“Come on, Regina. You agreed to at least try it. It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”
“I fail to see the appeal, miss Swan.”
Emma rolled her eyes. Regina liked using that nickname when she was annoyed, skeptical, feeling playful, or in this case, unimpressed. Emma disregarded the reply and skated to the opening in the rink’s boards, holding out her hand. She could see the apprehension on Regina’s face now that they were in close proximity, so she gave her a comforting smile.
“No one will see you while you learn to skate. And I promise not to let you fall, okay?”
“I don’t know why I let you talk me into these things,” Regina finally said, reluctantly taking Emma’s hand.
“Because I’m cute, and you can’t say no to me.”
“Yes, that must be it.”
Emma grinned at her and took her other hand, helping her onto the ice. Regina’s legs braced and she began to wobble, so Emma wrapped her arm around her lower back. She brought the woman to the side of the rink and pointed to the boards.
“Grab the edge. Okay, now I’m going to hold onto your other hand and you’re going to glide forward like I showed you at the house, okay?”
Regina had no idea why she had given into this ridiculous activity. She had no interest in learning to skate. If Emma hadn’t looked so damn excited to show her how to, she would never have found herself in this predicament. Damn the woman and her puppy dog eyes.
“Okay, you can move forward.”
Regina pulled herself from her thoughts and moved her right foot forward a little unsurely, gripping the edge of the boards as she attempted to move. She had refused to practise in front of Emma at the house because she felt ridiculous “gliding” her feet along the floor while pretending to ice skate. She had not been above locking herself in the bathroom afterwards though and doing as Emma had shown her.
Regina repeated the movement with her left foot, unable to help the smile as she moved forward a few more inches on the ice.
“Awesome! You’re a natural!”
“I’ve moved a foot. That’s hardly impressive,” she responded, but she was secretly pleased with herself.
“Yeah, but you did it without falling. Try again.”
Regina did, her legs locking as she slid along the ice. They moved at a snail’s pace at first, but Emma’s patience was infinite. She continued to encourage her, even when Regina became exasperated with her lack of progress.
“You’re not going to be doing spins in the air after twenty minutes on the rink, Regina. You’ve gotta slowly work up to it, but you’re doing great. Come on, let’s do this little bend and then you’re back to skating straight again.”
Regina sighed and did as she was told.
“I know it’s a slow process, but I really think you’ll be happy once you can skate on your own. I think you’ll enjoy this. It’s freeing.”
“Yes well, I dislike the amount of energy it is taking to do something so seemingly trite.”
Emma paused, her confidence wavering slightly.
“Do you really not like this? We don’t have to continue. I just thought, you know, it could be something fun for us to do.”
The vulnerability in Emma’s eyes softened Regina’s expression.
“No. I am enjoying myself. I just…” she glanced away before admitting the truth. “I very much dislike that you are seeing me while I am still learning. I would prefer if you were not witness to my ignorance.”
“Hey, it’s not ignorance. It’s just… inexperience.”
Regina raised an eyebrow.
“That is the same thing.”
“Ignorance sounds so negative. You’re just learning; it’s okay. I won’t tell anyone that you fell on your ass.”
“I most certainly did not,” Regina said, appalled.
“Exactly why I won’t tell everyone that you did.”
Regina blinked, turning her head so Emma would not see the grin on her face. She’d been had, and she could tell by Emma’s smile that she was proud of herself.
“Come on. I’ll race you to the end.”
Regina rolled her eyes and shooed her away.
“Go. I’m going to attempt to skate on my own this time.”
“Okay, but it’s not my fault now if you fall.”
Emma turned and skated away, stopping when she was at the furthest end of the outdoor skating rink. She then spun to face the other way, looking at the immense expanse of ice before her. It was late, nearly 10, so the place was deserted. She had planned it purposefully, knowing that Regina would refuse the activity if there were others watching. The woman in question was doing her best not to show that she was gripping the edge of the boards as though her life depended on it, moving at a snail’s pace along the edge of the rink. In Emma’s opinion, she could probably let go and move on her own, at least for a few feet, but she knew Regina would not let go just yet. The woman hated to fail, or in this case fall, and Emma knew that she would not break her hold of the boards until she was positive that she could skate on her own.
“Are you going to skate or stand there staring at me all night?”
