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let our mercy be the gifts we lay

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Emma’s never really done the whole quiet life thing, so when Storybrooke starts to stabilize after everything with the Snow Queen—Ingrid, her foster mother, and just one more issue to push deep deep down—she kind of revels in it.

It had been like this in New York, kind of, just Emma working and taking care of Henry, but she’d had all of the normal single working mother worries like bills and getting Henry to school and if New York was the best place for him. On top of the single working bounty hunter mom worries like what if she got hurt, where would Henry go, how would she take care of him, and so on.

And it’s not like those things suddenly go away when she’s back in Storybrooke but the town is kind of in this little bubble—literally now—and she has Regina to share in these issues with her and it’s just different.

So, you know, not that Storybrooke is a paragon of safety, but with Ingrid dead and Gold gone, she almost feels content. (She maybe worries that the word she means is complacent, but to be honest she’s too exhausted to be worried about their next big bad right now.)

It takes about a week to get everything straightened out in the town (the curse of shattered sight having riled up some of the forgotten issues of the Enchanted Forest; her parents and Regina are suspiciously quiet about their own altercation), and then everything is just kind of. Done.

She picks back up as Sheriff (“I’ll take some time with Neal, then,” David says as he graciously slides into the deputy role, “until the next catastrophe.” He smiles like he doesn’t see Emma flinch at all—maybe she hasn’t, she’s been getting more and more used to the name.) and Belle takes over the pawn shop and Ruby has her morning bear claws ready for her each morning and she and Regina work out a custody arrangement with Henry.

It’s not legal or anything; neither of them have any interest in working with Spencer, and they come to a silent understanding that after everything they’ve been through together, they’re not going to cut the other out.

So, Henry spends every other week at the apartment with her—Snow hasn’t mentioned getting a house since Emma returned from New York and Emma’s not exactly looking to move out herself—and every other week at Regina’s. It actually works. They’re close enough where Henry isn’t really being shuffled that far, and week chunks seem like they’re giving him some stability.

And when Henry really needs to be away from Neal’s crying, or when he gets caught up in a Harry Potter marathon at the apartment, they’ve been working it out. Dinner at Regina’s so Emma can still hang with the kid on her night, an extra few hours on the tail end of Regina’s week to make up the lost time.

They’re still possessive of Henry, but they’re learning to go easier on each other. Not nickle and dime every second of their custody or make accusations. And, hey, it’s actually kind of nice this way.


It’s a word she’s been thinking a lot, lately.

And if Emma’s being honest with herself, the nights they have dinner at Regina’s—her little bro certainly has a set of lungs on him—she doesn’t hate it. It’s pretty nice, actually, and she doesn’t just mean Regina’s cooking. Which is, of course, really fucking good.

“What about your math test, today?” Regina asks over one such meal—grilled chicken and cornbread and real mashed potatoes and Emma had done her best not to imitate Homer Simpson when she’d walked in the front door to the smell—before taking a sip of her wine.

Henry shrugs, and scoops up some potatoes while trying to look around nonchalantly. She knows what’s coming next. “It was pretty good, I think I did well.” He pauses, and she catches Regina’s eye. They both suppress smiles and focus back on Henry. “Paige is pretty sure she aced it though. She’s been studying all week. She uh,” he clears his throat and Emma has to duck her head down. “She has this app on her iPad that quizzes you. She said it was pretty helpful.”

“Oh?” Regina sets her water down and angles more toward her son. “Like flashcards?”

“Well, yeah I guess, but she could do it anywhere, you know? Like on the bus. Pretty cool, huh?”

“Yeah kid, bet you could find one like it for your phone,” Emma gestures with her head to the android beside him and does her best not to smirk.

Henry’s quick, though, and takes a deep breath before responding. “Not really. Some like it, but they’re all kind of crappy.”

The table falls quiet, and then Henry excuses himself, clearing his plate carefully. Emma watches him pass into the kitchen, and when the swinging door closes her focus slips to Regina, head turned in the direction of her son.

“We’re not getting him an iPad, right?” she checks, and scoots her chair a bit closer to Regina, sitting at the head of the table to her right.

Regina turns toward her, eyebrow raised, and picks up her fork gently. “I wasn’t aware we were purchasing a joint gift,” she says, before taking a small bite.

Emma ducks her head, and checks the door. “You know what I mean,” she says low.

“But he’s been working at dropping such subtle hints all month,” she says, and more than a trace of warmth edges the sarcasm.

“Subtle like a sledgehammer,” Emma scoffs.

“Or a chainsaw.” Regina lifts her glass to her lips. “I believe he gets that from you, dear,” she smirks.

The door swings open again and Henry walks out slowly, like he’s trying not to disrupt them. Emma tries not to roll her eyes. He gets it from her alright.

“I’m just gonna go upstairs and work on my homework before bed,” he smiles too wide, and leans down to give Regina a kiss on the head as he hugs her. Sheesh, kid.

Still, she can’t help but smile at the sight; Henry’s rapidly growing arms around her shoulders awkwardly from the angle—and his own, well, awkwardness—Regina’s palm splayed across his large shoulder, and the big smile spread across her face. “Good night, Henry,” she says softly, and Emma only realizes Henry has moved to on to hug her, too, when he blocks her view.

“Night ma,” he squeezes her tight, and OK this is a pretty good plot to getting good gifts.

“Night kid,” she pats him on the back as he moves toward the stairs, and when she turns back to Regina her face is still bright with her grin.

Regina’s been like this more and more since the Snow Queen, since Robin left. Since they found the author’s house. Really, she’s been like this since Emma joined operation Mongoose—which she totally looked up, and yeah, Regina, you’re so clever—and that thought always makes Emma feel heavy. Like expectations. Like she has to live up to her potential or something.

Like her drive to be the savior she apparently is, is suddenly active.

Whatever the change was, Emma’s glad for it. Because Regina smiles more, now—negligibly, but she’ll take what she can get—and they’re all somehow easier, like Regina is realizing that it’s OK to be happy. Maybe that it’s OK to be happy around Emma.

Not that they’re happy around each other. At least not yet. Emma still wants to be Regina’s friend, and with the dinners and drop-offs and family outings—well, it had been one very poorly planned picnic at Snow’s insistence because apparently she’d forgotten that though the Snow Queen was defeated, it was still December in Maineshe thinks that maybe Regina kind of wants that too.

Regina’s eyes follow Henry’s path up the stairs, and once they both hear the click of his door—which Emma is certain was for their Christmas planning benefit—she looks back at Emma. “I would like to get him one,” she says, brooking no argument from Emma, though she has the decency to look a little bashful when she adds, “I’ve actually already ordered it.”

Emma snorts, and takes a drink of the Coke that Regina always seems to have on hand for her these days. Nudging at her nearly empty plate, Emma’s brows furrow. “Hey, how does that work? I mean, if we can’t get out of town…” she trails off, and gestures vaguely.

“How can we get packages?” Regina offers, and at Emma’s nod, she shrugs. “Essentially, magic. Back during the earlier years of the curse I realized that the stores in town were getting new inventory, and if I requested them to order a product, they were able to. To be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure how it works, but the packages make it to the post office.”

“That’s...kind of awesome, actually.”

“Yes, if I were still working on a Commodore 64 in 2010, I would most certainly have burned the town to the ground.” She says it darkly but there is a twinkle in her eye, and Emma breaks into a smile that she’s pretty sure makes her look like an idiot.

She scoops up the last of the food on her plate and eats it in two big bites, conscious of Regina’s eyes on her the whole time. When she’s finished she makes a show of licking her lips—in satisfaction, she means, but about halfway through she realizes she probably looks like a cartoon character trying to flirt and reaches frantically for her soda.

“Would you like more?” Regina asks, and she either didn’t catch Emma being a moron—doubtful—or she’s pretending she didn’t—way more doubtful—and Emma shakes her head.

“It was delicious though.”

“I’m amazed you could taste it, the way you shovel your food in,” she teases, and stands up with her plate.

Emma purses her lips and stands, picking up her own plate, and follows Regina into the kitchen. “Yeah, yeah,” she mutters, and can’t help but smile when she hears Regina’s low laugh in return. “So,” she turns toward the sink, and starts the water running, low enough she can still hear. “You really bought it for him?”

She starts washing her plate, and listens to the sounds of Regina putting the leftovers away behind her. “He’s had a very trying year, Emma. I think he deserves something nice.”

Emma smirks, and thinks about the game systems and games and books and laptop and nice clothes strewn between their two houses. “God, you are such a soft touch.”

Regina freezes behind her, she can tell. “Excuse me?”

Emma shrugs, and looks over her shoulder as she sets the plate in the dishwasher Regina must have pulled out. “You spoil him, Regina. I can only imagine all the toys and stuff you bought when he was younger.”

Regina moves around behind her putting the containers in the refrigerator, and Emma moves on to the plate Regina set down beside her. Theres a bit of clanging as Regina brings a few bowls over, but she says nothing.

When she looks over at her, putting the other plate in the rack, she catches sight of Regina’s posture, the stiff shoulders. She shuts the water off and turns, leaning back against the counter and feeling the water she managed to splash on the ledge soaking into her shirt.

Shit. “I didn’t mean it as a bad thing, not really,” she says softly, and kind of wants to set her hand on Regina’s shoulder. Only, they don’t do that, the touching thing. They do the drinking thing and the friendly smile thing and sometimes the sharing thing. Definitely not the touching thing.

“It’s what I wanted for him, actually. I gave him up for the whole good parents, better life thing, so I’m not judging. Or whatever.” Regina’s shoulders relax, and Emma feels her own breath coming a bit easier. They’re always one step forward and two (or five) steps back, and she really really wants to keep moving forward these days.

She licks her lips. “Plus, uh, who am I to talk, I have like zero shopping done. I got David a new pair of boots, and that’s about it so far. I can’t even think of something nice for Mary Margaret.” She’s steering them toward safety—nothing works as quickly to give Regina control than to open up a shot at her parents—and when Regina turns with that quirked eyebrow she can’t help but lean back and smile.

Once she makes the comment about presents, she realizes how late in the year it really is. There’s basically about two weeks before Christmas, and it’s the first time she’ll be spending it with her whole family while knowing they’re her family and without some horrible apocalypse to be on the lookout for.

Which means present pressure for the first time.

She almost misses the excuse of “Oh, is it that time already? With everything that’s been going on…” and maybe, once or twice, she played the “it’s busy being the Savior” card. But c’mon, it totally is.

So now she’s kind of panicking, because there are about 15 people more than she ever buys for on her list, and do you buy for the dwarves as like a package deal, or are they all going to expect something individual?

And that’s not even getting into the fact that she doesn’t actually know who celebrates Christmas. Like, what was religion like in the Enchanted Forest? Was it like Medieval Europe as its depicted in fairy tales, with Christianity everywhere, or since they were technically in another world do they even have religions that are recognizable to her? And even if they all identify with their Storybrooke persona’s beliefs, Emma finds it pretty unlikely that the entire population is Christian; is anyone in Storybrooke Jewish? Or Muslim? Or Buddhist? The questions start piling up quickly.

Of course Mary Margaret is approximately zero help, because when Emma mentions this she gets this doe-eyed look and just goes, “Oh.” So, yeah. Meaning, Emma is going to have to figure out some other way to check on the religious beliefs of about half the people on her list.

She lives with most of the other half, and if the nauseating smell of egg nog and pine needles is anything to go by, her parents are definite Christmas yesses.

Henry and Regina, she knows, are also yesses, though how much of her fake memories with Henry are fictitious and how much were transplanted from Regina’s own she has never been able to pinpoint. She at least knows from talking to Henry about it—and the very tasteful wreaths and Douglas Fir in Regina’s home—that Regina kinda loves Christmas.

(Emma has virtually no evidence to back this up, just vague impressions from her transplanted memories, but she’s pretty sure it has to do with the fact that it would have been this weirdly normal time for her and Henry, even once he started to pull away from her. The kid’s spoiled as hell, and a sucker for presents.)

Confusion aside, she has ideas for just about everyone—not all great ones, but she’ll worry about that in a week—except Regina.

She’d sat down a few days ago at her desk with a cup of coffee, a bear claw, and a blank legal pad, and come up with absolutely nothing.

And then started to wonder what she was even doing. They were maybe-sorta-friends at this point, did that even really qualify for a gift? And what kind of thing do you get a maybe-sorta-friend? A giftcard? Fruitbasket? Spa weekend?

Plus, Regina probably wasn’t going to give her anything, so would that be awkward?

It just didn’t sit right when Emma thought about leaving her off the list. Especially since—at Mary Margaret’s insistence, as she’d learned nothing from the picnic incident—they were to be having Christmas all together: David, Mary Margaret, Henry, Regina, and her. About ten levels of bad idea in one loft apartment. At the holidays. With alcohol (because Emma was not doing this thing sober). What could go wrong?

Basically, skipping her really isn’t an option, and the thought alone makes Emma feel all kinds of itchy. So, about a week before Christmas, Emma starts doing what she is supposed to do best—investigate.

“Back in the Enchanted Forest,” Mary Margaret pops her head up. Emma never asks about their homeland. “What, uh, did you guys do for fun?”

Mary Margaret tilts her head curiously but continues to tear up the head of lettuce in her hands. “Well, we had parties and balls, especially for big occasions. Planning those could easily take months of time. We read, played card games and chess, outdoor games and sports.” She furrowed her brow. “Had musicians and comedians come to the castle to perform,” she shrugged, and looked up at Emma for a moment before concentrating back on her salad. “Why do you ask?”

Emma shifted on the stool beneath her. “Just curious.” Mary Margaret gives her a strange look like she knows that’s not true and Emma shifts again. “What about Regina? Was there anything she liked to do back then?”

Mary Margaret sets the bowl of lettuce to the side and reaches for a tomato, placing it on the cutting board before resting her palms on the edge of the counter. “Why don’t you just tell me what this is about. Are you asking about the woman she used to be? Because she really has changed, Emma,” Mary Margaret is looking at her with those wide eyes like Emma isn’t usually the one pushing that very line. Like Mary Margaret has never doubted her, and Emma stands up from her stool.

“No, that’s not, I know. I’m just trying to think of something to get her,” she mumbles out, pulling a cucumber toward her to chop—very poorly, the slices are too thin and too thick but she really doesn’t want to look at her mom when she says this—and shrugging like it’s no big deal. “For Christmas.”

And the thing is, it isn’t a big deal. She knows this. Her parents are going to give Regina a gift, and it’s totally not weird for her to do the same. So why does it feel like she’s baring herself when she asks for some help?

“Oh,” Mary Margaret smiles, and Emma’s movements falters. See? No big deal.

The thought leaves her feeling the smallest bit hollow.

“Well, honey, I don’t know if there’s anything Regina did in those days that she can, or should, do now. She was studying magic, of course, and I think she spent a lot of time reading. I think she wrote a bit.” She furrows her brow like she used to do sometimes before the curse broke. Like she should be able to remember something. Like she was a little mad she couldn’t. She starts to chop the tomato slowly, and in a quiet voice finally says, “Come to think of it, I’m not quite sure what she did. At least, nothing she chose to do.”

Emma can’t really think of a single thing Regina likes either. She’s suddenly not so hungry.

“Uh, I’m actually going to run to the station for a bit. I’ll be home later,” Emma shuffles back from the counter, and tugs on her coat before she heads out into town.

Storybrooke, she concludes very quickly, has fuck all for shopping. At least, outside of your necessities. Which, OK, Emma figures if you’re designing a town that’s meant to punish the people you hate, maybe giving them zero fun shopping is a decent choice of torment, but Regina had to live here too so why punish yourself?

And then Emma realizes that maybe Regina hates shopping, too. (By too she doesn’t know if she means “as well the other things she hates like Gold and Emma’s leather jacket”, or “as much as Emma does” because after four hours of wandering in and out of every story she’s about this close to praying another villain shows up. Have they seen Cruella de Vil yet?)

Emma’s feet falter outside of Gold’s pawn shop—correction: Belle’s pawn shop—and she almost goes inside. After all, as Mary Margaret reminded her, Regina liked doing magic, so maybe something magical for a present?

But Emma has seen way too many bad sci-fi shows and made-for-TV movies to know that purchasing a mystical item as a present will only ever end poorly. So, exhausted as she is, she trudges on. And ends up outside of this tiny little bookstore on the end of Elm.

It’s nearly nine, and the store has to be just about closed, but Emma pops in to take a quick look around.

