punctuality was never her strong suit
"Ma, my cufflinks are too small."
Emma hops up off the couch and rushes over to him, frowning and making a mental note to never order a tuxedo online again.
"Mom told you to order a bigger size."
She gives him a glare, trying to tug down the hem of his onyx jacket to cover the few inches baring his wrists.
"Yeah, well I didn't think I'd need to. If you weren't growing an inch every day these would have fit just fine."
Henry bats her hands away when she tugs a bit too hard and she sighs, backing away and crossing her arms as he fusses over the mauve vest beneath his suit jacket.
His hair is shaggy and swept across his bangs, always getting into his eyes, and he shakes it out of his face as his own frown deepens.
He's seventeen now and taller than her. He's not her little munchkin anymore and she feels her lips tug up into a smile.
Henry heaves one last sigh, bringing his hands to his sides in defeat before finding her eyes and scrunching his face.
"You're giving me a look."
She takes a step forward and smooths at the lapels of his jacket.
"You're just growing up too fast for me, kid."
He rolls his eyes and steps back, outstretching his hands.
"How do I look?"
"Like the son of a queen."
It's not that she was intentionally being rude.
She'd told Regina in person, she'd said it politely, she'd been nice.
She even got them a present. Some intricate steel vine looking wine bottle rack.
She really needed to stop online shopping.
The kid had even given her the cold shoulder for a week before he'd given her the 'I know why you're not going and it's stupid, Ma' speech.
'Yeah, well, maybe you'll understand when you're older' she'd said because she was angry that he'd figured her out and angry at the world.
She still is.
But she had been nice to Regina.
They were friends now. More than that really. They were best friends, family.
'You're her best friend, Ma, you have to go to her wedding.'
That'd been the night she'd told him she wasn't going; before the cold shoulder and him figuring out why she wasn't attending.
She hadn't gotten an invite. She'd seen them though, something elegant and beautiful and looking like it had been hand crafted by none other than Regina herself. There'd been a deep violet line of fabric wrapped around the crease of the card. It'd smelled faintly of cinnamon and vanilla.
We are delighted to invite you to attend the ceremony uniting Regina Mills and Robin Locksley on the 1st of May…
Snow had shown her, had gushed over it more like.
She'd been playing patty cake with baby Neal. She'd tickled him then, his peal of laughter hiding her taut jaw, making her smile look sincere.
She'd been fooling everyone; she was good at that. Aside from Henry, no one knew. Hook didn't even suspect it.
Though, she's not really surprised about that. He'd believe anything she said if she nuzzled his neck long enough.
But she hadn't gotten an invite because Regina had shown up to her apartment to ask her.
She'd come with a handful of binders and they'd spent hours choosing different types of cakes and wines and h'ordeurves. Emma'd opened them a bottle of wine and they'd finished it by the time they had gone through all the binders.
She'd been laughing when she'd tucked a strand of Emma's hair behind her ear, head tilted, brown eyes shining and soft.
"You're going to look beautiful as my maid of honor, Emma."
And Emma's breath had caught and she'd felt a weight press down on her chest. Regina had frowned, brow furrowed, as she'd let her hand fall back to her lap.
And then Emma had told her she wasn't going to be able to make it, told her that she really wished she could and that she'd be at the reception but that she couldn't make it to the wedding.
"Why the hell not?" She'd seethed, slamming her empty glass down on the table.
Emma had winced, had rubbed her hands together, hadn't come up with a good enough excuse and wasn't quick enough with it either because Regina had stood up and gathered the binders in her hands, her face flushed with anger, eyes glistening.
She'd told her to not even bother coming at all before she'd walked out of Emma's apartment, the slam of the door rattling their glasses on the table.
That'd been a month ago.
Regina probably had her wedding dress on by now.
Emma pops open another beer and takes a long pull of it, toeing the three or four empty bottles that littered her coffee table, thankful that Hook was gone for two weeks. Something about needing to stretch his sea legs. She hadn't really cared. She was thankful for the reprieve.
She runs her thumb over raven, elbow length hair, curled and glimmering under the heat of the sun. It's a picture David had taken of all three of them last summer. Henry in the middle of them, Regina's arms wrapped around his shoulders and one of Emma's hands wrapped around her waist, the other holding onto Henry's forearms, his own squeezing at his mother's.
They were mid-laughter in the photo, something Emma had said that she can't remember anymore. She doesn't remember because she hadn't been paying attention to what she'd said. She'd been watching Regina laugh.
She thumbs the frame again, heart swelling and then twisting uncomfortably as she hears the melodic song of Regina's laughter in her head like she was sitting right beside her.
She smiles fondly though, Henry and Regina's eyes on the camera, Emma's on Regina.
Emma had insisted that they take another one when David'd shown them the picture but Regina had snatched the camera away from her before she could delete it and she'd made three copies of it. One for Henry, which she knew he kept in his scrapbook, one for herself, which was in a matching frame in her living room, and one for Emma, which was now in her lap.
She drains the rest of her beer and stands up, placing the frame back on the coffee table.
She could get there in ten minutes if she drove fast enough.
It really is a gorgeous set up.
Softly glowing lights, almost star-like, float in the air above the rows of white benches, held up by Regina's magic.
It's drop dead in the middle of the forest (Regina hadn't fought as much as she'd thought she would on that) but truly a sight to behold.
White garland, tree vines, and deep purple all intricately woven into something that looked like a photo out of a magazine.
There's a makeshift, grandiose white tent that she guesses is for the reception (if all the tables and champagne glasses are to go by) to the right and a smaller, but still very much large, one off to the side of it.
Emma makes for that one, figuring that's where Regina would be.
She sees her mother walking out just as she steps to go through and her head jerks up.
She's smiling, apparently pleasantly surprised to see her, and Emma can only hope she isn't the only one.
"Oh. Hey, Mom."
She's wearing an eggplant (excuse her, aubergine, because 'It's not a vegetable, Emma, it's a dress') floor length dress, her hair now to her shoulders, pinned up into a mess of braids and curls.
"What are you doing here? I thought you weren't – "
"Yeah, no, I'm not. I just – I came to give Regina my blessing."
Snow tilts her head curiously at the word choice and Emma mentally facepalms because blessing? Jesus.
But Snow only smiles again, nodding her head to the inside of the tent.
"She's all the way in the back, far left corner."
Emma nods and moves past her before she feels a hand squeeze at her elbow. She turns back to Snow still smiling at her. Only this time there's something twined in it she can't quite decipher.
"She's nervous," is all she says before giving one last squeeze and moving to find a place beside David in the rows of benches that were now almost three-fourths of the way full.
Emma chews at the inside of her cheek, eyes flickering around the tent as she makes her way to the back of it and she takes a deep breath as she comes up to the very last room, closed off by a thick of white fabric.
She's wearing jeans and a grey cotton tee, she smells like beer and Granny's takeout, and she hadn't made any plan of what she was going to say.
She shakes her head, hands coming to cover her face in disbelief at her own stupidity, and makes to turn.
"Snow? Did you tell - " the fabric parts and Emma whirls around, promptly losing her breath and quite possibly any sane, functioning part of her mind.
Regina looks breathtaking.
She didn't go with Regina to pick out her dress. And now she's a little glad she didn't. Because god, it's fucking stunning. It's strapless, and white, white, white. It's cinched at the waist and the fabric looks like something carved from a marble statue out of the Smithsonian and when she finally makes it to Regina's face, she thinks the dress has nothing on the natural beauty that is wholly, unequivocally Regina.
