A/N: Feel free to blame Sugarland's song Tonight for this story. I listened to it on repeat while writing it. I hope you enjoy.
Beginning of the End
Regina knew it was the beginning of the end when she first saw Neal Cassidy. There was no mistaking the resemblance, or the way Henry clutched at him with wide and hopeful eyes. Henry's father had returned, and his mother was by their side. Regina remembered Emma not being able to look her in the eyes and she would have gained some satisfaction from it were her world not crumbling before her. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, where her deepest, darkest memories laid, she knew that it would happen eventually. It always happened in the end. Any bit of happiness she granted herself was taken away. Henry was only a matter time. But even that knowledge didn't make it any easier.
She remembered the conversation so vividly that it made her sick to think about it: the knock on her door that would change her life forever, for the second time. Emma stood on her front porch, like she had all those months ago when Henry had first run away, unsure and yet still confident, beautiful in her own right. But tonight she was alone, and if the reddened eyes were any clue, she was not here for dinner.
Over the blackest cup of coffee Regina would ever make, Emma told her that she and Neal were back together. They were moving into their own place, just a few blocks over. Regina didn't have the energy to ask how they could afford a house in this neighborhood on a sheriff's salary and it didn't matter in the end. Emma finished her cup and held it tightly with shaking fingers, and Regina knew the question was coming. The blonde was struggling with her words and as she waited for the inevitable, Regina found that she didn't want to hear it. Hearing it would only make it more real. If she wanted to get through this evening, she had to act. And so she rose from the counter and made her way up the stairs.
She would have thought over the course of her life that her heart would eventually stop aching. But with every step she climbed it hurt more and more, until she had to stop at the top of the stairs and lean over the banister with head in her hands. She could hear Emma sniffling behind her and allowed the hand on her back to stay, even though she was certain it was making her pain worse.
When she was finally able to straighten up, she turned and went into Henry's room, grabbing his luggage and placing it on the bed. She pulled the zipper as slowly as she could, watching from her peripheral as Emma stood in front of the closet, one hand on her hip and the other covering her mouth. It reminded Regina of when she first received Henry. He was so small, so precious and perfect. She supposed it was a fear that every new mother had. That they were somehow going to fail. They would fail and their child would suffer from it. Over the years, Regina had learned to suppress that feeling and instead strive to be the best mother she could be. Now, though, as she looked at Emma and then the luggage in her hand, she knew she had failed. But Emma wouldn't.
They had packed Henry's things silently and when Regina added a few of Henry's favorite toys and books Emma didn't try to stop her. She helped the blonde carry the suitcases downstairs and when she reached to open the door, she watched as Emma's hand reached out to stop her.
"Regina," she had said, her voice quaking and cracking, those eyes as green as the queen had ever seen. "I'm sorry. You'll still be able to see him."
"Of course I will," she said harshly, ignoring the lump that was rising in her throat. "But I can see that you're sorry. And I have no idea why." She leaned closer to Emma, choosing anger over heartbreak. "The happy family is back together, and you've never looked worse. Trouble in paradise, Miss Swan?"
Emma was momentarily taken aback and Regina felt a smile curl over teeth. However she did not expect Emma's eyes to soften, or for her hand to come up and caress the side of the queen's cheek with so much tenderness that Regina felt dizzy. Emma's hand had lingered for a few moments more before she mumbled another apology and took the bags out of the house, leaving Regina to stand alone in her hallway, tears running down her yearning cheek.
The next time Emma appeared at her door, it was very late. Regina had answered a pounding door in nothing but her silk nightgown and she heaved a frustrated sigh as she looked at the disheveled woman on her doorstep. Emma visibly brightened at the queen's appearance and it made her look slightly maniacal as the relief swept over her face.
"Henry's got a cold, and he won't take anything but whatever it is you give him. Only problem is he doesn't know what the fuck that is and neither do I," she grumbled, rubbing at tired eyes.
Regina blinked a few times to make sure she had heard correctly. "Miss Swan, you are aware that I have a fully functioning telephone, are you not?"