The place is small and a little dusty, and pretty much exactly what she pictures when she thinks small town bookstore. She’s willing to bet that the most recent book the place owns is a copy of 50 Shades of Grey (because let’s face it, two years ago there wasn’t a single one that didn’t have it), so Emma’s not really holding out much hope of finding anything when she starts to wander the aisles.

The clerk is some high school kid that she vaguely recognizes but can’t name, and he looks up from his phone a few times when she starts walking. Emma’s used to feeling like she’s being watched when she’s in a store—being a thief instills a pretty high amount of paranoia—but the kid loses interest fast and goes back to his game.

Emma digs her hands in the pockets of her coat, her gloves snagging on the small zippers there, and purses her lips as she explores.

Unsurprisingly, she finds nothing. The bookstore’s a bust, much like every other place, and she feels exhaustion overtaking her. It’s dumb, being this invested in a gift Regina probably won’t even care about, but she is and she’s kind of stumbled closer to it’s got to be perfect than the I gotta get her something she felt when she’d started.

So. Onwards? She makes her way toward the door and has no clue where to even go next—Granny’s and the Rabbit Hole are about all that’s open—but her elbow knocks into a loose stack of books to her right.

The kid looks up at her at the noise and she mumbles, “Sorry,” waving him off when he tries to stand. She’s trustworthy now, afterall, and her gloved fingers pass over the badge at her hip as a reminder.

They turn out to not be books, not all of them. Some are planners, a few odds-and-ends books, and a journal.

The journal isn’t anything special, soft brown leather and unlined pages that seem to be authentically aged and not just manufactured that way. It feels heavy, and when Emma slipped her fingers out of her glove, the entire thing just feels kind of warm.

In that comforting way, and not the this-magical-thing-is-about-to-go-South, way.

Before she can really even think about what she’s doing she’s handing money to the kid and he’s sliding it into a small brown paper bag.

A few days go by and it’s Emma’s week with Henry and it’s almost Christmas. Henry is getting straight-up blatant about his hints now—they can’t even be called that when he starts calling her into the living room to “watch this super cool commercial that happens to be for the iPad”—and she starts to second guess her own gift for him: a live recording from a concert they went to in New York, a couple new books and games, a pair of headphones.

She starts to get a bit antsy about it, because even though things have mellowed between her and Regina in regards to Henry, she still kinda wants to be the hero she was to him way back when he was ten.

And like, it’s a present, but it’s also just another way she feels divided from Henry, now that he has his real memories back. Just another way she feels like she doesn’t measure up to Regina, now that Henry is her son again.

“Hey ma, can we go to mom’s for dinner?” Henry doesn’t even look up from his phone.

Snow and David are out with Neal in the park, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. No crying baby, no reason to go. “Why, what’s up?” she goes for nonchalant but just feels stiff.

Henry shrugs. “I don’t know, just thought it would be nice.”

Emma shrugs back. “OK, kid, whatever you want.” She means it mostly, so she smiles too wide at him and tells him to let Regina know they’re coming.

The part of her that doesn’t mean it, well, that part of her is quiet for the most part but rears its ugly head every now and then. And Emma doesn’t want to label it, but that part feels an awful lot like jealously.

Which is, you know, totally insane. Henry chose her all those years ago. He wanted her to be his mom and wanted her to be his hero and wanted her in his life. And Regina is his mother—way more than she is, really, but Emma doesn’t like to think about that because it makes her a bit nauseous sometimes—and Henry didn’t treat her like it much at all until recently.

Really, she should get over it. Because her 13-year-old son wanting to spend time with both of his mothers is nice. And it’s not like he’s choosing Regina over her. Just, like, choosing her, too. Again, nice. He’s growing up and repairing his relationship with Regina and she should be all for it.

She is. She is for it, truly. It’s just. Well. Sometimes she kind of misses how things were in New York. Misses being Henry’s whole world. Misses how easy it is to just be with him, no Snow Queens or ice walls or invisible town boundaries.

No proving herself to the town.

No proving herself to her son, either.

Emma gives herself a minute longer to sulk and be moody and when Henry comes back she pushes it down and gives him a more authentic smile as she stands up to grab her coat.

Dinner is delicious as usual, and by the time she’s tearing up the last of her roll and using it to soak up the lingering gravy on her plate, she feels kind of foolish about her thoughts earlier.

They’re a family now, all three of them—all six considering her parents and brother—and it’s dumb to get caught up in competitions and other petty thoughts.

So she thanks Regina for the meal and leans back in her chair and pats her stomach obnoxiously until Regina rolls her eyes and offers to get them all dessert.

“I mean, I’d never say no to a pastry,” Emma grins goofy and it’s Henry that rolls his eyes this time.

Ugh, her son and his mother are way too similar sometimes.

“I thought that might be the case. Henry?” Regina picks up his plate and sets in on hers.

“With ice cream, please?” He gives her the puppy dog eyes.

Maybe he’s too much like her sometimes, too.

Regina’s eyes narrow playfully, crinkling in the corners as she smiles and woah. Emma kind of forgets how stunning she can be when she smiles like that.

Emma swallows hard because that thought came out of nowhere and she scoots back in her chair to stand. Regina just looks over at her at the sound and Emma mumbles, “I’ll help,” as she scoops up her own dishes.

She follows Regina through the swinging door and leans back against the counter as Regina starts to scrape the few remnants from Henry’s plate into the garbage disposal. “I can’t believe the kid never finishes his plate,” she says to fill the silence. It’s usually not an issue. Right now it kind of is. “Aren’t growing boys supposed to eat you out of house and home or something?”

“Hmm,” Regina nods, and quickly rinses the now-empty plate before setting it in the dishwasher. When she turns back and reaches for her own plate, she gives Emma a sidelong glance. “I’ve heard such things, yes.” She smiles when she adds, “You’d think by that description you were the teenage boy in this house.”

Emma watches Regina and can’t help her own playful smile. “Yeah, well, it’s too good to let sit for long, is that what you want to hear?”

Regina doesn’t say anything for a moment and Emma licks her lips. She’s not big on the silence tonight.

“It doesn’t hurt,” she finally replies, and once she’s set her plate in the rack she reaches for Emma’s. She makes eye contact for a moment before she tugs Emma’s plate from her hands. “I promise letting it sit for a few moments will be fine.” She starts to rinse it and Emma braces her hands on the counter behind her back. “One of these days you’ll choke on a half-eaten piece of roast.”

Emma shrugs. “Old habits.”

And woah. She did not mean to say that. Because shit, that’s a bit too much to share, reminds her of a stolen picnic by the lake and friendship and secrets and sharing and Emma pushes herself onto the counter and clears her throat, hoping Regina doesn’t catch the meaning.

Regina looks over at her with something way too close to pity—and definitely not understanding, no way—and Emma clears her throat. Because of course Regina is perceptive and a genius. Why can she not have dumb friends?

Emma looks away because she just can’t go here tonight and Regina shuts the water off, closes the dishwasher. “Get off my counter, Miss Swan,” she orders coolly, in that voice that she uses anytime they edge toward that something they sometimes get near.

A something that will remain nameless, thank you.

Regina narrows her eyes at Emma’s feet kicking far too close to her cabinets, before opening the freezer and pulling out the ice cream. “You know, he’s getting an iPad from you; you could start messing with him and try not giving him extra dessert and stuff for the next week.”

She sets the ice cream container down on the island across from Emma. Regina sighs loudly—like, making a point loudly, Emma knows this sound well—and comes to stand beside Emma’s legs. “I’m not going to mess with our son.” She points to the drawer behind Emma’s knee and raises a brow. “The ice cream scoop is in there.”

Emma shifts on the counter and moves her legs to the side so Regina can pull it open. It’s not far enough and Regina sighs again—exasperated, Emma’s getting good at identifying these—and presses on Emma’s knee gently to move her aside. “I told you to get down,” she reminds, and once she has the scoop she gives Emma a withering look before she sets it beside the carton and pulls out three dessert plates.

“Yeah,” Emma agrees, but doesn’t move. “Why not? It would be kind of funny. He’s been going on about that thing nonstop, too. He deserves it.”

“You are the most juvenile individual in this house, I hope you realize.” Regina freezes in her movements, apple pie sliced but not dished out. She looks over her shoulder a little, turning to her side as she moves slices to each plate. “You seem rather upset that I’m giving him that present.”

She tries to say it lightly, Emma thinks, but there’s that little crease between her brows that Emma knows means she thinks this is important. And, OK, maybe Emma has been making a weirdly big deal out of this whole thing.

“What? No,” she scoffs to back up her words. Because it’s totally not a big deal. Really. “Has he, uh, has he mentioned anything else he wants? I mean I’m done with his gifts I think. Just want to make sure I got him something good.”

Regina looks at her and god could she just stop picking up on things? Because she’s looking at her in that way that makes Emma feel weirdly exposed; she’s been doing it more and more lately and Emma’s not sure if she’s getting worse at hiding or if Regina’s gaining her own superpower. She squirms on the counter and kicks the cabinet below her lightly.

“I see,” she says and it’s kind of infuriating. She licks her lips and watches Emma closely and ignores Emma’s petulant kicking. “No, he hasn’t mentioned anything else.” She scoops ice cream onto Henry’s plate and looks at Emma and she shakes her head at the offer. Her stomach feels weird right now.

Regina turns her back to Emma as she puts the lid back on the ice cream. “I’m certain he’ll like your gifts, Emma,” she says softly, soothing, and Emma slips off of the counter, landing onto her socked feet with a dull thud.

“Yeah, I hope so.” She swallows thickly and when Regina turns to face the freezer she gives Emma this small encouraging smile that she never would have dreamed of seeing directed at her six months ago. “You should have seen him last Christmas, I think I got him everything on his list and he was just so grateful.”

Regina licks her lips, the smile fading, and tucks the ice cream back on the shelf before shutting the freezer door gently.

Emma wants to smack herself in the forehead. You should have seen him last Christmas. Yeah. Totally good thing to say to the woman that is the reason you got to see that, at her own expense.

She’s expecting Regina’s face to fall into that sad look of loss that Emma can’t handle, but instead she leans back against the island and faces Emma. “It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?” she smiles nostalgically, and Emma wraps herself in the fake memories of Henry’s childhood Christmases. The ones she thinks are real but not hers.

Emma puts her hands on the counter behind her again, her shoulders rolling forward with the action. And because Regina didn’t get caught on the wrong part of what Emma said—the really stupid part—and because they have come so far, Emma finds herself bobbing her head in agreement. “It really is. Him, with all that adoration focused just on you,” she cuts herself off because she apparently can’t stop saying stupid things tonight.

But Regina just murmurs wistfully. So Emma adds, “I know he’s happy here and we can’t leave anyway,” she sees Regina’s smile fall just slightly so she rushes to add, “not that I would take him, not anymore.” Regina’s shoulders relax again and she breathes a sigh of relief. “But New York was,” she kind of trails off. Because there is no one adjective to sum it up. It was complicated. But it was also nice and she misses it and if circumstances were different—like really different—she would go back there, easily.

Regina’s lips part like she’s about to say something but the door swing open and Henry shuffles over to them. “Hey, do you guys need help?” he asks and Emma rolls her eyes and pulls him over to her by the arm.

He’s tucked into her side and she’s got an arm firm around his shoulders and she physically shakes herself back into the present. Because the present is pretty nice, too.

In the present Regina is smiling at them and digging into the other drawer for three clean forks and Henry is warm against her and growing so quickly. In the present she can talk to her friend and get these stupid thoughts off her chest because a past of pushing it all down is maybe not the best idea.

In the present Henry hip checks her because he’s comfortable hanging with his mothers in the kitchen, and that makes her smile a little stupidly. She looks at Regina, holding out a plate for Henry and she’s smiling a little stupidly, too.

“Kid comes in after you’ve done the dishes to offer his help. What a gentleman,” she ruffles his hair and he ducks away from her to stand by Regina as he whines maaaaaaaa and it doesn't hurt this time.

It’s stupid, Emma decides.

The journal is laying in the middle of her bed, and yeah, it’s pretty much been making her nervous for the past twenty minutes.

Mary Margaret had all but ordered Emma to get her wrapping done today, and it is for the most part. There are about 20 boxes and bags in the corner of her room, and they’re not exactly catalog pretty, but she spent a bit more time on them than she would have before.

So, she’s actually pretty tired. And Regina’s journal is the last thing she has to wrap and it’s sitting there in the middle of her kind of made bed—because according to Regina, she’s the reason their son is getting to be such a slob—and it’s just

Taunting. Is the only word that can describe it, really.

Because it’s stupid. The journal itself is kind of plain and things like that are in the Barnes & Noble gift section for those people you don’t want to give a giftcard, but don’t really know what to get them, right?

Right. It’s dumb. And her reasoning behind the journal, that’s dumb, too. She’s like 99% sure Regina would agree. Not that she’d ever tell her, because this whole thing is just dumb. It makes Emma itch in a way she would run away from three years or so ago, and because she can’t do that anymore—stupid parents, stupid kid, stupid rootsshe scoops up the leather binding and dumps it in a small box before shoving the whole thing under her bed.

Good. It can’t taunt her from there.

The last few days before Christmas fly by. The sheriff’s office is weirdly busy because apparently the holidays bring out the worst in fairytale characters, too. Who knew? Between wrapping half-a-dozen beanies for the dwarves and helping the old lady who lived in a shoe wrangle her oldest kids in, her last few days have kind of been a blur.

So, getting to do nothing but lay on the couch watching A Christmas Story play back-to-back on TV? Pretty much all she wants to do today.

“Mom says she needs us to go meet her in the woods.” Emma tilts her head back against the couch and looks up at Henry, standing behind it.

“Uh, say that again?” It’s two days before Christmas and Mary Margaret and David are out doing their last minute errands for tomorrow and the day after. Emma can’t quite figure where they plan to put more stuff. As it is, the tree takes up approximately a fourth of their living space, every surface houses a poinsettia, and the fridge is stocked up with a million and one ingredients.

And there seems to be tinsel everywhere. Thank god the apartment isn’t carpeted.

Henry shrugs. “Mom wants us to meet her in the woods. And she says to dress warm.”

He doesn’t seem alarmed when he says it, and if it were something bad Emma’s pretty sure Regina would just poof in here and grab her. Or at least call or something. Still, the request is… weird, to say the least.

Plus she’s just. so. comfortable.

Henry’s phone buzzes and he looks up, lips thinned. “She says to stop asking questions and just come.” Emma’s eyes narrow at Regina predicting her like that—really, it doesn’t matter that she was rightand slowly stands up from the couch.

She can’t help but sigh as she stretches out the kinks in her back. “Fine. Grab your coat, kid.”


The woods are still, almost eerily still, and Emma rests one palm on the grip of her gun holstered at her hip. “Regina?” she calls out, and steps a little closer to her son just to make sure that if this is some kind of big bad that she can tug him behind her.

And if it is some big bad, it’s gonna get shot for not arriving a week ago and sparing Emma the misery of shopping for fairy-slash-nuns.

(She had been this close to buying them bedazzled rosaries, but apparently it was “distasteful”. Emma’s knowledge of both Catholicism and fairies boil down to the cross and glitter respectively, so she figures it wasn’t that horrible of a thought. After all, Henry’s a kid still, what does he know?)

There’s some rustling at their side and Emma doesn’t pull her gun immediately. When she sees Regina step out from behind a—well, she stepped out from behind something, she just can’t see what—she drops her hand from her hip and squeezes the back of Henry’s neck.

“Hey,” she says on a breath, and Regina offers her a small smile. A bit weary, like she didn’t get any sleep the night before.

“Hey,” Regina replies—just a little mockingly these days—and her voice sounds how she looks. “Good morning, Henry,” Regina nods to their son at Emma’s side, and she steps closer, until she’s standing in front of them.

She’s not wringing her hands exactly—Emma can’t even picture that kind of overt discomfort from Regina—but she’s tense, and Emma’s starting to get nervous again. “Regina?” she prompts.

“I have something for you. For both of you. Follow me,” she says firmly, and Emma does as she instructs.

They walk a little into the woods, and then Regina stops, right in the middle of a small clearing. “Uh, Regina?” Emma prompts again.

“Be quiet, Miss Swan,” she closes her eyes when she says it and Emma shuts her mouth quickly. Not because Regina tells her to—their last three years have proven that—but because Regina sounds a little pathetic about it.

She’s super grateful Regina can’t read minds. Because calling her pathetic? Well, yeah, pass on that reaction.

