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The MILF Next Door

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MILF

Noun vulgar slang

  • a sexually attractive older woman, typically one who has children.
  • Mother I’d Like to Fuck.

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Emma has a new neighbor.

Normally she would’ve made this assumption judging by the moving truck parked on her side of the curb earlier this morning, but Emma was far more concerned with other matters. 

Example A - the shoes sprawled by the doorway, and Emma nearly face-planting in her haste to get to work on time.

Example B - her roommate's ability to have tremendous amounts of sex throughout the course of a night. It's impressive, actually.

Emma didn’t get a wink of sleep.

Now she’s beginning to realize that maybe she should have given it some more thought when she had the chance.

Because there’s a child in her basement and Emma is so not equipped to deal with this.

“What the hell?”

She drops her bat. It clatters to the floor and rolls underneath the stairwell. Emma doesn’t have the sense to reach for it again when she isn’t staring into the eyes of a burglar.

At least she doesn’t think so. The kid is scrawny, with big brown eyes and a mop of brown hair and he’s cradling a ferret in his hands - as if that isn’t weird enough. By the looks of it he’s also dressed in an authentic mini-me suit, and if that isn’t the most pretentious thing she’s seen to this day, then Emma doesn’t know what is.

“Okay, what the fu -” Emma bites her tongue, flicks on the light so she at least has a face to yell at when she says - “Fork. What the fork. Who are you, kid? What’re you doing in my basement? In my house?”

Wide eyes blink back at her. Not in fear exactly, but definitely surprise and… elation?

“You’re not gonna call the police, are you?” he asks, pubescent voice and all.

Emma crosses her arms. “That depends. Do I need to?”

“No.”

“Right. Okay.” Emma rubs a hand down her face. This night is already turning into a nightmare. “Please just give me one good reason why I shouldn't.”

“My mom’s kind of a hardass. She’d eat you alive.”

“Hardass, huh?” Emma’s rigid smile freezes in place. “Let me guess. Big white house next door?”

The kid nods his enthusiasm. “We just moved in this morning. My mom forgot about my piano recital tonight so we left in a hurry. I left Frodo’s cage open, though.”

Frodo?”

“My ferret.”

“Oh.”

The kid holds up said ferret, its beady eyes gazing back at her and Emma wonders if this is the time to admit she had a foster brother who owned a ferret once. She tried to give the thing a bath and promptly drowned it.

She was sent back to her social worker that same night.

“He escaped. I found him crawling in your backyard. Through the window actually. You might wanna get that fixed, by the way,” he advises her in all seriousness.

And Emma just can’t take him seriously when he’s got that stupid suit on.

“Yeah?”

“Yup. I might’ve cracked it open with a rock.”

Cracked. That’s a complete understatement. Emma hadn’t noticed it while she was in fight or flight mode, but there are shards of glass scattered all over the floor. And the gaping hole now residing in her wall?

It’s karma. It has to be.

“You seriously… broke my window to get in? Christ, kid. Ever heard of a door?” Emma says in exasperation.

The kid gawks at her for a moment, as if none of what she’s saying is making any sense.

“But I don’t know how to pick locks.”

“That’s not what I -” Emma clenches her jaw. She’s secretly seething and she can’t even take it out on some child delinquent who can’t be older than ten. “You know what? Forget it. Come on. I’m taking you home.”

She kicks aside a piece of glass and reaches for her bat under the stairwell. When she doesn’t get a response, she glances over to find the kid is still rooted at his spot. He doesn’t look particularly enthused by her words. If anything, he looks afraid.

“Are you going to tell my mom?” he asks, and his voice is so small now. Small and a little nervous.

Emma feels a familiar pang in her chest as she hears it. She’s always had a soft spot for children, and this one seems to exude an unfair amount of cuteness beneath all the conniving shitbaggery.

“We’ll see,” Emma says and hoists the bat over her shoulder. She hesitates. “We’re neighbors now, right? That makes us… I don’t know. Partners in crime?”

The kid slowly trudges up to her, a smile working its way to his face.

“Yeah?”

It’s cute. Emma will give him that.

“Yeah. Guess it’s official then.” She holds out her hand. “Pleased to meet you, good sir. I’m Emma.”

The kid laughs and takes her hand, all traces of fear gone, and he beams at her. Flashes her with the widest, brightest smile Emma’s ever had the luxury of being a part of.

“My name is Henry.”

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So here’s the thing.

Emma doesn’t have a lot of experience with children. She grew up with plenty of them during her time in various different foster homes, even did some babysitting when she was sixteen, lonely, and her best friend was a twelve year old who lived in the apartment below her. She knows they like to eat and talk a lot. So she also knows this.

Henry never shuts up.

“So what do you do? Do you live with your husband? Mom says people should be able to marry whoever they want, boy or girl. So if you have a wife that'd be really cool, too. Have any kids? I’m an only child, but I think that’s because my mom can’t have any. I was adopted, in case you were wondering. I always wondered what it would be like to have a brother or sister, though. But then I’d have to share all my stuff, so maybe it’s not so bad being an only child. I’m turning ten this summer! So at least Aunt Zelena likes to spoil me on my birthdays. Mom hates it.”

He continues to babble on during the short trek back to his house - the large Colonial next door that used to belong to a child psychiatrist named Dr. Hopper. The house had remained empty for the last two years, longer than Emma’s even lived here.

Seeing it occupied gives her a strange sense of otherworldliness.

Emma barely gets a word in before they’re standing at the front porch, and she cuts in just as Henry begins a whole new tirade.

“No, I’m not married. No, no kids unless I ever decide to get married, which will probably be never. I have two roommates, both of which will kick your little butt if you ever break one of our windows again. And lastly, I’m a personal trainer. Bondsperson on the side.”

Henry creases his face in confusion. “A what?”

“A bounty hunter.”

“You’re a cop ?”

“Kind of.”

Woah .”

Emma doesn’t get the chance to revel in his amazement - the door swings open, and Emma is caught entirely off guard when the woman on the other side of it takes one look at her (Emma feels her lungs do a whoosh at the sight), then Henry -

And then swoops down, pulling him into a sweeping hug.

“Henry,” the woman whispers into his hair. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over - I was about to call the police.”

Emma finds herself staring. She hadn’t given much thought to what Henry’s mom would look like, not in the fifteen minutes she’d just spent with the kid. She imagined a forty-something housewife, with a sketchy husband and a dog and a ‘I want to talk to your manager’ attitude to go along with her shifty haircut.

What she doesn’t expect is for this lady to look this... pretty .

“I lost Frodo, Mom,” Henry tells her in between getting the air sucked out of him and wiggling away. He holds the ferret up. “Emma helped me find him.”

That lying little punk.

The woman hardly spares Emma a glance. “Go on inside,” she tells him and stands, dabs at his chin. “I told you to start unpacking your room four hours ago.”

Henry pouts. “But mom -”

“No buts,” she says sternly. “Inside. Now.”

Henry reluctantly drags his feet inside, sulking the entire way. Emma can’t say she feels too bad for the kid. He had it far easier than any of this could’ve turned out.

He stops behind his mom and turns to face Emma just before the door closes. Does this melodramatic motion with his hand, shaking his head while gesturing to his mother. Emma has no fucking clue what he’s trying to tell her, but she guesses she’s about to be in the danger zone.

The door clicks shut behind him.

“Right,” Emma begins and clears her throat. She’s so out of her game right now, her palms are starting to sweat.

It’s not everyday you find out your new neighbor is a total MILF.

“I didn’t catch your name, Miss…” the woman trails off.

“Emma. Uh - Swan, I mean. Emma Swan.”

“Miss Swan,” she says, as if tasting Emma’s name on her tongue. Emma really shouldn’t be finding that painfully attractive. “I take it you live next door?”

“Yeah, I do. That house over -”

“Perfect. Then this will be easy enough for you to understand,” Ms. Fuck-Me-Heels says and takes a step closer, all semblance of distant friendliness gone. Poof. Nada. “I don't want to see you near my son again.”

Whatever bout of untainted attraction Emma’s felt over the last three minutes vanishes in the blink of an eye.

Her smile wilts. “I - what?”

“I think you heard me.”

“Oh, I heard you loud and clear,” Emma snaps, because something cold is dipping between her ribs and it feels a lot like anger more than anything. “Listen, lady. Your kid came onto my property. None of this is my fault.”

Ms. Turns-Out-I’m-a-Raging-Bitch actually huffs. “Regardless, I don’t need him running off only to get distracted by bad influences.”

Emma sputters, embarrassingly enough. She doesn’t think there’s an accurate description on Urban Dictionary to define how thoroughly pissed off she is now.

“Bad influences? How am I a bad influence? You don’t even know me.”

“Well, for one. You can tell a lot from a person’s choice in attire,” the lady says, and purses her lips in a judgemental sneer when her eyes drop to Emma’s ‘choice in attire’.

To be fair, she’s wearing one of Ruby’s skanky nightgowns - and definitely not by choice. There’s only so much you can do when you haven’t done laundry in two weeks, only to hurdle out of the shower and throw on the nearest article of clothing at the sound of a nine-year-old breaking into your basement.

Which just so happens to be this skanky nightgown.

Still. The audacity.

“It’s laundry day,” Emma feels the need to defend herself. “Ever heard of not judging a book by its cover?”

Fucking Pencil Skirt rolls her eyes. “I don’t have time for this. Good evening, Miss Swan. Unfortunately I can’t say it’s been a pleasure.”

And God. Emma is fuming.

“Yeah? Pleasure’s all mine then,” Emma says, if only because she needs to get the last word in if she’s going to get through the rest of the night with her sanity intact. “Good to know you’re a grade-A asshole.”

Pencil Skirt stops, doesn’t turn back around, and Emma gets some satisfaction in the way this lady seems to twitch in annoyance. But then she struts on over to the door in all of her high-heel and skirt-hugging glory.

It’s the last thing Emma sees - the admittedly nice view of an even nicer ass - before the door slams shut.

Bitch.

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Emma steps into the foyer. “Uptight.” She flings the door shut with a satisfying thud. “Snobby.” She kicks a shoe across the room because why the fuck not. “Temperamental vicious… jerk . How dare she call me a bad influence? Me. With her stupid, pretentious clothes, and her dumb hair. And her... red lipstick. Ugh.”

Ruby chooses that moment to emerge from the kitchen. She’s wielding a frying pan for whatever reason. Normally Emma is good at not questioning the strange things Ruby likes to do during her free time, but -

“Rubes,” Emma sighs. “Why the hell are you walking around with a frying pan?”

“Mulan said someone might’ve broken in,” Ruby explains with a shrug. “Self Defense 101, right? Everything’s a weapon.”

Emma doubts that.

“Right.”

Ruby eyeballs her. “Okay. I know that look. What’s got your panties in a twist?”

Emma brushes past her to the staircase. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“What about the glass downstairs?”

“I'll clean it up tomorrow.”

“Wait,” Ruby says, and she's leaning on the railing at the bottom of the staircase, just close enough from the landing for Emma to hear, “Did you meet the new neighbor?”

Emma clenches a hand around her doorknob with a huff -

“Grade-A asshole!”

And slams the door shut.

She feels strangely satisfied after that, as if slamming all the doors possible is releasing all of her inner rage. It's therapeutic.

Of course it doesn't last long.

She's whipping off Ruby’s skanky nightgown and throwing on a t-shirt when Emma comes to a dead stop in front of her window. The blinds have been left open, and she can see clear across the side yard to the house next door. To the large, open window that was once dark and enclosed in curtains for years, now encased in light.

Apparently it's the master bedroom, because Ms. Still-Hot-But-Still-A-Tremendous-Bitch is roaming around right in front of it.

“No fucking way,” Emma whispers.

As if hearing the echo of Emma’s strife from afar, Pencil Skirt looks up, catches Emma’s gaze. There's a solid second where Emma holds her breath, sees the split moment of surprise clouding this lady’s face -

And then she’s jutting her chin out, closing the blinds in one sharp tug.

Bitch.

Emma flips off the now concealed window before yanking her own curtains shut. She sprawls onto her bed then, brimming with a sort of anger she doesn't know how to explain.

There's no way of justifying it. Emma’s dealt with her fair share of assholes in the past, all from the drunken foster parents to the kids in middle school who would call her maggot, to that one girl in high school who used to write Emma Swan is a dyke all over the bathroom stalls.

She deals with assholes everyday, and Emma's learned to keep her head up high. Learned to strive on forward and not let anyone get to her. It's worked wonders so far.

Until now.

It certainly doesn't help that the asshole in question now lives next door. And is infuriatingly beautiful.

What's more infuriating is that this woman can Miss Swan her all she wants, but the fact of the matter is - Emma still doesn't have a name.

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“Regina Mills.”

It's the following morning. Emma had crawled her way out of bed at precisely eight AM only to find Ruby already in the kitchen, tapping away at her phone. Mulan sits calmly at the table beside her. She's sipping away at her coffee in the most mundane way and Emma stops midstep, stares at them both.

“What?”

It was Ruby who had spoken. “Regina Mills,” she says again, never peeling her eyes away from her phone, and uses one finger to drag an envelope across the table. “Our new neighbor. You asked and I delivered.”

“I never asked for her name,” Emma says hotly.

“You did last night while you were slamming the bathroom door and loudly exclaiming, and I quote, ‘what the fuck is her name’,” Ruby gestures over air quotes.

Mulan slurps her coffee. “She's not wrong.”

Emma finds herself blushing as she peeks at the envelope sitting on the table. It's stamped, with the name Regina Mills written just above the address.

Regina fucking Mills.

“Rubes,” Emma says and picks it up, eyebrows rising. “Where did you get this?”

“Stole it,” Ruby answers with all of her nonchalant charm. Doesn't bother looking up. “You should see her mailbox. Is has this sick sticker of Darth Vader on the side of it. I vote we get one, too.”

“You stole her mail? That's a federal crime.”

“I tried to stop her,” Mulan deadpans.

Ruby snorts. “Hardly. You threw a pair of toy handcuffs at my face and then claimed my Xbox. Just in case my ass got arrested,” she accuses and finally looks up, proceeding to flaunt her phone right in Emma’s face. “Look, Em. I even found her Facebook.”

Emma is too stunned to understand what Ruby is showing her at first, but then she recognizes the photo on the screen. It’s her - Ms. Pencil Skirt - or Regina Mills, as the name beside it suggests.

She’s holding Henry close in the photo, head tucked above his and she’s actually smiling at the camera. Like that’s a thing. Pencil Skirt is capable of smiling.

It’s the sort of soft, effortless smile that makes Emma’s heart skip a beat.

“God, if only you could see your hearteyes,” Ruby snickers and flicks her thumb across the screen, revealing a new app. “Found her instagram, too. MadameChewbacca . Her kid’s either a huge Star Wars fan or she’s got some dorky ass hobbies. Oh and her Tinder. Dude, hop on that as soon as possible. No wonder you were so pissed last night. She’s got your lady libido going -”

Ruby extends out her arms, makes this exaggerated noise that sounds halfway between a pig and an explosion.

Ruby.”

Ruby holds the screen out to Mulan, who stares at it for a hefty few seconds before giving her rare nod of approval.

“Not bad, Swan.”

“Guys, just… stop. You’re warping this whole thing into something it’s not,” Emma says in frustration and reaches for the phone. “We had a bad encounter last night. Her kid’s cute. She’s a flaming a-hole. End of story.”

Ruby keeps it out of Emma’s reach. “Somehow I doubt that.”

“Ruby… just give me the damn phone.”

Emma eventually snatches it out of Ruby’s hand. “I swear you’re making it seem like she’s some kind of -”

Emma nearly drops the phone, has to stop herself from tossing it clear across the table.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”

There has only ever been one occasion where Emma was struck speechless by a Tinder photo. It was at this time in her miserable life that she came across the profile of one ex-boyfriend - Killian Jones, and his crooked-ass, traitorous, fur-faced, soul-sucking, fuckboy self.

Emma had swiped left, deleted her account and the app and every trace of her existence all in the span of forty-three seconds.

Now, Emma is struck speechless for an entirely different reason.

“Goddess?” Mulan finishes for her. Emma can’t remember what they were talking about, but she nods nonetheless.

Ruby, on the other hand, pats her on the back in the most pitiful display of sympathy ever.

“You’re so screwed, my friend.”

Yeah. Emma is starting to think so, too.

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Normally this would be the perfect time to reevaluate her life choices. Set up a plan. Avoid this shitfest she already knows she’s doomed to fall into.

So what does Emma do? She takes the envelope back.

The whole point was to do it discreetly, casually stroll over to the mailbox, shove it in, and walk away. Emma had it planned down to the last step.

Except absolutely none of it comes to fruition, because as soon as Emma is approaching said mailbox, Henry comes hopping out the front door, Ms. Fuck-Me-Pumps strutting close behind him.

“Emma!” Henry chirps from the driveway. He beams. “What’re you doing here?’

Emma freezes in front of the mailbox, caught red handed. She watches as the woman - Regina - fixes her with this smoldering look. Not really the good kind either. It’s like she’s sizing Emma up.

“Miss Swan,” Regina greets curtly.

“Our mail got mixed up,” Emma answers, more so to her than Henry. Mostly because they haven’t broken eye contact yet and this is all getting extremely awkward. “I was just putting it back.”

When Regina simply raises her eyebrow, Emma smiles stiffly. Makes a show of revealing the fucking envelope in her hand, tucks it into the mailbox, smile plastered as she slams it shut.

They still haven’t broken eye contact. What the hell?

“Emma, wanna come to my recital next Saturday?” Henry pipes up, his little backpack swinging in his excitement.

That draws Regina's attention. “Henry,” she says in warning.

“Uh…” Emma hesitates.

“Mom, come on. She helped me find Frodo, remember?” Henry pleads in her defense.

And no. Emma definitely did not.

But there's something about the look of discomfort on Regina's face that makes Emma feel giddy.

“Sure, kid,” Emma says, grinning. “I'll be there.”

“Yes!” Henry pumps his fist, clambers into the car - a sleek black Mercedes and the fact that Regina drives that thing makes so much sense - before offering, “You can bring someone if you want. Maybe Mom can get you some free tickets. Please, Mom?”

Huh. Regina has a bulging forehead vein when she’s angry. Emma hates that she finds that hot.

Regina’s jaw ticks. “Just get in the car, sweetheart.”

Henry does. As soon as the lock clicks shut, Regina pins Emma with a glare.

“I suppose I can fax you the details,” she surmises. The level of enthusiasm in the words drops to an impressive zilch.

“Or you can email them,” Emma says slowly. “You know. Like people from this century do.”

If looks could kill, Emma’s pretty sure she’d be lying in a puddle of her own body parts right now. Regina doesn't respond so much as she curls her lip into a brittle smile, gets into her car without another word. Although Emma swears she sees a glint of admiration, maybe?

Either way Emma’s feeling pretty good about herself. Smug even.

So much so that she doesn't have it in her to feel nearly as annoyed as she should when the car backs up off the driveway, almost backing Emma along with it.

She does flip it off as it drives away, though. Just because she can.

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Five hours later, there’s an envelope in their mailbox marked to a Miss Swan , written in a flawless, cursive scrawl. Blue ink.

Inside, the contents are just as sophisticated - two tickets to an eight o’clock preparatory school recital at the Boston Conservatory. The location itself is fancy enough to make Emma want to puke in her mouth.

The other thing is a note. It says -

 

Miss Swan

For whatever reason, Henry wants you there.

Don’t worry. I’m sure with a long coat, no one will notice your atrocious taste.

- Regina Mills

 

Emma reads through it again, followed by a third time, and then snorts.

Regina Fucking Mills, everyone.

Behind her, Ruby also lets out a snort, reads it directly over Emma’s shoulder as she shamelessly plucks one of the two tickets from Emma’s hand.

“This one’s for me. Thank you. Looks like we’re crashing a rich people’s party,” she singsongs before prancing away.

Bad idea. Really bad idea. But Emma’s not going to turn down the chance to rile up Regina Mills, is she?

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In the days leading up to Saturday, Emma begins to realize having a new next door neighbor isn’t the end of the world.

For one, she hardly notices their presence. In between being booked for her training sessions and spending a good chunk of her time at the gym, she rarely sees Henry anymore. It’s kind of strange when it’s halfway through the summer and you would expect to see a nine-year-old outside selling lemonade, or whatever the subjects of Generation Z do in their free time these days.

It’s a shame. The kid was starting to grow on her.

Emma can’t say she sees Regina that often either, not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Her Benz is never parked on the driveway when Emma gets up for her early morning runs, nor is it there when Emma arrives in the evenings.

