing her arms from around the woman and rolling away. The brunette made no secret of the fact that her eyes were glued to the bare body which emerged and walked around the end of the bed. Emma could feel the heated gaze and shot a wink over her shoulder just before she donned the robe and tied it securely.

“Nice ass,” Regina said. “You can flash me any time.”

“Noted,” Emma laughed. “I’ll be five minutes.”

“There are fresh towels in the cupboard below the sink. Help yourself to anything in the shower.”

“I’ll be able to make myself smell like you all day,” Emma grinned before disappearing out of the room, leaving Regina to lie back in her bed and marvel at the perfectness of her life.

By the time Regina entered the kitchen twenty minutes later, towel-dried hair dampening the top of her shirt, Henry was stood on a chair stirring a bowl held securely by Emma.

“Mom! I’m making pancakes,” he exclaimed as soon as he realised his mother had arrived.

“I can see that,” Regina said, dropping a kiss to the crown of his head. “Good stirring.”

“I poured the milk in too. And put the flour in with that metal thingy over there.”

“A sieve,” Regina supplied, smiling at Emma over the top of her son.

“Emma, what now?” Henry asked, dropping the spoon onto the counter and spattering the mix all over the surface.

“Now, we need to cook them,” Emma said, pointing to the pan she had already put on the stove, a knob of butter patiently waiting to be melted. “This part is a little bit dangerous because it can get very hot so maybe you can help your mom get out everything we’re going to have on the top of the pancakes.”

“Jam!” Henry shouted.

“Ok, and what about your mom? What does she want?”

Henry turned and looked up at his mother. “Mom?”

“I think I’ll have some maple syrup today,” Regina mused.

“Want me to cook some bacon too?” Emma asked. She had spotted a pack of the meat in the fridge.

“How about some bananas instead?” Regina suggested. “Henry, would you like to help me slice up the bananas?”

“I don’t like bananas,” Henry pointed out.

“You don’t have to eat them,” Regina reasoned, “just cut them up. And maybe you do like bananas. You haven’t eaten one in a long time.”

“I’ll cut them but I don’t want to eat any,” Henry said firmly, climbing down from the chair and dragging the piece of furniture back to the table.

“Ok,” Regina agreed. “Come on then, let’s get a chopping board and a knife and some bananas.

When the pancakes were at last cooked, Emma carried over the teetering stack to where both Mills were sitting, Regina pouring out the fresh coffee she had made for her and the blonde. A bowl of haphazardly chopped banana slices had been placed beside a bottle of maple syrup and Henry’s jar of jam.

“Here we go,” Emma said, placing the plate down. “Henry, would you like one or two?”

“Two.” There was a beat and then; “please.”

“Ok,” Emma nodded, forking the requested number onto the boy’s own plate and passing him the jam. “Regina?”

“Two as well please,” she smiled. “What a treat! Thank you for cooking again. Can you say thank you to Emma please, Henry?”

“But I made them too,” Henry protested.

“You helped Emma cook them,” Regina reasoned. “So how about I say thank you to you as well as Emma and you say thank you to just Emma.”

That seemed fair, Henry decided. With all parties receiving the appropriate thanks, Regina and Emma set about adding bananas and syrup to their pancakes while Henry used a spoon to slather jam onto the top of his.

Emma and Regina both watched slyly as Henry picked up his fork and pried off a piece of the pancake. Without hesitation, he popped it into his mouth, chewed and swallowed.

“Mom, can I have some milk please?”

“Of course,” Regina replied at once, jumping to her feet and retrieving the requested drink from the fridge.

While he waited, Henry took another bite. Emma couldn’t help but feel a little proud as she dug into her own breakfast. It was a step forwards. From what Regina had told her about their meeting with the psychologist on Thursday, Henry had been made aware of the reasons behind his limited diet and, it appeared, had understood that things needed to change. Emma thought the approach sounded too direct when Regina first recounted the conversation. It seemed, however, that Henry had taken on board what he had been told and was willing to at least try and improve his eating habits. If Emma was able to help him do that in some way, then she was honoured.

One and a half pancakes later, Henry declared he was full. Gulping down the last of his milk, he asked if he could go and play with his trains. Regina nodded her permission on the condition that he put his plate and glass in the dishwasher. Chores done, the young boy disappeared, leaving both women alone.

“Well, I think that went well,” Emma said, her own plate scraped clean.

“It did,” Regina agreed. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For cooking. For getting Henry interested. He never wants to help when I ask him.”

“I’m just glad he ate them,” Emma replied. “It’s real progress, Regina. He’s trying new food. He’s open to new flavours. He’s going to be ok.”

“I hope so,” Regina sighed.

“I know so,” Emma insisted, reaching out and placing her hand on top of the brunette’s.

“Mom, can I go on Emma’s motorbike?” Henry asked, charging back into the room, having remembered the request that he had made earlier that morning.

“Um, no,” Regina said.

Henry pouted. “Why not?”

“Because you don’t have a helmet and you don’t have any clothes to protect you.”

“Can we go to buy a helmet and clothes?”

“Not today,” Regina replied. “And anyway, Emma has to go to work soon.”

Henry frowned at that. “But it’s Sunday. It’s the weekend. People don’t work at the weekend.”

“Not usually, but I work in a restaurant where everyone else comes to enjoy their weekend by eating nice food,” Emma pointed out. “So while most people don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays, they are my busy days.”

“Oh,” Henry said, sounding crestfallen. “So you have to go?”

“In about half an hour,” Emma nodded, glancing at the clock.


“Henry, sweetheart. Do you not want Emma to go?” Regina asked gently.

Henry shook his head. “I wanted to play trains with Emma.”

“How about you ask Emma if she would like to come over after school tomorrow to play trains with you?” Regina suggested.

At that, Henry’s face lit up. Even if Emma wasn’t already one hundred per cent on board with that plan, the fact that the small boy was excited at the prospect of spending time with her would have made her rearrange any commitments she might have made.

“Emma?” Henry asked, turning to the blonde. “Can you come play trains with me tomorrow?”

“I’d love to,” Emma smiled. “What time do you finish school?”

“Three thirty but then I go to play at Ursula’s house until five then Mom comes to get me,” Henry recalled.

“Actually,” Regina said. “I’m going to collect you from school tomorrow. I’m taking the day off work.”

“You are?” Both Emma and Henry asked the same question, heads turning towards the brunette.

“I am,” Regina nodded. She glanced at Emma, silently communicating that they’d talk more later.

“Ok, so can Emma come over after school, Mom?” Henry continued.

“Of course,” Regina nodded.

“Good,” Henry announced. “Bye, Emma. See you tomorrow.”

With that, he trotted out of the room and back to his trains. Emma turned to his mother eyebrows raised in question.

“I’m taking tomorrow off,” Regina repeated.


“Because I know Monday is your day off and I want to spend it with you, if you’re free?”

“Oh I’m free,” Emma said, already excited at the prospect. “But don’t you have to work?”

“I’m the CEO of the company. My job is to put the right people in the right positions to best service our clients. If I’m not there, the work still gets done. I’ll just have a few more emails to answer when I arrive on Tuesday morning. You only get one day off a week. I want to be able to spend it with you sometimes, if that’s alright with you.”

“It’s more than alright,” Emma grinned. “I’d love spend the day with you.”

“It’s a date,” Regina said, leaning over to kiss Emma lightly before setting about tidying up their breakfast things.

“What time would you like our date to start?” Emma asked, trying to help but Regina batted her hands away, insisting that the blonde cooked so she was to sit and enjoy the rest of her coffee.

“How about after work tonight?” Regina suggested.

Emma grinned. “Another slumber party?”

“If you’d like to,” Regina nodded.

“Oh I’d love to,” Emma replied at once.

“Great,” Regina smiled. “And maybe you can walk Henry to school with me in the morning.”

At that, the excitement which Emma had been feeling at the prospect of spending another night with Regina faltered. “Oh.”

Turning around from the sink where she was washing the pan, Regina caught the look of apprehension on the blonde’s face.

“What’s wrong?” Regina asked.

“Do you not remember the way Henry reacted on Thursday morning when he thought I was going to walk him to school? I don’t think he’s ready for that. He thought I was going to replace Mal and then disappear like she did. I don’t want him thinking that’s going to happen with me.”

“And walking him to school will make him think you’re going to leave?”

“I don’t know,” Emma sighed. “But he wasn’t happy at the idea three days ago. Why would tomorrow be any different? He clearly associates going to school with you and Mal and then Mal disappearing.”

“She did leave two months after he started nursery,” Regina mused. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“I think it might be best if I wait here. Leave the walk as something that you and Henry share. For now, at least.”

“Ok,” Regina agreed. “You’re probably right. Thank you for reminding me. I don’t want Henry to think you’re just another Mal.”

“I don’t want to be another Mal,” Emma said, crossing the kitchen and pulling Regina into her arms. “I won’t be another Mal.”

“I know,” Regina said at once. “I know that. And we have to make sure Henry does too. But we also need to take things slow. I don’t want to put too much pressure on us too soon.”

“I think it’s a little late for that,” Emma mused. “I already have a play date with your son tomorrow. But I don’t think of it as pressure, Regina. I think of it as an honour that Henry has chosen to not only accept my sudden appearance in his life but is willing to include me in his play time. That’s a big step for a six-year-old.”

“You understand kids,” Regina noted. “They connect with you.”

“I grew up with more foster siblings than I can count. I was always around kids. The foster families tend to use the older kids to take care of the younger ones. It was only when I moved in with my final foster mom and dad that I was allowed to be a teenager without the responsibility of looking after younger kids. But by then I had had so much practice, I always assumed I’d be a mother one day.”

“Maybe you will be,” Regina said, kissing Emma lightly.

“You know that can’t happen,” Emma sighed. As it always did when her inability to have children was brought up, a pang of sadness shot through her body.

“And you should know better than anyone that blood doesn’t make a family,” Regina murmured, another kiss placed on Emma’s lips.

“Maybe,” Emma sighed. “Anyway, I’d better get going. I have to put a big order in for next week and I’ve got to get to the restaurant early to do inventory.”

“Ok,” Regina accepted. “I’ll see you tonight though?”

“Of course,” Emma confirmed. She unwound her arms from around Regina and stepped away. But before she could move far, fingers grasped her wrist.

“Emma, I’m sorry,” Regina offered.

“For what?”

“For talking about kids. I know it’s painful for you.”

“Yeah, well, it’s my own fault.” Regardless of what had happened to trigger her anorexia, Emma would never not blame herself for the damage she had subsequently done to her own body.

“Don’t say that,” Regina said quietly. “If you’re going to blame anyone, blame the person who made you feel like you didn’t have control.” Emma’s eyes locked with Regina’s, wide and wary. “You don’t have to tell me what happened,” Regina continued. “But know that I am here, that I listen to everything you say and that if you ever want to talk, I’ll be ready to hear your story.”

“If you blame that person for what happened to me then you’d be placing the blame for Henry’s eating problems at your own feet,” Emma pointed out.

“No,” Regina said, shaking her head as a look of darkness crossed her features. “That blame belongs to Mal. I used to want her to come back. I used to want to ask her what happened, why she left. But now, I know that our lives will be infinitely better if neither Henry nor I ever see her face again.”

“Yeah, well, I’m with you there,” Emma nodded. Not only was she glad that Mal had no contact with Regina or Henry, for their sakes rather than because she was jealous, but she also never wanted to see him again. “Look, can we talk about this later? Or not, whatever. I’m going to be late.”

“Sure,” Regina nodded. “I’ll finish cleaning up while you get ready. Make sure you say goodbye to Henry before you leave.”

“Of course,” Emma promised.

She would always make sure she said goodbye to Henry. She also made a silent vow to herself that she would never leave, not unless Regina wanted her to. It might only have been a month. She may only have spent an afternoon and two breakfasts with Henry. But already Emma couldn’t imagine her life without the Mills in it. What’s more, she didn’t want to.


Chapter Text

When Regina’s alarm went of at its usual time that Monday morning, she forced herself to gently extricate herself from the tangle of limbs which surrounded her. Emma mumbled something unintelligible as her leg, which had been thrown over Regina’s, fell against the warm mattress, her arms now hugging a pillow the brunette used in replacement of her own body. Smiling tenderly at the sight of the younger woman, burrowing deeper into her duvet, tangled hair splayed across the sheets, Regina turned and headed down to her basement.

If Emma was going to be staying over more often, Regina needed to maintain her morning routine, regardless of how much she wanted to remain in bed. Grabbing a pair of yoga pants and a sports bra from the small closet she had put into the basement when it was converted, she made her way through to the studio space. Firing up the large television, she navigated her way to YouTube and selected one of the new videos on her preferred channel.

As she started the slow, steady Pilates warmup, Regina found herself paying particular attention to the way her stomach moved. Crunches were the bane of her workouts but as she diligently performed them, in time with the instructor, she became transfixed with the muscles tensing and releasing beneath her skin. Ok, so her abs weren’t as defined as Emma’s but they were still strong.

She rolled onto her side, preparing to do a one arm plank with dips to work her oblique muscles. Again, when possible, she looked at the way her body was performing. She was fit. And healthy. Her stomach was toned and her muscles were regularly worked. She might not have a six pack but she was still in great shape.

After working both sets of oblique muscles, Regina rolled onto her back once more and began her slow bridge poses. It was then, knees and hips in the air, that her attention landed on her stretch marks. She knew why she had them. She knew that it was those nine months during which her body had made and grown and nurtured her son that had caused the marring on her skin. But she still disliked the sight of them. Emma hadn’t seen them yet, in the dim light of the bedroom. Or maybe she had seen them and chosen not to say anything. To Regina they were glaring; jagged white lines etched in her olive skin. But was that because she knew they were there? Were they really so obvious?

There was nothing Regina could do to get rid of the marks, she knew. And she also knew, deep down, that Emma wouldn’t care. But she did. Perhaps it was vain of her. Perhaps she was too critical. But it was with relief that the exercise changed and the instructor’s next move meant Regina no longer had to stare at her biggest body hang-up.

“Hey, where did you go?”

As soon as Regina returned to the bedroom after her shower, Emma lifted her head off the pillow, eyes drinking in the sight of the woman with a towel wrapped around her. Her shoulders were peppered with water droplets which had landed on her clean skin from the loose tendrils of hair which hung by her neck. Emma felt the urge to train her tongue along each and every path they took.

“Workout,” she replied. “How did you sleep?”

“Wonderfully,” Emma said, sinking back into the bedding and stretching. “I was just sad to wake up cuddling a pillow instead of my girlfriend.”

Regina chuckled as she crossed over to the bed, leaning down and kissing Emma lightly. “Well, I’m sorry but despite the fact that your presence is a welcome addition to my mornings, I still need to do my workout.”

“I could have given you a workout,” Emma said, reaching out and tugging the retreating woman back to her by the edge of the towel. Regina went willingly, kneeling on the bed and straddling Emma above the duvet. Fingers fumbled to untuck the piece of material until it fell open, hands at once exploring the warm, damp skin. The curtains were still drawn, so the dimly lit room reassured the brunette that her stretch marks weren’t obvious and she melted willingly into the morning make-out session.

“Henry will be up any minute,” Regina mumbled into the kiss after several minutes.

Emma nodded her understanding but didn’t stop the movement of her hands, up and down Regina’s sides. The brunette whimpered and forced herself to pull away, the towel falling behind her.

“Please tell me you’re coming back to bed as soon as you return from dropping Henry at school,” Emma said, eyes drinking in the naked woman before her.

“I promise,” Regina said, climbing off Emma and picking up the towel.

Instead of wrapping it back around herself, however, she dried her shoulders and then bundled her hair up into it. Completely naked, she waltzed over to her wardrobe and opened the doors to select an outfit. Emma’s eyes bore into her back, tempted to get out of bed and press her own pyjama-clad body up against Regina’s. But she stopped herself, knowing the mother did need to take care of her son.

“I’ll be an hour or so,” Regina said when she was dressed, hair towel-dried and brushed. “Feel free to go back to sleep.”

“Oh I won’t be able to sleep,” Emma remarked. “You’ve got me all worked up.”

Regina winked salaciously before disappearing from the bedroom, leaving a frustrated Emma in her wake.

“But I want pancakes for breakfast,” Henry huffed, arms crossed in annoyance after he had been told Emma wasn’t awake yet and so wouldn’t be cooking for him.

“How about your usual toast and jam?” Regina suggested. “Or maybe you can try something different? Cereal with milk?”


“Excuse me?”

“The cookies Emma made that we ate in the park on Saturday,” Henry explained. He had spied the remaining treats in a box on the side the previous day. “Can I have one of them?”

“You can’t have cookies for breakfast,” Regina said, despite being pleased that Henry was requesting new types of food. “They have too much sugar in them and not enough good energy. Remember what Archie said about making sure the food you eat gives you energy to learn and play?”

“Fine,” Henry sighed. “Toast and jam, please.” As Regina set about completing her son’s request, he asked another question. “Why is Emma still sleeping?”

“Because she works hard and this is her one day off,” Regina explained. “I get Saturday and Sunday off every week but Emma only gets Mondays. She needs to rest.”

“Making pancakes is easy and I could help her,” Henry pointed out.

“I know but making pancakes is also kind of like work for Emma. That’s what she does every day.”

“Make pancakes?”

“Well, she makes food for other people,” Regina amended. She was fairly sure that Hook, Line & Sinker did not serve pancakes.

“Ok,” Henry sighed as a glass of milk was placed down in front of him. “I guess she can have a rest then. I liked her pancakes though. Emma is a good chef. Gooder than you, Mom.”

“Emma is better than me, I agree,” Regina nodded. She wasn’t hurt by the statement; it was entirely true. After training at one of the best culinary schools in the country, the woman deserved to be an exceptional chef. “And I think if you ask Emma really nicely, she might cook us something for dinner tonight.”

“Even though today is like her weekend?” Henry frowned. Didn’t his mom just say that Emma wasn’t going to do any cooking because she wanted a break from work?

“If you ask her very nicely,” Regina suggested. “Would you like that?”

“Yes,” Henry enthused. “Can I go and ask her now?”

Regina glanced at the clock. They only had twenty minutes before they had to leave for school. “Eat your breakfast and then you can ask her after we’ve done your teeth. Do you know what you want to have for dinner?”

As Regina asked that question, she placed the plate of toast and jam in front of Henry. The small boy looked down at the dish and then up at his mother, an incredulous expression on his face.

“Mom, it’s breakfast now. How can I know what I will want to eat this evening?”

Rolling his eyes at his mother’s idiocy, Henry picked up a slice of toast and started to munch. Regina sat down with her own bowl of fruit; a modest portion as she suspected she wasn’t going to want to feel bloated when she eventually crawled back into bed with Emma.

“Is Emma walking to school with us?” Henry asked as he finished his breakfast.

“No, she isn’t,” Regina replied, then, seeing the slightly crest-fallen look on her son’s face she added; “why? Do you want her to?”

“I dunno,” the small boy shrugged.

“Because last week when I asked you if you wanted Emma to come, you said no very firmly, remember?” Regina prompted.

“Yeah but that was before.”

“Before what?”

“Before, when I thought Emma was going to be a new Ma.”

Regina swallowed, immensely glad her girlfriend wasn’t present to hear this conversation. “A new Ma?”

“Yeah,” Henry nodded. “I thought Emma was going to be like Ma and be here with us and then go away one day. But she isn’t like Ma. She’s Emma. Emma doesn’t want to go away, does she?”

“I hope not,” Regina said softly. “But remember what I said in Archie’s office last week? Sometimes relationships don’t work out and after a while people decide they want to break up. So I know that right now Emma wants to be here and I want her to be here with us but I can’t promise you that will last for ever.”

“Did Ma promise it would last forever?”

“Yes,” Regina admitted, her heart clenching as memories of her wedding day washed over her. “Yes she did.”

“But she left,” Henry added, the statement unnecessary.


“So Emma might leave?”

“She might,” Regina nodded. “But I promised you that I would tell you if that was going to happen, didn’t I? So even if things don’t work out with me and Emma, she’s not going to disappear out of your life without us explaining why.”

“Is Emma going to leave soon?”

“I hope she never leaves,” Regina said simply. “I don’t want Emma to leave. And right now I know that Emma doesn’t want to leave. But I can’t promise we will feel this way about each other forever.”

“I don’t want Emma to leave either,” Henry said, draining his milk and sliding from his chair. “Come on, Mom. We’re going to be late for school.”

As if they hadn’t just had an intense conversation, Henry carried his plate and glass over to the dishwasher and then beckoned his gob-smacked mother to follow him so she could help him brush his teeth. Regina poured Emma some coffee in a mug to deliver to the woman; it was as close to breakfast in bed as she was going to make it. Modest gift in hand, she followed her son.

Once his teeth were thoroughly brushed, Henry took off in the direction of his mother’s room, the brunette’s instruction for him to knock ignored as he barrelled through the door.

“Emma! Can you cook us dinner tonight?” he asked, launching himself at the bed and pulling himself up using the duvet.

The blonde, who had been about to fall back to sleep, couldn’t help but grin at the intrusion.

“Sure kid,” she nodded, sitting up slightly against a bank of pillows. She was glad Regina had insisted the two of them don pyjamas after their love making the night before so she didn’t have to worry about the small boy getting an eyeful. “What do you want to eat?”

“Mom asked me that,” Henry huffed. “I don’t know yet. It’s morning. We don’t eat dinner ‘til the evening. Anyway, Mom says you can make anything in the world so can’t I tell you when I’m hungry tonight?”

“In theory but what if we don’t have the ingredients in the house?” Emma pointed out just as the boy’s mother appeared in the doorway. “I might need to go shopping, so that I know I have all of the things I need to cook for you.”

“Oh,” Henry said, sitting back on his haunches. That, he could concede, was a fair point. “Ok, I like tomatoes and baked beans and bread and pasta and apples and pears and apple juice and crackers and sometimes chicken and last week I ate cheese and Mom puts capsicum in my tomato sauce now. We have all of that stuff. Can you make something with that?”

“I can,” Emma nodded, shooting Regina a look of thanks at the coffee which had been placed on the bedside table.

“Henry, how about Emma makes something which has some of those ingredients in and some new food as well?” Regina suggested.

“Like what new food?” Henry asked.

“Let’s leave it with the genius chef to decide that,” Regina said, winking at Emma. “We need to get to school but will you promise to try whatever Emma cooks if it has at least three things you like in it?”

Henry pondered this proposal. “So what happens if I try it and I don’t like it?”

“Then I’ll cook you something else,” Emma said. “Something with only things you like in it but I promise my first dish is going to be delicious. I already have an idea for something which has tomato and cheese and capsicum and chicken in it.”

“No baked beans?”

“No baked beans,” Emma said, shaking her head.

“No apples?”

“Maybe for dessert.”

Cocking his head to one side, Henry paused for a moment. “Ok,” he said eventually. “Mom, come on, we’re going to be late.”

Sliding down from the bed, Henry trotted out into the hallway where he scooped up his bag. Regina crossed the room to kiss Emma quickly, murmured “thanks” and then followed her son.

As soon as Regina returned from dropping Henry at school, she had gone straight to her bedroom. Emma was waiting, of course, but Regina had not expected the blonde to have undressed in her absence. She tumbled back into bed, her own outfit being shed seconds later. The sex drifted between slow and loving to passionate and intense as both women explored and learned what the other enjoyed.

Soon after one in the afternoon, hunger got the better of them and the energy they had received from their coffees ran out. Each wearing one of Regina’s old t-shirts she had worn when she was pregnant, they headed to the kitchen to make lunch.

“We’re going to need to go shopping before Henry gets home,” Emma remarked as she looked in Regina’s cupboard.

“What are you cooking for him?”

“Pizza,” the blonde replied. “Every kid likes pizza, right? The base is pretty similar to bread and I make a great tomato sauce. I’ll go easy on the onions but I think we should put some in. Cut up small enough, he might not even notice. Then Henry can decorate it himself and put on the toppings he likes.”

Regina’s heart melted at the thoughtfulness. “That sounds perfect. We can pick up whatever we need on our way to collect Henry.”

“Our way?”

The brunette turned to meet the curious emerald gaze. “Would you like to join me when I go to pick Henry up?”

“Would Henry be ok with that?”

“I think so,” Regina nodded. “He seemed almost disappointed when I told him you weren’t coming with us this morning. I think he’d like to see you at the school gates. I haven’t run it by him explicitly but when I left him at drop-off I said ‘we’ll see you tonight’, not I.”

“And you think he picked up on that subtle distinction?”

Regina shrugged. “I don’t know. Why? Do you think it’s a bad idea? Do you not want to go?”

In two strides, Emma had crossed from the cupboard she was investigating over to the woman who was washing some vegetables and gathered her into her arms. “I would love to go with you,” she said, kissing the brunette.

“Good,” Regina grinned, returning the kiss but dragging it out a little longer, teasing Emma’s lips with the tip of her tongue. “Now, come on, let’s eat and then we can get back to bed.”

Emma smiled widely and nodded, very pleased with that plan, and set about creating a simple noodle stir-fry for the two of them to enjoy.

“Much as I want you, can we wait ten minutes?” Emma asked as Regina slid her body on top of the blonde, seconds after they had returned to the bedroom.

“Oh, um, sure,” Regina said, retreating back to her side of the bed.

“Seriously, I want you,” Emma said, rolling over and pulling the brunette close.

“No, it’s fine. We’ve had a lot of sex the past twenty-four hours. You can say if you don’t want to go again.”

Emma huffed and reached for Regina’s hand, tugging it down so lithe fingers cupped her hot, wet sex. “I want you,” Emma said, green eyes locked with brown. “But I’m stuffed. I ate too much and I need to wait for it to digest before you make me see stars again.”

“See stars, huh?” Regina smirked, any insult she had taken evaporating as her fingers curled against Emma’s core.

The blonde gasped and rolled onto her back, placing both her hands on her bloated stomach and closing her eyes. “Just, gimme ten mins, ok?”

Regina nodded her understanding and curled herself into Emma’s side. She closed her eyes and rested her head on the pillow, her own body taking the time to digest and recuperate too. Emma lay stock still, except for her hands running slowly over her flat belly. As Regina nuzzled closer, she became aware that the blonde wasn’t quite as relaxed as she was.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing,” Emma muttered.

The short answer piqued Regina’s interest. “No, come on, tell me,” she pressed. “I want to get to know you, Emma. I can practically hear you thinking.”

Against her stomach, Emma’s hands balled into fists, applying pressure against her rock hard abs.

“I just … I hate feeling full,” she admitted.

“Oh.” There was a long silence. Regina knew where Emma’s mind had gone. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t curious to know more about Emma’s own eating disorder but she had accepted that the blonde wasn’t ready to talk about it. The fact that Emma didn’t talk about it with anyone had made Regina wonder what exactly had happened but she respected the younger woman’s request to not push her. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“You know I want to tell you, right?” Emma sighed. “I want you to know me, Regina. All of me.”

“I do know you,” Regina said, propping herself up on her elbow so she could look down into Emma’s pale face.

“Yeah and you like me at the moment.”

“And you think that would change if you told me about your past?”

Emma shrugged. “Maybe. I guess. Or it would change how you see me. What you think of me. How you feel.”

“Sweetheart,” Regina began, placing a kiss to Emma’s worried forehead, “I promise you that my feelings towards you are not going to change.”

“You can’t promise that,” Emma sighed.

“I can promise that I don’t want them to change,” Regina amended. “And that I’ve never felt anything like this before. I can promise you that I want to continue feeling like this for the rest of my life. I can promise you that I can’t think of anything you could possibly tell me that might make me stop lo-”

Regina’s lips snapped shut just before the word escaped. But it was too late, Emma was staring at her, disbelief etched on her feature. Both women knew the rest of the word to which only the first syllable had been uttered. And yet Emma needed confirmation.

“That might make you stop what?”

It might not have been the right moment. It certainly wasn’t how Regina had planned to tell her girlfriend and by all intents and purposes it was far too early in their relationship. But there was nothing to do but complete her statement.

“There is nothing you can do or say that would make me stop loving you.”

A beat, and then; “I love you too.”

Lips crashed together, hands reaching up to pull Regina on top of the blonde. Their tongues met, feelings and thoughts and hopes and dreams silently communicated as they expressed their passion and devotion to one another. Regina’s hand found its way between Emma’s legs, any lingering bloating long forgotten as she pushed two fingers into the waiting channel. Moaning at the connection, Emma mirrored the action, matching Regina’s pace at once.

“Emma,” Regina gasped, breaking the kiss and gazing down into the blonde’s face as she felt her orgasm rush towards her.

“I love you,” Emma whispered just before the pleasure crested in her own body.

Collapsing back on top of the blonde, Regina trembled with aftershocks as she came down from her high. Arms wrapped lazily around her, lips peppering kisses against her neck until at last she rolled off, allowing Emma to catch her breath properly.

Eyes drifted closed, exhaustion claiming their satiated bodies. And yet, Emma knew, it was now or never.

“I was raped.”

Chapter Text

The silence was heavy, expectant, tense. Regina didn’t say anything. She couldn’t find any words that seemed remotely appropriate. She didn’t want to say anything that might stop Emma from continuing. She didn’t dare move. So she lay there, staring at the blonde’s neck where taught tendons strained against the pale skin.

“I was thirteen when I went to live with Mary Margaret and David. They’re the foster parents I was with for the longest and the ones I still visit at Christmas. They are the closest I’ve ever gotten to having a mom and dad. It was fine at first. There were four of us. Me, Vicky, Jack and Toby. We were all teenagers. The Nolans didn’t do little kids. We all grew up in the system and we had our baggage but we muddled along together. Toby turned eighteen the year after I arrived and went off to college. Somewhere in Florida I think. I lost touch with him. We were never that close.”

Emma paused, remembering the quiet, moody older foster brother whom she only knew for a year. She had liked Toby though. How different her life might have been if he’d not had to move on.

“When he aged out of the system, Mary Margaret and David got given another kid. I was fourteen when Neal came to live with us. He was older. Sixteen. He moved from Alabama. I found out later that the foster parents he had been with since he was five had started some sort of religious cult, brainwashing the kids they were taking care of into believing all kinds of extreme Christian viewpoints. The authorities finally got wind, shut it down and sent the foster children to new homes. Neal seemed ok at first. Quiet, kept to himself. He always did his chores and Vicky and I used to pay him to do ours. He was fine, I guess, until …”

The story stopped again. Regina had stayed stock still since Emma had revealed her secret but now she moved her fingers, ever so slightly, against the blonde’s hip where they had been resting. It wasn’t a prompt, it was a reminder that she was still there, that she was listening.

“I met Hattie in my English Lit class. I was nearly fifteen and a few of my friends had started dating but I wasn’t really interested in going out with some spotty boy and getting groped in the back of a movie theatre. Then I realised it was the boy element of dating which wasn’t appealing to me. I can’t even remember who made the first move but Hattie and I started seeing each other. Everyone at school was pretty chill about it. San Francisco is a laid back place, so after a couple of months I brought her home to meet Mary Margaret and David. Neal, Vicky and Jack were there too. I thought it went well. Hattie seemed to have a good time. We all watched a movie together after dinner and then she left. I went to bed.”

Once more, Emma needed to pause in her recounting. She didn’t think about that night often. Nor the nights which came after it. The weeks, the months. She had dealt with her past; moved on. She would never be ‘over’ it, just like she would never be ‘cured’ from her eating disorder. But it no longer affected her in the way it once did. She had moved past that time and made herself a new life, far away from that world.

“At some point in the night, I woke up. Neal was on top of me. I froze. I didn’t even scream. He was saying something, chanting. ‘It is an abomination’, ‘it is an abomination’, over and over and over. I realised what was happening but I couldn’t move. It hurt. I was a virgin. Hattie and I had never gone beyond kissing. We never did, actually. Anyway, he … finished and stood up. He pulled down the baggy t-shirt I had worn to bed as if he was trying to protect my modesty or something. I remember he looked at me in the strangest way, like he pitied me but also despised me. Then he said something like ‘don’t worry. I can help you’ and left. I lay there until I heard his bedroom door close then I ran to the bathroom. I tried to clean myself up. I was bleeding and he had left his … fluids. I wanted to shower but I didn’t want to risk waking up my foster parents. When I got back to my room I changed the sheets, got fresh ones out of the cupboard and stuffed the bloodied ones into the washing machine. Then I went to sleep. Or at least I tried to.”

A tear dripped down Regina’s face and disappeared into the pillow. She forced herself not to say anything, not to gather the woman closer in her arms. She knew Emma needed to say this, needed to tell her.

“I got the Plan B pill the next day at my school. The nurse gave them out for free; no questions asked. I guess Neal thought about the risk too because the next time, he wore a condom.” There was a dry chuckle. “I suppose he thought he was being responsible. It became routine. Every Thursday he’d come to my bedroom. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t tell anyone. The Nolans were the only good foster parents I’d ever had. I didn’t want to leave. I thought I’d be sent away if I said anything. And Neal, well, Neal told me he was doing God’s work.”

Anger combined with Regina’s sorrow now. She knew there were people in the world who believed homosexuality to be a sin but she had been lucky enough to never encounter anyone outwardly homophobic. Certainly no one had ever tried to fuck her straight.

“I didn’t believe him. I knew I was gay and I knew that was ok. Deep down. But I was still confused. Hattie and I had only been together for a couple of months. I knew I liked her but Neal told me that was a mistake, that I wasn’t supposed to think like that. I broke up with Hattie soon after it started. I don’t know if it was because of what Neal said or because every time my girlfriend touched me I flinched. The ending of the relationship didn’t stop him though. I tried to tell him he’d done what he needed to do, that I wouldn’t date women again. He said he didn’t believe me. To be fair, I was lying to him. I knew I would always be gay but at that time I couldn’t imagine dating or being intimate with anyone ever again. The visits kept happening. I felt powerless, out of control. So, well, you know what happened next.”

There was nothing more to say. Regina didn’t need the details. She understood that Neal’s actions had driven Emma to seek control in another area of her life. Food.

“Emma,” she whispered, trying to keep the emotion which flooded her veins at bay. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks,” the blonde said, her voice sounding hollow. “It’s over. It’s in my past. I don’t tell people, friends or girlfriends. They don’t need to know. But I wanted to tell you.”

“And I’m honoured you did,” Regina said, shifting a little closer and curling her fingers a little more tightly against Emma’s hips. “Thank you for sharing that. I can’t imagine what you went through.”

“I don’t want you to imagine it,” Emma said, suddenly rolling away and climbing out of bed. “That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. I don’t want you thinking of me like that.” Strolling to the far side of the room, she threw open the curtains for the first time that day, staring out into the garden at the rear. “That’s not who I am. That’s not the person I want you to think of when you’re with me. I hate being seen as a victim, as someone who was violated. A rape victim. No. That’s not me. I’m Emma. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Emma,” Regina implored, now sat up in bed, tears streaming down her face. “Emma, I do see you. More than that, I love you, Emma. I loved you before you told me and I love you now.”

“Really?” Emma asked, turning around and looking sceptically at the woman before her. “Even now you know?”

“I love you,” Regina repeated. “What you’ve told me hasn’t changed that.”

“It changes how you see me,” Emma insisted. “It has to.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Regina said, herself climbing out of bed and crossing towards Emma, stopping just short of the woman, unsure if physical contact would be welcome. “Emma, I see you for you. I don’t see you as a recovering anorexic or a rape victim. I see you as a funny, intelligent, talented, kind, caring, compassionate, beautiful, complicated and loving woman who has burst into my life and made me happy again.”

“Happy again?”

“I love Henry, more than anything, and he makes me happy in many ways. But you, Emma, you’ve brought a different kind of happiness, a different kind of love back into my life. I didn’t think I’d ever experience that again. But I can, with you. I’m glad you told me about your past but I can promise you that those events are not going to affect our future. We have a future together, Emma, you and me. You, me and Henry. I just need you to believe me when I say that.”

“I want to,” Emma said. “I want to believe that. I’m just used to hiding this part of my life from the people I care about. No one knows. Just my therapist. And Neal. I never told anyone else, even after he aged out of the system and moved away. That was a year after it first happened. I was already dangerously thin. My foster family were more concerned with trying to get me to eat; they didn’t care why I was starving myself. Neal’s departure didn’t change my eating habits. It had become deeply engrained by then. I couldn’t stop myself even after he disappeared from my life.”

“But you did stop,” Regina reminded her softly. “You worked hard to get healthy again and you followed your dream and became a phenomenal chef. You moved on, Emma. And while I am glad you trust me enough to tell you about your past, I need you to hear me when I say that it doesn’t change anything when it comes to how I feel about you.”



“Can you make me a promise?”

“Anything,” Regina said, stepping closer, itching to reach out and touch the blonde.

“Can we not talk about this again? You know now. You know what happened. I’ve explained why I became anorexic. Can that be the end of it? Can we never mention it again?”

“If that’s what you want, of course,” Regina nodded. “But before we close the book on this conversation, can … can I just give you a hug?”

Emma nodded and opened her arms. Regina flew into them, the sorrow which she had been keeping at bay bursting forth and her body shook with the force of her tears. Emma began to cry as well, the painful memories which she had spoken about finally pushing through the façade. She clung to Regina, holding her impossibly tight as she buried her face in the sweet-smelling hair, allowing herself just a moment to feel completely and utterly devastated by her own past.

“Are you sure Henry will be ok with this?” Emma asked, shifting from one foot to the other, the grocery bag balanced on her hip. After the intense conversation, the two women had returned to the bed but nothing sexual had happened. They had just talked and learned more about one another before finally getting up to shower and prepare for picking Henry up from school.

“Relax,” Regina reassured, squeezing the fingers which were interlaced between her own. “He likes you. You’re his personal chef.”


The bag Emma was holding included all of the ingredients she was going to need to cook pizzas for Henry that afternoon. But first they had to collect the small boy. She looked around at the small groups of mothers, fathers and nannies, waiting patiently for their children to spill out into the colourful playground. Regina had smiled at a few of the other parents but made no move to engage in conversation. Emma briefly wondered why but then remembered that usually Henry was picked up by his child minder. Regina’s job meant she probably wasn’t part of the local mum’s social network.

A bell rang from inside the building and seconds later what seemed like thousands of tiny people appeared. Henry spotted the two women before either of them saw him. Breaking away from Roland, to whom he had been chatting animatedly, he trotted over.

“Mom! Emma!”

“Hi Henry,” Regina smiled, taking the backpack her son thrust at her. “How was your day?”

“Good. We did painting.”

“I can see that,” Regina said, eyes taking in the stained uniform, splatters of myriad colours on both his t-shirt and shorts.

“What are you cooking me for dinner, Emma?” Henry asked, looking up at the bag of food the blonde was still carrying.

“Something delicious,” Emma grinned. “And you can help.”

“Is it pancakes again?”

“Nope, but I can teach you some new things about cooking so you can help me make the food.”

“Ok,” Henry said. “Mom, can me and Emma play trains when I get home?”

“Of course,” Regina nodded, reaching out and taking hold of Henry’s hand. “If Emma wants to, that is.”

“Emma, will you play trains with me?” the small boy asked, holding out his other hand towards the blonde.

It took Emma a moment to react but then she took the small fingers in her own and smiled. “Sure.”

The trio set off down the street, Henry regaling both women with tales of his time in school that day.

After an hour of playing with Henry’s trains, Emma suggested they choose a different game. That idea was quickly dismissed, however, and Regina shot Emma a sympathetic look as Henry announced that they were going to build a new track where the good trains would chase the bad trains. The brunette had set up a mini home office on the coffee table once they returned from the school run. Although she had taken the day off work, there were some emails which she had to answer so she had left Emma and Henry to their game and turned her attention to her laptop. It was also a great excuse to get out of playing trains, a game which seemed to have taken up half of her life over the past year.

The only alternate activity which made Henry break away from the web of tracks was Emma’s suggestion that they get started on dinner.

“Yeah! What are we eating?” he asked, standing up and heading into the kitchen.

“Um, young man, can you tidy up first please?” Regina called. She had stepped on a toy train one too many times and she wasn’t sure her feet could take another railway-related injury.

Henry grudgingly began to put away his creation, Emma helping out but making sure the small boy did his fair share of the work. Once all the trains and track pieces were safely stored, he turned to Emma and asked once more what their dinner was going to be.

“Pizza,” Emma answered. “It’s got tomato and cheese and chicken and capsicum on it. All things you like. And the base is a little bit like bread.”

“Pizza,” Henry repeated. He’d heard of that. In fact, Roland’s father had cooked it for them once. Henry hadn’t eaten it. There had been something strange on the top of it.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “So why don’t you wash your hands and then I’ll meet you in the kitchen and show you how to make it?”

Henry disappeared to complete his assigned task without another word. Emma turned to Regina, eyebrows raised.

“A good start,” the mother assured her. “Give me five minutes and I’ll come and join you guys.”

“No need if you have to do some work. I already have a sous chef,” Emma said, waltzing over to her girlfriend and leaning down to kiss her.

“And I wouldn’t dream of trying to replace him for a second,” Regina laughed. “But I’d still like to come and join. I’ll offer moral support by drinking wine sitting at the table.”

“If you’re really good, I’ll let you decorate your own pizza,” Emma teased, kissing the brunette once more before disappearing out into the kitchen.

By the time Regina had finished her work, Henry was already covered in flour and Emma was flitting between stirring the tomato sauce on the stove top and assisting the creation of the dough. She leaned on the door frame, watching the two of them interact. Emma explained what she wanted Henry to do in simple, clear instructions, keeping one eye on the bubbling sauce as she did so. Multitasking was part of being a chef in a large commercial kitchen.

“Mom, look!” Henry exclaimed when Regina finally made her presence known. “I made pizza.”

“Very good,” Regina smiled, wrapping an arm around Emma’s waist as she stood between them, admiring their creations. “What’s the next step?”

“I don’t know,” Henry admitted. “Chef Emma, what’s the next step?”

“The next step, Chef Henry,” Emma smiled, “is rolling out this dough into three circles which will be our pizzas.”


“With a rolling pin,” Emma said. “Do you know where the rolling pin is kept?”

Henry shook his head and turned to his mother. “Mom, where’s the rolling pin?”

Although she hadn’t needed the tool in months, Regina knew exactly where it was and went to fetch it for her little culinary team. It was large and cumbersome in Henry’s hands but Emma helped to show him how to hold it properly before sprinkling some flour on the work surface and breaking a portion of the dough off and place it in front of him.

The final result wasn’t exactly a circle and fingertip indentations were peppered over its crooked surface. While Henry was perusing the array of toppings Regina had laid out on the table, Emma hurriedly flattened it out for him to ensure it cooked evenly. Then she carried his base over and spooned the tomato sauce onto the top, spreading it out to the edges.

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Emma asked.

“That,” Henry said, finger pointing to a piece of onion.

Emma had cut the new vegetable up as small as possible but clearly the boy’s eagle eyes had spotted them.

“That’s onion,” Emma explained. “I use it to make tomato sauce.”

“But tomato sauce is made of tomato,” Henry frowned.

“Yes but you can add other things too. Your mom added capsicum to a sauce for you and you liked it, didn’t you?”

Henry nodded slowly. That was true. “What is onion like?”

“It’s … it’s unique,” Emma replied. “But it doesn’t have a strong taste when it’s cooked and we’re going to have lots of delicious things on top so you won’t be able to tell the onions are there. It’s mostly tomato anyway.”

Olive eyes regarded his future dinner with care. It was true, he realised. There were only a few visible chunks of onion.

“You said you’d try something new,” Regina reminded her son gently.

“Pizza is new,” Henry replied.

“Pizza is made of things you’ve had before though,” Emma pointed out. “We used flour, sugar and salt like in the pancakes and the oil is what your mom cooks chicken in. And I know you drink water.”

That was true as well, Henry realised. And he had promised his mother that he’d try something new. “Ok,” he said at last. “But I only want chicken and capsicum and cheese on the top. I don’t want that.”

The final comment was directed to a plate of salami which Regina had made up while Emma and Henry were making the dough. She’d also halved several black olives, cooked the chicken breasts, grated a mountain of cheese and chopped capsicum, all of which had their own bowl.