After a minute Regina raises her arms—they look like they might be trembling a little—and when Emma looks back to the trees in front of her they’re gone.

Like, completely gone.

Everything around her is pretty much the opposite of the woods. There are tall buildings and sidewalks and streets and street signs that all feel familiar and when Emma reads that they’re on 7th Avenue it clicks.

“You brought us to New York?” She’s kind of squeaky about it and she’d be embarrassed but she’s too busy looking up at everything.

“Not exactly,” Regina says slowly, and Emma finally looks back at her. She’s almost expressionless, but there’s just a bit of hesitation in the tilt of her head and Emma forces herself to stay focused and not look around again. Regina shifts focus to Henry at Emma’s side, and smiles tentatively at him. “It’s a replica, in a way. I created a projection, I suppose you could say, based on maps and photographs.”

Emma can’t help but look around again and hell, Regina did an amazing job because Emma can’t tell it’s fake. Well, except, “We’re the only ones here.”

It comes out weirdly accusatory, and Regina tenses just a bit. Emma feels her cheeks warm in shame and stuffs her fists in her pockets. “I mean, not that that’s—it’s just strange, seeing it so empty.”

Regina nods. “Creating the kind of population that would normally be present on these streets would be a bit… overwhelming,” she says a bit cryptically, and Emma eyes the slightly darker circles beneath her eyes, realizes what Regina’s not saying.

“It’s way better this way, no people to push into me,” Henry pipes up, eyes wide in amazement, and Emma’s never been more grateful for him and his timing.

“Agreed kid,” she gives him a big smile and in the corner of her eye she thinks she sees Regina’s posture loosen slightly. Henry is looking up all around and when he starts to walk to the side of them Emma turns and sees him heading toward “Times Square?”

“Yes,” Regina confirms, and then she’s explaining where things are in too-long sentences and wide gestures and a surprisingly large amount of references to google earth. When Emma finally stops looking around in wonder, mouth gaping—cut her some slack, Regina made her a New York OK?—she lands on Regina. She’s pointing East, where there should be a giant hollow, but instead all Emma can see are store fronts decorated in red and green and white fluffy trim.

And Regina. Her breath is creating small puffs of air in front of her and she’s looking back and forth enough that her hair—it’s gotten so long, it’s a good look for her—gets caught against the rough wool of her coat. Emma thinks her fingers would snag in small tangles if she were to put her hand on the back of Regina’s neck.

Not that she would. Or have a reason to.

Regina keeps explaining and she starts throwing in some magical theory and Emma is pretty much lost; she’d barely made it fifteen minutes into her first theory lesson with Regina before they were both huffing and throwing their arms up. (But really, she did not need to start with the etymology of “grimoire” OK? She just didn’t.)

So Emma’s lost and she should be listening but it’s kind of overwhelming because Regina made her a New York and Henry is wandering around in awe too so he’s not listening and Regina is just so damn animated and it’s kind of freaking adorable.

Except that thought makes Emma’s stomach flop around in that way it does sometimes and so she swallows and tries so hard to focus on what Regina’s saying.

“... meaning that the transitions may be a little jarring, depending on the route you take. I’m afraid it’s more fragmented than I intended, but as I’ve never been to the city myself, it seems this will have to suffice.” Her hands are clasped in front of her now and she tilts her chin up like she’s waiting for Emma to argue that it’s not good enough.

Which, of course, is ridiculous. Only, Emma’s been coming to realize over the past few weeks—few years, if she admits to reading the signs—that Regina’s kind of always waiting for that despite the fact that she is more talented and capable than any other person Emma’s met.

The thought is laughable, really.

Regina’s eyes narrow, and Emma realizes that it really isn’t. Because her odd-sounding chuckle is met by Regina’s shoulders are tensing and christ that’s

“This is amazing, mom!” Henry’s running to burrow into Regina’s side and he fixes moments like this, when Emma’s about to stumble into the worst kinds of missteps with Regina and so she takes a deep breath before she tries to speak.

“It is. It’s,” she looks around, looks for inspiration. “Wow.” Smooth, Swan. “Regina, this is the most amazing thing,” she clamps down on her lips because anyone’s ever done for me feels awfully close to the surface and her stomach is doing that flopping thing again.

It must not be the worst place to stop though, because Regina kind of smiles at her Not one of those huge smiles, but it’s genuine, and maybe even a little shy? Which is, you know, weirdly charming. Because Emma doesn’t remember finding any of her other friends so endearing.

“Central Park is just down here,” Regina points with her free hand, the other on Henry’s shoulder, still. “Henry mentioned you two would spend Saturdays there,” she adds, and Henry nods up at her like she’s just hung the moon.

Which, while not the case—this time—it’s comparable.

She leads them down the sidewalk and Emma just kind of processes as they move. It’s all weirdly familiar in a vague sort of way, the silence and fragmented streets making it off just a little. Like a deja vu sort of remembrance.

And then they get there, to the park, and Henry is smiling and pointing and running off again like he’s still a ten year old exploring for the first time and Regina is explaining to him and Emma is. Well, Emma’s staring up at it all in wonder.

Because it is, wonderful. Beautiful and comfortable, and Emma takes a seat on the park bench, staring out at an oddly empty—but peaceful—Central Park.

“Can I go look around?” Henry asks, barely remembering to do so.

“Of course, dear.” Regina smiles, weary again, and brushes Henry’s hair from his forehead. “Go on, I need to speak to Emma a moment.”

She watches Henry make his way down the path, and can see Regina doing the same. They’re still for a little, and then Regina clears her throat and the moment becomes something. Becomes a moment. Emma can feel the heaviness of it in the air suddenly, and then Regina is watching her closely. Knowingly.

Her stomach may as well be on a trampoline, right now.

“I know that you wanted to return to New York, you and Henry,” Regina finally says, evenly, practiced, as she takes a seat beside her. “And I understand why, I do.” She keeps her attention focused out, not looking at Emma, and clasps her hands together on her lap. “Before the Shattered Sight spell hit, I was petrified. Of the people in the town, of what could happen to Henry. Of myself. What I might—”

Emma wants to reassure her, because she has no doubt that a darkest dark Regina could wreak havoc, but not with Henry, never with Henry. Instead Regina shakes her head like she knows, and Emma sinks against the bench back, angled to face her. “Storybrooke is dangerous, in ways unlike anywhere else, complicated ways, and I won’t say I approve of you wanting to take my son away again,” she adds with tight lips, and looks at her out of the corner of her eye. “But I suppose I do understand the desire to keep him away from all of this.”

Licking her lips, Emma debates her next words. Because they’re honest, too honest for her family, too honest for Henry, sometimes too honest for herself. She doesn’t like them, doesn’t like herself, but Regina is her maybe-sorta-friend, and she thinks she might owe her this.

She thinks she might want to owe her this.

“That was a little bit of it, I guess.” She bites her lip, gives herself one last out. “But I think mostly I just wanted the easiness back,” she murmurs, and looks down at her hands, fingers curled over her knees.

Her eyes flutter shut for a moment and she kind of winces because the words are wrong, are shameful. Are selfish.

And Regina turns to look at her and it’s hard, Emma can tell even with her head bent down toward her lap. “Magic is messy and complicated, and pretty hazardous to us in all sorts of ways,” she tries to smile when she says it, but it’s hollow. “And obviously that was a part of it,” she defends herself, just a bit.

“It was just so easy, when it was just the two of us. Even when I first got my memories back and I remembered everything, my parents, you,” her eyes flicker toward Regina and back down, “it wasn’t tangible. I didn’t have to worry about how we were going to fit three adults and a teenageer and a baby in one apartment, or work out custody arrangements, or,” Emma sighs.

“It was just easy. Him and me, no parents my age, no infant little brother, no pirate boyfriend, no—” she shuts her mouth because she never knows how to qualify Regina. “It was just simple, us two. And I wanted that back.” Emma finally meets Regina’s eyes, and she sees the careful expression there, the way her brows are furrowed just a bit in thought. “God, that’s not,” she has no idea how to clarify, she doesn’t mean for her words to sound how they did but they’re out and she doesn’t know how to fix it.

Licking her lips, she pastes on a smile and tries to lighten things. “But really, you know if I tried to take him away from Storybrooke, from you,” she meets her eyes, “that he would refuse.” Her lips are twitching from forcing the smile, from how badly she needs this to fix what she just said.

Regina smiles, and nothing about it is tempered. “I do,” she looks away, like she had on that stakeout, like she does sometimes. Like her heart is literally overflowing with love for her son. (Which it is, of course.)

But Emma watches her, sees her look back and there is no anger in her expression, no distrust in this moment, and Emma breathes out raggedly in relief.

It’s affirmation of how far they’ve come, of all they’ve learned, because they can talk about this, Emma can confide in Regina about this of all things and Regina knows that it won’t happen again. That Emma would never choose to do that, to hurt Regina like that anymore.

Emma breathes out a laugh and shifts, presses against her knees before she moves to grip the bench seat on either side of her legs. “You could try sounding a little less pleased about it.”

“I don’t think I will.” Regina’s smile is brilliant, all white teeth and red lips and the scar there etched deep into her skin with the movement. She settles her hand on the edge of the bench as Emma had, and her fingers ghost along Emma’s. They’re warm, far too warm for the chilled air, and Emma extends her own, thinks about maybe taking Regina’s hand because they don’t do the touching thing but friends do, right? and they’re sorta-maybe-friends and

Regina slides her hand back, and grows serious again. And Emma tugs her own hand closer to her leg, feeling suddenly exposed.

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten that it was quite literally just Henry and myself for so many years,” she says, speaking slowly. “And from the moment you came into my life I have known exactly that want. For it to be just the two of us again.”

Emma feels a stone settle in her stomach. She’s not sure how this has turned, how they started taking steps back so quickly.

Regina stands, and runs her hands over her coat carefully. “I am… appreciative of your desire to help me get my happy ending,” her eyes drop, “and I wish to repay that in kind, if only for today.”

Emma looks up at Regina, throat drying as she tries to follow where Regina is going. Because this doesn’t sound like they’re moving backward at all. “Enjoy your day here with Henry, and try to let it be easy,” she gives a small smile and nod. Both are forced, neither so comfortable with these kinds of gestures, but Emma feels her heart start to beat faster just the same.

There are too many things she can say, too many thoughts stuck in her throat but she manages to say “Thanks,” like Regina just loaned her a pencil.

She must look as dumbfounded as she feels, though, because the smallest of smiles twitches at Regina’s lips. “Merry Christmas, Emma,” she says smoothly, and turns to go.

She’s giving Emma everything she wants, simplicity, for an entire day. It’s the best gift she could have asked for, and she thinks of the plain leather journal sitting in a box under her bed, and she feels downright awful for assuming Regina wouldn’t get her anything.

She’d given her everything.

Regina’s about twenty feet away before Emma’s up and out of the park bench, jogging to catch up with her. “Hey, wait a second,” Regina turns, hands in her pockets, and looks down at the hand Emma has rested just above her elbow. She doesn’t drop it until she’s sure Regina’s standing still. “Look, uh, I kinda tanked your gift,” she shoves her hands in her pockets. “And this is,” she lets out a low whistle.

She’s no more eloquent than she’d been a second ago, but at least things are starting to pour out. Things more profound than thanks. Emma clears her throat. “What if you stay, and the three of us do easy together.”

Regina’s eyes narrow slightly. “Excuse me?”

Emma’s kind of unsure herself. Because a day with Henry, no expectations, no world to save, no parents to check in with, and so on, is pretty damn compelling. Except, the idea of Regina slipping into that doesn’t sound like much of a change. They can do easy, together, for one day.

“You, me, Henry. Let’s both forget everything that’s going on out there,” she gestures toward Times Square, which is where she thinks her car is parked, “and just hang out with our kid.”

Regina hesitates. “I thought custody agreements were part of the complicated portion.”

Emma shrugs. “They were. Are, maybe. I don’t know, they don’t seem so complicated anymore, not for the past few weeks.” She doesn’t know why she’s fighting for this, for Regina to stay. Maybe it’s because Regina’s gift is so nice, so perfect, it feels rude to exclude her.

Another part of her thinks it’s something closer to wanting to spend time with Regina. But that’s a whole new thing that she doesn’t want to examine because Regina gave her this day and it’s supposed to be easy.

And whatever she feels building at thoughts of Regina is anything but easy.

“So, I stay and walk around New York with you and Henry?” Regina’s question sounds much too close to how she asks “You want to be friends?” and “You are?” and it kind of breaks Emma’s heart at the same time it makes it beat faster.

“Yeah,” she says fast, grin growing on her face. “We’ll show you around.” She furrows her brow as she looks around at streets that seem to fit together like puzzle pieces, little gaps in between. “Or, I don’t know, we’ll explore it all together.”

Regina pinches her lips like she’s suppressing an actual grin, and Emma’s pretty sure she’s won her over. To stay, of course.

“Alright,” Regina finally concedes, and she slips her hands into her coat pockets like she’s unsure what to do now.

Emma’s not so sure herself.

“Mom, look!” Henry runs down toward them, three paper plates in his hands, spread like they might fall at any moment. Giant slices of pizza are falling off of each one, and Emma turns to look at her son.

“Woah, kid,” Emma holds up her hands as Henry thrusts a plate toward her, and when she catches a whiff she feels her mouth start to water. “Is this from Angelo’s?”

“Yeah! Mom, here have some,” he hands one to Regina, too, and Emma can barely stop herself from diving in.

“The stores here are real?”

Regina furrows her brow some. “No, most of them aren’t, however when I began shaping this I did so with the intention that your experiences would enrich the atmosphere.” She holds the pizza toward her face and inhales, her nostrils flaring a bit and Emma totally catches the way Regina’s eyes widen a bit at the smell.

And that’s pretty much a not Regina reaction, at least not one she’d let people see, but to be fair, it’s really fucking good pizza. “God, this is great,” Emma takes a giant bite of the slice and isn’t even ashamed of the small moan she makes. She missed this pizza bad.

Plus if she can focus on the food in front of her instead of the super intense conversation she just had with Regina and the weird way she needed Regina to stay, well, that’s a nice little bonus.

Henry’s chewing his pizza like it’s going to get away from him and Emma’s already a third of the way through hers and it’s weirdly quiet around them, save for the noises of the Storybrooke forest.

Regina’s just holding the slice in her hand and Henry’s tossing his plate in a trashcan near the park bench and it’s all so real even if it’s not.

“Well, kid, where do you want to go? Your mom is gonna spend the day with us here, so you can show her all the places we went when we were on our own.” Emma flinches at her own phrasing, but when she chances a side-long glance at Regina she’s smiling, and Emma breathes a bit easier.

“Sweet, I can show you where I went to school, it’s just down here.” Henry takes off like he knows exactly where he’s going, and to be fair, he does if the layout is right. Not that Emma really cares; she has a whole day ahead of her to just be and Henry is already having a good time and Regina is smiling as she bites into the pizza in her hand.

They start to walk. They don’t really have a goal in mind, their stomachs are full—Emma does not get how magical food can be so filling—so they just kind of wander.

The stores turn out to be real stores—“Why on earth would I fill a city with buildings that can’t be entered?”—and they have real people running the registers, though they all seem to look vaguely the same, like a cookie cutter person.

So they shop, and look at window dressings, and Henry fills a lot of the silences that could have fallen between them.

And Emma learns that Regina doesn’t hate shopping, but that she’s very particular about what she likes. That she has excellent taste in picking stuff out that Emma would look good in—even if Emma wouldn’t buy some of it just on the principle that she told Regina she wouldn’t and had been proven wrong—and is surprisingly go-with-the-flow.

She learns that Regina grimaces at the thought of a hot dog cart but will take hers with mustard and relish—no ketchup—and eat every last bite.

She learns that Regina doesn’t really complain about her own discomfort—after all she had not planned to spend the day walking around in heeled boots—but she’s super conscious of Henry’s and is boosting his warming spell and stopping for food before he can even really voice his concerns.

(Emma feels her own temperature warm every now and then, feels Regina lead them to a bench when Emma’s energy starts to drop and Emma starts to shift beneath her coat because all of this silent care is the opposite of her childhood, but it’s not the smothering of Mary Margaret, either. Emma warms twice over when she thinks about it.)

Emma also learns that Regina isn’t just a soft touch, but that Henry has her wrapped around his little finger. (“Those shoes are so cool, mom,” he barely murmurs before Regina’s tugged him into the store. That kid is so gonna get a car on his sixteenth birthday.)