Emma grinned at Regina and pushed off the side, gliding her feet forward. She began doing laps, slowly at first before pushing herself harder, speeding up until she felt like she was soaring. She closed her eyes briefly, spreading her arms and grinning madly.
Regina watched from the side, unable to tear away from the sight of Emma looking so liberated. The blonde hid her demons well, but the weight that she carried was ever present. Emma’s shoulders were always heavy with the weight of her past, her regrets, her guilt, the expectations of others. It was a rare sight to see her looking so free, and Regina found she could not look away. Emma skated backwards, forward, intermittently closing her eyes, but the one thing that never changed was the broad grin on her face.
“Come on, Regina. Skate with me!”
The brunette blinked and shook her head.
“I am not letting go of this wall.”
“Come on! I won’t let you fall, I promise. And I’ll go really slow.”
Regina made another move to protest, but Emma caught her free hand and squeezed it gently.
Damn her. Regina could not resist that look. It was the same one their son gave her when he wanted something he knew he was not allowed. They just looked so damned hopeful that she couldn't say no. Since she could not deny the woman, Regina settled on glaring at her instead.
“If I fall, Emma Swan, I swear-”
“You won’t, I promise!”
Regina sighed and gently let go, her hand shaking (though she would never admit it) as she took Emma’s other hand. A sudden wave of panic hit her but Emma had anticipated it, so she distracted her with a smile.
“There you go. See? You’re doing awesome. You let go and you’re still standing. Now, to move forward, it’s the same as when you were holding onto the wall. Glide your foot like you did earlier but brace yourself on my arms.”
Emma tensed her arms, letting them become a solid point for Regina to hold onto as she attempted gliding for the first time without the safety of the boards. Emma could not help the grin on her face as Regina began successfully gliding forward (Emma moved backwards as Regina moved forward so as to stay out of her way). She was incredibly proud of the way Regina was so easily moving along the ice.
“Why are you grinning so widely, miss Swan?”
“I’m proud of you! I feel like a parent teaching their kid to walk.”
Regina rolled her eyes, but she felt a small spark of something she wouldn’t acknowledge upon hearing that Emma was proud of her. Not that she cared. Or wanted her approval.
Regina moved forward carefully, watching her feet as she did. The silence between them continued for several minutes until Regina finally spoke, still looking at her feet.
“Where did you learn to skate anyway?”
“I taught myself. One of the families I was with didn’t really have much, but they had skates. They were two sizes too big so I stuffed the ends with extra socks and went to the outdoor skating rink at night and practised until I got good enough to skate like I do now.”
“It didn’t bother you that other people watched as you attempted to learn?” she asked, finally looking up at Emma.
“I went late at night, after everyone went to sleep.”
Regina hid her frown, as she often had to do when Emma opened up about her childhood.
“How old were you?”
“Eight, I think. It was with the Donalds.”
“You went out at night, unsupervised, at the age of eight?”
“It wasn’t so bad. It was a nice neighbourhood and the Donalds were decent. They had their own kids, so they didn’t care what I did as long as I didn’t cause problems. I didn’t hate staying with them ‘cause I got to do my own thing and they didn’t bother me.”
Regina didn’t realise how hard she’d been squeezing Emma’s hands, not until the woman squeezed back. She loosened her grip and forced herself to nod, despite the anger and guilt she felt inside.
“It wasn’t all bad, Regina, how I grew up. I learnt to survive and how to take care of myself. I don’t need other people to take care of my problems. If I had grown up with my parents, I’d be a whiny little shit. There’s no way you and I would ever get along if Mary Margaret had raised me.”
“That’s for certain.”
“And I wouldn’t be able to impress you with my sweet moves either,” Emma joked, shaking her hips as she continued to skate backwards.
“Yes, sheriff. Your agility knows no bounds.”
Emma laughed. She loved when Regina sassed her.
“Okay, now that we’re at the end of the rink, I’m going to turn around and we’re gonna skate to the other end, but we’re gonna go fast. I want you to close your eyes, okay?”
“Emma…” Regina said apprehensively.
“I won’t let you fall. Trust me.”
Regina looked at her, still hesitant. Emma held her gaze and nodded assuredly.
Regina took a deep breath before nodding slowly.
“You won’t regret it. Are you ready?”
“I suppose I haven’t a choice.”