“Deal,” Emma said. “So the next thing we do is put cheese on top of the tomato sauce.”

Reaching out, Henry grabbed a fistful of the ingredients and dumped it in the middle of the tomato covered circle. Emma spread it out as Regina smothered her laughter.

“Now what?”

“Now you add the chicken and the capsicum wherever you want them,” Emma said, pulling both bowls within reach of the short arms.

With meticulous care, Henry covered one half of the pizza with chicken before arranging capsicum slices across the other half.

“Done!” he exclaimed. “Can I eat it now?”

“It has to cook first,” Emma said. “I’ve already turned the oven on so it’s nice and hot. We have to wait for about fifteen minutes so the cheese all melts and the base is cooked.”

“Can I play trains while I wait?” Henry asked, bored of the kitchen now the creative part was over.

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “But Emma and I will be in here making our own pizzas and washing up so you’ll have to play on your own.”

“Ok,” Henry agreed, jumping down from the chair he had been standing on and racing out of the room.

“Wash your hands again please,” Regina called after him before turning to her girlfriend. “Well, I think that was a success.”

“He hasn’t eaten it yet,” Emma pointed out, sliding the boy’s pizza onto a baking tray. “But he seemed to enjoy the process of preparing it.”

“He had a great teacher,” Regina smiled, kissing Emma lightly. “Is it my turn to make my pizza?”

Side by side, the two women decorated their own dinners, the remaining dough having been rolled out by the blonde. Once all three pizzas were ready, Emma put them into the oven, set the timer and turned to address the messy kitchen. Regina, however, insisted the younger woman sit down with a glass of wine.

“It’s your day off,” Regina scolded lightly when Emma tried to dry up the freshly washed items she had placed in the draining rack.

Emma wanted to argue, wanted to help, but she gave up when Regina shot her a look which said ‘relax or else’ and she retired to the small dining table, keeping her girlfriend company as the kitchen became clean once more. When the timer pinged, she pulled the perfectly cooked pizzas from the oven and set about cutting them into slices. Her own was topped similarly to Henry’s with the addition of olives and a more even distribution, while Regina’s was garnished with salami and capsicum only.

“Henry, your pizza is ready,” Regina called a few minutes later, knowing the food would have cooled enough for the boy she predicted would race in and take a bite. While he was a fussy eater, Henry also had a big appetite.

When he did appear, however, it was with hesitation that he picked up the first piece. It looked different to how it did when he had left the room. It was hot. The cheese was too hot, in fact. The slice slapped back down onto the plate. Regina and Emma said nothing; not wanting to interrupt the exploration. Henry was regarding the cheese which, once a pale yellow, was now brown in places. He could see bits of red poking through the melted surface. Was that capsicum or tomato?

He glanced up to see both women watching him. They wanted to see him eat, he knew. Archie had said eating new food was important. He looked between his mother and Emma before back at his pizza. He had made this. Emma had shown him how to make this. That was pretty cool. And there really wasn’t anything in there which he hadn’t eaten before. Except the onion. He leaned closer. He couldn’t see any of the new vegetable. Perhaps it had been cooked away in the oven. Picking the dropped slice back up, he took his first bite.

Chapter Text

“Mom, can I have some apple juice?” Henry asked as he finished the first slice of his pizza.

“Of course,” Regina said, abandoning her own food and jumping up to get the requested drink, hardly daring to believe that Henry had eaten the pizza without complaint.

By the time she had returned to the table, he was already halfway through a second piece. Emma caught Regina’s eye and smiled. Regina returned the grin and mouthed ‘thank you’. This, she was sure, was a breakthrough.

Hours later, after Henry had taken his bath and been put to bed, Emma and Regina lay on the couch, curled up in one another’s arms.

“You’re staying tonight, right?” Regina murmured, remembering that she hadn’t actually asked Emma if she wanted to go home. The blonde had to work the following day, as did she. But she had assumed that the younger woman also didn’t want their blissful 24 hour long date to end.

“If you’ll have me,” Emma nodded, fingers stroking up and down Regina’s arm.

Regina didn’t need to answer. It was clear to both of them that Emma would always be welcome. In fact, the brunette thought as she slid beneath the covers shortly afterwards, she couldn’t imagine going to sleep alone ever again.

“Come over tomorrow night after work?” she asked, voice sleepy from the orgasm which had just shuddered through her body.

“It will be late but sure,” Emma agreed. “I have Wednesday off this week.”

“I can’t take a second day off work,” Regina sighed.

“It’s ok,” Emma assured her, encouraging Regina to roll onto her side so she could spoon her. “It will be enough to just wake up next to you.”

“You can stay here Wednesday night as well,” Regina offered, settling into her usual sleeping position.

Emma wrapped her arm more securely around the brunette’s body and pressed a kiss to the nape of her neck. “Ruby will think you’ve kidnapped me.”

“Is that how you feel?” Regina asked, body tensing a little.

“No,” Emma assured her. “Not at all. I love being here with you and Henry. I would love to stay with you tomorrow night and Wednesday night but at some point after that I am going to have to go home.”

“I wish you didn’t,” Regina sighed, threading her fingers through Emma’s where they rested just below her breasts.

“Maybe one day I won’t have to,” Emma whispered, another kiss landing on the soft skin of Regina’s neck. “But considering we only defined our relationship five days ago, what do you say we give it a few weeks before calling U-Haul.”

Regina chuckled, a warm, rich sound which made Emma’s heart swell. “Deal,” the brunette murmured. “Goodnight, Emma.”

“Goodnight, Regina,” the blonde replied, her lips brushing against skin once more before she closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.

The moment Emma got home the following morning, Ruby started to grill her about what she and Regina had been doing together for the past forty-eight hours. Emma recounted most of the activities, leaving out any details pertaining to their sex life as well as omitting the fact that she had told Regina about her past; the past she had not shared with Ruby.

The lanky brunette sat cross-legged on Emma’s bed, eager for gossip and keen to understand exactly where this relationship was going. When Emma recalled the final conversation she and Regina had had, Ruby squealed with excitement.

“Rubes, calm down. I didn’t say I was moving in with her.”

“Yeah but she wants you to,” Ruby prompted. “And you want to, right?”

“Some day, yeah,” Emma nodded. “But I’ve known her a month. Let’s not reinforce the lesbian stereotype. I mean, you and Belle have been together for years and you don’t live together.”

“Actually,” Ruby said slowly. “We have started to talk about that. Belle doesn’t know about Paris or the proposal yet, of course, but we have spoken about moving in together. In fact, we’re going to see some apartments on Friday afternoon.”

“You’re moving out?” Emma asked, sitting down beside her best friend. The news hit her hard. She had lived and worked with Ruby for years and the thought of no longer sharing an apartment with the woman hadn’t even crossed her mind when Regina had brought up moving in together. “When?”

“It depends if we find anything we like,” Ruby admitted. “You know our lease is up on this place at the end of June, right?”

“That’s in two months.”

“Yeah, and it’s also when Belle and I get back from Paris. Killian approved my leave yesterday. I’m taking the last two weeks of June off.”

“Wow,” Emma said, flopping back against her bed. “You guys are going to come back engaged and move in to your own place. You’re starting a life together.”

“We’ve been together for two years,” Ruby reminded her. “But yes, I guess we’re taking a few big steps. Assuming Belle says yes, of course.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

Ruby shrugged. She had no reason to think Belle was not on the same page as her with regards to where their relationship was going but it was still nerve-wracking, thinking she would be getting down on bended knee on the bank of the Seine. The two friends sat in silence, both realising that their lives were changing.

“So is this your way of giving me notice?” Emma asked eventually.

“I guess,” Ruby replied. “Will you renew the lease? Find a replacement roommate? I mean, no one could possibly live up to my awesomeness but I assume you won’t want to pay the rent all by yourself.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Emma agreed. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford it. She could; her head chef salary was generous and she was not a big spender when it came to material possessions. But she was saving up to buy her own place and didn’t want her rent to make a dent in that nest egg.

Ruby waited for a moment, knowing the blonde was thinking. “Or you could ask Regina?”

“Yes, because Regina and Henry would really want to move into a two bed apartment in Storybrooke when they live in a beautiful mansion near Henry’s school and Regina’s work in Portland.”

Sometimes, Ruby mused, her friend was extraordinarily dense. “I meant, you could move in with them, idiot.”

Eyebrows raised. “Um, no. Like I just said, it’s way too soon. I want Regina to ask me to move in with them because she wants us to live together, not because I become homeless. No, I’ll call the landlord some time this week and talk with him about extending the lease, maybe for just six months or so.”

“And then you’ll move in,” Ruby promoted.

Emma ignored her. She didn’t want to jinx anything. What she and Regina had was great and she hoped they’d still be together in six months, six years, six decades, even. But she wasn’t going to get ahead of herself. Even as she climbed off her bed and set about finding a clean set of chef whites, however, Emma became increasingly aware that her imagination was already filled with images of herself, Regina, Henry and the life they would share together.

“Wow, you’ve got it bad,” Ruby remarked as she took in the glazed look which overcame her friend. “So when do I get to properly meet the woman who’s stolen my best friend’s heart?”

Leaving her house on Wednesday morning had been one of the hardest things Regina had ever done. She wanted nothing more than to call into work and play hooky with the blonde sleeping peacefully in her bed. But she couldn’t. Her absence on Monday had left her with a bulging inbox and each of her department heads had stored up a long list of questions for her. As she helped them resolve their issues, she made a mental note to organise another management training day and encourage even more autonomy. She had a great team under her but since she was so readily available, many of her department leaders still came to her for validation instead of taking some initiative.

Thursday was also a catch up day and Regina was about to call her assistant to get her a fourth cup of coffee when a welcome yet unexpected guest appeared in her office doorway.

“So what kept you from attending our product shoot on Monday?”

Regina looked up at the voice and smiled at her best friend. “Hi Kat.”

‘Yeah, hi, whatever. Where were you?”

“I was taking a day off,” Regina explained as her friend and photographer landed in the chair on the far side of the desk. “Why? Is that a crime?”

“It’s unusual,” Kathryn pointed out. “You’ve not missed a day of work since before she left. Except for the time Henry had chicken pox and even then you were on the phone all day. So, what kept you from your work this week? I know Henry isn’t sick so what was it?”

“How do you know Henry isn’t sick?” Regina countered.

“Because you would have told me,” Kathryn replied.

That was true, Regina conceded. “Ok, fine. You’re right. Henry wasn’t sick.”

“So I’ll ask again,” Kathryn said, slowing her speech as if she was addressing someone who struggled to understand English. “Where were you on Monday?”

Regina chuckled. She wasn’t ashamed of why she had not been at work but she was rather enjoying keeping the impatient woman in suspense. That said, she also wanted to talk to her best friend about what was happening between her and Emma so perhaps she had better tell her.

“I took the day off to spend it with my girlfriend,” Regina said at last.

“Girlfriend?” Kathryn frowned. “Emma?”

“Of course Emma.”

“You say of course but you guys met a month ago. If that’s how fast you move, who’s to say you’ve not met someone else this weekend and proposed.”

Perfect eyebrows raised at the irritable tone. “Where did that come from?”

Kathryn seemed to deflate where she sat. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m happy for you, really.”

“Is this about Freddie?”

Kathryn nodded. Her long term boyfriend was still yet to ask the blonde to move in with him and, after three years, it was starting to become an issue.

“Maybe he just needs a little prompting,” Regina offered gently.

“If I dropped any bigger hints, I’d flatten him,” Kathryn sighed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to rain on your parade. So, things are going well with Emma?”

Despite the fact that Regina knew her friend didn’t really want to hear how loved up she was, the brunette couldn’t stop the smile which blossomed over her face at the mention of her girlfriend.

“Yeah, things are going great,” she said, almost shyly.

“I’m really happy for you, Gina,” Kathryn offered. “You deserve some happiness. She does make you happy, yes?”

“Very,” Regina nodded. “And you’re right, it is fast and goodness knows I didn’t see this coming. I wasn’t even looking for a relationship and I didn’t want to introduce her to Henry let alone have them spend any time together but it’s all just snowballed.”

“In a good way?”

“The best,” Regina nodded. “Henry adores her. He … well, you know how he’s particular when it comes to his food?”

“That’s a polite way of saying he’s the fussiest kid ever,” Kathryn laughed.

Regina forced a smile. She wasn’t about to correct Kathryn’s assumption and tell her what was really going on with her son. “Well, he likes to cook with Emma. She’s teaching him little things and he’s getting more interested in food. Since they met, he’s eaten cookies and pancakes and pizza.”

“He’s a kid, of course he likes that food,” Kathryn pointed out.

“As you said, he was fussy. Anyway, what matters is that he’s agreeing to try new food. And it’s all because of Emma.”

“I guess that’s a good thing?” Kathryn asked, not quite sure why Regina was making such a big deal out of her kid eating three items which she herself considered rare treats.

“Very good,” Regina replied.

“So if things are getting serious and Henry’s been introduced, when do I get to meet her?”

“You have met her. Twice, in fact.”

“Once in a doorway to a bar and once in the hallway of your house. I want to meet her in a place which doesn’t have the word ‘way’ in it. Ideally a place with chairs and maybe drinks and some chilled music. Come on, Regina. If this woman is important to you, then I want to get to know her.”

“Yeah, ok, sounds good,” Regina nodded. “The only problem is that Emma’s work doesn’t exactly allow her to have many evenings off. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and that’s pretty much it.”

“Luckily I’ve cleared my Monday schedule in anticipation of having to babysit Henry so that works for me. Set it up! Oh, and do you have time to approve the images I took in the shoot on Monday? The client’s already called me twice asking for the proofs and I wanted to run them by you to make sure they’re in line with the marketing campaign.”

“Sure,” Regina said, turning her attention to the laptop which Kathryn had pulled from her bag and placed on her desk. “Just to clarify, are we done with you grilling me about my love life and onto work talk now?”

“Yes but only because you’ve agreed to let me meet your lover next week and I’m sure she’ll give me far juicier gossip.”

Regina narrowed her eyes. “Kathryn, if you dare try to get Emma to tell you things or you tell her anything about boarding school I swear I will kill you.”

The threat was laughed off as Kathryn opened Dropbox and began talking Regina through her choices for their client’s newest campaign.

“I’m sorry in advance.”

“What for?” Emma asked as she climbed onto her bed, wrapped in a towel late on Thursday night.

“For what I’ve accidentally agreed to,” Regina said.

“Right,” came the uncertain reply. “Um, explain, please.”

Regina proceeded to recount the conversation she and Kathryn had had in her office that afternoon which had culminated in the women making arrangements to go to The Cauldron on Monday night so that the two blondes could meet.

“I’m sorry, The Cauldron as in your sister’s bar?” Emma asked.

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “I suppose you’ll be meeting Zelena officially as well. I’m sorry. I tried to get us out of it. If you really don’t want to come, I’ll make up some excuse.”

“No, it’s fine,” Emma insisted. “Meeting your friends and family is the next step I guess. Ruby was talking about wanting to meet you as well. So Monday sounds great, if a little overwhelming.”

“Bring Ruby then,” Regina offered. “That way you’ll have some moral support and I’ll be meeting your best friend.”

“You’ve clearly never met Ruby properly if you think she’s going to be even vaguely useful as moral support for me but deal. She might bring her girlfriend Belle, is that ok?”

“Ruby’s gay?”

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “She was with her girlfriend that night we met at The Cauldron.”

There was a pause before Regina spoke again. “Did you guys ever -”

“No,” Emma interrupted, not needing the brunette to finish the question. “No. Never. Ruby is my best friend and I love her to bits but not like that. She’s … she’s not my type.”

“Oh?” Regina asked, her teasing tone evident through the phone. “And what is your type, Miss Swan?”

Emma squeezed her thighs together at the use of her surname. She didn’t know why it affected her so much, not least because Swan was the name given to her by a faceless admin staff member when she was first entered into the system. Apparently the blanket she had been found in had swans printed on it. The blanket itself had been lost years ago.

“My type, Miss Mills,” Emma pushed on, moving away from memory lane, “are women who are strong, confident and independent. I’ve dated both blondes and brunettes but I will admit I like being taller than my dates. I like to be able to wrap myself around them as we sleep. And I like beautiful, feisty and complicated brunettes who run their own companies and are raising wonderful, adorable sons. Oh and did I mention that the sight of a woman driving a Mercedes makes me wet?”

Gobsmacked, Regina stuttered to reply. “I … um, well, I mean...”

Emma laughed. “My type, Regina, is you. There is nothing more than friendship between Ruby and I. Never was, never will be. You’ve got nothing to worry about. Well, except the grilling I suspect she’ll give you on Monday night.”

“Something to look forward to,” Regina said. “Will I see you before then?”

At that, Emma let out a long, low sigh. “I don’t think so. We have a huge party booked into the restaurant on Sunday so I won’t be able to get away mid-shift. And Saturday I’m meeting with our landlord to discuss renewing the lease on our apartment. I don’t think I’ll have time to ride into the city to see you and Henry. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise,” Regina assured her. “Just know that I’ll miss you.”

“And I’ll miss you,” Emma replied at once. “I can’t believe this is the first night we’ve spent apart since Sunday. I’ll have to go to sleep cuddling a pillow to make up for not being able to hug you.”

Regina smiled and held the phone a little tighter against her ear, as if pressing it against her cheek would make her feel closer to the blonde.

“I should go,” Regina said eventually. “I have work to do before I head to bed.”

“Don’t work too hard,” Emma frowned. “It’s after eleven.”

“The joys of running your own company,” the brunette replied. “Believe me, I’ll be going to bed as soon as I can.”

“I wish I was there with you,” Emma murmured.

“Me too.”

“Monday seems so far away.”

“Too far.”

“I should let you go.”

“You should. But I don’t want you to.”

Emma bit her lip, hesitating. “I promise to never let you go, Regina. Not for as long as you want me to hold onto you.”

Another long silence followed the declaration. Eventually, Regina broke it.

“Goodnight Emma. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Chapter Text

The Cauldron was quiet, unsurprisingly for a Monday evening. Regina and Kathryn headed straight for the bar where Zelena was talking to her solitary member of staff. The two sisters didn’t see much of each other, despite living in the same city. Zelena had always worked in bars and restaurants which, just like Emma’s shifts, made it difficult to socialise with people who enjoyed nine to five schedules. Since opening her own bar, Zelena had been even busier than usual and had only managed to pop around to see Regina for a brief coffee several weekends earlier.

“So, little sis,” Zelena began as she placed two drinks in front of her patrons who were now perched on barstools, “tell me about Emma.”

“You’re going to meet her in five minutes. Can’t you wait?” Regina pointed out.

“Nope,” Zelena said, shaking her head. “I want to hear the juicy stuff, the gossip, the sordid details you won’t mention in public.”

“We are in public,” Regina pointed out, looking around the bar. It was at that moment that she realised there were only two other people in there; a couple huddled in a booth in the far corner and looking very cosy.

“Don’t bother, Zee,” Kathryn advised. “I’ve tried for weeks to get anything more exciting than ‘I’ve got a girlfriend’ out of this one. She’s being very coy.”

Zelena regarded her younger sister. “Coy? That’s not like you, Regina. What is it about this one you don’t want us to know? Is there something wrong with her? You had no problem talking to us about your sex life with Mal.”

“Yes and look how well that turned out,” Regina shot back, a dour look on her face. “And there’s nothing wrong with Emma.”

Luckily she was spared any further interrogation when the bar door opened once more. Emma, Ruby and Belle entered, spotted the other members of their party and made their way over.

“Hey,” Emma smiled as she reached Regina’s side. “How was your day?”

“Fine thank you,” Regina replied, craning up to kiss her girlfriend. “How was yours?”

“Quiet, relaxing,” Emma said, draping her arm around Regina’s shoulders. “I missed you though.”

“I missed you too,” Regina offered. “I love your dress,” she added, taking in the fitted black top and flared golden skirt. “That style suits you.”

“Thanks. I was going to wear my leather dress but I thought that would be unfair on you. You look stunning, by the way.”

Another kiss landed on Regina’s lips after Emma had finished admiring the red garment which adorned the brunette’s petite frame.
“Um, hello,” Kathryn interrupted, the two women breaking apart. “Are you going to introduce us or shall we leave you two alone?”

Rolling her eyes at the smirking woman sat beside her, Regina made her introductions before Emma introduced Ruby and Belle. After checking her bar tender was happy to hold down the admittedly empty fort, Zelena took everyone’s drinks orders and invited the group to take a booth. As soon as they sat down, Emma felt Regina’s hand slide into hers. She squeezed the warm fingers under the table.

“So, Emma,” Kathryn began. “Regina tells me you’re a chef.”

“Yes. I work at Hook, Line and Sinker out in Storybrooke. Ruby works there too. She’s our front of house manager.”

“I’ve heard good things about that place. Apparently your scallops are the best on the East coast. Do you live up to your reputation?”

Emma blushed. She hated being complimented on her cooking.

“Yes, she does,” Ruby jumped in. “I’ve never met anyone who can cook like Emma. You’ll have to come and have a meal at HLS some time. All of you,” she added, smiling at Zelena who had just appeared with a tray of drinks.

“We’ll take you up on that,” Kathryn grinned. “In fact, aren’t we supposed to be doing the advertising for your place?” She turned to Regina for confirmation.

“Yes, the restaurant owner had a meeting with us a couple of weeks ago. I believe we’re moving forwards now the budget has been sorted. And yes, Kat, that means you’ll get to do the photoshoot.”

“Photoshoot?” Emma frowned.

“Killian didn’t tell you?” Regina asked. Emma shook her head. “He booked in a photo sessions this Friday. He has a list of food items he wants pictures of for the ads. I confirmed it with him last week. Did he really not tell you?”

“He hasn’t been in town for weeks. Not that I mind,” she added.

“Bad boss?” Zelena asked, noting the tone.

“Handsy,” Emma replied shortly.

There was a pause, no one quite knowing what to say. It was only then that Regina realised how the lecherous man’s inappropriate behaviour might affect her girlfriend even more than other members of staff. Of course, sexual harassment in the workplace was never ok but for Emma it might trigger dark memories.

“So does anyone have any vacation plans this summer?” Kathryn asked, breaking the slightly awkward silence.

“Yes,” Belle said, practically bouncing up and down with excitement. “Ruby just told me last week that we’re going to Paris to celebrate the end of my Masters.”

With that, the group were lost in a conversation about European travel and education, mostly consisting on countries they dreamed of visiting and memories of drunken college parties. Regina and Emma both joined in, learning more about one another as well as their fellow group members. Soon, everyone’s glasses were empty and Zelena was up to fetch another round.

“So, you’re a Negroni girl,” Regina remarked as the second cocktail landed in front of Emma.

“I’m partial to them,” Emma nodded, taking a sip. “Plus, Belle agreed to be our designated driver for the night so I can get as drunk as I like.”

“Oh really?” Regina smirked, lowering her voice. “And, pray tell, what happens when Chef Swan gets drunk?”

Emma glanced around the table to make sure no one else was listening before leaning in and whispering; “I get loud.”

Although Regina was enjoying their drinks, in that moment, she wanted nothing more than to leave with Emma and return to her home.

“Can you stay at mine tonight?” she muttered.

“Am I invited?”

“Always,” Regina replied, brushing her lips against the tender earlobe before pulling back and returning to the group conversation.

“So, Emma, tell us about yourself,” Zelena said, eager to know more about the woman who had appeared in her little sister’s life. “Where did you grow up?”

“All over, actually,” Emma admitted. “I was in the foster system but I spent the majority of my teenage years in San Francisco so I guess that’s where I’d call home.”

“I love San Francisco,” Kathryn mused. “Such a cool city.”

“I think so,” Emma nodded.

“Why did you move?” Zelena asked.

Emma answered without a pause. She was used to providing people with an answer which didn’t give anything away. “I wanted a new challenge. I love cooking seafood and Maine seemed like the obvious place to head after I finished culinary school. I’d also spent some time in New York and I like the East coast vibe.”

“We have a pretty awesome vibe,” Kathryn agreed. “Do you go back and visit your foster parents much?”

“Kat,” Regina admonished. “Stop being so nosey.”

“I’m just asking my best friend’s girlfriend about her family. What’s wrong with that?” the blonde defended.

“No, it’s fine,” Emma jumped in before Regina could speak. “Yes, I go back once a year at Christmas to see Mary Margaret and David. They’re still foster parents, so it’s always an interesting time but they’re the closest thing to family I have so I like to keep the tradition going. Two of my foster siblings that I lived with usually go back too and there are always a few other waifs and strays floating around.”

“Sounds like quite the celebration,” Zelena remarked. “Our parents never made a big deal out of Christmas. It was just another day as far as they were concerned.”

“Zee, our parents were Jewish,” Regina reminded her.

“So,” Zelena shot back. “We still should have gotten presents. You and I weren’t Jewish.”

Regina rolled her eyes at her materialistic sister while Emma chuckled. Her return trip to the Nolans was always more about family than presents. With so many foster children or former foster children in the house, they couldn’t afford to buy anyone anything extravagant. Emma had always enjoyed buying small presents for her family, however. Her heart swelled as she realised this year she may have two additional people to buy presents for.

“Well, I think that’s enough about me. Zelena, Kat, what can you tell me about Regina’s wild boarding school days?” Emma asked.

Brown eyes narrowed threateningly at the two women now looking gleeful at the opening they had been given.

“Where to begin?” Zelena teased, looking sideways at Kat.

“How about the time she climbed up onto the roof completely naked?” Kathryn suggested.

“Or the time you two stole those horses from the stables and rode to the next town just to get out of taking part on sports day,” Zelena countered.

“Horse riding is exercise,” Kathryn pointed out.

“Yes but hacking for fifteen miles was not an event listed in the games programme. Mother and Father were so mad when they found out. Do you remember, Gina? They grounded you for the whole summer.”

“Yet thanks to the tree which grew outside my window, that didn’t do much good,” Regina laughed. “Half the time when they thought I was up in my room studying I was out with Kat.”

“You were quite the rebel,” Emma remarked. “I thought you were a good girl.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” Zelena asked. “My little sister was a wild child for the whole of her teenage years.”

“What changed?” Emma asked.

Zelena and Kathryn glanced at once another. It wasn’t their place to answer that question.

“I met Mal,” Regina replied quietly.


“Who’s Mal?” Belle asked, somehow not reading the change in atmosphere.

“My ex,” Regina supplied.

“Oh, sorry,” Belle said, cheeks flushed. Internally, she was wondering why neither Emma nor Ruby had mentioned to her that Regina had been married before.

“No, it’s fine,” Regina assured her. “More drinks?”

“Yes,” the group chorused, prompting Zelena to get up and make her way over to the bar to refill their orders. Under the table, Emma’s fingers tightened where they were still intertwined with Regina’s, a silent reassurance.

Five cocktails in and the group’s overall volume was rising. The bar had gathered a few more patrons but it was still empty and Zelena’s bar tender didn’t seem to mind his boss taking the night off to spend time with her sister and friends. After the mention of Mal, the conversation steered back into safer waters. Kathryn began asking Emma about her favourite restaurants in the area while Ruby, Belle and Regina began debating literary masterpieces. Ruby admitted to not being the world’s biggest reader but since meeting Belle, she had certainly expanded her horizons.

“What time is it?” Regina asked when Ruby suggested another round.

Emma squinted at her iPhone, lying on the table in front of her. “Um, half eleven.”

“I’d better not,” Regina sighed. “I have to work tomorrow.”

“So do we,” Emma pointed out. “One more, Gina, please.”

Regina raised her eyebrows at the nickname. It was something Kathryn and Zelena called her, along with a handful of friends from their boarding school days. Emma must have picked it up after hearing Kathryn and Zelena all night. She realised she didn’t mind at all.

“Ok, one more,” Regina agreed.

Emma grinned and leaned in to kiss Regina’s neck, her lips parted and her tongue darting out to lick the sweet-smelling skin. “It’ll be worth it.”

Whereas seconds earlier Regina was already anticipating the hangover, the whispered promise which had just graced her ear made it all seem worthwhile. Zelena caught the darkening of her sister’s eyes as she slid from the booth to get the final round of drinks. She hadn’t seen Regina so enamoured with anyone since the first few heady months of her relationship with Mal. And yet, somehow, Zelena could tell that what Regina and Emma had was so much more than what her little sister had found with her first wife. She had liked Mal well enough right up until she walked out. While she had only known Emma for a few hours, she could tell the blonde would never do such a thing to her sister.

“So, Emma, how has Henry taken to you?” Kathryn asked. “Regina told me your cooking for the two of them and have won the fussy little boy over.”

Regina bristled a little at the off-hand comment but didn’t correct her best friend. If she hadn’t confided in her about Henry’s eating disorder when he was at his worst, what was the point in bringing it up now he was on the road to recovery?

“Yep,” Emma nodded proudly, the alcohol dulling her awareness of the crassly worded statement. “I’m their personal chef.”

“How do I get one of those?” Kathryn grinned.

“I’m sure Regina could give you a few tips,” Emma winked.

“Hey,” Regina pouted. “You make it sound like I trade sex for food.”

Everyone laughed, including Regina. “Well, I wouldn’t say no to that arrangement,” Emma teased.

“What about combining the two?” Ruby piped up. At that, Belle, who had stopped drinking several rounds earlier, blushed beet red.

“Oh yes. Food in the bedroom,” Zelena nodded, carrying the final tray of drinks to their table. “Very sexy.”

Regina wrinkled her nose. “It’s that just messy and unhygienic?”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Emma replied. “In fact, if you do it right, it can be in deeply erotic.”

Regina actually shivered at the intensity of the gaze her girlfriend had set on her. She mentally ran through everything she had in her kitchen, wondering what they could use later that night.

“So if anyone ever wanted to know the definition of eye-fucking, this is it, ladies and gentlemen,” Ruby announced, breaking the spell over the two women and causing the rest of the group to roar with laughter.

Flushed with both embarrassment and arousal, Regina took a generous sip of her martini. The feel of Emma’s fingers landing on her thigh and sliding inwards, however, caused her to choke slightly on her drink.

“I think it’s time to head home before these lovebirds start undressing one another,” Ruby said. “Zelena, how much do we owe you?”

“It’s on the house,” the redhead smiled.

“Seriously? Between us we’ve drunk countless cocktails,” Belle pointed out.

“In honour of my little sister falling in love again,” Zelena reasoned.

“Then why don’t you all come to HLS some time and you’ll eat and drink for free, on us,” Ruby suggested, glancing at Emma who nodded her agreement.

“Deal,” Zelena nodded. “Do any of you need me to call you a cab?”

“No, I’m fine to drive,” Belle replied. “I haven’t drunk anything for two hours.”

“Freddie is picking me up,” Kathryn said, her words slightly slurred.

“What about you, little sis?” Zelena asked, pulling Regina back to the present and away from the sensation of the woman’s fingers still teasing the inside of her thigh through the thin fabric of her dress.

“Um, Uber,” Regina said eventually, voice a little constricted.

“Want me to order that for you while you get fingered by your girlfriend?” Kathryn offered.

Quick as a flash, Emma slammed her hands on the table as if trying to prove a point. It didn’t matter, however. Everyone knew where the blonde’s fingers had been seconds earlier. Ruby, Belle, Zelena and Kathryn roared with laughter while Regina turned and buried her face in Emma’s neck, praying for the evening to be over so that she could at last be alone with the blonde. She wasn’t ashamed in any way of the intense attraction she felt towards her girlfriend. But she also didn’t want her best friend and sister discussing her sex life, especially not in front of two women she had only met a few hours earlier.

“I’ll order it,” Emma said, placing a soft kiss to Regina’s temple before reaching for her cell phone.

Ten minutes later and the group spilled out onto the empty sidewalk. Since Zelena had invested all her savings into buying, renovating and opening the bar, she was currently sleeping in the small apartment above the premises. Belle helped a drunken Ruby into the brunette’s own car just as Freddie pulled up to collect Kathryn. He said hello to everyone through the window but didn’t seem bothered enough to get out of the car for formal introductions. Kathryn hugged Regina goodbye and told Emma she’d see her at the photoshoot on Friday.

When it was just the three of them left, Zelena turned to the couple who were stood with their arms around one another and regarded them, a soft smile on her face.

“It was lovely to have met you, Emma,” she said, even through her alcohol-fuzzed brain knowing that she needed to leave the evening on a positive note. “I’m sorry if I gave you a hard time tonight but teasing Regina is one of my favourite hobbies and you were an easy target.”

“Apology accepted,” Emma smiled. “And it was great to meet you too. Let me know when you and Kat would like to come for dinner at HLS and I’ll reserve you our best table.”

“I’ll do that,” Zelena replied just as a Prius glided silently to a stop in front of them. “Well, bye little sis,” she added, pulling Regina in for a hug.

“Bye Zee,” Regina said. “Thanks for tonight.”

“Anytime. See you guys soon.”

Emma nodded her agreement to that and pulled open the rear door of the Uber, holding out a hand to help Regina climb into the vehicle. Standing on the sidewalk, Zelena waved as the car pulled away before disappearing inside her empty bar and bolting the door behind her.

A small yelp left Regina’s mouth as she landed on her back on the bed, Emma straddling her and laying fierce kisses along her jawline until she sucked her earlobe into her mouth. Groaning, Regina’s hands gripped Emma’s ass, encouraging the blonde to grind her hips harder against her body.

“Henry? Will he be able to hear us?” Emma asked before trailing her tongue around the shell of Regina’s ear.

“Dead to the world when I looked in on him,” Regina choked out.

Emma needed no more encouragement and her hands began to reach behind Regina and fumble for the zip in her dress. Drunkenly, both women worked to wrestle the other out of their clothes. When both outfits were dropped unceremoniously onto the floor, Regina lay back down on the bed, her bare body immediately covered by Emma’s, an eager mouth suckling a nipple taut with arousal.

“I … God that feels good,” Regina gasped. “Emma, I was going to, oh wow your tongue is magic, I was going to melt some chocolate.”

“Chocolate?” Emma mumbled against the breast still trapped between her lips.

“Chocolate,” Regina nodded. “Food in bed, remember?”

“Next time,” Emma said, already sliding down the bed. “I can’t wait. And I want to taste only you, not chocolate.”

Well, that was a compliment she’d never heard before, Regina mused as Emma pushed her thighs wider apart. As an eager mouth covered her centre, Regina gasped and arched off the bed, her body throbbing with desire. Emma’s tongue, which had been torturing her nipples seconds earlier, now circled around her clit, teasing the sensitive nerves relentlessly until her mouth moved lower, focusing instead on her entrance.

Pressing her tongue inside her girlfriend, Emma moaned into the heated sex. Yes, this was definitely better than chocolate, she thought to herself as she probed as deep as she could. Regina’s own noises of pleasure spurred her on, encouraging her to draw an orgasm from the woman already arching off the bed.

Knowing there would be time for gentle and slow in the future, Emma moved her mouth back up to Regina’s clit and slid two fingers into her girlfriend. Regina cried out, her hands now pulling Emma closer, fisting in her hair. The blonde licked more firmly, quickening her movements until she was relentlessly lashing the nerves which were pushing the older woman closer to the edge.

Fingers pumped faster, slick with arousal. Emma added a third, spreading Regina a little wider and feeling the woman’s body part to accept her. She pressed deeper, fingertips grazing the ridged wall as she pulled them out before pushing back in. Regina was rocking her hips, matching Emma thrust for thrust. The movement made it hard for Emma to keep her mouth fixed against Regina’s clit but she knew it didn’t matter. The woman was too far gone and was already cresting.

Emma never stopped pumping her fingers nor laving Regina’s clit until the woman above her gasped, ‘too much’, at which she pulled away. Lips wet with evidence of the brunette’s orgasm, Emma crawled up the panting body and kissed Regina firmly.

“You’re delicious,” Emma declared as she pulled away. “No need for chocolate.”

“You taste better than chocolate too,” Regina replied. “In fact, I think I have a craving.”

Emma grinned and rolled off Regina, the brunette following and immediately settling herself between the younger woman’s open thighs. The glistening sex was evidence of how much Emma had enjoyed bringing Regina to her peak. But now it was Emma’s turn to be worshipped. Regina pressed a soft kiss to the skin on each of Emma’s inner thighs before beginning her own feast.

She started more slowly than Emma, avoiding any contact with the woman’s clit, knowing the build-up would drive her girlfriend crazy. She took one labia in her mouth, sucking softly before moving to the other, her tongue tickling the flesh. Next she traced a delicate circle around Emma’s core, deliberately widening its path as she neared the sensitive bundle. A moan of frustration made Regina smirk.

Regina slid one finger through Emma’s wetness before pressing tenderly inside. Emma groaned, canting her hips greedily forwards.

“Patience, dear,” Regina whispered.

“Gina, please,” Emma gasped. “I need to come.”

“Not yet,” Regina replied before lowering her lips and continuing her sensual tracing, one finger now pumping in and out. Emma let out a huff of frustration but that soon turned into a garbled gasp as a second finger joined the first, pumping faster and deeper now. Regina’s tongue, however, still avoided the one place Emma needed her.

Was it really torture if the end result was going to be so pleasurable? Regina asked herself as she continued her teasing, fingers pressing deep inside Emma’s throbbing core. She could feel the walls clench and release as she moved, the lubricated passage like liquid velvet as her tongue continued its journey. Steadily, however, Regina’s tongue moved closer, creeping towards the place where Emma needed her most. Like many women, Regina had discovered, Emma could not come from internal stimulation alone. In order to climax, she needed her clit to be touched. But that didn’t mean the fingers inside her didn’t feel good.

Regina was reminded of Emma’s warning that she got loud after drinking when her name fell from the blonde’s lips, an almost feverish chant. She was close, very close, but she needed more.

“Regina, fuck, please, just touch me,” Emma cried out, her knees now bent and her hips moving without conscious thought.

“Why, Emma?” Regina asked, fingers now hammering in and out at such a pace that her wrist was beginning to cramp. Any pain or discomfort was worth it, she was sure.

“Because I want to come, goddamit!” Emma exclaimed. “Regina, make me come.”

The desperate plea was enough and Regina anchored Emma’s hips down with her free arm pinned across the woman’s rock hard abdomen as her mouth descended. A scream of ecstasy exploded from the blonde as her body convulsed, a flood of wetness suddenly spraying from her core. Surprised but aroused, Regina continued her ministrations, tongue lashing at the blonde’s clit over and over and over again, the tangy liquid making her own core clench as she did so.

“Regina,” Emma gasped at last, her body now lying still on the bed as the brunette moved away and regarded the wet patch which lay beneath her girlfriend.

“So,” the older woman said slowly, “did you forget to mention that you can achieve female ejaculation?”

Emma blushed and tried to close her legs which were streaked with wetness but Regina’s kneeling body prevented the attempt to preserve her modesty.

“Sorry,” she offered.

“Don’t be,” Regina said at once, crawling up the blonde. “That was incredibly hot, Emma. I can’t wait to make you do it again.”

“Really?” Emma frowned. “Elsa thought it was kinda gross.”


“My ex,” Emma explained. “Whose name I should not have mentioned with my girlfriend rubbing her cunt on my abs,” she added, realising what Regina was doing.

Regina smirked. “I told you I thought it was sexy that you came in my mouth.”

The blonde groaned at the salacious woman and gripped the rocking hips, helping Regina to reach her second orgasm of the night using her toned stomach to create friction.

Over an hour later, exhausted but satisfied, Regina lay curled in Emma’s arms. The sheets had been changed and pyjamas donned. It was well after one in the morning and both women would be exhausted at their respective jobs the following day but it had been worth it.

“I wish I could always fall asleep like this,” Emma whispered into the darkness.

“One day, my love,” Regina murmured back, snuggling herself closer to her big spoon.


Chapter Text

When Regina returned to her bedroom the following morning, Emma wasn’t there. With a slight frown, she proceeded to get dressed for the day, still feeling tired despite the invigorating workout she had forced herself to complete. As she made her way towards the kitchen, the sound of laughter reached her ears. She couldn’t help the smile which spread over her face as she realised where her girlfriend was.

“Good morning,” she said as she entered the room to find Emma and Henry standing side by side, the boy on a chair, in front of the kitchen counter.

“Hi Mom,” Henry said over his shoulder. “Emma is teaching me to make porridge.”


“Yeah. You want some?” Henry asked.

Taken aback by the whole scene, Regina nodded before making her way over to stand behind the two of them, peering down at the weighing scales which held a mound of oats.

“Good morning,” Emma said, twisting around and kissing Regina lightly. “I hope you don’t mind. I wanted to make you guys breakfast before you have to go to school and work. Henry appeared and offered to help me.”

“Oh I don’t mind,” Regina replied. “Whose idea was the porridge?”

“Henry’s. He saw the bag of oats on the side when I was halfway through the cupboards and wanted to try it. That ok?”

“Of course. Well done for asking to try something new, Henry.”

“Emma said I can have jam on my porridge,” Henry informed her. “Can I, Mom?”

“Of course you can,” Regina agreed. “Coffee, Emma?”

The blonde nodded at that offer and she set about making the caffeinated drink. Ten minutes later and the trio were all sat with a steaming bowl of porridge in front of them, Henry waiting patiently to dig in after he had been warned that doing so immediately would result in him burning his tongue. Once it had cooled he tucked in eagerly, eating more than half the bowl before declaring he was full. The two women exchanged a smile of satisfaction.

Regina and Henry left for school just as Emma’s Uber arrived to take her back to her apartment in order to get ready for work. The two women kissed briefly as they parted ways, Henry waving to the blonde before setting off down the street holding his mother’s hand. Neither woman dared mention how domestic yet natural the morning routine had felt.

“August, have you seen this list of dishes Killian wants us to prepare?” Emma called from her office that Friday morning.

“No,” came the response.

“Come here.” Seconds later, Emma’s sous chef appeared in the doorway and was beckoned closer. “Take a look.”

August obligingly entered and bent over to read Emma’s computer screen. He scanned the list of eight menu items before looking at the blonde who seemed annoyed. “So?”

“So, I have better things to do on a Friday afternoon than to make food for a photoshoot for marketing which is only going to result in us turning away more patrons,” Emma replied. “I mean, do we even have any sea bass?”

“Yeah, the delivery just arrived,” August nodded. “The guys are unpacking it now.”

“Fine,” Emma sighed. “Have all the lunch orders gone out?” At August’s nod, she continued. “Then we may as well get started.”

“The photographer doesn’t get here for another hour.”

“And you can’t tell whether the food is hot or cold in a photograph,” Emma countered. “We can cook the fish now and prep all the sauces and veg so it’s ready to go. That way Kat will be in and out before we have to start thinking about dinner. Did you know we have a table of twenty-seven people booked in tonight?”

“Ok, I’ll begin on the prep,” August nodded, jotting down the selection of dishes their boss wanted featured in the marketing campaign. “Who’s Kat, by the way?”

“Regina’s photographer,” Emma said. “Ruby and I met her on Monday night.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot you were sleeping with the head of this marketing empire. Is the photographer hot?”

“She’s beautiful but she’s also got a long term boyfriend so don’t even think about trying anything on with her.”

August pouted at the news. “Are you ever going to let me meet this goddess you’re besotted with? I’m still mad at you for not letting me tag along on Monday.”

“It was a girl’s night out and a chance for me to meet her sister and best friend,” Emma reminded him. “You’ll meet Regina but it’s only been a couple of weeks and we don’t have much time together because of our working hours. Frankly, there are other things I’d rather be doing than introducing her to you.”

“Like getting freaky in the bedroom?”

“And that is why I haven’t introduced you to her yet,” Emma said, narrowing her eyes. “Go. Start on the dishes please. I’ll be with you in ten minutes once I’ve submitted these orders for tomorrow.”

August laughed loudly before disappearing from the office and getting started on Emma’s instructions. The blonde shook her head in mild disbelief at her friend’s childishness before continuing with her tasks, eager to join August and make sure that the photoshoot went well. She might not think that it was necessary to market Hook, Line and Sinker but if that was what the boss wanted to do, then Emma was going to complete the necessary work to the highest standard possible.

