"It would do wonders for your image, Madam Mayor." Sidney followed Regina around the mayoral office with a few printed out documents and waved them all in her face.
She huffed and glared at him when the papers nearly caused a paper cut to the six-month old Henry strapped to her hip. "Watch where you're waving those," she hissed.
Sidney ducked his head obediently, his cheeks heating up under the brunette's steely glare. "My apologies." Despite his embarrassment, the small incident did nothing to draw him away from his track. "But just think about the headlines: Storybrooke's Mayor Supports the Troops. It doesn't hurt to have a few allies in the military, Regina, even if it is just a soldier."
Regina sighed and positioned Henry more securely into the space of her left arm before retrieving the papers from Sidney. "You do realize I adopted Henry only a few months ago. I am already juggling this town and motherhood. I do not have time to take in some stranger."
"You're not housing them. You'll only be pen pals, Madam Mayor. It builds morale in the army for homesick soldiers," Sidney reassured. After reading the Mayor's hesitant expression, he quickly added, "you're not enlisting into the war."
"Obviously." She leaned her head against Henry's when the boy pushed his own under hers to get a look at just what held Mommy's attention. Regina instinctively placed a kiss on top of his thin light brown hair, soothing the imminent fussing that was surely on its way from the child. When she glanced back up at Sidney after examining the paper, she glared at the reporter and motioned her eyes to the door. Without another word, he scurried out of her office and shut the door behind him.
Regina turned and sat at her desk, nestling Henry into her lap as she read over the information of the soldier who would be her pen pal. "I guess we'll be making a new friend, Henry. Do you like that?"
The boy gurgled happily, reaching out to grab any and all objects in his path before his mother could react. The move was futile for Regina was ever cautious and pushed away all her work to clear the space in front of her son. She kissed his temple as she read the soldier's name.
Private Emma Swan.
Fort Benning, GA
A grenade went off in the distance, the prevalent ringing pierced Emma's ear as she crouched down in a freshly dug trench large enough to house her, her sergeant, and two other soldiers in her troop. Beads of sweat dripped down her forehead onto the bridge of her nose as the burden of all her gear weighed down on her, bullets raining overhead as soldiers in hightowers shot strategically over the practise field of the camp.
The simulations Emma had been through in her infantry training were more often than not done at full speed with the very real threat of danger. The world was still shocked over the events that had happened a month ago in New York, so Emma's squad, and the rest of the United States Army, trained harder than ever.
Complete in full gear with the other half of her squad posing as the enemy, both had the same mission: neutralize the threat.
This particular training had Emma's team limited with nothing more than their entrenching tool. While she could use it as a weapon, close combat was the key to success in this one, and as soon as the gunfire ceased, she took less than a second to catch her breath as her fellow teammate properly surveyed the area. On his signal, they withdrew from the trench, allowing the darkness to cover them, and kept closely to the ground. Sergeant Booth had stayed in the trench, his role was to play a wounded comrade while in reality he was timing how quickly they were able to succeed.
Her team kept to the wall of a dilapidated cabin, listening carefully for any movement in the quiet of the night. The soldier in front gave the signal to move, but Emma, pulling up the rear, felt the metal of an AK-47 against her back. The other two members hadn't noticed, but the silence of the night told Emma that her foe had snuck away from his team and isolated what he perceived to be the weakest threat. She smirked to herself, placing her hands above her head in surrender as she turned slowly to see Private Cassidy, victory already in his eyes as he pointed the gun at the middle of her forehead.
"Sorry, Em," he said with little apology. Emma didn't blame him. It was life or death after all. Just not hers. She slowly kneeled as he approached, but at the last moment, she grabbed the mouth of the rifle and used her momentum to kick her legs out forward, kicking out the man's knees as she claimed the gun and turned it on him, pressing it firmly to the back of his neck.
"I'm not," she shrugged.
