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I'm dancing in the dark (with you between my arms)

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Emma Swan is seven years old when she first meets Regina Mills.

 

She's in her third foster home in three years at the time and her foster parents sign her up for beginner skate lessons - mostly because they want her out of their hair.

 

She’s all wobbly legs and uncertainty at first, but there’s something about skating that makes her want to get back up no matter how many times she falls down, something inexplicably freeing when she finally manages to make it from one end of the rink to the other without falling down. Skating feels a little like she imagines flying would.

 

Sometimes, or, well, most of the time, her foster dad is late to pick her up after those lessons. She sits in the bleachers and watches the kids in the lesson group after hers glide around the ice. They aren’t much older than her but they are much better skaters and she watches them in awe, wishing she could skate that way.

 

Emma thinks one girl in particular, a pretty girl with long dark hair and brown eyes, is much better than all the others. Emma knows her name is Regina because most days a woman stands on the sidelines and snaps at her over and over again - Regina you aren’t trying hard enough, Regina you aren’t good enough, Regina how do you expect to be a champion when you skate like this? Every time Regina flinches, every time Regina sets her jaw and skates with a little more determination, like she's trying to prove something she shouldn't have to prove, Emma seethes and dreams about kicking that mean lady in the shin and telling her to shut up.

 

The mean lady’s name is Cora Mills and she’s Regina's mother. Emma learns this one afternoon when Cora isn't there and Regina and Emma are the only kids left at the rink waiting to be picked up.

 

Regina is sitting all alone, looking just a little forlorn, and Emma approaches her tentatively. “No dragon lady today?”

 

Regina frowns. “Dragon lady?”

 

“That mean lady who's always yelling at you?” Emma shrugs.

 

“Oh.” Regina's face pales a little. “My mother.”

 

“Sorry,” Emma says hurriedly, feeling stupid. Of course it's her mother. It’s just, Emma spends a lot of time imagining real mothers, mothers who bake cookies, and tuck you in every night, and say I love you - and when she imagines real mothers, they are never so terrible. “I don't have a mother,” she blurts out, like that is going to make up for upsetting Regina.

 

Regina gives her a confused look, like she doesn't understand at all why Emma has said that.

 

“Or a dad!” Emma adds, as if this addition makes it better, not worse. “Just foster parents.” She really doesn't know why she's still talking. Now Regina is probably going to think she’s weird.

 

“Oh… I’m sorry,” Regina says carefully, watching Emma with an expression that isn't really anything except for maybe a little curious.

 

“It’s, whatever,” Emma shrugs, looking down and kicking at the ground with the toe of her shoe. She looks back up, tentative but hopeful because Regina hasn’t yet told her to get lost. “You're a really good skater.”

 

Regina smiles shyly. “Do you really think so?”

 

Emma nods exuberantly. “I wish I could skate like you.”

 

“You're in the beginner class, right?” Regina asks, tilting her head curiously.

 

“Yeah,” Emma confirms, biting her lip.

 

“You'll get there,” Regina encourages. There's a flicker of hesitation, that same shy smile, and then she's asking, “Did you want to skate now while we wait? I could show you a few things?”

 

Emma's eyes light up at the possibility. “Can we? That's not… against the rules?” She wouldn't usually care but she's determined to stay in her current foster home, and that means not getting in trouble. Her eyes drift towards where their skate instructor is talking to the man who runs the little stand where you can buy hot chocolate - not that Emma ever gets to buy hot chocolate.

 

“Don’t worry, Miss Kathryn won't mind,” Regina says, and, when Emma looks back at her, she smiles.

 

Emma grins, suddenly excited. “Okay, let's skate.”

 

They put their skates back on and, on the ice, Regina takes Emma's hands and pulls her around the rink, while Emma giggles and giggles and giggles, exhilarated. Afterwards, Regina buys them both hot chocolate with her allowance money and Emma thinks this might be the best afternoon she's ever had.

 

When Emma’s foster dad finally shows up, she turns uncertainly to Regina.

 

“Emma, hurry up,” foster dad hisses.

 

“Are you gonna be okay here alone?” Emma asks Regina, ignoring her foster dad.

 

Emma ,” foster dad hisses louder.

 

“I'm okay, my dad should be here soon,” Regina reassures her. “Go.”

 

Emma still hesitates, despite her foster dad’s growing impatience. “I had fun today.”

 

Regina smiles that same shy smile from before. “Me too.”

 

Emma beams. “See you next week?” she asks hopefully.

 

Regina nods, smiling wider.

 

This time when her foster dad snaps, “Emma!” Emma spins and rushes towards him, still grinning as she mumbles an apology.

 

After that, Regina and Emma become friends.

 

Cora Mills does not approve.

