“So what you need to do is make it clear that you like her,” Emma says, clearing her throat. “And the best way to do that is with a compliment. Don’t do that stupid backhanded thing that guys do these days where they attack a woman’s self-esteem. Be sincere.”
“Right,” Henry says, writing something down in his notebook. He’s been writing a lot in his notebook, considering that Emma hasn’t really said much yet. “So what kind of compliments do I give?”
“Depends on the girl,” Emma says, eyeing him. Henry hasn’t given her any information on this crush of his, and he remains vague when she presses for details. All he’s said is that he wants help asking out girls, and he’d gone to Emma because he thought she’d had the most experience.
Which is kind of loaded, she thinks, but she doesn’t ask about that . The less Henry thinks about Emma and women, the better. She has no idea how he’d take the fact that she has successfully been dating one particular woman for the past few months, and said secret relationship is with the woman in the kitchen, finishing up dinner. “It’s also kind of a minefield. You don’t want to just compliment a girl’s looks, because if you do, she’ll think you don’t like her personality. But if you compliment her personality, then she’ll think you think she’s ugly.”
“Wow.” Henry stares at her, eyes wide. “So what do you do?”
“Watch this. Regina?” She straightens, waiting for Regina to emerge from the kitchen. Regina pokes her head into the living room, looking justifiably alarmed at the notebook in Henry’s hands.
“What’s going on?”
Emma tilts her head. It isn’t hard to think of a compliment for Regina; unfortunately, all the ones she has in mind are not appropriate for Henry’s consumption. She clears her throat. “Regina, that color really brings out your eyes and your bitingly sharp wit.” Does she want to bang her head against the wall? Absolutely.
Regina raises her eyebrows and turns to Henry. “Henry, lower the temperature on the thermostat,” she instructs him. “The heat is making your mother delirious.”
Great . Henry scribbles another note in his notebook and gets up to go to the thermostat. Emma stumbles to her feet, and Regina lays a hand on her cheek and smiles wickedly, which means that Emma’s compliment did work, if you think about it. “Henry wants my advice to ask out girls,” she breathes into their kiss. “I told him to start with a compliment.”
“In that case, I’m glad you didn’t make any comments about my ass,” Regina says wryly. “I’ll make sure not to give anything away.”
“Wait–” Emma thinks about pointing out that this’ll render her advice completely useless , but Henry is already running back down the steps, notebook in hand. “Regina,” she says, considering her words more easily now. “Your food smells amazing. And I love your hair like that.”
Regina blinks at her. “There’s no hair in the food,” she says sharply. “And I resent your implication that there is.” Abruptly, she twists around and returns to the kitchen.
Henry says, “Wow. I think you should probably stop complimenting Mom before she kicks you out. Or murders you.” He scribbles in his notebook and looks very dissatisfied, and Emma shrugs helplessly.
“Flirting is a little different than complimenting, although you can probably do both at the same time,” Emma explains. Today, they’ve opted for discussing this outside of the house, especially after last night’s disastrous attempt. Emma had gotten as far as praising the way that Regina holds a fork before Regina had gotten fed up and cast a silencing spell on her. She’d left it up until later that night, and they’d had some good times with it once Henry had been asleep, but still .
“Okay,” Henry says, and he sits down on a bench on Main Street to take more copious notes. “But how does that work?”
“A lot of it is body language,” Emma says, thinking it through. “How you stand a little too close, the tone of your voice, even reaching out to touch her arm or something innocuous. If she doesn’t respond to it, though, you tone it down.” She considers. “It doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t interested, but you’ve gotta respect the woman’s cues.”
“Can you show me?” Henry asks, leaning forward.
Emma glances around Main Street and spots a number of women she could definitely flirt with, and a number of women Regina would kill her for flirting with. The numbers of each are the same, and she says, “Let’s wait a few minutes. I think your mom is probably going to head to Granny’s soon, and we can catch her soon.”
Henry eyes her dubiously, then nods. “You’re right. We shouldn’t really drag anyone else into this. It might be misleading. Unless you’re interested in someone?” His gaze is suddenly sharp, and Emma winces.
“Uh, no. Kind of taking a break from romance these days,” she says. She’d only just gotten rid of her last boyfriend, who hadn’t been a boyfriend as much as pirate who can’t take no for an answer, just before she’d landed in bed with Regina. And this thing with Regina isn’t exactly a romance, but it’s good, and she has a gripping fear that anything more might just ruin them.