The overhead lights turned on to shine the field, and Emma could see that another one of her teammates had succeeded at knocking out his opponent. The other, however, was laying on the ground presumably dead with the enemy hovering over him with a rifle pressed against his head.
"You planning on getting killed, Johnson?" August pulled himself out of the trench and stormed over to the fallen soldier.
"No, sir." Johnson muttered into the dirt.
"Tell that to your family." August turned to the rest of the team. "Good work. Head back to camp."
Emma helped Neal to his feet, suppressing a smirk as the man groaned as he stood. She patted his back as they all jogged back to the compound, put away their equipment and gear, and headed off to hit the showers.
The routine was good for Emma. The discipline was even better. After sixteen years of being passed from group home to group home, being kicked out of school for truancy and violent behaviour, and more infamously, hacking the school's computer system in order to change her grades, Emma had appeared in front of a judge where the consequence was either juvie or boot camp. There was potential in her, the judge had said, and all she needed was a little bit of discipline in order to keep her steady. She had wanted to flip the geizer the bird, but she knew August, a foster brother she had clicked with in the latest home, was on a similar militaristic path, so why not?
The first six months at boot camp had kicked Emma's ass. She wasn't used to a place where the solution to her outspoken and vulgar behaviour was to do push-ups till she collapsed or to clean mess hall until she could see her reflection in the linoleum. She was used to playing up her female assets to swipe a chocolate bar from a corner store here and there, but that didn't matter here. All that mattered was obedience and smart thinking.
So she learned quickly, showing the officers yelling in her face that her orphaned ass could rise to the top of her division and take down men twice her size with nothing more than her bare hands.
Sometimes it was easier that Emma had no social attachments in her life. She didn't really have a home to get homesick over, and she beat the traffic at her graduation since she had no one to take her picture with. But there were a hell of a lot more times where on those weeks when she returned home from leave, she wished she had a place to go other than her Volkswagen beetle that was currently waiting for her at a storage unit in Boston.
She had August, though. Finding him to be her Sergeant when she was sent to Fort Benning was a blessing in disguise. Though they had seen each other as siblings, he was never more lenient towards her, but he was the closest thing she had to family since her parents dumped her on the side of a highway. Having him so close made her feel more grounded, sure, and confident in her skill. He'd never admit it, but Emma even had a better shot than him. She learned to tease him around some, claiming he better get on her level unless he wanted to see an early grave.
Emma arrived to her hall after the sweat and dirt were washed away just as the rest of her squad was filing in from their showers. She gave her cursory nods to her team as she passed the line of cots to where hers was placed at the corner. She was only one of three female recruits in her squad, and she was lucky enough not to be saddled in the middle with the rest of the men where the prevailing smell of BO lay. Though as she passed the other bunks, she noticed not for the first time how bleak and bare her corner was compared to the rest of the room that was covered with pictures, letters, and cards from loved ones. Hers, on the other hand, was the same manilla beige walls with forest green bedsheets as when she first arrived. She tried not to think too much of it as she dropped unceremoniously into her bed, using the free hour they got after work and before dinner to relax and shut her eyes as her Sergeant came in yelling out mail call.
The man in question disrupted her attempted relaxation time when he tossed an envelope onto her stomach with a knowing smirk. "Who's Regina?"
"Who?" Emma sat up, scooching all the way back so that she could rest her against the wall.
He motioned to the letter on her stomach. Emma picked it up and examined it as if she had never seen a letter before. Then again, she had no reason why anyone would ever send anything to her. In the years she had been affiliated with the military and the months spent enlisted, not once had she ever needed to be present for mail call. The only meaningful pieces of paper that held her name were her birth certificate and her warrant. So what the hell was this? Her thumb caressed over the return address, feeling the minuscule abrasions of the woman's penmanship under her pulse. Regina Mills.
"You didn't tell me you had a lady friend back home." August held his hand over his heart feigning a wound. "I thought we were closer than that."
