A/N: Hey guys, just a short update this time; I’m putting the finishing edits on a new original novel, due out in early November, so that’s been monopolizing my time lately. But I haven’t forgotten about these two! Thanks for your continued support!
It had been a week since Regina had left Storybrooke. One day she was a regular fixture at Granny's diner, and the next she was gone. There had been no fanfare, no dramatic goodbyes or going-away parties; she'd simply disappeared. The only evidence that she had really left was an envelope with Henry's name written on the outside in Regina's distinct cursive and the dark and silent mansion at 108 Mifflin Street.
The envelope had been slipped under Emma's apartment door while she and Henry slept. Emma had been the one who'd discovered it, having woken up before her son—or rather having never really fallen asleep in the first place. Her curiosity urged her to open the thick greeting card-shaped envelope, but she'd handed it straight to Henry. Whatever was inside was between her son and Regina.
Now that the nightmares had stopped, she should have been sleeping through the night. But instead, she found herself lying on her back, night after night, staring up at the space above her head, and drumming her fingers against her ribcage. If she had been honest with herself, her reluctance to sleep had everything to do with the former mayor. But instead of dreaming about Regina’s past, she worried she might remember instead what it had been like to kiss and hold and caress the other woman.
The first week without Regina passed with little notice, but as the second week came to a close with still no word from the former mayor, Emma began to grow angry. She knew Regina rarely thought of others, but she'd always put Henry first, even above her often self-serving deeds. This abandonment didn't sit well with Emma.
Henry, for his part, had said little about his adoptive mother's departure. He hadn't shared what had been inside that envelope, but Emma was trying to respect his privacy. Emma thought he’d been handling everything very well, but he'd also been getting the full grandparent treatment—Mary Margaret made sure he got a home-cooked dinner if Emma had to work late, and David was teaching him everything a young prince was supposed to know, like horseback riding and sword play. Amongst all that excitement, there was little time to miss the woman who had raised you, Emma supposed.
When the second week went by with still no letter or phone call or e-mail or text message from Regina, the object of Emma's anger changed. Her confusion and dismay about what Regina had done still affected her, but now she was also frustrated with her son and the rest of Storybrooke's oblivious residents. Regina was gone; why was she the only one who seemed to care?
Henry came home from his riding lessons with David stinking like a barn.
"Kid,” Emma sighed, “we need to talk about hygiene." She stared at the muddy riding boots he'd discarded near the front door. Or at least she hoped it was mud. "And picking up after yourself."
Henry's head was buried in the refrigerator. Emma had been doing a better job of keeping the pantry stocked now that she was responsible for Henry's nutrition. Grocery shopping had become an even more loathsome chore than before. It reminded her too much of Regina. Every carrot, every head of lettuce, but especially every apple that went into the grocery cart brought to mind lectures she’d endured from Regina about their son’s nutrition and Emma’s lack there of.
"I'll take care of it," Henry promised as he rooted around the refrigerator for a snack.
"Just like how you took care of the wet towels on the bathroom floor this morning?"
Henry shut the refrigerator door, having come up empty. "Sorry. I'll remember to hang them up next time."
Emma exhaled deeply to check her emotions. She could hear herself becoming a nag, but she didn't know how to stop. She had no one to talk to about being a mother. None of her friends in Storybrooke had kids, and her own mother had never been a mother either. The only person she knew with any parental experience was currently the one person she couldn't find.
"It's okay, kid. Just remember that we're a team. And we both have to do our part to make the team run smoothly."
Henry ducked his head. "Yeah, I get it."
"Mmhm,” he nodded. “I'll get started on that now."
"Good boy," Emma smiled and brushed hair away from his forehead. "I'll see about making dinner."
A pot of water was on the stovetop, waiting to boil pasta, and the vegetable steamer was working on broccoli. Emma snagged the laundry basket and the stack of neatly folded clothes still waiting to be put away. She thought about asking Henry to put the laundry away for her—all in the name of teamwork—but he already had his textbooks laid out on the kitchen table and was fully immersed in his homework.
