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The Great Wide Somewhere

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It was an idea only an idiot could come up with Regina had said, though she hadn’t disagreed with the plan, and half an hour into the drive Emma’s inclined to believe her. Regina sits stiffly in the passenger seat, handbag still perched on her lap and staring straight ahead, flinching every single time a car comes near them.

 

“Believe it or not, I’m actually an okay driver,” Emma says. It’s barely light out, the sun low in the sky and the omnipresent heat of summer not yet risen. There’ll be precious few hours where she doesn’t broil in the bug.

 

“Eyes on the road, dear,” Regina says in response. “And could we please change the music?”

 

“Driver picks the music,” Emma says as Taylor Swift sings “and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” – what Emma is picking as her unofficial theme song of the road trip. “Shotgun shuts…”

 

“Shuts what?” There’s a dangerous lilt to Regina’s voice.

 

“Shotgun gets to pick in another hour?” Emma suggests weakly.

 

“So I assumed,” Regina says and tilts her seat back infinitesimally, pulling on sunglasses and letting her lips curve into a smile. “Eyes on the road.” Emma feels a stab of pity for Henry, learning to drive from his mom, though at least he'd been able to learn in the Benz (which Regina crashed three days before the start of the road trip).

 

Henry’s at the University of Arizona, Tucson, doing this summer programme he applied for in Astronomy. It’s his latest thing. Emma thought most kids went through their astronaut phase younger than Henry, but whatever. It’s not like she knows much about kids and it’s not like Henry’s had a normal life. He applied. He was accepted. And now he’s spending the whole summer, including his seventeenth birthday, apart from his mothers.

 

Regina’s been pining. Emma’s pretty sure she’s studied Regina for long enough now to recognise the varying facets and moods of Regina Mills. The pining – all soft eyes and shutting people out and starting to call Emma ‘Ms Swan’ again – was one reason she suggested the road trip.

 

The second was that Regina’s never really had a holiday before and Emma thought she’d like to see some of the country to which she cursed herself and the citizens of the Enchanted Forest.

 

The third was that, well, Emma thinks they’re friends now and friends go on road trips, right? It’s what you do when you’re friends with someone. You drive and listen to music and laugh and visit ridiculous roadside sights and take selfies.

 

“We could have flown down,” Regina says. Her eyes are still shut and her hair, nearly at her elbows now and flowing loose and long over her right shoulder, flutters in the erratic breeze of the air-con in the bug.

 

“We could have,” Emma says. “But this is fun! Two buddies, on the road together.” She tries to think of an apt comparison but all she can come up with is ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and she doesn’t think Regina will appreciate the contrast. Perhaps ‘Thelma and Louise’? She suspects that will just lead to an argument over who gets to be Louise and she is so sure Regina is Thelma.

 

“I hated ‘On the Road’,” Regina says. When Emma darts a glance at her in surprise, she adds, “I had twenty-eight years in a stagnant town with terrible weather and a house that came pre-stocked with classic literature. I read everything. Jack Kerouac needed some lessons in treating women with respect. Also, in editing.”

 

“Never read it,” Emma says, shrugging. She had this English teacher at high school once who told the class that ‘On the Road’ would make even the most hardened homebody want to jump in their car and take off into the unknown. But then she’d moved families and she’d forgotten about the book rec until years later. “More of a Lee Child, Steven King kind of girl.”

 

“Of course you are,” Regina says, rolling her eyes. “So, buddy,” and Emma can practically hear the sarcastic air quotes around the word, “where will we stop tonight?”

 

“Wherever the road takes us,” Emma says cheerfully.

 

Regina actually raises her sunglasses to stare incredulously at Emma. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

 

“Of course,” Emma says, though honestly she’s kind of winging it. “I thought maybe Buffalo? It’s in New York.”

 

“I know where it is, Ms Swan,” Regina says and settles back in.

 

Because darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” Emma croons along with her iPod.

 

“Taylor Swift is speaking to my very soul right now,” Regina mutters and Emma contemplates asking who of the pair of them is the nightmare dressed like a daydream but she’s not sure if she wants to know.

 

*

 

“Hey,” Emma says, pulling the car over, and nudging Regina awake. Her hair is pushed up at the side where she has been resting against the window. “We’re in Scarborough. I thought we’d stop and grab a coffee.”

 

Regina makes this ridiculous, snorting noise when she wakes up and her whole face scrunches. “Why did we leave so early?”

 

“Because I want to put some distance between Storybrooke and us,” Emma says. “The further we drive today, the sooner we get to Henry.”

 

“Ms Swan,” Regina says, as she gets out of the car. “Why are we at a candy store?”

 

“No reason,” Emma says, escorting Regina in, a hand on the small of her back. And there it is! “Just a life sized chocolate moose!”

 

“You’re ridiculous,” Regina says. She moves closer though, fascinated by the absurd sculpture in spite of herself.

 

“Say cheese,” Emma says, whipping out her phone and snapping a photo of Regina, who turns automatically and then glares. Her hair is a mess, sunglasses perched on the top of her head creating a sort of crown for her curls, and she’s wearing a full face of makeup and this ludicrous shift dress and heels combo, like they’re going to a business meeting instead of on a wildly informal road trip jaunt to Tucson.

 

“Delete that,” Regina says and there’s a treacherous quality to her voice, remnants of the Evil Queen, which Emma would be more frightened of if she didn’t know that it was just posturing.

 

Emma grins. “No.” She attaches the photo to a text message and sends it to Snow. She would have sent it to Henry, but he doesn’t know they’re coming, Regina wanting to keep their trip a surprise. The response is swift. I will miss you, darling daughter, when Regina kills you. Emma laughs, pocketing her phone and continues. “I will, however, buy you lots of chocolate if you go down the road to Starbucks and get us coffee.” Regina leaves, though not before attempting to snatch Emma’s phone from her, and she peruses the shelves, picking out as many ridiculously expensive chocolates in flavours she thinks Regina might like and taking them up to the counter.

 

She’s in the car, scoffing nougat, when Regina returns with coffee, handing Emma a cinnamon dolce Frappuccino. She takes a sip and groans and Regina looks over at her, face scrunched up in either confusion or distaste.

 

“Shall I keep driving?” Emma asks and Regina nods, buckling her seatbelt and turning to stare out the window. Her lipstick has made a red stain at the lip of the takeaway lid.

 

Regina drinks coffee in silence, hands clasped around the cup, as they drive to the border of Maine and then promptly falls asleep. Emma turns down the music, quashing an absurd desire to stroke Regina’s hair flat where’s it has bunched on one side, tucked between her back and the seat at an awkward angle. “Eyes on the road, Swan,” Regina murmurs, the suggestion of a smile in her voice, though her eyes are still closed.

 

“Course,” Emma says, rolling her own eyes and returning focus to the road, singing along to Tracy Chapman – Regina’s pleasantly surprising choice of music. “Is it fast enough so we can fly away?

                                                                                                                           

Just outside of Boston, Emma stops for gas. “You didn’t want to detour at Boston?” Regina asks, eyeing the road signs. She has got out of the car to stretch her legs and is surveying the selection of snacks at the gas station with a critical eye. “I would have thought you had friends there.”

 

“No,” Emma says and she doesn’t expand on it.

 

They keep driving, stopping in a grassy spot on the side of the road for lunch. Regina packed a cooler with sandwiches and a bag of Emma’s favourite oatmeal raisin cookies that she bakes for Henry but she slaps Emma’s hand away when she reaches for one. “Sandwiches first,” she says.

 

“Yes, Mom,” she replies, rolling her eyes, but she bites into a sandwich, which is outstanding and she’s pretty sure Regina baked the bread herself.

 

“So, why no Boston?” Regina asks, taking a delicate bite from a chicken salad sandwich. “I would have liked to visit it.”

 

“We’ll never get to Tucson if we stop everywhere,” Emma says, taking a draught of apple juice, home-pressed as far as she can tell, and it’s the combination of home-made cookies, home-pressed apple juice and freshly baked bread that tells her Regina’s so much more of a competent mother than she is – particularly since the most motherly of her skills were given to her courtesy of the year of false memories.

 

“That’s not a real answer,” Regina says. She’s leaning back, her legs long and sun-bronzed and she’s kicked off her heels and Emma’s trying really hard not to stare at the expanse of uncovered thigh between knee and the hem of her dress because friends don’t admire their friends’ legs.

 

“I know,” Emma says, shrugging. “I don’t exactly have emotional ties to the city. I was only there a year as an adult.”

 

“I remember,” Regina says and unspoken between them is the fact that all those years ago Regina looked up where Emma had lived over the years and for how long to assure herself that Emma wouldn’t stay in Storybrooke for any period of time. She toys with the crusts of her sandwich. “What about New York City? You were happy there.”

 

“Perhaps on the way back?” Emma suggests. “We could spend a few days, hit up the museums, see a play. I could show you our neighbourhood, where Henry went to school, all that crap.”

 

“I’d like that,” Regina says, and she smiles, one of her genuine ones, the ones reserved for Henry – and sometimes Emma. Emma smiles herself at the way the grin lights up Regina’s face.

 

She can feel the sun start to beat down on her skin, probably burning. “Should we get going?” she asks and Regina nods, packing up the leftovers and throwing the cooler into the backseat.

 

Emma keeps driving.

 

*

 

“You up for Niagara Falls?” Emma asks. They’ve made it to Buffalo and it’s just gone five, the sun still high in the sky. She has found a two-storey roadside motel that Regina deems ‘acceptable’ after inspecting her room, running her finger over surfaces, checking the bathrooms and the sheets, and Emma has taken the adjoining room. “It’s only a half hour drive.”

 

Regina shrugs. For someone who agreed to the road trip, she’s been remarkably non-committal about making any plans for it – or at least any that she’ll divulge to Emma. “What’s another half hour in your death trap in the grand scheme of things?”

 

“I haven’t killed anyone in my car yet,” Emma protests.

 

“You do not inspire confidence, dear,” Regina says, though her expression has softened and she looks almost fond. She sits down on the edge of her bed, the mustard-coloured bedspread crinkling beneath her, and puts her shoes back on, wincing.

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t wear heels,” Emma says, rubbing the back of her neck and trying to ease out the crick. “Surely you brought some flats with you.”

 

“They don’t go with this dress,” Regina says as though that should be obvious. “I’ll be fine.” She stands and strides out of the room, leaving Emma to lock up after her.

 

They arrive at the falls a little before six and once Emma’s found a carpark (no small task) they get out. “Go for a walk?” Emma asks and Regina nods, throwing her handbag over her shoulder. Emma grabs her wallet and phone from the glove compartment and shoves them in the back pocket of her shorts.

 

“This is less of a rampant tourist trap than I anticipated,” Regina remarks as they stroll along. 

 

“I think the Canadian side might be worse,” Emma says. She’s never been before but she’s been told stories. Neal had visited the casino on the Canadian side of the falls once, long before she’d met him, and he’d told her a few stories, though less about the scenery and more about conning idiot tourists at the blackjack table.

 

“Good,” Regina says. Emma notices she’s limping.

 

“Sit down,” she says, leading her over to a park bench. “I’ll find us some dinner.” Regina doesn’t put up much of a protest; her feet obviously hurt more than she was letting on.

 

Emma finds a Chinese restaurant that does takeout and orders lo mein, lemon chicken and a dozen wontons, giving Henry a call while she waits. “Hey kid,” she says, when he answers. “How’s it going in Tucson?”

 

“Pretty good,” Henry says, voice muffled at the end of the line. There’s noise at his end, people talking and laughing and it makes Emma’s heart sing because, aside from the year in New York City, he’s always been such a loner. “I’m heading to a lecture soon! It’s this professor, really famous… Have you fallen asleep yet?” Emma can hear him grin down the line and she’s filled with a sudden ache of longing that is hard to quantify.

 

“Anything you say is interesting,” she says, protesting, and Henry laughs.

 

“Order for Swan!”

 

“Sorry, kid, take-out’s here.” Emma stands, phone held to her ear, and nods her thanks at the waiter as she grabs the plastic bag and leaves, walking back to where she left Regina.

 

“Are you looking out for Mom?” Henry asks, his tone serious.

 

“Yeah,” Emma says and her throat is dry. “The take-out’s for both of us.”

 

“Good,” Henry says. “She says she’s fine, but I’m worried she’s not.” Someone in the background calls out Henry’s name and he yells back, “just finishing up with my ma. Sorry, Ma. Gotta go. Love you and Mom.”

 

“We love you too, kid,” Emma says and hangs up, sliding her phone into her pocket. She finds Regina sitting in the same place. She’s slipped her shoes off and is staring out at the falls, eyes unfocused. There’s a cool breeze that blows her hair askew and Emma suspects Regina would be horrified if she knew how casual her hair has looked all day. “Just talked to Henry,” Emma says, placing the food beside Regina and sitting at the other end of the bench.

 

“How is he?” Regina asks, finding her lo mein and breaking apart the chopsticks. She scoops up noodles and there’s something hilarious about watching Regina Mills try and eat noodles tidily.

 

“He’s good,” Emma says, pouring excess sauce from her lemon chicken into the rice. “He was heading out to a lecture, the little nerd.”

 

Regina pokes her with the wide of end of her chopsticks. “Don’t call our son a nerd,” she says.

 

“Poor boy can’t help it,” Emma replies, dipping a wonton into the mystery sauce that accompanies it. “With a mother like you…”

 

Regina throws a wonton at her. It misses her and falls on the ground and if Emma was alone, she’d probably dust it off and eat it because what a waste of good food (and even now, twenty years later at least, she feels her heart beat faster and her palms sweat when there’s no food around or food’s being wasted) but she still feels this need to impress Regina – or at least not outright disgust her. “I’m not a nerd,” Regina says, petulance laced into her tone.

 

“Okay,” Emma says, swallowing her mouthful. “But all that classic literature? And I’ve seen you making potions, all excited like a little kid with a chemistry set.”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Regina says, spearing another mouthful of noodles. After a moment’s quiet – only the rush of the falls to disturb them – Regina ventures, “but, Henry, he sounded happy?”

 

“He sounded like he’s having the time of his life,” Emma says. “Call him tomorrow.”

 

When they’ve thoroughly gorged on greasy Chinese food, Emma pulls out the fortune cookies. “You have to add ‘in bed’ to the end,” she says. “It makes it funny.”

 

Regina eyes her dubiously, but cracks hers. “The funny thing about common sense is it isn’t all that common,” she says. “In bed.” She smirks, lip turning up at one corner and eyebrow raising. “Well, that’s true.”

 

Emma grins and breaks her cookie. “Pursue your wishes aggressively,” she reads. “In bed.” And she is rewarded with hearing Regina laugh, deep and throaty and intoxicating. She eats the cookie, the sweet, thin batter dissolving on her tongue, and she hopes.

 

Regina piles the takeaway containers into the plastic bag, tying a knot with the handles, and throws it in the trash. She’s slipped her feet back into the shoes and if she’s still in pain, well, she’s doing her level best not to show it. She walks across to the barrier to the falls and Emma follows, standing beside her, close enough to touch, but leaving the barest half inch between their bodies. The rush of the falls is loud – water crashing against rocks in an explosion of sound.

 

“You know,” Regina says, almost yelling to be heard above the water. She’s staring across at Canada, at the lights glowing as the sky dims, a faint, velvety purple now. “It’s kind of beautiful.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says but she doesn’t look at the falls. Instead, she looks across at Regina, whose face is shrouded in the dying light bleeding across the sky and whose hair is blowing back in the wind. “It is.”

Chapter Text

Emma wakes to the sound of her alarm and deeply regrets the day she let Henry change her ringtone to ‘Everything is Awesome’ because everything is most assuredly not awesome. It’s hot, the air conditioning having switched itself off in the middle of the night and there’s a sheen of sweat across her forehead, her hair sticking to her skin. Outside, it’s barely light but they have to get going if they want to reach Indiana in good time.

 

She raps at the door joining their rooms and, on finding it still unlocked, enters. “Regina?” she mutters at the lump under the sheets, and then louder. “Oi, Regina.”

 

Regina, who is face down in a pillow, mumbles, “fuck off,” and Emma laughs, standing in the doorway in a tank top and underwear because as Regina said last year when she had to heal a thigh wound rapidly gushing blood and Emma got squeamish about taking her pants off in front of her, “I’ve seen it all before, dear”.  

 

“Wash your mouth out, Madam Mayor,” Emma says.

 

“Don’t want to,” she whines. Emma’s never seen her this early in the morning and it is, quite frankly, hysterical.

 

“We’re leaving in an hour, tops,” Emma says and as she closes the door, she adds, “you’re driving.”

 

It’s almost amusing how quickly Regina wakes up at this, rolling over and sitting up in bed, her braid swinging as she moves. “What?”

 

Emma laughs and goes to take a shower, the blistering pressure of the water spiking into her back and the motel soap harsh against her skin. She’s sure half of Regina’s suitcase is shampoos and classy shower gels and when she rubs the too-dry soap across her stomach, across the faint stretch marks that remind her of Henry (that one tangible reminder that she did have something to do with this wonderful, brilliant boy being on this planet), she feels heat coil low in her belly and remembers why she’s not supposed to think about Regina in the shower. Friends don’t think about friends joining them in the shower. They don’t think about the smooth slick of brown skin or dark hair flattened and dripping with water or delicate hands massaging foaming shower gel into Emma’s shoulders.

 

The soap slips from her hands, which have slid lower, unbidden, and the clunk of the soap against the floor of the shower jerks her awake. She turns the nozzle to cold, washing cheap conditioner out in water so cold it gives her a headache.

 

When out, she pulls a tank top and the same shorts from yesterday on over her underwear and drags her hair back into a ponytail. It’ll have to dry tied up because she doesn’t have time to find and use the hair dryer. She slips her feet into flip-flops and knocks at the adjoining door, before opening it.