It’s why she hasn’t brought up telling Henry about it. Regina hasn’t, either, so she’s either on the same wavelength as Emma or isn’t interested in anything permanent. Emma is very concerned that it’s the latter, but she puts that aside right now. “I’m taking some me time, you know? Some time to figure out who I am without dating anyone.”
“Hn.” Henry writes more in his notebook.
Emma says weakly, “I haven’t said anything about flirting since the last time you wrote.”
“It’s all important,” Henry informs her, then points. “There’s Mom. Are you going to flirt with her now?” He wiggles his pencil between his fingers and waits expectantly.
“Uh. Yeah.” Emma gets up. It used to be easy to flirt with Regina, though she hadn’t had an audience for that, thankfully. “Madam Mayor,” she says, pitching her voice low. “Can I have a minute of your time?”
“Happy to help, Sheriff,” Regina says in a silky tone, and then she notices Henry on the bench and straightens. “If this is about reports,” she says briskly, “You’ll have to schedule an official meeting.”
“I do love meetings with you,” Emma says teasingly, wiggling her eyebrows. “How about a dimly lit restaurant, some music in the background, you in that red dress with the amazing collar, the reports on the table between us…”
For a moment, there is a flicker of interest on Regina’s face. She gathers herself almost immediately. “Sounds very unprofessional,” she says coolly. “I hope you aren’t having meetings like that with other town departments.”
“Only the really pretty ones,” Emma says, wetting her lips and laying a hand on Regina’s arm. A spark of magic ignites at Emma’s touch, and Emma yelps, pulling her hand back. “Hey!”
“ Goodbye , Sheriff,” Regina says, and if her hand palms Emma’s ass for a moment before she strides off to the diner, Emma has the good sense not to comment on it. Another victory that she can’t share with Henry, sadly.
Henry wrinkles his nose. “Kind of a crash and burn, huh? Got anything else?”
“Sometimes it’s better to pick the place first, and then worry about getting the girl to come along,” Emma says, eyeing the Storybrooke Theater with some trepidation. It’s a decrepit building that is still advertising Jaws 3 , and it looks as though it might fall in if anyone leans against the wall. Surprisingly, it’s a pretty popular hangout for teenagers. “It means a more casual date, and there’s less pressure to talk through the whole thing. I once dated a guy for a month on theater dates. I wasn’t aware I was dating him at the time–”
“You can just say Hook, Mom, it was three months ago,” Henry says patiently. “So how do I make it clear that it’s a date, then?”
Emma bobs her head. “That’s a little trickier,” she concedes. “You can try the old arm stretch where you slide it around her shoulders, but it’s a pretty strong tell. You might get your heart broken if she isn’t interested. But it’s a start, and it gets the two of you out together. Like this.”
She leads the way to Town Hall, where Regina is engrossed in conversation with one of the infrastructure managers. They wait patiently until she’s done, and Emma sidles over to Regina while Henry stays back, writing furiously in his notebook. “Hey, Regina,” she says, procuring the theater tickets from her pocket. “I was just at the theater and picked up two tickets to Return of the Jedi tonight. I just remembered that it’s one of your favorites.”
She looks significantly at Regina, who glances at Henry and then back at Emma before she smiles broadly. “That’s so sweet,” she says, sounding surprisingly enthusiastic. “It is my favorite.”
Emma grins, turning back to Henry to raise her eyebrows. See? I’m not bad at this when your mother isn’t sabotaging me .
Regina says, “Henry’s going to love this. Henry, did you see the tickets Emma got for the two of us? We haven’t done a theater night since Jaws 3 .”
“Better luck next time,” Henry says in an undertone to Emma, and then, the traitor , he turns to his mother and says, “Yeah! Let’s go!”
In the end, Emma buys a third ticket for herself and tags along, mostly at Regina’s insistence. “Trust me, we both deserve to see Carrie Fisher strangle a man in that outfit,” Regina murmurs as they walk together toward the theater. Henry is ahead of them, and Regina’s hand brushes against Emma’s as they walk. “You’re doing an atrocious job at asking me out, by the way.”
Emma scoffs. “Maybe if you were interested …” But she does the stretch around Regina’s shoulders in the theater, and Regina curls up against her for a few perfect minutes before Henry turns and Regina slams her hand against Emma’s arm to dislodge it.
Later that night, after Henry is in bed and Emma is in Regina’s, she murmurs, “Would it be that bad?”
“What?” Regina is tracing the curves of Emma’s skin, circling a spot by her navel absentmindedly.
“If I managed to successfully ask you out in front of Henry. Would it be…I mean, do you think he’d take it badly?”
