The loft looks different now.
It feels different now. When she’d been a child it had felt cozy – it had been home, her safe place. Now it just feels suffocating.
That might have to do with the fact that she hasn’t been here since she was eighteen.
“Emma, darling, do you have any plans for tonight?”
Emma shrugs, wondering what plans she could possibly have. She hasn’t been to this godforsaken town in ten years. It’s not like she’s got old friends to catch up with. “Not really, no.”
She looks at her mother – her mother, who’s only seen her in person five times in the last decade. Three of those times have been in the last year. A bit of guilt flashes through her chest, and she ignores it.
Emma’s had a long time to get a handle on that.
But still, she’s finally moving past old hurts, she thinks. She’s here for them, and for Henry, not herself. She just wishes she hadn’t let her parents talk her into staying an entire week.
“Well, I was thinking that when the boys come back we could go to the winter festival. The whole town will be there.” Mary Margaret smiles at her, starts unbagging the groceries. “It’ll be the perfect chance to get you caught up with everyone. I know that Granny would love to see you. Oh, and Ruby. In fact, all your little friends from high school.”
Mary Margaret opens the fridge to put the milk away, and Emma decides not to tell her mother that she’s already seen Ruby. She’s staying at the bed and breakfast, and Ruby still works there. It’s a sore spot with Mary Margaret, though, the fact that Emma’s not staying with them, and so she lets it go.
“Regina, too,” Her mother drones on. “You guys were so close back then. Mm. It was always so cute, watching the two of you together. Your dad and I used to joke that you were going to shirk boys altogether and just marry each other.” She gives a laugh, a light, tinkling thing that tells Emma she has absolutely no idea how close to the truth she’s just come.
And so Emma decidedly ignores the last part, instead asking, “Regina’s going to be there?” That’s the part that had made her heart stutter, anyway, the part that had sweat beading at her brow. Her sexuality was…well. She’d stopped hiding that one years ago, but Mary Margaret only sees what she wants to see. Emma’s used to it by now.
Mary Margaret looks up at that, an amused smile on her lips as she says, “Of course she’s going to be there, silly. She’s the mayor! She has to give the toast!” The smile falters for a second and she adds, “You did know she’s the mayor now, right?”
She did not, in fact, know that.
It’s both entirely shocking and entirely unsurprising, all at once. Cora had always pushed so hard, Regina’s father less so, but Emma knew he wanted her to follow in his footsteps. Half of Emma had expected Regina to run from that pressure the moment she had the chance. They’d talked about it, often – packing their bags the moment they graduated high school and piling into Emma’s bug and just driving . Getting on the highway and just driving into the sunset until Storybrooke was nothing but speck on the horizon, until it was nothing more than a pinpoint on a map, a footnote for where you could stop for gas and not the town that tied them both to the ground. But, she thinks bitterly, it wouldn’t be unlike Regina to do the opposite of that because of their falling out.
No, she does not want to see Regina Mills. Not now.
In the end, all she says is, “Neat,” and ignores the confused look her mother shoots her.
“Is that a yes, then? I’m sure Henry will love it. They have all the old fair games, just like when you were a kid.”
Emma sighs and tries her best to sound interested. “Yeah, sure, mom. We can go.”
Mary Margaret claps her hands together and makes an excited little squeak of a noise, and Emma’s almost missed the way her mother can be so naively positive about everything. She wonders why she hadn’t managed to inherit that.
“Oh, good! I’ll text your father and tell him to bring Henry back as soon as possible. The festival’s already started, but if we leave soon we can still make it in time for the toasts and the snowball toss –”
Emma tunes her rambling out, unable to help the small smile at her lips. Eventually she interrupts to say that she’s got to go get ready, that she’s going to run back to the inn real quick, and Mary Margaret shakes her head.
“Nonsense! You can use my stuff.”
Emma eyes her mother’s cropped hair. It had been long the last time she’d seen her. “I was going to do my hair.” Hers is in a ponytail right now, and she doesn’t really want to go like this.
For no reason in particular, she wants to look nice if she’s going to be around other people. Emma decidedly ignores the nagging voice in the back of her mind.
Mary Margaret rolls her eyes. “Emma, I only just cut my hair a few months ago. I still have my curling iron.” With that she circles the counter and ushers Emma off towards her bathroom. “Use whatever you need, sweetheart. Doll yourself up.”
Emma rolls her eyes, but obeys.
She definitely does not spend extra time getting ready.
If she does put on a little extra makeup, if she takes a little extra time making sure her hair curls perfectly even though she knows she’ll be wearing a beanie the entire time – well. It’s just because she’s going to be seeing a bunch of people she used to know.
It’s not because she might run into Regina.
Henry’s ecstatic at the idea of the festival, as Emma knew he would be. It’s his first one – his first time in Storybrooke, Emma reminds herself with a wince – and she’d always loved them as a young child. He’s going to have the time of his young life, and that’s almost enough to make up for the fact that Emma’s dreading seeing literally anyone from her past.
When you run from a town as a broken-hearted, pregnant teen, the idea of a reunion with everyone you’d left behind isn’t exactly appealing.
Mary Margaret blinks when she re-enters the kitchen. She gives Emma a once over, a smile growing on her lips as she takes in Emma’s appearance. “You look beautiful, Emma. Trying to impress someone?”
Emma just shrugs, and brushes past her mother to snag Henry’s hat and gloves off the counter. “Just felt like it.”
The festival’s already in full swing when they arrive at the fairgrounds. Emma knows from her childhood that it starts early in the afternoon, but most people don’t arrive until the evening. Her phone reads 3:52. The festival will go until just after dark, and the sun goes down early in the winter time.
Two hours. That’s all she has to make it through. She can do that.
Henry becomes enamored with some water gun game pretty much immediately after they make it inside, and David is only too happy to show him how to aim. Emma leaves them behind with a fond glance as Mary Margaret drags her off to the vendor’s side of things to look at candles.
Not much has changed from when she was a kid. The nuns still have a tent like they do at every event, trying to raise money to help cover their yearly costs, and Emma spots Leroy, still chatting up Astrid like he always has. He makes eye contact with her, adopting as much of a grin as he ever has on his surly face, and says, “Hey, sister. Long time no see.”
Emma gives him a smile back. He’d been the janitor at the high school her senior year, and he’d always let her sneak in the back door after she’d skipped first period. Every time he’d said this is the last time I’m doing this for you, kid, and every time after he’d done it again. “Hey, Leroy. Good to see you.”
Mary Margaret gives him a little wave, and buys one of the candles from the sisters.
Marco still has a booth full of handmade furniture. Emma barely recognizes the grown man helping him as August, his son who had just been a few years ahead of her in school. He spots her, too, shooting her a suave smile and nodding. “Hey, Em. Been awhile.”
Emma grimaces internally. This day is apparently just going to be a string of people reminding her how long she’s been gone. But still, August had always been kind enough, and so she smiles back.
She even sees Gold, making his way through the crowd slowly on his cane. She does her best to melt back into the crowd at that one.
Her son’s estranged grandfather isn’t really somebody she wants to make conversation with. She spares a quick glance back at Henry to make sure that he hasn’t seen him – not that he’d recognize him if he did – and finally relaxes when she sees that Gold is heading in the opposite direction, anyway. He’s soon joined by a petite brunette, one at least twenty years younger than him, and oh god, Emma recognizes her –
“They got married last year.”
Emma turns to see her mother, staring off at the couple with her nose wrinkled. “We all told her he was no good for her, but they’re still together, so it must be working out.”
“You’re kidding,” Emma replies, but Belle slips her arm into Gold’s and leans her head on his shoulder as if to shoot Emma down.
“I wish I was.” Mary Margaret shakes her head. “To each their own, I suppose.”
“I guess.” Emma can’t fathom what Belle sees in him. She has the disturbing thought that this technically makes Belle Henry’s grandmother, but she quickly shoves that one back out of her mind. Belle had been her high school gym partner two years running, for fuck’s sake. She’d made out with her at a party, once.
Yeah, definitely not getting grandparent privileges.
Before Emma can comment further, she hears the whine of a microphone being tested in the distance.
“Oh, time for the toast!” Mary Margaret gleefully tugs Emma towards the stage that’s been set up at the center of the festival. There are a couple of men milling about on it, setting up what looks like sound equipment, and then they hurry off. A woman ascends the steps at the side, and there’s a bit of sporadic clapping throughout the crowd. Mary Margaret bumps her shoulder and says, “Look! It’s your best friend!”
Emma swallows against the sudden dryness of her mouth. Like she’d needed that pointed out.
The first thing Emma notices is that Regina’s hair is short, and, really – had everyone except her decided to get rid of their hair in the past decade? Emma briefly wonders what she’d look like with a bob, but then Regina is speaking, and all thoughts fly from her mind at the sound of her voice.
God, how Emma had missed that voice.
“Hello, everyone. Welcome to the thirty-seventh annual Storybrooke winter festival.”
The crowd goes wild at that, a few whoops and cheers making their way through. Regina pauses to let them happen, a small smile on her lips.
Once the crowd has quieted, she continues, “Another year has passed in our beloved little town. Storybrooke may not be the big city, but we have a community like no other. With this festival, let us celebrate another year of progress, and of friendship.”
Emma’s mood dampens at her mention of the big city. Regina’s right. The big city doesn’t have what Storybrooke has. That’s why she’d left.
Emma drowns out the rest of the speech. It’s hard to focus on what Regina is saying when all she can do is look at her.
It’s been ten years, and Emma had come back hoping she wouldn’t see her, but.
Here she is, and Emma can’t get enough.
“You should say hi!” Mary Margaret says, her voice jolting Emma out of her thoughts, and Emma realizes Regina has finished her speech and is now mulling around through the crowd.
She can’t get enough from a distance, Emma corrects herself.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Emma says. She feels hands on her shoulders then, and thanks her lucky stars when she whips around to find Ruby behind her.
“Hey, Em! I wasn’t expecting to see you here!”
Ruby had been one of the few people who’d taken Emma’s news of teen pregnancy without judgment, instead only asking Emma if she was going to keep it, accompanied by the reassurance that she’d support her either way. For that, Emma will be forever thankful. She’d also asked Ruby to keep it a secret, and judging by the surprised glances she’s gotten from townspeople when Henry’s called her mom, Ruby had held up on that.
Ruby’s got a brilliant smile on her face now, and Emma returns it. “Hey, Ruby.”
Mary Margaret touches Emma’s arm then, and says, “I’ll leave you two to catch up,” before wandering off.
Emma spares her mother a nod and then shrugs, turning back to Ruby. “Honestly, I’m mostly here for Henry. I figure I can’t deny him the experience.”
Ruby’s eyes brighten at that, and she glances around. “Your kid! Where is he? You left before I ever got to see him. And you never sent pictures, you bitch.” It’s affectionate, even the bitch, and Emma can’t help the fondness she feels for her old friend.
Emma nods to where Henry is still playing carnival games with David. “That’s him over there. With my dad.”
Ruby follows her eyes. “Oh my god! He’s like, a whole child.” She shakes her head. “He’s so big.” She tilts her head to the side, considering. “He’s got Neal’s chubby cheeks.”
And his brown eyes, and his freckles, Emma wants to add. Instead, she just says, “He did, yeah.”
“Your nose, though,” Ruby adds, and then turns that smile back on Emma. “I really missed you, Em. I’m glad you’re here.” With that she sweeps Emma into a hug, wraps her arms around Emma’s shoulder and squeezes. Emma’s never been one for physical affection, but she finds herself sinking into the familiarity. Eventually Ruby lets her go and she stumbles back –
And right into somebody else.
She spins, ready to apologize, but the other person is already speaking.
“Oh – Emma.”
There, standing in front of her with wide eyes, is Regina Mills.
Emma barely registers Ruby saying, “Hey, Gina,” And then squeezing Emma’s arm and saying, “Catch you guys later.” With that she disappears, leaving Emma alone with the one person she’s been dreading interacting with.
Regina looks different than she had in high school, now that Emma’s seeing her up close. Which, of course she does. Emma mocks herself internally – people tend to change between eighteen and twenty-nine. It’s just, she hadn’t been expecting…this.
Regina’s face has lost the rounded quality it’d had when they’d been teenagers. Her jaw is sharper now, her eyes and lips defined by dark makeup that gives her a kind of intensity that makes Emma’s heart flutter. And then there’s her hair – she’d always worn it free as a child, left it curly – now she’s straightened it, though Emma can still see the little ringlets peeking through at her temple. Her baby hairs never did want to behave. Emma remembers nights spent in Regina’s bedroom, straightener on its highest setting, Regina fighting to flatten them for some trip to the mall or other. They’d always ended up just sticking straight off her temples, and Emma had to paste them back down with gel –
Emma blinks, snaps herself out of her thoughts, realizes Regina is staring at her expectantly. “Hi,” Is all she says, and god damn it, she really should have thought of something to say ahead of time.