Her makeup is light, lips bare, and the scar above it is almost pleading with her to caress her fingers over it.
Her hair is long and tumbling down her left shoulder in thick waves. There's a series of intricate braids on the right side and Emma suspects that if she were to turn around, they'd weave into the curls on her left.
"Emma," Regina breathes, surprise coloring the syllables. She doesn't look angry, not yet anyway, and Emma lets out a relieved exhale because Regina's too beautiful right now to sneer. She looks like a completely different person. A softer version.
Emma likes it just as much as she doesn't because this version isn't for her.
"Hi," Emma says, giving a little wave of her hand.
And it's been a month since she's seen her, a month since they've spoken to one another, and Regina shakes her head, curls bouncing with the action and steps backward.
There's a floor to ceiling length mirror, a large white couch, a vanity, and a smaller white stool underneath it. Everything white, white, white.
Emma feels out of place, dirty. Like she's going to besmirch the purity of it all. Regina's purity. Regina's wedding day.
Regina moves to sit down in front of the vanity and Emma sucks in a sharp breath. Her dress is completely backless, just a transparent piece of what looks like gossamer covering the planes of her back.
She was right about the braids.
Regina fingers her curls and then fidgets with the bodice of her dress, frowning a bit.
"Oh," Emma's eyes widen and she stammers before coming up beside Regina and replacing her fingers with Regina's. They brush together. Emma shudders.
There's a very well hidden zipper aligning the right side of the dress and it had come undone a few notches. Emma's fingers tremble as she zips it back up, trying her very, very hardest not to accidentally brush against any part of Regina's bared skin.
There was a lot of it.
"Thank you," Regina says softly once Emma's backed far enough away that she can't be tempted.
"It's beautiful out there, Regina," she finds herself saying, eyes tracing the knotted line of Regina's spine, her stomach fluttering at the smooth expanse of olive toned skin. "It's going to be a beautiful ceremony." Emma swallows.
Their eyes catch in the mirror and Regina smiles, something genuine, and Emma feels her heart thump against her rib cage.
"Thank you. Robin says it's the nicest the forest has ever looked," she chuckles, eyes dancing, and Emma feels it like a knife in her chest.
"Well, he's right," Emma says, voice belying the turmoil she feels upending her organs on the inside.
Regina turns then, hands resting in her lap. Emma lets out a breathy chuckle, dipping her head.
Jesus, she shouldn't have come.
"What?" She hears Regina ask, echoing Emma's chuckle.
And she's had a whole six pack, she's standing not three feet away from a practically fucking ethereal Regina, and it's not for her.
Oh, she needs to leave. She needs to leave right now.
"You are fucking beautiful."
Beautiful, Emma thinks, was an accurate word for the ceremony.
It is not an accurate one for this sight before her and she's momentarily enraged at the English language for not having a word sufficient enough to describe Regina Mills. She deserves a better word, dammit.
She watches as Regina's smile turns into parted lips, as a chest, far, far too tantalizing, expands on a slow inhale.
"Thank you," Regina says for a third time, this one different than the others. More breathy, more intimate, more.
"I'm drunk," Emma blurts. She's about to go on full word-vomit mode.
Regina's brow furrows for a split second before her eyes turn hard and she purses her bare, bare lips.
Emma thinks she's too soft to be so displeased.
And she's the reason she's like that. Emma's hardened her softness.
"And I wasn't going to come today because I know you don't want me here."
Emma holds her hand up when Regina moves to interrupt.
"I wasn't going to come because I've had six beers and I've been staring at that picture of us, the one where we're all laughing, all day and it's your wedding day and I can't ruin that for you."
Regina's face is scrunched in confusion and Emma's heart calms a tiny bit at the sight because it's a little less hard, closer to the soft again.
"Emma, what's – "
"I didn't give you a reason."
Regina's brow furrows even deeper before her face smooths, floods with remembrance of that day.
Emma swallows, feels her palms sweat and tingle.
"I didn't give you a reason because the reason is something I know you don't reciprocate."
Regina's throat works against a swallow and Emma sees the awareness of what she's about to say make its way across her features.
"Emma," Regina breathes, a warning. Don't do this, it says. She can hear it in her head, the husky lilt of Regina's voice.
"I'm late with it, I know. I'm about five years too late with it but when have I ever been good with punctuality?"
She gets a laugh out of that, something like a sharp exhale, something choked and small and laden with fondness, and brown eyes start to glisten with forming tears. Emma hates that she's the cause for this. She'll ruin her makeup.
On her wedding day. This is her wedding day.
It's furious and hissing and it's her voice, not Regina's. It won't shut up but neither will I'm in love with you, I'm so in love with you, you're beautiful, I want to kiss you, I want to be the one you marry, not him. He doesn't deserve you.
"I know how selfish this is, I do. I had so much time to do this...years. So many opportunities. You know I actually almost blurted it out last summer? After that picture. I almost told you."
Emma laughs then and she realizes she's crying. She wipes at her nose.
Regina's crying now too and this time Emma steps forward and bends down on one knee.
For one split second, she pictures a different scenario. One where she's holding a ring and Regina's looking at her with wide, tearful eyes full of happiness and promise. Not sorrow and pain.
She smiles for Regina then, tasting the salt from her tears. She cups Regina's face gently and swipes her thumbs across her cheekbones.
"Hey, hey, now. You're going to ruin your makeup."
Regina's hands shoot up to grip at Emma's and Emma feels her heart leap into her throat.
"I'm so sorry I didn't tell you sooner," Emma whispers, not trusting her voice to speak any louder. "I'm in love with you."
Regina lets out a cry then, something cracked and painted with anguish. Her hands constrict over Emma's.
"I've been in love with you for years, Regina."
She brushes at Regina's tears again, falling more rapidly than before, and when she bends to stand up, moves to take her hands away, Regina stops her, presses her hands into the soft skin of her cheeks more firmly.
Her eyes tip up to lock with melted brown, makeup most certainly ruined, leaving streaks of olive toned foundation and black smudges under her eyelashes.
Emma's never seen anyone more lovely.
Her dark eyes are fierce, ablaze with sudden determination, knuckles turning white with their hold on Emma's hands, voice raw and scratchy.
Emma tries to think of all the reasons why she shouldn't. There's a mountain of them. She's almost buried beneath the weight of them.
And she thinks she should voice them, she should pull away from Regina and walk out of this tent because this is her wedding day and she's already ruined her makeup.
She shouldn't, she knows she shouldn't. Regina has to know they shouldn't.
And yet she'd said it anyway.
She feels almost suffocated by the weight of all those reasons. She shouldn't. They shouldn't.
But Regina's looking at her like that. Piercing her through and it looks so much like she feels the same way, like if Emma had told her five years ago, they'd have been together. She'd have reciprocated. This wedding might have been the unity of Emma Swan and Regina Mills.
So she does. She kisses her. She kisses her softly; she kisses her how she would kiss her if they were together and she had every day for the rest of her life to do so.
She doesn't deepen it any further than just the pressing of their lips, the mingling of their tears, the taste of them.
Regina's hands stay twined over Emma's and she tugs, consciously or not, a little harder, pulls Emma that much closer, and something leaves her lips then, something like a sob; her mouths parts with it, her forehead falling to meet Regina's and she licks her lips, the tangy salt of her tears, of Regina's tears, making her heart ache, making it feel as if it's going to halve.