Basically she starts to learn all this little stuff about Regina, and it just kind of makes her smile. Because they’ve spent so much time together learning the big stuff—like what they’ll do to save their child and who casts magic from what side of the villain—that getting to learn these little things about Regina is pretty much a gift on her own.

Its own. Its own. Learning this is a gift on its own because Regina is her kinda-sorta-friend, and hey it’s totally normal to want to learn things like this about your friends.

Regina smiles down at Henry trying on a silly hat, and Emma swallows. Hard.

“So, you’ve never been to New York?”

Emma’s leaning against a lamppost, looking up at the Rockefeller Center tree, a take-away cup of hot chocolate in her hands. She doesn’t really need the warmth—Regina’s heating spell is still holding—but the smell is familiar and comforting and she takes a sip every now and then.

“No,” Regina murmurs beside her, and Henry looks over from her other side.

“How come?” he asks easily.

Regina thinks for a moment. “I was unsure for a long time if I was able to cross the town line, and when I finally did it was to adopt you,” she says, and Emma has to lean forward to see her face as she brushes hair from Henry’s forehead. She’s smiling softly, warmly. Motherly.

“You didn’t know you could leave?” Emma asks without stopping to think. This feels like a heavier conversation, and the day has been so nice. It’s also the reason she thinks she’ll get an answer.

There is a bench a bit behind them, and Regina walks over to it to take a seat, Henry and Emma following wordlessly. Henry sits beside her and Emma almost does, too, before opting to take Henry’s other side instead.

She can see Regina, this way. Can see her lick her lips and cross her legs as she starts to respond. “I didn’t, no.” Clearing her throat, she adds, “I had some knowledge of the curse by being the caster, some things that I just woke up knowing. Enough for me to get through my first days here, at least.

“But most I had to discover by trial and error, in all honesty.” Emma leans forward, one hand holding her cup as the other braces on her knee.

“That’s… I can’t imagine.” She breathes out, and Regina looks up at her, a small bit of surprise at Emma’s earnest tone. Henry looks at her, too, and so she clears her throat, leans back again and shuffles her feet against the damp sidewalk.

As always, Henry bails her out. “What did you think would happen if you crossed the town line?”

Regina stills a little, and props one elbow on the back of the bench, all of her attention focused on her son. There’s a moment of hesitation before she smiles that warm smile and runs a finger down the jawline that is so quickly shedding the last of his baby fat. “I thought that whatever the risk was, you were worth it,” she settles on, and Henry beams up at her.

The moment is private and Emma suddenly feels uncomfortable, intrusive, but she can’t look away. There’s something heavy in what Regina isn’t saying, and Emma’s pretty sure it means she considered that there were fatal risks in crossing the town line.

And chose to leave, anyway.

Emma swallows thickly, but Regina’s attention is focused solely on Henry. “How come you never left after that? Once you knew you could?”

Finally Regina looks at her again and her back seems to stiffen in a different way, more defensive than shameful. She licks her lips and her eyes dart between Henry and Emma. Slowly, she pulls her arm back down from the bench.

“I was a new mother, terrified of virtually everything unknown in Henry’s life. And then, once you were older,” her lips turn down in a small grimace as she looks at him. “Well, I thought if you were out there in the real world, you would realize that Storybrooke wasn’t normal.”

The air seems to still with the admission. Emma doesn’t know what she and Henry have discussed, if they’ve discussed the curse at all. For all she knows, this is the first time Regina and Henry have talked about it openly, and Emma realizes that she’s about to crack the cup in her hand, she’s holding it so hard.

“And I did anyway,” Henry says softly, but he reaches out and takes Regina’s hand off of her knee and holds it, fingers curled tightly over hers.

Emma hasn’t had much opportunity to see how their relationship has been repaired, not when it comes to the big stuff in their past like this, and, well, she’s so grateful to be privy to this moment.

Except, the gratefulness is followed by an intense wave of guilt and shame as her actions over the past three years start to flood back: encouraging Henry’s disobedience that first year, sneaking to meet with him privately, undermining Regina in their interactions, trying to take him away, keeping him from her—

She thinks she’s going to be sick.

It should have hit her before now, she should have thought about this sooner and she has, really she has, only it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t tangible, it wasn’t the proof that they were able to fix their relationship—and easily, even? How much work had it truly taken them to get here once Henry accepted that he wanted his mom back?—and she thinks she’s going to be sick.

“Emma?” Regina prompts her, and she realizes she’s looked off to the city behind her, has broken the cup this time, and a few small drops of hot chocolate have landed on her jeans. “Are you alright?”

And fuck this because Regina is looking at her so openly, like she trusts Emma, and she really, really shouldn’t.

“Ma?” Henry pipes up, too, and Emma shakes her head, forces a smile.

“I’m fine,” she says too quickly, and Regina’s eyes narrow.

“So, what do you think? Once we can leave again, all of us on a road trip?” Henry’s smiling, the heart of the truest believer that they can lift any curse, and based on their track record, maybe he’s right.

Emma swallows, forces the thick emotion down and flicks her eyes to Regina. “The three of us, in a car together for days?” It comes out crueler than she means and so she smiles to lighten the words and it becomes real when Regina rolls her eyes playfully.

“I believe that is the definition, though you would be the expert on such things.”

Henry snorts and Emma breathes out. Regina shouldn’t trust her but she does. It makes her skin prickle and before she can censor herself she asks, “Where would we go?”

Planning like this is stupid, especially in their world, where curses and villains and snow monsters show up to derail all of your plans.

“I think I would enjoy seeing the ocean,” Regina says softly, though, and Henry nods his agreement. And, well, even if this is stupid Emma kind of loves this plan.

“I would love to take you there,” she licks her lips. “Both of you. All of us, yeah. Uh, I think that would be,” and she doesn’t really have an ending to that because it would be so many things. It could be everything.

Regina’s watching her as Henry starts to talk about ice skating, asking if they can go to the rink and Emma feels a chill run up her spine that has nothing to do with the cold.

The rink is empty, of course, and it’s for the best. Because Emma has been skating exactly once in her life, and it was way back when she was nine, invited to a birthday party—one of those kids whose mom wants to make sure all the friendless kids were included, you know?—and given a pair of rental skates with half the other kids.

Skating wasn’t terrible, because it wasn’t so common that everyone was good at it, and Emma wasn’t the only one that had fallen on her ass that day. So, yeah, she didn’t hate skating.

“This is ridiculous,” Regina grumbles beside her, hands braced on the ledge of the rink wall, keeping her upright. “What kind of imbecile would create this sport?” She spits out the words and her anger would hold a bit more weight if her feet weren’t sliding out from under her every time she moved her hips.

Emma does her best to keep the smile off of her face because this isn’t actually New York and Regina can conjure a fireball in a second. Not laughing at the former Evil Queen is probably the way to go.

Only, it’s kind of cute. Because Regina’s hair is getting in her eyes as she looks down at her feet and she keeps trying to take a step away from the wall before her skates start to glide of their own volition.

“I can hear you laughing, Miss Swan, and if you don’t stop this instant,” she hisses, but she tries to turn to face Emma and her right skate glides into the wall, sending her forward into the ledge with an oof!

And that does it. Emma bursts out laughing because this whole thing is ridiculous and absurd and endearing—remember, it’s totally a friend thing to think—and then her own skate goes out from underneath her and the next thing she knows is that her ass is freezing cold.

“You guys need help?” Henry skates up fairly smoothly—he’d gone skating a few times this past winter—and holds out a hand to help Emma up.

Her fall has only made her laugh harder though and she is maybe a little delirious from the unexpected joy of the day. So she reaches to take Henry’s hand and tugs without any intention of getting up.

He lands splayed out on the ice beside her with a loud thud—he’s growing so tall so fast—and Regina must have turned herself around because she screeches “Henry!” and manages to slide the foot or so over to him just as he flops over on his back.

And he’s laughing, too, giant smile across his face and he’s every memory she has of him as a child—not really hers—and him as a preteen out playing a pick-up game of hockey with friends—totally really hers—and it’s this beautiful moment of all of it crashing together: her life in New York, her life in Storybrooke.

“What on earth is the matter with you!” Regina’s trying to put her hands on her hips to be intimidating but she’s still wobbling like a newborn fawn—and OK, maybe Emma enjoys the fact that Regina isn’t perfect at everything just a little too much—so it’s only enough to make her feel a small twinge of guilt.

Emma’s laughter starts to taper off, and she puts her hands on the cold ice beneath her to start to stand.

And then Regina starts to slide too far and all of a sudden she’s crashing down across Henry and Emma’s legs. Emma sticks her hands out to catch her, and mindful of the sharp skates angles them down to the ice.

It could have been suave, were Emma… well, not Emma. Instead, she ends up kneeing Regina sharply in the hip, and kind of bounces her to the ice.

“Oh, god, Regina! I’m so sorry,” she scrambles to her knees as Henry does, and they’re both leaning over her checking to make sure she’s alright.

“Mom, are you OK?” Henry puts one hand on her shoulder, brows furrowed in worry.

Regina starts to grumble, but instead she lets out a long sigh and gives a small smile to her son. It’s amazing how quickly his care can soothe her. “I’m fine, Henry. Though your mother is not quite the savior she once was, it seems.”

Henry breathes out and Regina smiles more genuinely and Emma feels warmth spread through her chest. She pushes herself up as she says, “Hey, to be fair I have always said that title was wrong.”

Her words are light, she doesn’t mean anything serious by them, but Regina gets that look she sometimes does around Emma, like she’s putting pieces together that she shouldn’t be. Like she knows things, knows Emma.

“Uh, here,” she offers a hand as Henry pushes himself up and takes his mom’s elbow gently.

“Don’t do it, mom, it’s a trap,” Henry stage whispers, and Regina bares her teeth a bit.

“I think I can manage,” Regina quirks a brow and refuses the offer. Stupid kid.

“C’mon, Regina. I swear I won’t pull you down. Look, I’m standing, I’d have to fall on the ice again too, and it’s pretty flippin’ cold.”

Regina hesitates a moment longer, and then sets her gloved hand in Emma’s own and she and Henry help stabilize her on her skates.

It takes a minute, her hanging on to both of them—Emma’s pretty sure she’s squeezing Emma’s hand way harder than Henry’s, like she doesn’t want to show him her weakness and something about the fact that she’ll lean on Emma to avoid doing so makes her stomach feel far too light and her chest feel far too tight—but eventually she lets go.

“Here, mom, hang on to me,” Henry holds out his hands, and turns so he’s ready to skate backwards.

Regina seems to hesitate a moment, but then she smiles beautifully. “Are you sure you don’t mind dragging your mother around?” Her words and tone are playful and Henry laughs a bit, but Emma notices the tension that seems to pull Regina’s shoulders. Always worried her son is slipping away, growing up, growing away from her.

“Not a chance,” Henry smiles, and Emma kind of wants to buy him more presents.

They start to move on the ice, Regina’s movements still stiff and awkward, but Henry’s attention seems to have boosted her confidence, and she’s not wobbling as much. He’s moving slow and explaining how to angle her skates, and Emma realizes that she is staring at them, standing near the edge of the rink.

Her cheeks start to warm and she looks away quickly, and starts to move around herself. She picks it up fairly quickly, if she does say so herself, and if her movements just happen to take her closer to them, it’s not being needy. She’s no pro, the skates take her where they take her.

“Hey kid, I’ll take over from here,” she finds herself saying as she comes to a shaky halt by their side. “Take a couple laps, I know you’re dying to.” Regina looks up at her with this look that’s a little bit insulting but also kind of playful, so Emma smiles and holds out her hands and gives Regina what feels like a dopey smile.

“Mom?” Henry prompts, and Regina nods before dropping his hands.

“Thank you Henry, you’re a very good teacher,” she reaches out and cups his cheek for a moment, and he smiles back before heading toward the end of the large rink.

Regina watches him a moment, stable enough to stand now, and Emma drops her hands to her sides. “He’s very good,” she murmurs, as they watch their son skate fast around the edge.

“He had some friends he played hockey with occasionally,” Emma starts to move a bit, small strides, and she tries to keep her movements smooth.

“That game is barbaric,” Regina hisses, and Henry really must be a good teacher—or Regina a fast learner, not that Emma’s surprised—because she’s matching Emma’s movements and being slicker about it. Of course.

“Relax, Regina, he wasn’t in a league or anything. And it was nothing compared to Rugby.”

What?” she hisses again and this time reaches out to grip Emma’s forearm. “You let him play—” Emma presses her lips together to keep from smiling at how easy it is to rile her up, and looks over her shoulder.

Regina slides next to her, and her panic fades. “Hilarious, Miss Swan,” she says dryly, and drops Emma’s arm. When she starts to skate past her, Emma reaches out and snags her hand, and she’s not even sure of what she’s done until Regina looks back at her confused.

And Emma doesn’t really have an answer, doesn’t know why she did it, but Regina’s hand is warm beneath hers, and she curls her fingers over the side of her palm, holds her closer, and tugs herself in beside her once more.

Friends can hold hands, right?

Regina’s brows furrow, and she’s burning a hole in the side of Emma’s head, she can feel it. But she can also feel the pads of Regina’s fingers brushing over her skin, like maybe Regina isn’t all that anxious to let go.

So she doesn’t. She just skates. And she’s not graceful, her movements are stilted still, but Regina keeps pace beside her, and they just kind of lazily skate together, their son happy and smiling as he whips past.

Yeah, Emma doesn’t hate skating at all.

It’s nearly nine o’clock—far later than they should be here but none of them have mentioned it yet—and they’ve been walking around all day. Emma’s feet are killing her, and she can only imagine how Regina’s doing (but the one time she made a comment Regina had tilted her chin up and moved even faster). But despite it all, she’s warm and content and Henry is wandering in front of them with a happy—but not too happy, like he's dying to stay—smile on his face.

“The only thing we need now is snow,” she murmurs to Regina, walking beside her. Before Regina can say a word, Emma clarifies, “Snowfall.”

“You’d hear no complaints from me, dear,” Emma turns, and Regina’s smirking at her own joke. Emma kind of wants to throw a snowball at her. If only there were snow.

“You’d feel bad about it.”

“I highly doubt that.” Regina turns to look at her, hands in her pockets despite the warming spell on all of them. “You really want snow after all we went through with that woman?”

Emma shrugs. “I don’t know. We have the lights, and the,” she gestures vaguely at the Christmas displays in the store windows, “it’s just not Christmas without,” something flutters into her sight line, and when her eyes focus on it, she realizes it’s a small snowflake.

Looking up she sees fatter and fatter ones falling, graceful and slow. The snowflakes are white and thick and look fake but feel real on her skin, cold and wet and somehow it all starts to smell like Christmas.

The city lights are bright, snow is gathering on her skin, her coat, her hair. Henry is looking up at it in wonder, like he isn’t thirteen, like he isn’t too old to be impressed by anything. He’s smiling and laughing and Emma looks down to see him saying something to his mother, but Emma’s ears are rushing, she’s taking it all in.

Because snowflakes are gathering on Regina’s lashes, melting on her cheeks, and when Henry turns around she’s smiling at their son like everything is good and he moves to snuggle into her side, Regina’s arm tight around him and


Because Emma’s stomach is in knots, her heart is pounding and her breath is coming out in big bursts and she realizes how easy it would be to fall in love with this, them, their complicated little family that has fought—mostly each other—only to somehow reach this point.

How achingly easy it is between them when they’re given a chance. Her and her brave boy and his mother that does nothing but try and try and try for him and Emma’s pretty sure she does love her in some way already, just for that.

“Emma?” “Mom?”

They’re both trying to get her attention so she shakes her head, gives herself a moment, and smiles reassuringly. In a moment they’re moving again, Emma following Regina as Henry takes them both toward their New York apartment.

Henry wants to show Regina—though she must have seen pictures to be able to recreate it—and she starts to follow him up the stairs until Emma tugs on her arm, holds her back gently. “Thank you,” Emma whispers, and moves up one step until they’re facing one another.

Regina swallows, her throat moving with the motion, and Emma finds her eyes falling to the lips that part with her breath. “You’re welcome,” she says stiffly, like she doesn’t know what Emma’s going to do next.

It makes two of them.

Emma almost falls forward, taking an awkward step, and then her arms are around Regina’s neck, their bodies pressed tight with thick coats between them, and Emma says it again, the words stitching themselves into the thick collar of Regina’s coat with the force.