It’s not as if she hadn’t known she’d be awkward. Regina opens her mouth to speak, but –
“Regina!” Mary Margaret comes up behind Emma, puts a hand on her back, her other extending out towards Regina’s shoulder.
Emma doesn’t think she’s ever been so grateful to be interrupted by her mother.
“Hello, Mary Margaret,” Regina says. It’s formal, but she says it with a smile that Mary Margaret returns. Her eyes flicker to somebody behind Emma, and she nods and adds, “David.”
Mary Margaret beams at her. “Did you see Emma’s back in town?”
The corners of Regina’s mouth twitch a little, and Emma can see that she’s fighting back amusement. “She was kind of hard to miss.” Her eyes flicker back to Emma’s, and she adds, “It’s good to see you again.” The words aren’t quite warm, but they’re friendlier than Emma had expected. They’re guarded, and, well. Emma can’t exactly blame Regina for that.
Still, she offers Regina a small smile in return. “Thanks.”
Regina nods diplomatically. She nods again to Emma’s parents in turn. “Enjoy the festival.” She gives Emma one last glance, before she disappears back into the crowd.
“Well, wasn’t it nice to see her, Emma? I think Ruby might be around here somewhere too, I saw her a moment ago –”
Emma cuts her off. “Hey, where’s my kid?” He’d been right next to David, but the space beside him is empty now. Emma stands up on her toes, glancing frantically around the crowd. She spots him the moment David says, “Relax, Em. He’s just over there.”
She finds him standing in front of a tent, trying his luck at some ring-toss game, and Emma lets out a breath.
“Honestly, Emma. You can trust us to keep an eye on him. Besides, this isn’t Boston.” Mary Margaret gives a laugh, reaching out to squeeze Emma’s upper arm. “Storybrooke is so much safer than the big city.”
Her mother is right, as loath as she is to admit it. The crime rate in Storybrooke isn’t exactly high. She should know – her father had been deputy nearly her entire childhood, and he’d spent most of his time pulling cats down from trees. So many of her evenings had been spent riding along in the back of the sheriff’s car, Regina’s hand in her own as they’d peered at her father from behind the grating, a giggling Thelma and Louise picked up after an imaginary crime spree.
David had always hoped that she’d take over the post when he retired, or eventually moved up to sheriff, whichever happened first. He’d even gotten her her first job there as a receptionist when she’d turned sixteen. She’d been bored to tears behind that desk. Her job had mainly consisted of taking phone calls about noise complaints and making trips down to the diner for jelly donuts and coffee.
The only thing that had made it bearable had been the fact that they’d let Regina hang out in the waiting area sometimes.
David retired shortly after she’d left town, or so Emma had heard. She never found out who took over the post. David hadn’t said, and she’d never asked. It doesn’t matter, anyway.
It hadn’t been her.
Emma doesn’t last much longer after that. Eventually she turns to her family and says, “You guys have fun. I’m going to walk around for awhile.” She steals off to the outskirts of the fairgrounds, eventually coming to the park that’s just outside of them.
She’d spent her fair share of summer nights here as a teenager, smoking weed with Neal and Killian.
Now she just sits in one of the swings, letting the sounds of the festival fade behind her. She’s alone with her thoughts for maybe twenty minutes before somebody joins her.
“So. You’re back.”
Regina’s voice sounds behind her. Emma had heard her approach, had heard the crunching of frosted grass beneath her boots and the shuffle of her peacoat against her legs. She doesn’t turn, just sips at the last of her cider, and leans down to set the empty cup beside her on the ground.
“I’m back,” Is all Emma says in reply.
She hears chain rattle beside her, and steals a glance just in time to see Regina take the swing next to her. She’s bundled up – she’s tucked her scarf tighter around her neck, and her hands are shoved deep into her pockets. She catches Emma’s staring, meets her eyes with the ghost of an amused smile, and Emma doesn’t look away. She doesn’t know if she’s trying to prove something by holding that gaze. Maybe just that she’s not afraid of Regina’s presence, even after so many years away. Maybe she’s got to prove that to herself, more than anyone.
Maybe she’s just missed those deep brown eyes.
Fuck, that’s sappy. Emma Swan is not sappy.
“You’re just as social as you ever were, I see.” Regina breaks her out of her thoughts.
“What?” Emma blinks, wonders briefly if Regina’s referring to their earlier encounter. Because if she is, she’s the one who’d been short with Emma, not the other way around. Emma had been avoiding Regina, sure, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t at least going to make polite conversation. And really, she’d tried, but her mother –
Regina looks amused, pulls one gloved hand from her pocket and gestures around at the playground. “You. Over here, instead of at the carnival with everyone else. Anti-social.”
Emma shrugs, finally breaks eye contact to turn towards the ocean instead. “Never liked crowds,” she says, and Regina just hums in response.
“I remember that,” Regina says. “Apparently not much has changed.”
“A lot’s changed,” Emma scoffs, and when she turns back to Regina, the other woman’s eyes on her, bright and questioning, and Emma turns away and kicks at the ground instead. “You’re mayor, for one. How’d that happen?”
Regina huffs. “Some of us have responsibilities to our families, Emma.” Emma glances up, meets her eyes, and she sighs. “I ran to honor my father’s memory, if you must know. And then I won, so.” Her words die off.
“Oh,” Is all Emma says. “That’s…really sweet, actually.” Regina’s expression softens a little, and she almost looks like she’s going to smile , smile at Emma , and – well.
Maybe Emma’s not as over it as she’d previously thought.
She doesn’t give voice to that thought, of course. “For what it’s worth, I think you’d make a great mayor.”
Regina’s expression turns wry, and she says dryly, “I do pretty well. You’d have seen for yourself if you’d stuck around.”
There’s the sarcastic woman she’d known and loved.
Emma just rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well.” She sighs, waits for Regina to let it go before she speaks again, because this is not a conversation she wants to have. Once she’s convinced Regina is going to let her drop it, she asks, “How’s your mom?”
Regina’s body language shifts at that. She leans away from Emma a little, looks down at the ground. “She died. Two years after my father.” She says it plainly, carefully controlled as she always is when it comes to talk of her mother.
“Oh.” Emma peers at her, looks for some kind of crack in her armor, finds none. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Regina shakes her head, and that smile is back. “No, you’re not.”
And Emma can’t help it, she smiles, too. It feels wrong, given the topic, but – “No, I’m not,” She agrees, and Regina’s expression is nothing but fond. “I’m not sorry she’s gone. I’m sorry for...everything else,” She finally settles on. It’s weak, and it doesn’t even come close to adequate, but Regina seems to understand anyway.
“Thanks,” Regina replies. Her voice is soft, barely audible over the muffled noises of the festival behind them. “Sorry for punching her in the face?”
“No.” Emma blurts the word out without thinking — what’s new? She curses her lack of filter, but then Regina grins. Actually grins, and it’s even more dazzling than Emma had remembered. She doesn’t say anything else on the topic, though, because all in all that’s not a day she wants to revisit. Regina doesn’t either, and for that Emma thanks her lucky stars.
“You call my parents by their first names,” Emma says after a moment, and Regina looks up. She’s got one brow raised, like she’s only just considering the fact, like it’s Emma who’s weird for pointing it out.
“Yes. I’m twenty-nine. And I’m the mayor. They asked me to.” Her words are matter-of-fact, her signature sarcasm leaching in.
After a moment, though, Regina’s expression softens. Her eyes flicker to Emma’s, and she laughs. She laughs, and god, how Emma had missed that sound. It’s warm and rich and sweet, even the little puff of white that it creates in the bitter air like spun sugar, and Emma wants to wrap herself in it.
And, fuck, she thinks, maybe she is a little bit sappy.
Regina catches her lower lip between her teeth and says, “It’s weird, isn’t it?”
And with those words, with that laugh, Emma finally feels like she can breathe. She laughs too, nods her agreement. “Yeah. It’s weird.”
“Up until a year ago I was still calling your father Mr. Swan-White,” Regina admits, and in that moment she’s the same girl Emma had fallen in love with back in high school. “One day he just put his hand on my shoulder and said,” – she mimics his voice, sitting up a little straighter and leaning forward against her knee – “Regina, you’re an adult now. You ought to call me David.” She sits back, wraps her hands back around her swing’s chain and lets the shifting of her weight make her sway. “It took me weeks to even say it. Let alone call your mom by her first name. She said it made her feel old if I didn’t.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty good at making you feel guilty, even when she doesn’t mean to.”
The instant the words leave her mouth Emma regrets them. She hadn’t meant it that way, hadn’t meant to throw that much of an admission behind them, but when she looks up, Regina’s staring at her with this softness that on anyone else she’d interpret as pity. It doesn’t look like that on Regina, though. On her, it’s more like…sympathy. Compassion.
Emma had seen that look before. It had been a staple when they were younger, each growing up in families that didn’t quite understand them, however well they meant.
Regina, though…they’d always been on the same page.
Up until the end, anyway.
Henry’s voice snaps her back to the present, and it’s accompanied by the thudding of shoes on the frozen earth. He comes barreling up to the swing set and Regina shoots Emma a startled glance, a look that clearly says explain , and Emma winces internally at that.
“Hey, buddy.” She says instead as Henry comes skidding to a stop in front of them. “What’s up?”
“Grandma says I have to ask you if I can have a funnel cake.” He’s out of breath, his brown hair ruffled and cheeks pink from the exertion in the bitter coastal air. “Can I?”
“What’s the magic word?” She asks, and then furrows her brow, reaching out to tousle his hair. “Where’s your hat?”
“Dropped it,” He says, squirming out of the way, and Emma sighs.
“I just bought that.” She frowns. “Keep an eye out for it, okay?”
“...Emma? Are you going to introduce me?” Regina finally says something, and Emma wonders if it’s good for her lungs to be breathing this fast in air that’s this cold. She can’t help it, her heart is pounding.
“Right,” She says, and then gestures to Regina. “Kid, this is Regina. She’s the mayor of this town.”
“Cool,” Henry says, offering her a brilliant smile and then extending his hand out like Emma had shown him. “It’s nice to meet you, Mayor Regina.” Regina smiles, and it’s warmer than anything Emma’s seen since she’s come back to town, and she really doesn’t need that, not right now. “My name is Henry.”
There it is.
The penny drops and Regina’s smile falters, her handshake stuttering as she glances over at Emma with wide eyes. She recovers quickly though, turning back to Emma’s son with a smile that would win over even the surliest of men and saying, “It’s very nice to meet you too, Henry.” She raises her brow, turns that practiced, manicured smile on Emma and says, “I believe the gentleman wants a funnel cake?”
Emma rolls her eyes. The two of them ganging up on her is not something that she needs, no matter how cute it is – it’s so domestic, something about it so achingly familiar, and for a second Emma lets herself imagine a word in which Regina is Henry’s other parent. A world in which they’ve raised him together, where he calls them both mom—
And yeah, she needs to stop that train of thought before it leaves the station.
“And I believe I asked for the magic word.” She turns her attention back to Henry, who beams at her.
Emma nods then, pulling out a twenty from her pocket and handing it to him. “Go crazy,” She says, and he looks at the bill like he’s just won the lottery before running back off to his grandparents.
They’re both silent for a couple of minutes in which Emma refuses to look over at the woman beside her. She can hear Regina rocking back and forth, the old chains creaking under the stress of the cold. Instead she chooses to look out over the hills, out towards the ships in the harbor and the way the sky is turning pink as the sun dips below the horizon. The choppy water catches the light, and it’s hypnotizing, but Emma can’t lose herself in it, not when Regina’s right next to her, and so she just…sits there. Aware.
It’s Regina who breaks the silence eventually, of course.
“You have a kid.”
It’s all she says, and Emma wants to snort and say, wow, you’re so observant, but that’s too familiar, too easy going for what they are now. What they are now is nothing.
And so instead, Emma nods, and says, “Yep.”
Regina’s silent for another moment. “You named him Henry.” Her voice breaks a little on the name, and there it is, the thing that Emma hadn’t wanted to talk about, that she’d been hoping Regina would ignore –
“Yeah,” She says, and she’s beginning to sound like a parrot. Or, a broken record. Or something. She winces, this time for real, and finally turns to meet Regina’s eyes.