Regina's thumbs smooth across the backs of her hands and she exhales shakily, Emma feeling it directly against her lips.
Emma sniffles, rubbing her forehead against Regina's, making to pull away, but Regina surges forward again, coming up off the bench with it, standing, Emma stumbling backward a step with the force. She gives a soft sound of surprise at the movement.
She feels Regina's tongue slide over her own, once, twice, her hands moving to card through Emma's hair as Emma gasps against the feeling. And she's still trying to process when Regina abruptly pulls away from her, causing her to fall forward a bit.
Regina's eyes are piercing still but now they're angry, furious.
"I'm marrying Robin. He's my true love, my soulmate. I'm in love with him."
Emma can't speak. She swallows though, feels her heart somewhere in the bottom of her left boot.
She wonders if one swift stomp would crush it for good.
Regina sits back on the bench and goes about fixing her makeup.
She doesn't look at Emma.
Emma nods and wipes at her eyes, clenches her jaw, walks out of the room, out of the tent, out of the forest. She'd driven here but she's walked out through a different part than where she'd parked the bug.
She doesn't stop walking until she's made it across the town border, the magic barrier no longer in place, just an invisibility one Regina'd placed there for protection.
She steps over the line and keeps walking.
She'll go back; she has to. For Henry. She won't leave him.
But she doesn't need to go back now.
She wonders if Robin's kissed her yet. If Regina's now officially Mrs. Locksley.
She wonders if Robin can taste her on Regina's lips. She wonders if Regina had kept her lips bare or not.
She wonders when she'll get over Regina. Wonders if she can.
She wonders if perhaps she can find herself an apartment in Boston.
Wonders if Regina would miss her.
She keeps walking.
allotted anger, thank you very much
She'd gone back to her bug a few hours later. The sun had long gone down, the stars above Emma making her feel a little less lonely. A little less numb.
She'd had about three missed calls from her mother, one from David (she suspects Snow was behind that one as well), and a text message from Henry that read I know you told her. Wherever you are, be safe. And come back.
She'd cried when she'd read it. She'd clutched her phone to her chest and sobbed. And she couldn't stop until she was on the verge of a panic attack and her lungs felt like they were being lit on fire by the very blood pumping in her veins.
She'd gone straight home after sending Henry a text telling him she was fine and she hoped he was having a good time.
She walks into her apartment and smiles at the picture she receives in response. Him with a dopey smile, a thumbs up, and a glass of champagne. Snuck this right under Gram's nose.
She chuckles, shaking her head at him. Little shit.
She locks her phone, sighing before falling back onto her bed and staring up at the ceiling. 9:36.
The reception hadn't even been going on for more than an hour.
Regina had wanted a night wedding. Emma feels a twinge of regret at not being able to see the light of her magic under a blanket of nightfall and stars shrouded by tree tops. She imagines that it would have been almost as breathtaking as the woman who conjured it.
She rolls onto her stomach and rests her chin on her forearms, eyeing the lines of her tawdry curtains.
Regina'd called them that. She'd rolled her eyes, told her not everyone got their wealth from a 28 year old curse. Regina had reminded her she had magic too. Emma'd blinked and asked if that was against the magic code or something. She'd seen Charmed. Wasn't that some personal gain shit, poofing new curtains?
Regina had laughed at her and had shaken her head. She hadn't even answered her question.
Emma thumbs the fabric before she realizes she's smiling and tosses the curtain back down, sitting up and scoffing in disgust.
She drums her fingers on her knee and scratches at her cheek wondering what the fuck she was going to do with herself tonight.
She could get drunk but she'd done that earlier. She was still blocking off afterward. She'd shoved it behind a brick wall during her walk. And she'd be damned if she let it crumble beneath her. Not tonight.
No, tonight, she needed a distraction. Anything.
For the first time in a while she found herself completely desperate for Hook's arms. For his warmth, his raspy British drawl.
She'd do anything for the distraction, for the roughness of his hands, the scrape of his lips against her own.
An image of Hook fucking her while Regina watches, eyes wide, mouth parted, flashes across her mind unbidden.
There are cracks in her wall it seems. She gnashes her teeth at the sensation that ripples through her from the thought of a jealous Regina.
She can't do this. She can't stare at her curtains, she can't see Regina's eyes in her ceiling. She can't feel her lips on hers. She only has two hands and the cracks are tripling in number.
She makes her way into the kitchen and opens her fridge, eyeing the half empty can of sprite Henry'd left in there earlier.
She gives the contents, the gross lack thereof, a baleful glare and shuts the door with another disgusted huff.
So no Hook and now no food.
What the hell was she going to do?
She eyes the coffee table, the beer bottles, the picture. Thinks about cleaning her apartment. Walks out the door instead.
She makes her way to the forest again, gazes longingly at the stars, wishes she could reach up and take hold of one, be one.
It's a bit cooler now that it's dark, the heady scent of the woods, the moss and the seemingly omnipresent dampness of leaves a hearty welcome in her lungs.
Emma takes a deep inhale, closes her eyes, almost trips over a thick of vines.
No one had ever accused her of being graceful.
She sees lights up ahead, the hum of music, and she stops, eyes wide.
Shit. Had she seriously walked here? Fuck. No. She needed to turn around.
Her cracks were starting to split open now, leaving gaping, jagged gashes in their wake.
She feels the phantom touch of thumbs caressing at her cheekbones.
Feels lips like a whisper brush against her own.
Decides she wants to see Regina's magic. Just her magic.
She stalks forward and then she's under light. Under Regina's magic. Like the stars above the sky, but warmer. Closer. Reachable.
They expand over the tents, over the benches, the altar looking like something foreboding. Emma's gut twists, feels out of place. Wrong.
She shouldn't be here right now.
Regina's wedding day. Regina and Robin's wedding day, her mind supplies, that hissing one, the one she's come to find likes to torture her. Likes to poke at her wounds, likes to claw at them, open them further, flesh ripping and tearing.
She sees Leroy downing a glass of champagne under the larger of the tents, head swiveling back and forth, looking much too obvious for what she's suspecting he's trying to pass off as subtle.
"She can't see you," Emma says in reference to Astrid as she grabs a flute and downs it in two gulps.
Leroy jumps a little and Emma's brow arches, not pegging him as the jittery type.
He glowers at her and stuffs his hands in the pockets of his black dress pants.
Emma's never seen him look so…cleaned up.
"It's a wedding, cause for celebration," he burrs, making a flourish with his free hand and Emma rolls her eyes, grabbing another flute.
"I thought you were supposed to be Regina's maid of honor?"
Emma chokes on her drink, feeling the burn in her nostrils, and she blinks against the tears.
"Where did you – "
He snorts. "Town gossiper, remember?"
Emma nods. Right.
"Right, yeah…um, no. She uh – she changed her mind?" Emma closes her eyes. Did she really just end that as a question?
Leroy snorts again and Emma can't even feel annoyance toward him because she's too pissed with herself at that fucking lame ass response. She changed her mind question mark?
"It's a good thing you're not in politics, sister."
He walks off shaking his head, and Emma spots her mother and David dancing, or gyrating? Ew, no. Gross. They're like…moving their bodies in a really unappealing, jerky way and she turns to find Henry, not wanting to see that anymore.