She means for this New York and for the real New York, and because that thank you is so overdue, she says it once more.

Regina’s stiff in her arms, but after a long moment she begins to hug Emma back, movements stilted like she doesn’t know what to do.

But then her breath is hot against the skin bared between Emma’s scarf and collar like she’s letting herself sink into her. “Thank you for taking care of him here,” she finally replies into Emma’s neck, and she doesn’t know if Regina means here as in New York, or here as in Storybrooke, but it doesn’t matter.

“It’s what we do, right?” and Regina nods carefully. Emma finally lowers her arms, her hands coming to rest on Regina’s lower back as she pulls away, and she doesn’t know who she surprises more when she leans back in to press her mouth against Regina’s.

The “hmp!” noise that Regina makes causes Emma to think it might be her. (Besides, if Emma’s being really honest today, she knew this was going to happen, at least once.)

Regina seems to get over the shock fast, her lips parting beneath Emma’s. She tastes warm and sweet and heavy like the spices from their food earlier, from the heady day. She tastes familiar, and Emma knows she’s a full-on sap, but Regina tastes like Christmas, too.

When she pulls back, Regina’s breath is warm against the chilled skin of her face, and Emma leans into her on instinct.

But Regina’s hands slide to Emma’s forearms and still her movements. And when Emma starts to pull back Regina shakes her head, loose strands of her hair catching against Emma’s scarf because they’re still so close.

She doesn’t want Emma to stop altogether, just making her pause.

And then Regina’s tilting her head back to look at Emma, really look at her closely and Emma’s shifting under the scrutiny because being beneath Regina’s stare has a way of unnerving her these days.

Like she’s going to realize the same things Emma is starting to. Things Emma’s afraid to name yet but can feel them creeping between them more and more each day.

But Regina’s eyes are soft and her fingers curl around Emma’s wrists gently, almost tentatively, and Emma has the briefest memory of Henry showing her the pages about Regina and a stable boy a few weeks ago, pages Emma had pushed away because it felt wrong, it felt like an intrusion and not homework for Operation Mongoose.

Regina leans in to kiss her, and this time it’s deep and slow and torturous. Emma digs her fingers into thick wool covering Regina’s hips and can’t help but moan against her tongue, can’t help but tug her impossibly closer.

Emma’s getting lost in it, lost in the moment and the day and the feel of Regina. But it’s all been so nice, so perfect, and when Emma feels the snowflakes start to fall harder on her cheeks, she doesn’t even care that she probably looks like she’s in a fucking romcom.

Because Regina’s lips are tilting up, she can feel her smiling against her skin, and Emma thinks again about how easy it would be to fall in love with all of this.

“Emma,” Regina pulls back, and rests her cheek against Emma’s. She’s grateful, it gives them both a moment to collect themselves to not face whatever it is that is building so quickly between them.

It’s moments like these were Regina usually shuts down and calls her Miss Swan to restore their distance.

Only, her lips are resting lazily against the sensitive flesh beneath Emma’s ear and her hands are sliding up to wrap around the curve of Emma’s shoulders.

Regina seems almost happy in her arms, and Emma’s like 90% sure it’s just pure narcissism, but she kind of doesn’t want to find out. She kind of wants to stay this way.

“Merry Christmas,” Regina whispers into her ear, her breath hot, and Emma shivers.

She really wants to stay this way.

“Merry Christmas, Regina,” she murmurs back, and then Regina is pulling away, ducking her head and gathering herself. And Emma turns around, gives her a chance because yeah, she’s feeling pretty exposed right now, too.

The apartment complex door flies open, and Henry sticks his head out. “Are you guys coming?”

“Yes, Henry,” Regina says from behind her, and when she brushes past Emma to follow their son, her fingertips brush against the small of Emma’s back.

Henry shows Regina the apartment, and Emma just kind of stands in the middle of it.

Soaks it in.

Because she missed it, misses it, truly. It had been the best year of her life, and even if she can’t return to it now that she knows her life in Storybrooke again, she thinks she wouldn’t given a choice.

It had been easy, and clean, and Regina had wrapped up their story with a nice little bow. And it had been real.

But this, her parents with their replacement child and a town of people that expect her to solve all of their problems and a pirate she might have ended up dating and her son’s mother that she kind of hopes she ends up dating.

That’s real, too. More so, even. And it’s messy and it’s kind of terrible more often than not, but she also thinks she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Not to mention keeping her memories intact for a while might do a world of good for the migraines she’s been getting these days.

“Ma?” Henry leans over the counter in their kitchen and looks at her carefully. “You OK?”

Emma leans forward on the counter and matches him. Tilts her head as she considers the thoughtful young man he almost is. “Yeah kid, I’m good. You?”

Henry shrugs. “It’s weird being back. Even if we’re not.”

Emma sees Regina come out of Henry’s bedroom, and linger back in the shadowed portion of the hallway. She clears her throat, picks at the section of the counter where she made a groove with the edge of a potato peeler. “You missing it?”

She’s asking for her and Regina, scared for both of them, for both answers.

“A little, I guess. It was nice to not have to worry about giant snowmen,” he laughs and Emma thinks he means it. Sobering, he reaches out and picks at the groove when Emma pulls back. “I was happy here. There. Then. But now,” he shrugs, “it feels kind of hollow.”

Emma knows what he means, and a part of her wants to say it’s the magic. That if they left for real New York they would be fine, could go back. Because the day is almost over and that means back to reality, the good and the bad.

But they can’t go back. So Emma looks up, over her son’s head and meets Regina’s eyes as she steps out of the hallway, hands clasped in front of her in restraint.

Emma reaches out and sets her hand on Henry’s, squeezes a bit. “Yeah, I know. I think it’s because our home is in Storybrooke, kid.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and Henry spent the morning with her and is now over at Regina’s. He’ll stay there tonight and then they’ll both come over tomorrow morning to celebrate Christmas.

And like, that’s a decent plan. She and Regina had worked it out weeks ago and it’s fine. Good. They each get their one-on-one time with the kid but also can spend time as a whole family. Which is, you know, progress all over.

But Henry’s been gone for about two hours now and Mary Margaret has been a wassailing for about as long and David is doing nothing to discourage her. And Emma is smiling and not having a terrible time but the thing is she kind of can’t stop thinking about Regina and her insanely soft lips and the way her hair brushed against Emma’s cheek and the way her fingers pressed into the small of her back and

“Emma? Honey, will you help me with this tray?” Emma shakes herself out of it because she’s a grown woman who can certainly stop thinking about another grown woman while she’s celebrating Christmas Eve with her parents, right?

So Emma does and she helps her mother carry out cookies and hot chocolate and she watches cheesy movies and snuggles her baby brother but his smell just reminds her of her memories of Henry and then she’s pretty much gone again. Her mind is with the rest of her family at 108 Mifflin street and before she can really think about it her phone is in her hands.

What are you doing?

She stares at her phone and the response is so fast Emma wonders if Regina is missing her too. She opens it.

I didn’t disrupt your time with our son.

Emma’s cheeks color and she licks her lips, embarrassed. But her parents are snuggled on the couch not paying attention to her. Phew.

Sorry. Have fun.

Emma sets her phone down beside her and feels her heart begin to pound a bit harder when the phone buzzes.

We’re wrapping the last of Henry’s presents. Which you could have done with him earlier this week.

And, OK, Emma’s smiling like an idiot. There’s no denying it. Her parents are watching a Miracle on 34th Street and so she doesn’t even try to stop.

You’ll take that back when you see how my own turned out.

I have my suspicions as to how they look.

They’re not suspicions, I just said they look like shit.

The response isn’t immediate. Emma worries her lip.  Starts to clench her jaw, looks back at the TV. Looks down at her phone. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Goodbye, Miss Swan. I will see you tomorrow

Emma licks her lips again as the goodbye message sends, and then sends another.

I had a really good time yesterday.

After a few seconds, her phone buzzes once more.

Likewise, Emma.

Emma doesn’t know what to expect on Christmas. Because—among other intimacies that had shifted the relationship—Emma had kissed Regina. Like, really kissed her. Enough that Emma’s lips had tingled for an hour afterward, and the thought of Regina’s waist beneath her fingers had stained Emma’s cheeks with a blush.

And being away from her the day after had kind of mellowed her. Let her regroup so she wasn’t acting like a teenager. Which was good. Better. She doesn’t want to be awkward and overeager and really she had no idea where they were going—if anywhere—and Emma wasn’t the type to worry about “where they were going” anyway.

So, she gets up that morning and tries to interact with her parents and her brother and not be a giant bundle of nerves but she’s not entirely sure she succeeds.

Mary Margaret has been eyeing her strangely all morning, so she’s pretty sure she doesn’t.

Henry and Regina show up at 11 in the morning like Mary Margaret asked, and Emma’s pretending to play a game on her phone when Regina knocks.

Emma sort of drops the phone and slips off of the kitchen stool she was on and maybe her socked feet slide with the force. Not that she’s eager.

She opens the door and Henry’s got heavy new gloves on, his arms are weighed down with packages. Regina stands behind him in the doorway, gift bags held in one hand and a small pile of boxes in her other, and Emma just kind of freezes.

Because this is it, she’s about to spend the holiday with her family, her entire family, for the first time in her life. And Henry is so big but looks so young with his face still lit up in wonder and Regina’s face holds a trace of discomfort that she’s trying to mask. Her lips are pressed tight together, her hair falling gracefully over her shoulders, and her white scarf tucked beneath her chin. Regina’s jaw ticks, and she shifts her weight between her feet as she looks at Emma carefully.

She’s not as good at hiding those emotions, at hiding her vulnerability, as she was three years ago, and Emma’s stomach flops over on itself. Because she’s not sure if she’s worthy of it—actually, she’s pretty certain she’s not—but Regina trusts her (and her parents, surprisingly) enough to bare herself this way around them. And it, well, it’s pretty intoxicating.

“Mom got me an iPad!” Henry shouts out, and brushes past her into the apartment.

Emma’s fingers are hard on the side of the door as she turns to watch Henry move toward the empty corner of the kitchen table and awkwardly set all the packages down. “Merry Christmas to you, too, kid,” Emma teases. “She did, huh?”

When she turns back to look at Regina she’s taking a small step into the apartment, her heels clicking on the hardwood floors. “You’re one lucky kid, Henry,” she adds, and holds out her hands to help Regina with her gifts.

She reluctantly passes over the stack in her arms, and Emma takes it to set down on the kitchen counter because their apartment has basically been a workshop for the past month and there are virtually no uncovered surfaces left.

Regina shuts the door with a click and follows, setting the gift bags down too before she starts unwinding her scarf.

“Here,” Emma blurts out when Regina undoes the buttons on her coat, and Regina looks up in surprise, brows furrowing in a way that tells Emma she did in fact sound as crazy as she thought she did when she squeaked that out. But whatever, she’s going for it, and in one smooth move she’s tugging Regina’s coat from her shoulders.

And maybe sorta making more contact with Regina’s arms than strictly necessary. She’s standing close, too, and she catches a whiff of that rich warm scent Regina has when she pretends to brush something off the back of Regina’s sweater.

And Regina maybe sorta shivers at the touch in a way that makes Emma’s throat thick.

Because they kissed two nights ago, and not just kissed, they fucking melted into one another and it was nothing but soft sighs and fingertip bruises and warm breath.

Emma shivers a little, too.

“See?!” Henry sticks his new toy in front of her face, right between her and the back of Regina’s head, and Emma jumps back a bit.

“That’s pretty cool, kid, you should show your grandparents,” she directs, and walks toward the coatrack back by the door.

Henry pretty much runs up the stairs where Mary Margaret has been storing some of her Christmas overflow, and Emma tries to breath when she hears Regina click click clicking behind her.

For a minute she thinks Regina’s going to make a move, to start this thing between them again, and when she doesn’t Emma just hangs the coat and turns around.

And Regina hasn’t touched her but when she catches the glimmer in her eyes she might as fucking well have.

“Merry Christmas, Regina,” she gulps out, suddenly all of thirteen again.

“Merry Christmas, Emma,” she replies, completely appropriately in a way that makes Emma feel completely inappropriate.

Maybe that’s just Emma.

Regina licks her lips.

Correction: Maybe that’s just Emma around Regina.

Emma ends up sitting beside Regina for lunch and she’s grateful for it. Mostly because she can’t see her. And if she can’t stare at Regina, she can’t get caught staring at Regina. Emma’s pretty proud that she thought that through.

“Did you have a good Christmas Eve, Henry?” Mary Margaret asks once they’ve all passed around the serving dishes and are digging in.

Henry starts to tell his grandmother about his time with his mom and Emma’s kind of listening but she’s also kind of in love with the potatoes Mary Margaret made and then Emma’s kind of tuning out because Regina’s fingertips just grazed her thigh.

Emma’s a professional in stuff like this—remaining calm and having a poker face, not in beautiful women feeling her up under the table—so she doesn’t scream or jump or anything.

She does, however, choke on those awesome potatoes.

Everyone looks at her quickly and Emma shakes her head and reaches for the glass in front of her, swallowing. She covers her mouth and gives an embarrassed sort of laugh. “It was too good, I think,” because if anything is going to end the concerned eyes it’s fluffing her mother’s ego.

It works and David asks about his Christmas last year and Emma feels Regina’s finger brush her thigh again.

She’s not sure if it’s because Regina really doesn’t want to ruin this day by thinking about the Christmases she hasn’t been with Henry, or because Regina is—a little bit surprisingly—flirtatious, but before she can retreat again, Emma grabs her hand and tangles their fingers together.

The moment gives them both pause and Emma can’t stop herself from looking over at Regina, fork poised over the beef on her plate.

She squeezes her fingers a little.

Regina tries to pull her hand back, but when Emma doesn’t immediately drop her fingers, Regina stills.

And squeezes back before tugging more firmly and resting her wrist on the edge of the table.

After dinner they go to the living room area and Emma sits on one end of the couch, Henry beside her, and David on the other end. Mary Margaret takes one of the easy chairs across from it—the less comfortable one because Regina is her guest and despite (or maybe because of) their super complicated past, Mary Margaret wouldn’t dream of giving her the bad one—and Regina takes the one closer to Emma.

Which, of course, means eye contact.

And it’s not like Emma doesn’t want to make eye contact or can’t, it’s more like she feels bare when she looks at Regina now. Emotion isn’t Emma’s strong suit to begin with, and somehow having to look at Regina after their day together and whatever is happening between them, she’s just kind of nervous.

Her palms are a bit clammy. And it’s gross. Because Regina is elegant and sophisticated and Emma doesn’t want to put her sweaty palms on the deep red silk on Regina’s waist but also she really wants to put her palms on the deep red silk on Regina’s waist.

Among other things.

Henry starts passing out gifts—the youngest has to be the runner, sorry kid—and when he walks between her and Regina and her sight line is disrupted she realizes that she is just straight up staring at her.

Subtle like a chainsaw, it still rings true.

Henry hands a gift to each of them and Regina sort of freezes when she looks at the small box in her hand. It’s from Mary Margaret, Emma had seen the tag earlier, but she has no idea what’s inside.

She’s been too nervous to ask. Partly because she’s sometimes chicken shit and doesn’t want to deal with it if it’s bad, and partly because Mary Margaret’s newfound support for Regina makes Emma weirdly nervous.

David starts since Regina is just kind of running her thumb over the corner of the box, and it’s this really nice lined flannel shirt that David gushes over. Regina doesn’t blush when he thanks her for it, but she nods stiffly and gets this shy look and tells Henry to go next.

It’s one of Emma’s gifts, a new game he’s wanted, and then Emma opens her gift from David and it’s a hand crafted leather holster for her belt and it’s beautiful.

And then Mary Margaret pulls her package closer to her on her lap. “It’s from Regina,” she says softly, and this is the moment of truth.

Sworn enemies, exchanging Christmas gifts.

“Why don’t you go first,” Mary Margaret offers, hands settling firmly on the top of the box in her lap.

Regina purses her lips and eyes her carefully. “No dear, I insist.”

And it’s this weird showdown in front of her. Eventually, Mary Margaret nods. “Alright,” and she pulls a beautiful green velvet ribbon off of the wrapping. (It’s catalogue gorgeous, of course, because who would expect less from Regina?)

Snow lifts the box cover off when it’s unwrapped and


Her eyes are wide and her mouth drops into a shocked “Oh.” And then: “Oh. Regina,” she’s murmuring, and looking over at her as she sets the box top between her hip and the chair. “These are,” and she’s tearing up.

