Title: Come Into Being
Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Characters: Regina Mills, Emma Swan, Henry Mills, Prince Charming, Snow White
Category: Fluff, Angst, Season 3 Fix-It Fic
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 33,608 (Total)
Summary: Regina Mills wakes up alone on one of the most important - and terrifying - days of her life. But it isn't all bad. Not until things take a turn for the worse. It was a long journey to get to where she and Emma Swan are now. Will it all have been for naught?
Spoilers/Timeline: Post Season 3/ 10 years down the road
Author’s Note: Aw, man. Writing's been something I haven't done much if any of the past few years. So how did I dive back in? With the Swan Queen Big Bang: Banging All Summer, of course. And it was a total blast. Many thank yous to the organizers. They did a wonderful job.
Many, many thanks to ohthesefeelingz for betaing this monstrosity for me, and to ludivinelaurel for her encouragement and support throughout writing this thing. I was feeling pretty jammed with this fic when I got her note cheering me on.
Warnings: Non-graphic mention and reference to the non consensual nature of Leopold's relationship with Regina.


i. iv. ii. iii. iii.




ii.


The knock on Regina's door was soft, two brief, staccato strokes that sent Regina's heart lurching into her throat. This was a farce - and one that had the potential to be disastrous. Regina had no idea why she had agreed to it in the first place. Her dress felt too tight, and the material, which had seemed so lush and sensual when she put it on, felt scratchy against her thighs. If she was going to put an end to this farce now - which she was - she should have changed again first. This dress was inappropriate for turning down a date with someone. This dress was-- The knock sounded again.



Regina's palms were damp. She curtailed the urge to brush them against her thighs. This dress was far too lovely to ruin with sweat stains. Curling her hands into fists, Regina strode toward the door, took a deep breath and pulled it open. "Miss Swan." Instead of looking at Emma, she focused her attention on a spot just over Emma's left shoulder. It was safer that way.



"Hey, Regina." It was hard to miss the way that Emma stood so awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other as she was. "You look...I mean, wow. That dress is...you're beautiful." The wonder in her voice caught Regina and she glanced over at Emma before she could stop herself. She wore a little black dress, sleeveless and leaving one shoulder bare. It came down to just above the knee and managed to capture elegance and grace, the lines of Emma's dress flattering her figure without being overly revealing. It was far more tasteful than Regina would have expected.



"So do you, dear," the words slipped out before Regina could stop them. "You look lovely." This wasn't what she was supposed to be saying. The plan had been to greet Emma and then turn her away, sending her home with Regina's regrets and a vague declaration that this wouldn't work at all.



"Thanks," Emma sounded uncomfortable again, but she was holding her hand out to Regina now. "Are you ready to go? I know I'm a little early," Emma added in apology.



"Punctuality is never something to apologize for," Regina said. She hadn't been expecting Emma to show up this early, in point of fact, but it was a pleasant surprise. Not that she had hoped to be pleasantly surprised, but Emma had exceeded her expectation. She still needed to turn her down. These confusing feelings that she had been having, they were just the after effect of her brief affair with Robin, all tangled up with how Emma's actions had brought it to an end.



Emma was Henry's mother and an important person in her own life because of that. That was all. This was just ridiculous. Indulging in such things wasn't worth the difficulty or complications, in her life or Henry's. She and Emma were back in a good place at last. She no longer wanted to start throwing fireballs or plot some elaborate doom every time she saw the woman. She shouldn't tempt fate by going out on a date with her. Things could only get worse from there. And yet...



Emma's hand wavered where she had held it out, her fingers curling in on themselves and then dropping back to her side. Emma's cheeks flushed and she looked down and away from Regina. Now was the time to say something, to tell Emma this was a mistake and she wouldn't be going. Regina opened her mouth and, "Just a moment. I forgot my bag,” fell out.



"Sure, right," Emma said, taking a step back. "I'll just wait. Right here."



With the barest hint of a smile in Emma's direction, Regina shut the door and let herself sag against it. What was she thinking? She couldn't possibly considering going with Emma. Just because she had been surprisingly prompt, charming in her own awkward way and offered a sweet and not sleazy compliment when she had arrived, it wasn't a good enough reason to jeopardize their renewed friendship. That's what she would tell Emma. Emma would understand. It was all for Henry. That was the only way they could make this odd tangle of co-parenting that they had going to work. She couldn't really have feelings for Emma, could she? It was just a relief not to hate her anymore and she had confused that relief for something more, something besides a mere truce, a cessation of hostilities.



Regina straightened, tugging down at the hem of her dress and opened the door. "Miss Swan-" And Emma smiled. It stopped the words she had been about to say in her throat and hit her heart with a pang she hadn't expected.



"Ready?" Emma asked with enough hope in her voice that it made Regina ache. Regina knew, then, that she couldn't say it. Her hands were shaking and she felt dazed and nerve-wracked.



"I, no. It seems I forgot my..." Regina shook her head and ducked back in the door. This was ridiculous. Her clutch was on the table beside the door. She grabbed it and stepped back out. "I'm ready," Regina said, even if she wasn't. Emma was grinning as she did, holding out her arm out for Regina again. Regina took it, offering her own tentative smile as she did. Emma's skin was cool with the faint chill of the night air, but Regina could feel the warmth beneath it. There was something about the firm muscles beneath her fingers that was solid and reassuring. Emma wouldn't let her fall. Regina held on a little tighter, rubbing her fingers over the soft skin of Emma's forearm. Emma glanced over at her, surprise and pleasure flickering across her face at the little gesture. She put her free hand over Regina's and left it there until they reached the car. With a bemused grin, Emma swept the door open for Regina and gave a little bow as she did. "Your Majesty."