She realizes though, as she weaves through people she's never even seen before and some she's surprised are even there (Whale especially), that she should have interrupted her parents.
Because Henry's at the front of the makeshift dance floor, off to the side of the tents, under more lights. And he's with Regina and Robin, Robin's arm around Henry's shoulders and Regina looking at the both of them like they're the only thing she needs.
Emma feels a sharp pain in her hand just as she's within a few feet of the trio and she gapes at the blood trickling down her forearm, the glass shards of her used-to-be intact flute on the brown dirt beneath her boots.
"Ma?" She hears Henry call. "Ma!"
Her head snaps up and she sees Regina looking at her with wide (she thinks she detects a bit of anger) eyes and Robin looking at her hand with concern. She looks back to her palm and then up to Henry who's cradling it in his now.
And then she's being rushed into the smaller tent and her hand's being wrapped in white cloth from one of the napkins adorning the tables and she stares at it. The blood seeping through. Tainting it. Ruining it. Its purity. Regina's purity. Regina's wedding day. Regina and Robin's wedding day.
Henry pushes her into a chair and she sighs, moving to stand back up, because she's fine, it's just a cut, but another hand pushes her down again, firmer this time, and she looks up to see Regina, still in her wedding dress, still magnificent. Hard, though.
Emma's made her hard again, made her jaw taut, her shoulders tense, her eyes angry.
"You're not fine," she turns to Henry. "I'll take care of your mother, go back out there, sweetheart. Just no more champagne."
Henry's eyes go big at that and Emma bites back a chuckle.
"You're not very surreptitious, dear."
Emma lets the chuckle free then because he looks so caught and much more like the younger boy who'd run around plotting operations and he ducks his head as he leaves the tent.
"He thought he'd snuck it from Snow. He should've known you would be the one watching him like a hawk. I thought we'd raised him better." Emma tuts and shakes her head in mock disappointment, eyes tipping up to see if she'd gotten at least a smirk out of Regina.
She clears her throat and flexes her injured hand, wincing at the jolt of pain that shoots up her forearm.
Regina's own hand comes out to take hold of hers, the gentleness in her movements contradicting the rigidity of her expression.
She unwraps the napkin, almost completely covered in blood, and Emma lets out a shuddered breath when she sees Regina's fingertips come back red.
She lays the napkin in Emma's lap and gently pries Emma's fingers open a bit more.
Emma fidgets with her free hand, rubbing a tiny patch of the white napkin between her fingertips.
"Regina, I'm sorr – "
"You're lucky this wasn't deeper," Regina cuts her off, voice firm but soft. Emma stares at her lips. Bare. Her scar. Pleading.
And then she glides her hand over top Emma's bleeding one and her cut heals itself, the blood disappearing with a transparent white glow.
"Thank you," Emma breathes, feeling a peculiar warmth envelop her, starting at her fingertips.
It makes its way to her chest and she flicks her eyes up to meet dark brown. Dark brown eyes that aren't hard anymore. Dark brown eyes that aren't soft though either. They're glimmering. They're staring. They're staring at her lips.
"You're welcome," Regina whispers. She looks horrified by the breathiness of her words a second later and clears her throat, rights herself, eyes flitting around the tent.
She folds her arms across her middle, turning to look outside, before her eyes find Emma's again.
"I wasn't going to stay," Emma says, eyes following Regina's, desperate now to alleviate the awkwardness she's caused.
"Oh," Regina says, hesitant. "You're welcome to, Robin asked about you." She dips her head after she finishes, biting at the inside of her lip.
And yeah, okay. Robin. Husband. Wedding dress. Right.
Emma stands, bloodied napkin still in her hand, and takes a step forward, watching as Regina's eyes flicker down to her lips again before meeting her gaze.
"You look beautiful as his wife," Emma whispers, looks down at Regina's hand, brushes her free fingers along the diamond of her ring. "You look beautiful wearing his ring."
Beautiful, she thinks, will always be a word she associates with Regina. One that will never be enough but is all that she can give. Words, Emma thinks, and nothing more.
Regina sucks in a sharp breath when Emma's fingers trace her knuckles.
Emma smiles, tries to make it look as veritable as she can.
And then she turns and walks out of the tent. Walks away from white, white, white and soft, soft, soft. Walks away from whatever had been swimming within the russet irises of Regina's eyes.
She walks past her parents still trying to dance, walks past Henry and Robin and Roland, past Leroy and blurred faces laughing and drinking and happy.
She walks until she's in her apartment again, until she's grabbed her keys, until she's at the top of the hill that overlooks the town. Until she's on the hood of her bug.
Until she's fingering the still bloodied napkin in her hand and wondering when Regina'd realized she still had Emma's blood on her own fingertips.
She wonders if she had been in front of Robin when she had. Wonders what she'd said. How she'd looked.
And then she tosses it to the ground.
Because she doesn't care. She doesn't want to wonder. Doesn't want to know.
She doesn't care.
She doesn't care at all.
She repeats it like a mantra in her head as she gazes at the stars.
She's not sure how long she's been asleep when her phone buzzes in her pocket and jars her awake.
She blinks back the bleariness in her eyes and doesn't register the face on the screen when she swipes her thumb across it to answer, putting the phone to her ear, her voice hoarse with sleep.
"Did you want to kiss me earlier?"
Emma blinks, springs up into a sitting position, almost falls off the fucking bug because of it.
"Because you were looking at me like you wanted to and I think you did and you can't do that. That can't happen. It can't happen again."
Emma's not coherent enough for this.
"Regina, aren't you supposed to be like on your honeymoon right now, why are you calling me in the middle of the night?" She runs her hand through her hair and winces when it catches a few knots.
"Because I'm married."
Emma pinches at the bridge of her nose, rubs at her forehead, wonders why the fuck Regina is telling her things she already fucking knows.
"Yeah, um, I did see you not just a few hours ago, Regina. You were wearing a white dress. Kind of knew this already."
She hears what sounds like the rustling of leaves on the other end and crosses her legs, pretzel style.
"What happened earlier today can't ever happen again, Emma. I'm mar - "
"Regina, I swear to god if you say that word one more time I'm hanging up on you."
There's a pause.
"So you understand then?"
"Jesus, yes. Are you done now?" Because what the actual fuck. She called her at almost 4 in the morning to tell her something she was already entirely aware of?
"Robin's a good man," she says, as if Emma had stated otherwise.
Her jaw constricts.
"Yeah, I've met him, Regina." He also cheated on his last wife she doesn't add. Because Emma knows it was much more complicated than that. Much more than black and white. Also because she'd kind of indirectly been the reason behind that.
She also knows, concedes rather, that he is a good man. A good man she'd really love to punch in the face because she can't punch Regina and really she doesn't want to punch either of them she just wants to punch something because life is truly fucking unfair when it wants to be.
"He loves me, Emma. We're going to be happy together."
And Emma's barely-there-to-begin-with restraint snaps right down the center.
"You know what, Regina? How about you take that happiness of yours and shove it down someone else's fucking throat, yeah? Like I don't know, your loving, good husband's? He's ready and willing, I'm sure."
She rips the phone away from her ear and moves to press the end button.
She stops when she hears Regina's voice and catches the tail end of her sentence when she puts the phone back up to her ear.
"…I'm surprised. That was remarkably mild."
Wait, what? She was – what the fuck was she playing at with this fucking phone call?
Was she seriously toying with her? Now?
