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Surprise! It's a Girl!

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The knock at the door startles me out of my moment of contemplation. Snow and David promised me a little time to at least have an initial acceptance of this new title I've been given, and all of its attendant perks and responsibilities. I never wanted to be a queen; that was always Mama's dream for me. I just wanted to be happy and to have love in my life.

And now I have both. The two men I loved most died to protect me, each in his own way, and both told me to love again. And I have. And perhaps one day, I will again. But romance isn't the only love that I need or want in my life. I have both of my Henrys and reliable, unhindered access to Roland and Robyn. All of my children are here within the United Realms, where I can help to keep them safe. Even Lily, despite being too old to bond in the ways I bonded with the rest of them.

Another knock echoes through the thick slabs of timber that make up the door, this time accompanied by a piercing wail. Without hesitation, I move to open the door to find Emma pacing back and forth in her ball gown and jacket, a red-faced Hope in her arms.

"Emma?"

She turns to face me, desperation shining in her eyes despite the smile she offers; the same shy smile from our first meeting so many years ago. "Hi. Uh, am I bothering you? I just…" she trails off, bouncing her daughter on her hip. "I can come back."

"No, Emma, it's fine." Stepping back, I let her come into the room, intending to close the door behind her, but Hope has other plans for me. The second she's close enough, one little arm flails out toward me, and I'm unable to stop myself from reaching for her. I miss babies. I miss holding Henry at this age, and Robyn, and Lucy. All of my babies keep growing up on me, never this sweet and innocent for long enough to soothe the ache in my heart and my arms. I still wonder what it would have been like to hold Lily and Roland at this age. Oh, the myriad ways my life could have changed before getting to this point in my life. "Hello, little one. Are you being naughty to your mommy?"

From the corner of my eye, I can see an odd wince flit across Emma's face, but don't say anything initially. Hope giggles and blows spit bubbles at me and I lean in to rub my nose against hers. I lose myself in that sweet powdery scent that all babies and toddlers seem to exude from their very pores. It soothes me more than I've ever been able to properly explain. Without realizing it, I begin to waltz around the room with her, humming softly. I can feel Emma's eyes on us, and some of that odd energy of hers starts to dissipate. In no time, Hope's eyes flutter shut and she grows heavier in my arms. I continue to hold her close, swaying in place as I turn to face her mother.

"I don't know how you do that, Regina," she finally says, gratitude in her tone. "She's always just smiles and naps when you've got her."

"I can assure you that if I had her for longer stretches of time or more often, it wouldn't be all rainbows and unicorn stickers." The words are deliberate, drawing a knowing chuckle from her. My own laugh joins hers as I move closer to her. "So what's got you so frazzled tonight? Besides your daughter being stubborn about being with Auntie Regina, of course." That strange look returns to her face, panic flaring in her expressive eyes. "Emma, what's going on? You look like you've seen a ghost."

For a moment, she looks like she's going to say something, but then she simply shakes her head and offers that self-deprecating laugh and shrug of hers. "I think Hope's teething early and I'm just not getting the sleep I should."

"Her father should be helping ensure that you do get your sleep." I've grudgingly come to accept Emma's marriage with Hook, unsure I could change her mind if I wanted to.

"He does. He adores Hope. He's just really unsure how to…" Her words trail off as she gestures vaguely toward her left hand.

Ahh!

"I'm sure it'll be easier when she's a little older and more mobile, you know? But he tries and he loves to make her laugh and smile." She watches me for a moment, a wistful smile on her face. "I, uh, I can take her now, if you want."

Shaking my head, I move to sit on the chaise, beckoning her over to join me. "I'm quite happy to hold her for now. I'll never get over how good babies smell and feel in my arms when they're all heavy with sleep. In fact, if I had my way, I'd just keep Hope here with me all night."

She snorts softly at that. "You don't want to go anywhere near that reception banquet, do you?"