“Why are you coming with me again?” Kathryn asked as she pulled up at some traffic lights on the edge of Storybrooke, glancing sideways at her travel companion.

“Because Mr Jones is an important client with a sizeable monthly budget and if we can deliver a profitable campaign for him, then it will be good for business,” Regina replied, herself reading over the proposal she had sent to the Hook, Line and Sinker boss weeks before.

“And you don’t trust me to get the good images without your expert photographic experience?” Kathryn teased.

“You’re excellent at your job, Kat,” Regina said. “But that doesn’t mean I can just leave my staff members to it. We’re a team, right? I have to oversee all aspects of the campaign development. And on occasion that means I come out on location shoots with my best photographer just to make sure everything is working in accordance with the company’s processes.”

Kathryn shot a sideways look at her friend and boss but said nothing more. Instead, she pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and drew the vehicle to a halt. Regina helped Kathryn to carry her extensive photography equipment into the restaurant. Given it was mid-afternoon, the place was almost deserted with just two tables left finishing off desserts and drinks.

“Ms Mills, wonderful to see you again.”

Regina turned to see Killian Jones strolling towards her seconds after she walked in and before even Ruby, who was beside the bar, had managed to welcome them. As the man reached them, he leaned in to kiss Regina on both cheeks, his stubble scratching against her skin.

“Mr Jones,” Regina replied, forcing a smile.

“And who is this stunning creature?” the man asked, leering towards Kathryn who visibly grimaced.

“This is my photographer, Kathryn.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Killian smiled, giving the blonde a kiss on each cheek as well.

“Likewise,” Kathryn replied, her tone dripping with sarcasm. “Which way to the kitchen?”

“Please, follow me,” Killian said, leading the two women across the restaurant and through double stainless steel doors. Ruby waved at them but didn’t come over; happy to let her boss take care of their guests and wanting to stay far away from him at the same time.

Regina realised she’d never asked Emma much about her workspace and she gasped as she saw the large commercial kitchen for the first time. They had emerged on the far side of a service counter, currently devoid of plates but, Regina imagined, usually filled with dishes ready to be served. Beyond was an expansive stretch of polished metal, a bank of ovens and stoves along the wall at the far end. Glass-fronted fridges were neatly lined up in the right hand corner, stuffed with fresh produce. Regina was immediately hungry.

“Swan,” Killian called as he moved further into the kitchen.

Emma’s head appeared from below the rim of a central island counter where she had been crouching rearranging a cluttered cupboard. “Hi boss,” she said, standing up. “I didn’t realise you were coming up from the city. When did you arrive?”

“About half an hour ago,” he replied. “I wanted to be here to make sure that the photoshoot went well. This is Regina and Kathryn from Mills Marketing.”

“Yeah, I know who they are,” Emma said, shooting a smile at both women. Regina positively beamed at her but said nothing.

“You do?” Killian frowned.

“Yep,” Emma nodded without elaborating. “Most of the dishes are almost ready. August is on a break and then he’ll start on the finishing touches. Would you like to shoot in here or in the restaurant?”

“The restaurant,” Kathryn replied.

“Fine,” Emma nodded. “Ruby has a table made up perfectly that we can use. Do you need anything in particular?”

“Beyond the ridiculous amount of stuff I brought with me? Nah, I’m good,” Kathryn smiled. “I’ll go and set up.”

“Get Ruby to give you a hand if you need assistance,” Emma said. “Let me just tell August we’re ready and I’ll follow you out.”

Kathryn and Regina disappeared into the restaurant while Emma headed to the rear alley where the staff hung out when they wanted a break from the kitchen. Killian was left standing on his own in the middle of the kitchen, trying to work out why he felt obsolete.

“What are you doing here?”

Regina shivered at the husked whisper and turned around to see Emma standing closely beside her.

“I’m working,” she replied with a smirk.

“No, Kat is working. You’re here to swoon over the sexy head chef,” Emma said, winding her arms around Regina’s waist. “So, go ahead, swoon away.”

Regina winked and bent her spine, allowing her head to drop backwards. Emma’s hands flexed, supporting her weight and laughing lightly. Sliding her palm up the curved body, Emma coaxed Regina back towards her, not stopping when she was upright and instead curling her fingers around the nape of the brunette’s neck and pulling her closer.

“Hi,” she whispered before their lips met. Regina allowed the display of affection, knowing that the restaurant was empty except for their respective best friends who were diligently setting up for the first shot. No matter how much Kathryn enjoyed teasing Regina, when it came to work, she was always focused. Ruby, however, caught the smooch out of the corner of her eye. It was an effort to say nothing but she held her tongue.


What Regina and Emma hadn’t accounted for was the entrance of Emma’s colleague. The brunette stepped away as Emma’s grip on her loosened and turned to face a tall, scruffy-looking man in chef whites and a lopsided grin.

“August, I’d like you to meet Regina,” Emma said, unnecessarily. “Regina, this is August, my top sous chef.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” August said, extending the hand which wasn’t carrying a plate toward Regina. “Although it looks like Emma’s getting even more pleasure out of this meeting. Ems, you didn’t tell me your girlfriend was joining us.”

“Girlfriend?” came another voice.

Emma peered past August and saw that Killian had followed the man from the kitchen. She would discover later that the man had hovered around while August prepared the dish, asking stupid questions about cooking that the owner of a successful restaurant ought to have known.

“Yes, Regina and I are in a relationship,” Emma informed her boss.

“You and Miss Mills?” Killian frowned, now standing beside August and looking curiously between the two women.

“Yes,” Emma repeated.

“You’re gay?” The question was directed at Regina. Killian knew that Emma dated women but it never stopped him trying to seduce her. Or whatever he thought his sexual harassment moves would result in.

“I am,” Regina nodded. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“No,” Killian said at once. “Lesbians are hot. I love lesbians. I hired Emma, didn’t I? Although this one,” he added, pointing at the blonde, “didn’t exactly tell me she wasn’t in the market for cock when I hired her. Stringing me along, she was. Making me think I had a chance with her all so she could get a job at my restaurant.”

“Well, I’m sure you can see now is the time to let that delusion go,” Regina said, reaching for Emma’s fingers and squeezing, silently asking the blonde not to retaliate. “And I cannot believe you regret hiring Emma for a moment. She’s an excellent chef and your restaurant has become very successful under her management.”

“Sure, sure,” Killian nodded, eyes lingering on the clasped fingers. “Um, I’ve got to go. Paperwork, you know. Please let me know if you need anything.”

After one final glance at the two women, he turned and headed towards his office. No one spoke until he was out of sight.

“Classic,” August chuckled. “That was awesome, Ems.”

“Are you ok?” Regina asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “It’s probably a good thing he knows. Maybe now he’s seen I’m with you he’ll back off a bit. He was always less handsy when I was with Elsa.”

“You know you could report him,” Regina pointed out. “Sexual harassment is taken seriously now, Emma.”

“If I report him, what happens to this place?” she asked. “I need the job. I love the job. He’s never here anyway. I can handle it.”

“You shouldn’t have to ‘handle’ anything,” Regina said.

Emma shrugged and turned towards the table around which Kathryn had set up her equipment. The other blonde had been listening into the conversations but said nothing and offered Emma a sympathetic smile when their eyes met. Ruby had disappeared back to the bar where the final lunch time patrons were paying their bill.

“August, this is Kathryn, or Kat, Regina’s friend and photographer. Kat, this is my sous chef August. He helped me make most of the meals we’re photographing,” she added unnecessarily as the man placed the dish in the centre of the table.

Once she had her photo subjects, Kat sprang into action, arranging everything exactly as she wanted it and adjusting the lighting. Regina stepped away from the table, Emma and August followed her lead. It was clear that the woman like to be given space to work and create her masterpieces. As she began clicking away, August headed back into the kitchen at Emma’s request to continue work on the next dish.

“So, how was Henry’s session yesterday?” Emma asked quietly.

“Good,” Regina replied. “Archie is really impressed at how much new food he’s trying. But …”

“But? There’s a but?” Emma frowned.

“Archie was saying we need to be careful about how Henry is trying new food,” Regina began. Emma ignored the use of the word ‘we’ and nodded for the brunette to continue. “He pointed out that all of the times Henry has eaten something new, it’s been when you’ve offered it to him or you’ve cooked it.”

“And that’s a problem?”

“It could be,” Regina nodded. “If Henry will only try new food when you’re around then what happens if … what if you’re not around one day? What happens then?”

Emma turned away from watching Kat and her camera to face her girlfriend. She took a moment to register the mix of emotions she saw. There was concern for Henry, of course, but there was also something more; fear. The fear of being alone again, of being left, of being abandoned.

“Regina,” she said softly, taking the older woman’s hands in her own. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise. If Henry needs me to cook him food for the rest of his life, then that is what I’ll do. I understand that he needs to be more accepting of new food from lots of difference sources. But it’s early days. I mean, it’s only been a couple of weeks. Let’s get him comfortable with eating new things in a way he is willing before we start pushing things.”

“Archie said that,” Regina admitted. “He said it was a process.”

“It is. One which I want to be a part of. But if you also need me to distance myself, please tell me. I don’t want to in any way become a problem for Henry, now or in the future.”

“No, that’s not what I want,” Regina said at once, stepping closer and snaking her arms around her girlfriend’s neck. “You, Chef Swan, are not going anywhere.”

“Actually, I am going to have to go somewhere,” Emma mused. Regina cocked her head in question. “My landlord called me yesterday. You know I met him about renewing the lease, right? Well, I was going to sign for another six months and live there on my own after Ruby moves out. But he just told me he’s hiking up the rent by five hundred bucks a month. I can’t afford that and I don’t think I want to live with someone new. So, it looks like I’m apartment hunting.”

The words were right there; the offer would have been so easy to make. And yet somehow, for some reason, Regina held back. She wanted, desperately, for Emma to become a more permanent, daily fixture in her life. But it was too soon, wasn’t it? It was too fast, too much, too intense.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Regina said after a longer than natural silence. “But I’m sure you’ll find somewhere nice. I’ll help you look, if you want?”

A flicker of what looked almost like disappointment crossed Emma’s features before she smiled widely and nodded before kissing Regina lightly and excusing herself to help August prepare the remaining dishes.

“You’re an idiot.”

Regina turned to her friend, scowling. “What are you talking about?”

“Emma. She wanted you to ask her to move in,” Kathryn said, standing beside the table with a smirk on her face.

“No, she didn’t.”

“Yes, she did. And you wanted to ask her. Why didn’t you?”

“Because we’ve only been together for a few weeks.”

“And you’re completely in love,” Kat pointed out. “What was all that you guys were saying about Henry?”

“How good is your hearing?” Regina asked. They had both been speaking in hushed tones at that point to avoid Kathryn from eavesdropping. Clearly they had been unsuccessful.

“I heard his name a few times, that’s all,” Kathryn shrugged. “Henry likes Emma, right?”

“Very much,” Regina nodded. “That’s sort of the problem. We need to be careful about him getting too attached in case … He didn’t deal well with Mal leaving.”

“Well, of course he’s not going to take his mother disappearing easily,” Kathryn pointed out, “but Emma’s not going anywhere, is she?”

“I hope not.”

“Then what’s the problem? Are you just going to hold back from her, from every future relationship you might have just in case they walk out on you like she did?”

“Could you blame me?” Regina said. “No one wants their heart broken like that. And I’m not holding back from Emma. I’m just taking it at a steady pace. We need to make sure it’s right before things get more complicated and Henry gets too attached.”

“Sounds like that’s already happened,” Kathryn said.

Regina didn’t say anything but she knew her friend was right. Her son had been incredibly accepting of the appearance of Emma in his life and seemed more than happy with the new dynamic which was entering their little family. Regina was happy too. Very happy. In fact, Kathryn’s suggesting of her holding back from future relationships in addition to Emma had made the brunette realise that she didn’t want any other relationship. She didn’t want to date again. She didn’t want to start another relationship. She wanted Emma.

The large doors from the kitchen swung open at that moment and Emma and August appeared, each carrying dishes and sides for the next photo session.

“Emma,” Regina said at once.

“Yeah,” came the slow reply, the woman recognising the strange tone in her girlfriend’s voice. “What’s up?”

“Move in with me and Henry. Don’t get a new apartment. Move in with us. I know it’s fast and I know we haven’t even talked about it and I know this is a big step and that we probably should wait. But I don’t want to wait. I don’t want you to move somewhere else, alone, when you could move in with me and Henry. I want you to be with us. I want to wake up with you every morning and go to sleep with you every night. Emma, I … I want you to move in with me.”

Chapter Text


“Move in with me,” Regina repeated even though she knew perfectly well that Emma had heard her the first time.

Without saying anything more, Emma dumped the plates she had been carrying onto the nearest table, grabbed Regina by the hand and led her back into the kitchen. August and Kathryn both watched them go before turning back to one another, eyes wide.

“Emma, where are we going?” Regina asked as she followed the blonde through the deserted kitchen and out into a back corridor.

“Somewhere we can talk without being stared at,” Emma said, opening the door to her office and gesturing for Regina to walk inside. She did so, turning around just as Emma stepped in and closed the door behind her. The blonde was suddenly reminded why she never had her door closed; the space was tiny. “Well, I guess this will have to do.”

“Do for what?”

“For me to ask you what’s going on. I mean, where did that come from?”

“I … I thought you’d want to move in,” Regina said, heart now hammering against her chest as she realised she might have made a terrible mistake. “I mean, we’d talked about it, sort of. And then you said that you were going to have to find a new place. Kat said you wanted me to ask you.”

“Kat said that?”

“She said she could tell you wanted me to offer. I guess she was wrong.”

Emma rubbed a hand over her face and sighed deeply. “No, she wasn’t wrong.”

This time it was Regina’s turn to pause before speaking. If Kathryn wasn’t wrong and if Emma did want to move in with her, then why were they standing in the cupboard which she could only assume was Emma’s office? “So you did want me to ask?”

“I thought it was a topic that may come up in conversation over the next few weeks,” Emma replied. “I figured you’d offer and I suppose I wanted you to offer. I do want you to offer. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen in front of your best friend and my colleague.”

“So, right question, wrong time?”

“Yeah, I guess you could put it like that.”

Regina felt herself relax just a little. It wasn’t that the idea of living with Regina and Henry horrified Emma but that the offer had not been made at quite the right time.

“It wasn’t planned.”

Emma chuckled. “I figured.”

“I haven’t even talked to Henry about it.”

“What do you think he’d say?”

“I have no idea,” Regina admitted. The moment the words were out of her mouth back in the restaurant her mind had flitted to Henry. She had no idea how he would react to the suggestion that Emma might come to live with them. He liked Emma but inviting a new person into their home was entirely different. “It’s obvious he needs to be involved in this decision. We all need to talk about it. It’s not a yes or no answer. It’s more complicated than that.”

“But if it wasn’t complicated, if Henry wasn’t involved, and I understand that he is,” Emma said quickly. “If it was just you and me, I’d say yes. It is a simple answer as far as I’m concerned. If we talk about it and it makes sense. If Henry is ok with it. Then it’s a yes.”


“Yes,” Emma said, stepping closer to Regina and pulling her into her arms. “I would love to move in with you. You’re right, it is fast. And if I wasn’t faced with having to find a new place, then it wouldn’t be talked about for a while. But it’s where we’re heading, right?”

“Right,” Regina said, hands snaking up and curling around Emma’s neck.

“So let’s start talking about it. I’ve still got six weeks before I have to move out. By then we’ll have been together for two months. I’m not suggesting I move in any earlier than after my contract ends on my apartment. And before anything more happens, you need to talk to Henry.”

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “And I think it might be a good idea for us all to talk to Doctor Hopper if we’re going to do this. He might be able to help us make this as easy as possible for Henry.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Emma nodded. “But nothing more happens before you talk to Henry. You were only saying a few minutes ago that there were some concerns with his behaviour towards food in relation to me. I don’t want to complicate things further. And if now isn’t the right time, then I’ll get my own place and maybe we can reassess further down the road.”

Regina nodded her agreement to that and leaned in to kiss Emma. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Emma asked.

“For being so understanding. I know the kids are always a big factor when you’re dating a single parent but I think there’s an extra dimension when it comes to Henry. You’ve been amazing at dealing with him and with his issues with food.”

“I know what he’s going through,” Emma shrugged. “And I’ll do whatever is needed to help him and to help you. If that means moving in, then great. If it means waiting six months or a year or five years, then I’ll do that too. I just want to be in both your lives, in whichever way I can be.”

“I want you in our lives too,” Regina said, craning her neck for another kiss. “And you will be, I’m sure. Henry loves you and I don’t think the issue will be about whether he wants to see more of you but whether or not it is going to be good for him. He needs stability and certainty so this move … we have to be sure it’s going to be a good fit for all three of us.”

Emma nodded. She understood. She had always known what it meant for Henry to know who she was, what she was to his mother. If she was going to be in his life, then she was going to have to be there for him; to never leave. She couldn’t be another Mal. He couldn’t have another parent figure disappear on him. Emma knew what it felt like to have an unstable family unit; had struggled through the foster system, moving from house to house until she landed at the Nolans. Henry deserved more than that. And she wanted to give it to him.

“I love you both, Regina,” the blonde said seriously. “And I need you to know that I’m not going anywhere. If we do this, then that’s it for me. I want you and Henry to be it for me.”

“I want us to be your it. And I love you too,” Regina replied with a gentle smile, fingers caressing the back of Emma’s neck.

“Good,” Emma grinned before she pressed her lips against Regina’s. This kiss was a longer, deeper, more passionate affair and Regina willingly melted into the contact. She felt Emma pull her closer, their bodies pressed tightly together. Opening her mouth willingly, she accepted the teasing of the tip of Emma’s tongue against her top lip. It had been four days since she had tasted the blonde and she missed her terribly. She wasn’t sure how she could ever go so long without seeing, touching, being with the woman in her arms.

“God, I hope Henry is ok with you moving in with us,” she murmured when they broke apart.

“Me too,” Emma said, placing a final kiss to Regina’s lips. “Come on, we’d better get back out there. You do realise we’ve left Kat and Ruby alone to gossip about us.”

“Good point,” Regina laughed. She had no doubt at all the pair were talking, probably with August, about what had been said before the two women disappeared. “But perhaps wipe my lipstick off your face first.”

Emma smirked and used the back of her hand and the tip of a finger to remove the incriminating evidence. Once she was deemed presentable by Regina, they left Emma’s office and headed back into the restaurant, the chef pointing out a few of her favourite gadgets as they walked through the still empty kitchen. Just before they reached the wide double doors, Regina’s fingers curled into Emma’s and pulled her to a halt. Turning to see what was wrong, Emma let out a little gasp of surprise as she found herself pressed up against the service counter, a hungry mouth against hers. Teeth nipped her bottom lip before a hot tongue soothed her flesh. Emma whimpered.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” Regina said when the kiss ended.

“Do what?”

“Kiss a chef in a kitchen,” Regina replied.

“Your bucket list items are really specific,” Emma chuckled. “What else is on there?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” the brunette teased as she led the way out into the restaurant.

The laughter which bubbled up in Emma’s throat died as soon as she took in the trio of faces which greeted them. As predicted, Kathryn, Ruby and August had indeed been talking about the couple the whole time rather than doing their work.

“Finished, are we?” Regina asked, switching into company director at once.

“Are you?” Kathryn shot back.

“We’re finished discussion our private relationship, yes,” Regina said. “What dish are we on? Did the scallops come out ok against the white porcelain?”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Kathryn said slowly. “Come on, guys, what happened?”

“What happened was Emma and I had a private conversation following my foolish question which was unfortunately broadcast in a public space when it was clearly a private matter,” Regina replied. “But if you’re asking if Emma and I are still together and happy, then yes, we are. Now, shall we get back to the task in hand? Emma, I guess we’ll be needing the next dish since Kat and August have been working so diligently in our absence.”

“Sure, I’ll go and get it,” Emma grinned, loving her girlfriend’s sass. Forcing herself not to burst out laughing at the identical, incredulous expressions which gawped at her, she turned around and headed back into the kitchen. Seconds later, she heard August and Ruby follow her, desperate for gossip.

In the kitchen, she busied herself with her tasks, ignoring the two figures hovering beside her.

“Ems,” Ruby said impatiently.

“Hello,” Emma said over her shoulder as she carefully plated up their next dish using ingredients August had already prepared. “Can I help you?”

“Um, yeah, you can give us answers!” Ruby exclaimed. “Did Regina really ask you to move in with her just like that?”

“August can answer that question. He was standing right there.”

“It’s true. I was. And she did,” August said.

“Well, what did you say?” Ruby prompted.

“I said a lot of things.” Emma had to keep her back to her friends so they didn’t see the broad smile on her face. This was just too much fun. Plus, she had to concentrate on placing the garnish perfectly on top of the seared piece of fish.


“And what?” Emma asked.

“Are you moving in with Regina?”

“We’re talking about it,” Emma said. “Nothing has been decided for certain.”

Ruby squealed in excitement and August slapped his friend on the back. “I’m so happy for you,” the lanky brunette exclaimed, August echoing similar sentiments.

“Well, don’t pop the champagne just yet,” Emma said, turning around with the completed plate in her hand. “We need to talk to Henry first.”

“The kid?” August asked.

“The kid,” Emma nodded.

She wondered how Regina planned to speak about the change in their living arrangements with her son. It would be important for Henry to be introduced to the idea gently. Would they do it together? Or would Regina do it herself? And what was Archie Hopper going to say about their plans? There were so many unknowns that, for now, Emma decided, all she could do was concentrate on her work and leave the future up to fate.

“What the fuck did you do that for?” Kathryn exclaimed as soon as Emma and her friends had disappeared.

“What? You told me to ask her,” Regina pointed out. “It was your idea.”

“Yes, but not here. Not surrounded by your friends. Jeez, Regina. Talk about putting the poor girl on the spot. No wonder she dragged you out of here. What did she say?”

“A lot of things,” Regina shrugged.

“Yeah, I can imagine. But what did she say to the question? Does she want to move in with you guys?”

“She does,” Regina nodded, unable to stop the smile spreading over her face. “But it’s not confirmed. We need to see what Henry thinks about it first.”

“He’s a kid, what does his opinion matter?”

“It matters,” Regina said.

“If you say so. But she said yes? She wants to move in with you guys?”

“Yes,” Regina said, almost shyly, as if she couldn’t quite believe that Emma really had agreed to talk about their co-habiting.

Arms wrapped around her, at which point Regina realised she was crying. Kathryn held her close, not asking why the woman was so emotional. She knew the step was significant for her friend in many more ways than just a progressing relationship. It was about healing. It was about moving on from Mal. It was a sign that the door had finally closed on that part on her life; the part during which she and Henry had been abandoned. Emma would never do that, would never walk out like that. Regina trusted Emma to keep her and Henry safe from any more emotional harm. And that was momentous.


Emma’s worried tone broke the two women apart. Regina wiped her face and offered the concerned woman a watery smile. “I’m ok, I promise.”

“Are you sure?” Emma asked, snaking an arm around Regina’s shoulders as she handed the next plate to be photographed to Kathryn.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Regina said, kissing Emma lightly on the cheek. “What’s next?”

Emma looked like she was about to ask another question but could tell that Regina wanted the conversation to move along so she acquiesced. “Seared Bluefin tuna with spring vegetables, baby potatoes with lemon butter and Mediterranean herbs and a lobster jus.”

“It looks delicious,” the brunette remarked, mouth almost watering at the sight of the beautiful plate.

“It’s cold,” Emma said. “But I’ll make it for you some time.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Regina smiled, kissing Emma lightly before stepping out of her girlfriend’s embrace and moving towards Kathryn’s laptop screen which was set up so she could view the images as soon as they’d been taken. Emma followed, the two of them perusing the pictures until Kathryn announced she was ready for the next plate.

“I’m going to have to start my prep for the evening after this dish. See you tonight?” Emma murmured to Regina who was still looking at the photos.

“You’re coming over?”

“If you’ll have me,” Emma nodded. “I … yeah, I want to hold you tight tonight.”

“I can’t wait,” Regina smiled.

After the photo shoot was finished, Kathryn dropped her friend and boss back at the office to collect her car. As it was almost five, Regina opted not to go inside, knowing she’d be sucked into the myriad emails which had pinged on her cell during the time she had been at Hook, Line and Sinker. They could wait until Monday, she decided. In that moment, she just wanted to collect her son from Ursula’s and enjoy their usual Friday night movie tradition.

“Mom, can Emma come and watch with us tonight?” Henry asked as they sat down to their evening meal. It was Henry’s request for pasta with tomato sauce but now that simple dish included onions, carrots and capsicum. Regina still couldn’t believe the progress her son had made as he reached over to grab a handful of grated cheese to sprinkle on top of his plate.

“Emma’s working, my little prince,” Regina replied. “But she’s going to come over when she’s finished work so she’ll be here in the morning.”

“Can I help her make pancakes for breakfast tomorrow?”

Regina smiled. “Of course! Do you like cooking with Emma?”

An enthusiastic nod acted in place of an answer, Henry’s cheeks bulging with his dinner. It seemed that her son and girlfriend had found something which connected them. While she had always tried to get Henry involved in the cooking process, he had never been particularly engaged. There was something about working alongside Emma, however, which inspired him. Regina didn’t know what, although she had to admit that she herself was drawn to the blonde, and she didn’t really care what was making Henry develop his interest. All that mattered was that he was starting to eat a more varied diet and trying new food more readily.

Curling up on the couch together after dinner, Regina and Henry settled down to watch a Thomas the Tank Engine film. Well, Henry watched it while Regina gave in and checked her work email, only half watching the children’s entertainment. By the time it had finished, Henry was fast asleep. Gathering her son in her arms, she carried him through to his bedroom, tenderly changed him into his pyjamas and tucked him into bed. When she returned to the couch, she resumed her work, passing the time until Emma arrived.

The next thing Regina knew the sound of the doorbell was rousing her from sleep. She looked around in confusion, trying to work out what time it was. As she stood up, she glanced at her cell and noticed three missed calls and several texts from Emma, as well as taking in the time as after eleven thirty.

The blonde woman smiled apologetically at her from the porch as soon as Regina opened the door, rubbing her eyes in a childish manner. “I woke you, didn’t I?”

“Yes but it’s fine,” Regina said, stepping back so Emma could enter. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. It’s been a long week.”

“Now I feel bad asking if I could come over,” Emma said, dropping a tender kiss onto Regina’s cheek. “Next time, just tell me to go back to mine. I know my working hours suck.”

“Not at all,” Regina said. “And anyway, sooner or later this is going to be your home too.”

“Hopefully,” Emma pointed out. She didn’t want to get ahead of herself. In truth, the idea of living with Regina and Henry filled her with warmth and love and excitement. But they weren’t there yet. Henry needed to be consulted. There was still a lot to work out. She didn’t want that dream to run away from her and then be dashed. She didn’t think she could handle that disappointment.

“Well, in the meantime,” Regina said, turning to slide the top drawer in the side table open, “take this.”

The cool sliver of metal landed in Emma’s palm. She stared down at the key for a brief moment before looking up at her girlfriend. “Are you sure?”

“One step at a time, right?”

Emma grinned and nodded her agreement, stepping closer to Regina and kissing her soundly. “One step at a time. And right now, I’d like those steps to be heading in the direction of your bedroom. I’ve been thinking about getting you alone since that kiss in my kitchen this afternoon.”

Brown eyes darkened at the suggestive tone. Switching off the lights as she moved through the house, Emma’s fingers entangled in her own, Regina led the way through to the bedroom. They undressed each other silently, falling onto the bed as Regina reached for the bedside lamp.

“You don’t like having sex in the light, do you?” Emma commented as plump lips suckled the tender skin of her neck.

“Not really,” Regina admitted, breaking the contact and peering through the gloom into Emma’s face. “Why? Do you?”

“I don’t mind,” Emma said, hands running up and down Regina’s naked sides. “But I like seeing you. You’re beautiful and the sight of your body turns me on. I mean, it’s still amazing whether it’s dark or light but sometimes I … I get the feeling you’re trying to hide.”

She felt the shift in the mattress as Regina sat up straight, still straddling her hips, before moving to one side and laying down beside Emma, staring at the ceiling. The blonde, however, rolled onto her side, taking in the profile of her girlfriend against the dim streetlight squeezing through the gaps in the curtains.

“Regina? Did I say something wrong?”

“No,” Regina replied. “You said something right. Too right, I guess. It fascinated me how well you know me after such a short time, actually.”

“Is that a good fascination or a bad one?”

“Good, I think,” Regina said, her head turning towards Emma’s now, eyes finding one another through the darkness. “I love that you know me so well but it also means I can’t hide anything from me.”

At that, Emma frowned. “You want to hide things from me?”

“No,” Regina said softly. “Not at all. But there are some … body hang-ups which no one, and by no one I mean Mal, has ever acknowledged and now you’re asking me about them.”

“If you’re not comfortable talking about this,” Emma began, knowing that a woman’s perception of her own body was a sensitive and complex matter, “you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, Gina.”

“I like it when you call me Gina,” came the reply, the woman herself rolling onto her side and throwing her leg across Emma’s hip.

Emma, sensing that she had provided Regina with an out, followed the brunette’s lead and shifted herself closer, chest pressed against Regina’s, the woman’s leg wrapped around her upper thigh. “Oh yeah, Gina?” she husked, placing a kiss to the upturned lips, as a hand slipped between Regina’s parted thighs. “And what else do I do that you like?”

Whether the question needed a reply, Regina wasn’t sure. But if Emma was expecting words, she couldn’t hardly be disappointed by the breathless moan which escaped Regina’s mouth as two of Emma’s fingers entered her wet, waiting core.

Chapter Text

The weight of a small person bouncing up and down lightly on her hip woke Emma the following morning. Cracking open one eye, she saw Henry peering into her face, a grin forming as he saw that she was awake.

“Good morning, Henry,” she murmured, wanting to keep her voice low as the woman in her arms appeared to be still sleeping. She could feel Regina’s chest rising and falling gently against her palm.

“Can we make pancakes now?” the young child asked.

“What time is it?”

Henry shrugged. He hadn’t learned to tell the time yet. Emma propped herself up on her elbow, careful not to move too much behind Regina and peered over the woman’s shoulder towards the alarm clock. She groaned.

“Henry, it’s not even seven.”

“I’m hungry,” the boy replied. “And Mom said I can help you to make pancakes. Can we make them now?”

“Why don’t we wait a little bit and then your mom can join us and we can all do it together?”

“But we didn’t do it with Mom before,” Henry frowned.

“No, but it would be nice to do it together today, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess,” Henry said slowly. “Can we wake Mom?”

“Mom is already awake,” came a sleepy voice.

Regina turned over in Emma’s embrace and smiled up at her son. She had been enjoying the exchange between the duo but felt she ought to step in before Henry either jumped on her or Emma tried to persuade him to go back to bed; something she knew was never going to happen.

“Can we make pancakes now?” Henry asked again, looking between his mother and the blonde woman on whom he was still sat.

“Sure,” Regina nodded. “Why don’t you go and get dressed and Emma and I will meet you in the kitchen in ten minutes.”

Henry agreed at once to this plan and scrambled off the bed, racing out of the room and down the corridor. Regina chuckled before turning and snuggling closer to the warm body beside her. “Good morning,” she murmured, pressing a kiss to Emma’s neck as she burrowed down.

“Hi,” Emma replied, her lips landing on Regina’s head. “Did you sleep well?”

“I always sleep perfectly when your arms are wrapped around me.”

Emma pulled the body even closer, glad that Regina felt the same as she did about their shared nights together. They were, by far, her most rested sleeps. And soon, hopefully, she would be spending every night with Regina.

“So, I guess we should get up and dressed for our pancake cooking session,” Emma said, making no attempt to move from her comfortable position.

“Five more minutes,” came the murmured reply, another kiss melting whatever desire Emma had to leave the bed.

By the time the two women did make it to the kitchen, Henry was already there. In fact, he had emptied half a cupboard attempting to find the bowl he and Emma had used last time to make the pancake batter. Now the adults were present to do the boring jobs, however, he turned his attention to the more interesting tasks such as sifting flour (because making a mess was fun) and measuring milk (because he was good at maths and Emma let him pour the liquid up to the correct red line).

“Mom, what are you doing?” Henry asked as he stirred the mixture in a bowl held tightly by Emma. Droplets had still slopped over the lip and splattered the work surface.

“I’m preparing the toppings,” Regina replied. “Are you sure you only want jam? Emma and I are having strawberries again and I’m going to whip some cream too.”

“What’s cream?”

“It’s like milk but thicker,” Emma explained. “It’s yummy. You might like some with your jam even if you don’t want to try a fresh strawberry.”

“Fresh strawberry?”

Emma nodded and reached for the jar of jam beside Regina. “See this?” she said, pointing to the picture of the fruit on the label. “That’s a strawberry just like the ones your mom is cutting. See? But the strawberries in this jar have been cooked with sugar and they turn into jam. We’re having fresh strawberries; before they’re cooked or sweetened.”

“Can I try a tiny bit now?” Henry asked. “I don’t want to put them on my pancakes if they’re yucky.”

“Of course,” Regina nodded, handing a quarter of one of the strawberries she had just cut to her son.

He took it gently between its fingers, almost dropping the slightly slippery fruit before he peered at it, as if trying to decide whether he wanted to eat it. Emma turned back to the mixture, not wanting Henry to feel like he was being watched. Regina followed suit and continued to chop up the remaining fruit.

“Is it ready to cook now?”

Emma and Regina both peered down at Henry. “Is what ready?”

“The pancake mix,” Henry said, brows furrowed as if the blonde who had spoken had gone quite mad.

“Oh, almost,” Emma said. “Before we cook the pancakes, let’s give the mix 15 minutes in the fridge. Um, how was the strawberry?”

“Ok,” Henry replied. “Sweet. But not as sweet as my jam.”

“But nice?” Regina asked.

“Yes,” Henry replied. “Can I have some on my jam?”

“You want strawberries on top of your strawberry jam?” Emma asked.

Henry nodded, unable to see the problem in what he had just proposed.

“Ok,” Regina agreed. “I’ll cut some extra strawberries for you.”

“Ok,” Henry said, jumping down from the chair and taking the jug Emma had handed him. He then crossed over to the fridge which was opened for him by the blonde and placed their breakfast mix inside. “What now?”

“Now we clean up the mess we made while we wait for the mixture to be ready,” Emma said. “Do you want to wash or dry?”

“You wash, Mom dry.”

“And what will you do?” Regina asked.

Henry looked up at the woman who was smirking down at him. “TV?” he offered, a hopeful tone to his voice.

“Nice try,” Emma said, moving the chair so it was in front of the draining board, grabbing a tea towel and gesturing for a pouting Henry to join as she begin to wash up the few items they had dirtied as well as a wine glass Regina had used the night before. Henry pouted but complied, his mother completing the job by putting away the items once they were dry.

Despite protests that he wanted to help, Henry was only allowed to watch as Emma cooked the pancakes. Regina wanted her son to learn more about the process but was wary of allowing him free reign with a hot pan. Maybe you can have a go next time, she promised, as his eyes widened watching Emma move the first cooked pancakes from the stove to the plate.

“What are we doing today?” Henry asked, after he had eaten half of his pancakes, complete with fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. His lips were stained red, a smear of the fruit across his cheek as well.

“What would you like to do?” Regina countered, taking a sip of the coffee she had made while Emma cooked their breakfast.

“Can we go to that place with the giant zip line? It goes super fast and then when you reach the end you hit a spring that makes you go wheeeeee backwards!”

“The adventure park? Where we took a picnic last summer with Aunty Kat?” At that, Henry nodded enthusiastically. “Ok, that sounds like a lovely idea.”

“And Emma can come too this time,” Henry added.

“Actually, kid, I’ve got to go to work, sorry.”

Henry pouted. “Why? It’s Saturday. Saturday is a fun day. Mom doesn’t work and I don’t go to school.”

“Yeah but remember when I said I worked at the weekends because my restaurant is where other people come to have fun on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s kinda annoying for me though, because I’d love to spend the day with you and your mom.”

“So come,” Henry said simply.

“I can’t,” Emma said, wishing she could offer another answer. “I would lose my job if I didn’t turn up for work.”

Henry grumbled something under his breath and resumed his breakfast. Regina glanced at the blonde, silently trying to communicate … something. They needed to improve their telepathy, Emma decided as she shrugged and nodded, as if to say ‘he’s your son, go ahead.’

“Henry, do you like spending time with Emma?” Regina asked.

“Yeah,” Henry said, a sulky tone to his voice now. “But she’s never here. I want to play with her more.”

“What if she was here more?” Regina offered.

“So she can come to the adventure park with us?” At the belief that his wish was going to come true, Henry’s face lit up.

“Not today,” Regina said. “But what if she was here in our house every day. So we could all eat breakfast together in the mornings and in the evenings, after Emma finishes work, she’d come back here too and go to sleep.”

“Like she did last night?”


“But I was already asleep so I didn’t get to see Emma. You made me go to bed before she came over.”

“You fell asleep,” Regina reminded him. “And Emma works late so you won’t be able to stay up and see her every time. It’s important that you get lots of sleep so you can concentrate at school. But some nights, like on Mondays and some Wednesdays, maybe Emma would be here after school and we could all have dinner together. Would you like that?”

“I … suppose,” Henry said, his face now curious. “Is Emma coming to live with us?”

“Maybe,” Regina nodded. “Would you like that?”

“How long would you live here with us?” Henry asked, directing the question to the blonde who had so far been silent.

“Um, for as long as we’re all happy, I suppose,” Emma said. “But I’d like to stay living with you and your mom forever.”

“How many years is forever?”

“To infinity,” Regina offered.

“Like Buzz Lightyear?” Because how better to explain the concept of time than using a character from Toy Story, Henry thought to himself.

“Exactly,” Regina nodded. “Emma would stay here to infinity if we are all happy about that.”

“And if we’re not happy?”

“Then we’ll talk about it,” Regina said. “Remember I promised that nothing was going to change without us talking to you. That’s why we’re talking now. Emma isn’t going to come and live here straight away. We’re going to talk about it with you, and with each other, and with Archie.”

“Does Emma know Archie?” Henry asked.

“Not yet but we will all meet together to talk about Emma moving in.”

“Is Archie moving in too?”

Regina chuckled. “No, my little prince. But he can help us make sure that the move is good for everyone and that we will be happy living together.”

“Did you and Ma talk to Archie before you lived together?”


“Is that why Ma isn’t here any more?”

“No,” Regina replied. She didn’t elaborate. She had no idea why Mal wasn’t still there. But for the past couple of months, aside from the obvious affect her departure had on their son, Regina had found herself no longer wondering why her wife had left. That feeling of betrayal, abandonment, loss had been replaced with new feelings of excitement, hope and love for the woman whose fingers were resting lightly on her thigh.

Henry didn’t ask any more questions. He was beginning to understand that his mother didn’t have the answers. But when he asked about Emma, his mom always told him the truth. That was nice. It was also nice that his mom was smiley a lot more now. Emma made her smiley. Maybe if Emma lived with them, his mom would be even more smiley.

A grin spread slowly over Henry’s face at the thought as he finished his breakfast, both women wondering what the boy was thinking about to produce such a reaction.

Emma hated leaving Regina and Henry later than morning and rode away on her bike wishing she could just ditch work and spend the day with them. She loved her job, she really did. But she loved Regina and Henry too and wanted to spend more time with them. Henry was right, she didn’t get to see him very often. An idea flitted across her mind and she made a note to ask Regina her opinion when she retuned to the house that evening. While nothing had been officially decided in terms of Emma moving in, the blonde was already invited to spend the night. And, in her mind, the first conversation with Henry about the move had gone well.

The next step was going to be talking with Henry’s psychologist. Regina had suggested she and Emma meet with him first before the three of them sitting down with Henry to discuss the move. Emma couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive about meeting Doctor Hopper. She knew the man had Henry’s best interests at heart and respected his views. But she feared he might advise them against moving in together so soon. For purely selfish reasons, Emma hoped that wasn’t the case. She wanted desperately to move into the family home and spend the rest of her life with Regina and Henry. But if the move wasn’t going to be right for Henry, she knew it wouldn’t happen and respected that.

“So, I have an idea,” Emma murmured late on Saturday night. The bedroom was shrouded in darkness, the women freshly dressed in pyjamas after their love-making. It was well after midnight; Emma’s busy shift having kept her at the kitchen until after ten. As soon as she could duck out, she had raced over to her girlfriend’s.

“Go on,” Regina encouraged, pulling Emma’s arms a little closer around her and snuggling further against the warm body behind her. Being spooned by the blonde was her favourite way to fall asleep.

“Monday,” Emma began. “I’m off work.”

“I know.”

“And I was thinking we’d have a date night? As usual.”

“I like that usual,” Regina said, lifting Emma’s fingers to her mouth and kissing the tips softly.

“I have another idea,” Emma admitted. “But I’m not sure if it’s a good one.”

“Try me.”

“It’s about Henry.”


“And me collecting him from school on Monday. I know he usually goes to the child-minder but since I’m off work I thought it might be nice for me to pick him up then I can bring him back here and we can cook dinner together for you. That was my date idea, you see. I want to cook for you. But not just you. I want our date to include Henry as well. I think I should spend more time with him and get him used to me being here. But that’s stupid, isn’t it? I mean, we haven’t even talked to Doctor Hopper yet. I’m getting ahead of myself. Bad idea. Forget I said anything.”

“Emma,” the brunette soothed, turning over in the younger woman’s embrace and kissing the nervous-looking chef, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. Both parts. The picking Henry up from school and also having dinner together. You’re right, he should be spending more time with you.”

A tentative grin spread over Emma’s face, visible even through the gloom. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Regina nodded. “I’ll have to send the school a picture of you and get you added to Henry’s pick-up list but that’s easy enough. And I suppose we should ask Henry but I’m sure he’ll love to be find out he’s going to be spending more time with you.”

“I want to spend more time with him too,” Emma said. “Both of you.”

“Well, I’ll call first thing on Monday to make an appointment with Doctor Hopper for the two of us and let’s see what he says about this moving in plan. Then we’ll need to talk with Henry about it in more detail. I wasn’t actually planning on even mentioning it to him before we’d spoken to Archie but this morning seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“Let’s hope Archie is on board then.”

“And even if he thinks moving in is going to be too much for Henry, I’m sure he’d agree that you spending time with him after schools on Monday is a good idea.”

“You mean, like a regular thing?” There was an unmistakable element of hope in the blonde’s words.

“If you’d like that, and if Henry is happy.”

“I’d love that,” Emma nodded, kissing Regina soundly. “Thank you.”

“Step by step, right?”

“Step by step.”

“Speaking of steps, I was going to suggest I take Henry to the store on the way back from school so he starts to get involved in buying the food as well as cooking it. Do you take him shopping with you?”

“Not since he was small,” Regina said. “I tend to grab stuff on the way back from work or get it delivered.”

“So is it a bad idea to take him?”

“I wouldn’t say bad. In fact, in principle, it’s a great idea. I just don’t know how Henry will behave. Are you ok with taking him without me being able to tell you exactly what you’ll be dealing with?”

Emma nodded. “Of course. I grew up in foster care, remember? I can deal with tricky kids. And I don’t think Henry will be a problem. We’ll make it fun. I’ll explain what we’re going to make for dinner, what we need and then we’ll turn it into a game to find everything in the store.”

Regina smiled. “You’re amazing with kids, you know that?”

“In the system, I had more brothers and sisters than I can count,” Emma shrugged. “I just wish I could turn back the clock so that I didn’t …”

She trailed off. She didn’t need to finish the sentence for Regina to know she was speaking about her infertility as a result of her anorexia.

“Biology doesn’t make a mother,” Regina murmured, kissing Emma’s cheek lightly. “Parenting isn’t about where the kid came from; it’s about who’s there for them throughout their lives, who they can turn to when they need help and support and guidance. It’s about giving them unconditional love, no matter what. You can still be a mother, Emma.”

“Maybe,” Emma whispered. “Some day.”

