i. a conversation about love stories (that regina never wanted)
First they’re sitting at the table one evening after Henry’s vanished upstairs and Regina says, “So Hook finally wore you down.” It’s not an accusation (it can’t be an accusation when she’s in no position to accuse) but it sounds like one, and Emma gives her a dirty look and stares down at her pasta. Regina frowns and chooses her words with care. “I’m not criticizing your choices. Hook…has his appeal, but I’d have never thought you’d find true love with-“
And she can see from the way that Emma’s face darkens that she’s hit a nerve. “Why is it always true love with you people?” Emma demands, stabbing at her plate so violently that it tips to one side with a loud scrape against the table.
”So now there’s nothing between the first kiss and a lifelong commitment?” She glares up, defiant. “Hook makes sense, okay? I like him and Henry likes him and I think my dad has this weird boycrush on him and when I told my mom I was dating him, she nearly cried and talked about weddings for a half hour. They’re all happy. I’m happy.” A savage bite of baked ziti. “Why does it have to be more than that?”
"I merely thought-"
Emma sags, the fire dying within her as quickly as it had come. “We don’t all get fairy dust-mandated true loves, okay? Some of us just have to…figure things out. On our own. And yeah, with the guy who says he’s been in love with us for a year. It’s not like the Storybrooke dating pool has much to offer. It’s Hook or Leroy at this point.”
“I’m fairly certain Leroy is in love with one of the nuns.” She’s inordinately pleased when that gets a tired laugh from Emma. “You’re welcome to date whoever you want, Emma. Even if-” She frowns. “Did you say that Henry likes him? The pirate?” One year together and Emma’s introducing her son to all sorts of miscreants. She should have some say in that. (Though she’s the only one who seems to remember that Hook had once sent her off to be tortured, and now doesn’t seem the time to bring it up.)
Emma eyes her, suddenly wary at the scowl that settles over Regina’s face. “Yeah, I think so. They’d been hanging out a lot while we were fighting Zelena.” She sighs. “Henry likes him a lot. He’s been suggesting date plans with him and joining Mary Margaret in the wedding planning.”
She can feel her scowl deepen. “Yes, well, Henry likes me a lot, too. That doesn’t mean wedding bells are tolling for us, either.”
A smirk. “That’d solve a lot of problems right there. Shame you don’t like me.” Emma waggles her eyebrows and winks and Regina most certainly does not flush. It’s blatant avoidance of the topic at hand, but she takes the bait anyway. Because Emma thinks she doesn’t like her, and that’s–
“I don’t…not like you. If I did not like you, do you think you’d be sitting in my house for dinner now that Henry’s back home?” She busies herself with Henry’s empty plate and her own, yanking Emma’s plate away from where she’s playing with her pasta.
She still catches the knowing grin that spreads across Emma’s face and her cheeks are suddenly hot. “I like you too, Regina.”
“Oh, get over yourself,” she huffs, heading for the kitchen. And naturally, Emma follows, hitching herself up onto the counter next to the sink and grabbing a towel.
Regina washes the dishes with rough, businesslike swipes of a sponge, refusing to look at her. Emma takes the first plate from her after she’s spent five minutes on it, her eyes dancing with glee at her discomfort. “We’d make for a much better love story than Hook and me, too. The savior and the evil queen, three years in the making? Falling for each other in between shouts of ‘He’s my son!’” She whips the towel around with a flourish, and Regina’s never been happier to hear her front door open.
Robin pokes his head into the room to flash a smile at them both. “Ah, Emma’s still here.” She gets an odd, forced smile from him. Robin’s been typically affable to nearly everyone in Storybrooke except Emma, and Regina’s afraid to ask him why it is that he’s so wary around her.
Emma remains determinedly oblivious, though she’d caved once to ask Regina about it. (“Just a personality clash,” Regina had lied with a painfully forced smile of her own. “Imagine someone not getting along with you,” she’d added dryly, and Emma had stolen the last fry off her plate and rolled her eyes at her.) “Hey, Robin. Just hitting on your girlfriend.” The smile remains on his face, plastic and dropping dangerously toward a grimace, and Regina rubs furiously at a plate without looking at either of them. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, I promise.” Her grin falters when Robin’s fades away entirely.