Emma ignored the comment and moved slightly forward, gripping Regina at the elbows and encouraging her to do the same. When their arms were locked, Emma felt a flutter of excitement.
“Okay, here we go. Close your eyes.”
Regina held her breath as she was pulled forward, slowly at first, then marginally faster. She could feel herself being turned and pulled, skating in a straight line and then in an S pattern. Emma glided them along smoothly, never faltering in her movements. The longer they skated, the more Regina’s confidence in Emma grew. She was loathe to admit it, but Emma was right. This was fun. She could feel the wind blowing her hair, and she enjoyed the coolness on her cheeks. She liked the way she felt as she was pulled around; it was a feeling unlike any other. She let Emma guide them around two more times before becoming comfortable enough to speak up.
“You can go faster if you'd like.”
Emma bit her bottom lip gleefully. She did as she was told, carefully bringing up their speed until they were flying around the rink. She could feel Regina’s tension ease the longer they skated, until the woman was smiling wholeheartedly. It was so rare that Emma got to see Regina like this: genuinely happy. She was usually so carefully guarded, and the only time she ever opened up was when it was just the two of them. It had been a long, slow process to earn Regina’s trust, but the more time went by, the more she got to see these hidden parts of her. These shared moments were becoming almost commonplace now that the two were spending so much time together. With no big bads in town and Henry old enough to stay alone (or to babysit as he was now doing), the two women had free time, something that they had been sorely lacking just a couple of years ago.
It had all begun with taking walks together, getting coffee in the morning at Granny’s diner, sharing the occasional lunch at Regina’s office. That had naturally progressed to what they shared now: a strong friendship that resulted in their spending most nights together, with or without the presence of their son.
Regina wobbled suddenly and her eyes shot open, fear written all over her face. Emma righted her immediately, smiling at her. Regina held her gaze, staring at her as her heart continued to beat rapidly in her chest. It was in moments like these, when Emma held her so innocently, smiled so genuinely, letting Regina see through all of her defenses, that her heart clenched with an emotion she dared not admit. Regina saw what was so clearly plastered on the other woman’s face, what they had not yet acknowledged. The knowledge of what was there began to taunt her, reminding her of what she was not worthy of having. Regina started to shake her head and tried to stop, but she didn’t know how. She could feel herself starting to hyperventilate when she realised she was trapped on the ice.
“Regina?” Emma asked, immediately noticing the change in the other woman. She slowed them before asking what was wrong.
“Enough, Emma. Stop. I have to get out of here. Let me go!”
“Okay, okay. Come on.”
Emma let go of one elbow and guided Regina to the opening in the boards. Regina jumped onto the snow and practically ran to the bench, dropping down onto it and ripping at the laces on her skates. Emma watched from the side, immensely confused as to what just happened. She tried to stay away to give the woman a moment. However, as she watched Regina rip off her gloves and struggle to untie the laces on her skates and failing miserably, she finally acted.
Emma ripped at the laces on her own skates, loosening them and walking over. She yanked off her skates and shoved her feet in her boots, ignoring the discomfort of her distorted socks and bunched up pants. She then knelt before Regina, gently taking the woman’s shaking hands and moving them away from the laces she was attempting to undo.
“I don’t need your help,” Regina snapped.
“I know, Regina,” Emma replied calmly. “I’m just going to take these off. Can you pass me your boots?”
If she had said that she was going to help her, Regina immediately would have pushed her away. Instead, Emma phrased her response in such a way that she hoped Regina would comply. Luckily, Regina did, reaching over to grab the boots and handing them over. Emma thanked her and then took her time undoing the laces on her skates, picking apart what could have possibly happened on the ice for Regina to freak out the way that she did. She wasn't sure.
Emma knew Regina had panicked once she realised that she was unable to get herself off the ice, just as she was once unable to free herself from her mother’s abusive grip as a child, but something had caused her to go from carefree to terrified just before that panic set in and Emma couldn't figure out what it was.
Emma slipped off the skate and smoothed out Regina’s socks (she wore two pair for warmth) before sliding her foot into her boot and tucking in her pant leg. She then moved to the other skate, worrying her bottom lip as she desperately tried to figure out what she had done wrong. Had Regina gotten scared? The smile on her face hadn’t made it seem like she was scared. Had she started to feel trapped by Emma’s hold on her? But her body had been loose, not tense. Emma hadn’t said anything stupid to upset her. Had she just stopped having fun?