She lugged the mountain of clothes into Henry’s bedroom; she had no idea how a kid could get so many clothes so dirty, so fast. She pulled out the top drawer of the wooden clothes dresser. On top of a pile of tube socks was Regina’s letter. Emma worried her lip as she stared at the cream-colored paper. She'd nearly exhausted her few remaining resources trying to track down Regina's whereabouts. She had a few old friends in the Boston police department who might be able to help, but she'd been holding off on those favors as a last resort.
She reached into the top drawer and retrieved the envelope. Maybe Regina mentioned in the letter where she was going, or maybe she had left Henry with an address or a phone number where she could be reached. Emma toyed with indecision and the triangle fold on the envelope. She frowned, however, when she realized the letter was still sealed.
"Yeah, mom?" he called from the kitchen table.
Emma chewed on her lower lip. She didn't know if she should ask him. "Did you read that letter from Regina yet?"
No response came. Emma left Henry's room with the wicker laundry basket still in tote. "Did you hear me?" she asked when she returned to the main room.
“Well?” Emma waved the envelope. “Did you read this yet?”
Henry frowned. “No.”
“I don’t want to.”
Emma’s frown matched her son’s. “Henry…”
The boy jumped up from the table and hit clenched fists on its surface. “What could she possibly say to me that would make this any better?”
“I…I don’t know kid.” She hadn’t expected that kind of outburst. She passed him the letter, hands slightly shaking. “But maybe it’s time you found out.”
+ + +
Emma held her breath as the phone rang. Pick up, pick up, pick up she silently chanted.
Emma gripped the phone tighter. “Regina?” There was a pregnant pause on the other end. “Don’t hang up, okay?”
"How did you get this number?" the dark-haired woman coolly shot.
"I've told you before, it's my job to find people." Or Regina had included her new cell phone number in Henry’s letter; Emma just didn’t want the other woman knowing she’d read its contents. She and Henry had gone over the letter together after she’d confronted him about not having read it yet.
"Maybe you should spend your time looking for people who want to be caught, Miss Swan. It seems like a more productive use of your time."
"We need to work something out—for Henry. If you love him, Regina, you'll do this.”
"Of course I love Henry," Regina snapped. "He's the whole reason I left Storybrooke—the town I created and was mayor of for 28 years.”
"That's funny,” Emma snorted. “Because from where I'm standing, it looks a whole lot like you left Storybrooke for yourself. Things got too hard, so you bailed."
"I did no such thing.”
"The unselfish thing would have been to stay, Regina. It might have been the harder thing to do,” Emma noted, “but Henry would still have had both of his moms."
"He doesn't need me anymore. He's made that perfectly clear."
"The kid hasn't even hit puberty yet,” Emma grunted out. “He doesn't have a clue what he wants or who he'll need when he gets older."
"And yet you seem to hold some prophetic power that allows you to see all of this?" Regina huffed.
"I was Henry, Regina. Don't let him think you've abandoned him."
Regina audibly gasped. "I didn't...I never..." That was the last thing she'd wanted for Henry. She'd honestly only wanted to do what she thought was best for him. She'd been doing that—or at least thought she'd been doing that—ever since he'd come into her life a decade ago.
"I'm an expert at running from one's troubles." Emma's voice was low and soothing rather than sharp and judgmental. It surprised even herself. "I recognize it when I see it."
"I-I can't come back."
"Can't or won't?" Emma asked. She still wasn't clear on how magic and the town border worked.
"If I come back, I'm afraid there will be too many triggers and temptations to turn into her."
"The Evil Queen," Emma guessed.
"Yes. Henry was right, Emma. I need to be without magic. And I really can't stomach seeing all of those faces from the Enchanted Forest every day, especially your parents."
“We have to figure something out. You can’t not be a part of Henry’s life.” Or mine, she silently added.
Regina let out a quiet sigh. “I’m in New York,” she reluctantly revealed. “Why don’t you and Henry come for a visit?”
+ + +