“Yes, I’d heard you and Killian Jones are quite the item,” Robin says, and Regina glances up just in time to see Emma’s face drop. It’s a whole new level of queasiness that erupts within her at that.
Emma nods, slipping down from the counter and patting Regina on the arm. “Yeah, I guess. I’m gonna go say goodnight to Henry.”
She vanishes from the kitchen and Robin repeats, “I have nothing to worry about?” It’s supposed to be lighthearted, but instead it emerges heavy and grim, and Regina murmurs, “It was only a joke,” which doesn’t answer anything at all.
ii. meditation over villainy (and coffee, in the late afternoon)
“It’s weird, isn’t it,” Emma says, sliding a coffee across Regina’s desk and sitting down. The name scrawled on the styrofoam cup is Her Majesty and she rolls her eyes and tries not to smile.
“What is, dear?”
“I got the villain and you got the white hat.” She shrugs, grinning at Regina’s scowl. “Yin and yang, right?”
“They’re both thieves,” Regina says dismissively, sipping at her hot cup. There’s too much milk in it, which means Emma has figured out how she actually likes her coffee instead of how she’s said that she likes it. Terrible. “Robin’s just a thief who’s also managed to steal a second outfit.”
“Oh, ha ha.” Emma makes a face. “Hook had, like, six of the same shirts but David tried teaching him how to use a washing machine and he accidentally shrank them all. I gave him some black tees but he refuses to wear them because…I don’t know, something about feeling the wind on his chest at sea. Is that a villain thing too? Evil cleavage?”
Regina purses her lips. “Absolutely not.”
She gets a dubious sidelong glance. “Really? Because Ruby says that you–“
“I suppose this means you’ve adjusted to your life with Hook, then?” Regina cuts her off, and she takes a little time to relish the way Emma’s face pales. She might be on Team Charming lately (or perhaps the Charmings are on Team Regina now) but there’s still lasting appeal to getting in a hit that Emma Swan can’t return.
“Don’t call it that.” Emma groans. “What is an Enchanted Forest bedding and is that what it sounds like and if it is then why the fuck does my mother keep talking about it?” She leans forward. “Did you…um, did you have one of these traditional weddings when you married…” She wrinkles her nose like she’s tasted something awful. “Mygrandfather?”
Regina ignores the way bile rises in her throat at the thought of it- of Emma and her grandfather and Emma’s grandfather– “Not quite. It was a simple ceremony. A ring, a few noblemen, a terrible dress. Snow’s birthday was several months later and her celebration was thrice the size.” Emma’s looking at her like she’s said something awful, and she tries to remember if she’d accidentally mentioned any murderous intentions toward Snow and comes up blank. “Might have been why my subjects never quite took to me.”
“That or the whole evil thing, right?”
“So, you and Hook, hm?”
She gets a sulky “Fine,” and spins the cup in her hands, noting that below the Her Majesty someone has doodled a stylized Regina in pen.
They finish their coffee in silence and Regina thinks about asking why Emma is here to begin with because they hadn’t scheduled any magic lessons and she’s supposed to be having dinner with Robin after work. But Emma is quiet and she looks at peace for the first time in ages so Regina keeps quiet and watches her instead.
There’s a little dimple threatening to break free on her cheek if she smiles, and she comes close to it when Regina finishes her coffee and Emma snatches it back to decorate her name some more. Her forehead wrinkles in little horizontal lines that curve pleasingly between arched eyebrows as she focuses and she licks her lips a little too often and–
“Did women ever marry women in the Enchanted Forest?” Emma asks, and Regina blinks.
“Lesbian weddings. Yes, no, only in some realms?” The dimple makes its appearance and Regina falters. “You know, for our epic love story. I think you make a much more impressive villain for me to fall in love with.” She smirks. “Plus the whole family history. You ruin my life as a baby and then we move the moon three decades later? Henry’d need a new storybook for the length of this fairytale.”