Regina is silent for a few minutes. “I don’t know,” she says. “He wasn’t subtle about trying to get you back with Neal, when that was going on. I think that if he wanted us to be together, then he’d have made that clear.” She flips over, landing on top of Emma, and she purrs, “Besides, I’d hardly call this dating, ” before she replaces her fingernail with her lips.
That’s a fair point. But somehow, it doesn’t make Emma feel any better.
Emma leads the way through Town Hall, Henry beside her with his notebook and a bag from Granny’s. “It doesn’t have to be lunch,” she points out in an undertone. “A snack can work, or even a croissant or something breakfast-y from Granny’s. Just a little something to show that you care. But not that you care too much. That’s scary-stalker territory. And you have to make sure she doesn’t have allergies, or it can end very badly.”
“So you have to stalk her a little,” Henry says, brow furrowed.
“ No. God.” Emma taps a finger against her thumb. “Just…talk to her first, you know? Figure out if she has any allergies in casual conversation before you jump to bringing her food.”
They make it up the stairs, nodding to Regina’s secretary as they knock on the door. Henry asks, “Does that go for just allergies or any kind of reactions to food?”
“Any,” Emma says.
Regina calls, “Come in!” from her desk, and Emma takes the paper bag from Henry and opens the door.
Henry says, “Like how my mom says Granny’s grilled cheese gives her an upset stomach?”
Emma drops her hand with the paper bag. Regina says, her eyes narrowing onto it, “Is that for me?” She sounds delighted.
“Just my lunch,” Emma mumbles. Regina frowns.
Henry sinks down to the floor to write more in his notebook.
“So this is a little more aggressive, and I’d recommend really making sure that the girl is interested before you do something like it. It’s just uncomfortable for everyone when she isn’t.” Emma balances the bouquet from Game of Thorns in her hands and eyes it critically. It’s a little enormous.
She hadn’t meant for it to be. There had just been a lot of flowers, and they’d all been very pretty. Naturally, she’d thought that she should get any Regina would like, so she now has an unmanageable amount of flowers.
“This is too much,” she decides too late. “I’m going to split them up and put them in vases.” They hunt down a few assorted vases in Regina’s living room, and they set up flowers in each one. Shockingly, Henry has a pretty good eye for color that he clearly didn’t inherit from her, and he designs three separate bouquets and then hands the remaining flowers to Emma.
“That was…really impressive,” Emma manages. “Whichever girl you do ask out is going to love you for it.” Or, if he goes the Emma route, be very frightened of him.
They position themselves near the front door. “This you’d usually do for a first date, at the earliest. Or maybe if she does some kind of…I don’t know, performance. Or speech. Is she the kind of girl who does performances?” Emma gives Henry a sharp glance.
Henry gives nothing away. “So this is a good thing to give Mom after a town meeting,” he decides. “Like the one we skipped to buy flowers.”
“The one I skipped,” Emma amends. “You’re supposed to be enjoying your summer, not attending town meetings.”
Henry shrugs. “I like going to them. It’s my civic duty as a Storybrooke citizen. How else would I get to use my voice to make this town a better place?”
Emma blinks at him. “You spend way too much time with your mom,” she decides. “You’re exactly like her.”
“Thank you,” Henry says, though Emma hadn’t meant it as a compliment. “And this isn’t weird?”
“It’s congratulatory,” Emma says. “Or, if it’s a first date, it’s just sweet.” She angles the flowers in her hands and peers out the window. “No idea how these are going to be received.” She squints at Henry. “Why exactly did I have to buy flowers to show you how to do this?”
“It’s about the presentation of the flowers,” Henry explains officiously. “I have to understand the best possible way to give them to a girl. Otherwise, I’ll just make a fool out of myself in front of–”
“Yeah?” Emma prompts.
“–the girl,” Henry finishes, and he pulls out his notebook and sits on the couch in the living room, just out of sight of the front door. “Hurry. Mom’s pulling into the driveway now.”
Emma straightens, standing in the foyer with her bouquet, and she hangs back against the wall as Regina unlocks the door and walks inside. She stops dead in the middle of the foyer, her eyes on Emma’s bouquet. “What…what is going on?” she demands, and there’s a flush to her cheeks that makes Emma suddenly hopeful.
“It was a stressful town meeting,” Emma says. “You told me that you were dreading it last–” She remembers suddenly that Henry is observing from the living room, and she rethinks her next words. “Last week,” she finishes lamely. “So I wanted to get you something nice. The town might not appreciate all your hard work, but I do.”