Her expression is surprisingly soft. There’s a slight frown at her painted lips, and Emma finds herself tracing the curve of her lipstick with her eyes, noting the way it feathers into the scar at her top lip, just barely.
Emma shrugs, shakes her head, and leans against the chain so that her swing spins her a little bit to face Regina. “It’s…a lot, I know. I’m sorry. It’s stupid. It’s just, I was young, and it’s a good name, and he was always so kind. And after what happened, I…it felt meaningful at the time.” She cringes. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m a freak.”
“Emma.” Regina’s regarding her now with a look that she hasn’t seen since high school, and oh. Fuck. “Of course I don’t think you’re a freak.” She sighs, wraps a gloved hand around her chain and leans her cheek against it. The sky’s a dark pink now, and the festival will be wrapping up, Emma thinks, but she doesn’t want this to end. Not yet. Not when Regina’s looking at her like that, talking to her like a person. “It’s kind of nice, actually. Like a part of him lives on.”
Emma smiles at that, a nervous, tentative motion, and resists the urge to bump Regina’s shoulder with her own or take her hand or do something else that will be equally disastrous. “Yeah.” After a moment Regina frowns, lifting her head to peer over at Emma with brows furrowed, and fuck, there goes Emma’s heart again. “What?”
Regina just looks at her, searching, for several moments. “How old is he?” She asks eventually, and Emma frowns.
“Ten,” Regina echoes, and her frown deepens. “...He’s Neal’s, then.” It’s a statement, not a question, and so Emma doesn’t answer. She’s right, of course, because even after a decade she can still see right through Emma. Regina sighs, and then scoffs. “Does he know? I can’t exactly imagine that guy as a father.”
Emma shrugs. “I told him.” She kicks her feet against the frozen mulch, rocking herself back and forth as she grips at the chain. “He didn’t want anything to do with being a parent, so. Haven’t seen him since.”
Panic seizes Emma’s chest for a moment and her chin snaps up, meeting Regina’s eyes, and she asks, “He’s not in Storybrooke, is he? Because Henry’s not ever supposed to meet him. Last I heard he moved out west –” She feels a weight on her thigh and freezes, looks down to find Regina’s hand resting at her knee.
“Relax,” Regina says, and Emma breathes. “He hasn’t been here in years.” She pauses a moment, letting that sink in. When Emma nods, she retracts her hand and continues, “He had some fight with his dad and ran. Gold’s been mopey ever since.”
Emma raises her brow. “Even more than before?”
“If you can believe it.”
Regina goes back to rocking gently on her swing and staring out at the ocean. Emma does the same, watching the choppy waves turn from red to purple as the sun finally dips below the horizon. The stars make their appearance before Regina speaks.
That’s something Emma’s missed about Storybrooke. You can’t see the stars in Boston.
She opens her mouth to say as much, because she can’t think of anything else to say and the milky way seems as safe a thing to comment on as any, but Regina’s already speaking. She barely catches the words, almost has to ask her to repeat them.
“I’ve missed you, Emma.”
When she turns towards the other woman, Regina’s watching her with something wistful in her eyes, and Emma knows that she means it.
“I’ve missed you too, Regina.” Her words are barely audible, but there’s no hesitation. They spill out like the truth that they are, and Emma feels a weight in her stomach evaporate.
She’s told herself all this time that she’s been running from Storybrooke. From her parents, from expectations, from the judgemental glares and hushed whispering that comes with being a pregnant teen in a small town.
Really, she’s been running from Regina.
She’s been running from uninhibited laughter and popcorn and forts made from sticks in the woods; from splashes in the creek out beneath the toll bridge and sticky mud tracked into Cora’s sunroom. The latter had gotten Regina grounded, and Emma had been there then, too, on her knees with a toothbrush right beside Regina as they scrubbed the clay from the tile and swallowed back laughter so that Cora would believe them upset and allow her to stay. She’s been hiding from memories of hastily applied makeup so that they could go out to the ice skating rink in the dead of winter, not a care in the world for the cold as long as Emma could tuck their interlaced hands into the pocket of the big parka Mary Margaret had made her wear.
She’s been running from a kiss.
Just one kiss, shared over spilled nail polish and hasty scrubbing of rags over white carpet and the knowledge that this was going to blow up, this was going to be the end of the world if Cora found out. Except then Emma had caught her wrist, told her that it was all going to be okay, that she was going to be here no matter what. That they could move away together, that she’d found a place in Boston that they could afford if they both got jobs and they could be happy, together if they just packed their bags and got in her car and started driving –
Emma swallows. Regina’s still staring at her like she’s trying to decipher what’s going on inside her head, and Emma doesn’t think it’s fair to bring up the day her father died right now.
Instead she just offers Regina a smile. It’s half-hearted, and she almost misses the way Regina’s face falls at the motion.
And Emma doesn’t want to stick around to see where that particular train of thought brings her, so she says, “I should probably get going. It’s getting dark.” She squints off towards the festival. Her family is heading for them anyway. Mary Margaret and David are chatting with a man she doesn’t recognize, and Henry’s trailing behind them, battling two kids about his age with wooden swords.
“It’s already dark,” Is all Regina says. Emma flashes her a sly smile, one that she hopes is an admonishment for stating the obvious, but Regina doesn’t return it.
And so Emma just picks up the little plastic cider cup, and says, “Bye, Regina,” before she turns.
Regina waits until she’s already several steps away to call, “How long are you staying?”
Emma barely turns back, just calls the words over her shoulder. “A week.”
How much can happen in a week?
As it turns out, a week is plenty of time for Emma’s past to come barreling into her, face first.
Regina jumps back with a gasp. She’s now doused in the entire contents of Emma’s latte, and Emma winces.
“Oh, shit,” She says, stepping back. At least she’s slightly more eloquent than last time, she thinks bitterly. “I’m so sorry, Regina.”
Regina flicks some of the liquid off of her hands, pulls back her – unfortunately – unbuttoned coat to reveal her completely soaked blouse. She scowls, peels her coat off of her slender frame, and finally meets Emma’s eyes.
“You’re lucky it’s you,” Is all she says. Her voice is disgruntled, but she’s not mad – Emma knows what she sounds like when she’s mad , and it’s nothing like this – and Emma has no idea what to do with that.
“What does that mean?” Emma blurts out, and regrets it immediately when Regina rolls her eyes.
“Nothing.” She shakes her head, holding her coat out in front of her as she shakes some of the coffee off of it. “It’s on you too,” She adds, eyeing Emma’s torso.
Emma glances down to find that she is, in fact, covered in the stuff as well. She hadn’t had the protection of a coat, though, and she’s currently sporting a large wet spot that goes all the way down the front of her jeans. “Fuck,” She says, and Regina gives her a side eye.
“Classy,” She comments. “Well, Emma, it’s been nice seeing you again. Next time, try not to run me over.”
“Hey, you ran into me !” Regina scowls at that, and Emma shakes her head, trying again. “You know what, it doesn’t matter.”
Regina shakes her head and moves to walk past Emma, but Emma reaches out and catches her wrist instead. Regina looks down immediately, and Emma realizes what she’s done and drops it.
Still, though, the coffee on her skin is already getting cold and sticky, and she might as well try, right?
“Hey – wait. I’m sorry. I’ve got a room upstairs. You can borrow a shirt.” They’re right outside of Granny’s, thankfully, and at least that means neither of them have to go far.
Regina looks skeptical. “Thank you, Emma, but I’ll just go home and change.”
“You want to get that in your car?” Emma asks. If the Mercedes Emma had seen her get out of had in fact been hers – and she’s pretty certain it had been – she’s got her there. She doesn’t know why it’s so important that she be able to help , not when she’d been right, Regina had been the one to walk right into her . It just is, and so she regards Regina with hopeful eyes.
Regina frowns, and Emma knows she’s won her over.
“Alright, fine. Thank you.”
Emma leads her around the back of the building, through the inn entrance. It’s as much for Regina’s benefit as it is hers – she still doesn’t know who she’s going to run into, and she doesn’t want her first impression in a decade to be the woman who looks like she peed herself outside the diner. Granny’s is a small place, thankfully, and it doesn’t take long before they get to her room.
“You’re not staying with your parents?” Regina asks when they’re both inside. She peers at the single bed and single luggage, brow furrowed.
“Not a lot of room in the loft,” Emma says, unbuttoning her shirt as the door swings shut behind them. “Henry’s staying with them. I got a room here.” She peels the sticky fabric off of her chest and tosses it off into the corner before grabbing her duffel bag and tossing it onto the bed so that she can root through it. “I wasn’t exactly sure how this was all gonna go. Besides, staying with them without me makes him feel like he’s all grown up, so.” She finally finds something that she thinks Regina would wear, a pretty blue blouse that she’d packed just in case her parents had wanted to go somewhere nice for dinner. She holds it out to Regina. “Here. You can wear this.”
She finally looks back up at Regina as she does so, and realizes that Regina is staring at her bare abdomen.
And with that, she finally realizes that she’s just undressed in Regina’s presence.
Regina blinks, snaps out of the trance with a flush at her cheeks and an irritation that belies embarrassment in her eyes. Emma can see right through her, and she knows that Regina knows that, and so she doesn’t comment when Regina takes the shirt without a word.
“Let’s hope we’re still the same size,” Emma says, trying to lighten the mood. It’s entirely the wrong thing to say, and Regina only blushes harder. Emma moves to pull on a shirt of her own, hoping to dissipate some of the tension, but there’s a glaze over her skin and she wrinkles her nose. “On second thought, this is probably gonna require a shower.” She gestures awkwardly to the bathroom. “...You’re welcome to take one first, if you want to.”
Regina glances down at her own wrinkled, sticky clothing. She seems to draw the same conclusion as Emma had, because she accepts with a sigh. “Alright. Thank you.”
There’s a moment where they both stare at each other.
It’s different than when they were teenagers.
Back then it had been all fluttering hearts and pink flushing cheeks. Now it’s heady, dizzying, the way Regina’s eyes lock with her own. She’s steadily, pointedly avoiding glancing down. Emma kind of wishes she would.
Emma also kind of wishes she would kiss her.
But she doesn’t, and Emma doesn’t either, and so instead Emma clears her throat and gestures to the bathroom. “There are clean towels by the sink.”
Regina thanks her again, and shifts past her without another word.
Emma blows out a breath and pushes her hand through hair, and then immediately regrets it when the strands stick to her hand. She really should have taken a moment to wipe herself down before she let Regina have the bathroom, but the water is already running, and she’s sure as hell not going to knock now .
She shimmies out of her jeans – eugh , wet denim – and discards them along with her panties in the same corner where she’d tossed her shirt. She replaces them with a pair of pajama pants that she rolls low, hoping that they’ll stay clean enough to not need a wash. She reclines on her bed like that, scrolling mindlessly on her phone as she waits for Regina to return.
Regina’s not in the shower long, but it still feels like forever. Emma can’t think about anything else. All that runs through her head is the fact that Regina is on the other side of that wall, rinsing off like they’d just had –
What, a quickie in Storybrooke’s equivalent of a motel? She needs to get a hold of herself.
The bathroom door opens then, steam escaping behind Regina as she returns to the bedroom wearing Emma’s clothing. She hasn’t gotten her hair wet, but the humidity has taken its toll, and her perfectly straightened hair has become a frizzy mess of curls. She looks more like the girl Emma remembers, like the Regina who used to hide under her bed at sleepovers in hopes of scaring her in the middle of the night.
Except this Regina is different. This Regina is the one that she’d known so long ago, sure, but she’s sharpened. There’s a hardness to her now, a cunning edge that Emma finds intoxicating. She’s still wearing her slacks, but Emma’s blouse is tight across her chest and a little bit see-through. Her own soiled shirt and bra are dangling from her hands at her side. Regina’s eyes dart to her exposed stomach, lingering on the skin below her navel for just a moment too long. Emma imagines for a second a world in which Regina climbs onto the bed with her and then on top of her, straddles her hips and –
“What?” Regina asks, and Emma jolts out of her fantasy.
Emma clears her throat, embarrassed, and avoids Regina’s eyes. “Nothing. Blue looks nice on you,” She supplies lamely. Regina raises a brow at that, a little smile on her lips, but she doesn’t comment further. Emma pushes herself up on her elbows, sliding out of the bed. “I’m uh…going to.” She gestures to the bathroom. “Yeah.”
Regina nods. “Right. I should get going.” She steps towards the door. “…Thank you, Emma.”
“For dumping my coffee on you?” Emma asks, and it earns her a fond eye-roll. Her heart flutters against her better judgment.