Regina found herself smiling despite herself. "Thank you." Her lips quirked up again. "Although it's not, perhaps, the type of conveyance worthy of a queen."



"Yeah, yeah," Emma muttered. "What is it with you and the Bug? Does it really offend your sensibilities that badly? I mean, you're not even from this world. What did it ever do to you?" she teased.



Regina snorted. "Its mere existence is an affront, dear. When vehicles such as Mercedes Benz exist and you choose to drive something that old and poorly cared for, well..." Regina let her words trail off.



Emma laughed. "I didn't know you were such a car nerd."



Regina shrugged and gave her an enigmatic smile as she sank into the car. "There's many things you don't know about me, dear."



"Yeah," Emma said, as she started to ease the door shut. "I'm starting to get that." She hesitated, looking at Regina with so much fondness in her eyes that Regina had to look away. "But I want to know more. Whatever you want to tell me."



"Even if what I have to say is hard to hear?" Regina asked, tilting her head up at Emma. Her words were sweet, but meaningless until they were backed up by actions. "We haven't always been the best of friends and I haven't changed simply because you realized I’m attractive. I won't hide who I am or pretend to be someone that I am not for you."



"I didn’t just realize,” Emma protested, but then she was kneeling awkwardly in her dress and heels, so she was no longer looming over Regina. “And it's more than that. But okay. Tell me something hard."



Anger flashed in Regina's heart, a bright, vivid explosion there and gone. It hadn't been her intent to have this discussion - or any like it - but Emma had asked. "You had no right to Henry when you came to Storybrooke. It was a closed adoption. He was well cared for and you didn't believe in the curse. You had no right to insinuate yourself into our lives and try to take him away from me."



Emma flinched like someone had struck her. Her face went pale and she swallowed hard. She looked down and Regina waited, waited for the argument and the denial to come tripping off Emma's tongue. She waited for this farce to end as quickly as it had begun. Emma looked back up, her bottom lip gone white, bitten between her teeth. "You're right." She sniffed and rubbed at her nose with the back of her hand. "I know it doesn't change anything I did then, but I'm sorry." She shook her head. "I'd have killed for a home like the one the kid has with you when I was a kid. When I think about what I did, trying to take him away from you, I can't... I don't like to think about that. It was so messed up. You're a good mom and I just didn't care, didn't look." She started to reach for Regina's hand but then curled her fingers and pulled her hand back. "I'm sorry."



"You were my worst, my most terrifying nightmare," Regina said. "Come to Storybrooke to break my curse and steal away the one person I loved. I couldn't let that happen again."



"No," Emma agreed. Her lips quirked up. "You showed impressive restraint."



Regina snorted, finding wry amusement beneath the anger. "It's so nice to be understood at last, Miss Swan."



Emma's smile faded again. "I know that's not the only time I hurt you. There's so much I regret doing, or at least going about it the way I did. I never apologized to you for not believing you when you said you hadn’t killed Archie. I knew and I just took the evidence, believed what I saw. Which is total bullshit and I shouldn’t have been stupid enough to let you take the fall for it. Especially not after what happened to me. I knew better but I didn’t give you the chance to prove yourself innocent. I’m so sorry for that. Things could have been so different."



Regina swallowed hard. How many years had she wasted thinking about ‘what ifs’ and ‘might-have-beens’. There was a time when she had gone over every hour of the day of Daniel's, death, turning it over and over in her mind to see what she had done wrong. There had to have been some way she could have prevented it. It was Regina's turn to reach out, her hand wrapping shakily around Emma's. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be, dear."



"Yeah?" It was the closest Emma had gotten to an admission of want, desire and she couldn’t help but push, couldn’t help but read so much more into Regina’s words than what she was saying aloud. But that was just Emma, Regina knew.



"Yes," Regina said firmly and with enough heat in her gaze that Emma's cheeks began to warm. "Now do you think you can shut this door? I believe I was invited to dinner."



*** *** ***



"It's lovely," Regina said, taking in the restaurant with pleasant surprise. It inhabited a small space, but the warm light, diffused though it was, gave the place a cozy, intimate feel. The chairs were made out of rich, deeply-colored wood, with slender elegant lines that went perfectly with the tables covered in thick, white linen table cloths, edged with the most delicate cutouts, and - if Regina wasn't mistaken - hand-embroidered.



Emma’s hand brushed across the small of her back as they followed the maitre d’ to their table. “Thanks.” Emma’s voice sounded rough, a little bit nervous and far closer than Regina had expected her to be. She turned and caught Emma's eye. Emma flushed and Regina let a satisfied smile curve over her lips. Still grinning Regina brushed her fingers against the back of Emma's hand as she turned back around. She felt light, as if she were about to float away, and energized. Her skin tingled whenever they touched. “I try.”



"How did you find the place?" Regina asked when they had arrived at their table, allowing the maître d' to push her seat in for her, as she tried to regain her usual equilibrium. Emma allowed her seat to be pushed in as well but the gesture looked awkward on her.



"I know people," Emma said, giving her an enigmatic smile. "Some of them owe me favors."



"And you decided to use one for this." Regina stated, arching a challenging brow.



"Why not?" Emma asked, settling back in her chair, fiddling with the edge of the cloth napkin in front of her. "I wanted tonight to be special."



Regina settled back into her chair, folding her hands in her lap, and eyed Emma. "You seem to be doing a good job so far."



"Yeah?" Emma was looking up at her from under her lashes. It made something low in Regina's abdomen twist. She had the sudden urge to reach for Emma, to take her hand, to touch her.