 

Emma knows Regina's mother doesn't approve because she wrinkles her nose at Emma's clothes, at Emma's hand me down skates, at Emma's not always perfectly brushed hair, and she sighs any time Regina asks if Emma can come over after skate lessons.

 

But by the time Emma is eight and Regina is nine, Emma is nearly the best skater in their age group, second only to Regina and far far better than any of the boys. And Cora Mills likes the idea of Regina as a champion much more than she dislikes the idea of Emma as Regina’s friend.

 

And, so, Emma and Regina become ice dance partners. Cora announces this like it's a royal pronouncement and Emma thinks that she maybe should be a little afraid of the glint in the woman’s eye, but she is too busy grinning at Regina, who has taken her hand to squeeze it tightly in her own.

 

xxxxxx

 

Some 22 Years Later

 

The rooms in the Athletes Village remind Emma of college dorms - white walls, two single beds, and not quite enough space to do anything but sit. Whether or not they are actually anything at all like a real college dorm, she has no clue - she didn't get to go to college, not when skating came first, second, and third, taking up all of her time. Not that she minds that so much, skating is still as exhilarating as it was the first time she made it from one end of a rink to the other. And she and Regina have plenty to show for all of their hard work: a World Junior Championship, three World Championships, an Olympic Gold Medal, two Olympic Silver Medals, and, two nights ago, the honour of carrying their country's flag into the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympics.

 

If everything goes according to plan, a week from now, they'll have two more medals to add to the collection, making them the most decorated Olympic skaters of all time. Of all time is a little overwhelming when Emma thinks about it too hard, but she tries not to worry about it, tries to focus on today and only today. And today is going well. Their morning skate helped put their country squarely in the lead for gold in the team event. It's evening now and she's sprawled out on her twin bed, scrolling mindlessly through her phone, while Regina lies only feet away in the bed beside hers, listening to an audio book.

 

Emma usually avoids media mentions at all costs but her friend Mulan - one of the women's hockey team players who also just so happens to be dating Regina's sister - sends her a link followed by a crying laughing emoji and she clicks it without thinking.

 

It’s a tweet with a ridiculously high number of likes and retweets. It’s a photo of her and Regina hugging on the edge of the ice rink before their skate this morning. The photo isn’t unusual - hugging prior to a skate is a thing that they’ve done from almost the beginning of their partnership, it’s a way to focus, a way to drown out everything else but each other, a way to connect before stepping onto the ice. This particularly photo though is accompanied with text that reads: do you really expect me to believe they aren’t dating??? followed by two thinking face emojis.   

 

Emma swallows thickly, the beginnings of something like a cold sweat starting as she stares at the tweet.

 

This isn’t the first time she’s come across this sort of speculation about their relationship status.

 

The first time she’d been 23 years old and so very confused. They’d won Olympic gold the year before, followed quickly by a World Championship, and everything about her life had felt right . And then she’d found that random post, a post filled with speculation, with pictures and interviews wielded like proof of a romantic relationship that did not exist, and she’d stared and stared and stared, until she'd ended up wondering too much. The thing is, she’d never been interested in boys or dating or anything, really, except for skating and Regina - but she hadn’t really ever considered what that might mean , not until that very moment. And she’d panicked. Because she loved Regina but she couldn’t be in love with her, not when Regina wasn’t gay - it would ruin everything .

 

What had followed hadn’t been her finest moment - it had involved a bar and a lot of alcohol and a boy named Neal, who was maybe just supposed to be a fling, but who had instead somehow become her boyfriend.

 

Regina had not approved of Neal. When Emma told her about him, her lips had gotten thin, her eyes unreadable, and Emma had felt wounded by an expression she wasn’t used to be on the receiving end of. She’d wanted to make it better, but she hadn’t really known how. So she’d clung to Neal like a life preserver, held him up like proof to herself that she wasn’t in love with Regina, proof that she wasn’t going to ruin the best thing in her life, and then she’d nearly ruined it anyway. Neal had become a crater between them, a crater that had seemed to just grow and grow. And Emma tells herself now that that disconnect is not the reason that they’d ended up with a silver medal instead of a gold at the next Olympics, but sometimes she wonders what would have happened if there hadn’t been Neal, if she’d never found that stupid post speculating about whether or not she and Regina were dating.

 

The disconnect had lasted past those Olympics, and no amount of Cora’s berating, of her instance that second was not good enough and that quitting was not an option now when they had to claw their way back to the top, could stop them from making the decision to retire.

 

Emma and Neal had only lasted a month after that. He’d been nice when she’d had no free time to actually see him, when her days had been consumed with skating and Regina, and her nights with exhaustion and early bedtimes so that she could get up and do it all over again the next day. But once all she had was free time, it really hadn’t worked. So, Emma had left Neal and wandered the country aimlessly, and missed Regina every single day.

