Regina slips into Granny’s before the morning rush has truly begun, intent on grabbing a coffee and making it to town hall early. With the recent threat from Zelena now neutralized, there is an endless slew of things she needs to catch up on - despite what some people think, Storybrooke doesn’t actually run itself.
Granny’s is mostly empty at this hour but Regina immediately spots Emma sitting in a booth in the corner. She’s chewing on the end of a pen, her face scrunched up as she squints down at a newspaper on the table, seemingly deep in thought, and Regina is absolutely incapable of stopping the smile that tugs at the corners of her mouth. She orders a to go coffee and a second coffee in a mug and she carries them both over to Emma’s table.
“Morning,” Regina says, setting the coffee that is in a mug down beside Emma’s newspaper.
Emma blinks startled looking up at Regina, then down at the coffee, and back up at Regina. She pulls the pen out of her mouth so that she can smile and say, “Thanks.”
Regina lifts one shoulder, in a no big deal gesture. “You looked like you could use a coffee.”
Emma runs a hand through her hair. “Good to know I look like shit.”
Regina’s eyes widen. “That’s not-”
Emma cuts her off before she can actually apologize. Her eyes are soft and amused. “I was just kidding, Regina.”
Regina relaxes but still feels the need to explain. “It was just the squinting face you were making. It seemed like you were doing an awful lot of thinking for so early in the morning.”
Emma shrugs at that, reaching for the coffee mug and bringing it up to her mouth, taking a slow sip. She’s smiling when she pulls it back. “Just cream?”
Regina nods, returning the smile. Of course she knows Emma’s coffee order. “I still find it oddly surprising that you don’t dump a mountain of sugar in your coffee.”
Emma doesn’t look offended by that, if anything, she just looks amused. “What can I say? I’m full of surprises.”
Regina laughs. “Don’t I know it.”
“You going to sit?” Emma asks, motioning with her hand to the empty bench across from her.
Regina has all that work to get to at town hall but there isn’t even a second of hesitation as she slides into the booth, setting her coffee cup down on the table. Her eyes drift to the newspaper section in front of Emma, reading the title Classifieds . “You aren’t looking for a new job, are you?” she’s not being especially serious, although there is a half a second of worry that niggles at the back of her brain before Emma answers.
“Of course not.” Emma taps her fingers against the table, looking sort of hesitant before she admits with slumped shoulders, “I’m trying to find a place to live. I don’t think Granny’s long term is really going to work. But the real estate market is still pretty optionless. I guess all these new residents aren’t really helping matters.”
Regina’s lips purse as she studies Emma, trying to sort out why she looks so desolate about needing to find a place to live. “You aren’t moving back in with your parents?” she asks carefully - Henry had mentioned that possibility to Regina.
Emma bites her lip, lifting her shoulders in a halfhearted shrug. “I considered it… but, well… with the baby and all… they kind of need my old room, I guess.”
Regina can read between the lines here, can tell that Emma hasn’t gotten this idea all on her own. She can’t help the flair of anger that she feels on Emma’s behalf. How dare Snow and David not make Emma feel anything but welcome? She has half a mind to storm over to the loft right this minute and give them a piece of her mind. “I’m sure your parents would be glad to have you, Emma,” is what she says. Snow and David are idiots but Regina trusts that that much must at least be true. She has to believe that they wouldn’t actually turn Emma away if she asked to stay with them, no matter what they might have said to make her feel that way.
Emma shrugs again, looking down at the table and mumbling, “They already painted the room blue.”
Regina’s nose wrinkles. “Of course they did,” she hisses under her breath. Trust the Charmings to buy into gendered paint colours. She really is going to give them a piece of her mind. But her anger isn’t especially helpful to Emma right this very second.
Regina reaches across the table and brushes her fingers against Emma’s forearm. She waits for green eyes to be drawn away from the tabletop, upwards to meet hers. She gives Emma's arm a gentle squeeze, punctuating it with a soft smile, before she pulls her hand back. “Living with a newborn isn’t any fun anyways,” she says wryly.
The laugh that bubbles its way out of Emma’s chest is music to Regina’s ears. It’s one of her favourite sounds - especially when she’s the one who’s caused it.
“I do remember that much,” Emma says and then her eyes widen as realization dawns on her and discomfort falls over her like a blanket. “Or, well, fake remember… or whatever… you know what I mean.”
Regina’s not sure what she’s supposed to say to that. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes softly because Emma’s discomfort somehow feels like her fault.