“I think that day is closer than you think.”

Chapter Text

Emma hung back, not wanting to engage with any of the clusters of other waiting people. She wasn’t sure why. She just didn’t feel like talking. Instead, she kept her eyes trained on the large double doors, waiting. Her cell phone told her she had arrived early and there was still ten minutes to go. The crowd grew slowly, the chatter increasingly loud.

A few individuals glanced over at Emma but no one approached her. The folded arms and the fixed gaze displayed her disinterest. She didn’t want to appear cold but this wasn’t about making friends. This was a big step in her developing relationship and there was only one person she was focused on that afternoon.

When the bell rang from inside the building, Emma stood up a little straighter, craning her neck as the children poured out onto the playground. She moved forwards, not wanting Henry to miss her in the sea of parents. He knew to look for her. Or at least his mother had told him that morning to find Emma after school. But would the six-year-old remember? It was a change to his routine, after all.

She needn’t have worried. Henry’s eyes locked on hers a few seconds after he appeared and he waved enthusiastically. Emma grinned and waved back, moving forwards to the gate monitor so she could collect the small boy. The woman glanced several times at the list on her clipboard after Emma explained she was here to collect Henry Mills. She waited, somewhat patiently, as the woman radioed to the office to confirm the new pick-up before waving Henry through.

“Emma!” he yelled, even though he was less than three feet away, launching himself into her arms.

“Woah, hey kid,” Emma said, catching him as he wrapped his legs around her waist. “How was school?”

“Fun,” Henry said. “Mom says you’re going to take me shopping. Is that true?”

“Yup,” Emma nodded, hoisting Henry into a more comfortable position before they made their way through the crowd. “Me and you are going to make dinner tonight. Does that sound like fun?”

“Yeah!” Henry exclaimed. “Pancakes?”

Emma laughed. “Pancakes are usually a breakfast meal. But I do have two options for dinner. I thought you might like to choose which one you want to help me make.”

“What options?” Henry asked as they reached Ruby’s car. “Where’s your motorbike? Aren’t we going on your motorbike?”

“Not today,” Emma said. “Remember what your mom said yesterday? We don’t have you the helmet or the protective clothing. So I borrowed my friend Ruby’s car. It’s safer and it’s easier to carry shopping in because it has a big trunk. My bike doesn’t have a trunk. Look, your spare car seat is here.” She pointed through the window to the item she had wrestled into the vehicle an hour earlier when she picked it up from Regina’s house. It had felt strange yet pleasant to let herself in using the key she now to collect the car seat.

“So, no motorbike?”

“Sorry, kid,” Emma said, putting Henry down so she could open the door. “Go on, in you get.”

Henry looked like he was about to argue but seemed to decide against it. Instead, he climbed awkwardly into the car and allowed Emma to secure the seat belt around him.

“Music?” she asked as she climbed into the front seat. “What do you like to listen to?”

“I don’t know,” Henry shrugged. “Mom always just puts on the radio but they just talk about boring things like the news. I don’t listen to music.”

“Let’s change that then,” Emma said, syncing her phone to the Bluetooth system Ruby had installed in her old school car and selecting a child-friendly playlist on Spotify. “Now, the next choice is what we’re going to eat for dinner. I thought we could make some pasta with chicken, but with a different sauce to what you usually eat. Or we can make fajitas with chicken and capsicum.”

“What are fajitas?” Henry asked as Emma pulled slowly away from the curb, driving carefully past the children and parents still lining the sidewalk.

“Fajitas are a type of food from Mexico. You make something called a tortilla wrap which is a cross between a pancake and bread. And then you cook up some delicious chicken and some capsicum and onion and sometimes a few other vegetables. Then you put that in the middle of the tortilla with some cheese and creamy sauce and roll it up. I can show you a picture when we get to the store.”

“If we don’t have fapitas, what will we have?”

“I was going to make a simple pasta sauce out of cream and add some broccoli.” Henry made a face which Emma caught in her rear view mirror. “I’m guessing that’s a no go on the broccoli.”

“It smells bad.”

“Only when it’s overcooked,” Emma argued. “But fine. We can do that sauce with other vegetables if you like. Or we can make the fajitas.”

“And if we cook something but I don’t like it, can I have pancakes?”

“No, but I’ll cook some of your usual pasta sauce,” Emma offered. “But I think you’ll like both the things I have suggested. Which one do you think sounds good?”

“I don’t know.”

“Which one do you think your mom would like?”

Henry shrugged again. What did that matter? He thought to himself. “Can I see the picture of the fapita and then choose?”

“Sure,” Emma nodded. “We’ll be at the store in five minutes and I’ll show you then.”

The rest of the drive was spent talking about Henry’s school day. He and Roland had made a tower out of blocks which was the tallest ever and the teacher let them have an extra five minutes of play because they all did well on their spelling test. Once the car was parked outside the store, Emma got out and circled around to free the kid and allow him to climb onto the sidewalk.

“Stay there,” Emma said as she reached into the car for her handbag. In the few seconds it took her, Henry had managed to wander five metres. “Henry,” she called, as soon as she realised he had moved. “Come here.”

The boy turned and willingly walked back to Emma. “What?”

“I told you to stay, didn’t I?”

“Yeah but I didn’t go far.”

“Is not going far the same as staying?”

Henry pouted. “No.”

“So next time I ask you to stay, can you please stay? I don’t want to have to phone your mom and tell her I lost you.”

“I’m not lost. I’m here,” Henry said, arms spread wide.

“Not the point,” Emma said. “When we’re out on a busy street and in a busy store like the one we’re about to go into, you need to listen to me. Ok?”

“Ok,” Henry acquiesced. “Can I see the fapita now?”

“Fajita,” Emma corrected, pulling her cell from her bag. With Henry now waiting patiently by her side, she did a quick Google image search and found the most aesthetically pleasing picture. “Here. It’s the tortilla wrap with chicken inside, see? You can add in extra things like salad and cheese if you want but you don’t have to. You can build your own dinner.”

“Like building a house?”

“I wouldn’t want to live in a fajita but yes, the same principle,” Emma nodded. “What do you think?”

There was a pause. Henry reached out to take Emma’s cell, pulling it closer to his face as if he was closely scrutinising the image of his prospective. “Ok,” Henry nodded after a moment. “What do we need to buy?”

Emma grinned. “I’ve made a list,” she said, pulling a slip of paper from her bag. She had made a separate list for the pasta dish too. “Would you like to hold it and then we can work together to find what we need?”

Henry nodded enthusiastically at being given a job. He took the paper in both hands and looked carefully at it, taking in the word at the top of the page. “Flour,” he read slowly, recognising the word from the first time he cooked with Emma. “Like in pancakes?”

“Yup,” Emma nodded, placing a hand on Henry’s shoulder and steering him into the store. “Flour is in the tortilla wraps. Your mom is nearly out because we’ve been making so many pancakes so we need to buy some more. We should do the vegetables first though, because that’s what’s first in the store, see?”

She pointed to the bright displays facing them. Emma loved this store for their local produce and she hoped to get Henry interested in fresh, healthy vegetables too.

“There’s capsicum!” he shouted.

Ignoring the few stares the duo received from fellow shoppers, Emma grinned as she grabbed a basket. “Exactly. How many does our list say we need?”

“Um,” Henry said, eyes returning to the paper. “Red capsicum multiplied by two and yellow capsicum multiplied by one. Why are you doing the capsicum times tables?”

“That’s just how I tell myself how many of each thing I need to buy. So we need two red capsicum and one yellow. Can you select me some good ones and put them in the basket?”

Henry eagerly reached out to pick two of the red vegetables and placed them gently in the basket Emma lowered for him. But he faltered as he turned to the tray which was piled with the same food but yellow in colour. “What’s yellow capsicum like?”

“Almost exactly the same as red, actually,” Emma said. “You can also get it in green but they’re a bit more bitter. Yellow, orange and red are the sweetest.”


“Yep,” Emma nodded, reaching to select an orange version which was on a higher shelf.

Henry’s eyes slid from the two red vegetables in the basket to the yellow and finally the orange capsicum. “So, we need three of them?”

“Yes,” Emma nodded.

“Can we get one red, one yellow and one orange? No green. I don’t want green.”

“Sure,” Emma nodded, placing the orange bell pepper she was carrying into the basket as Henry exchanged one of his carefully selected reds with a new yellow version.

“It looks like a rainbow,” he remarked.

“It does,” Emma nodded. “I love how colourful food can be. Right, what’s next?”

Regina slid her key into the lock as quietly as possible, turned it and crept into the house. The moment she crossed the threshold, she realised she needn’t have bothered trying to be quiet. The squeals of laugher coming from the kitchen would have drowned out any noise she made. Depositing her handbag on the side table, she made her way to the source of the noise.

“No, Emma, stop!” Henry exclaimed, before a peel of giggles escaped as Emma’s fingers attacked his sides once more. The blonde’s back was to the door and Regina leaned against the frame, enjoying the sight.

“Never,” Emma growled, her fingertips torturing the small boy’s ribs even harder.

“I’m gonna pee!!”

At once, Emma withdrew her hands, sitting back on her heels and giving the child a break. Henry lay on the floor, panting and chuckling, trying to regain control over his breathing. Rolling onto his side, he spotted his mother watching them.


Emma turned around as well, smiling broadly. “Hey, how was your day?”

“Good thanks, how was yours?” she asked, walking into the kitchen as Emma and Henry climbed to their feet.

“Awesome,” Emma said. “We had fun, didn’t we Henry?”

“Emma wouldn’t let me buy more jam in the store,” Henry said, wrapping an arm around one of his mother’s thighs.

“You have a cupboard full of jam,” Emma pointed out. “But the rest of the trip was fun, right? We bought all the ingredients for tonight.”

“Yeah, we bought red and yellow and orange capsicum and we’re making fapitas.”

“Fapitas?” Regina frowned.

“Fajitas,” Emma explained. “Are you hungry? Everything is ready to be cooked. The tortillas are stacked over there. Henry helped me roll them out after we made the mix. And the vegetables are all cut. Henry did the tomatoes and the red capsicum. All I have to do is cook the marinated chicken and veg. It’ll be ready in about twenty minutes.”

“And Emma said I was the bestest shoe chef ever,” Henry announced. “She let me use the big knife.”

Regina’s eyebrows rose and she looked at her girlfriend.

“I watched him like a hawk and I showed him how to hold it safely. Look, he still has all his fingers, right Henry?”

Henry nodded and held up his hands. “Ten! I have ten fingers. Well, eight fingers and two thumbs. But together there are ten.”

“Glad to see that,” Regina laughed. “Ok, give me a moment to get changed and I’ll come and help you cook.”

“No, this is a date, remember? I’m cooking for you. With the help of my sous chef. Go ahead and relax. Henry and I can handle this.”

Regina looked like she might want to argue but decided better of it. “Ok,” she said after a moment. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Emma said, leaning over to kiss her girlfriend. “We’ll call you when it’s ready. Would you like a glass of wine while you wait?”

“Sure,” Regina nodded. “There’s some rosé in the fridge I opened last night.”

Emma went to retrieve Regina’s requested drink and poured a glass. Leaving Henry to lay the table, she headed down to the bedroom. By the time she arrived, Regina was already standing in her underwear, work clothes neatly folded on the back of a chair. The woman was perusing her closet, trying to decide on a comfortable outfit for the evening.

“Just wear what you’re in now,” Emma said as the brunette reached for a t-shirt.

“Yes, because that would be appropriate with my son here,” Regina replied as Emma’s lips landed on the soft skin where her neck curved to meet her shoulder. “Emma, where’s Henry?”

“In the kitchen flambéing chicken unattended with a cleaver,” Emma mumbled, her tongue flicking out to taste the sweet skin.

Regina turned and looped her arms around Emma’s neck. “Not funny.”

“A bit funny,” Emma said, kissing the brunette tenderly. “He’s fine, Regina. I promise. He’s laying the table. I just wanted to come here and give you your wine. And do this.”

Their lips met again, soft and slow. It would have deepened if the sound of shattering crockery hadn’t interrupted them.

“Um, I’ll just go and … deal with that.”

Regina nodded, smirking. “I think that would be best.”

Unable to resist, Emma placed a final kiss to Regina’s lips before disappearing to discover how much damage the small boy had caused.

It took a lot of self-control for Regina not to poke her head into the kitchen on the way to the living room. But she knew both Emma and Henry wanted to cook that night’s meal for her and decided it would be best to stay out of the way. Instead, she curled up on the couch, a glass of rosé in one hand and her book in the other. She struggled to concentrate, however, and was craning her ear towards the kitchen, wondering what was going on in there.

By the time Henry came to get her, she had given up on her book and was just watching the doorway. As soon as her son appeared, she sat up straighter.

“Everything ok?” she asked.

Henry nodded. “Emma says you have to wash your hands because dinner is ready.”

“Great,” Regina smiled, standing and picking up her empty glass from the coffee table. “Let’s go and wash our hands.”

“I washed mine already,” Henry boasted. “I washed them before we started cutting things and then again before we started cooking. My hands are cleany clean.”

“How about we make them extra cleany clean?” Regina suggested, leading the small boy down the hallway to the bathroom.

Henry grumbled but washed his hands again, after which Regina washed hers. The duo then returned to the kitchen where Emma was placing a large plate piled with fresh tortilla wraps on the table.

“Hey, I hope you’re hungry because I think Henry and I cooked enough for a small army.”

“I think you did,” Regina agreed, admiring the spread on the table. “This looks amazing, guys. Thank you so much.”

“I cutted the red capsicum, Mom,” Henry said, hoisting himself up into his seat. “And I grated the cheese. Look!”

Upon closer inspection, Regina realised that the cheese was indeed a mix of very short grated pieces and large lumps.

“Well done,” Regina said as she took her seat in the chair Emma pulled out for her.

“Let me get you some more wine,” Emma said, taking the empty glass from the table and returning it, seconds later, topped up. “Right, does anyone need anything else? Henry, you’ve got your juice.”

“What about you?” Regina asked. It may be a date which Emma was hosting but that didn’t mean the blonde could be neglected, certainly not in the brunette’s own house.

“I have a beer,” Emma said, crossing to the stove, beside which a half-drunk beer was resting. “Why do you have beer in the fridge, by the way?”

“Am I not allowed to drink beer?” Regina replied.

“Of course you are. You just don’t strike me as a beer kinda gal.”

“I’m full of surprises,” Regina said, dragging her bare foot up the inside of Emma’s calf teasingly.

The blonde swallowed thickly. “Um, yes, yes you are.”

“How do I make my fapita?” Henry asked, interrupting the moment.

Emma sprang into action, placing a tortilla on the boy’s plate before explaining the best order to build his dinner. While she did that, Regina set about creating her own dish. Henry agreed to the chicken and vegetables, which had been cooked in the mildest spice mix Emma could make without compromising on flavour. He rejected the sour cream and turned his nose up at the shredded lettuce. The cheese, however, got his nod of approval and was sprinkled over the top.

“Now what?”

“Now we fold it up and hope the tortilla doesn’t split,” Emma said, carefully tucking the bottom of the wrap over and then curling in the sides. Henry watched, wide-eyed as his dinner was formed before his eyes.

“Wow,” he gasped as Emma finished the presentation. The tortilla hovered in place for a second and then sprang open. “Oh, it broke.”

“Yeah, it’ll do that,” Emma said. “But once you pick it up, you’ll be able to hold it closed.”

“Pick it up? With my fingers?”

“Yep,” Emma nodded. “That’s one of the best things about fajitas. No cutlery.”

Henry’s eyes lit up. “I don’t have to use my fork?”


“Cool,” Henry enthused. “What other food can I eat with my hands?”

“Um, potato chips, hot dogs, pizza.”

“What are hot dogs?”

“Sausages in bread,” Emma said. “You can add tomato sauce and mustard too.”

“Mom, can we have hotdogs?” Henry asked.

“One day,” Regina nodded. “But how about we eat this meal that you and Emma have so kindly cooked for us now.”

Henry nodded, suddenly realising he was hungry. He looked back down at the half wrapped tortilla. He had made that. Well, with Emma’s help. Two hours earlier, this was just a pile of ingredients and now it was a meal. That was cool. He folded the edge of the tortilla back into place and curled his small fingers underneath it.

Both women were pretending not to notice his movements. Emma was busy making her own fajita and Regina was already eating hers. Henry, in fact, wasn’t remotely interested in whether or not he was being watched. He was trying to work out how to bite into the food which seemed far too large to fit into his mouth. Just dive right in, he decided in the end, opening his mouth as wide as it would go.

Fajita mix splattered onto the plate, table and Henry’s lap.

“Oops,” he said, orange sauce trickling down his chin.

Emma chuckled. “Don’t worry, kid. Fajitas are always messy. Keep eating and we’ll clean you up later. And next time maybe we’ll make sure you’ve got a napkin on your lap.”

“I think we could count today as a success,” Regina remarked as she settled beside the blonde on the couch later that evening. “Henry just told me he wanted to go food shopping with you next Monday as well.”

“Really?” Emma grinned, moving her arm up so Regina could snuggle into her side and wrapping her arm around her shoulder.

“Yep, I think you two have a tradition now. That is, if you want to keep it going?”

“I’ve love to,” Emma nodded. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Regina countered. “I can’t believe he’s actually interested in food and cooking. He ate one and a half fajitas. He hasn’t eaten that much in ages. And he didn’t complain once the fact that the sauce had carrots and onions in.”

“He’s doing really well,” Emma nodded. “Speaking of which, did you make an appointment with Doctor Hopper?”

Regina nodded. “Wednesday morning at eleven. You have this Wednesday off, right?”

“Yes. That’s perfect.”

“Let’s just hope he’s on board.”

“And if he isn’t?”

“Then we’ll cross that bridge on Wednesday afternoon,” Regina shrugged. “But I’m sure once he meets you he’ll understand that what we have is not a casual relationship. Henry talks about you a lot in our sessions already so he knows you’re already in our lives.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“I think so,” Regina nodded.

“Or it means he’s getting too attached.”

“Is there a reason his attachment to you is a problem?”

“Of course not,” Emma said hurriedly. “You know I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good,” Regina said, burrowing herself even closer to the blonde, an arm snaking across her stomach and curling around her side. “Because I’m not letting you.”

Chapter Text

“Emma, I told you, I am not getting on the back of that deathtrap.”

The blonde pouted, placing the spare leathers and the helmet on Regina’s desk. “It’s not a deathtrap. I’ve been riding motorbikes for eight years. I’m an awesome driver and you’ll be completely safe.”

“No,” Regina said, arms now folded. “We’re driving to this appointment in my car like normal people. I’m not climbing on your motorbike.”

“But this morning you told Henry he could have a ride on the back of my bike after you’ve tested it out,” Emma reminded her girlfriend.

“I know, and I said those words in the knowledge that I would never get on your bike which means my son won’t ever be doing so, ergo he will be safe.”

The pout deepened. “You know I’d never put you or Henry at risk, right?”

At those words, Regina softened. “I know, my love. And I am sure you would never do anything on your motorbike which may put us in harm’s way. But you can’t deny that they’re not exactly a safe form of transport. I’m not so worried about your driving as the other people on the road. If another driver doesn’t see you or swerves sharply to avoid a hazard, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, a crash could happen and on a motorbike, you have no protection.”

“The office is only a couple of miles away. We’ll be in town so I won’t be driving fast and the streets are wide. Please, Regina. I really want you to try it. I think you’ll like it. Riding a bike is an awesome feeling, even if you’re just tootling through a city.”


Emma grinned. “Yeah, tootling. Come on, Regina, tootle with me?”

The brunette hesitated. Everything she had said was true. She did think that motorbikes were unsafe and it was nothing to do with her girlfriend’s driving abilities. Given a choice, she would never get on the back of a bike. But there was something about the way Emma was looking at her, pleading just to give her a chance, that made her reconsider her position. Well, to be honest, it was the look coupled with the leather outfit the blonde was wearing. She didn’t think she’d ever get over how good her girlfriend looked in tight, black, shiny material.

“If I agree to … tootle with you just this once, do you promise to not only never ask me to get on the back of your bike again but not mention it to Henry? I’m sorry but no matter how safe you say it is, he is not riding with you.”

“Deal,” Emma nodded. “But on one condition. If you enjoy the ride, you have to admit it, ok?”

“Fine,” Regina said, quite sure that that would not happen. “Let’s go, we’re going to be late.”

“Not on a bike we won’t be,” Emma grinned, holding out the leathers which Regina needed to change into. “I can get us there in half the time it would take you in a car.”

Regina glowered. “Emma Swan, if you dare drive any faster than the speed limit, I swear to God I will make you regret it.”

Emma held her hands up in mock surrender. Regina shot her a final glare before scooping up the leathers and retreating into her office’s adjoined bathroom to change. Smug, Emma sat down and flicked through her Facebook feed as she waited for her girlfriend. The clearing of a throat five minutes later made her look up, and her heart stopped for a second.


“They’re tight,” Regina said, shifting uncomfortably in her outfit, pantsuit slung over her arm. She had tried to put the leather pants over the top of her slacks but had eventually given up and shed the suit she had worn to work that day.

“You look incredible,” Emma said, standing up and walking over to the brunette, arms coiling around her waist at once. “I mean, wow, you’re hot.”

“Looks like I’m not the only one partial to leather,” Regina said, her own hands clasped behind Emma’s back, fingers splayed across the supple material of the blonde’s jacket.

“I am one hundred per cent partial to leather on you,” Emma nodded vigorously. “Come on, let’s get going.”

Regina picked up her purse while Emma grabbed both helmets. The brunette ignored the gawps of her staff as she walked through the office to the elevator. Emma, however, was beaming with pride as she led her girlfriend down to her motorbike, parked neatly in the underground garage.

“Ok, ready?” Emma asked once she had stowed Regina’s outfit and bag in one of her panniers and climbed astride the machine.

Brown eyes gave the bike a dubious look through the slit in her helmet which she was sure was making her hair flat. “As I’ll ever be.”

Emma grinned and used the toe of her boots to flick out the pegs where Regina would rest her feet. Holding firmly onto the handlebars to keep the bike steady, she nodded to the brunette who placed her hand on Emma’s left shoulder and swung her leg up and over, the leather squeaking against the seat as she adjusted herself.

“Impressive,” Emma said, reaching behind her and using her hand to encourage Regina to scoot a little closer and tuck her thighs tight to Emma’s waist. “Are you feeling ok?”

“I wouldn’t say ok, but I’m here, aren’t I?” Regina said, her voice muffled through her own helmet and Emma’s.

Emma decided not to push. She had already had a fantasy fulfilled; Regina Mills’ legs wrapped around her on her motorbike. “Ready? Hold on.”

The engine roared to life, amplified in the underground parking lot. Regina’s arms immediately snaked around Emma’s waist, fingers clawing to get purchase on the blonde’s own jacket. Emma slid her visor down, hiding the smirk she was sure would be reflected in the wing mirrors.

As she moved off, Regina’s body pressed even closer to her own. Emma had to force herself to concentrate on steering them slowly and safely up the ramp and to the road. She paused when she reached the edge of the street, turned her head and flicked up her visor. “Ok?” she asked once more.

Regina didn’t answer but she did nod. Emma took that as permission to continue. She looked both ways, more times than she would do normally, and slowly steered her way onto the quiet street. She could feel Regina’s harsh breathing against her back, chest rising and falling, even above the vibrations of her motorbike. The brunette was scared. But driving slowly on a main road was dangerous so Emma accelerated until she was, well, tootling just below the speed limit. Fingers stayed curled against her jacket.

At the end of the street, she turned onto a busier road, placing herself in the centre of the lane so no cars could try and overtake. Not that they’d need to; she was keeping pace with the other vehicles. She was glad she had memorised the route to the psychologist’s office, as she didn’t think Regina was up to giving directions.

She rode, even if she did say so herself, impeccably. Emma wasn’t a risk taker but there were a number of opportunities for her to overtake slow cars or weave through stationary traffic which she elected not to take. Not with Regina clinging to her back. But that said, she realised, as she pulled up outside the large redbrick building, the brunette’s grip had definitely lessened as the journey continued.

The engine stopped abruptly and Regina’s fingers relaxed further. After a moment, she slid from the bike, staggering slightly as her feet met solid ground once more.

“Are you ok?” Emma asked, visor now up as Regina pulled off her own helmet.

“I think so,” Regina nodded, fingers running through her hair in an attempt to return it to its perfect style. “Um, yeah, I’m ok.”

“Good,” Emma grinned, edging the kickstand down and rocking the bike onto it before she climbed off herself. She placed her helmet on one handlebar and reached out for Regina’s to be hung off the other. “Was that so bad?” she asked turning around to collect Regina’s clothes and handbag, as well as her own bag.

“It was … different.”

Emma smiled widely. “That’s definitely not a negative word.”

Regina pursed her lips. She hated being wrong. But she was loathe to admit that Emma was right. After she got over the initial fear, there was something exhilarating and, dare she say it, fun about being on the back of the motorbike.

“So what was it you liked the most?” Emma asked, as the duo made their way up the steps. “The freedom? The feel of the wind in your hair … sort of, with a helmet on? The way the bike turns corners? The vibrations?”

“Emma,” Regina scolded, her cheeks pinked as she rang the bell for Archie Hopper’s office.

“Gotcha,” her girlfriend leered. “It’s intense right? The way the seat -”

“Hello?” The tinny voice through the speaker interrupted whatever Emma was going to say next.

“Ah, Gretel, hello. It’s Regina Mills. I’ve got an appointment with Doctor Hopper at eleven.”

“Come on up.”

A moment later, the electronic buzzing signified that the door had been remotely unlocked and the two women made their way into the building.

“Not another word about motorbike vibrations, ok?” Regina growled as they climbed up to the first floor where Archie’s office was located.

Emma bit her lip and nodded her agreement to the demand. Inside, however, she was burning to know exactly how much her bike had affected the flustered brunette. As she waited in the small reception area for Regina to change, her own leathers designed to be day-wear as well as bike-wear, Emma tried to distract herself with a pamphlet about dealing with grief in children. It didn’t work and her eyes were instantly drawn to the flushed patch of skin visible on Regina’s chest when the brunette emerged in her work outfit once more, silk blouse now in place.

“You’re killing me,” Emma muttered to her as the woman sat down beside her and crossed her legs elegantly.

“You tried to kill me by making me get on the back of your motorbike,” Regina quipped. “So I’d say we’re even.”

“I wasn’t trying to kill you. I was trying to show you how much fun it is riding a motorbike. And you can’t tell me I failed at that. I think we both know exactly how much fun you had on the ride over here.”

Regina was saved from arguing back by the opening of Archie’s office door. He bade his previous patient good day, handed several files over to Gretel before turning to his next appointment. Both women had fallen silent as soon as the door was open.

“Regina,” Archie smiled. “And Miss Swan, I presume.”

“Emma,” the blonde nodded, standing up and extending her hand.

“Right, well, let’s get started, shall we?” Archie said, stepping back and allowing both women to enter ahead of him.

Regina settled herself in her usual chair, noting as she did that the bright red seat Henry usually occupied had been replaced with one identical to her own. Emma sat down and crossed her legs, something Regina realised she had never seen her girlfriend do before. A palm wrapped around her knee, the other hand cradling her fingers in what could only be seen as a defensive measure. She suddenly realised she had never asked Emma if she was ok with speaking to a professional. The woman had clearly been in enough therapists’ offices in her life.

“So, Regina,” Archie said as he himself took a seat. “You said you wanted to meet to discuss the progression of your relationship and its affect on Henry, correct?”

“Yes,” Regina replied. “As you know, Emma and I have been dating for some time and we’re thinking about moving in together.”

Archie nodded slowly, his gaze sliding from one woman to the other. “Thinking about?”

“I asked Emma to move in,” Regina amended. “She’s said yes on the condition that Henry is on board and that the move will not have any impact on his recovery.”

“Does Henry know about these plans?”

“Yes. I hadn’t planned to tell him until we had spoken to you but the opportunity arose and it just sort of came out.”

“And how did he react?”

“He had questions,” Regina said. “Emma and I answered them as best we could.”

“Were you honest with him?”

Regina opened her mouth to answer but Emma beat her to it. “Yes. We would never lie to Henry.”

The man’s eyes settled on the blonde who had said her first words inside his office. He could tell she was nervous. That wasn’t unusual for someone sitting before him but there was something about the way Emma was holding herself that made him think she’d been in a similar chair to the one she was currently occupying. He was then reminded of what Regina had said about Emma the first time she had been mentioned. Back then, she was referred to only as an ‘acquaintance’.

“No, lying to Henry about your relationship is definitely not the way to go,” Archie said. “Emma, how is your relationship with Henry.”

“Um, good, I think,” Emma said, squirming a little in her seat.

“It’s great,” Regina added. “Henry adores her. He’s always talking about how much fun he has with her and how he wants her to come over to ours. And he loves cooking with her.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned their cooking before,” Archie said. “Emma, how do you feel about how attached Henry has become?”

Even without her years of experience in therapy, Emma knew what Archie was asking.

“I’m not going to cut and run,” Emma said. “I love Regina and I love Henry. I am completely committed to my relationship with both of them. I know we haven’t been together and you can never say ‘forever’ but I want to be a part of their lives for a very long time. It’s not just about me and Regina, either. I’ve known from day one that Henry was part of the package and I understand what that means. If Regina and I break up, then we will have to think carefully about how that affects Henry. But that won’t happen. At least, I don’t think it will. I hope it won’t.”

Regina couldn’t help herself, she reached out and covered Emma’s hands with her own fingers curling beneath and squeezing lightly. Green eyes didn’t move from their stoic gaze towards the man opposite them, however.

There was a heavy silence before Archie spoke. “It sounds to me like you came here to ask how best to move Emma into your house and your life, Regina, rather than discussing whether or not it was in Henry’s best interests.”

“Are you saying us living together would be bad for Henry?” Regina asked.

“I’m not saying that,” Archie placated. “I merely want to know where you two are in terms of your headspace before we continue with this session.”

Emma and Regina glanced at one another for a moment before the brunette answered. “We want to live together; we want that very much. But we won’t be doing anything of the sort if you don’t think Henry is ready. Emma and I both know that Henry comes first. If our relationship in any way jeopardises his recovery, we will end it.” Emma’s fingers flinched under her grip. “Or at least, slow down. This meeting between us is to discuss how we approach this possible future with Henry and how you see us living together as impacting my son.”

“Ok,” Archie said. “All I ask is that you are honest with me. In turn, I will be honest with you. But please remember that my patient is Henry and it is for him that my recommendations are made.”

“Understood,” Emma said while Regina nodded.

“So I’ll begin by saying that I will withhold any comment about your plans until after I have spoken to Henry to find out what he thinks. Regina, I would like to discuss this with him tomorrow, ideally without your presence, if that is ok with you?”

“Of course,” Regina said.

“Right, well, with all of that aside, from everything you two and Henry have said, I think we’re actually in a good position.”

Regina let out a little huff of relieve while Emma gawped at the man. “Seriously? After everything you’ve said you’re now saying you think this could work?”

“I think you both want this to work, correct?” The man received two confident nods. “I think Henry is very taken with Emma.” More nods. “And I also think that Emma’s own experiences put her in a great position when it comes to understanding what Henry is going through.”

Emma swallowed and glanced sideways at the brunette.

“You came up in an earlier meeting,” Regina admitted. “The first one. Before we were together. I mentioned the …”

“Anorexia,” Emma supplied. “You can say it. And I don’t mind that you told Doctor Hopper. I just didn’t know he knew, that’s all.”

“Are you ok to talk about your eating disorder, Emma?” Archie asked.

“Yes,” Emma said. “I’m recovered. Or recovering, I suppose. I’m fine though. And yes, you’re right. I know how important it is that Regina and I help Henry develop a positive relationship with food and being a foster kid I’ve also had my fair share of abandonment. I know what it’s like to grow up in an unstable home and Henry deserves better than that. He deserves the world.”

The look of love in Regina’s eyes went unnoticed by Emma who was directing her speech to Archie but the psychologist caught it. Even though he didn’t want to voice it just yet, he had a feeling the little family were going to come together perfectly.

“Do you mind if I drop you here?” Emma asked as she pulled up outside Regina’s office after their lunch. Upon leaving Archie’s office, they had decided to decompress over a light meal at Sabi and Will’s restaurant. Regina had forgotten how delectable the Italian food was.

“You’re not coming up?” Regina said as she slid from the back of Emma’s bike and pulled off her helmet. “What about the leathers and this clumpy hairstyle-ruining contraption?”

“I’m late to meet Ruby,” Emma chuckled. “Vacation shopping. She apparently needs a whole new outfit to go to Paris with Belle. I said I’d help. And keep the leathers and helmet. Who knows when you’ll need them again.”

“Subtle,” Regina smirked.

“Come on, admit it. The bike was fun.”

Regina pursed her lips and refused to speak. Emma didn’t need verbal clarification that she had won. Instead, she pulled her own helmet off and reached for Regina, feet planted firmly on the ground to avoid the bike toppling over. Fingers curled around the leather loops on either side of the jacket through which a belt was thread.

“See you later?” she asked before kissing Regina softly.

“Can’t wait,” Regina nodded, placing another light kiss to Emma’s lips. “Come over any time after five thirty and we can have dinner with Henry. But no talk of moving in together, deal?”

“Deal,” Emma said. After everything Archie had said, they had decided not to discuss the prospective move until Henry had talked with Archie so they all knew where the small boy’s mind was when it came to the possible change in his living circumstances. While he seemed to love Emma, neither woman wanted to get their hopes up only to have them dashed when it turned out Henry wasn’t on board with their plans.

“I should go. I have a meeting in ten minutes. Have fun shopping. Drive safe. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Emma said, stealing a final kiss before releasing her hold on the jacket and allowing Regina to step onto the sidewalk.

Jamming her helmet back onto her head, Emma restarted the bike, waved at Regina and pulled away. Regina watched until she was out of sight before returning and heading into the office.

Chapter Text

“Where’s Mom?”

“She’s got some paperwork to do with Gretel,” Archie said, settling himself more comfortably on the floor beside his patient. At his age, sitting cross-legged was not exactly his preferred position but he liked to bring himself down to the level of whomever he was talking to.

“Ok,” Henry said, picking up another toy car and testing its speed by pushing it hard across the floor. It trundled along happily until it hit a rough patch of carpet and slowed to a stop. The boy frowned in disappointment.

“So, Henry, I wanted to talk to you today about Emma.”

“Mom’s girlfriend?”

“Yes,” Archie said. “Emma came to see me yesterday. She wanted to talk to me about you and your mom.”

“I like Emma,” Henry said. “Did … did Emma say she liked me?”

The slight falter in his speech and the slowly vanishing smile made it apparent that Henry was not only invested in the relationship but also hoped that Emma felt the same way.

“Emma loves you very much,” Archie said. “And she loves your mom too.”

“I know,” Henry said. “We’re all going to live together.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“About living with Mom and Emma?” Henry asked. At Archie’s nod, he continued. “It’ll be fun. I like playing with Emma and she lets me cook lots of things. I know you and Mom want me to eat more food and Emma’s been helping me. Her cooking is better than Mom’s so it’s nicer food. I like eating with her.”

Archie smiled. “That’s good to hear. I’m glad you’re trying new food with Emma.”

“And Mom,” Henry added. “Mom’s there too. But she doesn’t help us cook very much. I’m Emma’s shoe chef.” Despite both women regularly trying to correct the child on this pronunciation, the obscure French word continued to come out incorrectly.

“So, how do you think your life will be different if Emma moved in with you?”

Henry paused before answering. Unbeknownst to Archie, the boy was trying to think back to a time when he had had two moms. What had it been like with Mom and Ma?

“Emma can pick me up from school some days when Mom is working. And they’ll both take me to school in the mornings. That’ll be cool. I like walking with Mom but if I walk with Mom and Emma, they can swing me up high using my arms. You can’t do that with one mom.”

“So, when Emma moves in, how many moms will you have?”

Archie knew it was a bold question. He didn’t know how Henry saw Emma. From what he had heard, he knew the boy engaged well with the woman but whether it was a maternal connection or a friendship, he wasn’t sure.

“Mom is my mom,” Henry said slowly. “I had Ma before, but she left. I don’t want Emma to leave.”

“Why do you think Emma might leave, Henry?”

The boy shrugged. “Maybe she’ll not like us. Or maybe I’ll be bad and she’ll go away. Like Ma. If Emma is like my ma, then she might leave too. I … I don’t want to call Emma ‘Ma’.”

“You don’t have to call Emma anything other than Emma, if you don’t want to,” Archie said. “But you know, a name is just a name. Calling Emma ‘Ma’ doesn’t mean that she’ll leave. And calling Emma by her name doesn’t mean she’s definitely stay. Henry, do you remember what we said about your Ma leaving?”

“Yeah,” Henry said slowly. “Mom said Ma left because she didn’t want to live with us any more.”

“Not exactly,” Archie replied. “In fact, we don’t really know why your ma left. But I know you and your mom have agreed to always talk about what happens with her and Emma, right? That’s why we’re talking now. And that’s why Emma came to see me yesterday.”

“So if Emma wants to leave, she’ll tell us first?”

“Yes,” Archie said. “But right now, both your mom and Emma don’t think that Emma will ever leave and you’ll be living together for a very long time.”

“For infinity. Like Buzz Lightyear.”

“Exactly,” Archie said without hesitation, used to children including popular culture references in their language. It was a way for them to make sense of adult concepts using examples they understood. He also used this as an excuse to head to the cinema whenever a new Disney or Pixar film was released.

Henry looked up at Archie, as if he was about to say something more. But then he went back to playing with his cars. Archie allowed the pause, not wanting to push the child into saying anything he wasn’t comfortable discussing.

“If Emma leaves, Mom will be sad again. And I’ll be sad again.”

The words were quiet, almost whispered. Archie set down the car he was pushing along the carpet and waited for Henry to look at him.

“You know, adult relationships are difficult because no one can see into the future so you never know what is going to happen. You’re right. If Emma does leave, both you and your mom will be sad. But what will happen if Emma doesn’t leave?”

Henry seemed to be thinking hard. “We’d be happy. Mom would be happy with Emma and I’d be happy cos I get to be the shoe chef.”

“And what would happen if Emma didn’t come to live with you?”

“Well, now she comes over late at night but Mom says I can’t stay up to say hello so I don’t see Emma much. She picked me up from school on Monday. We went shopping to buy food. Then we made fapitas. But Emma worked on fun days like Saturday and Sunday. So she can’t join us at the park or the zoo.”

“Ok, so now I’m going to ask you a big boy question,” Archie said. “Do you think you’re old enough to understand two options about Emma?”

Henry nodded seriously, his own toy car now stationary as he turned his full attention towards the man sat beside him.

“What would be better? For Emma to come and live with you and your mom or for things to stay as they are?”

The small boy seemed to be thinking momentarily before asking a follow-up question, wanting to collect as much information as possible before he gave his answer.

“If Emma comes to live with us, will she leave?”

“I can’t answer that,” Archie said. “But I can say that if Emma was going to leave, that would happen whether she was living with you and your mom or living in her own house.”


“Because if Emma left, that would be because the relationship ended and that end is not likely to be anything to do with living together. Sometimes two people just decide they don’t want to be in a relationship any more.”

“So, Emma living with us wouldn’t make her want to leave?”

“I don’t think so,” Archie replied. “The real question here is how you think Emma moving in with you would change your life?”

“I want to live with Emma,” Henry said. “But I don’t want her to leave. Emma is fun and she teaches me to cook and she makes Mom smile. I don’t want that to change.”

“And if it did change, how would you feel?”

“Sad,” Henry said simply.

It was simple. The idea of Emma not being in his life made Henry sad. It would make his mom sad too. He knew that. He didn’t like it when his mom was sad.

“Do you think feeling sad if Emma left would be worth all of the happy feelings you’d have while she was living with you? Would the happy time you spent together, whether it was one year or five years or ten years or fifty years, be worth feeling sad?”

This, Henry decided, was a more complicated question. He thought back to how he felt when his ma had left. He had been sad because she had disappeared but he had also felt worried because his mom was sad and he didn’t know why. If Emma left, he would know why because she and his mom had promised to tell him. So he wouldn’t feel worried or confused like last time, he’d just feel sad.

He tried to remember how sad he felt when his ma left. And he had only been four then. Surely now he was six, nearly seven, he’d feel bigger sadness. Cos that’s how feelings worked. But he’d also get to feel bigger happiness when Emma taught him to cook. So that would be cool. And he might be happy with Emma and his mom for one year or five years or ten years or fifty years, like Archie said. How long had he been sad for after Ma left? He couldn’t remember. He was only four then.

“Yes, I think so,” Henry said. “Emma makes me happy cos she’s fun. And she makes Mom happy too. I think those happy feelings are stronger than the sad feelings.”

At the end of the session, when Henry had been sent out to Gretel to collect his sticker for completing the hour, Archie closed the door and turned to Regina who had been invited back into his office.

“Well?” the woman asked at once, desperate to know how the meeting had gone in her absence.

“I think he’s on board,” Archie said.

A sigh of relief escaped Regina. She knew Henry liked Emma and wanted to spend more time with her. But she was also aware that he was worried about the fact that Emma could leave them, just like Mal.

“What did he say?”

“That the happiness Emma brings to your family would be worth any sadness which you’d have to deal with if she left.”


“Not in so many words but yes. We talked about whether the happy times would be worth the sad times and he decided they would be. As we’ve already discussed, I recommend you are open and honest with him as the relationship develops and the move gets closer.”

Regina nodded her understanding. “Of course.”

“But I am also recommending that you and Emma take your own feelings into consideration.”

At that, Regina frowned and crossed her arms, almost defensively. “What does that mean?”

“That means that you are a wonderful mother and I think it’s very admirable that you are so attuned to how your romantic relationships are affecting your son. But it’s your life too, Regina. Now we know that Henry is on board with inviting a new person into your lives, you need to start reasserting your position as the parent in this relationship. I understand why it has happened but over the past few months and even years, I think Henry has developed too much authority.”


“He dictates your meals, your plans, even your decision to date again. While all mothers must take into account their children’s likes and dislikes, and I recognise that Henry’s eating disorder heightens this, at the end of the day, you are the parent. Henry is the child and he doesn’t always know what is best for him. As his mother, you are responsible for making big decisions for him. If you think Emma moving in isn’t going to have a negative affect on your son, then the move should happen. Take into account his feelings, of course, but don’t let them control your life, especially when they steer you away from what you really want.”

Regina took a moment before answering. She suspected she had just been told that her son was spoiled and she needed to lay down some ground rules. And, to be honest, she couldn’t dispute that. She loved Henry with all her heart and she couldn’t deny that her little prince had been rather indulged. It seemed, however, that the power dynamic between them needed to shift back to a more traditional one.

“You think he’s ready?” Regina asked. “I mean, I don’t want to undo the progress we’ve made with his eating.”

“It might not be plain sailing straight away,” Archie said. “I don’t think the kid has heard the word no often enough. But I think it’s something that he can handle. You might get a backlash at first but I think he’s ready in terms of his eating. And to be honest, his relationship with Emma and his interest in cooking may help. You can allow him to have a say in what he eats but he needs to understand that you are the one in charge when it comes to big decisions in your lives, including Emma moving in.”

“But you just said Henry is on board with that.”

“He is,” Archie nodded. “But I don’t think he should know that you two are going to live together only because he has agreed to it. It’s your relationship; it’s your decision. Yes, you have to take him into account but he’s a child. He shouldn’t be aware of how much control he has over your life. Does that make sense?”

Regina nodded slowly. “Yes, I think so. Thank you, Archie. So much.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you both next week. I think another couple of months of regular meetings is advisable. See Henry through the transition process of Emma moving in and also make sure that the progress he has already made remains.”

Hours later, curled up on the couch, Regina repeated everything Archie had said to Emma. It was good news, they knew. Henry was on board, Archie seemed to think there would be no repercussions outside of an adjustment period as the trio learned to live together. But now it was real, serious, imminent.

“So we’re really doing it?” Emma asked.

“If you still want to,” Regina nodded.

