AN: i swear i am working on once upon a zombie, but this wouldn't leave me alone.

When Archie suggested family therapy, Emma is pretty sure that he did not mean what they are doing now. With Regina smirking triumphantly in her seat while Snow stares at her with horror, and Charming looking equal parts ill and confused. Thank God Henry is not there.

Archie barely has a handle on the situation because, really, Regina is impossible at the best of times, and when Snow is around, she becomes a thousand times worse. She has just proudly announced to the entire room that she and Emma are in a relationship. Not that they haven't been….aware. They're not blind, and Emma hasn't exactly gone out of her way to dispel the rumors that have been going around town. However, she was planning on telling her parents privately on her terms. That is no longer an option as she stares dumbly at Regina while Archie struggles to find words.

"Regina!" she finally hisses, leaning forward and glaring.

"He asked me what had changed," Regina replies flippantly, and in times like these, Emma understand why her parents can't get along with the former queen. "I thought we were supposed to be honest in these little…sessions."

"You knew I had plans for how to do this." She wants to say more, but Archie intervenes.

"Regina, when we talked about the importance of honesty, it was more about not manipulating situations to suit your own needs," he says shakily.

"I'm trying to do better," Regina says in a way that clearly means she is not trying at all in this moment.

"Oh, that's a load of crap," Emma protests. "You're doing it because it makes Snow unhappy."

Regina turns to glare at her. "Look, there's only so much I can take of listening to her prattle on about her own problems. And I get this overwhelming urge to reach over-" Regina's hand curls into a fist and her face scrunches up in a way that would be adorable if it was not so menacing- "and pluck out her heart." Snow flinches, and Regina sneers at her. "So instead of doing that just now, I said 'I fucked your daughter'. It's a coping mechanism."

Emma thinks that Regina is full of crap, but there may be some truth to what she's saying. Archie, for his part, looks completely out of his element, and Emma can't really blame him. Their family is…well, it's unique.

"You could have phrased it better," she spits at Regina.

"That's neither here nor there," the other woman sniffs, looking every bit the queen she used to be. Snow lets out a strangled little sob, and David looks over at Archie, eyes wide and pleading.

"Do I really have to be here?" His voice breaks over the words. "That's my little girl we're talking about."

If Emma has ever doubted Regina's vengeful streak, she knows she never will again after seeing the way her girlfriend's eyes light up when she cocks her head and says, "That's right, and let me tell you, she is very talented. You should be proud."

It is only because she sees the whole thing coming that Emma is able to put herself between Regina and her own raging father. She catches David's arm as he launches himself out of the chair, sending them both toppling to the ground. Regina doesn't even flinch. Like she had known exactly how the whole thing would play out. It's infuriating because Emma is sure that's exactly what happened. Sometimes she wonders why she's fallen for this woman. But because she has, she hauls herself and David to their feet and places her hands on her hips.

"Look, yes, Regina and I are together," she starts, scowling at her girlfriend. Just because she loves Regina doesn't mean she's not really fucking pissed off right now. "I was going to tell you over dinner in a nice private way."

"Why?" Snow manages to choke out, her face pale and green. "Why her?"

Emma sighs. She's known this would be a question she would have to answer, but she's still not exactly sure how to explain it to her parents. She's not really ready for the L-word yet. She knows she feels it, she's admitted that much to herself, but she's never actually said it to Regina, and God forbid the Evil Queen ever give emotional vulnerability first. She immediately feels guilty because that's not true. Regina has been the vulnerable one plenty of times. Most of the time, really. She's been the one most hurt by giving her love in the past. She's the one who's more messed up. They're both pretty fucked up, Emma knows that, but together they are almost two whole people, and that's better than she's ever been in her life. But she can't exactly tell her parents that because then Snow will make that sad face that makes Emma squirm, and they'll both remind her why she grew up without them.

And that's a topic for another session. She has a feeling they will be going to a lot of these.