 

And then Cora had died, suddenly and unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition, and Emma had come home - to Regina. And she'd staid because her home wasn't this town she'd grown up in, shuffled from place to place every time foster parents grew tired of her, her home was Regina and she just really didn't want to be apart from her anymore.

 

Their comeback had only made sense after that. Last year they’d won another World Championship, and now, now they are on the precipice of something incredible.            

 

Hey ?”

 

Regina’s voice breaks Emma out of her memories and she startles, drawing her eyes away from her phone to look over at Regina.

 

Regina pulls her earbuds out of her ears, her eyes filled with concern. “Are you okay?”

 

Emma is too slow with a reaction that would believably appease Regina’s worry. She knows this because Regina frowns and swings her legs over the side of her bed, pushing herself up and crossing the few feet between the two twin beds. She nudges Emma’s side and Emma shuffles over, making room for Regina to climb up beside her.

 

The bed is small and Regina ends up pressed completely against Emma’s side, the warmth of her skin radiating against Emma’s, and that’s all it takes for Emma to feel herself calming, the initial flicker of panic diminishing some.

 

“What are you looking at?” Regina asks, settling her head on Emma’s shoulder, and peering at the phone Emma is still holding in her hands.

 

Emma’s heart begins to race again, but she reminds herself that she refuses to let this - the possibility that she really might be in love with Regina - ruin anything ever again. She laughs, and it’s only a little awkward. “Mulan sent it. It’s a tweet. About us.”

 

Regina is quiet a moment, her head still on Emma’s shoulder, her eyes fixed on the phone screen. “Seems more like something my sister would send.”

 

It does sound a lot more like Zelana than Mulan and it’s not so far of a stretch that Zelena would have Mulan’s phone - Emma should have realized and not even opened it. She could kick herself now. “You’re probably right.”

 

“I usually am.” Regina laughs.

 

Emma just smiles, not disagreeing. She clicks absentmindedly on the replies and scrolls through them slowly. “People sure are into this idea.”

 

“Not everyone,” Regina scoffs, her head pressing a little more firmly against Emma’s shoulder. “Look at Susan’s reply.”

 

Emma reads it out loud in a voice that mimics how she pictures a a scandalized middle aged woman sounding. “ They just have a very lovely friendship, nothing more. Stop trying to make them part of your gay agenda. ” The reply right under that is a most definitely mocking nothing to see here but a couple of gal pals but Emma can’t bring herself to read that out loud.

 

“I mean… the gay agenda bit is really stupid... but she isn’t completely wrong,” Emma says just a little too awkwardly. That near cold sweat from earlier threatens to break out again as she feels Regina tense beside her.

 

There’s maybe a whole minute of silence before Regina says, in an oddly flat tone, “You’re right.”

 

Emma swallows thickly and tries to sort out how to respond. Why did Zelena have to steal Mulan’s phone and send her this stupid tweet anyway?

 

But Regina, maybe sensing Emma’s returned tension, comes to the rescue, her fingers running the length of Emma’s arm in a soothing motion. “We should go to sleep. Early start tomorrow.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma agrees, impossibly relieved.

 

Regina never does go back to her own bed, not that Emma’s complaining, she always does sleep better this way, with Regina’s head right next to hers - she has since she was still a kid, slipping away from foster homes in the middle of the night and crawling in through Regina’s bedroom window.   

 

xxxxxxx

 

They get asked about it the next day after they’ve secured gold in the team event. Not specifically about the tweet they’d seen, because apparently it’s not the only one, but about everyone's new fascination with their relationship status in general. And that’s what it is - a fascination about whether or not they are together that is only mounting.

 

Emma stammers through a failed attempt at even a semi-coherent answer, until Regina’s hand slips into her own, squeezing tightly and taking over.

 

“We are flattered that what we do on the ice evokes such a strong reaction,” Regina says smoothly. “That’s always been our goal. To go out their and convincingly portray emotions that everyone can relate to.”

 

“So you aren’t dating?” One of the reporters asks, not willing to give it up.

 

Regina’s face remains unchanged but Emma feels her fingers twitch where they are still joined with Emma’s. “No we are not,” she says, somehow managing to smile charmingly.

 

“How would you describe your relationship then?” a different reporter asks. “Like sisters?”

 

Regina’s fingers twitch again in Emma’s grasp and Emma watches her face pale. It takes her a second to recover. “No, not like sisters. I wouldn’t do the things I do on the ice with Emma with my sister.”

 

The reporters chuckle and Emma let’s out the breath she’s been holding, a little more relieved than she maybe should be by that answer.         

