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an exchange of gifts or mementos

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Emma has never fully understood Regina Mills. Even now, whenever Emma feels like there's nothing she could do that would surprise her, Regina goes right ahead and proves her wrong.

 

She never expected Mayor Mills to be the Evil Queen from a fairytale land, or for the Evil Queen to be a loving, amazing mother to Henry. She certainly never thought she'd see Regina in love, or becoming her friend. 

 

She hopes, though, that there will be no surprises now. She should know Regina well enough at this point to give her a gift she likes. Hopefully. She is not uncrossing her fingers just yet.

 

Emma knocks on Regina's door and waits.

 

She is pretty sure Regina likes nature, so it should be fine. She looks down to the plant pot in her hands and feels a little twinge of panic coursing through her body. She knows Regina likes nature. Regina has never directly told her this, but Emma is good at picking up clues.

 

She vaguely remembers, during the time of the first Dark Curse, barging into Regina's office to find her watering a plant. At the time, Emma had been too self-centered and convinced that Regina was a one-dimensional villain to pay attention to that insignificant detail about her. Now, she is curious.

 

Introducing Regina to her son, who didn't remember her, during the second Curse had been hard on her. That, she had noticed. The pain in Regina's eyes when Henry extended his hand for a shake instead of hugging her was all too relatable. Emma had stood there for the stilted introduction, Regina looking as shy as she could ever be (not Emma's favorite look on her, to be honest), and she had craved to make it all better.

 

“You did great,” Emma had assured her and received a non-committal hum in response, instead of the snark she had been expecting.

 

So she might have followed Regina outside once she had been free to leave the loft. Just to check on her, maybe ask her if she wanted to have coffee. She stopped on her tracks when she saw Regina making a beeline for Archie. She barely paused to make conversation before sinking to her knees to pet Pongo, who wiggled his tail happily at the attention.

 

Pongo seemed familiar with her, and Regina didn't even sound disgusted when he licked the back of her hand. 

 

So she knows that Regina likes animals. And plants. She is weirdly attached to her apple tree.

 

The door swings open and Regina smiles when she sees her. It's a small, warm smile that she reserves only to people she feels comfortable with. That has to be a good sign. 

 

“Hey,” Emma says.

 

“Emma,” she pauses and looks down to the pot in Emma's hands. “What's this?”

 

“It's an orchid,” she replies, thrusting the pot towards Regina. It had been way too expensive, but so worth it. “I bought it for you.”

 

“Oh,” Regina breathes. Wonder glistens in her eyes as they flicker up to Emma, then down back to the orchid. “What's the occasion?”

 

The occasion is that Regina's mansion looks huge and empty and so, so silent since Henry left to travel the realms, and that sometimes Regina gets this sad look on her face that terrifies the fuck out of Emma. She just wants to do something to make it stop, and hopefully to make her smile like she used to. She is not telling Regina that, though.

 

“No occasion,” she shakes her head. “I just thought you'd like it.”

 

“I do. I love it,” Regina says honestly. Emma hopes that it isn't too obvious she's staring. “Thank you, Emma. Would you like to come in?”

 

The hopeful look she's giving Emma is unfairly convincing. In fact, Emma is sure she has seen Henry replicate it whenever he's trying to manipulate her. (That happens sometimes. She spots similarities between Regina and their son that she doesn't think they know they have. Once they stood in front of her side by side, Henry surpassing Regina in height by a few inches, and shot her matching glares of exasperation. It was equal parts hilarious and terrifying.)

 

She says yes.

 

Regina places the orchid next to a window, explaining with excited gestures something about plants and lighting, and how she remembers reading something about orchids years ago. Then she asks her if she wants tea within the same sentence. She turns around and falters when she lays eyes on Emma.

 

“What?”

 

That's when Emma notices that she's grinning. She bites her cheeks to suppress it. She fails. “Nothing. You know a lot about this stuff, huh?”

 

“I wouldn't say a lot , but…” Regina shrugs, looking away self-consciously. “I know enough.”

 

“Well, it's more than I do. I don't think I can keep a plant alive.” 

 

“I know. I was the one who changed the plants at the station with plastic ones, remember? I can't believe you killed an aloe vera, you have to do literally nothing to take care of them.”

 

Emma is not letting her bring that accident back. “ The point is , you definitely know more than enough. You get all excited when you talk about this. It's really cute.”

 

Regina crosses her arms, smirking. “Oh? You think I'm cute.”

 

“Definitely. And when I don't even understand half of the stuff you're talking about? Breathtaking,” Emma tells her, her grin growing as she sees Regina's turning an adorable shade of pink.

 

“You're ridiculous,” she scoffs, but she's too flustered for her tone to carry any bite. “Did you come here just to flatter me?”

 

“Hey, it's not flattery if it's true.”

 

Regina sighs, but her lips curve into a tiny smile. “Do you want tea or not?” 

 

“Yes, please.”