“You’re ridiculous.” She stands up. It’s half past four, which is why these coffees make no sense and Emma’s presence here is even stranger. Robin’s probably waiting for her at Granny’s, and Emma’s going to insist on walking her, and then there’ll be stilted conversation and non-accusations and she’s just so tired of all of this. “Women wed women on occasion, yes. I haven’t heard of it in Snow’s family, though.”
“That’s another point you have on Hook, then. No wedding.” They make it outside and it’s close enough to winter that there’s a chill in the air and when she shivers, Emma pulls off her coat and offers it to her. And it’s the long peacoat and it smells like Emma’s shampoo and the Bug’s seats and not at all like pirate leather, so she pulls it around herself with no protest at all.
“Emma,” she says patiently when they’re in front of Granny’s. Robin is sitting at a table, Roland happily eating a cookie, and- of all people- Hook is standing next to him, all three watching the front window expectantly. “If you’re looking for reasons to date an evil queen instead of your boyfriend, it might be time to reevaluate the relationship.”
There isn’t a part of that that doesn’t hurt her or Emma, but somehow it twists the knife even more when Emma sighs at her and says, “You’re not an evil queen anymore, no matter how ridiculous your embargo on the sheriff’s department has gotten.”
“Go ahead,” the other woman adds, squeezing her arm over the coat. “Robin’s waiting for you.” She flashes a smile as she walks on down the block. Inside, Hook frowns and makes a beeline for the door. “I’ll call you.”
She doesn’t retrieve her coat and Regina keeps it folded on her lap while she drinks black coffee and smiles at Robin and watches Hook catch up to Emma outside.
iii. dinner and a show (specifically, for the two men they don’t belong to)
“Hi.” Emma is giving her that ridiculous puppy-dog smile, the one she’d seen once the night they’d first met and more and more since Emma had come back to town, and Regina might have smiled back except that Hook is standing behind Emma on her porch with one hand on the small of Emma’s back.
“Absolutely not,” she says, and slams the door in Emma’s face.
Her phone rings a moment later and she snatches it up. “No, Miss Swan.”
“Come on, Regina, it’s my birthday. Hook wants to spend it with me and I want to spend it with Henry…and you,” she adds, and Regina shrugs off the warmth that spreads through her at Emma’s words. “So don’t send us to Granny’s, okay? You’re still stuck with us if you kick us out this time.”
She frowns, pulling the door open again. “Why in the world would you need me to come with you?”
A tilted head, an unimpressed face. “Oh, are we still pretending that we’re not friends? I’ve already planned our lives together. Mary Margaret might have gotten sick when I suggested that bedding thing at our wedding.”
Hook laughs. Regina rolls her eyes. “I thought the lack of a wedding was my big draw.”
“Yeah, well,” Emma shrugs. “You didn’t get me a birthday present, right? So let me spend this time with everyone I want to.”
“Actually-“ She had gotten Emma a gift, a coat to replace the one that Emma has seen on her a dozen times since she’d loaned it to her and hasn’t asked for it back. It’s warm and classy and the color brings out the green in Emma’s eyes and she’d been planning on sending it with Henry when he slept over this weekend. Except now Emma wants to spend her birthday with Regina. And Hook. “I’ll call Robin,” she says finally. “If we’re making this a family dinner.”
She sees Emma’s wince and determinedly ignores it.
They have a barbecue in the backyard. The curse had given Regina a now-ancient charcoal grill that she’d never touched, but Emma pronounces it acceptable and Robin and Hook both eye it with the uncertainty of men accustomed to starting their own fires. Still, the food is good, Emma and Henry and Roland are happy, and Hook is working at the grill with Robin so she can pretend he isn’t there at all.
The awkwardness only sets in once Henry claims exhaustion and heads upstairs with Emma and Robin carries Roland up there, too, to set him up in the trundle bed under Henry’s. And then she’s alone with Hook, who holds out a flask and says, “Rum?” like they’re still reluctant allies and he isn’t dating a woman who’s so far beyond him that Regina had thrown things when she’d found out about it.
She gives him a cool glare and heads to the kitchen. “Do not sit on my couch wearing that filthy jacket.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” he drawls, dropping the coat onto the couch and following her. “What is it I’ve done to you now?”