 

xxxxxxx

 

Later that night, back in their shared Athletes Village room, Emma fiddles with her new gold medal. She looks up at Regina, who is sitting cross legged on the bed across from her. “Tied for most olympic ice skating medals of all time,” Emma says slowly, shaking her head, somewhat disbelieving, still a little overwhelmed by that thought. “Did you ever imagine this when you were dragging me and my wobbly legs around that ice rink the afternoon we met?”

 

A laugh bubbles it’s way out of Regina’s chest, and her eyes shine with fondness. “No, I can’t say that I did.”

 

Emma gives her a lopsided smile and doesn't say a thing.

 

Regina’s own medal is resting on the dresser, but she reaches out and touches Emma’s with the tip of her fingers, her expression taking on an air of melancholy, her eyes pensive. “Do you think my mother would have been proud?”

 

Emma hesitates, studying Regina carefully. Cora was complicated - she’d pushed them both so hard, but Regina, especially, had born the brunt of that. Emma had been free to hate Cora whenever she wanted to, but Regina hadn’t ever had that ability, that luxury, not when Cora was her mother and she loved her despite everything. “I think,” Emma says, “in her own way, she would have been.”

 

Regina’s expression doesn’t change, no relief coming from Emma’s words. “I think all she would have cared about is whether or not we were going to win ice dance gold.”

 

Hey,” Emma says, not willing to just sit here and watch Regina suffer any longer. She holds her arms open, “Come here.”

 

Regina accepts the offer of comfort without hesitation, shuffling forward on the bed until she’s close enough to fold into Emma's arms, burying her head in the crook of Emma’s neck. Emma can feel her trembling and she pulls her even closer, rubbing her back. She doesn’t say anything - she knows that no words will make this better - she just holds Regina until the trembling ceases. She kisses the side of Regina’s head, inhaling the scent of her shampoo as she does so, lingering a moment before she pulls back. “Should we check what the internets are saying today?” Surely some false speculation about their relationship status will make Regina laugh.

 

“The internets ?” Regina repeats, quirking a sceptical eyebrow at the ridiculous word choice, but she’s smiling, so Emma’s mission has already been accomplished.    

 

They shift until they are side-by-side, lying in much the same position as they were the night before, but this time with Emma’s head on Regina’s shoulder. Tonight all of the relationship speculation doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming to Emma, not after the way Regina handled the reporters earlier. Today it feels more like something to laugh at - even if somewhere deep down a part of Emma still wishes that somehow the speculation could be true. But that’s a fool’s dream. A dream she promised herself she wouldn’t dwell on, lest she ruin everything again.

 

“They’re very upset that we omitted the lift,” Regina comments, after they’ve scrolled through dozens of twitter mentions saying exactly that.

 

The fact that their growing following has gone so far as to research their skate program from the past season is either hilarious or frightening. The Lift is a lift from their Free Dance program that involves Regina’s legs wrapped around Emma’s head - Emma had blushed furiously the first time someone (it had definitely been Zelena) had commented on just how exactly that could be interpreted. The Lift had been given a mortifying nickname that Emma refused to repeat even in her own head.

 

“Their disappointment is understandable,” Emma jokes and, even though she can’t see Regina’s face, she can just tell that she must be rolling her eyes. Pleased, she keeps on going with the jokes, “Do you think I should tell them that we’re sharing a bed right now?”

 

Regina shoves her side. “Do not encourage them.”

 

Emma laughs, pretending to pout, “You’re no fun.”

 

“No, but you love me anyway,” Regina says.

 

“That I do,” Emma can’t help but agree.

 

xxxxxx

 

There’s a week between the team event and their individual ice dance event and Emma and Regina spend most of that time either practicing or trying to combat growing nerves about just how close they are to being the most decorated olympic skaters of all time .   

 

The Short Dance goes off without a hitch and they end day one of the two day competition in the lead. All the reporters want to talk about though is the ever growing contingent of people certain they are dating.

 

Zelena, in particular, finds this especially hilarious, and she cackles after the interviews, showing them a video of one of the SNL actors narrating their Short Dance skate. After she’s played it a third time, Regina’s had enough and she shoves her out of the change room, snapping irritably, “Go bother your girlfriend.”

 

After Zelena is gone, Emma watches Regina carefully, uncertainly. “Hey, Regina?”

 

Regina turns slowly to look at her, eyeing her curiously, but waiting patiently for Emma to speak.

 

Emma runs her hand over the top of her gelled hair - it’s not nearly as soothing as running her hand through her hair when its loose is, and she drops her hand back to her side. “Does it bother you?”

 

“Did you just call my sister it ?” Regina quirks an amused eyebrow.

 

Emma laughs, despite herself. “I didn’t mean Zelena.”

 

“I kind of figured.” Regina smiles fondly. “Does what bother me?”