 

The shower’s running and for the second time in fifteen minutes her traitorous mind conjures images of Regina showering and she feels that heat again. She scribbles a note on a piece of the motel pad paper and heads down the road to the coffee shop she saw yesterday. Regina needs coffee before she gets behind the wheel – and so does Emma to survive Regina being behind the wheel of her baby.

 

The coffee shop has just opened and Emma’s stomach grumbles in protest when she sees the scones, fresh from the oven and crusted with granules of sugar. “What flavour are they?” she asks.

 

“Blueberry,” the girl at the counter (whose nametag reads ‘Rachel’) says, alarmingly chipper for so early in the morning.

 

“Two please,” Emma says. “And two large coffees.” She swipes her credit card and digs into her pocket for spare change to throw in the tip jar.

 

“You just passing through?” Rachel asks, pouring coffee into takeaway cups.

 

Emma smiles. “Yeah, heading to Tucson,” she says.

 

“That’s quite a distance,” Rachel says, raising her eyebrows and sliding the cups over to Emma so she can add milk to both and the two sugars to her own before shoving lids on. “I hope you’re not driving alone.”

 

“No, I’ve got a buddy,” she says and Rachel smiles, handing her a paper bag containing the scones.

 

“Well,” she says, “safe travels.”

 

Emma knocks at Regina’s door and it opens. Her hair is blow-dried and pulled back into the ponytail and she’s wearing a full face of makeup. However, her clothing has relaxed minutely, wearing what appear to be formal shorts and a loose tunic-style shirt that hangs loose and low. Emma hands her the coffee and throws the scones on the Formica table.

 

“Thanks,” she says, taking a long drink. Her shoulders relax at the intake of caffeine. “It’s too early to call Henry, yes?”

 

Emma laughs. “It’s six thirty. He might murder you.”

 

I might murder you,” she mutters. “This is an obscene hour.”

 

“I would have thought you were a morning person,” Emma says.

 

“I wouldn’t have picked you for one,” Regina replies, settling down at the tiny table and investigating the brown paper bag. Emma sits across from her, demolishing her own scone in a few delicious mouthfuls.

 

“The ‘early mornings’ thing is a remnant of foster care,” Emma says, licking blueberry stain from her fingers. “You get up on time, you get breakfast.”

 

Regina nods, her face stiffening in guilt as it still does every time Emma mentions her childhood. “Well,” she says. “Shall we get going?”

 

Emma throws her the keys. “Get her started and I’ll bring down the suitcases and check out.” She grabs Regina’s case, which is ludicrously heavy and passes through her room for her own duffle bag, before handing in the keys at reception. When she reaches the car, Regina’s sitting in the driver’s seat, keys in the ignition but the motor not running. “Problem?” Emma asks, sliding into the passenger seat, and then she realises. “Oh my God, you don’t know how to drive stick.”

 

Regina frowns. “Of course I know how.”

 

Emma sits back, unable to help the grin spreading across her face. “Off you go then,” she says.

 

If sheer force of will was enough to get the bug moving, Regina would be skidding and screeching out of the carpark at a rate of knots. As it is, she puts the car into reverse, revs the accelerator and stalls when she pulls her foot from the clutch too quickly. “Your car is terrible,” she says.

 

“And you’ve been driving an automatic since the eighties,” Emma says, refraining from a sarcastic ‘yes, it’s the car that’s the problem’ because Regina might not have magic but she does have a sharp right hook. “It’s okay. Just take your foot off the clutch more gently.”

 

Regina complies and manages to back the car from their parking space so that she’s facing the general direction of the exit. “Now what?”

 

“Foot back on the clutch, change into first,” Emma says and then remembers, when Regina struggles, that sometimes first sticks. Regina pushes at the gear stick and swears, so Emma places a hand over hers and guides her. “Easy does it. We’re turning left out of here.”

 

“I know,” Regina snaps and Emma would be hurt if she didn’t know that Regina’s covering for her moment of failure by being, well, Regina.

 

“All right, your majesty,” Emma says. “I’ll just fall asleep and leave you to it, shall I?”

 

Regina’s silent for a moment but, indicating to turn out of the motel, she says, “I hate it when you call me that.”

 

Emma sits, fiddling with the air conditioning and plugging her iPod into the sound system. Regina seems like she’s in a Fleetwood Mac kind of mood and she scrolls through, finding the ‘best of’ album she downloaded when they decided on this road trip and Regina gave her a list of acceptable musicians, “since I’m sure you’ll be putting together a playlist, Ms Swan.”

 

Emma’s constantly learning new things about Regina and today is no exception. Today, when they reach the city limits, Emma learns that Regina’s a speed freak, pushing the bug to its limits. She hums along to the music, flat and out of sync with the beat, and it amuses Emma that Regina cannot hold a tune. “Even children get older and I’m getting older too.”

 

“I didn’t realise,” Emma says. Henry would want her to apologise. Hell, she even wants to.

 

“Idiot,” Regina says, though she glances over at Emma and she’s almost smiling, before returning her attention to the road and honking at the car in front, which has the temerity to slow before pulling in at a gas station.

 

“Regina,” Emma says. “Could you maybe shift down a gear?” The engine is squealing and whining and she’s got some pretty big concerns about driving at eighty on third gear and how they won’t make it to Indiana, let alone Tucson, at this rate. Regina’s gear changing is clunky but she manages it without stalling and Emma leans back against the seat. Leaf on the wind, she thinks, closing her eyes.

 

Regina honks and overtakes a truck, yelling, “get off the road!” out the open window.

 

Emma’s pretty sure this is how she’s going to die.

 

*

 

Regina pulls in at a diner with a screech of the tyres just out of Columbus. “I’m hungry,” she says, though Emma can tell from the way she looks over at her phone that it’s not food she’s hungry for.

 

“Call him,” she says. “I’ll order.”

 

Emma grabs a table by the window and watches Regina pace back and forwards outside the diner. She’s tapping her fingers against her leg but then Henry must answer because she stops and her face breaks out into that perfect, open smile and she starts talking.

 

“What can I get you, love?” the waitress asks and Emma twitches. The waitress gives her an all too knowing glance.

 

“Two serves of lasagne,” Emma says. “Fries to share. A chocolate shake and an apple juice.”

 

“Coming right out,” the waitress says. “You get back to your gawking.”

 

Emma’s skin feels hot and too tight but she looks back over at Regina, who’s laughing, head tilted back, and then glances over at Emma and gives her this look, which makes her feel naked, like Regina can see everything going on in her head, all the weird and rude and almost-evil thoughts Emma’s ever considered and she grabs her phone, tapping out a message to Snow. Regina’s the worst driver in the world. If you don’t hear from me again it’s because we got killed by an angry truck driver she swore at.

 

Snow replies promptly and Emma feels a pang of guilt because it’s likely Snow’s sitting by her phone, at home with baby Ruth, barely six months old, and worrying about Emma because she forgets that Emma’s the streetwise one, the one who can handle herself in the real world – not Snow who talks to birds and thinks in simple terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ even after all this time. Don’t be too hard on her. She’s an excellent horse woman.

 

Snow will never stop defending Regina. She’s starting to find it endearing rather than irritating.

 

She grins. It’d take us years to get to Tucson by horse tho. Love you.

 

The diner doors open and Regina enters. Emma slips her phone into her pocket. “How is he?”

 

“Tired,” Regina says. She’s almost glowing. “He’d just woken up by the sounds of things.”

 

“He doesn’t suspect?”

 

“I told him you were helping me landscape my garden,” she says. “It gives us an excuse to talk to him together sometime before we arrive.”

 

Emma grins. “Did he laugh hysterically?” Emma’s apartment has a balcony and as a moving gift Snow gave her several large terracotta pots – one with herbs, one with a little ficus tree and one with snow drop flowers – and was dismayed when Emma had managed to kill all three in the space of a week.

 

“I said I was supervising you carefully,” Regina says and then their meals arrive. “You got us lasagne?”

 

“I know how much you like criticising other people’s inferior versions of your food,” Emma says and Regina scrunches up her face.

 

“You have this idea of me in your head that’s absolutely not who I am,” she says. However, after two mouthfuls, she adds, “it’s very bland.” Emma’s eaten half her slice by this point and hasn’t had a problem with it, but then, as Regina would say, she’s not exactly a connoisseur of good cuisine.

 

“I like it,” Emma says, shrugging. “Not as good as yours though.”

 

Regina tuts. “Obviously not.” She seems pleased by the comment though, lips curving into a smile around the fork as she takes another bite of the sub-par lasagne.

 

“The fries look excellent,” Emma says, squeezing ketchup onto a napkin and dunking several fries in at once. Regina takes one and squeezes it between her fingers, before dipping it in the sauce.

 

“They’re not so bad,” she says and it feels bizarrely like a victory.

 

Later, over coffee and pie, Emma asks, “so you had this huge library. What else did you do in the 28 years of frozen time?”

 

Regina starts. She has pie crust stuck to her thumb with the peach filling and she licks it clean before answering. “Well, the last ten years were spent with Henry obviously.”

 

“Obviously,” Emma says. “But, like, you didn’t just spend the first eighteen years in Storybrooke being a mayor and pulling petty pranks of Snow, right?”

 

Regina looks vaguely guilty at this and Emma files it away to ask about later, possibly over some form of alcohol. “I learned,” she says. “From the library and, later, online.”

 

“Nerd,” Emma replies, scraping at her pie plate with her index finger. Regina looks like she might be tempted to pull the finger. “What’d you study?”

 

“Languages initially,” she says. “I picked up Spanish quickly. My father spoke it – or a version of it at least – but I was never allowed to speak it myself or write it. My mother –” She pauses, lost in thought for a moment. “Well, let’s just say she liked to emphasise the paler side of my heritage.”

 

Emma frowns. She doesn’t really know what to say to that but it seems as though Regina doesn’t want a response from Emma because she continues. “I learned to cook as well. There were lots of terrible meals but I had it perfected by the time Henry came along.” She finishes her coffee. “Other things too,” she says. “It was easier once the internet came to Storybrooke.”

 

Emma snorts and Regina gives her this look. “Most people don’t just use the internet for porn, Ms Swan,” she says, placing a few bills on the table. “Shall we go?”

 

Emma grabs the keys. “Frankly,” she says when Regina looks set to object, “I’m worried we’re going to get pulled over by a state trooper and I feel like you might get all ‘Thelma and Louise’ on him.”

 

“I’m Louise,” she says and Emma tries not to feel smug about being so very right, even as she shakes her head.

 

“Whatever, Thelma,” she says.

 

*

 

It’s later in the afternoon when Regina brings it up. Emma’s iPod is blasting Janelle Monae, which Regina actually seems to be enjoying in spite of the fact that she only likes 80s soft rock according to the List. “We’re close to Indianapolis,” Regina says. “There’s something I’d like to see there.”

 

“It’s slightly out of our way,” Emma says. “I thought we decided we’d stop in Terre Haute.”

 

“You got to see the giant chocolate moose,” Regina says and when Emma looks over at her, she’s pouting.

 

“Give me directions,” Emma says, sighing, and Regina looks up Google Maps on her phone and directs Emma to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “It’s really not museum weather,” Emma says because it’s pushing 85 and Emma’s sweating through her tank top.

 

“We’re not going inside,” Regina says and leads Emma into the grounds of the museum where she sees a giant sculpture that looks like … bones? It takes her a moment to figure it out.

 

“Oh my God,” Emma says. “This is the skeleton thing from that cancer movie.”

 

“I happen to enjoy the work of Atelier Van Lieshout and this is one of their better known pieces,” Regina says but Emma’s internal lie detector is pinging so hard right now.

 

“No,” she says. “You made me watch this movie, like, three years ago. There was that one legged dude and a douche-y novelist and the lady from ‘Jurassic Park’ played the mom and you totally cried at the end.” She’s pretending like she doesn’t know everything there is to know about Laura Dern, like she hadn’t had the biggest crush on Ellie Satler when she was seven (far too young to be watching ‘Jurassic Park’ really but it’s not like her foster parents at the time cared) because she was a bad-ass in a peach shirt and had pretty blonde hair just like Emma’s. She had spent six months thinking she’d be a paleobotanist when she grew up.

 

“You are so culturally aware it astounds me,” Regina says.

 

“Suck it,” Emma says. “You read popular young adult literature.”

 

“Young adult literature is the literary zeitgeist right now,” Regina says loftily. She strides forward, sitting down on one of the bones of the arm (it’s not like Emma actually paid attention in biology). They watch kids crawling all over the sculpture for a time. “I’m getting a cold drink,” Regina says. “Want something?”

 

Emma nods. “Water.” She watches Regina walk over to the stand at the far side of the field. So intent is she on watching Regina walk away that she doesn’t see the little girl running up the arm bone until she crashes into her, nose striking Emma’s shoulder. She lets out a wail and Emma turns to her. “Hey, kiddo,” she says. “Did my shoulder get in the way of your face?”

 

The little girl nods, black pigtails bobbing as she does so. She can’t be more than two or three. “Hurts.”

 

“Oh dear,” Emma says. “Where are your mom and dad?”

 

She points over at a couple sitting on a picnic blanket not too far from where Emma’s sitting; the man is walking over, steps quick and anxious. “There.”

 

“Shall we walk and meet him?” Emma asks and the girl nods, holding out her arms. She hesitates but eventually picks the girl up, settling her on her hip. “I’m Emma,” she says.

 

“Em-ma,” the girl says, pronouncing each syllable carefully and then wiping her tear stained face on Emma’s tank top. “’m Tiana,” she says.

 

Emma gasps. “Princess Tiana? I didn’t know I was in the presence of royalty,” and Tiana purses her lips and squints at her, entirely unimpressed. “How’s your nose?”

 

“Sore,” Tiana says with a baleful look at Emma’s shoulder.

 

Emma laughs and Tiana’s dad, an unmistakable likeness between them in the shape and colour of their eyes and the roundness of their dark cheeks, reaches them. “I hope she wasn’t bothering you,” he says.

 

“My shoulder had an unfortunate collision with her nose,” Emma says, handing Tiana over to him. “We’re good now. Lovely to meet you, kiddo.”

 

Tiana grins at her, little teeth flashing. “Bye, Em-ma.”

 

Emma walks back to find Regina sitting on the skull, reading a pamphlet. She hands her a bottle of water. “What was that about?”

 

“Just returning her to her parents,” Emma says.

 

Regina’s silent for a moment. “You were good with her,” she says. She has kicked off her shoes, lined up neatly on the skull beside her, and her toes wriggle in the grass. Emma places the water bottle against her forehead and then her chest, desperate to cool down. “Did you know this sculpture was deliberately built to be interacted with?”

 

“I don’t understand what that means,” Emma says and Regina rolls her eyes.

 

“Of course you don’t,” she says and keeps reading. They sit, and Emma’s just content to be outside, to feel something of a breeze against her face and to watch Regina, still reading, eyebrows knitting together in concentration.

 

“Shall we get going?” Emma asks. “I think I’m starting to burn.” Regina stands but before they go, Emma pulls out her phone. “We have to have a picture of this,” she says and takes a photo of Regina, resting against the skull and smiling, strands of hair escaping her ponytail and squinting into the sun.

 

*

 

They stop for the night in Terre Haute. It’s still ridiculously hot and when they find a motel, Regina’s too tired to check the rooms for cleanliness before they check in. “It will have to do,” she says. “I need a shower.”

 

They end up sharing a room. It has two double beds, after all, and it’s practical to save money. While Regina’s in the shower, Emma orders pizza and checks out the TV. Her phone buzzes and a selfie of Snow with Neal and Ruth appears on her screen.

 

How’s the trip? She’s attached a picture of Ruth eating her own toes and Emma has a pang of longing for the family she never thought she’d have and now is struggling to be part from.

 

She texts a quick response, attaching a photo of Regina at the Funky Bones sculpture, and plugs her phone into its charger. Regina exits the bathroom at that point, dressed in loose, cotton pyjamas and collapses on a bed. “The shower’s weak,” she says, stretching her arms above her head and Emma comes to the sudden and debilitating realisation that Regina’s not wearing a bra. “Eyes up, Swan,” she says and smirks when Emma’s head jerks up.

 

“I’ll just…” Emma points at the bathroom. “There’s pizza money on the table.” She grabs her pyjamas and escapes into the bathroom, setting the shower for cold. Once in the stall she lets her head bang against the wall of the shower. She’s successfully repressed these feelings since Regina met Robin and it’s fucking infuriating that they’re resurfacing now, when it’s just her and Regina for five days in confined spaces.

 

When she exits, towelling her hair dry, Regina’s setting up the pizza on one of the beds. “Sit,” she says. “I’m not up for much more than lying on the bed and watching trashy television.”

 

“A woman after my own heart,” Emma says and then grimaces. But Regina just smiles, crossing her legs on the bed and grabbing a slice of pizza, so Emma joins her and they polish off a whole pizza while ‘Friends’ re-runs play on the TV. “Super white New York City,” Emma comments, licking grease from her fingers, and Regina hands her a napkin.

 

“What do you expect, dear? It’s Hollywood,” she says, closing the empty pizza box and placing it beside the bed.

 

Emma shrugs and shuffles closer to Regina and when she lets her head fall onto Regina’s shoulder, Regina doesn’t resist or shrug her off but stays very still, watching the screen rather too intently for comedy re-runs.

 

Emma’s eyelids feel heavy, closing in spite of herself and she ends up drifting to sleep with her head on Regina’s shoulder, TV blaring. Regina doesn’t move.