“No,” Emma shakes her head venehemately, straightening in her seat as a flash of something fierce fills her eyes. “You’re not allowed to apologize for doing the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”
Regina swallows thickly. She wants to protest but she finds herself nodding once in agreement instead, because Emma’s expression has left no room for debate, and everything about this topic feels too fragile for so early in the morning.
Emma sighs softly, her shoulders slumping once more. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make everything super awkward.”
“You didn’t,” Regina replies without hesitation. She tilts her head and studies Emma a moment. “It must be impossibly odd to have two sets of memories.”
Emma shrugs her shoulders. There's a sort of far away look in her eye, but when she speaks, all she says is, “I'm sorting it out,” in a way that doesn't really invite further conversation.
Regina isn't going to push, she just offers Emma an understanding smile, one side of her mouth twitching upwards.
Emma smiles too, relaxing instantly as she reaches for her coffee mug.
They fall into a companionable silence, each sipping their own coffee, lost in thought.
Regina is the one who breaks it. “You know, you should move into the manor.” She says it casually, like this isn’t something she’s actually been thinking about ever since Henry got his memories back - which it most definitely is .
Emma’s eyes widen in surprise and then she turns into a rambling mess. “I, uhhh… that’s… a really nice offer, Regina. But you don’t have to do that. I’m sure I’ll find somewhere to live.”
Regina’s mouth twists as she tries to discern what Emma’s reaction means. Does she just not want to live with Regina? Or is this something different? Regina really does want Emma to move in though. She’s just been having a difficult time sorting out how to bring it up. “It makes sense, Emma,” she says carefully, “You need somewhere to live and this way neither of us has to ever be away from Henry. It really would be ideal.” It's the truth - after a year apart from Henry, Regina really doesn't want to be away from him any more than she needs to be. Having Emma close would just be an added benefit.
Emma’s brow crinkles. “But don’t you already have a house guest?”
Regina’s not sure Zelena counts as a house guest . The manor is just somewhere for her to live while she is being rehabilitated. Who else in town would be able to keep the Wicked Witch under control, after all? It’s a point that Emma and Regina had fought quite venehementaly about, actually. Emma filled with worry about Regina and Henry’s safety. But Regina had won the argument because, despite Emma’s protests, there really is no risk, not with the spell that prevents Zelena from being able to leave the house and the second spell that prevents Zelena from being able to harm anyone within the confines of the manor. Zelena’s been at the manor two weeks now and things have certainly been interesting but Zelena being there in no way affects Regina's offer for Emma to come live with them.
“It’s a big house, Emma, there’s room for you and Zelena,” Regina says. “Plus, this way you could see for yourself that she really isn’t a threat.”
Emma bites her lip. “I don’t know.”
“If you don’t want to, I understand, it really is up to you,” Regina says carefully, trying not to let her disappointment show, even as her heart sinks. “I just thought it might be nice.”
Emma looks down at the newspaper and then back up at Regina. Her expression is still filled with hesitation but there’s a flicker of something else there too, something that looks oddly like hope or, maybe, longing. “I mean… it would be nice to be with Henry all the time,” she says slowly.
Regina’s heart flutters annoyingly in anticipation of Emma’s agreement. “Is that a yes?” she manages the question evenly, despite the rapid tap tap tap of her heart against her rib cage.
“Yeah, I think so.” Emma smiles - it’s an odd shy sort of smile that makes Regina’s heart swell with fondness.
“Good.” Regina can’t help but beam. “Come by after work.”
“You want me to move in tonight ?” Emma’s eyebrows quirk upwards.
Regina just lifts a shoulder. “What’s the point in waiting?”
Emma laughs. “Yeah, I guess. Although, don’t you think you should check with Henry and Zelena first?” She looks nervous as she stares across the table at Regina.
“ Emma ,” Regina says and it's filled with softness. “It’s all of us living together, Henry is going to be so excited.”
Emma smiles shyly. “Yeah?”
Regina doesn’t understand why Emma is so uncertain about this but she smiles reassuringly at her and nods. “Of course.”
“Okay,” Emma nods too, like she’s convincing herself.
“Okay as in okay you’ll bring your stuff over tonight?” Regina asks and it’s her turn to feel a little nervous. What if the hesitation is because Emma doesn’t actually want to live with her ?
“Well, umm…” Emma hesitates. “Shouldn't we maybe talk about rent first? Or, like, sign a tenant agreement?”
Regina quirks an incredulous eyebrow. “Do you really think I was planning on charging you rent?” She doesn't add that the idea that Emma thinks Regina could ever consider her a tenant is a little bit insulting.
Emma looks a little baffled, like she's not sure how she's supposed to respond to that. “Maybe?”