“Right,” Regina says.
Emma grins, and finally opens the door to the bathroom. “Right. Well. You can just…close the door behind yourself.” Regina nods, and Emma finally ducks inside.
When Emma finishes rinsing off and comes back out, Regina is gone, and so is her favorite leather jacket.
Three more days pass before she sees Regina again.
She tries not to be too disappointed at that. Tries to tell herself that it’s not Regina she’s missing, it’s her jacket. That jacket is special. She just wants it back.
A traitorous voice in the back of her mind reminds her that the jacket is special because Regina had been the one to buy it for her, twelve years ago. A seventeenth birthday present that Regina had seen Emma admiring in the shop not a week before. She’d called it hideous, just like the rest of your clothes with shining eyes and her hand wrapped affectionately around Emma’s waist. She’d given it to Emma at school the morning of her birthday – pulled it out of her bag unwrapped and with the tags still attached, beaming as Emma had gasped and put it on immediately, even though it’d clashed horribly with the green sweater she’d been wearing that day –
And five days ago, Emma had been hoping she wouldn’t encounter Regina at all.
Now look at her. Pining away on her parent’s couch like a lovesick schoolgirl, reminiscing over decade-old memories of a love long lost.
Emma lets out a groan and falls back against the armrest, momentarily forgetting her setting. Henry glances up at her, eyes wide, and asks, “You okay, mom?”
She offers him a reassuring smile. “I’m okay, kid. Just tired.” Henry seems to accept that – thank god he was still young enough to take things at face value – and goes back to his video game. Mary Margaret, on the other hand, peers at her skeptically from across the living room.
Emma’s leaving early in the morning the day after tomorrow, and Mary Margaret had insisted upon them spending the day together at the loft. She’d been strange all day, avoiding Emma’s eyes as they prepared dinner, and keeping dinner conversation light. She’d turned to her father with a questioning look, though he’d only offered her a noncommittal shrug. And now they’re all sprawled out across the living room, and Mary Margaret seems to have decided now is the time to bring up whatever’s on her mind.
“So, Emma. I heard you saw Regina the other day.”
“You mean at the winter festival?” Emma asks, even though she knows this isn’t what this is going to be about. Mary Margaret had seen them talking on the swingsets, though she hadn’t commented about it at the time.
“No.” Her mother confirms as much. Emma shoots her a questioning glance, tries to keep the exasperation off her face and doesn’t really know if she succeeds or not.
“Okay, then, when?”
Mary Margaret shifts uncomfortably. “Leaving your room at Granny’s, wearing your clothes.”
Gossip travels fast in small towns, Emma thinks bitterly. It’s one of the reasons she left in the first place.
She shrugs, tries to play it cool. “Yeah. She ran into me and I spilled my coffee on her. She borrowed a shirt. What’s the big deal?” She doesn’t know why she feels so nervous. Her heart is racing, and she can feel a thin sheen of sweat at her brow. Henry is only feigning interest in his video game at this point. And it’s ridiculous, because she’s telling the truth.
“That’s not what I heard.”
Emma fights the urge to snap at her mother. “And what, exactly, did you hear?”
Mary Margaret regards her for a moment before speaking. “Emma, when you ran away, did you leave because you’re a lesbian?”
Emma sits up at the same time David says, “Honey –”
Mary Margaret cuts him off. “I’m just asking!”
“Are you really going to do this right now?” It’s not that she’s not ready for her parents to know, it’s – the opposite, really. Emma’s been open about this for years. Emma’s told her mother she’s not interested in men. She’s told her about the women she’s dated over the years – although they’ve been far and few between – and Mary Margaret’s never taken her seriously. And, really, she wants to do this now ? She draws in a deep breath, tries to collect her thoughts before she says something she’ll regret. Instead, she turns her attention to her son. “Henry, can you go upstairs, please?”
He looks disappointed, but thankfully, he obeys.
“I think it’s fine if she’s a lesbian, honey,” David interjects, trying to play peacemaker. He turns towards Emma, adding, “Emma, we love you no matter what.”
“Of course it’s fine if she’s a lesbian,” Mary Margaret says. “It’s okay if you’re gay, honey. I just think that it’s not a very good reason to leave your family behind.”
There’s rage boiling in her stomach now, and Emma bites it back. “Yes, I’m a lesbian. That’s not why I left. Can we just drop this?”
Mary Margaret ignores the plea, barrels on like she always does. “Then why did you leave? I’m trying to understand, Emma, but you’ve been gone for so long. I just want to know why.”
Emma grits her teeth. She’s always been an angry crier, and it’s humiliating, and the absolute last thing she wants right now is to let the tears fall. “You really want to know why?” They’re both just staring at her now, and she plows forward before she can talk herself out of it. They’ve had ten years to ask these questions. And, okay, maybe it’s more like seven because she hadn’t picked up the phone for the first three, but the point still stands. “I left because I got my heart broken, okay? I got my fucking heart broken and I got pregnant and you two looked at me like I was a fucking disappointment and I didn’t want to see that every day, so I left .”
It’s the truth.
It’s not the whole truth.
She stands, shakes her head to try and clear it. It’s an overreaction on her part, probably, even considering her mother’s chronic deficiency when it comes to tact, but she can’t bring herself to regret it. She tugs her boots on and slips her heavy winter coat over her shoulders. She doesn’t know where she’s going to go, maybe back to the inn, maybe —
Mary Margaret finally recovers from her stunned silence long enough to ask, “You’re leaving?”
“I just need some air,” Emma says. Maybe she’s reading too much into her mother’s words, but the thought crosses her mind that Mary Margaret probably thinks she’s running again. And then she’s angry all over again, at the idea that her mother might think she would leave Henry behind. She all but throws the door open.
“Oh —” Regina’s standing there, in the hall, one fist raised like she’d been about to knock. She drops it, taking in the look on Emma’s face, and just says, “Hey.”
“Is that Regina?”
Emma hears her mother’s voice from inside the loft and steps out into the hall, shutting the door behind her without looking back.
“…You okay?” Regina asks.
Emma leans back against the door for a moment, shoves her hands deep in her pockets. She lets her eyes close as she draws in a deep breath, and when she finally opens them again, Regina is regarding her with concern. She doesn’t know how to answer that question, not at the moment. She’s not okay. She’s okay enough , but she’s not okay , and she doesn’t know how to put that into words, and so instead she says, “Want to go for a walk?”
And Regina only stares at her for a moment. Her eyes drop past Emma’s flushed cheeks, to her hands still shoved deep within her coat pockets, and then come back up to meet her own. Eventually she just nods, and steps aside, waiting for Emma to take the lead.
Emma doesn’t know where she’s going. A walk had just sounded better than that all too familiar hallway, and so she’d led them out into the bitter air without a destination in mind. Regina follows dutifully behind her. For that she’s grateful. She thinks, at the back of her mind, that she should probably say thank you.
It’s not until they’re a block from her childhood apartment that Emma speaks.
“Why were you at my parent’s door, anyway?”
Regina blinks. She’s beside Emma now, having caught up to her brisk pace. “I was just coming to return this.” She pulls something from her pocket. Emma immediately recognizes it as Henry’s hat – the one he’d lost at the festival. “One of the council members found it when they were cleaning up and brought it to the lost and found at the town hall. I thought you might want it back.”
Emma pauses, her steps slowing and then coming to a stop as she holds her hand out to take the knit hat. “You knew I was staying at Granny’s, though. Why’d you bring it to the loft?”
Regina ducks her head, embarrassed. “I saw your car outside.”
Emma nods. She decides to take that at face value, even though she knows there’s probably more to it. “Thanks,” She says, and stuffs the hat into her pocket. “I just bought this for him.” Emma starts walking again, and Regina follows.
“I remember you saying.”
Several minutes and several blocks pass before either of them speak again. Emma knows that Regina is letting her take the lead on this, that she won’t say anything until Emma does. She’s grateful for that. The silent companionship is…well. It’s nicer than anything she’s come to expect from this town.
Eventually they reach the park outside the fairgrounds. Emma hadn’t exactly meant to lead them here, hadn’t planned on it – but she supposes it’s poetic, that they should end up here again. The first place they’d really spoken as adults, and it very well might be the last.
She silently takes a seat on the swing she’d been in four days ago, on the day of the festival, and Regina takes her place next to her.
Emma rocks back and forth a bit. The swing creaks under her weight.
“You broke my heart.” The words come spilling out of their own accord, and she should regret them, should want to pull them back in, but she doesn’t. She just lets them hang there between them, in the glittering winter air, and it’s like a weight has dissolved from her chest, even as she can see the fire light behind Regina’s eyes.
“I broke your heart?!” Regina blurts out, heavy with disbelief. Her eyes are wide, and her jaw’s fallen open. She shakes her head, huffs in that defensive way she’s had since she was a child. She’s always excelled at turning every conflict around on the other person – not that Emma doesn’t deserve it, but still. Regina’s not innocent in this, either. It’s a character flaw, Emma knows, but it’s also a defense mechanism. It’s almost comforting in its familiarity, and Emma can’t bring herself to be upset by it.
And so instead she just leans her cheek against the chain of her swing. The frigid metal stings against the delicate skin, but she doesn’t move. Her eyes are soft as she watches Regina’s lips tense, and she just says, “Yeah.”
“Yeah?” Regina echoes, appalled. “That’s all you have to say? You’re kidding me. You’re the one who broke mine .”
Emma laughs at that. She can’t help it. It’s a quiet, bitter laugh, devoid of humor. “I know,” She says, and fuck, she can feel the ache in her throat that means she’s about to cry, and she does not need Regina to see that. “I know,” She repeats. “I left.” She shakes her head. “You know, I never told anyone why I really went? Not my parents. My mom asked me today. She thinks I left because I’m gay.”
Regina doesn’t say anything.
Emma lets out a choked noise. “But I left because you broke my heart, and it’s not even fair for me to say that, because I broke yours worse. I kissed you and then your dad died and then I ran off to a boy I didn’t even like .” She blows out a breath. It puffs in the night air, catching silver in the streetlights. “That’s fucked up, isn’t it?”
Regina doesn’t answer her.
Not right away, at least.
“Emma.” Regina says, and there’s exasperation to her voice that Emma hadn’t expected to hear. “You didn’t break my heart because of that . Well – you did, but. You broke my heart because you were gone .” She finally turns towards Emma, meets her eyes. When she continues, her voice is soft, just above a whisper. “You didn’t even call, not once, you…Just.” She shakes her head, sighs. “Tell me, Emma. What do you have in Boston? What’s waiting for you?”
Emma blinks at the question, surprised. What does she have in Boston? She falters – she’s got a friend, or two. Loose friends, who will go to the bar with her after work sometimes if she asks nicely. She’s got an apartment.
Regina is just looking at her, head tilted to the side. Her hair has a little bit of wave to it today, a little bit of that natural curl poking its way through, and the edges brush against the hard line of her jaw. The sun is down now, had been on its way when they’d left – the moon has come out, bathing them in silver, and Regina’s eyes catch the glittering of the snow, and what does she have in Boston?
She doesn’t have the stars, for one.
“A job?” Emma says finally, and it sounds lame, even to her. Her shitty job, that she hates, that barely pays the bills.
“A job,” Regina deadpans, an echo. That glittering is gone. It’s replaced with exasperation, and fondness, and oh, fuck. “There are jobs in Storybrooke.” Emma frowns, because of course there are jobs here, but that’s not why she’d left. But then Regina adds, “You could get one, you know. Here.”
Emma blinks. That’s…not what she’d been expecting to hear. “What are you saying?”
Regina shrugs, turns her eyes away. She’d been better at vulnerability when they were children, Emma thinks. Better than Emma ever had.
Emma supposes she’s lost that privilege now.
It’s a dark thought, and it’s only compounded when Regina simply says, “I’m not asking you for anything.”
Emma wants to point out that that’s not what she said, that she hadn’t said Regina was asking her, but Regina barrels on.
“I’m just saying, if all you have in Boston is your job, I don’t know why you stayed there for ten years.” Regina’s tone has taken on an edge, and it’s not fair for Emma to be angry, but she’s fresh off an argument with her mother, and —
“I stayed in Boston because you told me to,” Emma snaps.
There it is.
It is fair, in a way.
She bites her tongue immediately, but it’s too late. The words have fallen out of her mouth before she can stop them, and now they hang there, harsh and heavy and unavoidable like little shards of broken glass. And if she’s honest with herself, deep down in the pit of her heart she wants Regina. Wants to go to her, wants to hold her, wants to mend things. But now, if she’s not careful, she’s going to cut them both open on those little fragmented words.