 

“That so many people think…” Emma nearly chickens out but she manages to force out her next words “...that you’re gay?”

 

Regina blinks slowly, staring at Emma with an expression that is completely unreadable - Emma almost always knows exactly what Regina is thinking and it’s frustrating that she doesn’t know now. “No, Emma,” Regina finally says, and it’s quiet, so quiet, something oddly sad about her expression. “That doesn’t bother me.”

 

“Me either,” Emma says hurriedly, in case Regina was thinking otherwise. Somehow it ends up feeling more like a confession than she intends it to.

 

Regina just watches her with that same unreadable expression though, until, finally, she gives Emma a thin lipped smile. “We should get changed.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma agrees.   

 

xxxxxx

 

The next day comes both too soon and not soon enough. Barring catastrophe, this is it - one more skate and they’ll have another gold medal, one more skate and of all time is a title that will belong to them.    

 

“This is it,” Emma says on the edge of the rink, eyes locked with Regina’s. Whatever flicker of awkwardness that there had been between them in the change room yesterday, it’s gone now. Right here, right now, they are just them , the them who have skated together for more than twenty years, who are about to take the ice together competitively for what might be the last time. And that had been true standing on the edge of Olympic ice four years ago too - but everything about four years ago had felt wrong, and everything about this moment feels right.

 

“This is it,” Regina echoes, stepping closer and wrapping her arms around Emma’s waist.

 

Emma returns the hug, her arms looped around Regina’s neck, her forehead resting against Regina’s. She closes her eyes and breathes in and out and in and out. When she finally blinks her eyes back open, she’s met with warm brown eyes, already staring at her. “Let’s do this,” Emma says, a whisper, a promise.

 

Regina smiles, soft and sweet. “For us.”

 

“For us,” Emma agrees.

 

On the ice, when the music starts, everything just fades away. There is only them, only this moment, absolutely nothing else matters - they may as well be dancing in the dark.

 

They do The Lift, the one that Emma knows will have the internet in an uproar, but she’s not thinking about that when they do it, she’s only thinking about the beat of the music, and the ice beneath her skates, and Regina .

 

And then the music ends and the crowd is cheering and Regina is in her arms, her face burrowed in the crook of Emma’s neck, and she’s crying, actually crying, her lips moving against Emma’s skin, mumbling something - it's mostly unintelligible but it feels like I love you, I love you, I love you .

 

Emma kisses Regina’s hair, clings to her tighter, whispers in her ear, “We did it,” and she means that, no matter what it is the scorecard is going to show.

 

She’s sure she will never forget this moment for the rest of her life.

 

xxxxxx      

 

They win gold.

 

On the podium, Emma leans her head against Regina’s and sings along softly to their national anthem and wonders if she’ll ever be happier than this.

 

xxxxxx

 

In the interview following the medal ceremony, half the questions are about what they plan on doing next and the other half continue to be about their relationship status. Emma is only really half listening, still beyond exhilarated, and the questions all sort of jumble in her brain, until she’s left fumbling one of the answers badly.

 

“We’re the type of athletes that dive head-first into the whole process and I just honestly don’t know where you would find time for that ,” she says with a laugh. It’s a joke but it’s also the truth - she hadn’t had time for Neal when they’d been dating. Then again, she hadn’t wanted time for Neal.

 

The only person she’s ever wanted time for is Regina and she can’t imagine that changing. But Regina will meet someone someday and she’ll want to spend her life with them in a way that she and Emma won’t ever get to. Regina wants to be a mother, Emma knows that much, they’ve talked about that before. It’s that thought that has her stammering on even more incoherently, answering the question about whether or not they’re retiring, which this reporter hasn’t actually even asked, “Part of the reason maybe why we wouldn’t continue skating is to open up that side of our life maybe and see where that goes.”

 

Emma knows she’s screwed up based on the way the reporters eyes widen, based on the way Regina’s breath hitches beside her. She plays it back in her head and hears exactly how it sounds - like the relationship she's talking about is hers and Regina's, not Regina’s and some future person Emma will inadvertently end up hating. Regina’s hand lands gently on Emma’s forearm and Emma has to suppress a gulp.

 

“Did you want to say something about that?” the reporter asks Regina, eyeing the hand that is still on Emma's forearm.

 

“It’s interesting that, after twenty years, this is the story,” Regina says smoothly, while Emma wishes for the floor to open up and swallow her whole. “Part of me thinks it’s the best compliment because it means we’re doing our job on the ice. And part of me wishes there was a better way to explain our partnership because it’s even better than that. It’s more special to us and so unique. I wish there were better words to describe it, to do it justice.”

 

Special. Unique. Maybe Regina is just trying to do damage control but Emma’s heart soars at those words anyway.  