She holds out the flowers. Regina stares at her, wide-eyed, and she takes a tentative step forward to sniff at them. “Emma,” she murmurs, and the smile on her face grows, the warmth in her eyes sending a rush of affection through Emma. “This is…really considerate, actually.” Her sharp eyes catch one of the vases in the living room. “You got more flowers?”
Emma scuffs the heels of her boots. “I kind of went overboard trying to pick out the nicest ones.”
Regina leans forward, brushing a kiss to her cheek. “See, this is how you teach Henry how to win girls… wait .” She twists around again, back to the vase in the living room, beside which Henry is writing busily in his notebook. “ Is this a Henry lesson? ”
“You liked it,” Emma points out hopefully. “Didn’t you–”
But she’s already too late. Regina begins sneezing dramatically into the bouquet, and she chokes out, “These are triggering all of my allergies. Are you trying to kill me, Ms. Swan?” and Emma is almost impressed at her acting ability before she remembers that Regina has spent more of her life pretending than not.
That strikes her as exceptionally sad, and so she says, “I’ll get rid of them,” and then sneaks upstairs and puts the bouquet in another vase that she conjures up in Regina’s bedroom. When Regina comes up a half hour later, Henry off to the park with some friends, she sees the vase and kisses Emma hard in front of it.
“They’re beautiful,” she murmurs, and then, with a sardonic smile, “It’s almost like we’re dating.”
Emma refuses to play this game with her, the self-deprecating thing where they banter and snark when they could be happy. “Isn’t it?” she says, kissing Regina again, and Regina leans into her touch and closes her eyes.
WRITE A POEM
She could probably stab a man with one of her shoes,
She’s got a gorgeous smile but a really short fuse,
They called her the queen,
She’s hot and she’s mean,
And I wish she’d come out tonight for some kissing and booze.
“That’s terrible,” Henry says, shaking his head. “Mom’s going to hate it.”
“But she’s going to laugh first,” Emma reminds him. “And that’s the most important part. A lot of people think that the way to write a poem for a girl is to be sappy and talented. For those of us who aren’t talented and aren’t sappy–”
“You’ve cried during every single romcom we watched this summer,” Henry says. “You even cried during the last scene in the Lion King. And, like, six others. They weren’t even the sad ones.”
“ For those of us who aren’t talented ,” Emma says louder, “We have to rely on humor. It’s much better than giving a girl a five-page poem about the way her hair curls at the shoulder and kind of settles down in waves below it, and you just want to touch it all the time but–” She sees Henry scribbling madly into his notebook and reconsiders what she’d been saying. “What I mean to say,” she says at last, “Is that the girl might be afraid you’re too serious, but then you make her laugh. And she’ll like that.”
Henry looks uncertain. “I don’t know,” he says. “I think you should try to write something prettier. Or at least more meaningful. Can’t you think of something meaningful to say to my mom?”
“I can think of things. I also think she’d throw me out of the house if I did, and that would mean going back to the loft– where I spend every night,” Emma adds quickly, “With my parents and baby brother, definitely sleeping in my own bed–” She cuts herself off again. Henry is back at his notebook.
He looks up suddenly. “How come you come over for breakfast every morning?” he says, as though the question has only just occurred to him.
Emma shrugs. “To make your mom coffee?” she suggests, and Henry nods as though this makes perfect sense. “Anyway, I think the poem is fine. Now we leave it for her where she’ll find it.”
“Not her night table,” Henry says, frowning. “It’s gotten really untidy in her bedroom lately. It’d get lost if you leave it there.” He brightens. “In the book she’s reading, maybe. You can put it in instead of her bookmark.”
Emma nods slowly. “How does it help you ask out a girl if I put the poem in your mother’s book?” she thinks to ask.
Henry shrugs dismissively. “It’ll help if I can see her reaction,” he decides. And, sure enough, they finish dinner and settle down in the living room. Emma and Henry are playing video games when Regina pulls out her book, and Emma tosses her a sidelong glance and sees the way her eyebrows shoot up as she reads the poem.
And then she snorts. Snorts . Victory , Emma decides, right up until Regina says in a frigid voice, “Do you think that this is funny , Ms. Swan?”
“Uh-oh,” Henry says, his voice low. “She said Ms. Swan . You’re in deep trouble now.”
Emma decides to go all in. “So?” She lowers her voice. “You, me, the Rabbit Hole?”
“You idiot ,” Regina growls, and she turns to Henry. “Henry, upstairs while I yell at your mother.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Henry says, scooting off the couch to run upstairs.