"Mmm," Regina said noncommittally, reaching for her menu instead of what she really wanted. "One selection only, dear?" Regina noted, perusing the menu with a critical eye. Instead of a variety of choices, there was on an elegantly printed selection presented. The golden letters embossed on the thick cardstock felt smooth beneath her thumb. "You must be feeling brave."



"Anybody can do surf and turf." Emma said, with a shrug, but Regina could see that her bravado didn't quite make it to her eyes. "They have a special dinner here, once a month. I thought you might enjoy it."



"But not you?" Regina queried, teasing Emma just a little. It was clear now, if it hadn't been before, that Emma had put time and thought into this date. No one, not even Robin, had tried so hard to capture attention and make her happy. With them, it had been easy, no effort required. She and Emma, together such as they were, were very different in that respect. Nothing about them had ever been easy, but she wanted Emma to be comfortable enough to be herself. Even those few brief weeks in Storybrooke after Henry and Emma had returned from New York City, when she and Emma had worked together, they hadn't always agreed about things. It was the way their relationship worked and Regina didn't want to lose that to whatever this was becoming. Easy was nice, but challenging was something else entirely. It made her blood sing in her veins, her heart beat wildly in her chest. It made Regina feel alive. That was what she wanted, that spark.



Emma grinned, a little sheepishly. "The food is supposed to be amazing. I'm here with you. What's not to love?"



"We'll see," Regina said, laying the menu back down and surveying the room. "I have high standards."



Emma laughed. "I noticed. I'm still shocked you set foot in the Bug tonight."



Regina sniffed. To be honest, she was a little surprised herself. "Me too." Her lips twisted up in a mischievous grin. "I thought perhaps I would give you a little leeway..."



"Enough rope to hang myself," Emma suggested, looking just as amused.



"Something like that," Regina mused. "Don't make me regret it, dear." The words were light, but there was more truth behind them than Regina wanted to admit. They were both taking a chance, coming here together on a date. Regina still couldn't believe she had accepted Emma's offer. It wasn't that she didn't have feelings for Emma - the other woman made her feel things that she hadn’t contemplated in longer than she wanted to admit, even to herself. But she could have taken the cease fire that Emma offered in their personal war of attrition and let it go at that with no hard feelings. Being Henry's mothers meant it would be best if they got along well enough to make him happy, to not feel torn between the two of them. It didn't mean they had to be anything more than that. If they did begin to date and then broke up, things could become very unpleasant between them again, very quickly. It didn't make sense to jeopardize the fragile peace they had achieved for this faintest, most ridiculous possibility.



"I think it's worth it, taking that chance," Emma said. "We don't usually spend a lot of time together when someone isn't about to destroy everything that's important to us."



"Or trying to destroy each other,” Regina pointed out oh-so-helpfully.



"Hey, now," Emma said, smiling more than she had any right to when they were discussing the very real times they had fought against one another. Regina had a sudden flash of Emma pressed up against her back, arms pinning her into place and the thin, cold blade of a dagger against her throat. "We haven't tried to kill each other in a year or two."



Regina snorted, despite herself, despite her flash of memory. "That's because we didn't see each other for at least one of those years, and avoided each other for most of the second."



"Details," Emma said, waving that tiny point away with a flick of her hand. She looked down at the table. "I missed you, you know? When I remembered everything. We got back to Storybrooke and I went to see my parents first, but... I wanted to go see you. I just couldn't figure out how with the way Henry was." She hesitated, one hand splaying out across the table toward Regina but not touching her. "That first night, driving back into Storybrooke, I kept thinking about bringing him back to you that first time. I thought if I brought him back to you then it would be so much worse, with him not remembering you. I couldn't...I didn't know how to do that to you, after everything you had done for us."



For a moment, Regina couldn't find any words. It was the last thing she had expected Emma to bring up tonight. She was full of surprises, some less pleasant than others. "It would have hurt more than anything, but being able to see him again, to know that he was alright... It would have been everything, even if he didn't know me."



Emma swallowed hard. "Yeah, I get that. It was a cowardly thing to do."



"Mmm, perhaps," Regina said. "And selfish. Certainly I wouldn't understand anything about going to extremes to preserve what happiness I had managed to find and hold onto it at all costs." She held her own hand out, laying it a bare inch from Emma's on the table. Emma brushed the side of Regina's index finger with her knuckle. Regina flipped her hand over and twined their fingers together, squeezing until her fingers went white with the pressure.



"Thank you," Emma said, meeting Regina's gaze and holding it over their joined hands.



The room quieted, the sudden absence of sound more noticeable than the previous gentle hum of voices, causing both women to look up. "Looks like the first course is here," Emma said, stating the obvious, as waiters began to pour out of the kitchens, bowls in hand. It was an impressive display of coordination, thought Regina. One she would have envied, and recruited the strategist behind it, in her days of fielding an army. Now it raised her estimation of the restaurant and its chef a little bit higher. Sloppy presentation was the mortal enemy of a quality good or service.



The rich scent of garlic and spices enveloped Regina as their bowls were placed in front of them, chased by the tangy scent of tomatoes and a hint of vinegar. It brought a smile to Regina's face and she reached for her spoon as soon as the waiters stepped away, only distantly hearing Emma thanking the waiters for their food. Flavors exploded on her tongue and Regina had to stifle a groan of pleasure, her hand flying to her mouth to contain it. She bit her lip and was already reaching for another bite when she noticed Emma staring at her own bowl, as if she expected it to jump back at her. "Emma?"