"Does Robin know how much of an asshole you are?"
She hears Regina give a dark chuckle, something deep and throaty. Emma clenches her jaw.
"Not as intimately as you do, no."
And yeah, okay. She's done.
She hangs up and throws her phone in a moment of blinding rage. She's not sure where it lands.
She doesn't fucking care.
She's done with Regina and her staring eyes and her breathy words. Her fucking sultry innuendos and proclamations of happiness with a man she thinks she'd really actually like if she wasn't so filled with fury at the thought of him touching Regina every time she saw him.
She blows out a frustrated breath and falls back against the hood of her bug, silently stewing and cursing Regina's impeccable sense of timing.
Like, she couldn't have had that conversation with her in the daytime? Or when she wasn't on her fucking. honeymoon?
And why the fuck had she even called her, anyway? She already knew every single thing she had said. It was a pointless fucking phone call.
She hears the vibration of her phone somewhere off in the distance and sighs, sliding down the windshield and hopping off the bug in search of it.
Because no matter how much she doesn't want to read what is probably a text from Regina, she needs her phone.
After copious amounts of twigs attaching themselves to every single strand of her hair, she finds it.
It's a little worse for wear and the screen's cracked but it still works.
She clicks the home screen button and sees that it is indeed a text from Regina.
She swipes to unlock the screen and a few seconds later her phone shatters into a hundred little flecks of multicolored shards.
I think you should find a place outside of Storybrooke.
in another life
Emma’s so angry she can’t even try to go back to sleep and she attempts that poofing shit Regina does but after a few goes (and her ending up in some random ass pond, completely ruining her boots) she gives up and stomps back to her bug, driving back to her apartment so she can shower because she smells like a swamp threw up on her and she’s pretty sure that’s not mud that’s caked into a few streaks of her hair right now.
She’s just up the stairs to her apartment when she decides life is actively trying to fuck with her.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“You didn’t answer my text,” Regina says defensively. She’s wringing her hands.
Emma snorts, moving to unlock her door, knowing Regina is going to follow her whether she wants her to or not.
She doesn’t want her to. Not right now. Not for a long while either.
She hears Regina close the door with a soft click behind her and Emma tosses her keys on the coffee table, not caring when they knock against one of the beer bottles with a loud ping and almost tip it over.
She shucks her jacket off and heads into the kitchen, toward the pantry where the washer and dryer are.
“Yeah, that’s because my phone is now one with the forest floor,” she calls over her shoulder in answer to Regina’s previous words.
Emma pulls her shirt over her head and takes off her boots, sighing when she realizes she’s probably just going to have to buy a new pair.
Fucking Regina, she thinks.
She almost goes face first into the washer when she gets tangled up in her jeans and it’s only when she’s in her tank top, bra, and underwear, heading down the hall for the shower that she sees Regina in the doorway of the pantry, eyes not on hers but – Emma looks down – at her legs.
Her cheeks are flushed, her mouth parted slightly.
Emma feels her stomach flip even as she moves to cross her arms and cock her hip because Regina so doesn’t have the right to be staring at Emma half-clothed and looking like she doesn’t mind the view one bit.
Regina’s eyes snap up to hers and she shakes her head, clearing her throat before fidgeting with the cellphone in her hands. She’s wearing dark wash jeans of her own with a cotton white tee and if Emma wasn’t so goddamn angry with her she might allow herself to think that Regina looks like she’d borrowed some of her clothes and she really, really likes the way they look on her.
Her heart kind of stutters in her chest at the completely unwanted image of Regina wearing her leather jacket, though. She even pictures Regina in one of her grey beanies.
She grinds her teeth.
“You didn’t answer my text,” Regina reiterates, this time sounding a bit sheepish about it. Like perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to just show up on the doorstep of someone you’re jerking around like a rag doll. “And we need to talk about this before…before…”
“Before Robin finds out that his wife asked her best friend to kiss her right before walking down the aisle?” Emma supplies acerbically, eyebrows rising.
She watches Regina’s jaw constrict, sheepish giving way to flinty.
“This could have been avoided if you’d just answered my – ”
“Text. Yeah, I told you my phone got blown up and I'm not fucking leaving Storybrooke just because you don't know how to han– ”
“Blown up?” Her eyebrows shoot up. “You blew up your phone? Are you five?”
“Okay, stop.” Because she’s not going to get scolded like some teenager with anger issues. She doesn’t have anger issues. Her anger is completely allotted, thank you very much.
She waves her hand at Regina. “This,” she gestures between the two of them. “This whole ‘let’s call Emma a child because I know she hates it and she’ll end up getting distracted by her own anger at the comment and end up saying something mean and hateful and then that’ll give me a valid reason to be mad at her’ act isn’t going to – ”
“I do have a valid reason to be mad at you.”
Emma stops short, furrows her brow, realizes that shit, she does.
Emma's relieved when she doesn’t actually say the reason. She shakes a few strands of hair out of her face and readjusts the phone still in her hand.
“So,” she starts, sounding like she’s about to make a business proposition.
She stops mid-word and gives Emma a once over. Emma sees her jaw muscles ripple. “Perhaps you should put some clothes on first.” She strides out of the pantry like she’s completely in control of the entirety of this fucked up situation, and then throws over her shoulder, “And take a shower, you smell like a stable.”
Emma bites back the shouldn’t you like that smell? because god, no matter how mad she is at Regina she would never, ever be that cruel.
She glares at the empty doorway and rolls her eyes instead, making her way down the hall and to her bedroom.
She makes quick work of her shower even while she wants to just stand under the hot spray of the water for hours and drown herself in her body wash.
She’s wringing her hair with a towel, barely drying off her body before she throws on a pair of yoga capris and a sports bra, when she walks back into the living room.
Regina’s on the couch, back ramrod straight and looking like she’s just barely resisted the urge to summon a plastic covering to lay down over the cushions. Her comment was aimed toward Emma’s attire but Emma bristles at her body language.
“Careful, Your Majesty, the fleas like the smell of cinnamon and fear.” Because honestly, she vacuums that couch once a month. Most months, anyway.
Regina gives her a long look. “It’s not like it’s exactly clean in here, Emma.” She curls her lip and gives one of the beer bottles a prod with her index finger.
Emma rolls her eyes before tossing her towel on the arm of the opposite end of the couch and plopping down beside her, suppressing a grin when she sees Regina bounce with the action, resulting in her sitting more fully on the cushion.
“Okay, it’s almost seven in the morning and you’re here with me instead of with your fresh, new husband…wait, how did you manage that?”
Regina’s noticeably keeping her eyes anywhere but on Emma and this time she doesn’t bite back the small, satisfied grin. Regina’s fidgeting with her cell phone again and Emma wonders if Regina’d always been so jittery.
“I…just used a little spell to keep him from waking.”
Emma’s eyebrows shoot up. “You used magic? On your husband?”
Regina lets out an exasperated huff and gives Emma a hard look.
“It just lengthens a person’s dreams, sometimes enhances them, it has no lasting effects and can actually be a rather stimu – ” she stops herself then, biting down on her bottom lip so hard it leaves little white indent marks and Emma takes in a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second.
She definitely didn’t need the image of a stimulated Robin in her brain.
“Robin’s sleeping. Got it.”
She drags her hair up into a messy bun, neck and sports bra damp, using the pony tail around her wrist.