 

xxxxxx

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma says when their back in their room at the Athletes Village, “About totally butchering that answer earlier, I mean. I really didn’t...” she shrugs, sheepish. “You know what I was actually saying, right? You aren't mad are you?”

 

Maybe it's the rambling, or maybe it's just that Regina really isn't upset, but she just shakes her head and smiles fondly. “You weren't really paying attention to the interview questions were you?”

 

“Umm… no?” Emma grins, still sheepish.

 

“I think you just about gave that reporter a heart attack with that answer,” Regina says, still amused, but there's also a flicker of something in her eyes that Emma doesn't understand. "He thought he'd hit the jackpot."

 

Oops .” Emma shrugs her shoulders. She fiddles with the medal still hanging around her neck. “What you said after I fucked it up was really nice though. You know? About us being unique and special?”

 

Regina's head tilts, and there's that something in her eyes again. “Don't you agree?”

 

Emma smiles, eyes locked with Regina's. “Yeah, yeah I do.”

 

That makes Regina smile too and Emma is closing the gap between them, looping her arms around Regina’s waist and lifting her off the ground, spinning her around and around and around in a circle with an exhilarated laugh, until Regina is laughing too.

 

“We really did it,” Emma says, setting Regina back down on the ground, still a little overwhelmed by the gold medal hanging around her neck.

 

“We really did,” Regina echoes softly. Whatever had been in her eyes before is gone now, replaced with shining happiness.

 

Emma hugs Regina then, settles her chin on her shoulder and closes her eyes. She lets herself imagine for just one second that things could be different - that unique and special could mean something else entirely.

 

xxxxxx

 

The women’s gold medal hockey game is the next night. Emma tries to convince Regina to come along, but Regina insists that she just needs a quiet night in, time to decompress from the whirlwind of emotions that was yesterday. So, Emma ends up in the stands with Zelena, wishing Regina were here, but happy to drink beer, and cheer, and scream at ref calls that she doesn’t agree with.

 

She sends a text to Regina at halftime, a blurry selfie of herself and Zelena - she's not a great photographer sober, so she doesn't stand a chance right now when her head is just a little too cloudy. She types out a message to go with the photo: we're winning!!! Wish you were here!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Zelena looks over her shoulder and laughs. “Did you really need to use so many exclamation marks?”

 

“It's because I'm enthusiastic about us winning.” Emma sticks her tongue out at her.

 

“It seems like you're mostly enthusiastic about missing my sister. Which is ridiculous, just so you know. Because this is, what , the first whole hour she's been out of your site for like a year?” Zelena's eyes are twinkling mischievously as she says it.

 

Emma scowls. “We’re skate partners, we have to spend all of our time together.”

 

Zelena laughs, actually laughs, like she thinks Emma is hilarious. “Okay, blondie, if you want to still be in denial, go for it.”

 

“I'm not in denial about anything ,” Emma protests, even as her stomach twists in a way that she's pretty sure has nothing to do with the beer.

 

Her phone beeps then and she checks the message. I miss you too, but it looks like you're having fun. A second later a photo comes through - it's of Emma, arms thrown in the air, beer in one hand, knit hat on her head, shouting something at a ref.

 

Where did you get that? Emma texts back.

 

She doesn't have to wait long for a reply. Don't you know? You're famous. The internets love you.

 

Emma shakes her head, typing out a response. I said internets one time AS A JOKE. Are you gonna mock me for the rest of our lives?

 

Yes is all she gets in reply to that.

 

Mean she shoots back a one word reply but then, after a minute with no response from Regina, she adds: Are you having a good night?

 

Yes is all she gets again and Emma's not sure what it means this time. She’s starting to worry, already preparing an excuse to head back to the Athletes Village to check on Regina, when another message comes through. I'm just finishing the rest of my book. Enjoy the rest of the game. Give those refs hell. And make sure you tell Mulan congrats for me.

 

Okay Emma texts back and then slides her phone back in her jacket pocket.

 

It's only then that she realizes Zelena is staring at her, amused. “You done now?”

 

“Yes,” Emma says, her cheeks flushing for a reason she can't really discern.

 

“Want to tell me again about how you're not in denial?” Zelena quirks an eyebrow at her.

 

Emma sighs. “There's nothing to be in denial about, Zelena.” And there isn't - she's not in denial, she knows exactly how she feels about Regina, but she also knows that there's no point hoping for anything beyond what they currently share, anything beyond unique and special . As long as she doesn't have to be apart from Regina again, it will be enough, she will be happy.

 

Zelena shakes her head at Emma. “You really should talk to Regina.”

 

Zelena’s tone isn't teasing like it usually is, it's weirdly soft, and Emma frowns, trying to sort out what it means. She doesn't get a chance to ask though because the game is starting up again.