“Of course I do,” Emma said. “It’s just … big. I mean, I know we told Henry we couldn’t say ‘forever’ but that is essentially what we’re saying, at least, it’s saying that’s what we want.”

“True,” Regina nodded. “Is that what you want?”

“You know it is,” Emma nodded. “And I have complete faith that we can make it.”

“Me too,” Regina said, cuddling closer into the warm body beside her. “And you can help me make sure Henry doesn’t become a spoiled brat.”

Emma laughed. “I’ll do my best. But it’s those big eyes. He has the pleading look down to a tee, you know that, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Regina nodded. “After a while you become immune to it.” Emma raised her eyebrows at that. The boy’s mother was most certainly not immune to his charms. The look of scepticism forced the brunette to reassess her statement. “Well, I’m nearly immune.”

Emma just chuckled again and pulled Regina closer. “I’m sure we’ll make sure he doesn’t become a complete brat. But giving him treats every now and then is fine.”

“Agreed,” Regina said. “Just as long as he doesn’t completely dictate our life.”

“Our life,” Emma repeated. “I like that.”

“Me too.”

They fell silent, content to just be in one another’s company. It was a mark of a good relationship, Regina had always thought; being comfortable in silence. As she lay there, she realised that Mal had never enjoyed sitting quietly and had always wanted to talk. The brunette mentally scolded herself for thinking of her ex, especially given her current position in Emma’s strong, safe arms.

She yawned, catching sight of the old grandfather clock she had inherited after her parents died, and realising she ought to go to bed.

“It’s late,” she said, making no attempt to move.

“It is,” Emma agreed, she too in no hurry to break the spell which had fallen over them.

“I’m going to have a quick shower,” Regina said after a few more minutes had gone by.

At that, Emma’s interests were piqued in more ways than one. “A shower? You don’t usually shower at night.”

“I was standing out in the baking sun all morning with Kathryn at a photo shoot for a new client who specialise in roof gardens. Inner city green spaces, basically. But I got all sweaty standing around. The aircon cooled me down but I still feel a bit grimy. I want to shower before I get into bed.”

“Oh, ok,” Emma said, uncurling her arm and allowing Regina to sit up before asking her next question. “Can I join you?”

Regina, who was already on her feet, paused and turned to look down at the blonde who was wearing an almost sheepish expression. “Join me in the shower?” The returned nod was so enthusiastic that Regina had to stifle a laugh. The lust in the blonde’s eyes was unmistakable and rather flattering. “Well, I’ve had no problem washing myself for thirty-one years but I suppose I could use a hand.”

Emma grinned and jumped to her feet. “Firstly, I’ll be using two hands,” she said, reaching for one of Regina’s as she spoke and tugging the brunette out of the living room and down the hall. “And secondly, I know you’re an incredible woman but I think even baby and toddler Regina Mills would have needed some help washing herself.”

The brunette chose not to answer the pedantic young chef and instead allowed herself to be led into her own bathroom. It wasn’t the sexiest room in the house; the last of the bubbles from Henry’s bath that evening still clung to the porcelain of the tub and a net bag hung from the tiles, stuffed with his waterproof toys. But Emma didn’t seem to mind. And as both women began to undress one another, Regina realised she didn’t care either.

It was only as the layers peeled away that she noted how well-lit the bathroom was. Even though they had been dating for two months, Regina still felt a little self-conscious about her body and in the cold, stark light of the bathroom, there was no hiding the flaws she saw in her own skin.

But Emma didn’t see them. When she felt Regina stiffen slightly as her blouse was unbuttoned, she simply slowed her fingers, softened her kisses and tried to silently reassure the woman before her. Regina seemed to respond so Emma completed her task, letting the silk flutter open and then pushing the material gently off her shoulders. Without breaking the kiss, Regina returned the favour, too focused on the feel of Emma’s supple, toned body to worry about her own.

Once they were both naked, Regina leaned over the tub to fiddle with the shower settings. As she waited for the water to come to the right temperature, she could feel Emma’s hands caressing up and down her back. She shuddered in delight as fingernails scraped from the sensitive skin of the nape of her neck down to the base of her spine, swiping between each of her back dimples.

“Your back is so sexy,” Emma remarked as the brunette stood up, the water now the perfect heat.

“My back?” Regina asked as she stepped into the tub.

“Yep,” Emma nodded, following the naked woman. “It’s toned and muscular and tanned. Your dimples are adorable too. I love your back.”

“I’m fairly sure no one has ever complimented my back in my life,” Regina said as she stepped under the warm spray, the water instantly making her feel more relaxed.

“I’ll compliment every one of your body parts if you’ll give me a chance,” Emma said, stepping behind Regina and wrapping her arms around the shorter woman, forearms crossed just below Regina’s breasts. The brunette still had her back to Emma.

Regina sighed and leaned back, her head resting on Emma’s shoulder, face turned away from the fine spray now angled towards her.

“Regina?” Emma murmured, lips caressing the shell of her ear. “Will you turn around for me?”

The body in her arms stiffened once more. Regina knew it was inevitable. And she also knew that her fears were unfounded. Emma was attracted to her and she was committed to their relationship. A few stretch marks on her stomach weren’t going to change anything. Logic stood little chance in the face of any woman’s body hang-ups, however.

Without saying another word, Regina turned slowly, Emma’s grip loosening to accommodate the movement. But as she moved, Regina stepped backwards, further into the shower so that Emma was forced to release her and the water cascaded down between the two women, obscuring Emma’s vision.

“Gina,” Emma said softly, “come here.”

Through the water, Regina looked into those familiar green eyes before glancing down her own body. She knew Emma. She trusted Emma. She knew she was being irrational. Her hands curled into fists by her side before she nodded once and stepped back through the water.

Emma looked at her as if she was a beautiful sea nymph, emerging from behind a tropical waterfall, hair dripping wet, rivulets of water cascading down her slick olive skin. Given permission to do so, Emma allowed her gaze to rake up and down the soft curves she had only felt with her fingers and tongue or glimpsed in the darkness of the bedroom until then. If it were possible, she thought Regina was even more beautiful now.

“You’re stunning,” Emma said, reaching out and pulling Regina’s wet body against her own.

Regina almost wanted to argue, wanted to tell Emma she was far from stunning. But the feel of her girlfriend’s body against her own, warm and wet and breathing heavily, coupled with the tongue now dancing with her own, melted those thoughts from her mind.

She gave in to the sensations, moaning into the kiss as Emma’s hands glided up and down her sides. Her own arms wrapped around Emma, pulling her further into the shower and under the water. When the kiss ended, she saw the usually bright blonde hair had darkened, hanging down below the young woman’s nipples, a natural modesty shield. But neither cared for modesty in that moment so Regina swept the hair aside, leaned down and covered one of Emma’s nipples in her mouth.

Emma’s hands were still questing, stroking slickly over her skin. Regina had quite forgotten that the initial reason for her shower was to get clean. In that moment, she couldn’t understand why anyone would do anything other than make love as warm water washed over them.

“Put your leg up here,” Emma said when Regina had laved both nipples with equal attention, pointing to the curved edge of the bathtub.

Regina did as requested, opening her centre up to the woman’s hungry gaze. Emma placed a gentle kiss to Regina’s lips before dropping to her knees and sliding closer along the slippery tub. The brunette looked down in wonder as Emma wrapped her arms around Regina’s hips but then, quite suddenly, she froze. The blonde felt it and looked up, concern in her green orbs.

“Are you ok?”

Lips tight, Regina nodded, breaking the eye contact and looking away. She heard a squeak as Emma got to her feet and felt slender fingers gently on her jawbone, encouraging Regina to look at her. As she turned her head, Regina’s foot slipped from the edge of the tub and tucked, self-consciously behind her other ankle.

“What’s wrong?” Emma asked, not wanting Regina to feel in any way uncomfortable around her.

“My … my stomach,” Regina admitted. “I hate my stretch marks.”

Emma forced herself not to think about her own desires to bear children, desires that would never happen, and instead cupped Regina’s face in her palms.

“Regina, you are a beautiful woman and I love you,” she said simply. “Stretch marks don’t change how I see you nor how I feel about you. If anything, it makes me love you even more because they are a sign of those nine months you carried and nurtured Henry. You have nothing to feel ashamed of. Please, let me show you.”

There was nothing but honestly in Emma’s words and the way she looked at Regina. After a moment, the brunette nodded. Emma grinned and leaned in, kissing her girlfriend once more before resuming her position kneeling on the floor of the tub. The position put her eye-line right at Regina’s stomach. She couldn’t help herself. She pressed a tender kiss to the skin lightened by the marks which Regina so hated. Emma closed her eyes, lips still in place, relishing in the closeness. She felt Regina’s fingers in her hair and opened her eyes, meeting the brunette’s gaze.

“Thank you,” Regina murmured.

“You’re welcome,” Emma said.

With a final quick kiss to Regina’s flat stomach, Emma guided the brunette’s foot up to its original position, widening her stance so she could feast more easily on her girlfriend’s core. And feast she did.

Regina placed her palm flat on the tiled wall, trying to steady herself as Emma’s mouth covered her sex, eager at once to draw pleasure without any teasing or preamble. She gasped as she watched, Emma’s head bobbing in front of her, eyes closed in bliss as she drank the musky nectar. The woman’s mouth was pressed hotly against her, tongue swiping at her already tender clit, fingers digging lightly into Regina’s thigh as she held her legs wide open.

It was going to be over quickly, Regina realised, as Emma’s other hand came into play and deft fingers slid through wet folds. But she didn’t care. Not when it felt so good. She rocked her hips, matching the lashes of Emma’s tongue against her nerves as two fingers pumped in and out, in and out. She could almost feel the smirk as blonde she cried out, hands now on Emma’s shoulders to steady herself. There seemed to be nothing Emma Swan liked more in the world than making Regina come.

And, Regina thought as her orgasm washed over her, she was perfectly happy to be a part the blonde’s preferred extra curricula activity.

Once they had both come, twice, the shower became more practical. Each woman took the time to lather the other with Regina’s sweet smelling body wash, the room heady with the apple and cinnamon scent by the time they finally stepped from the tub. Wrapped in fluffy towels, they made their way to Regina’s bedroom to get ready for bed.

“When I live here, we can do this every night,” Emma observed as she pulled on her pyjamas and climbed into bed.

Regina, who was applying her evening moisturiser at her dresser, smiled at her girlfriend’s reflection in the mirror.

“I can’t wait."

Chapter Text

The balmy weeks of June slid by. Maine was enjoying endless days of sunshine, capped with early dawn choruses and light summer evenings. Everyone took advantage of the weather, spending as much time as possible outside. Emma, Regina and Henry visited the park every weekend and at night the two women would often sit outside in Regina’s back garden, nursing a chilled Riesling as they talked about their days.

But after a while, the hot weather began to take its toll. Flowers wilted, soil became cracked and dusty and the relentless sunshine was starting to become an irritant, rather than something to be enjoyed. When sleeping in the same bed, both Regina and Emma were restless under the thin sheet, the room stifling and uncomfortable.

“I hate this weather,” Emma grumbled, plucking at her baggy t-shirt which was sticking to her skin, ten days into the heatwave.

“Me too,” Regina murmured, her voice distorted slightly by the fan which was blowing, full power, into her face.

The CEO’s own office was deliciously cool, thanks to the new air conditioning she had installed a few years before. But her eight hours of blissful cold meant Regina’s body struggled to adjust when she left work to head home. Despite her family origins being Mediterranean, she had clearly adapted to the moderate Maine climate and was suffering through the constant heat she endured at night.

The kitchen at Hook, Line and Sinker was even worse. Had cooking naked not come with some serious health risks and hygiene issues, Emma would have gladly shed her chef whites. She kept a towel tucked into her waistband to wipe the sweat away; endless droplets forming on her brow and threatening to drip into whichever dish she was preparing. For some reason, people were still ordering all manner of cooked meals, rather than the cold salads which Emma would have much rather eaten herself. She cursed Killian for having invested in air conditioning for the restaurant.

“This was a terrible idea,” Ruby gasped as she and Emma hauled the first of many boxes into the back of the removal van, on the second Saturday of the heat wave.

“Yup,” Emma nodded, wiping her sweaty palms on her cut off denim shorts. “But there’s nothing we can do about it now and the sooner we finish, the sooner we can have a beer. Come on.”

Ruby grumbled something intelligible and followed Emma back into their building. She and Belle had found a beautiful little apartment just a few blocks away from the restaurant and were moving all of their possessions in before they flew to Paris the following day. Emma had, in a moment of insanity, suggested they just hire a removal van, not the full team, and do all the heavy lifting themselves. As the duo trudged up to their apartment, she realised what a mistake she had made.

It took most of the morning to move Ruby’s possessions, including the couch which had resulted in a rather realistic re-enactment of the iconic ‘pivot’ scene from Friends. Both women agreed it was far less funny when they were the ones fighting a heavy, stubborn inanimate object.

“I’m so glad my new place has an elevator,” Ruby panted as she heaved the couch up into the back of the truck.

“Ditto,” Emma said. “Are you sure you want to take that dining table. We never sit at it so why do you think you and Belle will?”

Ruby shrugged. “Belle wants it.”

“And Belle always gets what she wants when it comes to you, right?”

A dopey look crossed Ruby’s face. “Yeah, she does.”

Emma punched her friend lightly in the shoulder. “I’m really happy for you. I can’t believe you two are getting married.”

“I haven’t asked her yet,” Ruby reminded the blonde.

She had already bought the ring. It had taken her weeks to pick the right one and she had dragged Emma to countless jewellers. But the piece she had settled on was beautiful and Emma had no doubt that it would look simply perfect on Belle’s finger.

“Right, let’s get back upstairs and finish off,” Ruby said. “There are some more boxes of clothes in my room which we can stack on top of the couch to save space.”

Emma groaned and pushed herself off the side of the truck where she had been resting. “You know you’re helping me do exactly this when you get back from Paris, right?” Emma said as she followed her friend.

“I know,” Ruby replied. “Tit for tat, right? Have you and Regina set a date for the move?”

“The 31st,” Emma nodded. “That’s my last day here and we didn’t want to push Henry. Plus, you’re not back until the 28th and since your payment for me schlepping up and down these steps is to do the same for me, I figured we’d wait.”

“Does jetlag count as a good excuse to get out of helping you?” Ruby asked, opening her bedroom door and picking up the closest box.

“Nope,” Emma said. “And even if you’re tired, you can draw energy from those happy, lovey-dovey feelings of being newly engaged to the love of your life.”

A blissful look overcame Ruby’s face where she stood, paused in the doorway. “Yeah.”

It wasn’t only Ruby who was excited about the next stage of her life. After the successful meeting between Henry and Archie, both women began to discuss their future plans with the small boy. While the idea of Emma moving in had been mentioned and Henry had spoken with Archie about it, when it came to the practicalities, there was more to discuss.

Regina began by talking to Henry alone, explaining to him that Emma was going to move in and that the three of them were going to live together. She made sure to repeat that were anything to happen which would change the arrangement at any time in the future, he would know.

In the lead up to the move, Mondays belonged to Emma and Henry. The blonde would pick the kid up from school, where she now had begun to speak to a few of the other parents, and the two of them would go shopping. They would then cook together and have a meal ready for Regina when she got home from work. Although the first fajita dish was always requested, Henry had learned how to make the tomato sauce he liked for his pasta and how to prepare a fresh summer salad (when the weather was just too hot for cooking). With close supervision, Henry was allowed to chop vegetables and stir items in the pan and he was loving his learning experience.

Every other week, when Emma was off work on Wednesday, she would also collect him from school. On those nights, however, Regina would cook. She wasn’t as good as Emma, a point Henry liked to make, but she felt guilty about making her girlfriend cook on her day off considering her work revolved around food.

“I don’t mind,” Emma said as Regina tried to bat the blonde’s hands away from chopping an onion.

“But I do,” Regina said, gently prying the knife from Emma’s grip, kissing the young woman’s pout and shooing her back to the living room where she had been playing trains with Henry. “I like cooking for you and I know you’ve been working even harder since Ruby’s been on vacation.”

“Yeah but today was my day off and you’ve been working all day,” Emma pointed out. “The least I could do is have dinner ready for you when you get home.”

Regina turned around and quirked her lips. “Miss Swan, what century are you living in? Women are perfectly capable of working full time, raising a family and still manage to find the time to whip up a simple stir-fry.”

“Are you sure Henry will eat that?” Emma asked, ignoring the rest of Regina’s statement. The other woman knew full well Emma believed in equality. It was just that she liked cooking for the brunette.

“We discussed the noodles earlier and the vegetables are all things he eats now,” Regina nodded. “And I have tins of baked beans as backup if it doesn’t work.”

“You know your cupboard looks like you’re preparing for the apocalypse, right?” Emma said, opening the door to the storage space she knew Regina meant, within which were countless tins of baked beans and chopped tomatoes.

“I bought in bulk,” Regina shrugged. “But, thanks to you, I don’t think we’re going to need them any more.”

Emma grinned and waltzed across the kitchen to place a kiss to the side of Regina’s neck. “You did your part too,” she murmured into her girlfriend’s ear. “We did this together.”

Before Regina could answer, Henry’s bellow from the living room for Emma to return and help him play trains interrupted the women. With a final kiss to Regina’s neck, the blonde swept from the room to entertain the waiting child.

Towards the end of Ruby’s vacation, Emma was growing increasingly tired. While her best friend’s front of house team was good, she herself was still responsible for the bar ordering in addition to her own kitchen tasks. Her hours were long; she was arriving earlier than usual and leaving long after everyone else had finished. It was taking its toll on her sanity as well as her relationship with Regina.

After her late evenings, she didn’t feel much like driving the extra ten kilometres to her girlfriend’s house and usually stayed at her apartment. As a result, the two hadn’t seen each other much and they missed one another. The short phone calls they managed were tense and a little irritable; Emma at the fact that Regina wanted her to come over even after her late nights at work and Regina at Emma’s insistence that she just crash at her old apartment.

Emma’s apartment itself was a little depressing. Since Ruby had moved all her things out, the space was sparse. Emma had started packing too and the apartment was no longer a home but a few empty rooms with a bed which, after sleeping on Regina’s luxury mattress, hurt her back and made for a restless night. Regina’s absence also didn’t help her sleeping patterns.

The moment her best friend walked into work on her first day back, Emma shrieked and threw her arms around her. While the kitchen staff raised their eyebrows at their boss’ behaviour, Ruby hugged her back, tightly. She might have had an amazing time in Paris but that didn’t mean she hadn’t missed the blonde.

“How was it?” Emma asked, pulling Ruby into her office and leaving August to deal with the prep for that day’s lunch rush. “Can I see pictures of the proposal?”

Emma already knew Belle had accepted; her friend had sent a selfie of the two lovers the evening it had happened, standing in front of a glittering Eiffel tower and wearing identical grins.

“I didn’t take a picture of myself proposing,” Ruby said, stifling a yawn. She was still firmly in the grip of jet lag, having only landed the day before.

“Fine, can I see pictures of the ring then,” Emma laughed.

“You’ve seen the ring.”

“Not when it’s on Belle’s finger I haven’t,” Emma pointed out.

Ruby obliged and pulled out her phone, finding the numerous pictures she had taken of Belle after she had said yes. Emma swiped through them eagerly, oohing and aahing over the besotted couple until-

“Geez,” she exclaimed, throwing the phone onto her desk as if it was white hot.

“What? Ohhhh…” Blushing, Ruby picked up the phone and closed the still open app, the naked photo vanishing from view. “Sorry.”

“I’m never going to be able to unsee that,” Emma growled, standing up and stalking from the office. “Welcome back, you pervert.”

The night before the move, Regina called her girlfriend after she had put Henry to bed. The boy was very excited at the knowledge that the blonde was coming to live with them the following. Any doubts either woman had about the reaction of the small boy had been eclipsed by his positivity. Despite their small hiccup with Regina’s stir-fry a few weeks earlier (it had involved noodles being thrown across the kitchen), his progress when it came to his diet was also moving forwards. Once those noodles had been cleaned up, by Henry, he had agreed to try the dish and eventually eaten a few mouthfuls before baked beans on toast had been requested.

“Henry’s made you a present for moving in,” Regina told the blonde after the formalities of hello were out of the way.

“Does that mean I have to get him something?” Emma asked, phone trapped between her cheek and shoulder as she cooked up some prawns for an order.

“You are the present, my dear,” Regina said. “And you’re clearly busy. Why are you answering your phone while cooking?”

“Because I saw it was you calling. I knew it was important.”

“It’s not,” Regina said. “I just wanted to speak to you. But get back to work. I don’t want you burning yourself or dropping your cell. Have a good night and call me tomorrow morning when you’re leaving your apartment with the van. I don’t have to go into the office until two so I’ll be around until then to help you unload.”

“Ok,” Emma said, passing the sizzling pan to August so he could plate up. “Thank you for taking the morning off. I know Mondays are busy for you so I really appreciate it.”

“Of course,” Regina said. “I can’t wait to help you move into my house. Or should I say our house.”

Emma’s heart swelled at the sound of those words. “I can’t wait,” she murmured.

“Me neither,” Regina said, her voice equally soft. “Drive safe tonight. There’s a storm rolling in.”

“Finally,” Emma sighed.

The weather had been threatening to break for days. Endless sunshine was finally about to end with the heavy rain clouds which had swept in from the east and now hovered over the coast. The air was thick with anticipation and the rumbles of thunder, way out to sea, had been echoing over Storybrooke for hours.

“Well, the news said to expect a lot of rain so just be careful, ok?”

“Always am,” Emma said. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Regina hung up the phone and headed into her bedroom to complete her task of clearing space in her wardrobes for Emma. She stood, hands on hips, and began to psych herself up for the dreaded task of culling her beloved clothes.

“See you tomorrow at eight. Don’t be late, ok?” Emma said.

“Because there’s nothing I’d rather do on my day off than wake up at eight in the morning when I’m still jet lagged,” Ruby snarked, not looking up from the till where she was counting the night’s takings.

“Well, Paris is ahead of Maine so technically jet lag would make you more awake,” Emma pointed out, grinning at the glower she received from her friend. “Anyway, you owe me.”

Ruby’s scowl deepened. “Fine, I’ll be there.”

“Yeah you will,” Emma said, shrugging on her leather jacket. “See you tomorrow.”

A goodbye was grunted at her back as Emma picked up her helmet and keys from where they rested on the bar and headed out into the parking lot. She grimaced at once. Regina had been right. Sheets of rain lashed down, the asphalt soaked and the air cold for the first time in weeks. Realising that she didn’t have her gloves, Emma zipped up her jacket, jammed her helmet on and hurried over to her bike.

By the time she straddled the wet seat, the rain was already beginning to soak through her supposedly waterproof jacket. A flash of lightening cracked across the sky, illuminating the almost empty parking lot. She looked almost wistfully at Ruby’s car, parked neatly beside her bike.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Emma said out loud, turning the key and starting the powerful machine.

The roads were quiet. Only a few cars passed her, driving slowly through the terrible weather. Emma drove slower than usual too; her promise to Regina ringing in her ears. Her bike lights were good but the relentless rain and the shine from the wet road limited her visibility. She slowed further as she entered her neighbourhood even though the streets were now deserted. It was close to midnight.

Turning into her road, she realised that this was the last time she would make the journey from Hook, Line and Sinker to that apartment. From the following day, her drive home would take her to the edge of Portland. To Regina. To Henry. She smiled.

Out of nowhere, a set of yellow lights pierced her eyes, reflecting straight through her visor. Over the hammering of the rain, she heard the squeal of tyres on the wet road as the vehicle hurtled towards her, out of control, unstoppable. With a yell, unheard by anyone but herself, Emma yanked the handlebars to one side, swerving to avoid the car now metres away from her.

The front tyre skidded across the sodden surface and though she tried to correct it, the weight of the bike pulled her down, the slap of the leather against the road the only sound she registered. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw sparks fly as her motorbike scraped against the road, the machine having left her behind as it hurtled onwards. Dimly, she was aware that her body was also moving, scraping. Her helmet clunked against the street, her neck jolting painfully as her body was thrown forwards, finally stopping on the hard, cold, wet ground.

She drew a great, shuddering breath, an excruciating pain shooting through her rib cage at the effort. Through her scratched visor, in the distance, she saw a car wrapped around a lamp post, its bonnet steaming. She thought she saw movement; a person. Someone climbed from the car and paused. Were they looking at her? She tried to call out but no words came. She tried to raise her arm only to find it impossible to move. For a moment, she was sure, the person was looking right at her. And then, quite suddenly, the dark figured turned and started to run.

Before they were out of sight on the dark, deserted street, Emma’s eyes had closed.

Chapter Text

Despite the crashes of thunder high overhead, Regina slept peacefully that night. It was the first time in a month that the bedroom air was pleasantly cool. Raindrops splattering against the window had lulled her to sleep, a soft smile on her lips as she remembered Emma was moving in with her the following day.

It took several rings of her cell phone before her mind began to drift up from its deep slumber. It sounded far away, muffled, and by the time she was fully awake, the caller was about to give up hope.

“Hello?” she mumbled, voice thick with tiredness.


“Speaking. Who is this?” brunette asked, unable to register to whom the familiar voice belonged.

“It’s Ruby, Emma’s friend from the restaurant. There’s been an accident.”

Regina sat bolt upright in bed. “Emma?”

“Yeah. I’m on my way to the hospital now. I figured you’d want to come too.”

“Which hospital?” Regina asked, already swinging her legs out of bed, adrenaline coursing through her veins and waking her body which had been asleep less than a minute earlier.

“Mercy Hospital, Portland.”

“I know it. I’m twenty minutes away,” she said, already rummaging through her closet for some clothes.

“I’ll be there in five. Call when you get there.”

“I will,” Regina said, hanging up the phone and using both hands to pull some sweat pants on before throwing a hoodie over her pyjama top. Grabbing her cell, she rushed from the room and down the hallway.

Henry lay peacefully in his bed, his face relaxed and unworried. He had no idea that one of his favourite people in the world was lying in a hospital somewhere, hurt, injured. She tried her best not to wake him as she got him ready to leave the house but was unsuccessful.

“Mom, where are we going?” he asked, rubbing his eyes as Regina put his dressing gown onto his limp body.

“We’re just taking a little trip,” Regina said, trying to keep the terror out of her voice. She didn’t think she was convincing and her hands were trembling as she pulled his arms through the soft sleeves.

“It’s night,” Henry yawned. “Can’t we go in the morning?”

“No, my little prince. We have to go now. You can sleep in the car.”

Henry mumbled something as she lifted him into her arms and was already asleep when she lowered him into his car seat. The rain was still coming down heavily and Regina was cursing her omission to put on a rain coat. But as soon as she was inside the car, her mind focused solely on her girlfriend. What had happened? Was Emma badly hurt? She must be otherwise Ruby wouldn’t have called her. It must be bad otherwise Emma would have called herself. Did that mean Emma was unconscious? Or worse?

White knuckles gripped the wheel as she drove through the rain, taking the most direct route to the hospital down the deserted streets. The clock on the car dashboard told her it was just after one in the morning. In the dark of the night, Mercy Hospital was lit up like a beacon. Bright lights shone from every window as Regina pulled into the parking lot. The rain had lessened slightly but Henry still grumbled when he was carried across the asphalt, his hair plastered to his scalp by the time they reached the entrance.

She bypassed the reception and instead placed Henry down on two soft chairs in a small waiting area and pulled out her phone. Before she could even dial Ruby, however, her son interrupted.

“Mom, why are we at the hospital?” he asked. A quick scan of his surroundings and somehow the six-year-old had recognised their location as a medical facility.

“Um, hang on, sweetheart. I just have to make a quick call.” Regina didn’t want to tell Henry anything until she herself had more information.

“Am I sick?”

“No,” Regina said, her phone now pressed to her ear.

“Are you sick?”

“No,” Regina said again. “I’m just – Oh Ruby, hi. We’re here. Where are you?”

“Who’s Ruby?” Henry asked.

Regina ignored her son as Ruby gave the brunette instructions on where she was. As soon as she knew where to find Emma’s best friend, Regina hung up. “Come on, Henry. We have to go over here.”

“Over where?” Henry asked, now wide awake and standing beside his mother.

Regina didn’t say anything but held out her hand for her son. He took it and together they hurried across the waiting area and down a corridor. Turning left at the end, Regina spotted the signs which Ruby had mentioned. At the end of the hallway, she stopped in front of the elevator and instructed Henry to press the up button.

“Where are we going?” he asked again.

“To, um, to see Emma,” Regina said.

“Emma? Why is Emma here?”

“I’m not quite sure,” Regina admitted.

“Is she sick?” Henry asked.


Before Henry could ask yet another question his mother had no answers for, the elevator arrived and the duo rode it up to the third floor. Regina stared at the digital number, willing it to change faster. As soon as the three glinted back at her, she stepped towards the doors, practically squeezing through them before they had even fully opened.

“Mom,” Henry whined. “Slow down.”

“Come on Henry,” Regina said. “It’s just a bit further.”

She took the second right, just as Ruby had told her and hurried down the corridor. It was quiet. Eerily quiet. She heard Henry sigh in exasperation, his socked feet sliding a little on the floor as he was tugged after his mother. In her rush to get out of the house, Regina had forgotten to pick up some shoes for him.

At last they arrived outside the correct room number. Regina peered through the window on the door before she knocked. Ruby turned around and the sight of the woman’s tear streaked face made Regina’s heart skip a beat. She suddenly wondered whether bringing Henry had been a terrible mistake. Maybe she should have called Kathryn to come and stay with him.

The moment Ruby opened the door to the small, private waiting room, Regina felt herself break down. No words were spoken as she stepped inside, Henry following. He was silent now. As if he could sense that something bad had happened. Ruby wrapped her arms around Regina without question as the older woman’s walls, or whatever had been holding her together since the phone call, crumbled. She clung to Ruby, her body shaking as she let out the grief and worry she felt.

Distantly, she was aware of another voice as Belle, who had been sat in the corner, introduced herself to Henry and tried to distract him from the two women crying in one another’s arms. It didn’t work.

“Mom?” Henry said, tugging on his mother’s sweater. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

Regina pulled back from Ruby and wiped her face on her sleeve before looking at her son’s worried face. “I’m sorry, Henry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“What’s wrong with Emma?” he asked.

Regina turned to Ruby and raised her eyebrow when it occurred to her that she didn’t know the answer to that question.

“Emma had an accident,” Ruby said, her own voice hoarse.

“Is she ok?”

“The doctors are doing their job right now and trying to make her better,” Ruby said. “Henry, why don’t you go and play with Belle for a bit while I talk to your mom. Look, there’s a box of toys in the corner.”

Belle was already on her feet. She was close friends with Emma too and was worried about the blonde but she also recognised the need for Regina and Ruby to talk without the small child. Henry looked like he was about to be stubborn and insist that he stay with his mother but something made him realise he ought not to push. So he walked over to where the new woman, Belle, was now crouched, rummaging through a toy chest.

The room was small and Regina knew anything they said, even whispered, Henry would hear. She silently led Ruby out into the corridor and closed the door before asking the question: “What happened?”

“Motorbike accident,” Ruby said, her lips set in a thin line. “Right outside our old apartment. The landlord found her. Then called me.”

“Found her?”

“Looks like a hit and run, he said. He heard something outside and went to look. There was a car wrapped around and lamp post and … and Emma.”

Regina felt her throat tighten. “Is … is she ok?”

“Don’t know,” Ruby said. “She’s in surgery. I haven’t managed to get much information out of anyone. I’m not family. The woman at the nurse’s station just said they were operating on her and that we could wait in here.”

“Surgery,” Regina repeated. “So … so she’s not dead.”

“I guess not,” Ruby said. “They really won’t tell me much. She arrived about half an hour before I did. Our landlord called 911 and waited with her till they arrived then he called me. All he said was that she was unconscious and pretty banged up.”

“Oh my God,” Regina said, leaning heavily against the wall, her legs suddenly feeling too weak to hold her up.

“Hey, she’s strong, ok? Emma’s a fighter. She’s not going anywhere.”

“She got hit. She got hit, Ruby. On a bike. I told her I hated her riding that thing. I knew something was going to happen. She got hit by a car.”

“Yeah and then the dick who did it ran off and left her to die.” At Regina’s sharp intake of breath, Ruby realised she’d made a poor choice of words. “Shit, I shouldn’t have said that. She’s not going to die. The doctors are going to do their job and she’ll be fine.”

“You don’t know that,” Regina whispered. “What … what if she’s not fine? What if she -?”

“Come on,” Ruby said, a little sharply. “We can’t think like that. We have to be positive. Why don’t you go back in there and talk to Henry? I’m sure he has questions. And I’ll go down to the nurse’s station and see if I can find out more about what’s going on.”

“Will they tell you anything? You’re not family.”

“I know but Emma doesn’t exactly have family. I mean, her foster parents raised her but they never adopted her so they’re not technically family. I’m pretty sure I’m her emergency contact on our health insurance we get through work. I reckon I can use that to get them to talk. When I first got here, I wasn’t really thinking straight to get information. I just needed to know she was alive.”

“Have you called her foster parents? Maybe they will be able to find out more.”

“Yeah, I called them after I spoke to you. They’re flying out tomorrow morning.”

Regina nodded, trying not to think about the circumstances under which she was going to be meeting Emma’s family for the first time.

“Ok, well, see if you can find out some information, I suppose. If she’s in surgery they must be doing something, or treating something specific, right?”

Ruby shrugged. “I’ll find out what I can and then come back. Do you want a coffee or something to eat? There’s a canteen downstairs.”

Regina shook her head. She didn’t feel like eating. She didn’t think she’d ever feel hungry again. Ruby reached out and patted her shoulder, some vague attempt at comfort. Wordlessly, the women parted ways; Ruby down the corridor to the nurse’s station and Regina back to her son.

The moment she stepped into the room, Henry looked up from the toys he and Belle had pulled from the chest, his face expectant for news.

“Where’s Emma?”

“She’s having an operation,” Regina said, walking on wobbly legs over to sit beside her son.


“Emma had an accident on her motorbike.”

“Did she fall off?”

“Yeah,” Regina nodded. There was no need to tell the boy a car had been involved even though Regina was seething at the idea of someone causing an accident and then running off and leaving her girlfriend unconscious without trying to help.

“Is she ok?”

“We have to wait to talk to the doctor but I hope so. We’re going to wait in here for a while. Are you hungry? Ruby can go and get you some food.”

Henry shook his head, stood up and climbed onto Regina’s lap. “No, I don’t want food. I only like food Emma makes for me.”

The brunette’s heart clenched not only at the look on her son’s face but also, in a deep recess of her mind, with worry. What if Emma wasn’t ok? What would that mean for Henry and his recovery? Without the blonde to cook with him and to encourage him to eat new things, would Henry regress? She had known there was a risk of this; of Henry’s recovery being linked primarily to Emma. But as long as Emma was there, in their lives, that was ok. What now? What if Emma didn’t make it?

“What are you playing?” Regina asked, forcing her mind away from those thoughts and concentrating on the toys in front of her scattered across the carpet.

“Nothing,” Henry said, not even looking at the discarded game he and Belle, who was now sat a few chairs away, had begun. “I want to see Emma.”

Regina just wrapped her arms around her son, pulling him tight against her body. “Me too, sweetheart. Me too.”

By the time Ruby returned, half an hour later, Henry was sleeping peacefully in Regina’s arms. The two dark-haired women were sat in silence, both lost in their own thoughts but looked expectantly at Ruby when she entered.

“Did you find anything out?” Belle asked, gesturing for her new fiancée to come and sit beside her.

“Not much,” Ruby admitted, handing over a coffee to Belle and sipping her own. “They are still refusing to release any information to anyone who isn’t family. I told them you were here, Regina, and they said that unless you’re married, they can’t tell you anything either. We’re going to have to wait for Mary Margaret and David to arrive and see if they can get access to her records or for Emma to get out of surgery.”

“Do you know when that will be?” Regina asked. “The surgery, I mean.”

“No. All the nurses told me Emma was still in surgery but wouldn’t tell me why or what the surgery was for. They also have no idea how long the surgery will take. They just said that Emma’s medical insurance means we have use of this room for as long as we need. God, I hate not knowing what’s going on.”

Belle wrapped an arm around Ruby and pulled her close. “She’ll get through this, I know she will.”

Ruby said nothing, just took another sip of coffee and leaned into Belle’s embrace. Regina’s own arms wrapped a little more tightly around her son. All three women exchanged silent glances. There was nothing more to say. Until they knew what was going on, there was nothing any of them could do.

The next thing Regina remembered was waking up to hear Henry giggle. She opened her eyes, trying to work out how long she had been asleep. Although the room was unfamiliar, she knew exactly where she was and why she was there. The narrow window in the private waiting room showed a pale, watery dawn breaking. The storm from the previous night had blown itself out and wisps of clouds were now tinged with a light yellow as the sun began its ascent.

She yawned, stretched and glanced at her cell. It was just after five in the morning. It had been close to one thirty when she had arrived. Where was Emma? She looked around and saw Ruby lying across four chairs, sleeping. Belle was sat on the floor beside Henry, playing quietly with him.

“Hey,” Regina said, crossing the room and sitting down behind her son, legs spread either side of his narrow hips. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Henry said, ignoring the kiss that was planted on the top of his head or the arms which wrapped around him for a hug.

“Hi,” Belle said. “Did you sleep ok?”

“I don’t even know how I slept,” Regina admitted.

“You were out for a couple of hours,” Belle said. “It would have done you good. Ruby too. You’re no use to Emma if you’re tired when she gets back from surgery.”

Regina’s eyes flashed with hope. “Have you heard anything?”

Belle shook her head. “Just being optimistic, sorry.”

The disappointment was evident on Regina’s face. “Right, well, I guess I’ll go and see what I can find out.”

“Do you think they’ll tell you anything?” Belle asked the woman who was already getting to her feet.

Regina shrugged. “I can try. Henry, I’ll be back in a bit. Do you want some breakfast?”

“I want Emma’s pancakes,” Henry said, turning to look up at his mother. “Can Emma help me make pancakes?”

The lump returned to her throat. “Maybe later. For now, how about I get you some toast and jam?”


“Of course.”

Henry nodded his agreement to that before going back to his game with Belle, whom he seemed to have taken quite a liking to. Regina picked up her handbag and headed out into the sterile corridor beyond. She and Henry had passed the nurse’s station on the way up so she made her way back towards it, reading the signs as she passed. It didn’t take her long to realise they were on the operating floor. Emma must have been brought here straight from the emergency room.

Only one nurse was sat at the station, sipping a coffee and typing on the computer.

“Excuse me,” Regina said, leaning on the ledge of the desk. “I was wondering if I can get some information about a patient?”


“Emma Swan.

“Are you family?” the nurse asked as she typed the name into the database.

“I’m her girlfriend.”

The nurse paused and looked up at Regina. “I can only give information to her family. Unless you’re married, there’s not much I can do.”

“We’re not married but Emma doesn’t have any family,” Regina said. “I mean … I am her family, I suppose. Just, not legally. Her foster parents are flying in this morning but we can’t wait.”

“Foster parents?” the nurse asked. “Our records say Emma is 27.”

“Yeah, she is,” Regina said.

“Then we can’t release her records to foster parents. They’re no longer her legal guardian,” the nurse explained.

“So who can you tell? She has no one. She’s lying on an operating table and no one can tell the people who love her why or what’s happening or what’s wrong just because her family aren’t blood and I don’t have a marriage license to prove our love.”

“She’s not on the table any more,” the nurse said quickly, picking up on Regina’s reference to surgery.

Regina took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. “She’s not? So where is she?”

“Recovery,” the nurse said. “That’s all I can tell you. She’s been in recovery for two hours already so I expect she’ll be moved down here in another couple of hours. Once she’s in her room, you guys can go in and see her. The doctor still won’t be able to tell you much but once Emma is able to speak and give the doctor permission to share her medical history, we can tell you everything.”

“So, she’s alive?”


A great wave of relief swept over Regina and she let out a shaky breath.

“Oh, thank goodness.”

The nurse offered the woman a small smile. “I’ll come and get you all when Emma’s settled and ready for visitors. You’re in waiting room 310, right?”

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I wish I could tell you more but, you know, hospital policy.”

“I understand. As long as Emma’s ok, that’s all I need right now.”

“She’s in recovery, according to this record. With regards to the surgery, you’ll have to wait for more information.”

“Thank you,” Regina said. “Thank you very much.”

The sunlight hitting the window of the waiting room was making the space hot and stuffy. Even at nine in the morning, the heat which had wrapped itself around Maine for a month was returning after its short respite. Henry had shed his dressing gown and was sat in Belle’s lap reading a book. Ruby was still in her work clothes from the evening before, the shirt crumbled after her long night. Regina was silently wishing she had changed out of her pyjama top and put on a bra before leaving the house. She was clammy and uncomfortable and wished she could remove her hoodie. Her discomfort was forgotten, however, the moment the nurse knocked on the door and entered.

“Emma Swan’s group, right?” she asked, nodding at Regina in recognition.

“Yes,” Regina said, herself and Ruby standing up at once. “Is she ok?”

“She’s just being settled in the room down the corridor. She’s still unconscious but you can go and sit with her.” With a glance at Henry, she added; “keep the kid off the bed; the surgery has been quite invasive.”

Regina forced her mind away from what invasive surgery might mean and picked up the various possessions which were scattered around the room. Within thirty seconds they were all ready and followed the nurse, in silence, down the corridor.

“In here,” she said, stopping outside a room after only a minute of walking.

The nurse pushed the door open and stood back, allowing the little group to enter first. Regina, however, found herself rooted to the spot at the sight that met her. Emma’s pale face peaked out from above crisp blue sheets. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think the blonde was just sleeping. But the rest of the scene told a different story. A white bandage was wrapped around Emma’s scalp, her arms which lay above the sheets were also heavily bandaged. And a neck brace was securely in place, making it impossible for the blonde to move. There were several machines on either side of the bed, flashing and pulsing information regularly.

A light pressure on the base of her spine spurred Regina into action. With Ruby’s gentle reassurance, the duo walked into the room, Belle and Henry following. Four chairs had been set up beside the bed and, without speaking, Regina sank into one, Henry climbing up next to her and looking at the blonde in the bed.

“Emma’s hurt,” he said quietly. “What happened to her?”

“She fell off her motorbike, remember?” Belle said, knowing neither Ruby nor Regina were going to answer. Both women’s eyes were swimming with tears.

“The doctor will be along in a bit,” the nurse said. “Don’t expect her to wake up for a few hours yet. Patients who have undergone brain surgery are kept under for a little longer; it’s standard procedure.” She left without another word, the bombshell that Emma had had brain surgery lingering in the air.

Regina leaned forwards, reaching out and brushing the back of her hand tenderly against Emma’s cheek. Her skin was warm, a reassurance that the woman really was still alive.

“Emma,” she murmured. “Emma, can you hear me? It’s Regina. I’m here. I’m here and so are Ruby and Belle and Henry. You’re going to be alright, Emma. I love you. We all love you.”

Belle and Ruby took the chairs opposite Regina and Henry. All four of them lapsed into silence, waiting.


Chapter Text

Seconds ticked by, turning at what seemed like half-speed into minutes. And then hours. The silent wait was interrupted every now and then by a nurse, coming to check on Emma. But after the first pleading attempt for information was rebuffed, Regina, Ruby and Belle were mute in their presence.

Henry had fallen asleep in his chair, the restless night finally catching up with him. Regina was exhausted too but she couldn’t sleep. Not now. Not yet. Not until she knew what Emma had been through and that she was going to be ok.

The blonde’s chest rose steadily beneath the blanket. Other than that, she was completely still. Regina itched to reach out and touch her but without knowing the extent of the woman’s injuries, she was reluctant to do so in case she caused her pain. Ruby and Belle sat opposite, hand in hand, waiting quietly.

At midday, Ruby offered to go down to the canteen to get some food. Regina nodded her agreement and asked for some sandwiches. She didn’t feel like eating but she knew she needed sustenance. She also knew it was important for Henry, who was still asleep, to eat as well and not see her skipping meals. The newly-engaged couple left together, telling Regina they’d be back shortly.