Chapter Text

 

When Emma wakes, Regina has been substituted by a pile of pillows (which is probably a good thing given that there’s also a growing drool patch on said pillows and if Emma had drooled on Regina she might have to leave the country). Regina’s sleeping on the other bed, her back to Emma. She takes a moment to stare at Regina’s back, eyes tracing the nobs of her spine, the constellation of freckles on her upper back. One of the thin straps of her pyjama top is falling down one shoulder.

 

It’s six thirty.

 

“Hey, Regina,” Emma whispers. “Wakey wakey.” When Regina doesn’t move she gets out of bed and brushes her fingers over Regina’s shoulder, skin velvet soft and shiny with perspiration. Regina twitches away irritably. “No, seriously,” Emma says. “We have to get up.”

 

“Go away, Swan,” Regina says, though she rolls onto her back and cracks one eye open. “It’s too hot to move.”

 

“Are we going to go through this every morning?” Emma asks. “You better be up by the time I get out of the shower.”

 

Regina stretches her arms above her head and Emma tries really hard not to look anywhere incriminating. She focuses on Regina’s hair, falling loose from its braid in curls around her face. She wonders if that’s its natural state, if Regina has spent the past however many years straightening it, or if it’s the result of the length. There’s so much she still doesn’t know about her and it seems like such a stupid thing to need to know but then Emma wants to know everything. “Weren’t you showering?” Regina asks, squinting up at her and Emma realises she’s been staring for rather too long.

 

“Right,” she says, grabbing a random handful of clothes from her bag and heading into the bathroom. She finds a shower cap in the cabinet and bundles her hair up under it, before stepping into the heat and steam. She takes a short shower because anything longer is going to lead her into dangerous territory, her third day in too close contact with Regina Mills and without any opportunity to release tension. Her hands keep lingering on her nipples and between her legs.

 

She dries off and eyes the clothes she pulled out of her bag. Denim cut-offs that she brought in case there was any opportunity to sunbathe, a tank top with Snow White emblazoned on the front that Henry bought her as a joke several Christmases ago (Regina got one with the Evil Queen on it), and three pairs of underpants. No bra.

 

She shrugs. It’ll have to do. She pulls on her clothes and exits the bathroom, arms crossed over her chest. Regina’s still in bed. “I did warn you,” Emma says, before grabbing her ankle and dragging her off the bed. Regina screeches, arms flailing wildly as she lands on the floor with a thump and then she hooks her foot around Emma’s ankle, upsetting her balance.

 

She lands on top of Regina and for one awful, wonderful moment her left hand is palming Regina’s breast, barely covered in silky pyjama fabric, and Regina’s knee is between Emma’s thighs. She looks down at Regina, whose eyes have darkened, lips parted. Her chest rises and falls quickly. It’s instinctive really, that one finger extends and brushes against Regina’s nipple, feeling the pebbled skin beneath the satin.

 

“If you’re quite finished mauling my breast,” Regina says acerbically.

 

Emma withdraws her hand so quickly she ends up hitting herself in the throat. “Fuck,” she mutters, rolling off Regina. “That really hurt.”

 

“Good,” she says, though she eyes Emma with concern as she rubs her throat. Regina shifts up onto her elbows and pushes the strap of her top up her shoulder. “I’m going to take a shower.”

 

Emma takes the time to pull on a bra and seriously contemplates rubbing one out before Regina gets out of the shower (she’ll be in there for, like, ten minutes, right? She’s gotten herself off quicker than that before in a pinch, and that was without the accidental groping to get her started). The idea of Regina walking in while Emma has her hands down her pants is too embarrassing for words, however, and she settles for packing up their stuff and dragging Regina’s ridiculous suitcase down to the car.

 

On her return, Regina’s out of the shower, towelling her hair dry. “Your hair’s a mess,” she says to Emma. “Sit down.”

 

Emma perches on the edge of the bed, Regina sliding in behind her, and her hands go to Emma’s ponytail, fingers undoing the elastic and combing through her hair. “I haven’t braided anyone’s hair in the longest time,” Regina says, dividing Emma’s hair into three segments.

 

“I imagine it wasn’t a big thing for Henry,” Emma says.

 

“You’d be surprised,” Regina says. “If he’d had hair long enough as a four year old, he would have loved a French braid. He liked getting his nails done and wearing my sun hats.”

 

“Please tell me you have photos,” Emma says. Her two sets of memories have blended into one but she thinks she remembers, though with her Henry was more interested in wearing her jackets and heeled boots.

 

“In abundance,” Regina says. Her fingers plait Emma’s hair expertly. “Actually, the last hair I braided besides my own was Snow’s, when she was a girl.” It’s a testament to how far they have come that she can say this without bitterness.

 

Emma reaches a hand back and clasps Regina’s forearm. She leaves it there a moment, hoping to express all the things she can’t say through that touch. “Done,” Regina says, tying off the elastic, clambering off the bed and returning to the bathroom to fix her own hair.

 

Breakfast is part of their booking and Regina glares at Emma when she takes two doughnuts and pours herself what looks to be a truly disgusting cup of coffee. “You’re going to die of a heart attack,” she says, waiting for a bagel to toast.

 

Emma takes a big bite from a chocolate glazed doughnut. “I like to live on the edge,” she says, between mouthfuls, and Regina frowns.

 

“I can’t believe I let you fall asleep against me,” she mutters.

 

*

 

“Come on, Regina,” Emma whines. They’re just outside of Springfield, Missouri, and Emma’s driving and she looked up the ‘Top 20 Unmissable Roadside Sights’ on her phone at breakfast and now there’s something on the list that is consuming her very soul.

 

“No,” Regina says flatly.

 

“But it’s a classic road trip milestone.”

 

“It’s also six hours out of our way,” Regina says. “We’re not going to Kansas to see a big ball of twine.”

 

Emma grumbles because it’s not a big ball of twine, it’s the world’s largest ball of sisal twine built by a community (and she might have looked it up on Wikipedia after reading the article because she didn’t want to falsely represent it when pitching the idea to Regina). Then she realises something important. “But I’m behind the wheel!”

 

“Pull over,” Regina says. “Right now.”

 

Emma grins over at her. “Make me.”

 

In hindsight, this is not the best thing to say to Regina Mills, who immediately grabs the wheel and turns it sharply. The bug skids over to the side of the road, Emma applying the brakes as hard as she can. In a moment of exquisitely apt music choice, the iPod switches from Carole King to Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ (or as Emma called it once to irritate Regina, “that song from ‘Apocalypse Now’” and Regina made sniffing comments about Emma’s total lack of cultural awareness). She’d kind of thought Regina was joking when she put it on the list of acceptable road trip music though she downloaded the whole freaking German opera nonetheless.

 

The bug stops an inch from hitting a fence post and Emma’s pretty sure her whole life has flashed before her eyes. “Jesus, Regina,” she says. “Are you trying to get us killed?”

 

“I’m driving,” she barks. “Get out.”

 

Silently Emma gets out of the car and takes a moment to look back at the skid marks, the rubbery lines of her almost-death. She doesn’t want to die in the bug. She wants to die in a blaze of glory, saving Henry and Regina and probably the whole town from some villain – or, ideally, in her bed surrounded by her family, aged 103. She kicks at the stones. Regina is out of the car, moving around to the driver’s side. “That was really fucking stupid,” Emma says.

 

“I’m – sorry,” Regina says, and she’s gruff and uncomfortable and Emma knows how much she hates apologising.

 

“Thank you for the apology,” Emma says stiffly.

 

Regina just stares at her. “I apologised,” she says. “The polite thing to do is forgive me.”

 

“Sorry,” Emma says. “Not in a forgiving mood.” She throws the keys across to Regina and is savagely pleased when Regina fumbles and almost drops them. She slides into the passenger seat and grabs the iPod, still blasting Wagner (and she takes a moment to wonder whether you blast Wagner) and switches it to the most irritating angry music she can find, Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’.

 

Regina winces as ‘All I Really Want’ starts playing and Emma turns up the volume, glaring out the window.

 

*

 

Regina’s driving (for a certain value of ‘driving’ and, God, she’s a menace behind the wheel) when Emma’s phone rings. She barely feels the vibrations of it as she belts the lyrics of ‘You Outta Know’. If she and Regina were speaking she would have been told to shut up by now, but because she’s ignoring Emma, knuckles turning white as she grips the wheel, Emma retaliates by singing louder and more dramatically. It’s Snow and she answers. “Hey,” she says, turning the music down.

 

“Emma!” So, not Snow, she thinks, holding her phone away from her ear and wincing, but Neal.

 

“Hey, buddy,” Emma says. There’s still something incredibly weird, five years later, about having a brother named after your ex-boyfriend who abandoned you and let you go to jail. Emma’s at peace with the whole name-thing now but it doesn’t mean she needs to actually call him ‘Neal’.

 

“How are you?” Neal asks. He has a bit of a lisp – Snow’s talking about speech therapy if it doesn’t improve soon – so ‘are’ sounds more like ‘ah-w’. It’s pretty cute and Emma vaguely remembers, in the memories that aren’t really hers, that Henry had a similar lisp as a kid.

 

“I’m very well, thank you, Neal,” Emma says. “We’re driving through Missouri.”

 

“Where’s that?” he asks.

 

“Ask Mom to show you on the atlas later,” she says. “But a long way away. It’s very hot. How’s Ruthie?”

 

“Wuth’s boring,” Neal says. This has been a perpetual complaint since Ruth was born four months ago. He’d suggested the other day that Ruth go and live in Emma’s apartment and Emma live with them because she’d be able to play with him. “Is Wegina there?”

 

“Wegina’s driving,” Emma says, with a sly glance at Regina who twitches.

 

“Oh,” he says, disappointed because apparently falling for Regina is a genetic condition and then she hears a clunk and a moment later, Snow picks up the phone.

 

“We’re still working on phone etiquette,” she says in lieu of an apology. Ruth coos close to the mouthpiece and Emma imagines Snow, phone stuck between ear and shoulder as she jiggles Ruth with both hands. “How’s the trip?”

 

“Fine,” Emma says, glancing sideways at Regina who is scowling at a bus that was a speck in the distance just a few moments ago.

 

“That doesn’t sound like a good ‘fine’,” Snow says. “Are you and Regina fighting?”

 

“Maybe,” Emma says.

                                            

“Apologise, Emma Swan,” Snow says.

 

There’s something about being admonished by Snow that makes Emma feel like a sulky teenager. “It wasn’t my fault though,” she whines and barely manages to stop herself from saying ‘this time’ at the end. Regina snorts.

 

“I’m hanging up now,” Snow says. “Fix this.”

 

Emma hangs up and glares at her phone. “How are the Charmings?” Regina asks.

 

“Fine,” Emma says.

 

“That doesn’t sound like a good ‘fine’,” Regina replies.

 

Emma bites at her lip. Her lips are dry – she’ll fish out lip balm from her bag when they pull over but she’d have to unbuckle to get to it and she’s not chancing that while Regina’s driving – and her teeth pick at loose skin. Regina’s not saying anything more and her not saying anything is filling the car, making it hard for Emma to think. “Okay, fine,” she says. “I forgive you.”

 

Regina sniffs but when Emma looks over at her she’s smiling and when she over-takes the bus ahead of them, she refrains from honking and swearing.

 

They’re reaching the end of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ and Emma continues singing along, though she brings the volume down to a Regina-acceptable level. “It’s like rain on your wedding day.”

 

None of this is ironic,” Regina says and Emma laughs.

 

*

 

They book into a motel on the side of the road outside of Tulsa when Regina’s tired of driving. It’s searingly hot, dust rising from the ground like steam and Emma’s sweating by the time she’s made the trip from the car to reception. “You have a room available?” she asks. Regina grabs the hem of Emma’s tank top and uses it to wipe sweat from her brow and Emma slaps her hand away.

 

“You’re lucky,” the guy at the front desk replies, sticking a form in front of her to fill out and grabbing a key from the hook. “It’s our last room.”

 

Emma hands the key to Regina. “I’ll get the bags,” she says and Regina nods.

 

When she arrives at the second storey landing, the stray strands from her braid are sticking to the back of her neck and forehead and her bag strap is cutting into her shoulder. Regina’s struggling with the key to their door and she watches from a distance as this guy – sunburnt, tank top, killer arms – approaches Regina. “Hey,” he says, snapping fingers in front of her face, “we need more towels in 4A.” He’s speaking loudly and slowly like he doesn’t think Regina speaks English and then Emma realises.

 

Regina just stares at him, hand clenching and unclenching as though she’s trying to draw on her magic, and Emma’s not sure whether she’s going to kill him or start crying and neither of those scenarios are ideal so she surges forward. “Sorry, honey,” she says, wrapping an arm around Regina’s shoulder. “Bags were heavier than I expected.”

 

She takes the key from Regina, jiggles it in the lock until the door swings open and pushes her inside, the whole time resisting the urge to punch the asshole. Once inside, Regina snatches her suitcase from Emma. “I’m taking a shower,” she says and slams the bathroom door behind her.

 

Emma’s left alone, not really sure how to deal with any of this, and as she looks around the room she realises something is very wrong. There’s only one bed.

 

“Fuck,” she mutters. This is such a cliché.

 

She wants to call Henry but she knows if she calls him she’ll blurt out the whole stupid thing they’re doing and Regina will never forgive her for ruining the birthday surprise. She wants to call Snow but she’s still kind of mad at her for making her apologise to Regina for something that wasn’t her fault.

 

She knocks on the bathroom door and opens it a crack. “I’m going for a walk,” she says.

 

“Fine,” Regina yells. She thinks she might hear a thunk – that of a fist hitting the shower wall – as she closes the door again.

 

She slams the motel room door on the way out. The asshole from before is at the ice machine and she glares at him, taking sick delight when a chip of ice flicks out of his bucket and hits him in the forehead.

 

She ends up at a bar down the road, cold pint of beer in front of her. It’s gloomy in the bar and the few patrons are content to ignore her, which she appreciates. Her finger traces through the evaporation on the side of the glass.

 

Love hearts. She scowls at her traitorous hand, before sculling back as much beer as she can.

 

She shouldn’t be angry but she’s tired of this. She’s tired of the feelings that keep threatening to spew out of her, tired of this constant back and forth between something resembling friendship and tension-filled silences, tired of feeling like she’s traipsing the edge of a blade whenever she’s around Regina. She’s tired of unrequited love.

 

“Emma.” It’s Regina, sliding onto a barstool beside her. “Thought I’d find you here.”

 

“Because if there’s alcohol there, that’s where I must be?” Emma snarls.

 

“Because you’re brooding about something,” Regina says. She places a hand on Emma’s arm and it kills Emma how much this gesture stabilises her. “Talk.”

 

Emma sighs. “I’m just tired,” she says.

 

“Liar,” Regina says, scarlet lips curving into a smile. “It’s been a strange day.” She gestures to the bartender. “Gin and tonic,” she says when he approaches and he nods.

 

“Why is everything always so hard between us?” Emma asks.

 

Regina’s silent for a moment, fingers tapping against the varnished wood of the bar. “I don’t know,” she says. Emma’s pretty sure she’s lying but she’s not about to call her on it. She’s not entirely sure she wants the truth anyway. “We’ll always have that history behind us.”

 

“Robin and Marian?” Emma asks.

 

“I meant the fight for Henry,” Regina says, taking her drink from the bartender and smiling as she passes him a ten and tells him to keep the change. “You don’t honestly think I’m still holding a grudge about Robin, do you?”

 

“I wonder sometimes,” Emma admits. “I mean, you’ve not really dated anyone since then and I promised you a happy ending.”

 

“I’m perfectly content,” Regina says. “I have a beautiful, perfect son and a family and friends, and, of course, you bought me that vibrator two Christmases ago…”

 

Emma buries her face in her hands. “That was a joke,” she mumbles. Something about happy endings. She can’t remember what she was thinking, except now she’s imagining Regina using it and she’s pretty sure her face will be red for the rest of the road trip.

 

“So I noticed there’s only one bed in the motel room,” Regina says.

 

Emma groans. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I can camp out on the couch or, like, the floor.”

 

“I think we’re adult enough to share a bed,” Regina says, poking at the ice in her drink with her straw.

 

Emma’s not quite so convinced but when they’ve had a couple more drinks, ordered dinner at the bar and walked back in the cooling air to the motel, she finds it’s not so difficult after all. Regina sits up in bed, reading glasses perched on her nose and kindle open, and Emma lies on her back, staring at a crack in the ceiling, too wired to sleep. “That thing with the guy outside the motel room,” Emma says. “Does that happen a lot?”

 

“Being mistaken for the maid? That was new,” Regina says. “Storybrooke’s hardly an anti-racist utopia though.”

 

Emma frowns. “I’m sorry.”

 

“I don’t need anyone to fight my battles,” Regina says, though she nudges Emma’s calf with her foot, which feels like an acknowledgement of the apology. She closes her kindle. “Time to sleep, I think.”

 

Emma lies awake for what feels like hours, hyper-aware of the closeness of her body to Regina, who falls asleep instantly, lying on her back and making these weird, snuffling noises that Emma will definitely be mocking her for later. Then Regina rolls over, wrapping an arm over Emma’s torso and nestling her head into her shoulder. And it is then, with Regina’s snuffling noises in her ear and Regina’s palm splayed across her stomach that Emma is able to drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

She wakes with the heat of the Tulsa sun hitting her back through the net curtains covering the windows. Regina is still, like, spooning her, one hand trapped by Emma’s torso and the other cupping Emma’s left boob. It’s not unpleasant exactly (because honestly? Emma’s pretty turned on by the gentle press of palm against her nipple) but she’s not 100 percent on how consensual this is at either end. Unfortunately, when she tries to remove Regina’s hand, the hand tightens into a claw, nails digging into the soft flesh of her breast.

