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A Package Deal

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A/N - I strongly recommend you read Special Delivery first. Unlike the first story which was primarily rot your teeth fluff, things are about to get a bit more real for our ladies (all of our Mills women) so expect some more drama with tons of fluff and humor woven in between as they all learn to navigate this new family dynamic. This is a story about the power of sisterhood, overcoming family differences, small miracles, and the magic of a bond that goes beyond blood.

Dedication – To every person out there who feels like they are struggling in the dark to find their way; you will find the light again, but more often it will find you when you least expect it.

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Chapter 1 - A Deal

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Something warm stirred beside her in the dark.

Or rather someone.

Regina cracked her eyes open, her fingers curling into the soft blonde curls spilled across her pillow case her cheek had found a home in last night while she had slept. At one time months ago she was used to the idea of waking up alone to a new day, but like every day since the week before Christmas Emma's little face would appear on the pillow next to her head or across the way framed on her nightstand to greet her. She smiled at the sweet sleeping face of her little girl. She had been doing that a lot lately and more so since Emma had officially moved in. Slowly sitting up in bed Regina ran her fingers through her tangle of hair in thought as the sun splashed brightly across the carpet announcing the day to come. She hugged her knees and rested her chin there watching Emma breathe peacefully as she thought about the last few months.

Right after Christmas and finalizing the foster care papers she'd become Emma's temporary legal guardian. It had taken two months to get her official fostering license and she had at the end of February. The process was made quicker due to the extensive work done beforehand by Zelena and Mother to have Emma placed with her. The same week she'd put in for her intent to adopt, which was an extensive process in itself. Regina was now on a first name basis with Ms. Jenine Nelson, Emma's Social Worker, due to the twice a month home visits they were subject to. Between those, which always left both she and Emma an anxious wreck, and the court ordered therapy sessions that were once a week for Emma with the demands of her career had all but left Regina exhausted.

But more than smiling.

Now four months into a six month process before Emma was officially her daughter on paper there was a hearing coming up to confirm intent and the Termination of Parental Rights that Zee said not to worry about. All were just the next steps to make Emma an official part of her family. Emma already was in her eyes and had been an absolute light in the darkness that had overtaken her life since Kathryn's death.

A lot had changed in the last four months since the Christmas Program and Regina began thinking about some of them as she slipped out of bed and went to her bathroom to begin her morning routine. Today was an office day and she worked there four days a week and from home on Friday. Late nights working had also become a thing of the past—at least until after Emma was in bed. As the hot water hit Regina's face she sighed in relaxation, knowing she had as short time before Emma awoke and would no doubt come seeking her out.

As she began to relax, the tension leaving her shoulders reminded her of why it was there to begin with. Regina sighed as she wet a sponge and lathered up, her thoughts went to her Mother. With Cora's begrudging understanding Regina had made that work shift and was about to make the next down to three days a week in order to be home more with Emma. She needed to have that talk with Mother today and was not looking forward to it. While Cora adored Emma the business minded woman had made it more than clear to Regina that she was to keep up with her responsibility to the family corporation as she had been groomed to do since childhood. While Regina liked aspects of her career, there were certain parts she could more than do without and she didn't have to work for money. There was plenty of it in a trust in her name waiting to be tapped since her Father's death three years ago.

Regina liked working though—and this work in particular. Getting an untold story into the hands of a reader to consume was something she was more than passionate about. She took risks on new writers and often her risks paid off with a generous amount of zeros attached much to her Mother's and Mr. Gold's pleasure.

To help manage her time Regina had begun to work smarter, not harder. She had shifted some of her smaller responsibilities to her more than capable team and still managed the larger aspects of the family business at Mills, Mills & Gold Publishing co. As she rinsed the body-wash from her skin she frowned at that new addition to the company name and the man that had come with it. Mostly she spent her time reading and approving scripts or working on the financial business end of their empire with the company lawyer, Zelena, as a support. On their own, she and her sister were each a force to be reckoned with. Together they were damn near unstoppable.

Regina smiled at the thought and even bigger at the next.

More so than work she spent her time learning how to be the parent of a feisty, intelligent, and opinionated five year old girl (though Emma would say 5 and 3/4s adamantly) with the biggest heart she had ever known. Emma was a pistol and ball of energy on a good day and a firecracker on better ones. On the not so good ones they struggled to find their way, but both were learning their new roles to each other. There were some demons in the child's past that had come to light and some Regina suspected were still in hiding waiting to come out. Emma especially was learning though that she was not going anywhere.

No matter what.

"Gina?"

The door was pushed open and Regina turned off the water and quickly reached for her robe. "Remember to knock and wait until I call for you next time, alright?" Privacy was still a foreign concept to Emma who was used to sharing space with multiple people and having none of it in other homes, the group home especially. But they were making progress. There was a lot of learning of new things and some undoing they were working on together with Emma's therapist. One that Emma was still warming up to and in truth so was she.

"Kay." Bouncing into the room fully Emma went right for a waist to hug. "G'morning!"

Regina leaned down to kiss golden curls. "Good morning sweetheart. How did you sleep?"

"Good." Grinning up. "I'm full of beans this morning too!"

A dark brow rose, not sure she should ask. "Oh, did you eat some already?" Not remembering having made any recently or why Emma would willingly eat them. They had the vegetable battle often enough that she'd taken to sneaking them in sauces and dishes in creative ways. While Emma ate most everything else, the girl was learning that green food was a necessary evil of childhood.

"Nope, but I am hungry." Emma moved to sit on the round rug in front of the sink and opened the cabinet below to play with some of the bath toys Gina kept there for when she used the Jacuzzi tub. "It's what ZeeZee says I am when she gives me sugar and I feel bouncy like that now.

Then the English term registered in her mind and Regina rolled her eyes affectionately for what her sister must be teaching Emma when she wasn't watching. "Full of energy then… well that's good. Today is going to be a busy one." She finished towel drying her hair adding a small amount of product to smooth her curls and moved to begin her make-up.

As Regina took out the make-up brush holder and bag of products from the drawer Emma's head popped up curiously. She watched as Regina began patting some kind of colored cream on her cheeks and then swirling it with a brush. "Gina why do you paint your face?"

Regina smiled at the term, feeling a twinge in her heart of Emma's choice of words as she finished blending her foundation. "Kathryn used to call it my war paint."

"Like the black stuff football players wear on their cheeks?"

"Of a sort."

"Is it for you though?"

"In a way, sure." Regina thought about it a bit more as she opened her highlighter. Her mask as Zee liked to call it was something she was adept at putting on since she was a teenager. "Sometimes people wear it for different reasons, but for me its part of my ritual for preparing for the day. Like a shield. When I wear it, for the office especially, I feel like I can do anything and no one can make me feel something I don't want to feel. So it is very much like war paint my little duck."

Emma thought about that idea and when Gina didn't wear makeup, which was when they were staying home or just out in the city on their own and promptly wrinkled her nose. She liked Gina's face without paint like that the most. "Will I gotta wear it when I get big?"

"No. It is not something people have to do, but some want to for their own reasons."

"People? So boys wear it too?" That idea had not crossed Emma's mind.

Regina paused at the question, already hearing just how Mother would answer and easily said the exact opposite. "Make-up, like everything else, is for everyone Emma."

"So all the people." Decided she understood Emma asked about another idea that came into her head that she never considered before. "So if I don't wanna wear dresses or skirts no more I don't have to, even though I'm a girl?" Gina had bought her lots of wonderful clothes and she didn't want to be ungrateful. She didn't really understand that word all the way, but she had heard Ms. Nelson tell other kids at the group home it was important not to be that way when someone gave you something.

Setting her brush aside Regina turned and leaned her hip against the counter. Emma was looking right up at her in such a serious way that she knew there was more to the question. Every time they had been shopping together Emma had easily taken to dresses and pants alike and the child's wardrobe was a mix of both. "No, you don't have to wear anything you don't like. I will always give you choices." Thinking about her lack of them growing up in that department. Always skirts or dresses at Mother's insistence and never pants until high school. Regina's fingers ruffled curls and dipped to lift a chin. "If you really don't want to wear skirts or dresses we may donate the ones you have and get you some other things."

Beaming Emma sat up and hugged a pair of bare legs tight. Then went right back to her duck toy on the rug without comment.

And that seemed to be the end of that for now so Regina changed the subject. "You have an important day today don't you?"

"The most 'portant!" Emma agreed and went on to practice out loud exactly what she would say to her class today.

Regina chuckled softly at the world of importance to a five year old. Who knew Show & Tell could be on the same level as a merger presentation or a script contract signing for publication. Emma had been with her to the office enough to pick up on shop talk and see the corporate world of publishing to make that connection. Little one was insisting on wearing fancy clothes and not the standard jeans and a t-shirt to school just to show how serious this Show & Tell was.

As she put her mascara on Regina asked, "is your autograph book in your school bag or your yellow backpack?" Said book was the item to be shown off today. Since their first Broadway show they had been to two more and with her connections, Emma had gotten the autographs of each cast for The Lion King and Cats.

The yellow backpack used to be full of what Emma called worldly possessions. It was also one that they had had many talks about and small trials going without. Emma liked wearing a backpack to school and that helped the transition to not have the yellow bag everywhere they went. Emma insisted on keeping a pair of shoes and a change of clothes in it at all times, but the more important items had found a home in Emma's yellow bedroom. Like the bag of pennies into the apple bank she'd given Emma for Christmas and the baby blanket at the foot of the same bed Emma had slept in since then too. Still some days were better than others and others not so much, like Regina thought today might be with the wide eyed way Emma was looking at her right now.

"My book is in the yellow one, but I wanna take both bags today to school."

"Why is that Emma?" Regina thought she knew, but always asked just the same to give Emma a chance to voice feelings. This was a pattern she had noticed on days the girl had therapy after school.

"I want some of my stuff with me… just in case." Shrugging Emma went back to scooting the toy duck across the carpet she was pretending was the pond they sometimes visited in Central Park.

"I will be with you the whole time from right after school to your session. I have to wait in the waiting room, but I will be just down the hall for you when you come out and then we will come home like we always do." Explaining what to expect for the day as she always did. Emma thrived on knowing what to expect and any variance to what was said to come caused upset to the nth degree and they were still learning how to work though those moments when they happened.

"And then we get to order dinner 'cause it's Thursday and I take a bath and we read and then you tuck me in. Right?"

Regina smiled as she blended her blush. "That's right but you are missing one step. Can you think about what it is?"

Tapping a chin Emma's dimple then showed. "Dessert?"

"Always, but I was thinking more along the lines of homework sweetheart."

And Emma promptly stuck out her tongue at that, and let out a giggle when tickle hands came for her ribs. "Okay homework too! You win Gina!"

Standing again. "So you are only taking your school bag today then, yes?"

"Yes." Emma agreed now that they had their plan in place. Hopping up she wanted to go switch out bags with the autograph book, but stopped in the doorway and went back to the counter. "Can I have some of Kathryn's 'fume for good luck?"

Regina moved to the glass tray where she kept the perfume bottle in reference. On such occasions she allowed it or when Emma seemed to need a boost in confidence. Child was convinced it was magic and as such knew it was for special circumstances. "Hold out your wrist." She gave her own a spray and then rubbed hers with Emma's as the child grinned up at her. Little one insisted that sharing the 'magic' made it work better. "There all set. Go and get dressed and I'll meet you in the kitchen."

"Sin-a-man oatmeal and bananas?" Licking her lips Emma hoped so.

"If you like." Giving a kiss to a cheek as Emma scampered off, Regina went to her closet and got dressed. A pair of lavender slacks and cream sleeveless blouse with matching peep tow pumps came together quickly. She gave her curls a shake for a quick style she usually wore in the warmer months and returned to put on her signature burgundy lipstick just as she heard the doorbell ring.

Sighing as she blotted and capped the tube Regina headed downstairs to answer. Emma beat her to it though as her sister's cheery voice rang through the brownstone and Emma's whoop of joy followed in return. She had long since given Zelena a key, but her sister had insisted on working to respect her privacy (a New Year resolution it seemed) and made it a point to ring the bell.

Every single time.

As Regina began descending the last staircase of the brownstone to the ground floor she stepped on the tip of a red converse laying there. Pausing for balance she bent to pick it up with a frown as Emma nearly rushed by her half dressed in a red blouse with a classic peter-pan collar, panties, and one sock. She caught the rush of girl about the waist and plopped right down on the step to sit with Emma near out of breath to stand in front of her.

"Hold on right there for a moment speedy duck."

"But ZeeZee is here." Emma wiggled with excitement. "And she's gonna do that special braid for my hair for my Show and Tell so I don't look like a bloody naff."

Brows joined. "A what?" Then Regina held up her hand before Emma could explain. "Sweetheart we do not say bloody or call ourselves names like that." Waiting for Emma's nod before she continued. "And Zee may wait a moment while we talk." She began, already planning the lecture for her sister about that phrase.

"Is this where you talk and I listen or we go back and forth?" Emma's head remained tilted like a puppy in question.

Regina kept her face on the softer side of serious when she just wanted to laugh at the cute gesture. "A bit of both. What have I told you about answering the door without me?" While the door bell sound no longer scared Emma and they had make great progress on that trigger not being one any longer (at least during the day), the child had done a complete 180 and loved to answer it. She had worked to establish some ground rules regarding the door and safety in general that Emma was still learning to remember.

"To wait for you." Emma lost some of her smile as she thought. "But I knew it was her 'cause she comes on Thursdays to take me to school and today is Thursday."

Regina shook her head and lifted a little chin. "Even so, you know to wait for me because that is the safe choice and I'd like you to do so in case it is not your ZeeZee. Alright?"

"Okay Gina." Then a red shoe was held up and Emma wrinkled her nose. 'Whoops a daisy,' she thought as one of Gina's dark brows went up.

"And what about leaving your shoes on the stairs and running up them for that matter?"

Emma squirmed under the redirection and rolled her lips in. She was getting more and more used to these types of talks without worry that Gina was gonna get mad at her or send her away. Still though they sometimes that made her tummy flutter. "Not too."

Patient for that slightly anxious look coming her way she nodded with a smile in agreement. Regina was learning the importance of taking time to thoroughly talk things through with Emma in a careful way so that her intent behind redirection was understood. Especially the why of her expectations. The one class she'd taken through DSS she had actually been somewhat impressed with was the one on the importance of communication. She prompted softly, "because why sweetheart?"

"Someone could get hurt and everything has a place to be and my shoes go in the closet or on my feet."

"Right you are little duck." A smile around the nickname that had found them at Christmas morning since Emma had gotten a pair of little ducky slippers from Santa.

"Do I hafta sit on the step now?" Pointing to the bottom step of the staircase where she sometimes went if Gina wanted her to think more about something important.

Regina shook her head. "No Emma. I can tell by the way you are talking with me and thinking about what we are discussing that you understand the importance. If there is a next time though, on any of these things, you will be." At the moment Emma was listening and readily answering as she expected without avoidance or a tantrum. Regina had implemented a modified version of a time out with having Emma sit out on the bottom step of whatever level they were on for five minutes. She also never left the area when that was the case, but rather waited out the time child needed to calm down or think before they talked further. Used sparingly it was effective and her go as a tool for redirection when it was needed.

With a nod Regina handed Emma the shoe. "Put this away in your closet please and walk up to your room to finish getting dressed." Kissing a forehead Regina stood.

Emma liked the way Gina always explained stuff so she could understand it and even when she did do something not so good, they talked about it so she could make different choices next time. More importantly she'd come to trust Gina completely. Emma thought about this as she walked most of the way before her feet couldn't help but be in a hurry and she took off again the moment she reached the top. She heard the sigh in her wake and turned to say sorry really loudly so Gina could hear her.

Regina closed her eyes at the shrill apology yelled and chuckled. Closer they were getting closer, she kept telling herself and went into the kitchen to find her sister sitting at the island in the middle readily peeling the last banana in the house. Annoyed suddenly at the source and remembering what had come out of Emma's mouth she plucked the banana right out of Zelena's hand who promptly spun around.

"Oi! Meanie, I was going to eat that."

"And that is part of Emma's breakfast. Have an apple instead. I know how you adore the red ones." Regina pushed the bowl over on her way to the far counter.

An auburn brow popped up over pouty lips. "Well good morning to you too Miss Grumpy-Pants."

"I am not grumpy and quit pouting. That only works when Emma does it."

"Where do you think I learned it and why the resting that-word-you-hate face, and at me no less?"

Regina raised a brow in return with a smirk of her own and pulled out two full mugs under the cappuccino machine and offered one to her sister in silence.

Zelena took a sip and set it aside after. "Thanks, but seriously what is with the face at me and where is my little Monkey?"

"First of all I nearly tripped coming downstairs in spite of having more than one chat about shoes on the steps with your little Monkey only to hear something out of her mouth I wished I hadn't and more importantly since when are you teaching my child English slang?"

Zelena grinned brilliantly. "Since she asks what certain things mean. I'm broadening her horizons and all that fluffy crap auntie's are supposed to do." Waving her sisters frown away. "Relax. I certainly did not teach her the colorful side of it if that's what you are implying."

Sighing as she pulled out the oatmeal for Emma's breakfast Regina tried again. "I've asked you to temper your language in front of her. She's a sponge and picks up everything at this age and I do not want her speaking like that." And Zelena then had the good nerve to at least appear to take her seriously.

"What did she say exactly?" And the description coming from her sister nearly had her coffee coming out of her nose as she laughed. "God my mini me, I adore her!" Then remembering how she had muttered such a phrase, seemingly under her breath, when she and Emma had been waiting for Regina to finish up work in the office one evening last week. Her detective boyfriend Ambrose had texted with an unflattering photo of her snapped when she had not been looking that he insisted was beautiful and she outright told him exactly what she thought she'd looked like. Zelena reached for a napkin and wiped her mouth under the chiding look coming her way. Rolling her eyes."Right. I'll work on it."

"Thank you." Regina sliced the banana and moved to set the stove burner on low as the oatmeal began to cook. Right on time little feet came into the kitchen and went right to her sister with a brush and a handful of rubber bands. While she was plenty talented in the hair styling department, her sister topped her skill tenfold with something called a Dutch Flower Braid. It literally made Emma's curls into a woven flower, or in this case two, one on either side of the little one's head. As she cooked she watched Zelena weave the complicated braid with ease with a smile on her face. She loved how close those two had gotten.

"I love'em ZeeZee! Can we get chocolate coffee before school again like last week?" Emma turned around on her stool as her breakfast was set in front of her and picked up a spoon to dig in missing how the adults shared a look over her head.

Regina put her hand on her hip. "You are giving her coffee on top of teaching her slang?"

Zee took her sister's hand and made a beeline for the door leading to the hallway. "We'll be right back Monkey and yes, we can get chocolate coffee." Once away from little ears she explained. "Before you get your knickers in a twist it's not real coffee. It's hot coco. She wanted a coffee like mine last week when I picked her up. I was in dire need of caffeine and we stopped at a little roast shop near her school. When I told her no she began to have a wee bit of a meltdown in the shop and then those eyes of hers came at me and I couldn't say no, but I knew I couldn't say yes. So I took creative license and hot chocolate is her version of chocolate coffee."

"So she knows it is coco, but pretends it is chocolate coffee instead?"

"Right."

Sighing. "That's fine then, but Zee you can say no to her on occasion." Then softer as she squeezed her sister's hand in knowing. "She won't stop being your little Monkey if you tell her no."

"I know, but…" Trailing Zelena gestured to the kitchen. "She's been told no far too much in her life." Then with an impish pout. "And I want to be the super fun auntie. It's my job to spoil her and I'm not ready for my perfect track record to be broken." She knew it would be eventually, but not today if she had any say about it.

"While I agree with you that she has not had a lot of treats or people to say yes to her there is also a line between treating and spoiling, especially when she reacts like you said with the meltdown."

"Kill joy." Zelena teased and nodded reluctantly though. "I know you're right. You're her mum and I promise to respect how you want to bring her up." And she immediately registered the soft look coming to fill her sister's entire face.

"You seem to be the only one. Mother certainly has her own opinions." Souring at the very idea and more so at the many of them Mother had been sharing lately about how she was choosing to bring up Emma.

"Speaking of which have you thought about what you want Emma calling you? Gina versus Mom or Mommy?"

"Well—"

Then Zelena's voice took on a dreamy tone. "Even Momma or Mom?"

"Zee—"

"Or dare I hope Mummy? Has such a sweet proper ring to it if I do say so myself—"

"Zee!" A hand went up over her sister's mouth covering it with a pointed look back toward the kitchen. Her sister seemed to get the point and she dropped her hand and sighed. Thought about it, Regina dreamed about the moment her name was replaced with an entirely different affection. "It's discouraged until the actual adoption according to the classes I've taken, but it is also supposed to be on Emma's own timeline. So it's up to Emma at this point, and I have let her know its okay to call me a variety of things when she is ready."

"I'm done Gina."

Emma's call had them both going back into the kitchen as a spoon scraped the last of the oatmeal from the bottom of a bowl. Child took the bowl to the sink and hopped for the faucet knob, but couldn't reach it. Regina nudged over the stool they kept nearby for exactly that purpose and helped Emma rinse the dish and put it in the dishwasher. Then she dampened the corner of a kitchen towel and wiped the rest of Emma's breakfast from a fussing little face.

"I missed some?" Emma tried to hold still, but couldn't help but wiggle as she was cleaned up.

"A bit, but that's alright." Finishing up with Emma's fingers, Regina dropped the cloth in the sink. "Teeth and then it's time to go."

Emma grinned as big as she could right up at Gina and pointed to her mouth. "Here they are!"

Chuckling. "And they need to be brushed clean, silly girl. Go on." Lifting the girl down from the stool Regina sent Emma off with a gentle pat to the behind.

Emma smirked at what Gina called love taps. She didn't mind those or the way Gina did the same to her nose just now when she was being goofy. Five minutes later teeth were brushed and shoes on with her school bag and Emma was ready to go. She showed as much by tapping her foot as she'd seen Gina do when waiting for something for a long time.

"Do you have your autograph book?" Regina asked and got what she perceived to be an inpatient nod as she sorted her purse. "Are you sure?"

"Uh-huh. Can we go go go now?" Emma was getting excited to go to school and show Jasmine her hair on the playground before the first bell. When she had moved in with Gina she got to still go to the same school and not switch to another one which she liked 'cause Jasmine was there. Gina had said it was good for her to have con-sis-tency too, whatever that meant.

Zelena leaned down to pop a kiss on Emma's cheek. "There's plenty of time still yet Monkey. Now give a proper good bye to your Gina and we will get going. Both cars are out front and waiting."

Emma gave the tightest hug she could to Gina and received one and a kiss in return. "You'll be there on the steps for me after school?"

"I should be right after school and do you remember plan B if for some reason I am not right when you step outside?" Regina prompted. She had always been able to be so far, but like always she was a planner and wanted Emma to know that sometimes there were emergencies that may cause a delay.

"I go back inside and tell the office and wait on the bench there for you."

"Good girl that's right. Have a wonderful day and I can't wait to hear all about your Show and Tell."

Emma beamed and then spun around with her arms out gesturing to herself. "Do I proof-read good?"

Regina laughed and stood up. "Not a line out of place little duck." Emma's creativity never failed to make her smile.

 

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Regina was not smiling as she thumbed through the stack of files on her desk in her corner office. She was about halfway through them and well ahead of schedule to have them finalized by the end of the day for Gold, but he was a meticulous one. While she was a perfectionist, especially with the quality of her work, he was a hell hound for details and wanted nothing unturned. He also preferred her to proof every detail she had long since trained her team to do in her stead, but he was unwavering. She did it more to appease her Mother than anything who insisted she humor Gold for his connections. Regina still thought he was a jerk.

She took a sip of her lemon water as the buzzer on her desk sounded. Mary-Margaret Nolan's voice came over the intercom.

"Regina, Mrs. Mills is ready for your 11:30 meeting."

Regina rolled her eyes. Leave it to Mother to use her secretary to announce their meeting when they shared an office adjoining door and all Cora had to do was open it. While the woman was warmer toward her now that Emma was in the picture and they had their affection for the girl in common, Mother was all prim straight lines and business in the office. She pressed the button in return. "Yes, please assure her I will be right there." And stood taking a deep breath.

This conversation she had been dreaded the last week since putting it on her appointment calendar. Mother was not going to like her only coming to the office for three days out of the week. Getting Mother to agree to four had been a trial. Regina still produced the same amount of work and attention to detail, and had actually increased their last quarter's expected profit by an additional ten percent than projected from being able to be flexible on how and when she got her work completed. The numbers had just come out yesterday while Gold was in London. She was not sure yet if he knew. Still, Gold aside, Mother was Mother.

And liked to be in control.

Regina took a moment to smooth her slacks and check her hair in the mirror in the small lounge area of her black and white modern office. While she owned 1/3 of the company now with the merger, Mother still ran the lead of it with Mr. Gold vying for that very spot. What the man lacked for in a charming personality he more than made up for in connections. Overseas connections to be exact and their marketing opportunities expanded exponentially since bringing him on board.

Still, as Zee would say, he was a right prick and a half to deal with on a good day.

Satisfied with her appearance Regina went to the adjoining door and knocked crisply twice right at the 11:30 mark before opening the door. A minute before or a minute after wouldn't do for Mother. Spot on was expected. She entered the red and white space. This office was always a bit chilly to her in more than temperature. Classic in English design with regal lines she felt like she was stepping into a formal tea room at Buckingham palace. Zee and Mother both shared that love for all things English in common.

"Ah, there you are Regina." Cora nodded to the chair across from her desk and waited for her daughter to sit before continuing. "What is it specifically that you wanted to meet about?" Then she leaned forward resting her hands on the desk at the hesitation she saw on Regina's face. "Is everything alright with Emma and the adoption?"

