belikebumblebee in particular and y'all on Tumblr get credit for Emma's new "tattoo."

xxx. snow drifts (there's no place like home)

"Hey, Regina." Emma sidles into the room, arms wrapping around her waist as she kisses her neck. "Guess what I got today."

"Mm." She cranes her own neck to kiss Emma properly before she turns back to the onions she's sautéing on Emma's stove. It's Friday afternoon, and she's taken to spending the weekends at Emma's apartment with her, a guest in a second home that's slowly beginning to feel like her own. "A heart attack from the donuts you brought in for the station this morning?"

"Those were for everyone!" Emma protests. "And Roland came by after school and had my second one, so I barely ate anything today. Except lunch." She sniffs at the sauce simmering on the next flame over. "And Roland's class made cookies, so a few of those. What's for dinner?" She shifts to fling her right arm over Regina's shoulder, and Regina blinks at the markings on it.

"You got another tattoo?" She pulls away, flipping Emma's wrist to examine it. "This is pen." It's fading already in some places, smeared in others, and Emma looks much too self-satisfied about it for a doodle. "It's…a cactus."

"What? No, it's not. Don't you recognize it?" Emma thrusts it in her face again. "Come on, Regina."

Henry wanders into the room, drawn over by Emma's barely contained smugness. "Let me see." He traces the lines of it, stopping where they meet Emma's actual flower tattoo below it. "A cloud?"

Emma looks annoyed. "No, it's not a cloud. I wouldn't have spent a whole afternoon drawing a cloud."

"Our tax dollars hard at work. I still think it's a plant of some sort."

"Maybe it's a really weird potato? Or an alien! Is it an alien?"

"It's Robin's lion tattoo!" Emma bursts out, glaring at them. "See the head? The claws?"

Regina blinks at it. "It still looks like a cactus to me," she observes, and Henry bobs his head in agreement.

Emma scowls at them. "I had to keep getting Robin to show it to me. Then he figured out that I wasn't actually drawing it on Roland's cast and refused to let me see it anymore. This was hard work, okay?"

"What's the point, though? Are you guys starting a club or something?" Henry's eyes light up. "Can I join?"

"Absolutely not," Regina says. Emma is looking more put out by the moment, her lips pursing into a pout as she stretches out her wrist toward them, and she takes pity on her and presses a kiss to her cheek. "Emma, I don't need you to be my soulmate to love you."

"Wait, this is about the soulmate thing?" Henry narrows his eyes. "Because Mom and I had a true love's kiss, so I think that makes me the best candidate for her soulmate if she's picking a substitute."

"Yeah? You want to fight for it? Because I've got the tattoo." Emma holds her fists up challengingly. Henry turns on the sink and wipes his hands off on the tattoo, smudging it even more. "Hey!"

He smirks and ducks under her arm, and she catches him and swings him around, wrapping him into a headlock. He's growing now, nearly as tall as Regina without her heels, but Emma still has a few inches on him and he can't escape her no matter how much he struggles. "Okay! Okay!" he gasps, finally wriggling free. "If Mom is so attached to Robin, we can be soulmates." Regina sees the warmth in Emma's cheeks at that even though Henry misses it, the longing she doesn't quite shut away when she sees Regina's knowing gaze. One day at a time. They're learning to trust, and to be trusted in turn. "I'll get a lion tattoo too. Ava thinks they're cool anyway."

"Ava? Since when do you care what Ava thinks?" Emma squints at him. "Are you growing up? Becoming a man? Because lemme tell you, the only girls you ever need to worry about are your moms. You will never meet anyone as beautiful as this woman right here-" She cups Regina's chin, displaying her like a pageant queen. "-Or as badass as me."

"Yeah, yeah." Henry leans over to sniff the sauce, same as Emma, a matching flush on his face. "Ava can do backflips. She's going to be a cheerleader next year."

Emma makes a face. "Fine. Be her soulmate. I'm taking your mom back."

Regina adds the meat to her saucepan, listening to them bickering with only half an ear as they head out to the living room to continue their debate. ("That's not a backflip, that's a somersault!" Henry says scornfully.) It sounds like family, like everything's finally complete and there's warmth in her chest and her stomach at the sound of it.