And the wait is starting to kill Emma. “What is it, Snow?” David asks, and Emma is so her father’s daughter sometimes.

“I made Henry a pair when he was a baby,” Regina says slowly, like she’s working very hard to remain emotionless about it.

And the it turns out to be a pair of the most beautiful hand-sewn silk baby booties Emma could imagine.

“Regina, I don’t know what to say,” she’s gaping at her, and Emma is kind of speechless, too. Because Regina spending that much effort on a gift for Mary Margaret is just

Well, Emma thinks maybe her mother wasn’t so terribly off when she pushed for that picnic after all.

Mary Margaret sets the gift down and scoots to the end of her chair to stand.

“Don’t push it,” Regina warns, and holds up a hand to stop Mary Margaret’s impending hug.

Thankfully, she doesn’t.

Pursing her lips, Regina instead focuses on her own gift, and starts to unwrap it carefully. Her movements are stilted, like she’s afraid to open the present and Emma doesn’t blame her.

This is going to determine how things are, she’s pretty sure. And that’s kinda heavy. Regina gets the paper off and, OK, that’s kind of weird, right?

It’s a jewelry box. Her mother is giving Regina jewelry?

Emma looks over at David and he’s got one hand on the back of Henry’s neck, squeezing it gently as Henry reads the back cover of the game he just opened. David doesn’t look worried, just kind of mildly interested, his eyes flitting between Regina and Mary Margaret every now and then.

She figures it’s a good sign because that means he knows what it is and it’s probably nothing bad. Because between him and Snow, surely they would be able to figure out if something wasn’t appropriate.

Emma licks her lips. Because that thought is so stupid and she’s pretty sure she’s the most nervous one in the room now.

Regina cracks open the hinged box and she’s either doing an impressive impression of Mary Margaret from a few minutes ago, or her mom did something pretty right.

“It’s,” Regina licks her lips slowly, and brushes her thumb over something Emma can’t see. Argh. Aren’t you supposed to display the gift for everyone to see or something?

“Beautiful,” she finally finishes and Emma thinks theres a good chance she exhaled half her bodyweight when she heard it.

Mary Margaret is smiling stupidly and she’s got an obnoxiously large grin on her face. “I knew you’d like it,” she says, and Regina must really like the present because she doesn’t say a word. “It’s a shooting star,” she adds, and Regina lifts it free from the velvet stand.

And wow, her mom really did do a good job because it is gorgeous. The chain is silver, and transitions seamlessly into thicker plating that tapers into a small star with diamonds on the points by the plating. It catches the light and it kind of does look like it’s shooting, the stones giving it movement and her mom did really good.

Regina doesn’t even hesitate much when she puts it on, and Emma kind of wishes she had gotten up to offer to do it. But Regina’s more than capable and she tugs her hair free and the necklace rests against the slope of her upper chest, asymmetrical and simple but breathtaking.

And wow. Her mom got a better present than she did and she’s the one that might be someday dating Regina. Hopefully? Hopefully.

Regina eyes Mary Margaret carefully when she scoots forward again, but doesn’t stop her from reaching across the end table between them to squeeze Regina’s hand. “I thought it might help you find your happy ending. To wish on a shooting star.”

Her eyes are all dreamy and big and she’s exactly her Disney counterpart in this moment. Regina’s smile is a bit stiffer, but she sounds genuine when she nods once and says, “Thank you, Snow.”

It really does set the mood for the night. Because apparently this whole family thing? Yeah, they can do it after all.

It’s not easy and there’s bitching and griping and Regina shoots her a glare when Henry opens a video game they had agreed was probably not age appropriate yet—the kid’s lived through how many curses now? Emma figures he can handle some gratuitous violence—and David makes a joke about Zelena and family and it’s still a bit fresh for Regina.

Those things considered, from what Emma’s learned in Christmas specials and movies, it’s actually kind of pleasant for a family gathering.

They do a few more rounds of gifts and Emma drinks a little too much eggnog and so when she gets a box from Regina that holds a really nice winter wear set Emma had eyed window shopping the other day, she maybe gets weirdly emotional about it.

But she sets her cup down and tugs the hat on and slips her fingers into the gloves and winds the scarf around her neck once, twice, and tucks it under her chin. And she’s warm. Warm like she’d been in the middle of the cold Maine air two days ago, surrounded by her son and his mother and a world that was all their own.

And the set is nice but it’s the realization that Regina noticed that really makes her ears burn.

They’re nearing the end when Henry finally hands Regina one that reads from Emma.

She starts to worry her lip. Because she hadn’t been able to do better than the journal. She’d made another loop around the stores yesterday after dropping Henry at Regina’s before giving up for a second time and coming home.

Where she’d watched Christmas movies and listened to her mother hum and her father struggle with wrapping the last of his gifts. She’d sprawled out on the couch and wracked her brain, even more desperate than before to not fuck it up.


So instead she’d dragged the journal out and put it in a plain box with red and green tissue and wrapped it as nicely as possible because it kept her fingers busy and her mind a bit quiet.

Regina takes it from their son and quirks a brow at the tag and gives Emma a little tilt of a smile and Emma’s pretty much a goner.

Like she hadn’t been already.

Emma’s not sure if it’s silent or if her ears are rushing again as she watches Regina tug it open—she’s had a few glasses of wine and is a little bit of a child when she rips open the paper—and her brows furrow when she looks down at the journal nestled in the tissue paper.

She lifts it free and opens the page and sees that it’s blank.

“It’s a journal,” Emma says.

Regina nods, and sets it down in the box gently. “It’s lovely, Emma, thank you.” She smiles, and it’s not fake but it’s simple, and Emma knows she doesn’t get it.

And really, how could she not, with Emma’s flawless explanation. So she clears her throat, pushes herself off the couch a bit until her ass is barely resting on the edge. Holds out a hand like she’s stopping Regina, trying to catch her before she writes Emma’s gift off.

“I uh, it’s for you.” God damn it, Swan. She licks her lips. “For Operation Mongoose.” Henry perks up beside her but she ignores him, has to keep going. “In case we can’t find the author, or maybe even if we can. I think you should use it. You should write your own happy ending.”

Regina’s eyes slip back to the journal in her lap and this time reaches for it like it’s five times heavier than it is.

“Oh,” she says, and it’s frustratingly short because Emma can’t tell if that’s a good noise or a bad one and Regina’s brows are furrowed again, her shoulders are tense, and she bares her teeth a little.

And, shit. Emma fucked up. Regina’s posture is stiff and she’s staring at the book in her lap like Emma just gave her a problem, not a present. Which, OK, Emma’s fairly new to the gift-giving thing but she is positive that’s not the reaction you’re looking for.

“That’s,” Regina sucks in a breath. “Thank you.”

Everything stills, until David claps his hands and says they should watch a movie and stands to collect the trash littering the front room.

Henry starts to talk to him about what they’re going to watch and Emma can’t move her eyes off of Regina in front of her. She hasn’t boxed up the journal yet, but Emma thinks she might want to.

“Emma, honey?” her mother is trying to get her attention and when she turns to look at her she grinds her jaw a little. “Would you get me some tea?”

“Uh,” Emma starts, confused, and before she can respond Regina is offering to do it, and makes a beeline for the kitchen. Which just shows how much she’s fucked up because Regina is offering to get Snow White tea?

Emma pushes her hand flat against her stomach and rubs at the embarrassment she feels settle there. She watches as Regina sets the box down—gently, Emma notes—and heads into the kitchen to fill the kettle sitting on the stove.

When she looks away, back at her mother, Mary Margaret is watching her closely, and it’s a weird mix of pity and something similar, but softer; something motherly.

“I’m really bad at giving gifts,” she kind of laughs off, and Mary Margaret’s eyes narrow slightly at the comment. She looks like she’s about to say something, but the words are too heavy and so she just leans back in her chair and licks her lips.

“Hmm,” she murmurs, and it’s infuriating suddenly, because it sounds somehow superior, like Mary Margaret knows something she doesn’t, something she should. “Will you tell Regina I’d like some of the black tea in the back of the cupboard, please?”

And Mary Margaret can’t tell her herself, why? She’s had a baby and everyone has been catering to her and everything but at the very least she could just raise her voice a bit because there are no walls in this fucking apartment.

Oh. Mary Margaret turns toward the TV pretty pointedly, and Emma thinks maybe she’s giving Emma a chance to talk to Regina in private.

And, hey, Mary Margaret has never even opened that package of black tea.

Emma feels kind of bad for getting frustrated with her mom so easily but she also kind of likes the way that Mary Margaret doesn’t seem to hold it against her and so she lets it go and stands to move over to the counter.

Regina’s back is to her and she moves around the kitchen with a weird sense of familiarity.

“Hey,” Emma says.

Regina pauses in her movements, but her posture is fairly normal. So Emma’s not making her too uncomfortable, she thinks.

Regina tilts her head a bit to the side and looks over her shoulder. “Hey,” she replies, and there is no mocking this time.

“Look, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable,” Emma starts, and places her palms flat on the counter in front of her. “If—”

“No,” Regina cuts her off a little forcefully, and once she has the kettle on the burner of the stove, she turns to face Emma. Comes to stand beside her at the island. She takes a deep breath and Emma thinks this might be the most vulnerable she’s ever seen Regina.

And that’s, woah. Unexpected. But not necessarily unwelcome.

“No,” Regina repeats, softer, and gives a watery smile Emma’s way. “Well, I suppose it made me—makes me—a bit uncomfortable but,” she kind of trails off, and Emma lifts a hand. She rests her fingertips lightly on the back of Regina’s wrist.

“In a not-so-bad way?” She asks hopefully. And maybe she gives Regina a crooked smile because she’s kind of aware of how charming that usually is.

Regina rolls her eyes, but she presses her wrist into Emma more. “It’s a rather intense topic to think about, my ‘happy ending’,” she sounds a little embarrassed when she says it. “As well as the concept of choice. Of being allowed to choose my own ending.”

Emma waits, not sure what Regina means about choice, though she’s had her suspicions about Regina’s autonomy in Rumplestiltskin’s plans. Not sure how to respond. Not sure if she’s supposed to.

Regina eyes her carefully, and after glancing over at the movie starting in the other room, she takes a step into Emma. Licking her lips, she glances down at Emma’s own. “But yes, in a not-so-bad way.”

Emma’s eyes slip to her lips, and it’s totally not her fault, not when Regina smirks like that, skin glistening in the light. Regina’s breath catches. Emma swallows.

Everything is still between them, but teetering, like one small breeze could topple the moment they’ve formed here.

Or, the blaring sounds of the TV in the living room area. (They probably should have done this at Regina’s where she has lots and lots of walls.) Regina pulls back first, but her fingers slide against the rough denim on Emma’s hip before she walks over to pour Snow’s mug of tea.

How far they’ve all come, right?

Emma turns to look over at the TV, see what they’re watching, but instead she sees David, leaning over the arm of Snow’s chair and whispering to her while looking at the kitchen. At her. At her and Regina.

Oh god. Her stomach starts to churn a little because they were having such a nice night and now she screwed it up with her stupid puppy dog looks at Regina.

David starts to walk over as Regina steeps the tea bag, and Emma braces for the worst.

“Hey, uh, Emma, why don’t you and Regina take the trash down to the chute while I try and get the movie going.”


“What?” She asks, and Regina quirks a brow at him as well. He shifts, awkward, and rubs the back of his neck with a free hand while he holds out the half-filled bag of wrapping with the other.

“Take this, and the one in the can, please?” His eyes dart between her and Regina and Emma knows Mary Margaret told him to do this.

Emma doesn’t exactly want to examine the why of her mother’s meddling, and so she takes the proffered bag and hands it to Regina before pulling the trash can to her and tugging the mostly empty bag loose.

“I’ll take that,” David gestures to the mug of tea and ducks away to head back to his wife and Emma just ties the trash bag and walks to the door, hoping Regina follows.

She steps across the threshold and doesn’t hear the heavy apartment door immediately slam as Regina walks through behind her.

The chute is just down the small set of stairs and so Emma takes quick steps down until she’s throwing the bag down and holding it open for Regina.

Only, she just stands there a moment, facing Emma. “What on earth is going on with them?” And Emma kind of considers it a Christmas miracle that Regina doesn’t call them idiots. “They’re acting more idiotic than usual.”

Yeah, that’s about right.

Emma shifts and Regina lifts her bag stuff with wrapping paper that weighs less than a pillow. “Uh, too much eggnog?” she kind of jokes because neither of them have been drinking and Regina rolls her eyes as she drops the bag down the chute.

Emma lets the metal door clang shut and Regina tugs at the ends of her sleeves before she flicks her hair out of her eyes and turns back to face the apartment. “Perhaps it’s time I left for the night,” she nods like she’s made up her mind, and Emma bites at her lips to stop the no! she can feel behind her teeth. “After all, this afternoon has not been completely unpleasant and it’s best we quit while we’re ahead.”

“Or,” Emma shuffles, and slips her hands into her back pockets to keep from pulling Regina to her. “You could stay a little longer? For the movie,” she shrugs.

Regina turns her head toward Emma, dark brown eyes glittering a bit under the hallway lights, and her lips part slowly. She doesn’t say anything immediately, just kind of watches Emma closely, and then her teeth are bared as she concedes, “I suppose we can make it through another hour and a half.”

Emma can’t help it, she breathes out a smile of relief because she hasn’t screwed this up, she hasn’t scared Regina off.

Regina seems looser, too, like some of the pressure is off again and Emma will never say this out loud—she’s an idiot but not a complete moron, you know—but she thinks that Regina maybe almost likes being with Snow and David, these days.

They’ve come so far all of them, but Emma thinks about how far she and Regina have come, specifically. Everything Regina has done for her, to give her, despite how Emma had acted those first days in town.

And Emma doesn’t feel worthy but she wants to kiss Regina again.

“What?” Regina questions, brows furrowed as Emma stares at her, and Regina must not catch the want that Emma is pretty sure is plain on her face because when she steps forward, too close to Regina, Regina sucks in a breath.

Emma waits, gives her a moment to see if this is OK, and Regina puts her hands on Emma’s elbows and pulls her closer until they’re touching, until Emma’s hands settle on Regina’s waist and their lips are pressed together again.

And oh god, Emma is pretty sure she’ll never get enough of this. Of Regina on and around her, of the way her delicate fingers curve into the dip of Emma’s spine and her shoulders bump against Emma’s chest because she’s so small, so much smaller than a woman this big should be.

And she’ll never get enough of the small sigh Regina releases, muffled by their lips, the sigh Emma thought might have been surprise back in the woods but apparently is satisfaction and fuck because that just makes Emma think about what kinds of other sounds of satisfaction she might make.

And then Emma has Regina pinned to the brick wall beside the trash shoot, fifteen feet from her apartment, her parents, and their son. Because apparently making out in front of apartments? Kind of their thing.

Regina’s tongue teases at Emma’s barely parted lips and she pushes forward, her hips pressing against Regina’s firm but gentle.

OK, maybe Emma doesn’t hate that it’s their thing.

The brick is kind of hard on Emma’s knuckles when she wraps one hand firm around the silk at Regina’s waist and the other the back of her head. But she also kind of doesn’t care, because Regina’s mouth is so pliant beneath hers but her fingers are giving as good as she gets when they slip up to dig into the skin at Emma’s neck and down to the sliver bared from her short sweater.

Emma’s hand slides from Regina’s waist down to the end of her skirt and she pushes up, just a little. She’s testing her limits because in a way this has been building for three and a half years and in another it’s barely been three days and she doesn’t want to push but

Regina shifts against the wall and spreads her legs, the hand at Emma’s waist slipping away to push up at her skirt from the other leg.

Emma,” Regina moans, and Emma knows that if she wasn’t so wet already, she would be. And she wants—needs—to know if Regina is too so she slips her hand over Regina’s taut thigh and bites her lip when she hits the top of Regina’s stocking.

Christ. Emma can only imagine what she looks like under the tight skirt and silk blouse and she pulls back to take Regina in as she is, now.

Regina’s head is tipped back against the wall and her blouse is askew enough that Emma can see red lace peeking beneath it and Regina’s hair is mussed from snagging on the rough wall behind her.

And fuck. Emma really is a goner.

“Emma?” she hears Mary Margaret call from behind their apartment door, and Emma can barely help Regina tug her skirt down and lean away before the door opens slowly.