Regina blinked at the unexpectedly soft question. "Yes, everything with Emma is fine, thank you and the adoption process is right on schedule." And sat up straighter as the softness of familiarity left for business rigidity.

"Then what is this meeting about?"

Regina opened by putting the thick packet she'd prepared highlighting their company's financial gains the last quarter in front of her Mother and to what exactly she attributed it to. She stuck to facts and figures knowing Mother appreciated that approach to anything. Right before she got to the heart of the matter her Mother snatched that heart right from her. The packet though was slid back across the desk.

"I know our gains have been to your more than competent due diligence and I am appreciative truly. So much so that the bonus I promised has already been added to your account. Do it again next quarter and we will talk about adding a zero to your next bonus, but not a day sooner."

"That is not what I was going to ask." Shaking her head in mild frustration, Regina pursed her lips. Of course Mother's mind went to money. With a sigh she took back the packet she had spent hours preparing that had not so much been looked at. She wondered why she bothered.

"Then what Regina?"

"I am planning on scaling back—" Stopping abruptly when the intercom on the desk interrupted her. Mother's secretary announced the man of the hour just as a single knock sounded and Gold opened the main door himself.

"Ah lovely, I've caught you both at once." Gold's slick tenor filled the room.

Regina scowled a bit. She couldn't help it, but quickly schooled her features before turning around. Her Mother stood when he entered and so she joined the motion as he came toward them. The tapping of his cane, one she was not sure he even needed, annoyed her. He was a showy man in his custom tailored black suits and silk ties, but there was nothing soft about the man. Shrewd as they came, especially with money.

And to her disgust Mother smiled at him. Actually smiled.

Cora greeted, "what may we do for you Robert?"

Regina's head snapped back to her Mother, the papers in her hand crinkling. 'Since when are they on a first name basis?' She wondered and again schooled her features when she turned back to the oily man.

Mr. Gold and Mother had known each other since she and Zee had been teenagers and there was something about him she did not quite trust and had made her hesitate when Mother wanted to move forward with the merger. Regina had been married to her work at the time that process began and she did not want her Father's name tainted by this man if she were to withdraw her support for the company and go her own way. Mother needed her talents, had said as much and so she had begrudgingly went along with what her Mother had wanted. Now that she had a new perspective on life with Emma in it, work was not the most important thing any longer.

"I was just briefed on the end of quarter profits and I must say dearies, I am impressed." Gold lifted his chin and took a step closer to Cora as his lips mirrored a similar smile. "Your daughter is talented indeed."

"Both of them are." Cora amended and gestured to Regina. "We were just discussing the same thing."

"In part." Regina agreed. It was now or never. "I plan on increasing what we have accomplished by another ten percent next quarter and to do that I need a little more autonomy on my schedule than I've had."

"How exactly?" Cutting in, Gold tilted his head.

"Not that it is any of your business, but that is actually what I was discussing with her before you barged in."

"Regina." Cora admonished.

"No Cora that's quite alright." Gold confirmed. "She is allowed to have her opinion as partial owner of the company." Emphasis on the word partial and then his cane landed on the marble. Hard. "Just as I am a partial owner and I think we need to move forward full steam ahead with everyone on board like planned."

Seething silently Regina watched her Mother for a reaction.

"How exactly, dear, were you thinking of more… how did you put it?" Turning, Cora flicked her wrist in an impatient gesture. "Autonomy over your schedule?"

Regina wanted to cross her arms at the bitter way that word rolled from that mouth, but thought better of it under Mother's eye. "I want to suggest a modification. I'd like to come to the office Monday through Wednesday and work from home the rest of the week."

"Why on earth would you do that when you have your team here as a support?" Gold cut in again.

Squaring her jaw and curbing her first remark, Regina tried to explain. "My team is more than capable, as I trained them to be, in handling certain day to day productivity. I am in the process of adopting and I need more flexibility to be with my daughter as we go through this transition." Especially with summer coming up. She did not want Emma in a day care five days a week after school. As it was Emma went to an after school program occasionally when she had afternoon meetings. Then mumbling. "Not that my personal life is any of your business."

"Actually it is dearie." He took another step closer to the mother and daughter duo as he further staked his claim. "When my business is being affected by your own."

The sly sneer gave Regina goose bumps and she swallowed that discomfort he caused down before squaring off. "My personal life has not affected my work. If anything it is what got you that 10% over the projected profit."

Cora raised her hand for silence. "And I see no problem with allowing this change of schedule as long as your productivity stays the same or increases. Surely we can come to that agreement as a collective whole. Deal Robert?"

Gold was quiet for a moment and Regina could see the calculating gears turning in his head. "With a slight modification." He gave the Mills daughter a once over. "We will try your proposed schedule." His finger went up quickly. "But if I feel our business is being negatively impacted by your personal business…" Pausing for effect. "I reserve the right to a vote from the board instead of just the three of us on just exactly what your role and responsibilities with the company are going forward. Do we have a deal?"

Regina lifted her chin more than sure of her own capabilities, but took a moment to really think through his offer. Half of the board consisted of his lackey men, a condition of the merger—loyal to Gold through and through—and if somehow she was deemed not to be fulfilling her responsibilities in full he could have them vote to have her step down as one of the CEOs. It was no secret he wanted to be her Mother's primary business partner and Regina was not a fool to see what the risk was. Still she was determined to have both her career and motherhood.

She was her Father's daughter after all.

Where he succeeded in having a balanced home life and career she would too. Regina refused to be like her Mother on the other end of that spectrum. So her hand went out. "You have a deal Mr. Gold." Her gut reaction wanted to pull away when he took her hand in a grip to shake, but she kept her grip firm. She stole a glance at Mother and was not sure exactly what that sharp amused expression was for; pride in accepting the challenge so readily or for being an idiot in doing so.

"Well now that is settled—" Cora began and promptly rolled her eyes at the intercom going off again.

Mary-Margaret's voice rang through the room. "Pardon my interruption, but Emma's school is on the line for Regina."

Cora pressed the button to reply immediately. "Put the call through to my line." And nodded to her now worried daughter to pick up the phone.

Regina shoved the papers under her arm to hold and cradled the receiver to her ear. After a quick intro by the child's teacher she began pacing as Emma's teary voice came over the line in a jumbled fashion. Not able to make out one word she began to coach. "Take a breath for me sweetheart so I can understand you." Waiting a full minute as Emma began to calm down under her prompts. "Now try and talk to me. Why are you crying?" Not suspecting Emma to be physically hurt due to the child's teacher initially being on the phone and not the school nurse.

Sniffling. "I thought I had it but I don't and now everything is ruined! I can't do my talk without my book!" A gasp and another little cry.

Regina's heart pinched and her eyes closed. The autograph book. She should have checked as well as asked to make sure Emma had it for Show & Tell. "Sweetheart, it's not the end of the world." She began as Gold tisked behind her.

"But Gi-na."

And the way Emma broke her nickname in half as another stifled cry came over the line said it was the world to the little girl Regina was speaking to. Emma had worked hard on that speech and practicing the last few days for the 'biggest most 'portant presentation of the century'. She rubbed her temple in thought. Zee was in meetings most of the day and Cindy, her house keeper of three days a week, was not working until tomorrow. No one else to go home and get the book to Emma, but her. Convenient or not, working or not, Emma needed her and come she would every single time. Regina glanced at the wall clock, ignoring the way Gold was studying her. If she left right now she could just make it home through traffic and to the school before Emma's Show & Tell.

"I'll bring it right over sweetheart and while you are waiting for me I want you to practice our calm down routine alright?" The slow counts of breathing they did whenever Emma was this upset.

"You will?" A sniffle and cough right along with a deep breath as asked.

"I will be there in the next hour little one. Give the phone back to your teacher and start your routine alright?"

"Kay."

Regina finished up with Emma's teacher and hung up. "I'll be out the rest of the day."

Gold scoffed. "This was exactly what I was afraid of."

Then the Evil Queen of publishing she was well known as made an appearance. "Shall I get you a blanket and teddy bear to clutch in your trembling Mr. Gold or are you able to be an adult about this?" Then nodding to her other partner. "Mother." And she promptly moved to leave through the adjoining door.

"Ms. Mills a moment."

His condescending tone and use of her surname in such a way made Regina stiffen. She gave him a raised brow over her shoulder in response, but kept right on walking.

"Be sure those financial quotes for the new contracts are on my desk in the morning. I need them promptly before we can move forward with any more deals."

She whirled on him with a ready comeback on her lips for the order and he came at her, bending to pick up the packet of papers she must have dropped in her haste, stopping less than a foot away from her. Gold held it out waiting and Regina went to take it from him, but he did not let go readily. Her brows pinched in brief question.

Low so only she could hear, he spoke, "are those bags under your eyes, a worried brow? Feeling exhausted are you?" Gold made a tisking sound. "Careful dearie. Just look at what motherhood is doing to you."

Fire in her eyes Regina yanked the packet back from him, fighting the urge to kick his cane out from under him. "You know nothing about me."

"Oh quite the contrary. You are your father's daughter and it was his undoing." Then he giggled in a ludicrous way only he could pull off before speaking up with an inclusive turn to Cora. "Surely you will prove us both wrong and be your Mother's daughter after all and help us take our company to the top of the industry."

Without a further response Regina turned sharply on her heel and was gone. Closing the adjoining door she leaned heavily against it as she caught her breath. The nerve he had shown burned in her blood. She would have everything; career, motherhood, family, all of it. Regina was not her Mother. And the more she thought about what he said the more she slumped against the door. What had he meant by her undoing? And about her Father? Gold was cryptic on a regular day without trying and she wondered over those words spinning with thoughts of getting to Emma as she went for her desk to get her work purse and stuffed his damn files into the side pocket. A sigh escaped knowing it would be another late night working to finish on time.

Gold was right about one thing however. She was every bit her Father's daughter. And a Mills never forwent a deal or lost one and Regina was not about to start.

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A/N – Updated every Saturday. Hope you liked the first chapter! Please let me know what you think. Lots of reveals coming soon about Emma!

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Memories

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“Gina!” Emma threw herself into the open arms at the base of the school steps. Even though she had just seen Gina two hours ago when her autograph book was dropped off for Show & Tell, she got tons of kisses now just as she did then.

“Hello my little duck.” Regina never tired of Emma’s enthusiasm. “How was the rest of your day?” Asking as kids and parents alike mingled around them on the busy sidewalk. She counted herself more than lucky to be able to have that same sense of belonging with the child at her feet.

“Awesomesauce!” Tugging on that hand that held hers toward the waiting car, Emma beamed upwards. “Time to go home?”

Her heart still fluttered each time Emma said that word and Regina smiled. “Home soon, after your session with Dr. Hopper.” And Emma’s smile dimmed at those words and she squeezed that hand. “I know, sweetheart.”

“But I don’t like going there.” Pouting now and with it her foot wanted to stomp, but Emma left it on the ground when Gina cupped her chin.

“Hey now, look at me.” Waiting until she had those expressive eyes on her. “It’s only until when?”

Toeing the concrete when they paused at the curb Emma repeated a well used phrase. “Until we share a last name.”

“Mmhm. We are already a family. We don’t need a judge or a piece of paper to tell us that.” Regina rubbed a thumb along a cheek as Emma began to brighten again. “And how close are we to sharing a last name?”

Emma remembered their calendar on the fridge. The one that had their week laid out real big in easy words she could read and then the smaller one under it for the month ahead of appointments and events. That one had pages that moved to new months and they had counted the months until the Big Day just last weekend. “A few months.”

“And tonight after dinner you can mark the calendar with another X to show we are one day closer. Until then there are a lot of rules we need to follow and things to do to make sure we are ready for our Big Day. Your weekly sessions with Dr. Hopper are one of those things Emma.”

While Regina understood the process of adoption and this addition a necessary evil she hated how it was affecting Emma and being a little girl Emma did not always understand that. While Dr. Hopper was a pleasant patient man and highly skilled, Emma almost always left those sessions in a sour mood and the aftermath on such nights was something she was still learning to help support Emma through. Sometimes Emma was quiet, other times a teary mess, and others still a bundle of upset that could go in any direction. Resting memories stirred and poked in that little head always had a price.

Emma mulled this over as she was led to the car. She waved to Charming and she liked how he tipped his hat and smiled like the prince she imagined him to be. He and Mary-Margaret were fostering her best friend Jasmine and because she was in kindergarten she got out an hour earlier than the fourth graders did, so Charming usually dropped them off and came back for Jasmine. Emma was really happy that her friend was in a good home like she was. She was buckled into her car seat and Gina sat next to her. The big work purse was put between them. Hungry now, Emma dug into the side pocket looking for her snack but there were a bunch of papers in her way.

“Careful sweetheart.” Regina took the purse back on her lap and pulled out an apple she’d grabbed from her fruit bowl at work and a bottle of water from the console across from them to give to little waiting hands.

Emma happily chewed her snack and chattered about her Show & Tell on the way to see Dr. Hopper. Then curious she asked. “What’s the papers for? Is it homework?”

“In a way, yes.” Regina looked up from skimming a file and making a note. In the traffic to pick Emma up on time she had made a small dent in the pile. “Speaking of which, do you have any?”

“I gotta read the list of words to practice.” Mentioning something called sight words she had to do each night. There was a new list in her backpack to do and they looked hard. Emma watched as the files went away then and that very sheet pulled out and remembered they usually tried to do homework before her session on Thursdays, but other days they waited until they got home. When Gina pointed to a word she recited. Some come out correct and others not, but with help she got through the hard words a few times before the car stopped.

Emma felt her tummy tighten at the familiar door and stoop of what kids in her old group home called the Quack’s Office she could see through the window. There weren’t any ducks in there so she wasn’t sure what that meant and had told ZeeZee as much this morning when they had gotten her special chocolate coffee that wasn’t coffee. ZeeZee had said that some doctor’s were quacks, but not all of them and that’s where the word came from. She wondered if her doctor was one and if so, how to tell if that was the case.

Out of the car and up the steps she went holding Gina’s hand. Emma was signed in and then given a hug before she had to go with Dr. Hopper into the play therapy room. It was full of toys. Some of them Emma liked. Others she was not sure what they were for, but she never really played with them. Today she went to the art table instead of the pretty colorful rug in the middle to sit. She sat in one chair and saw a brand new box of markers. Gina had bought her markers and she had some at home she liked to make pictures with. Then Dr. Hopper was talking to her and Emma looked up from the blank paper on the table. “Huh?”

Archie Hopper adjusted his glasses as they slipped down his nose at the little blonde across from him and smiled. “I asked how you are doing since our last session?”

Emma frowned remembering that one. He had asked her what scared her and she had said the dark, the door bell noise—but only at night—being alone and the stove and then the scary voice and pictures showed up in her mind again; a movie she didn’t want to watch and did not know how to pause or turn off. She had refused to talk the rest of the session. That night she hadn’t talked much at all. Even to Gina.

She itched her forearm over the raised pink scar thinking about the stove and their last talk. The scary voice and images were almost there in her mind, but not quite yet. Dr. Hopper’s eyes went to her arm and Emma promptly dropped it under the table and answered. “I’m fine.” She just had to talk a little bit and then Gina would take her home. Then Emma brightened at the other promise of the day that pushed the dark thoughts away. “It’s Thursday so we get to have takeout for dinner and I always get to pick.”

Archie penned a note with a smile. “And what will you pick to eat?”

“Duh! Chinese. I like the slippery noodles, but Gina says I have to have pro-tein with it too.” Emma sat up some and reached for a red marker on the table. “I get chicken and not fish. I don’t like to eat fish.” Her tongue poked out of her mouth to show as much and Dr. Hopper laughed, but not at her. Just at what she did to be silly. Emma knew the difference. Maybe this guy wasn’t a quack or so bad after all. She could easily talk about food all day long.

“Do you and Gina ever cook together?”

A big grin slipped on a little face as Emma began to relax. She uncapped the marker. “Uh-huh, but only I get to call her Gina and sometimes ZeeZee, but really only me.

“I beg your pardon.” Archie made another note and flipped the page of his notebook as Emma began to draw something.

“I like giving people nicknames too. Like the guy who drives us places. I call him Charming and his wife is Snow White.” The marker hovered over the paper as Emma stared at him for a long moment, deciding something. “You’re kinda like the nice buggy in Pinocchio who helps people talk about stuff. What’s his name?

“I believe it is Jiminy Cricket.”

And the marker was moving across the page again. “Yeah that’s you.” Having figured him out in her mind Emma felt her tummy loosen.

The Doctor smiled at the easy sharing. It had taken nearly six weeks, the first two of which Emma did not say a word to him, but Emma was starting to open up a bit more each session. Regina had mentioned the child liking art the last time they had spoken and he promptly switched tactics this session in hopes of making some progress on the main reason they were here. There was one particular CPS report in the child’s file he was tasked with helping Emma work through.

“What kinds of things do you cook?” Archie listened to quite the extensive list and at the end prompted carefully. “When you are cooking with Regina does the stove ever bother you then?”

Emma scribbled harder on the paper, brow pinched in concentration and she shook her head no. “Gina says I can’t use it alone or touch it to play with and I don’t want to anyway. She uses it and she doesn’t scare me.”

Penning another note. “How does the stove scare you then?”

“Only if I get too close to the top part, but Gina keeps me safe so I don’t do that.” Answering, Emma switched out red for black. “Do you like to cook?”

Rolling with the question Archie answered with a few of his favorite dishes. They talked some more about different kinds of food before Emma suddenly grew quiet and stared at the picture on the table.

Her heart started to go faster as Emma looked at the drawing. Her hand went to her arm again to rub the scar. Red and blue lights flashed in her mind’s eye at the memory. The lady yelling mixed with her crying. The scary images and sounds were pounding between her temples. The searing heat. The sick smell. All of it flooded her senses as she felt her body flush with sweat.

Foster lady number five had said never to tell or Emma would get it. She was not sure what that meant, but she knew it must be really, really bad and Emma wished she would never get what ‘it’ was. She hadn’t told. Even when the doctors said they didn’t like the burn or bruise she had on her other arm. They said it looked like someone had grabbed her. Still Emma didn’t answer their questions and that must have been the right thing to do because she got her wish and did not see that lady again.

“Emma?”

At the kind tone Emma reached for the paper and balled it up, now angry at having to talk about something she didn’t want to remember. Something that made her heart and head hurt. Tears blurred the room and she sniffed them back. Other kids had said not to cry in front of the quacks. Something about having to take pills for it and Emma hated medicine. Then she ‘membered to use her words like Gina said instead of throwing the paper like she wanted to. “I don’t wanna talk no more.”

Archie closed the notebook with a reassuring tone. “Okay Emma.” He pointed to the table across the way. “There is some brand new play dough in that box. How about you play with that for a little bit while I go finish up with Regina alright?”

“Kay.” Emma readily slid out of the chair and went across the room more than done with the session and the chirping cricket.

The man took up the crumpled ball went to the door and waved his assistant in to sit with Emma while he took a few minutes to take in the drawing. Archie worked open the tight paper ball it and with a frown he went to get Emma’s foster parent in the waiting room. The brunette was thumbing a thick stack of papers there in one of the chairs. “Ms. Mills?”

Regina jerked her head up in surprise and she glanced at her Apple watch. “Is she done so soon?”

“Not quite.” Archie said and gestured to the hall with a nod. “I’d like to debrief with you first, if you don’t mind.”

That was also a surprise and a concern. Putting the files away, Regina stood to follow him into his small but tidy office. She expected Emma to be in here and finding it empty she looked around and felt her stomach cramp. “Is Emma alright?”

Only having been called back to talk with him once before a few weeks ago when Emma had burst into tears in the middle of a session and he had not been able to calm her. Child had shared about a time cops had come into one of the foster homes in the middle of the night. A night documented in Emma’s file as a drug bust and Emma had been taken to a safe house after having woken to strangers taking her from her bed. The night after that reveal Emma hadn’t left Regina’s side and neither of them had gotten any sleep through the nightmares that followed.

Regina eyed the room with the one couch and coffee table with a desk and chair in the corner. Pictures of what she assumed were his family and small trinkets were placed in a pleasing manner all about. While Dr. Hopper’s office had a homey feel unlike some of the more sterile clinical ones she’d been in before, these offices made her uncomfortable. Regina had been in them a few times throughout her life for grief counseling and while she genuinely thought he meant well, this felt too familiar in all the wrong ways as memory pushed in…

 

“Shall we try talking today Ms. Mills?” Dr. Ruth said.

“Regina. Just Re-gina.” Insisting on her name that cracked in the middle of her dry throat.

Scribbling on paper. “Regina then. Would you tell me about why you are here?”

Regina took a slow breath as that pen moved on a notepad across the way. This was her third attempt in the last four months since Kathryn… and a new therapist each time in hope that something would help her be able to speak. To get some of this feelings haunting her out so she could get some sleep. But talking about it made it real. Zee was worried and Mother too and for them she was trying.

She tried staring at the carpet from her seat on the couch of the therapist’s office. Thorough her sunglasses Regina thought it appeared beige, but really couldn’t tell. Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered anymore. She didn’t want to be here talking to this woman about her feelings. Not when she didn’t feel anything at all. Numb her heart and mind were since the car accident.

Regina liked the shades. Had been wearing them since the funeral. They kept the world out, a shield from the brightness of reality that had stolen her love away. She had seen everything about the accident from her perch on the front stoop of the brownstone waiting for Kathryn to come home from work so they could take their evening walk together before dinner. The way the light changed at the corner from green to red as she stood up to wave. Regina saw the white truck that went when it should not have. Fast too fast and it crashed into the driver’s side door of the beat up yellow Volkswagen Bug Kathryn refused to replace. They could more than afford it, and Regina didn’t think the tin can was anywhere near safe, but Kathryn insisted on sentiment for the classic had since high school. Yellow beetle flipped to roll as screams had rolled from her mouth. Regina had seen everything she loved lost much too clearly with her own naked eyes.

Dr. Ruth tried again. “Are you alright?”

She nodded, forcing a her mask into place with a smile. But Regina was not that word. Not at all…

 

“Ms. Mills are you alright?” Archie asked as the woman in front of him blinked rapidly.

The room was thick around the edges and Regina cleared her throat, nodding once sharply. “It’s just Regina. And yes I’m alright.” Though she wasn’t quite yet, but she sat anyway deciding to take the chair by the desk and leave the couch for him.

Archie shut the door not missing the chosen seating arrangement, but went with it easily enough. “Emma’s playing right now. My assistant is watching her. She’s doing okay for the moment, but she did get upset.” He reached into his notebook and took out the crumpled page to hand over. “And she drew this.”

Taking the paper Regina stared at the red and black squiggles that vaguely resembled two people. One small and one big. They were in what appeared to be a kitchen since there was a something like a box with circles on top. The big stick figure stood over the small one and had its mouth open and red marks were coming out of the mouth. The smaller figure had arms crossed over the head and blue dots on the face Regina guessed to be tears. The cramping in her stomach turned into twisting and Regina set the drawing on the table between them as Archie explained the most basic parts of the conversation he had with Emma about fears.

“This is not usually how I do things.” He wrapped up, clasping his hands together as the woman remained staring at the drawing.

“Then why show me at all?” Regina snapped suddenly irritated with him, clear on exactly what she thought about being kept in the dark where Emma was concerned.

“Because I wanted to know if Emma has drawn anything like this before?” Getting a head shake, Archie continued. “If she does, will you please share it with me?” A nod followed that statement and he knew he had offended in some way. There were rules he had to follow as Emma’s therapist when the child was a ward of the state no matter whose care said child was in. “I know the system, how it works, does not seem fair. My intent is to help Emma and also to help you help her, but my choices on the latter are limited. I just thought you should know Emma had a rough go of it today. You know a little about our goal for these sessions. It is a good sign that she is starting to open up about the incident.”

“The abuse Dr. Hopper.” Regina gave him her eyes then. “Let’s call it what it is.” Anger returning over the lack of a full conviction for the woman in question that had scarred Emma in more ways than one. “A lost license to foster is a slap on the wrist for what that monster put my daughter through.”

Archie quirked a brow and sat back regarding Regina with new interest. “You must have some connections in DSS or the police department then to know that much.” Neither confirming nor denying that information he was privileged to and he knew to be true. Not allowed to discuss details of a therapy session with foster parents unless the child was deemed harm to self or others he was bending the rules to share what he did today. But something about Emma and this woman made him want to do just that.

“I do actually and an amazing sister who knows her way around both.” A small smile for the fact and Regina relaxed a bit when Dr. Hopper smiled back. Then nodding to the picture and feeling the need to ask. “What do I do?”

“About the picture? Unless she draws more like it, nothing.” Taking it back and slipping it away into his notebook. “About Emma specifically… Exactly what you are doing. She’s making progress.”

Shaking her head at the last several weeks of subtle behaviors and differences in Emma since therapy began, Regina pushed. “So an increase in nightmares, bed wetting, and separation anxiety are considered progress?”

“It is. Especially if the child in question has been through trauma like Emma and is just now in a safe consistent place with an adult she trusts to finally deal with it.” At the eyes misting ahead of him Archie leaned in clasping his hands in front of him. “I know it feels like you are going backwards in some way, but this is a good thing. Emma’s a very lucky little girl to have you on her team.” Standing then when she did.

Regina adjusted her purse only half satisfied with his answer and wanting to see that Emma was alright as he said with her own eyes. “I’d like to take her home now Dr. Hopper.”

“Of course.” He went for the door and opened it. “And Ms… Regina. If you would ever like to make an appointment for yourself, just to talk, I am accepting new patients.”

Regina’s brow rose as she regarded him and surprised herself with her first response instead of an outright no. “Isn’t that against policy?” She was well versed with the rules and protocols governing her existence with Emma for the next few months. In this convoluted system she wanted nothing to get in the way of the day no one could separate them or tell her how to raise her daughter.

