It was a cool day in late March and Miss Emma Swan did not come back from Neal Cassidy’s funeral in London alone. Lady White, who had been sitting with the housekeeper, planning the re-upholstering of the furniture in the drawing room, heard the hushed voices in the hall, one of them unfamiliar, and stood, her lips, once tightened in a firm line, now softened and smiling. “Excuse me, Mrs Potts.”
The portly housekeeper nodded, rifling through fabric samples. “You go see that girl of yours,” she said, smiling with the benevolence of a king or possibly a god.
Regina strode from the room, far too much of a lady to run even though every erratic beat of her heart encouraged the idea, making her way to grand hall of the Derbyshire estate. There, she found Emma, seated in an alcove to the side of the hall. A little girl, perhaps no more than four, sat huddled beside her. She had dark hair, the curls matted, and skin that was far too dark to be white, though that could equally have been the thick layer of grime that clung to her skin. “Miss Swan,” Regina said, and she felt her whole face soften into happiness when she saw Emma. “And you brought a friend home.”
Emma nodded. “This is Millie,” she said. “Millie, love, this is Lady White.”
Regina knelt before the girl, staring at her with large brown eyes. “You may call me Regina, dear.”
Millie pulled her thumb from her mouth and mumbled, “G’morning, R’gina,” and Regina’s heart tore at the sound.
"She could do with a bath," Emma added and her eyes said, ask me about it later. So Regina merely ordered a bath and left Emma to see to Millie. She couldn’t help but look in on Emma, however, as she bathed the little girl. Millie just about disappeared beneath the bubbles in the water and she shrieked when Emma splashed her.
"No, Emma," she said sternly. "Daddy says splashing is naughty." Her face fell then, lower lip trembling like Henry’s used to at about that age when he was on the verge of tears.
"Quite right, dear," Regina said from the doorway. "Miss Swan, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"I apologise, m’lady," Emma said, scraping a curtsey to Millie, who giggled, the tears forgotten for the moment.
"I shall have your room made up for her," Regina said, still vaguely pretending after all these years that Emma’s room was not their room. The sheets had not been disturbed in the guest bedroom once reserved for Emma in quite some time. "After such a long journey, she must need to sleep." In response, Millie yawned and Emma nodded. "I will be in my dressing room," she added.
Before removing to her dressing room, however, Regina popped her head in on Henry, who had been studying all afternoon in preparation for Eton the next year. She couldn’t quite believe he was twelve, her baby boy all grown up, and wondered at the sentimentality she was exhibiting in her old age. “How goes the study, darling?”
Henry shrugged. He was going through an awkward phase, all gangly limbs and too-sharp features and Emma liked to tease him, calling him the ‘ugly duckling’. “Struggling through the Latin translation Dr Hopper gave me,” he said, referring to his tutor. “Any chance you know ‘The Aeneid’?”
"You know I was never allowed to learn Latin, dear," Regina said. It certainly would not have done for Cora Mills to have a bluestocking for a daughter. French and Italian were quite enough to be going along with, thank you. "I shall have food sent up to you though."
"Love you, Mama," he said, flashing her a grin that was all Emma. The ‘I love you’s were fewer and further between now that he was a young man and it made Regina’s heart hurt sometimes but at least they had moved beyond the awful period two years ago when he had found out that Emma and Regina were lovers and had run away to Mary Margaret and David in the north. That had very nearly broken her.
"I love you too, my little prince," she said, wrapping her arms around him from behind and kissing the top of his head. He squirmed but patted her arm. She found a serving girl in the corridor and sent her to the kitchens to order rarebit and cocoa for Henry, before retiring to her dressing room, where she sat at her mirror, fixing her hair, which had fallen loose from its pins in places over the course of the day.
The face reflected in the mirror was older now, lines at the corners of her eyes becoming ever more prominent and she had been horrified to discover several streaks of grey in her hair. Emma loved them though. “We shall grow old and fat and happy together,” she had told her as Regina had sulked. “Just as I promised.” She found could not quite bring herself to do anything to rid herself of the grey after that.
Movement appeared in the mirror and she turned to find Emma, standing hesitantly in the doorway to the dressing room. “You must be exhausted,” Regina said and Emma’s whole body seemed to relax. She collapsed on the chaise and patted the space before her and what could Regina do but shift over to let herself lie in Emma’s arms? Those strong arms wrapped around her body as though she never intended to let her go and Regina smiled.
"The funeral was awful," Emma said. "He was so young." Her voice cracked on the last word.
"And the girl?"
"Neal’s daughter," Emma said. "His wife, Tamara, was from the Caribbean. She died giving birth. Neal’s raised Millie. I couldn’t leave her there."
Regina understood. What hope was there in London for an orphaned black girl whose father had been a thief? “She’s Henry’s sister,” Regina said, nestling her head against Emma’s shoulder. “By blood at least.”
"She didn’t want me to leave her," Emma said. "She clung to me when I put her to bed just now. I can’t abandon her. She’s been abandoned all her life."
"I would never ask you to," Regina said and Emma kissed the nape of her neck, fingers stroking her ribs. "We will work it out."
"I love you," Emma murmured. "How are you so perfect?"
"Many people would beg to differ, I suspect," Regina said. “Mary Margaret, for one,” and Emma laughed.
"I quite recant," she said and her fingers drifted from the bottom of her ribs, skirting upwards, and Regina shivered against her touch. "You’re not perfect. You’re actually evil."
"Oh?" Regina twisted so that her face was mere inches from Emma’s, still as oddly handsome as the first day she met her, features angular and eyes large. She focused on the smattering of freckles on her nose.
"Wearing that dress," she said. "When I’m too tired and dirty to tear it off you."
Regina laughed. She had worn the scarlet gown with its low neckline because she knew Emma would be returning home today and she’d missed her so much. “Perhaps you should take a bath.”
"Probably." Emma grinned. "Perhaps you should join me."
Alice bustled into the room at that moment, a dress draped over one arm. “You are aware there’s a small child sleeping in Emma’s bed, I suppose?” she asked, hanging the violet gown in Regina’s wardrobe.
Regina smiled at her lady’s maid, whose loyalty over the past years to the pair of them had been proven time and time again. “Millie will be staying with us,” she said and she wouldn’t have thought it possible for Emma’s smile to broaden any further. “Miss Swan needs to wash.”
"And I suppose I should inform Mrs Potts that you’re no longer interested in discussing the furnishings today?" Alice asked.
"I suspect," Regina said, "that she’s already guessed as much."