 

xxxxxx

 

The women's hockey team wins gold and Emma screams herself nearly hoarse. They go out to the bar to celebrate and it's late by the time Emma is back at the Athletes Village, fumbling with her key in the lock to their room, once, twice - she's about to try a third time when the door swings open.

 

Regina frowns as Emma sways slightly. She pokes her head out into the hallway, looking right, then left, seeming dissatisfied at what she finds. “I'm going to kill my sister,” she hisses, her eyes back on Emma, alight with fury and concern. “She let you find your own way back when you've been drinking?”

 

Emma gulps. “She dropped me off at the front door.”

 

Regina's anger deflates, although her concern remains. She grabs Emma's wrist and gently tugs her into the room, closing and locking the door behind them.

 

Emma isn't that drunk. Or, at least, that's what she tells herself, but she stumbles twice on the way to her bed, so maybe she's wrong.

 

Regina makes Emma drink a whole bottle of water before she helps her change into her pajamas. When Emma climbs into her bed, Regina pulls the covers up and over her, tucking her in with a kind of gentleness that fills Emma's chest with warmth.

 

Emma smiles dopily up at Regina, the room spinning just a little - and, okay, so, yes, she really isn’t all that sober. “You’re the best,” she says. “My favourite person in the whole world.”

 

Regina smiles softly, fondly, down at her. “You're my favourite person too, Emma.”

 

“I love you,” Emma blurts out, unintentionally. And maybe she means it differently than she usually does, means it more like a confession, but there's no way Regina could know that.

 

Regina just smiles softly again but her eyes seem a little sad as she leans down and presses a kiss to Emma's forehead. “I love you too,” she murmurs, her voice getting quiet as she adds, “More than you know.”

 

Emma’s not sure if she was supposed to hear that last part or not, and she's left confused as Regina steps away and slips into her own bed. She's not sober enough to really contemplate what it means though and she’s falling asleep within minutes, wishing Regina had climbed in bed beside her.

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma wakes up thinking more than you know .

 

The sun is streaming in through the room’s small window, and she rolls over onto her side. In the bed beside Emma’s, Regina is curled up in a ball, still sound asleep, facing her. She looks incredibly peaceful, dark hair splayed across her pillow, and Emma smiles fondly.

 

More than you know she thinks again and wonders what exactly it was Regina meant.

 

She watches Regina sleep for awhile, but eventually the pressure on her bladder becomes too much, and she slips out of bed quietly, and pads to the washroom.

 

When she comes back, with teeth and hair freshly brushed, and her face washed, Regina is still sleeping. Regina only sleeps this way, dead to the world, when she’s exhausted, so Emma lets her be, slipping back into her own bed and pulling out her phone.

 

She scrolls aimlessly through recent social media posts - some are photos of herself at last night's hockey game, but mostly they are people continuing to speculate about their relationship. She only stops to really look at the posts when they are pictures of herself and Regina.

 

More than you know she thinks at a picture of them on the ice during their Free Dance.

 

More than you know she thinks at a picture of them hugging when the results had been revealed.

 

More than you know she thinks at a picture of them with linked hands, her head resting against Regina's on the podium.

 

More than you know , more than you know , more than you know she thinks over and over, looking at photo after photo, until the sound of movement from beside her draws her attention.

 

Regina's eyes blink open and she rubs adorably at her nose.

 

“Morning,” Emma smiles.

 

“Morning,” Regina smiles back sleepily.

 

“You must have been tired,” Emma comments.

 

Regina's nose wrinkles, her expression still holding that sleepy quality to it. “What time is it?”

 

“Almost ten,” Emma answers.

 

Oh .” Regina's eyes widen, clearly surprised. “Have you had breakfast yet?”

 

“No,” Emma shakes her head. “I was waiting for you.”

 

“Sorry,” Regina apologizes, pushing herself up and climbing out of bed. “I'll be quick.”

 

“Don't rush,” Emma calls after Regina as she heads for the bathroom, but Regina doesn't answer that and Emma just goes back to scrolling through her phone.

 

xxxxxx

 

True to her word, Regina is back quickly. She sits on the edge of her bed and runs a brush through her hair, studying Emma curiously. “How long have you been awake?”

 

Emma shrugs. “Hour-ish.”

 

“What have you been doing?” Regina wonders.

 

Emma's heart thumps hard against her ribcage, suddenly feeling a little guilty, as her brain produces more than you know yet another time. “Just, uhh, looking at all the bad of photos of me from last night. And the ones of us.”

 

“There are bad photos of us?” Regina frowns.

 

Emma laughs. “No, they're all…” she stops, swallows thickly. “They're all really nice.”