"I don't know her," the blonde argued, never taking her eyes off the letter. A part of her thought that this was some trick, that she'd be called back to Boston and forced to complete her sentence for her juvie record.
August moving in closer so that he was nearly nose to nose with Emma prompted her to look up from the envelope. "You're supposed to open it," he whispered conspiratorially.
"Yes, sir," Emma mocked before raising an eyebrow and indicating her need for privacy. With hands rising in defeat, August left Emma to go inspect the rest of his squad, giving the blonde the space to open the mysterious letter in peace.
Deft fingers sneaked a nail under the flap and pulled out its contents, curious, eager, and slightly hesitant to read the letter penned in the elegant scrawl.
October 14 2001
Dear Private Swan,
First and foremost, I'd like to take this moment to thank you and fellow soldiers like you for defending our country. I can only imagine the type of rigorous training you must go through and all the sacrifices you must make, and I appreciate it.
I understand this may seem unorthodox, but I've recently learned that writing to the troops can prove helpful. The program in place that allows civilians to send their thanks to soldiers seems to be quite successful, and from the testimonies I've read online, both parties are encouraged by it. I'm sure you're in constant correspondence with your family, and I hope you don't mind another - letter that is.
My name is Regina Mills. This letter is penned to you from the small town of Storybrooke, Maine of which I am the Mayor. It's quite the peaceful town, and I make sure of that, otherwise who knows what mischief my son will be able to get into.
Do you have any children yourself? Your family back home must be immensely proud of you. I hope you get to see them soon upon your circulation back home.
Thank you again for all that you do.
There was a sad pang in Emma's stomach as the woman whom she pictured in her mind to be some kindly middle-aged woman seeking to do a good deed kept bringing up a family Emma didn't have. It was an honest mistake and a kind gesture to ask, but not for the first time did Emma wish she had some sort of contact with the real world. Even though her squad hadn't been on tour yet, the months of monotonous routine had Emma wishing for some companionship that wasn't someone in her troop.
"Serge!" Emma called out, scrambling to her feet when August had walked by. He backtracked and leaned against the wall giving her his attention. "I wasn't aware I was signed up to be a pen pal."
Understanding flooded the Sergeant's face as he grinned. "You haven't ever had a letter come in, Swan. You want to know a good trick to stay alive when you're out in the field? You keep sane when you can."
"You write home?" Emma questioned disbelieving. She knew August had just as hard of a time at their foster home as Emma did.
He scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'll have you know that my writing career is going to take off as soon as I'm home permanently."
Emma shook her head with smirk, realizing that even here August would wind up by himself in a corner, scribbling into a notepad.
"Write back to her." He squeezed her arm in earnest before pushing off the wall and continuing his inspections leaving Emma to reread Regina's letter.
Maybe August was right. At least now with this Regina lady, she could maybe expect a letter every now and again. It was more than what Emma could ask for, and who was she to look a gift horse in the mouth?
She shrugged and replaced the letter back in its envelope and placed the envelope under her pillow. This pen pal thing might not be such a bad idea after all.
Regina balanced a sleeping Henry in her arms along with a mound of paperwork that had piled up at the office. With some clever shifting, she was able to pluck the mail from the mailbox and let herself into the mansion. The many items she attempted to carry began to give way as soon as she stepped over the threshold, and with her only concern on keeping Henry safe, and hopefully asleep, she let the mail and the paperwork fall haphazardly onto the side table, a few wayward files and envelopes floating to the ground as the sleeping boy whined in his sleep.
"Shhh," Regina soothed, patting his head and kissing his temple. Her smooth humming lulled the boy back to sleep as he nuzzled more comfortably against the crook of her neck. She made her way into the dining room where a small bassinet was placed and gently eased Henry into the cot. He clutched at her finger in his sleep, and Regina took the moment to sit and stroke his tiny palm, grinning down at her sleeping son.