Like, suspiciously slowly. And then Mary Margaret holds the door to the side carefully, so that none of the rest of the apartment is visible. Or maybe so they’re not visible to the rest of the apartment.

Thanks, mom?

Mary Margaret clears her throat and looks at them with a very careful expression. “You two should come back and join us for a while.” And then she shuts the door. Like she’s giving Emma, giving both of them a moment to regroup.

And holy shit. Her mom totally knows what she was doing with Regina. Knows how she feels about Regina, even?

“I will say that has been the most subtle she’s been in years,” Regina says dryly, because of course she’s figured it out, too. She wipes at the corners of her mouth and smooths down her hair.

Emma just wants to tangle her fingers in it, mess it up again.

Instead she pushes her own hair back, tugs at her shirt and clears her throat. “Yeah, I, uh, don’t really know what’s going on with her,” Emma bites her lip, and does her best not to smirk when Regina zeros in on the action.

Regina murmurs likes she’s not convinced, but allows Emma to gently guide her into the apartment with a hand to her lower back. A hand that catches the way her silk shirt is bunch a bit at the waist. So Emma quickly tucks the fabric into the band as she turns the doorknob with her other hand and does her best not to notice the way Regina shivers the smallest bit under Emma’s touch.

They get back into the apartment and Emma drops her hand (reluctantly) and Regina steps away from her side (also reluctantly, if Emma’s not imagining it) and they walk back into the living room acting like they hadn’t just been about two minutes from Emma sinking into the slick heat between Regina’s thighs.

Emma swallows hard and yeah, maybe she shouldn’t think about it because it only makes her cheeks flame and her belly flop and her breath catch.

“Hey, we’re watching the Santa Clause,” Henry tells them, and scoots on the couch until he’s smack dab in the middle, leaving a place for either of his mothers at his side. (David has moved to Regina’s chair and he’s not looking at either of them and this is just weird.)

“Awesome,” Emma says, ruffling Henry’s hair as she rounds the back of the chair to take the couch corner, and tucking her feet beneath her. Regina follows, her movements far more regal as she crosses her ankles and rests one elbow on the arm of the couch.

The movie starts and Snow passes a bowl of popcorn over to them and they all just kind of settle. The TV takes a bit of the pressure off of all of them to say the right thing and navigate spending time together, and Emma realizes that maybe things can be easy here, too.

Not the way they’d been—she can’t go back, and even if she could she knows now with certainly that she wouldn’t—but a different kind of easy. She’ll take moments like this, all of them sitting in a warm living room and gently laughing, her son leaned back against her bent legs and a blanket her mom had knit draped over her shoulders.

She’ll take moments of her dad doing a lame Tim Allen impression and her mom patting his hand and Regina smiling (barely, but it totally counts) when she thinks Emma doesn’t notice.

By the end of the movie she’s warm and comfortable and thinks she could fall asleep, even though it’s barely 7.

The credits finish and there’s a pause while they all try and figure out what happens next.

“I think it’s time Henry and I get home,” Regina says slowly, standing from the couch and rolling her neck a bit.

Emma tries not to watch the graceful movement and fails pretty stupendously.

“Oh,” Snow says, and she’s doing nothing to hide her disappointment. David stands up and squeezes her shoulder, though, and she relaxes a bit, smiles up at Regina. “Yes, I suppose it is getting a bit late.”

David runs his hand over the back of her head and even though it’s her parents and super gross, Emma can’t help but smile sweetly at the action.

Regina directs Henry to gather his gifts, and Emma can hear Regina offering to help tidy the living room or something but mostly she’s just sitting there stupidly while her family moves around her.

It really is getting late and they’ve been together way longer than Emma would have thought possible, and so she shouldn’t be this greedy but she is. Because she’s never had this, this comfort and warmth and family before and considering how things generally are in Storybrooke, there’s a good chance they’ll never have it again.

So, OK, she’s gonna let herself be a little greedy, let herself pout a little because it’s over.

“Hey, Emma?” David gets her attention and points to one of the empty boxes by the door. “Grab that for their stuff?”

“Yeah,” she nods, and gets the box, helps Henry stack his new games and books and clothes and holy shit they totally went overboard spoiling this kid. “Jesus, kid, next year you’re getting gift cards,” she says with a dramatic oof as she lifts the box and stands.

Regina shoots her a quirked eyebrow from the other side of the couch and yeah, maybe half of the contents of the box were from her. But still.

“Emma, why don’t you help them home,” Snow suggests, rounding the easy chair to lift Neal out of his bassinet as he starts to fuss.

Emma just kind of stares at Mary Margaret for a moment because it really doesn’t make sense; Regina drove her Benz which is a two-seater, meaning they’d have to take her Bug, meaning the Benz would be left here and there is pretty much no need for that considering they really don’t have all that much to take home and it’s not like Regina has been drinking for the last several hours (whereas Emma just touched down on sober halfway through the movie).

But Regina hesitates as she’s reaching for her coat and Emma gets the smallest flutter of hope because she’s waiting for Emma to answer.

And Emma kind of wants to answer yes. Logistics nightmare and all.

“Yeah,” Henry decides, hand braced on the brick wall as he tugs on one of his boots. “You can play GTA with me,” he smiles, and how can Emma say no to that?

So she licks her lips and looks at Regina because she really isn’t ready for this to be over and she doesn’t want to push but she thinks the puppy dog pout she gives isn’t really pushing. Not a woman like Regina, surely.

Regina sighs dramatically like having Emma come home with them is the worst thing ever, and it’s 100% show because no one believes it anymore. “I suppose since you bought him that game you should be the one to monitor its use.”

And Emma can’t help but smile because what a lame cover.

Henry finishes getting his winter gear on and Regina follows Mary Margaret into the kitchen where she politely declines taking leftovers home and then the next thing Emma knows her mother is hugging Regina.

Regina’s shoulders are stiff, her arms are held out a bit to the side, and Emma would bet about a hundred bucks that there is a prominent sneer on her lips. So she tugs Regina’s coat from the rack and rushes over, holding it out with a, “We should go before the kid overheats.” Mary Margaret reluctantly lets go, and right before she does Emma can see Regina’s shoulders relax, her hands rest briefly on the thick wool sweater Mary Margaret wears.

Regina turns and slips her arms into the coat so that Emma can help slip it on, and if asked why she slipped her hand to the nape of Regina’s neck to brush her hair free, Emma would blame it on lingering effects of the egg nog she’d had hours ago. 

Emma grabs the box of their presents and Regina grabs a small bag with the rest of the gifts and Emma snags her keys from the hook by the door as Henry opens it for them. Nodding is the best she can do with her hands full, so Emma gestures for Regina to go through first, and starts to follow.

“Emma, honey?” Mary Margaret stops her, voice low, and she steps closer so Emma’s the only one that can hear as she adds, “If you would rather spend the rest of Christmas with Henry and Regina, that’s fine.”

Mary Margaret gives her a pointed look with the sentiment and

Oh. Oh god. Because that’s why she’s been acting so strangely all night, why she’s been looking at Emma like she knew.

Because she fucking knew.

David walks up beside her and gives Emma this dopey, sort of uncomfortable smile, and he knows, too.

Thankfully, that’s when Henry starts calling for her from the landing down the first few stairs—by the garbage chute where she’d made out with his mother, whoops—and Regina pipes up right after him with “ I’m sure your car will take several minutes to warm up.”

Emma doesn’t really know how to respond to what her parents are implying, so she just gestures to her full arms with the box and says she’ll be home later.

And tries not to think about when later will be.

Regina’s standing by the door, holding it open since Emma’s hands are full and it’s the dumbest fucking thing but Emma blushes when she walks past her.

She hopes Regina doesn’t notice—no need to show all of her cards so soon, right?—but judging by the smirk she does little to hide, Emma thinks she does.

Henry holds the door for both of them, since he’s the first one outside—what a little gentleman he’s becoming—and then Emma props the box on one hip as she digs her keys from her coat pocket. It’s not freezing but it’s definitely cold, and her fingers grip the key tight as she opens the passenger door for Henry.

He knows the drill and he’s flipping the seat over and scooting into the back as Emma drops the way too heavy box into her trunk before shutting it gently (her baby can’t take too much these days).

Regina grimaces a little like she always does when she gets in the bug, but she lets Emma close the door gently once she and Henry are in.

Emma slips behind the wheel and turns on the heat and then they wait. Because yeah, maybe her car does take several minutes to warm up.

The car is silent for a while, just the loud hum of the engine, and it’s not exactly uncomfortable, but it does allow Emma time to think, and that isn’t really her favorite thing. Not when her son and his mother-slash-her-maybe-girlfriend? are sitting in the car with her and she doesn’t really know how the rest of the night is going to play out.

The other day spending time in their New York was pretty much the only time they’d spent an extended period just the three of them (without any major crisis in the recent past or future). And it had been pretty great, but if Emma could count on one thing, it was that nothing was great for too long at once.

So, rather than continue down the—incredibly depressing and anxiety-provoking—line of thought, Emma pushes in the tape sticking half out—it's an old car, shut up—and lets Axl Rose fill the silence.

“Ma, it’s Christmas,” Henry kind of laughs, and Emma leans back against her seat to look at him.

“‘s never the wrong time to rock, kid.” Regina scoffs, but when Emma looks over she seems relaxed, so Emma just taps along on her steering wheel.

Once the car is finally heated up, Emma pulls away from the curb to take them home, the streets all but empty. The driveway is empty without Regina’s Benz, and so Emma pulls all the way up to the top and kills the engine.

Regina is opening her door and out by the time Emma rounds the car, so instead she circles back to the trunk to get Henry’s stuff, and nudges Henry’s shoulder to get him to take his mom’s bags and free her up to open the door.

Arms full in the entryway of Regina’s house, Emma starts to feel out of place, watching as Henry kicks off his shoes, and Regina sets her purse down on the side table near the door.

“You can set that down on the coffee table,” Regina gestures into the living room, and Emma wipes her boots—best she could do with full hands—before crossing into the sitting area.

“Ice cream?” Emma hears Henry ask—and could hear the puppy dog eyes—from the other room, followed by a muffled response from Regina—she caved, obviously—and then thudding as Henry runs into the kitchen.

She sets the box down and then starts to unzip her coat before hesitating; should she stay? Henry asked to play a game, but he was already on to something else, maybe—

“Is everything alright?” Regina asks, standing in the doorway. Her brows are slightly furrowed, but her tone is even, her words careful.

Like maybe she doesn’t want Emma to stay? Or maybe she does?

Emma swallows hard, and Regina takes a step closer, her eyes softening as she does. Emma licks her lips nervously, and when Regina’s eyes flicker down, she clenches her jaw.

Because yeah, she’s pretty sure Regina wants her to stay.

“Of course,” Emma replies, and unzips her jacket. She’s certain if she called Regina on it, it would be denied, but she totally breathes a sigh of relief when Emma does.

Regina clears her throat, and glances over her shoulder before stepping into Emma’s space. “Would you like some ice cream, Miss Swan?”

Her fingers curl over Emma’s where they grip the leather coat, and she swallows thickly, the shift in Regina’s tone unmistakable.

Their little moment in the hallway earlier? Yeah, that is totally gonna get picked up.

It’s about nine o’clock when Henry says he’s going to bed—“Well, play with my iPad, then go to sleep,” he confesses at Regina’s raised brows—belly full of ice cream and having thoroughly kicked Emma’s butt in both of the new games they played.

(Emma swears Regina used magic to make her controller stick, but she of course has no way to prove it.)

“Night moms,” Henry says, and gathers an armful of presents in one arm before kissing Regina on the cheek. “Thank you guys for everything,” he adds, and nearly chokes Emma as he hugs her awkwardly with that one arm.

“You’re welcome, Henry,” Regina says softly as Emma pats him on the back, and squeezes him just a little.

It’s stupid—this dumb little bit of affection that isn’t really unique or noteworthy and she’s hugged her son a hundred times—but Emma feels herself get a bit choked up. Because the domesticity of the moment is so strong, and so sudden, and so easy; Henry kissing his mothers goodnight before bed, like they do this every night.

Emma really, really does not want to examine the way heart pounds at that thought. “Merry Christmas, kid,” she settles for, and smiles up at him as he turns to head upstairs.

She doesn’t know if her face gives her away, but Regina scoots forward a bit on her seat at the other end of the couch and clasps her hands together slowly. “Would you like a drink?” God, yes, she thinks, but just kind of looks at Regina a moment, because they haven’t had a drink together, here, since that first night she came to town.

And holy shit, have things changed.

“Or do you need to get going?” Regina adds, and Emma realizes she’s just been kind of staring off like an idiot for a minute.

“No!” Emma shakes her head, and winces at her own intensity. “No, uh, that sounds good,” she repeats, far more calmly, and Regina is totally smiling at her, despite the pursed lips.

“Alright,” she murmurs, and heads to the bar in the dining room. Emma follows—of course—and hovers in the archway and this is the weirdest sense of deja vu because she’s done this before, almost exactly. That night had changed her life, been charged with all these renewed questions and fears, and possibilities she knew she couldn’t take. (Even if she maybe ended up taking them after all.)

And it’s kind of the same, right now. But she thinks she can, she knows she wants to, take the possibilities she’s seeing with Regina.

Emma’s been staring off but when Regina hands her the glass and stands in front of her, Emma thinks Regina might be thinking the same.

“The study,” Regina speaks softly, and turns on her heel not waiting for Emma to follow.

Regina stands in the open doorway and waits for Emma to pass, for Emma to sit down, and as she does—in the corner of one couch because she doesn’t know if Regina is going to sit on the same one and Emma’s already feeling a bit dizzy and Regina being right next to her is not something she can handle right now—she shuts the door.

Emma swallows. Watches as Regina takes a seat across from her, the coffee table separating them. Sighs. Maybe in disappointment, a little.

“Thanks for, uh, letting me come over. Spend some more time with Henry,” Emma says through a tight smile. The words help drown out that weird hollow feeling in her chest.

Regina smiles softly like she always does at Henry’s name and runs her thumb over the rim of her glass where it rests on her knee. “Hmm,” she murmurs, “I suppose it was nice for Henry to have someone to play those games with.”

“You should try it sometime,” Emma smirks, and takes a sip.

“Hmm,” she swallows, “I meant for him to have someone to play with that he had a chance of beating.”

Emma coughs into her glass at both the image of Regina playing, and the shade that was just thrown her way.

Well. Emma kind of doesn’t know what to say to that, so she just takes another sip and watches as Regina does the same.

There’s a smug little smirk that Emma can see behind the rim of the glasses, and Emma knows she’s doing that dumb blank-stare thing she sometimes does, but she can’t help it.

Because the thing is, Emma totally hates surprises. But she kind of loves being surprised by Regina. And that’s confusing. But also something she’s been thinking about more and more these past few weeks.

“It was rather...pleasant,” Regina looks into her glass as she says it, and Emma scoots forward to hear her better. “Even your parents were quite tolerable, today.”

Emma snorts, partly because the distasteful way Regina refers to her parents is such an improvement on the usual deluge of insults, and partly because that totally makes it sound like they’re married, right? Regina bitter about the in-laws, and all.

Licking her lips, Regina tilts her glass toward Emma a little, and levels a warning glare at her, eyes glinting in the gentle light of the study. “That does not leave this room, do you understand.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Emma holds up her free hand in mock surrender, and she feels her breath catch when Regina’s face softens again.

She didn’t realize how much she likes seeing her relaxed and open, but she really, really does.

Emma clears her throat, tries to tamp down some of the thickness that’s building up around the room. “So, uh, does that mean when we find the author, you want them included in your happy ending?”

“Don’t push it,” Regina replies immediately, but when she looks up at Emma’s face—she’s totally doing the puppy dog smile thing, so sue her—her lips twitch like maybe they won’t exactly be excluded, either.

Regina holds her gaze until Emma feels like she should look away. Because sometimes Regina looks at her for so long and there is the smallest bit of awe in it like she can’t believe Emma cares about her happy ending or that someone cares about her happy ending—both make Emma’s stomach turn, but she doesn’t know which makes her more nauseous—and it makes Emma’s fingers tremble.

And right now she’s holding a crystal tumbler that Regina probably would prefer remain intact.

“Thank you, Emma.” Regina says it before she can look away, and her voice is so light and airy but thick with that same weird sense of awe that Emma shrugs.

“For what?” She’s playing dumb, and it’s cruel, to make her say it when Emma knows what she means, but she also has no idea how to respond right now, how to talk about all of the big things that rest on the path of this conversation, and one of her defaults is to ignore and flee.