 

“Holy fuck,” Emma hisses, and it is pure instinct really that causes her to kick out, her heel connecting with Regina’s calf with a loud thud. Regina lets out a screech and knees Emma in the back.

 

Still, she’s been released now, and she rolls out of bed. She doesn’t speak as she hobbles into the bathroom and turns on the shower. Her back hurts and there’s an imprint of Regina’s fingernails on her breast that she’s pretty sure is going to bruise. The hot water goes some way to soothing her pain, but her mind keeps returning to the way Regina touched her, held her, wondering if it was subconscious or if she was imagining someone else in bed with her or if there’s something she feels for Emma that goes beyond friendship.

 

She hopes but doesn’t believe.

 

Regina’s up when she exits the shower and brushes past her without saying anything to her. Emma, who forgot clothing in the haste to leave the bed, rifles through her bag for underwear and clothes, slipping into them quickly and grabbing her wallet. She opens the bathroom door a crack, and there’s this moment where she thinks she hears Regina moan. “Regina?”

 

“What?” she says, her voice sounding strained over the stream of water.

 

“I’m going to see if I can find breakfast,” Emma says.

 

“Fine,” Regina calls. “Great. Get out.”

 

There’s a Starbucks down the street and buys coffee and sandwiches and by the time she returns to the hotel room, Regina is dressed, coiling her hair into a bun at the base of her neck. Emma knows she’s not going to get her hair braided this morning. It’s the usual dance; Regina reveals too much, gets too close, and then pulls away. Emma suspects she’ll be snippy and uncommunicative all morning. She hands her the coffee silently and stands at the sink, eating her own sandwich in a few large bites and downing her venti coffee before Regina’s managed to finish packing her suitcase.

 

“We should get going,” Emma says, scuffing the foot of her flip-flop against the beige carpet. “I’ll drive the first leg.”

 

Regina lifts her suitcase and leaves the room without a word, though she grabs the room key from the bench. Emma watches from a few steps behind and sees her leave the suitcase by the front of the bug and head towards reception. Emma loads the car and slips into the driver’s seat, adjusting it because Regina sits cramped as close to the steering wheel as possible. Emma has her suspicions that much of Regina’s road rage stems from this.

 

She’d never tell her that though.

 

She gets the motor running and when Regina slides into the passenger seat, balancing her coffee in the cup holder, she pulls out. The car is silent beyond the purr of the motor and the rush of traffic as Emma watches the city pass them by, heading back to the open road, to continue on their journey in this great wide somewhere, straight and flat and terrifying.

 

“Do you mind?” Regina asks, gesturing at the iPod housed in the other cup holder and Emma shakes her head.

 

“Go ahead.” She wonders whether Regina will want to discuss what happened this morning. She wonders if they’ll ever talk about all the things left unsaid in the years they’ve known each other. She’s not sure that she wants to, not sure that she wants confirmation once and for all that Regina doesn’t love her.

 

Silence reigns again, just for a moment. Regina emits a surprised ‘huh!’ and Emma dreads to think what she’s found in the depths of her iPod because she hasn’t deleted music from her iTunes account since she signed up for it in the mid-2000s. “You found your playlist, right?” Emma asks.

 

“I found something,” Regina says and then she hits play and Emma almost swerves onto the side of the road as ‘Caramelldansen’ blasts from the speakers.

 

She straightens up the car and stares over at Regina. “I–what?”

 

Regina stares straight ahead. “It was labelled ‘Henry’s Playlist’,” she says. “This doesn’t sound much like his usual tastes.” Her voice has softened in the way it always does when she talks about Henry. “Perhaps it came out when we weren’t on such good terms?”

 

Oh God, and now Emma’s feeling this sickening guilt pooling in the depths of her belly and she’s not going to feel guilty for Regina not recognising a meme. She remembers the afternoon Henry made that playlist, aged fourteen and feeling the sort of nostalgia that only the very young and inexperienced can feel. “Emma, remember ‘Harlem Shake’?” he’d say, playing it through youtube. “Remember ‘Gangnam Style’?”

 

“Henry, they were, like, a year ago,” she’d said and he’d sighed, as though she’d totally missed the point (and maybe she had), but when she’d returned to her computer after he’d gone home – back to Regina’s – she’d found the playlist on her iTunes and laughed until she’d cried.

 

Regina’s staring out the window, a loose strand of hair fluttering in the breeze of the air conditioner and shoulders stiff and tensed. Emma reaches out a hand and pats her somewhere vaguely around her lower thigh. “You’re an amazing mom,” she says. “Henry knows that. I know that. Everyone knows that.”

 

For a moment her hand rests on Regina’s leg, before she has to change gear to slow down because of a truck ahead, easing the clutch back in. She indicates and overtakes; she has this idea that if she drives really well surely some of it will sink in with Regina, make her a better driver by osmosis.

 

The playlist changes to Alex F’s ‘Crazy Frog’ and when she looks over at Regina, she’s smiling. “I remember this song,” she says. “Henry loved it when he was barely older than a toddler.” She looks over at Emma, meeting her eyes, and they’re so soft and limpid and sweet and Emma has absolutely given up on not being madly in love with her. “It drove me mad,” she confides. “And then there was that time where I would have given anything to hear it on repeat 24 hours a day.”

 

Emma sighs. “I’m sorry,” she says. She wants to tell Regina the truth about the playlist, she really does, but she’s so nostalgic and thoughtful and it’s a rare moment when she talks about Henry when he was younger.

 

She sings along with Jason Derulo’s ‘Whatcha Say’, stopping only to tell Emma that it reminds her of Cora. “Mmm, that you only meant well? Of course you did,” she sings tunelessly. She’s silent for a moment. “I know she was evil, Emma, but she was my mother. I wish my good intentions hadn’t led to her death.”

 

It might just be the worst thing ever because Emma’s trying so hard to be sympathetic. “I’m sorry,” she says and she bites her lip so hard she tastes the sharp iron of blood in the effort to keep the laughter welling up inside of her from bursting forth. She actually contemplates pulling over to hug Regina, who has wrapped her arms around herself, shivering though it’s so hot Emma’s sweating even with the air con.

 

And then her phone rings.

 

“It’s Snow,” Regina says, grabbing the phone from the glove box. “Shall I answer?”

 

“Please,” Emma says because at least talking to Snow might distract Regina from making a playlist of memes the most maudlin thing Emma’s ever listened to.

 

“Hello, Snow,” Regina says. “Emma’s driving.” She’s silent for a moment, head cocked to one side and a smirk playing across her lips. “Would you like to be put on speakerphone?”

 

It is at that moment when Regina places the phone in her lap that the song changes to Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Emma groans; she’d gone so long without being rickrolled, Henry having grown bored of it shortly after the making of the playlist.

 

“Regina,” Snow says, voice soft and tinny as it projects from the phone. “Are you rickrolling me?”

 

“I beg your pardon?” Regina asks.

 

“It’s just a playlist, Snow,” Emma says, sighing. “How are you?”

 

But Snow ignores her. “Oh my God,” she says. “Back when I was Mary Margaret, I used to get these links to my email all the time. Links to craft supply sales or organic bird feed and every time it was a link to this song on Youtube. That was you.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Regina says. “Emma, I fear your mother has gone mad.”

 

“It was!” Snow says. “Oh, Regina.” This is said in the disappointed tone Emma has heard too often to count (“You slept with Killian? Oh, Emma.” “You let baby Neal fall in horse shit? Oh, Emma.” “You drunk dialled Regina and told her she was pretty? Oh, Emma.”) and it is delightful to hear Regina on the receiving end of it.

 

“I got very bored during the curse,” Regina says defensively and Emma stares at her.

 

“You’ve been trolling me!” she says. “This whole time! ‘Whatcha Say’ doesn’t remind you of Cora at all! I felt so guilty.

 

Regina actually cackles. It’s this deep, throaty laugh that explodes from deep in her belly and fills the small space of the bug with sound. “Your face!” she says. “Trying so hard to be sympathetic. I couldn’t help myself.”

 

“You’re evil,” Emma says, foot pressing down harder on the accelerator.

 

“Emma!” Snow exclaims. “That’s not nice.”

 

Emma rolls her eyes. “Snow, I should probably concentrate. We’ll talk later.”

 

Regina is still chuckling softly to herself when Emma has farewelled Snow and she picks up the iPod, changing the song to the ‘Trololololol’ song, singing along tunelessly at Emma. Emma glares over at her. “I hate you,” she says.

 

“You love me,” Regina replies and Emma feels her face grow hot and she doesn’t respond. She does notice, however, that Regina changes the iPod to PJ Harvey without further comment.

 

*

 

They’ve just crossed the border from Oklahoma to Texas when it happens. Regina is dozing, head pressed against her arm and legs curled up on the seat. Emma turns the volume of the PJ Harvey album they’ve been listening to down so that she can barely hear it, beyond the steady drumbeat below the melody. Songs about hearts and loss and death seem so very Regina and she wonders if ‘Down by the Water’ might actually remind her of Cora.

 

“Stop thinking so loudly, Emma,” Regina says and her eyes are still shut, her eyelashes forming a shadow against her skin, worry lines smoothed by repose.

 

“Didn’t mean to wake you,” Emma says, turning her eyes back to the road.

 

“I’m not,” Regina replies. “It must be about my turn to drive though.” She eases herself up in the seat with a groan, placing bare feet back into her sandals. 

 

“I’ll pull over in the next town,” Emma says. “There’ll be somewhere we can get lunch there.”

 

Regina nods, closing her eyes again, and makes no move to turn up the volume of the music. Emma continues driving, the road straight and flat and empty of any other cars. The steering wheel is scorching under her hands and the air in the car is stale and warm, in spite of the air con.

 

And then the engine makes a horrible clunking noise and dies.

 

Emma swears. When that does nothing to change the situation, she swears again, repeatedly.

 

Regina cracks an eye open. “Is there a reason we’ve stopped, Ms Swan?” she asks and Emma definitely notices that now something has gone wrong, she’s back to formalities.

 

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Emma says.

 

“We’ve stopped in the middle of route 66,” Regina says. “You’ve been swearing. The air con is no longer working. I’m no detective, but I suspect we have car trouble.”

 

“We might do,” Emma admits. She gets out of the car, kicking the door, which does nothing to fix it but does relieve her feelings somewhat. She checks out the engine, Regina very helpfully staring over her shoulder and telling her to take care about the grease.

 

“That’s a halfway decent pair of jeans,” she says. “Don’t ruin them.”

 

Emma’s always prided herself on her independence but cars have never been something she’s been good at. She can change her oil and water, jump start the car when the battery runs flat and change a flat tyre, but she’s lost from that point on, and this is definitely an issue beyond her knowledge. “Can you grab my phone?” she asks.

 

She finds the number of the mechanic in Shamrock – the closest town – and calls them. “They’ll be along with a tow truck as soon as,” she says. “Guess all we can do now is wait.” She sits down on the side of the road. Regina grabs her suitcase from the car, perching on top of it, looking as regal as if she were sitting on a throne.

 

“I wonder how Henry is,” Regina says.

 

“We could call him,” Emma says. “Tell him we’re hanging out. Doing your garden or whatever.”

 

“We didn’t talk yesterday,” she says hands twisting together anxiously. “I know it sounds stupid but I miss him.”

 

“Nothing stupid about it,” Emma says, leaning her head against Regina’s knee. It’s so hot and all she wants to do is sleep now that they’ve stopped moving. “We’ll get there on time. I promise.”

 

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Regina snaps, though she doesn’t attempt to push Emma away, which is something. She leans back, stretching her arms above her head. Her hair glints in the sun and perspiration glistens on her forehead. It must be above 90 right now and there’s no shade for miles. Emma can feel herself burning up. “You said that awful car had been serviced.”

 

“It was,” Emma says. “I took her to Michael Tillman the week before we left.”

 

Regina sighs. “I’m calling Henry.” She dials, phone to her ear, and waits. “Henry,” she says and Emma watches how her whole face lights up at the sound of his voice. “How are you, darling?”

 

“Yes, Emma’s here,” she says, her voice tight, and, a moment later, “no, she hasn’t done anything to annoy me.”

 

Emma laughs and Henry must hear it because Regina says, “Emma thinks she’s a real comedian.”

 

They keep talking and Emma lets her fingers trail through the dust on the side of the road. She’s hot and she can already see the pink blossoming on her shoulders and sweat gathers at her hairline, making her feel sticky and disgusting. Regina passes the phone to her. “Hey, Emma!” Henry says. “How’s the garden?”

 

“It’s too hot to garden,” Emma says and Regina jostles her head with her knee.

 

“Can’t be as bad in Maine as it is here,” Henry says. “I’m melting.”

 

“True,” Emma replies, smiling because Henry clearly has no idea that they’re on their way to him. “Are you excited about your birthday?”

 

“Seventeen,” Henry says. “It’s an important age. One might almost think that it’d be worth, say, a car.” There’s a laugh in the background on Henry’s end – a girl, Emma thinks – and she can picture him, those big eyes, the tilt to his head that is pure Regina, the curve of a grin on his lips because he knows he won’t be taken seriously.

 

“Over your mother’s dead body,” Emma says and Henry laughs.

 

“Typical,” Regina says and throws a clod of dirt at her. “Make me the bad guy. Again.”

 

Emma sees dust in the distance and then the tow truck approaching fast. “We should get back to it,” she says. “Your mom just threw dirt at me. Be safe, kid.”

 

“Love you, Emma,” he says. “Look after Mom.” Emma smiles before she hands the phone back to Regina and stands, dusting off her jeans.

 

*

 

The tow truck driver – Bill – gives them a lift into Shamrock. “Car shouldn’t take more than a day or two to fix,” he says when they arrive at his garage and he takes a look at the motor, identifying the problem instantly, some broken part of the engine. “You ladies got some place to stay?”

 

Emma shakes her head, holding Regina’s suitcase in one hand and her duffle in the other, and so Bill offers them a lift. “There’s a bed and breakfast a few blocks away,” he says. “It’ll be perfect for you if you’re stuck in Shamrock for a couple of days. Enid’s got all the home comforts.”

 

Regina just shrugs at this so they’re dropped off at the bed and breakfast and enter. “Hi,” Emma says to the woman sitting at the front desk, sitting next to a fan and doing a crossword puzzle. “We’d like a room.”

 

“Of course you would, sweetheart,” the woman says. “Just passing through?”

 

“We’re on the way to visit our son in Tucson and the car broke down,” Emma says. Regina is eyeing the paintings on the wall – all of animals wearing cutesy outfits. She sees her lip curl but when she turns to the counter she is all polished smiles.

 

“Oh, you poor dears.” She grabs a key and hefts their bags on one arm. “I’m Enid, by the way. Give me a holler day or night if you need anything. Follow me.”

 

Emma grabs Regina’s hand to pull her along. Upstairs, the woman unlocks the door. “I think you’ll be very comfortable,” she says.

 

They follow her into the room. The first thing Emma notices is that the wallpaper is startlingly, horrifyingly fuchsia.

 

The second thing she notices is something she probably should have noticed first. The room is decorated with a plethora of tiny skulls. On the bedside table, there is a taxidermied squirrel, dressed in a plaid shirt and flat cap, holding a tiny pipe. The bedspread has a squirrel motif running over it.

 

“This is the squirrel room,” Enid says, beaming. “Isn’t it a kick?”

 

Emma’s pretty sure the skull that’s mounted above the mirror is watching her, its empty sockets following her as she moves further into the room. “Yeah,” she says weakly. “A real kick. Hey, Regina, maybe…”

 

“I love it,” Regina declares and she grins over at Emma and Emma just knows this is her punishment for her car breaking down.

 

“Well,” Enid says, dropping their bags. “I’ll leave you two to get settled in. There’s breakfast at seven.”

 

“What’s wrong with you?” Emma hisses when they’re alone.

 

“I think it’s sweet,” Regina says, sitting on the bed and crossing her legs. “Look at the little cap the squirrel’s wearing.”

 

Emma sighs. “I’m never going to sleep with this many skulls staring at me.”

 

“Skulls don’t have eyes, dear,” Regina says. “Really you should be more worried about those tiny teeth.”

 

Emma groans and collapses on the bed beside her and it is then that she realises. “We got a room with one bed in it.” She starts laughing. “I didn’t even think…” She’d told Enid they were visiting their son. She’d held Regina’s hand. Oh my God.

 

Regina raises her eyebrow. “Well, since you don’t plan on sleeping, you can guard me from the skulls.”

 

“I knew you thought they were creepy,” Emma says.

 

“I never said that.” She stands, unzipping her suitcase and pulling her toiletries from it, along with a change of clothing. “It’s important that bed and breakfasts have a point of difference from other businesses. Enid has obviously found hers.”

 

She disappears into the bathroom and Emma lies on the admittedly incredibly comfortable bed and wonders how she’s going to deal with sharing a bed with Regina for another two nights when it’s so hot and Regina gets all snuggly when she’s sleeping and Emma is so not prepared to be an adult about this whole thing that she’s feeling.

 

There’s a screech from the bathroom and before she can even think about it, she’s off the bed and has burst into the bathroom. Regina’s down to her underwear, the shower on at a trickle, and she’s perched on the lid of the toilet, shoulders shaking in silent laughter. “I thought you’d been murdered,” Emma says. “What the hell?”

 

“The shower!” Regina says and bursts into another peal of laughter. Emma pulls the shower curtain (which is emblazoned with little orange squirrels) across and screams. Covering the shower head is a squirrel skull, water trickling from its wide open jaw.

 

“We’re going to be murdered here,” Emma says. “I’ve seen ‘Psycho’. Enid could definitely be Norman Bates dressed up as his mother.”