When Emma returns to the room, the smile is still lingering on her lips, even when she catches sight of the purpling mark at the corner of Emma's forehead. "What happened to you?" she demands, probing it with her fingers.

"Ow! Ow. I'm fine," Emma says, rubbing her palm against it. "And I did a backflip. Kind of. I banged my head. I hope I don't have a concussion, I have something to show you later."

She sighs heavily, halfway between amused and concerned. She settles on concern with her lips still curling upward. "Come here. Let me see what you've done to yourself."

She finds a bag of peas in the freezer (they'd gone shopping two weeks ago with Snow and Emma had made a production of finding them and putting them in her bag for dinner tonight and Snow had rolled her eyes and let her keep up the fiction) and presses Emma's hand to her head with it while Regina examines the pen marks on her wrist, pushed hard enough into the skin in some places to bruise. "Why did you do this to yourself?"

Emma shrugs. "I was bored." But she says it sulkily, a hair too much frustration in her voice for it to be so simple, and Regina cocks her head and watches as the lines on Emma's face thin and sharpen. "It was just a joke."

"Emma." She leans forward and Emma's eyes flutter closed, but instead of kissing her lips she presses kisses against her eyelids, tracing her lips across the curve of them as long lashes tickle at her chin. "I don't want you to be my soulmate. I don't want to be tied to you by any choice but my own." She strokes Emma's wrist, tracing the pen marks where they're still clear and sharp. "And yours."

"Me too." But Emma's hand sneaks under the back of her shirt when they stand up, her fingers cool against Regina's skin all dinner like she won't ever let go. Henry talks about swimming in the afternoons now that spring is here in earnest, and Regina suspects that this is another sudden girl-related hobby and squeezes her fingers to her knees under the table. Emma's fingers move slower, stilling until her palm is pressed against Regina's back and her thumb is dipping into the waist of her skirt and Henry says, "Gross, Ma. You're not my soulmate anymore."

Emma makes a noise of mock horror and Henry grins at Regina, who says, "I don't blame you. She seems like she'd be a handful."

"Are you two teaming up against me now?" They turn to her with matching raised eyebrows, Henry's almost identical to Regina's, and grin with smug mischief in unison at her pout.

Emma jabs a finger at Henry when he leaves the table, heading for his room. "He's getting too powerful. We can't let him turn us against each other."

"You mean like the first two years we knew each other?"

"We need to show him we're a team." Emma nods sagely. "That he can't manipulate us like this. We have to really, really scar him for life."

Regina purses her lips. "Why do I feel as though this is going to end with us in the backseat of my Benz?"

"In front of his school! In front of Ava." There's a heavy sigh from somewhere in the general area of Henry's room, and Emma wiggles her eyebrows suggestively. "It doesn't have to be the backseat."

"Absolutely not."

"Is this like the time you said that when we were picking Henry up last week? Because then you saw my mom and I so got–" She's cut off by the sound of music, blaring from Henry's room, and smiles, satisfied. "I am so good at this."

"You are terrible. You're going to scar him for life."

"This more than Neverland? Than that apple? Than Zelena?"

"Yes." But she's grinning, too, their smiles in tandem, and when Emma pulls her onto her lap, she kisses her happily until the music gets even louder and Henry starts singing along- a little desperate- like the teenager he's about to become.

"Mm." Emma disentangles from her, and they're all limbs and lips and bodies that don't quite remember how they're supposed to be apart. "I forgot. We have to go somewhere tonight."

"Do we?" She quirks an eyebrow. "Where?"

"Somewhere in the woods. We'll see, I guess." Emma waves a hand vaguely in the direction of the town line. "I'm going to go change." She has a splash of sauce on her sweater, thankfully not one of the ones she'd commandeered from Regina's closet. The worst part of dating Emma is how poorly the other woman understands dry cleaning.

Emma vanishes into their room and Regina knocks on Henry's door and waits until the music stops before she pushes it open. "Will you be all right if Emma and I run out for a bit?"