Occasionally she catches a glimpse of a redheaded woman moving in and out of the house. Emma wonders who she is.

“You’re creepy stalking them,” Mulan points out one day, when Emma finds herself peeking in through the blinds to find the same ginger lady doing fuck-knows-what.

“I’m not,” Emma says stubbornly.

She is.

Either way, it’s like living next to a ghost house all over again.

Until it’s not, and Regina comes striding out her front door in her Louboutins Friday morning.

After five days of nothing, the sight of her has Emma tripping over her lawn mower. Literally. It’s her turn to tend the lawn, and now Emma wishes she had done so earlier that morning so she didn't have to suffer through this ninety degree heat wave. She's sweating down to her vagina, in nothing but a sports bra and compression shorts.

If Emma had known she’d be running into Regina Mills on this sunny morning, she would've considered wearing something less… revealing.

As it is Regina comes to a gradual halt when she sees her, her eyebrows shooting all the way up to her hairline.

Emma waves awkwardly. “Hi.”

There's a flicker of… something in her eyes as she takes Emma in. Surprise? Her gaze drops down the expanse of Emma’s toned stomach in a way Emma can only describe as flustered. But then she’s pursing her lips, spinning around on her fancy smancy Louboutins and getting into her car without a word.

Well that was nice.

Emma can't get rid of the image of Regina Mills blushing for the rest of the day.

It happens again that same night. And Emma swears it isn't intentional. Why would it be when she's in the safety of her own bedroom?

She’s peeling off her sweaty tank top after a day’s worth of clients, only to come to a sudden stop in front of the window. The curtains are drawn back.

She spots Regina on the other side about as quickly as it takes Emma to realize this is going to present a problem.

Regina is facing the window pane as she unfastens an earring, slides a hand to the zipper on the back of her dress. Before Emma can think to look away, Regina’s eyes find hers from across the terrace.

Emma freezes.

She already feels warm, tingly, partly due to the embarrassment of being caught peeping, however unintentional it was. But here she is, standing shirtless once again in front of her asshole neighbor, while said asshole neighbor is about to undress in full view of her massive window. It warms Emma up far more than it should.

So she does the only thing she knows how to do in this sort of situation.

Emma waves at her.

Even from this distance Emma is able to distinguish the same strange expression on Regina’s face from this morning. Weirdly enough, Regina continues to hold her gaze, her hand never straying from the zipper. Her face almost seems coy, as if settled over a smirk , but there’s no way that’s remotely -

Regina begins a slow descent down her back, undoes the zipper in one fluid, tantalizing motion. Doesn’t break eye contact.

Emma feels her heart shoot straight up to her throat. No way.

No fucking way.

Is she - she can’t be.

Is she?

Emma’s pulse quickens, her skin heating up at the first glimpse of skin and collarbone as the straps fall over Regina’s shoulders.

It’s a visual immediately replaced by the shutter of blinds snapping shut in one silent swoosh.

Emma gapes.

What the fuck?

She collapses onto the bed with a groan, bewildered beyond any realm of the imagination. There's a dull ache throbbing between her thighs that she doesn't want to acknowledge, nonetheless know the reason why. Especially when Regina was one hundred percent fucking with her and Emma gulped it up like a desperate fish. Hook, line, and sinker.

None of it makes any sense. Regina Mills is either a total masochist or a professional tease in disguise. Or both.

Emma hates that either one of those possibilities turns her on.

Come Saturday, Emma can say she’s officially fallen into this shitfest she’s been doomed to fall into from day one. For one, she woke up in an awful mood. She’d opened up the curtains after an entire night of tossing and turning, glared at the window across the terrace, and finally acknowledged that maybe she has a crush.

For another, this crush might be a little more serious than she thought. Because she can't stop thinking about Regina Mills.

It must be written clear across her features. Mulan takes one look at her during breakfast and throws a cheerio at her face.

Mulan. What the hell?”

“You have gay panic all over your face. I'm cheering you up,” Mulan explains, and this might be the first time Emma’s ever seen her crack a smile. “Get it? Cheerio.”

And then tosses one smack against Emma’s forehead.

She spends the rest of the day inside watching Queer Eye. Maybe Mulan has a point. Maybe she does have gay panic written all over her. What better way to fix that than watch other gay people do fabulous gay things?

She also spends a good deal of time on YouTube searching up music recitals performed by snobby rich kids. Not that Henry is one, but it's good to get some perspective on what she's about to deal with.

Ruby seems to already have that all figured out when she gets home that afternoon and takes in the sight of Emma slumped on the couch, a bowl of popcorn and a half empty bottle of wine at her feet.

“That recital thing’s in two hours. Why aren't you dressed?”

Emma glances down at her skinny jeans and tank top. The jeans have a hole in them, she notices.

“I am.”

“Em. Emma. EmEm.” If Ruby could look any more exasperated, she could almost pull off the appearance of being the more responsible one of the two. “You look like you were displaced on homeless grounds as some jacked up version of Taylor Swift.”

Emma is confused. “What?”

“You look like shit.”

Emma can't help but feel offended. “This is what I always wear.”

“I rest my case,” Ruby says with finality.

She grabs the bottle of wine from the floor, sniffs it for a moment before shrugging and chugging it back.

“Okay. I can work with this,” Ruby decides on a whim. Obviously alcohol serves as a stimulant nowadays. Emma watches on in mild horror. “We’ll find you something nice. Get up.”

“You've seen my closet, right? Nice isn't even in my vocabulary.”

“Bullshit. You have that pink dress.”

So Emma tries on the pink dress.

It's been a while since she’d last worn it, having taken it out on a hunt at one point to catch some sleazebag who skipped out on court. She’d been called a ho on more than one special occasion while donning this thing.

At least Emma can safely say she strikes up as a glamorous ho.

Ruby immediately whistles when she sees her. “That's what I'm talking about.”

“I don't know,” Emma says, uncertain, and smoothes her hands over the invisible wrinkles. “Don't you think it's a little too risqué for this kind of thing?”

“Since when do you care what uppity uptight private school moms have to say?”

“Touché.”

“You can always wear this instead,” Ruby offers and removes a gray dress from the closet.

It's one Emma had forgotten about in its entirety. The one and only time she'd worn it was during her year in New York, after dating some douchecanoe named Walsh. Best to keep certain horrors tucked away deep in the closet.

“What do you think?” Ruby holds it up. “Tactfully naughty or tastefully classy?”

Tastefully classy it is.

.

.

“Why do I get the feeling people are staring?”

Emma inquires this over a nervous fit of paranoia. But she can't quite blame the paranoia either when she’s caught more eyes on her in the last ten minutes than she would partying all night at a nightclub.

They’re standing in a large banquet hall, surrounded by waiters, appetizers, and a hundred others dressed in clothes far more elegant than Emma anticipated for a private school concert. It’s daunting . She’d done her hair, makeup, and had even gone with the gray dress. Yet Emma has never felt more out of place.

“Because you look hot. And they’re jelly,” Ruby tells her over a glass of Merlot.

Never mind that she herself had gone with a red party dress that might just be the reason why everyone is staring.

“Can you believe they have free alcohol here? Look. Fucking martinis, Emma,” Ruby excitedly says and snatches a martini glass off a passing tray. “This is the kind of rich nonsense I live for.”

“Haven’t you already had enough to drink?”

Ruby downs the rest of her wine, casually dumps it on a table and chugs half of her martini.

“Sorry. Can’t hear you over our generation plummeting into the pitfalls of economic distress. Hear that, Emma? That's the sound of poor Ruby drinking up her debt in student loans.”

And she gulps down the rest of her martini like a pro.

Before Emma can slink away, she spots a familiar redhead submerged in the crowd. Emma squints and jabs Ruby in the ribs.

“Hey. Doesn't that woman look familiar?”

“I don't know, Emma. Obviously gingers have no soul. Maybe she showed up in your dream and sucked out yours and that's why you thought it was okay to nail me with your elbow,” Ruby snarks over a fresh new glass of wine.

“That would be my sister, actually.”

Ruby yelps, spins around with a slosh of her wine glass. Emma’s reaction is a little more controlled, if only because she’s not drunk off her ass. Inwardly she’s panicking.

Regina observes them both, glances at Ruby with a scowl. Her gaze then falls on Emma in a manner that suggests… interest. Her eyes rake in Emma’s dress and platform heels, and it’s clear by the lengthy once-over that Emma’s finally managed to impress.

And maybe there’s something heated about Regina’s stare that makes Emma’s skin prickle hotly.

“I see you made it,” Regina says. She doesn’t sound particularly enthused, but she’s not glaring daggers either, so that’s a win. “And you’re wearing clothes. Must be a night for surprises.”

Emma takes the jab in stride. “Yup. Guess I didn’t need a long coat to hide my atrocious taste, huh?”

“You’ve upgraded. I’ll give you that.” And she steps forward in her tall stilettos, actually cracks an amused smile. “Though I can’t say I’d be surprised if you showed up in spandex. Under this long coat, that is.”

Emma is starting to sweat. What the hell is happening? Are they flirting?

“Not really my style.”

“Oh?”

Emma bites down on the inside of her cheek, tries not to sound too much like a raging hormonal teenager. “I guess I’m more of a fully commando kind of girl.”

Beside her, Ruby snorts her wine straight out of her nose.

Emma is simultaneously turned on and horrified beyond words.

“Sorry. Sorry,” Ruby coughs, but she’s wearing a shiteating grin when she holds out a hand for Regina to take. “Hi. I’m Ruby. The roommate.”

Regina stares at the offered hand like she might contract a disease. Emma honestly can’t blame her.

Regina’s smile is plenty professional, though. “And you can call me Ms. Mills.”

“Last name basis, huh? Kinky.”

Like a professional, Regina’s smile remains rooted in place, but Emma knows a deadly look when she sees one.

That’s how Emma dies on the spot.

.

.

The rest of the night goes like this.

Regina’s sister is a piece of work. Emma discovers this when she makes the mistake of introducing herself for curiosity’s sake.

“Zelena Mills,” the redhead says with a disarming smile and… a British accent? “You must be the obnoxious blonde who lives next door.”

Emma has no idea how to respond to that. “I… am?”

“My sister’s words. Though I should say,” and Zelena drags her eyes over Emma’s body in a way that is a little too familiar for her tastes, “No wonder you drive Regina bonkers. You do clean up quite nicely. For an absolute prat, that is.”

Emma pastes on a smile.

Regina’s Sister - 2

Emma - 0

By the time they're ready to be seated for the show, Emma has no choice but to follow at Zelena’s subtle insistence.

“Come,” Zelena says and practically shoves Emma into the front aisle. “This is us.”

The next available seat is beside Regina. Emma stops and grabs onto Ruby’s forearm.

“You go first,” Emma tells her.

Ruby snorts. “Are you kidding? And miss the blazing sexual tension?”

At that, Ruby nudges her forward, spurring Emma to nudge back. It's a game of back and forth until Ruby pushes her hard enough to nearly send Emma toppling over Regina's lap. She meets Regina’s stare with a sheepish grin.

And then quietly takes her seat.

For the first thirty minutes, Emma is bored out of her mind. She hadn't realized it would be this dull watching child prodigies play instruments on stage, but it is, and she may just pass out from the sheer dreariness of it.

It doesn't help that she can smell Regina’s perfume from here, feel her skin tingle every time Regina’s arm grazes hers. At one point Regina doesn't bother moving her arm at all. Instead she glances down at their shared armrest, spares Emma this sly look she can't quite decipher, and promptly turns her head back to the stage.

And god. This itty bitty crush is going to drive Emma insane.

She knows it’s Henry’s turn when she senses Regina perk up. The kid comes strolling onto the stage seconds later in his mini suit, seats himself in front of the grand piano, looking far too mature for a nine year old who names his ferret Frodo. Begins playing.

And okay. The kid’s actually good.

Like… really good.

Emma can hardly call herself a musical expert, but she does feel a twinge of inexplicable pride that doesn't fade through the entire piece.

Enough so that when he stands at the end and bows before the audience, Emma’s the one leaping in the air with a deafening ‘WOOOOOOT’ that echoes through the stadium.

She flips him two thumbs up. His little face beams back at her, and he holds both his thumbs up right back.

Emma finds she doesn't care too much when she’s being dragged back down to her seat. At least Regina’s doing a pretty shit job at hiding her own smile.

.

.

“Well, that was fun,” Ruby slurs once they're in the parking lot.

If Emma could rate Ruby’s level of intoxication, ninety-five percent plastered (with some signs of common sense) seems to be the most accurate description.

It's nearing eleven. Emma had lost sight of Regina after catching her in a heated argument with her sister. This was before Henry decided to join in on the family quarrel, the three of them bickering in angry whispers.

Emma figured it wasn't the best time to present the kid with the congratulatory candy she’d bought at the concession stand. She’d also grabbed a bouquet of flowers on the side, though now that she thinks about it -

Do kids even like flowers?

Ruby gasps all of a sudden, leans into her with a hushed, “Are those flowers for me?”

“You're fucking wasted, Rubes.”

Ruby narrows her eyes. “I'm fucking Dorothy. Who the fuck is Wasted?"

Jesus Christ.

Emma can't say she isn't the slightest bit disappointed to see Regina’s Benz already parked on the driveway when they arrive home. The lights are on inside, meaning they've been home longer than it takes to heave Ruby out of the car. Meaning the three Mills’ had just up and left and hadn't bothered to say goodbye.

Should Emma feel petty? She does feel a little petty. Maybe she should at least knock and give Henry his candy.

She's left with these cluster of thoughts up until she shuffles through the front door, only to walk straight into Ruby.

“Ruby, what’re you -” Emma trails off.

Takes a moment to register the fact that Henry is currently huddled on the sofa, wrapped in a bundle of blankets.

He peers up at them from over the rim of the mug he has cradled in his hands and offers a timid smile.

“Hi.”

“Em.” Ruby gestures to him, then turns to Emma, wide-eyed and bewildered. “There’s a ghost on our couch.”

“She’s not entirely wrong,” Mulan points out. She’s sitting on an armchair on the other end of the room, casually flipping through a book. “He kind of just showed up out of nowhere.”

“You forgot to fix the window,” Henry chirps. “So I snuck in and Mulan made me hot cocoa.”

Woah,” Ruby whispers.

Emma rubs a palm over her face. This is already too much to digest even for her. She can't imagine what it must be like for Ruby, who’s too drunk to function.

“Go to bed, Rubes. You’re drunk,” Emma sighs and gives her a light shove toward the stairs.

“I am not.”

“Yeah, you are. Go.”

Surprisingly it works. Ruby wobbles up the stairs, grumbling the whole way up.

Emma immediately pins Henry with a glare. At least the kid has the sense to look ashamed.

“Kid. Does your mom know you're here?”

Judging by the way his eyes bulge, Emma already has her answer.

“Um. Negative.”

“She’s going to kill me,” Emma mutters. “Then she's going to kill you. And then me again.”

Henry drops his head. “I know.”

“Seriously, kid. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I'm sorry,” he says in a low, sad mumble. He’s sniffling now, wiping his eyes with the edge of the blanket. Emma’s stomach plummets at the sight.

Fuck. She's such an asshole.

“Great job, Sherlock,” Mulan grumbles. “You made a little kid cry.”

Emma shoots her a dirty look, sucks in a lungful of air before she cautiously makes her way to the couch. She settles in beside Henry, who continues to snivel into the blanket.

“Hey,” Emma urges gently. “Henry. Look at me, please.”

He does, lifts his head up to peek up at her through red-rimmed eyes. Emma feels a pang somewhere between her ribs as she murmurs -

“Tell me what's wrong.”

Another sniffle, this one less restrained. “I had a fight with my mom.”

Shit. Now she knows Regina’s going to be pissed.

Emma ignores the fleeting thought and presses forward. “Yeah?”

He nods. “At first she was upset because I didn't make it to the next round. Aunt Zelena tried to talk her out of yelling at the judges. And then I came and told her… I said I didn't want to play the piano anymore. I don't even like it that much.”

“I take it she wasn't very happy about that?”

“She started crying,” Henry admits, so softly, Emma almost doesn't hear him. “My grandpa used to play the piano. He started teaching me when I was really young. But then he died when I was six and… I think that's why it made my mom so sad. Because he loved it. She never stopped supporting me. She even hired someone to give me private lessons and I got really good. But I -”

He stops, pinches his eyebrows together as if he’s trying to focus, but Emma knows this is his way of holding it in.

“It wasn't the same anymore?” Emma suggests.

Henry raises his shoulders in a small shrug. “It stopped being fun.”

Now, Emma isn't afraid to admit this is way out of her comfort zone. She's absolute garbage at giving advice in general, especially when it comes to children because -

How do you give a child advice when you never had a childhood of your own?

So Emma exhales sharply through her nose, glances at Mulan for help.

Mulan shrugs.

Great.

“You know. When I was a kid, I used to go to the library every single day just to read this one book. I didn't have a library card and couldn't take it home with me. But it was a book about fairytales. Both old and modern.”

“I have a book like that in our attic. I think it's called Once Upon a Time,” Henry mutters. “It's stupid.”

“Yeah, well,” Emma says. She doesn't know where this is going. “The kid in the book was an author. He would write his own stories, stories that would come true so that other people can have theirs told. There was a shi - shirt ton of melodrama in between but the point is… you’re the author of your own story, kid. Not your mom or anyone else. You.”

Henry raises his head then, stares up at her with his large, doe-like eyes.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. No doubt your mom loves you more than anything and wants what’s best for you. But she’s not you. And there’s only one Henry Mills, right?” At that, she nudges him playfully.

He giggles. “My grandpa’s name was Henry Mills.”

Well fuck.

“Okay. But I bet he didn't have chubby cheeks or a cool ferret named Frodo.”

Henry frowns at her. “I don't have chubby cheeks.”

“Wanna bet?” She reaches out to pinch his cheek, has her hand smacked away as he bursts into laughter.

“Okay, okay. Maybe I do. Aunt Zelena likes to pinch my cheeks all the time. Mostly to annoy me,” Henry tells her. His face lights up when he sees the candy in her hand. “Is that chocolate?”

“Hm? Oh yeah. It's for you,” Emma says and hands it off, or rather, has it snatched away by the kid’s greedy little fingers. “Sort of a congratulatory treat. I also got you these flowers.”

Henry scrunches up his nose. “What am I supposed to do with flowers?

Emma’s smile freezes on her face. He has a point.

It’s as if the universe wants to fuck her over in any way possible, because the doorbell rings a second later. This is followed by a loud, urgent knock that leaves no doubt who it could be.

Double fuck.

Sighing, Emma stands and crosses the foyer, opens the door to reveal -

“Is Henry here?” Regina’s frantic outburst leaves Emma stunned to the point where she isn't sure how to react. Not to Regina standing on her porch or her tear-stained face.

But then she peers over Emma’s shoulder and Emma realizes she doesn't have to react.

“Henry,” Regina sighs in relief.

Emma moves aside to let her in, watches the scene unfold as Regina scoots in close and holds Henry’s face in her hands. Her thumbs swipe over his cheeks, over his newly formed tears.

The moment is so tender. Emotional.

And so terribly awkward.

Emma peeks over to find Mulan observing the scene with wide eyes. She slowly closes her book and stands.

Emma shakes her head, mouths a desperate ‘don't leave me here.'

She isn't sure what Mulan mouths back, but it looks like ‘every woman for herself’ before she leaves. Leaves . Ducks from the living room and up the stairs.

Emma grits her teeth. Damn right every woman for herself.

She dawdles by the door for a minute. Henry is now curled up halfway on his mother’s lap, relaxed now that Regina is gingerly stroking his hair. It’s a sweet, motherly gesture.

Again, Emma feels that familiar pang in her chest. She feels like she's intruding on the moment.

“I'm… gonna go make some tea,” Emma mutters, but Regina is already getting up, Henry clinging to her side.

“That won't be necessary,” Regina says. She doesn't appear angry, but Emma’s self-preservation makes her cautious anyway. “Thank you, Miss Swan. For looking out for my son.”

Emma blinks. There's no way she’d heard right. Regina Mills can't possibly be thanking her.

“You’re… thanking me.”

“Yes.”

“Can you repeat that?”

Regina releases a soft huff of laughter, and it might just be the most beautiful sound Emma’s ever heard.

“Don't push it,” she says.

Nope. Emma is definitely not going to risk doing that.

“We should get going,” Regina tells her finally, after a quiet lull where Emma is trying really hard not to grin like a dumbass.

Her dumb ass is grinning anyway. “Right. Sure. Everything good, kid?”

“Yup,” Henry smiles as he follows his mom outside, his head bobbing up with his next words. “Thanks for everything, Emma. And for the chocolate.”