Emma racked her brain as she adjusted the socks on Regina's other foot, still taking her time to give herself time to think, as well give Regina a chance to calm down. When she had finally put on the other boot, she was no closer to figuring out what happened. She stayed kneeling at Regina’s feet, massaging the back of her left calf in an attempt to keep her from fleeing.
“Please tell me what happened.”
Regina looked down at the woman who had so lovingly put on her boots. Emma was staring at her with fear and confusion in her eyes, as well as that ever present emotion that Regina could never escape, not when Emma was around. She looked so genuinely concerned that it tore at Regina’s heart.
But she couldn’t. She couldn't do this. Regina shook her head and got up, needing to get away. She fled, her instincts screaming at her to escape. In every single situation, Regina's instinct was to fight. Except when it came to this.
She could not do this, not with Emma, not with anyone. Regina was independent. She had finally gotten herself to a point in her life where she was comfortable, almost safe. People still disliked her, but they didn’t hate her as they once did. She had even made a friend in Ruby, the woman confiding that she had never truly hated her for casting the curse because it had given her relief from her own curse for nearly 30 years. She had Henry, who provided her with the opportunity to express the love she had hidden deep in her heart. Contrary to the rumours, Regina did feel a great deal of love and affection, but events in her life and made those emotions lie dormant for decades. That is until Henry had come into her life, reminding her what it was to love again.
She loved her son, but that love was different, it was not like the one she had felt when she was young, naïve, and innocent. That love had stayed hidden, protected, and no one, no one, had been the recipient of that kind of love after Daniel. And no one was supposed to either, but as much as she had fought it, as much as she had denied it, that damned irritatingly loving, loyal, persistent, gentle woman had wedged her way into the part of Regina’s heart that she had squared away from everyone. And with the emotions so clearly reflected Emma's eyes as she knelt before her, Regina could not cope. She was terrified. Maybe it made her a coward, but she knew she couldn’t do this again. She could not survive that kind of loss for a second time.
So Regina ran. Because it was too hard to deny herself what she so desperately wanted from Emma, what she felt she did not deserve. Emma, however, would not let her go. She never let Regina run and she was not about to start now.
Emma raced up to her, reaching out and grabbing Regina's arm to prevent her from getting away.
“Regina. Stop. What’s going on? What happened?” Emma stared at her until their gazes met. “It’s just us, okay?” She then gentled her tone further, “It’s just me, okay? It’s just me. Please tell me what happened. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Regina could feel the tears burning behind her eyes, Emma’s caring tone cutting her like a knife. She tried. She’d been trying. She had been semi-successful at keeping things platonic, at maintaining nothing but friendship between them. But every outing, every shared coffee, every innocent caress weakened her. Every smile Emma shot her way, every squeeze of her hand when Regina hurt, every thoughtful gesture just secured the hold that Emma already had on her heart. It was getting harder, more painful, to keep the status quo. She couldn’t stay away from the intoxicating blonde and the truth was, she didn’t want to, but to let their friendship become something more... Regina couldn't do that. Emma reminded her of what a loving relationship was like, even if they weren’t in one, and it terrified her. So despite the fact that she longed for more, Regina fought her emotions, her feelings, and she pretended like she was happy with things the way they were.
Emma took a step forward, sliding her hand up to cup Regina’s cheek. It had finally clicked. She knew what was going on now. As soon as she her brain had caught up to what happening, she kicked herself for not cluing in earlier. Emma knew what had been building between them for months now, but Regina had needed time, so she hadn’t pushed. She had backed off, but these moments between them, these looks they exchanged, they were becoming more and more frequent. She had been waiting patiently, and while they had come close a couple of times, Regina always pulled away. She had never run though, and Emma was not about to allow that. Regina was deserving of love, even if the woman was scared of it. Even if she felt she didn’t deserve it. Emma had been waiting, but maybe it was time to try something new. Maybe it was time to acknowledge it, so she took a step forward into Regina’s personal space.
“Tell me,” she murmured, stroking her thumb along Regina’s cheek.
Regina looked away and let the tears quietly fall. She shook her head.
“I can’t,” she croaked.