“I’m not leaving Storybrooke, what happened yesterday will never happen again, and you’re going to be a happy wife to a very happy husband. Now will you leave so I can try to get some sleep?”
Regina looks over at her. “No.”
Emma groans and sinks back into the cushions, bringing her knees with her.
“Regina, seriously. You have a valid reason to be mad at me? Well I have one for you too and mine happened less than four hours ago and I literally blew up my phone because of it. Do you really think this is a good time to be talking about this right now?”
“Yes. Because if we don’t talk about it now we won’t ever. We’ll throw it under the rug and never speak of it again.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Emma says with a shrug.
“I wasn’t finished,” Regina says. “We’ll pretend it never happened but it did and it’ll rear its ugly head eventually, probably in the worst of ways, and ruin everything.” Regina sighs. “Emma. We can’t let this affect our relationship. Henry can’t be hurt by this.”
Emma blinks. Did Regina not know that Henry already knew about them?
Well, whatever. She definitely wasn't breaking that news.
Emma scrubs at her eyes with the heels of her palms.
“Okay, okay.” She looks up at Regina then, eyes scratchy from lack of sleep. “So what do we do about it?”
Regina holds her gaze for a long few seconds before letting out a defeated exhale and pinching the bridge of her nose. “I have no idea.”
“Great.” Emma stares at her knees. “Okay, well obviously it’s not going to happen again. So check mark beside that box.”
“And we can have like a no touching rule if there’s not at least one other person in the room or something.” Emma’s ticking them off with her fingers, index and middle finger out.
“Does that include all touching?” Regina’s brow is furrowed in deep concentration and Emma’s a little concerned she’s thinking about this too hard. “Like no light brushes of the shoulder in hello or – ”
Emma sighs, rubbing at her forehead with the back of her hand, fingers still pointing out.
“I’m going to tell you something, Regina. Since we’ve opened this can of worms.” Because yes that includes all touching. “Your hands are probably my favorite thing about you and your little light touches randomly at all times of the day make me want to grab you and fuck you up against the nearest wall.” Regina’s jaw goes slack. She blinks. “So yes Regina, that includes all touching.”
Regina swallows, looks a little white in the face. Nods. “Right.”
Emma chuckle, nervous and eyes on her knees, vulnerabilities that won’t shut up washing through her in an instant. “It’s not like you’d want anything else to happen, anyway.”
Regina doesn’t answer though and after a few too many seconds of silence, Emma glances over at her.
She’s looking down at her lap, at her cellphone. She’s nibbling at her bottom lip, looking far too much like she does want something more to happen and Emma’s heart jumps and leaps into her esophagus.
Regina’s head jerks up. She looks spooked. Emma’s heart squeezes in sympathy.
“Regina, we can – ”
But Regina is standing, hand running through her hair, and Emma thinks she sees it trembling.
“No Emma, we can’t.” She looks at her then, eyes wild, frantic. Emma stands and moves around the coffee table.
“Regina.” She reaches out to smooth her hands down Regina’s arms. Emma’s surprised when instead of pulling away, Regina just melts into the touch, breath coming out in a shaky rush, head tipping forward. Her hands shoot to grip at Emma’s forearms, her cellphone digging harshly into Emma’s left one.
“Emma…I can’t do this.”
It’s said on a quiet sob and Emma feels her hands tighten around soft, warm skin.
Numb. She feels numb and when Regina’s eyes find hers they’re glistening.
“I love you but I can’t…he’s my soulmate, Emma.”
Numb, numb, numb.
“Right,” Emma says, voice robotic.
They don’t kiss.
Emma only holds on for a few seconds longer before releasing Regina and not turning to watch as she leaves.
She doesn’t cry. She just stares and stares.
She wonders if this is what it feels like to have your heart absent from your chest. Wonders if Regina would be doing her a favor by taking hers and crushing it in front of her. Hears a mordant she already has bounce around like an echo in her mind.
She stares and stares.
On Robin and Regina’s first year anniversary Emma gets blind drunk and walks back to her apartment barefoot.
Henry’s there and she gives him a sloppy smile, wrapping her arm around him and pulling him into her.
“Hey, kid, ‘sup?”
“You need to get your shit together, Ma. It’s been a year.”
Emma snorts and gestures toward the air around them, stumbling a bit and taking Henry with her when the movement knocks her off balance.
“My shit is completely together. Shit’s all inna neat little stack.”
Henry stays with her that night. When she wakes up there’s a bottle of water, three aspirin, and a note on her nightstand.
Eat and brush your teeth. Oh, and I love you.
P.S. shit together, remember?
A year later Regina is pregnant.
It’s a boy.
Her mother sticks the sonogram Regina’d given her on their fridge. Emma feels nauseated every time she sees it.
Three years and nine months later it’s the little guy’s birthday.
He has floppy, sandy blonde curls that fall into his dark brown eyes, and it always cuts somewhere deep when she looks into them.
It’s a cruel twist of fate to have her be so unequivocally enamored by the son that could have been hers and isn’t.
He looks more like Regina than he does Robin and a part of Emma is thankful for that while another one isn't.
She walks into Granny’s with the stuffed brachiosaurus where there’s a squawked ‘EMMA!’ and she has just enough time to sit the dinosaur down before there’s thirty pounds of excited toddler in her arms and she nuzzles her nose in his hair, smelling like baby powder and an undertone of vanilla she's always associated with Regina.
“Ry Guy!” She settles him on her hip and he giggles when she taps his nose. “How’s the birthday boy?”
“Daddy got me a bow and row!” He bounces in her arms and she looks up just as Regina smooths a hand down Ryder’s back, her fingers brushing against Emma’s arm. She smiles at Emma, cheeks a light pink, absolutely glowing.
“A bow and arrow, sweetheart,” she corrects gently. Ryder gasps, completely dismissing Regina's comment, as his eyes glance down to Emma’s feet.
“Emma, is that a Little Foot?” His big brown eyes tip up to hers in childish wonder.
Emma feels her heart melt against her ribs.
“It sure is, kid.” She leans in and taps his nose again. “And it’s all for you.” She presses a kiss to his temple and then pats his bottom before she lets him down. He immediately attaches himself to the stuffed toy.
It’s almost as big as he is and he waddles a bit when he drags it over to show Henry, Robin, and Roland at one of the tables. There are little kids everywhere, parents, various townspeople, and she gives Henry a smile and a wave when he looks over at her, his grin bright and eyes shining. She sees little Neal sword fighting with David off in one of the corners, both of them using their arms for swords.
“Daddy, look what Emma got me!” Ryder thrusts the stuffed animal into Robin’s legs.
Robin gasps theatrically. “Oh wow! Did she get you a dinosaur?”
“A stuffed animal, Emma, really?”
Emma turns back to see Regina giving her a faux stern glare. Emma feigns a pout. “What, come on, Regina. Ry Guy loves dinosaurs.
“Yes,” Regina says, “I’m very aware of that.” She scrunches her nose. “I hate it when you call him that.”
Emma beams. “I know.”
Her parents come over soon after that, all smiles and warm touches.
Emma helps cut the cake. It’s shaped into a t-rex and has neon yellow icing. Apparently there’d been a bit of confusion about the lime green that was specifically requested. Henry said Regina had been furious.
Turns out it’s Ryder’s new favorite color. Emma laughs when Roland smears the bright icing over Ryder’s cheek. Regina admonishes her. Henry snorts. Emma retaliates by smacking the back of his head only to get another rebuke from Regina.