"It's not like I woke up one morning and said 'Gee, I really feel like ruining my mother's life. I'll just go sleep with Regina.'" She grimaces as Regina flinches. She had not meant to make their relationship sound like a burden she did not want. Deep down she knows that in the unlikely chance that she is forced to choose between her parents and Regina, she will chose Regina. She knows this because not once has Regina ever asked her to spend less time with Snow and David. Not once has Regina asked her to choose. Sure, she hates Snow, and can hardly stand to be in the same room. But she knows how important these parents are to Emma. Those times that Regina firmly enforces the importance of Emma keeping a good relationship with her parents are the times that Emma wishes with all her heart that the rest of the town could see the Regina that she sees. She can't say the same for the parents who are constantly trying to get her away from Regina.

She takes a deep breath because it's going to be up to her to diffuse the situation. Archie seems to be at a loss. She knows the feeling when it comes to Regina and her parents.

"It just kind of….happened. We spend a lot of time together because of Henry, and we both decided that it would be better for him if we at least tried to be friends." Proving that most everyone in town severely underestimate the level of empathy Regina is capable of, she reaches over and clasps her hand over Emma's. Of course, if also could have been because she knows Snow would flinch at the action. "We have a lot in common, it turns out, and well…." At this point, Emma doesn't know what to say that won't make her parents feel like she's blaming them for something. Because the truth is, she started spending more time with Regina to get away from Snow's smothering and David's brooding protectiveness. And Regina was just gracious enough to allow Emma to crash at her house. Probably because it meant more time with Henry.

"Do you love her?" Snow asks, voice strangled and cracking. Emma freezes, not ready at all for this, and she feels Regina stiffen next to her.

"I…well, it's …"

"Oh my God, you do!" Snow is in full hysterics now, and David gets up and walks out. The door slams hard enough behind him to shake the walls. Slowly, anxiously, Emma turns her head to look at Regina, whose reaction is really the only one she cares about right now because she won't deny Snow's accusation. She can't, and she's promised herself that she will always do her best not to lie to Regina. They've both been through too much for that. Regina's face is the most unguarded it has been the entire session, and her throat bobs just a little.

"Is that true?" she asks softly, so softly that Snow cannot hear over her own wailing. Emma gives a very small nod.


Regina breathes deeply and lets it out slowly. Then she turns to Archie, her best Mayor face on and says, "That will be all for today. I assume next week at the same time will work for you?" She raises a brow as she stands and gathers her things, waiting briefly to see if Emma is going to follow. Archie's mouth opens and closes a few times before he regains himself.

"Um….Yes, that's…I'll write you in."

"Wonderful." Regina eyes Snow with distaste, but she makes that face that Emma knows means she's about to do something she really really really doesn't want to do, but that she knows is the right thing. "Ms. Blanchard-" because Regina can't seem to bring herself to call Snow by her actual name "-if you'll kindly pull yourself together for a few moments, I would like to invite you and David to dinner on Friday. Please bring a dessert. Seven o'clock." And with that, she brushes out of the office, right past David, who is still pacing angrily in the hallway.

Emma shrugs helplessly at Archie and her mother. "Sorry. I…I gotta go. She's my ride." Snow dissolves into more sobs, and Emma guiltily darts out the door, shirking past David-for she has even less desire to talk to him at that moment than she does to Snow-and outside to where Regina is sitting in the car already, hands gripped tightly around the steering wheel. Emma slides into the passenger seat, and Regina starts the car.

"I'm sorry," Regina eventually says as they drive home. "For blurting it out like that. It was…unfair to take that away from you." Apologizing is always hard for Regina because she's so damn proud, but there's something else in her face as she says this particular one. Fear. Her eyes flit over to Emma momentarily before focusing on the road again. Emma knows Regina well enough to recognize the signs. Regina is waiting for Emma to say something that will hurt her. That will enforce her self-image as someone irredeemable. It's moments like this that Emma almost regrets that Cora is dead because she wishes with all her being that she could make Regina's mother pay for making her daughter this way. For making Regina so sure that everyone she loves is going to eventually leave her. For making Regina believe that she is worthless. Emma burns with rage whenever she thinks about how broken Regina is inside, how well she thinks she hides it, how hard she has to fight every single day to keep off the path of further destruction.