Regina shakes her head. “Well, I wasn't. I'm not . And that's not up for debate,” she adds that last bit firmly because she knows Emma and she's not about to let her even try to insist.
“Oh…” Emma rubs the back of her next, her brow scrunched in confusion. “You're sure?”
Regina can't help but laugh. “Yes, I'm quite sure.”
“Then, yeah, I guess, I will move in tonight,” Emma confirms and she’s smiling that sort of nervous shy smile again. “Thanks Regina, this is… it’s really nice of you.”
Regina’s heart swells. She’s not sure exactly when she became so impossibly fond of the woman who was supposed to be her undoing, but here she is now and she doesn’t even so much mind. “You’re welcome,” she murmurs, fondness spilling out, making her eyes shine.
That night, Emma rings the doorbell.
Regina opens the door to find her on the front porch with one suitcase at her feet and a bag slung over her shoulder. “You’re going to have to stop ringing the doorbell if you live here, you know,” she says, quirking an eyebrow.
Emma laughs. “Probably. It’s going to feel weird though.”
Regina shakes her head, an amused smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Here,” she offers, taking the suitcase from Emma and wheeling it into the house. “Come in.” She doesn’t comment on Emma’s one suitcase and one bag. She knows a lot of Henry and Emma’s things are probably still in New York. Someday they will need to go collect them, she supposes.
With Emma trailing behind her, Regina rolls the bag through the living room where Zelena is sprawled out on the couch like she owns the place, flipping through a magazine.
“What’s this? Regina’s halfway house getting another detainee?” Zelena comments lazily.
“Emma hasn’t committed any crimes, thank you very much,” Regina narrows her eyes at her sister.
“Recently,” Zelena points out and, for some reason, Regina's not even surprised that she knows that. Zelena flips a page of the magazine and adds, “That you know of.”
Emma shifts uncomfortably and Regina rolls her eyes. “Be nice. Emma is going to be staying here for… awhile.” Truthfully, Regina wouldn’t mind if Emma were to stay here forever but she knows that that’s maybe a bit too much to hope for. Surely someday Emma will find a reason to move out.
Zelena pushes herself up on the couch into a seated position. “You didn’t think to consult me before you invited more people into our home?”
“This isn’t your home, Zelena. You’re here on house arrest. You don’t get any say.” It’s a little more snappish than is Regina’s intent but she doesn’t apologize because she can still perfectly picture Emma's hesitation earlier today and she won't have Zelena making her doubt that she's welcome here. “And I want Emma here,” she adds for emphasis.
Zelena rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Turn this place into Full House, see if I care.”
Regina rolls her eyes right back. “You've been watching far too many 90s sitcoms since you got here.” That has actually been a sticking point with Henry, who's complained more than once that Regina would never let him watch that much television. But Zelena spending all of her time watching Netflix has certainly been keeping her out of trouble, so Regina isn't about to stop her.
Emma laughs, biting her lip and ducking her head when Regina looks over at her.
“Oh you think that’s funny?” Regina asks, amused.
“Sorry,” Emma says sheepishly but she’s still grinning when she looks back up. “It’s just… Zelena isn’t wrong. This whole thing does have a sitcom kind of vibe. You have to admit it.”
“Thank you,” Zelena says, grinning smugly. “I changed my mind. Blondie here is a nice addition to this household.”
Regina shakes her head, ignoring Zelena, and narrowing her eyes playfully in Emma’s direction. “I invited you to live here, you’re supposed to be on my side,” she says in mock annoyance.
Something about Regina’s teasing has Emma freezing, the smile falling from her face. “Sorry,” she repeats her previous apology but this time there's no teasing in her tone, she's quiet, hesitant.
Regina frowns. She isn’t quite sure what she’s done wrong or how to fix it. “You don’t…” she starts but Emma is staring at her blankly, so she just finishes with, “it’s okay.” She sighs softly when all she gets in response to that is a shoulder shrug. “Come on, I’ll show you your room.”
Regina gives Emma the spare room across from the master bedroom.
“There’s hangers in the closet but let me know if you need more. And if you don’t like the wall colour, or the bedspread, or anything else, just say so and we’ll change them, alright?” Regina’s not sure why she’s suddenly so nervous, only that Emma’s been quiet since her apology in the living room, and Regina doesn’t like that one bit. She’s still not sure what she did wrong but she’s rather desperate to fix it.
Emma stands in the middle of the room, looking around, taking in the soft yellow walls, the white quilt covering the bed, and the chest of drawers against the far wall. “This is great, Regina. Thanks,” she says quietly.