"Am I that obvious?" Sighing when she chuckles, I shrug. "Your mother's going to kill me if I don't show up, but I'm not sure I want to go. It's so much fuss and I just feel so uncomfortable with that kind of attention. You'd think after all these years I'd've gotten used to it, but here we are."

"Well, Killian went to chat with his twin and said he'd make a concerted effort to stay the hell away from your twin." That makes me chuckle, knowing that my twin won't do anything more than taunt him a little bit. "He said he was also curious to talk to young Henry a bit." She sounds wistful now.

"You want to tell me why our younger son has upset you?" She shrugs and shakes her head. "Do I need to pull out the Ms. Swan card?"

"Oh god! You know what that does to me, Regina!"

"Yes, I do, and I'll keep using it until you lose that damned stubborn streak that you inherited from both of your parents and then so charmingly passed on to our sons. I still haven't forgiven any of the three of you for that, by the way."

She laughs, and I can't help but join her. The movement jostles Hope slightly, and she whimpers, rubbing a hand over her face. Gently shushing her, I rock her back to sleep easily enough, smiling the entire time.

"You're really good with her," Emma finally says softly. "I suck at being a mom. Maybe giving up Henry should've been a clue that I just shouldn't have had any more kids."

"Emma…"

"I mean, don't get me wrong. I love Henry and I love Hope so damned much, but I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a mom."

"I know you already know this, but I'm going to remind you that I very nearly didn't adopt Henry for the same reason. There were some extenuating circumstances that added to the issue, but I was terrified I would be a horrible mother. He was colicky and fussy and I just couldn't connect with him the way I needed to. I packed him up with all of his things and even made lists for his care for whoever ended up adopting him."

Emma stares at me in fascination, hanging on every painful word I say. "What ended up changing your mind?" Her voice is soft, husky with emotion, matching mine almost perfectly.

"Mr. Dugan, the man in charge of Henry's adoption, was ready to take Henry back, said they already had a new family ready to adopt him. And then he had to step out of his office for a moment, I think to get someone to help get Henry and his things. I looked at Henry in that car seat, and I apologized to him for not being good enough to be his mother. And he just looked at me, like he could really see and understand me. I'm not sure what made me do it, but I couldn't look away and I asked him to just give me another chance. And he smiled at me. Looking back, he was only a month old and it was probably gas, but at the time…"

"At the time, he smiled at you and gave you that second chance?" Emma asks when I don't finish my thought, overwhelmed by my own memories, and I can only nod. "And then you gave him his best chance, the one I wanted him to have when I gave him up. I can never repay you for that, Regina, but I'm going to keep trying."

Smiling, I shift to put Hope back in her mother's arms. "You can repay me by giving yourself and your daughter that second chance at bonding properly. If it worked for Henry and me without a biological connection, it can work for you and Hope."

~~*~*~*~~

About two weeks after the coronation, I get a phone call from older Henry while I'm sitting in my study in the castle. I still prefer living in the mayoral mansion in Storybrooke, but sometimes it's just easier to stay in the castle. When he learns where I am, he simply says he's coming over for a talk and hangs up. I hate that he's still retained that trait from his other mother and his grandmother.

I'm not sure what area of the United Realms Henry's coming from, so I work to finish up the research I've been doing, or at least get it to a point where I can easily pick it up again later. Just as I'm finishing up, I hear a knock at my study door. A casual flick of my wrist opens the door as I set the books and scrolls aside. Glancing up, I see him standing in the doorway, wearing that slightly stunned look on his face at my far more casual use of magic lately. The effects of Drizella's curse are still being made known to me, but I learned that my magic, dark and light both, is a gift that I don't wish to be without. Thankfully both of my sons have accepted this.

"Come in here before you let out all of the heat," I chastise lightly. "You know castles don't have insulation like modern homes."

He chuckles and steps inside, closing the door behind him. He glances around the room with a smile before making his way over to envelop me in a hug. It still startles me that my little prince is so grown up.