Regina doesn’t get angry, though, doesn’t respond with venom. Instead she just frowns, opens her mouth and then shuts it again like she doesn’t know what to say to that. And then she laughs, humorless and bitter, and says, “I suppose I did.” She kicks a few scuffs into the dirt, digs her heel into the frozen ground so that she rocks back and forth on the swing a little bit.
Emma remembers that, too. She never could sit still, not when she was uncomfortable. Cora had hated that. Emma had thought it was endearing, until she’d pushed Regina past even that.
Until she’d seen Regina freeze, truly freeze for the first time. Her eyes had gone dead within seconds after landing on Emma.
Emma, naked in her bed, curled against a boy she’d only wanted as nothing more than a friend to comfort her, with dried tear tracks on her face. She hadn’t meant for it to happen. Had meant even less for Regina to see . But Emma had given her that spare key behind her parents’ backs, because my home is your home too , and then.
Go to Boston, Emma. Just like you said. You can go alone, and you can stay gone.
Emma blinks, coming back to the present.
After several more moments, Regina says, “I’m sorry, Emma.”
Emma feels the sharp edge of regret in her chest. She shrugs. “I’m sorry, too. It’s not like I didn’t deserve it.” She leans her cheek back against the chain. She’s going to give herself a cold blister at this point, but the stinging helps her center herself, and she sighs. “I shouldn’t have…I don’t know. I shouldn’t have taken it to heart, not with what happened earlier. You weren’t in a good state of mind.”
“Are you talking about my father’s death or the kiss?” Regina asks.
Emma winces, because it’s the same to her now. The two events are so entwined in her mind at this point that sometimes, when she gives into her worst demons, she wonders if she’s responsible somehow. She’d rocked the boat of their friendship, dared to act on her feelings, and it had shattered everything.
That’s crazy, of course, and she knows it’d just been an unfortunate coincidence. A terrible coincidence, that the best and worst events of her young life had happened one after the other.
Regina misinterprets her reaction, though, and adds, “It’s been ten years, Emma. It’s okay. I can talk about it now.” She frowns. “Or are you talking about the fact that you slept with Neal?”
Emma looks down at her hands, worries at the threads where her gloves are starting to fray. “I don’t know. All of it, I guess.” She’s spent so long wondering what she’d say to Regina if she ever got the chance to explain herself, and now it’s here, and she can’t figure out how to put it into words. “I shouldn’t have let him…it was never about him,” She says, and wills Regina to understand. Regina doesn’t say anything, though and so she continues, “He was just a shoulder to cry on, after you told me to get out.” Regina winces at that, but Emma continues. “I guess I just wanted to feel like I had somebody, you know? Like I wasn’t alone, and he was there, and so I let him.” It sounds pathetic, she thinks, to admit that she’d lost her virginity to loneliness . That she hadn’t cared for him at all, not like she had Regina, that she’d – “I was thinking about you the whole time.”
There’s silence for a few heartbeats, in which Emma’s words hang heavily between them.
It’s always too quiet here in the winter. There are no crickets, no birds, not even the seagulls that usually plague the harbor. Briefly, Emma misses the constant hum of cars outside her apartment in Boston.
The weight of her admission gets the best of her, and she says, “You can call me pathetic now.”
“Emma,” Regina says, and there’s exasperation in her voice. “I’m not going to do that.”
Emma gives a bitter laugh. “Thanks.” They sit there for a moment, the only sound the creaking of the swingset as they both rock back and forth. Eventually, though, Regina speaks.
“I loved you, you know.” It’s matter-of-fact, the way she says it, and Emma lets her eyes flutter closed. “Back then.”
Emma tries not to let that last part get to her, tries not to feel the sting. She knows she has no right to ask that – to ask anything – of Regina. Not anymore. “I know,” She says. “I loved you too.” There’s more quiet, and Emma can’t stand it for long, not after that. And so she says, “You took my jacket.”
Regina laughs at that, a sudden, choked noise. “Oh. Right. I did.”
“Why?” Emma can’t help it. The curiosity has eaten at her the past few days. “I thought you hated it.”
“Because you ruined my coat and my bra and then gave me a see-through shirt to wear outside in the winter,” Regina scoffs. “Lending me a jacket is the least you could’ve done.”
Emma laughs at that. “Alright, fair enough.” She leans back, pumping her legs a few times to bring her into the air. “I want it back, though. I’m leaving soon.” She glances over at Regina, who’s tracking her swaying with her eyes.
“It’s at my house,” Regina says. She frowns, then reaches out and catches the chain of Emma’s swing and holds it until the movement stops. Emma holds her gaze. “Come get it?”
“Okay,” Emma says.
“Now?” Regina clarifies, and Emma swallows.
“Okay,” She repeats, this time with a nod, and the relief on Regina’s face is visible.
Regina stands without further comment. Emma follows suit, faltering when Regina holds her hand out. She’s peering at Emma expectantly, a little sheepishly, and a little smile quirks on her face when Emma takes it.
Emma tucks their hands into her coat pocket, just like she had when they were teens, and the flush on Regina’s face is probably just from the cold, but Emma feels like she’s won something anyway.
“When are you leaving?” Regina asks, and Emma feels a pang of regret in her chest as she replies.
And that’s absurd, because she hadn’t even wanted to come back to Storybrooke in the first place. “Day after tomorrow. Early.”
Regina’s mouth twists down into a frown, but she doesn’t say anything further.
Emma lets Regina lead them. It’s not like she doesn’t know her way, but it’s been a decade, and she can’t reasonably say that she still knows where Regina lives. But then Regina’s clearly taking them to Mifflin Street, and Emma falls into easy step beside her.
The mansion doesn’t look much different.
The plants outside are different. The roses have grown, climbing twice as high up the trellis. There’s ivy that winds through the bushes now.
It’s not until they get inside that Emma sees the changes.
It’s weird, stepping foot in a place that she hasn’t been in so long. It feels more like a home now than it used to. It takes Emma several moments to realize what it is that makes it feel so much softer. The first thing is the lighting: Regina’s swapped the cold, harsh bulbs that Cora had preferred in favor of warmer ones. And then it’s the little touches – a couple of pairs of shoes, discarded at the side of the door. Emma tugs hers off, a habit instilled from Cora’s reign of this house, and sets them neatly beside Regina’s. There’s a sweater hanging on the banister of the stairs. Framed photos on the walls: Cora had only ever hung professional shoots and Regina’s school photos. Regina, on the other hand, has a veritable collection hanging in the entryway.
Emma takes them all in as she follows Regina slowly to the kitchen.
There are several of Regina and Kathryn. Emma remembers her from high school – it appears they’ve grown close in the years she’s been away.
Emma tries not to feel jealous. She has no right to be jealous. She tries to be happy that Regina’s had a friend. Besides, a few of them feature a baby and a man that Emma assumes must be Kathryn’s husband, and really, she needs to get a hold of herself. Jealousy isn’t a pretty look on anyone, let alone the girl who’d run at the slightest sign of conflict.
There are a couple of shots of what Emma assumes is Regina’s mayoral inauguration. She looks younger than she does now, with a brilliant smile on her lips. Her hair is cropped to her shoulders, not quite as short as it is now, but it’s curly. Emma kind of wishes she’d been here to see it.
She would’ve voted for Regina, she thinks.
When Emma finally makes it to the kitchen, she finds Regina at the sink, running her fingers under the warm water until they’ve turned a hot shade of pink. Emma watches as she turns off the faucet, shakes her hands and grabs the towel from the stove.
Emma remembers baking cookies in this kitchen. She remembers stealing handfuls of chocolate chips while Regina wasn’t looking. She remembers tossing a little puff of flour over Regina’s dark hair, and only speaking to her in a horrible British accent because it’d looked like a powdered wig. Regina had threatened to kick her out that day, the words barely making it through her fit of giggles.
“Do you want anything to drink?” Regina asks then, breaking Emma out of her thoughts. When she looks up she finds Regina gesturing to the little decanter of cider that Emma knows is homemade. Regina’s father had shown her how to turn the apples they’d harvested each fall from their little tree into cider far before Regina had been old enough to drink the product. They’d always set aside a few apples to make a non-alcoholic version, too, and Emma had had the privilege of tasting the spiced drink on more than one occasion when she was young. Emma thinks about mentioning it, commenting on the fact that Regina’s kept up on the tradition all these years, but she decides against it.
Instead she just shakes her head, and says, “No, thank you.” As much as she’s missed the taste, she wants her head to be clear right now.
If she even gets tipsy she’s going to do something stupid, like cry. Or kiss Regina.
That second one wouldn’t be so bad, if Emma wasn’t completely sure that it would get her kicked out.
She doesn’t drink, though, and so she doesn’t do either. Eventually Regina tells her that the jacket is upstairs, and waves her hand over her shoulder for Emma to follow as she disappears down the hallway and up the stairs. Emma’s following behind her, a few feet back, when she comes up to Regina’s old bedroom. Half of her expects Regina to turn there, but she keeps going of course, because why wouldn’t she take the main one, now that this is her house?
The door is open, and Emma steals a glance. The room is full of clearly disused furniture, a few with sheets thrown over them, and boxes scattered in the corners.
And there, at Emma’s feet. The nail polish stain.
It’s still there.
It’s glaring, bright pink against the otherwise white carpet.
Emma remembers the way she’d caught Regina’s wrist to halt her frantic scrubbing, the way she’d leaned in and kissed Regina like it had been the most natural thing in the world. And at the time, maybe it had been.
Maybe it had just been an unfortunate coincidence that Cora had caught them. Maybe it had just been a cruel twist of fate that she’d walked in just in time, that she’d gripped Regina by the shoulders and pulled her away so hard that Emma’s lip had scraped against her teeth and then there had just been blood , copper and salt and tang and regret .
Emma still remembers the way Cora had shoved Regina back. Still remembers the way Regina had stumbled back against the bed, tripped down as Cora had announced, “Your father’s dead.”
Like it had been nothing.
Regina’s face had drained of color, her voice shaky as she’d barely squeaked out, “What?”
And Cora had repeated herself, called Regina something vile that Emma won’t repeat, and Emma had clocked her right in the fucking jaw. It had felt so good , so indulgent that it had to be right , in that moment.
But then Regina was screaming, and Cora was spitting venom, and Regina had told Emma to go, please just leave, please just get out, Emma, you’re making things worse —
Emma feels Regina’s hands on her – this time not a memory, this time for real. She leans into the touch.
“I’m sorry,” Regina murmurs, and it’s absurd that she’s apologizing when she’s the one who’d lost somebody that day. “I usually keep the door closed.”
Emma frowns, shakes her head. It’s an attempt to clear it, and it doesn’t work. “It never came up, huh?”
Regina shrugs. “I tried a few times. And then mother died, and I didn’t see the point anymore.”
Emma doesn’t say anything. Regina’s hands are still on her – one on her back, the other on her arm. Regina leans forward, her chin brushing Emma’s shoulder, and then she turns her gently.
“Emma,” She begins, and Emma’s breath catches in her throat. “I need you to know that I don’t regret it.”
“Don’t regret what?” Emma asks, because that’s vague. Does she not regret kicking her out? Or the stain? Or, maybe, telling Emma to leave town –
“Kissing you.” The words jolt Emma to the present, and she blinks. Regina is regarding her with something soft in her gaze now, and her hands are still on Emma’s arms, and fuck – “I don’t regret finally kissing you. That was the worst day of my life, and that was the one little scrap of light I had to cling on to.”
Emma wants to cry. She wants to cry, because she’d gone and ruined it immediately. But she doesn’t want to voice that, and so she says, “ I kissed you .”
Regina laughs at that, a little watery, and shakes her head. “Semantics,” She says.
“Nope.” Emma says, and the smile on Regina’s lips grows. “I want credit.”
“Fine,” She replies. Her hand drifts up, her finger coming to trail up Emma’s jawline. She tilts her head to the side, ever so slightly, and says, “My turn, then.”
Regina hesitates before she closes the distance, just for a second, and Emma realizes she’s giving her a choice.
As if Emma would choose anything else.
When she presses their lips together it’s light. Tentative, experimental, like she doesn’t quite believe it’s happening. But then Emma brings her hands to Regina’s hips, and then one to her back to draw her against herself and Regina just sinks into it. She parts her lips against Emma’s, swallowing the little contented noise that Emma might be embarrassed about with anyone else. But this isn’t anyone, it’s Regina, she’s kissing Regina after a decade of stomping her feelings as far down in her gut as they’ll go and now it’s all just surging forth. Emma backs Regina against the doorframe, lets her hands roam across her back and her arms and tangle in her hair. Regina lets out a surprised noise at the motion but then she responds in kind, slipping her tongue into Emma’s mouth and digging her fingers into Emma’s skin like she can’t pull her close enough.