He's lying on his bed, propped up by his pillow and Emma's laptop resting on his stomach, his eyes intent on the screen like a miniature Emma with his furrowed brow and hunched shoulders. "You're not going to Ava's house, are you?"

She laughs and his lips curl into a smile. "I won't let her."

"You've never been very good at stopping her." He glances at the screen of the computer for a moment, and she moves to see what he's staring at. It's the computer wallpaper, a photo of the three of them at Granny's. Emma's on one side, Regina on the other, and Henry's face is squashed to hers as Emma leans in to kiss her cheek. They look like a family, happy as though they'd always been one, and Henry says, "I'm glad. That you two are together. Even if Ma is obnoxious when she's in love."

She smirks in agreement. "Just Ma?"

"Yeah. You get kind of weird and sappy all the time and you never stop watching her when she's around. It's gross, but not as gross as Ma." He shrugs. "It's good you finally listened to me, or you'd have both been miserable for years."

She narrows her eyes at him playfully. "Oh, really? Now you're taking credit for our relationship?"

"Well, it's not like you were very good at it." He leans back, grinning, and says, "You go with Ma. Don't be out past curfew."

She blinks at him, lip curling with a mixture of outrage and confusion, and he's still laughing at her expression when they hurry down the stairs to the street.

It's damp outside from spring warmth coupled with the ocean nearby, not cold enough for a sweater but not hot without one, and there are fireflies lighting up their path as they walk toward the woods. "What exactly is this place?"

"I'm not sure." Emma squints at her phone. "Robin sent me GPS coordinates and told me I might want to check it out. Apparently, we'll know it when we see it."

"You two really have become good friends." She isn't jealous, just amused. She and Robin have been defining and redefining their relationship for so long now that it's a surprise how quickly he and Emma have managed to bond. She remembers an early rendezvous between the two, Emma defiant, See? I can be friends with your boyfriend too, and how she can look back now and see jealousy barely concealed under the posturing. They'd always been a little too alike to get along, but also too alike to hate each other properly.

"What? No, we haven't." Emma shakes her head vigorously. "I don't even like the asshole."

"You gave him a job."

"Because you were about to kick a little kid out of house and home!" Into a government-funded apartment building where his pseudo-family had been comfortably living. "I have to get along with him or the mayor gets huffy and tells me that I'm sleeping on the couch that night. Even in my own house."

"You're the one who decided on that ridiculous, impractical secondhand couch. You deserve to sleep on it once in a while and muse on your choices. And I've had to collect you two from the Rabbit Hole after work twice in the past month."

"That's team-building. For morale and stuff. I feel sorry for him." Emma seizes onto that as though it's a revelation. "Yes! He's all alone and unloved. While you love me." She beams, and Regina understands why Henry calls Emma obnoxious in love, but she can't seem to find it in herself to care. (And it's not as though Emma's ever been anything but, when you think about it.)

"Do you tell him that often?" She can imagine it, the two of them sniping at each other about her like they had back when she'd been seeing Robin, not quite goodnatured but not quite mean-spirited, either. But at this point, it'd be bordering on cruel. There's no triangle, not even a convoluted rhombus between them, and they all know that now, no matter how many lunch dates Regina has with both of them at the sheriff's station as the air between them begins to settle.

"Nah, he's been talking about his wife a lot lately. Moving on…backward, I guess. Good for him." Emma sounds pensive, like she's moments away from coming up with an idea that will inevitably be terrible. And sure enough, she brightens. "Hey, remember that time portal Zelena was trying to open? Maybe we could–"

Regina elbows her in the ribs. A wheezing sound escapes Emma's throat and she nearly doubles over in pain. "Don't even say it."

"I'm just saying, it'd solve a lot of- oh! Wow." Regina tears her eyes away from Emma's face to follow her gaze. "What is that?"

"I don't know." She steps forward, Emma at her heels, and reaches out to touch the closest tree. It's coated with a thin sheen of ice, pale and oblique. All the trees in this clearing are, and when she walks into the center of it, she can feel a chill that permeates her, right down to her bones. There's a light dusting of snow on the ground, the trees are white with ice, and none of this makes sense when spring is finally here.