"You look good, Your Majesty," he says pulling back to smile down at me.

My nose wrinkles up at that. "You know very well that I don't like that title from you, Henry Daniel Mills."

"I do, but if I didn't tease you about it, you'd think something was wrong."

There's a strange note to his words as he says that. He may be an adult, but he's still my little boy deep down, and I know when something's bothering him. Guiding him to the couch in front of the fireplace, I sit and wait for him to join me. "Tell me what's going on. I can tell that something's on your mind."

"Jumping right into it, hmm? I thought you cut to the chase when I was trying to hide things as a kid. You're even more of a hard ass about it now."

"Language, Henry." The reprimand is out of my mouth before I realize I've said it, then we both laugh. "I can't help it. You'll understand when Lucy's older, trust me."

"Oh, I know. I think you or Ma cursed me into having a child just like me."

That makes me laugh again. "I don't remember consciously doing it, so it might have been your other mother." Clearing my throat, I offer him a significant look. "And you're stalling, so you must have something serious that you want to discuss."

Henry goes quiet for a moment, turning to stare into the fire. I study his profile, struck by just how much of both Emma and Neal I can see in him, yet he's entirely his own person. There are even bits of his grandparents there, all three of them that I knew. And that brings a pang of loss remembering how one of his grandfathers is no longer with us. I could use his counsel now more than I ever thought possible.

"Have you talked to Ma recently?" His words pull me from my reverie. "I mean, I know you see her at the council meetings, but other than that?"

"We do lunch semi-regularly when I'm staying in Storybrooke, and I took Hope for a day last week so she could have some down time, but I've been here this past week. Is something going on?"

"You took Hope? Oh… Uh, has she mentioned anything about Hook?"

That odd tone is back in his voice, setting my nerves on edge. "What in the hell is going on, Henry? Why are you beating around the bush?"

He sighs softly. "I'm not sure I should even be telling you this, but you really need to make the time to talk to Ma. She could really use you right now."

"Will you please--"

"Look, I'm just gonna say it like this. Operation Make Ma Smile Again needs to take priority, okay?"

The mention of another of his operations is both comforting and terrifying as hell. That Emma is the subject of his operation makes it even more terrifying, and my heart clenches painfully. "Just tell me what's going on, Henry. Please?"

He sighs and chews on his bottom lip for a long moment before meeting my eyes again. "Hook left two days ago. He took off in the Jolly Roger with no ETA of his return trip."

"What?"

"Ma's been keeping to herself, but she basically moved herself and Hope into the loft and offered to sell her house to Robyn and Alice for cheap as a wedding present."

My heart drops into my stomach at the implication of his words. That was their house, practically from the moment she became the Dark One. Henry helped Hook find it for Emma. If he's left on his ship and she's moved out, this isn't some simple voyage he's going on.

"I'll kill him," I mutter, mind already working to devise ways to torture the man for hurting my Emma.

My Emma?

"Mom, you're getting that scary Evil Queen look right now, and it's still weird enough to see that look on Queenie Mom's face. I don't want to see it on yours. Just-- Just talk to Ma?"

"Of course," I reply, forcing myself to smile at him. "I was planning to go back to Storybrooke this weekend, but I can bump that up. Or maybe I'll just go over to Granny's for some chocolate silk pie and happen to run into her."

He chuckles at that. "You and your chocolate silk pie. You know she only makes it for you, right? No one else in town's ever eaten it. Well" -- his tone turns sheepish -- "Ella's learned to like it, so I guess you might have some competition now."

Cupping his face in my hands, I pull him close to rest my forehead against his. "I love your wife, but she needs to stay the hell away from my chocolate silk pie." My lips curl up into a smirk, making him grin as I shift to kiss his forehead. "You are a good son to worry about Emma like this, Henry. I promise I'll call your mother and have an old-fashioned girls' night in." And then I pause for a handful of heartbeats. "Does your grandmother know about whatever this is?" When his gaze drops, I slightly tighten my grip on his face. "Henry?"