“Of course,” Regina says. “I really am glad you agreed to come stay here, Emma. I think this is going to be good for us.” She flushes when she realizes how that maybe sounds and rushes to add, “For you and Henry and me, I mean.”
There’s a flicker of something oddly like longing in Emma’s eyes but then it’s gone and Regina’s not entirely sure she didn’t just imagine in. “I’m glad too,” Emma says and it’s impossibly soft.
“Well,” Regina swallows thickly. “I guess, I’ll leave you to unpack. Like I said, let me know if you need more hangers.”
“Okay,” Emma agrees.
Regina starts to head for the door but stops and turns back around. “Oh, I’m making fish tacos for dinner. Is that okay with you?”
Emma looks up from where she’s still staring at the bed. “Sure,” she agrees easily.
“Good.” Regina smiles. “Do you like cilantro?” she thinks to ask before she turns around to leave again.
Emma’s face is unreadable for a moment but then she shrugs. “Yeah, sure.”
Emma does not like cilantro. This becomes plainly obvious at dinner, where Regina watches her from across the table as she attempts to be subtle about picking it out of the taco on her plate.
Henry is busy talking about his day, prattling on about his classmates and his lessons, and Regina really should be listening more carefully but she can’t seem take her eyes off of Emma.
“Emma,” she finally says when there is a break in the conversation. “Why did you say you liked cilantro if you don’t?”
Emma looks up with wide eyes filled with guilt at being caught. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “I just didn’t want to be an imposition, you know? It’s not a big deal. I can eat it.”
“ Emma ,” Regina says and, this time, the way she says the name is much softer. “It wouldn’t have been an imposition. It would have been easy to make some with and some without.”
Emma shrugs, looking down at her plate. “It’s fine, really.”
Zelena rolls her eyes and snaps her fingers. “ There , cilantro gone. You can both stop being so ridiculous.”
“ Zelena ,” Regina groans. “What did I say about using magic for unnecessary things?”
“ Don’t ,” Zelena supplies with another eye roll. “Trust me, it was necessary. You looked too much like a pitifully sad puppy at having cooked something your girlfriend here doesn’t like.”
“She's not my girlfriend,” Regina hisses instantly, hating the way her heart rate increases traitorously at the word girlfriend .
“Why not? You share a son. And now you live together. Seems like the logical next step.” Zelena smirks, ridiculously pleased with herself for making this joke.
Henry covers his mouth, presumably to hold back a fit of laughter, while Emma is slowly turning red.
“That’s enough, Zelena.” Regina glares at her, her heart still racing in her chest.
“You’re no fun, you know that?” Zelena looks far more smug than repentant at having gotten a rise out of Regina.
Regina doesn't bother answering that, she just glares at Zelena across the table until, out of the corner of her eye, she catches the way Emma smiles in something close to pure bliss when she takes a bite of the now cilantro-less taco. She's forced to relent the glare with a sigh. She's not going to be grateful for Zelena interfering, except for, well, Emma is still smiling happily, and maybe she is just a little.
Emma insists on doing the dishes no matter how many times Regina says she doesn't have to and, frustratingly, refuses to accept Regina’s help.
Emma’s been alone in the kitchen on cleanup duty for twenty minutes when Regina slips back in.
Emma is standing at the sink, dish towel flung over her shoulder, scrubbing furiously at a pan, and humming a song that Regina doesn't quite recognize. It's a sight that instantly brings a fond smile to Regina's face.
“Hey,” Regina says as she moves further into the room.
“Regina!” Emma startles, spinning around rapidly to look at her.
“Sorry,” Regina apologizes and then rushes to add, “I just wanted to make a cup of tea,” before Emma assumes that she's here checking up on her. “Did you want one?” she asks as she heads toward the cupboard where the kettle is kept.
“No, thanks.” Emma shakes her head and then turns her attention back to the pan in the sink.
Regina takes out the kettle, fills it with water, and then plugs it into the wall. While she waits for it to boil she opens another cupboard and pulls out a mug and a tea bag. With nothing left to do, she leans against the counter and watches Emma. “Can I ask you something?” she asks carefully after a minute.
Emma goes rigid, turning slowly to look at Regina. Her hands are soapy, dripping water onto the floor, and she blows ineffectively at a piece of hair that's fallen in front of her left eye. She tries this once, twice, a third time before she gives up with a sigh and reaches up for the dish towel still on her shoulder, dragging it down and wiping at her hands. She tosses it onto the counter and then uses a now dry hand to move the offending piece of hair away from her eye. It's only then that she answers Regina's question with a hesitant, “What's up?