When Emma finally breaks the kiss they’re both gasping. She leans their foreheads together and keeps her eyes closed as she recovers. Regina’s hands are still on her body, clinging to her, but a part of Emma is still afraid of what she’ll see when she meets her eyes.
She hopes to god it won’t be regret.
“Emma.” Regina murmurs her name, barely audible. Emma just stands there, though, fear curling in her chest, until Regina presses her open palm to Emma’s cheek and says again, “Emma. Look at me.”
And so she does.
There are tears brimming in Regina’s eyes. Just enough to bead at her lash line, not enough to fall down her cheek, but they’re there. Emma detangles her fingers from Regina’s hair and brushes one away with her thumb. Regina lets her.
Regina is silent for another moment. When she does speak, it’s quiet. “I’ve missed you.” And she’s already said those words once tonight, but somehow they feel different now. “I missed you every damn day you were in that stupid city.”
Emma feels a sharp pang of regret. “I know,” She says. “I’m sorry.” She tucks a stray strand of hair behind Regina’s ear as she adds, “I missed you too. Every day.” And she had. She just hadn’t been willing to admit it. But now, with Regina standing right in front of her, with her taste on her lips, she can’t hold it back anymore.
“Emma,” Regina continues, and Emma holds her breath. But when she speaks again, it’s just to say, “Your fingers are cold.”
Emma laughs at that, drops her hand back to Regina’s arm. “Sorry.” She glances down as she does so. Her fingers are still pink, and now that she thinks about it, they’re still stiff. “It’s cold outside.”
Regina gives her a small smile. “Eloquent as ever. Always pointing out the obvious.” Her eyes drop to Emma’s lips, and then she presses another kiss to Emma’s lips, and fuck , Emma thinks she could melt right into this forever. But eventually Regina pulls back back, leaning her head back against the doorframe as she asks, “Want to warm up?”
Emma nods. She wonders what that means, thinks just maybe she’ll be lucky and Regina will lead her to the fireplace and tuck a blanket around them both and then Emma can spend at least one evening in this godforsaken town feeling like everything will work out. But when Regina catches her fingers and slips out from between Emma and the doorframe, it’s her bedroom that she heads for.
Emma’s heart jumps into her throat as the bed comes into view. It’s perfectly made, with a heavy comforter and a fleece blanket folded at the bottom, ready to be pulled up. It takes a lot to combat the Maine winter, especially when you’re sleeping alone.
Emma knows first hand.
But then Regina turns, leading her towards the bathroom instead. Emma shoots her a questioning look, but Regina only offers her a small smile and lets go of her hand. She goes to the shower, and turns on the spray.
Regina always did like warm water.
As if confirming as much, Regina tugs up her sleeve and then holds her hand beneath the water. When Emma can start to see steam rising, her eyes flutter closed, and the little smile on her lips grows. She turns back towards Emma, and the smile falters.
“Is this too much?” She asks, brows knitting as she retracts her hand. “If you want to…on your own, that’s fine.”
Emma’s heart thuds in her chest at the confirmation that Regina had wanted them to get in together .
“No, it’s not too much. Not at all,” She hurries the words out, before Regina has time to overthink this, before she has time to say nevermind, because god does Emma want this. Just the thought of water beading on Regina’s bare skin is enough to make Emma dizzy.
“Good,” Regina says. She pulls a couple of clean towels out from a cabinet and places them on the shelf next to the shower. “What are you waiting for, then?” Her words are soft, her eyes equally so as she lets them roam over Emma’s body.
Emma reaches tentatively for the buttons of her shirt. Regina nods encouragingly, a bit hungrily, and Emma swallows under the appraisal. Regina’s gaze grows darker as her shirt opens. She’s just wearing a sports bra today, but Regina seems to appreciate it as much as any lingerie – she steps forward as Emma lets the heavy shirt fall to the floor, leaving her abdomen exposed.
Regina doesn’t kiss her – not right away. Instead she sidles up directly in front of Emma, hands immediately finding her hips. Her fingertips dip into the edge of Emma’s jeans, and then up the sides of her her waist.
“I always wanted to touch you, you know that?” Regina murmurs, and the admission sends heat flooding Emma’s entire being. “I thought about it every night, when we were younger.”
“You never said,” Emma breathes, as if she hadn’t done the same. They’d always shared a bed when they’d had sleepovers, and Regina had always curled against her, and Emma had always had to fight to keep her hands from roaming. Fight to keep from pressing her lips to the other girl’s shoulder, because that could only result in the end of their friendship, as far as Emma was concerned.
Regina gave a breathy laugh. “I didn’t know how to admit it out loud, much less ask for it.” Her eyes flicker up to meet Emma’s. “You’re every bit as beautiful as I remember. More so.”
Emma places her own hands over Regina’s, guiding them further over her skin. Regina’s eyes drop to follow the movement, and her lips part as Emma brings her fingertips to brush against the band of her bra. “You can touch me now. Please,” She adds. She’s never been one to beg, but –
Not that she needs to. Regina presses her fingers beneath the band immediately, and then pushes the garment up, prompting Emma to tug it over her head and toss it off to the corner. Regina’s hands find her exposed breasts immediately. Emma kisses her then, arching forward into the touch as Regina’s palms drift over her chest. Her own hands find the hem of Regina’s blouse, dipping beneath the fabric to skim over her waist before she tugs it up. Regina breaks the kiss just long enough to let Emma pull the shirt over her raised arms, and then her hands are on Emma again, wrapped around her hips and tugging her closer as she backs them towards the shower. Her chest is pressed flush to Emma’s own, and Emma lets her head fall back as Regina’s lips press to the corner of her mouth and then trail down her throat. Her fingers find the button of Regina’s pants and she unhooks them in one swift motion. The rest of their clothing falls away in a blur of deft fingers and kisses and wanting , and Emma is overcome with the urge to just step back and look at Regina, because she’s thought about this for so long. She’s thought about this every lonely night in her cold bed, every scalding shower when it’s just been a little too long since she’s been touched and every night in between too, even if she hasn’t been willing to admit it to herself. Emma runs her hands over every inch of Regina’s exposed skin, palms her breasts and skims her fingers over her nipples, dips her hands into the divots at her lower back.
She traces every part of her and tries to commit each curve to memory, because this is both the first and probably the last time.
She’s leaving the day after tomorrow, she reminds herself. She has to make the most of this, because she can’t expect Regina to be waiting around when – if – she finally comes back, as much as she wants her to.
By the time they make it underneath the showerhead, the water is scalding.
Emma hisses when it makes contact with her skin. Regina reaches around her to adjust the temperature, and Emma takes the opportunity to spin Regina and pin her to the wall of the shower instead. Regina lets out a little whimper at the motion, and fuck , Emma’s thought so long about what she’d sound like that she nearly melts right then and there. Instead, she slides her hands over Regina’s hips, tilting them towards her as she pushes her thigh between the other woman’s legs. Regina lets out a low, breathy moan, head falling back against the shower wall as Emma grips her ass, rocking her hips slowly against her thigh. She’s wet, Emma can tell, because water doesn’t feel like that; the slickness coating her thigh is all Regina – and then Regina hooks her arm around her neck and pulls her in for a kiss and she loses her train of thought.
Emma’s motions slow with the distraction, and Regina smiles against her lips. Emma catches her lower lip in her teeth in response, biting down just hard enough to sting before she pulls away and murmurs, “Shut up.”
Regina lets out a laugh at that, a throaty noise that’s accompanied by her rocking her hips of her own accord, all but riding Emma’s thigh now as her hands clutch at Emma’s upper arms.
Regina’s movements grow erratic eventually. She stutters, bucks against Emma’s leg, and Emma grips at her hips, letting Regina put more and more of her weight against her. She rocks Regina against her leg, guiding her motions, trying her best to help her towards the edge. Eventually Regina cries out, her fingernails digging against Emma’s neck as her body locks, hips jerking forward as Emma leans her weight against her center.
Emma’s breathing is heavy, and it’s not just to do with the steam from the scalding water. Regina’s just come , Regina’s gotten off and it’s because of her, and her thigh is soaked and –
Regina’s head falls forward, against Emma’s shoulder as she recovers from her orgasm. She presses a kiss to Emma’s neck, her skin sliding against Emma’s as she draws in shaky breaths. After a few moments her breathing steadies, and she pulls back just enough to meet Emma’s eyes.
“It was always you, Emma,” Regina murmurs. Her eyes are hooded, her cheeks flushed from her orgasm, and there’s something vulnerable in her gaze as she speaks. “It’s always been you,” She repeats, her eyes locked with Emma’s. “I love you.”
And Emma doesn’t know what to say to that, except to respond with the truth. “I love you, too. I’ve always loved you.”
The admission hangs between them, on both ends, and Emma swallows. She lets her forehead fall against Regina’s, eyes dropping so that she doesn’t have to face the intensity of what she’d just confessed. She lets them flutter closed, and then she feels Regina’s fingers beneath her chin, tilting her jaw up so that she can kiss her instead.
Regina’s fingers slip between her thighs, and Emma forgets all of her hesitations.
The water’s run cold by the time they’re done, and Emma thinks briefly that they’ve defeated their original purpose of warming up.
Then again, she doesn’t know if that had been Regina’s goal in the first place, anyway – it kind of seems like she’d just wanted to get Emma naked, and Emma isn’t the least bit mad about it. Regardless of intentions, it had been well worth it, and she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Not even a chance to mend their past, she thinks.
Emma presses a kiss to Regina’s shoulder as she reaches out and shuts off the water. There are little goosebumps rising on her skin now, and Emma doesn’t want her to be uncomfortable any longer than she has to, and so she reaches out and rubs her hands over Regina’s arms. Regina laughs at that, and it’s easy, familiar – all things that Emma doesn’t deserve, not when she’s about to walk away again.
She shoves the thought aside as Regina pulls back the sliding glass door and hands Emma one of the fluffy towels she’d set aside earlier. She uses her own to dry her body, and then squeezes the water out of her hair.
When she’s done it springs up in the curls that Emma remembers, and Emma reaches out to touch them with a small smile on her lips.
“What?” Regina asks, voice low, and Emma shrugs.
“Nothing. I just like them.” She tucks a strand behind Regina’s ear, and then presses a light kiss to her lips. “Don’t get me wrong, you look beautiful with your hair straightened. But I missed the curls.”
Regina just gives a soft hum at that. Eventually she heads for the door, and Emma doesn’t quite know what to do after that.
She picks up her clothes from the floor a little awkwardly. Regina’s been nothing but warm since they’d come upstairs – more than friendly , given that she’s just had her fingers inside of Emma – but even still, Emma doesn’t quite know how this is going to go.
The hope for anything more just seems too good to be true.
It’s more than she deserves, to think that Regina might want her to stay, even after everything.
But Regina sees her start to step into her jeans and stops her with a hand on her arm and a roll of her eyes. “Emma.” It’s all she says, at first, just her name, and there’s a tinge of steel to it, a hint of hurt, and Emma’s heart flutters. “I’m not kicking you out,” She continues. “You really think I’d do that?”
Emma shrugs, a little sheepishly, and steps back out of the denim. Because she hadn’t really, not as any kind of reflection on Regina, just –
More of a reflection on herself. She doesn't deserve this. But…still.
She remembers Regina, not an hour ago, cheeks red from rocking against Emma’s thigh, murmuring an I love you . A confession. She remembers that, and then she feels a little bit stupid. She drops the jeans back to the floor, steps out of them, and Regina rolls her eyes.
“Leave them, ” Regina says, and then gives a little nod as Emma does so. “I’m tired,” She adds, and Emma thinks a little sheepishly that it’s probably almost midnight at this point. Regina doesn’t release Emma’s wrist, instead tugging her towards the bed with purpose. She pulls back the sheets, and then just looks at Emma expectantly. “Well? You’re staying, aren’t you?”
Like she’s going to turn that down.
Of course she’s staying.
Emma nods and slides beneath the covers. Regina follows her beneath them, curling up against Emma’s side, and Emma’s heart is racing all over again. She can feel Regina’s hair tickling at her shoulder, still damp enough to soak the pillow but Emma doesn’t care. Her skin is still cool to the touch from their shower gone cold. She wraps an arm around Regina’s back, pulling her closer, and she can’t even pretend that it’s because she wants to warm her up.