She gets roped into riding back to the mansion with Henry after the party.
It’s always a little bit awkward when she comes over now. But Ryder had thrown an absolute fit when she'd tried to get out of the invitation for dinner (Robin was making some new chicken thing he'd found in one of Regina's cookbooks) and she’s never going to be able to say no to those mini Regina eyes is she?
Ryder makes her watch Land before Time with him after they’ve eaten and he falls asleep curled into her side, the stuffed brachiosaurus pressed against his chest and taking up one-third of the couch.
Henry and Roland are playing video games in Henry’s room when she helps Regina put Ryder to bed and she smooths the soft curls away from his forehead before pressing a kiss there.
She gets up and leaves the room just as Robin comes in. She gives him an awkward smile that he returns in kind and his hand squeezes gently at her upper arm as he walks past her and joins Regina.
Henry’s door is wide open and neither he nor Roland tear their eyes away from the screen.
“You’re going to go cross-eyed if you get any closer to it.”
Henry makes a noncommittal ‘humpf’ and Roland just breathes out a ‘HA!’.
Henry scowls and pushes at the buttons on his controller more furiously and Emma shakes her head before making her way downstairs.
“Love you too, guys.”
She’s just got her boots back on when she hears soft footsteps on the stairs.
“Would you like a glass of wine?”
And she looks so soft and so happy that Emma couldn’t refuse even if she wanted to.
They’re outside on the porch, wine glasses in hand, crickets sounding around them in the distance, and for the first time in almost six years Emma feels content.
Feels okay with sons that aren’t hers and dresser drawers that are full of boxers and wife beater (she abhors that pejorative nickname) tank tops. Feels okay with the ring glinting under the pale light of the moon on Regina’s left hand. Feels okay with weekly dinners as a guest in Regina’s home. Feels okay with Henry’s anecdotes of Roland’s ever growing deviousness and Ryder’s obsession with Regina’s makeup.
He used an entire bottle of Mom’s concealer, Ma. I think there’s still some of that stuff caked into his skin.
She’s sitting outside on Regina’s porch, under the stars, sipping wine, and she feels happy.
Emma turns to find Regina looking up at her curiously, lips ticking upward.
She looks so young like this. In the moonlight. So soft and open. Beautiful.
Emma takes a sip of her wine and smiles, eyes up at the stars.
“I’m just happy.”
Eight years later, Ryder asks Emma a question.
“Do you love my mom?”
They’re playing some video game Emma has no idea how to play and she whips her head to the side, blinking down at him in silent shock at the question.
Ryder pauses the game and looks up at her, eyes shining, knowing.
“I can say it in Spanish if you’d like.” He says it like the little smartass he is and he’s so ridiculously Regina’s kid it hurts.
“Do you even know how to say it in Spanish?” Emma counters, brow rising.
He gives her a perfect ‘really?’ glare and seriously does Regina just sit down and have her kids practice that in a mirror? Henry’s almost better at it than Regina is now. It’s slightly disconcerting when she’s on the receiving end of it. She feels like she needs to apologize for something. Even if she’s done nothing wrong. God, Regina’s creating tiny monsters.
“Amas mi mamá?” He rolls his eyes. “Really, Emma, that’s like second grade stuff. Mom’s fluent in Spanish, I learned simple sentences when I was like four.”
“Okay, okay, jeesh, kid, tone down the attitude – wait…she is?” Emma blinks. How has she never heard Regina speak Spanish? Not even once.
“You’re dodging the question.”
“I am not. I – how the hell did I not know she spoke Spanish.” Like, not even a si or a…whatever else they say in that language.
Ryder shrugs. “You’re kind of obtuse sometimes.”
Emma snaps her eyes to him, offended. “I am not! I – obtuse? Do you read the friggin’ dictionary before you go to sleep?”
Ryder raises his eyebrows at her. She imagines a heel clad foot tapping gently, arms crossed, a perfectly sculpted eyebrow arched and overbearingly domineering.
Damn this kid. Damn Regina.
She swallows thickly. “Of course I love your mother.”
“You were in love with her weren’t you?”
He’s twenty now and she’s only startled by the break in silence, not the question itself.
Ryder has always been particularly precocious – just like Henry – and if she’s being honest, she’s surprised he’s held out this long.
They’re in the car on the way back to the mansion. He’s back from school for the holidays and Regina had tasked them with buying the ingredients for the treats they were all going to make later. Regina had initially offered it to her and Henry but Henry had said something about creaking old bones and Emma’d rolled her eyes and had made Ryder come with her. No way was she buying this stuff by herself. That way if she bought the wrong thing she could have a scapegoat and escape Regina’s wrath.
Ryder’s all defined muscles and prominent jaw line now, a five o’clock shadow that makes him look a lot like his father lining his face. Regina absolutely hates it.
He’d told her earlier he did it just to hear her complain. She likes to think that’s her influence on him shining through. She’s almost embarrassingly proud of it. Regina used to genuinely get upset over it. Now she just rolls her eyes affectionately, occasionally crosses her arms and arches an eyebrow. It makes that ‘somewhere deep’ ache inside of her every time Regina gives her that ‘this is completely your fault’ glare. So much like the 'he's your son' glare she'd received many, many times whenever Henry'd done something 'uncultivated'.
He considers her his ‘other mom’ and the first time he’d confessed it to her she’d cried and he’d hugged her tight, tight, tight.
He’s getting older every day and she’s had to watch Henry grow up – he’s now married with twins on the way, and oh is Emma going to spoil the shit out of them – Roland’s engaged to a girl he met studying abroad and though she feels like she’s eighty and is technically supposed to be in her fifties, she still looks thirty-five because of a drunken night with Regina gone wrong and yeah, Emma had been mad at first but now she supposes it isn’t the worst thing. At the very least, a small, possessive part of her (in that ‘somewhere deep’) relishes in the fact that her and Regina kind of match now.
“That was a long time ago, kid.” Because it was and she’s been over it for years.
She’s a fucking master at hiding it, anyway.
“Didn’t exactly answer the question,” he says with a pointed look.
Emma turns onto Mifflin Street, feeling a warmth suffuse within her as the word home settles comfortably in her mind.
She puts the car in park – her bug had bit the dust quite a while back and she’d insisted on getting it fixed but Regina had made a very convincing counter argument – like she had been prepared for Emma’s foot stomping and adamant refusal or something – and after a bit of yelling (on her end because this was her bug, dammit), they’d both agreed on a spell that could keep it in mint condition forever.
Apparently Regina had a never ending supply of non-aging spells.
She sighs and rubs at her forehead before looking over at Ryder. Her ‘somewhere deep’ yearns and yearns, scratches and claws, and she’s so used to it now that it barely phases her.
Tonight though, just for a few seconds, she lets it out. Lets it free.
“Yes, Ryder. I was in love with your mother.”
He nods his head, mien turning somber. He turns to look up at the house and Emma follows his gaze.
The porch light is on, an orange hallow bouncing off of the three or four feet of snow layering the ground, and there are multiple lights on inside, candles glowing softly in all of the windows.
It’s never looked so warm before and Emma wonders what’s going through Ryder’s mind.
She doesn’t have to wait long to find out.
“I should hate you.” His eyes find hers and they’re watery, torn.
Emma’s heart squeezes painfully in her chest. Feels his words like an icy grip around the beating muscle.