"I, um, looked it up, right?" Emma said, glancing up at Regina a second, before turning her attention back to her soup. "Sopón de pescado. I knew it was fish soup, I just didn't realize..." She gestured toward her bowl with both hands, like it should be obvious. Regina followed her glance down, really taking in the sight of it for the first time and laughed. It was prepared in the traditional way, just as it had been in her father's kingdom where she had grown up, with the fish served in the soup, head and tail intact.



"I promise he's not looking at you, dear," Regina said, with a mischievous smile. "He's long past caring."



Emma snorted, despite herself, but looked slightly less green. "Sorry," Emma muttered, her cheeks beginning to flush with embarrassment. "I don't mean to be such a baby about it. It just surprised me." She picked up her spoon with determination.



"Here," Regina said, holding out the already cooling bite on her own spoon, her other hand cupped protectively beneath it to spare the tablecloth. Her mother had instilled better manners in her than this, but she suddenly wanted Emma's first taste of this to be from her own hand. "Try it and you'll forget about everything except for how wonderful it tastes."



Emma leaned forward, glancing down once to not make a fool of herself, but then letting her eyes drift back to Regina's, holding her gaze as she tasted the hearty broth. Her eyes closed as the flavors hit her and she shifted back against her chair. "Oh my god," Emma mumbled through the small mouthful. "That is..." She shook her head. "It's wonderful. Thank you." She picked up her own spoon to take another bite from her own bowl, before she noticed that Regina was still watching her and froze. "What?"



Regina shook her head, unable to contain her laughter any longer. "Did you peruse the rest of the menu with equal attention to detail?"



Emma's eyes narrowed. "I guess. Why?" She sounded nervous now. Nervous because she was worried about more culinary surprises or because she thought she might have upset Regina? There was no way to tell, but Regina wasn't going to let a perfectly good opportunity to tease The Savior pass her by.



"Have you noticed the large rectangular table at the center of the room?" Regina asked, tilting her head in its general direction.



"Of course," Emma said. She gave a mock-shiver. "There's no chairs. I've been around you guys too long. I keep thinking it must be for some creepy ritual sacrifice or something. But I checked. That definitely wasn't on the menu tonight."



"No, dear," Regina agreed. "But lechón is. I would imagine they bring it out and present on the table before serving. It's as much a work of art as it is a meal."



Emma swallowed, but didn't look surprised this time. "You think?"



Regina gave a diffident shrug. "Perhaps."



"Well, if it's half as awesome as the soup, I don't care." Emma took another bite to emphasize her point. When she was done, she grinned at Regina. "We should bring Henry here sometime."



"Oh?" Regina asked, a little stunned by the sudden shift in topic and the implication that they would be on good enough terms after this to come back here again, together. Not just as friends, or perhaps people who were dating, but with Henry, as a family. Regina wondered if Emma had meant all that or if she was being as oblivious as ever to the meanings of what she had said and done.



"Yeah, he would think it's the coolest thing ever," Emma said, shooting Regina a conspiratorial grin.



Regina shook her head. "It was simply dinner, when I was a child." Regina sat down her spoon and gave Emma a penetrating look. "Or something very like it was. Very like all of this." She dabbed her lips with her napkin and put it back in her lap. "But then you knew that. There's no way you could have stumbled over this place. It's over an hour’s drive from Storybrooke and something that happens only on occasion. What were you thinking, Emma Swan?"



Emma shrugged, trying to look more confident than nervous and not exactly succeeding. "I thought you might like it?" Emma suggested weakly.



"You're going to have to do better than that," Regina said. She needed an explanation, not to be coddled and patted on the head. If Emma was toying with her...



"Okay," Emma said, putting down her own spoon and holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender. "This might surprise you, but I think a lot about how this world - my world - is connected to yours. Because there's all these fairy tales, right? I mean, I grew up watching the story of you and my mom on a freaking VHS. They didn't exactly get it right, but some of the details... And there are hundreds of other stories like that all around the world. So some of them have to be real. And when you said yes, when you agreed to go out with me, I wanted to do something special, something more than just a regular date."



"Anyone can do that?" Regina said, quoting Emma's own words back to her.



Emma nodded. "Yeah, exactly. So I got to thinking about how certain stories are connected to certain places. They originate there. Some are universal, but others...I thought somehow those stories might be tied to the lands where they originated." She shrugged like it was nothing. "I did some research."



"Research?" Regina's heart began to beat faster, and not in the pleasant way that it had earlier. What was Emma implying? Regina might have come close to forgiving Snow White, to tolerating her, but the urge to lash out and destroy anyone or anything that sought to meddle and interfere in her life was still strong.



"Nothing intrusive," Emma blurted out. "I swear. I didn't want to...I just wanted to do something nice. I asked Henry if I could borrow the book, and when I found the name of the kingdom where you grew up, I asked Kathryn if she knew anything about it. That's it."



"And what did Kathryn say when you asked?" Had she mentioned Regina's name or only the kingdom? And how subtle could Emma have possibly been? It wasn't her best quality.



"She wanted to know why I was asking," Emma admitted. "I told her I'd heard the name when Hook and I went through that portal." Regina scowled at the mere mention of the pirate's name. If she had only gone out the door after Emma, instead of allowing Hook to, all that ridiculousness could have been avoided. She should have listened to her instincts instead of holding herself back in an attempt to give Emma time to calm down. Of all the stupid decisions on her part. When had they ever run from a good argument? Capable of using light magic didn't mean neutered, but Emma was still talking. Regina made herself focus. "...hadn't heard it before and I was curious about it. That was all."



Regina bit her lip, trying to think. Perhaps it wasn't so bad.



"I didn't mention your name," Emma said. "I wouldn't do that to you. I know how much you hate people getting involved in your affairs."