Regina scoffs. “Of course that was you.”

“I'll have you know that this is prestigious German chocolate. That stuff’s not -”

Emma’s good mood plunges when Regina’s eyes flit to the bouquet of flowers Emma still holds in her hand, dangling between them. She hadn't thought to put them down, nonetheless come up with a good reason as to why a nine year old would like some flowers.

Regina arches her brow up in curiosity.

Emma flushes. “Oh, these? They’re uh…” Shit shit shit.

She thrusts them into Regina's unexpecting hands before she can second guess her own stupidity.

“Here you go. Have a good night!”

And shuts the door.

.

.

When Emma was seven, she had a crush on a girl named Angelina. She was pretty and popular and had dark hair and brown eyes. Emma instantly wanted to be her friend.

So one afternoon, she gave Angelina a rock, one that she’d found on the playground. Because rocks were cool. She had smiled at Emma, bright and dazzling and so pretty.

Emma promptly threw up all over Angelina’s new pink shoes.

The moral of this story? There really isn't one.

Emma just has no game.

No. None at all.

.

.

Idiot.”

If you think Emma’s home free for the night, then you're wrong.

Forty minutes after the flower debacle, Emma is still commiserating her poor life choices. This involves a bottle of Jack, her bed, and a wide selection of sad lesbian dramas she’d piled up on Netflix just for this occasion.

None of which are taking her mind off the fact that she’s just given her asshole neighbor (who isn't so much of an asshole anymore) flowers.

“Idiot,” Emma grumbles again. She slams her laptop shut. “God. No wonder you're single, Emma. You puke on people’s shoes and throw ten dollar bouquets at their face.”

She knew she should've gotten the forty dollar deluxe arrangement.

Emma considers taking the car out for a late night run, anything to clear her head of all these… feelings. But she also doesn't want to have to face the object of her dilemma.

AKA the house next door.

Now that she thinks about it -

Emma straggles off the bed, reaches for the curtains to close them. Stops.

“For fuck’s sake,” Emma mutters.

Regina's in her bedroom, facing the window again. She’s dressed in a robe and, judging by the angry crease between her eyes and jagged movement of her hand, she’s arguing with someone over the phone.

Emma watches for a moment. Without makeup, there's something much softer about Regina’s appearance. Soft, but no less beautiful.

She debates whether to close the curtains now and save herself the embarrassment. Before she can decide, Regina hangs up, pinches the bridge of her nose in frustration.

Looks up.

Emma’s breath catches in her throat when their eyes meet.

Emma panics, grabs hold of the window sill for leverage. She figures now is a perfect time as any to put her note passing skills to good use, so Emma grabs the notebook she has sitting on a nearby desk, rummages around for a sharpie.

Regina is regarding her once Emma finishes writing, rips the sheet out and holds it out for her to see.

YOU OK?

No reaction. Regina doesn't so much as move as Emma holds the sign up for several seconds. Emma’s one predicament away from giving up.

Until Regina does move. She walks away from the window, disappearing behind the shades, and the disappointment Emma feels is striking.

She perks up when Regina returns a moment later with what looks like a dry-erase board. She scribbles over it. Lifts it up.

Emma has to squint to make out the words.

Yes

I will be

Emma’s stomach flutters. This is an improvement from jerking the shades shut a week ago. A big improvement.

She's about to write down another message, but Regina beats her to it.

I'm sorry

Wow. Ms. Beautiful-but-Deadly hath apologized.

Emma’s sure her face must be scrunched up in shock as she raises her sign.

For what?

Being an asshole?

Regina rolls her eyes. Emma can't contain her grin when the woman reveals her next words.

I'm always an ‘asshole’

The quotation marks. Emma could probably melt in a puddle of her own infatuation from how cute she finds this.

But yes , Regina writes.

At this point Emma already has her own sign up - It’s OK - when Regina seems to hesitate, wipes away her original message and writes down something else.

Thank you

for the flowers

At first Emma thinks her eyes must be playing tricks on her, but the words are there, written boldly in black marker fifty feet away.

That something that was twisting inside Emma swells further at the words, making her heart beat just a little faster. She doesn't get the chance to respond, not that she can when she's struck speechless.

Regina puts the board down. Makes this departing motion with her hand before finally closing the blinds.

The lights flick off seconds later.

.

.

And that is how Emma’s night ends.

With her corny, moonstruck ass staring at the window across the terrace, realizing Regina Mills isn't an asshole, after all.

.

.

The way Emma sees it, she has two options.

She can pack up her shit, move out, and pretend she isn't secretly developing a mild obsession with her next door neighbor. Because when you put it like that, Emma sounds like a total creep. Which she isn't.

Or (and this is where Emma’s hit-and-run scare factor comes into play) -

She can see where this takes her.

Emma knows things have shifted in some way when she sees Regina again the following morning. She's preparing for her Sunday morning run when Henry comes bolting out of the house, his mother not too far behind.

He immediately smiles when he sees her. “Hi, Emma!”

“Hey, kid. What're you up to so early?”

“We’re going to the park,” he informs her, with all the enthusiasm a kid can muster at -

Emma checks her watch.

Jesus fuck. Who goes to the park at 7:30?

“Wanna come?” Henry asks, right as Regina approaches behind him, and Emma finds she can't take her eyes off the jeans she has on today.

She’s been drooling over killer stilettos and pencil skirts. Turns out a pair of jeans is Emma’s weakness.

“Uh… raincheck,” Emma says, distractedly. “Maybe next time?”

Henry shrugs. “Okay.”

As soon as he disappears under the hood of the car, Regina greets her with a smile. Coy. But Emma can also almost say it's… warm.

“I never pegged you as a morning person,” Regina states, in her four inch wedges that are so not suitable for a day at the park.

“Force of habit,” Emma explains. “Gotta stay in shape somehow.”

Something indecipherable clouds over Regina’s expression. “Yes. I'd say you're doing a decent job of that.”

Warmth floods through Emma, both in the innocent and not-so-virginal sense. As in Emma may simultaneously combust from romantic and sexual strife.

“I'll take that as a compliment,” Emma teases.

Regina’s lips turn up in amusement. “Take it as you will, Miss Swan. I don't give those away very often.”

“Emma.”

“Excuse me?”

“Call me Emma.”

Regina gets this look - Emma can't pinpoint what it is - but she's staring at Emma now, letting her gaze linger on Emma’s face. Catching her bottom lip between her teeth.

God, why is there so much tension? The amount of it could cut through steel.

Right as Emma is about to prepare herself for more disappointment, the car horn beeps. Henry pops his head out from the driver’s side -

Mom! Stop making googly eyes at Emma. Let's park it please. Let's go!”

- and ducks back inside, shutting the door.

Regina is either miffed or amused. Possibly both.

Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she says, “I suppose I better get going. His highness awaits.”

Emma nods vigorously. “Yeah. Of course. Right. I'll… see you around.”

“Yes.” At this, Regina pauses with her hand on the car door and smirks. “Emma.”

Emma releases a breath she hadn't realized she’s been holding in. Lets it out in a gust that makes her feel like she's floating in midair.

If anyone asks, the idiot blonde making googly eyes at a departing Benz? That idiot would be Emma Swan.

.

.

As the week goes on, Emma finds that having a crush is so much more work than she remembers it being.

It may have to do with the source of it living next door. Whatever it is, Emma is tired .

She thinks about it often. How, despite hardly knowing a single thing about Regina Mills, Emma can't help but find the little scar above her lip the most appealing thing in the world. How, despite being a mother to a cool fucking kid, despite having more stability in her manicured pinky than Emma has had her whole life - all of the things that would normally have Emma running for the hills - despite it all -

Emma finds herself more drawn to Regina Mills each and every day.

It scares her. Terrifies Emma, really.

She's resorted to keeping her curtains shut every night now. Makes sure that when she goes on her morning runs, it's after Regina leaves for work at 7 AM. She drives home from the gym in her beat up Bug only to find Regina’s sleek Mercedes already parked on the driveway at 8 PM.

The constant avoidance takes a toll on Emma. The misery must be seeping through her pores, because Mary Margaret Nolan hits her with the hard truth of it during one of their sessions.

“Emma,” Mary Margaret sighs. She’s counting down her number of reps on the squat machine. Emma stopped paying attention five minutes ago. “You look terrible. Like someone kicked your puppy.”

Emma grunts. “I don't have a puppy.”

“But if you did and someone kicked it, that's what you would look like.”

“Good to know.”

She and Emma had been roommates once upon a time, before Mary Margaret met the love of her life. So instead of being an insufferable bachelorette with an obsession for knitting, she's an insufferable housewife with a penchant for cardigans and really boring sex.

It never hurts to have a friend straight-laced enough to lie down for missionary twice a week. Lights off.

“I've been having some trouble sleeping,” Emma admits, even though that's the least of her concerns. “So sorry if I've been kind of… pent up.”

“Well, I find that releasing all that intimate energy during climax can make a powerful stress-reliever. It's the oxytocin in your body that make it the natural antidote to stress hormones. I highly recommend it.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Mary Margaret squats down low, her eyes locking with Emma’s through their reflection in the mirror.

“Orgasms, Emma.”

Emma nearly chokes on her own spit.

“Says the woman who schedules her own sex routine every Tuesday and Friday.”

Mary Margaret appears confused by that. “I’m intimate with David at least twice a day, Emma. Just this morning we had sex in the car on my way here. Good thing, too. It helped relieve my headache. And just yesterday we decided to try the bathroom sink. That was an adventure! What's that position called, where the female is on top?”

“Cowgirl?” Emma squeaks.

“Yes! Oh, but in the reverse. That truly hits the spot. The rooftop is a rather exciting place, as well. It's secluded from our neighbors. I think that may have been the first time I've had five orgasms in one go.”

Emma drops her kettlebell. She leans over it with a dry heave, hands jolting to her knees.

The massive amount of no surging through her may or may not be traumatic.

Mary Margaret wrinkles her brow. “Are you alright, Emma?”

“I just need a minute.”

“Okay. Well I finished my circuit. Would you like to know about my trip to Amsterdam? It really opened up my eyes.”

Later that afternoon, Emma slips on a pair of gloves and works up a sweat on a heavy bag. If she can't have a million magnificent orgasms like Mary fucking Margaret, then she can very well punch her sexual frustration into oblivion.

By the time she gets home, she's a sweaty mess. Her wrists are sore and she's fairly sure she’s more exhausted than just ‘coming off a spiritual high’. Or whatever bullshit Mary Margaret spewed out of her mouth.

“I’d enter my bedroom cautiously if I were you,” Ruby says the moment Emma walks through the door. She's sprawled over on the couch, mindlessly surfing Netflix.

Emma narrows her eyes. “Why?”

“Just a thought.”

Emma ignores her, swings her gym bag over her shoulder and heads for her room. The door is closed. Emma swears she’d left it open that morning.

“I swear to god, Ruby. If you had sex on my bed again -”

A panicked voice shouts at her as soon as Emma barges in.

“Ferret on the run!”

Emma stumbles back. “ Kid. What the-”

A ferret appears out of nowhere. Weasels its way between her legs and Emma leaps out of the way. Slams into her dresser.

Hurdles straight for the floor.

Emma can proudly say she's never blacked out before. Not once in her twenty-eight years of life. Not even during that time she inhaled fifteen shots. She'd puked her guts out the entire night, but she did it consciously. Like a badass. A conscious badass.

No. Emma has never blacked out.

Until now, that is.

.

.

“Do you think she has a concession?”

Waking up to Henry’s adorkable face hovering inches from her own is admittedly not the most pleasant sight. Neither is Ruby’s face, which is poised even closer. Scrutinizing her.

“I think you mean concussion, little man,” Ruby tells him, prodding a finger into Emma’s cheek. “And nah. She’ll be alright. See? She looks normal already.”

“Why is she glaring like that?”

“Probably because she tripped over her dresser like a loser.”

Henry just snickers.

.

.

Emma takes a shower first. Decides that in this case, it's better to take action and ask questions later. Plus, according to Henry, she smells like a wet dog.

She scrambles out into the backyard twenty minutes later to find Henry sitting on the tire swing set installed about a year ago. Ruby had a pregnancy scare once before she met Dorothy. As a result, Mulan bought a pack of diapers and built a swing.

Frodo leisurely explores the garden as Emma situates herself beside Henry. Doesn't get a word in before he’s talking.

“Your window’s still broken,” he points out. “Ruby said you wouldn't mind if I waited in your room with Frodo.”

“A warning would've been nice,” Emma mutters. Although Ruby did warn her, a second warning would've been nice.

Henry hangs his head. “I'm sorry.”

“You don't need to be sorry, kid. I'm the clutz who tripped,” she reminds him. “Any particular reason why you decided to pay me a visit?”

His head remains ducked low, shoulders rising and falling in a small shrug.

“Talk to me. What's your story?” she tries again, more gently now.

Emma waits until he expels a breath.

“You haven't been around that much lately,” he says. “I thought… I don't know. I know you're way older than me and I'm just some dumb kid. It's stupid. But I thought… maybe there’s a way we could still be friends.”

This kid must be making her soft, because Emma’s chest physically aches at his words.

“I didn't have a lot of friends where I used to live,” he goes on and finally peers up at her. “My mom used to be the mayor of this town in Maine. It was called Storybrooke. We used to live in this big mansion and everything. But I was always the weird one out because I was the mayor’s kid, you know? Because I liked to read and play the piano. I was always the last one to be picked for dodgeball. The other kids would never sit next to me at lunch. Even the teachers acted weird around me. I knew I was lonely there, but I think that was the first time I ever felt really… alone.”

“Kid…”

“And then my mom noticed,” he continues. “She never did because she was always too busy. For a long time I hated her for it. But then she listened to me. The next day she quit her job. She might've even packed our things that day, but there was a lot of paperwork to fill out. And two weeks later we moved here. To a smaller house and a bigger school. She likes to call it a second chance.”

“Sounds like your mom really loves you.”

“Yeah,” Henry whispers. He wipes his eyes with his sleeve. “She says I don't have to keep playing the piano if I don't like it. But knowing I have a choice… I want to keep playing just for her.”

Emma’s answering smile is wobbly, much like her sentimental dumbass self is.

“That's awesome, Henry. I'm glad it all worked out in the end.”

Henry grins back. “It's because of you, you know. You helped.”

“Nah. I just did what any friend would do,” Emma tells him. “That's what friends are for, right?”

If his face could light up any further, his head would be a giant lightbulb.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“My mom, too?” he asks. “She could use a friend. I can tell she's been lonely. But you like her, right?”

Emma’s smile feels like it's been smeared on with superglue.

“Yeah. I do.”

“Do you think she's pretty?”

Jesus Christ .

“Yes. I think she’s really… pretty,” Emma coughs. Hopes she can pass off her tomato face as a heat symptom.

“And smart?”

“Mhmm.”

“And nice?”

“Kid, if this is your way of interrogating me for your mom’s friendship, then yes. I think she's super pretty, super smart, and super nice. Sometimes,” Emma adds as an afterthought. Because Regina can still be a Super Bitch. “She’s also a total MILF, so there's that.”

Henry wrinkles his nose. “What's a MILF?”

“Madame I’d like to friend.”

“Oh.”

Emma slides off the tire before this conversation can get any more uncomfortable. “So it’s official? Do I get his highness’s stamp of approval?”

“I guess,” Henry says. “I think she likes you, too. Mom usually hates flowers. But she put yours in a vase.”

That… makes Emma significantly more giddy than it should. In fact, she has no idea what to do with this information, but she files it off just so she can feel giddy later.

“That's… neat,” Emma says, for the lack of a better word.

“So what now?” Henry asks.

“What do you mean?”

“Now that we’re friends,” he clarifies, and the way his hazel eyes are staring at Emma now, like she’s his most favorite person in the whole wide world. It feels like a sucker punch to the chest. “Can we have our own secret handshake?”

Emma swallows the knob in her throat. “Sure, kid. You should be heading back soon, though. Before your mom gets worried. How about a pinky swear for now?”

Henry frowns at her. “No one does pinky promises anymore, Emma. That's so 2014.”

“Humor me,” Emma snorts. The nerve of this kid.

She holds out her pinky anyway, feels an overwhelming swell of pride and… affection when he immediately links his pinky with hers.

“Friends?” she urges.

He smiles, big and wide and holding the brightness of a thousand stars. Even if Regina were to hate her again the next morning, Emma is gone from that moment on.

“Friends.”

.

.

When Regina opens the door to Emma’s sheepish face, Henry clinging to her side, she doesn’t seem like she would readily stab Emma with a fork if given the chance. Which is good. Most-likely-to-murder-you-in-your-sleep Regina may be exceptionally hot, but Emma doesn’t have a death wish.

Instead she drags her gaze to Henry in relief. But mostly exasperation.

“Henry,” she sighs. “Let me guess. Frodo ran away again.”

Henry clutches the ferret closer to his chest. “Yup.”

“Straight to Miss Swan’s house,” Regina deadpans.

“Uh huh.”

“He opened the door and walked right in.”

“Frodo’s smart, Mom,” Henry defends with conviction. The kid may be an absolute shit liar, but Emma has to give him props for his loyalty.

“Just come inside,” Regina tells him, weary, and waves him in. “We’ll discuss your punishment later. Dinner’s almost ready.”

He scrambles past her, leaving Emma to deal with the ramifications on her own. It's not too terrible of an inconvenience, really.

Except what do you say after avoiding your beautiful ass neighbor for a week?

Emma scuffs her shoe against the ground. “So… I'll gladly take the blame for that one. I might've made a pinky swear that we’d be friends. You can't break those. I mean. I swear that's not as weird as it sounds.”

That only seems to amuse Regina. There's a playful glint in her eyes, her mouth straining on a smile.

“You may be the only adult I've ever met who takes those seriously,” Regina quips.

“Pinky promises?” Emma asks. “Are you kidding? I'll have you know it’s the highest level of oath. That kind of thing trumps age.”

That prompts a smile. Emma mentally rejoices.

“Regardless. He’s has taken a liking to you,” Regina says. “I'll let it slide this once. I guess you're not the terrible influence I thought you were.”

Emma doesn't hold in her grin. “I sense another compliment in there somewhere.”

“Perhaps.”

Henry chooses that moment to reemerge, ferretless now. He scurries up to his mother’s side, stops with a breathless -

“Mom’s making pork chops.”

Emma stares at him suspiciously. He glances at Regina.

“Emma loves pork chops, Mom.”

No. Emma does not, in fact, love pork chops.

But she stands wordlessly on the porch, gawking between the two of them. Regina furrows her brow in confusion. It's clear after several seconds of silence that this is the part where Emma should leave.

“Would you -” Regina starts before Emma can make her escape. “Would you like to join us for dinner?”

.

.

.

.

.

That plan to avoid the hot new neighbor?

.

.

Plan B evidently involves dinner and pork chops.

And it’s… strange being in someone else’s home. It's not something Emma does too often nowadays, not since her foster care years. But the second she steps foot into this (admittedly massive) house, Emma’s hit with a sort of uneasiness that can't be fixed with casual small talk.

Regina’s sister just so happens to take small talk to the extreme.

“So tell me, Emma, ” Zelena drones across from her. She twirls a red curl around a finger. “Are you a natural blonde?”

They're seated on the dining table while Regina finishes up in the kitchen. Emma wishes the kid was at least here to get her through this train wreck.

Emma touches her hair. “Yes?”

“Really now? So does the spoon fit the teacup?” Zelena leans in, fascinated.

What the fuck does that even mean?

“What?”

“Does the bush match the tree?”

What?”

“Oh, bloody hell,” Zelena exclaims and rolls her eyes skyward, as if it's Emma’s fault this lady’s insane. “Does the carpet match the drapes?”

Yes,” Emma answers hotly. “My pubic hair is nice and blonde, thanks for asking. Would you like to know the consistency of my vagina while you're at it?”

“I beg your pardon?”

The words aren't said by Zelena, but rather Regina, who comes to a halt at the table with a platter of pork chops in her hands.

Emma palms her face. Well this is going swell.

Zelena, on the other hand, looks delighted. “Blonde and fierce. I like it. People used to wonder about me all the time, you know. Would come up with all these bloody nicknames. Fire crotch. Carrot cunt. That's my personal favorite. I even had a boyfriend once ask me if I was a ginger between the sheets before we even had a shag. The stupid wanker - what does that say about me?”

“You have atrocious taste in men,” Regina deadpans.

Zelena raises her wine glass in thought before slowly deciding, “Yes. But he was a good fuck.”

