Emma’s first kiss was with a boy named Sam.
She was twelve and he fourteen, living in the same home but refusing to call him ‘brother’. She loves him, or she thinks she does, or maybe she’s just lonely, but kissing him is like having sunshine beneath her feet and above her head and all around her.
It absolutely crushes her when she finds out. He needed a girl, one to kiss him and laugh with him and make the notion that he could be gay seem ridiculous. And so she cries, she stays in her room, she doesn’t tell anyone because if she does she’ll get sent away and filed as ‘sexually volatile’ for thinking someone could actually love her.
And then there’s Lily. Lily is sweet, Lily is kind, Lily is everything Emma’s ever wanted to have except that she’s a lie. She’s just a beautiful lie that Emma ate up just like everything she’s ever been told. We’re special, Lily said once. We understand each other, echoes in her mind as she walks away from the van with moist eyes and rubbing the sharpie star off of her wrist. She’s fourteen and her heart has already been broken twice over, the pieces resting in her chest like a weight that bodybuilders struggle to lift.
She’s sixteen when she runs away from her latest home, swearing to herself and anyone that’ll listen that she’ll never return to the system. It’s probably some trick of fate that she meets Neal, stealing a car he already stole. Neal is different than Sam; with Neal, she knows she’s in love and she’s not afraid to say it and let her heart soar when she hears it back.
Kissing Neal is utterly explosive. It’s like being high, it’s like being on fire, it’s like being terrified but in the most beautiful of ways. There’s always whispers that both of them can hear but neither of them speak with everything they do, every time Emma pulls Neal flush against her body, every twist of Neal’s fingers in Emma’s hair, and every time they break apart Emma’s head spins and she feels like she can do anything she wants to.
She’s terrified and overjoyed and sick to her stomach all at once when her pregnancy test shows two lines and she thinks maybe she’s found home, but by the time she runs out of the bathroom to tell Neal he’s gone and the cops are in his place. She spends eight months hating him and when finally she gives birth to a screaming baby boy, she squeezes her eyes shut and gives up her last piece of the only person who’s ever loved her.
Ten years later that screaming baby boy is back and he brings her to a town where she ends up living out the rest of her life. Sheriff Graham is her boss, that’s technically true, but the sleepy town of Storybrooke doesn’t seem to follow any code of conduct because one night he’s kissing her and it’s like walking through a dream.
Kissing Graham is like a memory, as though a word on the tip of her tongue she can’t quite reach, but before she can figure it out he’s dying in her arms and coughing something about his heart. It doesn’t really register until the funeral, when she notices Regina staring at her with a blank expression and eyes darker than a cloudy night.
And it’s strange how Regina’s hand lingers just a little bit longer when she begrudgingly hands over the sheriff’s badge.
After Graham it’s August, who’s even more familiar than the last. It’s almost like he’s held her like this before, cradled her in his arms like someone she can’t help but love. Her mind flashes to the newspaper he showed her days ago, and for the first time part of her thinks he might have been telling the truth. It’s pretty unfortunate when he goes crazy – or so she thinks – and says he’s turning to wood.
Emma doesn’t kiss anyone for a bit after him – she’s too busy trying to get out of the Enchanted Forest and defeat an evil sorceress. When she does, it’s more of a spur-of-the-moment thing than anything else.
Kissing Hook is something she immediately regrets but can’t bring herself to stop. The utter passion with which he returns the kiss, the way he melts in her arms as though no longer human terrifies her. When they break apart he gazes at her with such intensity, such obsession that she doesn’t know what to do but run.
She runs all the way to New York when Regina asks, puts Henry and her stuff in the car and drives off and she doesn’t even think about it until they’re crossing the line and it’s too late. But Regina and her family are quickly forgotten when she meets Walsh, and falls immediately.
She’s not sure if it’s his charm or his smile or his love for Henry, but something about him seems too good to be true, and kissing him feels like a lie. Like a part of him is real, like he isn’t what he says he is, like everything he tells her is wrong. But all her suspicions are proven wrong and he’s so patient with her paranoia that soon his kisses feel right, feel good, feel real.
It’s such a shame when he turns out to be a flying monkey.
But it opens the door back to Storybrooke, and Hook is with her and he’s looking at her like that again and Henry says she should “give him a chance”. Oh, if only he knew of the chances she’s given, the chances she’s taken, and ended up crumpled on the floor wishing she’d done different. But he doesn’t know, and that’s the worst part. He still thinks he’s Henry Swan, lived in New York City his whole life, raised by a single mother who wanted nothing more than to be enough.
At least it’s half true.
Hook’s hand is on her back when they walk into town, and she can tell he wants something, but she won’t give in. Not so soon after losing what she believed to be her happy ending, and not when her son still doesn’t know his mother’s name.
But it’s not long before she kisses him again, saves his life and gives away her magic because she’s a Savior with a bleeding heart and a conscience that never rests. And again after they get home from the Enchanted Forest, he gave up his ship for her – his home, his life, how can she not give him what he’s been yearning for?
But Regina’s angry with her now and she’s more important, more vital to Emma’s life than Hook could ever be, and she avoids him at all costs and runs wherever Regina runs, begging for forgiveness she probably doesn’t deserve.
But one day things are different. We understand each other, called in a desperate voice, a last attempt to earn back her friend, and suddenly everything around them is gone when their lips touch.
Kissing Regina is like coming home. It’s like being stranded in a desert for weeks on end, finally coming onto a city, and that first drink of cold water flooding through her veins and a slight nervous tingling spreading everywhere, down to the tips of her fingers and toes. For some reason, Neal’s words are echoing in her mind, the ones he said to her years and years ago.
“I’ve never had a home,” Emma says, picking at the grass where they sit. “I don’t even know what home feels like.”
Neal smiles softly. “I had a home once.”
“What was it like?”
He thinks a moment, nodding to himself. “Home is some place where, when you leave… you just miss it.”
Emma’s quiet for a minute. “I think I want that.”
Emma spent a long time searching for the home Neal talked about, and right here, in the dark, cold crypt, she thinks she may have found it in the former Evil Queen’s lips pressed against hers. Her fingers anchor in Regina’s blazer, pulling her closer, toe tracing the floor in delicate patterns, and she knows that this is exactly what she’s been waiting for her whole life.
Because Regina’s more important than stolen cars and flying monkeys and ships traded for kisses. Regina’s something that Emma’s never had, that she pretended she didn’t yearn for, that she gave up on long ago. Regina’s no longer just Regina; Regina’s one fantastic part of just that thing. No, Regina’s not just Regina.