"Yeah, you should be," Emma tells her, but she makes sure there's not too much sharpness in her voice. It is a fine line she walks when they have these kinds of fights. The ones where all of Regina's insecurities are laid bare. Emma has to know how to express her displeasure without compounding Regina's fears. It is exhausting, and sometimes she's not sure it's worth it. But then she remembers what Regina looks like when she smiles one of those rare, full, genuine, unburdened smiles. She remembers the way Regina's eye shine when she looks at Henry. She thinks about the care that Regina puts into her gardening. She thinks about how Regina feels against her when they're sleeping. And she knows that Regina is worth everything.

And she knows that she's the best person to help Regina become the person she wants to be. Because she's the only one who knows that the person Regina was because of her mother and Rumpelstiltskin and King Leopold is not the person Regina really is. The person Emma has fallen so hard for.

So she knows she cannot back down here and let Regina's actions slide even if the puppy-dog eyes Regina is giving her make her really want to relent.

"That was really shitty of you," she says. "It wasn't your place to tell them, and I am so beyond angry about it."

"I understand. Your suitcase is in the hall closet-"

"Jesus, Regina, I'm not leaving." Emma never thought she would ever find someone with worse abandonment issues than her own, but Regina takes the cake. "We're having a fight. It happens. People have fights, and then they get over it." Regina's hands tighten even further on the wheel, and she stares resolutely at the road. Emma knows that Regina would take back what she'd said if she could. She really has been trying so very hard to not be that vindictive person anymore. But when Snow is around, Regina reverts back in the blink of an eye. Hurting people who hurt her is a knee jerk reaction for Regina. It's frustrating and distressing, and Emma is getting really tired of it.

"I really am sorry." Somehow Regina's apology breaks Emma's heart just a little bit. She knows that she's gotten herself into a real mess by being with Regina. It's a lot of pain and brokenness to work through, and she's never quite sure that it's going to work and that they'll come out on the other side without more scars.

"I know." She covers her face in her hand because she really sometimes doesn't know what to do with Regina, and she doesn't want to lose her temper. One of them has to be a rational adult. It makes her want to laugh hysterically that she's the one on whose shoulders that particular role has fallen. It has always taken her aback that the put together, flawlessly beautiful and professional Mayor she knew when she first came to Storybrook is actually a mess of broken dreams and gnawing black pain on the inside. Someone who's only desire is happiness, but who has absolutely no idea how to get it. Regina has a habit of trying so hard to get what she wants that she inadvertently ends up destroying herself along the way. Emma is trying to break her of that.

"Did you really mean what you said to Snow?"

Emma is not surprised that Regina needs more confirmation. Love has never been something that was freely given to her without being cruelly snatched away.

"Yes." Regina is looking at her expectantly, so Emma says the actual words. "I love you."

Regina gives a strained, watery smile, and Emma reflects that maybe she needs Regina as much as Regina needs her. The former Queen needs someone to believe in her, to believe that she can be better, that she's worth saving, worth redeeming. She needs someone to hold her back when her darkness is too strong. She needs someone to remind her who she used to be and who she can be again. And Emma needs someone to make her feel valuable, worth loving and worth keeping. Snow and David try, they really do, but Snow's pregnant again and Emma is about fifteen years past needing parents, and twenty-eight years of abandonment issues don't get fixed overnight. But when she looks at Regina, when she sees the progress that Regina is slowly-painfully slowly-making, when she sees those fractured pieces coming back together, she knows that she has something to do with it. And that makes her feel needed in a way her parents never can.

She won't ask Regina if she feels the same way because she never pushes Regina emotionally. The older woman has to process things on her own and move at her own speed. So she returns the smile and leans back against the seat of the car.

"I do, too," Regina says very, very quietly after a few minutes. They are almost back to the house where Emma is already practically living. The few things she keeps at Snow and David's place are just for show. "Love you, that is."

The smile comes easily this time, and Emma almost forgets that she's angry with Regina. These kinds of confessions do not come often, and Emma has learned to treasure them. Regina's trust is something that is so hard to gain and so very easy to lose, and Emma knows that Regina has given her so much of her heart already. She knows what that means, and she keeps it in mind every time Regina does something infuriating. Which is quite often.

"You didn't have to invite them to dinner," Emma says. "I can uninvited them if you want."