“Not if you were to make an appointment on your own and we didn’t discuss the details of Emma’s sessions.”

Regina was curious at the offer and just why he was making it, but not ready to go there in the least. “I’m fine. It’s Emma I’m worried about.”

“Of course.” Nodding Archie took the hint to leave well enough alone for now and led the way to the playroom door where his assistant and Emma were waiting. “Until next week then.”

 

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Emma remained quiet on the ride home and well through the take out dinner ordered in spite of Regina’s gentle attempts at conversation. As Regina loaded the dishes in the washer Emma sat at the island tracing circles on the marble counter top. She eyed the circling that was accompanied with a yawn as she wiped her hands and decided that perhaps Emma was overly tired to boot. She more than was too. Making a decision to be done with the day Regina folded the towel neatly to place by the sink. “Let’s get you cleaned up and we can cuddle up with our book a little early tonight. How does that sound?” Suggesting an activity she knew Emma enjoyed as much as she did. It had become part of their routine every night. One her late Father always made time to do with her and Zelena no matter how busy he was.

Emma brightened and then her nose wrinkled. She wanted their book right now, but not what it meant to get there. “I don’t wanna bath Gina.”

“You didn’t want one last night either and I said you could skip with the deal that you would have one tonight sweetheart.” Moving to the island and leaning on her forearms to be eye level when Emma’s dipped lower. “Do you remember that deal?”

Nodding. “But I don’t like the deal now.” Emma slipped from her chair and moved over to bury her face into Gina’s stomach in a hug. “I just wanna read instead.”

“And we will, after your bath.” Rubbing tension from small shoulders and wondering over the near shrill whine now vibrating through her blouse. “Come on little duck. Let’s get those wings of yours clean, hmm?” Regina could feel Emma smile some against her at the use of the nickname and began to move them towards the door.

“Nuh uh.” Another whine as her hand was taken and Emma promptly sat on the floor slipping it. She really didn’t mind the idea of a bath. She liked those, but was tired and wanted their book and snuggles and to not feel the wild feeling spinning her tummy around in circles anymore. Like it did every time after talking to Dr. Hopper. Emma was tired in a way she didn’t know how to explain. Not droopy eye tired, well maybe just a little, but tired of feeling everything about the scary memory all over again. It wasn’t happening now, so why did it matter so much to talk about it now? Adults were strange that way Emma decided as she frowned at the tile she was sitting on.

Regina paused in thought of her first reaction which was to give in to Emma entirely just to erase the frown from that face. Her second thought and the more logical one was to have Emma sit on the step in timeout for not listening. Then she thought more about what her gut was saying to do. In the parenting books she’d been reading she remembered that children did well with choices and natural consequences when possible. While Emma was refusing direction she understood why. Emma was sleepy, but more so did not have a choice over therapy or the feelings that came with it. So Regina decided to give one instead. “Well then you may sit here for a while or we may go have your bath. Our book comes after the bath, so when you are ready, you let me know.” Emma promptly crossed little arms from her words and Regina moved to sit at one of the stools in wait to go through her e-mail. After a minute her phone rang. Glancing at Emma, she was tight lipped and not moving so Regina knew it would be a few minutes more at least. Then she looked at the screen.

Mother

Great.

And she answered. “Hello Mother.”

A pause. “You don’t sound enthused to be hearing from me.”

Regina rubbed her forehead at the crisp tone through the ear piece. “I’m not enthused at the moment, but it’s—“

“Did everything work out with Emma and the school today?” Cora asked.

“It did. Thank you. I was able to get her autograph book there in time.” There was another pause over the line and Regina remembered why they did not talk much on the phone or at all really outside of work. “Is there something you need from me?”

“Actually no, but I do have some good news. I took the liberty of helping to insure that things like today would have less of a chance of happening again.”

‘Uh oh.’ Regina thought and sat up as her stomach turned over. Whenever Mother tried to be helpful things tended not to go well for her. “Dare I ask how so?”

Cora scoffed. “I did you a favor truly. I reserved a place for Emma to attend Trinity School next fall.”

Regina’s jaw dropped and for a moment the room turned white as memories of her own childhood attending the prestigious religious private school came flooding back. Mother seemed to take her lack of response for approval and continued on.

“It’s close to your home and has a rigorous academics program as you well know. And with Emma’s needs she could catch up to her peers much sooner than at that school she is in now. They have door to door car service which would alleviate your having to pick Emma up so often—“

“Stop. Just stop.” The command was out before Regina could remember to whom she was speaking.

Sharp. “Regina.”

“Please.” Regina shook her head and rested her hand over her face with a deep breath. “Stop helping. Trinity is not even on my list of choices Mother.” She had been looking into transferring Emma come fall once the adoption was finalized to a school closer to home. There were wonderfully rated public schools in her area and she did not think a private education was necessarily the way to go with Emma. And while Trinity school itself was fine, her experience of it as she remembered was not.

Nonsense. I already put a deposit toward her reservation and the tuition. At the very least tour the school with her. I made you both an appointment for early next week. Your secretary has the details. Also, I wanted to encourage you to make the most out of the opportunity to work more closely with Robert. I know he pushed you into that deal today, but he has taken quite a shine to you and with your combined talents you would make an unstoppable team. I’m proud of you for holding your ground with him Regina.”

Praise with a bite and Regina could not stomach it at the moment. Her mind was slammed with feelings she couldn’t sort quick enough. “Mother…” Then deciding now was not the time to have this talk when she remembered who was in the room and now tugging on her arm. Regina gave Emma a patient smile, rubbing that little back as she wrapped up. “I need to go. I’ll discuss this with you later.” And she hung up and pressed the ignore button when it rung immediately again. She was more than angry. Livid actually for a few different reasons and wanted to call Zee to vent. Another tug and Regina schooled her expression and gave her full attention to Emma. “Are you ready for your bath so we may have our cuddle time and read our book?” That idea sounded like the little piece of heaven she needed after today.

“Uh-huh.” Emma rubbed her eye suddenly sleepy. “Bubbles and rubber ducky too?”

“Yes sweetheart.” Lifting Emma to her hip and brushing her lips to a soft pink cheek. “I think this day calls for both bubbles and your ducky.”

 

:::::::::::::::::

 

“Mother certainly put you in a bad way didn’t she?” Zelena took a bite of her salmon filet and eyed her brooding sister across the table staring out the window. It was a wet and rainy afternoon that seemed to fit the mood her sister was in. She had barely managed to drag Regina out of the brownstone for lunch.

“Mother and Gold both, yes.” Sighing, Regina turned back to look at her plate. His words about her being her Father’s daughter running through her mind.

“Goldilocks aside for the moment, Mother called me last night in a complete tizzy demanding I talk some sense into you.” Another bite as she waited for a reaction.

Rolling her eyes Regina sat up. “And is your way of tricking me into the car away from a work deadline on a Friday afternoon talking sense?” Regina stabbed her kale salad with a fork. “Because this is not helping my stress levels.”

“I didn’t trick you. It’s not my fault you jump to conclusions so quickly.” Smirking when she’d shown up at the brownstone a half hour ago saying there was something outside that needed immediate attention. Zelena had all but tossed Regina’s ass into the car and driven them to her sister’s favorite restaurant. “This,” indicating the dry martini’s she’d ordered them both, “is how I talk sense and now that I’ve done my part you need to vent. So go on and have at it.”

Regina set down her fork with a sigh. “She’s doing it again Zee. She’s trying to make my decisions for me under the guise of being helpful. She nearly registered Emma at Trinity of all places and had the nerve to tell me when she and I would be touring it too.”

“And she makes it sound as if you won’t even discuss the idea at all with her.”

Regina finally reached for her martini at that news and took a sip to remove the bitterness forming there. “That is not the case I assure you.”

“I know.” And Zelena did know just how much their Mother could push. “And when it comes right down to it, Emma’s education is your choice GiGi.”

“It is. I just don’t understand Mother’s reasoning sometimes. Forgetting the autograph book has nothing to do with changing schools or insuring that I won’t be inconvenienced, as she implied, by having to pick Emma up at school.” Shaking her head Regina began to pick at her salad once more. “I enjoy getting her from school each day and Emma does to.”

“Just like we did when Daddy used to pick us up from Trinity.” Zelena confirmed.

“So you do understand my reasons.”

“I do and you have my support on the matter entirely. I also see Mother’s side of it.” One shoulder popped up and then down as she cut another bite to place neatly on her fork. “She wanted the absolute best for us both and made sure we had it. I expect she just wants the same for Emma.”

“You would see it her way.” Said with a teasing and knowing tone.

“Course! That’s why I am such an ace lawyer.” Zelena smiled back proudly. “Perspective and seeing two sides is my forte.”

Regina smirked and covered her mouth with her hand as she finished chewing. Then she grew serious again as another thought entered her mind. “How much of that was your choice Zee?” Her sister’s posture immediately stiffened.

“I love what I do.”

“As do I and I’m not saying you don’t, but how much of anything growing up or even in college was our choice?” Seeing she had caused a train of thought under those bright red waves so much like their Mother’s, Regina continued. “This is what I mean with Mother. She means well sure, but in a controlling and manipulative way.”

“That’s just how Mother is. You know it, I know it, and Daddy certainly knew it because he chose to sleep next to the harpy every night for almost forty years.” Zelena grimaced over the image just as her sister did.

“That doesn’t mean she gets carte blanche over our lives.”

“In Mother’s mind that’s exactly what it means. She shows her love through control GiGi. I’m not saying it excuses her actions or makes them right, but it does make her a hell of a lot easier to deal with when you realize her interactions with us will never be about us. It’s all about her. It sucks balls. Big time, but I’ve accepted it and I should know. I spent a fortune on therapy doing so.”

Regina’s head shook, not entirely accepting that answer. “When we were kids did you ever want to do anything else with your life other than the course she set your feet to?”

Zelena tossed her hair back over a shoulder and sat up rather primly. “Children want a lot of things, but some are not necessarily the best for them.” A perfect imitation of their Mother’s tone.

A brief chuckle and an eye roll. “Come on Zee. I told you what I think now I want to hear what you think.”

“Fuck what we think. That never got either of us anywhere with her now did it?” Picking up her Martini to take a sip Zelena sighed over Regina’s unrelenting stare. “Fine. But I think we need another cocktail if I am going to answer that question honestly.” Said in all seriousness as she nodded to their waiter with a wrist flick to their drinks. “But no. As controlling as Mother is she had me pegged correctly on that regard from day one. I have always wanted to be a lawyer. Daddy used to also say I was good at arguing my way into and out of anything.”

“So you never wanted anything else than what you are doing right now.”

“Well nothing is set in stone. Maybe one day I’ll settle down, get married to prince charming, do the whole Stepford Wife and Mum bit while looking smashing doing it.” She laughed as Regina snorted.

“I hardly see you as a Stepford Wife type.”

“It is kind of ridiculous isn’t it. The whole vacuuming in heels with pearls thing and in a girdle no less.” Zelena’s nose wrinkled over the idea reflecting as she took another sip. “Do you remember when we were both looking at collages and I had been accepted to Oxford in their law program?” Even thought they were a year apart in age, Regina had skipped a year in primary school and from that point on they had planned their after high school adventure together.

Regina nodded and then again to the waiter in thanks who refreshed their drinks. “How can I forget? You nearly shattered the windows screaming in happiness, but what does that have to do with this?”

Zelena grinned at that memory fondly, but took a slow breath anyway. “I was excited for more than just getting into Oxford for it being Oxford, but because it meant being away from New York for so long.” Her eyes suddenly filled with past ache. “I know you resented my leaving and not joining you here, but I needed to get out and find out who the hell I was without her constantly trying to define that for me.”

“Zee.” Regina reached taking her sister’s hand. “I didn’t resent you for that or at all for that matter.”

Scoffing. “Well your four months of the silent treatment said something very differently at the time.”

“You trashed all of our plans without so much as a heads up you were going to do so and slapped me with Oxford when I didn’t even know you had applied. I reached out to you after a month.”

A challenging look. “And if I had told you I wanted to apply would you have let me do so without the same guilt trip?”

Silence.

Zelena sighed. “I didn’t think I would even get in and I didn’t want to say anything when I was 99 percent sure I wouldn’t get my foot in the door. That acceptance letter came as a complete shock to me and I just couldn’t not go.” She went back and forth between her sister’s eyes seeking understanding. “After a month of you not talking to me it was my turn to be mad at you and when I was ready to talk you were not.”

Regina shook her head. “I was mad at the wrong person.” A deep breath. They had never really spoken about those months. Four of the near longest in her life until Zee had come home for Christmas holiday that first year. Mother had insisted she meet her sister at the airport and Zee had come out to baggage claim a whirlwind of lively energy. She could feel the sense of freedom coming off her sister in waves and had said so in the moment. Then they had picked up as if they hadn’t spent the time apart in complete silence. It was easier than addressing the quiet hurt. “We had always planned on going to college together and when you decided to go out of the country I didn’t know where that left me and then Mother turned her complete focus on me. She was suffocating to say the least. I just did not know how to handle it well and I took it out on you.”

Another sip of a martini and Zelena couldn’t help herself. “If this is you apologizing you bloody well suck at it.”

“Well I’m sorry for sucking and the other thing.”

Softening. “I am too. I’m still a bit sore over it, but I didn’t know how bad it was for you. She’s like a dog on a bone that one.”

And as if on cue Regina’s phone buzzed in her purse in a pattern they both well knew for who it was. Regina reached down to look at the screen briefly for a message and silenced the annoying buzz. “How she does that I will never know.”

“My theory is when we were puppies she had us chipped with microphones and tracking devices.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“What’s Mother hen clucking about now?”

Regina sat back in her chair taking her martini with her. “She wants to know if you have done your job convincing me about Trinity yet.”

“What was that?” Cupping her ear. “All I heard was Charlie Brown’s teacher—blah, blah, blah.”

Laughing Regina shook her head. “I’ll be sure to tell her you were incredible detailed in your bullet points and slideshow so she stays off your case about this whole thing. It’s my problem. What Mother did, when I was in college and now, is something I need to deal with and address with her.” Regina affirmed. Gold too, but that was a challenge for another day. “But right now what matters to me is that the air between us is clear.”

Zelena gave a half smile. “It is if it means that you’re paying for lunch?”

“It does.” Picking up her martini for a toast. Regina tapped their glasses together in forgiveness. “If you’d have given me a chance to grab my purse at home.”

“Right.” Moss colored eyes rolled fondly. “Rain check then.”

Regina gestured to the window where rain slapped the glass. “We’ll have to or you’ll melt.”

A laugh. "You'd best bust out an umbrella then otherwise you'll have to tell my little Monkey why her auntie is suddenly a puddle at your feet."

"Knowing Emma she'd jump right in it without a second thought as to who it might be." A fond smile. "Speaking of Emma are we all set for the hearing next week?"

"As set as we can be paperwork wise."

"And the judge, you know him?"

Zelena ran her hand through her hair as she finished her drink. "I know of him and my friends I know who work in family law that I have spoken with say he's all about what is best for the child so your intent to adopt should be approved without a hitch." Then she leaned forward. "Try not to worry so much. By this time next week we will be one step closer to making Emma an official Mills."

Regina only nodded as Zelena got their waiter's attention for the bill. She hoped it was that simple. She needed it to be and more importantly so did Emma. As grateful as she was for her sister's support, Regina wished Kathryn was here telling her these things. Here by her side for the whole experience. Together as they had said they would when they found the right child for them. In this case Emma had found her and as much as she missed her wife, her daughter had given her heart a reason to love again. Emma had turned her grief into hope and Regina hoped it was enough to keep their family together. That was not her decision though and that out of control feeling did not rest easy in her heart. But Zelena seemed sure everything would go well. The papers were in order and she had complied with everything the state had asked her to do in regards to Emma. Small and even fragile now as their family was, it was their own special love and she was not going to let go of it for anything.

Chapter Text

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Chapter 3 – What If?

::::::::::::::::::::

The next week flew by and was just as full as could be. Emma was starting to get excited for school to be out at the end of next month and Regina had reluctantly compromised with Mother’s request to tour Trinity in the early part of the week. Though, she had not taken Emma with her as Mother had wanted much to the woman’s dismay.

However, that was the last thing on Regina’s mind today as she sorted through the pile of papers on her desk. It was a welcome distraction to her thoughts on the Adoption Intent and Termination of Parental Rights Motion hearing scheduled this afternoon at 4:00. While she was nervous, Zelena said everything was a formality and in order. She was grateful her sister was helping with the paperwork in the adoption and guiding the process.

The day could not go quick enough for Regina’s liking however, and by 11 am she was only growing more anxious. She had been staring at the top paper for the last ten minutes as her thoughts ran on loop for all the possibilities for the outcome of the hearing. Deciding she needed a break and perhaps an early lunch she stood to get her purse to do just that when there was a knock on the adjoining door to her office and it opened.

“Regina do you have the April contracts file?” Cora held out her hand expectantly as she approached the desk. Eyeing the purse. “Leaving again?”

Trying not to roll her eyes, Regina opened her top drawer and handed over the file requested. “I am just about to step out for lunch.”

“So soon in the day?” Cora took the file and tucked it under her arm with a gesture for Regina to follow. “Come with me a moment. I’d like to speak with you.”

And with another sigh Regina reluctantly followed. “If this is about Trinity again I am not ready to talk anymore about it with you.”

“You’ve gotten the registration packet I had sent over then?”

“Yes, I just—“

“Then take all the time you need dear.” Cora gestured to the seat across from her as she perched on the edge of the desk. “That is not what I want to discuss with you.”

Seeing she was not going to get out of whatever conversation this was about and out to an early lunch anytime soon Regina tried to keep a cap on her frustration to a minimum. She felt like a wayward child in the principal’s office under Mother’s gaze. It was a feeling she had experienced often as a child and even a young adult. Right now she was not in the mood to feel it again so she remained standing.  “What is this about then?”

“It’s about the deal you made with Robert.”

Regina felt her stomach cramp. “You mean the one you said absolutely nothing about when he inferred I was unable to handle both my career and being a mother to Emma?” To her Mother’s credit she looked taken aback by the last thing she said and Regina wondered if perhaps Mother had not heard Gold’s insinuation after all.

“I am talking about the deal and not whatever worries you have right now about the hearing today Regina.”

Oblivious then. Clearing her throat Regina was suddenly more than done with their talk already. Getting right to the point. “What about the deal?”

“I have the utmost faith you two will make an incredible team, but you need to learn how to work together with him and not against him. He has a brilliant mind for business and so do you, but in different ways. As I’ve said you may learn a lot from each other.”

Regina crossed her arms. “I am not sure how when he is such a difficult man to work with. Besides that we have absolutely nothing in common.”

Cora chuckled. “You have more in common than you think. Did you know he adopted a little girl once.”

Eyes widened in disbelief. “What?”

“His niece after his brother died. Such a sweet quiet little thing. He brought her by the office a few times many years ago. Robert was in much the same position you are in now with Emma, balancing it all.”

Brows knitting Regina dropped her arms. “He’s never mentioned her or any of his family.”

Cora clasped her hands together over her knee and sighed. “It is a rather sore subject for him. His brother died leaving this side of his family business in a complete tangle and his daughter in Robert’s care quite suddenly. Later on a similar accident stole the life of his niece. Rather tragic really. His life has held a lot of loss.” Head tilting. “You two are more alike on that aspect than you realize. And with this deal, he’s only trying to help you remain focused Regina.”

“Well his idea of focusing and mine do not align in the least.” The comparison of her grief over Daddy and Kathryn to Gold’s plight was not something she felt was quite the same thing. But maybe Mother was right in one fact. Gold was a marketing genius and she had a head for numbers with an eye for best seller potential. Maybe if she could get him to take the stick out of his ass they could have some kind of a civil working relationship after all. “But I will take what you have said into consideration and see where it goes.” Mother’s smile for her effort was blinding and under that approval Regina smiled back.

“Good. Now that is settled here is the upcoming board agenda for the coming month.” A thick file was handed over. “I’ve attached a list of the financial documents and summary items we will need for my presentation.”

Regina took it and opened the top flap skimming the first page and her shoulder’s dropped. “Mother this meeting is tomorrow morning. I have a mountain of paperwork to do before then.”

“As have I, but these are your department.” Cora got up and returned to sit behind her desk. “I will order us in some take out from that bistro you like and we may have a working lunch.”

Feeling a headache coming on Regina tucked the file under her arm and nodded going back to her office. When the door closed she dropped her purse on the desk and the file before allowing herself to do the same in her chair. There was no way she would finish all she had to do in time for the hearing without a little help, though asking for help was not something she did easily. Fact was she never did it. Regina had a fully trained staff at her disposal to handle certain day to day operations she trained them to do, but the detailed profit projections, contracts, and risk analysis she preferred to do herself.

Her assistant was new to the company in the last year and had lasted the longest out of a long list of one’s prior she had burned through. But she was sharp and willing, if not a little spineless. At least Mary Margaret had been in the beginning. After Regina had learned of the Nolans fostering Jasmine she had made more of an effort to be civil and even friendly towards the couple. Still Regina was not one to make friends easily. Between her schedule and the few acquaintances she and Kathryn had, since the accident and her isolation in grief they had all but dropped off. After a moment of thought she pressed the call button on her desk and within seconds Mary Margaret’s was at her office door.

“Yes Regina?”

Looking up from the pile on her desk. “Going somewhere?” Regina gestured to the purse on MM’s shoulder.

“Mrs. Mills asked me to pick up the lunch order. I was just on my way to tell you I was stepping out.”

“And are you my assistant or hers?” Annoyed suddenly at her Mother’s breech of office etiquette. If she had ever requested such a thing from her Mother’s secretary heads would roll.

“Yours Regina. Of course.”

“Have the intern go and fetch it and if my Mother has any comments about it tell her it was under my direction.” Regina shifted through the files on her desk and with the other hand began opening the ones on her laptop. “I would like you to set aside the work you have for the next few hours and come sort though the items needed for Mrs. Mills’ board presentation tomorrow with me in here.”

A jaw dropped. “Um, work with you? In here?”

Regina looked up at that pale face with a raised brow. “Need I repeat myself or are you hard of hearing?”

“Yes.” Mary Margaret stumbled and blinked. “I mean no I heard you. I just…”

Tapping her nails in wait. “You just what?”

A small smile. “I just have wanted to do more for you, for the company than I have been.” Under the gaze that was not wavering MM kept going. “I mean I have learned a lot since being here from you and I am ready for more responsibility. I appreciate what extra you have given me to do so far and I signed up for the night classes that you suggested to close the gap in my skill set and I’m working toward…” And she stopped abruptly when a hand was held up for silence.

“You’re rambling.”

“I am?” Then MM straightened her spine. If it was one thing her boss hated it was incessant rambling. She had learned that the hard way early on. “I am. Sorry. I’ll just go get my laptop and arrange the lunch pick up.”

Regina went back to opening the files she would need as her assistant turned to go. “By the way I approved a raise for you just yesterday. It should reflect in your next check.” Then looking up at shocked eyes. “It should be more than enough to cover your classes and some extra. You’ve earned it.”

“That’s… Thank you! That will make all the difference.” A beaming grin from ear to ear. “I wasn’t expecting that, not that I’m not appreciative. I am truly. I am so excited to be able to—” MM paused under that stare. “I’m doing it again aren’t I?”

A thumb and finger was held up in a pinching fashion, Regina tried for patience and even a small kind smile. “Just a little bit.”

After MM returned the rest of the afternoon went by quickly. Together they were able to prep the materials for the board meeting and Regina was able to finish or original pile of work. She took Zelena’s offer of picking up Emma from school and that allowed her to even get ahead on tomorrows work so she would have more time with Emma in this evening. As she finished up Zee and Emma were off walking the top floor of the building while waiting for her to finish up.

Or were supposed to be. The door popped open suddenly and Emma ran in sooner than expected waving a list in front of her face. Emma was cute as a button in her Girl Scout Daisy uniform of navy pants, white shirt and vest complete with a little beret pinned to the top of two French braids.

When Emma had moved in and expressed the desire to join a club (she could ‘cause she didn’t have to move never, ever again) Regina had suggested a number of things. Emma saw cookies and uniforms with patches to earn in the same picture on a brochure and jumped at the idea. Little one was determine to sell the most and get the lead seller badge out of all the girls in the troop. The persistence and talent Emma had for working toward little goals like this reminded her of Kathryn’s work ethic.

“Looky! I sold hundreds!” Waving the list Emma climbed right up on a lap and held it in such a way so both she and Gina could see it.

The hundreds was actually closer to about sixty Regina estimated as she skimmed the list and raised a brow at the last name on the bottom. “You did wonderfully well sweetheart. Look at all these names.” Then she eyed her sister. “Even Mr. Gold bought some.”

“Uh-huh. But he said if I didn’t ever ask him again he’d buy ten boxes and that seemed like a good deal cause he’s a really grumpy crocodile.” Ever blunt Emma called it like she saw it.

“Emma.” A small rebuke. “We don’t call names.” Regina said. ‘Even if they are true.’

“Sorry.” Emma drawled. She popped a kiss of Gina’s cheek to show so and wiggled down to cross the room to the apple bowl on the coffee table.

Zelena smirked. “Emma insisted on going to all the offices. While he was looking over the order sheet, Emma climbed right up on his desk to get a better look at all the old trinkets he keeps up on there.”

“And you let her didn’t you.” An evil smile.

“Course I did.” Zelena chimed proudly. “By the time he noticed she had half of them stacked and rearranged. Old bugger was as put out as if he’d gotten a surprise audit. Serves him right for the ten box bit he said to Emma. He’s a Richard the Third, that one.”

A dark brow for the term. “Richard the Third?”

“You know.” Whispering. “Gold’s a turd.”

“What’s a turd?” A little question from all the way across the room.