"Yeah, I think she does."

That gets me on my feet to start pacing. "How in the hell does Snow White know what's going on before I do? More to the point, how has she not come to spill this to me?" He lets out a sound that is half strangled laughter and half choking exhale. "You know I love your grandmother, but she still has an issue with keeping secrets."

"She kept your coronation from you."

"That's--"

"Different? No, not really. She knows some of what's going on with Ma, but not all of it. I really need you to talk to Ma."

"I will. So who all knows, regardless of the extent, what's going on with Emma? I need to know what kind of potential damage control I need to deal with."

"You leave the damage control to me, my younger twin, and Rogers. Oh, and Aunt Zelena, too."

"Good gods, Zelena knows, too? How absolutely clueless have I been?"

"Uh, can I refuse to answer that on the basis that I don't want you to fireball my ass?"

"Henry!" I laugh on his name and shake my head. "What kind of mother do you think I am to consider fireballing my son's ass? And what kind of son are you to even say it?"

"The kind that knows you don't like being kept out of the loop that Grams is already a part of. Especially if she's working with Aunt Zelena in the process."

"Both of you Henrys are in my crosshairs."

"Are we safe if we say that Lucy's also involved? Or does that make it worse? Because if it makes it worse, she's totally not involved in Operation Make Ma Smile Again." He flashes that sweet smile that reminds me far too much of his grandmother as a child, the one that always made me give in to his childhood wheedling.

I point at the door and laugh. "Get out of here before I actually fireball you."

~~*~*~*~~

By the time I reach Storybrooke, it's later than I wanted to be returning home. But, as always seems to happen when I actually have plans for my time, everyone in the castle and half the realms suddenly needs just five minutes of my time. And before I know it, four hours have passed. But eventually I find myself in my car driving down Main Street toward the mansion. Henry's words replay in my mind, and I take the time to drive past Emma's house, dismayed to see how dark and forebodingly empty it looks. Without hesitation, I next drive past the loft, noting the lights on through the partially closed curtains.

I shouldn't just drop in unannounced, but Henry's words replay in my mind, the fear swimming in his expressive eyes. He doesn't indulge in flights of fantasy or wild goose chases often since growing up, not like he did as a boy. There's definitely something going on with Emma and, before I realize I've done it, my car is parked in front of the building. Turning off the engine, I sit there for a moment before getting out and walking the familiar path up to the loft to knock on the door.

"Regina?"

She looks exhausted as she opens the door. Hope is in her sling, and I can just hear her sweet little snores. The sound makes me smile, even as the sight of this woman standing before me tugs at my heartstrings.

"Is everything okay?"

"I was just going to ask you the same thing actually," I reply softly. "May I come in or…"

She blinks owlishly for a moment, then steps back to let me step inside. "How did you even know I was here?" Before I can answer, she leans against the now closed door. "Henry or my mom?"

"Henry, older version." My lips curl up in a soft smile. "He, uh, he said you were considering selling the house to Robyn and Alice?"

"Oh shit!" She shifts and minces toward the bedroom that used to be Snow and David's. "Did you really have to do that, baby?"

"What happened?"

"She just puked all over me. I think she might be fighting a stomach bug. Ugh, I'm covered in it."

Without thought, I follow behind her and turn her to support the now crying Hope as she undoes the sling. "Let me take Hope and get her changed. You go hose off and get into something clean and comfortable."

"You sure?"

"Positive. Henry did that and worse to me as a baby. I've got this. In fact, go take a nice long shower if you want. I'll get her some pedialyte and try to put her back to sleep for you. Is she sleeping down here with you?"

When Emma nods and grabs clean clothes, I smile and set Hope on the bed. "Leave your dirties and the sling outside the bathroom door. When she's changed and you're out of the shower, I'll get a load of laundry going for you."

"You don't have t--"

"Save your breath, Emma. You're not going to talk me out of it."