Regina sets the platter down with a disgusted, “Must you always be so crass? It's like you have no filter. And - has anyone seen Henry? I told him to set the table ten minutes ago.”

She leaves, taking her search to the living room, leaving Emma to fend for herself. She takes a sip of water, watches nervously as Zelena eyeballs her over the rim of her wine glass and says -

“So, Emma. How long have you been a lesbian?”

Emma chokes on her water.

Dinner becomes a feasting frenzy when Henry comes rushing in with plates and utensils, laying down all the rules.

“Just don't leave the broccoli. Mom hates that,” he whispers, all business.

Luckily Emma doesn't have to suffer through awkward conversations, as Henry does a lot of the talking. He’s quick to prattle on about his day in between Regina’s retorts to not talk with his mouth full, and Zelena’s witty remarks that has him laughing with his mouth full anyway. It's unexpectedly charming, Emma thinks. This somewhat dysfunctional family having dinner together, not quite fitting the way they're supposed to. But glued together in a way that works.

She learns that Henry spends his mornings with his aunt when Regina goes to work - Zelena, who spent most of her childhood in a boarding school in England. Who also owns a high-end lingerie store in the city called Wickedly British.

The name is so ridiculous that Emma almost snorts. But then Zelena is brandishing her phone and the five-star rating it has on Yelp.

“What those Harvard Law snobs wouldn't pay for a little risqué in their dull lives,” Zelena sighs.

Regina is the chief executive of the city council, or something equally as important. Emma may have stopped paying attention halfway through Regina's political rant to stare at her face instead.

It's at this point that Zelena jabs her enormous heel into Emma’s shin. She catches Emma’s glazed expression with an irritating, knowing smirk.

“Emma works for the city too, Mom,” Henry chimes in, snatching Emma’s attention. “She's a cop .”

“You are?” Regina asks, surprise coloring her features.

“Not exactly…”

“You said you were a bounty man!”

“Bondsperson,” Emma corrects dutifully. “It's more part time now. Most days I train clients at a gym.”

“So you're a physical fitness instructor?” Zelena leers over the rim of her third glass of wine for the night. “Fascinating.”

“Not really,” Emma says meekly.

“It certainly explains those arms of yours,” Zelena observes and leans in a little too close. “Perhaps you can give my dear sister here a demonstration. I'm sure she’ll find the experience quite… stimulating.”

Emma stares, mortified.

Oblivious to the blatant sexual connotation, Regina snarks, “What’re you suggesting? That I'm not in shape?”

“Honestly, sis. I’m surprised you've managed to keep your figure after sitting behind a desk for six bloody years.”

“And what do you think yoga is?”

“Oh, I don’t know. A bloody waste of time designed to keep housewives busy during their midlife crisis?”

“God, you are such an insufferable -”

“You’re not unfit,” Emma interrupts. Feels herself stiffen when three sets of eyes are suddenly on her. “I think you look beautiful.”

Regina’s eyes remain on her, burning a hole into Emma’s skull. It’s heavy . Emma tries to decipher what the look means, but her senses are torn between her sweaty palms, her spiking heart rate, and the dramatic sigh Zelena heaves beside her.

Henry glances between the two them. “Um. Why does it feel weird all of a sudden?”

“Because your Mummy’s a twat,” Zelena mutters, low enough to reach Emma’s ears, and stands up. “Well. I can’t stand to watch this any longer. Come, Henry. Let’s leave the idiots to their suffering and go watch a movie.”

Henry immediately leaps out of his chair. “Can we watch Lord of the Rings?”

“My Gods. You are such a colossal nerd.”

They take their bickering to the living room. Emma stays seated, inspects her plate. She didn't even get to finish her broccoli.

Regina begins clearing the table, gesturing to Emma’s plate. “Are you finished with that?”

Emma nods. “Here. Let me help you.”

“Nonsense. You're our guest.”

Gathering up the rest of the utensils, Emma adds, “I'm not going out there to argue their nerd logic. So I guess you're stuck with me.”

That pulls a small smile from Regina, and Emma feels herself relax now that the tension has dwindled. And Zelena isn't around to toss her smartass comments.

“Very well,” Regina says and hands Emma a dishrag. “We’ve been having issues with the washer since we got here. So you're on drying duty.”

Emma could honestly say she can dry dishes with Regina all night and be ecstatic.

“Okay.”

Nothing else is said during those first few minutes. Emma is beginning to wonder if she's even capable of having a conversation with someone as sophisticated as Regina, or if she's forever going to be stuck in this hole of nervousness.

But then Regina begins speaking.

“I wanted to apologize,” she says, taking Emma by surprise. Regina passes her a wet plate. “For our first meeting. Not that it's an excuse, but I did spend six years of my life as a small town Mayor. Sometimes I forget how to interact with people who aren't old, white men.”

Emma snickers, gently places the plate in the pile next to her. “You know you already apologized for that.”

“Yes. But this time I'm saying it out loud.”

“Fair enough.” Emma grins, glancing at her from askew. “Can't say I've been the most hospitable neighbor, either.”

“If there’s anything Zelena’s right about, you're fierce. It's been a while since I met anyone with a spine,” Regina tells her. “There's always room to appreciate that.”

“Two compliments in one night. Wow. I must be doing something right.”

Regina breathes out a laugh, silently hands over another plate, but otherwise doesn't respond. Emma debates whether she can work with the blush she swears is tinting Regina's cheeks.

Instead Emma says, “I kinda have to be. Growing up in the foster system, you have to have a thick skin in order to survive.”

Regina pauses, reaches over to turn off the faucet before turning to give Emma her full attention. Some unreadable emotion envelopes her face.

“You were in the foster system?” Regina asks. It's almost a whisper.

Emma nods lightly. “I was abandoned on the side of the road when I was a baby. Never got adopted out.”

Regina’s expression flickers, and her eyes are softer when she says, “I adopted Henry when he was a week old.”

“He’s lucky to have you.”

Regina’s answering smile sends a flutter beneath Emma's rib cage.

“I was engaged to my fiancé at the time. His name was Daniel,” Regina says. “He died in a car accident before Henry got the chance to meet him.”

“I'm sorry.”

Regina waves a hand. “It's in the past. I'll always love him, of course. It's always just been Henry and I, and occasionally my sister. For a while I dated a man named Robin, thinking it'd be good for Henry to have a male figure in his life. Then I find out he was married all along.”

Emma’s smile tenses.

Okay. Shit.

Shit. She’s straight .

Inwardly Emma’s emotions are in shambles. So what if she’s only dated men? So did Emma and she turned out - not so straight.

Emma puts on a straight face. The irony of this pun doesn't escape her.

“He sounds like a real douche.”

Regina laughs. “He was. Yes. Luckily his wife divorced him in the end. It turns out two women betrayed by the same man can become good friends.”

Emma grins broadly. “That's awesome. Guess it all turned out for the best.”

Regina hums her agreement.

It's quiet now, with only the faint murmur of the TV filtering in from the living room. The dishes are nearly done. Emma technically has no other reason left to stay.

“You said the dishwasher isn't working?” Emma supplies. Pulls the question straight out of her ass.

At Regina’s nod, she adds, “Mind if I take a look at it?”

If Regina’s surprised by the offer, she doesn't show it. She gestures for Emma to go ahead, so Emma does, kneeling low onto the floor to unlatch the cover plate.

“It doesn't clean properly,” Regina explains. “I tried getting someone over here to take a look at it, but his quoted price was ridiculous. I do have a sense of pride.”

Emma snorts. “I know,” she mutters. “I had a foster dad who used to be a handyman. He taught me everything I know now. It could be something as simple as cleaning the spray arm, though. If not, you might need to replace the inlet valve, which will take longer.”

Emma replaces the cover after some further investigating and stands. She’s puzzled when she finds Regina’s gaze snapping back to her face.

“If you give me some time tomorrow, I think I can fix it,” Emma offers. Regina’s eyes couldn’t have been glued to her ass just now.

At least not intentionally .

“You… want to come by tomorrow. To fix my dishwasher,” Regina states in a way that's phrased between a question and a disbelieving statement.

Emma swallows. “Yes?”

And then Regina does the unforeseen - she laughs. Deep and hoarse and Emma’s torn between feeling awestruck or embarrassed.

“Or not,” Emma says tersely.

Regina’s laughter subsides. She's still smiling her dazzling smile, though. Luckily it doesn't seem to be mean-spirited.

“It's not that,” she assures Emma. “You just… continue to surprise me.”

That's good, right?

Emma shoves her hands into her jeans pockets, offers a tentative grin. “So. Yes?”

The smile Regina sends her is unlike any Emma has seen yet. It's soft. You can almost say it's affectionate. It makes the air snatch in Emma’s throat. Leaves her breathless.

“Yes.”

.

.

So. That plan to fend off those special feelings for the hot new neighbor?

.

.

Shit shit shit fuck fuck fuck

Fifteen minutes later, Emma comes charging into her room with the speed of a gorilla. She slams the door, pulls out her laptop.

Googles how to get over a straight girl.

And then replaces girl’ with ‘woman’, because Regina’s no fucking girl.

The results are about as satisfying as you would think. Which is to say, not at all. Emma finds she feels even worse now after skimming through the key points.

  1. Maybe don't fall for the straight girl. Great fucking advice.
  2. Acknowledge what you find hot about the situation
  3. Figure out what you need to do about your feelings
  4. Value the friendship as it is
  5. Try to move on

It's disheartening, and perhaps a bit melodramatic when she has no concrete evidence of what Regina's sexuality is. But it's the first course of action Emma knows how to take in order to curb the bubble of emotion swelling inside her.

And for whatever reason, it's not fucking working.

Grabbing a flashlight from her nightstand, Emma trudges over to the window. The shades are open on the other side, lights on, meaning Regina is still awake.

It's enough justification to point the flashlight straight ahead and flick it on and off.

It takes a minute, but eventually the flickering draws Regina’s attention. She approaches the window in a silken bathrobe. Even from this far, Emma can tell her features are pinched in irritation.

Emma quickly scribbles over her notepad and holds it up.

What time should

I come over?

That's something she probably should have asked before interrupting Regina's nightly routine. But it's too late now. Regina seems humored by the question, at least.

A few seconds later, she's wielding a white board. The number scrawled across it is definitely not a time.

207-359-0130

Oh.

Emma lunges for her phone, has the number and a text message keyed in fifteen seconds flat.

This is Emma

It's the best Emma can come up with. She's pretty sure if Mulan were here, she'd have no problem telling Emma she reeks of desperation.

Her phone buzzes not too long after.

A flashlight, Miss Swan? Couldn't wait

until the morning to knock like a normal person?

Emma rolls her eyes. She's grinning like a moron anyway as she replies -

What can I say? Maybe I'm just excited

                                          to fix your dishwasher

 

Come by at 11 then. I'll have lunch prepared for us.

Ok. See you then :)

Her phone remains idle for several minutes. Emma guesses Regina’s gone to bed by now - the lights are off in her room, but the blinds are wide open.

Her phone buzzes one last time for the night.

Emma takes in the message for a solid minute, wonders if this is the type of thing you reply to or leave as it is. In the end Emma puts her phone down, sprawls back onto her bed and stares up at the ceiling, willing sleep to take her.

The house is very quiet.

.

.

Fixing the dishwasher is a piece of cake. Dealing with Henry’s persistent questions?

Not so much.

“What’s that?” He points to the plastic piece tucked between the wires.

“That’s called the inlet valve. It controls the flow of water.”

“Is that what’s broken?”

“Hopefully not.”

“How do you know how to fix it?”

“Someone taught me a long time ago. I can be sort of a handyman… woman sometimes.”

“So you catch criminals, exercise and fix things?”

“Yup.”

Wow.”

His curiosity knows no bounds, not that Emma minds. It’s painfully cute, and Emma discovers that teaching him the uses of a screwdriver is kind of therapeutic.

It's Saturday morning. Emma had knocked on the door at 11 o’clock sharp, only for Henry to swing it open with the biggest grin on his face. Regina was holed up in the living room, stalking around in her fancy pumps while muttering angry orders into her phone.

“Work problems,” Henry had whispered to her. “Mom says everyone there is in-com-pe-tent.”

“That's a big word,” Emma whispered back.

“Yeah. I learned it today.”

Regina comes striding in forty minutes later. She looks exhausted, aggravated, but nearly stumbles to a halt when she catches sight of Henry, who’s covered in pancake batter.

Emma waves her spatula from her place by the stove. “In my defense, he started it.”

“No I didn't,” Henry counters.

“Whatever the case may be, you still lost big time, kid.”

“What -” Regina blinks, takes in the mess around her. “Are you making breakfast? It's noon.”

“Technically it's brunch. I figured you'd want a break after that phone call,” Emma tells her. “Dishwasher’s fixed, by the way. How do you like your eggs?”

It's ballsy. Emma knows that much. There’s also a relatively high chance that Regina may kick her ass to the curb after this.

Instead Regina sets her phone on the counter, observes Emma’s face for a long moment before reaching out to swipe her thumb over Emma’s chin - brushing away the smear of Nutella Emma had no idea was on her face.

“Poached,” is all Regina says. She dips her thumb between her lips.

And then casually whirls back around in her ridiculous pumps and struts out of the kitchen.

Emma must have been gaping at the wall for an unknown period of time, because Henry’s voice snaps her out of her stupor.

“Incoming!”

A glob of pancake batter hits her square in the face.

Brunch is - surprisingly - a normal affair. Henry had insisted on blueberry pancakes, since those are his favorite, with extra syrup that has Regina eyeing over in disapproval.

Emma, on the other hand, has never made a poached egg in her life. Of course Regina would choose something that needs to be carefully simmered and crafted into perfection by the egg Gods.

A quick google search laid out the instructions simply enough. And the fact that Regina’s face doesn’t completely scrunch up in disgust is a win in Emma’s opinion.

It's halfway through his fifth pancake when Henry slides his plate out of the way, puts on his most serious face - which is hard to take seriously at all when he's covered in pancake mix and syrup - and says -

“So what’s next?”

Next is a shower,” Regina tells him sternly. “And then maybe we can go see a movie.”

“Can we go to the library, too?”

“Only if you can be ready in twenty minutes.”

The speed in which he lurches up from his seat and sprints up the stairs is impressive. Emma hardly has time to laugh before she's turning to Regina with raised eyebrows.

“The library?”

God. Zelena wasn't kidding. The kid’s an absolute dweeb.

“He likes to read,” Regina explains with a small, proud smile. “Nowadays he’s gotten into comic books. But he's always loved going to the library.”

“So did I when I was a kid,” Emma surmises, matching Regina’s small smile. “Until I was twelve. Then the other kids started making fun of me for it.”

“He's been bullied before. I'm just hoping this new environment will be… different,” Regina admits and begins clearing the table, observes Henry’s plate with a deliberate pause.

“Thank you, by the way.”

At Emma’s quizzical look, Regina elaborates, “For fixing the dishwasher. And making us breakfast.”

“Brunch,” Emma can't help but point out.

Regina fixes her with this heavy stare, her lip twitching upward.

“Brunch.”

Emma’s chest suddenly erupts in tiny palpitations.

“You're welcome,” she murmurs, the words constricting in her throat. She glances down at her sweaty palms, knows that if she doesn't leave now, she may as well quit her job and become the idealistic trash she's meant to be.

“I should go. I already took up most of your morning.”

Regina’s eyes flash in… something. Disappointment?

“Oh,” Regina says and turns to the sink. Her back remains on Emma as she prepares to get up and go.

She slowly counts to three. One, two, thr

“I was under the impression that - Well. Would you care to join us?”

.

.

They go to the library.

Emma must be going through some deep level of crazy considering how quickly she’d accepted the invitation. She hasn't stepped foot into one of these in nearly a decade. It's a Saturday afternoon. And here she is.

At a library.

“You are so whipped.”

Yes. It's beginning to dawn on Emma that she is, indeed, very whipped. She wishes these were words she’d voiced out loud on her own.

Instead Ruby gawks at her from the front end of the check out counter.

One thing Emma had forgotten about the city library? After a bet gone awry, Ruby now tends to volunteer there every other weekend for the unforeseeable future.

“Don't,” Emma warns her in a terse whisper. “Don't you even start.”

But Ruby’s wide-eyed gaze is already flicking between her, to Henry, who had dragged Regina straight to the children’s aisle the moment they walked in, and back to Emma.

“I'm telling Mulan,” Ruby whispers in response.

Don't tell Mulan,” Emma hisses.

“We have a bet going.”

“Are you serious?”

“I shit you not.”

Ruby.”

“Shhh.

The hush doesn't come from Ruby, but rather a nearby spectator shooting old lady daggers at her. Ruby is tapping away on her phone faster than Emma can blink, and so she gives up, makes a detour to the Young Adult section with a wistful sigh.

Emma hates the library.

Twenty minutes later, Emma is nose-deep in a Harry Potter book when Henry plops himself on the floor beside her.

“Whatya reading?”

“Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“My favorite’s Goblet of Fire.”

“You read them all, huh?” Emma asks and smiles to herself when his floppy hair shakes with his nod.

She reaches out for the stack of books she’s collected.

“I read this one when I was your age,” she says, handing him the book. “The Giver. I think you'd like it.”

“Wasn't this a movie?”

“No one mentions the movie, kid.”

He grins, side-eyes her pile with growing interest. “And those?”

“This one’s called Holes. A classic.” She passes him the rest of the pile. “Matilda. I used to love that one as a kid. What I wouldn't give to be able to move things with my mind. Obviously can't go wrong with Percy Jackson. And A Wrinkle in Time . Haven't read it, but I heard it's good.”

Henry hums as he sorts through the pile, but otherwise doesn't comment. He snuggles into her, his little head coming to rest over her shoulder as he silently turns to the first page of The Giver.

Fuck. There’s a knot in Emma’s throat now. Affection was never her strong suit.

She glances up, finds Regina in the next aisle over. A book is sprawled open in her hand while she observes them, but then her eyes are moving to Emma’s. They linger on her, the softest of smiles on her face before she returns to her book.

Emma’s heart contractions don't go away for the next hour.

.

.

When they leave, Henry checks out every book from Emma’s pile, including the one he doesn't put down the entire ride back.

.

.

The rest of the afternoon goes like this.

They do end up going to see a movie. It's a challenge, when Henry’s insistent on seeing Jurassic World and Emma’s insistent on not.

“You're not missing anything. I promise.”

“But dinosaurs, Emma,” Henry is quick to whine. “What's cooler than that?”

“Superheroes.”

“Antman’s not a superhero. He’s dumb.”

It's Regina who decides on the Incredibles. She purchases the tickets with an elaborate eye roll, muttering ‘children’ underneath her breath. Emma can't say she's offended. The kid has a way of bringing out her inner stupidity.

The issue comes with the seating arrangements, and the gigantic tub of popcorn Emma had planned on eating herself. His eager hands dig into that as soon as they sit down, though, and somehow that makes Emma the middle bitch.

Regina settles in beside her, hitting Emma with a waft of perfume.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

“You should tag us here,” Henry mumbles over a mouthful of popcorn.

“Maybe you should stop eating all my popcorn,” Emma suggests and swats his hand away, thoughtfully adding, “Tag us where? Facebook?”

“Mhmm.”

“What're you even doing on Facebook? You're like, nine.”

“Almost ten.”

“Ignore him. He’s been trying to convince me to let him get an account for months now,” Regina whispers, leaning in slightly.

It's close enough to catch another whiff of Regina’s perfume, notice the scar above her lip that Emma immediately has the urge to kiss.

Choking on a popcorn kernel, Emma whips out her phone - tries to keep it away from Regina’s line of sight. Emma hasn't exactly cleared out Regina’s profile page since the last time she'd gone on a Facebook stalking spree - and sends a friend request.

“There,” Emma says and flaunts the screen in Regina’s direction. “Can't tag us if we aren't friends.”

“You're unbelievable.”

“Unbelievably charming, right?”

The eye roll Emma receives could put Mulan’s to shame. Nonetheless, Regina takes out what Emma’s fairly certain is an iPhone X, accepts the friend request in a single tap.

“Don't flatter yourself,” Regina mutters. But her face is definitely holding back a smile.

Emma, on the other hand, can't stifle her grin even if she wanted to.

“Wouldn't dream of it.”

She tags them at the theater, doesn't realize that her smile may as well swallow her entire face until she catches Henry’s eye. He’s regarding her with an odd expression.

Emma puts her phone down. “What?”

He shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says, which sounds like a load of bullshit to Emma. But he turns back to the screen and crams a handful of popcorn into his mouth, effectively ending this equally strange conversation.

.

.

Halfway through the movie, Emma’s phone pings with several new notifications.