Regina shifted slightly on her chair, trying to get comfortable. Settling herself once more, she glanced at Henry, then the machine which showcased Emma’s steady heartbeat and back to her girlfriend’s face. And bright green eyes.


She jumped to her feet at the realisation that the woman was awake. Emma cracked a smile at the sight of the older woman and then winced, the tight bandage around her forehead squeezing her tender skull.

“Hey,” she said, voice scratchy and throat dry. “What’s going on?”

“Do you know who I am?” Regina asked at once.

“Um, yeah,” Emma said slowly. Why was the woman acting so strange? And why did she look so worried?

“Who am I?” the woman pushed.

Although Emma had a million, more interesting, questions to ask the woman, she resisted the urge to ask a counter question and instead supplied the answer. “Regina Mills. My girlfriend.”

A flicker of relief passed over Regina’s face before she asked the next question. “And you are?”

“Emma Swan. Your girlfriend. I think. Unless you’ve had some sort of psychotic break. Regina, what’s going on?”

“You were in an accident,” Regina said quietly, one hand coming to rest on the side of Emma’s face now she was confident the woman wasn’t brain damaged. “You’re in the hospital. You’ve had surgery.”

“Surgery?” Was that the reason for the pain in her head? Emma mentally did a quick scan of the rest of her body, noting as she did so that everything felt somewhat dulled, as if the sensations were muted by something. Painkillers. “What happened?” Emma said, trying to work out what the last thing she remembered had been. Her head really hurt and the edges of her vision were slightly blurred. It hurt to talk, as if she hadn’t drunk anything in hours.

“I still don’t know any details, to be honest,” Regina said. “All I know is that there was an accident involving your motorbike. By the time Ruby and I got here, you were in surgery.”

“Ruby’s here?”

Regina nodded. “And Belle and Henry,” she added, moving out of the way so that Emma could see the still sleeping boy. “Ruby and Belle are getting us some food.”

“What was the surgery for?”

“I don’t know,” Regina admitted. “The doctors won’t tell any of us anything because we’re not family.”

“Yes you are,” Emma said, a little groggily. But the sentiment behind the words were real. “You’re my family, Regina,” she repeated, as if she wanted to make sure the brunette knew she wasn’t just saying it because of the immense amount of painkillers flowing through her system.

“I’m so glad you’re ok,” Regina said, eyes sparkling with tears. “I was so worried all night.”

“All night? What time is it?”

“Lunch time.”

“On what day?”

“Monday,” Regina said, wiping her eyes.

“Looks like I’ve got a pretty good excuse for not doing the heavy lifting for our move in together then.”

Regina couldn’t help but chuckle, in spite of the situation. “Yeah, I think you do. You’re definitely exempt from moving duties. You just concentrate on getting better, ok? Now, I don’t want to leave you but I do want to get a doctor. You had brain surgery and I know they’re going to want to come and speak with you.”

“Brain surgery certainly explains the headache,” Emma said, lifting an arm up to tap her forehead. “Ouch,” she added as her hand bumped into the neck brace.

“Are you ok?” Regina asked, concern etched on her features. “Can I get you anything?”

“I don’t know,” Emma sighed. “My hands hurt. I only just realised. They’re … tingling. Did I have surgery on my hands?”

Regina frowned and glanced at the bandaged limbs, unable to answer the question. “I’ll be right back, ok?”

“Ok,” Emma said. “But before you go, can you give me something?”

“Anything,” Regina said. “What do you need?”

Emma didn’t say anything. Instead, she just puckered up her lips and closed her eyes. Regina giggled and obliged, leaning down and placing a chaste kiss to the chapped lips of her girlfriend.

“I’ll be back as soon as possible,” Regina said before disappearing out of the room and hurrying down the corridor.

The next thing Emma was aware of were whispers above her.

“Seriously, she was awake,” she heard Regina say, a little defensive. “We had a whole conversation. She was fine. She said I was her family, by the way, so surely you can tell me what’s going on now?”

“Well, perhaps she said that to you but she’s asleep now and I need to speak to her before I tell you anything, as I’ve said,” came an unfamiliar voice. “Everything looks fine in terms of what the machines are monitoring for us but when it comes to the impact of the brain surgery, I need to have a conversation with Miss Swan before I can assess any damage.”

“What damage?” Emma said, forcing her tired eyes open.

“Emma,” Regina said again, breathing a sigh of relief as if she was almost starting to doubt whether their last interaction had really happened or merely been wistful thinking.

“Hey,” Emma said. “I fell asleep. Were you gone long?”

“About two minutes,” Regina said.

“Felt like hours,” Emma yawned, the neck brace restricting her movement and her chin bumped uncomfortably against the rigid structure.

“Emma,” said the new voice as the blonde’s eyes shifted over to his face, hovering above her. “I’m Doctor Whale. I’m your doctor.”

“Hey,” Emma said. “Can you tell me what’s happened? And tell Regina too. You can tell her anything and everything you need to.”

With permission finally granted, Regina pulled her chair even closer to the edge of the bed and sat down, her hand resting lightly on Emma’s shoulder. Henry was still fast asleep, oblivious to the conversation that was about to take place.

“You were in a motorbike accident,” Doctor Whale began, pulling a penlight from his pocket and shining it into the blonde’s eyes as he spoke before making a note on her chart. “When you were brought in here you were non-responsive but alive. Despite your helmet, the impact of your head striking the road led to an intracerebral haemorrhage, or minor brain bleed. One of our neurosurgeons performed a procedure called decompression surgery to ease the pressure. This involves draining the blood and was performed successfully. Since you’re alert and talking to me, I think we can assume no damage was caused.”

“Aside from the splitting headache I have,” Emma quipped.

Doctor Whale offered a sympathetic smile before continuing. “However, the accident also left you with some internal bleeding, probably caused by your body hitting the road or the bike itself when you fell. You’ve got three broken ribs and you lacerated your liver. We’ve removed the damaged section and patched you up. The liver can regenerate so you shouldn’t have any lasting health problems. The other injuries came from what I’m sure you, as a biker, know as road rash. You weren’t wearing any gloves so your hands are particularly damaged. Your leathers did a pretty good job of protecting the rest of your body, however, and you were fairly lucky, compared to what I’ve seen. Just a few scrapes on your arms and your knee is pretty banged up from where you landed. You’re going to be rather sore for a few weeks but you will make a full recovery.”

“And the neck brace?” Emma asked.

“Due to the injury to your head, we felt it a necessary precaution. Now you’re awake we can reassess and if you’ve got no pain in your neck and back, we’ll remove it.”

“Yeah, they’re pretty much the only body parts that don’t hurt,” Emma said, wincing as she raised her heavily bandaged hands. “Can I see these?”

“Best you don’t for now,” Doctor Whale said as he set about freeing Emma from her neck brace. “Sliding across asphalt at any speed leaves you with a rash similar to a burn. We’ve cleaned up the abrasions and they’ll need to be checked and cleaned daily. But they’re open wounds and susceptible to infection. I’m afraid you’ll be bandaged up for a while. A nurse will come and clean them for you every morning. It’s not a pleasant experience but it is a necessary one.”

Emma grimaced. Not only at the pain she could now feel intensifying as her brain registered that most of the skin had been scraped off her palms but also at the realisation that she was going to be walking around all stumpy for a few weeks.

“But she’s ok?” Regina asked. “Aside from the healing process, Emma’s going to be ok?”

“From what I saw in surgery and this conversation we’ve had, I’d say Emma is going to make a full recovery. You’re a lucky woman, Miss Swan. I’ve got to head out on my rounds now but I’ll be back in a couple of hours to check on you.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Regina said.

“Yes, thanks,” Emma nodded, suddenly feeling tired again.

Doctor Whale nodded at both of them before leaving the room, almost walking into Ruby and Belle coming in the opposite direction.

“Emma!” Ruby exclaimed, so loudly that Henry, who had slept through all the interactions so far, woke up. She rushed to her best friend’s side just as Henry opened his eyes and realised his favourite blonde was awake.

“Emma!” Henry echoed. “You’re not dead.”

Despite the situation, the four women laughed. Well, Emma tried to but the movement made her whimper in pain as her broken ribs protested. Henry climbed from his chair and crossed to stand beside his mother.

“Hey kid,” Emma said. “How are you?”

“How are you?” Henry countered, far too seriously for his six years.

“I’m ok,” Emma said. “A little tired.”

“But you’ve been sleeping for hours,” Henry pointed out.

“Yeah but my body has to work hard to make me better again,” Emma said. “You see, I had an accident.”

“I know. Mom told me,” Henry said. “Can I sit on your bed?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Henry,” Regina said but Emma waved her off with a stumpy arm.

“Sure you can. But can you sit down by my legs? My tummy and my arms are a bit sore. And watch out for my knee because that hurts too.”

“Because of the car?” Henry asked as Regina picked him up and helped him settle on top of Emma’s sheets.

“What car?” Emma asked, looking from Regina to Ruby with a frown.

“Derek said there was a hit and run,” Ruby offered, as Regina handed her cell phone over to Henry to distract him. He didn’t need to be involved in such a conversation. The boy happily opened a gaming app as Ruby continued to explain to Emma how the previous night’s events had unfolded. “He heard something and went outside and found you. Then he called me and I called Regina.”

“I crashed outside our apartment?”

“You don’t remember what happened last night?” Ruby asked.

Emma shook her head. “The last thing I remember is leaving the restaurant in the storm. So … what did happen?”

“We don’t know,” Ruby said. “The police were called to the scene to investigate. The driver who was involved fled and left their car, apparently. I expect the police will be coming here to talk to you soon.”

“But I don’t remember anything.”

Regina lay a soothing hand on Emma’s arm, seeing that the woman was getting a little agitated at the loss of memory. “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

“Thirsty,” Emma nodded.

Springing into action, Regina poured out a cup of water from the table beside Emma’s bed. Popping a straw into the liquid, she held it up to Emma’s lips so the woman could drink without moving.

“Better?” Regina asked when Emma had finished.

“Yeah, thanks,” Emma said.

“Can we get you anything else?”

“I’m just tired, to be honest,” Emma said. Her head was hurting a lot. It felt like someone had drilled into her skull. Which, she now knew, they had. But she didn’t want to worry Regina further. It was clear from the dark circles under the brunette’s eyes that she’d had a sleepless night.

“We’ll leave you to get some rest,” Ruby said at once. “But I’m glad to see you awake and talking. You gave us quite the scare. Did the doctor tell you what the surgery was for?”

“Lacerated liver, broken ribs and a minor brain bleed,” Regina said quickly. “But she’s going to be recover.”

“Your brain is bleeding?”

Why did children always pick the most inappropriate moments to tune into adult conversations?

“It was. Just a little bit,” Emma nodded. “I hit my head on the road.”

“Oh. Does it hurt?” Henry asked, peering at the bandage on Emma’s head.

“A bit,” Emma nodded, not wanting to scare Henry nor anyone else in the room and admit how bad the headache was. She was exhausted, she realised, and desperately wanted to go back to sleep. “Guys, I’m sorry but I’m really tired.”

“Understood,” Ruby said at once. Belle and Regina nodded in agreement.

“I’m sorry,” Emma repeated.

“Hey, it’s not your fault,” Ruby said. “And whenever they find the bastard who hit you, I’ll be glad to tell him it was his.”

“Me too,” Regina growled.

“Thanks,” Emma sighed. “But I don’t need you guys setting out on a revenge quest just now. I’m fine. I’m alive. And once I grow the skin back on my hands, I’ll be able to strangle the man myself.”

Even in the light of that grim statement, the women couldn’t help but smile. It was clear that, despite the brain surgery, the old Emma they knew and loved was very much present. Ruby and Belle bid goodbye and left Regina and Henry with Emma, promising to come back later in the day.

“You should go home, get some rest,” Emma said once it was just the three of them.

“I don’t want to leave you,” Regina murmured.

“I’m just going to be sleeping,” Emma pointed out. “Take Henry home and then come back this evening before he goes to bed. Shouldn’t he be at school, by the way?”

“I called to explain why he’d be absent,” Regina said. “I’ll take him tomorrow morning before I come here.”

“Don’t you have work?”

Regina shook her head. “I took the week off. In fact, my operations manager is officially in charge for the foreseeable future.”

“What does that mean?” Emma asked.

“It means that until you are out of this place, home with us and able to move around without help, I’m going to be here. That’s the beauty of being the CEO, you see. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to take an extended vacation.”

“Some vacation,” Emma remarked, looking around the hospital room.

“When you’re better, how about we book a real one?”

Emma grinned. “I’d like that.”

Regina was about to say something else but Emma yawned and she remembered that the woman needed her rest. “Come on, Henry. Let’s go home.”

“Is Emma coming?” Henry asked, looking up from the game he had been playing.

“Not today,” Regina said. “But we’re going to go home and cook Emma some food to bring back for her dinner.”

“Ok,” Henry smiled, handing his mother her cell and sliding from the bed. “Bye Emma. Feel better soon.”

“Bye Henry. Thanks for coming to see me,” Emma said, forcing a smile even though the pain in her head was making her feel a little queasy. “See you later.”

“I love you,” Regina said, bending down to kiss Emma’s lips gently. “I’ll see you later.”

“I can’t wait,” Emma said.

Before the duo were even out of the room, the blonde’s eyes had closed once more and she fell into a deep, healing sleep.

Chapter Text

As soon as Regina and Henry turned into Emma’s corridor later that day, the young boy set off at a trot, eager to see the blonde again and present her the meal he and his mother had created. Despite his initial scepticism, he had to admit that his mom had helped him to cook almost as well as Emma used to, before her accident. He hoped she’d get better soon though so she’s be able to help him cook again.

“Henry, you need to knock on the door when you get to Emma’s room, please,” Regina called after his retreating back.

She was sure he heard her but the request was ignored and the boy reached up to the handle and turned it, walking straight in without any display of manners. He stopped in the doorway, however, when he saw that Emma was not alone.

“Henry, what did I say?” Regina asked when she caught up to her son, laden down with a basket full of food and a large bouquet of flowers in either hand. “You have to knock before you go into someone’s bedroom.”

“Who are you?” Henry asked, ignoring his mother entirely and instead addressing the people in Emma’s room.

Regina followed her son’s gaze and took in the two strangers sitting beside Emma’s bed. The blonde herself was sat up in bed, grinning at the duo still stood in the doorway.

“You must be Henry,” the pixie haired woman said, standing up and walking over. “My name is Mary Margaret. I’m Emma’s foster mom. And that is my husband David,” she added, pointing to the man with sandy blonde hair, flecked with grey, and a kind, weathered face.

“What’s a foster mom?” Henry asked, looking up at the woman now smiling down at him.

“Mary Margaret and David looked after me when I was younger because I didn’t have a mom and a dad,” Emma said.

“Everyone has a mom and a dad,” Henry frowned.

“A topic for another time,” Regina said before they fell too far down that rabbit hole. “Hi, I’m Regina,” she continued, tucking the flowers into the crook of her arm and stretching out her hand to shake Mary Margaret’s before ushering Henry further into the room.

“It’s lovely to meet you at last, despite the circumstances. Emma’s told us all about you,” Mary Margaret said, a wide smile on her face. “Both of you, in fact. Henry, I hear you like to cook, just like Emma?”

The boy had climbed back up into the chair where he had sat that morning and nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah. Emma helps me cook. Today me and mom made food for Emma though cos she’s hurt.”

“That was kind of you, thank you, Henry,” Emma said. “Hi, by the way,” she added, beckoning Regina closer to her side with her bandaged hand.

“Hey,” Regina said, bending down to kiss Emma lightly. “How are you feeling?”

“Good. My headache has almost gone now and I’m still high on pain meds so my hands are fine. In fact, I’m actually hungry,” Emma admitted. “The food here is not great. David was just about to go out and find something edible.”

“Looks like we saved you a trip. Henry, can you go and wash your hands then we can have dinner with Emma and her family,” Regina said, smiling at the two on the other side of Emma’s bed.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Mary Margaret said. “David and I need to go and check into our hotel anyway. We came here straight from the airport.”

“Hotel? Nonsense. You can stay with us,” Regina offered without thinking as she set about unpacking a crystal vase she had brought from home for the flowers. Every hospital room needed flowers. It was an unwritten rule.

Emma’s eyes widened slightly at both how prepared her girlfriend was (who carried around crystal vases?) and the offer which had just been made. “Really?” she asked, the same query echoed by both Mary Margaret and David at the same time.

“Of course,” Regina said, arranging the flowers in the vase. “We have plenty of space and it doesn’t make sense for you to pay for a hotel room when I have a whole floor of the house which is never used.”

No one questioned why half of Regina’s house wasn’t inhabited. Of course, Emma knew and in some way Mary Margaret and David knew not to pry. Henry had just become accustomed to never climbing the stairs.

“Are you sure?” Mary Margaret asked when Regina came back from filling the vase with water from the private, adjoined bathroom. “We don’t want to be a burden.”

“I insist,” Regina nodded, Henry following her back into the main room with his hands and sleeves dripping wet.

“In that case, thank you,” David said. “That’s very generous of you. I’ll go and cancel the hotel booking now. We hired a car at the airport and we’ve visited Emma here once before so please don’t feel like you have to play host. A room to stay is more than enough.”

With the sleeping arrangements decided, the group began to lay out the food Regina and Henry had brought on various tables and surfaces in Emma’s room. Regina realised that she may have over catered but she and Henry had had a lot of fun together that afternoon, despite the reason for their cooking lingering in the back of her mind. Reminiscent of the day they had met, Regina had made hummus and an array of vegetables. There was also a number of salads, a cous cous dish and some chicken sandwiches. The last of these was the newest addition to Henry’s list of acceptable food.

Just as they were finishing dinner, Ruby and Belle arrived to check in on Emma. The couple had been busy making arrangements in light of Emma’s accident. Ruby had called Killian and told him about the accident. He had mumbled something indistinct before agreeing that Emma could take a month off work; more if necessary. August had then been contacted and was happy to take over as head chef in Emma’s absence. He also promised to visit some time over the next few days. Meanwhile, Belle had called the moving company and rearranged for a full team to move all of Emma’s packed possessions over to Regina’s the following weekend, a plan Regina had agreed to before the duo left the hospital that morning.

“Did you hear anything from the police?” Regina asked when Emma was all caught up with the new work arrangements.

“Yeah, they came by earlier,” Emma nodded, putting down the now empty plate which had been piled high with a bit of each dish. Regina had made sure to prepare lots of healthy, balanced options.

“And? Did they catch the person who hit you?”

Emma nodded. “Well, sort of. They identified the car owners but when they went to the house, the two people on the registration claimed neither of them had been driving the previous night and that the car had been stolen.”

“So they don’t know who’s responsible for putting you here,” Regina growled.

“Yeah, they do,” Emma said. “Just as the police were leaving, some spotty teen rocked up with a gash on his forehead and a limp. Turns out their son had taken the car without permission and gone for a drive. Idiot doesn’t even have his full license yet and lost control when he skidded on some surface water going too fast. Cops say he never hit me though. There’s surveillance footage of the crash from a traffic camera and I swerved out the way and slipped on the wet road apparently.”

“Apparently?” Ruby asked.

“I still don’t remember,” Emma sighed. “The cops wanted me to ID this kid cos both parents are still saying that the car was stolen even though the kid’s injuries are consistent with a crash. But I can’t remember anything about the crash, let alone who was driving.”

“So are they prosecuting?”

“They’re building a case,” Emma shrugged. “But I won’t be much good to the prosecution. They’re getting a court order for his DNA to match it to the blood in the car. Looks like he hit his forehead on the window when the airbag went off. If they get that, then I won’t be needed and the kid will probably plead out.”

“He’d better be found guilty,” Regina glowered. “He could have killed you.”

“I reckon he learned his lesson,” Emma replied. “He won’t be driving at night in the rain again in a hurry.”

Regina had been about to say that he shouldn’t be allowed to ever drive again but Henry interrupted the conversation by announcing that he was bored. Full of food, the child needed entertaining and the hospital room was decidedly dull, especially since Emma couldn’t play with him.

“I’d better get him home,” Regina said, noting that it was after seven in the evening.

“Shall we follow you to your house?” David asked.

“Yes, sure,” Regina nodded. “Emma, do you need me to bring anything? I’ll come to visit you after I drop Henry at school tomorrow morning.”

“Clean underwear and some wash things might be nice,” Emma said. “I feel grimy.”

“You look grimy too,” Ruby teased, taking the seat vacated by Regina who was packing up their dinner items as Belle sat down in Henry’s chair, the boy obeying his mother’s instructions to help her.

“Shut up,” Emma said, yawning.

“You’re tired. Do you want us to go too?” Ruby asked. She had been looking forward to chatting with the blonde without her ever-expanding family present but didn’t want to burden the injured woman.

“No, you can stay for a bit,” Emma said. “I’ll probably kick you out in half an hour or so.”

“I’m hurt,” Ruby teased. “Plus, I thought you said you wanted to hear the proposal from Belle’s point of view.”

“Oh yeah,” Emma said, grinning suddenly. “Did she really have a rose between her teeth when she knelt down at the top of the Eiffel Tower?”

“Before you dive into that,” Regina said, stepping up to the bed, basket now packed neatly with empty Tupperware, “and congratulations by the way. Emma, we’re going to head off. If you need anything at any time, just call me. I’ll be here at about nine thirty tomorrow.”

“Ok, thanks,” Emma smiled. “And thanks for dinner. You too Henry. Great cooking.”

Henry beamed with pride and puffed out his chest. Regina laughed before bending down to kiss Emma goodnight, whispering ‘I love you’ and heading out of the room. Mary Margaret and David said their goodbyes too and followed.

The rest of the evening was a little awkward for Regina. While she had no regrets about offering one of her spare bedrooms to Mary Margaret and David, it did involve her venturing into the upper floor of the large house and preparing the rarely used guest rooms. Her cleaner kept the rooms spotless but the air felt a little stale and oppressive. Henry followed as she completed her tasks, as if he was waiting for her permission to climb the wide staircase. All the adults were aware of an unspoken reason for the ghostly space but no one said anything.

Regina wondered how much Emma had told her foster parents. She wasn’t even aware that Emma was in regular contact with the couple who had cared for her through her teen years. It was clear that they had heard about Regina and Henry and their important place in Emma’s life, however. Did that mean they also knew what had happened with Mal? If they did, they didn’t mention it and after sharing a bottle of wine and polite conversation, the three adults went to bed, agreeing to take it in turns the following day to keep Emma company, with the foster parents taking the breakfast shift while Regina took care of Henry and took him to school.

The blonde was sitting up in bed reading when Mary Margaret and David arrived the following morning. Despite the early hour, Emma was wide awake. She had slept well all night, the headache reducing to the point where it was barely noticeable. Grinning at the sight of her foster parents, she set aside the trashy book a nurse had brought her from the waiting room and beckoned them both closer.

“How was your evening with Regina?” Emma asked after the questions about her own night had been answered.

“She’s wonderful, darling,” Mary Margaret gushed. “I can see why you’re so in love with her.”

Emma couldn’t help the smug grin that spread over her face. Yes, she thought to herself, Regina was wonderful.

“And Henry’s dynamite,” David added. “He reminds me of a kid we cared for, over twenty years ago. Do you remember, sweetie? Tommy, his name was. This was before we knew you, Emma. Doesn’t Henry remind you of Tommy, MM?”

“Absolutely,” Mary Margaret nodded. “He’s a great kid.”

“Yeah he is,” Emma said. “They’re both amazing. I’m so lucky.”

“They’re lucky too,” Mary Margaret said. “They have you.”

“Thanks Mom,” Emma said, almost shyly. She rarely called Mary Margaret ‘mom’. As she was already a teenager by the time she moved to live with the Nolans, it had never been pushed upon her. But there were times when the woman’s motherly, caring nature made the term seem apt. She had called Mary Margaret ‘mom’ the day she was found out she couldn’t have children as a result of her anorexia.

When Regina arrived later in the morning, Mary Margaret and David headed out into the city to go shopping and visit the newest exhibit in the city’s biggest art gallery. They all agreed that they would meet back at Emma’s bedside for dinner. The Nolans had been given Emma’s key, so they could let themselves in and out of Regina’s whenever they wished.

As soon as her foster parents had left the room, Emma demanded a second good morning kiss. Regina obliged at once. She missed feeling her girlfriend’s body against her but didn’t dare apply any pressure as she leaned over for fear of causing her pain. Emma’s lips and mouth, however, were mercifully unharmed.

Her hands were a different story. Barely five minutes after Regina and Emma’s passionate exchange had ended, Doctor Whale and a nurse arrived to discuss her injuries and tend to her hands. Regina offered to excuse herself but Emma insisted she was happy for her to stay.

Both women tried to focus on what the doctor was saying as the nurse tenderly unwrapped the bandages around Emma’s hands but were incapable of looking away once they were full exposed. Emma hissed in pain as the open wounds came into view, as if her brain had finally realised what had happened. Regina just let out a little squeak.

The palms of both hands were red and raw, skin ripped away in the crash as Emma skidded across the rough road. Her fingers were also damaged but it was the palms which had borne the brunt of the injury. Regina forced herself not to look away, but she felt sick at the sight. Emma’s face showed no emotion.

In a business-like way, the nurse set about cleaning the open wounds, wiping carefully but firmly across each hand to clean away any build-up of pus or residual dirt. Emma’s eyes snapped shut at the first touch and didn’t open again until fresh bandages were wrapped around her hands, now slathered with antibiotic ointment. Doctor Whale finished discussing his prognosis for Emma’s recovery and left. It wasn’t until the door had closed behind the doctor that Regina spoke.

“Emma,” she began. “Are you ok?”

“I’m doped up to my eyeballs with pain meds,” Emma nodded, hands now resting back down on the mattress. “I’m fine.”

“Yes but still,” Regina pushed. “I mean, you can’t tell me that didn’t hurt.”

“Yeah, it hurt, a bit,” Emma said, not making eye contact with the concerned brown eyes beside her.


Emma bit her lip, the teeth digging into her flesh as if she wished to cause herself pain. Thanks to the cocktail of drugs she was on, however, she felt nothing.

“I’m not going to be able to work,” she said eventually. “For weeks. Months, maybe. I can’t hold a knife or lift a pan. I won’t even be able to touch food until the skin is healthy again. What … what am I going to do?”

“Sweetheart,” Regina said, laying a hand gently on Emma’s forearm. “You’re going to concentrate on getting better and nothing else. Yes, it’s going to take some time but you’ll get there. Your hands will recover and you’ll be back in the kitchen before you know it. And while you’re recovering, I’m going to look after you, ok?”

“I don’t like it.”

“Don’t like what?”

At last, Emma let her gaze settle on her girlfriend. “Being helpless. Not being able to look after myself. All my life I’ve taken care of myself because no one else did. Even with Mary Margaret and David. By the time I went to live with them, I was so used to not being cared for that I didn’t know what to do when I suddenly had two parents who wanted to take care of me. I resisted. I wanted to cook my own meals. I didn’t want them to help with my homework. I wouldn’t even let them do my laundry. It took months for me to accept their support. And now I’m in a position where I need help. I hate that. I hate feeling weak or vulnerable.”

“Emma, you’re not weak or vulnerable. You’re hurt. Because some idiot child stole a car. This isn’t your fault. It doesn’t define you. But you are going to have to accept that for a while, you are going to have to lean on those around you who love you.”

“I know,” Emma sighed. “It’s just hard, ok?”

“I understand,” Regina said softly. “And I’ll do my best to make it as easy as possible for you.”

“Thank you, and I’m sorry. I know this sucks for you as well. You don’t want to be looking after your crippled girlfriend.”

“Emma, don’t say that,” Regina scolded. “You’re not crippled, but even if you were, you know I’d be here for you.”

“Yeah right,” Emma scoffed. “No one’s ever stood by me when the shit’s hit the fan.”

“Well, I’m not no one,” Regina said, wondering but not vocalising what fan-hitting-shit Emma was referring to. “I’m here. I’ll always be here.”


“Always,” Regina repeated.

“Then can you please help me to the bathroom? I need to pee.”

Regina nodded and sprang to her feet at once. Emma had been given the all clear from Doctor Whale that she could get up and move around on his first visit of the day. Her catheter had been removed just before Mary Margaret and David had arrived but she had not yet got out of bed. Regina helped the blonde untangle herself from the blankets and ease herself up. Her legs had escaped relatively unscathed in the accident and, aside from a bruise on her knee, were working perfectly well. She winced, however, as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.

“Ok?” Regina asked, voice laced with concern.

“Ribs,” Emma said through gritted teeth. “But I’m good.”

Regina nodded and positioned herself so that Emma could lean on her to stand up from the bed for the first time in over 24 hours. Once upright, the pair made their way slowly towards the bathroom. Emma insisted that she’s be fine on her own so Regina retreated and hovered outside the open door, darting back in as soon as Emma announced she had finished.

“This is sexy,” Emma commented as she heaved herself back to her feet and flushed the toilet.

“Emma, come on,” Regina chuckled.

“I’m serious. This was so not how I imagined this week going. We are supposed to be living together right now, not hanging out in a hospital. I fucked up.”

“No, a kid fucked up,” Regina replied. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Sooo,” Emma said, drawing the ‘o’ out for far longer than necessary, “with that being said, would you ever let me get back on a motorbike?”

Regina stopped walking at once, Emma forced to stop beside her since Regina was helping her back to bed. “Are you serious?”

“Kinda,” Emma nodded.

“Emma, you can’t.”

“But it wasn’t my driving that caused the crash. I told you, the cops said I swerved to avoid the idiot in the car. We can ask for the footage if you want to see proof that it wasn’t my fault.”

Regina’s stomach rolled at the idea of seeing Emma’s crash. She shook her head; there was no way she ever wanted to see the images that traffic camera had caught.

“I know it wasn’t your fault but as I said before, it’s not only your driving which could cause a crash. Emma, please. I think this accident proved my point that no matter how good a driver you are, motorbikes are not safe. They’re dangerous. You can’t do that to me. To Henry. This isn’t only about you. This is about your family now. We want you to be safe. I can’t lose you, Emma. I can’t.”

“Hey, I’m not going anywhere,” Emma soothed, realising that tears were streaming down the older woman’s cheeks.

“You could have died, Emma,” Regina whispered. “I can’t go through that again. I won’t go through that again.”

“Ok,” Emma said at once. “Ok. Look, can you help me climb back into bed and then we’ll talk about this?”

Regina obliged and a few moments later Emma was settled comfortably back against a bank of pillows. Well, as comfortable as you could be with three broken ribs. Regina sat down in her chair, wiping her face.

“I’m sorry,” she began. “I didn’t mean to be so controlling. Of course I can’t tell you what you can or can’t do. If you want to continue driving your motorbike then I will have to accept that, I suppose. It’s your life, it’s your decision. I just … I need you to know how I feel.”

Emma shifted herself over slightly, grimacing as she did so, and pulled back the hospital blanket, exposing the crisp white sheet. “Come here,” she said quietly, gesturing with her bandaged hand for Regina to climb up beside her.

“Won’t I hurt you?”

“I don’t care, right now,” Emma admitted. “Please, Regina. Just let me hold you?”

Regina obliged, partly because she was desperate to be held by her girlfriend once more. Getting to her feet, she toed off her shoes and sat down beside Emma. At the blonde’s insistence, she lay back, Emma’s arm behind her neck, the bandaged hand sticking out beside the pillow.

“Are you uncomfortable?” Regina asked, rolling onto her side but careful not to touch the injured woman beside her.

“I’m fine,” Emma said. “I’m better than fine, in fact.”

“Good,” Regina said, laying a hand gently on Emma’s thigh, wanting to avoid her ribcage and abdomen where the surgery scar lay fresh and tender. “I’ve missed this.”

“Me too,” Emma murmured, placing a kiss to Regina’s forehead. “And you’re right.”

“About what?”

“It’s not just about me any more. I’m used to thinking about myself and no one else. But that’s not my life now. I need to think about you and Henry. And while I was never a reckless rider, I know there is increased risk to motorcyclists on the road. I guess I’ve proved that point and ended up here because I was trying to make up for someone else’s mistake. So you’re right. I shouldn’t be driving a motorbike. And I won’t. Not any more.”


“Truly,” Emma nodded. “I want to be in your life and in Henry’s life for as long as possible. I’m not going to do anything which could possibly risk me losing even a second of my time with you two. That means motorbikes are off limits. It’s not worth it. Not when I think about what it could cost me.”

“Thank you,” Regina whispered, face now buried in Emma’s neck. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

They fell into a routine of sorts. Mary Margaret and David kept Emma company over breakfast before Regina arrived at about 10, after having dropped Henry off at school and completed a few errands. Emma’s foster parents drive out into the nearby countryside and enjoy a short hike together, complete with a picnic. Meanwhile, Regina and Emma would have lunch together in the hospital and then Regina would head into the office. Despite saying she would take the time off work, with Emma’s foster parents in town, it didn’t seem necessary and her inbox was beginning to bulge.

Emma spent the afternoons with Mary Margaret and David before Regina and Henry arrived for dinner. The small boy would sit on the end of her bed, filling the blonde in on his day as they ate. Then Regina would take Henry home to bed and the others would follow a couple of hours later. Regina, Mary Margaret and David generally shared a bottle of wine each evening, slowly getting to know one another as Emma recovered.

Other people visited Emma over the week. August appeared twice; once even bringing one of his new dishes for the restaurant’s specials. While Emma was the head chef, August himself was talented at creating delectable dishes and his new take on the classic prawn cocktail got Emma’s seal of approval. Ruby and Belle had visited most days as well, either together or separately, depending on their schedules. Belle had gotten a job in a local independent book store, allowing her to spend the evenings writing her own novel which, one day, she hoped to publish.

A few other friends popped by, including Sabi and Will, whom Regina was yet to meet until that point. He was a man of few words but incredible talent, as Regina was reminded when the man unpacked the wide range of Italian dishes he had brought for them all to eat. Even Henry tried some of his classic tomato pasta although he did loudly declare that Emma’s was nicer.

It was the weekend by the time Emma was well enough to be discharged from the hospital. Regina arrived early on Sunday morning, leaving Henry with Kat so she didn’t have to keep an eye on him as well as Emma whom she knew would want to do more than her body was ready for. The blonde’s foster parents had flown back to San Francisco the day before, confident that their daughter was in safe hands.

As Regina tidied up Emma’s belongings which had been scattered around the room over the previous six days, the doctor took off the bandage which had been covering the small wound on her head, the only sign that she had undergone brain surgery.

“We can leave this uncovered now,” Doctor Whale said after surveying the healing incision. “Just keep an eye on it and keep the area clean.”

“How can I keep an eye on it?” Emma asked. “It’s at the back of my head.”

Doctor Whale turned to Regina who was smirking. “Ms Mills? I presume I can rely on your sensibility here?”

“I’ve got it covered,” Regina nodded.

“Unlike me,” Emma grumbled. “Half my head has been shaved.”

“It’s not half,” Regina pointed out, making her way closer and peering around Doctor Whale’s shoulder to take a look at her girlfriend’s scalp. “Oh, well, I suppose they did shave off more than they needed. You’ve still got about three quarters of your hair though.”

Emma growled. “Stop teasing me and pass me that silk head scarf you brought.”

Chuckling, Regina did as requested, while Doctor Whale left to complete Emma’s discharge papers. Her thumb ran over the smooth material for a moment, remembering the last time the scarf has been worn. Emma watched curiously as a look of sadness crossed her girlfriend’s features for a moment before she saw the brunette compose herself and hand the scarf over.

“Thank you,” Emma said. “It’s beautiful.”

“It was my mother’s,” Regina said quietly. “She wore it during her chemo.”

Regina didn’t often speak of her mother. The woman had only died a few years prior and the brunette still missed her every day.

“Are you sure you’re ok with me wearing it?” Emma asked softly, not wanting to overstep even though it had been Regina who had brought the fabric for the blonde to use.

“Yes, it’s fine,” Regina assured her. “Would you like me to put it on for you?”

Emma nodded. Her broken ribs and bandaged hands were going to make reaching up and tying the scarf next to impossible. Regina knelt on the bed behind her girlfriend and draped the scarf over her head. Sweeping the blonde locks, of which there was still masses, into her hands, she swiftly tied the ends of the scarf together before letting Emma’s hair cascade down her back once more, the shaved area shielded from view.

“Thank you,” Emma murmured as Regina dropped a kiss to her shoulder. “Are we ready to go?”

“Yep, I just have to get one more thing. Wait here,” Regina said, disappearing before Emma could even say anything.

She had returned in less than a minute, pushing the missing item ahead of her. Emma’s brow furrowed at the sight. Had she been able to do so without causing herself pain, she would have folded her arms in defiance. Regina recognised the look immediately but was in no mood to argue when it came to her girlfriend’s health.

“Sit,” Regina insisted, hands firmly on the handles of the wheelchair.

“I can walk,” Emma pouted, standing up from her hospital bed, gesturing to her fully dressed body with freshly bandaged hands. “My knee is fine now. It barely hurts at all.”

“Sit,” Regina repeated.

Emma huffed but obeyed. There was no point arguing with Regina, nor the nurse who had appeared, insisted it was hospital policy for her to leave in the wheelchair. She hung her head as she was pushed through the corridors, signed the discharge papers and emerged out into the parking lot. The storm which had deluged the city was long gone and the hot summer days had returned. Regina had parked close to the hospital entrance and opened the passenger door before turning around to help Emma.

“What are you doing?” she asked, hands on hips.

“Standing,” Emma replied, sticking her tongue out for good measure. “I’m perfectly fine, Gina. Please, I don’t need your help getting into the car.”

“You just had surgery,” Regina pointed out.

“Six days ago,” Emma said. “I’m fine. The doctors have cleared me to go home and that’s what we’re doing. I don’t need help getting in and out of the car.”

Regina looked sceptical but nodded her agreement and stepped out of the way. Emma moved forwards, more slowly than usual but she seemed steady on her feet. As she bent down to get into the low Mercedes, she let out a little hiss of pain.

“Are you ok?” Regina asked, moving to her girlfriend’s side at once.

“Stitches hurt a bit,” Emma grunted as she eased herself down slowly. “I’m good.”

Regina waited without saying anything more until Emma was safely inside the car. Then she hurried the wheelchair back to the hospital and returned to the car. Emma was leaning back against the seat, eyes closed.


“I’m ok,” the blonde whispered. “It’s just my ribs. They’re tender.”

“Are you sure you’re ready?”

“To move in with you? Yes,” Emma grinned, green eyes fluttering open. “I’ve always been ready for that.”

Regina felt her heart melt a little. The previous day, a removal team had arrived with all of Emma’s possessions and there were now cardboard boxes stacked in various rooms of her house. She usually hated clutter but the sight of them made her smile. Because it meant Emma was coming home.

“You realise you’re forbidden to start unpacking until you’re completely better,” Regina said sternly as she started the car.

“Not like I can do anything with these anyway,” Emma said, holding up her bandaged hands. “Speaking of which, can you buckle me in please?”

Regina obliged at once, leaning across to reach for the belt to strap Emma safely into the car. Before she could do so however, soft lips pressed against hers, distracting her from the task. She didn’t complain. She missed having private moments with Emma. Much as she had enjoyed getting to know Mary Margaret and David, their presence had limited the amount of time she and Emma spent when it was just the two of them.

It was several minutes later when the couple finally broke apart. Regina hummed in satisfaction and then smiled before securing the belt across Emma.

“Let’s go home,” she said quietly.


Henry launched himself across the room and barrelled into the blonde’s legs the moment she appeared in the living room. The young woman had braced herself from the impact but was still grateful for Regina’s hand on her back as the small boy wrapped his arms around her thighs.

“Hi kid,” she said.

“You live here with us now, right?” Henry asked, chin stuck firmly in Emma’s belly button and big olive eyes gazing up into her face.

“Yup,” Emma nodded. “Hi Kat,” she added, seeing the other blonde getting to her feet from where she had been sat, playing with Henry and his train set.

“Good to see you up and about,” Kathryn smiled. “Regina told me what happened. I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks,” Emma replied. “I’m sure being here with these two will help me recover in no time. Speaking of which, Henry, are you going to help me unpack?”

Henry, who was still hugging Emma tightly, frowned at that question. His mom hadn’t mentioned an increase in his chores. Was that part of the deal with Emma moving in with them?

“Can’t Mom do it?” he offered.

“Well, how about we all do it together,” Regina suggested. “Emma can’t help because of her hands, remember?”

“Are they still broken?” Henry asked, untangling himself from the woman and reaching for one of Emma’s bandaged limbs.

She pulled it gently away before he could clutch one of them. Even through the padding, pressure hurt the tender skin. “Yes, they’re going to be wrapped up for a while longer.”

In fact, her hands were the injury which had kept her in hospital the longest. A nurse had been diligently cleaning them each morning and this was a routine which Regina was now to take over. The skin was still raw and red; Emma was taking heavy pain medication to keep the agony she would be in at bay. Regina had the prescriptions in her handbag, along with instructions on how to correctly clean and apply the antibiotic cream.

“Let’s get you settled,” Regina said quietly. “Kat, are you ok to watch Henry a little longer?”

Kathryn assured the couple that she could stay as long as they needed her to. Regina thanked her friend and wrapped an arm gently around Emma’s tender waist to steer her towards their bedroom. Their bedroom. She couldn’t suppress the grin which formed at the realisation.

They moved slowly down the corridor and into the large bedroom. A few of Emma’s boxes were in there already, identified as containing only clothes. With Emma’s direction, Regina was able to locate some summer pyjamas and set about getting the blonde changed. The process was slow and labourious, with Emma unable to move her arms high above her head, thanks to her broken ribs.

Once the blonde was dressed and had been eased back against the clean sheets, Regina set about fussing to make sure the younger woman had everything she could possibly need.

“What about a hot cup of tea? Would you like some tea?”

“How about some coffee?” Emma asked, a note of hope in her voice.

“Nope,” Regina said. “You heard what the doctor said. No coffee. It slows down the healing process. So, tea? Or maybe some honey and lemon.”

“Mmmm, sounds good,” Emma nodded, placated for now. The lack of coffee had been a touchy subject since the doctor had announced the woman should abstain for the next few weeks while her body recovered. “But there’s one more thing I need before you go to make that.”

“Name it,” Regina said, rearranging the bouquet of flowers on Emma’s bedside table.

“Come here,” Emma said, pulling back the duvet on the other side of the bed and patting the mattress.

Although Regina knew her girlfriend was in no condition to do anything more than gently cuddle, she couldn’t deny the heat which coiled low in her belly. Emma grinned, the signs of arousal evident in the beautiful face. Yet Regina didn’t move; almost as if she wasn’t sure she would be able to control herself if she got into bed alongside the blonde.

“Come on,” she encouraged. “I just want to hold you. Please. I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve seen you every day,” Regina pointed out, but even as she spoke she was making her way around to the other side of the bed and toeing off her shoes.

“Yes, but seeing isn’t the same as snuggling,” Emma said, moving one arm slowly to the side as Regina slid between the sheets.

It took them a little while to adjust and for Emma to find a position she was comfortable in but they made it in the end. Emma curled her arm around Regina’s shoulders, the bandaged stump resting on the pillow beyond. Regina herself lay on her side, pressing as lightly as she could against Emma. It wasn’t the side where the surgery wound was but she was still mindful that the blonde’s ribs were causing her pain. She lay her hand gently on Emma’s chest, fingers brushing against the exposed skin in the v of Emma’s pyjama top.

“Yeah, I’ve really missed this,” Emma mused, kissing Regina’s forehead lightly.

“Me too,” Regina admitted.

“Well, from now on, we can go to sleep like this every night.”

“I know,” Regina said, turning her face up to smile at the blonde. “I’m so happy.”

“Me too,” Emma said, placing a soft kiss to Regina’s lips.

The kiss continued, unhurried and unassuming. Just comfort and reassurance and each woman telling the other that they were still here.