Emma’s starting to drift off when Regina finally speaks.
“You’re leaving in the morning.” It’s matter of fact, the way Regina says it, and Emma bites back the copper tang of regret on her tongue.
“Morning after,” Emma corrects her, but it doesn’t matter. She’s leaving, and she knows that’s what actually matters. She swallows back the pang in her chest, and god , it’s been less than a week since she’d been dreading setting foot in this town. Less than a couple of hours since she’d thought of this place as dreary, a place where dreams and people go to die, and how could she think of anywhere like that when Regina is there?
Regina’s just silent for a moment. Her fingers trail over Emma’s abdomen, her head tucked against Emma’s chest, and fuck , Emma wants this.
She doesn’t know how to say that she wants this.
It’s Regina that breaks the silence, again.
“What ties you to Boston? Really, this time. What’s keeping you there?”
Emma struggles for a moment. Eventually she just says, “I don’t really know. Henry, I guess. His life is there.” It’s not a lie, per say. It’s just…not the whole truth? Henry does have a life in Boston. He’s got a routine, and a home, and teachers that care about his well being. He just –
“Does he have a lot of friends at school?”
Regina asks the question just as the thought crosses her mind, and Emma can’t help but smile.
Not that Regina can see, not in their current position..
“No, not really,” Emma admits. Henry’s always had trouble relating to the other kids. He’d never been particularly social. There are a few kids that come over every once in a while to play in the yard and watch movies, but if she’s honest, Emma doesn’t know if Henry has anything deeper than acquaintances.
Regina’s quiet for a moment, like she’s thinking, and Emma imagines her rolling her thoughts over in her head, one after the other. Eventually she says, “He seemed to hit it off with the Zimmer kids.”
The name doesn’t quite ring a bell, but Emma thinks back and realizes Regina must mean the kids he’d been sword fighting with at the festival. She remembers the way he’d ducked their swings, a bright mile on his face – he really had seemed happy. Like he was actually having fun , even though he’d just met the kids within the hour. “He did, didn’t he?”
Regina just nods against her chest.
There’s another quiet moment before she speaks again, barely audible even in the silence of small town winter.
“You don’t have to go back, you know. You could stay.”
And that. That wakes Emma up.
She sucks in a sharp breath, knows that Regina must have felt it because she’s still laying on Emma’s chest. But Regina doesn’t move, and she’s still trailing circles, now over Emma’s ribcage.
“What?” Emma breathes, and Regina lifts her head, props herself up on her elbow so that she can meet her eyes.
“You heard what I said.” Regina’s face is barely visible in the dark room, but even in the low light Emma can see the vulnerability shining through in her eyes. “I said that you could stay. Here. In Storybrooke,” She adds, as if there’s any question what she’d meant.
“I don’t…” Emma trails off, shakes her head. Something painful squeezes in her chest. “What do I have in Storybrooke?” The words just slip out. She doesn’t know what she expects Regina to say. She doesn’t even know what she wants Regina to say.
Regina hesitates. “Your family,” She says after a moment, and Emma frowns.
Regina watches her for several heartbeats more, and then settles back down with a frown. She waits to speak, waits until Emma’s breathing has steadied and there’s the heavy blackness of sleep edging at her thoughts before she murmurs –
“That was me asking.”
When Emma wakes in the morning, the bed is cold beside her. But her phone’s been carefully placed on the nightstand, and she smiles as she reaches for it.
When Emma presses the power button she’s greeted immediately by a slew of texts from her mother, and one each from her father and Henry. Her mother’s are a garden variety of her typical after-argument apologies, ones where she never quite manages to take responsibility for her actions or her words, but at least she’s trying. The last one, at least, reads I’m sorry, Emma. I didn’t mean to make you feel like you were being attacked. Please let me know that you’re safe and when you’ll be back.
Emma can’t help the fondness that swells in her chest No matter how much her mother drives her crazy, she does love her. The one from her dad just reads your mother wanted me to text you. love you kiddo. Henry’s just says, grandma really didn’t know ur gay?
She types out quick answers to all of them – an I’m safe. Back soon. Love you for her mother that she hopes will be an olive branch. She just likes the message from David, and replies to Henry with complicated, kid . It’s not, really, but he’s ten years old and she doesn’t really feel like explaining the intricacies of Mary Margaret’s relationship with denial over text message.
With that she gets up, dressing in her clothes, which have been neatly folded at the edge of the bed. A little embarrassing, Emma thinks as she eyes her panties from the night before. She slips quietly down the stairs to go find Regina.
She imagines her in the kitchen, brewing coffee – or even cooking pancakes –
Her hand brushes against something at the edge of the banister, and she looks down to find her red leather jacket, and the shirt she’d lent to Regina.
They’re hanging there neatly, with her boots lined up on the hardwood beneath them.
There’s a folded piece of paper sticking out from the jacket pocket, and she pulls it out and unravels it with her heart beating hard in her chest. And then she reads it, and suddenly her heart just drops instead, heavy into her stomach and out through the pit in her ribcage.
Goodbye, Emma .
Just like that, everything is dust at her feet once more.
Emma opens the door to the loft quietly. It’s still early in the morning, after all, and it’s a Friday. Her parents have taken their vacation time this week. Emma thinks bitterly that she doesn’t know when they get up on their days off, because she’s never bothered to ask. She’s never bothered to visit, not until now.
She clicks the door softly behind her, turning the knob so that the latch won’t sound. But when she looks up, she finds her mother watching her from one of the barstools. She’s got a mug clutched in her hands, and thankfully, the expression on her face is not unfriendly. Emma doesn’t quite know how to read it.
“Hi,” Emma says. Her hands are still on the knob, and she lets it go, lets them drop awkwardly to her side.
Mary Margaret sets the mug down and slides out of her stool. She strides over to Emma with purpose, her face still blank as far as Emma is concerned. But then she throws her arms around Emma and pulls her close and just holds her, and fuck, that’s just –
Too much, Emma thinks. The dam inside of her chest wells over, and then Emma’s just broken, face buried in her mother’s shoulder as she cries.
“I’m sorry,” Mary Margaret murmurs, one hand cradling the back of Emma’s head. “I’m sorry, Emma. I love you.”
They stand there for several minutes, Emma just shaking, clutching at her mother’s shoulders as it all pours out. All of the hurt, all of the regret, ten years of built up pain and longing and that damn jacket, hanging with her shirt in an empty foyer.
When she finally steps back, Mary Margaret reaches over to the decorative table beside the door and plucks a tissue from the box. She blots at Emma’s cheeks like she had when Emma was a child, and Emma can’t help the watery laugh that comes bubbling from her throat, thick with snot, and Mary Margaret smiles. She snags the box of tissues and sits down at the table. Emma follows, pulling a few more tissues from the box so that she can blow her nose.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Mary Margaret asks softly, and fuck, Emma’s spent so long viewing her mother’s love as stifling, but. She’s spent so long demonizing this, compacting it into something suffocating and thick and selfish in her memory – and Mary Margaret can be all of those things, Emma thinks. But she also has this way of holding Emma’s feelings like glass when she’s broken, and it’s…comforting. Emma’s forgotten what it’s like to feel comforted .
She shrugs, though, because she doesn’t know if she’s there yet. She doesn’t know if she’s really ready to spill all of her feelings, all of her history with Regina, let alone – let alone last night. And besides, her mom probably still thinks this is all about the fight they’d had. “I’m not mad at you, mom.” And Emma means it, even if she thinks she probably still has the right to be, just a little bit. At this point, though, she feels like she’d rather smooth things over than dwell on it. She’s just. So tired of fighting, she thinks, and so she says, “I’m sorry I blew up on you.”
“I’m sorry that I pushed.” Mary Margaret frowns. “That’s not all, is it? What else is bothering you, honey?”
Emma wants to tell her that she’s pushing again, but.
“I think…” Her lower lip starts to wobble, and she shoves down the tears that are threatening, because she will not start with that again. “I think I’m ready to come home.” Her voice is small when she says it. It’s low enough that she almost thinks she’ll have to repeat it, but Emma can tell instantly that she’s heard.
Mary Margaret keeps her expression schooled, but Emma can see the way her eyes light up at that. “Em.” It’s all she says, and then leans forward to catch Emma’s hand in her own and squeeze. Emma offers her a smile, a small one.
“Yeah.” Emma nods, as if she’s been asked a question. In a way, she has, because the way Mary Margaret’s eyes are shining clearly begs, are you really ? And for once, that doesn’t make Emma want to run. She sighs, though, and leans back in her chair. Their hands slip apart with the motion. “I have to talk to Henry first. I’m not going through with it if he’s not on board.”
Mary Margaret nods and says, “Of course,” as if that’s the most obvious thing in the word. She’d never been quite so considerate of Emma’s desires, Emma thinks, but there’s so little bitterness behind it. She doesn’t have the energy for it, not today. So instead she just nods along with her mother and glances over to the stairwell. Henry is staying up there in what used to be her old bedroom, and Emma thinks to herself that it won’t be any easier if she waits.
“Is he awake?” She asks, and Mary Margaret just nods again.
“He is.” With that Mary Margaret plucks out another tissue, hands it to Emma, and collects the used ones from the table. She stands, chair scraping on the floor beneath her, and tosses them before picking up her mug and resuming her former perch at the barstool. When Emma doesn’t move, she adds, “Well?” And waves towards the stairs.
Emma can’t help the smile that brings to her face, even as she wipes at her snotty nose.
Henry’s playing video games in the pile of bean bags at the corner of the room when she enters. She’d knocked, of course, and when he’d shouted come in , she thinks that he may have been expecting one of his grandparents. His face lights up when he sees her, and he rushes over to give her a hug.
“Hi, mom! Grandma was pacing all night, but I told her you were okay.”
‘Thanks, kid.” She laughs, rubbing a hand over Henry’s back before placing her hands on his shoulders and steering him towards the bed. She takes a seat on it, and then turns back to him. “Henry. Come sit.” She pats her hand on the bed beside her. His clothes are still sprawled across the comforter, despite the fact that they’re leaving in less than a day, and he has to push them aside in order to clamber up next to her.
“Okay!” He hops up onto the bed with a smile, but his face sobers as soon as he sees her expression. “What’s wrong, mom?”
Emma draws in a breath, uncertainty suddenly creeping in. Is she really about to ask this? How is she supposed to ask her ten year old son if he wants to uproot his entire life and move four hours away to the middle of nowhere, Maine?
But he’s staring at her, and she has to admit that she sees Regina in those big brown eyes.
He’d gotten them from Neal, but they may as well have come from Regina.
She sees her in the way his hair swirls, that little swoop right at his forehead where it never quite wants to lay properly. She sees Regina in the light smattering of freckles over the bridge of his nose – they match the ones on Regina’s shoulders, Emma knows, because it’s one of the things about her that Emma had memorized as a teenager. She even sees the resemblance in the way Henry’s looking at her now, the way he always seems to see right through her.
And so she lets herself imagine once more a world in which she’d never left Storybrooke. A world in which she and Regina had settled their differences, worked through the mountains of trauma that had divided them in the first place.
A world in which Regina was Henry’s other mother, and all of those things had really come from her, even if not biologically.
Emma thinks back to the way Regina had looked at him at the park. She’d been so kind, so good with him, even though she’d had no obligation to be. Regina had always loved children, Emma thinks. She would have loved Henry. She can still love Henry, maybe.
Emma wonders if it’s too late now and fights back the choked feeling that’s starting to build in her throat. But she has to try, and that knowledge alone has strengthened her resolve.
“Do you like living in Boston?”
She decides to start off easy. If she can get an idea – figure out if he’d be happy here first – and then she doesn’t even have to bring it up if it’s clear the answer is going to be a no. She’s not going to uproot him. She’s going to do what’s best for him this time, and not what’s best for herself.
But his mouth twists into a thoughtful little frown, and he just shrugs. Eventually, he says, “It’s fine.”
“Okay.” That doesn’t exactly tell her much, and so – “How do you like Storybrooke?”
He lights up at that.
Oh, fuck, Emma thinks. She’s going to have to do this. She’s actually going to do this, because even if she doesn’t have her mind made up already, that smile right there is enough to convince her.
“This place is cool.”
“What do you like about it?” Emma prompts.
He shrugs again, wringing his hands in his lap and looking entirely too thoughtful for his young age. “...It’s quiet here,” He says. “I like that better. There’s always cars going by back home.” Emma’s about to interject and say that they don’t have to live on a main road, that they can go to the outskirts of the city, in the suburbs, but then he adds – “It’s cool to have family, too.”