He shrugs, batting his eyelashes at her like he’s a teenager and does that actually work on Emma? She turns away, disgusted. “We’ve both moved past some of the other’s worst. I’d thought. And now we have Emma and Henry in common.” He frowns. “I hope you don’t believe I’m trying to take up your time with your son. Emma’s said you have trouble sharing.”
“Emma says too much,” she mutters, glancing toward the stairs and noting with some relief that both their significant others are descending them, matching forced smiles on their faces as they look at her.
“How about some cider?” Emma suggests, and it’s still her birthday for another two hours and Regina remembers too damned well that it’s also the day that she had ruined Emma’s life three decades ago, so she might owe her just these final two interminable hours.
And so they drink, Emma on one side of her and Robin sitting stiffly on the other and Hook sprawled out across from the three of them with his flask of rum. Which, naturally, is enough to drive anyone to drink.
She’s too aware of Emma, casually leaning against her as she laughs and swallows and pours herself another glass of cider; and she’s too aware of Robin, drinking and drinking and getting progressively more affectionate with every glass. She doesn’t dare to do much more than nurse her first glass and stay silent as the other three trade off stories in good-natured one-upmanship.
“A dragon?” Robin snorts, an arm flung around Regina’s shoulders. It’s too heavy, too warm, and Emma’s hand has fallen accidentally on Regina’s thigh and it’s much too hot in this room, does anyone else notice? “How very noble of you.” His words are half-slurred. He’s drunk, Emma’s drunk, and only Hook seems sober enough even with all that rum.
“I was trying to save our son,” Emma says defensively. “Mine and Regina’s son. Regina was there, too, right?” She drinks again, not waiting for Regina’s response. “A lot went on here before you all came with your- your woodsmanning and your pirating.” She waves vaguely at both men, earning a quirked eyebrow from Hook and a scowl from Hood. “We fought, like, every day.” She beams at Regina and Regina bites back what is definitely not a smile. “You were evil.” Emma nods vigorously, squeezing her thigh. Definitely unconsciously. Or maybe she’s just handsy when she’s drunk.
“You had it coming,” Regina retorts, smiling in earnest now because Emma like this is…well. Adorable. “You ruined my life.” It’s a gross exaggeration, now that Henry is back home and she suddenly has allies and a lover and Emma is her– “Ruined it,” she repeats, and Emma nudges her knee with her own, sliding a foot against her leg. Definitely handsy. She flushes. Hook snickers.
“Shh.” Emma presses a finger to Regina’s lips and she falls silent, her lips parting automatically under Emma’s touch. Robin’s arm tightens around her. “I’m gonna sweep you off your feet someday, remember?”
She tenses, her shoulders stiff and her fingers gripping her glass. “Stop it.” Robin sighs low in his throat, and Hook is suddenly eyeing them with narrowed eyes. “You’re not nearly as amusing as you think you are when you’re drunk,” she says, but her voice wavers too much and now Hook’s eyes are on her and this is just a magnificent mess, isn’t it?
“Excuse you!” Emma says, indignant. “I happen to be a hilarious drunk. And I’m not even drunk. Your cider is just-“ She downs another glass. “It’s really good.”
Regina tries for some firmness in her voice. “I think you should go home now.” Robin relaxes. About a hair. She’d be annoyed at him if she didn’t understand completely. She hates how well she understands, and how helpless she’s been to change things.
There’s nothing to change, though, nothing she can wish away or that she’s willing to give up, not when the elephant in the room is precisely one-half the reason Regina’s become the person she is now. Her mother had been half right. It’s weakness and it’s also strength and she’s not willing to forgo the latter because the former looms over her every interaction with both Robin and Emma.
Emma frowns. “Are you kicking me out?” She squints at her. “I thought you didn’t not like me.”
“Emma…” She feels the hot spots high on her cheeks. And remembers, a moment too late, that Captain Hook is never to be trusted at the wheel of a car after that incident last month. “I’m going to give you a ride home. Sleep it off.”