Emma shrugged, clearly exhausted, and Regina knew why. Henry was positively horrible when he was sick. She couldn't count how many times she'd had to stay up all night to nurse him back to health. At the time she had felt frustrated too. Now she would give anything for another night with her son. In her momentary pitying, Regina opened the door wider and turned in the house, listening as Emma followed and closed the door behind her.
She made her way up the stairs and into her bathroom, where she pulled open the medicine cabinet as Emma leaned tiredly against the doorframe, watching. When she found what she was looking for, she looked at it slowly before extending it to the blonde. Emma lifted herself from the doorway and took it just as slowly, turning the bottle over in her hand.
"It's honey flavored. He tends to drink it well with hot tea," Regina offered, attempting to fix her hair to no avail.
Emma nodded slowly and licked her lips before meeting Regina's eyes. "I've been meaning to call you," she said weakly.
Regina crossed her arms and looked away, refusing to let the pain seep into her face. She hadn't seen Henry in weeks. She supposed that was partly her fault as well for not going over there and barging the door down. But something was stopping her and she had yet to figure out why. Emma stepped closer, bridging the gap between them and putting her finger under Regina's chin, lifting to meet her eyes.
"I really have," she whispered. "I was thinking you could take him for a few days a week or something."
Regina laughed bitterly. "Does he even want to see me? What am I to him anymore?"
"You're his mother," Emma affirmed, her fingers tracing the length of Regina's jaw.
For a moment, the queen allowed herself to relax in the touch. It had been so long since anyone had touched her like that. She felt shivers run up and down the length of her body before she finally willed herself away, taking a step back from Emma, who left her hand lingering in the air.
"You're his mother, Emma. If he doesn't want to see me I won't force him to. That would only further ruin our relationship."
"Regina…" Emma pressed, stepping closer again.
"What?" the brunette snapped, crossing her arms tighter across herself. She felt goosebumps rising on her exposed shoulders. She could smell coffee and shampoo radiating from Emma and feel her warm breath on her lips. "What do you want?" she asked again, weakly.
She watched as Emma licked her lips, and leaned closer. She heard the sound of the medicine bottle clink as it was set down on the sink, felt warm hands uncross her arms, and tasted Emma's lips against her own. It was slow and unsure, and Regina felt her body surge with emotions she hadn't felt in years. It lifted her up and over, soaring for a brief moment until reality crashed back into her. It forced her back and away from Emma, who looked just as dazed as she felt.
Slowly, Regina lifted trembling fingers to her lips and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Emma appeared to have awakened from her stupor and instead of looking guilty like Regina assumed, she only looked hungry for more. The thought scared and excited the queen equally and she watched as Emma gave her a forlorn smile and picked up the medicine again.
"How about Tuesdays and Thursdays? I can drop him off after school and he can stay the night and you can take him to school."
"Emma?" Regina asked, her brow furrowing in confusion.
But Emma merely smiled and turned to head out of the bathroom. "I'll drop him off on Thursday then. Thanks for the medicine."
By the time Regina found enough strength to leave the bathroom, Emma had long since gone. She crawled slowly into her bed and drew the covers around her. Knowing sleep was far behind her, Regina drew her fingers to her lips and closed her eyes, trying to stop the warmth that was flooding through her veins.
Three months had passed since that moment. And apart from seeing Emma when she dropped Henry off on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they had not interacted with each other. Regina had been hesitant with arrangement at first, unsure if Henry even wanted her in his life. But the smile on the boy's face when Emma first dropped him off was enough to quell any doubt she had. They grew into an easy rhythm and Regina had to admit she liked the routineness of it, even if she didn't have Henry all the time.
What hadn't changed was the strange way in which Emma always looked at her when she dropped Henry off. Every time their eyes met, Regina could feel a spark or charge of something. At first she attributed it to the awkwardness of what had happened between them but as time went on and Regina slowly got over their kiss, the feeling remained. The queen never could quite put her finger on what it was, nor could she decide if she liked it or not.