There it is. The thing that Emma had run from in the first place.
She’d been running from her parents, sure. But Regina’s her family, too. Has been since they were five years old, and Emma threw mulch at her on the playground for stealing her favorite barbie.
Sandbox love, Emma thinks wryly.
She sits there and watches Henry for a minute. He lists out a couple more reasons – he’d made some friends, and he thinks they’re pretty cool. Emma hears Regina’s voice echo in her memory – he seems to have hit it off with the Zimmer kids . David let Henry drive his truck – she’s going to have to have a talk with him about that one, because holy shit, he’s only ten – but then he just grins and says, I really like spending time with Grandpa, and fuck, Emma’s not leaving this town.
And so she sighs, steeling herself, and asks, “How would you feel about moving here, kid?”
Henry’s ecstatic, of course. He hops right off the bed when Emma asks, his face lighting up as he asks, “Are you serious?”
It actually makes Emma wonder how she’d failed as a parent that he’d been so unhappy in Boston, and she hadn’t even noticed.
She crushes that thought as soon as it crosses her mind – he hadn’t been unhappy , she knows. He’d been coasting along in the middle, and maybe Emma had too. She just hadn’t been willing to admit it, because Boston had been her safe haven for so long that she hadn’t been sure how to go anywhere else. She’d gone straight there from Storybrooke. How was she supposed to go anywhere else?
I found a place in Boston, Regina, and we can live there together like we always wanted! See, I worked it out, if we both get jobs we can split the rent –
Henry’s flying around the room now, picking up clothes and tossing them into his suitcase. “I’ll get ready! Where are we moving to? Do we have a house? Do we –”
“Woah, slow down there. I only just decided today. There is no house, not yet. We’ll probably have to stay in Boston for a while until I can find one.”
He’s a little put out by that, but he nods solemnly. “Yeah, okay. That would be okay. As long as we come back.”
He slows his packing, which Emma thinks is probably a blessing because he hasn’t folded anything, anyway. Emma takes the opportunity to produce his hat from her coat pocket – she’d forgotten to take it off in the midst of everything with her mom, and she realizes with a start that she’s warm . She shrugs it off, and then stands so that she can put the hat directly on Henry’s head.
“Hey!” He says, and squirms out of the way. His hand goes up to feel what Emma had just put on him, and he tugs it off with wide eyes. “My hat!”
“Your hat,” Emma confirms. “Try not to lose it again, okay?”
He just nods, and then asks, “Where did you find it?”
“Regina brought it by last night. She said one of the council members found it when they were cleaning up after the festival.”
Henry eyes her suspiciously, and there it is, Emma thinks, that ability to see through her that no child his age should ever have. “The mayor?”
“The mayor, who you used to be in love with?” He asks, and Emma chokes on her own spit.
“Well, I –” She stutters, tripping over her words as she coughs. “Where did you hear that?”
Henry just shrugs. “Grandma said.” With that he tosses the hat back onto his suitcase, and picks up his DS again before falling back against the bean bags with a thud. “Are we still leaving tomorrow morning?”
Emma’s just standing there with her mouth open. She shakes her head, and says, “Uh. I don’t know. I’ll let you know.”
“Okay,” He says, now fully reabsorbed in Mario.
Emma leaves the room, shutting the door behind her. When she makes it to the bottom of the loft she finds her mother washing dishes behind the bar. She eyes her from the staircase, and asks, “You told him I was in love with Regina?”
Mary Margaret pauses mid-scrub, eyes wide. “...Oh. He, uh, may have overheard me talking to your father.” She casts a sheepish glance over towards Emma. “...I wasn’t wrong, though, was I?” Her voice is softer now, and Emma sighs.
“No,” She confirms, and leans against the banister. “No, you weren’t.”
It’s a confessions kind of day, Emma thinks.
David appears from the bedroom shortly after Emma returns to the main floor. Mary Margaret prompts, “Emma, don’t you have something to tell your father?” And then David’s looking at her with his brows raised, and he says, “Emma, it’s okay if you and Regina are dating –” And Emma has to hold up a hand to stop him.
“Woah, no – I –” She drops her hand. “No. I mean, when we were younger, kind of. But not really.” She frowns, not really wanting to get into all of that, especially after this morning. Especially after last night. “The big news is that we’re moving back. Henry and I. We’re going to find a place in Storybrooke.”
David is stunned at that. Emma doesn’t think she’s ever seen her father speechless until that moment.
“Emma, that’s…” He shakes his head, stepping forward to sweep her up in a bear hug. He actually manages to lift her off her feet a little bit, ignoring Emma’s grunts of protest. “That’s wonderful!” He sets her back down, and then squeezes her shoulder. “What made you decide? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled, kiddo. But why after so long?”
Mary Margaret tosses her dish rag at him. “Don’t question it, David!”
“Relax, mom,” Emma reassures her. “He’s not gonna spook me.” She turns back to her father. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just ready. I spent enough time away.”
“Mom’s got a girlfriend.”
Emma hears her son’s sing-song voice behind her and spins just in time to see him thudding down the stairs, returned hat in hand.
“Henry!” She scolds, before glancing back over her shoulder at her parents. “I very much do not.”
“So you are gay,” Mary Margaret supplies unhelpfully.
They spend the rest of the day looking at realty listings – David actually pulls out a newspaper and starts circling potential candidates, like it’s still 2003. Emma rolls her eyes and pulls out her phone to consult the internet instead. It eats well into the evening, with Mary Margaret making them lunch and then dinner as she pokes her head over the bar to give Emma her – helpful, yet unsolicited – opinions on each of the listings she pulls up.
Eventually, she’s on the couch, blanket pulled around herself as she stares absentmindedly at her phone. Her rent is paid for the month, back in Boston. Her lease ends then. She hadn’t bothered to sign another because she’d been looking at a quieter place, but…
“What are you thinking?” David asks, and she starts.
“Nothing,” She replies automatically, and then catches herself. “Just something Regina said. About my job. And how there are jobs in Storybrooke. If I’m going to move…” She trails off with a shrug. “Just thinking.”
David watches her for a moment and then says, “You know, we’ve got an opening at the animal shelter. You might like it there.”
Emma blinks. “The what?”
“The shelter,” David repeats with a smile. “I started working there about a year ago. We just lost one of our full time employees. It’s a lot of cleaning up after dogs, and a lot of intake forms. But it’s a good job. Pays more than you’d think, too.”
Emma shakes her head, feeling another pang of guilt in her chest at the fact that she hadn’t known. “Yeah, okay,” She says. “I’ll think about it.” But David is still watching her pensively and so she asks, “What?”
“Regina’s come up an awful lot tonight.” He must see Emma’s look start to turn, because he holds up his hands and says, “I’m not asking. I’m just saying that you might have one more person to share the news with tonight.” With that he turns back to his book, like nothing had happened.
And that’s how Emma ends up at Regina Mills’ door, with everything to say and not a damn word of it planned out.
She’s never been good at thinking things through before she does them.
Regina opens the door in her pajamas. Before Emma has time to ponder on how cute she looks, with her face still fully made up from the day and flannel pants, Regina speaks.
“Emma.” It’s breathy, and she blinks, like she’s not quite sure that Emma’s really there. “What are you doing?”
What is she doing?
Oh. Right. Confessing her love, and all that. Well – maybe not that intense, because she doesn’t want to scare Regina off, but –
“I’m staying.” Emma blurts out the words before she can lose her nerve, and Regina just blinks, taken aback.
“I’m staying,” Emma repeats. “I can’t – Regina, I can’t leave. Not like this. Not when…” She trails off, unsure what exactly she has. Not when I have you , she wants to say, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t have Regina, not for certain.
“Not when what?” Regina asks, and there’s a pink to her cheeks now. Her eyes are wide as she stares at Emma, and she still hasn’t stepped out of that doorway. Emma supposes it’s too much to ask that she thought she might be invited in.
Emma shrugs, because she doesn’t know how to just say it . She thinks that maybe she could, maybe it wouldn’t be too much, not with what they’ve already gone through. But she doesn’t know how, and so she doesn’t.
I’m in love with you , she thinks instead, because it’s easier that way. Because she needs to acknowledge it; no matter what happens, she needs to remember that that’s why. She’s in love with Regina. There’s no way around it.
And god, she’d said it not a day before, so why does it feel so much heavier now?
Instead what she says out loud is, “I hate my job back home.” Since when did it feel wrong, calling the place she’d lived the last decade home? She brushes the feeling off, continuing – “My apartment is fine, but it’s not great. I’ve been saving up to buy a house out there, but things are a lot less expensive here, so…I could do it. I’m going to do it, Regina. I’m moving back.” Regina doesn’t say anything, just leans with one hand against the doorframe. She’s changed the porch lights to something warm too in the time that Emma’s been gone, and right now she’s bathed in this halo of gold. But her expression is still unreadable, carefully closed off, and so Emma says, “I’ve already talked to Henry. We don’t have a place yet, of course. But we’re going to look. My lease is up next month. We’ll probably stay there until then, and then if we haven’t found a place my parents said that we could stay with them until we do. I don’t know if I’ll take them up on that, maybe Henry can and I’ll just do a long term stint at Granny’s, but…” She trails off as Regina steps forward onto her patio. She’s wearing a pair of thick, fuzzy socks, and all Emma can think is that they’re going to get wet in the snow. And she says so, because she’s been rambling, and Regina is just staring at her. Her face is still impassive, and fuck, had she learned that for work or something? The Regina that Emma had grown up with had always worn her heart on her sleeve. Emma misses the ease of that transparency. “You’re going to get wet feet.”
Regina laughs quietly at that. “I’m aware, Emma.” She folds her arms over her chest and adds, “I’m glad you’re staying.”
Emma waits for something more. There has to be more, because – well. Because she’s standing on Regina’s doorstep at nine at night on what has to be the coldest night of the year, and that just can’t be it .
She glances behind Regina, sees the banister where she’d found her clothes hanging this morning. “You asked me what I have in Boston. The answer is that it doesn’t matter, because I don’t have you . I could be anywhere, and if I had you – and Henry, too – it would be enough.”
She doesn’t have the stars in Boston , she thinks again. An echo.
“I love you, Regina.” There. She’s said it.
Emma swallows, and shuts her eyes, because she doesn’t think she can bear to see Regina’s reaction to that . When she opens them again, she avoids Regina’s eyes. “Do you think that we could try this again? Start over, maybe?” She asks. She doesn’t get an answer, not right away at least. And she’s never been good with tense silences, or with patience, and so she barrels on. “I miss you, Regina. I miss what we had. And I know that things are different now, I know that we’re both different now, but I still feel it. I felt it last night. I think that we could have something again, if you’re willing, and –”
Regina cuts her off with her hands at each of Emma’s cheeks. She’s stepped forward now, inches between them, and Emma says, “Hi.”
“Hi,” Regina echoes, and there’s amusement leaking into her words now. Her hands slip down, bringing her arms around Emma’s neck instead, and she shuts her eyes for a moment. When she opens them again she says in a whisper, “You’re not going to leave again?”
It’s a fair question, Emma knows that. It still stings.
“I’m not,” She confirms. “I don’t think I could, even if I tried.”
Regina draws in a deep breath, one that Emma can feel, they’re so close now. But then she nods, and tugs Emma down by her neck. She leans their foreheads together and says, “Okay.” She presses her lips to Emma’s, a gentle but desperate kiss. Regina’s fingers curl in her hair. Emma leans into it, her own hands wrapping around Regina’s waist and drawing her into herself because a small part of her is still afraid that she’s going to disappear, that all of this is going to dissipate in a puff of smoke in the bitter cold and she’s going to be left with nothing again.
As if she hadn’t done it to herself in the first place.
But that’s an old thought, a habit, she realizes. Somewhere, somehow in the back of her mind, she’s starting to forgive her teenage self for her indiscretions. She’d been young, and she’d done the best that she could, and –
And it had gotten her Henry. That alone was worth the world. It’s gotten her here , eventually – wrapped up in the arms of the woman she’s loved since her earliest hazy memories, tinted blue like the summer sky and green like the woods they used to run through.
“Okay,” Regina repeats when she pulls back, and she gives a little nod. Her hands drop from Emma’s neck, skim down Emma’s arms and pull her hands out from behind herself so that she can thread their hands together. She takes another deep breath, and it makes a little puff of white like a cloud catch her porch lights, and Emma is suddenly aware of the fact that Regina’s outside in nothing but a t-shirt. Regina seems to realize it too – or maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s something else entirely.
Either way, she looks at Emma, eyes glimmering, and asks, “Come inside, then?”