a/n: for Pearl for Day 2 of my advent calendar. She requested a happy Emma/Graham in an AU where he didn't die, so I went full-throttle and went for an AU where the fairy tale world really is just a delusion of Henry's and the Evil Queen doesn't have Graham's heart in a box. Merry Christmas, Pearl!
lust is just a child's game
you love like you've always been lonely, and that's alright honey, that's alright with me. —bones, ben howard
She dies six times the Tuesday she realises she loves him. The first when his hand comes down on the desk in front of her, the second when he shrugs his jacket off with a simple roll of his shoulders and hangs it on a hook. The third an hour later when he leans a little too close to read a report on a robbery, the fourth when he uses her mug for his seventh coffee of the day. The fifth when he wraps a single lock of her hair around two fingers and tugs there gently, the sixth when he slides her against him and she feels the lean length of his body all the way up hers.
"Lust," she whispers to herself that night, her hands clasped over her stomach like she can keep all the feelings trapped there away from her heart. "Just lust."
On Wednesday, they have sex on his desk.
Later she showers and pretends she enjoys his lips on her neck more than his arm around her waist and his heartbeat against her shoulder blades.
Saturday, he catches her watching him while she's talking to Ruby in the bar. He laughs and raises a glass to her. She tries to hide her smile in her cider.
Ruby catches on and teases her for three weeks straight.
("The Sheriff, Emma? Really? Got a thing for the deep tortured type, don't you?")
The first Tuesday of the next month. She is asleep beside him, or nearly. He has his lips against her hair, his arm draped across her waist, his ankles tangled with hers. He whispers something like, "I love you."
She pretends she doesn't hear.
The following Monday. He says it again, only louder, where she can't fake missing it.
She can't say it back.
"Dammit, Emma, you haven't even looked at me since Monday."
"I can't do this, Graham. I just… can't."
By Thursday, he is thoroughly fed up. She has dodged his calls, called in sick twice, and now has not stopped pacing since she arrived in the office three hours ago.
"I swear to God," he begins, but she makes this desperate face and halts in front of the cell door, which she proceeds to open and close a few times to give herself something to do.
"Emma," he says, closing in on her from the other side of the office. She bolts in the opposite direction, right into the cell, and he leaps at the opportunity. The door is locked before she can react, the bars casting lines of shadow down her face.
"Seriously?" she demands as her hands close around the bars, more like herself than she has been in weeks, "Imprisoning me. Way to win a girl over. Christ."
"You can come out once we've talked about this," is the only reply he gives, and then he goes and sits back down at his desk and bends over patrol reports as though she's not there at all.
She lasts three and a half hours.
"Graham," she says finally, and his head shoots up so fast it's almost pathetic. She is standing at the door again, fingers hard around the bars, eyes not meeting his. "Right, look, I'm only saying this because I really have to use the bathroom."
"I'll take it," he replies, standing slowly and moving towards her, stopping just far enough away to be out of reach. (Lust is ridiculous and consuming and besides she might try to pickpocket his keys or something.)
"Look, okay, right," she says, looking like she's not at all sure where she's going with this speech, "Right, I just—last time I felt this way, anything remotely close to this way, I… I had Henry. And in most situations that are… that you end up with two extra people. But I ended up with—with nothing. No-one. Negative people, actually, because I lost myself after that. Or at least, I thought I did. Because now I've sort of got Henry back, in a way, and I've got Mary Margaret and Ruby and… and sometimes wanting to have you as well sort of kills me. With how much I want it, I mean. And you… you make me think you might have me in return. I don't—I'm not making sense. What I mean is, what you said the other day, Monday, you know?"
"I know." (Oh, he knows, he knows, oh.)
"Yeah, well," she still hasn't looked at him, and he doesn't know if that should bother him, "Well, the thing is, sort of… same. I'm the same—I feel the same. I think."
She meets his eyes then, suddenly, so sharply it feels like his heart shoots right up to his head. He has to be careful, here—Emma is not the same as anybody else and you have to taper your reactions accordingly. So he just smiles, widely enough to give himself away, and then he moves closer and unlocks the cell and doesn't say anything as he holds it open and allows her out to use the bathroom.
She doesn't look at him as she hastens past, and he isn't at all surprised when the front door instead of the bathroom door crashes open and shut.
Saturday and he wakes up to a message on his answerphone.
"I'm sorry. I don't know how to do this."
Sunday, and he finds her in the diner. He sits down opposite her and orders two hot chocolates and spends an hour just trying to get her to laugh.
Eventually he succeeds by drawing a picture on a napkin of him and her in a fairy tale like her kid believes they are and giving it to her to keep.
She snorts once, and then begins to giggle uncontrollably. It turns slightly hysterical in the end, and he clutches at her hands to calm her down and she comes down off the laughter high with a gasp, glowing and breathless and giddy.
He leans across the table to kiss her then, and she responds to it so easily he'd think she'd never known at all how to be lonely.
"This feels better," she says that night while her fingertips trace hieroglyphics on his forearm, "Back to normal, I mean. You all serious and me sort of the cheerful one."
"But I'm happy," he murmurs against the top of her head, "I'm so happy I don't even know what to do."
There is a long silence, so long he thinks she might be asleep. But then her head lifts, her hair caressing his chest as she moves upwards, gold on bronze.
"Does it matter?" she asks, a trifle desperately, "Does it matter that we might not be normal again?"
"Emma," he says, and her name seems to still her like a spell, "Emma, honestly?" Three breaths. Silence.
"I think that's the best thing there is."