“Yes, you can, Regina. You can do anything. You’re the strongest, bravest woman I know. You can do this.”
Regina closed her eyes and leaned into the warm hand, fresh tears falling into Emma's palm.
“I’m not strong enough for this, Emma.”
Emma leaned forward and pressed her lips to her forehead. A sob hitched in Regina’s throat when she felt warm lips against her skin. She fought it, but when Emma wrapped her arms around her, she broke down.
“It’s okay, honey. I know. Shh,” Emma soothed, kissing her temple and stroking her back. “I know, Regina. As long as you need, I’ll wait for you. But I know.”
Regina gripped her jacket tight, shaking her head.
“I can’t. I can’t.”
Emma held her lower back firmly with her left arm, her right coming up to once again cup Regina’s cheek. She tilted her head so that they were looking into each other’s eyes, and Emma at her.
“You are beautiful, Regina. Everything about you, I love. I love the way you take care of our son. I love that you’re a strong, independent woman. I love that you know exactly what I want for lunch. I love that you kick me in the ass when I’m being mopey. I love that you are so demanding and that you get bitchy for no reason sometimes. I love how resilient you are. I love that you don’t take shit from anyone. I love that I can get you smiling even when I’ve pissed you off. I love how snarky you are and I love that you sass me at every given opportunity. I love that you know how to take the stains out of my jeans. I love that you give into me because I know that I’m the only person, aside from Henry, whom you would ever give into. I love that I now know the proper time to use “whom” because you spent twenty minutes explaining to me the difference between who and whom. I love that I can surprise you like I just did by admitting that I listened to your grammar lesson. I always listen when you talk, Regina. Do you know why?”
“Don’t, Emma,” Regina whispered as she looked away, but there was no strength behind her words.
Instead of listening to the woman in her arms, Emma smiled at her.
“Look at me.”
Regina hesitated, but when she finally did, Emma spoke confidently.
“Because I love you, Regina Mills. I love you with everything I have, with everything that I am. I’m going nowhere, and when you’re finally ready, I will be right there waiting for you, like always. I will never leave, Regina. Because I love you.”
The conviction in her voice, the sincerity in it, made Regina lose the battle with her tears once again. She looked a mess, but the love and safety Emma offered to her made her momentarily forget the rigid rules she had created for herself so many years ago. She had lived by the rules to not show her true feelings, to remain at a distance from everyone. It was safer, and if it had been anyone else, she’d have pushed them away and she’d have been successful in hiding her true feelings. But she wasn’t with anyone else. She was with Emma. Her Emma. And her Emma had just said the most beautiful things to her, things that Regina had never thought anyone would ever say to her. Not after who she had been, after all the things that she had done. So she fought her instincts to run, she ignored the voices in her head telling her that she didn’t deserve this, and she looked at Emma. Emma, who was her safe place, her constant, her best friend. She looked at her, and she forced herself to believe her, to trust in her.
“You’re such a brave woman, Regina.”
“I don’t feel very brave right now,” she confessed softly.
“I can be brave for the both of us until you remember that you’re actually the strong one.”
Regina gave a small, mirthless chuckle.
“I’m not being very strong right now.”
“Even the strongest person has their moments of weakness. Sometimes you just need someone to remind you of what you’ve temporarily forgotten. Just don’t run from this, okay? I believe in you and I believe in us. I can wait, but I need you to promise you won’t run.”
“This isn’t going to be easy, Emma. I’m not… I’m not an easy person to love.”
“I’ve never liked easy, Regina. I like a challenge, and I know we will be a challenge. But loving you? That’s always been easy.”
Regina swallowed. She refused to cry again. She was not this emotional.
“Damn you and your romantic Charming genes. I am not this sappy,” she mock glared.
Emma grinned widely.
“You can’t resist a Charming. You can try but sooner or later...”
Regina stayed quiet. She could not refute that. She had tried. She had tried so hard.
“Okay?” Emma finally prodded.
Regina took a deep breath.
“This is going to change everything.”
“What’s it gonna change, Regina? We already spend basically every minute we can together. We share a son. I practically live at your house. We grocery shop together. You do my laundry. I shovel your driveway. When my mother is looking for me, she texts you because she knows I’m with you and you’re way more reliable for responding. She already thinks something is going on, and I’m pretty sure my dad does too.”