And somehow they’re in her car a few minutes later, Robin watching them from the window and Hook wandering off on his own in search of more alcohol, and Emma’s hand is back on her thigh and she’s having more trouble concentrating on the road than on that touch. “Emma,” she sighs once, but she can’t say anything, can’t allow herself to acknowledge the hand or push it away, and it’s all harmless between friends who are both very much involved with other people and Emma isn’t interested in her so what’s the point, anyway?
“Why didn’t you invite your parents, too?” she asks instead. “To dinner tonight. Not that I’d want them to be there,” she inserts hastily, even though Emma’s grinning at her like she isn’t quite so inebriated anymore and knows exactly what she’s thinking. She doesn’t. Regina doesn’t like the Charmings, that’s never going to change, but they’ve become a necessary evil and they’re…tolerable now. For Henry’s sake, anyway. (For Emma’s, too.)
Emma shrugs. “I didn’t want it to be awkward and I wanted you there. I see them all the time.” She laughs suddenly.
“I didn’t want it to be awkward and you brought Robin Hood!” She laughs again, too high and giddy for her to be sober, and Regina’s absolutely incapable of not laughing because Emma’s whole face lights up when she’s giggling like this, precious and magical in ways far beyond even Regina’s skills, and they’re both still laughing when she parks in front of the Charmings’ and they stumble out of the car together.
“I wish he liked me,” Emma confesses. “He’s important to you and he doesn’t like me and I don’t want you to not like me either. I don’t know why he doesn’t like me.” She frowns, pensive. “I don’t think I like him, either.”
"That’s all right," Regina says dryly. "I’m not exactly fond of Hook."
"I know you aren’t." Emma leans into her as they walk up the steps to her house, bracing herself on Regina’s arm. "I just…it’s so easy. And it’s nice to have someone who puts me first, right? Who loves me more than I love him.” She sighs, her words still sliding together a bit more than they should if she were sober. She’s saying more than she would if she were sober, too, and Regina should stop her but she can’t remember how to speak for a moment. “I know it’s selfish.”
She breaks away from Regina to lean against the doorframe and Regina can only stare at her, stricken. “You know…you know Henry loves you more than anything.” She wants to say more but it’s unwarranted and unwanted, meaningless words that will only create new walls between them. “You’ll always come first for him.”
“But he lives with you,” Emma says, and she must still be drunk, because they don’tever talk about that. They talk about scheduling and dinners and after-school plans, but they don’t talk about the night after Henry had gotten his memories back, when Emma had smiled at them both and said, Henry, do you want to go back to your mom’s? and Regina had gaped and Henry had nodded and months of depression had begun to fade away with those ten little words.
And now Emma’s swaying in the wind and she’s holding on to herself and she’s repeating, “He lives with you.”
“Why?” Regina whispers. It’s the one piece of Emma Swan she still hasn’t figured out, how Emma could just…surrender like that. How she can let Henry go when he’s everything to them both now. “Why did you even suggest it? You didn’t have to. I hadn’t thought you would.”
Emma shrugs, tilting her face to the stars overhead. The moon reflects off it, and it’s pale and wrought in shadows. “I wanted to give you two good memories, too.”
Regina’s stepping forward before she can stop herself, moving closer as though she has no choice, her hand reaching up to stroke Emma’s cheek and guide her back down to face her. They stand inches away from each other, Emma’s eyes dilated under half-open lids and her breath soft and even against Regina’s lips, and Regina’s about to ruin everything, destroy a friendship and a pixie dust guarantee and all the happiness she’s found for herself these past months when Emma whispers, “And now you also have Robin.”
She takes a step back but she can’t retract her hand, not when Emma’s skin is so hot beneath her palm and wisps of blonde hair are silky under the pads of her fingers. “And you love him, right?” Emma smiles, and it’s sharp and soft and painful all at once. “I’m happy you have him.”
“And you have the pirate,” Regina murmurs, and she doesn’t know what’s happening anymore except that Emma is pressing her own hand to Regina’s and removing it from her face to lace their fingers together.
“I do.” Emma squeezes her hand and smiles again, though it doesn’t reach her eyes. Regina holds on.
Emma opens the door and lets her hand go as she vanishes inside, and Regina stands silently on her doorstep and breathes.