“Ryder – ”
“She’s happy. She’s been happy, Emma,” he’s furious now, openly crying. Emma’s not sure who the anger is directed toward.
Emma nods, careful of her words, breathless. “Yes, Ryder, she is.”
His eyes lock hard onto hers then and Emma’s breath snags in her throat.
“She’d have been happier with you.” It's said with the bitterness she's been silently anticipating (feeling it like an omnipresent shadow) since he was a baby. Since that very first day his big brown eyes found hers and he wrapped his pudgy little hand around her finger. He had Regina's nose. He'd been such a beautiful baby. But of course he would be, he was Regina's.
He wipes at his eyes roughly, grabs the bags beneath his feet, and goes inside.
Emma feels it like a blow to the chest. Feels it race through her and plunge blade first into her gut. Into that ‘somewhere deep’. It tears through it, splits it wide open, and Emma’s left trying to keep her insides from spilling out into her lap.
When she finally turns off the bug and feels steady enough on her feet to venture up the steps and inside, they’re all decorating the tree. Regina and Robin stringing the lights, Henry and Lyla huddled together on the couch, one of her hands smoothing against the swell of her belly.
Emma shakes off her boots on the dark brown towel laid out to the side of the door, six or seven pairs of shoes already on it, and makes her way to the living room.
Roland’s got his arm wrapped around Leyla’s (it’s an inside joke between all of them how closely in name Lyla and Leyla are) waist and they both smile warmly at her. She smiles back and holds up a finger when Henry gives her a questioning look over the back of the couch.
She makes her way to the kitchen where Ryder’s putting away the boxes of mix and cans of coconut milk they’d just bought.
He stills behind the island and his eyes are timid when she makes her way over to him.
She pulls him into a tight hug. “Your mother wouldn’t trade you for the world and neither would I.”
When she pulls back his eyes are shining again and he gives a watery chuckle as she swipes at the few tears that fall down his cheeks.
“Now then, who’s up for some serious baking?” She says loud enough for the lot in the living room to hear.
She’s washing the dishes her and Regina’d agreed to do tomorrow when she hears someone pad into the kitchen.
She turns, an apology already on her lips.
“Oh. Henry,” she breathes, thinking it was going to be Regina. She smiles over her shoulder and holds up a sudsy plate. “Don’t tell her you saw me do these.”
Henry chuckles roughly and Emma’s again reminded (for the umpteenth time) that he’s no longer her little kid anymore.
He holds up his hands. “Santa Claus came in to do the dishes before putting the presents under the tree.”
“Exactly.” He comes up beside her and she hands him the plate to dry. She’s reminded of so many nights just like this. Except Regina is usually the third party, putting the dishes away after Henry’s dried them.
They wash and dry in silence for a few long minutes and she’s so lost in her thoughts that she jumps slightly when Henry speaks.
“Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like just the three of us.”
Emma looks up (up, he’s so tall now). He’s looking out the window, into the night.
Emma swallows, feels jagged claws dig into her insides, nods. “So do I," she whispers.
Henry turns to her then and his hand wraps around hers still mindlessly washing a glass cup, staring blankly at her reflection in the window.
Emma is horrified to feel the hot burn of tears. Henry squeezes her hand and something inside of her snaps, like a line pulled too taut, and she drops the cup into the sink full of soap and water and burrows into Henry’s chest, his arms wrapping around her in a fierce hug. She allows one quiet sob before she bites her tongue and sniffles and swallows any others back.
Henry smooths his hands on her back. “I love you, Ma.”
She pulls away from him and smiles, pressing her palm against his chest, over his heart.
“I love you too, Henry.”
It’s a few days after Christmas and she’s wrapped up in the scarf Regina’d gotten her (apparently it was name brand but Emma couldn’t be bothered to remember who by – Regina’d be pissed at her if she knew Emma’d almost spilt her coffee on it not two minutes ago), the beanie and gloves from Henry and Lyla, and the wool socks from Robin (he’d given her a funny look but she’d really needed thicker socks). Roland and Leyla had gotten her this really beautiful journal (Emma’d taken to writing a few years back) and Ryder had gotten her a gold pendant in the shape of a brachiosaurus. He’d meant it as more of a gag gift, a toothy grin on his lips when he’d given it to her, but Emma cherished it and she was going to wear it until it fell off her neck.
“Mind if I join you?”
Regina sidles in next to her, hair past her elbows now, blowing gently in the frigid wind and it’s almost a deep auburn in some places where the sun is hitting it.
Regina’s got on one of her black trench coats and she’s wearing a dress. Or maybe one of those blouse and skirt combos. She can't discern which or even what color because the coat’s covering it but she does see that she’s only got boots and hosiery on from mid-thigh down.
She rolls her eyes when she sees Regina visibly shiver and she shifts her latte into her left hand so she can wrap her arm around Regina with her right.
“When are you ever going to choose practicality over fashion?”
Regina scoffs. “Never. Even in my coffin I’ll wear Chanel.”
Emma chuckles and shakes her head. “Whatever. Enjoy frost bitten toes.”
Emma takes a sip of her latte, looking out over the bay.
And they just sit there like that for a few minutes. Huddled together on their bench. At some point Regina’s head finds its way onto Emma’s shoulder and Emma tightens her hold around her.
“I don’t regret it,” Regina whispers after a long, comfortable silence. Her words are a white puff and Emma watches it dissipate into the icy air.
Regina shifts closer and a second later Emma feels her arm wrap around her back.
“Staying with him.” Emma stiffens and Regina squeezes her hand around her waist as if to make sure she doesn't move away. “I wouldn’t go back and do it differently." She takes in a deep breath before speaking next. "But I do wish I’d at least gotten to know what you felt like before I walked away from you that morning.”
Emma’s breath hitches and her eyes flutter. Tears prick at the edges of them and it burns, stings from the sharp temperature difference.
She doesn’t have any right to say it but Emma’s too tired to be angry at her anymore.
“Maybe in another life,” Emma breathes, pressing a kiss to Regina’s hair.
Regina wraps a gloved hand around the lapels of Emma’s coat.
“Maybe in another life it’s you and I who live happily ever after.” She sounds close to tears and it’s been years, years and years but Emma knows it will never stop hurting.
It will never go away, it will never stop hovering over them.
And maybe in another life they are together and happy. Maybe in another life it would be perfectly normal for Emma to tilt Regina’s chin up and kiss her.
Maybe in another life Regina chooses her.
But they’re not, it isn’t, and she didn’t.
Emma was once content with her placement in Regina’s world. And she’s sure she can be again. If she doesn’t think about it too hard. If she ignores the ‘somewhere deep’. Which she can. She’s a pro at it, is she not?
This is here and now. She can’t keep entertaining what ifs and could bes.
And she hasn’t. Not for a long while.
But Regina’s in her arms and her heart’s so tired of always having to hide, hide, hide. So she thinks of another life. Thinks of her and Regina and Henry. Thinks of a little girl with rich brown eyes and raven black hair. Thinks of that same little girl picking flowers in the park and Mama, look! and I see, baby girl, it’s so beautiful.
She thinks of happy endings and Regina’s smile.
“Maybe,” she whispers.
Her vision blurs and she blinks, tears sliding down her cheeks, and she doesn’t move to wipe them away. She just presses Regina closer to her and watches as a boat docks to their left, the sun streaming down and warming her face gently.