Regina hadn't meant for it to sound so serious and she regrets having somehow worried Emma. She feels almost sheepish asking her question now but she also can't just say nothing . “I was just wondering about the cilantro. Why did you say you liked it?”
Emma shrugs. “I'm not ever going to not eat food that’s put in front of me. Especially not when it is fresh like that. It didn't seem important that cilantro isn't my favourite.”
There's something about the way Emma says fresh , as if she's eaten plenty of food that wasn't fresh, that causes a pang in Regina's chest. Not for the first time, she can't help but wonder how often Emma went without . Can't help but think that she'll always be to blame for that - she might not have been the one who'd shoved Emma into a wardrobe and idiotically hoped for the best but it was her curse that had forced that choice.
Emma's head tilts, curious green eyes studying her. “ Regina , really, it's not a big deal. I promise.” There's something about her tone that suggests she’s got an inkling of exactly what Regina is thinking.
Regina sighs. “This is your…” she catches herself before she says home , which feels like it might be too presumptuous of her, especially since Emma has been here all of two hours, instead finishing with “...place of residence.” It's an oddly formal way of saying where you live but she just keeps going like it's what she intended all along. “I want to know what foods you do and don't like because I want you to be happy here, Emma, not forcing yourself to eat things you hate.”
Emma blinks slowly, her face blank and unreadable, although maybe she's just stunned.
The kettle is boiling now, hissing loudly and forcing Regina to draw her eyes away from a still silent Emma. She unplugs it from the wall, the hissing quieting, and Regina pours the hot water into the mug with the awaiting tea bag.
“I don't really like mushrooms,” Emma says quietly while Regina's back is still turned. “Or cilantro.”
Regina leaves the tea to steep and turns back to face Emma. She smiles. “Okay, I think I can work with that.”
Emma shuffles her feet somewhat nervously but she's smiling too. She shrugs, rubbing the back of her neck. “And like, I can cook too, you know? You're already letting me stay here for free, you don't have to cook all my meals on top of that.”
Regina doesn't really like the way Emma describes herself living here as Regina letting her stay, something feels off about it. But she shakes the wary feeling away and aims for levity instead. “Be honest, when you say you can cook, are you just talking about macaroni and cheese?”
Emma looks like she might be insulted for a split second but then she laughs brightly, shaking her head. “You know what? Homemade mac and cheese actually is my speciality. With broccoli and with bread crumb topping.”
“Shocking,” Regina deadpans and then laughs too. “Actually, the shocking bit is that you like broccoli. You eat like a child so often, I just assumed you would also have an aversion to green vegetables.”
“Shut up,” Emma grumbles but she's still smiling.
Later that night, Regina knocks on the door to Emma's room. Just thinking Emma's room, acknowledging that Emma has a room here in Regina's home, causes Regina's heart to flip in a way that probably means something, but not a something that she is going to let herself think about.
“Come in,” Emma calls through the closed door.
Regina opens the door and steps into the bedroom.
Emma is sitting cross legged on the bed in plaid pajama bottoms and a white tank top, her hair wet, ringlets framing her face, and her phone in her hand. She’s looking expectantly up at Regina.
Regina holds up the blanket she's carrying. “I just wanted to bring you an extra blanket. In case you get cold.”
Emma blinks slowly. “Thanks.”
“Of course,” Regina nods, setting the blanket on the edge of the bed. Her eyes drift to the closet, where Emma's suitcase sits on the bottom, empty hangers above it. Her lips purse. “You haven't unpacked?”
Emma's eyes follow hers to the closet and she bites her lip. “Not yet.”
Regina tries not to read too much into this packed suitcase, even though there’s a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Well…” she looks back at Emma, and ignores the odd tension suddenly filling the room, “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Regina,” Emma says so softly that all the tension in the room somehow seems to just melt away. That odd sort of longing expression from earlier is back on her face, this time unmistakable, leaving Regina to wonder what exactly it means as she slips across the hall to her own room.
Regina expects living with Emma to be a little like living with Henry - shoes left on the stairs, coats and sweaters flung haphazardly over the backs of couches, plates and glasses used for snacks never quite making it to the sink, and impish smiles and shrugs of apology that always work on Regina. Instead, Emma seems to take up no space whatsoever - her shoes are always perfectly stored, coat always hung on the rack, any dirty dish that exists seems to immediately vanish when she's home, and she takes to vacuuming daily .
Zelena, especially, finds the vacuuming amusing, commenting one night, “I'd never have pegged you as the Danny Tanner of this group.”
Emma goes bright red at that, grumbling something unintelligible, and disappearing to vacuum a room Zelena isn't in.