The next thing Regina knew, a light tapping on the door was waking her up and Kathryn’s curious head was peering into the room.

“Sorry,” she whispered as she saw Regina’s eyes peering at her over Emma’s sleeping body. “I didn’t mean to wake the patient.”

“She’s asleep,” Regina said, glancing at the peaceful face below her. “Hang on, I’ll be right out.”

Kathryn nodded and retreated as Regina began to disentangle herself from Emma’s embrace. The blonde barely moved, just mumbled something incoherent as the brunette slid from the bed. She straightened her blouse which was wrinkled from the short nap, and headed out into the hallway.

Following the sounds of her son playing, Regina found herself in the living room where Kathryn was once again sat beside the small boy.

“Where’s Emma?” Henry asked as soon as his mother had appeared.

“She’s sleeping,” Regina said. “She’s tired from the journey. How long was I asleep?” she added, turning to her friend for the answer.

“It’s been about an hour since you guys left us,” the blonde replied. “Henry and I had a snack of apples, didn’t we?”

“Yeah. But I’m still hungry. Can we make Emma lunch?” he asked.

Regina smiled. “Of course we can.”

And so Emma’s recuperation began. The trio fell into a new routine once the blonde was situated at their house. Regina would prepare breakfast for the three of them before taking Henry to school. She would then return home and tend to Emma’s hands. The blonde was silent throughout the process and Regina didn’t try to engage her in conversation as she carefully cleaned and dressed the raw skin.

The couple would spend the mornings slowly unpacking Emma’s belongings, with the blonde forbidden to do anything except direct Regina as they made their way through one box after another. Slowly, the house which had belonged to Regina and Henry became a home for Regina, Emma and Henry.

Once they had eaten lunch, Regina headed to work, returning soon after five with Henry who was cared for after school by his child minder until Emma was well enough to keep up with an energetic little boy. Regina’s new favourite part of the day was walking back into their home, seeing Henry hugging Emma hello before she herself was given a soft, chaste kiss.

Loathe as Emma was to admit, she did need Regina to help her with most of her day to day tasks. Even getting dressed and undressed was difficult when it came to buttoning and unbuttoning items. Cooking wasn’t an option, since Emma couldn’t hold anything with her hands, so she had taken to sitting at the small dining table in the kitchen and talking to Regina and Henry as they made their meals. When it was just her in the house, Emma usually lay on the couch, her kindle propped on her stomach and read.

It took less than a week for Emma to get bored. August had been in touch with her a few times since the accident to request her assistance with creating daily specials. Those interactions made Emma ache to get back into the kitchen. The next time she saw her hands, however, she remembered she wouldn’t be back at work any time soon.

Ten days after Emma had left the hospital, a knock on the door in the middle of the afternoon roused her from the depths of her latest novel. Laying the kindle down on the coffee table, she got to her feet. Her ribs were healing well and she could move around without any considerable pain. The stitches from her surgery had been taken out and the scar was healing well. Making her way to the front door, Emma wondered who it may be. She was not expecting to see the person who stood in the porch.


“Hello love, how are you doing?” her boss asked, holding out a grotesque bouquet of mismatched flowers. “These are for you.”

Emma reached out to take them, struggling with her still bandaged hands to get purchase on the gaudy cellophane. “Um, sorry, can you carry them?” she asked eventually, holding up her hands as if to explain why.

“Sure,” Killian nodded, stepping inside as Emma moved out of the way. “Where to?”

“Follow me,” Emma said, unable to think of a reason not to invite the man further into the house. “How did you know where to find me?”

“Ruby gave me the address,” he replied, closing the door behind him. Emma made a mental note to scold her best friend the next time she visited. What was the woman thinking handing over that information? If Killian wanted to contact her, he had her cell number.

They made their way to the kitchen where Emma located a vase for the flowers. She went through the motions of putting them in water even though she knew Regina would not allow the unsightly display in the house as soon as she got home. Once the flowers were in place, Emma fumbled to fill up the kettle and began making tea. This was something she had managed to adapt to, carefully using the bandaged hands to grip the mug and kettle. Regina left teabags balanced on the edge of the windowsill above the counter so all Emma needed to do was knock one into each cup.

Killian, rather than helping the woman who was laboriously serving him, took a seat and helped himself to one of the muffins Regina and Henry had made, with Emma’s guidance, the night before.

“So,” Killian said. “When are you coming back to work?”

Emma didn’t answer immediately. She was too busy concentrating on pouring boiling water into the mugs. The man made no attempt to assist. Once she had carried her boss’ drink and then her own over to the table and sat down, she answered.

“Once I can use my hands again.”

“Yeah, August told me about that. Bad, are they?”

“Yes,” Emma said, not wanting to elaborate.

“Got a time scale on your recovery?”

“A few more weeks, maybe a month,” Emma said.

The skin was slowly healing. Every morning, as Regina bathed her palms, Emma looked for signs that her hands were getting better. They were definitely less painful and she had reduced her medication, but the skin was still tender and new. Applying pressure without the bandages hurt enough to bring tears to her eyes.

“Reckon you’ll be back by September?”

“I hope so,” Emma nodded. “Why?”

“Well, I’ve decided to sell the restaurant.”

The cup of tea which Emma had been carefully gripping, slipped and fell to the table. She jumped to her feet as the boiling liquid rushed to the edge and dripped to the floor. Killian, for once, was proactive and grabbed a tea towel to stop the hot water.

“Are you ok?” he asked, looking up at Emma who was standing a little way away.

“Yeah,” she said slowly. “Just haven’t moved that fast since the accident.”

Her ribs, which hadn’t been hurting much recently, now twinged as if to remind her not to push her luck. She eased herself back down in the chair and pushed the empty mug away. She didn’t have the energy to make another cup.

“So, you’re selling HLS?” she said, remembering what had shocked her in the first place.

“Yeah,” Killian nodded. “Got a great investment opportunity coming up in New York and need to liquidate some capital so I can get in on the action. I’ve got a buyer interested and they’re coming to view the place next week. A couple who own a few places down in the city. They’ve been interested in the place for a while so when I knew I wanted to sell, I offered it to them. They were asking about you, however.”

“Asking about me?”

“Yeah, they want the restaurant but only if you’re part of the deal. They want you to stay on, sign a contract with them. So, what can I tell them?”

Emma was stunned. Not only at the massive decision she was being asked to make on the spot but also at the news that Killian was selling. She didn’t like the man but he was never on site and gave her complete autonomy. As far as bosses went, if you ignored the sexual harassment, he was ideal. What if her new bosses wanted to be more involved, to dictate how Emma ran her kitchen? If they owned restaurants in New York, it was likely that they were going to be far more knowledgeable about the industry than Killian. What would that mean for Emma?

“Do you need an answer today?” Emma asked eventually. She didn’t think she could make any decision immediately and she also realised she wanted to talk to Regina before committing to anything. She hadn’t felt like she needed to discuss her career decisions with anyone before; not even Elsa. The feeling was strange but not unpleasant.

“By Monday,” Killian replied. “They want to come up next week to see the place. They want to meet you too.”

“Did you tell them about the accident?”

“Yes,” Killian nodded. “They asked to speak with you and I didn’t have much of a choice. Don’t worry, I didn’t make it sound like it was your fault.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Emma shot back. “Some child stole his parents’ car and almost hit me. I crashed when I swerved to avoid being run over by a car that was out of control. The kid pled guilty to aggravated driving to endanger. He’s being sentenced next week.”

“Yeah, well, good,” Killian said, clearly unaware of how his employee had been injured. “So, you’ll meet them? Your hands won’t have to be bandaged by then, will they? That’s not a good look.”

Emma narrowed her eyes. “I will have my hands in bandages like this for another couple of weeks. If you want me to meet them, fine, but they’ll have to take me as I am and accept that I can’t work yet. When are you wanting to sell?”

“Within the next couple of weeks,” Killian said. “I need the cash fast and they’re in a position to buy as soon as they’ve seen the restaurant, its facilities and spoken to you.”

A couple of weeks? Emma couldn’t believe how fast everything was changing. Of course, the move in with Regina and Henry had been a good change but it was change none the less. After her transient childhood in the foster system, she made a point of trying minimise change in her life. She wasn’t sure she could handle two new hands-on bosses.

“So, I’ll set up the meeting for next Friday. Can you get yourself to HLS? I saw your bike outside, didn’t I?”

“You did but I’m not riding any more,” Emma said.

The bike had been delivered by the police after the investigation into the crash had closed. It was parked outside, one side covered in scratches and the handlebar bent from where it had smashed into the road. Regina hated it, Emma knew. She had already contacted Sean and asked him to come and collect it, fix it and then requested he sell it for her in exchange for a generous commission. Emma didn’t want to have anything to do with it personally. While she had willingly agreed to stop riding, and while she was in no position to ride with her hands and her still-healing ribs, she couldn’t deny that she would be sad to see the machine go. She had loved riding; it had been part of her identity.

“Emma Swan with no bike, huh,” Killian mused, echoing Emma’s thoughts. “That’s a shame. You looked sexy in leather.”

“Yes, my girlfriend, Regina, thinks so too,” Emma said pointedly.

“You’re still with her?” Killian asked.

“This is her house so, yes, I’d say we were still together.”

Killian shrugged and drained his tea before standing up. “Right well, I guess I’ll see you next week. Hope you feel better. And if you can come without those bandages on to the meeting, do. First impressions and all that.”

Emma forced a smile as she too rose to her feet, escorting the man to the front door and bidding him goodbye. She then walked to the living room and lay back down on the couch. She picked up her kindle, trying to focus on the book once more. The storyline was good but she was unable to stop thinking about the bombshell her boss, soon to be ex-boss, had dropped on her.

“Kat, I really have to leave,” Regina sighed, glancing at the clock and noting that she was due to pick Henry up in less than five minutes. “Can we talk about this tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Kathryn nodded, packing away the portfolio the two of them had been reviewing for a client’s new brand launch. “How’s Emma?”

“Better,” Regina smiled. “She’s getting better every day.”

“And how is it living together?”

Regina was already gathering her things and switching off her computer by the time she answered, eager to see her son and the blonde waiting at home. “It’s hard to judge, I suppose. This wasn’t exactly how we imagined we’d start off our lives together.”

“Does that mean she can’t have sex yet?” Kathryn asked.

“Kat!” Regina exclaimed. “That’s not what I was talking about at all.”

“Her hands are still bandaged though, right? I guess she could use her tongue.”

“Kathryn!” Regina scolded. “I’m not talking about this with you.”

The blonde pouted but said no more. Once all of their possessions were gathered, the two of them left Regina’s office. Most of the team was still there and Kathryn returned to her own office while Regina headed to her car parked in the underground lot. As she drove to pick up Henry, Regina couldn’t help but think about what her best friend had said. It was true, she and Emma hadn’t been intimate since the accident. It wasn’t because of Emma’s hands, however. That could easily be overcome, as Kathryn pointed out. But with her broken ribs and the tender surgery scar, Regina hadn’t wanted to initiate anything, for fear of hurting the stoic blonde. She was waiting for Emma to make the first move. So far, however, Emma hadn’t seemed to want to do anything more than cuddle and kiss.

By the time she picked up Henry and returned to the house, it was already close to five thirty. Henry charged ahead of her, seeking out the blonde by calling her name. He disappeared into the living room at the sound of Emma’s voice and Regina followed shortly afterwards.

“And then we did painting and I painted a picture for you and Mom but Mrs Yates said I couldn’t take it home today because it was wet because paint is wet before it goes dry so I had to wait until tomorrow. Also, paint tastes yucky, did you know that?”

“You ate paint?” Emma asked, grinning at the boy who was now sat astride her hips. Henry had learned that he was able to sit there without hurting Emma and it was one of his favourite places to perch.

“Yeah. Well, Roland ate it first. But he didn’t tell me it was yucky so I ate it too. Have you eaten paint?”

“No, I haven’t,” Emma replied. “Paint isn’t very good for you. Can you remember what foods are good for you?”

“Vegetables and fruit and pasta and pancakes,” Henry said.

“The first two, for sure. Pasta is ok if you don’t eat too much. And I think pancakes are a special treat,” Emma reasoned.

“Can we have pancakes?”

“For dinner?” Regina asked, leaning over the side of the couch and pressing a kiss upside down to Emma’s lips. “How about we have pancakes for breakfast on Saturday?”

“What day is it today?” Henry asked.

“Thursday,” Regina replied. “So how many days will you have to wait?”

There was a pause and then; “two more sleeps.”

“Exactly,” Regina nodded. “So, pancakes for breakfast on Saturday and tonight we’ll have some pasta with chicken and tomato sauce. How does that sound?”

“Emma, can you cook us pancakes on Saturday?” Henry asked.

The blonde shook her head and held up her bandaged hands. “Not yet. But I know you’re very good at preparing the pancake batter and I’m sure I can talk you and your mom through everything. Is that ok?”

The boy nodded his agreement. “Ok.”

“Henry, can you go and get changed out of your school clothes please,” Regina said, taking a seat on the couch and placing Emma’s feet in her lap.

Obeying his mother, the boy trotted out of the room and left the two women alone. Emma smiled at Regina whose hands were now gently massaging her ankles.

“Hey, how was your day?” the blonde asked.

“Long,” Regina admitted. “I can’t wait for it to be Friday. How about you? Did you learn any new skills with your stubs?”

The two women had taken to calling Emma’s hands ‘stubs’ due to their bandaged nature. Neither woman wanted to make light of the injuries but it was an inconvenience that they found it easier to live with if they laughed at it.

“I made two cups of tea,” Emma said. “One was for Killian.”

The fingers which had been rubbing gentle circles into the ball of Emma’s foot paused. “Killian? Your boss?”

“Yeah, apparently Ruby gave him your address.”

“Finally come to check in on his head chef, has he?” Regina quipped. She didn’t like the man and she didn’t want Emma to spend any more time with him that she had to but it had still irked her that he hadn’t taken the time to visit Emma in hospital.”

“He’s selling the restaurant. He wants me to meet the prospective buyers and sign a contract with them.”


“Yeah, oh,” Emma nodded, scratching at her nose with one of her stubs.

“Um, how do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know,” Emma admitted. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. I mean, I know Killian is a dick but he’s a good boss in the sense that he doesn’t ever tell me what to do. I like my autonomy. Apparently the couple who are interested own other restaurants in New York. What if they try to change the way I run my kitchen? I don’t want to be micromanaged. I like the set up we’ve got right now.”

“Maybe things won’t change,” Regina offered.

“They will,” Emma sighed. “I can tell. These people are going to swoop in and dictate a new menu and change everything.”

“Maybe there’s another way.”

“What other way?” Emma frowned. Regina paused, not wanting to say the thought that had jumped into her head the moment Emma had told her the reason behind her boss’ visit. “Regina, if you have a solution to this shit show, I’m all ears.”

“What if that couple didn’t buy the restaurant?”

“Killian said he needs money fast. Some new investment has landed in his lap. So he’s screwing all of us over to go and make even more money for himself.”

“I didn’t say what if it didn’t sell. I said what if the couple didn’t buy it?”

“Killian isn’t going to wait around for a new buyer to get interested. And even then, what are the chances of a buyer coming along and being as disengaged as Killian is? It’s a big investment; most people want to be hands on when they’ve sunk millions into a business.”

“What if you bought it?”

Emma chuckled. Her ribs ached slightly but it was worth it. “Yeah, because I have a few million sat around in my bank account that I can use to buy a restaurant.”

“I do.”

There was a pause. Emma stared, wide-eyed at the woman beside her. Regina gazed calmly back, waiting for the information to sink in. She and Emma hadn’t talked about money. Regina came from a wealthy family, that much was evident, but both women were financially independent in accordance with their own lifestyles so the conversation had never come up. Regina was now thinking it was something they should have talked about earlier, however.

“You … you have millions of dollars sat in a bank account?”

Regina nodded. “My inheritance. I never needed it for anything. Mal and I had already bought this house and then when she left, it became mine by default once we couldn’t track her down. I paid off the mortgage when my mother died but the rest of the money has just been sat in a high interest account. Some of it is put aside for Henry’s college tuition but the rest is just … waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“For the right time, the right opportunity. Emma, this could be your opportunity to own a restaurant.”

“No, you’d own the restaurant,” Emma corrected. “It’s your money.”

“It’s our money, Emma. I know we’ve not walked down an aisle and said ‘for richer, for poorer’ yet, but as far as I’m concerned, what’s mine is yours. You live with us now, right? We’re becoming a family.”

“Yeah, but Regina, moving in together is a hell of a lot different to you spending millions of dollars to buy my place of work. I mean, that’s crazy.”

“Is it? Think about it, Emma. You’d be your own boss. You’d be able to set your own hours. You could expand the team and give yourself more days off, grow the business the way you want, without answering to anyone else. And before you say I don’t know what I’m talking about, I do the marketing for that place; I know how many bookings you get and I know the value of the average party’s bill. That place is profitable. Very profitable. And it’s because of you. With you as the owner as well as the head chef, you’d be unstoppable.”

“The owner,” Emma repeated slowly. “I’d really be the owner?”

“If you want it, we can make this happen. I know how much you love your work and I think you would be an incredible business owner. I can help you with the marketing if you needed anything. And you wouldn’t have to answer to anyone; just yourself.”

“And you,” Emma remarked.

But Regina shook her head. “No. It may have been my money but I wouldn’t have anything more to do with the restaurant than you want. I’d be in this as your girlfriend, your partner, not your investor.”

“You’re … you’re serious?”

“I am. If … I mean, if this is what you want?”

Regina faltered, suddenly wondering whether Emma was hesitant just because she had found out her girlfriend was a multimillionaire or because of the prospect of being a business owner. She knew it wasn’t for everyone. It had taken her years to train and learn her position and even after her mother had died, she didn’t think she was ready to take over Mills Marketing. Emma was being thrown in at the deep end and Regina hadn’t even thought to ask if she wanted to take the plunge.

“We could really do this?” Emma whispered.

“We could,” Regina nodded. “If you want to, you can call Killian right now and make him an offer. Say we’ll pay two percent more than this New York couple. We can sign the paperwork tomorrow.”

“Can … can I think about it?” Emma asked at last. “I mean, it’s all so fast. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer. I do. I really do, Regina. I just need some time to process.”

“Take as long as you need, my love,” Regina reassured. “And in the meantime, I’m going to go and get started on dinner. I think I just heard Henry opening the fridge and while you’ve been teaching him very well, I don’t think he’s quite up to cooking us all dinner yet.”

Emma laughed and sat up. “I’ll come join.”

“No, it’s ok. You’ve got a lot to think about,” Regina said, placing a hand gently on Emma’s shoulder as she bent down to kiss the blonde’s cheek. “Stay here. We’ll bring dinner through to you and perhaps we can all watch in front of the television.”

“Ok,” Emma agreed. “But on one condition.”

“And what’s that?” Regina asked, still bending over.

Emma hooked her stub into the top of Regina’s blouse which was hanging open and pulled the woman back towards her, pressing a firm, loving kiss to her lips.

“Thank you,” she murmured when they broke apart.

“For what?”

“For offering. For believing in me. For taking care of me these last few weeks.”

“There’s no need to thank you, my love. You’d do the same for me.”

“I would. If I could.”

“Well, I can, and I want to,” Regina replied.

Emma laughed. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Regina said, just as a clattering sounded from the kitchen. “And that’s my cue.”

Emma unhooked her stub which was still holding Regina close but the brunette ducked her head for one final kiss before disappearing out into the corridor and leaving Emma to mull over one of the biggest decisions of her life.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Regina has offered to buy HLS,” Emma repeated to her shocked audience. “She’s a millionaire, apparently, and when I told her Killian had people lined up to buy the restaurant, she suggested we buy it instead.”

Ruby gawped at her best friend, the cup of coffee that she had made herself paused halfway between the table and her lips. It was the day after the brunette had dropped the bombshell in the guise of a generous offer on Emma. The moment the older woman had left that morning to drop Henry to school, Emma had phoned her best friend and told her to come over. She needed to talk the colossal, life-changing proposal through.

“A millionaire?” Ruby repeated.

Emma nodded. “Yeah. I mean, I knew she had money but I didn’t realise she had millions lying around in a bank account waiting to buy her girlfriend’s place of business.”

“So, she’d be our boss?” Ruby asked.

“She says I’d be the boss,” Emma admitted. “She basically said she’d be giving me the money and that it would be my business. Regina doesn’t seem to want to be involved; she just doesn’t want me to have to work for someone else, I think.”

“So you’d be my boss?” Ruby confirmed.

“No, well, yes, I suppose so. I don’t know. I didn’t accept Regina’s offer.”

“Why not?” Ruby asked. “If Belle gave me millions of dollars to buy HLS, I’d sure as hell be taking it.”

“Yeah, but you’ve known Belle for years. You’re engaged,” Emma pointed out. “I’ve known Regina for less than four months.”

“You’re living together, aren’t you? I mean, you see your future as being with her.”

“Of course. I can’t imagine my life without Regina and Henry.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Ruby asked.

Emma bit her lip. To buy herself some time, she took a sip from the mug of tea Ruby had made her. The brunette, unlike their boss, had offered to help Emma in light of her bandaged hands.

“It’s a lot of money, Rubes,” she said at last. “I’m not sure I feel comfortable taking it from Regina.”

“You’re not taking it. She’s offering,” Ruby reasoned. “And she wouldn’t offer if she didn’t want to, nor if she couldn’t afford it. I mean, look at this place.” She gestured to the beautiful living room they were sat in. “The woman clearly has money to spare.”

“But this isn’t just a few hundred bucks. It’s millions of dollars,” Emma pointed out. “She’s offering Killian more than this couple in New York. Do you know who they are, by the way?”

Ruby shook her head. “Nah, just some foodies apparently. They’re obsessed with you though. The wife phoned the restaurant last week asking to speak to you and then the husband called a few days ago asking if you were back at work. It sounds like they want to buy you, not HLS.”

“Yeah well, I’m not for sale,” Emma remarked. A wolfish grin returned that statement. Emma rolled her eyes at Ruby’s glee in her euphemistic statement. She just wanted so advice. “Rubes, please, what would you do?”

To be honest, Ruby didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t really a situation she had ever imagined happening but she tried to put herself in Emma’s shoes.

“The offer is amazing, Ems,” she reasoned. “What Regina could enable you to do would be incredible. You’d have your own restaurant and a profitable one at that. You’d be your own boss. You’d have complete control over the way the restaurant was developed. And from the sound of it, people want an Emma Swan restaurant.”

“Yeah, Regina keeps saying that too. Apparently my name brings in the most conversions on their PPC campaigns.”

“I don’t know what that means but it sounds good so congratulations,” Ruby said. “Emma, this is an amazing opportunity from where I’m sat. Why are you holding back? Is it the relationship?”

“No,” Emma said at once. She had many doubts but none of them were about her and Regina and their love for one another. “No, it’s not that.”

“Then why are you hesitating?”

It was true. Emma was hesitating. Since Regina had made the offer the previous evening, Emma’s mind had not stopped. She hadn’t said anything to Regina about it but the proposal had not filled her with joy and excitement as she knew it should. Instead, she felt apprehension and fear and an impending sense that she was doomed to fail.

“Because I don’t know the first thing about running a business,” Emma said at last, voicing her biggest fear. “What if I fuck it up? I’ve never been much good at anything aside from cooking. I wasn’t great at school. I was shit at maths. I’ve never studied business in my life. What if I take a thriving business and turn it all to shit and lose all of Regina’s money? What if I’m a terrible boss and everyone quits and -?”

“Woah, Emma, calm down,” Ruby said, seeing that her friend was getting agitated as her worried were finally vocalised. “That’s not going to happen.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Don’t I? Ems, you and I practically run that place already. On a day to day basis, we are the bosses. Killian does fuck all and he pays an accountant to take care of finances. And you already are a boss in the kitchen. Your staff love you. I get phone calls most days asking if there are vacancies to train and work under the great Emma Swan. Seriously, you have nothing to worry about there. You’d be an incredible boss of the whole place, even me.”

“I wouldn’t be your boss,” Emma said at once.

“If you owned the place you would be,” Ruby pointed out. “But I’d like to think you know I can take care of the front of house without much supervision. Nothing has to change, really, if you think about it. You can hire a business manager to take care of that side of things. You can keep Killian’s accountant on board. Regina already does the marketing for HLS. There’s no reason you can’t stay working in the kitchen exactly as you are now. The only real difference would be that you’d have to make a few bigger decisions and you’d be responsible for signing off on all that paperwork we already fill out and dump on Killian’s desk. You can do this, Emma. I know you can.”

Emma looked at her best friend, the woman gazing earnestly back at her. “You really believe that?”

“I do,” Ruby nodded. “And if you need help, your girlfriend is a very successful business owner. I’m sure she’d help you out.”

“Wanna know the truth?”


“In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be doing this alone. Regina and I would do it together. And not just because it’s her money. I want her to be involved in the business. I wouldn’t expect her to be there every day and I know she has her own company to run. But I think we’d work well as a team and I think she would be a real asset to the restaurant.”

“Real asset, huh,” Ruby smirked. “You’re already talking like a business owner.”

Emma smirked. “I learned that from Regina. She talks about her work sometimes. And she’s so good at it. Did you know she has over eighty employees at that company? She and her mother built it from nothing. They’ve created something amazing. She’s an incredible business woman. I’d be coming into an already established business and I still don’t think I can do it. In fact, I know I can’t do it. I can’t do this without Regina by my side.”

“You won’t have to.”

Emma whipped around and let out a little whimper as her broken ribs protested at the sudden movement. Ruby too had turned towards the sound of the voice.

“Regina. Why are you home?” Emma asked after a moment of silence.

“I left a portfolio here,” Regina said, waving the large folder that was under her arm from the doorway where she still stood. “See, even incredible business women make mistakes.”

Emma blushed. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough,” Regina offered, a gentle smile on her face.

“Um, I’m gonna go,” Ruby said after a moment.

“No, please stay. I’m sorry to interrupt. I was just going to collect this and head out but, well, I heard you two talking, so …” This time it was Regina’s turn to blush as she admitted to eavesdropping. “But Ruby, you needn’t leave. I’ll go and you two can continue your conversation. Emma and I can talk later.”

“Actually, I should head off to be honest. I’m going to be late for work. And you know me; always the good employee who’s on time.”

Emma couldn’t help but chuckle as Ruby finished her coffee and got to her feet. The brunette whispered that she’d call Emma later when she bent down to hug her friend goodbye before bidding farewell to Regina on her way out. There was a moment of silence and then the front door closed. Regina was still standing at the edge of the room.

“Come here,” Emma said, gesturing with one bandaged hand for the brunette to come and take a seat beside her.

Regina deposited the forgotten portfolio on the side table and made her way at once to her girlfriend. As soon as she sat down, Emma wrapped her arms around her, holding the woman tight against her. Regina hugged her back, burying her face in the soft blonde hair.

“So,” Emma said when they broke apart.

“So,” Regina nodded.

“I guess you got the gist of that conversation?”

“That you’re completely normal because you’re apprehensive about being a business owner? Yeah, Emma. I would have been surprised if you weren’t nervous.”

“It’s not just the nerves,” Emma admitted. “I mean, I’m terrified that I’ll fail and that I won’t be able to be a good boss and run a successful business. I’m a chef; what do I know about paying business tax and employee files and all of that other paperwork that I’m sure I’d have to do? But with all that aside, I also want to talk to you about the money. I can’t just take it, Regina. That doesn’t seem right.”

“So you want me to come on as a silent partner?”

Emma shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know all of these business terms yet. Silent partner doesn’t sound like you’d be very involved though.”

“No, I wouldn’t be. Do you want me to be more involved?”

“I want to be able to come to you for advice.”

“You can always do that, sweetheart,” Regina said, a hand coming to rest on Emma’s cheek.

“Yeah, but I also want it to be known that the business is ‘ours’. I mean, it will be your money but the profits will be ours. I’ll do most of the day to day work but I think I’m going to need you for some of the business stuff. So, I guess, rather than a silent partner, can we just be partners?”

“In life and in business?”

Emma nodded, twisting her head to place a light kiss to Regina’s palm. “Yes.”

Leaning forwards, Regina captured Emma’s lips in a tender kiss before she answered. “I’d like that.”

A smile spread slowly over Emma’s face and she leaned in to kiss her girlfriend, her partner, her business partner once more. Regina’s hands snaked around the back of her neck as she moved closer on the couch. Emma rested her own bandaged hands lightly on Regina’s waist. The hidden skin was still tender but it was getting better every day. Plus, the euphoria that the blonde could feel flowing through her veins eclipsed any discomfort caused by the pressure.

Before either of them knew it, Regina was on her back, Emma laying on top of her. Regina’s hands ghosted up and down the blonde’s spine, relishing in the feel of being back in her lover’s arms.

“Emma, are you hurting yourself?” Regina asked as the blonde began to lay a trail of kisses down her neck to her heaving chest.

“No,” Emma assured her. It was almost true. Her ribs had protested a little as she lay down on top of Regina but her surgery scar was fine. It had been almost three weeks since the accident and Emma’s desires were more powerful now than the residual pain.

Regina seemed to accept the blonde’s answer as she slid her palms down and grasped Emma’s ass. She had wanted to do that every morning as she helped Emma pull on her pants, but she had resisted, not wanting to push the blonde to do anything she wasn’t ready for. At the squeezing of her butt, however, Emma moaned, her teeth nibbling on Regina’s collarbone where she was now laving her kisses.

“I’ve missed this,” Regina gasped as Emma sat up and gestured for the brunette to undress her.

“Me too,” Emma smiled. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Regina replied at once, pulling Emma’s t-shirt over her head. “It wasn’t your fault. I’m just glad you’re getting better.”

“Almost,” Emma said, her bandaged hand now running over the scar on her exposed stomach.

Regina reached out too, caressing the area around the raised, puckered skin. “You’re alive, Emma,” she whispered. “That’s all that matters.”

Their lips crashed back together, Regina now fumbling her own blouse off. She hadn’t even made it to the office before she realised she had forgotten the portfolio and was sure she would need to change again before she headed into work later. But she didn’t care. Shedding her blouse, she reluctantly instructed Emma to climb off her while they both remove their pants. Emma reached out to pull Regina closer as soon as the woman was standing in front of her with just her underwear on. Pressing a firm kiss to the smooth, flat plane of Regina’s stomach, Emma then peered up into the face above her.

Regina smiled down at her girlfriend, hand stroking over the scarf which adorned Emma’s head. She then realised she wanted to run her fingers through Emma’s beautiful hair.

“May I?” she asked, fingers moving to the knot she had tied earlier that morning.

Emma nodded. She didn’t want to go outside with her large shaved patch still visible and obvious but this was Regina; this was different. The woman loved her for who she was, not what she looked like. The silk fell away and Regina’s fingers at once wound their way into the freed locks. Emma couldn’t hold back the moan as fingernails scraped against her scalp.

Their lips reconnected as Regina bent down. Emma leaned back against the couch, encouraging Regina to go with her. The brunette was hesitant to put any weight on her girlfriend so she lay down beside the younger woman. Emma complied to the silent request and twisted onto her side. It was probably a good idea; in that position, her ribs took no strain and nothing was pressing against her surgery scar.

As the heat built between them, Regina divested herself and then Emma of their bras. She knew Emma ached to touch her; the bandaged stubs not allowing enough skin contact for either of them. But Emma was inventive and ducked her head instead, latching onto a taut nipple with her lips and sucking it before flickering the tender nerves with her tongue.

Arching into the contact, Regina hooked her leg over Emma’s hips, opening herself up eagerly. She didn’t care if it appeared needy. She needed Emma. And, she realised, Emma needed her. Beyond the few million dollars she was offering the blonde, Emma needed Regina by her side as she set out on her new adventure for support as a lover, just as much as a business partner. Pushing her hips forwards, Regina ground her core lightly on Emma’s own mound, both women’s underwear rubbing against their heated sex.

With a final nibble and kiss to Regina’s breast, Emma made her way down the couch. For the first time in almost three weeks, she wasn’t concerned about not being able to use her fingers. She wanted to taste Regina.

Rolling onto her back and shifting up the couch, Regina let her thighs fall open as Emma manoeuvred herself between them. Emma paused for a moment, looking at Regina’s underwear and then at her hands. But before Regina could reach down and help, the blonde took the lace in her teeth and began to tug the final scrap of material down Regina’s legs.

It took longer than either woman expected and was far less elegant than movies and books made the move appear. Once the offending article of clothing had at last been wriggled from Regina’s foot, Emma grinned sheepishly up from where she now knelt at the end of the couch. Regina chuckled and gestured for Emma to take her place once more. The blonde didn’t need telling twice.

A throaty moan echoed through the room as Emma’s mouth closed over Regina’s sex. She wrapped her arms around the tensed thighs, anchoring herself closer as she shuffled to get more comfortable on her knees, ribs aching slightly at her bent posture. But she didn’t care. It didn’t matter. Not when she could feel Regina’s hot flesh against her tongue.

She licked long, slow, steady lines through Regina’s folder, laving her clit at the top every time before returning to her entrance and repeating the move. Regina’s fingers threaded once more through her hair, breathless moans encouraging Emma to continue. Which she willingly did. She licked and licked, the skin getting slicker each time as Regina’s arousal built. Emma dipped her tongue into her girlfriend, lapping at the musky essence which gathered there. She could feel the walls pulse and clench at the intrusion, desperate and wanton.

It didn’t take long for Regina to be teetering on the edge. Since Emma had returned from the hospital, Regina hadn’t had an orgasm. Emma knew that. And Emma could also sense that the brunette was close to exploding. She returned her attention to the sensitive bundle, redoubling her efforts with tight, fast circles around Regina’s clit. Fingernails dug into her scalp, a silent plea for more. Emma caught the bud between her teeth, worrying it lightly before sucking, relentless in her quest to draw pleasure from the woman who was beginning to shake.

As Regina came, Emma’s name fell from her lips. Without Henry in the house, there was no need to be quiet. Emma could feel her own underwear, which was still in place, dampen even further as Regina chanted her name. She raised her head, chin shining with Regina’s pleasure, to watch the woman who lay above her, panting and breathless.

“Fucked you senseless?” Emma asked cockily after almost a minute of silence.

Regina batted her eyes open to see Emma still knelt between her legs. She smirked at the sight. “Not quite.”

Sitting up, Regina pulled Emma towards her, their lips meeting in a messy kiss. Then Regina began to gently push Emma backwards, encouraging the blonde to lean against the arm of the couch.

“Is that ok?” she asked as she moved out of the way so Emma could straighten her bent legs.

“Yep,” Emma nodded. And it was true. Even if her ribs were hurting, she could think or feel nothing except her desire for Regina. “Come here.”

Regina went willingly, kissing Emma hard as she blindly fumbled Emma’s underwear down her legs. Once the blonde had kicked the scrap of material free, Regina made her way back so she was lying on her stomach. Emma gulped at the sight. From her vantage point, she could not only see the beautiful face about to be buried in her sex but also the elegant curves of Regina’s body; the defined muscles of her shoulders, the dip of her lower back, her ass swelling upwards before her slender legs stretched out. Emma’s breath hitched.

That hitch turned into a mewl as Regina’s fingers ran over her centre. Two tips traced through her folds, gathering wetness before they pushed inside. Regina’s gaze flitted between the opening in Emma’s body which was accepting her own and then up to the blonde’s blissful expression.

Regina wanted to savour the moment, draw out Emma pleasure, take her time. But she also really wanted to make the blonde come. There was time for slow and sensual in the future. In that moment, she realised, she needed to feel the blonde crest against her lips.

It wasn’t elegant or particularly romantic but it was passionate and intense and so full of feelings that neither woman cared. Emma arched her back as she came, her bandaged hands resting on Regina’s shoulders as the woman feasted on her core. She rocked her hips in time to the three fingers now pumping in and out of her, Regina’s tongue lashing against her clit until she saw stars.

And then it was over. Emma was lying flat on her back, Regina curled against her side, quiet, peaceful. Both were naked, not wanting to get dressed, content to just lie, bare, in one another’s arms. The grandfather clock in the corner chimed eleven in the morning, interrupting their bliss.

“So I guess I’m late for work,” Regina mused.

“Do you need to leave?” Emma asked, making no attempt to move so that her girlfriend, who was between her body and the couch back, could get out.

“No, I’ll have lunch here with you and go in this afternoon. Besides, I think we have a contract to draw up.”

“A sex contract?” Emma asked.

Regina chuckled. “You and your one track mind. No, Emma. A business contract. If we’re going to be partners in the restaurant, we need to work out the details then I’ll have my lawyer draw up a contract.”

“Do you think we ought to ask Killian if he’ll accept the offer first?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Regina asked. “We’re willing to pay more than these New Yorkers even though I’m sure they wouldn’t be offering him as much as they are if you refused to sign with them. We could probably get the whole place for less but I don’t want to quibble over a few hundred thousand. I’d rather just close the deal and secure our future.”

“A few hundred thousand,” Emma repeated. “What is it like being rich?”

Regina chuckled. “I don’t know any different, to be honest. All I know right now is that I am in a position to do something that helps you and I don’t care what it costs me. What it costs us, I should say.”


“Us,” Regina nodded. “You and me, Emma. We’re partners now.”

Chapter Text

Regina had suggested that she and Emma go in person to Hook, Line and Sinker to discuss the prospect of them buying the business from Killian. Emma had been keen to just call him and make an offer but, in hindsight, the trip had been worth it. Primarily, it had been the look on Killian’s face when the offer was made. Emma had to force herself not to smile at the stunned expression.

“Excuse me?” he said after several moments of silence had filled the back office where the two women had found the man, unusually, that Saturday morning.

“We’d like to make an offer,” Regina repeated.

“But, I already have buyers,” Killian frowned. “They’re coming to visit next week.”

“They’re coming to meet Emma next week,” Regina corrected him.


“So I don’t want to work for someone else,” Emma said. “I want to be my own boss.”

“How much is your monthly salary again?” Killian asked. “I feel like I’m over-paying you if a chef can afford this place.”

Regina’s eyes narrowed, not only at the sly dig at Emma but also the fact that the man was clearly disinterested in his own business if he didn’t even know the salary of his most important staff member.

“That is immaterial,” Regina said simply. “The money is on the table. We can sign on Monday, if you’re in agreement.”

Killian hesitated for the moment, eyes flicking between the two faces opposite him. “You’re serious?”

“Completely,” Regina nodded. “I’m a business owner, just like you, Mr Jones. I see an investment opportunity here. If you want to wait until the other interested party has the chance to make a counter-offer, I am happy to do so. I am in no rush.” The unspoken words that Killian was the person who wanted a quick sale lingered in the air.

“And you, Emma?” he asked. “Is this your way of saying you’re not going to sign with this couple from New York?”

“I want to be my own boss,” Emma repeated. “I don’t want to become a piece of equipment or an asset that gets passed from owner to owner. Regina and I have a chance to break that chain now and we’d both like to take it.”

“So you won’t sign with them,” Killian confirmed.

“No,” Emma said. “If they want to go ahead and purchase the restaurant without me and are willing to pay more than we are, then I’ll find somewhere else to work.”

Killian was silent for a long time. Regina and Emma both sat calmly on the far side of the table. They knew their offer was good and that Killian would be foolish to think he could achieve a higher price without Emma attached to the contract and within the limited time-scale his upcoming business opportunity dictated. But Regina had said it was important not to appear too pushy and to allow the man to consider the offer for as long as he needed; all the while knowing he had to make a decision soon.

“Let me think about it,” he said eventually. “I’ll be in touch on Monday.”

Regina nodded her agreement and got to her feet. She had suspected that it wasn’t going to be a done deal that day but she had wanted to make sure Killian knew they were serious. She reached out to shake his hand, prompting Emma to do the same. The blonde much preferred the handshake to the hugs her boss usually forced on her. Although, for the purpose of this meeting, their relationship hadn’t been boss-employee. She briefly imagined herself sat behind Killian’s desk, the owner of the restaurant. And then the picture faded to be replaced by Regina in the same chair. She grinned. The picture looked right. Both of them. Together. Partners.

Back in the restaurant, Henry’s giggles alerted both women to his location, around the corner of the bar where floor to ceiling windows gave way to a view over the ocean. It was before the lunch rush and the place was not too busy yet. Ruby had therefore left her team to greet and seat patrons and had been entertaining the small boy while Emma and Regina were meeting with Killian.

“Mom, Emma! Ruby made me a chocolate milkshake,” Henry exclaimed as soon as he saw the women walking towards him, waving the almost empty glass at them and grinning from stained lips.

“Oh she did, did she?” Regina asked, eyebrows raised at the woman who was now looking guilty from where she was knelt on the floor.

“My bad,” Ruby admitted, getting to her feet. “He said he wanted milk and I had some chocolate milk powder in my office. Turns out the kid hadn’t had it before and wanted to try it. I think it was a success.”

All three women were now looking at the boy who had turned the glass almost upside down in an attempt to drain the remaining contents. Regina didn’t have the heart to be annoyed. The encounter proved that Henry was learning to try new flavours even outside of his comfort zone that was his house. The thought reminded Regina of a conversation she had intended to have with Emma. She made a mental note to bring it up soon.

“I love weekends,” Emma said on Sunday evening, lying on the couch with Regina in her arms. Music played softly from the stereo in the corner and a corner lamp and some candles lit the space.

“Me too,” Regina mused. “I don’t want to have to leave you tomorrow.”

“I don’t want you to leave either but at least you know I can take care of myself now.” As if to prove a point, Emma raked her fingers up the bare skin of Regina’s side where her t-shirt had risen up. While her palms were still not healed, her fingers no longer needed to be covered and were exposed. It made everything much easier and Emma was now able to dress herself without any help from Regina. However, the brunette had offered to help that morning but the interaction descended into undressing rather than dressing.

“Do you think you’ll be able to give yourself either Saturday or Sunday off when you’re the boss of HLS?” Regina asked.

“He hasn’t accepted our offer yet,” Emma pointed out. “He might say no.”

“Why would he?”

“To spite me?”

“He’s a creep but he’s not that stupid. He needs the money and he needs a fast sale. We’re his only option.”

“Well, assuming he does accept it, yes, I’d love to have one weekend day off per week to spend with you and Henry. I’d like to build up the kitchen staff capacity so that it operates more without me. They’re great but they still rely on me for day to day tasks which I’d like to assign to someone like August. And maybe employ a couple more sous chefs too; build the total capacity of the whole team.”

Regina snaked her arm around Emma’s waist and snuggled herself closer. “You sound like a boss already,” she remarked.

“Don’t tempt fate,” Emma replied, placing a kiss to the tip of Regina’s head. “Things in my life don’t tend to go my way. Good things never last for Emma Swan.”

“What about me?” Regina asked.

“You’re an exception to the rule. You and Henry. The life we’ve made together. The life we’re building towards.”

“Speaking of which,” Regina began, eager to discuss her idea with her girlfriend. At the words, however, she felt Emma tense beside her. “No, it’s not bad.”

Emma said nothing. She would be lying if she said she hadn’t been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things had been great with Regina. Of course, the accident had thrown up a few challenges but when it came to their relationship, Emma thought it was stronger than ever.

“You know the route we take when we walk Henry to school?”

“Yeah,” Emma said slowly. She had done the journey a few times since her accident after Regina deemed her well enough to go outside. Henry liked to hold gently onto her bandaged hand and walk between both women, chattering away all the while.

“You know the park on the corner of Oak and Hill Drive?”

“With the little set of play equipment that Henry always wants to stop off at on the way to school?”

“That’s the one,” Regina nodded. “Have you ever noticed the house on the corner of those two streets?”

Emma tried to remember the area. While she had taken Henry to school several times and had picked him up as well, she was usually focused on the child, not their surroundings.

“It’s big, right? White. Victorian maybe?”

“You know architecture,” Regina remarked, impressed at the blonde’s precise recount of the exact building she was talking about.

“I got interested in it when I was in Italy. The buildings there are all so different. They have a much richer history all over Europe. So when I came back to the States, I always tried to find the historic part of town. Which means in a suburb like this, older buildings stand out.”