Her decision to adopt had been an easy, if not nerve wracking one. She had waited so long at the chance to have a family, and now that she did, she loved every moment of it. Henry was a crier, yes. His first few weeks with Regina had the usually put-together Mayor clawing at her hair when she realized the boy was colicky. He also had the tendency to keep her awake at night and believe everything in his reach was meant to be eaten, but he was worth it. She could watch him sleeping all day, but the call of littered paperwork had her kissing her son's forehead and retreating back to the foyer to clean up the mess of papers and envelopes she had made.
She didn't notice the one envelope caught behind the side table leg hailing all the way from Georgia as she stood and examined the contracts in her folders.
"So?" August asked as he and the rest of his troop were outside in the unusually blazing sun doing push ups.
"So what?" Emma pushed up, her eyes forward before lowering down until her chest nearly touched the dry ground.
"Why haven't you written back to that lady?" He grunted, hovering on his arms for a second too long as the pain in his leg from a wound received in Korea acted up.
"What makes you think I haven't?"
"Because I haven't seen your name in the mail for two weeks."
"You know how long it takes to sort," Emma pointed out factually as if she had mulled over the same reason in her mind not for the first time. A whistle blew and as one, the troops stood and jogged their way over to the obstacle field course. "Plus, she's a Mayor," Emma reasoned as she lined up beside her sergeant, keeping up with his pace.
"Of some back-country town. How much can really go on there?"
The blonde mumbled a shrug and dove alongside with August to crawl under the barbed wire. She kept her head low and her body flat. Getting snagged while stuck in the mud ruined her momentum. Along with the sporadic very real gun shots sounding over her head, Emma refused to dawdle under the wire.
"Write her back again," August hissed beside her.
"No." Her cheeks tinted pink, but thankfully the mud caking her face hid the fact that she was mortified by the idea. Emma Swan did not beg for friendship. Sure, her parole officers may have said she caused trouble as a cry for attention, but she never went out of her way to make friends, and if this Regina Mills had felt she had done her duty, then so be it.
They emerged from the dirt and sprinted to the wall where they clung to a rope and began climbing their way up.
"Emma," August pressed. "You're going to go stir crazy."
"Bet you I won't." Emma grunted her teeth as the rope burned in her already calloused hands. Her foot slipped, but with a tightened gripped she managed to make her way to the top of the wall.
"I'm not taking that bet." August joined her at the top and the two made their way down.
"Thought you had your vices," Emma teased.
"I like to think I'm a smart guy." August released the rope halfway down the wall and tumbled on the ground before jogging to the next obstacle. Emma rolled her eyes at his extravagant behaviour, but that didn't stop her from releasing her own rope and land on her feet, her knees bending to absorb the shock.
"I know you keep reading it," August said once Emma caught up with him.
Her silence didn't deny the fact that for the last two weeks, Emma had been pulling the letter out from under her pillow and poured over Regina's words. She realized what was so addictive about it; a sense of being remembered and being wanted lingered deep within her and grew stronger with each read of the letter.
The blonde shrugged in reply as a whistle sounded, and without prompting, she and the rest of her squad fell to the ground where they stood for another round of push ups. "I got something," Emma pointed out before dropping the subject, intent on simply doing her training without a nosy sergeant barking in her ear.
She didn't know who Regina Mills was. She could be some old granny person or had a family of her own. She had a son, right? Maybe he wanted to enlist and she sought questions. Whoever she was, Emma had received her first letter from her, and that was more than what she could ask for.
Regina pinched the bridge of her nose, the editor of The Mirror talked incessantly into her ear as she cradled her phone between her ear and shoulder. She appreciated his enthusiasm when it came to investigating the ins and outs of her town, but when he insisted on calling during Henry's feeding time to drabble on about the type of pesticide Mr. French was using for his roses, her patience was wearing thin.