"Affairs, dear?" Regina said, raising her eyebrows caustically at Emma. "Aren't you getting a bit ahead of yourself?"



Emma choked on nothing, sputtering unattractively and coughing, her hand pressed to her chest to try to suppress it. "Figure of speech," she forced out, between splutters. "I...Regina...I didn't mean..."



Taking pity on her, Regina relented and flicked her fingers, waving away what Emma had said. "So you did research," Regina prompted Emma, steepling her fingers and resting her chin against them, her heart still beating more quickly in her chest than she wished to let on.



"Right, because I wanted to make this special. I know you lived a lot of your life in the Enchanted Forest, but I think that was just a place you lived. I thought, if I could find someplace that was near enough to where you had grown up, maybe this could be like a taste of home?" Emma gave a dismissive little shrug, negating the importance of her words even as she said them.



Her words took Regina by surprise, bringing with them thoughts of home, the estate she had grown up on and her father. Cora brushed along the edges of those thoughts, looming like a shadow over more pleasant remembrances, always there but never in the way that Regina had yearned for. She pushed those thoughts away with practiced ease and considered the woman before her. Few people would have wondered what her home had been like, much less made a simple gesture meant to remind her of it. Even Henry had never asked what her life had been like as a child, but here Emma was, doing just that, not prying but inviting. It was far more subtle than Regina would ever have given her credit for being. "My grandfather was the king of the realm where I grew up," Regina began, shifting her gaze back to her soup, nudging a morsel of fish with her spoon. It still smelled wonderful, but she was no longer hungry. "He lived in a castle in the midst of the capital city and threw wonderful banquets and fantastic masquerades. We didn't often attend. The king wasn't fond of my mother, even if he did find her useful, and my father...well, he was a fifth son and only valued for his wife and her ability to produce wealth for the royal family." Her lips twisted into a wry grimace. "Of course, I didn't understand all of that as a child, just that we didn't visit much and weren't much respected. It infuriated Mother."



"That sucks," Emma said with her usual bluntness. "You were still family. They should have treated you like it."



"Family of sorts," Regina said with a diffident shrug. "But royalty is different. Or at least family that involves my mother. Power was more important than love. Loyalty was only important because of what could be gained."



"It doesn't sound like a very fun way to grow up," Emma said, with a wrinkle of her nose.



"It wasn't," Regina agreed, a little bemused. No one had ever put such an importance on fun in her life until Emma had come into it. "Not most of the time." A memory of horses and sun-drenched afternoons crossed her mind. "There were moments though. My father owned a country estate. That's where I spent most of my time growing up. I had tutors and various instructors, of course. Women weren't expected to be educated in those days, but my mother was a firm believer in 'knowledge is power.'"



"Of course she was," Emma muttered. Regina pretended not to hear.



"I had various other tutors and instructors, of course, there to teach me how to be a proper lady. Most of them weren't so bad, though Mother's standards were strict." Her smiled faded a little at the memory of the form some of those reprimands had taken. "But there were others. I always loved my riding lessons. My father would often accompany us. Mother, hardly ever - she preferred carriages. Running across an open pasture, the wind in my face, it was wonderful. When Rocinante would jump..." Regina shook her head with a smile. "There was always that single moment of terror, wondering if we would make it, but then we would be up in the air and it felt like nothing could stop us. We could keep going on forever."



"You miss it," Emma noted. "My track record with horses isn't exactly the greatest, but the way you make it sound..." She grinned at Regina. "It might be worth another try."



Regina couldn't help her smirk. "Emma Swan on a horse. I'd like to see that."



Emma snorted, ignoring their surroundings and the total lack of class she was showing at that moment. "You just want to see me fall on my ass."



"Mmm, perhaps," Regina agreed, then drew back enough to look Emma up and down, such as she was able to with them sitting at the table. "But I don't think you would look so bad, astride a horse, properly clad and with a sword in hand. You would cut a very impressive figure."



Emma blinked several times and then flushed. "Uh, thanks?" She sounded hoarse and uncomfortable. Knowing that she could get to Emma with a simple compliment, not even that forward, made Regina's smile grow. It was nice to know it worked both ways.



"You would make a horrible princess," Regina continued, thinking out loud. "At least in that world. I can't imagine you as a proper lady."



"Thanks," Emma said again, with a laugh, but this time it was sarcastic and bemused. She ducked her head, hair falling forward to cover her face and admitted, "I think you're probably right."



"But," Regina went on, ignoring Emma's interjections. "I think Henry's book was right. You would have made an excellent knight. Brash, headstrong, always ready to charge into danger."



"An idiot?" Emma added, leaning back in her chair an arching an eyebrow at Regina. "I know you think I rush into all kinds of stupid things without thinking."



"True." Regina couldn't help the way her smile grew. It was setting a bad precedent. "I seem to be finding that less irritating than I used to."



"Charming, even?" Emma suggested, mischief dancing in her eyes.



"Hardly," Regina said firmly. She had no intention of encouraging Emma's rash tendency to leap into danger without a plan or a thought for the consequences of her actions. "And don't let it go to your head, Miss Swan. I don't intend to spend the rest of my life cleaning up after your mistakes."



Instead of Emma's face falling, to Regina's surprise, Emma's smiled even brighter, amusement tugging at the corner of her lips. It took Regina a moment to realize why and then it was her turn to redden. "Because you are Henry's other mother and I have come to accept that we will always be connected through him. Nothing more and nothing less."