 

Regina quirks a curious eyebrow, clearly picking up on Emma's hesitation, but she doesn't say anything.

 

More than you know, Emma hears Regina's voice in her head again. And then there is Zelena’s voice saying you really should talk to Regina . And maybe it's that, or maybe it's an hour of looking at pictures, or maybe it's just that she's been delusional to think that she could hold this in forever, but, whatever the reason, she blurts out, “Do you ever wonder if they're right about us?”

 

Regina's brow furrows in confusion. “In which way?”

 

Emma shrugs and she almost doesn't explain, except Regina is suddenly looking at her in the most oddly hopeful way, and she finds herself saying, “Do you ever think about us being together together?”

 

Regina goes very very still. She's silent for what feels like a whole minute before she asks, “Do you mean that?” in a tone that Emma's never heard before - it’s a tone that she can't interpret at all, but that she's certain must mean something bad.

 

Emma looks down at her suddenly shaking hands. “That was stupid,” she mumbles. “I'm sorry.” She is never going to forgive herself if she's ruined things between them again .

 

Emma hears the bed across from hers shift but she doesn't look up, doesn't watch Regina stand and cross the few feet between them. She doesn't look up when Regina sits on the edge of her bed either.

 

Emma ,” Regina says and it's pleading, a hand reaching out and brushing tentatively against Emma's knee. “Do you really think it's stupid?”

 

Emma does look up then - up and directly into brown eyes that are somehow hopeful and terrified all at once. Emma's heart is thumping so hard in her chest, she's afraid if she looks down it will be visible right through her shirt. “No, no I don't.” She's gone too far and there's no going back. “I love you,” she says, and she doesn't mean it at all like she's meant it any time before - she’s sure the desperation mixed with fear in her voice makes that obvious.

 

There's a second where they just stare at each other, where Emma can see the thoughts racing through Regina's head reflected in her eyes, and then- “I love you too, you idiot.”

 

Emma’s heart really is going to thump its way out of her chest. “What?” is all she can think to say.

 

A laugh bubbles out of Regina’s chest, not like she thinks any of this is funny, but like she really can't believe it. The hand still on Emma's knee presses down a little more firmly, like she's checking that Emma is real, that this isn't some hallucination. “I've been in love with you for practically forever, Emma.”

 

“But…” Emma's brow scrunches up as she tries to process that, as she goes back through every one of Regina's reaction dating all the way back to Neal, and then before that too. It’s too much to process. “Me too,” she ends up admitting because she's not sure what else to say.

 

Regina’s mouth twitches into a lopsided smile - a little woeful for what they've maybe been missing all this time but hopeful too.

 

Emma smiles back, with a kind of shyness she hasn't felt around Regina since she was seven years old. “Do you think I could, umm, maybe kiss you now?”

 

When Regina laughs this time, it's high and bright, her head tipped back. And Emma would be upset, but it’s not possible to be upset because, when Regina looks back at her, it's with eyes that darken, filled with desire. “Yes, Emma, I'd like that very much,” she says, voice low.

 

Emma swallow thickly, her mouth suddenly impossibly dry, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips.

 

They do nothing but stare and stare and stare, until Emma finally leans forward, her fingers threading through Regina's dark hair, her other hand settling on Regina's waist, her lips moving closer and closer and closer, until they are pressed against Regina's.

 

Regina moans softly at the contact, a hand reaching up and cupping Emma's cheek. Her tongue brushes against Emma's bottom lip, pushing into Emma's mouth when her lips part, and it's Emma's turn to moan.

 

They kiss and kiss and kiss until they're both breathless and trembling, parting to stare at each other with something like wonder, and then crashing back together again with a desperate sort of need, like, now that they've kissed once, they couldn't possibly ever get enough.

 

When they part a second time, Emma sighs happily. “This is the happiest day of my life.”

 

“You won a gold medal two days ago and became the most decorated olympic skater of all time,” Regina says sceptically as she nudges Emma over so that they can shift to sit beside each other at the head of the bed.

 

“This is better,” Emma says without hesitation.

 

“Yeah, it is,” Regina agrees softly, her eyes shining as she leans over and kisses Emma again, this time it's quick, soft, filled with affection.

 

Emma is grinning when they part, resettling back against the pillows, Regina's head landing on her shoulder. “Imagine how wild the internets would go if they knew about this.”

 

Regina laughs, a quick burst of happiness that is music to Emma's ears. “Let’s let them wonder a while longer, hmm?” she says, her fingers tracing a slow pattern against Emma's arm.

 

Emma laughs too, not bothering to answer, instead she just says, “I love you.”

 

“I love you,” Regina echoes softly.

 

Emma's heart soars - it feels a little like flying across the ice with Regina between her arms, only better.