It was Friday night, and Regina was heating up leftovers from her dinner with Henry yesterday when she heard the front door open. Alarmed, Regina backed up from the oven a few steps to see out into the hallway. Emma, in her painted on jeans and red leather jacket, was just closing the door and when she turned back into the house, Regina could see that she'd been crying. Her shoulders were still shaking from resonating sobs and mascara had painted its way down her cheeks.
The sight was enough to stop Regina from commenting on the rudeness of entering someone's home unannounced and she stood in the entryway to the kitchen, waiting for an explanation.
"We had a fight," Emma said as she neared her. "And I…I just couldn't stay. I…" Emma stopped to wipe her eyes with her jacket and sniffled once more.
Regina paused for a moment, letting the blonde regain some sort of control of herself before she headed back into the kitchen to pull the casserole leftovers out of the oven. Emma followed and slumped unceremoniously onto the barstool.
"And you came here?" the queen finally asked, turning off the oven and gathering two plates from the cupboard and setting one in front of Emma, who smiled at it.
"I didn't know where else to go," she whispered. "Do you want me to go?"
When Regina took too long to answer Emma gave a slow nod and slid off of the barstool. "You're right, I shouldn't have come. I'm sorry I—
Emma turned then to see Regina holding a plate of steaming casserole, her eyes hard and fixated on the blonde. "I've already dirtied an extra dish on your behalf. At least have the courtesy to eat the meal."
Emma smiled and sat back on the barstool, watching as Regina picked at her own plate with a shaking hand. They were about halfway through their plates when Emma sighed and set the fork down, holding her head in her hands. Regina finished chewing before raising an eyebrow at her. "Trouble in paradise?" she asked again, before remembering the irony of her word choice and closing her eyes.
Emma sighed again and threw her hair behind her shoulder. "Neal got a job at the garage, and he's been picking up all of these extra shifts and working overtime and I never get to see him anymore. But he says we need the money and—
"Do you need the money?" Regina interrupted, her thoughts immediately going to Henry.
Emma shook her head. "I mean, we're not doing as good as you," she gestured around the grand kitchen, "but we're saving and we can pay all our bills and…and maybe he just doesn't want to spend time with me."
Her voice broke on the last few words and Regina found herself unsure of what to do. A friend would touch her, console her. But were they friends? She didn't really know what they were. "I'm sure he wants to spend time with you," Regina said finally, clearing her throat and ignoring the empty feeling in her chest as she said it.
"Yeah, well, he's got a shitty way of showing it," Emma mumbled as she tried to control herself.
"Some people just aren't good with showing their emotions."
Emma chuckled at that and lifted her head to look at Regina again. "You can say that again."
Regina's eyebrow lifted but before the tingling in her lips could spread anywhere else she turned and headed down the hallway, calling, "I'm sure you'd like a drink."
The sound of Emma jumping off the barstool gave the queen her answer and she headed into her study where she flipped the switch to turn on the fire and went over to her desk, pouring cider into two tumblers. Emma grabbed the cup the minute Regina finished pouring and downed it before standing in front of the fire and watching the flames. Regina stayed where she was, watching the blonde as she nursed her drink much more slowly.
They were silent for a few minutes before Emma shook her head, turning to look at the queen. The fire made her hair look golden and the shadows cast on her face made it glow softly. Regina found she had to take another drink as Emma came back over to her and poured another drink. Holding the glass in her hand, Emma inched closer to the queen until their hips were touching.
Regina turned her head to the side and looked past Emma to the fire, setting her empty glass down. Emma's hand captured her newly freed one and held it tightly, bringing it up to kiss her knuckles. Regina exhaled slowly, feeling her heart start to race. Lust forced her to look into Emma's eyes and she felt her knees weaken as she did so.
Emma smiled warmly and set her drink down to bring her other hand to Regina's face, cupping her cheek before tracing her fingers along her skin, across her jaw and over her scar. "You are so beautiful, Regina," she whispered, her breath warm on Regina's lips. A tear escaped the queen's eye and Emma was quick to catch it before leaning in and kissing her again.