 

Regina stands. “Thank you for checking on me,” she says, unexpectedly formal, though she’s still smiling, lips quirked. Emma’s eyes fall downwards though, to the smooth skin of her stomach, the dip at her belly button, those thighs… “And I don’t need further assistance with my shower,” she adds and Emma’s eyes snap up.

 

“Sure, yeah,” she says, and feels Regina’s eyes on her as she leaves.

 

It’s going to be a long couple of days, stuck in Shamrock.

Chapter Text

Regina, who has lived in the same town with the same people for more than thirty years, does not cope well with the idea of being stuck in one place for more than an evening, pacing the room like a caged beast and only talking to Emma alternately to snap at her or make fun of her.

 

They fall asleep early – the sun still setting golden-red in the sky and colour seeping in through the curtains of their room – with the air conditioning on full blast and a wall of tension rising ever higher between them. In spite of the cool air gusting noisily through the room, Emma’s tank top still sticks to her back, and she sleeps clutching the edge of the narrow double bed. She imagines the squirrels are watching her and she dreams that she’s being chased by thousands of chattering skulls while Regina stands back and laughs.

 

Despite her best efforts to preserve distance though, she still wakes up with Regina wrapped around her. This time, however, she has shuffled down the bed, her arms wrapped around Emma’s hips and warm breath ghosting the small of her back. The covers have been kicked off in the night and Regina’s hands have pulled Emma’s tank top up, just shy of indecent.

 

She manages to peel herself out of Regina’s arms and slip her foot from between Regina’s thighs without waking her, before grabbing everything she needs for a shower. The squirrel skulls shine in the dim light of the room, teeth gleaming, and she shudders. Regina has persisted in finding them far too amusing – her only non-snappy moments in the whole evening before revolved around them. She’d even done a puppet show. “We should film this for Henry,” she’d said. “Yes, we should,” she had replied to herself, giving voice to the skull in her left hand, which she wiggled forward to ‘kiss’ Emma’s cheek. She’d cackled when Emma flinched away.

 

She’s grateful she was pre-warned about the squirrel skull shower head because she’s pretty sure that if she had encountered it for the first time this morning the entire bed and breakfast would have been woken by an ear-piercing screech. As it is, she just shudders and avoids looking at it. The water itself is pleasant, lukewarm and with strong pressure against her back. She massages shampoo into her hair before stealing some of Regina’s shower gel, left in the shower caddy from the previous afternoon; she’s not great at smells – the bottle says it’s Apple Blossom – but it’s mostly just smells of Regina and it causes this feeling of absolute want in Emma.

 

This time she doesn’t hold back when she finds her hands drifting between her legs. She needs this, two nights waking up wrapped in Regina’s arms, smelling her scent, feeling her hair feather against her skin, tasting the dryness of her mouth borne out of Regina’s proximity. She’s always thought of herself as having a fairly ordinary sex drive – the two year dry spell before Hook and then after his untimely demise, which she really should have felt sadder about, being no special hardship that the occasional round with a vibrator couldn’t fix – but there’s something about Regina that is turning her slowly but surely into a horny fourteen-year-old boy.

 

As her fingers circle and rub her clit with greater intensity, she feels eye sockets watching her and she looks over her shoulder. She shudders and all hopes of the orgasm brewing inside her actually coming to fruition fade.

 

The fucking squirrel skull.

 

She finishes washing, ignoring the almost-painful knot in her stomach, and dresses, before returning to their room. Regina’s still asleep. Her hair has dried naturally from her shower the night before – the bed and breakfast doesn’t have a hairdryer and apparently the damp hair was cooling – and it curls around her shoulders in a mass of waves. A frizzy curl sticks to her forehead and the fact that Emma’s brain is waxing rhapsodic about Regina’s messy hair tells her that she really needs a release of tension. “Regina,” Emma says, shoving at her shoulder. “Time to wake up.”

 

Regina groans. “What’s the point?” she asks, whines really. “It’s not like we can go anywhere.”

 

Emma shrugs, though Regina’s eyes are still shut so she can’t actually see the gesture. “Breakfast though,” she says, when she still doesn’t move. “I bet it’ll be a disaster.” And Regina grumbles and rolls out of bed, swapping her cotton pyjama shorts for jeans and one of Emma’s tank tops – as though daring Emma to say something as she rummages through her duffle bag. And Emma’s not saying anything because the sight of Regina changing into her clothes, with her hair pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck, is too appealing for words.

 

About halfway through pulling on jeans, Regina seems to realise she’s changing in front of Emma and flushes. “Sorry.”

 

Emma smiles, trying to ignore the dryness in her mouth that has come about from the sight of Regina’s bare legs, thighs strong and lean and making her imagine having them wrapped around her body. “Nothing I haven’t seen before,” she jokes and Regina scowls.

 

“I certainly hope you haven’t seen any of this before,” she says, gesturing at her body, “because I would have to have you arrested for being a peeping Tom.”

 

Emma knows she should be making some crack about ‘who arrests the sheriff’ but she just can’t. “I meant generally,” she says and turns to the wall to allow Regina to get changed in relative privacy.

 

They descend the stairs to the dining room together and find two other couples seated at the long table – both sets much older than them. Enid totters over. “Did you sleep well, Mrs Swan?” she asks and Emma opens her mouth to correct her on the title before she realises Enid’s addressing Regina.

 

“It’s Mills,” Regina says when she figures it out.

 

“You kept your names? How modern.” Enid’s mouth twists at the word ‘modern’ and Emma takes a moment to wonder how she’d react to their actual situation. She’s been remarkably, immediately accepting of Regina and Emma’s marriage – even though they’re blatantly not – for someone who lives in an extremely small town in Texas but everyone has their limits.

 

Emma snorts out a laugh and tries to disguise it as a cough. Regina simply nods. “Yes,” she says. “That’s us. Very modern. Also,” she adds, looking over at Emma with a smirk. “‘Swan’ is an idiotic surname.”

 

“Hey!” Emma says. “Swans are elegant and graceful and beautiful.”

 

“Swans are vicious and smelly and break people’s arms,” Regina replies. “Actually, it suits you perfectly.”

 

It’s then that Emma realises Enid has moved on. She rolls her eyes and directs Regina to the end of the table, hoping they’ll bypass conversation with the elderly couples. The coffee pot, alas, is not within reach.

 

“Would you like it?” one of the women asks and Regina nods.

 

“Thank you,” she says fervently, taking the pot and breathing in the scent of coffee deeply. “I’m Regina and this is my wife, Emma.”

 

So they’re not just letting the misapprehension stand but actively encouraging it? Interesting. Emma smiles and feigns interest in her phone. She sends Snow a text. Regina’s pretending we’re married now!?!

 

The response from Snow comes immediately. She could probably do better. Emma’s about to feel deeply offended when the second text comes through. Kidding! You make a lovely fake married couple, I’m sure.

 

Snow doesn’t know about this crush, for lack of a better word, simply because it’s only on the road trip that Emma’s stopped kidding herself that it’s anything less than that. She has noticed the occasional knowing glance (or what Snow thinks is a knowing glance but Emma views as ‘vaguely constipated’) and sometimes Snow talks about happy endings and hope and Regina and then ‘how long has it been since you’ve dated’ in one long sentence but Emma normally ignores her.

 

But she doesn’t know know because Emma didn’t know, or she pretended she didn’t.

 

But then Regina pours her a coffee, two teaspoons of sugar, a large dash of cream, and it’s so domestic and Emma wonders if perhaps they’ve been married without realising for a few years now. She doesn’t say anything because she’s not an idiot and even if Regina can’t conjure fireballs outside of Storybrooke, she still has a mean right hook, instead asking, “can you pass the grits?”

 

*

 

It’s too hot to do anything but stay inside, particularly when they have no air conditioned transport.

 

Emma goes for a walk to the mechanic, leaving Regina in the room, where she is contemplating a shower though actually just lying on the bed and bemoaning the fact that she ate two bagels and a bowl of grits for breakfast and is now so full of gluten she’s probably going to die.

 

Emma’s sweat sticks her hair to her forehead and the sun assaults her skin. “Should be ready tomorrow,” the mechanic says, poking his head out from under a car. “I’ll call you, Mrs Swan.”

 

She doesn’t bother to correct him. When she returns to the bed and breakfast she finds Regina in the lounge room of the bed and breakfast. She’s cross-stitching or embroidering or something involving thread and white fabric covered with holes and needles, which she uses to puncture the fabric as though stabbing someone. “Emma, darling,” she calls as Emma tries to sidle past. “Do join us!”

 

So Emma pastes on a smile and enters. “Your wife’s a wonder,” Enid says. “Look at this!”

 

Regina shows Emma the cloth. On it is stitched the head of a squirrel. Emma does wonder at the row of red stitches at the neck that she’s beginning to work on – and has her suspicions that it might be blood and this is possibly the most macabre embroidery she’s ever seen. “The car should be fixed tomorrow,” she says. “If we get as close as possible to Tucson before stopping, we can still arrive on the morning of his birthday.”

 

Regina nods, though the tension in her shoulders seems to ease at the idea that this road trip won’t have been a big, fat waste of time. “Perhaps we should give him a call,” she says, though she clasps the cross-stitch, as though not quite sure what to do with it.

 

Enid takes it from her, holding the piece of work as though it is something precious. “I’ll finish it, sweetheart,” she says. “Y’all go talk to your boy.”

 

Regina has Emma’s phone out of her back pocket and is dialling before they’ve even left the room. “Henry, darling,” she says and, God, her voice when she talks to her son, Emma wishes she could hear it all the time. “How are you?”

 

“I’m sure your birthday presents are on their way,” she says. “I posted them.” In actual fact they’re sitting up in their room – a voucher for driving lessons because Regina refuses to teach him and equally refuses to let Emma teach him (“I’m not giving up another milestone to you,” she’d said and though she was joking she was also deeply serious), a fancy watch, and assorted books and comics because their son is a massive nerd.

 

“Are you eating properly?” she asks and Henry’s reply is obviously not to her liking because she gives a disgruntled snort and says, “remember, dear, vegetables are your friend. They’ll stop you from getting scurvy.” She glances at Emma when she says this and Emma knows she’s thinking about Hook and pulls a face.

 

“Mom sounds really good,” Henry says when he gets on the phone with Emma.

 

“She is, kid,” Emma replies, looking over at Regina who is back to lying on the bed with her eyes shut, lines smoothed by repose and the relief that comes with hearing Henry’s voice and knowing he’s safe and well, too few vegetables aside. “She really is.”

 

Henry snorts loudly. “Gotta run,” he says. “Sorry but Li–some of us are going bowling. Love you.”

 

“Have fun,” Emma says, wondering what the name was that he was going to say. She’s not going to interrogate him over the phone. They’ll be in Tucson soon enough.

 

Later, after a nap slumped on the armchair in their room, Emma asks, “where did you learn to embroider?”

 

“Cross-stitch,” Regina says automatically. She’s just gotten out of the shower and she pauses, unwrapping the towel from around her hair and patting it dry. She sits down on the edge of the bed. Emma wonders for a moment whether she’s actually going to answer. Then, she says, “my mother taught me.”

 

“Cora?”

 

“No,” Regina snaps. “My other mother.” Then she sighs and her lips curve up into a grimace of a smile as though she wants to apologise. “Ladies embroider and cross-stitch flowers and if they prick themselves and bleed rust onto white, well. Suffice it to say, I learned quickly.”

 

Emma can imagine. She often wonders what Regina was like back then, before Snow White and the king and the descent into evil and villainy – and never more so than in moments such as these. Sometimes she gets glimpses; the love she feels for Henry with her whole heart, her tendency to leap head first into dangerous situations, her kindness to children even when she views most adults with disdain… “I’m sorry for bringing it up,” she says and reaches out to grab Regina’s hand before thinking the better of it.

 

But Regina catches her hand, holding it for just a moment. “You’re all right,” she says, voice soft and tender, a tone Emma associates inextricably with Henry.

 

“Did we just have a moment?” Emma asks and Regina rolls her eyes, letting go of Emma’s hand, and runs a comb through her hair.

 

*

 

Regina grows restless in the room but when Emma suggests the local bar she shakes her head and she’s equally as reluctant to move downstairs. “Enid will catch me,” she says. “I’ll have to cross-stitch the rest of the squirrel.” She does sneak downstairs in her pyjamas though; she’s finished her book and there’s no reception in Shamrock to purchase more.

 

And so it is that as Emma’s settling back with the TV remote that Regina returns to the room with a book. “I found something to read,” she says and she’s smiling, teeth gleaming, and it’s a smile that makes Emma shudder, which cannot possibly be a good thing. She flashes the book at Emma and she reads the cover, ‘Innocent Secretary… Accidentally Pregnant!’ The cover features a heavily pregnant blonde in a beautiful dress, the suited, chiselled man close enough to kiss her and placing one hand over her pregnant belly.

 

“Well,” Emma says after a pause. “That looks like quality literature.”

 

“It’s ‘sexy’,” Regina says. “It says here right on the cover. There’s a tycoon in it and everything.” She pulls on her glasses and sits down in the arm chair, crossing her legs. She sits almost primly, as she reads what Emma is certain is actually old lady erotica.

 

Emma tries to concentrate on the old episode of ‘Law and Order: SVU’ playing but then Regina starts to snicker as she reads. “What?” she asks.

 

“She’s his secretary and he’s taking her as a date to his sister’s wedding because he doesn’t want to be alone,” Regina says. “Oh, they are so having the sex that leads to her pregnancy at the wedding.”

 

“Okay,” Emma says and returns to the television, which is currently showing an ad for car insurance.

 

It’s not long before Regina’s interrupting her again with laughter. “She had a fantastic bottom,” Regina reads and Emma just stares at her.

 

“Seriously? That’s an actual line in this? Seriously?”

 

Regina stands, approaching the bed and collapsing onto it beside Emma. She holds up the book, open on the page in question. “See,” she says, jabbing her finger at the line of text. “Right here. He also thinks that it’s ‘round and curvy and soft’.

 

Emma’s mouth goes dry because Regina’s lying on her stomach now as she reads and her own butt is pretty fantastic, the cotton of her pyjama pants taut against her curves. She kicks her feet, toenails painted scarlet, as she reads.

 

“Oh, Emma,” Regina sighs.

 

“What?” Emma asks.

 

“Not you,” Regina says. “Emma in the book.”

 

“The woman in your book is called Emma?”

 

Regina smiles over at her. “She’s about to have sex for the first time ever. Want to hear?”

 

“Not really,” Emma says though she turns off the television.

 

“He laughed because it was strange to be talking about it, sex, something that usually just, um, happened… That ‘um’ was in text, by the way,” Regina says. “You know the prose is quality when the writer is including ‘ums’ in third person narration.” Emma snorts. “His hand cupped her lovely bottom and she could feel the wet warmth of his mouth, the tender suckling on her nipples, which made her stomach tighten, and it was a curious warm feeling as his mouth took her breast deeper. And she touched him, too – in awe of his unfurling length against her thigh. Nervous, curious, but brave, she reached down and touched him and Luca closed his eyes at her tender ministrations.

 

“If he’s so warm he should maybe get checked out for a fever,” Emma says, trying to ignore her rapidly hardening nipples, the heat pooling between her thighs.

 

Regina continues reading. “Luca had never been closer to anyone, had never been closer to himself, than he was at this moment. She was crying and he was kissing her, demanding, seeking and taking her all. He licked her tears and felt the coil of her legs tighten around him as she gave her urgent consent. He drove in, feeling her in a way he had never felt a woman, the delicious slippery grip of her, the first flickers of her orgasm beating like the first heavy raindrops of a gathering storm. He could feel her mouth on his chest, muffling the pleasure she felt, and he felt her moans vibrate through her heart. Suddenly she was climaxing and so now could he, spilling inside her as she swelled in rhythmic spasms tighter and tighter, dragging him deeper inside her.” Regina paused. “Well, that was disgusting.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, though she squirms. “Gross.”

 

“Oh my God,” Regina says, looking over at Emma who can feel the pink staining her cheeks. “You’re actually turned on.”

 

“It’s not fair,” Emma says.

 

“But it’s terrible sex,” Regina replies, frowning and scrunching her face in a way that makes Emma realise how horribly in love with this woman she is. “How can you possibly find this sexy?”

 

And Emma says it. It just comes out and she kind of wants to die. “It’s your voice,” she says and then her stupid traitorous mouth adds, “well, it’s you.”

 

“Me?” Regina asks, surprised wonder in her voice.

 

Emma wonders if she asphyxiates herself with the pillow she’s clutching to her chest whether Regina will let this go. She remembers Cora being brought back by séance all those years ago and suspects not. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“I do,” Regina says. “Emma.” She grabs the pillow from Emma, pulling away any safety net she has left. “You can be honest with me.”

 

“No,” Emma says and she’s angry now, her voice a furious whisper. “I can’t because I’m so fucking gone on you and you’re not even interested.”

 

“You idiot,” Regina says and she hits her with the pillow. Emma feels her heart crack and then Regina continues. “Don’t you dare presume to tell me how I feel.”

 

And then she’s kissing her, fierce, bruising, full of want and need and pain when she nips at Emma’s lip, pain when she pushes her back against the wall behind the bed. Emma’s head lands with a thud, narrowly missing a skull, and she winces but she can’t even care because Regina’s kissing her. Regina’s kissing her, hands fisting Emma’s hair and body pressed against Emma’s.

 

They break apart.

 

“What is this?” Emma asks and Regina pulls at her tank top, twisting it up and over her head until her arms are tangled up in it, immovable unless Regina helps her and it becomes pretty clear she’s not going to when she lowers her head to press kisses to Emma’s collar bone and then lower, lower, and Emma bucks, pushing her breasts up to meet Regina’s mouth. “Suckling tender enough for you?” Regina asks and her voice is low and warm and hoarse.