.

.

As the final days of July come to an end, so does Emma’s withering sanity. The summer weather is shaping up to be filled with thunderstorms, and as a once-lonely orphan with only a raggedy blanket to hide under, Emma is not a fan of thunderstorms.

It's the Thursday following her outing with Henry and Regina, and since then she’s managed to see Henry a total of six times. Twice in the morning before she's about to go on her morning run. And four times in the evening, when he knocks on her door just so he can slip past her and talk about his day.

It's as mystifying as it is sweet. It also doesn't hurt that she now has a reason to see Regina when she drops him off next door each night. And every time, Regina invites her in for a nightcap.

It's become the sort of routine she can look forward to while she’s sending Regina stupid memes throughout the day, because why else would Regina give Emma her number?

“She's doing that creepy smile thing again,” Mulan notices from the sofa.

They're camped out in the living room for the evening while the storm passes. It's been raining on and off all week. For whatever reason, there's a documentary playing on the TV.

Emma peeks up from her phone to frown at her. “What?”

“That's a dollar,” Mulan points out, speaking to Ruby. “Jar’s in the kitchen.”

“Are you shitting me?” Ruby groans, the sound muffled when she has her face shoved into a pillow. “That's like, the fifth time today. What am I? A stripper?”

Weren't you?”

“We don't speak of those days.”

“What the hell are you guys talking about?” Emma bites out, frustrated now with the cryptic conversation.

“We’re saving up for Biznywod,” Ruby mutters. It's hard to hear her when she's sprawled over on her stomach, her face still nestled into a pillow, but Emma’s pretty sure she said Disney World.

“We put a dollar in the ‘Emma’ jar every time you grin stupidly at your phone,” Mulan explains. “Every time you mention Regina. And two dollars every time you're in denial.”

“Denial of what?”

“Do you think that counts?” Mulan asks Ruby.

“I hope not,” Ruby moans. “My broke ass is broke.”

“Your broke ass is getting kicked out for butting into my life. Again. An Emma jar? Really?”

“It's working,” Mulan says with a shrug. “We put in fifty-six dollars since Sunday.”

"Not to mention ten minutes of my life wasted trying to hook you up," Ruby grouses.

"What?"

"Check your Tinder app."

Emma wasn't even aware she had a Tinder app. She opens it, finds her own face staring back at her in one of her (admittedly) better photos.

"I'm twenty-eight," Emma mutters. "And fitness dork?"

"I quoted the milkshake song and that's what you're upset over?"

Before Emma can consider what this means for her case of denial, there’s a knock at the door. It's careful, but urgent. Emma doesn't know what to make of it when the weather’s too awful for any late night visits.

“Must be for you, Em,” Ruby snickers. “Your son sure misses you.”

Emma pelts her with a pillow, relishes the yelp that gets her before she rolls off the couch to answer the door.

She isn't surprised to see Henry on the other side of it, holding a cage in his hands. But standing behind him, holding an umbrella, is Regina - and that's about as every bit surprising as the overnight bag she seems to be carrying.

“Hey, Emma. We’re here for the sleepover.”

Henry is quick to make himself at home, breezing past her so he can drop Frodo’s cage by the TV and occupy her spot on the couch.

Emma turns to Regina. “Uh. Sleepover?”

It's clear Regina is embarrassed by the assumption. “Our power went out. It may be the old wiring. I would've called, but my phone died while I was trying to pack our things.”

“So… you need to stay the night?” Emma is too stunned by the fact that Regina is nervous to come up with a better response.

“If that's okay,” Regina says tentatively.

“Of course it is!”

That would be Ruby, whose head is no longer stuffed between the pillows, but glancing between them with the most holy terror grin imaginable.

“Come on in.” Ruby stands and ushers her in with far too much enthusiasm. “Excuse the roommate. Emma here is a terrible host.”

Ruby ,” Emma hisses.

But Regina is shrugging off her jacket, eyeing Emma in amusement. “I see that.”

Emma fights the urge to palm her face and hastily takes Regina’s jacket. She sucks in a breath when their hands brush.

“Would you like anything to drink?” Ruby offers with dramatic flair. “We here at Casa Ruby are notorious for our alcoholic beverages. We’ve got Jack. We have Jager. We also have BudLight Lime because Emma has no taste. Our sleeping locations consist of this couch and Emma’s bed. You’re okay with taking the couch. Right, buddy?”

The question is directed to Henry, who shrugs.

“Sure.”

The thought of sharing a bed with Regina throws Emma into a panic.

“Uh, no. No ,” Emma says, flinging Regina’s jacket on the coat rack. “ I'm taking the couch.”

Ruby is undeterred. “But the couch is the perfect size for Henry’s scrawny frame.”

“I'm not scrawny ,” Henry counters.

Emma ignores him. “He’s also our guest ,” she grits out. “Why let our guest sleep on the couch?”

“Like you sleeping down here is any better. You hate thunder.”

“What if Henry does, too?”

“I like thunder, actually,” Henry points out. Unnecessarily. Emma could wring his little neck.

Ruby calmly gestures to him. “See? Logic.”

“More like bad accommodation,” Emma says stubbornly. “Look, they can take my bed upstairs. That's only fair. I'll fend off the big scary storms. But I'm taking the couch. Capiche?”

.

.

Emma does not take the couch.

It's partly her fault. Henry insists on reading the first few chapters of Matilda with her, and he's now fast asleep on the couch, his head nestled into her lap.

Mulan comes down to bring a pillow and several blankets over, helps Emma readjust him so he's at least snoring into a nice, comfy pillow rather than Emma’s thigh.

Mulan appears vaguely smug once Emma finishes tucking him in.

Emma folds her arms defensively. “What?”

“You're good at that,” is all Mulan says.

“What? Tucking a nine-year-old kid in?”

“Taking care of a nine-year-old kid that isn't yours,” Mulan elaborates. “You always said you could never be a parent. But you're not half bad.”

Emma knows it's a compliment. Coming from Mulan, it's the compliment to end all compliments. Emma is overcome by an odd sense of pride, which quickly morphs into panic.

Before she can express her discomfort, Mulan hands her a spray bottle.

“Ruby told me to give you this.”

Emma squints at the label. “ Rose water? What for?”

“You spray it in your underwear. Two whiffs. Makes your coochie smell like flowers.”

At Emma’s look of dawning horror, Mulan raises her palms. “Her words. Not mine. Just don't get too carried away. Remember we share a wall.”

With that, she heads upstairs, leaving Emma with the dreadful knowledge that she is most certainly not going to be fucking anyone tonight. Nonetheless spraying her coochie with flower water.

She finds Regina in the kitchen, sipping on a cup of tea.

“He’s asleep. Apparently reading to him is the secret,” Emma says from the entryway, fidgeting anxiously. “So it looks like we’re bunking together.”

She hopes the observation comes off as casual, but Regina is doing that thing with her eyes, studying Emma in a way that makes her heart thump harder in her chest.

“Is that… okay?”

“That depends.” Regina smirks over the rim of her cup. “Do you talk in your sleep?”

“Maybe. I've been told I snore.”

Regina laughs. “I assumed you did.”

“And I bet you're the type to take up the whole bed,” Emma guesses, relaxing now that they’re on familiar grounds.

This is safe. Banter’s good.

Regina's sly smile in no way falters. “I've been told I take up more space than I need.”

“Figures,” Emma laughs, peeks at the time before she adds, “Feel free to head upstairs. My room’s the last door on the right. Sheets are clean and everything.”

Regina places her cup down on the table, head tilting in confusion.

“And you?”

“I'll be up in a minute,” Emma assures her and pauses.

“Say… ever reset your breaker box before?”

.

.

Lesson number one in the world of common sense - don't go resetting the breaker box in the pouring rain.

It was an easy trick she’d learned in the various homes she's lived in. Reset the breakers. Restore the power. Sometimes.

Lesson number two? Bring an umbrella.

What’s at first a mild drizzle becomes a storm in the making when, just as Emma manages to flip off the final breaker outside Regina’s house, a flash of lightning strikes the sky and it begins to pour . Emma has enough sense to know water and electric switches don't mix. And yeah. Maybe she's fucking terrified of thunder.

By the time Emma stumbles back into the house, she's drenched . There are water droplets trickling off her neck. Her t-shirt is clinging to her chest, a cold reminder that she'd forgone a bra for the night. Real fucking classy.

What's worse is Regina is already in bed - Emma’s bed. The sight alone stops Emma dead in her tracks. She’s perusing a book, but raises her head when Emma comes in.

And then falters. Regina blinks slowly, her eyes resting on Emma’s face before dropping down to her drenched shirt, more noticeably to the nipples that Emma can now safely say are on full display.

Regina continues to stare without a word, long enough for Emma’s skin to heat up in a blaze.

“It started raining again before I could reset the whole thing,” Emma explains in the most awkward fashion possible. “I'll try again in the morning.”

Regina doesn't answer. Her face is frustratingly composed. But at least her eyes are leveled with Emma’s again.

“I'll… um.” Emma blindly reaches for a towel as she backs into the hall. “I'm gonna go.”

She trips over a shoe.

“Dry off.”

There's a third lesson in here somewhere. Emma figures that's the case once she's in the bathroom, clutching a towel to her chest with her back pressed against the door.

That lesson?

Assuming someone’s sexuality is definitely a no-go.

Emma should've learned this during her senior year of high school, when she’d asked Lily Garcia on a date, all on a hunch . Turns out Lily Garcia liked boys more than she could ever like Emma.

But now Emma has that same hunch again, backed up by what she's just witnessed - that maybe Regina Mills isn't as straight as Emma assumed.

Despite that, there’s no saying whether Regina could be interested in Emma in the gay way.

Could she?

Emma’s thoughts are a jumbled mess when she returns to the bedroom. Regina had gone to bed. She's facing the wall, her back turned to Emma, and a part of Emma is relieved she doesn't have to deal with her conflicting emotions while Regina’s awake.

She slips in on the other side and turns off the light. Stares at the ceiling. A beat passes as a heavy silence fills the air.

A clap of thunder shakes the whole house. Emma jolts up.

Regina stirs over on the other side, doesn't turn around completely to look at Emma, but -

“Are you okay?”

“Mhm. Yup.” Emma says gruffly, laying back down to curl up on her side. “Peachy.”

A pause.

“Ruby mentioned you didn't like thunderstorms.”

Fucking Ruby.

“It's nothing,” Emma murmurs, attempts to calm her racing heartbeat. “I guess it's an old fear from my foster care days. Never got over it.”

“How did you manage it back then?” Regina asks. Her voice is especially hoarse tonight, whether from tiredness or something else. It's fucking attractive.

Emma bites her lip. “Usually curl up in a blanket,” she admits. “Hide underneath the bed. I had a foster sister who used to hold me. That helped a lot.”

Regina doesn't respond to that. There's another stretch of silence that puts an end to the conversation. Or so Emma thinks.

Regina shifts again, this time sliding across the bed to Emma’s side. She presses into Emma back, loops an arm around Emma’s waist. The warmth of Regina’s body, the smell of her, shocks Emma to her core.

“Regina. What're you doing?”

“What does it look like?” Regina mutters into the back of her neck. Her hot breath spurs a shiver down Emma’s spine. “Breathe a word of this to anyone and we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Right. Yeah. Of course.” Emma nods frantically. Wonders if Regina can feel her heart pounding out of her ribcage. “I don't want you to feel obligated to do this.”

“Do you not like to cuddle?”

“Yeah, no. I love to cuddle,” Emma hastily says. Is it her imagination or did Regina tighten her arm around her waist? “I'm practically a professional cuddler. I just… didn't peg you for one.”

Regina’s chest expands against her back as she inhales into Emma’s hairline. Emma finally relaxes into her, snuggles in a little closer, until her backside collides with Regina’s pelvic bone. A puff of breath hitches against Emma’s neck.

“I make exceptions for some people,” Regina breathes.

Emma swallows. “That's good. Just, you know. Let me know if you get uncomfortable. Or don't. Obviously you have the choice to pull away. Or even if it gets hot. We try to keep the AC on full blast but sometimes it can get really stuffy in here. Especially around three for whatever reason -”

“Emma.”

“Yeah?”

“Just go to sleep.”

“Okay.”

Emma closes her eyes, listens to the rhythmic sounds of Regina’s breathing against her skin. This is nice. A little too nice, but Emma’s done overthinking for the night.

So she doesn't think about thunderstorms or neighbors or the fluttering in her chest. Or the thumb lightly tracing circles over Emma's stomach.

.

.

She doesn't think about it.

Until Emma wakes up the following morning withRegina sprawled on top of her.

It's the kind of thing Emma thought only happened in movies, or the ultimate cliché of romcoms. But Regina has her locked in at the edge of the bed, her cheek nuzzled up against Emma's sternum, hand fisted around the hem of Emma's tank top. At some point she must have draped a leg over Emma's, because it's now nestled in between Emma's thigh.

There's also a dull throbbing between Emma's thighs. Makes sense. She typically wakes up with whatever female variation there is to morning wood. Obviously her subconscious is overly fond of Regina, however inappropriate it’s being.

Before Emma can begin to freak out, Regina stirs in her sleep. She arches against Emma's thigh, her heart rate picking up against Emma's stomach, before releasing the most obscene moan Emma’s ever heard.

Oh.

If Emma thought she was turned on before, it's nothing compared to the sudden need to run her tongue all over Regina’s body.

This is gay.

Like, so gay. Gayer than Emma’s rapidly intensifying gay drive can think to comprehend this early in the morning. Unfuckingbelievable.

She scrambles to get off the bed, carefully detangles her limbs before Regina wakes up. But Emma’s foot gets caught on the bedsheets, and she staggers forward, straight for the floor.

“Shit.”

Somewhere up above, she hears Regina's faint, raspy chuckle that tells Emma she's definitely awake. Rather than acknowledge the mishap, Regina simply rolls back over on the other side of the bed without a word.

Emma sighs. Her head hits the floor with a thunk.

.

.

It's a hot summer morning in the final days of July, and Emma comes to the startling realization that maybe - just maybe -

She might be falling a little bit in love with Regina Mills.

.

.

.

Henry’s birthday is approaching. He makes sure to tell her that every chance he gets.

“You know my birthday’s in three days,” he reminds her.

It's the second time in that afternoon alone. They're sitting inside Zelena’s lingerie store while Regina finishes up what looks to be another argument she's having with her sister.

She'd originally asked if Emma could go and pick Henry up, as she was going to be late getting off work to do so herself. But Regina ended up meeting them there.

And now Emma’s here. In an extravagant lingerie store called Wickedly British .

No .” Emma feigns surprise. “I had no idea. How old are you gonna be again? Nine?”

“Ten,” Henry says proudly, oblivious to Emma’s silent snickering. “Mom says she's taking me to Disney World.”

“Yeah?” She can already imagine Ruby fuming with jealousy. “You know, any other almost-ten-year-old would be saying that with more excitement.”

“I’m excited,” he insists. “We went to Disney World two years ago. All the other kids at my school would have birthday parties, though. I never really had one of those.”

“You never had a birthday party?”

“I never had a lot of friends.”

Emma’s insides shrivel up at his words, sinking into the pit of her stomach in a pile of bricks. It feels an awful lot like dread.

She clears her throat. “How about this. When you get back from Disney World, I'll have a surprise birthday party all set up for you at my place. Make sure to bring your mom and aunt. And Frodo. Can't forget about him.”

“It's not a surprise if you just told me about it,” Henry points out.

“Semantics.”

He peeks up at her from the fringe of his hair, his eyes suspiciously red-rimmed. “You’ll be there?”

“Duh,” Emma says. “We’re friends. Remember?”

“I remember,” Henry whispers, biting down on a soft grin. He holds out his pinky. “Pinky promise?”

Emma swears she must be PMSing, because there's no way she's about to have an emotional breakdown over a fucking pinky swear.

She links their pinkies anyway.

“Pinky promise.”

She sees Regina approaching them, Zelena following not too far behind, wearing an overbearingly smug smile.

“Emma’s throwing me a birthday party, Mom!” Henry chirps.

Regina quirks an eyebrow, focuses her attention on Emma. “Oh?”

“After you guys get back from Disney World,” Emma elaborates, flushing under her gaze. “Whenever that is.”

“We’re leaving tomorrow morning, actually.”

“Ah.”

Regina levels her with a knowing look. “I’d planned on telling you today. I was going to ask if you can watch Frodo while we’re gone. But a birthday party sounds… perfect. That's sweet of you, Emma.”

Emma’s ears are burning. “I can watch him. It's no problem.”

“As adorable as this is,” Zelena drawls from the side. Emma forgot she was standing there. “I'm getting a cavity simply watching you two. Emma, dear. Tell me. What do you think of this for my lovely sister?”

She pulls out a lacy negligee from the pile Regina has mounted in her arms, dangles it up between her fingers.

“Lush enough to tear right off, no?”

“Gross,” Henry mumbles, and returns to his book.

Emma, on the other hand? Emma would very much like to die right now.

“Give me that .” Regina snags it back with a furious, “I told you I'd be willing to try these on. Not showcase them to the world.”

“Oh, but where’s the fun in that?” Zelena whines before snatching another piece from the pile. “Now these are the finest knickers I've ever seen. Made from the softest silk in Paris.”

She catches Emma's eye, draws out a coy, “My sister would look delicious in these, would she not? Em- ma.

Regina ends up buying most of the lingerie, including Emma’s favorite - an elegant lace garter set that, truth be told, would be the object of Emma’s dirty fantasies for months to come.

Before she can follow Regina out the door, Zelena flings a pair of lacy panties at Emma’s face.

“Here,” Zelena drones. “Consider it an act of charity.”

Emma holds up the garment in disbelief. “ Charity ?”

“Your jacket is an absolute eyesore. It's bloody summer first of all. And judging by your horrendous fashion sense, I gather your knickers are bland and as white as my arse.”

Emma bristles. “Blue, actually.”

“If you want to shag my sister, go red.”

“I'm not trying to shag anyone -”

“Brilliant. Thank you for shopping at Wickedly British , where all your wicked fantasies come true. Please come again.” She shoves Emma out the door. “Ta ta now! Bonsoir!”

Sometimes Emma wonders if that five star rating on Yelp is all Zelena.

Regina is quick to apologize for Zelena’s behavior when she meets them back at their house. Emma outwardly takes it with a grain of salt, when in reality her emotions are in turmoil. Zelena’s teasing had only confused Emma further, leading her to wonder -

What if?

What if the feeling’s mutual? What if Emma isn't the only one concealing this… intense romantic attraction after all? She’d have spent all this time pining over Regina from the window across the yard.

And now Emma is stuck at a crossroad. Because Emma has never been good at dealing with feelings.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Regina asks when Emma only stands at the door.

She's tentative with the question, more careful with her words, like she’s been lately ever since that night they shared a bed. It drives Emma insane not knowing why that is.

“I -” Emma hesitates. If she wants to retain some semblance of her sanity, she really shouldn't .

“I can't.”

Regina briskly covers up her disappointment. “Very well.”

“I've got this… thing I promised to do for Mulan.”

“You don't have to explain yourself, Emma. You drove into the city to pick up my son. I couldn’t thank you enough.”

“It's nothing. Really,” Emma says truthfully. “There's not a lot I wouldn't do. For him.”

Before Regina can respond, Henry scampers in from the living room, stops in front of them to throw his arms around Emma’s waist.

“Bye, Emma,” he says, the words muffled against Emma’s stomach. “I'll make sure Mom brings you back some ears from Disney World.”

She ruffles his hair. “Good. It's your job to protect her from those Stormtroopers, then. I hear they're making a comeback.”

His face creases up in determination. “On it.”

He rushes out of the foyer. Emma waits for him to disappear up the stairs, only to find Regina is watching her.

“So… I guess I'll see you guys again in a few days?”

“In a week,” Regina answers. She has that unreadable look on her face again. Like she wants to say something else, but is holding herself back.

“Okay.”

Emma fidgets - how does she even say goodbye? Henry had hugged her effortlessly.

But she and Regina don't hug . Not on a normal basis. And especially when Regina’s only leaving for a week. It's not something they do, despite every cell in Emma’s body craving to do just that.

“You have -” Regina steps forward, her hand outstretched, interrupting Emma’s mental dilemma. “- a feather. In your hair.”

She's not wrong. A feather’s plucked out of Emma’s hair as Regina holds it up for her. Emma guesses it’s the result of Zelena’s stupidly massive selection of feathery corsets.

“Keep it,” Emma says, making no move to retrieve it from Regina’s grasp. “For good luck.”

Regina breathes out a laugh. “My father did use to tell me feathers were a sign of hope.”