"Of course, Regina," Emma agreed, getting that smile back under control. Regina knew Emma was still savoring her words, accepting them only at face value and deliberately teasing Regina with it. It was mortifying and a little bit infuriating, but the warmth in Emma's eyes said she wasn't mocking, only teasing. That Regina could handle - and give as good as she got. Emma would remember that soon enough, if she hadn't already, and despite it all there was warmth and fondness welling up within her for the woman sitting across from her. They would never be easy, but maybe they could be fun. The last time she had enjoyed herself this much, or been this relaxed with anyone but Henry, had been Robin, and that didn’t bear thinking about.



***. ***. ***



Waves surged forward and receded, dragging water, sand and shells back out with them with a gentle hiss. Regina watched as Emma skirted close to them and then darted back away again. From time to time, she wouldn't be fast enough and she would let out a little shriek as the cold water hit her feet. The first time it had happened, Regina hadn't been able to stop the smile that curved over her lips. Then she had stopped trying not to smile. Instead, she watched Emma from further up the beach, safely out of the range of the waves, as she wandered along parallel to Emma's darting, playful progress. Regina's progress was slower. At first it had been because of her heels. Expert at navigating any terrain in them or not, walking in deep sand wasn't pleasant. After a few stiff steps, she had reached down and taken them off. Emma's eyes had been on her the whole time and when she had stood to take off the second shoe, Emma had offered her a hand to steady herself. It wasn't necessary, but Regina had taken it anyway. She had wanted to reach down and take Emma's hand, but having just been handling her shoes, it didn't seem like the most romantic of gestures. She had let go instead and taken a step away, heading down the beach, giving no indication of how wonderful the sand felt against her newly freed toes.



Emma hadn't seemed to mind, copying Regina by yanking her own shoes off, discarding them in the sand and darting toward the water. She kicked out at the first wave that came near her splashing through the water and jerking back with a yelp as some of the droplets splashed up onto her face and chest. Regina had shook her head and laughed. "You are a child, Miss Swan."



"So?" Emma retorted with all the maturity of a second grader. "Come play with me." The tone of her voice when she made the invitation was far from childish. Regina had blinked in surprise at the shiver that had run up her spine at Emma's words. She had been so distracted before Emma had come to pick her up by nerves about their date that and how much of a disaster any relationship between them had the potential to be. She hadn't had a moment to think of the attraction that flared between from time to time. Its raw intensity was like nothing else she had ever experienced. With Daniel it had been different. The attraction was there, of course, she had ached and yearned for him, but she had never wanted to slam him against a wall or be pinned against the nearest piece of furniture. Graham was satisfactory, but perfunctory. Together they had gone through all the appropriate motions and she was always left sated, but something had been missing. His heart, she supposed. Or maybe it would have been like that if it had still beat in his chest. She would never know. Robin had brought the weight of expectations with him. Every gesture had been filled with meaning and history. Attraction had leapt between them, but not burnt with the fury of a thousand suns. She and Emma hadn't even kissed yet, but Regina didn't have a doubt that the tension between them would be explosive if they ever came together. They had spent enough time arguing with one another for Regina to know that, standing so close to one another and pushing and pushing until one of them had to explode into actions or words so that they wouldn't be kissing. It explained more than one of their earlier interactions.



Emma was trotting back up the beach toward her. "Hey." She smiled goofily at Regina, but slowed beside her to match her ambling pace. "Ready to go back yet? It's starting to get chilly."



"Some of us haven't been playing in the surf, Miss Swan," Regina said. "But thank you for asking. I'm fine."



"'kay," Emma said. She stared at her hands as if she suddenly didn't know what to do with them. "So I'm just going to..." She gestured behind her at the water, starting to slink away again, but Regina was quicker, catching Emma's hand before she could flee again.



"Walk with me?" Regina said, glancing over and then away again.



"Yeah, sure," Emma replied quickly, as if she were worried the offer would be rescinded if she didn't accept it soon enough. Her hand was damp and a little gritty in Regina's, her fingers loose and dangling in Regina's hand, not holding back. It irritated Regina. It had taken enough courage for her to take Emma's hand, to take even the smallest risk to grasp onto what might be happiness, and to have it met not with rejection or enthusiasm, but indifference was infuriating. She and Emma had been many things to one another since they had met, but tepid was not one of them.



Regina squeezed harder than was purely necessary and Emma winced. "Hey, what was that for?"



"If you don't wish to hold my hand, you could have said, Miss Swan," Regina gritted out in return, letting the offending digits go and folding her arm over her chest.



"I do wish!" Emma countered. "I wish a lot."



"No, I insist," Regina said, turning away. "Don't let me force you into doing something you don't wish to. I won't hear the end of it from your parents or the rest of these ridiculous townsfolk."



"Regina," Emma said, stumbling around in the sand to get in front of her and managing to kick it up on Regina's feet in the process. She dipped her head to catch Regina's gaze and reached out to take Regina's hand where it rested against her abdomen. Emma held it in both of hers, and keeping her eyes locked on Regina's, she raised Regina's hand to her lips. Regina had been slobbered over enough in her days as the queen to brace herself for it, but Emma's lips were soft, and a little dry, the barest press of warmth against her skin. Still Emma didn't let her hand go. "I want." Even in the faint light from the moon and the distant lighting of the restaurant, Emma's eyes were visible, pupils wide and lost in the darkness.



Regina held her gaze for a long moment and then slowly pulled her hand away. "Emma, I had an enjoyable evening. Dinner was pleasant and the food was an unexpected delight, but this doesn't have to be anything more. We can return to Storybrooke and go our separate ways with nothing changed from the way that it’s been."



The vibrating, playful energy that had been present in Emma since she had suggested a stroll on the beach before they got back in the Bug and headed back to Storybrooke and Regina had accepted, stilled abruptly. "Is that what you want?" Emma asked. Her voice was painstakingly neutral.