"Magic?" Emma asks, taking her hands between hers and blowing warm air onto them.

"Magic," she breathes, and it's like she's suddenly remembered that this is only a fairytale, that these months of peace have been just a small reprieve until the next threat rears its head.

The fireflies still venture into the clearing, too tiny and unaware to understand the sudden change in climate until they're within it, and they're sparking green and yellow and red against the silent whiteness that surrounds them. Regina can feel the energy of the clearing, the sheer power that emanates from it that has her shivering from more than the cold, and she pulls Emma close by their joined grasps, shutting it all out for just a moment more.

Emma still tastes like dinner and she doesn't mind, as imperfect as it is, because it's who Emma is. Imperfect, unexpected; and improbably, the one she fits against best. The one who's still holding Regina's hands in her own, kissing her silently, lips moving as tongues wander and teeth nip and they don't budge even as the cold creeps deeper and deeper within them.

Emma is the first to pull away, eyes somber. "This isn't kids playing with spellbooks, is it? Or fairies mixing up their pixie dust? We've got another threat to Storybrooke on our hands."

She nods regretfully. "So it appears." The snow doesn't stop at the clearing. Rather, it seems to stretch beyond it, all the way down through the woods to the town line, icing over trees and underbrush in its path. She thinks of the legend of the Snow Queen, only a fairytale even in her own land, and she shivers again.

Emma plays with her hands, fingers rubbing against fingers as a firefly buzzes right through the distance between them. "I liked the quiet," she says softly, and there's a tiny gleam of something else in her eyes, something eager to fight.

"As did I." There's a part of her that craves battle, just as she knows that Emma does, a chance to prove to others and themselves where they find their greatest worth. To save, to redeem, to be more than whom they've been in the past. But just as strong is the piece of her that longs for the simplicity they'd had just moments before, where meaning is as simple as teasing Henry at the dinner table.

When she'd been a girl, all she'd longed for was to be free, and it had taken over four decades to find that freedom. She's been trading cage for cage for cage for far too long, and now this remains her final cage. A curse, by her hand or another's. To never be at peace, to never find a world where she can settle down with her love and her family and forget magic and pain and suffering.

But she could do far worse than her hands wrapped in Emma Swan's like they're anchoring each other, than her heart light even with the knowledge of this new threat. Than our best chance is together and you may not be strong enough but maybe we are. Than I love you. Is that okay? and Emma's eyes gleaming translucent cobalt in the reflection of the snow around them.

She's terrified of what's to come, of how they may yet be tested. She can feel darkness still within her and she thinks she may have to unleash it, to defeat this new threat to her family by any means possible and to return to the quiet once more.

Emma's watching her silently, seeing words in her eyes that she can't quite vocalize, because they're not there yet. They're not in a place where they can say everything, where all their thoughts escape in a river winding straight down to the other.

But it's all right. Emma is watching her and she sees her, who she is, what she's afraid of, and Regina dares to murmur, "I'm going to hurt you." She can't. She won't. And she blinks back thoughts of betraying herself, of never being enough for the ones who love her, of sinking into a darkness that feels less like home than Emma and Henry.

Emma's eyes glitter in challenge. "Yeah? I can take you." But she squeezes Regina's hands in hers, pressing cool lips to them before she rises again, an uncertain smile turned confident at Regina's soft exhale. Two women, flitting around each other with dozens of insecurities they're only yet beginning to recognize. Learning to say the right things, at last, day by day.

They stand in place with their hands locked, the wind picking up around them until it's whipping powdery white crystals at their knees, and the fireflies burn bright and fall dark around them as the snow around them glows silver in the moonlight.

And we're done. :)

I started writing this to get out some frustration toward Hook way back around Quiet Minds and somehow it instead ballooned into a massive love letter to Emma and Regina and Swan Queen as a whole. I DON'T EVEN KNOW. Thank you all so much for all your support and feedback and enthusiasm! You've been instrumental to this fic becoming what it did. 3