Regina gave a small smile.
“Ruby does as well,” she confessed.
“See? And they’re cool with it. Nothing’s gonna change except for the fact that now I can finally tell you how I feel about you.” Emma paused before adding with a grin, “And I’ll get to kiss you.”
“Oh you will, will you?”
Emma nodded, her mood lightening now that Regina was starting to come around.
“And is that something you’ve wanted to do?”
“More than you know. I think about it all the time.”
“You do?” Regina asked playfully.
“Hell yeah. I’m thinking about it right now, actually.”
Regina paused for a second, before taking a deep breath.
“And suddenly you’ve decided to stop acting on your impulses? How very unlike-”
Emma immediately moved forward and pressed her lips to Regina’s. She cupped her cheeks, tilting her head and pressing their lips more firmly together. When she heard the other woman’s whimper, Emma’s stomach tightened. It was the single most erotic sound she had ever heard, and she was determined to hear it again. She moved her right hand to cup the back of Regina’s neck, holding her in place as she kissed her more firmly. She waited until Regina pressed her body forward to open her mouth and slide her tongue along the woman’s lips. Emma was immediately granted access, and when their tongues met, she was rewarded with a groan from the brunette. God, if she was this vocal just kissing, Emma wondered what noises she’d make if (when?) they actually became intimate. She could feel the wetness pooling between her thighs at the combination of Regina’s tongue in her mouth and the thought of said tongue in other sensitive places.
Regina pulled back and panted against Emma’s lips. She waited half a second before wrapping her arms around her neck and pulling her closer, pressing their lips together once again. It was Emma’s turn to moan, her nipples tightening painfully at the way Regina aggressively kissed her. This was more like her Regina, and truth be told, Emma loved the way the woman was taking possession of her lips. They kissed, pulled apart to breathe, and resumed kissing again until Regina finally broke away.
“We should continue this at home.”
Emma smiled widely, nodding in agreement.
“So are you… you’re okay?”
“Yes, Emma. Thank you. I-” Regina faltered, taking a second to reflect. “I’m- I’m scared,” she finally admitted. “I have not done this for a very long time and the first time, it… it ended…” she trailed off, unable to continue.
“I know, honey. It’s not going to be easy for you, I know that. But I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I love you Regina Mills, and we are in this together, okay?”
Regina nodded. It was difficult to be so dependent on Emma to help her, when she was used to doing everything on her own. But, she trusted her, and she had to admit that it was high time she finally allowed someone in.
“Can I go back for the skates or are you gonna take off on me?”
Regina rolled her eyes and pushed Emma one-handed towards the skates.
“Go before I come to my senses and find someone less annoying to love.”
Emma made a move but stopped dead in her tracks at the last word.
“What?” Emma asked, grinning.
“Nothing. I said to get the skates.”
“No. No you left off with something else there, your Majesty.”
“You’re mistaken, peasant. Fetch me my skates.”
Emma took a step towards her, wrapping her arms around Regina’s waist and trapping her in her embrace.
“I will say nothing.”
“Say it or I’ll make you regret it.”
“I would like to see you try.”
Emma leaned forward and began kissing along Regina's cheek, working to her neck and gently nipping at it with her teeth. She held her close as she dug her fingers into her sides, causing Regina to laugh and attempt to pull away.
“Admit it,” she mumbled against her skin.
“I will admit nothing.”
Regina wiggled in her arms, laughing as Emma began blowing raspberries against the side of her throat. They tumbled back onto a pile of soft snow, Emma refusing to let up.
“Say it,” she repeated, kissing her nose.
Regina settled back, enjoying the weight of Emma’s body above her despite the cold. She looked up at the woman and smiled.
“I told you it wasn’t going to be easy,” Regina said with a grin.
“And I told you I like a challenge. Now say it before I tell everyone how many times you fell on your ass. It’s going to be incredibly embarrassing, the way you couldn’t get up once you were down, begging me to help, whining-”
“I love you.”
“and how your skates kept-” Emma’s heart stopped and she blinked, staring, lips parted as the words played over in her mind.
“I love you, Emma Swan.”
It was Emma’s turn to fight off the tears. She leaned forward and kissed Regina fully, only pulling away long enough to speak one last time.
“I love you too, Regina Mills.”