Regina pinched the bridge of her nose and gave a sharp look to her sister. “Little ears Zee.”

To Emma. “Nothing and don’t repeat that.” Zelena tried to soothe ruffled Evil Queen feathers for the slip. “Hence the rhyming cockney instead.” Shrugging sheepishly under the glare she tried her little Monkey’s saying. “Sorry?”

Regina was about to comment when the door adjoining her office opened and Mother decided to grace them all with her presence.

“Cora!” Emma hopped up from her spot on the rug where she had been eating her apple and ran over with her arms open. She adored Gina’s Mom who always had a smile for her and had since she had given the woman a framed picture of her and Santa for Christmas. It sat on Cora’s desk just like her school one did on Gina’s at home and here.

“There you are my darling girl. Look how smart you look in your uniform.” Leaning down to receive a hug Cora embraced Emma easily and kissed the air alongside each of Emma’s cheeks. “I thought I heard a rumor a little Daisy was selling cookies.”

“I am.” Ever ready Emma took the folded list from her vest pocket and a pen holding both out. “How many do you want? If you buy two of each you can have some for now and then later when you get hungry again. The Thin Mints are my favorites and Gina’s too!”

“Then I will take two of each, but three of the Thin Mints. One box of those goes to the seller for the recommendation.” Cora winked and wrote her pledge on the line and handed it back to Emma. Then she gave a questioning look to her youngest over the child’s head. “Where has Regina been hiding you this week, hmm?”

“Dunno cause I’m better at hide and seek than Gina is.” Emma replied with a smile and pocketed the list and pen once more.

Regina rolled her eyes at the veiled insinuation from her Mother as she tapped her knuckles once on her desk in annoyance. “We’ve had a busy week Mother and I’m doing nothing of the kind.” But now she was for the hot look shot her way. “We are also on our way out.”

Cora smoothed blonde curls looking right at Emma and challenged that very notion. “How did you like the tour of Trinity School Emma?”

‘Did she just…?’ At the nerve Regina stood abruptly from her desk and was about to shut down the conversation entirely, but Emma’s face was already tightening.

“Tour of a school?” Then turning, Emma looked at Gina, anxious now at the idea. She loved her class and wanted to stay to finish the year. Her troop met on Tuesday after school in one of the classrooms there too. Gina had said she could stay there.

Regina went right to Emma and leaned down to be eye level. “She’s just talking about a tour I went on earlier this week sweetheart. Nothing is ch—”

“Am I changing schools?” Emma’s brows knit in upset. “But you said I didn’t have to this year. You said maybe next year.” Her hands were taken as her eyes filled.

“And you don’t this year. Nothing is changing right now Emma with your school. Alright?”

“Then why’d you go on the tour?”

“It was something my Mother wanted me to do that I really did not want to.” Regina heard a sharp intake of air above them, but kept her focus on Emma. She was not about to lie to Emma just to soothe Mother’s feelings on this issue. “I did it because it was the nice thing to do and I didn’t want you upset when I knew nothing would come if it.”

Emma shifted on her feet thinking she understood. Gina said sometimes she had to do things that had to be done ‘cause they needed doing even if she didn’t like them. Like the doctor, therapy or doing homework. But that those things didn’t always mean bad stuff happened afterwards. Calmer under those soft eyes on her and the way Gina was rubbing the backs of her hands Emma nodded.

“Zee.” Catching her sister’s eye Regina stood up. “Will you take Emma and meet me in the car? I’ll be there in a moment.”

“But I wanna wait for you.” Emma cut in and tightened her grip on those hands. Still anxious over the conversation and wanting the closeness.

“I need to talk to my Mother for a moment Emma and then I’ll be right there.” A serious line had been crossed and she intended to have a word about it. Nodding to the door where her sister was waiting. “Go on with ZeeZee.”

“Nnoooo.” Tears started. “I want you.”

Cora watched the exchange between her daughter and Emma with a mix of interest and disapproval in how Regina was handling the upset. She remembered such displays from her girls when they had been young and she had to stay late at the office working when Henry had come by with them to say hello. One particular evening came to mind and Regina clung to her the longest of the two carrying on much in the same manner as Emma was now. And she wondered if she had responded differently than she had if Regina wouldn’t have begun pulling away from her.

“And you will have me in just a few minutes because I’m coming with you. Right now you need to listen please and go with your ZeeZee.” Regina tried for patience knowing exactly why Emma was upset. Talk of change and the conversation about school a sensitive one between them. Mother’s sneak attack in opening this idea to Emma was not helpful in the least.

Relenting Emma gave a sniffle. “You’ll be right there?”

“Right there sweetheart.” Promising with a kiss to a cheek Regina watched as Emma reluctantly went across the room to take her sister’s hand. Zee flashed a sympathetic look as the door closed. The moment that click sounded she whirled on her Mother, fire in eyes. “That was entirely inappropriate and uncalled for. Did you see how upset she was from your question?”

Cora crossed her arms. Both brows rose at the fresh tone coming her way. “I did and that only tells me you haven’t said a word to her about transferring to Trinity in the fall.”

“When and how I speak to Emma about that decision, which is mine to make not yours, is up to me.” Regina swallowed down the anger riding her temper. “I won’t have you upsetting her unnecessarily. We have a lot on our plate right now and the discussion about school is not one she is ready to have just yet.”

“I was only trying to help and while you are deciding I’ve arranged for some uniform samples and the catalog to be sent to your home.”

Regina scoffed. “I don’t need your way of helping like that Mother. Not in raising my daughter.” Brief hurt and then warning flashed across her Mother’s eyes and Regina placed her palms together in a silent plea as she tried to soften her next words. “I have different ideas about how I want to raise Emma and private schooling is not one of them.”

“What you mean to say is that you don’t want my ideas or influence to impact Emma.” To the point Cora shook her head. “You’re making a mistake Regina.”

“Am I? Because not having her in a school with such suffocating social values and ridged world views on things, feels like the right choice to me.”

“Nonsense. You girls loved Trinity.”

“No Mother you did and even Zee too, but my experience was different than hers at Trinity for a few different reasons.” Being a lesbian, non-religious, and as liberal as she was being three of the big ones.

Tisking. “You’re just like your Father. He didn’t have it in him to make the necessary calls in raising you girls.”

Regina’s eyes found the floor as they filled at his memory and then she looked up. “I know you didn’t mean it as such, but that is the nicest compliment you have ever given me.” Long time coming to say and wishing it was not this moment but here. “As for your insinuation over how he was with me and Zee; we couldn’t have asked for a more involved and loving parent. He was there for every school function, every parent teacher conference, and every night to tuck me in. He was there for me when I needed him. And I intend to do the same for my daughter. I am an adult and more than capable of making my own decisions. Especially when it comes to Emma. I appreciate your intent and I know it comes from a good place.”

A brow arched. “But?”

“There is no but there. I know you think you mean well.” Regina felt the hair on her neck stand upright under Mother’s gaze. Right up straight as her spine was as sweat bridged her hairline for the sharp look she was under. Mother had always had that affect on her.

“You think I mean well.” Cora repeated slowly. “You say you are grown and capable, but right now all I see is a little girl trying to fit into shoes that are too big for her. This… tantrum is appalling.”

Bristling, Regina saw red. What she had given up in order to stay on at their family company after her father died, to fill his shoes, flashed across her mind. Before he’d passed she’d been working on the idea of starting her own publishing company, something intimate and local. Something she could nurture and call her own. Not for the money; to take chances on new writers and stories she believed needed to be told. That is what it was really about for her. Getting those unheard voices heard. Daddy had encouraged her dream, but she had dared not share it with Mother and when he had died, a piece of her dream died with him in her grief and Mother’s need for control. And in this moment she could not keep the cap on that any longer. “I did you a favor by stepping in for Daddy. Without me this company would be scraping to make a fraction of the profits it has in the last four years.” And the cool look flashed her way said exactly what Mother thought about that.

An indulgent chuckle came between them as Cora’s head shook. “You are just proving my point Regina and Robert has opened the market for us to triple our annual profits with just his most recent trip to London.” Her eyes went quickly between narrowing pools of amber. “His efforts landed us a partnership worth over 30 million. You can learn a lot from him if you quit letting your dislike for him get in the way.”

“Our efforts.” Regina corrected. “Who do you think spent the time preparing the contract offer for him to put on the table?” Mother took a step closer and Regina tried to fight the wounded expression taking over her features. She never could help it when Daddy was involved. The suggestion of her ten percent increase last quarter being chump change went unsaid, but she more than felt it. And again she felt frozen under that cutting gaze, but Mother’s was glassy in a way Regina had not been expecting it be. “Daddy would never have agreed to the merger with Gold.”

“No, he wouldn’t of.” Agreeing with ease. “And you have had ample opportunity to shine in your father’s stead. Originally I was going to ask Robert to step in when Henry passed, but you got a chance to be a CEO because Henry would have wanted it. He wanted you to have a voice in the business and I allowed it.”

“And now you regret it?” Regina asked and when Mother didn’t answer right away she slowly nodded her head as her eyes stung. “You’re disappointed. Go on. Say it.”

“I did not say that.”

Regina’s crossed her arms. “You didn’t have to.”

“Do not put words in my mouth Regina.”

“Or what you’ll take my voice away? Because you are so good at doing that for me.” She’d be damned if that happened to Emma too under Cora’s influence.

“Enough.” Cora’s hand slapped the edge of the desk. “I don’t have too. You are doing a good job with your own pity party over your father and Kathryn doing just that. I won’t coddle you Regina. It’s time to grow up and be the partner I expect you to be.”

More than wounded and braving the truth for what else needed to be said Regina did with a heavy heart. “I thought I was your daughter first.” Then quiet, but firm. “And if you do something like this again with Trinity or the roundabout questioning with Emma when I explicitly ask you not to it will seriously impact my willingness to allow you such an influential role in her life.”

The room went cold as they stared at each other. Mother’s eyes wide and unmoving. After a few tense moments without a response or a dismissal, Regina picked up her purse and walked out of the room.

Sunglasses on she hurried to the car and got in the back across from Zee and Emma’s car seat when David held open the door for her. Glad at least that Emma seemed happily tuned into playing a game with headphones on Zee’s cell phone. She kept her glasses on as she watched her sister reading a magazine. Good. She could do with a quiet ride for the moment.

“How much vodka do I need to set aside later for our chat I sense is coming because of Mother Dearest?”

‘So much for quiet.’ Regina’s eyes found the ceiling. “There’s not enough in New York I’m afraid.”

“I’ll have more imported then.”

That casual comment made the corners of Regina’s mouth hint up with a nod to Emma. “I’ll fill you in later.”

Not looking up. “Oh, she can’t hear us.” Zelena explained absently as she continued thumbing her magazine. “She’s lost in a land of rainbows and lepers.”

A brow rose over dark shades. “You mean leprechauns.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No you didn’t. The one you said being a horribly disfiguring disease and the other a little greedy green man with an unhealthy gold fixation.”

Zelena finally looked up focusing on the moment. “What has Giggling Gold got to do with this conversation?”

A brief bitter chuckle escaped as Regina made the leprechaun connection. “Quite a bit I’m afraid.” Then wondering. “Why call him Giggling Gold?”

A page turned as Zelena went back to her skimming, keeping her voice low for little ears. “He does that when he’s being a complete ass. Like a bully whispering a threat to you when he knows his wormy little friends are watching to cheer him on.”

At that perfect description of Gold, Regina frowned in thought and turned to look out the window. Come to think of it, Gold had done that a few times. The most recent being when he had made that unsettling comment about her father’s undoing. She crossed her arms over her stomach and forced her thoughts away from Mother and Gold to the coming hearing. Right now she had to regain her focus in order to take the next step in Emma’s adoption.

As if hearing her name Emma finally looked up from her game and smiled with an adorable wave showing the deep dimple in her cheek. “Hi Gina.”

 That smile was suddenly familiar in a way that made Regina take off her glasses and she smiled softly right back. “Hi baby.” And that light in green eyes across the way wiped the past fifteen minutes from memory save this one moment with Emma.

:::::::::::::::

Regina sat in the waiting room of the courthouse watching as Emma played with a few other children present in the play area across the way as Zee went to fetch coffee for her. She had more than a slight headache from the way she had ended the conversation in her office with Mother and wondered just how she was going to right that situation going forward. She’d deal with it Monday when she went into the office again, she decided.

Sighing, Regina rubbed at her temples and wished Zee would hurry up. More so at being on her own before such an important hearing. Regina brought her wrist she had sprayed that morning up to her nose and inhaled closing her eyes. Kathryn’s comforting scent filled her and some of the worry and tension left as she exhaled. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of her sister’s heels coming down the hall and looked up. Pale, as if a ghost had been seen, her sister’s delicate features were. Sick Regina felt over such an expression as Zee came to take back up the empty chair right next to her.

“GiGi something’s happened.”

Regina closed her eyes. Wrong, something was wrong and she opened them holding her breath.

“Ambrose called me.”

And air returned to Regina’s lungs. Boyfriend trouble. Zee had been seeing him on and off for a near year and this was a pattern she was used to whenever they had gotten in a fight. “Who broke up with whom this time?” Regina tried for humor she knew Zee usually appreciated in moments of upset, but red curls shook in dismay. She reached for her sister’s hand and brows knit tight at how just how white those knuckles were. Turning in her seat Regina squeezed they hand. “What is it?” Nothing, but eyes blinking. “Zee, please you’re scaring me.”

“Sorry.” Zelena tried to begin. “It’s just a shock and I’m not sure how to tell you this.”

“Tell me what?” Then that tight iron heat was right back pressing against Regina’s chest. Breath gone again.

“Remember when you asked me to do some digging on the newspaper article in Emma’s file about her being found on the interstate?” Getting a sharp nod she continued. “Well, at the time Ambrose hadn’t found anything. Cold case as he said, and Emma appeared as if by magic, but he has a thing for cases with no answers. He found them.”

Amber eyes widened to near shattering. “He found Emma’s parents?”

“Yes.” Deep breath. “I mean no. They’re dead, but that’s not what this issue is, but it kind of is too.”

Regina felt the small bite of shame for the bit of relief that statement brought her. Dead there would be no claim on Emma to halt the adoption, but that did not explain why Zee was upset. “If they are not able to make a claim on her then that’s good right?”

“It is, but GiGi not for one of them.”

Frustrated Regina shook her head. “You are not making any sense.”

“I know. Sorry.” Zelena caught her breath and her sister’s eyes. “It’s Emma’s mother or donor rather.”

“Donor as in egg donor?” Thoughts rushed and blurred. Surely there were preventatives from donors making a parental claim. A contract, something, and Regina asked the hard question as the room went black at the edges. “Am I going to be able to adopt Emma?”

“Barring there are no other petitions for adopting her—Yes.”

Breathing as color returned to her cheeks and Zee squeezed her hand. “That’s good. That’s—”

“GiGi the egg donor was Kathryn.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 4 – Recognition 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Regina froze as the room became deaf to her skipping heartbeat. The hair on the back of her arms and neck stood up with goose bumps as a cold wash of sweat prickled her hairline as thoughts exploded behind unblinking eyes. ‘If Kathryn was the donor, who is the birth mother? Father? How had Emma ended up in a basket on the side of the road if the birthmother had needed a donor to get pregnant? Did that mean Emma had been wanted at one point? How could Kathryn not have told me? She said she wouldn’t carry—that adoption was—Emma—what if...’ These unexpected and once impossible questions, an invisible wall she had no way of seeing in her path, slammed together like birds flying into glass. Regina had previously imagined too many different scenarios to rationalize Emma’s appearance. So many new questions and directions; too many and Regina was drowning in them all. 

“Take a breath.” Zelena coaxed under the wide eyed stare she was under. “I only told you now because it will be in the case notes for the hearing today. Ambrose had to notify DSS when he made all the connections. There’s more GiGi. A lot more to Emma’s story than we thought, but this is what you need to know right now. The judge may comment or ask about Kathryn and I didn’t want you blindsided in court.”

One nod. That’s all Regina could manage. Too much to take in and now of all places and times. She wasn’t ready for what this meant. For what it could mean for their future and tried to start asking the other questions she needed an answer to just as the court clerk came out and her case was called.

“That’s you.” Zelena held up her hand indicating she had heard him and stood helping her sister up. “Go do this and then we’ll go from there.” 

Shock spoke, but not over what was being asked. “You’re not coming in?”

“I need to watch Emma. Remember you said you wanted to do this part yourself.” Zelena now wished they had brought along someone else as a backup plan, but being only her and Regina now in need she said, “we can reschedule if it’s too much, but it could be weeks before we get another date.” Searching amber eyes they only widened more. Holding her sister by the shoulders and worried over the stillness there and she gave a ready shake to bring Regina back to the present. “Mask up if you have to. You have one shot to get this part right. For Emma.”

That tone and the seriousness of the moment snapped Regina out of her shock. She put on the corporate mask she was good at wearing to hide the spiraling of emotions taking her mind for a walk in a dark wonderland. She nodded, bringing steel to her spine to hold her upright and with a long look at Emma playing turned to follow the clerk into the courtroom.

Regina more than went through the motions. Answered every question with a smile and poise she was trained to do since childhood. The judge was impressed with her answers and the facts and figures that went with her name. Said everything was in order when Regina felt it was anything but. 

Her intent to adopt was pushed through to the next stage and they moved on to the Termination of Parental Rights. A notification would have to be sent to the next of kin—just as Zelena had said. And Regina’s mind wondered over who that could possibly be, but in the blur of thoughts and emotions she was sucked into another part of her heart entirely. The judge commented on the miracle of such a connection between her late wife and Emma. But did not go into any of the details others knew more about than she did at the moment. A miracle, truly it was. And one Regina could not even begin to process. Gavel banged and she jumped at it. Regina gathered the details of her life on paper as she had understood it back in the file she had brought along to prove she was able to provide for Emma in more ways than a roof overhead. But she didn’t understand the details in there as she once had. More so the one person referenced in them that should be right by her side doing this with her. 

 And outside this room Emma sat oblivious with her sister as Parental Rights were deemed non-applicable in the current situation. That had to be a good thing, she thought, but the current situation was one she did not have full understanding of yet. At that phrase from the judge Regina had lost her footing and leaned heavy against the petitioner’s table. The adoption date hearing was confirmed for now barring no further claims on Emma and Regina left the court room. 

Zelena was sitting in the chair she had occupied before the hearing listening to chattering as she approached. And then Regina saw Emma. How had she not seen Emma quite this way before? The shape of that pink bow of a mouth, the deep dimple in the left cheek, and chameleon blonde curls. The same hints of strawberry were there and always highlighted when the sun hit just so. Then Emma was up out of that chair and hugging her waist. Regina came to life slowly and gently, oh so gently as if Emma were a fine china doll near breaking, stroked a cheek with her knuckle. Then Kathryn was looking right through those eyes up at her. And the mask holding Regina together began slipping.

“Gina?”

‘Same almond shape, but a different color… Same thick dark blonde lashes.’

“Gina.”

And that smile…’

“Earth to GiGi.” Waving a hand, Zelena tried to catch a pair of blurring amber eyes.

Regina startled and blinked quickly as her mask returned. Home she needed to make it home and then—

Emma tugged on a belt loop and rubbing an eye. “Gina am I adopted all the way yet?”

And Regina felt a rush of heat in her gut. That shouldn’t even be a question to be asked between them. Shouldn’t have to be. Not if Kathryn had… Bending to lift Emma up to her hip Regina held the little girl close to her heart and found a bit of her voice. “Not yet little duck, but we are one step closer.” And more than a mile away from the present moment in her mind as she followed Zelena to the car.

Settling in those arms Emma asked. “So this day was for the rights stuff?” And yawned. She was sleepy after the busy long day.

Regina swallowed thickly as they exited the building. Pausing she dug her sunglasses out of her purse and put them on, feeling somewhat more herself under the dark shades. Her head was pounding with more than a headache. The hearing had been a success and she was over the moon with that idea and felt like she had lost the gravity of some incredible importance she couldn’t name. “Yes sweetheart, the judge said he agreed with my intent to adopt you.”

“And he said no to my birth parents ‘cause they aren’t here?” Remembering some of how Gina had explained it to her. Emma relaxed, leaning forward to rest her head on a shoulder with her eyes closed as they waited at the curb for the car to come around.

“Something like that, but we will talk more about that another day.” They had a lot of talking to do. Too much. And done with talking for now as her throat closed Regina rested her hand on Emma’s back and closed her eyes. She ran the length a curved spine with her finger tips in a way that always soothed Emma… 

 

Rubbing a back and the golden curls spilling across her lap, Regina adored the way the light played with different colors of her wife’s hair. “You like that don’t you my love?”

“Like?” Kathryn purred contently. “I love when you do that Regina.” A dimpled smile. “Puts me right to sleep.

 

And Regina opened her eyes to the warm salt of memory rolling down her cheeks as Emma slept in her arms. A piece of her past that she thought had died lay warm and breathing softly against her neck. No small miracle and yet it was all hers.

::::::::::::::

Later that same evening Regina stood over the stove sautéing a vegetable medley as dinner baked in the oven. Once home Emma had gone into the living room to watch TV and she to the kitchen to begin cooking. Zee had tried to stay to talk, but Regina was not in the space to do so yet. She needed the evening to think. Needed time to wrap her head around this new reality. Regina needed a lot of things she couldn’t say, but she had said tomorrow they would talk. Tonight she just needed to be on her own with Emma. Her mind was anywhere but the present and she was reminded of such when she took the entree out of the oven.

 Her finger slipped the oven cloth and caught on the edge of the hot pan. Grunting, Regina tossed it aside with a loud clatter and brought her burned finger to her mouth. Moving right to the sink, she ran cold water over the heat throbbing on her skin. It was only pink, but ran up the length of the inside of her index finger. As some relief came she called to Emma.

A blonde head popped around the doorframe a moment later. “Time to eat?”

“Yes sweetheart. Wash your hands please.” Regina watched as Emma got up on the stool by the sink to do so as she moved away to plate their meal. The moment Emma joined her at the counter a sour frown took over that face she was realizing more and more looked like the mirror of her late wife. Heat pricked the corners of her eyes at the resemblance her grieving heart had just not been able to see before now.

“Gina I don’t like fish.”

And her mind snapped right back to the present and looked at what she had made. Lemon butter cod and sautéed vegetables, Kathryn’s favorite—both of which Emma would not willingly eat. Normally if she made herself this filet she made Emma chicken and they negotiated the vegetables. Regina pinched the bridge of her nose as her eyes closed. “I’m sorry Emma… I was—” Dreaming, remembering… “Not paying attention to what I was doing.” Sighing. “Will you try a bite of fish for me? You may like it.”

Emma shook her head as her tongue poked out of her mouth. “I don’t wanna eat Nemo and Dory’s friends.”

Right. She’d forgotten that Disney always won in their home. Regina stood and took Emma’s plate and put a few of the cut squash and zucchini vegetables in a bowl for Emma while leaving the plate on the counter. “Start on your milk and veggies then while I make you something else.”

“No veggies.” A tongue stuck out again. 

“Yes veggies.”

“But Ginnnaaa.” Emma lay forward on the table, arms splayed out with her cheek against the counter. Dramatic. “My tummy says veggies don’t like the dark in there.”

A soft chuckle. “Even so, your body needs six bites at least.”

Emma’s lips puckered over that idea. “Two?”

“Five without any further argument and you may have the dinner of your choice tomorrow.”

She shot right up with a grin. “Deal.”

Going to the fridge as Emma began eating Regina quickly put together a modified version of a club sandwich she knew Emma would eat. Cutting off the crusts and the sandwich into four neat triangles Regina set that on a place and began to slice an apple to go with it. As Emma ate she eventually returned to her own meal, but suddenly Regina couldn’t stomach the past on a plate and pushed it away. 

“What’s wrong Gina?” Said around a mouth of cheese and bacon as Emma looked over.

‘Those eyes.’ And Regina moved hers back to a full plate and stood to get rid of it. “I don’t think I care for fish either tonight.” When she returned to the table she saw a triangle and a few apple slices on a napkin in her place. Nodding with a smile to Emma she picked up a slice and took a bite. “Thank you for sharing little duck.”

“Welcome.” Emma smiled and chatted about what she and Jasmine did at recess as they finished eating. 

Regina simply looked at her enraptured. Every movement she recorded and compared in her mind finding more and more similarities that should not be possible. Some of Emma’s mannerism too. Like the way she sat cross legged in the chair was similar to how Kathryn used to always sit with one leg curled underneath her. The more she tried looking the more she saw what had always been there.

“Gina why you looking at me so much?”

“Hmm? Oh.” Regina sat back from where she had rested on the counter with her hand on her cheek. “My mind is just full of grown up things little duck.” 

Emma wondered over that. For the way brown eyes were shiny though she didn’t ask again. Sometimes when she asked why when they were this way Gina went to another room for a few minutes and right now Emma didn’t want to be by herself. Gina then went to clean up and she helped too. When the last dish was loaded in the washer she went take Gina’s hand like always, but when Emma grabbed that first finger like she liked to do it was pulled away.

Regina hissed as the burn on the inside of her finger was scraped by small nails. Rolling her lips in, she caught Emma’s confused expression laced with hurt and immediately cupped a small face. “I didn’t mean to pull away. I accidently burned my finger cooking and it is just tender right now is all.”

Green widened and Emma sucked in her bottom lip as a memory flashed. “Do you hafta go to the hospital? Are you okay?” Worry spoke from a past present.

“I’ll be just fine and no I don’t need to go to the hospital. See?” Holding up her finger. “I just need to wrap it up.”

“A Band-aid?”

Nodding as Emma tugged on her good hand, Regina followed into the downstairs bathroom off of the living room. Watching in wonder as Emma crouched on the rug and opened the bottom cabinet under the sink. Child nearly disappeared inside it and came out with a box of Disney villain band-aids from the first aid kit she kept there. 