Regina tries to talk to her about it but Emma shuffles from foot to foot for the entirety of the conversation, and doesn't meet Regina's eyes, so Regina just lets her vacuum without comment after that.
It's not just in the shared living spaces that Emma manages to take up no room. After two weeks, Emma’s room somehow looks exactly the same as it did when it was a guest room - the bed is always meticulously made, and not a single personal item lies on the nightstand or the dresser. Worst of all, her suitcase remains packed, sitting at the bottom of a closet filled with empty hangers just waiting to have clothes hung from them.
Any time Regina mentions unpacking, the only thing Emma says is, “I will,” while looking varying degrees of uncomfortable, and eventually Regina gives up asking.
She worries about it constantly though, worries that Emma not unpacking means that Emma doesn't want to be here, worries that it means any day now Emma is just going to up and leave. She hates how bothered she is by the idea of Emma moving out, but it doesn't make that concern go away.
The things is, when Emma isn't busy doing dishes or vacuuming incessantly, having her here feels so right.
There's mornings where they slip into a routine so easily that it feels like someone has choreographed it. Regina making breakfast, while Emma starts coffee, and Zelena flips the paper at the table reading out loud the juiciest town gossip with mocking commentary added. Henry always manages to stumble in bleary eyed exactly when breakfast is ready, plopping down at the table and gulping a glass of orange juice Emma pours for him.
There's afternoons where Emma plays video games with Henry, while Zelena sits nearby and heckles them both, until they shove a controller in her hand and make her join in, Regina being pulled in too to even out the teams. Zelena acts like she hates it, but when she and Henry crush Emma and Regina, Zelena grins what might be the first genuine smile Regina's seen her give.
There's evenings where Zelena forces them all to watch Full House, somehow successfully convincing everyone to use their turn to pick the thing she wants to watch. Regina regularly finds herself curled up on the couch between Emma and Henry like it's a place she's meant to be.
Yes, everything about Emma living in the manor feels right, but Emma won't unpack her suitcase, and all Regina can do is worry.
It's in the middle of the third week that Regina finally decides to ask Henry. Surely he’ll know if Emma is planning on leaving? She asks him on a day when Emma is out, working an afternoon shift at the station.
She takes a seat in his room at his desk chair, and that alone has him quirking an eyebrow at her. She folds her hands in her lap and takes a breath. “Henry, has your mother mentioned wanting to move out?”
Henry frowns, closing the comic book he's reading and setting it aside. He sits up a bit straighter on the bed. “No. Why ?”
There’s a flicker of guilt in Regina’s chest for having worried Henry when he hadn't picked up on anything on his own, but she can't just abandon this conversation now, that would be worse. “She still hasn’t unpacked her suitcase.”
Henry's frown remains but it's no longer worried, just confused. “That's weird.”
“Weird?” Regina prods, wanting to know what exactly it is he thinks is odd about Emma's still packed suitcase.
“Yeah, weird . Because she's really happy here.” Henry says that like it should have been obvious.
Still, Regina can't help but question it. “You really think she's happy here?”
“Duh, Mom,” Henry rolls his eyes at her but then he gives her a reassuring smile. “Seriously, she hasn't smiled this much since New York. She really likes it here, I can tell.”
Regina wishes she could just believe that blindly, but there's that still packed suitcase, and a nagging feeling that she never gets to keep the good things in her life. “So you haven't noticed anything else odd?”
Henry's face scrunches up, seriously contemplating it. “Well, the vacuuming is kinda weird?”
Regina quirks an eyebrow at that and waits for him to elaborate.
“I just mean, Ma didn't vacuum that much in New York,” Henry explains.
Regina's lips purse as she tries to sort out what that might mean.
“Seriously though, Mom,” Henry eyes her knowingly. “Stop freaking out. Ma is happy. She's not planning on running off in the night or something.”
“I am not freaking out,” Regina huffs indignantly.
Henry's eyes are twinkling in amusement now. “Mmhm, sure Mom,” he says in the way that means he doesn't believe her.
They just stare at each other for a beat and then Regina asks quietly, “Do you really think she's happy here?”
“Yes,” Henry confirms with a firm nod of his head.
“Okay,” Regina breathes out. She stands and moves over to the bed, smoothing Henry's hair and kissing the top of his head, pleased when he doesn't pull away. She'd missed this, missed him , so much, during their year apart. “Thank you, Henry. I love you.”
Henry smiles at her. “Love you too, Mom.”
With one last kiss to the top of his head, Regina leaves him to his comic book. She nearly runs right into Zelena outside of his door. “Were you eavesdropping?” she asks with narrowed eyes and a tone that's perhaps just a little too sharp.