"Sidney," she hissed, wiping Henry's mouth free of homemade apple sauce before removing him from his high chair to allow him free reign of the house. She followed him as he crawled out of the kitchen, much too quickly for her liking, but the gates stationed at the base of the stairs set her mind at ease some. He was preoccupied with the miniature snowman lighting the corner of the hallway when Regina spoke again. "Why don't you file your inquisitions on paper, and I'll take a look at them when I get a free moment?"
"Of course, Madam Mayor," he eagerly confirmed. Even through the phone Regina could see his incessant head nod. "Oh! I was also planning on doing a human interest piece about you and your soldier."
While Regina loved every opportunity to get her picture in the paper, reminding the citizens of her town of her power, frankly, she was exhausted by the little man with the puppy dog crush on her. Plus, she hadn't even heard a reply back from Private Swan. She had done her part, and that was all she could vouch for. Though the idea that perhaps something had happened to the soldier before she could reply was unsettling, Regina simply pushed forward. She had a son to raise and a town to run after all. "That won't be necessary."
She paused when the sound of Henry's pitter-patter ceased. With a hasty goodbye to the reporter, Regina picked up her pace to look for her son. Her heart raced when a mess of brown curls weren't in her immediate eye sight, but as soon as she walked toward the front door, she let out a sigh of relief as her son was scurried under the side table, his back to Regina and clearly up to mischief. She should have known. Silence generally meant he was up to something.
"Sweetie," Regina called, placing her phone on the table and crouching down to his level. "What are you doing here?"
Henry turned his head, a corner of an envelope sodden in his mouth. His eyes were wide and curious, but that didn't stop the little munchkin from chomping away on his new treasure.
"Henry," Regina quietly scolded as she retrieved the letter from his mouth with some effort. "If you were still hungry, why didn't you say so?"
He babbled as he used his mother to pull himself up, reaching for the letter.
She shook her head lightly. "Can you say that, dear? Hungry? Hun-gry."
Her only response came from Henry blowing raspberries, spittle marring Regina's made up face. He was already distracted from the letter by his mother's necklace as he tugged on it and attempted to put it in his mouth. "We're getting there," Regina reassured, easing the necklace from his mouth.
She scooped him up in one arm and stood, bringing them into the living room where she sat him down on the puzzle-piece padding on the floor. Wincing at the wet letter in her grasp, her lips parted to see that it was from Private Swan.
She tore open the envelope quickly and winced again to see that it was dated nearly two months back. Oh dear god, had it been lost for that long? Her eyes scanned over the page, taking in the messy scrawl of Private Swan's print.
October 19 2001
I gotta be honest, I don't really know what to say in these. No problem, I guess. I appreciate your thanks.
It's nice to meet you, Regina. Sort of. I mean, not that meeting you isn't nice, just that it's like an unofficial meeting via letters. I think by now you've realized that not only is my chicken scratch illegible, but I've also lost the handbook on Writing a Letter 101, so you'll have to excuse me on that.
Yours is actually the first letter I've ever gotten since I enlisted. Thank you for that.
I don't really have a family to write home to, and my sergeant who's like my brother, well, he's here with me, and he encouraged me to put my name on the pen pal list, so to speak, so here we are.
I haven't heard of Storybrooke, though it sounds like they've got themselves a fine mayor on their hands. I was born in Maine, coincidentally enough, but I've lived in so many different cities before I settled down in Boston and got my first taste of boot camp.
And to answer your question, though I'm sure you might have guessed already, I don't have kids. Remember, if your kid is as mischievous as you say, he's probably just an evil genius. Not that your kid is evil. I'm sure he's sweet.
Thank you for your letter. Seriously. It's probably one of the highlights of my day.
Pr. Emma Swan
It was dated a few days after she had sent her own letter, and the gnawing unsettled feeling in her stomach only grew more as realization set in. She wasn't particularly fond of this pen pal assignment when Sidney had brought it up, but knowing that this soldier, this Emma Swan had received her first piece of mail from Regina, and Regina had gone two months without answering made the brunette feel uncharacteristically guilty. What must Private Swan think of her? Probably what the rest of the town thought of her. Uptight. Indifferent. Cold. If it weren't for Henry, the citizens of Storybrooke would have been convinced Regina Mills could care for no one.