“Well, you’re right. It is Victorian. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two reception rooms, a home office and the kitchen opens up onto a huge back garden.”

Emma frowned at the flow of information. “How do you know all that?”

Shifting slightly on her side, Regina rolled over so she was facing Emma, wanting to be able to reading Emma’s expressions when they had the next part of the conversation. The blonde did the same; mirroring Regina’s body so both women lying face to face on their sides.

“It’s for sale,” Regina said softly. “I thought we might go to view it.”

“You want to move?”

“Don’t you?” Regina asked. “I mean, do you really want to live in a house where the entire upper floor is out of bounds because it reminds me of my ex-wife?”

Emma said nothing but her features gave her away. While it wasn’t something she and Regina had ever discussed, the blonde couldn’t help the fact that she felt a little strange whenever she passed the bottom of the staircase; up which she had never ventured.

“We deserve our own space, Emma,” Regina said quietly. “I want to make a new home with you and Henry. I had been thinking about moving before I met you, to be honest. This house is too big and it has too many memories. So when I saw a ‘for sale’ sign, I looked into the place. It’s beautiful, Emma. And perfect for Henry. The walk to school would only be five minutes and he could go and play in the park whenever he wanted, as long as one of us was with him. There’s even a tree in the garden we could build a treehouse in.”

“You’ve already been to view it without me?”

“The estate agent emailed over some photos when I enquired,” Regina said. “Would you like to see them?” Already the brunette was reaching for her cell but the blonde’s next words halted her movements.

“Regina, wait,” Emma blurted out, sitting up and rubbing her face with her exposed fingers and the abrasive bandages, trying to gather her thoughts and process the information she had just been given.

“What’s wrong?” the brunette asked, pushing herself into a seated position as well.

“It’s … I don’t know,” Emma admitted. “I mean, it’s a lot. You’re not just talking about us starting to look for a place together. You’re talking about the fact that you’ve already found a place and made enquiries. It’s fast, I guess. And then there’s the money. I know you’re rich but I’m not and I never have been. I can’t just let you buy us a house. I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

“Emma, no, not at all,” Regina soothed. “That’s not how I feel.”

“Yes but it is how I feel,” Emma reasoned. “I know you’re happy to share your money with me and you’re incredibly generous. I love that about you but it’s a new experience for me. I get paid well at the restaurant but for the first twenty-five years of my life I had no money. I’m not used to this world; the world in which you can buy businesses and Victorian mansions without thinking twice. You know I was saving up for a deposit on my own place when I lived with Ruby? I have just over five grand in a bank account. That’s it. That’s all I have after saving for three years. So when you turn to me and say ‘wanna buy a million-dollar house?’, it’s a lot to process.”

“Emma, I’m sorry,” Regina offered. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like that.”

Sighing, Emma sank back into the luxury couch cushions behind her. “No, I know you didn’t. I’m sorry too. I’m just a bit freaked out. This is all happening so fast and I think I need some time to take it all in.”

“Take as long as you need,” Regina said at once. “There’s no rush. One step at a time, right?”

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “One step at a time.”

Regina hesitated for a moment and then moved closer. Emma allowed the embrace and both women sank into the kiss. It was soft; a reassurance that everything was still ok between them, that they were still committed, still in love. The relationship itself wasn’t the problem; it was just the speed at which their lives were becoming irreversibly intertwined in so many other ways, including financially. Emma didn’t doubt her love for Regina, but she couldn’t quite silence that little sceptical voice which whispered in the back of her mind. Was this really going to work out? Was their future really going to be as amazing as it was mapped out?

That night, as Regina slept quietly beside her with one arm draped over the blonde’s midrift, Emma lay staring at the ceiling. Her brain wouldn’t switch off, wouldn’t stop thinking about what Regina had said. The fact that the brunette was thinking about moving hadn’t been a complete surprise. Mal’s presence was felt in the house; silent, unspoken, but undeniable.

Emma had found herself on more than one occasion during her long weeks of recuperation standing at the base of the staircase. But she had never once climbed them. It wasn’t as if she was expecting to see anything bad on the upper floor. Presumably there were just endless empty rooms. Regina had once mentioned how she had boxed up all of Mal’s personal possessions and donated them to charity in the months after the woman disappeared. But she couldn’t bring herself to explore; to enter the territory that Regina had shared with her ex-wife.

The older woman was right. They needed a fresh start. And Regina was in a positon to provide them with one. It was now up to Emma to come to terms with the fact that her girlfriend was rich and had the capacity to take care of her. No one had ever taken care of Emma Swan financially. Everything she owned she had worked to buy. Her motorbikes had always been her luxury and she had scrimped and saved to buy and maintain them. Even when she was with Mary Margaret and David, she had never had much money. While the state provided foster parents with money, it went towards clothes for school, books, tutoring classes and the occasional day trip. Emma had never been spoilt.

But Regina wanted to spoil Emma, or at least take care of her. The woman was generous to a fault, so used to having money and being around people with money. It was clear Kathryn, for example, was from a wealthy background. But Emma wasn’t accustomed to the lifestyle. She felt awkward when it came discussions of money and self-conscious at her own financial position. She was still paying off the loans for culinary school, she didn’t own property. She was only twenty-seven, so she wasn’t falling behind her peers in this day and age. But Regina wasn’t a peer. She was older and from an aristocratic bloodline. And her girlfriend; a girlfriend who wanted to buy a house for the two of them, to buy a business for them to run. A girlfriend who wanted to take care of Emma, to love Emma and to build a life with Emma.

She rolled over onto her side, trying to shake the thoughts from her mind. It didn’t work.

The next morning, Regina didn’t mention the house-buying conversation and neither did Emma. They walked Henry to school together and Emma’s eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the house which Regina had described as they approached. The brunette was right; it was beautiful. The manicured front garden, complete with a gnarled apple tree and rose trellis at the front door led onto a beautiful, symmetrical façade of a grand Victorian house. It looked, Emma realised, uninhabited. There was something about the dark windows and the lack of drapes that made her think it was not lived in. She was about to ask Regina if that was the case when Henry piped up with his usual daily request to play in the park.

“Just this once,” Regina replied.

Henry and Emma were so surprised at the answer, which was always no because they never had time, that they stopped walking. Regina continued, a smirk on her face as she crossed the deserted street and headed towards the play equipment. After a moment, Henry reached for Emma’s bandaged hand and led her across the road too.

Regina had found a bench close to the climbing frame and swing set and sat down. Henry charged off and began clambering up a slide, his rubber soled shoes helping him achieve the feat. At the top, he spun on the spot, sat and slid down the smooth surface he had just climbed up. Emma smiled and sat down beside Regina as Henry began his intrepid journey for the second time.

“Beautiful morning,” Regina remarked as Emma’s arm slid around her shoulders.

“It is,” Emma nodded, squinting up at the pale morning sun. The weather was still fine but not as hot as it had been and the temperature was far more pleasant. Henry often dragged Emma out into the back yard to play when he returned from his child minder and before dinner to enjoy the balmy early evenings.

“Beautiful park too,” Regina added.

Emma said nothing. She knew was Regina was trying to do and she didn’t blame her. The house was beautiful. The location was perfect. And it would give them all a fresh start. But Emma still wasn’t ready. She still needed some time to process the proposed plan. Regina understood. She didn’t push further.

They sat in silence and watched Henry for five minutes before getting to their feet and calling him over. Sweaty, he ran up to them, enthusing about the park and asking if he could come on the way back from school. Regina turned to Emma, eyebrow raised; a silent request.

“Sure, kid,” Emma nodded.

“You’re picking me up?” Henry asked, jumping up and down in excitement. Emma hadn’t picked him up from school since before the accident. The child missed his special Emma time.

“Now Emma’s fingers and ribs are better, she can look after you more easily.”

The two women had discussed the possibility of Emma picking Henry up from school once she was home from the hospital but both had decided it was too much, too soon. Now, however, with her fingers unbandaged and her ribs almost pain-free, both women felt that Emma was capable of looking after Henry for the couple of hours between the end of school and Regina’s return from work. The brunette had proposed the new routine to Emma that morning and Emma had agreed at once.

“Cool,” Henry grinned. “Emma, can we cook tonight too?”

“Maybe,” Emma replied. “We’ll see how my hands are, ok? But you can help your mom cook if I can’t. And I can help you both but only watch and talk you through the recipe. How does that sound?”

“Ok,” Henry agreed as the trio set off towards his school. “I wish your hands would get better quick. I miss cooking with you.”

“I miss cooking with you too, kid,” Emma replied.

Monday slipped by slowly for Emma. She spent most of the day reading on the couch and it was only when she was getting ready to collect Henry from school that she realised she hadn’t heard from Killian. The man had had enough time by now to consider the women’s offer. Shooting Regina a text, she gathered her belongings and headed out of the house, ear buds in and a Spotify playlist selected. Before she had even reached the end of the garden path, however, her phone rang. Emma answered with a click of her headphones controller.

“Hey babe,” she said as she flicked the latch on the gate up.

“Hey sexy.”

Emma groaned inwardly at the familiar voice. “Killian, hi. Sorry, I thought you were Regina.”

“Isn’t she with you?”

“Why would she be?” Emma asked.

“Cos she’s your girlfriend, right?” Even through the phone, Emma could see the disgruntled expression on his face. It was as if every time he asked, he was hoping that Emma not only broken up with her girlfriend but also changed sexuality and decided she wanted to be with a misogynistic pig. Unfortunately for Killian, these events were yet to transpire.

“Yes but she has a job. She’s at work. I’m at home.”

“Kept woman, huh,” Killian replied. “You struck gold with that one.”

The man had no idea how close to the nerve his comment had cut and Emma had to bite her lip to keep from saying anything. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks as a wave of anger crashed through her body.

“Are you calling about our offer on the restaurant?” she asked, wanting to move the conversation on to safer grounds.

“Yes,” Killian replied, without elaborating.


“And I accept it. The place is yours. Shall I have my lawyer contact yours?”

Emma should have feel ecstatic at the news. And she was. But the final question had made her realise quite how unprepared she was for the world she was about to step into. She swallowed thickly before replying.

“I don’t have a lawyer but Regina does. Can I get her to call you? I think she’d be the person to talk to about this stuff.”

Killian snorted. “God, you’re lucky you’ve got her, Swan. There’s no way you could run this place without her. That woman’s got brains, beauty and millions in the bank. How the hell did you get so lucky?”

“I’ll get Regina to call you shortly,” Emma said, hanging up before she said something she regretted.

Breathing hard, she forced herself to continue her walk, pulling her cell from her bag and finding Regina’s contact. Seconds later, the call was connected.

“Hi honey, everything ok?” the husky voice asked. But the sultry tones which usually calmed and soothed Emma did nothing to abate the emotions swirling through her veins.

“Killian’s a dick,” Emma said in response.

She could hear Regina whisper something on the other end of the phone and then a door closing. The woman had clearly dismissed someone from her office.

“What happened? Did he reject our offer?”

“Oh, no, he accepted that. I said you’d contact him about the legal stuff and contracts. You’ve got his number, right?”

“I do,” Regina nodded. “But if he’s accepted the offer, why is he a dick? And why do you sound so unhappy?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Emma said, not wanting to get herself even more worked up less than five minutes away from Henry’s school. “Just … you do love me, don’t you?”

“What? Of course I do. Why would you even ask that?”

“Nothing, it’s fine. I’ll see you later.”

“Ok,” Regina said, not sounding reassured at all. “I love you.”

A beep interrupted her before she could finish the declaration. Frowning the brunette stared at her phone which blinked ‘call ended’ at her. On the far side of town, Emma was marching down the sidewalk, a frown creasing her forehead and her lips set in a firm line.

Chapter Text

Something was wrong. She could feel it. There was something in the blonde’s tone during their phone call which told her it wasn’t just about her smarmy soon-to-be-ex boss and their new business venture. Whatever Killian had said upset Emma was deeper than that. And, Regina suspected, involved their relationship.

The moment Regina’s final meeting finished, she was packing up her purse and heading out of the office. Graham watched her go, eyebrows furrowed as he realised his boss was leaving half an hour earlier than she usually did. The taut look on the brunette’s face told him she was clearly worried about something. He didn’t ask though. While Regina was a great employer, she preferred to keep things professional at work and he had learned not to pry into her personal life.

Regina drove as quickly as she dared back to her house. She had always been a careful driver; even more so after Emma’s accident. But she wanted to get home. She wanted to see Emma. Something was wrong; she knew it. Parking neatly as always, Regina shot a glare at Emma’s bike which was still parked in the street. The blonde’s mechanic was yet to pick up the machine and now it served as a daily reminder to both women of what they had been through.

The house was quiet when she stepped through the door. She placed her purse and keys on the hallway table and listened to try and identify where Emma and Henry were. When no sound reached her, she began to make her way through the house, stopping off to peer around every door. The living room was as tidy as she had left it that morning, with the addition of Emma’s kindle which had moved from the bedside table to the coffee table. The kitchen was deserted, as was the back garden which she scanned through the bay windows.

Henry’s room and the master bedroom were also empty. Regina frowned and returned to the hall to call Emma. Her cell rang and rang but never connected. She looked at the clock. It was almost five. Henry’s school finished at three thirty. Trying Emma again, Regina scanned the hallway for clues. Instantly, her eyes landed on the staircase. The call ended without being picked up. Regina left her cell on the table and made her way, slowly, to the base of the stairs.

Were they up there? Emma had never mentioned the upper floor of the house. But she knew the blonde was curious by nature so she assumed at one point or another she would have ventured upwards when the house was otherwise empty. Henry had followed Regina up when Mary Margaret and David had visited but as far as she knew, he never went up there without her. Her foot paused on the bottom step, ears straining to hear something which would tell them the two people she was searching for were up there. Nothing.

Her mother had told her it was rude to shout indoors but she wanted to check before she forced herself to climb upwards.




The silence felt heavy. Regina could hear her own heartbeat pounding in her chest. Where were they? And what had upset Emma earlier? She needed answers. She began to climb.

The landing was dark. A few stray paintings which Regina was less fond of and which didn’t fit on the walls downstairs hung here but otherwise the place was bare. Taking a deep breath, she began her search. Door after door opened onto empty rooms. She paused for a moment in the doorway of what had been Henry’s nursery; the wallpaper now slightly faded. Her fingers traced over the pencil lines on the door frame where she and Mal had marked Henry’s height. One year, two years, three years, four years. The marks from his fifth and sixth birthday continued the tradition downstairs, the first four milestones conspicuously absent.

The final room Regina checked was the old master bedroom. She hadn’t been inside for years; not since she had boxed up all of Mal’s clothes and donated them to a local charity. The large wardrobe and bed stood alone in the room, mattress stripped and dust mites floating in the shaft of sunlight which streamed from the large west facing window. Clearly Regina’s cleaner wasn’t always doing her due diligence. A quick scan told her that neither Emma nor Henry were inside. She was just closing the door and wondering where on earth they could be when she heard voices downstairs.

Spinning on the spot, Regina hurried down as fast as she could, appearing in the hallway in front of two shocked faces who were stood by the front door.

“Mom!” Henry grinned, running up and hugging the woman who was now standing stock still at the base of the staircase.

“Henry, where have you been?” Regina asked, her arms wrapping around her son’s body.

“Me and Emma went to the park. And then the shops. We bought vegetables for dinner and some chicken, didn’t we, Emma?” Henry said, turning towards the blonde who was looking guilty and had clearly realised that Regina had been searching for them.

“Yeah, we took a little longer than usual. And you’re home early. Sorry, I should have told you so you didn’t worry.”

Regina could feel her heartbeat return to normal and, with Henry still in her arms, she shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I’m sorry. I should have assumed you were running errands. There was no reason for me to think the worst.”

The worst? What was the worst? Both Emma and Regina had the same thought and neither woman had the answer. Regina had been so consumed with finding her missing family members that she hadn’t even stopped to contemplate what she thought might have happened to them.

“Henry, do you want to help us cook dinner?” Regina asked, knowing she and Emma needed to talk but that it wasn’t going to happen until her son was in bed.

“Yeah,” Henry enthused, untangling himself from his mother and making his way over to Emma had the shopping in a rucksack.

The blonde shot what she hoped was a reassuring smile at Regina before following the small boy into the kitchen. As soon as they were out of sight, Regina sagged against the bannister, her eyes closed. It was ok, she told herself. Henry and Emma were safe. They were home. She took a steadying breath and straightened herself before following the duo into the kitchen and helping them to prepare their dinner.

As soon as the door to Henry’s bedroom was pulled almost shut that night, Regina led Emma through to the living room where the remainder of a bottle of wine was waiting for them.

“I’m sorry you worried,” Emma said before Regina could even begin to formulate a sentence. “I should have texted you to let you know we were going to be back later than usual.”

“I was home early,” Regina pointed out. “But yes, in the future, perhaps you should let me know. I called you, by the way. You didn’t answer.”

Emma patted her jeans pocket before frowning. “I think my cell is in the rucksack. It’s on vibrate. I guess I didn’t hear or feel it; sorry.”

“It’s ok,” Regina sighed. “I mean, it wasn’t like I was worried that Henry wasn’t safe with you. I do trust you to take care of him.”

“But you were worried,” Emma clarified.

Regina nodded before taking a generous gulp of her wine. “Yeah, I was worried.”

“The phone call.”

It wasn’t a question. Emma knew her abrupt call to Regina hadn’t been well thought through but she had wanted to relay Killian’s message. The hot-headed, distracted approach, however, may not have been the best.

“I called my lawyer. He’s set up a meeting with Killian’s lawyer tomorrow.”

“Yeah. I guess you just bought a restaurant. Congratulations.”

“We,” Regina corrected gently. “We bought a restaurant, Emma.”

Slender fingers twisted around the wine stem. Regina could tell she was already getting to the core of the issue. She reached out and covered the fidgeting digits with her own and waited until Emma’s eyes met her own before she spoke again.

“Emma, what did Killian say to you?”

Green eyes darted away from the inquisitive yet concerned gaze. She could feel the blush rising in her cheeks. Now, sat beside Regina who was looking at her with such care and love and devotion, Emma felt foolish for reacting the way she did to Killian’s comment.

“It’s nothing,” she whispered. “Forget it.”

“It’s not nothing, sweetheart,” Regina soothed. “He upset you, didn’t he? What did he say?”

Emma chewed her lip, the words caught in her throat. She didn’t even want to voice them.

“He asked me how I got so lucky with you,” she said at last. “He said I couldn’t run HLS without you and that I was a kept woman.”

The blonde shifted out of Regina’s reach, standing up from the couch and walking over to the far side of the room. She stared out of the window into the rear garden. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular. She just needed some space. Regina seemed to understand as the brunette made no attempt to follow the blonde.

“It’s hard for me to believe, you know? That you’re really with me. That we’re really together. That you love me.”

“I do love you.” Regina couldn’t help herself. She had to say something. It hurt to hear the words; to hear how Emma felt. How could the blonde doubt the feelings they shared?

“It’s just new, I guess,” Emma sighed, still with her back to Regina. “And I don’t just mean the relationship. I’ve only been in one serious relationship before this and Elsa and I had a different dynamic. Of the two of us, I was the strong one, the protector. Elsa struggled with her mental health and was regularly depressed. I had to take care of her. She didn’t really work so I paid for everything. I didn’t mind, but we weren’t living the high life. She stayed with me and Ruby most of the time and never paid rent or chipped in for groceries, that sort of thing. And then she got better. The doctors found some meds which worked and she started to get her life together which was amazing and I’m so happy for her. But she left; she decided she wanted to find her own way.”

Regina was silent. Emma hadn’t talked much about the mysterious Elsa before and the brunette had always wondered.

“I’m over her. It was hard but I get it. She’s living in Florida now and she seems happy. I guess she needed to get away from this place and make a start fresh.”

There was another pause. Emma was gathering her thoughts, trying to work out how to put her feelings into words.

“I’ve never been taken care of before,” she said, as she finally turned around to look at Regina who was still sat on the couch. “Not when I was a kid. Not when I was with Elsa. You take care of me, Regina. Financially. After the accident. Killian’s right, I am a kept woman.” Regina opened her mouth to protest but a flash of something in Emma’s eyes made her stop. “I don’t need your money, Regina.” Her voice was rising now. “I didn’t ask you to buy HLS. You offered. I didn’t ask you to buy us a house. You’re the one that wants to move. You keep luring me in with these promises of the high life. You say I can be my own boss. You say we can have a home of our own. But it’s not ours, it’s yours. Your money; your restaurant. Your money; your house. What about me? What happens when we break up? What happens to me then? I’ll have nothing; again.”

“Emma, that’s not going to happen!” Regina cried, jumping to her feet.

“Isn’t it?” Emma shot back, louder still. “Relationships always end eventually.”

“They don’t have to,” Regina said, moving closer to the blonde who was still on the far side of the room.

“So you’re telling me you want to be together forever? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes!” Regina exclaimed. “Emma, you know that’s what I want. I thought you wanted that too.”

“It doesn’t matter what I want. Nothing ever works out for me. I’ve told you that. And if I let you buy me a restaurant and we buy a house, then I’m just setting myself up for heartbreak along with a clusterfuck of hell in the future. What’s the point? Shouldn’t I just cut my losses now?”

Regina, who had been making her way slowly towards the distraught blonde, halted in her tracks.

“What does that mean?”

Green eyes met brown once more and something registered for the first time in Emma’s brain. The words she was saying; the feelings, the deep, dark, twisted thoughts which always consumed her, filtered back through to her subconscious.

“Regina,” the blonde breathed out.

“Do you … are you breaking up with me?”

“No,” Emma gasped. “No, not at all. Why would you think that?”

The brunette was frowning now. “Because you just said you wanted to, what was it, ‘cut your losses’. Is that me? Am I your loss?”

“I didn’t mean that. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“What did you mean then?” Regina spat, the energy of the argument causing her emotions to escalate. “Because from where I’m standing it sounds like you’re throwing everything I’ve given you back in my face. I’m trying to help you, Emma.”

“I don’t need your help,” Emma shot back.

“Everyone needs help. You can’t walk through life without letting people take care of you just the same as you can’t always be the one taking care of other people.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t throw my money around to solve problems.”

“What problems?”

“The restaurant? The house?”

“I thought you wanted to buy the restaurant? I thought we were going to do that together so that you can be your own boss, have your own business. I thought we’d talked about this.”

“And the house?”

“Again, I thought we’d decided neither of us wanted to live in a house which I’d shared with my ex.”

“And what happens when we break up? I will be left with nothing. It’ll be your house, your restaurant. We’ve been together less than four months, Regina. It’s … it’s too soon.”

Tears were running down the cheeks of both women by this point. Regina hung her head, trying to gather her thoughts. Emma drained the rest of her wine and placed the glass on a side table.

“Emma, I love you,” Regina said quietly at last.

The blonde could hear a sadness that should never taint those precious words. She crossed the room at once, wrapping her arms around Regina’s body and kissing the startled brunette.

“I know. And I love you too,” Emma said when they broke apart.

A confused and dismayed face looked up at her. “Then what’s going on? I don’t understand? If you love me and I love you, why are you so afraid that everything is going to fall apart?”

“Because things always do in my life, I told you,” Emma sighed.

“Ok, then assuming that’s correct, what makes you think I would in any way try to screw you out of what would be rightfully yours if that were to happen? If we were to break up, Emma, and I’m not for a moment saying I think we will or want that to happen, do you really think I’d leave you with nothing?”

“I have nothing,” Emma reminded her. “Everything in our lives, everything you’re offering to bring into our lives; it’s yours.”

Regina reached up and pushed a few stray hairs from Emma’s face which had come loose from underneath the scarf she still wore.

“Emma, my love, don’t you get it? I don’t want the restaurant to be mine. I don’t want to buy a new house for me and Henry. I want to buy a restaurant for us. We will be partners, remember? You’re the chef and I’m the behind the scenes manager. We’d do it together. And as for the house, it was just an idea. I saw it and I enquired. I’m not saying we have to move tomorrow, or next month. We can wait six months or a year or two years. Hell, we can even wait until we get married. All I’m saying is that if and when we do buy somewhere together, it will be ours. I don’t care where the money comes from. I don’t care about who owns what percentage. We’re a team now, Emma, partners. And, just for the record, if we were ever to break up, I wouldn’t want to cut you out of Henry’s life if you’d still want to be a part of it.”

At that, Emma blinked in surprise. “You would still want me to be in contact with Henry?”
“I would and Henry would,” Regina nodded, her thumb now brushing a stray tear away. “But a break up is not going to happen. Not if I have anything to say about it. Emma, I love you. So much. I want to be with you and, yes, I want to use my money to build us a life. But I don’t consider it my money any more. It’s ours.”

Emma sniffed and nodded. “I know you say that and maybe it’s because I don’t have money but that’s hard to believe.”

“How can I make you believe it?”

The blonde shrugged. “I don’t know. Time, I guess.”

“Then time you shall have. I’m sorry, Emma. Please don’t throw away what we have because we’re moving too fast. I didn’t mean to rush you into anything you weren’t ready for. I know this has been an intense first few months to our relationship and I didn’t want to make you feel in any way pressured.”

“But that’s the weird thing,” Emma said. “I don’t feel pressured. I love living with you guys and I have enjoyed getting to know Henry and recognise how important it is for him to have stability in his life. It’s been intense since day one. I’m ok with that. I think it’s the money that’s making me feel nervous.”

“Then let’s forget the money. Forget the house. I’ll call Killian now and tell him we retract the offer.”

“No,” Emma said at once. “I mean, to the house, yes. I think that’s too much for me right now. But the restaurant … it’s an amazing opportunity and I don’t know when we’re going to get another one like it. I’m ok with the restaurant deal because I’d be working there; earning my keep, delivering profit. I feel like I have value there. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “But I don’t want to push you into anything you’re not ready for.”

“I am ready,” Emma said. “For the restaurant. But are you ok if we hold off on the house? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. What you’re offering is amazing and the house by the park is beautiful. I just … I’m not sure I can handle it.”

Regina pressed a kiss to Emma’s lips. “Ok,” she said simply when they pulled apart. “And thank you for being honest with me. If we keep being honest with each other, about everything, then we can get through anything that comes our way, I promise.”

Arms wrapped around bodies as Emma sagged into Regina’s embrace. She felt exhausted, as if her body had been holding in all her feelings for so long and was now relieved of its burden.

“I love you,” she mumbled into Regina’s neck.

The brunette pulled back before she replied. “I love you too, Emma Swan. And don’t ever doubt that for a second.”

Chapter Text

Regina turned off her alarm as soon as it chimed the following morning. She knew she ought to get up but she wasn’t willing to move away from the embrace which surrounded her. Emma’s arms were wrapped tightly around her midriff, the blonde nuzzling the back of her neck as the alarm noise roused her. She laced the fingers of one hand through Emma’s, reaching back with her other arm and caressing the younger woman’s cheek. It was a reassurance, for both women, that they were still together; still strong; still in love.

“Morning,” she murmured as Emma’s lips pressed against the nape of her neck, signalling that her girlfriend was awake.

“Morning,” Emma replied, voice muffled in Regina’s tousled hair.

Regina sighed deeply and sank a little further into the pillow. She felt Emma shift her body even closer, their light summer pyjamas warmed with the heat of their skin. This, she thought, was bliss.

“Is that a happy sigh?” Emma asked, mouth still touching Regina’s neck. Their argument the night before had been resolved and the slow, sensual, tender love making which had followed left Emma with no doubts how Regina felt about her. Except, in reality, Emma was always going to have doubts. Not about how Regina felt. In fact, perhaps it was more like disbelief. Emma was always going to be mildly astonished that she had found Regina, that she and Regina loved one another, and that finally, life was working out for her.

“Very,” Regina nodded. “You know I love waking up with you.”

“Me too. I could stay like this forever.”

Forever. That was a big word. Neither woman had mentioned Regina’s casual reference to marriage in the midst of their argument the previous evening. Emma wasn’t quite ready to discuss it yet and Regina was unaware of the slip. It had just come out. It felt natural. Because in her mind, that was where she and Emma were heading. Just not yet. The blonde was right; it was too fast. One step at a time was fine as far as Regina was concerned but it was undeniable that those steps would eventually lead them down the aisle.

“How are your hands?” Regina asked, feeling the bandages against the skin of her stomach where her spaghetti strap camisole had risen up.

“They’re ok,” Emma replied, flexing her fingers slightly. The skin was healing over now. It was pink and sensitive but it was progress. Before long, the doctor had said, the bandages could be removed.

“And your ribs?”

“Better every day,” Emma assured her, hugging Regina tighter against her front as if to prove a point.

They fell into contented silence, enjoying their time with one another. It didn’t take long before they drifted back to sleep. It had been long after one in the morning when they had finally slipped from consciousness the night before. The next thing Regina was aware of was the dipping of the mattress beside her as someone climbed beneath the covers. She cracked open one eye and came face to face with Henry.

“Good morning my little prince,” Regina whispered, smiling at the small child whose head was mere inches from her own on the pillow.

“Are you and Emma breaking up?”

The sentence was sharp, accusatory. Regina froze. “What? No, darling, why would you say that?”

“Because I heard you and Emma shouting at each other last night when I was in bed. Mrs Davis says that shouting is bad and that we shouldn’t shout, even if we’re really angry. But you and Emma were shouting. You didn’t count to ten like Mrs Davis says we should do if we get angry. So are you and Emma going to break up now?”

Regina felt the fingers tense on her stomach and knew Emma was awake and listening. Her own heart was breaking just a little at the despondent look on Henry’s face. It was as if he had resigned himself to his belief that the blonde woman was about to disappear from his life, just as Mal had. Regina untangled her fingers from between Emma’s and reached out to cup his small cheek.

“Henry, sweetheart, Emma and I are not breaking up.”

“But you were arguing,” Henry frowned.

“We were talking,” Regina replied. “A little more loudly than usual, I suppose. I’m sorry you heard that. We didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“You said that you were going to tell me before you and Emma broke up. You promised me and Archie that you’d tell me before anything bad happens. But then you were shouting at each other. That’s bad, isn’t it? That means you’re breaking up. Why didn’t you tell me?”

By this point, Emma had propped herself up on one elbow and was peering over Regina’s shoulder to look at the child.

“Henry, I’m not going anywhere, see?” Emma said, as if her presence alone would reassure him. It didn’t.

“But you were shouting.”

“I was, and that was wrong of me,” Emma said, fingers lightly stroking Regina’s stomach as if she was also apologising, once again, to the brunette. “Your mom and I had an argument but then we talked about how we feel and how much we love each other and now everything is ok. That happens sometimes in grown up relationships but just because we were arguing, doesn’t mean we’re going to break up.”

“Really?” Henry said, glancing between both faces.

“Truly,” Regina nodded. “I promise you, Emma and I are not breaking up. We love each other. And, as we agreed, if anything was going to change, we’d tell you.”

“But something changed,” Henry said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s morning and you and Emma are still in bed. When I wake up, you’re making me breakfast in the kitchen but today you weren’t there. I waited but you didn’t come so I went to watch TV but then I got bored so I came to find you here.”

Regina reached past Henry and picked up her cell which was on her bedside table.

“Shit!” she exclaimed as she took in the time displayed on the screen.

Henry’s eyes widened at the swear word as Regina suddenly shot up and began to try and detangle herself from the sheets, climbing over her son in the process. Emma stayed where she was, unaware of why Regina was now hurriedly undressing and searching for some clothes to wear.

“Gina? What’s wrong?” Emma asked.

“It’s after nine,” Regina said. “Henry, go and get your school bag ready. Have you eaten breakfast?”

“No,” Henry said, as he slid from the bed. “Well, I had some milk. But, um, there was a problem. It wasn’t my fault. I think the bottle was broken.”

Sheepishly, the boy turned and raced from the room, Regina calling after him to grab an apple to eat on the drive to school. She didn’t even want to think about the state of the kitchen. There was clearly a puddle of milk somewhere. Balancing on one foot then the other, she pulled up her pantyhose, followed by a grey skirt which she tucked into a red silk blouse.

“Leave the mess,” Emma said, knowing Regina was worrying about the kitchen. “Get Henry to school and it will all be fine. What time is our meeting with the lawyers?”

“Two thirty at their offices in town,” Regina said. “Are you coming to that?”

Emma, who was now sat up in bed, nodded. “Of course. I mean, I’ve got to start learning about this business stuff at some point. We’re partners, right? I’m not going to leave all the paperwork to you. Text me the address and I’ll Uber over to meet you.”

Despite being short on time, Regina couldn’t help but cross the room and plant a firm kiss to Emma’s lips. “I love you,” she whispered.

“Love you too, partner,” Emma said, blowing a kiss after Regina as she hurried from the room, pulling on the matching grey suit jacket as she went. “Your blouse is buttoned wrong by the way,” she added, not wanting Henry’s teachers nor Regina’s staff members to think the brunette was late because of a sexual liaison. Regina called her thanks for the heads up over her shoulder and seconds later the front door banged shut.

Over the coming weeks, Emma began to regret her declaration that she wanted to start learning business ‘stuff’. Form after form, meeting after meeting, spreadsheet after spreadsheet. By the time the final signature was finished with a flourish three weeks after their offer had been accepted, Emma was already exhausted. And it had only just begun.

The moment the door of the back office in the restaurant clicked shut behind the lawyers, Emma let out a breath and closed her eyes. Regina, sat beside her, was already filing away the paperwork.

“Are you ok?” she asked, realising Emma had been silent for almost a minute.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded, opening her eyes again. “I think so. Is that it? Are we done?”

“We’re done,” Regina nodded. “It’s official. You and I are the owners of Hook, Line and Sinker. You are your own boss, Emma Swan.”

A grin spread slowly over Emma’s lips. It was real. They had done it. She stood up and crossed to where Regina was now rummaging through Killian’s old filing cabinet, scooping the woman into her embrace. Regina giggled for a moment before Emma’s lips smothered her own. They kissed for a long time, revelling in the momentous step forwards they had taken. It was only the knock on the door which forced them apart.

“Hey, sorry to interrupt,” Ruby said when she had been given permission to enter. Emma had stepped away from her girlfriend but Regina’s flushed cheeks and Emma’s stained lips told Ruby exactly what had been happening seconds before.

“No problem. Is Henry ok?” The small boy had been entertained by Ruby during their meeting; an increasingly common occurrence since his school closed for the summer. The lanky brunette was very fond of Henry, however, and happily took care of him whenever Regina and Emma were engaged with meetings as the deal was finalised and closed.

“He’s hungry. He was asking when he could lunch.”

“I’ll make him something,” Emma said at once. “Unless you need me here?” she added, looking at Regina.

“No, go ahead,” the brunette smiled. “I just want to make a start on sorting out these documents. I don’t think Killian has sorted through these in years. Can you make us something to eat as well? I’m a bit peckish now you mention it.”

“Sure can,” Emma grinned, waggling her hands.

At last, the bandages had come off. The flesh of her palms was a little pinker than it usually was but she was able to lift up light objects and, most importantly, cook. Regina had returned home from work the previous week to be greeted by the delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen. She would never forget the look on Emma’s face that night. It was rivalled closely by the look of pride on Henry’s face as he stood, once more, beside Emma as her sous chef.

Twenty minutes later, Regina pushed the door into the commercial kitchen open and took in the sea of activity. The lunch rush had just started. Even mid-week, the place was busy. A few of the staff members glanced at Regina as she entered. She smiled and received cautious nods in return. They knew who she was. They knew what was happening. The atmosphere changed slightly as she moved further into the room and the chatter died away. At the back of the kitchen, Emma sensed the difference. She spotted Regina and beckoned her over.

It wasn’t the first time Regina had walked through the busy commercial space but this was different. This time she was their boss. She reached Emma and turned back. Eyes had followed her. As soon as they realised they had been caught staring, everyone’s attention returned to their tasks.

“They’ll get used to it,” Emma murmured, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Regina’s mouth. “It’s just a change.”

“Did you tell them?”

Emma nodded. “It’s a change for me too. I mean, I was always their boss but it’s different now, I guess. And they don’t know you. Killian could walk through here and no one gave a shit because he didn’t have a clue about restaurants. But they don’t know what you’re going to be looking out for. Plus, they know you’ll report anything to me.”

“Well, I’m not planning on micromanaging your team, you can tell them that,” Regina suggested. “Or I will, perhaps. We should have a staff meeting as soon as possible. Introduce ourselves, well, introduce me. And just talk to them about how we’re planning to run this place.”

“Sounds good but for now, are you hungry? Chef Henry has made us a delicious linguini dish with salmon.”

“Salmon?” The boy’s willingness to try new food was continuing, but the realm of fish was yet to be broached. Until that day, it seemed. Regina couldn’t wait to tell Archie. The man was already talking about reducing his meetings with the boy to fortnightly. Hopefully they were over the hardest part and Henry was well on the way to eating like a normal, healthy child. Regina was sure that the majority of his progress was due to Emma. She would never be able to tell the blonde just how grateful she was for all her help when it came to her son.

“It was orange!” Henry shouted. “Emma said the orange fish is called samman. But now it’s cooked and it’s turned pink. See, Mom?”

“That looks delicious,” Regina grinned, peering into the pot Henry had pointed to. “Are you hungry?”

“Yeah. Emma told me I could pick the plates. Look, these are funny shaped,” he grinned, gesturing to the elegant oval bowls which were usually used to serve chowder, into which Emma was now placing their lunch.

“Well, then let’s eat,” Regina said, picking up two of the bowls herself, leaving Emma to carry one between her still tender hands. Henry followed the duo out into the restaurant, smiling proudly at the other chefs as he passed. The team were already fond of the small boy.

The team became even more besotted with Henry at their first staff meeting. Emma had arranged for it to take place a few mornings after the papers were signed and set up one end of the restaurant for them all to meet. She and Regina had discussed what they wanted to say and how they wanted to start their management off on the right foot. There were changes which they wanted to implement but it was going to be a process and they didn’t want to change anything dramatically without telling the staff in advance.

As the staff members arrived that Friday morning, an hour earlier than usual, Henry was in his element as he waved to all of his new friends from where he sat with Ruby. August, in particular, had warmed to the child and he came over to sit on Henry’s other side. At once, Henry was asking about August’s motorbike. Regina had been disappointed to realise that Emma’s accident had done nothing to deter the small boy’s interest in the death traps.

Once everyone was present, Emma stood up to speak.

“Um, hi,” she said, her stomach fluttering with nerves. She wasn’t sure why. She conducted a staff briefing with half of the people in the room every morning. But this was different. After a pause, Regina took over when it became apparent the blonde had frozen.

“Hello everyone and thank you for coming in early this morning. As you know, Emma and I have bought Hook, Line and Sinker. Of course, you all know Emma very well but I’m new to most of you. I’m Regina Mills and I’ll be involved in more of the business, behind the scenes management. The kitchen is still firmly Emma’s domain and Ruby will continue to take care of the front of house. Day to day, you won’t see me much here and Emma will be your primary point of contact. But I’ll try to come in once a week at least. I already run a business in Portland where I have an open door policy. This is something Emma and I would like to implement here so if you have any questions or problems, please come to either of us.”

“Yes,” Emma said, finding her voice at last. “We want the success of HLS to be a team effort and that means we want to hear your ideas and any issues you may have. Over the next few months, I will be spending a little less time in the kitchen, to allow me to do all that boring paperwork which Regina tells me I have to do.”

There was a chuckle at that. Regina rolled her eyes but was smiling too.

“What I mean is, nothing is going to change around here as far as what I expect from my team in the kitchen. There may just be a few shifts where I won’t be present, that’s all. And, of course, Ruby will continue to be our front of house manager. We do have some changes planned for the future but for the first couple of months, everything will remain the same as Regina and I settle into the business. The first change will be an expansion of the kitchen team. We’re going to hire a couple more sous chefs to take on some of my work.”

“Can I be the new shoe chef?”

Emma blinked and turned to look at Henry who had his hand straight up in the air as if he were patiently waiting to be chosen to answer a question by a teacher. Laughter rippled around the room.

“One day, kid, but you’ve got to go to school, remember?”

“Not now. It’s the summer vacation. I can come and be your shoe chef until I go back to school, can’t I?”

Emma glanced at Regina who shrugged and winked. She decided to let Emma handle her son’s adorable request. Plus, she was trying too hard not to laugh to actually compose an answer. Emma narrowed her eyes as if to say, thanks for the help, before turning back to the boy who was patiently waiting for his answer.

“The problem is, Henry, that you’ll only be available to work for a few more weeks and then school starts again. So while you would, of course, be a big help until you had to leave, we want someone who will work with us for a long time.”

Henry pouted. “If I could, I would skip school. But Mom says I have to go.”

“You do have to,” Emma nodded. “But maybe when you’re older you can be the sous chef here. Deal?”

“Can I work with you and August?” Henry asked, turning to beam into the face of the man beside him who was smothering his own laughter.

“Sure can, my little man,” August nodded. “But I think Emma is right. Maybe wait a few years.”

“How many years is a few?” Henry asked.

“Well, usually ‘few’ means three or four but in this case it means about twelve,” Emma answered.

The pout deepened. Arms crossed. “Not fair. I wanna be a shoe chef now.”

“One day, kid,” Emma said, secretly proud that Henry was interested in following in her footsteps. “But for now, we’ll be advertising for the position. If any of you know of talented chefs in the area who are looking for work, please let them know.”

The meeting continued, Henry now sulking a little at not having been accepted for his dream job. Emma and Regina said all they needed to say and, after asking if there were any questions and answering a few about contracts and job security, dismissed everyone to begin their work. The duo retreated into the back office, Henry traipsing behind them as Ruby was busy setting up for the day and couldn’t entertain him.

“We should decorate in here,” Regina remarked as they sat down at the desk. There was now a computer on each side and two new swivel chairs. Henry had brought a few toys from home over the weeks and now had enough to keep him occupied for hours stored in a box in the corner.

“We should,” Emma nodded. The office was dark and very ‘Killian’. Fresh paint was definitely needed. “Did that meeting go well?”

“I thought so,” Regina nodded. “How did you feel about it?”

“It’s going to take some getting used to but I’m happy. I think the team are too.”

“Good,” Regina smiled. “And it’s going to continue to be important that we keep them in the loop, as we said. Communication is key.”

“Just like us.”

Regina looked up from her computer where she had been compiling the minutes from the meeting and made eye contact with Emma. “Just like us,” she repeated. “Is there anything you want to communicate with me?”

“No,” Emma shrugged. “Just that I love you.”

A soft smile played across Regina’s lips. “I’ll let you in on a little secret.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“I love you too.”

Emma’s first task as the owner of the restaurant was to hire additional kitchen staff. The summer vacation meant they were busier than ever and they needed more help. The extra hands would still be needed when Emma began to cut her own hours in the autumn to allow her to be at home a little more with Regina and Henry, particularly at the weekends.

She had never interviewed someone before and requested Regina sat in with her for the first few applicants. Regina had rearranged her working scheduled to allow her to dedicate every Friday to the restaurant and was already relishing learning a new industry. While Regina had interviewed people countless times before, it didn’t take long for Emma to pick up on the right questions and tailor them to the business. After a few interviewees had come and gone, Emma felt more confident in her own abilities and began conducting them on her own. Within a week, she had added three new talents to her team and was optimistic to see how they would do.

The second task Emma had been given, she was struggling with and was yet to finish. She and Regina had had extensive conversations on the subject and had come to a conclusion at last. The restaurant was going to be rebranded. With Regina’s marketing skills and the fact that their research showed people were coming for Emma, not the restaurant, it seemed like the right decision. They had decided that changing the restaurant’s name, developing a logo and rebranding their online presence was going to allow them to really put their own mark on the place.

Two weeks at the end of October were booked to allow for a refurbishment of the restaurant. While the kitchen needed no changes, Regina and Emma were going to redecorate the front of house as well as the office space. There were also new signs which needed to be put up, new window dressings and new décor inside. When they opened again in November, the place would be officially renewed and under new management, just in time for the end of year, festive rush.

One question remained, however. What should the new name of the restaurant be?

Chapter Text

Over the coming weeks, Emma settled into her alte