“See? It'll give you something to remember me by,” Emma cheekily affirms.

Regina regards her, eyes glinting with some nameless emotion. It's a weighted stare that makes the world around Emma come to a halt.

“Somehow I doubt I’d ever forget you, Miss Swan.”

And that's better than a departing hug could ever be.

When Emma gets home, she drops Frodo’s cage off in the living room. She must be smiling goofily, because Mulan glances up at her from the kitchen counter and grumbles out an annoyed -

“Fuck.”

This is accompanied by a certified Mulan-glare as she slams a dollar into the Emma Jar.

.

.

She sees Regina again later that night, through the window that Emma is beginning to dub the Window.

It's purely coincidental - Emma had no intention of waking up to grab the bottled water on her desk, but Regina’s lights are on, which is a rarity considering it's well past midnight.

Taking a swig from her bottle, Emma observes the scene in front of her with shameless curiosity. Regina is standing to the side of the window pane, her attention drawn to a book. She's wearing a different dress than the one she wore earlier that afternoon. This one is a bright shade of blue, the wide collar exposing her shoulders. It's the type of sophisticated dress that should be worn at a banquet hall, or a Mayoral meeting.

Leave it to Regina to put on something so fashionable at 1:30 in the morning.

Emma appreciates it anyway.

She takes one more sip of water, prepares to climb back into bed, but then she stops. Regina had peered up from her book, her gaze now fixed on Emma's window. Heart in her throat, Emma waves in an attempt to reveal her cover. But Regina's blank stare doesn't so much as acknowledge her. Instead she looks away, closes her book.

Great. Now Emma’s the perv next door.

She grabs her phone, ready to fire off a text. Regina emerges in front of her window again, having vanished for several short seconds, and proceeds to unfasten her earrings. Necklace.

And then the zipper on her dress.

Emma drops her phone. It skids across the floor and underneath her bed.

Oh my god.

“Fuck,” Emma whispers, running a shaky hand through her hair. “ Fuck . Not again.”

This is far worse than last time. Regina isn't even aware that Emma is watching her, and now Emma’s frozen, a whirlwind of emotions twisting inside her. One set says stay. The other one says behave.

And Emma was never good at behaving.

Regina unzips the dress as far as her arm can reach, letting the sleeves drape over her shoulders. Revealing the smooth skin of her back. The sides hover there for a moment, until Regina shrugs out of the fancy Mayoral dress completely, letting the material pool at her feet.

She’s wearing the elegant lace garter set.

The same one that had Emma literally tripping over a mannequin.

Emma’s head is pounding. She’s imagined Regina naked plenty of times, but nothing lives up to the real thing. It’s like witnessing perfection for the very first time, after believing your entire life that perfection doesn’t exist .

And it doesn’t. Unless you’re Regina Mills.

It’s when Regina bends over, unclipping the garter and presenting Emma with an incredible view of her lace-covered ass, that Emma finally manages to tear her eyes away.

It’s a hassle. But Emma’s no Peeping Tom.

She fishes her phone out from underneath her bed, considers sending that text over anyway. Regina beats her to it.

Enjoy the view?

Emma drops her phone again.

“Shit,” she mutters, her heart sinking straight to her stomach. Her eyes must be playing tricks on her. Regina couldn’t have -

Her phone buzzes again. Twice. Emma picks it up.

I gathered the garter set was  your favorite

judging by your  reaction.

What did you think?

Emma thinks she might crawl underneath the bed and die. That’s what Emma thinks.

I think it looks good

She exhales roughly through her nose. What else can she say without sounding desperate?

Perfect

“Wow, Emma,” she mutters. “That doesn’t sound gay at all. You dirty pervert.”

Good. I’m glad you think so.

Emma stares at the response. She wonders if she should explain herself, clear the air now that Regina doesn’t seem upset, so she knows that Emma wasn’t intentionally spying. At least not for long.

I’ll see you in a week.

Goodnight, Emma .

Emma surges forward to turn on the light, makes a dash back to the window to see Regina has a robe on over her bra and garters. The sight of her leaves Emma dumbfounded.

It's Regina who waves this time, her smile amused when Emma simply ogles back. It's with a final departing gesture before the shades slide shut.

.

.

It's 3:27 in the morning when Emma types out one last text.

Missing you already

She promptly deletes it.

.

.

The first two days without Henry and Regina are boring as hell. Emma tries not to think about why that is.

She comes back from work in the evenings, sore and tired, half expecting Henry to show up at her front door to begin his daily ritual of making her even more sore and tired. He doesn't, of course. Somehow that puts her in a sour mood.

Then there’s Regina.

Emma hasn’t been able to go to bed at night without at least one filthy dream invading her sleep. It’s absolutely sinful, the fact that she’s missing the kid, the kid’s mother, while at the same time envisioning taking the kid’s mother against every surface of the house.

Mulan and Ruby notice the change at Day 1.

“You know, if I wasn't so jealous that your wife and kid are currently at Disney World,” Ruby says over a tub of ice cream, “I'd be making fun of you more often. How does being whipped sound? Do you want some whipped to go with that resting bitch face?”

She tosses Emma a bottle of whipped cream, narrowly missing her head.

“You're an asshole,” Emma grunts, but takes the bottle anyway, squirts some of it into her mouth.

“That's because I’m not at the happiest place on Earth right now. Where we at, Mulan?”

“A hundred and sixty-two dollars,” Mulan drawls from the couch. She doesn't glance up from her book. “Not counting the forty-three cents in change someone conveniently misplaced.”

“I didn't have a dollar,” Ruby admits. Shoving an entire ladle of ice cream in her mouth, she adds, “‘o you ‘hink we s’ould a’ mo’ing to ‘he list?”

Emma spends the rest of the evening in her room after that. Not moping.

Regina makes sure to text her throughout the days, which might be the only thing getting Emma through this sudden loneliness. She sends over photos of the rides and character costumes they're seeing, of Henry wearing a Ravenclaw hat far too big for his head. The photos aren't really necessary. That's what Facebook is for.

But Emma saves them all, files them off in an album called Henry’s Birthday.

On the morning of the kid’s birthday, Emma has an early training session at the gym with Ruby. She debates whether she should send over a generic birthday text in the meantime.

She Facetimes Regina instead.

Henry answers on the first ring. “Emma!”

His big head is crammed into the screen, but Emma can tell he’s in a hotel room. He’s beaming, too, and something about seeing him so incredibly happy makes her heart swell.

“Hey, kid. Happy birthday!”

“Thanks! Mom says we’re going to Hollywood Studios today. We’re gonna see Darth Vader!”

“Sweet. Remember what I said about keeping an eye on your mom.”

“I remember. I've got my light saber and everything.”

Eventually he removes the phone away from his face long enough to give her a tour of the hotel room. It's extravagant, nothing Emma wouldn't expect from Regina.

“Mom’s in the shower,” Henry informs her, wrinkling his nose. “I'll hang up before you have to see her in a towel.”

Ruby, who had been silently listening in on the conversation from the bench press, bursts into uncontrollable laughter.

She receives a text from Regina thirty minutes later.

Thank you for calling him. You

made his morning.

Ofc! :) had to remind him to

use his jedi skills in case

you get into trouble

 He’s insistent on bringing the

lightsaber with him.

 

This is entirely your fault.

Maybe if you’d show me the

mickey pic you took, we wouldn’t

be having this problem

Regina sends her an eyeroll emoji in response. She very rarely uses any sort of emoji in her texts, so seeing it now has Emma grinning stupidly at her phone.

She doesn't hear back from Regina for the rest of the day after texting her own emoji. Not until it's late in the afternoon and she’s watching some fishing documentary with Mulan.

Attached to the text is a picture. Emma taps on it.

Henry is smiling up at the camera, Mickey ears attached to his head. Beside him is Regina with a similar pair of Winnie the Pooh ears. It's an unbearably cute picture.

“I think my blood sugar just rose,” Mulan says, leaning over her shoulder. “You should make that your lock screen.”

Emma scoffs. “Please. I'm not that sappy.”

Mulan hums at her as if she doesn't believe a word coming out of Emma’s bullshitting mouth. Apparently Emma is that sappy.

By the end of the night, she has the picture saved as her lock screen.

.

.

In the days leading up to Saturday - Regina had texted her their arrival time for that morning - Emma begins planning the birthday party.

She's never planned one of those before, especially not for a child. Having spent her past birthdays in between various homes, the most Emma knows about birthday parties is that children hate clowns.

So she hires Ruby to dress up as a dinosaur instead.

“Dinosaurs?” Ruby snorts when Emma lays out the costume for her. It's one of those T-Rex inflatables with the massive head. “ That's your genius theme?”

“The kid likes dinosaurs.”

“I'm getting claustrophobic just looking at the thing. I'll pass.”

Emma fishes out a wad of one dollar bills. “I'll give you thirty bucks?”

Ruby swipes it and the costume with record-breaking speed.

“Deal.”

The biggest problem arises when Emma discovers that you just can't have a kid’s birthday party without any kids.

“It's weird,” Mulan points out while Emma is having a mental breakdown. “That's like walking into a Build-a-Bear to build yourself a bear.”

Emma groans and runs a hand through her hair. “Where the fuck am I supposed to find some kids, Mulan?”

“Relax. I've got you covered.”

Emma is highly dubious of that. “You're not going to lure them off the streets with candy, are you?”

“Don't be stupid. Our neighbor down the road is Mormon. She’s got like, ten of them.”

With the guest list situation handled, Emma focuses on the decorations and cake. She already has Henry’s gift all wrapped up - some books she’d found at a thrift store, as well as a piano keyboard with interactive capabilities.

She’d even gotten the ferret a gift - a green knitted sweater, courtesy of Mary Margaret. It has an ‘S’ embedded in it for Slytherin, because he’s a cunning little shit.

When Emma goes to put it on him, she finds the cage door wide open. Ferret MIA.

“Shit,” Emma whispers, dropping the sweater. “Shit. Mulan!

It's not the first time he’s escaped, but it is the first time it's taken Emma over an hour to find him. After the second hour of scouring through the whole house, she’s getting ready to text Regina on her deathbed.

Mulan walks in seconds later with Frodo hanging off her arm, a cat in the other.

“Here. I think you lost this.” She hands Frodo off with no other explanation.

“Whose cat is that?”

“I found him in the backyard. That's where the ferret was, by the way,” Mulan says, running a hand through its ginger-colored fur. “His name is Mushu.”

“You named it?”

Mulan shrugs. “He likes me.”

That might be the case when it’s purring contentedly in Mulan’s arms. Emma doesn't care to mention at this point that Ruby is allergic to cats.

She takes a picture of Frodo in his sweater, sends it over to Regina. She gets a reply in less than a minute.

Henry can't stop laughing.

He loves it.

It's the Friday night before they're scheduled to come back. Emma smiles over the balloon she's inflating, writes in return -

Party’s tomorrow. Will you

still be able to make it?

Emma ties up the last of the balloons, flicking it towards the rest of the pile. The decorations are mostly finished. Now Emma needs to get through the next day without everything blowing up.

Her phone pings.

Of course.

There's a lag afterward in which Emma contemplates what to say next. But another message comes through, this one brightening up the dark hole she's been sinking into for the last week. It's worth every second of mind boggling stress she's had to endure.

We wouldn't miss it for the world.

.

.

The next day, Emma comes to the conclusion that children are the epitome of evil and destruction. It might be a bit of an exaggeration, but when you have hurdles of them dashing across the house, Emma will exaggerate all she wants.

The party kicks off earlier than Emma anticipates when, fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time, the Mormon neighbor Mulan mentioned comes knocking with her nine children. Three of which are too old to be showing up to a dinosaur themed birthday party, but Emma’s just glad it’s not a total bust.

Five minutes after that, a man named Jefferson shows up with his daughter.

Emma has no idea who he is. But he appears slightly unhinged, as if he walked out of a mental institute yesterday. Emma writes him off as someone she should keep an eye on. Just in case.

Next is Zelena.

“Oh, silly me,” Zelena says breathlessly from the doorway, a gift bag falling to her heeled feet. She has a whole mountain of them stacked in her arms. “I suppose I'm fashionably late.”

“You're two minutes early,” Emma corrects her.

“Yes, well. Feel free to gather the rest of the presents. They're in the car.”

“You mean there's more? ” Emma exclaims when Zelena simply bustles past her in a hurricane of wrapping paper.

“He's my nephew,” Zelena sniffs. “If he wants a bloody pony, he’s damn well getting a bloody pony.”

Others slowly start to trickle in after that, mostly people Emma’s never met. Eventually she's able to lug all of the kids to the backyard. While Mulan is on food duty, Ruby’s job is to keep the little monsters entertained before anything gets destroyed.

Obviously this entails playing tag in a giant inflatable dinosaur costume.

“You look nervous,” Zelena observes from the sofa. She's settled in by herself, casually sipping on a glass of wine while Emma paces in front of the door. “I assume you haven't told her.”

Emma stops pacing. “What?”

“You're smitten with my sister.”

It may be the first time anyone’s outright said it, tackled Emma’s feelings as something more than a small infatuation. Hearing it out loud sends the air bursting out of Emma’s lungs. She immediately recoils.

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“What rubbish. I swear. If you're going to lie, do it like a true American,” Zelena sneers, setting her glass down on the coffee table. “Now let's try this again. Why don't you bloody tell her already?”

“I can’t ,” Emma grits out, too drained now to deny it. “I don't want to risk it.”

“Risk what? Your abnormally yellow mane?”

This ,” Emma emphasizes. “This thing I have with Henry. With her . I’m scared, okay? I can't risk ruining it all if she doesn't feel the same way. If she doesn't want... me.”

Zelena hikes up a perfectly arched brow. “And you truly believe that?”

“I… honestly don't know anymore.”

There’s a knock at the door, cutting off whatever it is Zelena is about to say. Emma can only hope it would’ve been a snarky reply, rather than the emotional advice this conversation was heading towards.

As soon as she opens the door, Emma is tackled by a mop of brown hair.

“Emma!”

“Hey, kid,” Emma murmurs, feeling her insides light up as she returns his tight hug.

“I missed you,” he mumbles into her stomach.

“I missed you, too.”

She glances up at Regina, who’s standing behind him in a yellow summer dress, which is not your typical Regina Mills fashion. Her cheeks are pink from the heat, and she looks like she’s gotten some extra sun, judging by her darker complexion. She looks beautiful.

The longing hits her hard. Emma wants nothing more than to press Regina against the door and kiss her.

“Hey, Pooh Bear,” Emma jokes.

Regina’s mouth tilts up in a smile. “I doubt you'll find it as funny when you're wearing yours.”

“We got you some ears, too!” Henry chimes in, handing her a headband. “I chose them. They're Lion King ears.”

Emma holds back a laugh. At least they don't include a giant mane.

“You should try them on,” Henry urges.

Emma shrugs and slides on the lion ears. “How do I look?”

“Ferocious,” Regina says with a straight face.

“The worse,” Henry agrees.

Emma has the vague impression that they're making fun of her. Before she can call them out on it, Zelena steps in, shoulders past Emma with her signature glass of wine and pulls Henry in for a hug.

“And how’s my favorite birthday boy?” she preens, peppering his face with kisses.

He laughs, wiggles out of her grasp. “Aunt Zelena .”

“Zelena,” Regina sighs. “You're smearing lipstick all over his face. Again.”

“Take a lesson, sis. At least someone in this family knows how to use it,” Zelena says shrewdly, casting a curt glance in Emma’s direction. “Let's go, dear. I'm sure you're excited to play outside with the other children.”

Henry frowns. “Not really -”

“Splendid. Come, come.”

She leads a reluctant Henry away, leaving Emma to suspect this was all a setup. It's both surprisingly lifting and nerve-wracking, having Zelena Mills as the slightly deranged wingman Emma never asked for or wanted.

Emma realizes she’s been left alone with Regina. While the tightness in her chest has loosened since their arrival, Emma’s nervous .

“How was the flight?” is the best thing Emma can come up with.

“Good. Long,” Regina says, sounding understandably weary. Emma notices the dark circles beneath her eyes and wonders if there's more to those words than Regina is letting on. “Trying to keep a ten-year-old entertained for three hours is not the easiest feat.”

“I bet.”

“Thank you, Emma. For all of this,” Regina gestures to all the decorations. “I offered to give him a birthday party every year, but he was always so reluctant. Eventually I gave up. But this year... he was so excited.”

Emma’s feels her face grow hot. “It was my pleasure. Seriously. But you need to stop thanking me, or I might really think we’re in the twilight zone.”

“I used to think of you as the obnoxious blonde next door, you know,” Regina informs her. “I think we’ve passed the twilight zone at this point.”

“Right. Your sister didn't exactly make that one a secret,” Emma says wryly. She stops short, weighing her options. “What about now?”

“Now?”

“Am I still the obnoxious blonde who lives next door?”

Regina bites her lip on a smile. “You're obviously still blonde. And obnoxious? Sometimes.”

Well then. That's not the answer Emma was looking for, but she’ll take it.

“But otherwise you're… you,” Regina says teasingly. “Not quite the pain in the ass I thought you’d be.”

“Yeah?” Emma breaks out into a toothy grin. “You really know how to flatter a person. Can't have anyone thinking you're going soft.”

“Definitely not.”

Emma’s cheeks hurt from smiling. She feels more at ease right at this moment than she has all week.

Regina’s eyes are on her, considering her. There's something in her expression that makes Emma's pulse speed up, makes her think nothing about this is one sided.

“Emma…” Regina starts and steps closer, jolting Emma’s thoughts.

The back door slides open suddenly, Ruby’s voice screeching in from the kitchen -

“Dinosaur down!”

She collapses face-first in her T-Rex costume, an entire swarm of children clambering over her back and roaring . Literally.

It's chaos.

“Emm - oof ,” Ruby grunts. “Mayday. Mayday .”

“Looks like you're playing hero for the day,” Regina quips lightly, brushing past her. “I'm going to check on Henry.”

“But -”

She's gone in a blink of an eye, leaving Emma to wonder what the hell Regina was about to say.

.

.

Aside from Ruby's incident, the rest of the party goes smoothly.

Henry is tentative with the new kids around him at first, timid in a way Emma’s never seen before. Fortunately he loses some of that timidity halfway through, and soon enough he's chatting with some of the other kids his age.

Emma may have underestimated the amount of people that would show up to this thing. When it comes down to the cake, she doesn't think a half sheet can feed the fifteen over-excited kids who want to touch and slobber over everything .

Emma is so unprepared.

“Wait, wait,” Zelena cuts in before Henry can so much as breathe on the candles. “Family picture time!”

Zelena . Now’s not the time,” Regina hisses.

Emma’s attempt to step out of the frame is foiled when Zelena flips her phone out like a pro and shoves her straight into Regina.

Emma panics. “Wait. I'm not -”

“Say ‘ rawr’, ” Zelena sing-songs.

“Rawr,” Henry chirps out happily.

Emma feels her eye twitch. The flash is blinding and Emma is still blinking spots out of her eyes as Henry finally blows out his candles.

“There,” Zelena says and brandishes her phone in Emma’s face. “Very suave, yes?”

Zelena’s face takes up half the picture, but behind her Henry is beaming up at the camera. Regina has one eyebrow raised and could not look more unimpressed. And Emma is about as out of place as Zelena’s bright red hair.

“I'm not family,” Emma mutters when Zelena returns to typing passionately into her phone.

“Yet,” is all Zelena says, and then tags her on Facebook.

By five, the last of the guests begin to clear out of the house. Emma could not be happier.

The place is trashed, down to the guest bathroom where little cake-smeared handprints cover up the walls. She needs to disinfect every inch of the place. Not to mention she owes Ruby an extra twenty dollars because being assaulted by ruthless elementary school children was not part of the job description.

Emma is exhausted, physically and mentally, but it's all worth it to see the kid’s face light up at every opportunity.

Woah . Mom, look! Aunt Zelena got me a Wii,” Henry declares, tearing through his assortment of gifts with the speed of a kid who’s obviously spoiled every year.

He holds up a game. “And Mario Kart.”

Regina pinches the bridge of her nose and mutters, “I'm going to kill her.”

“Bet I can kick your butt in a game of Mario Kart,” Emma says.

Henry grins. “You're on!”

He doesn't immediately go for the Wii, but rather the keyboard Emma had gotten him. He's taken a special liking to that gift.

Regina passes by her, touches her shoulder. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

Emma blinks in surprise. “Oh. Sure.”

“You look like you need it.”

She does.