"I would never rescind an invitation," Regina scoffs, horrified. "I was not raised in a barn like some people." The fact that she's making jokes about Emma's upbringing says that Regina's moment of insecurity is over and they can go back to their normal bickering. Emma finds that she can't really hold onto her anger at this point. Which irks her to an extent. Regina needs boundaries, needs to learn how to stop hurting other people to protect herself. But, Emma supposes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and Evil Queens don't overcome years of twisting vengeance in one therapy session.

Besides, Regina had resisted snatching out Snow's heart and had instead relied on a coping mechanism she's made for herself. Emma likes to think of that as progress.

"Just don't serve apples."

"But wouldn't it be worth it to see the look on your mother's face?" Regina grins wickedly, and Emma laughs outright. To think that there was a time when she was sure Regina did not have a sense of humor at all. Regina sobers as they pull into the driveway. She looks up at the house and frowns. "I suppose we should tell Henry the true nature of our relationship."

"Regina, he knows," Emma says with a small chuckle. "I think he knew before I knew."

Regina's brows furrow in confusion. "He never said anything to me." She looks hurt, the way she does whenever it looks like Henry has favored Emma over her. The balance is getting better, but there are still times when Henry is so incredibly callous and cold to his adoptive mother. Emma knows he does not mean it, but she also knows it hurts Regina all the same.

"He didn't want you to freak out," Emma tells her truthfully. "He wants you to be happy."

"I am." Regina swallows and looks down at her lap. "I'm so scared of ruining this."

"I get that." Emma reaches over and takes Regina's hand. "But I'm not going anywhere. We've been through a lot, Regina, and I'm pretty sure that if we can still stand each other after all that shit, then there's not much you can do that will chase me away. I've seen you at your very worst, and I still love you."

Regina nods and leans in to kiss Emma softly before smoothly slipping out of the car. Emma thinks that there is nothing Regina can't do while still being impossibly graceful and poised. It's really not fair, but then again, she's pretty hopeless when it comes to…Emma snorts as she pulls a blank. Regina Mills is pretty much perfect in all the ways that don't matter at all. But she's enough of a mess that Emma knows she's human. A human who loves her. The thought makes warmth blossom in Emma's chest, and she follows her son's mother inside the house she's starting to think of as 'theirs.'

They'll really have to talk about Regina behaving herself during therapy sessions, but Emma can't be too concerned about that when Regina is standing in the doorway, waiting for her expectantly, a hand on her hip and a brow raised. She looks so fucking gorgeous, and Emma jogs up the walkway to catch Regina in a kiss. They're not touchy feely people, but Emma hugs Regina close then because Regina needs a lot of hugs, even if she will never ask for them. And Emma finds that she likes giving them. They stand that way for a moment, noses in each other's hair until Henry's loud proclamation of 'gross, that's my mom' pulls them apart.

"Hey kid," Emma says fondly, ruffling his hair. She's pleased to see that he shrugs her off just as he shrugs off Regina. Ah, equality. Henry flattens his hair again with such an adorable impression of Regina's best glare on his face that Emma's heart wants to burst from her chest. "You done with your homework?"

"Yeah," he says sullenly. He's been sullen since Emma's started taking a more disciplinarian role with him, but it has so vastly improved his relationship with Regina that Emma can't bring herself to care that she's sometimes the bad guy now.

"I'll check over it after dinner if you want," Regina offers, and there's so much hope in her voice it makes Emma ache.

"That's cool. Thanks."

"What do you want for dinner?" Regina pulls out her apron and ties it around her waist, looking between the other two expectantly.

"Macaroni and cheese," Henry says immediately, and Regina rolls her eyes when Emma nods enthusiastically.

"Oh, fine. But you're doing the dishes, young man."

Henry groans long and loud, and Emma knows that he's gotten his flair for the dramatics from his adoptive mother. "Fiiinne."

The whole thing is so disgustingly domestic, and Emma realizes that this is all she ever wanted from life. This is everything that happy endings are supposed to be. She knows there will be hard times ahead, and that she and Regina will always have to work on not hurting each other, but she also knows that she would rather struggle with Regina than live easily with anyone else. Two years earlier, that prospect would have scared the shit out of her, but things have changes. She's changed. And she likes who she's become.