"It is..." Emma pants. "Not... Jesus," she squeals. "My freakin' birthday."
Regina quirks an eyebrow, mouth otherwise occupied. Emma clutches at dark hair, whether out of habit or to just get a moment's respite she isn't sure, but Regina is a bitch (and will always, always be a bitch) and so she clamps her lips around Emma's clit and sucks hard.
It's not quite a shriek, but the room echoes with it anyway.
"Hate you," Emma grumbles, trying to get her giant and impossible skirt to fall back into place as they walk.
"No, you don't," Regina reminds her, before sighing softly and flicking her fingers in the direction of Emma's cream-colored dress. It sits perfectly, as though Regina hadn't just dragged her into the castle equivalent of a janitor's closet and given Emma a little something to 'take the birthday edge off'. Something that means Emma still doesn't trust her own trembling knees.
A guard sees them coming and scurries into the ballroom.
"Oh God," Emma groans. "Do we really have to... with the... there it is," she finishes weakly as the trumpeted fanfare booms out. The stone walls around them vibrate with it, and Emma glares at the back of Regina's head, before taking in the tempting curves beneath that skin-tight black velvet.
"I won't have your parents claiming that I didn't honor you," Regina says, turning to speak against Emma's ear, combatting the din. "And yes, in the other world your birthday would be a week from now, but time here says you were born thirty years ago today."
"I had this fight with them last year," Emma says, slipping an arm around Regina's waist, holding her close as though in a dance (not that they'll dance tonight, that would be a spark in the powderkeg that is the Kingdom's peace. Perhaps next year, when they'll be permitted to marry, Emma thinks. Not that she's asked, or planning to... but she's already living here in Regina's castle with her, both of them finishing the job of raising Henry, a job that he finally admits Regina did most of very, very well.)
"And you'll have it every year until all of you are dead, I imagine," Regina says, but it's not as sour as it might be. This is a challenge for her, opening her home to strangers and enemies alike. Only Emma's barely spoken love and the presence of Henry keep Regina safe from attack, and she's bubbling with barely suppressed magical energy that Emma soothes and diverts with frequent, discreet touches.
"Then, thank you, I guess," Emma says, as they stand outside the huge double doors. Another guard waits nervously for one of them to nod, to give the signal, but Emma wants a moment of peace. "But let's not make it a whole week of festivities anymore, okay? It's not Mardi Gras."
"Fine," Regina concedes, reaching for Emma's hand.
"We can't," Emma reminds her. "Open secrets are one thing, but..."
"You're walking in there as my consort," Regina fumes, her own temper surfacing again. The guard tries to melt back into the wall as Emma lays a soothing hand on Regina's back. (So she misses, and it lands on Regina's ass instead. It happens.)
"We'll change it, one day," Emma promises. "I hate this 'don't rub it in their faces' crap as much as you. I don't think we're different. I don't believe we're less than. But if it stops people throwing rocks at you, then... this is what we do."
"No one believes we live together simply to raise a son," Regina reminds Emma. She sighs in recognition of the fact.
"I know, but we're giving them a plausible lie to hang their ignorance on," Emma replies. "And it keeps Henry safe, too."
That's enough to get Regina back in line, though the struggle is obvious in the way she swallows nothing but air, in the vein that pops on her forehead for a moment.
"Let's get through tonight," Emma says. "My family are waiting."
"I'll see you in there," Regina replies, vanishing in her signature puff of purple smoke. No doubt she'll hide in some dark corner until Emma is already seated, acting like she's been there the whole time.
Emma takes a deep breath and nods at the guard. The doors swing open slowly, then the trumpets are deafening, and the smell of burning fires and sweet wine assaults Emma all at once. She forces a smile onto her face and follows the red carpet into the gathered crowd.
By the time she reaches her parents, Henry smiling between them, the worst is almost over. Then Regina slides into view, taking her seat beside Emma's own, and Emma feels herself finally relax.
The music strikes up then, and it's not exactly Madonna, but it makes people pull away and starting dancing, giving Emma enough room to breathe.
"Happy birthday, darling," Snow says, and Emma can't grudge her the tears.
"Thank you," Emma responds, catching Regina's eye as she says it. "Thank you," she repeats, held by arms that love her, fresh from arms that love her in such different ways. And it becomes worth it then, for the dates to be wrong and the crowds to be so insistent, and the music to be so loud.
She is loved, at long last.
It may not be perfect, and it's certainly not easy, but Emma closes her eyes and thinks of the world's most pathetic cupcake, two years before. Everything she wished for that night is in this strange room, even if she didn't understand that at the time.
A cake awaits her on the long table, the candles already flickering. She smiles as the wish forms in her mind, clear and obvious and attainable. Emma takes her place at Regina's side, their fingers touching briefly beneath the table.
"I think it might be my birthday after all," Emma confesses in a whisper.
Regina looks at her blankly for a moment, the Regina of the curse and the lies and the what are you talking about, Miss Swan?s, before her lips curve in a beautiful smile.
"Happy birthday," she says, and Emma knows then that it is.