 

“Shut up,” Emma says and edges her thigh in between Regina’s legs, desperate to take this further. Regina laughs into Emma’s skin even as she shudders against Emma’s clumsy touch and Emma whines. “I need my hands.”

 

So Regina helps her out of the tank top and her hands grasp Regina’s thighs, pulling and scratching and clawing at her pyjama pants until they’re thrown somewhere over the other side of the room. Then there is underwear to be discarded, a flimsy piece of lace that makes Emma suspect that Regina has planned this, that she’s been trolling her all evening, but she finds she does not care at all, not when her fingers find slick heat and Regina’s head rolls back and she utters a guttural moan that reverberates through Emma’s whole body as Emma slides one finger and then two inside, thumb flicking at Regina’s clit.

 

“Another finger,” Regina demands, writhing, and Emma nips at the skin of her stomach.

 

“Bossy.” Apparently they’re doing this. They’re fucking and they’re in the squirrel room and Emma can’t even bring herself to care that a hundred squirrel eye sockets are watching her thrust three fingers into Regina.

 

“I know what I want,” Regina says and gasps as Emma hooks her fingers just so. “And right now it’s you to stop treating me like a delicate flower.”

 

“Everyone’s a critic,” Emma grumbles and she slides further down Regina’s body. Regina laughs and squirms as she kisses a line from belly button to thighs, biting at the soft flesh of her thigh, sucking hard enough to leave a purple stain.

 

And then there is no more talking, critical or otherwise.

Chapter Text

She wakes, naked and, she thinks, alone, and for a moment she freaks out. Regina has realised she made a terrible mistake. Regina has left her alone. Regina has been carried off by the squirrels and made their queen.

 

Then the lump of blankets at the bottom of the bed shifts and emits a loud grumble and she realises that Regina hasn’t left her, she’s simply incapable of sleeping like a normal human. “Regina?” she whispers. “Are you comfortable down there?”

 

“Mmm,” Regina says. She burrows her head out from the blankets and sheets and scrunches her face in the sudden light streaming through the open curtains (neither of them having been in the right frame of mind for such mundane things as closing curtains). “What?”

 

“I don’t know,” Emma says. “You were attached to me like a limpet when I fell asleep.” She sits up on her elbows, brushing fingers through her hair, which is sticking up in every direction (though mostly across her face). Regina’s eyes open properly and she grins, a lascivious, almost feral smirk, at the jiggle of Emma’s boobs as she shifts, and she worms her way out of the cocoon of blankets, starting to kiss her way up Emma’s body.

 

Emma feels that familiar heat pool in her belly. “Should we talk about this?” She gestures at Regina, who chooses this moment to run the point of her tongue around Emma’s left nipple, sending her arching forward into Regina’s mouth. When a hand winds its way between her thighs, fingers trailing through the heat and moisture, thumb fluttering over her clit, she gives up all hope of being articulate and instead emits a strangled moan. It takes all her self-control not to buck forward; she’s a little worried she might whack Regina in the face with one of her breasts.

 

“Louder,” Regina says. “I want to hear you scream.”

 

And Emma does scream. It’s not Regina’s doing, however. Instead, she screams because Enid knocks and immediately enters the squirrel room, a cordless phone in her hand and a look of absolute horror on her face. There is no possibility of modesty, both of them butt-naked and the blankets too far away for Emma to reach, and, unfortunately, Regina takes the scream as a sign that Emma’s aroused and murmurs, “mmm, like that,” before returning to kissing the curve of Emma’s stomach.

 

Enid hits the floor with a loud thud, the cordless phone cracking into several pieces and a battery bouncing up and hitting a squirrel skeleton, cracking its skull.

 

“Fuck,” Emma hisses and Regina turns to look.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me she was there?”

 

“Did my scream sound like I was turned on?” Emma asks, grabbing her pyjamas and pulling them on over her far too over-stimulated body.

 

Regina scowls, searching for her own pyjama shirt, and then kneeling down beside Enid. “Shit,” she says. “I think she’s dead.”

 

It’s the swear word that convinces Emma that she’s telling the truth. “Oh my God,” she says. “We killed her. We killed an old woman because we were having sex. I think that’s a crime. I knew this would turn into ‘Thelma and Louise’. I’m not ready to drive off a cliff into the Grand Canyon.” She’s babbling in her nerves. She sits on the edge of the bed, trying to stem the tidal wave of panic threatening to break over her. Her hands shake as she grabs her cell phone, which says that it is 8.30 and shows that she has three missed calls from the mechanic. The perils of turning your phone off so you don’t get interrupted by any more phone calls from your mother when you’re trying to have sex with her former step-mother. He must have called the bed and breakfast to pass on a message to her.

 

She calls Snow, hands shaking and trying not to cry. “Emma!” Snow says, picking up quickly. She can hear Ruth snuffling in the background and David attempting to get Neal to eat breakfast, judging by the fact that she hears David yelling something about French toast being for mouths not hair.

 

“Hi,” she says, pleased to hear that the trembling overtaking her body isn’t present in her voice. “Just returning your call from last night.” Regina had been between her legs at the time when Snow’s ringtone had played (bird calls because she let Snow choose back when she was Mary Margaret and they were drinking bourbon together) and it had been something of an effort on Emma’s part to stop Regina from grabbing the phone and answering.

 

“Is everything all right, sweetheart?” Snow asks. Obviously Emma doesn’t sound as calm and collected as she thought if Snow’s picking up on her distress.

 

“Fine,” she says, swallowing hard. “Just, I love you, Mom. And Dad and Neal and Ruth.”

 

“Emma.” Snow’s voice is now sharp with alarm. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

 

“Oh, wait,” Regina says. “I was taking her pulse in the wrong place. She’s just lost consciousness.”

 

“Excuse me, Snow,” Emma says, the hand not holding her phone clenching into a fist. “I’ll call you later. I just have to murder Regina first.” She hangs up the phone without saying goodbye.

 

“I genuinely thought…” Regina says. The vein in her forehead protrudes as she winces.

 

Enid stirs, sitting up and holding a hand to her head. “Oof, my head…”

 

“Save it.” Emma grabs clothes from her bag and storms into the bathroom. The first thing she does is take the stupid squirrel shower head down, chipping one of the squirrel’s tiny teeth in the process, and when she’s under the water she rubs at her clit, furious and aroused and angry that she’s still turned on by Regina. She comes and it is deeply, deeply unsatisfying but at least some of the tension that has built up in the past ten terrible minutes has dissipated.

 

Regina has packed and dressed when she exits the shower. Enid is no longer in the room. “Car’s ready,” she grunts. “I’ll go get it and pick you up out front in fifteen.”

 

“Emma,” Regina says and she’s staring at Emma with these big, dark sorrowful eyes and Emma can’t handle that because she just wants to forgive her everything and start apologising herself but she’s still angry – at Regina and at Enid and at the whole stupid universe that can’t even give her twelve hours of nice things.

 

“Just, leave it. I’ll be back,” Emma says and grabs her wallet and phone. Enid’s sitting at the front desk and she doesn’t make eye contact. Emma wonders if she’ll ever let a supposedly gay married couple stay there again, sullying the pure beauty of the squirrel room.

 

The mechanic pronounces the bug fixed but he does so with a dubious expression. “It’ll get you to Tucson anyway,” he says when Emma hands him her credit card, trying not to think about her balance.

 

She honks when she’s out front of the bed and breakfast and Regina exits immediately, throwing their bags in the back seat. “Step on it, Swan,” she says and Emma, relieved to be getting away, takes off.

 

“Can I ask why we’re fleeing like we murdered someone?” she asks and can’t help but add, in an undertone, “even though we very nearly did.”

 

Regina reaches into her handbag and when Emma looks over she shrieks. Regina’s holding a squirrel skeleton, making its tiny arm wave at Emma. “Meet Sadie,” she says. And, yes, Regina has managed to find a tiny pink bow and glue it to the skull. Emma remembers that she packed a pair of pink panties and she has her suspicions that they are now missing a strip of fabric.

 

She forgets to be cross at Regina in her horror. “Regina, did you steal that?”

 

“I thought it would make a nice birthday gift for Henry,” Regina says.

 

“Because nothing says ‘you are my whole world, son’ like the tiny remains of a squirrel,” Emma replies, raising her eyebrows. They’ve made it out of Shamrock and the road stretches long and empty ahead of her and Regina has taken one of the fucking squirrels with her and will Emma ever get out of this nightmare?

 

“Henry’s a very inquisitive young man,” Regina says. “Studying the skeleton will be good for furthering his scientific education.”

 

“You cannot give him that for his birthday,” Emma says. “And you cannot pretend you stole that ‘to improve Henry’s education’.” She takes one hand off the wheel to create sarcastic quote marks, though she feels the effect is lost by the lack of a second hand.

 

Regina sniffs. “Well, maybe I just wanted a memento of our time together in the squirrel room? It was an idyllic time.”

 

“You’re an idiot,” Emma says, though she reaches out a hand and touches Regina’s shoulder and hopes Regina realises that it means ‘you’re forgiven’.

 

*

 

Regina insists on breakfast a couple of hours into their drive. “Emma,” she whines. “I need coffee. I can’t be held responsible for my actions otherwise.” Emma’s stomach is starting to make these monstrous grumbling noises that she can hear over the Bruce Springsteen (one of the few artists on Regina’s List of Acceptable Road Trip Musicians that Emma didn’t have to download especially) Regina has started blasting from the speakers and she feels like there’s enough distance between them and the bed and breakfast for her to stop panicking that they’re going to be hunted down by Enid’s lawyer for attempted murder.

 

So when she drives into some small town called Amarillo, she pulls in at a roadside diner. They order breakfast and coffee that tastes a little like burnt petrol and comes in large, blue mugs. Emma tries to ignore the fact that Regina’s foot is crawling up her thigh, trying desperately to focus on the plate of waffles with whipped cream and bacon that a surly waitress has slammed down in front of her. Somehow Regina has managed to slip her foot out of buckled sandals under the table while both her hands are in the business of cutting up and eating pancakes. Emma wonders for a moment whether she still has magic outside of Storybrooke and is using it purely to mess with Emma.

 

“Regina!” she hisses, her voice squeaking on the third syllable as Regina’s foot heads into very much not-safe-for-work territory. “Get your foot out of there.”

 

Regina shrugs, her foot sliding back down Emma’s thigh, toes pinching Emma’s calf, and takes a bite of her pancakes. “I wonder how Enid is.”

 

“I never want to think about that blip in my life ever again.” Emma picks up a rasher of bacon and chews. It’s slightly burnt, just how Emma likes her bacon – though she suspects that’s more the poor quality of the chef than any effort on the waitress’s part to make Emma what she wanted.

 

“There’s no part you want to remember?” Regina asks and Emma can’t help but smile.

 

“Some parts weren’t so bad,” she says. “I enjoyed the look of true terror in your eyes when you were stuck in the room with Enid cross-stitching.”

 

Regina smiles, soft and crinkly eyed, and Emma’s about to ask what this is, what they’re doing, when her phone buzzes. Emma, please tell me you haven’t killed Regina.

 

“Smile,” she says and Regina glares at her as Emma snaps a picture – sunlight streaming through the window and creating a halo around Regina’s head and she’s sure Snow will appreciate the irony – and messages it to Snow.

 

“Are there any photos of this road trip that aren’t of me?” Regina asks, reaching across the table and dipping her finger into Emma’s whipped cream. “I fear Henry will get bored with our ‘what we did on the road trip’ slide show.”

 

“My mother will enjoy it though,” Emma says. Snow texts back. She looks very well-rested. Her message is followed by a winky face emoticon and Emma can’t help but laugh because if Snow only knew. Or, at least, she doesn’t think she does.

 

Oh God, she thinks, and the realisation makes her groan. Snow totally thinks Regina got lucky last night. “Anyway,” she adds, shoving that truly horrifying thought to the back of her mind. “If you’d let me detour to the giant ball of twine, I’d have actually had some stuff worthy of pictures.”

 

Regina scoffs. Her fingers drum against the table top; she seems to be resisting the urge to swipe her finger through the remains of the syrup on her plate. Emma wants to tell her to do it, to hang manners just this once. Honestly, she wants to lick the syrup off Regina, but she suspects that’s a touch to R18 for a diner and she’s exposed herself enough this morning for a lifetime.

 

She shovels the remaining quarter of waffle into her mouth. “Right,” she says, wiping her mouth and downing the rest of her coffee. “Shall we get going?”

 

*

 

As they stop for lunch in the mid-afternoon, Emma attempts to divert the conversation towards what happened between them last night (and the aborted attempt at an action replay the next morning) and Regina really unsubtly hits the alarm on her phone. “Oh no,” she says as her ringtone chimes. “Henry’s calling. I should take this,” and she actually jogs in the opposite direction of Emma.

 

Emma’s left alone out the front of the New Mexico restaurant at which they have stopped, watching Regina disappear towards a distant bench. She takes a savage pleasure in the fact that she is going to regret the running, particularly in the opposite direction of shade, because the heat is rolling off Emma in waves and just sitting is exhausting her and forcing sweat to pool in every crevice.

 

She might as well call Snow, she thinks, ordering a milkshake and burger from the waiter, and sitting down at a table in the empty restaurant. The air inside is blissfully cold and Emma chooses a seat directly under the air conditioning unit.

 

“Emma!” Snow manages to both exclaim and whisper, which Emma feels is a real talent. “Ruth’s just gone down for a nap. How are you?”

 

“Still alive,” Emma says and her hands shake, which has nothing to do with the chilled air and everything to do with what she’s planning to confess. “Snow, can I tell you something?”

 

“Anything, sweetheart,” Snow says, her voice speaking so much loving concern. Emma imagines her, settled into one of the large cane chairs, a bird-print cushion up against her back and her phone held in place between her shoulder and cheek. Snow never just talks on the phone; she’ll be knitting or have a recipe book open in her lap or writing a ‘to do’ list.

 

“I’m, well, you should probably know that I’m, like, not really totally straight,” Emma says. It comes out in a whispered rush because she’s eyeing the waiter who seems entirely too interested in her conversation and her heart is pounding in her ears and she thinks she could very well be sick.

 

“Yes, dear,” Snow says and serenity underlies every syllable. “Now what do you need to tell me?”

 

“Seriously?” Emma asks. She’s almost angry. How dare Snow deprive her of a proper coming out? How dare she?

 

“Well, it was fairly obvious,” Snow says and she sounds so reasonable Emma wants to slap her. It’s probably a good thing, for both of their sakes, that Snow’s hundreds of miles away.

 

“Not to me!” Emma says, voice squeaking. “This is all pretty new to me!”

 

“Oh, sweetheart,” Snow says. “I’m sorry. Your father and I will always love and support you.”

 

“Don’t patronise me,” she grumbles. The waiter places the milkshake in front of her and she slurps noisily, practically hearing Snow wince through the phone and she’s pleased. You deserve this, she thinks, and pulls a face that Snow can’t see.

 

“Is this confession coming from anywhere in particular?” Snow asks and now she sounds altogether too innocent.

 

“You know,” Emma says, accuses really.

 

“I wasn’t sure if you did though,” Snow says.

 

“We had sex,” Emma says and she says it a little bit too loudly and the words echo through the empty restaurant and the waiter looks over at her, scandalised.

 

“Well,” Snow says and at least something Emma’s told her in this phone call has surprised her. She’s savagely pleased about that. “That’s quite something. Did you enjoy yourself? Were you safe?”

 

“Ugh, Mom,” Emma says. She’s silent for a moment, stirring her milkshake with the straw. “I don’t really know what to do?”

 

“You need to talk to her, darling,” Snow says gently and Emma swears at her. “Emma!”

 

“Sorry,” she says. “I know.” Her burger arrives. “I’ve got to go, Snow.”

 

“We love you, darling,” Snow says and it makes Emma squirm in her seat. She squirts ketchup onto her plate and dips her finger into it. “Say hello to Regina from me.”

 

“Will do,” Emma says and mumbles something that might have been “love you too” into the phone before hanging up hastily. She calls the waiter back. “Can I order a cheeseburger to go for my friend? And an iced tea?”

 

Regina doesn’t return until Emma’s sitting in the bug, the bag with her burger in it almost translucent with grease. She doesn’t speak, not even to tell Emma about her conversation with Henry (because Emma assumes that she probably did actually call him) or to ask her to change the music from mid-2000s bubblegum pop, simply closing her eyes and leaning her head against the window.

 

Emma drives.

 

*

 

They stop for the night in a place called Deming in New Mexico, barely a few hours’ drive from Tucson and Henry. It’s the eve of his birthday and Regina whispers, “we’re going to make it,” when Emma pulls over at the roadside motel, too tired to continue driving any longer. It’s a blissfully normal motel, not a squirrel skeleton in sight (including Sadie, who Emma forced Regina to leave in the car despite her protests because there was no way she was spending another night being glared at by the skeletons of squirrels).

 

They climb the stairs to their room, Regina’s shoulder bumping Emma’s as they walk and her suitcase hitting Emma’s calf. It’s dark and the hallway is empty and Regina starts kissing her neck as Emma fumbles to unlock the door, sliding her hands around her midriff and slipping fingers into the waistband of her shorts, and it’s not until she has pulled Emma’s tank top over her head and is undoing what seem to be five million buttons on her own blouse that Emma remembers they still haven’t talked about this. “Should we talk?” she asks, voice coming out in a gasp because Regina has bitten down on her neck and has wedged a hand down Emma’s shorts. “I want us to be on the same page with what’s going on here.”

 

“You spoke to Snow, didn’t you?” Regina says, resignation in her voice. She pulls her shirt off and Emma briefly loses her train of thought at the sight of Regina’s bra, translucent lace and netting holding the breasts Emma thinks she could spend hours worshipping.