Regina turns on Emma. “ Some kissing and booze ?” she repeats.
“Trust me,” Emma says fervently. “It’s better than the first one I wrote.”
Regina’s eyes glitter dangerously. “Tell me.”
Emma clears her throat and recites, from memory,
“She cursed a town, once upon a time,
She’s cute as a button and her face is sublime,
She’s gonna hate me for this
But I’ll still hope for a kiss
Because I spent a fucking hour working on this rhyme.”
“That was atrocious,” Regina says, pulling Emma onto her lap to kiss her properly. “Every last bit of it.”
“Your face is sublime,” Emma points out. “But Henry nixed this one after I called you cute as a button. He thought it would offend you.”
“Oh, it absolutely does,” Regina agrees, tugging Emma’s hips to hers. “It’s getting exhausting, warding off your advances– don’t you dare start flirting with someone else ,” she adds hastily, her voice threatening, and she is cute as a button like this. Emma kisses the tip of her nose and also thumbs one nipple under Regina’s shirt, for good measure. Regina lets out a shuddering sigh, and then sits upright, nearly pushing Emma to the floor.
“Wait,” she says, and she points one shuddering finger at the couch. Emma follows her gaze, her heart racing with anticipation.
Henry has left his notebook behind .
They only have a few minutes before Henry realizes and returns downstairs, and Emma seizes the notebook and pulls it open. “What the hell is Operation Swan Queen ?” she whispers.
But it’s very clear from every copious note, every list on each page. There are no notes about asking out girls or any mysterious girl that Henry has a crush on. This is all notes on Emma and Regina, and their reactions to each other. There’s a full page on a conversation they had last night at dinner, and another devoted to Regina’s expressions after Emma had given her the flowers. Henry has logged everything.
Everything, save for the fact that Emma spends every night in Regina’s bed.
They blink at each other. Then there are footsteps on the stairs, and Regina drops the notebook back where they’d found it and says loudly, “Ms. Swan, that poem was just disrespectful!”
Henry heaves a sigh as he returns to the room. “Forgot my notebook,” he says, snatching it up with a wary look at them. “Look, Mom,” he says, turning to Emma. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I think you just might not be very good at asking out girls. It’s about time I got a second opinion.”
Emma isn’t sure if she should be relieved or suspicious. “You’re probably right,” she says, nodding gravely. “Who did you have in mind?”
Henry shifts his expectant gaze to Regina. “Mom?” he says. “How do you talk to a girl you like?”
ASK HER OUT, IDIOT
Regina’s eyes gleam as she turns on Emma. “It’s really quite simple,” she says, and her movements are more languid than usual, more relaxed. Something about that notebook of Henry’s and his determination that his mothers should be dating has comforted Regina, and she moves with confidence in Emma’s direction.
“Is it?” Emma says faintly.
A thumb appears at her chin, and the smile that spreads across Regina’s face is dangerous. “You ask her out,” she says, and Emma can only stare at her, immobilized by the way Regina’s eyes glitter, “ Idiot .”
“Can you demonstrate?” Henry says hopefully.
Regina doesn’t bother acknowledging the request. She slips a hand into Emma’s hair, twisting golden locks of hair between her fingers, and she trails her fingers along Emma’s neck. Little bumps pop up against her touch, and Emma shivers. “What’s happening?” she whispers, a little frantically.
“Emma Swan,” Regina drawls, and Emma bobs her head in response. “Will you go on a date with me?”
Emma swallows. Is she supposed to be resisting? Are they still doing this thing where they try to be friends in front of Henry? Is she capable of saying no? “Yeah,” she breathes, and Regina surges forward and kisses her.
It’s messier than they usually do it, loud and fully involved, and Emma’s tongue is in Regina’s mouth before she can think through their audience. She hoists Regina up against a wall, attacking her neck with vigor, and Henry says, “Okay! Okay! Please stop. Please – I don’t even have a crush on a girl. I don’t even like girls,” he says frantically. “I just wanted you to do this but not around me–”
Emma grunts, “Kid just came out,” against Regina’s skin.
Regina laughs a little desperately. “Right. Heard that.” She kisses Emma again. “Proud of you, Henry.” She digs into Emma’s pocket, finds a twenty, and tosses it at Henry. “Go watch Jaws 3 at the theater.”
Henry regains enough of his senses to say, “Popcorn?”
Emma throws another ten at him. “ Go ,” she says, and he flees as they fall back onto the couch together.