But apparently this soldier was an exception to that rule.
A thought sprung to mind as she watched Henry play with a wooden toy car, alternating between driving it and placing it in his mouth. "Henry?" She called as she folded the letter carefully, mindful of the wet spot on it before tucking it under her arm. "Would you like to help Mommy write a letter?"
His single-toothed grin was her only confirmation, so picking her son up under his arms, she carried him into her office and pulled out her best stationary.
"Private," August greeted as Emma entered the bunk area after returning from rifle practise.
"Sergeant." Emma saluted him and stood at attention.
He said nothing for a long while and just allowed Emma to stand stock still. With a knowing smirk, he pulled a letter out from his pocket and tucked it into the crook of Emma's elbow. "At ease, soldier."
She glanced down when he left abruptly, and her breath caught in her throat when she saw a letter from Regina Mills. She didn't want to get excited at seeing the perfectly crafted penmanship inked onto the envelope, but she couldn't stop the pleased smirk from seeing another letter addressed to her. Holding it tightly between her hands, she cleared past the rest of the bunks where the rest of her squad were relaxing.
In the corner, August had started up a game of cards with a couple of other men. A few others were heading out of the room to make quick phone calls back home, while others still had already turned in for the night. Emma, however, eagerly reached her cot and sat cross-legged, barely waiting to situate herself before she tore into the envelope as if it were a Christmas present.
The past two months may have left her lonely, but all that was swept away by this new letter her eyes devoured.
December 15 2001
I am so sorry for an incredibly long delay in replying to you. Your letter fell behind my table, but it seemed my son took it for food and found it. Perhaps his mischievous side has its benefits, after all.
I admit, I am shocked to hear that mine is the first letter you've received. To make up for such a delay and perhaps to further brighten up your day, how about allowing my son the honour of sending you your second? He's quite talented, don't you think?
Emma furrowed her brow at the short letter, a little disappointed at its length, but what was she expecting, really? A novel? She barely knew the woman. She turned the page in her investigation to find a plethora of colourful crayon scribbles with no rhyme or reason to them, and a grin instantly filled Emma's face. The scribbles took up nearly the entirety of the page except for a small space in the corner where Regina's handwriting boasted From Henry and Regina.
She soaked up every coloured line, tilting her head in different direction as if studying an abstract painting. To be honest, it was one of the best works of art she had ever seen, though that may have been because it was meant specifically for her. Gone was the image of some grey-haired mayor with some out of control teen. The writer behind the letter became more and more tangible in Emma's mind. No, she didn't have any visual to work off from, but she felt the concern in the mysterious woman's letter from being MIA, and the familial bond between her and her son. Emma had once thought that just having the first letter from Regina was all she could ask for, but even at this second one, she could feel herself already getting addicted to the feeling of waiting for a letter from Maine.
It kick start her pulse and made Emma feel lighter. Where she once went through her every day routine with no qualms, now she couldn't want wait to write back to Regina.
Giving the letter another thorough read, Emma leaped off her bed, letter in hand, and borrowed paper and a pen from a neighbouring bunk mate before she set off for a quiet place to reply.
December 19 2001
You've got a little Picasso on your hands there. I should save his letter for when he becomes a famous artist one day. I'll be one of the lucky few to have a Henry-original. How old is he anyway?
And it's okay about the letter getting misplaced. I get it. There's no rush or obligation or anything. It was really nice to hear from you again though. It's also a good thing you've also got a detective there too. Or a food critic as it appears.
In case Henry manages to eat all the paper in your house before Christmas, have a happy holidays.