This one was more confident on Emma's end, even though Regina felt her body quaking with uncertainty. But when Emma's hand snaked around her back and held her close she felt herself giving in more, tangling her fingers in Emma's hair. She couldn't be sure how long they kissed, but when Emma pulled away, it was too soon.
Emma's tears had long since dried and her cheeks were flushed for an entirely different reason. She smiled as she pushed Regina's hair behind her ear and danced slightly against her hips. Her hands ran themselves up and down Regina's back and Regina leaned forward to rest her head in the crook of Emma's neck. She knew eventually that this moment would end. They would both wake up and go back to their lives. But she couldn't find it within herself to break this momentary spell. It felt so right to be in Emma's arms.
"You don't know how long I've wanted to do that," Emma whispered into her ear, holding Regina tightly against her. "I haven't stopped thinking about you since that night."
"I haven't either," Regina whispered, surprised at how easily the honesty slipped from her lips.
She felt Emma smile against her ear and lifted her head to meet another kiss. But this kiss was shorter, and when Emma broke away, she did so with a grin, pulling Regina around the desk and out into the hallway. They made their way up the stairs and to the bedroom, where Emma quietly closed the door behind them before taking Regina's lips again. Regina found herself being pushed back until the back of her knees touched her bed. When she began to lay back on it Emma followed suit, never breaking their kiss.
Making love with Emma was like nothing she had ever experienced before. Every touch was warm and sincere, every kiss impassioned. There wasn't a need to rush but instead it was a slow exploration, documenting every touch and moan and making more and more of them. Their love making was a selfless act for each other and when they finally collapsed on the bed together, Regina didn't feel spent, she felt full and alive. She could tell that Emma felt the same way by the tender kiss she was given afterward. And when Emma fell asleep first, her arm draped protectively over Regina's stomach, it was the first time the queen felt truly safe.
Regina's fully functioning telephone shot them both awake. Emma groaned and buried her head beneath a pillow while Regina squirmed around her to reach the phone. She squinted at the number, then felt her heart jump into her throat. Still ringing, she placed the phone back on the receiver and sat up, setting her feet on the carpet, back onto reality.
"Aren't you gonna get it?" came Emma's muffled reply from under the pillow.
"Why?" Regina asked, drawing her arms around herself. "It's your boyfriend."
Emma shot up then, and Regina watched as she grasped the phone and cursed into it before answering. "Hello? Yeah, it's me. Regina let me stay over. Because I was pissed at you, and I still am. I don't know, I must have left it downstairs."
Regina felt Emma's fingertips on her bare back, tracing up and down it gently before giving a slightly rougher scratch. It felt good, it relaxed her. And it was what caused her to stand from the bed and head into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Once inside she leaned against the door and listened to the rest of the conversation. Emma's tones got progressively softer and resigned, and she knew that she would be leaving soon and heading back home.
The thought coursed through her like an electric current and she went to the sink and splashed water on her face, hoping it would wake her from this dream. When it didn't she placed her hands on either side of the sink and looked in the mirror. Water droplets were still running down her face. She looked paler, but her cheeks had a nice looking blush to them.
The door opened and Emma came in, looking at Regina's reflection in the mirror before handing her a towel. As Regina dried her face Emma came up behind her and wrapped her arms around her hips, kissing her shoulder blades. "You really always look this beautiful?" she asked into Regina's skin.
"You're leaving," the brunette answered, straightening and hanging up the towel.
Emma's hands fell from her hips. "Yeah, um, Neal took off work today so we could talk."
"Regina," Emma pressed, turning the queen around and holding her close. "I don't regret what we did last night."
Emma's eyes searched Regina's dark one, her mouth opening and closing as she tried to figure out what to say. Regina watched her stutter for a moment before shaking her head and removing herself from her grasp. "You'd better get going, Miss Swan. Wouldn't want him to get suspicious."
"Emma, please just go," Regina said, waving to the door before climbing back into bed and drawing the covers over her. She kept her eyes closed as Emma gathered her clothes and dressed but when the time came for Emma to leave, she felt her weight on the bed instead.