"Don't you think that would be for the best?" Regina asked. "As I said, it's been a good evening, but pushing for more would be a mistake, I think. The odds of us messing this up are nearly the same as those of Grumpy making an ill-timed comment at the next town council meeting and we don't have a good track record of dealing with conflict. It wouldn't be fair to put Henry through that again."



"So we don't put Henry through it," Emma said. "We stand here right now and promise that no matter what happens between us, we won't fight in front of or over the kid. We managed to do it for almost a year, despite you being pissed as hell at me."



Regina hadn't been, not the whole time, and not as angry as Emma had suspected. She had been hurt and betrayed mostly. With other people, she would have seen it coming and expected the worse, but Emma had never tried to hurt her and she had let her guard down. It was a lesson she would do well to remember here and now. It also wasn't the moment to tell Emma that. "And what about your parents, dear? Did you tell them that I was the reason you needed them to watch Henry for the evening?" Regina changed tact. Emma had to realize what she already had - that there was no way they would ever work out.



"I told them that you and I were having dinner. I didn't tell them it was a date. Not because I was ashamed or anything, but because I know how much you hate everyone in town knowing about your business and talking about it," Emma added.



They could do this all evening, Regina realized, point and counterpoint. They had perfected argument to a fine art between them. Instead, Regina asked the question that had been pressing at her all evening, even in the brief periods when she had managed to push it aside enough to enjoy herself. "Do you really think we could have any kind of romantic relationship? One that didn't end in a spectacular disaster in less than a fortnight."



"Is that what you've been-" Emma cut herself off. "I, yes, of course, I do."



Regina stared at her. "That's it? Just yes."



Emma laughed. "No, I mean, I've thought about it a lot, you know? You don't wake up one day, realize this whole amazing life that you had with your kid was a lie, and oh yeah, you're crazy about his other mom, and not spend a lot of time thinking about that."



"Is that when you realized?" Regina couldn't help but ask. It had been such a gradual process for her, she hadn't known until it was there. She had no idea how Emma had come to a similar revelation.



"Yeah, there wasn't much time on the way out of Storybrooke, between freaking out about whether I could handle Henry all by myself and what the hell would happen to Snow and David and all these other people...To you. You know how I grew up. I didn't have a home or a family or anyone to love, until Neal and then Henry. But with Storybrooke, there was this whole town where there was people I cared about. What you did for us, for me, giving us a happy ending, was the most wonderful thing anyone had ever done for me. It broke my heart because you were losing it all at the same time. I couldn't imagine having the strength to do that."



Regina sniffed, unable to hold back the remembered pain at knowing she would never be able to see Henry again, never be able to hold him in her arms and know that he was safe and happy. "It wasn't all for you," she admitted.



"I know that," Emma said, forcing a small smile. "But you did it anyway, for the kid. We'd both do anything for him."



"We would," Regina agreed. She hesitated, then looked back up at Emma. "So then, what did you conclude? Why will this work?"



"Because we both want it to," Emma said. She fidgeted for a moment, looking as if she wished she had pockets to shove her hands into, and then shook her head. "I want to make you happy. I want to share those moments with you and I want to be there, however you'll let me, for the sad moments and the hard ones and the ones where you want to deck Snow if she makes one more stupid, knowing comment when she has no idea what she's talking about."



Regina snorted. "You have no idea." But she didn't continue, leaving Emma space to finish.



"And, I think, if that's something you want to, we can make this work," Emma said, with a shrug. "I want it to."



"We will disagree," Regina pointed out. "About a great many things, both small and fundamental - and we are both very stubborn."



"I've noticed," Emma said, nudging her gently with her arm. She grew serious again. "So we do what we've been doing. We talk about it. We find a solution that we can both live with."



"And when I hurt you?" Regina asked. She was presuming much for a first date, speaking of this as if it were a relationship. There was no point in pretending though. Any involvement she and Emma would have would never be casual.



"Who said I won't hurt you first?" Emma said, looking down with a frown.



"Then I will be angry and hurt and won't speak to you until you come and apologize appropriately," Regina said. She added after a beat. "You will apologize appropriately." She wondered if Emma would understand what she was offering with that sentence, the plea for something she couldn't spell out. She had been hurt too many times. Even now, her heart felt fragile and bruised. She couldn't believe she was holding it out this way again, for it to be smashed anew. Her mother would be appalled - and homicidal.



Emma burst into a grin, like the brilliance of sunshine after a dark and ferocious storm. "It will be the best apology."



"See that it is," Regina said. "And I'll do the same."



"Okay," Emma said, her voice barely a whisper and swelling with emotion. Her tongue flicked out to wet her bottom lip. "Can I kiss you?"



Regina nodded. She was no passive observer in her own life, but this time she waited, letting Emma do what she would. Emma took a step closer, and Regina thought she might raise a hand to touch her, but she didn't. She tilted her head down, until her lips were almost brushing Regina's, her gaze flicking between Regina's eyes and lips. Emma closed the distance between them slowly and then their lips met. Regina gasped at the instant of connection. Her hand jerked out, reaching for anything to steady herself, and found Emma's hip, fingers curling into a soft curve. Her eyes fell shut as Emma groaned against her lips. For an instant, Regina thought Emma would pull her closer and deepen the kiss, but Emma stepped back and pulled away.



"Hi," Emma whispered, her breath still warm against Regina's cheek. Her lips had tasted faintly of mint and Regina wondered distantly when she had had time to pop a mint without Regina noticing.



"Hello," Regina echoed the greeting back to her. Her other hand found its way to Emma's side, fingers curling into the thin fabric of her blouse. "Is this okay?"