Regina removed her reading glasses off the bridge of her nose, a small smile gracing her lips as she examined the letter in thought. If she was Emma's only form of correspondence, Regina was willing to bet the soldier hadn't had many Christmases to look forward to in the past. The indifferent voice in the back of Regina's mind told her that this Emma Swan was on the bottom of her list of priorities, especially with Christmas being three days away, but the louder, more compassionate side of her that rarely made itself known to anyone except for Henry reminded her of what the past ten Christmases had been like since her parents' deaths.
Regina knew loneliness. She knew want, and yearning, and need. This Christmas would be the first of hopefully many that she was excited for solely because of the sleeping baby nestled in reindeer-printed pj's in his crib. She could only imagine what Emma was going through, training for a war that was not her own, isolated from anyone she could even remotely call a friend.
Perhaps it was Henry who softened Regina's heart since her adoption of him, or maybe, just once, the feared Mayor of Storybrooke was beginning to feel empathy for someone other than herself, but whatever the reason, Regina tucked the letter into her pocket for safe keeping, meaning to stash it away with Emma's previous letters, and fired up her computer to do a little searching.
A loud thud sounded as a soldier on mail duty dropped a small box in front of Emma, shaking the tinsel that still littered the table from the makeshift Christmas party that had happened three days prior for the soldiers who weren't lucky enough to be sent home for the holidays. She leaned away from the table, just barely moving her tray away in time before the box could drop on it and stared up questioningly at the soldier. "What the hell, man?"
He shrugged. "I just deliver the mail." He walked away pulling along the mail cart, tossing soldiers their mail with little grace.
Emma rolled her eyes but pulled the box toward her, replacing it with her tray. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise to find the package to be from Regina.
August whistled from across Emma. "She get you that?"
Emma could only nod as she fought to school her features despite the raging urge to blush. She plucked the envelope taped carefully to the top of the box, feeling the embossed snowflakes on the lip of the paper before easing her finger under the flap. A bright red card peaked out from inside, and when Emma pulled it out carefully, a cartoon snowman with his arm around a reindeer was displayed on the cover. Her smile was prominent then and only continued to grow when Emma opened the card to find Merry Christmas! written in Regina's script rather than the generic font typed cards usually boasted. The crayon lettering of Henry's name that Regina no doubt helped him write was printed just as large as the message itself, and the scribbles on the left side of the card told Emma that Henry had left her another little present. "Apparently Henry did," Emma answered August, standing from her spot at the table, balancing her tray on the box as she carried it with her.
"Who's Henry?" August furrowed her brow.
"Her son." Emma turned from the table, already heading out of mess hall.
"You're friends with her son?" He called after her, but the words fell on deaf ears as Emma deposited her dinner tray on a trash receptacle and nearly jogged out the hall.
Emma sat on her bunk with goodies littered all around her. Spitz sunflower seeds nestled in between two boxes of Sweet N Salty granola bars. A clear bag filled with miscellaneous items like a mini sewing kit, a new toothbrush, travel sized hand sanitizer, and Chapstick sat in Emma's lap.
Emma had never gotten a care package before, never mind a gift meant specifically for her in mind rather than obligatory presents from foster parents to show their generosity to her social worker. She had pulled each item out of the box with such care, one would think there was gold hidden within them.
Gratitude flooded Emma's senses, and a sense of deep awe struck her that this near stranger had cared enough, for Emma of all people, not only to continue writing to her, but to send her something for the holidays. It may not have meant much to Regina, but it meant the world to Emma.
Her current object of attention was the letter she found stashed at the bottom with her rank and name scrawled on it in Regina's script. She nearly abandoned all the items she had taken out in her haste to open and read the letter.
December 23 2001
I realize this may not be arriving to you as quickly as I would like. The postal office said it would be useless to send it express since it would still have to be sorted with the hundreds of mail incoming to your camp, but it was worth a try.
Henry picked out the card and the flavour of sunflower seeds. I hope you enjoy the Cracked Pepper, though I tossed in the salted ones for you just in case.