"Regina," Emma said again, quietly, and the brunette's eyes opened to shoot a glare up at her. "Look, I know this isn't the best of circumstances, but I know we had something special last night. You felt it, too."
"What's your point?"
"My point is that I don't want whatever that was to go to waste," Emma said, reaching out to brush her thumb against Regina's lips. "I just…I need to figure some things out."
"I'd say so," Regina snorted.
"I don't want to hurt you. It's the last thing I want to do. But I don't know if I can keep myself away from you. So tell me now, do you want this to end?" Emma asked, taking Regina's hand and kissing it.
"You're going to stay with Neal?" she asked, drawing her hand back.
"I…don't know," Emma answered. "Last night with you was…I can't remember the last time I was happier."
Regina smiled and Emma returned it, leaning in for one last kiss before she stood up and grabbed her jacket. "I'll be back as soon as I can," she promised, before she headed out the door. Regina listened to her go and for the first time in a very long time, she allowed herself to hope.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. At least once a week Regina experienced the pleasure of sleeping in someone's arms. But all too quickly, when morning came and Emma's supposed night shifts at the station were over, she would be left alone again. At first, Regina didn't mind it too much. Emma satisfied her most basic needs and gave her what she had been craving for so long. But as time wore on, so did her heart.
Eventually she grew addicted to hating herself when Emma wasn't there. She would mope around the house, try to read or clean, and think about what she was doing. Neal wasn't her favorite person in the world, but as far as she knew he was a good man. And he was happily in love with Emma. She was the other woman. She was the selfish one who was stealing her away in the night. And for what? To satisfy lust like some high school quarterback. It made no sense. She was better than this. Emma was better than this. And their son deserved a better example for a family.
She would tell herself that she was going to end it every night. If Emma didn't show up, she was going to call her and tell her. But then Emma would show up, and she would flash that smile and touch her just right and hold her while she slept and the anger would dissipate until the blonde slipped from her bed in the morning to repeat the cycle.
Eventually, Regina simply grew accustomed to being used. It was relatively the same as being lonely and unloved and very similar to the situation she had shared with Graham. Only now she was the one being used, which gave it all a much more depressing aspect. Sometimes, Regina would forget to mask her sadness and Emma would reach out and stroke her cheek and ask her what the matter was. Regina would tell her nothing was wrong and Emma would ask the same question.
"Do you want me to go?"
And as always, Regina would answer honestly. "No."
She didn't want Emma to go. She wanted Emma to stay. To sleep in her arms and wake up in the morning and stay for coffee and see their son off to school. But she knew better than anyone how rarely fantasies ever came true. However, that didn't stop her heart from knowing what it wanted.
On a cold October night, when she lay sweating and out of breath on Emma's chest, feeling just so perfect, she had uttered it. In the short history of her romances, she had only ever loved once. And even then it took her ages to admit her feelings. But now, as she felt Emma's heart beat with her own, she had never felt surer of anything. And while it should have terrified her, it only made her feel even more at home.
"I love you," she said slowly, pressing a kiss to the blonde's sternum.
She felt Emma sit up slightly, and felt her home collapse all around her as she looked up into those green eyes that looked more frightened than reciprocal. "Regina…" Emma breathed, "I…I don't…"
Regina sat up then, wiping traces of lipstick from her mouth before standing and heading into the bathroom. "Forget I said it."
"No, don't leave," Emma returned, leaping from the bed and catching the queens fingers in her palm. "You know I hate it when you run away from me."
"I'm not the one running away," Regina turned quietly as Emma pulled her into an embrace, the night air chilling their wet skin and making them both shiver.
"You know that's not fair," Emma whispered back, rocking her lover back and forth and placing kisses on her shoulder.
"Isn't it? Are you planning on leaving Neal?"
"I…it's complicated right now and—
"Then what are you doing here? What am I doing here with you?"
"We're…Jesus, Regina, we're just…"
"Just what? Having fun? Fucking around? I'm just your whore on the side."
"Don't you dare call yourself that."
Regina pushed herself from Emma's arms and backed against the bathroom door. "You're right. Whores get paid."