"Yeah." Emma swallowed, her voice sounding rough. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"



"I'm not so easily breakable, Miss Swan," Regina said, wishing to disabuse Emma of that notion here and now. Her heart was fragile, yes, broken often and stitched back together, but she was not weak and Emma would do well to remember that or this wouldn't work.



"Okay," Emma said, sounding breathless. "Then can I kiss you again?"



Regina laughed. "I appreciate the gesture, dear, but you don't have to ask every time." Regina suited words to actions and stepped closer until the warmth of Emma's body was pressed against hers and she could feel the thud of Emma's heart reverberating against her. She cupped Emma's cheek in her and brushed a thumb over delicate skin, marveling at the way Emma shivered at her touch. "I want, too," Regina said, hoping Emma would understand what she meant, then pressed her lips to Emma's. At first, just a gentle brush of her lips against Emma's and then she deepened the kiss, flicking her tongue against Emma's bottom lip and scraping with just a hint of teeth. Emma groaned again and melted against Regina, her arms going around Regina's waist. Lost in it, Regina let it continue until she felt her thumb brush against the smooth skin the small of Emma's back, bared by the dress’ cutout. Her hand slid in until she had found warm, bare skin. It was too tempting. If she gave in now, she wouldn't stop.



"Emma," Regina gasped, the word barely comprehensible against Emma's lips. Emma eased away but didn't let go, slipping closer to rest her head against Regina's shoulder and just holding her. "Let's go home."



*** *** ***



"Emma," Regina gasped, her voice high and wanton. The car’s center console pressed against one thigh and chill air ran up the other in sharp contrast to the burning heat of Emma’s hand. Her fingers trailed from the back of her ankle to mid-thigh and back down again without stopping. Her lips traced a path from Regina's jaw to the base of her throat, stopping only to lave a sensitive spot that had made Regina shiver a moment before - but then Regina hadn't wanted her to stop. Sometime earlier she had slipped one strap of Emma’s dress off her shoulder and palmed her breast over the matte fabric of her bra. Emma's nipple stood proud and erect beneath the thin fabric. Regina brushed over it with her thumb, alternating pressure and direction, in lazy circles meant to drive Emma mad. When Regina couldn't stand it any longer, she pushed up, exposing her Emma's breast and bent to brush her lips over it, her tongue flicking out to taste and tease.



Emma whimpered and her hand fisted in Regina's hair, holding her in place. Regina responded enthusiastically, taking Emma's other breast in her hand and giving it a similar treatment. It wouldn't do to neglect it. The hand on her leg moved higher and palmed her ass, pulling her closer. Regina pushed against the floorboard with her toes, trying to help. She wanted to be closer, feel more of Emma, skin against skin. She was almost in Emma's lap when something jabbed into her thigh and the steering wheel hit her side. Regina hissed and flopped back into her own seat with a distinct lack of grace. "Damn it." She huffed and blew hair out of her face.



"Don't worry 'bout it," Emma said, looking dazed. She undid her own seatbelt and performed some miracle of contortion until she was straddling Regina's lap in this passenger seat. "I got this." Her hips shifted, pressing against Regina's and dragging Regina's skirt up another few inches in process. Regina's hands dropped to Emma's sides to steady her, and she took a moment just to look at Emma. Already she looked thoroughly disheveled. Her hair was a mess, blonde strands flying this way and that, while her shirt gaped obscenely open. At the sight of her exposed chest, Regina ran her fingers from the base of her throat to just between her breasts. She could feel the way Emma had stopped breathing at the faint contact and savored the little thrill of power it gave her. Regina let her hand rest over Emma's heart and leaned up to capture Emma's lips again. She couldn't get enough; she wanted more and more. Emma was quickly becoming a dangerous addiction. Emma's hips rocked forward again and Regina could feel the warmth of her center. Her hand leapt to the small of Emma's back and held her there.



"Regina," Emma gasped, throwing her head back. "Please. Can we... touch me?"



The words hit Regina like an icy shower in the midst of a blazing hot August day. "Darling." If she moved her hand she could just...and then unzip Emma's jeans enough to slip her hand inside or magic them off completely. But..."Emma. We have to stop."



"Stop," Emma echoed, still lost in desire. Then Regina's words caught up with her desire-fogged brain. "Stop?" Emma sat back and forced her hands to stop moving. "Right. Sorry."



"You have nothing to be sorry for," Regina said, cupping Emma's cheek in her hand, not letting Emma look away. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let it get this far, but our first time will not be in the front seat of this ridiculous car. I refuse to allow it."



"Okay." Emma said. She sounded relieved, and Regina wondered just what she had been expecting.



"I'm going to go inside, go to bed and toss and turn restlessly until tomorrow morning," Regina said, forcing the words out, despite being able to imagine what she would much rather be doing in vivid detail. "And then, you're going to call me and you and Henry will come over for breakfast. If you still feel the same way that you do this evening. Does that sound acceptable?"



Emma wrinkled her nose and sat back, her hands resting on Regina's shoulders for balance. "I can think of better ways to spend the night, but if that's what you need, that's what we'll do."



"What about you, Emma?" Regina whispered, unable to help herself. "What do you need?"



At that Emma tilted her head up beseechingly, biting her lip. "One more kiss to hold me over until the morning?"



Regina chucked in pure delight. "One more kiss," she agreed, tilting her lips to kiss Emma, long, slow and thorough. If they were going to walk away from one another, she wanted Emma to remember every detail of this moment, to ache and yearn alone in her bed, the way that Regina surely would.



It was several long moments later before Emma walked her to her door.
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