She rolls her eyes and heads to the bathroom after pointing out the drawer for Hope's clothing. I take my time changing the baby into a new diaper and clean jammies, then grab the backup sling to put her into. Hope secured, I head into the kitchen for a bottle of pedialyte and to get the start of the laundry into the washer. Emma's clothes go in next, and the machine is prepped for running when she's done. That settled, I get comfortable on the couch and offer Hope the bottle. She offers a gummy smile around the nipple, eyes already drooping as sleep tries to claim her once again.

The bottle is drunk, and Hope is burped and fast asleep long before the shower turns off. I even get her into her crib, then go to put the kettle on for tea. When Emma steps out of the bathroom in sweats and one of her ubiquitous wife beaters, towel drying her hair, I smile and offer her a mug. "I found shortbread cookies in the cupboard. I didn't know you liked those."

She shrugs. "I liked them when you had them at your house." She picks up the mug and heads over to the couch, feet tucked up under her. "Thank you for getting Hope to sleep. She's been really fussy the last few days."

"You mean since her father left the two of you?"

"You know about th-- Henry. Damn it, kid!"

I settle next to her on the couch and touch her arm, ignoring the slight jolt of sensation. "He's worried about you, Emma, and frankly so am I. What did the handless wonder do that I can beat the hell out of him in retaliation?"

"He just-- It's nothing. He's just going on a sail. He's been talking about missing the sea for a while now."

"How long is a while?" She's quiet for a long moment, not meeting my gaze. "Emma…"

"Since he found out he wasn't Hope's father, okay?"

"Wasn't Ho-- What in the hell are you talking about?"

"She's-- I wasn't entirely sure at first, but at her last check-up, we found out that she's got a blood type that doesn't result from my and Killian's blood types."

"And you don't think that magic might have something to do with that?"

"That's not how it works here, Regina, and you know that." She sighs softly. "Plus, her eyes are changing color."

"Most babies' eyes do."

"Green and blue do not normally result in brown, Regina."

I blink at the vehemence in her tone, then notice the tears in her eyes. Her words filter back in my head, alongside memories of how easily Hope has always settled down for me practically from the womb, that sense of rightness whenever I hold her, her dark hair…

No, it's not possible.

"Emma, what are you saying? If not Hook, then who is Hope's father?"

She meets my gaze again, a tear slipping down her cheek. When I reach out to wipe away that tear, she leans into my touch. "I think you know the answer to that, Regina." Her voice is husky, tugging at my suddenly racing heart.

"No," I whisper, the sting of tears in my own eyes. "That's not possible. We never…"

"Magic was involved," Emma replies just as softly. "I don't have all the details, but Hope is your daughter, our daughter. Killian tried to ignore it when we found out, but he couldn't."

"Did he hurt you? I'll fucking kill him if he hurt either of you." The intensity of my rage startles me. I haven't felt this since before the split with my twin, before casting that damned curse in the first place. "I don't care where he thinks he escaped to on that decrepit piece of flotsam he calls a ship, I'll find him and I'll destroy him."

That little jolt comes again when she wraps her hand around my fist, pulling me from planning ways to torture the pirate for hurting my Emma.

Why do I keep saying that?!

"Look me in the eye and listen to what I'm saying, Regina. He didn't hurt me and he didn't hurt Hope. He would never hurt Hope, okay? He loves her, but finding out he's not her father hurt. So maybe cool it with the death threats?" She grins then, a shy, sweet thing that tugs at my heart. "But I can admit that I kinda like the protective vibe. Now I'm seeing the mom that raised Henry before I came to town and threw that monkey wrench into the works. I'm so sorry I ever tried to take Henry away from you, Regina. I just didn't understand, but now I do. You're an incredible mom and I'm so grateful that I get to share this with you again with Hope."

"I--"

"I know this is putting a lot of shit on you that you weren't expecting, so I get it if you wanna just disappear for a while and process. I can take care of Hope."