“You gotta sit there.” Emma explained pointing to the closed toilet lid where she sat last week when she fell and skinned her knee in the park. She waited for Gina to do so as she found just the right band-aid. Emma had trouble with the wrapper and promptly held it out for help. A corner was torn and it was handed back and she did the important part by herself and carefully wrapped a hurt finger with little Evil Queen’s from the movie. After Emma kissed it all better brown eyes got wet like they did sometimes. “Now it won’t hurt no more.”

“Thank you Emma.” And it didn’t but a piece of Regina unseen certainly did. She lifted Emma up to her hip and went toward the stairs. “Time to get ready for bed little duck.”

“Bath time, book time, and bed time.” Emma chimed in and rested her chin on a shoulder as they went upstairs.

Regina smiled softly and carried Emma up to the third floor. Fifteen minutes later after bubbles and a rubber ducky race in the tub she had a sweet smelling and sleepy child holding her good hand into the yellow room. She began preparing for the mini battle she thought might be coming and had been present since last week when she had introduced the idea of wearing GoodNites consistently to Emma. Half the nights out of a week since the therapy sessions had started nearly two months ago Emma woke up in wet sheets from a dream. Little one was always a mess of tears and upset that broke Regina’s heart each time. At first she’d let Emma choose and sometimes she would willing wear them, but more often Emma fought the idea. Then the wetting increased as the sessions went on and Regina had to make the decision that needed making much to Emma’s upset. Slowly though the routine was getting used to.

Going to the dresser, Regina pulled out a pair of socks and a PJ set. Then a pair of GoodNites from the bottom drawer. Taking all of them to the bed she set them aside to coax the yawning one at her feet closer.

Emma blinked sleepily as one of her favorite t-shirts with Dory on it was tugged gently over her head. She helped with the arm holes like the big girl she was and then tilted her head at what Gina was holding and remembered she was supposed scowl over the fact and did so now with her arms crossed. She wasn’t a baby and said as much.

“No you are not. These are just for now not for always.” Holding them out for Emma to step in. Child seemed to be thinking it over and being late and tired helped those little feet move one at a time. Then a pair of blue shorts followed yellow socks and Emma was leaning heavily into her side frown still present.

“I don’t mean to wet the bed Gina.” Wide green ponds looked up.

“No you don’t and I know that sweetheart.” Rubbing a shoulder with a kiss to a temple. “Sometimes our minds work things out for us when we sleep in our dreams and sometimes our body’s don’t cooperate. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I still don’t like ‘em.” Grumbling with a pout.

“And you don’t have to, but they do help you have better sleep and wake up to have a good morning don’t they?”

Reluctant. “Yeah.” She guessed they did. And when Emma thought about it she didn’t like waking up cold and wet. Her pinky traced her bottom lip wanting to hide inside her mouth. “Read please.”

Sitting back on the queen bed by the head board, Regina settled in among a pile of pillows and the ever present white and purple baby blanket. As Emma got the chapter book from the nightstand and crawled up to sit in her lap Regina draped the crocheted blanket over them both and cracked the spine of their current read. A classic from her childhood collection called ‘A Little Princess’. They were nearly halfway through and Emma adored the magic of the old Victorian tale. Child was asleep two pages into the new chapter however and she closed the book with a ribbon marker to set aside. 

Pinky was still in Emma’s mouth resting there in comfort and she couldn’t bring herself to pull it away as she gently stroked curls from a pale face. She found herself simply watching Emma sleep for a long time as she memorized every curve of that face once more. Eventually Regina began to move carefully, well trained after five months on how to expertly shift a sleeping child under the covers without waking and she did so now with another kiss to a brow. Her eyes fell on the blanket then. Emma slept with it every night and often dragged it around the house on the weekends if they were home to do so. It needed a good washing and she made a mental note to do so tomorrow. There was something about it that always made her linger in wonder, but she couldn’t place it beyond the mystery of how Emma had been wrapped in it found in a basket on the side of the road. As she tucked it up under a little chin Regina hoped a dreamless sleep found them both, but knew hers at the very least would be full of Kathryn.

::::::::::::::::::

The next morning Regina awoke to little elbows pressed up between her ribs and two feet that had made a home against the curve of her stomach sometime in the night. Emma slept soundly curled up against her chest and tucked up right under her chin. She could feel warm puffs of air on her throat and a heart beating near her own. Carefully she dipped her chin to kiss the top of a golden crown hello and lingered there taking in the scent of Emma’s favorite apple scented shampoo. 

And then the memory of yesterday came to mind and Regina closed her eyes to it. None of it felt real and yet real was about to make itself at home in their life from today on. The last several weeks had felt like a big marathon. Every day full with everything that needed doing and in it she’d forgotten what this moment of restful peace felt like. She needed more of it. They both did she decided as Emma stirred in her arms.

 It was Thursday and with her new schedule in effect she did not have to go into the office today. She’d call Mary-Margaret and let her know she was unofficially off the clock in another way though and Emma’s school in a little bit. Child’s therapy session had to happen, but that was later. She needed time to talk to Zee too about the rest of Emma’s new found history and a day away from work and time with Emma would make that notion easier to do. But right now this peace with her little one was all that mattered. Emma began to wiggle and stretch in her arms. Regina reached down with one hand, feeling at Emma’s bottom for the GoodNites. Dry and so getting up could certainly wait and she patted it gently to soothe as a green eye popped open and then promptly closed as Emma’s face nuzzled back into her neck.

“Mmmm. Don’t wanna wake up Ginnaaa.” Emma murmured and purposefully snuggled down back into the warmth she’d come from. 

“You don’t have to sweetheart.” A soft kiss while nails trailed a back. “Not today. Go back to sleep.” 

“Stay with you.” Dreamy and slipping.

“Right here with me.” Regina lay with Emma for another hour before getting out of the nest of pillows and blankets her bed had become. The red quilt Kathryn made for her birthday ages ago popped against the white duvet where Emma was wrapped up like a little marshmallow. Round face with pink cheeks poked out and that was all. A smile for the image and Regina reached for her phone and took a picture to send to Zee. Her thumb hovered over the screen to add her Mother to the recipient list and decided to for a soft bridge to the hard conversation they had yet to have. There would be many of those coming up, it seemed. 

After pressing send Regina went to the bathroom for her morning routine and then called her secretary and Emma’s school. With a peek on the little one still sleeping Regina made her way downstairs to have some coffee, surprised to see the kitchen light on and to hear humming. Her house keeper didn’t come until tomorrow and her sleep fogged brain said no one should be here, but then she recognized the light tenor and readily felt her eyes fill at it and the sight when she stepped into the kitchen.

Zelena was dishing pancakes into a warming dish by the stove. In her usual place setting there was a ready cup of cappuccino steaming in wait. A hand went to Regina’s mouth to cover a smile at one particularly shrill note coming from a merry mouth as Zelena finally turned to see her.

“Morning sleepy head!” Cheery rang through the kitchen.

And it was a warm balm to the cool morning Regina’s mind had been contending with. “Good morning. I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”

“Ah, but you were expecting me at some point today weren’t you sis.” Not a question. 

With a shrug that was anything but indifferent Regina moved to take the first sip of her cappuccino. “Whatever happened to ringing the door bell?”

“I’ve never been good at keeping New Year resolutions.” Zelena put the top on the warming dish and turned off the stove to join her sister to sit at the island with a cup of tea and sugar bowl. “But truthfully I figured you needed the sleep and I didn’t want you both to wake up to an empty house.”

“I appreciate the thought and I have many thoughts I need to sort out today with your help.” Taking another sip as she eyed the fat file of papers sitting loudly on the counter between them.

“I thought as much. Is Emma still asleep then?”

“Check your phone.” Regina said and watched the look of melting adoration appear as her sister took in the image of Emma on the screen.

“She looks like a little Easter peep tucked up like that. Now I get why you call her a little ducky.” Zelena reached for a spoon to stir her tea after setting down her phone. “Did you tell her anything yet?”

“No and I won’t until I know the whole story.” Nodding to the file. “You said Ambrose kept digging. How did he find out about Kathryn being a donor?”

“To answer that we need to start with whom Kat was a donor to. She donated to a clinic, but it is a very small world it seems.”

“What do you mean by that?” Dread filled Regina’s stomach.

 “I mean that the connection of the woman who gave birth to Emma, to us is a lot closer than is comfortable.” Opening the file, Zee handed over a picture on top of the stack of a few. “Maiden name is Ingrid Gold. She carried Emma.”

Regina’s jaw dropped at the name. “You’re kidding?”

“Wish I was.” Auburn brows shot up apoplectically. Seems there is a relation to one Robert Gold. She was his niece.”

Regina’s eyes closed. So this was the niece Mother had spoken of. She forced her eyes open as Zee kept on.

“You don’t seem that surprised.”

“It was something Mother mentioned the other day, Gold having had a niece.”

“It surprised me that Gold had any family that even tolerated him, little long an older brother who left him his only child. He died in some bogus accident overseas ages ago and was quite a successful business man when he was alive. That much they seemed to have in common.” Zelena shrugged.

“Does Gold know about Ingrid’s connection to Emma?” Regina felt a small ball of hot panic beginning to fill her stomach.

“Technically the court has to reach out to next of kin when a child’s parents die. And technically that would be Gold even though Ingrid is not biologically related to Emma. In Emma’s case no one ever knew the connections so that next of kin step did not happen. Gold will be notified soon and there will be one more hearing giving him a chance to come forward for guardianship.” Zelena explained the process and watched all the color drain from her sister’s face. “Hey, look at me.” And Regina did with haunted eyes filled with the fear of loss. “With how selfish Gold is and how focused he is on business I don’t see him wanting anything to do with raising a child. Try not to worry. That is not our reality right now.”

But Regina was worried that it could be one day and looked down finally to take in the fair woman with blue eyes and platinum hair near white gold in color that fit the name given to the letter. Gold was standing right next to her with his arm wrapped around her shoulders, a crooked grin on his face as his fingers dug into the fabric of a dress. There was something sadly haunting about Ingrid’s eyes Regina didn’t like, never mind Gold being in the picture, so she looked away from them. “And the father. Should I be concerned about him?”

“For him, there are no relations since he was a product of the New York foster system. He was also harder to find much on. Bit of a nomad that one right along with Ingrid once they moved out of state. They never stayed in one city long.” Tapping the corner of Ingrid’s picture. “A man by the name of August Booth. Handsome fellow.” Zelena pointed to the next picture.

A man with kind green eyes and a goofy half smile was pictured there next to Ingrid. And again something about the way that woman’s eyes looked disturbed Regina greatly. “They’re dead?”

Nodding. “Reported missing from Boston a few weeks before Emma was found. Ambrose said Ingrid went missing pregnant and the bodies of both of them were found in a lake in Maine near a town called Storybrooke a few days after Emma was picked up and taken to the fire station. Obviously Ingrid had given birth between Boston and Maine at some point.”

Boston. Maine. Storybrooke.

“Seriously, Storybrooke?”

“I know, sounds like something out of Grimm’s fairytales.” Zelena said, rolling her eyes tapping the file. “The case notes for when they were found, what has already been made public, are there for you to go through later. But it makes sense. Ingrid didn’t give birth in any hospital or there would be a record of Emma.”

“That part does, but how did he connect Emma to these two?”

“Ah, well, that’s where I need you to remember that you asked me to find out everything I could about Emma’s parents from the newspaper article back at Christmas.” Zelena pushed on even as a dark brow arched. “Remember when Ambrose asked for a cheek swab of Emma to run through the police forensics system when you wanted to find out about her roots? He stopped digging when I’d told him too five months ago and all but forgot about the sample until I mentioned the hearing coming up about parental rights a few weeks ago. So he finally looked at the report and it was a clear match to Kat’s DNA. Since the car accident was a crime scene Kat’s DNA had been taken along with the driver of the truck when they eventually caught up to him—so it was in the police forensics system.”

A deep breath and holding as she processed everything Zee was saying. Regina felt like the room was spinning. Then she let it out and nodded for her sister to continue.

“And that led to him investigating more about Kat’s background around the time of Emma’s birth, or some nine months before and he found Kat had registered with an egg donor company in Boston. The same one Ingrid and August used when he crossed checked.” Zelena bit her lip for the next part. “And that meant Kat made the donation—”

“When her and I were planning to get married.” Finishing the hard truth. And Regina closed her eyes to that time period trying to piece together the why of her late wife’s choice she did not know about. 

Kathryn had taken a few trips for work over the course of a few months to Boston before proposing to her, or what Regina had been told was work. While she came from a family of wealth and privilege Kathryn hadn’t. Her wife had no family to speak of and had to work for everything from scratch. Talented in many areas, but in locating things in particular, Kathryn worked as a bonds person more on the paper trail side than foot work. Between them, Regina’s income gave them their comfort of living, but Kathryn insisted on contributing in other ways. They had talked about marriage and Kathryn had insisted that when they had a wedding Regina would wear a ring she had bought, not the other way around.

Subconsciously Regina twisted the bare skin around the ring finger of her left hand as she often did when thinking of Kathryn. And remembered why it was bare. Then the ring in particular Kathryn had proposed with. Regina wondered out loud. “How much does one make from an egg donation?”

Zelena’s brows furrowed missing the why of the question. “We may ask Siri and see, but why?” And listened to her sister’s theory and together they Googled that very question. 

Anywhere from $8,000 to $14,000, which could explain the Tacori Royal platinum diamond engagement ring and matching band sitting in her jewelry box upstairs Regina had always wondered how Kathryn had afforded, but had never asked. That proposal had been so sweet and very Kathryn. Regina closed her eyes to the memory…

 

Regina itched her arms only to be surrounded in a cloud of bug spray. Coughing with a grimace she heard Kathryn’s laugh echo from behind her and reached for the blindfold covering her eyes.

“Ah-Ah! No peeking. You promised.”

And promptly dropped her hands. “And you promised to tell me why I let you drive me out into the middle of nowhere only to be blindfolded upon arrival.” They both had the day off and Kathryn wanted to go for a drive. Regina had wanted to take the Benz, but her girlfriend had insisted on driving the yellow tin can instead. But Regina never could say no to Kathryn so she had relented. 

It was early evening when they stopped for food at a place called Hardee’s in the middle of nowhere Regina had never heard of, but Kathryn swore had the best burgers and shakes on this coast. And had been right about that fact. After dinner the blindfold came on and she was led by the shoulders for a hike it seemed through the mix of trees and to her dismay bugs.

Soon they stopped and Regina was more than done with the blindfold. “Kathryn why are we here?” Not one for liking surprises, she’d done her best all day to go with the flow.

“So we can see this.”

And the blindfold fell away. Regina blinked a few times to adjust to the night around them just as Kathryn’s flashlight turned off and a pair of warm arms encircled her waist. Then she saw them. Hundreds of fire-flies dancing in the clearing ahead under a crescent moon and milky-way of stars so bright and close in the darkness Regina thought she just might be able to touch them. It stole her breath away just like the woman holding her did.

“Magical isn’t it?”

Regina could only nod; had never seen stars quite like this before and never in the city full of lights. So vast and free, she longed to stay here wrapped in her lover’s arms forever. Then Kathryn was suddenly before her on one knee holding a blue velvet box with a diamond ring twinkling right in the very middle.

“You always said you hated surprises.” Kathryn began, taking her hand.

“And you promised to change my mind on that.” Regina finished and bit her lip as the ring rested at the tip of her finger in question.

A bright smile that made the dimple in a left cheek pop. “Did I succeed?”

“Oh yes.” And the ring crested Regina’s knuckle to sit where she always hoped it would remain. “Only you could make me this happy….”

 

“Gina?”

Regina opened her eyes and followed her sister’s finger to the doorframe where Emma was coming in. She cleared her throat with a nod to the papers as Zelena bundled those away back in the file and promptly left the room with it while giving Emma’s curls a ruffle on the way out. Regina turned to accept a hug from the sleepy child and lifted Emma right up on her lap to sit. Thoughts of Gold, Ingrid, and Kathryn faded for the sweet little girl starting up at her.

“I smell pancakes Gina.” A little nose twitched.

A small laugh bubbled up from her core and Regina kissed a pale cheek. “Your ZeeZee made a special breakfast for us. Shall we thank her and have some?”

“Mhmm.” Emma agreed and then her eyes saw the 10 on the stove clock. “We’re late.” Pointing to the red number.

“We would be if I didn’t call us both in. You and I are taking a mental health day sweetheart.”

“What’s that?”

“Only the best thing next to sliced bread.” Zelena confirmed as she returned and went to the fridge to pour them each a glass of OJ. “And I am too.”

Regina’s jaw dropped. “You never take time off. And with both of us out Mother is sure to think something is up.”

“Well, I’ve good reason. Time with my sister and little Monkey is just the thing I need right now.” Winking and handing a glass to a pair of eager little hands and she set the other in front of Regina. “And Mother will survive a day without us to boss around. Snow White Mary-Margaret can handle her fireballs for a day.” Taking her sister’s hand in certainty along with Emma’s. “Besides. This matters more.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – Signature Stitches

::::::::::::::::::

 

After a leisurely breakfast Zelena insisted on cleaning up Regina and Emma got dressed for the day. On her way back down stairs Regina propped a hamper on her hip and called for Emma in the yellow room. “When you come down sweetheart, bring your blanket please.”

Emma appeared in the door frame lost in the fabric of a white t-shirt. Regina set down the hamper and tugged the cotton down. Emma’s head popped through and curls extended in static electricity Regina smoothed down.

“Why do you need my blankie?”

“Because I’m doing a wash and it needs a bath.”

Emma rocked back and forth on her feet in thought over that idea. “It doesn’t want a bath.”

“Oh, but Lucky Swan told me it did. He wants to snuggle in a nice clean warm blankie later with you. Hmmm, how does that sound?”

“Does blankie get bubbles?”

“Lots of bubbles.” Regina grinned. “Grab blankie for me real quick and finish getting dressed.”

“Kay.” Emma darted back into her room and returned with the blanket balled up in her arms. She gave a little hop up and tossed it into the laundry basket. “Yes! Two points and all the peoples go wild!” Feet bounced with her arms up in a victory dance she’d seen sports people do on TV. Then, Emma paused in all seriousness mid wave as her head tilted to the side. “Can we build a fort and watch a movie?”

Laughing at the suddenness of the question. “Yes little duck. Get some sheets from the hall closet and meet me in the living room. Pick out what you want to watch too.” Regina continued downstairs as Emma happily danced back into the yellow room. She bumped right into Zelena on the ground floor.

“Let me play Cinderella.” Zelena insisted while trying to take the basket. “You are still knackered from yesterday, I can tell.”

Regina regarded her sister with a raised brow while not letting go so easily. “I am, but… You do laundry? I don’t think so.”

“I can so do laundry.” Rolling eyes. “I’m not a domestic twit.”

“Debatable. Last time I ended up with pink underwear after letting you help and I don’t own anything pink. I hate pink.”

“I was only helping. You needed to broaden your color wheel in that gray zone of a closet anyway.”

Regina’s brows rose. “Like the last time you watched Emma and let her take her bath markers to the walls of my walk in? I don’t think so.”

“All of it washed off just fine. Now give it here.” Taking the basket, Zelena began looking through it. “Whites go in a mesh bag, delicate cycle, cold wash with a mix of Oxy and detergent.” Her head popped up as her voice dripped with sarcasm. “Tumble dry. Will that suit your Majesty’s pleasure?”

“When did you Google that?”

“Last week when my housekeeper was sick.”

“And I’m supposedly the only royalty in this family.” A playful nudge. With a relenting nod Regina gave up on the basket and gestured to the living room. “Emma wants to build a fort and watch a movie.”

“Lovely! You make the popcorn and I’ll start this.”

“We just had breakfast.”

Zelena dipped a chin towards the little one coming downstairs. “And my little Monkey will want popcorn.”

“Popcorn! Where?” Emma chimed in as she sided up to Gina’s hip with a bundle of sheets nearly taller than she was toppling over in her arms.

“See? She’s just like her ZeeZee.” Zelena didn’t wait for an answer as she headed to the laundry room.

“Let me help you sweetheart.” Regina took the stack of sheets as Emma followed her into the living room. They built forts often enough that Regina had decided to put a few small strategic hooks in the ceiling to use to hold up the top of their forts. While she worked to rig that with some thin rope cords, Emma arranged a sea of pillows on the floor. Together with a few well placed pieces of furniture they had a tent in no time. Just as Regina was tucking the front flap back so they could see the TV Emma dashed upstairs and returned dragging the red quilt Kathryn had made from the master suite. That addition made their fort very cozy.

Emma chose the movie Tangled from their ever growing Disney collection, most of which Regina had purchased as Christmas presents and had memorized for the amount they watched them. Zelena joined them with a bowl of popcorn mixed with M&Ms from the chocolate stash kept somewhere in the house. Regina was still trying to figure out where her sister had it hidden. Curled up nearly on top of one another in the fort, they snuggled in to watch and munch. Halfway through the movie a popcorn fight somehow started and Regina ended up stuck in the middle of it with Emma crouched behind her using her as a shield. Kernels were tossed between fits of giggles. Zelena skillfully dodged most of Emma’s attack and together they cleaned up between more laughing and eating.

Near the end of the movie they paused for a break so Zelena could check on the laundry. Regina went and got a few bottles of water and was getting settled back in her spot when Zelena returned with Emma’s blanket. Her sister playfully wrapped up the bundle of little girl in it to lift and spin Emma about the room. Emma’s laughter eased all their hearts as they played airplane and finally Zelena slowed down for a landing right into Regina’s waiting arms.

“Special delivery air mail.” Cheery sang out as Zelena plopped back onto the pillows again.

“It’s warm and smells good.” Emma inhaled the fresh fluffy scent and snuggled into a lap to finish the movie as Gina pressed play.

As the movie wrapped up Emma curled up in that lap and leaned back. Little fingers played with the purple silk ribbon bordering her blanket coming to trace her name stitched in the corner on an affixed cotton patch there. Emma stopped suddenly. It felt wrong. She sat up and looked closer as her eyes pinched seeing that the corner of the patch was lifting up. Then she saw something else that had her wondering. “Gina?”

“Hmm?” Looking down Regina immediately became concerned with that furrowed brow Emma had. “What’s wrong?”

“My blankie, look?” Pointing to the underside of the fabric patch.

Regina paused the movie and took up the blanket in hand to get a closer look. “How…” And Regina’s throat closed. Her blood went cold. Ice cold as if a ghost had passed through her. Stitched to the underside of the fabric patch was a single initial with a near perfect circle around it. Same purple thread as Emma’s name in the same style of cursive stitching. Reaching for the red quilt they were sitting on she pulled up the far corner into her lap. Blankets side by side they were the same and too familiar for who the initial belonged to. Brows met in complete shock.

“GiGi what is it?”

Thick and cracking in the middle. “She always signed her work this way.”

Zelena came closer. She saw the twin of the letter K; each in a circle of different colored thread side by side. Each too on a different blanket. “That’s not possible.” Then finding her sister’s eyes and searching. “Is it?”

Emma looked between the adults in puzzlement and put one finger from each hand over each initial. “What’s not possible?”

“I don’t know how,” Regina began and covered little hands with each of her own and took a different route to answer when she had no idea how to on Emma’s question. “Sweetheart I’ll fix your blanket. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not, but I wanna know why that letter is on my blankie?” Lifting one hand under Gina’s and then the other to show what she meant. “And there on yours?” Why wasn’t Gina explaining stuff like always? Emma was confused and she didn’t like feeling that way.

Sensing Emma was getting upset, Regina tried again. “Sometimes people who make things sign their work or in this case stitch it.” Swallowing for the can of worms opening. “It looks like Kathryn sewed your name on your blanket.” Kathryn did not know how to crochet that she knew of, but this was clearly her signed embroidery work on the back of the patch affixed to the blanket. Her wife had sometimes done small framed embroidery for friends as gifts, but nothing this personal. She would have known or seen it. ‘Wouldn’t I of?’

Emma’s brow relaxed under the ready explanation and then scrunched again in a different way. “But how did she know me as a baby?”

Hesitating Regina looked from Emma to the blankets. She needed time to think how best to explain this. One mystery was not told easily without the other. Thoughts hammered questions against her temples. ‘How do I tell my five year old that her birth parents were found mysteriously dead in a lake never mind the connection with Gold? Or that she came from another woman’s egg who just happened to be Kathryn?’ A wife who she was questioning their history with who happened to be quite talented in the sewing department. ‘Or how that blanket with Kathryn’s initial was found in a basket keeping a new born baby girl warm on the side of the New York interstate? How…?’ And Regina didn’t know, but Zelena seemed to know of something to say for the moment.

“That, my little Monkey, is the million dollar question GiGi and I need to figure aaallllll the waaaaay out so we can talk about it.” Throwing out her arms wide, Zelena watched Emma’s eyes get big. “Will you give us some time to do that love?”

Emma knew good things took time and she thought that the matching K’s on different red and white blankets in her lap were a good thing in some way. Magic maybe too like Kathryn’s special perfume Gina wore every day. And she trusted Gina and ZeeZee. She nodded and leaned back to sit content in Gina’s arms that came around her in the snug a bug way that she loved to hold her close.

After a few quiet moments Regina kissed the top of Emma’s head as little one wiggled in her lap. She knew that wiggle well. “Do you need the bathroom little duck?”

“Yeah, but I don’t wanna get up.” Looking at her lap, Emma picked at a chocolate stain on her pants.

Smiling softly Regina gave a squeeze and eased Emma off her lap. “This lap is reserved for you and you only, so I think if you take a break it will still be here when you get back. Take off your pants too so I can wash that stain out. There’s clean pair hanging up in the laundry room I’ll get for you to change into.”