 

“Still,” she says, shaking her head because Regina’s smirking at her and she realises that she’s been staring just a bit too long. “Talking’s good, right?”

 

“Do we have to over-think this?” Regina asks, waving a hand in a generalised gesture encompassing their whole… whatever it is.  

 

“I’m not talking about over-thinking,” Emma says. “It’s just…” I told you I was kind of gone on you, she thinks but the words stick in her throat.

 

Regina sighs. “You’re very dear to me,” she says and it sounds as though she’s choosing her words carefully. “I’ve always thought we’d be compatible sexually.”

 

“Oh, the sheer romance of it all,” Emma says, rolling her eyes as she repeats Regina’s earlier words. Dread starts to clutch and claw at her stomach though.

 

“Is there anything romantic here?” Regina asks. They never bothered turning the lights on and her face is heavily shadowed. Emma can read tension in the bare lines of her back and the irritable snap in her voice. “My fingers weren’t really doing it for me and we’re both available. I value your friendships but ‘true love’ and ‘happy ever afters’ have never exactly ended well for me.” She’s lying, Emma thinks, but when has her internal lie detector ever really been accurate?

 

“My superpower may not be perfect but you, Regina, I always know when you’re lying.” It’s all pretty fucking useless though when she doesn’t know what Regina’s lying about.

 

“Yeah,” she says and hopes Regina doesn’t notice how wooden her tone has become. Regina’s been running hot and cold on her all day. Has she been imagining the intimacies? Has it really just been about getting laid for Regina? “It’s just sex, right?”

 

“Just sex,” Regina says and she smiles, predatory, and pushes Emma back onto the bed, straddling her and it would be so easy to just give in.

 

Emma’s heart is definitely not breaking when she rolls away. “I’m kind of tired,” she says, pulling off her shorts and curling up on her side.

 

“Emma?” Regina asks. Emma’s silent. “I know you’re not asleep,” she says. “Look, I didn’t realise…” She trails off.

 

“Yes you did,” Emma says. “I told you.” Should she have been more obvious, used the ‘L’ word that’s bubbling up inside her, desperate to get out? She continues to lie there, clutching the pillow with all her might because if she lets go she might do something really stupid like turn back around and kiss Regina. Regina, who thinks they can be ‘friends with benefits’ or ‘fuck buddies’ or whatever. Regina, who comes close and pulls away, tide-like, leaving Emma behind, slumped in the salt and sand.

 

“I didn’t realise you meant it,” Regina whispers. The bed creaks as Regina turns on her side. Emma doesn’t sleep much and she doesn’t think Regina does either.

Chapter Text

 

 

The next morning is filled with tense silence, Emma ignoring Regina as she showers and changes, as she stuffs old clothes into her bag, as she loads the bug with their baggage… Regina doesn’t make any comments when Emma gets into the passenger seat of the bug; she simply takes the keys from her and starts up the car, driving more carefully than usual, as though worried that her usual quick speeds and road rage will set Emma off. Emma knows it’s not the most mature choice but she plugs her headphones into her iPod and finds her secret Terrible Pop Music playlist, turning the volume up so loudly that it drowns out all other sounds in the car.

 

She rests her head against the edge of her seat, closes her eyes and, halfway through ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’, she falls into a fitful doze, one where thoughts of Regina won’t leave her brain no matter how hard she tries.

 

She wakes to Regina shaking her shoulder. They’ve stopped momentarily and Regina hands her a large coffee and paper bag that she sees, upon looking inside, holds a very greasy pastry. Regina mouths something and Emma pulls the headphones out of her ears. “What?” she barks.

 

“We’re an hour away,” she says and she looks like she wants to say more but instead she stuffs the last bite of the sandwich she’s holding into her mouth and she’s driving again, eyes on the road and determinedly not on Emma.

 

She curls her body away from Regina, clutches the coffee in both hands and turns the music back up, drowning out Regina with Kelly Clarkson because the lyrics of ‘My Life Would Suck without You’ are enough heartbreak for her at the moment. Empty scenery passes her by as her fingers tap against her thigh – dry scrub and plants lining the road disappearing in a straight line into the distance, far off hills and mountains, blue skies that stretch out interminably. She spent a bit of time in this part of the country in her early 20s, running from Neal and the baby she’d given up, trying to find a place to call her own, but the wide open spaces and emptiness have always terrified her.

 

All too soon, however, they’re pulling up outside the University of Arizona dorm where Henry is staying. She pulls the headphones from her ears, readying herself to pretend nothing is wrong. “Are you going to be civil?” Regina asks, still staring ahead at the large, red stone building before them and indicating to turn into the dorm carparks.

 

“Seriously?” Emma asks, feeling her rage rise in a sharp jagged lines like the spikes on a heart rate monitor. “How dare you?”

 

“For Henry,” Regina says; it’s pleading almost, her shoulders tense and her hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles are white with blood loss.

 

And Emma sighs. For Henry. She can’t argue with that and she’d be angry except she’s used it on Regina before too many times to count. “He’ll know something’s up,” she says. “I’m not that good of an actor. Neither are you,” she adds and Regina bristles.

 

“I’m an excellent actress,” she says, looking at Emma for the first time and missing an opportunity to turn in the process.

 

“You are so missing the point,” Emma says, rolling her eyes. “Whatever. We had sex. No big whoop. I’ll get over it quickly enough.”

 

“Emma…” Regina says and she turns into the driveway, before looking over at her, dark eyes large and sad.

 

“It’s fine,” she replies emphatically, interrupting whatever it is Regina wants to say because she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want to hear it, and then she looks away, staring down at her phone and pretending to text, while Regina struggles to park the bug.

 

It is scorching hot outside, and they walk up to the front desk of the dorm together, quick angry strides and perfectly in sync. There’s something funny about this to Emma though she’s not exactly in the mood for laughing. “We’re Henry Mills’ mothers,” Regina says. It’s cool inside, almost too cold, and Emma wraps her arms around herself, shivering in her thin tank top. “We’re here to surprise him for his birthday.”

 

The guy at the desk shrugs and types the surname into the computer. “He’s room 304,” he says. “Third floor. Want me to call up?” Emma takes a moment to be mildly horrified at the lack of security.

 

“No,” she says. “Thank you.” She shrugs at Regina’s questioning look. “We’ve come so close. Why spoil the surprise now?”

 

When they get in the elevator, Regina presses the button for the third floor and Emma watches her fingers twitch over the emergency stop button. “I will hurt you,” she says, glaring, and Regina feigns ignorance.

 

“I don’t know what you’re referring to,” she says and Emma considers the possibility that her eye rolling is a medical condition because it happens so frequently. It’s quiet in the elevator, too quiet, and she fights this insane urge to break the silence. She pushes out of the elevator when it finally comes to a halt, striding down the hall ahead of Regina, hearing the clack of Regina’s heels on linoleum following close behind.

 

She finds his room and knocks at Henry’s door, raps echoing down the corridor. There’s no answer. She presses her ear to the door and can hear music though. “I think he’s here,” she says. “Probably still in bed. Should I try the handle?”

 

Regina nods and Emma turns the handle, pushes the door open.

 

Henry is in his room, but he’s not alone. He’s sprawled on his bed, a girl whose long hair hides her face, straddling him. They’re both fully dressed though Henry has his hands on the girl’s thighs, fingers kneading at the brown skin on display, her brightly patterned dress riding up. They’re kissing – or ‘sucking face’ seems to be the more accurate description judging by the sounds just audible over the music.

 

Emma suddenly understands how Enid felt yesterday morning.

 

Regina drops her handbag. It falls with a dull thud against the carpeted floor and Henry looks over. “Jesus! Moms?” The girl rolls off him, pulling down her skirt, a flush of pink blossoming under the brown of her skin and pushing her too-long bangs out of her eyes. Henry sits up, unplugging his phone from the speakers and covering his crotch, which Emma would find hilarious if it wasn’t her baby boy.

 

“Happy Birthday, kid,” Emma says, voice weak.

 

“Yes,” Regina echoes, and she sounds distant. Emma chances a look at her and notices the mottled redness staining her cheeks. “Happy Birthday, darling.”

 

“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or like I’m not happy to see you,” Henry says though he can’t meet their eyes, “but why are you here?”

 

“We thought we’d surprise you for your birthday,” Regina says. “Emma’s idea. Obviously we were successful.” She jerks her eyebrows over at the girl, who Emma suspects is finding this hilarious, judging by the twitch of a grin on her lips. “Are you going to introduce us?”

 

“Sorry,” Henry says. “Mom, Emma, this is Lilo Pelekai. She’s in the programme with me. Lilo, these are my moms, Regina and Emma.” He wraps an arm around Lilo’s shoulder, squeezes briefly, and it’s a gesture Emma’s seen a million times from Regina, something that says ‘it’s okay, you’re all right’.

 

Regina holds out her hand. “Ms Mills,” she says. “Charmed, I’m sure.”

 

Henry and Emma roll their eyes simultaneously and Lilo laughs at them, the sound deep and unconstrained. She stands, taking Regina’s hand and shaking in firmly. “Nice to meet you, Ms Mills,” she says, meeting Regina’s eyes and smiling. “I really like your lipstick.”

 

“I’m Emma,” Emma says, waving from her place beside Regina. “Sorry about Henry’s Mom.”

 

Regina glares at her. Henry looks like he’s fighting back a laugh. “Shall we get lunch?” he asks. “There’s a great place just a few minutes away.” He stands and holds out his arms and they both fold into him, in a three-way hug that has Emma wanting to cry.

 

*

 

Henry’s eating like he hasn’t eaten in months but when Emma asked about the dorm food, he said it was fine. Lilo hadn’t come with them. “You should spend some time with your moms,” she’d said, when Henry had protested. “I should skype Nani anyway. She worries.” Regina had appeared mollified by Lilo’s lack of desire to monopolise Henry’s time.

 

(To be honest, Emma had always kind of hoped Henry would get his first girlfriend in Storybrooke because the idea of Regina having to meet the girl was intrinsically hilarious. No one would ever measure up, she was sure.)

 

“So,” Henry says, between wolfed down bites of pasta. “You guys drove down? Emma, I can’t believe you survived. There must be stories.”

 

“Your mother tried to kill us,” Emma says and Regina glares at her. “Just outside of Missouri. And the bug broke down. We got stuck in small town Texas, staying in a freak show bed and breakfast.”

 

“It was a lovely bed and breakfast,” Regina says. She takes another bite of quinoa salad (“I’m desperate for something that isn’t fried,” she’d told Henry. “Emma doesn’t have the most sophisticated palate.”) and reaches over to stroke Henry’s hand. She hasn’t been able to stop touching him since they got here – linking arms with him from car to restaurant, running a hand through his hair as they waited for a table, pulling him into hugs at the strangest of moments – and Henry’s is coping with it marvellously.

 

“Our room had squirrel skeletons as décor,” Emma says. “Squirrel skeletons, Henry.”

 

“That sounds awesome,” Henry says so now Emma knows with absolute certainty which side she comes down on in the nature versus nurture debate.

 

The conversation is veering alarmingly close to What Happened In The Squirrel Room and so Emma changes the subject. “So Lilo…” she says and waggles her eyebrows.

 

Henry grins. “She’s awesome.” He twirls pasta around his fork and shoves it in his mouth. Regina’s hand twitches, desperate to wipe the speck of Bolognese sauce from his chin. “We bonded over being landlocked. She’s Hawaiian, y’know. And then we bonded over having totally weird-ass families.”

 

“Language, Henry,” Regina says.

 

“And then we just bonded,” Henry says with a meaningful glance at Emma, looking for all the world as though he wants to high five someone and he has judged her the most likely candidate of the two of them, which, gross.

 

“Kid, don’t talk to your mothers like that,” Emma says, wrinkling her nose. “And don’t talk about girls like that.”

 

“Sorry,” Henry says, a flush staining his cheeks. “So, what’s up with you both? You’ve been weird since you got here and I thought it was walking in on me but it’s not, is it?”

 

“There’s nothing wrong, sweetheart,” Regina says, just a bit too quickly and Emma inwardly groans.

 

“That’s not nothing,” He’s perceptive, their kid, and right now he’s staring between the two of them like he knows something’s going on. “Mom, did you tell her?” Regina’s eyes go very wide and very horrified, and she shakes her head imperceptibly. “Oh my God,” Henry says. “Emma, you rejected her, didn’t you?”

 

“Did I do what?” Emma asks, her heart pounding in her ears. Nothing makes sense. Nothing.

 

“Henry…” Regina says, voice deep with warning.

 

“No, Mom, it’s so stupid. God, Emma you love her too. You know you do. How could you?” Henry’s angry now, eyebrows knitting together and eyes narrowed. His chest rises and falls too quickly.

 

“Henry!” Regina’s voice is sharp now, the voice of a mother calling her five-year-old back as he tries to run across the road or pet an unknown dog.

 

“You love me?” Emma asks. She hears the shake in her voice, the squeak at the end of the sentence. “You love me and you let me think it meant nothing?” A waiter looks over at their table, curious, because Emma’s close to yelling, close to causing a scene.

 

“Oh,” Henry says, looking stricken. “Shit.”

 

Emma stands, pushing back her chair in a harsh screech against the floor. “I have to go,” she says, shoving a hand into her pocket and throwing some money and her keys on the table.

 

Regina’s standing too. “Emma…” she says. “Wait.”

 

“No,” Emma says. “Enjoy your lunch. I’ll see you later, kid.”

 

*

 

Emma had booked a hotel in Tucson for several days, a nice one, before setting off and she hails a cab and gives the driver directions. She ignores the hotel clerk’s perplexed expression when she walks in, without a bag and dressed in clothes that would be better suited for a college residence, and asks to check into her room.  

 

Still, they don’t ask questions, not about her lack of luggage, nor about how close she is to tears. She had booked two rooms – adjoining – and she takes a moment to be grateful of this fact before she collapses onto the bed in one room, the mattress firm against her back, the fabric of the bedspread soft and silky.

 

Then she cries. She lies on her back and the sobs choke up through her, hurting and clawing at her chest. She lies totally prone, hands clutching the bedspread while she cries, and she wants comfort but she’s alone. No Snow, who would hug her and smother her and make her cocoa. No David, with his bear hugs and stiff drinks and dragging her out for runs at six in the morning after Hook died. No Henry, who has never been much good at comforting people when they’re sad but gives good hugs and makes her world brighter just by being present.

 

No Regina.

 

Regina who apparently loves her? Though not enough to tell her that. Not enough for Emma to be enough, or anything more than a good lay. Regina who ran scared at the mere suggestion that this could be so much more.

 

She falls asleep like this and when she wakes, Regina is sitting in the chair in one corner of her room, legs crossed, clothed in a red wrap-around dress that Emma hasn’t seen before. “We’re going out for Henry’s birthday dinner in an hour,” she says. “But we should talk first.”

 

“I need to shower,” Emma replies, wiping at her face, sticky with dried tears. Regina stands to block her path but she pushes past her, not caring if she shoves a little too hard in the process. She turns on the water, relieved to find the water pressure is strong, and then starts stripping off in the bathroom.

 

“Emma,” Regina says, barging in after her.

 

“Should have used the lock,” Emma grumbles, unclasping her bra and slipping it off her shoulders, tugging her underwear down, and getting into the shower. She pulls the curtain across so that she blocks Regina from view. The effort it takes to keep herself steady around Regina is too much and she leans against the shower wall under the warm spray, knees buckling.

 

What she doesn’t anticipate is Regina getting into the shower with her. “Right, let’s talk,” she says and there is steel in her voice.

 

“You’ll ruin your hair,” Emma says, trying desperately to look anywhere but at Regina, who has water droplets rolling down her shoulders and whose hair is dampening and frizzing in the steam.

 

“This is more important,” Regina says and she cups a hand under Emma’s chin, jerking her head so that Emma is forced to meet her eyes, forced to see just how serious she is.

 

“What’s there to talk about?” Emma asks, ripping at the plastic covering for the soap in an effort to get it free and cursing when the soap slips from her grasp and onto the shower floor. “You have feelings for me, apparently. At least you’ve told our son that you do. Just not enough to want to be with me.”

 

“It’s not that I don’t want,” Regina starts. She pauses, lifts her hand and pushes it through Emma’s wet hair, and Emma hates that Regina’s touch steadies her, hates that she can make her feel like this. “It’s complicated.”

 

“No,” Emma says. “It’s not. You care for me. I, well, I told you how I felt.” Somehow it seems wrong to talk about ‘love’ for the first time in the shower while her heart is breaking. “We could be together.”

 

“And then what?” Regina asks. “Bad things happen to the people I love…” This is said so quietly Emma almost misses it beneath the roar of water.

 

“That’s crap,” Emma says. “You’re scared. A happy ending – that thing you thought was important enough four years ago to endanger your life time and time again – is staring you in the face and it’s not a fucking vibrator and you’re running scared. I’m the runner, not you, but I’m here.”

 

Regina looks desperate and then she surges forward and her lips crash into Emma’s and her body slides, slick and wet, across Emma’s body and Emma can’t help but kiss back, can’t help her fingers digging into Regina’s flesh, her leg coming up and wrapping around Regina’s body, pulling her closer. She feels Regina’s breasts press against her own and smells the jasmine-scented soap that she dropped and hears Regina’s breathy sighs as Emma drags at Regina’s bottom lip with her teeth, pinches at the flesh of her hips.

 

Emma pushes her away before they can go any further. “I love you, Regina,” she says. “I have for a while, even if I only figured out what it meant a few days ago. But I don’t think you know what you want.”

 

“What now?” Regina asks. Her hair falls in wet, bedraggled clumps and her chest heaves and she bites at her bottom lip and Emma can’t help her licking her own lips at the sight.