She stands up and takes her mug into the kitchen, leaving me sitting there in stunned silence. This is too much. My eyes travel to the bedroom where Hope lies sleeping. Without thought, I stand and make my way toward her crib, clutching the rail tightly as I stare down at her sleeping face. The urge to cradle her to my chest, let that sweet baby powder scent of hers permeate every cell in my body, is so strong now that the realization of my previously unknown connection to her is becoming more obvious. The little bow of her lips is more recognizable now, the curve of her ears suddenly reminds me of tracing Daddy's ears for endless hours as a little girl. She even has the faintest duskiness to her skin tone, something I assumed came from Hook's side.

"She loves you."

Her words are soft, softer than her footsteps coming over to my side. I'm so wrapped up in the realization that I have a daughter, I can't even tear my gaze away from that sweet little face to thank Emma for telling me. But I force myself to do just that, taking in the fear lurking in those expressive mossy eyes.

"Whatever you and Hope need…"

They're not the words I want to say, but they're all that can come out while still maintaining my composure. Especially when she reaches over to squeeze my hand lightly.

"It's okay, Regina. I know this is more than you expected. I don't actually expect anything. I just thought you should know the truth."

She's giving me an out. She's doing what I would do if our places were reversed. My knees buckle and I stumble toward the floor, landing hard enough for tears to sting in my eyes again. I can't break down, not now. If I cry now, I may never stop. And I'm not sure it would be a good thing for my baby girl to wake up to find her other mother completely unhinged with emotional overload.

"Regina?"

Emma's arms are around me, pulling me into an embrace that she so rarely has ever initiated in the past. I can't hear anything that she's saying over the blood roaring in my ears. That jolt of energy hits me again, and I shudder, the tears finally coming as memories play of my life since Emma stumbled her way into it to break my curse. Each is viewed with new eyes, the reality of me slowly falling in love with this woman now glaringly obvious. No wonder we magically created a child together.

This is too much.

~~*~*~*~~

The next thing I know, I wake up in Snow and Charming's bed again. The déjà vu of the aftermath of Owen playing Catch the Lightning with me all those years ago hits hard, and I'm immediately shaking at the memories. Okay, I know it's not their bed this time, but the similarities are eerie enough, given the emotional shock from earlier. There's a soft murmuring to my left that tugs at my senses. Turning my head, I see Emma walking through the loft, trying to calm her -- our daughter. Hope is having none of it, crying pitifully.

Swallowing thickly, I get out of bed and make my way over to them. When she turns to see me, there are frustrated tears in her eyes and her face is blotchy from crying. My brow quirks up as my eyes slide to Hope's equally red face, and Emma surrenders her immediately. Hope snuggles into my chest and starts to suck on her fist, quieting readily. Emma offers a conflicted expression, but doesn't fight it when I pull her into a one-armed hug.

"Come on," I whisper, unwilling to break the fragile trust building. "Let's go sit down on the couch."

She comes along reluctantly, but rests her head on my shoulder as we settle next to each other. She strokes Hope's cheek and sighs softly. "I'm sorry to spring this on you, Regina."

"Please stop apologizing, Emma. I don't blame you for anything. If anything, I should be apologizing to you for never being fully honest with you over the years."

"I don't understand," she says, pulling back to stare at me in confusion.

Offering her a rueful smile, I shake my head. "Yes, you do, but I'll say it anyway. I've loved you for so many years now, but I kept denying it to myself and the world because I knew I didn't deserve you. Villains don't get happy endings and all of that."

"You're not a villain."

"And it's taken me a long time to understand and accept that. I don't know how you feel about me and I won't push you for anything you don't want, but given that we now share two children, I think it's finally time that you know what I've finally come to accept as my reality."

"Regina--"

"No, let me finish, please?" When she nods, I take a deep breath and continue. "I'm not perfect, but I love you and I love both Henrys and I definitely love Hope, even before I knew she was mine. We made co-parenting work with Henry after some trial and error, and I hope that we can make it work again with our daughter. That's all I ask, and all I deserve after all I've done over the years."