Regina doesn’t bite, and when Emma’s eyes flick up to look at Regina she’s just watching her. “It was a beautiful sentiment,” she says evenly, calmly, and she sounds more in control and mayoral, and it makes it easier for Emma to breathe.

Emma shrugs again. “I just saw it in the store, and it was…” her palms are sweating, so she sets her glass down on the coaster. Rubs her hands on her knees. “It wasn’t anywhere near what you did for me, for Henry.”

She’s slightly more comfortable with showing gratitude, sits up a bit straighter, and feels her heart start to pound harder when Regina stands to take a seat beside her on the couch.

There’s still half of a cushion between them, but everything’s warmer, and Emma can smell the rich perfume that Regina wears.

“It’s going to take some time,” she starts, “before I accept that you care about my happy ending.”

Emma feels white-hot guilt in her body, and physically leans back against the chair. “Yeah, I uh, can understand that. Considering I didn’t… I kind of did the opposite, in the past.” It’s a weak way of admitting all of the ways she’s screwed Regina over, all of the things she did that make it harder on her to get to this place.

“Hmm,” Regina murmurs agreement, and she’s not defending Emma, not discounting the ways she’s hurt her, and that—well it hurts. Emma doesn’t want her to brush it aside, to blindly forgive her, but it hurts all the same. It also hints at something deeper between them, though, at the way Regina’s willing to be honest and vulnerable in the way she lets Emma know she’s hurt her.

And shit, that’s—Emma licks her lips—she doesn’t know what that is.

“I meant what I said,” she starts, slowly, and tentatively sets her hand on Regina’s wrist. Feels her breath catch when Regina sets her hand on top, keeping her there. “I made you a promise, Regina,” she starts to fall back into the safety of her line. But it’s a cop-out and Regina is standing fairly open before her and so she adds, “One I genuinely want to fulfil.

“Everyone deserves a happy ending,” she repeats, and Emma thinks that if she’s supposed to have a catch phrase, this is quickly becoming it. She’s not exactly thrilled about it because it’s cheap and generic and not what she means.

So she squeezes Regina’s wrist gently, scoots forward on the couch until the denim of her jeans makes a shuffling noise, and her knee is pressed against Regina’s where they are both turned to face each other.

“Especially you.”

Regina’s eyes widen, because this is new. “Especially?”

“Yeah, especially.” Emma wishes she’d worn a thinner sweater, because she’s pretty sure her face is on fire right now. “This may be, I don’t know, self-serving? But the people that have to go through the most shit have to do shitty things to survive. And I guess I think you deserve to be done fighting.” Emma breathes out. “And I kind of want that for me, too.

“I’m not making excuses for you, for me, I think we’ve seen enough of each other to know that we’ve made some bad choices. But I know what it’s like, I guess, to get torn down over and over. And I just,” Emma furrows her brow. “I think we deserve better, right?”

Regina tugs her wrist back and Emma realizes that she’s basically coming right out and saying that her happy ending is linked with Regina’s and jesus, it’s been six weeks since they started even hanging out.

But OK, really, this thing has been building, they’ve been learning each other for more like three years, and that’s better, right? That’s acceptable?

She kind of looks up at Regina, hesitant, and Regina looks somewhere between terrified and confused. Because it’s sort of been three years, but it’s also sort of only been six fucking weeks when they were able to sit still and talk and process and have five civil words that weren’t exchanged in the middle of battle planning.

And Emma’s about a step from bringing the U-Haul. So.

She reaches for her glass and takes a drink and can see Regina do the same out of the corner of her eye.

Regina’s been silent, but hasn’t kicked her out, and that’s gotta be a good sign, so maybe Emma just needs to steer them back. Away from her stupid ass almost-confession.

So she smiles at Regina, and catches sight of the necklace she’s wearing and before she can stop herself her fingers dart out to settle against the chain on the curve of her clavicle. “And my mother apparently wants to join the cause, too.”

Regina snorts out a little laugh, but Emma sees her throat move as she swallows hard. So Emma spreads her hand out, lets her fingers trail over Regina’s skin as she uses the necklace as a cover. A guide.

Her palm is resting on the gentle slope of Regina’s breast, barely showing from the v-neckline of her dress. Regina’s breath catches and Emma looks up to see her eyes flutter briefly before Emma’s fingers trace the points of the star against her flesh.

“It’s a beautiful necklace,” she murmurs, before her eyes focus in on Emma and her voice lowers. “Which I will not admit again.” She tilts her head to level Emma with a glare and heaven forbid Regina compliment Mary Margaret.

“I find myself conflicted,” Regina adds, Emma’s fingers till resting on her skin. “I think I would very much like to be done fighting. However,” she reaches up, takes Emma’s hand from her neck and holds it in her own. “It has a certain...draw in its familiarity.”

Emma knows it’s probably not the right response, but she laughs anyway. “It does, doesn’t it?”

“Hmm,” Regina murmurs, and tilts her head a little. Her hair falls over one shoulder, and Emma can feel her breath catch because everything about Regina is stunning, but her in this moment, so open and playful and young? Well, she is especially so.

“You said I should use the journal even if we find the author,” Regina begins, and she slides her fingers between Emma’s, not quite linking them, but fitting between the spaces there.

“It’s your choice, Regina. Or at least it should be, from now on. I know it’s symbolic, and this fairy tale thing has its own rules, but—”

“You don’t follow rules,” Regina quirks a brow, and it takes away the hint of bitterness she can hear.

“Yeah. And I don’t think you should have to anymore, either.”

“I think I like the sound of that, Miss Swan,” Regina murmurs, and her eyes drift down to Emma’s mouth. And Emma tries to take slow, deep breaths.

Which is for the best, because once Regina leans forward to press her lips against Emma’s she thinks she forgets how.

This time she’s certain she’s the one that lets out the long sigh that bounces between them, and she tugs Regina’s hand closer, slides her fingers up her wrist to caress the soft skin there. The silk sleeve of her blouse is buttoned, so Emma moves on, sets her hand flat on the side of Regina’s thigh, and tugs her closer.

“Emma,” Regina breathes once they part, and Emma kisses the corner of her mouth before she cups her jaw and pulls her back for another deep kiss.

She can’t get enough of Regina, can’t touch enough of her fast enough because what’s in front of them are possibilities, not certainties, and if any of them slip away Emma thinks she might die. They’ve both known loss and sacrifice and pain, and the past few weeks have been none of that. It’s been slow and new and even comfortable at times, and Emma wants more of this, of them.

So she tangles her fingers in Regina’s hair, and brushes it back from her face so that Emma can look at her. Can pull back and meet her eyes and see that Regina’s kiss-swollen lips are pulled into a smile that matches her own.

“Is this what you choose?” Emma asks, a little bit scared and a whole lot breathless, as she strokes her thumb over Regina’s cheek.

And she realizes how it sounds, how big and final and declarative, but she just means now, just right now, because Regina’s happy ending isn’t one choice but a lifetime of them and she hopes she gets that, that Emma knows it.

“Lay back,” Regina whispers, and her eyes glitter in the light from the table lamp beside them. She pushes gently on Emma’s shoulders and so she does, she leans back against the short couch and feels herself get wetter as Regina slides one leg over her lap to straddle her.

The pencil skirt is tight, is bunching a bit, and Emma remembers where they’d been in the hallway. How she’d just begun to touch the soft skin of Regina’s thigh, brush the stocking that ended there.

“Christ, Regina,” she murmurs, and she pushes the material up higher, up to her hips, until Emma can see the garter belt and stockings.

Regina smiles wickedly, but learns forward and kisses Emma again, tugs at her sweater as Emma slides her hands under the skirt to settle on her hips. She’s pulling her closer, closer and closer until Emma can feel her heat brush against her stomach and she does nothing to hide the groan when she can feel her, slick and hot against her skin.

Emma pulls back just long enough to let Regina get her sweater off, and when she’s free she immediately tugs Regina back to her until she can twist them and settle Regina beneath her.

It’s an excellent idea, if she does say so herself, because Regina immediately throws her head back and her legs fall further apart, one of Emma’s bent between them. Her thigh is pressed up against Regina’s core and Emma applies pressure to the small of her back to encourage the arch of her body.

Her hands are on Emma’s shoulders, and tugging the straps of her bra down, but Emma’s not ready to pull back, to let her go. So instead she pushes at the bottom of Regina’s blouse, frees it from the skirt and bares a generous expanse of the smooth skin of her waist.

And really, Emma has no choice but to taste it. Because everything about Regina is decadent, and the taste and smell and feel of her skin is no different. “Emma,” Regina moans, and it’s the deepest, huskiest Emma’s ever heard her voice. It spurs her on at the same time it’s like velvet, and she presses hot, open mouthed kisses all over her stomach.

Emma’s pretty sure she can get her to beg, like this. She’s not sure she wants to now, tonight, but she will. Because Regina’s breath is coming faster and she’s got her fingers wound into Emma’s hair and there’s just enough pressure in her fingertips that tells Emma how badly Regina wants this. Wants her.

Regina gets the straps of Emma’s bra down but it’s not going anywhere, not yet. Hot palms are skating up the silk stockings Regina wears, and Emma wants them off, wants everything off of Regina. But she’s impatient, has always been too impatient, and so she manages to get the skirt unzipped and off before she figures it’s good enough for right now.

Emma’s leaning back on her heels, Regina looking even more disheveled as she had in the hallway that night, and she leans back down to where Regina is looking up at her, eyes darker than she’s ever seen them.

“Is this too fast,” Emma murmurs, and kisses Regina slow and deep as she lets her think.

“Hmm,” Regina hums against her lips as she pulls back. “I thought we weren’t following the rules, Emma.” Her eyes are heavy, but she opens them wider, focuses on Emma as she cups her cheek gently. She’s brushing her thumb against Emma’s cheekbone and it’s careful and sweet and caring and Emma knows that this thing between them that has been building for two days and six weeks and three years is even bigger than she realized.

And it’s scary—so goddamn scary—but Emma also kind of likes it. Wants to stay, not flee for once, and so she leans back down and kisses Regina again and again and again.

“Emma,” Regina growls as she pulls her head back finally and slides her hands down to the base of her spine to tug her closer. “If you don’t touch me soon you won’t like the rules I choose to break.”

Emma leans back on her heels again and just kind of takes a moment to look at her because christ. Her knees are bent on either side of Emma’s leg, and the buttons at the top of her shirt are open. She tugs the rest free first, baring the soft swells of Regina’s breasts over her bra, the dark red lace doing nothing to temper Emma’s arousal.

“Emma,” Regina growls warningly once more, and undoes the clasp to her bra, baring her from the waist up.

She drops the bra behind them and in an instant she’s sitting up, tugging Emma forward into another kiss and then her lips are gone. Regina’s tongue starts tracing the curve of her neck, kissing and nipping and after too long and too soon her hot mouth is over Emma’s nipple.

“Regina, oh god,” Emma moans, and that smug—she can feel Regina smiling against her skin as she circles the other nipple with her tongue before tugging gently with her teeth.

Regina’s thigh is bent between her own and she wants to grind down, wants to find some release from the pressure that’s been building all day (and two days and maybe six weeks, and maybe three years), but Emma is competitive in all the dumb ways and so she pushes Regina away, back, before she’s leaning forward and tugging at the backs of her knees.

The smooth silk stockings are sending shivers up Emma’s back as Regina starts to writhe beneath her, but Emma smirks up at her and presses her abdomen down to the couch cushion. “Patience,” Emma murmurs, and Regina snorts because, yeah, it may be a little funny coming from Emma.

Except the noise turns into a small choking noise when Emma’s fingers start to trail down one clasp of the garter. Regina’s attention is focused solely on Emma, her chest heaving a bit as she tugs hard enough for the small closure to pop, and the ribbon to fall loose against her skin.

Emma waits a moment, and Regina isn’t smirking anymore, is just breathing slowly as her fingers press firmly into the skin of Emma’s upper arms. “Again,” she directs, and Emma undoes the other clasp.

“C’mere,” Emma murmurs as she leans down and kisses Regina again, tugs her close and with her as she settles with Regina straddling her lap. With her legs like this, her ass settled on Emma’s knees, she can tug at the last two claps in the back, and it’s off.

Regina shoulders the blouse off too, lets it fall down to the floor behind her, and Emma leans forward to kiss the swell of her breast over the lace. “I was not lyring, Emma, if you don’t stop teasing me right now I’ll—”

Her threat dissolves into a soft moan as Emma slips her hand between Regina’s thighs. Her legs are spread wide over Emma’s hips, but when Emma’s fingers brush against the front of her panties, she parts them further.

“Regina,” Emma murmurs against her neck, and applies more pressure as Regina’s hips begin to move. The friction isn’t enough for either of them and Emma needs to feel her, so she pushes the side of her panties away and trails her finger through the slickness there. “You feel amazing,” her throat is thick and she can barely get the words out, but Regina inhales sharply and the effort was worth it.

Emma starts to tug at the stockings, now starting to slip down her thighs. She’s rolling it down Regina’s leg with one hand because she can’t stop touching her, won’t stop, until the stocking is off and she’s on to the last one.

The fine material float to the ground in small piles, and then Emma pulls back from Regina’s neck to whisper, “Stand up a minute,” in her ear.

And she’s never really ordered Regina to do anything, but she does it now instantly, stands up in front of Emma and lets her undo the rest of the garter, and slip her panties off down her legs.

“Now you,” she says firmly, and tugs Emma up to stand beside her, so she can unbutton Emma’s jeans, get them down over her hips and yeah, maybe Emma should switch to an easier pant to get out of. Because Regina’s hands are so warm and her breath is ghosting her skin, and she just wants to feel every inch of her this instant.

“You’re far too old to continue wearing these,” she grumbles when she gets them completely off, and Emma slips her bra off before she gently nudges her back to the couch.

Her own panties are the last to go, and then she takes her position again between Regina’s thighs. Only this time she doesn’t slow down, just leans forward and breathes her in a moment before she brushes her tongue across her folds.

And does it again. And again. And again. Because Regina’s hips are moving against her and there are soft little moans coming from her mouth that Emma thinks might be screams if their son wasn’t not-sleeping upstairs. Regina’s fingers are pressing hard into her back, there will be bruises on her shoulders tomorrow and it’s only spurring Emma on, only making her moan right back against Regina’s hot flesh.

Regina’s thighs start to quiver a bit, and Emma smiles against her before she slips two fingers into her, tongues her clit harder and looks up the lean length of her body as she uses her free hand to thumb a hard nipple.

She leans back a moment, licks her lips of Regina’s slickness as Regina’s eyes flutter open. She’s taking long breaths and one hand is braced on her head, holding her hair back and jesus christ she’s incredible. “Don’t you dare stop now,” she says darkly, but the way her chest is heaving takes away some of the threat.

Still, she can feel how close Regina is, can tell in the way her lower back seems so taut it could snap her spine, and Emma finds herself saying, “I couldn’t if I wanted to,” before she’s thrusting harder and tugging at her nipple and driving Regina right over the edge.

“Em-ma,” comes out broken but light and Emma slides up her body quickly to catch it in her mouth, to keep Regina quiet because fucking hell she was right and that was far too loud for their current situation.

She comes down slowly, her body sinking down into the cushions as Emma guides her hip, strokes her skin softly and kisses her languidly.

Breathing out hard, Regina turns her head sharply, and Emma may have held her lips too long but she couldn’t stop.

Can’t stop.

“So,” Emma breathes out, too, and Regina looks back up at her, long hair tangled beneath her head and skin covered in a thin sheen. “Making your own happy ending?”

Regina laughs—damn near giggles—and it’s one of those smiles, the brilliant ones that are breathtaking, and Emma tries to do just that. Brushing Emma’s hair back, Regina cups the side of her neck, leans up for another kiss and when she settles back down she tugs Emma with her, too. Settles Emma’s body over hers and runs her hand too-gently over the curve of her waist.

“I think you may have had something to do with that one, Miss Swan,” she smirks, and then pushes Emma back to roll her over until she’s settled astride her.

Every inch of her is gorgeous but when she leans down she bites her lower lip and Emma knows if she wasn’t a goner already that this would be it, the moment. Because Regina completely content? It’s something she never, ever wants to stop seeing.

Regina grinds her hips once, twice, the motion making Emma do the same, and then Regina’s nails are tracing over her breasts, her stomach. She leans forward, voice low, and quirks an eyebrow playfully. “Now let’s see about yours.”