 

“Now,” she says heavily. “I finish my shower and we go and spoil our son at a fancy dinner and tomorrow, I start driving back to Maine alone.”

 

Regina nods. “I’ll look at flights home after dinner,” she says.

 

“You’ll always have my friendship,” Emma says. “Whatever you decide.” Regina nods again and then she slips past the shower curtain and Emma is, once again, alone.

Chapter Text

She’s stalling, she knows she is.

 

(I mean, not literally. Despite what the mechanic in the little town from squirrel hell had to say about it, the bug’s fine. The bug will live forever, mostly to irritate Regina.

 

She means stalling in the sense that she’s putting off returning to Maine, returning to Storybrooke, returning to the possibility of rejection that she’s not sure she’s emotionally ready to handle.)

 

She sighs over a mug of cocoa in a diner off the road to Boston, flipping her phone around in her hand. Snow has been texting her incessantly. She replies often enough to let her know that she’s still alive but she’s not sure if she can deal with actually talking to her mother. She might ask questions Emma can’t answer.

 

It’s been almost two weeks. She has been taking her time on the return journey, shorter driving days, late starts, long lunch breaks. She even took a detour to Kansas, Regina’s voice in her head the whole time she drove (“you’re a moron, Emma Swan”). She broke one of her self-imposed rules in Kansas, sending Regina a picture, which she got some random guy to take. It was a photo of her in front of the giant ball of twine and she was grinning like a maniac and pulling the thumbs up.

 

See what you missed out on? She wrote and added an emoji of a ball of yarn.

 

Regina’s reply came nearly immediately. It’s a big ball of string, Emma. I think I can contain my disappointment.

 

World’s largest ball of sisal twine built by a community I think you’ll find.

 

Idiot.

 

Stop flirting with me. She regretted it the moment she hit ‘send’ and immediately started driving again, switching her phone off to conserve battery and turning the volume on the radio up.

 

She couldn’t listen to her iPod. Everything on it reminded her of Regina.

 

When she turned her phone on at her next stop, there was one message from Regina, in amongst the plethora from Snow and a couple from Henry. Safe driving, dear. She’s looked at that message too many times to count; if it was a note the paper would be soft and tattered.

 

She’ll head into Boston tonight. Ruby lives there now, working at a coffee shop and taking random papers at a community college when she gets bored and having the time of her life if her Twitter feed full of selfies with beautiful people and pictures of delicious meals over the past few years is anything to go by.

 

She had contemplating stopping by New York but it had reminded her of the conversation she’d had with Regina about going there on their way back. She really wants her to see where Henry spent a year, to know what his life was like in Manhattan. She wants to take her to a musical, see her eyes open wide in wonder at the magic of the theatre. She had taken Henry to ‘Wicked’ for his birthday when they had lived in New York and he was hers and he’d sat, spellbound, in his seat until intermission. By the end of the show they were both crying and neither could really explain why.

 

She shoots Ruby a message, begging a place on her couch for the night and isn’t surprised to get an immediate affirmative response, as well as her address. She downs her cocoa, and gets back into the bug.

 

It is early evening when she reaches Ruby’s apartment – she could make it to Storybrooke before midnight if she really wanted to but one more night away from reality can’t be a bad thing – and she grabs her bag and the pizza she picked up from her favourite place back in her Boston days from the passenger seat.

 

“Emma!” Ruby cries when she presses the buzzer and Emma only makes it halfway up the first flight of stairs when Ruby bounds down to meet her, wrapping her arms around her neck. It’s all she can do to remain upright and not drop the pizza.

 

“Hey,” Emma says and she feels a smile spread across her face at Ruby’s indefatigable charm and enthusiasm. She’s definitely made the right decision.

 

The apartment is grungy and eclectic, mismatched furniture, music blaring and shoes everywhere. Emma settles in on a velvet pouffe, while Ruby grabs beer and napkins and collapses on the rug-covered floor, back resting against the couch, crossing her lean legs out in front of her and grabbing a slice.  “So,” she says, lips already shiny with grease from a single bite. “You and Regina, huh?”

 

“What?” Emma asks.

 

“Road tripping together, hanging out together, sleeping together,” Ruby says. Emma snorts beer out her nose and she adds, “I talked to Snow.”

 

“My mother and secrets,” Emma says, rolling her eyes and grabbing a napkin.

 

“I mean, in fairness, you’ve been madly, obliviously in love with her since the day you got back from the Enchanted Forest,” Ruby says.

 

“I have not!” Emma replies. Ruby just looks at her and Emma remembers that indescribable feeling of relief in hugging Henry and looking over to see that Regina was alive and unharmed. And Regina had smiled at her, more of a grimace really, and her heart had soared. “Okay, maybe,” she mumbles. “You’re really obnoxious.”

 

“I’m right though,” she says and shoves the remains of her slice of pizza into her mouth. “And how’s Storybrooke?”

 

Back on firmer ground, Emma tells her all about baby Ruth and Granny’s plans to expand the diner and the new park Regina – and the rest of the city council – is building. Ruby’s hungry for news of Storybrooke. “I can’t come back though,” she’d told Emma once when she’d visited for Granny’s birthday. “Not to live. Everyone wants me to be Ruby, not Red, because Ruby isn’t threatening. Ruby doesn’t kill people. Ruby smiles and sasses and wears tight clothes. In Boston I can be both. People just think I’m a bit scatty here.”

 

It had been Regina, Emma had found out, who had given Ruby the means to leave, enchanting the pendant that she needed to wear to keep her memories of Storybrooke intact when she was beyond its borders. She fiddles with it now, the silver wolf head on a chain, her thumb rubbing compulsively against the smooth metal. “So how did you fuck things up?” she asks.

 

“Why does everyone assume I fucked up?” Emma grumbles.

 

“Didn’t you?” Ruby asks. She grabs the last slice, tearing at the thin crust.

 

“No,” Emma says. “This one’s on both of us.” And she tells Ruby everything.

 

She even tells her about that final night, Henry’s birthday dinner, where both of them doted on him to the point of actually embarrassing him to avoid talking to each other and Henry rolled his eyes a lot. “We slept in separate rooms,” Emma says. “It’s so stupid that I’ve got used to sleeping next to her, isn’t it?” She doesn’t tell Ruby that she cried, exhausted at three in the morning, wanting so much to hear Regina snoring lightly beside her. She has some pride.

 

“Not stupid,” Ruby says. She has tomato paste staining the tips of her fingers, which she wipes off with a napkin and uncaps a third beer. “A long time coming.”

 

“She’s back in Storybrooke now,” Emma says. “Snow messaged me yesterday to tell me they’d picked her up from the airport. I don’t know if I can see her, Ruby.”

 

“Well, you got to go home sometime,” Ruby says.

 

Emma sighs. “Yeah.” She drains her fourth beer. “Fuck.”

 

She falls asleep on the couch, Ruby giving her a blanket and retiring to her bedroom, though the light shining out from under the door suggests Ruby won’t be sleeping for a while yet. She had always been a night owl, so to speak. Emma sleeps restlessly, tossing and turning and desperate for a familiar scent, familiar touch, something tangible and intangible all at once.

 

It is no surprise when she wakes with the sun, feeling distinctly unrested. She pads into Ruby’s kitchen, starting the coffee and finding eggs in her fridge. She does a mean scrambled eggs and Ruby, her sense of smell all too sensitive, comes shuffling out of her room at the scent of coffee and toast browning. She’s wearing a loose plaid shirt and underwear and nothing else and she scratches the bare skin of her thigh before accepting a mug of coffee from Emma. “Black, right?”

 

“You remembered,” Ruby says, grinning. She runs her fingers through her hair and takes a long drink. “Bliss.”

 

Emma plates eggs on toast. “So,” she says. “You were pretty damn cagey about your personal life last night. Spill.”

 

“What are we?” Ruby asks. “Fifteen?”

 

“Indulge me,” Emma says. “Or, you know,” she adds, seeing Ruby’s dubious look, “indulge Snow. She worries.”

 

“There’s someone,” Ruby says. “I guess. It’s new. They make me happy. That’s all I’m saying.” She can’t help the broad grin spreading across her lips though. She grabs a plate from Emma, setting down her coffee, and eats standing at the kitchen bench.

 

Emma nudges her with her hip. “I’m glad,” she says and wolfs down her own eggs.

 

“Don’t be a stranger,” Ruby tells her when she leaves, unable to put off returning to Storybrooke any longer. Snow’s text messages are becoming increasingly intense, the number of exclamation points and angry emoji faces increasing exponentially.

 

Impulsively she hugs Ruby, who stiffens before sinking into the hug. “Come and visit,” she says. “And I’ll do better at coming down.”

 

“You better, Emma Swan,” Ruby says. “Bring Regina with you next time.”

 

Emma smiles but it feels forced.

 

The last few hours to home go by too quickly and she knows that someone will have seen the bug arrive in town and it’ll only be a matter of time before word gets back to her parents – and, as a consequence, Regina. Still, she hauls her bag inside her apartment, which is stifling hot and airless from being closed up for over two weeks with the air con switched off, instead of immediately going over to her parents’ house.

 

She doesn’t bother unpacking. She doesn’t bother showering. She simply kicks off her shoes and collapses face-first on her bed. The next thing she knows, someone is crawling on her back and what feels like a rattle crashes against the back of her head. She groans, opening her eyes to find Neal’s face barely an inch from hers, his eyes wide and round.

 

She yelps. “Hey, little bro,” she says. “Is Ruthie on my back?”

 

He nods solemnly. “You got a sunburn,” he says and pokes her nose, which is pink and peeling.

 

“I did indeed,” Emma says.

 

“Mom says you’re coming for dinner, no excuses,” Neal says and crosses his arms over his chest in perfect imitation of Snow.

 

Emma turns, grabbing Ruth as she does so and cuddling her close while the baby giggles and presses a wet kiss on Emma’s nose. “Well,” she says. “I’d better find my shoes then.”

 

“I have them,” Snow says, entering the bedroom. “Come on.” She pulls Emma into a one-armed hug and kisses her cheek. “I’m glad you’re back, sweetheart.”

 

Neal rolls his eyes. “C’mon,” he whines, dragging Emma by the hand down to the car.

 

She’s not sure what to make of Neal’s enthusiasm until they arrive at the house and she sees Regina’s car parked outside. Of course. Of course Neal’s eagerness is down to the fact that his one true love is at dinner. She pauses at the door, Neal barrelling ahead of her. Snow bumps her with her shoulder. “It’ll be fine,” she says and Emma frowns at her. “Hold Ruth, will you? I left David with dinner.”

 

Emma hefts Ruth up on her hip, where she immediately grabs a lock of her hair and yanks it. She wishes she’d showered. She wishes she’d changed her clothes. She wishes she was back at her apartment, sleeping. “Right, kiddo,” she says. “Let’s do this.” Ruth giggles and blows a raspberry, spit bubbling from between her plump pink lips.

 

Emma’s eyes are drawn immediately to Regina, sitting on the couch with Neal on her lap as he jabbers away at her. “Emma was sleeping in her clothes instead of pyjamas,” he says.

 

Regina looks up and locks eyes with her. For a moment, Emma is frozen in the intensity of her gaze, her eyes dark and fierce and loving, but then her face becomes a mask and Emma’s heart plummets to her stomach. “That was silly of her,” she says and brushes a dark curl – too long – away from his forehead. Emma imagines her with Henry at this age, all softened edges and smiles and easy touches.

 

She shrugs. “How was the rest of your time with Henry?”

 

“Good,” Regina says. “He’s busy, between the summer courses and the girlfriend…” She sneers and Emma stifles a laugh because no girl is ever going to be good enough for Regina’s little boy and if Henry wasn’t such a great kid, it’d make him absolutely unbearable.

 

“I liked Lilo,” Emma says.

 

Regina grimaces and then admits, “so did I. I don’t like that he’s growing up though.”

 

“Henry has a girlfriend?” Neal asks and screws up his face. “That’s disgusting.”

 

David enters at that point, kissing Emma’s forehead. “Hey, kiddo,” he says. “Neal, buddy, what’s all this about girlfriends being disgusting?”

 

“Do they, like, kiss?” Neal asks, lip curled, and Emma laughs, remembering how they met Lilo.

 

“Sometimes,” she says.

 

Neal looks speculatively between Regina and Emma. “Do you and Regina kiss?” Regina, who has just taken a sip of wine, chokes on it, coughing.

 

“Why would you say that?”

 

“Because you’re girlfriends,” he says, looking at Emma like she’s the biggest idiot in the universe, which she may very well be.

 

“Just because we’re both Henry’s moms…” Emma starts.

 

Neal shakes his head. “Emma, you’re stupid.”

 

“Right,” David says, seizing control of the situation because Regina hasn’t said a word and Emma suspects she looks like she’s about to cry. “We don’t call our sister stupid. You can help me set the table.”

 

They leave the living room and Ruth takes the opportunity to attempt to squirm out of Emma’s arms, towards Regina. Emma sits beside her on the couch, leaving distance between them. “She has the Charming gene,” Emma says and, at Regina’s questioning look, adds, “you know, the one where we love you far too much.” Their hands meet when Emma passes Ruth to Regina, who immediately starts giggling and kicking chubby little legs.

 

Regina smiles down at her. “Hello, precious girl,” she murmurs. “Did you miss me? I missed you. Your drive was safe?” This question is directed at Emma in a rather less sing-song tone of voice.

 

“Yeah,” Emma says.

 

“It took you a while to get back,” Regina says and she’s silent for a moment. “I worried.”

 

“I…” Emma stops. What can she say? I didn’t want to come home just to be rejected?

 

They’re interrupted by Neal calling them to dinner and the rest of the evening is spent catching up. David finds the squirrel room (the highly sanitised version of the story, at least) greatly amusing. “The town needs a mascot,” he says.

 

“I’ll fight you,” Emma replies.

 

“Fighting’s wrong, Emma,” Neal says piously and then glances over at Regina to see if she approves.

 

She can’t quite hide her exhaustion, however, and she’s yawning into her ice cream when Snow notices. “You need sleep,” she says. As if on cue, Ruth starts to squall. “Feeding time, I suspect. Regina, would you mind taking Emma home?”

 

“I can walk,” Emma says. “Or David could take me.”

 

“David’s had too much to drink,” Snow says. David, who has been nursing the same beer all evening, nods unconvincingly.

 

“Come, Emma,” Regina says and Emma follows dutifully behind her, glaring at Snow as she leaves.

 

The car ride is silent – no music, no talk – and a cloud of tension seems to exist between them. “Thanks,” Emma says when they stop in front of her apartment and she gets out of the car.

 

Regina gets out of the car though and follows Emma into her building. At Emma’s raised eyebrow, she says, “I don’t want you falling asleep in the elevator.”

 

“I’m not that far gone,” Emma grumbles but when they reach her front door she gestures for Regina to come in. “I have your tea bags. No milk though.” She puts on the kettle and grabs mugs and tea bags for something to do before standing at the kitchen counter, one hand resting against the mottled surface. Regina perches on the barstool across from her, looking very much like she wants to run.

 

“I meant what I said,” Emma says. The kettle whistles. “Whatever you decide, we’re friends. Like, it might take me a bit to get over you but I promise. Friends.”

 

Regina lets out a deep, rattling sigh. “Henry spent the past week calling me an idiot,” she admits. Emma passes her a mug and she cradles it between her hands. “I’m not good at any of this.”

 

“There’s some parts you’re very good at,” Emma says and Regina gives her a ‘Ms Swan, I am disgusted with you’ look and the fact that Regina has a specific look for that tells Emma so much about their relationship. “I didn’t mean that,” she adds. “You’re good at loving people, Regina.”

 

“I want this,” Regina blurts out. “I want my happy ending. It’s just, I’ve never had much luck with that…”

 

Emma smiles. “How about a ‘happy beginning’ for starters?” she asks and rounds the counter, pulling Regina towards her and kissing her, and it’s intoxicating, the feel of Regina against her. It’s the thing she’s been missing.

 

“It’s not going to be that easy,” Regina warns, pulling away from her kiss.

 

“‘Easy’ isn’t a word I’d ever use to describe you,” Emma says, pushing the hair covering Regina’s neck aside, baring soft, taut skin, and Regina smacks her arm.

 

“Emma Swan! You…” But Emma kisses her neck by her hairline and she seems to lose her train of thought. She trails kisses down her neck to her collar bone, and Regina’s sighing into these kisses, one hand clenching the bar stool white-tight to keep herself steady and the other coiling through Emma’s hair.

 

And then Emma does the unthinkable. With her mouth on the curve of Regina’s breasts, she yawns, loud and long and deep, the sound purring against Regina’s skin. Her face heats up, mortified, and Regina laughs. “Bed, I think,” she says, putting her hands on Emma’s shoulders and hopping down from the stool.

 

“Stay with me,” Emma says, grabbing her hand.

 

“If you want,” Regina replies, and it’s hesitant like she can’t quite believe it, but she lets herself be lead into the bedroom.

 

“I didn’t sleep so good without you,” Emma admits, slipping out of her shorts and bra.

 

“So well,” Regina says automatically. She kicks off her shoes, lining them up neatly by the door, and Emma screws up her face.

 

“Less correcting grammar, more sleeping,” she says and drags Regina onto the bed, wrapping her arms around her and resting her head on Regina’s chest instead of a pillow, feeling the rise and fall of her chest beneath her head and eyelids fluttering closed.

 

And in the morning Regina will be there and perhaps they’ll make breakfast together and perhaps they’ll skype Henry and perhaps there’ll be another threat to Storybrooke’s safety or Regina will freak out or Emma will screw things up but maybe, just maybe, everything will be wonderful.

 

She falls asleep.