“What about ZeeZee?”

“How so?” Regina asked.

“You said to always share so she can have some of your lap to.”

Zelena laughed kindly. “Oh Monkey I don’t fit as well as you do. Besides you have Gina dibs.”

Emma giggled seeming to Regina to be satisfied with that answer and left the room, dragging her blanket with her. Regina’s eyes lingered on it as the secret trailed around a corner after Emma. Her heart felt like it was unraveling.

“You must have a million questions going through your head.” Zelena began, eating the last M&M from the bowl.

“I do.” Agreeing, Regina took the last kernel of popcorn. “I knew there was something familiar about that blanket.” The tiny stitches stuck in her mind’s eye. “Kathryn had the most precise stitches.” Clearing her throat, Regina blinked back the sting behind her eyes. “But one question is blaring above all others. How did Kathryn know Emma’s name? She’d have to in order to have stitched it on the patch.”

Then the doorbell rang.

Regina sighed and stood to get it just as Emma rushed past the archway between the living room and the entry hall. Blanket and jeans dropped as Emma slid right by on the wood floor in socks, panties, and white t-shirt; classic Tom Cruise fashion sans the sunglasses.

“I gots it!”

“Emma, wait for me.” Calling after, Regina followed picking up the pile left on the floor and set it on the hutch while shaking her head. Safety aside child was half dressed. But Emma had either not heard her or ignored the direction. As she approached the entry way Regina heard the last voice she expected when the front door opened.

“Hello darling.” Cora stepped into the house and readily bent for a hug at the grabby hands reaching up for her neck. Her signature air kisses followed. “I brought you a little something to help you feel better.” Taking a red and white bundle from her suit blazer pocket she gave it to Emma. “It has all of those Disney songs on it you like so much.”

“Whoa!” Carefully, Emma unwrapped the ear buds wound around the device and turned it on after sticking them in her ears. Speaking up, “thanks, but I’m not sick.” Jasmine had one of these and now she did too! Excited, Emma picked the first picture on the list to listen too.

Cora finally took in the state of the little girl. Wild blonde curls and mismatched socks with a skewed t-shirt and obvious chocolate sticking at the corners of a mouth made her lips purse. “Where are the rest of your clothes, darling?” But she was ignored by Emma who had already been sucked in by the device. Then she looked up at her daughter. “Honestly Regina she looks like little ragamuffin tom—”

Cutting in. “You bought her an ipod?” Regina exclaimed. Shock at seeing Mother here and on a work day no less, never mind the rest of the comment that was about to fly from that sharp mouth. Cora never left the office during business hours. Ever. Not even when Regina had been sick as a child. That had always been left to Daddy and while she had been closer to him as a result, sometimes she had just wanted her Mother and disappointment after disappointment that led her to stop asking for her Mother entirely. Regina lost these thoughts when Emma began bouncing in excitement over the gift. “Mother. She’s five.”

“And three fourths.” Emma and Zelena joined in automatically.

Regina looked at the ceiling. “I stand corrected, but she doesn’t—”

“And this is just as I thought.”Cora closed the door behind her and added a fluid circular gesture to the room.

“Here we go with the truancy bit.” Zelena mumbled under her breath and crossed her arms to lean against the archway. Then she leaned a little more for emphasis to show exactly how she felt when Mother’s eyes came her way. With a wicked grin she countered back. “We are all ears Mother. Go ahead and rip them off.”

Cora rolled her eyes. “I expect more from you Zelena.”

Grin growing. “I know it and that just makes this that much more fun.”

Regina had enough of the banter and cut in. “What did you think Mother?”

“I thought originally that you or Emma even was sick because of that picture you sent with her all wrapped up in the blanket and you calling out today Regina. I was just,” a tight breath escaped, “trying to help Emma feel better. You always liked listening to music so much as a little girl and I just thought she might too.”

Eyes softening, Regina was about to speak, but was readily cut off when a hand was held up.

Cora shook her head. “But not the latter. You two are too told to be playing hooky, yet here you are and dragging Emma into it too.” Cora chided and sighed when both of her daughter’s eyes rolled. She was going to continue, but stopped when Regina’s hand mirrored her own.

“A moment before you continue to berate us. Emma, come here please.” Regina called. This had to be cleared up first before too much time passed. With no answer, she moved to turn Emma around by the shoulders to stand in front of her when little ears had not heard her. Green eyes darted up from the screen as Regina eased off the ear buds and wrapped the cord around the device, taking it to put in her pocket. “You may have this after a while little duck, but first,” leaning down she placed her hands on her knees to be eye level, “we’ve talked about answering the door without me and waiting when you are told not to, haven’t we?”

Emma chewed her inner cheek in thought and nodded.

“Use your words sweetheart.”

A sock toed a crack in the floorboard. “Yeah.”

“Thank you.” And softer still. “Did you hear me tell you to wait for me?”

A small nod and then, “but I was excited.”

“I could see that. Even so, what did I tell you would happen next time we had to talk about answering the door on your own?” Regina continued to coax little thoughts along. The last thing she wanted to do was discipline, but she had to be consistent no matter the timing if her expectations were going to stick.

A pout. “It was Cora though. Not a stranger.”

“It was and still I’d like an answer please.”

Emma gave a small huff as her shoulders dropped. “A timeout.”

“That’s right. I want you to think about why you need to listen about not answering the door without me.” Standing Regina guided those slumping shoulders to the bottom step of the stairwell as her Mother and Zee looked on. “Five minutes and then we will finish our talk.”

Emma sank down onto the bottom step with her elbows on her knees and chin in palms as she began thinking. She thought about the song stuck in her head first. Then about sitting on the step and even the funny sound the vent made when the air kicked on just now. She wiggled as what she was supposed to be thinking about began to take over her head.

Regina pulled her phone out of her pocket and set a timer, gesturing for her Mother and Zee to go into the kitchen. “You two make some tea and I’ll be along in a few minutes.”

“Sure throw me to the rabid she wolf.” Zelena jested and winked, taking their for once quiet Mother by the hand into the kitchen to do just that.

Crossing the hall, Regina leaned her shoulder against the wall, standing well where Emma could see her, but not engaging directly. While the discipline she was instilling was important she was also sensitive to where Emma’s needs were just now and leaving the room or Emma alone to serve a timeout was not productive to those needs. Minutes passed quietly. Then the sniffling started at the four minute mark. It took all of Regina’s resolve to wait until the five minutes passed before pocketing her phone and going to kneel down in front of Emma. Big green eyes took her heart away and even more when Emma gave a small wave complete with an adorable sniffle.

“Hi.”

“Hi sweetheart.” Regina said and gently tucked a loose curl behind Emma’s ear. “Do you understand why I put you in time out?”

“Cause of answering the door.” Soft and sorry. “It could be someone I don’t know and it’s not safe.”

“Good girl. Come here.” Right when she opened her arms Emma dove into them. Regina hugged the little girl close, rubbing a back and kissing a cheek. “If anything were to ever happen to you I don’t know what I would do. I love you and always, always want you to be safe, well, and happy. Sometimes that means you will do things I do not approve of and when that happens we will talk about it so you can make better choices next time.”

“Love you too Gina.” Said within the comforting smell of dark hair as Emma rubbed her cheek against Gina’s shoulder.

Those sweet words made Regina’s heart float. “I think you need some pants and perhaps in a little bit we may take a walk to the park. Would you like that?”

“Yeah!” Emma brightened over the idea. “Can we get hotdogs too?”

“We may, though I don’t think my Mother will eat one.” Fact was she used to not either until she got used to sharing them with Emma whenever they went to Central Park around lunch time. Originally she had been grossed out by the idea, but after tasting one her eyes had nearly rolled into the back of her head at how delicious they were much to Emma’s delight. Especially, with all the fixings Emma insisted on decorating the hot dog with. They were quickly becoming a favorite meal to share with Emma on occasion.

“I bet I can get her to.” Certain Emma pulled back. “I’m good at that, huh?”

“The best little duck.” Regina agreed and gently wiped at the chocolate at the corner of Emma’s mouth with her thumb. “I need you to do something for me mean time. After you get dressed and brush your hair I want you and Lucky Swan to play in your room for a while. Maybe you two can listen to your new ipod.” Handing it back over to little hands from her hip pocket. While she would not have bought one for Emma herself thinking the child too young, she was not about to take the gift away, but there would be some rules with it later they’d have to discuss.

“Kay… Is it so you guys can have adult time?” Emma leaned forward and played with a shiny button on Gina’s blouse.

Regina nodded. “Something like that.”

Looking up with a hint of a pout. “You said that lots and lots today.”

“I know, and I will have better answers for you soon.” She certainly hoped so. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Emma easily agreed. Squeezing in one more hug before she trotted upstairs to get dressed and play.

Regina stood up, stretching her back in the process and with a deep breath headed to the wolf waiting with red riding hood in the kitchen.

 

::::::::::::::

 

“So let me get this straight.” Cora said as she clasped her hands together around a cup of tea. “Kathryn is Emma’s mother—”

“Donor.” Ever one for being technical Zelena cut in automatically and promptly shut her mouth for once under the sharp look Mother shot her way after realizing what she said. She frowned. “Right. Sorry.” And went back to sipping her tea.

Donor indeed.” Cora scoffed as her eyes found the ceiling for a moment. “That word makes this whole thing sound like a botched transfusion at a blood bank.” Ringed hands went tight around the mug and then released. “And the birth parents found dead. Is there any chance that foul play could follow Emma here?” Worry clearly spoke for everyone in the house.

“I don’t imagine how being so long ago.” Regina answered, stirring circles in her mug she had yet to take a sip of, now cool she realized and pushed it away.

Cora didn’t miss the way her daughter’s hand shook slightly. “You certainly did not imagine this my dear.” And for the way Regina’s shoulder’s dropped she wanted to take up her eldest in a hug, but before she could move Regina moved away from the counter to the sink to dump the tea.

“I’m more than grateful that Emma shares a piece of Kathryn, but I haven’t had a moment to truly wrap my head around all of the details involving that yet.” The Gold one especially. Returning to her stool Regina finally looked at her Mother. It was almost startling seeing her in this kitchen. In spite of the closeness Christmas had brought them Mother had not stepped foot in her home since. It was back to business as usual the next day between them and she found herself longing for another glimpse of the softness they had shared then. “That’s why I needed a day away. Emma too and Zee. Yesterday at court was a lot to take in and even more so today.” At Mother’s questioning look she explained the blanket mystery leaving out the part about the Gold connection just yet. That since their previous fight at the office was still a raw subject between them she felt too drained to address right now. “And there is a lot still to sort out obviously, never mind telling Emma.”

“You will tell her about the lake? Are you sure that is the best idea?” Cora asked.

“I don’t see how I can’t.” Regina thought out loud. “At least a G rated version of it until she’s older. It’s her history. She deserves to know. Right now she thinks she magically appeared in a basket and a nice man, who was actually a drug addict, brought her to a fire station. He was hoping for reward money for a fix if he quote ‘turned in’ the child.”

Zelena perked up with surprise. “How’d you get those details Dick Tracy?”

“You are not the only one with an in at the police station.” Regina explained. “One of the officers on site who helped with the car accident gave me her card and said to call if I ever had questions about anything.” Shrugging under her sister’s wondering look. “I found it a few months ago when I was sorting some old files in my home office and thought it might be worth a call. She remembered me and when I explained the situation with Emma she pulled some strings and the witness statement the man gave to the police when he found Emma.”

Pondering that idea, Cora asked. “When will you tell her?”

Regina took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Preferably before or around when I have an answer about the blanket, but on that mystery I don’t even know where to begin.”

“I think I might.” Zelena mused. “But you’re not going to like it.”

“I don’t like a few things right now Zee, but not knowing how to answer my daughter’s questions when they come is the worst of them at the moment.” Regina tried to keep an open mind. “Where would we even start?”

“Kat’s journals.”

Thick and quick. No.

“GiGi she was a regular daily scribe. You said it yourself.” Six months after the funeral they’d boxed up dozens of them to put in the attic. Frustrated on this point, Zelena thought the answer was clear. “I bet if we dig through them there will be clues to this whole thing if not a direct answer in black and white by her hand.”

Again and heated. “I said no.”

And Zelena answered with some heat of her own. “Well why the fuck not?”

Language.” Cora admonished.

Rolling her eyes, Zelena tried again. “Look. You want answers. I’m good at finding them. Let me help.” Then taking her sister’s hand. “If it’s the reading of them that will bring up too many feelings then let me do it.”

“It’s not that. It is, but not how you are thinking.” Regina shifted in her seat. “Kathryn was very private with her writing. When we first moved in together she asked me to promise not to read her journals if I came across them in the house. Those were the one thing that belonged entirely to her and got her though the hell she lived through growing up. I won’t break that promise.”

“Then let me break it.”

Dark curls shook unwavering.

For her last try, Zelena played her best hand. “Even if it means giving your daughter and hers answers?”

Amber eyes narrowed and at more than the question. Damn if Zee knew exactly what to ask to get her to question her heart. Regina’s feelings were complicated and there were far too many of them crashing together in her mind right now. She felt each one pulling her heart in a different direction. Emma was here. Kathyrn was not. But she had promised and she wondered if promises still counted with the dead when the living were affected.

Regina didn’t know.

But she did know Emma. Once a question began spinning under those blonde curls it did not go away until it was answered. She knew her daughter and she knew Kathryn too. Then Regina decided for the one her heart had to put first now. “Be careful with them.” Hand slipped away from her sister’s and joined the other to clasp in her lap. “Treat them with the utmost respect.” Regina’s nails dug into her palms sharply. “She used to date them on the inside cover. So check and make sure you only read what you must.”

Nodding and completely serious Zelena assured. “I will. You have my word.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – Disappearing Acts

::::::::::::::::::

By the following Saturday Regina was exhausted again. While the day off mid week last Wednesday reset them all straight energy wise, her work had caught up with her. Gold was riding her for one deadline after another since the deal they’d made and one deadline in particular due before his trip tomorrow morning to visit with another London client looking to sign with a new company. He wanted the quotes she was still working out within their company budget by the end of the day. The very thought of him and his connection to Emma that could threaten hers made her stomach cramp.

Every single time.

Emma had another difficult therapy session Thursday evening of that week which resulted in a few sleepless nights for both of them. It also left Regina with limited patience and Emma as well. Between school, scouts, therapy and day to day things that needed to be done there had been limited time for them to just be together as they had been last Wednesday. Zee was also tied up with work and also working on finding answers in Kathryn’s journals. They had seen little of her since and that was not sitting well with Emma.

None of it was.

“Gina you said we would go see ZeeZee for dinner a long-long-long time ago.” Emma whined from her place on the office rug playing with her stuffed swan as she watched Gina go through the bazzionth paper in a big red file most of the afternoon. That file had been around aaaallll week and she was beginning to hate the attention it took and the way it made Gina’s forehead vein pop each time it was open.

Regina sighed as her glasses slipped down her nose regarding the little girl sitting at her feet. She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward a bit. “Emma, sweetheart I’ve told you a few times now that we would leave when the little hand is on the four. Where is it now?” Pointing to the clock.

Green eyes squinted to the clock on the desk. “The three.” Almost. And her shoulders slumped. She was excited to go see ZeeZee and adults took forever. They also hadn’t been out to do anything fun for a whole week and a half. And that was longer than forever. Gina had another deadline and she wasn’t sure what that meant, but she knew it had to do with the red folder. And right now she wanted to take that folder and flush it down the toilet.

“We have an hour yet before we leave and I need to get some work done so we may have the whole evening together when we get back to do whatever you please.” She promised Emma time with just the two of them after a family dinner with Zee this evening. After Emma was in bed she’d have just enough time to finish up with this file and scan it to Gold and be done with it.

Thinking that over Emma gave into her desire of the moment. “I wanna go noooww.” She wanted attention too in her cranky state, but didn’t know how to ask for what she wanted another way.

Setting the paper down for a moment Regina leaned forward more and took up a pouty chin in hand. “I hear you Emma, but you need to wait for a while longer. You may wait here with me if you play quietly like I’ve asked you or you may play in your room. Whining at me is not one of your options, however.”

“But Gina pleaassse…” Her hands hit the carpet in protest.

“No Emma. Keep up the whining and you may sit on your step for five minutes. So what is your choice? Play in here, in your room, or sit on your step?”

Emma didn’t want the last part and she also didn’t want to wait to go to ZeeZee’s apartment, or play quietly or be by herself in her room. Weekends were supposed be their time, not work time. Gina had said so before and frustrated Emma stood up and pushed the file from Gina’s lap to the floor.

Papers scattered. Regina took a breath and kept her tone neutral. “You are choosing your step then for pushing the papers and not making a good choice about listening.” Standing she held out her hand to take Emma’s and moved them toward the door. Emma walked with her until that point and then pulled back on her hand with a shrill whine. Regina easily turned to pick up the child before continuing to walk down the hall way. She set Emma down by the bottom step of the staircase leading to the third floor. “Five minutes and when you are all calmed down we will talk.”

“I don’t wanna talk! I wanna go to ZeeZee’s.” Arms crossed and sniffling Emma stomped her foot.

“And you don’t have talk at all right now. Sit please.” Pointing to the step and waiting nearly a full minute until Emma finally realized she meant business.

A glance at her watch and Regina started timing as she waited with Emma. Child huffed from the step for the first two minutes, then by the third sniffles came around again and by the last one Emma was quiet resting with forehead on knees with little arms tight around them. That posture pulled at Regina’s heart in the worst way and when the five minute mark hit she went over and knelt down like she always did. Gently she stroked little circles on the back of a hand, but Emma didn’t look up.

“Your timeout is all done sweetheart. Tell me why you are sitting here.”

Green eyes peeked up over kneecaps. “Cause I pushed away the papers and didn’t listen.”

Soft as she continued stroking circles. “That’s right. We don’t push things people are using when we are upset and not listening to the things I ask of you is not okay. I will always try to give you choices and you may not like all of them, but when I ask you to pick one you need to without whining, pushing things, or stomping your foot. Alright?”

Emma’s voice was small and heat filled. “Kay.”

Regina knew that tone and the veiled look accompanying it. Emma had shut down and needed time. It would be a while before Emma was ready to talk more with her. Still she tried. “May I have hug?”

Blonde curls shook. Emma still felt mad, but not as much as before. She wanted those arms around her too in the worst way, but also didn’t like that she’d gotten in trouble. She’d also gotten attention, but not the kind she wanted and decided then and there not to argue with Gina anymore ‘cause she didn’t want to sit on the step again.

While that refusal stung Regina knew where it was coming from. Sometimes Emma shut down during redirection and there was a balance between providing patience and reasonable expectation she was still learning to master. Questioning her decision on how she’d handled the situation Regina simply kissed the back of a small hand and stood up. “When you are ready for that hug I will be waiting. Meantime let’s go pick up the papers together and you can decide where you would like to play until it is time to go to ZeeZee’s.” Regina stood and held out her hand. Emma took it and she squeezed once leading them back to her office.

When Emma handed the last paper over she looked up at Gina. Those eyes were sad again and Emma knew it was her fault. Maybe Gina wouldn’t wanna hug her no more since she said no to the offer of a hug. Maybe she’d hafta leave, but Gina said this was her forever home. She believed those words. Took them to heart and decided they were real. Then she felt bad for not hugging Gina and in that feeling hurting her tummy she broke her silence. “I wanna go to my room Gina.”

“Are you sure?” Getting a nod that didn’t quite seem right, but wanting to respect Emma’s space Regina nodded. “Alright little duck.” Giving curls a gentle ruffle as Emma walked away.

Emma went up to the third floor and right into her room. She stood there for a minute thinking. She needed to talk to ZeeZee. Sometimes when she couldn’t say stuff right and Gina wasn’t there, ZeeZee helped her thoughts come out. Gina was here. But Gina needed to finish the papers so they could have time later. Would Gina still want time with her later? The idea of that not being the case made Emma’s eyes water.

If she could get ZeeZee to help then she could tell Gina these feelings when they weren’t coming out. Emma knew how to get there ‘cause it was one block left outside of the brownstone from the corner light and three blocks right from the deli. They had walked there plenty of times especially since it was warmer out. Decision made Emma put on her yellow backpack, just in case, and took her new red I-pod from her desk. The music always made her smile and she wanted to listen to it on her walk if she wouldn’t have Gina to talk to.

Then she bit her lower lip at that thought. Gina might get worried. She would leave a note. Getting out a notebook and marker from her school bag she scribbled:

 

walK to ZZ

lOv EmMa

 

:::::::::::::::::

 

Regina glanced at the clock across the way. Nearly 3:20 and still a ways off from the time to leave she couldn’t concentrate in the least. She slipped her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose in thought. Emma had been looking forward to this dinner with Zee all week and she had been too. It was unusual not to see her sister every few days in some fashion and she hadn’t in nearly a week except for Zelena’s quick pick up of Emma on Thursday morning for school.

Sighing she looked at the file on her lap. One that any other member of her staff would have been more than capable of piecing together before she gave it a once over. She’d trained them to be more than capable so she wouldn’t have to do this part. Gold was a bully and she had more than her fair share of them in her life. This would be the last time she let him dictate just how she ran her side of the business. Emma needed her time and mattered far more than putting a plastic smile on his face. For now she was keeping up at work and she would need to for just a bit longer before things would slow down. Decision made to finish later tonight she closed the file and left it on her desk.

Running her fingers through her hair Regina stood and made her way up to the third floor to tell Emma they were leaving early. Maybe that would bring a smile back to her little one. Calling as she entered the yellow room she looked about. “Emma how would you like to…” And trailing when it was clearly empty.

She checked the bathroom and then her room calling again before going back to the yellow room. Sometimes Emma played hide and seek so she checked the closet and under the bed. Nothing and standing Regina did a sweep of the room and felt her chest tighten. Yellow backpack gone from the back of a desk chair where Emma kept it and in its place was a note in red crayon. Skimming and heart beating she fished her phone out of her pocket to call a well used number as she quick footed downstairs.

Slipping her Keds on by the front door and grabbing her keys Regina left the brownstone and headed in the direction of her sister’s apartment. “Come on Zee pick up, pick up, pick up.” Scanning the side walk and streets, Regina began jogging. Phone rang and rang and finally an answer.

“GiGi, I was on Facetime with Ambrose being told what a goddess I am in bed so this better be—“

Interrupting. “Zee is Emma there?”

What? No why would she be?”

“She left a note that she was walking to your place. I’ll explain, but meet me half way.” Running faster and rounding the corner by the deli Regina took off in a full sprint. People, faces passing, but none of them her little girl.

“Shit. On my way.”

And the phone went dead. Shoving it in her back pocket Regina kept up the run until she hit a no crossing sign flashing another block down. Impatient she waited in the crowd right on the edge. Traffic was thick this time of day and jetting through it was not an option. The sidewalks were crowded with people too. Craning her neck, she saw a hint of yellow and blonde through the zooming cars across the walkway.

Emma.

Her little girl was standing just off the curb across the street from her waiting to cross to the opposite side. “Emma!” Regina cupped her hands and yelled to be heard above the buzz of the city and honking taxis.

Child didn’t even look up, but was looking down at something and Regina realized it was the ipod and Emma couldn’t hear her. Anxiety mounted and her heart hammered, but was slowing some now that Emma was within her sight. Regina toed the curb, trying to find an opening to cross early but there were way too many cars. Finally the walk sign changed on her end and Regina ran toward Emma. Calling again as she got half way across the walk just as a moving van was getting ready to take a sharp corner.

Right into Emma.

Past and present blurred—flashed and crashed right before her eyes and Regina screamed.

“Emma!”

 

:;:

 

Emma waited at the cross walk one block away from ZeeZee’s apartment. This light always took forever and ever and she kept looking up waiting for it to change but it hadn’t yet. There were a lot of people out today and the corner was full. She toed the curb and stepped down when someone bumped into her backpack. Another look up and still the sign was still red. Emma squinted at it and then up at the adults around her.

Many were on their phones or looking at the light. She looked down again and scrolled through the song list looking at the song pictures as the Finding Nemo soundtrack played. There were a few song titles she could read, but she mostly relied on the pictures to find the one she wanted. Another peek up and an anxious step forward, but it was still red. Emma looked down again. Then she heard screeching and yelling and her head popped up as the shiny metal bumper of a big white truck flashed before her eyes. Her mouth opened to scream.

One yank.

Back and Emma fell back against the legs of someone as the white truck went zooming by. Emma blinked against the sun light and the sting of her eyes. She was shaking. Then Gina was there right in front of her kneeling on the sidewalk. Gina was saying her name over and over again and holding her face and shoulders. Then Emma was in Gina’s arms so tight where she had wanted to be before and she couldn’t breathe ‘cause it was so tight. And Emma tasted salt on the corners of her mouth and Emma heard herself saying, “sorry-sorry-sorry,” and Emma realized she was crying.

Then Gina lifted her all the way up into a hug and she wrapped her legs snug around a waist. Emma could smell the fear and worry and all the big grown up feelings under her nose as she buried her face into the safety of dark hair. Sounds and emotions blurred and she couldn’t focus on any one of them. Then her bottom tingled from a hand leaving and now resting there rubbing, but she didn’t care. It snapped her mind into focusing on the strained voice in her ear. She listened to the ache there. Emma kept saying sorry after and she was and was scared for what almost happened in the road and Gina was too. And Emma promised over and over not to do this ever never again…

 

:;:

 

Regina bit her inner cheek to blood as she caught her breath between the sobs rising in her throat to escape with Emma straddling her front. Little legs wrapped snug around her hips. Blood pumping in her ears where it mixed with Emma’s little promises. Her heart was against Emma’s where it belonged; both reaching through bone and flesh to hold the other as her words tumbled out running together between Emma’s tears falling on her neck. “My baby—don’t ever do this—leave without telling—you could have been—”

Something moved. And something returned. Then as her mind slammed back into the present moment Regina realized what she had done. Emma wiggled in her arms briefly only to hug her tighter, little wet face pressing into her as she pressed her lips to Emma’s temple. She felt where her hand was now rubbing and she felt her stomach turn upside down. But Regina could only hug Emma closer in her upset and terror.