“As if a boring mother-son heart to heart could hold my interest,” Zelena scoffs, spinning on her heels and heading into her bedroom, closing the door behind her with a firm click.
Regina is left staring at the closed door, wondering if things with her sister will always be this difficult.
Later that night, on her way to her room, Regina walks past Emma's ajar door and spots her staring blankly at something. She stops and knocks, the force of her knuckles on the wood door pushing it open a little further. “You okay?” She calls out.
Emma's head turns slowly to look at Regina. Her eyes are wide and her face is pale. “Did you do this?”
“Do what?” Regina frowns, stepping into the room. She follows Emma's eyes back to where she'd been staring. Her suitcase is gone, it's contents left in a heap on the bottom of the closet.
“I did not,” Regina says, swallowing thickly. “I would have hung up your stuff.”
“ Oh ,” Emma breathes out, her shoulders slumping. “Henry?” she wonders.
Regina shakes her head. “I'd more likely guess Zelena.”
“Why?” Emma whispers and she looks over at Regina with plaintive eyes that seem so lost.
Regina moves closer, a hand reaching out to brush against Emma's forearm. She doesn't understand why Emma hasn't unpacked, doesn't understand why a missing suitcase has upset her like this, but she does know that she wants, maybe even needs , to fix this. “Hey,” she says and it's nothing but a soft murmur. “I’ll get you a new suitcase if you want?”
Emma closes her eyes and sighs. For a moment, she leans into the contact of Regina's fingers against her bare arm, but then she's pulling away, moving over to the bed and sitting on the edge, eyes trained on the pile of her things. “It's fine,” she says flatly.
Regina studies Emma like she's a puzzle she has any hope of solving but she's at a complete loss here. She moves over and lowers herself down carefully beside Emma, leaving inches of space between them. “Could I ask you a question?”
Emma glances over at Regina, everything about her expression and her demeanor tentative. “Sure.”
“Why haven't you unpacked?”
Emma shrugs, looking down at her hands.
“ Please , Emma,” Regina says and maybe once upon a time she wouldn't have let herself plead like this with anyone but this is Emma and she can't stand not knowing anymore. If Emma is just waiting for an opportunity to leave, Regina needs to know. “Do you not like it here? Do you not want to stay?”
Emma is frowning when she looks back over at Regina. “Regina, no .” She sighs and looks up at the ceiling. “It's just…” her eyes drift back to the pile of her things. “I figured if I didn't unpack… it would be easier when you ask me to leave.” The admission is barely more than a whisper.
Ask her to leave? Why would Regina ever ask her to leave? The sudden understanding that washes over Regina is like a bucket of ice water being dumped over her head. She's an idiot. She’s an idiot who should have been reassuring Emma all of this time, not panicking and convincing herself that Emma was seconds away from walking out the door but being too afraid to just ask. “ Emma ,” Regina says, and she knows it must sound like pleading. “I'm not going to ask you to leave.”
Emma glances over at her, eyes wary and tinged with an exhaustion that Regina knows has nothing to do with needing sleep. Her voice is flat when she says, “You invited me here because my parents didn't want me, and the town real estate market is a mess, and I'm Henry's other mother so you feel obligated , but that doesn't mean I won't do something to annoy you and then you'll want me to go.”
Regina's stomach twists, her heart aching. She pictures Emma, a child and then a teenager, given away over and over and over again. Each new home only ever temporary. She hates Snow and Charming just a little bit more for having painted that stupid room blue without so much of a thought about how it would hurt their daughter who'd already been hurt enough. She hates herself a little bit more too for not having realized this sooner. “Emma, if I haven't kicked Zelena out yet, there's no way I'm kicking you out.”
Regina expects Emma to smile at the joke but her expression barely changes. “Zelena's on house arrest, you can't kick her out… and she's your family,” Emma says, the last bit quieter, mumbled really.
You're my family too almost slips past Regina's lips and she maybe should be surprised by that thought, but she finds that she really isn't. It seems like the kind of statement that might spook Emma more than anything though, so she holds it back, instead saying what she should have said from the beginning. “Listen, please. I didn't invite you here out of some kind of pity or sense of obligation. I invited you to stay here because I want you here. It's good for Henry, us living together like this. And having you around all the time has been… really nice.” Really nice feels like an understatement, feels like not enough to describe how full her heart has felt these last weeks.
Emma blinks slowly. “Yeah?” she asks and it's filled with uncertainty and hope in equal measures.