She shakes her head, and I feel my heart break at the rejection I know is coming. The sudden memory of standing outside Granny's and being told that it wasn't a good idea for Henry to stay with me rears its ugly head, tears burning in my eyes again. It hurts to swallow past the heart-shaped lump in my throat, knowing that I've bared my soul as much as I'm able to in this moment, only to be turned away as just not good enough once again.

"You will always be in Hope's life, Regina, you're her mother." She laughs softly. "I guess this means I need to pick a different godmother though, doesn't it? Maybe Henry and Ella could be her godparents? Is that weird?"

"In Storybrooke, I'd say that's pretty normal. And thank you."

She strokes my cheek, making me meet her gaze again. There's something there that both fascinates and terrifies me. "No, thank you for giving me our daughter, and for believing me without requiring proof, like most people would."

"Once you said it, it made perfect sense of the strange thoughts tumbling in the back of my mind all this time."

Before I know what's happening, Emma leans forward to press a tentative, warm kiss to my lips. Her fingers still stroke my cheek, and my soft gasp allows her to deepen the kiss. Every inch of my skin feels like it's on fire in the best possible ways. Only Hope's little sneeze pulls us apart, both panting slightly in the aftermath, and my lips itch to kiss Emma again.

"What's wrong, princess?" Emma asks softly, tapping the baby's nose. "Are you feeling left out?"

"She's hungry," I reply, feeling Hope squirm in my arms. I lick my lips nervously. "Are you still breastfeeding her or…"

"Yes, but I expressed milk earlier today. Can you watch her while I get a bottle warmed up? I think you should feed her."

"Emma, I've fed her several times in the past."

"Yes," she replies, standing up, then leans over to brush my lips with hers, "but not with the full knowledge that you're her mother. This is a new milestone for you."

The reality that I can watch our daughter grow up with both of her mothers and both of her older brothers loving and supporting her, not to mention everyone else in her incredibly large extended family, hits hard again. My eyes travel from her face up to study Emma's profile as she goes about heating up a bottle, and my heart thuds heavily in my chest. I want to kiss her again, I want to hold her close and never let her go. When she turns to look at me with a soft, curious smile on her face, I return it as best I can. Once the bottle's ready, she returns to my side, offering another brief brushing of our lips before she sits down.

Hope easily takes the bottle, settling even more heavily in my arms. For a long moment or two, we sit quietly as she eats. Emma rests her cheek against my shoulder, stroking Hope's leg to further calm her, and lets out a soft sigh.

"Move in with me."

The words are out of my mouth before I realize I've even thought them, let alone register that I said them.

"What?"

"I know you're selling your house to Robyn and Alice, but you and Hope deserve better than this loft. The mansion is big and empty, and I miss the happy sounds of a child growing up within its walls."

"Are you sure?"

"You and I can take things as slowly as we need to, but I don't want to let either of you out of my sight. Please, Emma?"

I risk looking at her when she doesn't answer right away, that fear of rejection rearing its ugly head again, until she smiles and softly says, "Yes."

"Yes?" My heart soars, ready to burst out of my chest and fly around the room. "You mean it?"

"As soon as you're willing to let us move in, we're there."

"Tomorrow. Tonight, I think I just want to stay right here, curled up with the two of you."

"I'm okay with that."

My gaze returns to Hope, who has slowed down in eating, eyes drooping heavily with exhaustion. A soft chuckle escapes my lips. "Henry's going to flip when he realizes that his little operation ended up working."

"Operation? What did he do?"

"Operation Make Ma Smile Again is what he called it. Apparently both of our sons, my sister, and Rogers are in on it. I'm not entirely sure they expected this outcome though."

She laughs and shrugs, head returning to rest on my shoulder. "I don't care. You definitely made me smile again, and I love you for it."

"I love you, too, Emma."