Lost.

Regina thought she had lost Emma. That the truck would take her baby same as the one she had seen take Kathryn from her. Rubbing more where she realized she had swatted Emma she felt new tears rising over the fact. Regina hadn’t meant too at all. But even unaware she had done so in the tangle between terror and loss. She felt the nausea welling over her mistake in her stomach pushing up and then something else.

Relief.

Emma was safe. In her arms safe and then she looked over to the person who had yanked Emma back from the truck—a ready thank you on her lips that would never be enough for the gift in her arms, but her eyes took in a flash of blue ones across the way over a small knowing smile she recognized. ‘Kathryn?’ Regina blinked violently as a shudder ripped through her. Mouth parted to speak the name, but then no one was there when they opened. Regina turned every which way searching as Emma clung tighter to her neck. Gone in the crowds passing her or not there at all, Regina didn’t know in just how quickly everything had happened. It had been mere seconds from the time she had shouted Emma’s name to standing here now spinning in circles.

Then quick footsteps. Zelena was running toward them. There was more than one question in the concerned eyes of her sister as Zelena’s arms opened wide to hold them both. Regina just fell into them and burst into tears.

 

:::::::::::::::

 

Regina stirred her tea and put the spoon in her mouth to rest. The honey sweet on the tip of her tongue soothed her nerves for a moment before she set it aside and took a sip. It was nearing five o’clock, but time felt frozen to her still. Her blood like ice locked on that moment right between utter devastation and promise of relief.

After she had recovered from realizing who ever had pulled Emma back from the curb had disappeared—it couldn’t have been who she had thought; impossible—she had walked side by side with her sister to Zelena’s apartment building. Carried Emma in her arms despite the way they had been shaking all the way up to the loft on the top floor.

Decorated in vintage chic the loft felt both minimalist in sparse decor and homey for the soft colors and framed family pictures gracing the great brick wall opposite the one with several tall windows. All the photos were black and white of her and Zee, Mother and Daddy, and among the newer ones, Emma in different combinations with them hung there. Regina turned away from looking at them to go stand at one window overlooking Central Park and heard footsteps approaching.

“Little Monkey is out like light on my bed.” Zelena began as she neared Regina. “Apparently near death experiences are quite exhausting.” Trying to help in her humor it was too soon she realized as wet amber eyes brushed over her. “Oh God! I’m a twat with a big mouth. I’m sorry GiGi, come here.” Zelena eased her arm around her sister’s shoulders and gently began steering them toward the kitchen bar. “Hey I’m so, so sorry. That was insensitive of me.”

“It’s okay Zee, really.”And it was for her sister had only been trying to help take away the heaviness she had yet to explain crushing the room. Regina took a long slow breath as she thought on where to begin. Before, during, and after screaming Emma’s name was spinning like a cyclone between her temples.

“Talk to me. You haven’t said near a word since you got here.”

The moment they had gotten into the apartment Regina had looked Emma over head to toe to make sure her little one was not hurt. Emma had curled up after in her lap on the couch not letting go and then had fallen asleep soon after. Zee had carefully exchanged Emma for the tea Regina now set on the counter. Side by side she sat with her sister for a few quiet moments. Then she began where she thought she may need to.

“I spanked her.”

Zelena’s brows shot up in shock and then fused in confusion. “Like a right proper one or like a pat on the bum?”

Reflecting, Regina looked away to her hands wrapped around a mug, griping harder to minimize the slight shake left over. “Neither really I guess. It was more of a swat.” Regina’s teeth tore dry skin from her lips and shook her head. “There’s no excuse for it. She’d scared me to death and once I knew she was okay it just happened—I didn’t want that to ever happen again.” Memories of Kathryn’s death flashed once more. The yellow bug rolling through the intersection. White truck screeching through a red light. The sound of glass and bone rushing together toward concrete… A violent shudder shot down Regina’s spine as the room returned so much so that her tea spilled over the rim of her mug. She reached for a napkin to wipe at the mess, but Zee took over.

“Here, let me. Well, I’m sure once you talk to her and explain things you’ll be able to get on the same page again.” Taking a trembling hand Zelena held firm as Regina returned her gaze.

“I don’t want to raise her that way Zee. It’s different with Emma.” And it was in so many ways.

Not sure she understood, Zelena’s head tilted a bit. “I get that, but we turned out just fine though from an occasional pop didn’t we? However, Mother might argue that point ‘til her grave.”

Regina shook her head elaborating. “I suspect that spanking has been used with Emma in her past. She never said so exactly, but more importantly I told her I wouldn’t.” Remembering clearly the afternoon in her office right before Christmas when Emma had stolen the apple from the fruit vendor. Her little one had thought she was in big trouble. Emma hadn’t been. They had simply talked, but Emma had clearly thought something else would happen instead before Regina had cleared that up.

“Now I understand. You’re worried she’ll resent or fear you for it.”

“Exactly.” Nodding as her shoulders dropped. Regina hid her face in palms and then ran them through her hair, gripping there. “I reacted in the moment and while I am not happy with my reaction,” and this is what bothered her she realized, “I honestly don’t feel completely wrong for it either. I didn’t hurt her, just got her complete attention which is the point of a swat. But with the adoption—Zee, she is not even legally my daughter yet.” There were rules in place on things Regina could and could not do and by crossing this line, even for the reason if it became known she could lose Emma. The gravity of that mistake made her throat close and face flush hot in worry.

Thinking those words over and her sister’s rising panic Zelena put her hand on a bouncing knee. “Hey, it’s going to be okay. You reacted as a lot of parents would in such a moment I imagine. Parents make mistakes. And you don’t need a piece of paper to be her Mother, GiGi.”

“But it’s different.”

“Is it?” That got amber eyes back up and she continued. “Do you remember when you and I decided we wanted to be mermaids at the pier the one summer when we stayed at that campground?”

A hint of a red smile as that memory surfaced. “Mother got eaten alive by mosquitoes.” A vision of their mother clothed head to toe, hair wrapped in a silk scarf and big sunglasses in the summer humidity sitting under an umbrella with Daddy while she and Zee played on the beach front warmed behind her eyes. It was the only vacation she could remember them all taking as a family when she had been Emma’s age. She suspected that is perhaps why it was so vivid in her mind just then.

“Those masochist little bugs dared to go after her.” Zelena smiled softly. “Anyway, we didn’t know how to swim well yet and had been warned more than once to stay away from that pier and you dragged me kicking and screaming…”

Regina snorted and reached for her tea. “As I remember it was the opposite of that, but yes. Go on.”

“Fine, we dragged each other equally kicking and screaming to the pier. Damn old thing was clinging together by splinters. We held hands and were about to get our mermaid groove on in the water when Mother caught us both by the backs of our suit straps before we could dive off to our deaths and yanked us back. She gave us each a pop on the bum and a talking to and that was it.” Raising both brows. “We certainly never did that again did we?”

Regina gave a faint smile for the memory of common mischief and then lost it on the corners of her mouth. “It’s still different with Emma, Zee. She doesn’t come from a place of consistency and support where discipline was handled from a place of love.” Or in their Mother’s case; a tepid affection. Though, that particular memory of Mother was anything but. Mother had been scared and the way Regina remembered being held so long and tightly in those arms after spoke volumes of the love behind that fear. She hadn’t resented her Mother for it, quite the opposite. The open affection from Mother had been unexpected and surprisingly welcome. That was also one of Regina’s clearest memories from being that young.

Zelena nudged a shoulder gently. “But she does now and one pop on the bum doesn’t make you a bad parent GiGi. Far from it for where your heart is and was on the matter at the time. You’re going to make mistakes and it’s what you do with them after the fact that matters. How do you think Emma even feels about it?”

Thinking back to that moment, Regina explained what happened. “She hugged me tighter, apologized and promised not to do it again.”

“Well there you go then.”

“No because I don’t know if she even knows what for. I need to speak with her later about it when we get home, but the way she’s been behaving and looking at me Zee…” Regina tried to express a gut feeling she couldn’t name. “Emma’s eyes are telling me something is not okay, my mistake aside completely; she’s not opening up about something.” She went on to explain what had happened right before Emma left the brownstone and finally with some prying questions from her sister more of what had been going on with Gold at work began to come out. The pressure coming off, all of it now in the open felt like the balloon in her throat had finally popped.

“I knew he was slimy, but bully is a better word.” Red curls shook in disgust. “Have you told Mother how he’s been riding you?”

“Told her? Zee—she was in the room when I made that deal with him. There’s a file I owe him tonight before his flight to London tomorrow for a meeting with a potential client. I’m nearly finished with it, but I still need another hour or two before it is ready to go.” Regina sighed. “That doesn’t matter though.”

“It does GiGi and your team is more than capable of doing that grunt work for you. You have bigger fish to fry or in this case a crocodile.” Thinking Zelena tapped her chin. “Maybe I can help somehow with the work he’s sending your way.”

“I appreciate it but I need to deal with him that way myself.” A concerned frown, “Besides, you have enough on your plate with work and Kathryn’s journals. Speaking of which, any luck?”

“I’ve got it narrowed down to five books out of the three dozen in the boxes and I am just finishing reading the first one, but not yet.” Zelena caught the flinch that crossed her sister’s face. “What was that look for?”

“What look?”

“Just now you looked like you saw a ghost.”

“I guess in a way I did or have been.” Regina agreed with that assessment. “When I realized Emma was okay I sort of had a flashback of Kathyrn’s accident. It was like it had happened all over again it was that real.”

“That sounds terrifying.”

“It was.” Thinking more on it, Regina leaned forward and rested her forearms on the counter. “I also thought I saw her after, standing on the sidewalk. Someone, a woman I think, pulled Emma back out of the way of the truck. I was going to thank her and I thought… I thought for a moment it was Kathryn.”

“That must have been some mind fuck.” Zelena sat up straighter at the very idea of being in her sister’s shoes and pursed her lips. “What did the woman say?”

“She didn’t. It was as if she was there and gone.” Sinking down in her chair Regina spoke much quieter. “I met with Emma’s therapist a few weeks ago and he offered to take me on as a new client if I ever wanted to talk. I ended that conversation quickly enough, but it got me thinking.” Biting her lip she gave unveiled eyes up in question. “Am I that broken over Kathryn that I’m seeing things that are not there?”

Zelena took her sister into her arms. “Whatever you saw you’re being much too hard on yourself. You went through something no one should have to ever go through. Grief is personal and no one deals with it the same way.”

Swallowing thickly Regina let herself be held for another moment before pulling back. “When did I become someone who let my emotions rule me that he asked such a question?”

Chuckling, Zelena squeezed her sister’s shoulders. “Since middle school, but seriously. You’ve always been passionate and when you feel things you feel them deeply. Day to day emotions, no you are not that transparent, but with anything Kathryn or Emma related your heart’s a neon sign.”

Regina rolled her eyes at the comparison. “Fair enough.”

“Why does that bother you? Over Kat I mean. You are still healing.”

“I just don’t want my grief to affect how I react to certain situations.”

Zelena nodded in understanding now. “Like today with Emma.”

“Exactly.”

“Wine is cheaper than therapy you know.” Getting a playful nudge Zelena nudged right back. “So the Evil Queen has a few issues she needs to deal with then?”

A dark bow arched in amusement. “If the Evil Queen has issues than the Wicked Witch does too by proxy.”

Taking a sip of tea Zelena easily agreed. “We are both a bunch of nutters then.” She smiled around the rim of her mug at the rich laughter coming from the stool next to her.

“Maybe so, but this nutter is considering taking him up on the offer.” Sitting back Regina mused aloud. “Who knows? Might do me some good to have someone other than you to talk to for once.” Said with a wink.

“And give up my hourly bitching rate I’m charging you. I think not. I’ll have you committed.” Laughing over the idea. Then serious again as her sister’s mood seemed to shift. “What is it?”

Regina sucked in her bottom lip and let it go just as quick as her eyes filled. She reached to thread her fingers through her sister’s. “Have I ever told you how grateful I am that you’re my sister?”

Smirking. “I take payment in Starbucks stock and gift cards.”

A long squeeze as Regina rubbed her thumb across the bridge of soft knuckles. “I couldn’t have gotten through the last year and a half without you.”

Dewey moss reflected the affection shining her way. “And you’ve been there for me plenty growing up. It’s my turn.” And Zelena pulled Regina into her arms and held strong as tears slipped down both their cheeks. “Besides who else but someone just as bonkers will put up with me?”

And Regina did know that as she smiled and held her sister closer. “I love you too, Zee.”

Chapter Text

Ch. 7 – A Mills Girl

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After Emma had woken up they had a quiet dinner at the loft of spaghetti and salad with Zelena. The adults mostly talked of small inconsequential things, trying to draw Emma into conversation, but the sleepy girl seemed to be deep in her own thoughts throughout the meal. Emma helped clear the table after dinner while the sisters cleaned up. Halfway through Zelena waved them off to go home. Regina was grateful that Zee offered to call them a cab with a promise to follow them there in time for Emma to be tucked in that night at the brown stone at 8:30. Thoughts of staying put at the loft for the night came and went. Emma needed the routine used to in their own home and wouldn’t sleep a wink without her baby blanket anyway.

The taxi ride was quiet except for Regina’s soft humming of a nameless tune that she used to soothe Emma on nights the little one came to her room from a nightmare. Emma leaned heavy into Regina’s side, resting against her shoulder. Regina kissed Emma’s temple taking time to close her eyes and breathe in the scent of Emma’s apple conditioner as she did so. They held hands; fingers threaded strong in a connection Regina hoped would be enough to see them through the talk they had yet to have. Once the taxi pulled up on the curb Regina put the single bill borrowed from Zelena in the driver’s hand and helped Emma out. He tried to give her change, but she didn’t care about anything except getting Emma inside and settled.

Once inside Emma slipped off her sandals. She put them in the basket by the door with her other footwear and chewed her bottom lip in wait for Gina to say something. Her toes curled in and out in her socks. They had talked some at dinner, but not about what happened and Emma had tried to eat and found she couldn’t as much as she usually did. The adults didn’t either and she knew it was her fault. She brought her pinky to her mouth and in it went to suck as it always did when she needed comfort as her thumb rubbed her cheek.

Emma also knew not to leave the house without Gina. To ask if she wanted to go outside and that walking such a long way by herself was not okay. Thinking back to what she had done today made her tummy do somersaults again. Emma knew these things. And each one crawled up from her stomach and into her throat to get out, but it felt too tight and hot there. Her eyes stung.

Nothing was coming out.

So she waited for Gina to take her hand again and followed the woman she had come to love more than anyone ever, ever upstairs to her room. They were there in the place Gina tucked her in each night and where stories were read in funny squeaky voices until Emma was in stitches with laughter and where Gina had given her Lucky Swan her first day here. This was where Emma felt safe to fall asleep; to keep her most prized possessions and where Gina first told her she was loved. This is where her yellow backpack was slipped off her shoulders and Emma watched as Gina put it back on the chair where it belonged. Home like it belonged and they were now.

Then Gina was talking in that soft kind way that made Emma’s ears perk up and her heart slow down. Emma tried to listen, but then the tears were back being mean to her eyes again and making them sting and fall down her cheeks. Falling like she was into those arms she loved to have holding her up tight and never let go. There with her cheek pressed up against Gina’s chest and a heart beating in her ear Emma’s voice started to work. “Sorry, I’m sorry Gina.”

“Oh sweetheart I am too.” Regina moved them to the bed and sat, lifting Emma up on her lap and tucking her in close. She ran her hand through Emma’s hair as the other rubbed up and down a back, tucking stray curls behind little ears as she kissed the top of her daughter’s head. Resting her lips there a moment and then her cheek as she began to rock. “We have a lot we need to talk about, but right now I just want to hold you. Is that okay?”

“Uh-huh, and don’t let go.” A hard sniff as more tears fell. Emma curled her arms up over the arms holding her tight as she began to calm down.

They sat that way for a long time and Emma remembered back to the time she’d gone to the subway station near Christmas when she thought Gina was gonna send her back to the group home. Gina had come for her then and then again today when she had ran off, but today Emma was almost hurt ‘cause she had been mistaken about what Gina was thinking like she had been then. Gina had said she would always, always and forever want Emma. And Emma felt wanted. Knew that she was loved in Gina’s arms. This felt good. Felt right to be on this lap in these arms and she had to say so. Needed Gina to know everything in her heart right now, but she also needed help to do it. “I wanna talk now.”

Kissing a brow Regina thought for a moment where to begin and decided to start with the timeout. “After your timeout earlier you seemed like you were still upset with me. Will you tell me why little duck?”

“I was mad we didn’t go to ZeeZee’s right then, but not like I was before sitting on the step.” Thinking back Emma tried to share her feelings. “And I wanted to show you I was mad so I didn’t give you hugs.” Emma dropped her chin to her chest. “And then I wanted hugs and I didn’t think you’d want to ‘cause I showed you I was mad but I didn’t say so ‘cause I didn’t know how and—” A cough as she caught her breath and her back was rubbed. “Sometimes ZeeZee helps me talk and I wanted to talk to her so I could talk to you and then we could hug again.”

Regina followed that jumbled train of thoughts right to the end of the track and beyond. Emma had trouble expressing feelings sometimes when too many became bottled up. And when Emma shut down like that a cap went on that shaken up bottle. Pressure built and it was harder to get the cap off. Regina was learning how to ease the cap open and close it, and repeating that process until the pressure was gone all the way. That was how they found they could get that cap off completely. Talking through each feeling in a sequential manner instead of all of them at once seemed to work best with Emma and so Regina continued in this fashion.

“First I want you to you know that your feelings, all of them, are more than okay and you can show me your feelings Emma. I want you to. All of them and I will always, always want to hug you anytime.” Lifting a chin Regina held green eyes in hers. “Sometimes there are ways we show our feelings that don’t work as well as others. Like not talking about them or keeping them inside.” She was certainly guilty of that herself, Regina realized and kept thinking that booking an appointment with whom Emma referred to as the cricket was starting to sound like a good idea.

“Or pushing stuff and whining.”

“That’s right, you were listening before. And we will keep working on ways to show your feelings in appropriate ways.” Regina praised and continued. “I understand you wanting to see ZeeZee to talk and I am so glad you feel you can do so with her. And if you ever need or want to talk to her and she’s not here we can always call and you may talk as long as you need to. But leaving the house without asking or my knowing is not ever okay. Alright?”

Emma licked her lips. “I wrote a note.”

“You did and what is our rule about going outside.”

“I have to ask.” There were a lot of rules Emma was learning that she didn’t have before living here, but Gina reminded her a lot and didn’t yell if she forgot them—which was a lot in the beginning. They talked a lot about them too since then and that helped.

“Yes, I need you to ask me always, face to face. I must know where you are at all times outside of the house. You are too little to be without an adult and someone or something could have hurt you.” She felt Emma tense in her arms. She didn’t want to scare Emma, but awareness on the child’s part for her rules to be effective needed to start sticking. “When I went looking for you I was so scared when I couldn’t find you. So you have to always ask before you leave the house. Do you understand why that is so important?”

Nodding again and then Emma remembered to answer. “Yes Gina.”

“Now we need to discuss the I-pod and when and where you may listen to it. Outside when you are walking around is not safe.” Regina went on the lay down a few simple ground rules and had Emma repeat them back and the why behind them.

“I didn’t hear you or the truck.” Emma said and tucked her head up under Gina’s chin.

“I know and we are…” Regina paused swallowing down her prior worry as her eyes stung, “very lucky you are not hurt Emma.” And she waited for a long moment just feeling the weight of her precious baby in her arms before she lifted Emma up to stand in between her knees. Regina took two hands in hers, needing contact for the raw honesty to come, but also to see Emma fully as she said her next words. “I thought for a moment I had lost you and I was scared. I haven’t been that scared in a long time. Do you remember when you asked me about how Kathryn died back at Christmas time?”

A tiny nod came as Emma’s eyes began to grow wide. “You said that her car was hit by a man at the light.” Emma remembered that conversation and the other thing about angels they had talked about then too. Her head tilted. “Is that why I’m ok? Cause Kathryn’s an angel and she was watching out for me ‘cause you love me.”

A tear slipped. Then two and Regina nodded with a small smile. While she was not religious and didn’t plan to raise Emma in any particular faith she wanted to nurture the curiosity and conclusions Emma drew through experience. And after what she thought she saw today she couldn’t deny that idea Emma said even if she wanted to. “I think that is a good way to think about this sweetheart. I bet somehow, someway Kathryn was looking out for you too when she was here on this earth because she put a piece of herself in your blanket to keep you warm and safe.”

“That’s means my blankie is magic. Like her special perfume.” Grinning Emma leaned into the kiss given on her cheek.

“I have no doubt my little love.” Regina agreed it certainly was some kind of magic for how it connected them all and reached to tuck a curl behind the shell of an ear. She took a deep breath for the last issue to be discussed. She had done a lot of thinking and further talking on it with Zee at the apartment while Emma slept. “I want to talk to you about when I was holding you on the curb.”

“You were scared huh?” Emma asked, but she knew the answer already. She had felt it on the curb in the arms holding her.

“I was and I reacted to that fear in a way I told you I wouldn’t do by spanking you.”

Emma’s brows met in the middle of confusion. “But you didn’t.” And in her mind Gina hadn’t. She knew what a spanking was and what Gina did wasn’t anything like she’d ever experienced in the past.

Regina’s head shook. “Still I told you I wouldn’t and I was firmer with you than I ever meant to be without explaining to you why I was doing it.” And Regina had been without the words in the moment for her action to go with it. But the way Emma was looking at her said the child had different thoughts about the matter.

“Cause I wasn’t safe and you were scared.” Emma rocked on her feet. She understood. So why was Gina making it a big deal?

“I just don’t want to do anything to give you any reason to be afraid of me sweetheart. Not ever, ever. I’m so sorry Emma.”

Oh. Emma could make that all better. “I’m not scared of you Gina. I know you love me like how I love you.” Standing on tip toe Emma wrapped her skinny arms around a neck and popped a kiss on a wet cheek. “You make feel safe.”

Lips rolled in as her eyes closed and Regina thanked whatever higher energy existed for Emma’s words of forgiveness. She soaked in them, grateful so grateful for the forgiving arms around her neck. More so for the little girl in her arms that had woken her heart up to loving again.

 

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An hour later nearing 8:00 the door bell rang. Regina set aside her hand of cards where she and Emma were playing crazy 8’s at the kitchen counter. Unlike during the day when that bell rang and Emma ran for the door right now the child hunkered down now on the kitchen stool as Regina stood.

“That’s probably just your ZeeZee. Do you want to answer the door with me little duck or stay here?”

“With you.” Emma readily dropped her cards and reached up with grabby hands to be lifted up.

Carrying Emma, Regina opened the door and just as she thought Zelena was standing on the stoop with a brown paper bag held up.

Red brows wiggled. “Do you fancy a screwdriver?”

“Since when do you drink those?” Regina stepped back as her sister stepped in and shut the door.

“I don’t, but I do drink wine. Got any? And do you have the actual tool?” Then leaning in and kissing Emma’s cheek. “Hello little Monkey. Feeling better?”

“Uh-huh.” A small smile bloomed on Emma’s face as she rested her head on Gina’s shoulder.

Zelena reached into the bag. “So do you GiGi?”

“Wine is where I always keep it and there’s a drill in the tool box in the pantry of the laundry room.” It had been Kathryn’s and for all the love and effort put into repairs around the brown stone throughout their marriage she hadn’t been able to part with any of them. “Why?” In answer a gold chain sliding lock in a package was held up.

“This will help keep my little Monkey safe. I’ll fasten it up top on the front door and at the very least it will slow down little hands.” Zelena reached to tickle Emma and was rewarded with a giggle. Then those arms reached for her.

Regina transferred Emma to Zee with a smile and took the box and bag to set aside. “This sounds like a wonderful idea and thank you.” Then watching the pair with a chuckle as funny faces were exchanged back and forth. “How about you help Emma get ready for bed and I’ll open some wine to breathe for later.”

Zelena’s head snapped back around at those words. While she and Emma had spent time together, playing or having snuggles she’d readily left all the day to day care aspects to her capable sister. She didn’t know the first thing about getting a kid ready for bed and was about to say so when Emma began bouncing in her arms.

“Yes! I can show you my bath toys and you can be the green ducky and I’ll be the red one.”

Zelena smiled softly at the enthusiasm in her arms. “How can I say no to that offer? I’ll need your help.” Eying her sister for directions and in question of the hearty laugh that followed.

“Oh Emma will tell you everything you need to know, won’t you sweetheart.” Regina assured her sister with a wink to her little girl.

“Yep!” Girl agreed with excitement. “I’m good at helping!”

“Great.” Zelena rolled her eyes fondly. “I get to be bossed around by a five year old.”

“Five and three fourths.” Emma and Regina said in unison.

“Right.” Laughing Zelena moved toward the stairs as her sister headed into the kitchen. “So where do I start in getting my little Monkey ready for bed?”

Twenty minutes later Zelena was sorry she’d asked that question. She got step by step directions in explicit detail. For every. Single. Thing. Zelena took direction for how much hot water to use and how much cold water and just how much water should go into the tub so a mess was not made. Then there was science lesson in the measuring of bubbles and a half a cap was plenty. She learned that five and 3/4th years olds could undress themselves, but needed help stepping into the tub. And how she was supposed to sit and wait to make sure Emma washed behind her ears and between her toes—all ten of them. She also learned that Monkeys didn’t like their hair washed, but it was Saturday so she had to on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Shampooing had been a battle she barely won and conditioning a war Zelena never had a chance at winning, so she gave that step up to Emma’s wiggles and giggles.