Regina reaches out across the space between them, rests her hand atop Emma's, and squeezes when she doesn't pull away. “Yes,” she says it firmly, in the way that she hopes leaves no room for debate. “I promise, Emma. I want you here, I wanted to ask you to move in before that day in Granny’s.”
“ Hmm .” Emma says like that’s a revelation.
Regina squeezes her hand again. “Can I ask you another question?”
“Sure,” Emma says and it's a lot less tentative than her first sure.
“What's with all the vacuuming?” Regina quirks an eyebrow at her. “Henry said you never vacuumed this much in New York.”
“Oh, uhh…” Emma flushes red, embarrassed, ducking her head, her hair falling forward, shielding her face like a veil as she mumbles, “I just want to be useful.”
“Oh, Emma,” Regina sighs softly in understanding. She reaches up to tuck blonde hair behind Emma's ear so that she can see her face. “You living here is not conditional. You don't have to prove anything. I want you here whether you vacuum everyday or not at all.”
Emma turns her head, studies Regina with serious eyes for what must be a full minute before she says, “Okay.”
“Not that I don't appreciate your help with things, because I do,” Regina adds. “I don't know if you noticed, but Zelena isn't contributing much but snarky commentary around here. It's really nice to have another adult around who actually helps.”
Emma laughs. “I guess house arrest isn't great for motivation.”
Regina just shakes her head, an amused smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “So,” she says after a beat, “Could I help you hang up your clothes?”
Emma looks over at the pile of her things and then back at Regina. She smiles. “Yeah, sure.”
Regina smiles too. There's something relieving about knowing that the closet won't be empty anymore. She stands first, her hand pulling away from Emma's so that she can push herself off the bed and step towards the closet.
“ Hey ,” Emma says softly, stopping Regina’s forward movement.
Regina turns around to find Emma standing now too. She's shuffling a little awkwardly but then she moves forward with a suddenness that is almost startling and wraps her arms around Regina.
It takes Regina a second to react, but her arms seem to know what to do before her head has caught up, and they're wrapped around Emma's waist by the time she's thinking Emma is hugging me .
Emma's chin rests on Regina's shoulder and she's so close that Regina can feel her breathing in and out. The reason for the hug becomes clear when she whispers, “I'm sorry I made you think I didn't want to be here. I do. I'm really happy.”
Regina doesn't say anything, she just holds Emma a little tighter, closes her eyes and breathes in deeply, pretends her heart isn’t thumping loudly in her chest, pretends it doesn't feel a little like a loss when Emma finally pulls away and heads towards the pile of her things. It isn't a loss. Emma is staying. Emma wants to stay.
After she finishes helping Emma put her things away, she heads down the hall to Zelena's room. She knocks and waits for the come in response to open the door and step into the room.
Zelena is sitting in the chair that's in the corner of the room, feet propped up on an ottoman, magazine in her lap.
Regina hovers uncertainly near the doorway.
“Can I help you with something? Or are you just here to stare awkwardly at me?” Zelena finally prods derisively.
Regina lets out a breath like a sigh. “Did you magic away Emma's suitcase?”
Zelena stiffens a fraction but she scoffs, “If I did, do you think I'd be stupid enough to admit it?”
Regina pinches the bridge of her nose. Why is she even here? Why is she even bothering to try? She takes a deep breath and decides to just say what she's come here to say. “Well, if it was you, I just wanted to say thank you.”
Zelena freezes, the flicker of surprise in her eyes unmistakable. She blinks slowly, silent for just long enough that Regina thinks she's not going to reply, before she says, “She told you why she hadn't unpacked I take it?” There's something softer than usual about her tone, something oddly knowing.
Sometimes Regina forgets that Zelena was abandoned too, that Zelena was raised in a home that didn't really want her any more than any of the homes Emma was shuffled through. It’s maybe not as surprising as it feels that Zelena had understood what was going on with Emma before Regina had, and Regina feels an odd pang in her chest at that realization. Zelena might not have had Cora to contend with but her life hadn't been easy either and maybe Regina should remember that more often.
“Yes,” Regina nods, confirming that Zelena is right, and then repeats her previous, “Thank you.”
Zelena stares at Regina a minute, something soft in her expression, but then her mask of indifference slips back into place and she scoffs, “Whatever. The whole thing was dumb and I was tired of you moping around thinking your girlfriend was going to leave you.”
Regina sighs. Of course it was too much to hope that this might become a nice sister moment. “She's not my girlfriend,” she snaps for good measure, even though she doesn't need to remind Zelena of that, she's said it enough times by now.
Zelena just smirks her infuriating smirk.
“Good night then,” Regina adds tersely, spinning on her heels and stalking out of the room without waiting for a response.