Watching Regina roam through the kitchen like she knows the place is strangely pleasing, mostly because it's Emma’s kitchen. And Emma’s coffee maker that she forgot existed. With her early morning classes, she usually grabs a cup on the go. But this she could definitely get used to.

“You know, as the hostess, I think it should be my honorary duty to make the coffee,” Emma says.

Regina tosses her a smirk. “And as the guest, I think I have the upper hand. Cream and sugar?”

“Oh yeah. A lot of it.”

Regina chuckles softly beneath her breath. “I knew it.”

“Let me guess. You take yours bitter like your soul?” Emma lightly taunts.

Regina hums in the negative, passing Emma her mug. “Just cream.”

Emma smiles at that. She takes a sip of her coffee, which is remarkably good for a generic store brand Mulan tends to buy. She hums into it, makes a pleased noise against her mug.

“This is good. Thanks.”

Regina, who had been staring at her with a slightly flushed face, glances away. She clears her throat.

“You're welcome.”

Emma can't pinpoint what it is about Regina blushing that sends a jolt to Emma’s stomach. She tries to keep her face neutral, and not like she's thinking about taking Regina against the kitchen counter (in multiple positions), when she asks -

“So did you get me anything cool while you were in Florida?”

Regina laughs over the rim of her mug. “What? Were the lion ears not enough?”

“The ears were a given.”

“Then I guess it's your lucky day,” Regina says, sounding content. “Henry went overboard on souvenirs. They're still packed up. But I have your keychain here in my bag.”

“Keychain, huh? Is it another lion?”

“Try a poisonous apple,” Regina replies distractedly as she scrounges through her purse. Emma can't tell if she's kidding.

A pamphlet slips out of Regina’s bag before she can ask, skidding to Emma’s feet. She bends over to pick it up, her brow scrunching up in confusion at the bright green letters on the front page.

For Sale.

Come See Your Dream Home Today!

“Hey. You dropped this,” Emma tells her.

Regina blinks in surprise, her face swiftly becoming impassive. “Oh, that.” She shoves it back into her purse without even meeting Emma’s eye. “We had some realtors doing a presentation at our resort.”

“Right.”

“This is yours.” Regina hands her a keychain.

It's an apple, just like Regina said it was, which would’ve had Emma rolling in every Evil Queen joke imaginable if the air wasn't so thick .

“I'm going to start moving Henry’s gifts back to the house,” Regina explains. “I'll be back to help clean up.”

“Okay.”

Once she's gone, Emma dumps the rest of her coffee in the sink. It's cold now anyway.

Her throat is tight. She feels out of sorts, and it has little to do with knowing that her day with Regina is coming to an end.

And everything to do with the fact that Regina was definitely lying.

.

.

By Tuesday, Emma still has no idea why Regina would’ve been lying. But her lie detector had clearly pinged. It's apparent after Regina left Saturday night with a rushed goodbye that something is wrong.

Emma tells herself not to think about it - she's told herself a good hundred times by now. But the more she tells herself, the more she thinks about it.

And it's all one big fucking contradiction, isn't it?

She sends Regina a text - the first after two days of radio silence - and asks if she wants to come over for dinner. Emma doesn't hear back.

Tacos ?” Ruby exclaims, practically shoving her nose into the assortment of ingredients Emma has laid out on the counter. “You’ve been living here for almost two years and I've never once seen you pick up a bottle of spice.”

Emma slaps her hand away. “They're not for you.”

“Oh my god.”

“What?” Emma grumbles.

Ruby leans over the counter and aggressively whispers, “She's got you domesticated, doesn't she?”

Emma makes sure to slap her hand extra hard when it reaches for a piece of lettuce.

By nine, Ruby had all but inhaled the tacos, which is around the time Regina finally texts her back.

I can't. I'm sorry. Henry’s

been sick.

That explains why the kid hasn't showed up at her door these last two days. It relaxes Emma to an extent, even though she feels pretty awful about him being sick.

That sucks :( anything

I can do to help?

She waits. Regina’s shades are drawn, like they have been all week. Emma is beginning to feel antsy looking at them, not knowing if Regina is on the other side. Wondering if Emma did something wrong.

Emma puts on a movie as background noise, distracts herself with a few pull-ups while she continues to wait. She doesn’t get a response until 10:30, a full hour longer than Regina usually takes to reply.

I’ll be alright.

But I appreciate it.

Emma doesn't get a wink of sleep for the rest of the night.

Come Wednesday, Emma tries this new thing she likes to call ‘communication’.

She's never been very good at it, but she figures if she's ever going to get anywhere in life, it's a useful skill to put on your resume. So she texts Regina again that same morning, more blunt and to the point.

I feel like you’ve been avoiding me 

Did I do something wrong?

It works . She gets a reply in less than a minute. A fucking record.

You haven’t done anything wrong.

I promise.

I’ve just been busy.

It hardly calms Emma’s nerves, but it’s enough to get her through the rest of the day without piling on to her fears. Maybe all Regina needs is space. Emma gets that. She does . She’s ghosted plenty of people in the past for the same reason, so getting a taste of it isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Except it kind of is.

By the end of the day, she’s wondering if there’s a way she can sneak a walkie talkie in through the window, all so she can hear Henry’s voice again. If that doesn’t prove how deep in the shitnest Emma is, then nothing will.

She gets a text from Regina on her way home.

I think we need to talk, Emma.

Please call me when you get the chance.

Emma slams on her breaks. She’s 1.5 seconds away from calling Regina, chance or not. But she's already home now, parked hazardly along the curb, and she spots the sign on the front yard before she can think to dial Regina’s number.

.

.

There's one other time Emma can recall her blood running this cold. Eighth grade - her English teacher, Ms. Clouser. She would always give Emma a new book to read every week. Was the only adult to care that Emma would sometimes show up with bruises on her arms.

Until one day she couldn't. She up and left, and there was a new English teacher to take her place. That might have been the first time Emma felt her heart shatter.

But seeing the FOR SALE sign on Regina’s lawn comes pretty fucking close.

.

.

“For sale? ” Emma is simmering with rage by the time Regina opens the door. “Is this some kind of joke?”

It's been four days since Emma last saw her. The distance doesn't make this confrontation any easier. Regina looks about as drained as Emma feels; her cheeks seem sunken. Her face is paler.

Emma hates that this damn woman can still make her heart race.

“Emma,” Regina says gently. She doesn't appear at all surprised to see her. Emma hates that, too. “I'll explain inside.”

Emma folds her arms over her chest. “I think I'll stay right here, thanks.”

“Don't be a child. Come in.”

Emma clenches her jaw, but reluctantly follows Regina inside. It's sad how much this place feels like a stranger’s home now, knowing the truth behind the matter.

Knowing that she was right from the start. Everything Emma loves eventually leaves.

“You're moving again.” Emma dives straight to the point. They're standing in the living room, where she briefly wonders where Henry is. “That sign on your yard - please tell me this is a sick joke.”

“I'm afraid it's not,” Regina says. She has her arms over her stomach. It's the most vulnerable Emma's ever seen her, and that makes this whole thing hurt so much more.

“So you've been avoiding me because of it? So you wouldn't have to tell me?”

“I was planning on telling you today,” Regina explains. “The realtor came in and made it official. I didn't even get to tell Henry until an hour ago.”

“But… why?

It's starting to sink in. These two people that Emma’s grown to care about over the summer - they're no longer going to live in the house next door. She'll never get to see Henry after this. Not Henry or Regina -

The desperation leaks into Emma’s voice. “And Florida ? That's what the pamphlet was for, right? What the hell’s in Florida? It's all alligators and - and headlines of that Florida guy chasing you with an alligator. What -”

“My mother’s in Florida,” Regina admits.

“You have a mother ?”

Of course she does. Regina had only mentioned her Dad. Emma had assumed her Mom was no longer in the picture, as well.

It goes to show how little she knows about Regina, after all.

“I don't usually talk about her. She's not… the kindest woman you'll ever meet. In fact, you’d be better off staying away from her. But Henry and I come down to visit every so often,” Regina informs her.

“Okay,” Emma says. “If she's not the nicest person in the world, then why are you leaving ?”

“Because she has connections that I don't have , Emma,” Regina vents, the fragility she was exuding now melting away into frustration. “She has access to various political fields. To the board of education. She can get Henry into one of the greatest schools in the country. How can I deprive him of that? Of a chance to go somewhere better for a fresh start?”

“I thought this was your fresh start. For him ,” Emma grits out.

“Emma. Don't.”

“You moved here because Henry was miserable. He was lonely . So don't you think he should have a say in this, too?”

Regina steps forward, her face a mask of fury. “Don't you dare bring my son into this. That's not your place.”

“Don't you think he's already happy here?” Emma presses on. “Aren't you ?”

Regina’s eyes bore into her, chest heaving angrily with every breath. If Emma weren't so worked up and furious herself, she’d be fighting extra hard not to slam Regina against the wall and kiss her stupid face right about now.

As it is, something in Regina’s expression shifts, her shoulders squaring up. She takes a step back.

“I'm sorry if you’ve become too attached, Miss Swan,” Regina says, the indifference seeping through every word. “But that's not my problem. I can't let whatever this is get in the way of what's best for me and Henry.”

Emma wishes she could say she doesn't believe her. Not when Regina looks this torn , like it had taken some effort to say those words out loud.

Emma’s heart says differently, though. It shrivels up inside her chest, tightens up like an elastic band. Makes it hard to breathe. She wants to slam her fist into a wall. She wants to snarl in Regina’s face again, anything to get rid of the cool disinterest in her gaze.

But mostly, Emma wants to cry.

“You know. I thought you were just a mean, overall awful person when you first moved in,” Emma deems it fit to say, the anger inside her dimming to nothing. “I guess some things never change.”

Regina’s expression falters for a split second, and even that doesn't satisfy Emma. Not when the damage is already done.

“Good luck in Florida,” Emma says.

She means it. As painful as it is, she would never wish bad karma on her. Or Henry. She turns to leave, right as Regina offers -

“Let me walk you out.”

“I can walk myself out. Thanks.”

And Emma does. She makes sure to slam the door on her way out, too. There might be some limits to her pettiness - this isn't one of them.

.

.

When she gets home, Henry is already there. Curled up in a little ball on her bed.

Emma sits off to the edge and gently pries his fingers from her pillow, moves him so he’s curled up against her instead. His body shakes with a silent sob.

“I don't wanna go,” he whispers.

“I know.”

He has his face pressed into her stomach, which is probably a good thing in Emma’s case. There’s no saying she won't break down if she sees his face. The pain ricocheting through her body is enough to make her adult ass cry.

“I like it here,” he murmurs into her shirt, and Emma strokes his hair, finds herself biting down hard on her lip when he adds -

“You're my best friend.”

“Oh, Henry,” Emma breathes out. She doesn't bother holding in her watery laugh, or the way her words tremble in her failing attempt to hold it together. “You’re my best friend, too. But you'll make new friends. Better ones. Ones who can give you that secret handshake you always wanted. And even then we can still be friends. Distance doesn't change anything.”

“Pinky promise?”

He has his pinky out. The sight of it brings a crushing ache to Emma’s chest. There is no holding it together anymore. She knows from experience that - no. This isn't the kind of thing you can promise, when more likely than not, she’ll never see or speak to Henry again after this.

But he’ll move on.

“Pinky promise,” Emma whispers, linking their pinkies.

He nods against her stomach, seemingly satisfied, and speaks so softly into her shirt, Emma has to strain her ears to hear him.

“I love you, Emma.”

It's raining outside. Emma listens to it, the faint pitter-patter against the window sill in an otherwise silent house. The sound is comforting. She can almost pretend that she isn't crying enough for the both of them now when she whispers back -

“I love you, too, kid.”

.

.

And she does.

She really does.

.

.

The days drag on after that, bleak and dreary.

Summer is coming to an end, and with it, so is Emma’s enthusiasm for essentially anything that goes on around her. There’s a weight bearing down on her shoulders no matter what she does to distract herself. It’s like she’s drowning in water, treading around obstacles with more effort than it normally takes.

It’s hard .

Mulan and Ruby notice right away. It doesn’t take a whole lot of investigation. The FOR SALE sign continues to sit in plain view on Regina’s yard. Emma sees it every morning when she goes out for her run, and every night when she drives by it, hoping that maybe, maybe it might’ve been taken down.

It never is.

“Hey, Em,” Ruby greets her carefully one morning, setting a plate of food down in front of her. “Made you some eggs.”

That’s another thing that’s changed - the way her roommates are now tiptoeing circles around her, taking extra precautions not to stir the pot with her emotionally fragile state.

Emma can’t stand it.

“I’m not hungry,” Emma mumbles, pushing the plate aside.

“Emma,” Ruby sighs, and gestures to Mulan for help, who shrugs feebly back. “You can’t keep going on like this.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re having a Lindsay Lohan Lapse.” Ruby taps her finger against the table with each ‘L’. “I recognize the signs of a meltdown, dude. A girl breaks your heart and you go out doing all kinds of crazy shit. Call it bisexual instinct.”

Emma stares blankly at her. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“All I’m saying,” Ruby continues. “Is you can’t let one girl ruin your life like this. So as a household of beautiful sapphic bitches, we need to stick together. We’ve already had our bad experiences with boys. Minus Mulan. You’ve always been a flaming lesbian, haven’t you?”

Mulan slurps her coffee. “Yup.”

“Thought so.”

Emma stands up. “Right. Great chat. I’m gonna go now.”

“Wait, what about your eggs?” Ruby asks.

Mushu chooses that moment to lunge himself on the table, slapping his tail across Ruby’s face. She sneezes.

“Holy shit, Mulan. Your cat’s fucking poisonous .”

The rest of the day passes by slowly.

Emma hasn’t heard back from or seen Regina since their fight, and she doesn’t expect to long after the house is vacated. She thinks she prefers it that way. A proper goodbye would make it all final and Emma isn’t ready for that. She’s not ready to let go just yet.

She catches glimpses of Henry here and there. He doesn’t come by as often.

“Mom says I shouldn’t,” he bitterly tells her one day. He sits on the swing, stares off into the distance as the sun begins to set. “That it’s just going to hurt more if I keep visiting.”

“She’s not wrong.”

The glare he shoots her is very Regina-esque. It makes Emma’s heart clench. “You guys had a fight, didn’t you? That’s why you won’t talk to her.”

Emma hesitates, nodding grimly. “Yeah, kid. We did.”

“Grown-ups can be really stupid sometimes.”

He’s not wrong, either.

Emma had given in and bought them both walkie talkies, so at least when he isn’t sneaking behind Regina’s back to come see her, he can rant about everything through an intercom. It’s the only highlight of her day, coming home to find the kid trying to page her so he can describe what he had for dinner.

“Lasagna,” Henry’s voice echoes through the pager. “It’s really good. I wish you had the chance to try it. Maybe I can sneak you a piece later if you want. Over.”

Emma smiles sadly at the walkie-talkie. “You don’t have to do that, kid. Can’t know what I’m missing if I never had it.”

“You’re supposed to say over.”

“Over.”

“But it’s better to have something good in your life than to never have had it at all, right?” Henry says, his voice cracking with static. “Over.”

Emma thinks about it. She thinks about that first night in the basement, meeting this scrawny nine-year-old kid with a pet ferret in his arms, not realizing he was about to change her life. She thinks about all the beautiful moments after that, from the moment Regina stepped through her front door, to the second Emma walked out of it, feeling like she’d lost everything.

“Yeah,” Emma decides. “Yeah. I guess you’re right. Over.”

She finds a plate wrapped up in aluminum foil on her front porch later that night.

The kid was right about that, too. Regina’s lasagna is fucking good.

It's closing in on a full week when Emma sees Regina again. She spots her behind the window, this time in broad daylight. Emma had been keeping her curtains shut specifically so this wouldn't happen, but she was willing to risk it for a bit of sunlight.

Now she’s having to watch Regina sort through her clothes. She doesn't notice Emma at first, too busy gathering everything into a box. But like clockwork, she peers up, her face surprised when she meets Emma’s gaze.

It's like a hammer struck Emma right in the chest. Regina stares at her, having dropped whatever it was she was doing to approach the window. And for a split second, it looks like Regina is about to wave.

Instead she grabs the whiteboard from the side, jots something down, holding it up for Emma to see -

I’m sorry

And yeah. Maybe if this was some other time, some other place, Emma would've put on her big girl panties and apologized, too. But Regina is still leaving. And the wounds are still so fresh.

It must be the red-hot anger that prompts Emma to jerk the curtains shut.

“Mom’s already packing,” Henry explains to her over his walker-talkie later that afternoon. “It's weird. She's only doing a few boxes a day. Really slowly. Like that thing adults like to do that starts with a ‘p.’ Procro - pro-cras-ti-nate?”

“Nice job, kid.”

“Thanks. Do you see him yet? Over.”

Emma scans the backyard. It had been Henry’s idea to release Frodo out into the open to deliver a ‘package’, as he likes to call it. Emma doesn’t have the heart to tell him ferrets aren’t that smart.

Every so often she has to resist the temptation to peek over the other side of the fence, to the window on the top floor. She wonders what Regina is doing right now.

“No, I can’t - Wait. I see him.” She recognizes Frodo’s wobbly movements as he crawls along the side of the house. Emma scoops him up, answers, “Package secured. Over.”

There’s a piece of paper tied around his back. Emma slips it off, eyes squinting at the childish writing.

“You sent him over here so you can give me your email address?”

“It’s so we can stay in touch when I’m in Florida,” Henry reveals. “I know you keep saying I’ll make new friends. But that doesn’t mean I wanna lose you. Over.”

Emma swallows hard. “Wow. That’s… really sweet of you, Hen. I’ll make sure to email you every day.”

She can practically hear him smiling on the other line.

“I hope they like me. Over.”

“I'm sure they will. You're the coolest kid I ever met.”

Henry laughs. It sounds sad.

“I'm gonna miss you,” he tells her after a quiet pause. There’s no ‘over’ to complete his sentence.

Emma feels her throat close up, gets that same stinging sensation in the backs of her eyes that never seems to go away nowadays. She's starting to get the feeling that it never will go away.

“I'm gonna miss you, too,” she says, cradling Frodo to her chest. “Over.”

.

.

Two days later, Emma doesn't know how, or better yet why , but she ends up telling Mary Margaret Nolan everything.

“So this woman’s your neighbor,” Mary Margaret surmises, eyeing Emma carefully over the leg press machine. “Who’s also a ‘MILF’ as you so eloquently put it.”

“That's what I thought before I got to know her, okay? She's so much more than that,” Emma snaps.

“Okay… but she’s moving to Florida soon with her son. And you're heartbroken about it -”

“I wouldn't say I'm heartbroken -”

“- because you're in love with her.”

Emma winces. “Okay. Yeah.”

“Wow.”

It feels good to let it all out, even if it is Mary Margaret. Emma had learned several years ago - more explicitly the Christmas dildo debacle of 2012 - that Mary Margaret absolutely cannot keep a secret if her life depends on it. Fortunately she’s a good listener.

And no longer too involved in Emma’s life to blab about her dirty secrets.

“So… what will you do now?” Mary Margaret asks, standing up to press a towel against her face.

“Nothing,” Emma says. “There's nothing I can do. I'm not anything to Regina. I can't just walk into her home and… tell her how I feel.”

“Why not?”

“Because this isn't a trashy romance novel. It's not even a good romance novel. It's my life.”

Mary Margaret heaves out a sigh, takes a seat beside her on the bench press. Emma scrunches up her nose.

“You stink.”

“And you smell like cowardice and juvenile bullshit,” Mary Margaret throws back, which… Emma doesn't think she's ever heard a slur from Mary Margaret's Christened mouth before.

When Emma merely gapes at her, she shrugs. “It sounds to me like she has feelings for you, too, Emma. But you're scared she doesn't. So you're pushing her away like you always do when people get too close, because that’s easier than dealing with rejection. And it's easier than the terrifying idea of her loving you back. Am I right?”

Okay , Dr. Fucking Blanchard. No need to sugarcoat it.”

“Even if it doesn't stop her from leaving, I think you should tell her,” Mary Margaret advises. “Maybe she’s waiting on you to give her a reason to stay. Take it from an expert. I spent years pining after David before I told him.”

“And by told, you mean fucking him on Kathryn’s side of the bed in a sordid act of adultery.”

Mary Margaret’s smirk is positively shameless as she chugs back her water bottle.

“Yes.”

Often times, Emma tends to forget that Mary Margaret was once raised as a good Christian girl.

Emma does take her advice into consideration through the course of the afternoon.

She has nothing left to lose, does she?

Not when her friendship with Regina is already dangling at the edge, if not effectively destroyed. The least Emma can do is put her own heart at ease. Gain some closure.