I was uncertain as to what to send. I researched some wish lists for troops, and it said those are some things the average soldier likes. I hope I'm not overstepping any boundaries or making you feel uncomfortable with this gift of sorts. I just know how unusual the holidays feel when isolated.
And to answer your question, Henry is eight months. He's only learned to crawl a month ago, but the speed that he possesses would have you think he's been crawling since birth. We're still working on the walking and talking though.
In the event this letter doesn't arrive in time, I hope you and your troop had a happy and safe Christmas.
I hope you have a good New Year as well, Private Swan.
December 28 2001
Thank you so much for the gifts. You really have no idea how much I appreciate them. You didn't have to go to the trouble at all on doing that. Seriously. Thank you.
Tell Henry I love the sunflower seeds and the card. I have it taped up on my wall beside his artwork.
And you're not overstepping any boundaries. It was probably the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. I wish I could give something to you in return. Wow, I just realized I don't even really know what you like. I don't suppose you'd like a Swiss Army knife?
I'm kidding. Totally kidding. Pretty sure I couldn't send it out anyway.
But really, if there's ever anything I can do to repay your kindness, I will.
So, and you don't have to answer at all, but how come you know what lonely Christmases feel like?
You know, when I got your first letter, you were nothing like I had imagined. Not that I even have a good grasp on you now, but still. I thought your kid was a teen, and now that I know he's a baby, well that's close enough right?
I grew up with a few foster siblings, and it's crazy seeing babies grow up. They do it so fast. One day they can't even sit up by themselves and the next thing you know they're hiding in cabinets trying to scare the crap out of you. I highly suggest safety locks.
What do you think his first word is going to be? Is he closer to "Mama" or "Dada"?
I hope your town isn't causing you too much trouble.
Good luck in the new year too.
January 6 2002
Dear Private Swan,
It was no hindrance at all. You'll be happy to know that Henry drooled excessively once I told him you enjoyed his selections. Yes, drool is cause for celebration.
You would be correct to assume that I have no need for an army knife. If I possessed that, I would be the closest thing to a mob boss in Storybrooke. As you can tell, my town is flourishing with crime. Aside from work and Henry, I generally spend my time cooking and reading. Generic, perhaps, but relaxing nonetheless.
I suppose I did out myself on that one. It's not an interesting tale, mind you. My mother was distant, and I lost both my mother and father at quite a young age, so I guess we're in the same boat when it comes to not quite having a family. That is until Henry came along. I hope Mama is his first word since it's just he and I right now. Right now it's just raspberries and babbling as he attempts to talk. The doctors say he's developing normally though and that children grow at their own pace.
I appreciate the tip, though I'm sure I may have beaten you to it. Nearly everything is covered in puzzle mat paddings, there are gates everywhere, and more than once I ran late to a meeting simply because the lock mechanism on it was too difficult to pry open. It took my town's Sheriff nearly an entire day to set it up to my standards. There's no harm in being cautious of children's safety.
Happy new year, Ms. Swan.
Regina curled the final 's' of her surname as she signed the letter, giving it one final look over before she folded it and inserted it in an envelope. She made a mental note to purchase more envelopes when she noticed her supply was running low just as the sound of Henry's pitchy cry sounded through the baby monitor. She quickly jotted down her address and Emma's base camp before setting it on her desk to be mailed out later on that day.
As she left her home office to attend to Henry, Regina was unaware that she had made a new, and arguably her first, friend in Private Emma Swan. She had no idea how often in the coming months she would frequent the post office for new stamps and envelopes as she would be sharing tales of Henry's growth, revealing personal stories of her youth, and being a confidant to Emma when the days got too tiring or when the fear of being shipped to Iraq caught up with her. As Regina lifted Henry out of his crib, pressing a kiss and rouging his chubby cheek, she laid him on the change table, blissfully unaware that after three years of correspondence, she and Emma would finally meet.