Emma's brow furrowed and Regina watched as she leaned forward and placed her hands on her hips. It was her standard defensive stance and Regina braced herself for whatever was to come.
"I ask you all the time if you want to end this and you tell me no. So don't say that this is all my fault."
"No, you don't ask if I want to end this, you ask me if I want you to go. And I don't. I never want you to go." Regina felt tears swelling in her eyes and tried to blink them away. "Don't you see, Emma? I never want you to go."
Emma's hands fell from her hips, her mouth opening and closing until it settled on a simple, "Oh…"
Regina laughed softly at her response and wiped at her eyes. She heard Emma's feet pad on the carpet and didn't reject the arms that wrapped themselves around her. "Oh, baby, I didn't know," Emma whispered into her ear, which sent shivers down her back. "I'm so sorry, I didn't know."
Regina could only nod into Emma's chest as she tried to subdue her crying and Emma held her tightly. It was the same warm, strong arms that Regina had grown to love, and yet they didn't console her nearly as much as they used to. Because Emma did know. Regina knew for a fact that the blonde could look into her eyes and know her every thought. She knew Regina was falling in love with her, she just chose to ignore it. The queen's stomach knotted up at the thought and she gripped onto Emma for support, who hushed her gently.
"Are you feeling better?" Emma asked a few minutes later, pressing a kiss to Regina's head.
"Yes," she lied, and felt the arms around her fall.
Emma looked down at her and smiled, kissing the dried tears and her lips once more. "You've had a rough night. I think I'll let you get some sleep."
"You're leaving?" Regina asked quietly, even though she knew the answer. She had known the answer ever since Emma showed up at her door.
Emma nodded and kissed her cheek again. "But I'll be back soon. I promise, okay?"
Regina nodded, then stayed pressed against the bathroom door as she watched Emma quickly put her clothes on and run her fingers through her hair. When she looked acceptable, she flashed Regina that heart melting smile and gave her one last knee weakening kiss. Regina accepted them both and allowed her heart to yearn after the blonde as she left the house. The pain was comforting. It was the only constant in her life.
Wearily, she pushed herself up from the door and went into the bathroom. The light was harsh, and she winced as she made her way over to the sink, splashing cold water on her face and the back of her neck. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she actually stepped back in shock. Black bags had developed under her eyes, along with crow's feet. Her skin seemed to sag and even her hair fell flatly to one side.
It was then that the queen realized what she had become and she placed her hand over her heart, listening to the increasing rhythm. She sat on the edge of the tub and closed her eyes, tuning out everything but the beating of her heart. It had been broken several times in several ways, but it was still there, giving its all. Regina couldn't for the life of her figure out why.
Two weeks later, Regina was lying in her bed, reading, when her cell phone began to buzz. She squinted at the numbers, and then did a double take. She and Emma had barely spoken since her admission. It had hurt at first, a lot. But when an entire week went by without the routine high followed by a plummeting fall, Regina had started to feel better. She was starting to eat more, and had even ventured out to see how her apple tree was faring in the cold.
This phone call was like a hook through the chest, and Regina didn't know whether to pull away or allow herself to be swept up yet again. Taking a deep breath, she flipped open the phone.
"Hey, it's me."
"Caller ID is a fascinating thing."
"So snarky. I've been thinking about you."
Regina's heart fluttered at the thought and she closed her eyes. "You have?"
"Mhmm, I've missed you really, really badly."
Emma's voice was just the right tone to make Regina's breath quicken and she took her glasses off to rub at her eyes as Emma spoke again.
"I was thinking I could come over for the night."
"Yeah. Show you how much I've been missing you."
Sex. It always came back to the sex. Regina sighed into the phone and rose from her bed, heading over to the window and looking out at her apple tree. Her apples were nearly ripe and as she smiled down at it, the first apple of the season fell to the ground.
"Regina? Are you there?"
Regina sniffed and nodded into the receiver. "I am, and I don't want you to come over."
"You heard me. I'm waiting for the night when you offer me something better."