But she's haunted by another thought, by the frightening possibility of Mary Margaret being right . It would explain all the lingering looks, the weighted pauses, the obscene amount of sexual tension from the very beginning. Maybe Regina’s been waiting on her to take the initiative this whole time.

Maybe Emma should tell her.

The idea stays with her until she gets home later that evening. Ruby takes one look at Emma’s ashen face and immediately panics.

Woah . Okay. Something happened. I can feel it. Why do you look like you just got your STD results in?”

“I think I'm gonna tell her,” Emma murmurs, uncertain. “I know she’s leaving. But I think… I owe that much to the both of us. Right?”

“You’re going to bare your heart and soul. Right, right.” Ruby nods inquisitively, somehow procuring a bottle of wine and depositing it into Emma’s hands. “Come. Sit. Tell Auntie Ruby everything.”

And so Emma does.

The next morning, Emma is no closer to discovering herself or the meaning of life, but she does feel a little better. After letting her guard down twice in one day, she feels uplifted enough to open her curtains up again.

She even comes out of her week-long phone vendetta to send Regina a text. It’s short and simple.

Hey

Emma has no plan. But if she’s going to bare her heart and soul like Ruby suggested, then there's no point in delaying it. There's no time left to dawdle, not when Henry and Regina will be gone by the end of summer. Emma’s just… scared shitless.

She gets a reply soon afterward.

Hey.

Emma nods to herself. This is good. But there’s a period at the end. What the fuck does that mean?

Can we talk?

When Emma doesn't receive a response by the first minute, she grudgingly (and desperately) adds -

Please

I just dropped Henry off at Zelena’s.

I should be free in a few hours.

Ok. Let me know when I can stop by.

It's done. Emma can't turn back now, unless she chickens out, in which case she really does reek of cowardice and juvenile bullshit.

She spends most of the morning brimming with nerves. She can't remember the last time she's felt this afraid, this… hopeless , as if she’s minutes away from a life or death situation. Only dying seems less scary than this.

“Will you stop pacing?” Mulan gripes from the couch. “You're giving me whiplash.”

“I can't help it.”

“Then meditate or something,” Mulan says in a habitually surly voice. “I never thought I'd be saying this, Swan, but your gay levels have exceeded mine. How long have you been looking at her Tinder profile?”

Emma draws to a dead halt. She hasn't swiped out of Regina’s profile since the first day, and lately her eyes have been consistently glued to her flawless face. Not that Emma’s noticed.

“A while,” she mutters.

“Then what are you waiting for? Some notoriously bland white girl to stake her claim?”

“We don't know for sure if she's even into women.”

Mulan gawks at her, her answering silence far more disturbing than the sheer incredulity on her face.

It freaks Emma out. “What?”

“For the everloving fuck,” Mulan curses. It doesn't happen often, which is why Emma’s taken aback when she lets out a long string of fucks in Chinese. “You are such an idiot. Nǐ yā tǐng de hútú dàn. Bèn dàn.”

What?

“Your Tinder settings. You can only view women who are interested in other women, right?”

“Right…”

“Then how the hell do you think you're seeing her ?”

Emma blinks, the realization dawning on her like ice cold water. She turns to her phone - she hasn't swiped left or right. To be honest she hadn’t been planning to at all. But now…

Fuck it. She swipes right.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Two things happen after that.

Emma's phone is hurled across the room, smashing into the opposite wall.

“Let me guess,” Mulan deadpans. “A match made in heaven.”

Emma ignores her. “I'm going out.”

She grabs her shoes, is halfway out the door when Ruby's yell suddenly echoes through the ceiling.

“GET YOUR GIRL, SWAN. LOOK HER IN THE EYE AND TELL HER YOU LOVE HER! BRING THAT SEXY MILKSHAKE TO THE YARD -"

It's promptly silenced by the slam of the door.

.

.

Emma’s emotions are in turmoil. In fact, she finds she’s not thinking clearly at all when Regina opens the door to Emma’s incessant knocking and raises her eyebrows in surprise.

“Emma? What -”

“You can’t leave.”

They're the first words to come to mind, to spew out of her mouth in a moment of blind defiance. Emma fidgets at the doorway, watching as Regina’s face goes from surprised to confused, to downright affronted.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You can't leave,” Emma says again, this time slipping past her to duck inside.

Regina bristles and closes the door. “And what makes you think you have any say in what I should do?”

“I don't. That's the thing,” Emma declares, pacing across the living room. “I have absolutely no say in this. I mean, here you are, trying to give Henry his best chance. And I'm over here, wondering why the fuck the people I care about always leave me.”

Regina seems startled by this declaration. “Emma…”

“Do you want to know why I'm here?” Emma goes on. She's angry now, shaking with a sort of rage she has no idea how to process. “Tinder. Fucking Tinder , Regina. It sucks. I hate it. But lo and behold , here I am.”

“You're not making any sense.”

“I have nothing else to lose, right? So I'm going to be selfish and say it. I don't want you to leave.”

Regina remains silent this time, regarding Emma in a way that makes her dizzy.

“It's not fair. It's not fair that you think you can just waltz into my life like this, only to step out of it like there hasn’t been some freaky unresolved romantic tension shit going on for the past few months. Like you haven't been staring at my ass half the summer -”

Regina steps forward, outraged. “I have not.”

Yes you have. And Florida ? What the fuck is in Florida, Regina? The place is shaped like a dick. A chance to ride your pet alligator through the palm trees of hell, maybe?”

Regina huffs. “You're insane.”

“Funny. Could've sworn you were the batshit crazy one for deciding to move to Florida ,” Emma retorts.

Regina’s eyes flash, and she steps even closer , inches now from Emma’s face. Emma’s head is pounding, her heart thudding hard against her ribcage. She has no idea where this is going, but she's running with it.

“Are you just here to insult me?” Regina seethes. “Because I can end you, Miss Swan. Don't test me.”

“And if I am?” Emma says. She has a death wish, afterall. “Because I think you're full of shit. Stubborn to the highest degree possible. And you hog the bed sheets.”

“And you're a complete pain in my ass. Foolish. Absolutely impulsive -”

“Yeah? Well I think you're beautiful,” Emma interjects. Smugly.

That catches Regina off guard. “You - what?”

“And you like me.”

“I do not.”

“One can even say you might love me.”

Regina scoffs. “God, you are such an insufferable - do you really want to know what I think? I think you're the most annoying person I've ever come across. You're cocky. Not to mention you eat like a child -”

“I'm going to kiss you now,” Emma says.

Excuse me ?” Regina stammers, riled up and downright flustered. “I - you think you have the gall to -”

The first clash of lips is admittedly clumsy.

Emma kisses her, hard , partly to shut her up. Mostly because she can't hold back a second longer. She feels the startled breath Regina lets out, the small, wanton noise that almost sounds like a whine. She has a fist clenched tightly around Emma’s shirt. And for a second, Emma thinks Regina is going to shove her right off.

Regina literally yanks her in instead.

Regina’s back collides with the wall, and she has a leg hiked over Emma’s waist, exhaling a moan into Emma’s mouth that is borderline pornographic.

Emma imagined what it would feel like to kiss Regina for months , the taste of her, the shape and feel of Regina's mouth. But it doesn't mean Emma’s prepared for the real thing. Or the way it makes her feel.

Regina melts into her. She has a hand curled in Emma’s shirt, the other one shifting up to tangle in Emma’s hair, like she has to keep Emma as close as possible - as if she could go anywhere. Emma presses herself into Regina’s body, sucks gently on her lip, deepening the kiss.

“I've wanted to do that for months,” Emma gasps when she has to pull away for air. “You're really hard to read, you know that? One minute you're staring at my ass. And the next, you're like, a total asshole. Meaner than a Catholic nun, actually -”

Regina kisses her again.

She swipes her tongue over Emma’s bottom lip, drags it along with her teeth. Emma’s knees tremble.

“Has anyone ever told you you talk too much?” Regina husks into Emma’s mouth. She slides her hands up Emma’s shirt, nails trailing over her stomach.

Emma shivers. “Several occasions.”

“Good. Stop it.”

And then Regina’s hands are cupping her breasts, her very bare breasts, because Emma did not remember to put on a bra this morning.

Emma gasps, her own hands reaching out to palm Regina’s ass. She tugs Regina into her hips, leveraging them when Regina wraps her legs around Emma’s waist and nearly knocks her over.

“Why do I get the feeling you get a kick out of me carrying you?” Emma mutters.

Regina chuckles against her. Emma leans in to kiss the corner of Regina's mouth, the scar above her lip that Emma’s always wanted to taste, before delving underneath the hinge of Regina’s jaw, her throat -

“I do admire your arms,” Regina admits. Her pulse is racing against Emma’s tongue. She circles her thumb over Emma’s nipple, pinches them both. “Though normally I'd envision them wrapped around my thighs.”

“Fuck.”

Emma groans into Regina’s neck. She pins her harder against the wall. “Bed.”

“Too far,” Regina breathes. She drags Emma up to kiss her, wet and demanding. “Couch.”

Emma breaks away briefly to glance around the mostly empty living room.

“There is no couch.”

“The floor then. I don't care.”

“The floor? Aren't you too queenly for that, your Majes -”

But Regina is already tearing off Emma’s shirt, latching onto her with more aggression than Emma anticipates. Emma loses her balance. She stumbles to one side, staggers into a table -

"Lamp," Regina hisses.

"Sorry."

- and breaks the fall with her knees, Regina’s legs still hiked up around her waist.

The floor it is, then.

“Where the hell is the couch?”

Regina doesn't reply so much as she grabs Emma by the nape of her neck and pulls her in for a deep kiss. Emma greedily falls into it, slipping into the space between Regina’s thighs, where Regina opens up to her. Arches into Emma, really.

Emma’s hands instinctively drop to Regina’s hips. They dip beneath the hem of her dress, over soft, warm skin.

Under the waistband of her panties.

Regina sucks in a quick breath. Trailing her mouth across Emma’s jawline, she nips at the sensitive spot below Emma’s ear and murmurs -

“Take them off.”

“You’re bossy in bed, too, aren’t you?” Emma hisses when Regina scrapes her teeth along her tendon.

“Emma,” Regina says warningly, and sucks at the patch of skin at the base of Emma’s neck.

Emma groans. “You’re gonna leave a mark.”

“That’s the idea. Yes.”

Something about Regina marking her sends a jolt through Emma’s stomach, leaving her more turned on than should be physically possible.

She clambers down Regina’s body, ignoring the weak moan of protest, and tugs off Regina’s black lacy underwear. Lets them dangle off her ankle, because they really do look nice there, against the ridiculous four inch heel Regina still hasn't taken off.

It's a breathtaking image, no doubt.

Emma wants to defile every inch of her.

“Emma.” Regina is writhing as Emma ducks in to plant kisses along the inside of her thighs. She clamps a hand into Emma’s hair and grits out, “Stop teasing me.”

Emma laughs against Regina’s skin, bites it a little. “It's hardly teasing.”

Regina pants, frustrated. “Then what would you call it?”

“A bit of foreplay. Have to make you scream somehow.”

This time Regina huffs out a laugh. “Don’t get your hopes up. I don’t - oh .”

The oh is soft. Breathy. Regina arches into Emma’s mouth, and Emma smiles against her, licks into her again before dipping her tongue inside.

“Emma,” Regina sighs, driving her hips upward. “Don't stop. I - ay dios. Así.”

Emma stills for a moment, peering up at Regina with wide eyes.

“Wait. You speak Spanish ?”

The sound Regina makes is something between a growl and a moan as she yanks Emma back down. Emma gladly takes the hint.

She finds out that Regina likes it rough. She finds this out when Emma takes Regina’s clit in her mouth and sucks - hard - and Regina curses explicitly in Spanish before wrenching Emma up for a filthy kiss.

“Harder,” she whispers into Emma’s mouth, all tongue and teeth and breathless swears. “Inside.”

Regina is not at all quiet.

Emma is grateful the kid isn’t within a mile radius of the house to hear his mother cry out with every thrust, with Emma so deep inside her, Regina clamps down on Emma’s shoulder. Grazes her fingernails down Emma’s back. Shudders when Emma presses her thumb against Regina’s clit, aims her fingers just right -

So Regina is a screamer. It’s with a relentlessly self-satisfied grin that Emma nuzzles into Regina’s sweat-slick neck and asks -

“So… round two?”

.

.

Adding to the list of things that Emma learns today - Regina is an absolute freak in bed.

It becomes clear when, afterward, she makes Emma come in two minutes flat, right there against the floorboards.

Or when she rides Emma’s fingers against the stairwell railing, and then again on the kitchen table, until Emma’s wrist cramps up. Regina pushes her flat onto the table and uses Emma’s face instead.

It's raunchy and sinful and downright dirty. Emma loves every second of it.

Because if Mary Margaret can have crazy adulterated sex on every surface of her household, then Emma damn well can, too.

.

.

It’s hours later when Emma wears herself down. The house is silent.

Her clothes are strewn across various rooms, not that Emma bothers to retrieve them. Regina had gone into the kitchen to make them a drink. But after a minute of waiting out in the living room - where there's no couch - Emma puts on a tshirt and follows her there.

Regina is dressed in a silken robe, preparing some tea when Emma walks in.

“There's a glass of water on the counter there if you're thirsty,” Regina offers, inspecting the fridge with a frown. “I haven't gone grocery shopping. But we can order in for whatever you're in the mood for.”

“And if I’m in the mood for you?”

Regina shoots her a suggestive smile. “Then I’d remind you that dessert comes after dinner.”

Emma laughs, small and somewhat bashful. She doesn’t mean to feel nervous. But everything is different now.

Most of the kitchen has been packed up, Emma notices, boxes loaded up against the walls. There are two singular cups in the cabinet when Regina pours the tea. The fridge door is barren of the pictures that used to be there. In their place a calendar is taped to the door, a circle marked over the Saturday from today. Two days from now.

“How does Chinese sound?” Regina asks, oblivious to Emma’s distress.

“No, I… I’m actually not that hungry.”

“Was taking me against the table not draining enough for you?” Regina jests. Her face falls when she takes in Emma’s expression. “What's wrong?”

Emma doesn't reply - she doesn't know how to. Regina patiently waits before putting the delivery pamphlet down.

She takes a cautious step towards her. “Emma?”

“What's going to happen now?” Emma asks softly. She hates the vulnerability rushing over her in waves. And it definitely doesn't stray from her voice.

“With?”

“With us, Regina,” Emma forces out. “With this. You can't just fuck me on your floor and pretend like everything’s back to normal.”

Regina observes her. “I wasn't pretending.”

“But it's not like you’ve made an effort to talk about it either,” Emma says. “You're all packed up. You don't even have a fucking couch because you shipped it off to Florida. You’re still -”

Leaving.

Emma purses her lips. She feels queasy, like she might just puke on an empty stomach.

Regina continues to stare at her, contemplative, until she’s not and she’s leaving the kitchen without uttering a word.

“Where are you going?”

Emma stands in the middle of the kitchen, wondering if this is it. If this is the end of their short sexcapades, all because Regina walked out on her mid conversation.

But Regina comes back a minute later, carrying a sheet of paper, which she hands off to Emma.

“What’s this?”

“A voided contract,” Regina says. “I pulled out last minute. Luckily the seller already had a backup offer on the house in Florida. No lawsuit or financial tragedy needed.”

Emma stops breathing. “You're not…”

“Leaving?” Regina finishes. “No. We’re staying right here.”

“But - since when?”

“Yesterday. I was on the phone with my realtor this entire morning. Needless to say he wasn't happy. But the house is no longer on the market.”

Emma’s head is spinning, but she doesn't dare get her hopes up just yet.

“I don't understand,” she says. “Why?”

“Because... we're better off being as far away from my mother as possible,” Regina explains, drawing closer. “She might have her hands on everything, but I'll be damned if I let her get to my son. And because -"

At this, Regina seems to hesitate, her eyes meeting Emma's with a sense of reverence. "I realized you were right. Nothing she can offer will compete with what we have here. Henry’s happiness always comes first. And he’s happy here. I’m happy here. And you… you've helped with that, Emma.”

Emma grins. “Wow.”

“I know.”

“That’s awfully mushy of you, Mills.”

“Keep it up and we’re moving to Arkansas.”

Emma bursts into laughter. She feels like she's floating now, like she's weightless over a pile of clouds. It's incredibly freeing.

“So…” Emma leans against the island, pulling Regina in by the hand. “You're staying.”

“I am.” Regina runs a hand through blonde tresses, brushes her thumb over Emma’s cheekbone. “Is that okay?”

Emma burrows her head between Regina’s neck and shoulder. “Very. And I guess I'll still be the obnoxious blonde next door. The pain in your royal ass?”

“I'm afraid so.”

Emma hums. “Sounds like love.”

Regina slips her hand beneath Emma’s jaw, motioning for her to look up. Eyes dart across Emma’s face, bright and full of wonder, before Regina leans in and kisses her.

“Take me out on a date first and maybe you’ll find out,” Regina murmurs into her, letting her mouth dip along Emma’s throat.

Emma’s heart lurches, and she's grinning dopily even as Regina sinks down to her knees, parting Emma’s legs. Trailing kisses over her thighs.

“Tomorrow,” Emma gasps. Regina happens to be really good with her tongue, and Emma so can't think clearly right now. “I want to - make it special. I want to take you out on a date. Tomorrow.”

Regina stops to peer up at her, and Emma curses herself for saying this now .

But Regina’s gaze is soft, fond, like she hadn't expected Emma to give in with such determination. Not so quickly.

Joke’s on her, though. Emma’s unintentionally imagined their first date since day one.

Regina presses a kiss to Emma’s thigh, licks up the length of her until Emma’s hips buck and she gasps.

“Okay.”

.

.

They have dinner. Eventually.

.

.

Summer is coming to an end, September emerging in the way the air feels crisper. Cooler. It feels like the end of an important era.

And the start of Henry’s first day of school.

It was somewhat of a nightmare, the preparations Emma had to take to make sure she was there to witness it all. From getting up at the crack of dawn, to being the sensible one when Regina tried to force feed the kid oatmeal.

Emma made sure she was there to wish him good luck when he took the bus that morning - it took a lot of convincing Regina to even let him - and now he's beaming at her from her front door hours later, all puffy cheeks and giddy excitement.

“I guess it went great?” Emma says.

“It went so great! My teacher’s the best . She kind of reminds of you, Emma, but her name’s Ms. Jackson and she has a pet ferret, too. And she gave me a book she thought I’d like. The other kids are really nice, too. There’s this one kid named Peter that played with me at recess. We have a secret handshake now.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I think… I think I made some friends today, Emma.”

He clutches her hand during the walk back to his house, babbling the entire way. Apparently he’d gone home to gush about it first and his arrival was all a ruse, because Regina is already waiting for them at the door.

“Oh yeah. You're invited to dinner, by the way. I was supposed to tell you that,” Henry comments. “Guess that means you're staying now, right?”

“Smooth, kid.”

He grins impishly at her, ducks past Regina to head inside. Emma stuffs her hands in her pockets, smiles when Regina gives her this look - the one that makes Emma’s breath catch in her throat every time.

“See? I told you he wouldn't trip over someone’s foot and explode if you let him take the bus,” Emma feels the need to point out, to which Regina only rolls her eyes.

“Buses are filthy,” Regina reminds her. “Not that we'll be having this argument again . Are you staying for dinner?”

“Depends,” Emma says and shuffles closer, bites her tongue when Regina’s hand comes up to rest delicately on Emma’s cheek. It's one of the things Emma loves about her, the easy affection Regina freely gives.

“Is this gonna be a third or fourth date?”

“Neither,” Regina smirks. “Dinner with my son doesn't count.”

“Uh huh. Dessert before or after?”

“After. Much after. I thought I could lure you in with lasagna.”

“You had me at buses are filthy, to be honest.”

Regina laughs at that, leans in to brush her lips over Emma’s as she murmurs, “Henry mentioned something to me the other day, you know. Something about that time you told him I was super pretty. Super smart.”

“Super nice,” Emma adds, trailing kisses along Regina's jaw.

“And something about me being… what was it again? A ‘MILF’?”

Emma's smile wilts.

“I can explain.”

“No need. I had no idea how badly you wanted a madame to friend.”

Emma groans. “You're gonna hold that against me for the rest of my life, aren’t you?”

Rather than reply, Regina kisses her, smiles into Emma's mouth as if this is just the beginning. 

But like any story, this one has an end.

It's on a warm September afternoon where this story ends. Right here, in a house on Prairie Street. Regina grabs Emma's hand, tugs her inside.

The door closes behind them.