There was also an etiquette lesson of a sort on how to play properly with the duck toys and by the time the water was draining Zelena knew she needed a checklist to remember half of the things Emma said. ‘Gina did it this way, not that way’ and then Emma would tell her why. A through education, indeed, followed on how to brush ones teeth and hair next. How too on nights her hair was washed they braided it on either side of her head so it would be extra curly in the morning and not tangle. Finally, little one was wrapped in a towel and dragging Zelena down the hall to the yellow room to get dressed.

Zelena was exhausted, but also filled with something warm and fuzzy she didn’t quite have the words for. “Alright, where are your pjs Monkey?” She stopped short at the door as Emma dropped her hand and scampered over to the bed. Her eyes followed a little finger to the second drawer of a dresser and she went to open it and fished out a yellow duck t-shirt and short set. “Socks and knickers?” At the queer look she explained. “Panties?”

Emma clutched the slipping towel tighter and bit her lip pointing to the first drawer, whispering. “In there.”

Zelena opened the other drawer and sorted through finding the pair of little monkey and banana socks she’d gotten Emma the other week and paused over the other choices. Thinking for a moment she went with her gut and returned to the bed with socks and a pair of Goodnites not missing the way Emma eyed those warily.

“Do you want help getting dressed?” A small nod and Zelena sat on the side of the bed starting with the t-shirt. “Arms up.” And she quickly popped the shirt over a blonde head and tickled a pair of ribs on the way down.

Emma’s bright giggle filled the room at ZeeZee’s silliness. Then the Goodnites were held out and she got quiet. She knew better than to fuss by now and didn’t as she stepped in and they were tugged up her legs, but felt the need to make sure her ZeeZee knew something super important. “I’m not a baby.”

Zelena eyes went soft as she held out the yellow shorts. Emma took hold of her forearms and stepped in. “No you are not at all. You are something far more wonderful and special.”

Emma tilted her head curiously as she put her foot in one sock and then another liking how when her feet stood together it looked like the monkey on the left sock was eating the banana on the right. “I am? What?”

“You are your Gina’s little Ducky and my Monkey and Cora’s Darling.” Zelena then lifted Emma up to sit on her lap as the girl played with the emerald of her gold necklace. “You’re also a Mills. And Mills girls are as strong as they come and sometimes we need a little help to remain so.” Gently patting a hip as Emma snuggled in. “And help doesn’t make us weak or mean we are babies. Quite the opposite.”

Emma thought on those words, liking them very much. “But that’s not my last name yet.”

“Not yet on paper.” Tapping a little heart with her finger, Zelena explained. “But in here, where it matters, you are a Mills and you always will be.” Then thinking to herself. ‘And you have been your whole life.’ Movement by the door caught Zelena’s eye and she looked up to see her sister leaning against it. Amber eyes misting and then Emma’s arms were around her neck tight as Regina joined them on the bed. Little one rolled over to cuddle into her sister’s neck.

“Hear that Mama? I’m a Mills!”

Regina did hear Emma. A fierce sense of joy and love took over her heart and made her breath catch with the complete way it consumed her entire being. As that affection rolled sweetly natural from Emma’s mouth it parked right at home in her heart. She was Mama. Emma’s Mama. Tears slipped down her cheeks in happiness she didn’t have words for. There was just this beautifully simple sense of belonging filling the room and she looked at her sister who was not fairing much better at keeping her cheeks dry. “I hear you my sweet little duck.” Regina held her daughter closer and kissed a temple, imprinting this moment forever to memory. “Mama hears you just fine.”

Emma beamed and pulled back to sit on her Mama’s lap and looked between the smiling adults with wet eyes watching her. Then she wondered something she’d wanted to ask. “Can I call you Aunt ZeeZee?” Wanting to claim the other affection for herself and her hand was taken by ZeeZee and one by her Mama.

“I thought you would never ask. Of course you may.” Zelena gave a watery grin to Emma and then her sister as the child snuggled back into dark hair. Clearing her throat. “Right. Well you two need a moment, I’m sure and all this crying has me wanting that wine you promised me GiGi.” Standing with another kiss to Emma’s blonde crown. “I’ll come say goodnight in a bit Monkey. I have some monkeying around to do of my own with a screw driver and a lock.”

Emma turned and waved. “See you soon Aunt ZeeZee.”

“Oh God I’ll never get tired of hearing that.” Zelena winked and left them be as she went downstairs.

“Time to read Mama?”

‘And neither will I.’ Regina thought as Emma wiggled off her lap to stand up. “Yes sweetheart.”

“Can we read in your bed and have a sleepover there? You and me and Aunt ZeeZee? My bed is too small.”

Their beds were close to the same size, but that didn’t matter. Regina wanted Emma close after the day. “We certainly may. Get your blanket and Lucky Swan while I get our book.” Standing too. Once they had all those things she took up Emma’s hand, rubbing her thumb adoringly over little knuckles as she led the way to her room. She could hear the electric drill Zee had obviously found. It sputtered in bursts up from the ground floor and Zelena’s ever colorful verbal additions with it. Regina laughed softly as she covered one of Emma’s ears as they passed.

“What’s she saying?” Emma wondered aloud as they made their way into the master bedroom.

“Nothing you need to hear sweetheart.” Regina confirmed and quickly got Emma settled under the covers and cozy in her arms. A page into the story and Emma’s hands rested over the book getting her attention. “What is it?”

“Can I cut my hair?”

Regina’s brow rose at the sudden question. Ones she should be used to by now she supposed for how often Emma tossed them out before a more serious one and she wondered what was really hiding behind this question. “You want to cut it?”

Nodding. “I want bangs like Jasmine. ZeeZee says I would look adorkable with them.”

A small laugh for the word and Regina leaned in to kiss the top of Emma’s head. “You are adorable with bangs or without.”

“So can I?”

“We’ll see.” She was partial to Emma’s long curls and Regina wanted to wait a while at least to see if Emma changed her mind as child was prone to doing over things like this.

“That means no.” A small pout.

“No, that means I need to think about it.” Then Regina noticed a shadow pass over that small face and forgetting the book in her lap she gently rubbed both hands up and down Emma’s arms. “What is going on in that head of yours little duck?”

Emma nibbled her bottom lip and looked up. “If ZeeZee is my Auntie, who is Cora?”

So that was the real question. “Well, she is your grandmother. Sometimes children call their grandmother’s different things like Grandma, Grams, Nana, Nona, or—”

“Nona. I like that one.” Emma decided.

Regina thought for a moment that her Mother might too. “Then Nona she is.” She looked down catching the thoughtful look on the girl’s face seeing there was more to help coax out. “What else are you thinking about sweetheart?”

“Kathryn.”

Her heart fluttered. “How so?”

“That if she wasn’t an angel she’d be my Mommy, huh?”

‘Oh my sweet little girl.’ Regina thought and held her bottom lip captive for a moment before she brought Emma’s hand up to her lips to kiss. “She would be and so proud to call you her own.” Right then and there she wanted to tell Emma about the connection with Kathryn, but late as it was and with the blanket still a mystery she felt she needed more time before doing so.

“I wish I could have met her.”

Her heart pinched over the mix of sadness and joy framing that statement. “Me too.” Regina agreed and wondered if somehow Kathryn might have. Time would tell and she cleared her throat to begin reading once more.

They read for about fifteen minutes with Emma fighting to stay awake through the end of the last part of their chapter, but green eyes fluttered shut and remained so. Regina closed the book after marking the page with a paper cut out of Emma’s hand the kindergartner had made and color last week in school. She set the book aside as she sat with Emma snuggled into her chest. Child’s breathing evened out slow and deep and she knew Emma was out for the night. Regina leaned down to kiss Emma’s forehead as she thought further about the day. It could have gone so differently, but it hadn’t. She swallowed what ifs down and pushed could haves away in her mind. Emma was here, safe in her arms and that was all that mattered.

There was a soft rapping on the door and Regina looked up as Zelena approached with two glasses of red wine. Nodding she sat up some, careful not to disturb Emma as she was handed a glass and her sister sat on the other side of them.

“She’s tuckered isn’t she?” Whispered around the lip of a wine glass as Zelena sipped and crossed her legs underneath her. She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees.

Nodding Regina took a sip too finally taking in the black tank top and silk sleep pants her sister was wearing that she’d had hung up in the laundry room to dry earlier. “Glad to see you’ve made yourself at home.”

“I do like these. You have good taste.” Zelena fingered the draw sting at her waist and quirked her eyebrow. “Your tooth brush on the other hand…” She stuck her tongue out.

Regina grimaced nearly spitting her wine back into her glass. “You didn’t.”

Returning the look in jest. “Ew, no. I keep a spare one in my purse so relax. You won’t get my cooties.”

“You sound like your niece.”

Zelena smiled dreamily at Emma. “She has a way with words that one.”

“That she does” Regina agreed and gazed lovingly down at the little girl sleeping in her arms that had a way with melting hearts too.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – Reflection

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Early Monday evening at her office Regina sat at her desk staring at two computer screens and felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. Eight of the thirty two emails that needed her immediate attention were from Gold. Each one she had skimmed and began to prioritize on the list in front of her for what he was asking when her cell phone buzzed. Glancing at the screen she perked up seeing a text from her sister and swiped to see a picture of Zee and Emma cheek to cheek drinking from straws in Starbucks cups in the back seat of one of the company cars. Regina had no doubt it was some sweet concoction in that cup that would make Emma have a sugar crash later. No matter the sugar coma her daughter was sure to have, the image made Regina smile.

She needed time to catch up on her work load since the events of the weekend and Zee had offered to pick Emma up from school. By the looks of the picture they were out probably on their way to dinner and she wished she was with them instead of chained to her desk as she had been all day. Gold was in London complete with the red file contents she’d scanned to him at midnight last night and with him away Regina had been able to catch up on what she needed to, and just as she had—he sent more work for her to look over. At one point in her past Regina had considered herself a workaholic, but Gold took the cake on that title instead she decided. The man literally had no life other than making money or ordering people around to make it for him. Regina’s thoughts drifted once again to the picture of him with Ingrid from the file of them Ambrose had given Zee to share with her.

Regina found herself looking at it once in a while whenever she was pondering Emma’s path into her life. Those ice blue eyes were full of ghosts and the way Gold held onto Ingrid in that picture was almost… possessive. Mother seemed to know more about Gold’s history with Ingrid and from what she had been told he had adopted her after his brother’s sudden death. Mother had said Gold had given his niece the best of everything and that the girl had only been ungrateful. Regina doubted that Gold could give any child everything with as selfish as he was, but she wondered over that relationship and what it must have been like for Ingrid growing up with the man. Another notification flashed across her computer screen and with a sigh at her inbox, Regina texted a quick reply back to Zee and returned to her work.

If she stayed focused she could finish in the next few hours and be home in time to read to Emma and tuck her little duck into bed. But her mind, like most of the day, kept wandering. Thoughts of Emma’s near accident on Saturday and the vision of Kathryn on the curb afterwards drew on dark thoughts of what ifs that had not left her mind since. More thoughts too of the mystery about the baby blanket and Kathryn’s role in Emma’s lineage. And the sweetness of the new affection from Emma had her floating on high at a whole other level. A wide range of mixed of emotions kept her mind occupied away from her work and Regina was struggling to keep moving.

Deciding then and there as another e-mail from Gold flashed across her screen to close her eyes and take a minute to breathe. Regina stopped fighting her mind and allowed it to drift to the memory she had kept pushing away all day…

 

 

Regina threaded her fingers through tussled blonde locks of her wife’s hair. Combing the strands back from the shell of an ear, she gazed at fluttering eyelids as the morning light spilled through their bedroom window. On the morning after their fourth anniversary Regina thought she would be content forever to have this present moment on loop for the rest of her life. The way sunlight played with highlights in blonde hair, the deep content breathing of her wife and the feeling of their legs intertwined under the sheets; Regina loved how their life had come to start each morning. Kathryn sleeping by her side after their night of love making and day before celebrating their love with family and close friends. This moment was all she had wanted in the business of the last twenty four hours of their anniversary, now here. Her wife and life partner lay by her side. Each new day she got to wake to the other half of her soul in this bed.

Regina smiled as Kathryn’s blue eyes opened to their first morning of four years as wife and wife. “Good morning Mrs. Mills.” She began with their yearly tradition of greeting between them on this day.

White teeth flashed before Kathryn’s full lips claimed hers. Kathryn seemed to nearly lose her breath with it. “Mrs. Mills.” A sweet kiss hello in return. “I will never get tired of hearing you say that Regina.”

A deep husk of a laugh bubbled up between them and Regina took Kathryn into her arms as the little spoon. “Nor will I my love.” Her phone chimed behind her on the nightstand. Tone assigned to her sister, three more followed it indicating that Zee was awake and on a texting marathon, no doubt asking how their anniversary night played out. She rolled her eyes at the thought and suspected the woman in her arms felt her do so.

“Sooooo,” Kathyrn began, “When should we tell your sister that we nearing our decision on kids?”

Another eye roll, though a fond one for the bluntness. “What brought that topic on before the decency of caffeine first?” Regina asked, though she was already guessing as she dipped her chin to breathe in the scent of cinnamon and vanilla of her wife’s hair.

“She cornered me after dinner last night while your Mother had you cornered and began trying to guess if we would adopt or go with a donor. I told her we were still discussing it.”

Regina felt Kathryn shrug after that statement and she well knew the lift in that tone of something being thought on much more deeply than was said. She thought she might know what it was. While she had grown up with a close knit family, Kathryn had not. Spent the years as a teenager in the New York foster care system after the death of a mother to an over dose. Her wife was the epitome of strength and resourcefulness and all Kathryn had ever wanted was a family. Kids were definitely on both of their radar and until then Kathryn had taken Regina’s family as hers—dysfunctional as it was.

Regina was grateful that Kathryn and her sister had bonded so quickly after their marriage while Mother, on the other end of the spectrum, was still learning to accept she was a lesbian and that this wasn’t a phase she was going through. And Daddy was, had been when he was alive, so accepting and kind to her wife from the first day she had introduced Kathyrn as the one. She knew this topic of children was one that they needed to discuss much more deeply than they already had. Both agreed they more than wanted them—one at least, but how was another matter they kept going back and forth on.

“My sister has the worst timing and absolutely no filter.” Regina began as she kissed a crown of blonde curls. She could feel Kathryn’s smile to her answer and hoped her next words wouldn’t erase it. “We have talked about donors versus adopting before my love…” And there that smile began to slip as Kathryn came up on an elbow to gaze down at her.

“And I know I’m torn.” Kathryn said matter of fact. “But you are not still.”

“Honestly?”

“Always.”

Regina searched blue eyes and gave it. “I still feel open about adoption, but I also want the whole experience of pregnancy.” The doctor’s visits, the anticipation, the cravings, the whole nine yards Regina Mills wanted for herself even if it was through the experience of another. She sat up too, bringing the silk sheet up with to cover her nakedness against the morning chill to sit against the head board.

“Is that because you want to be the one to carry the baby, but can’t?” Kathryn asked rather delicately.

Asked not to hurt, but to get to the root of why her feelings were as they were Regina knew this and nodded. She had learned this unfortunate truth years ago when she was a teenager going through puberty. “Yes, but I don’t want to be selfish in asking you to do that if you don’t’ truly want to experience pregnancy 110%. I’m open to the idea of a donor if you are…” She trailed off at the flash of some kind of yearning in those eyes she knew so well. “Kathryn what is it?” Reaching for her wife’s hand she took it, their wedding rings connecting with their intertwined fingers. Kathryn stared at their joined hands intently.

“I wanted to go the donor route at one point a long time ago, but…”

“But what?”

Blonde curls shook and Kathryn seemed to force a smile. “I don’t think I can.”

Dark brows furrowed. “What do you mean?” Regina asked and again those eyes kept staring at their rings. Finally Regina lifted that dimpled chin to bring misting blue eyes up.”Kathryn please.”

“I mean….” Tone grew thick with what sounded like grief. “I can’t go through the donor thing. Or pregnancy. I want to adopt. With all the children already that need homes we should consider adopting instead of bringing another one into the world.” Tears leaked and Regina thought they held much more than Kathryn was able to say at the moment.

 And seeing them on those cheeks always got one reaction from Regina. “Hey, come here.” Pulling Kathryn close she tucked the smaller blonde right up into her heart. “Then we will go the adoption route.”

“But you—”

“Are flexible, especially because this is your body we are talking about. I would never ask you to do something you were even a fraction hesitant about my love.” Regina assured. While she suffered with something called fibroids and had a few surgeries in her youth to remove some larger ones that had left her womb unable to carry a baby, she would more than respect her wife’s right to chose no matter her own wishes. “And nothing needs to be decided soon. Let’s take the next few months and really research our options with adoption. We have more than enough money saved up to pursue a number of different options within that one should we choose.”

Kathyrn was quiet for a long moment and Regina bit her tongue over the why wishing she had phrased it differently. Money was sometimes a sensitive topic between them. She easily made thirty times what Kathryn did in a year and her wife was ever insistent on sharing their expenses. It had taken time and a lot of communication to get to a good place about their finances, but they developed a system that worked between them.

Before their wedding, one Daddy insisted on paying for entirely, Kathryn had insisted on buying their rings. Regina had relented due to the pure sense of stubbornness Kathryn had exhibited about it. How though her wife had afforded such a ring that she wore was never something she had asked. Kathyrn had asked her not to worry about it and so she hadn’t.

Thinking she may have more than put her foot in her mouth with the money comment Regina began to apologize. “I only meant…”

“No, its okay.” Kathryn assured with a kiss to her lips. “I know what you meant and your idea about researching our options sounds perfect. I’ve heard of some adopting couples being involved from the very beginning of a pregnancy for women looking to give their babies their best chance. Maybe that will be an option will be right for us.”

She couldn’t help the smile blooming across her face. “Maybe so.” Said with hope, Regina returned a kiss and many to Kathryn’s lips and cheeks and face until her wife was lost with laughter in her arms…

 

 

As Regina’s mind returned to the present she fingered the place on her left hand where that ring had once rested, the bare skin still felt wrong. And slowly she was beginning to understand just what her wife may not been saying that day about the idea of being pregnant. Can’t or won’t were two very different words in her mind. And Kathyrn had said can’t in regards to a donor. Regina was wondering if her late wife really meant can’t in regards to carrying a child in the physical sense or the emotional one. Perhaps it was both.

‘Does it even matter Regina? Honestly?’ Her wife’s voice echoed between her heavy thoughts. And Regina wondered honestly if it did or not.

She sat back in her chair as her eyes narrowed in reflection as some of the puzzle pieces began to shift into place. She had spent many a night thinking over her suspicion that Kathryn may have given up all her eggs over the course of a few secret donations to the clinic in Boston to get enough money to buy their rings before their wedding. Such a sacrifice and one Regina would have never asked her life partner to do.

But Kathryn had.

And the exactness of why had been driving her crazy with wonder. Why would Kathryn be a donor? If even for the money, if adoption was truly in her wife’s heart of hearts to pursue? Regina liked order and an answer for everything. She was finding herself obsessing on all the pieces of the puzzle of how Emma came to be in her life fit together. She knew her wife. Kathryn was never one to be motivated by money. There had to be an emotional connection for the choice to be made to donate her eggs in addition to just getting money for their rings. Logically there had to be an answer. ‘Didn’t there?’

Regardless of that question, as a result she now had Emma.

The odds of them finding each other; the mere fraction of a fraction. Regina had a head for numbers and statistics. And the odds had not been in her favor to ever even meet Emma, but here they were on their journey as mother and daughter. A slow breath escaped Regina’s lips as tears welled. A life lost for a life gained. Had Kathyrn not passed and she spiral into a depression, Regina had no doubt she never would have met Emma through the DSS Christmas program her sister and Mother organized for her to partake in. Never mind the idea of adoption she and Kathyrn had been pursuing.

They had decided to go with an agency that specialized in matching unborn babies of young mothers with families. They had been set to have their first round of interviews with potential women a few days after the accident that had stolen Kathryn’s life. It was a small world, Regina realized and in her heartache over the loss of the love of her life, Kathryn had left her a gift in Emma; a precious piece of the soul essence that used to rest beside her each night.

In finally allowing these thoughts and emotions to truly manifest inside her, Regina suddenly felt the magnitude of that gift lift her heart into her throat. Her tears fell as she struggled to catch her breath around it. Hand going over her mouth as the other crossed her stomach. For the first time she let these feelings really register. All of them and they overwhelmed her entirely. Suddenly how she and Emma had ended up together didn’t matter. Simply that that were together, for lack of a better word, was a miracle. For her.

For Emma.

Then she who had never believed angels appearing out of no where or miracles of serendipity began to. Regina Mills began to believe in the impossible. For who had taught her the word impossible simply means ‘I’m possible,’ Regina opened her eyes and rested them on the ebony frame sitting on her desk to the man within she had called Daddy. His soft comfort and dark eyes so much like her own mirrored back in the glass refelection.

Suddenly her phone ringing snapped her focus back to the present moment. She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat. Name flashing on the screen had her shoulders dropping and for who it was had Regina pressing the button on the speaker as she spoke automatically. “Hello Mother.”

A pause, then Cora’s voice cut into the quiet of the room. “Regina, dear.”

‘Uh-oh.’ Regina thought and felt her stomach begin to knot. Whenever that added affection was attached to her name that usually meant Mother was about to say something quite serious.

 “I have been thinking it has been far too long since we have spent any time together outside of the office and...”

To Regina those words sounded almost forced, but something about the way her Mother hesitated at the end gave her pause. Never mind the fact that Mother was calling directly from the office next door. Some thirty feet separated them from opening the door and having this talk face to face, but that was not her Mother’s way.

“Regina?”

“I’m listening.” She affirmed as if that was the reason for the hesitation that was never usually present in her Mother’s tone. Cora’s voice sounded off and Regina was not sure over what. Her Mother was always one for poise and control and being anything but those two things raised a flag in her mind. But what kind of flag it was this time she was not sure.

 “I would like to have both you and Emma over for dinner tomorrow night.”

More hesitation spoke and it almost sounded like a question, but it was not. Regina sat up straighter with it finding the first excuse to go on. “It’s a school night. Emma’s bedtime is right around when you usually prefer to eat.” There was a reason she and Mother did not do such things. Especially with just the two of them without Zee as a buffer and her Mother was ever one stick to a schedule. One not altered for anyone or anything since before Regina could remember.

Cora rose at five, was at work by seven and never left until six PM. Dinner was always at eight and Regina remembered as a child being held to that time and all the stuffy rules that went with formal dining. Mother always insisted on coursed meals and dressing for dinner when they dined together, but the late hour and ritual of it only accommodated one member of their family. She and Zelena hadn’t known anything different at the time, but she had heard more than one argument between her parents as a child over Mother’s unwillingness to waver from such traditional practices.

Another long pause and Regina thought that was going to be the end of it, but her Mother’s next words made her brow furrow in question.

“Then what time would be best for you both? I’ll… make accommodations.”

“You’ll make accommodations.” Regina couldn’t help the bitterness in slipping into her tone. “Really?”

Tension in the form of a rebuke to her tone came over the line. “Regina.” Then an almost fragile sigh of answer. “Really.”

Regina bit her bottom lip. They had tried to do casual dinners and some other things outside of work together non-business related and it always felt so forced to Regina. They usually ended up in a spat within the first twenty minutes and she was not keen on exposing Emma to that—or this orchestrated dining ritual from her childhood she more than detested.

“Please Regina.”

But that vulnerable tone, and from her Mother, pulled on her heart strings. She wanted her daughter to have a Grandmother—the kind that made cookies and was spontaneous, full of affection and knew how to have fun. Her Mother was not like that in the traditional sense, and while she didn’t expect her Mother’s personality to change, she couldn’t help wanting some things to change about their family dynamic for her daughter. Maybe this was her Mother’s way of trying to do just that.

Regina found her voice, but just barely. “Okay.”

“Ok—ay?” The word was drawn out as if trying it on for the first time.

She nearly rolled her eyes at the way that casual word seemed to thrown her Mother off. Still Regina tried with a small smile coming to her lips and spoke more clearly. “Yes or ‘okay’ as your granddaughter would say. We’ll see you at six tomorrow.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Emma tugged at the collar of her blouse and sighed as she looked out the town car’s dark windows, blowing her bangs up off her forehead. New bangs she had gotten yesterday with her Aunt ZeeZee at the hair cut place after dinner out before Mama had come home. Mama had been surprised over her new haircut. Emma was not sure if it was in a good way or not because of the way the vein in Mama’s forehead had popped out and after a kiss hello she had been told to go get ready for bed while the adults talked.

The bangs tickled her forehead and she swiped them back as Mama’s hand came to rest on her knee in a warm comforting way she liked. It was Tuesday and they were on their way to dinner at Cora’s house. Emma had yet to see her since the other week when she had gotten her I-pod. She was looking forward to calling her Mama’s mama the new affection she had decided on. Emma was happy with her new family and wanted everyone to know it.

But she was not happy with having to dress up for dinner. Or what her Mama considered a com-pro-mise on clothes. She has been allowed to pick her shoes and hair style, Mama had picked out a pair of navy pants that were not jeans and a matching red and blue sailor style blouse that had a bow at the collar Emma kept tugging at. Mama had said that Cora always insisted on ‘dressing for dinner’ and Emma agreed readily on that idea and wondered why people would want to eat naked in the first place. And said as much. That had made Mama laugh.

The shirt she had to wear was not one Emma really cared for. It was one she had gotten for Christmas from Cora that had been a few sizes too big on her at the time. She had shoved it to the back of her closet and forgotten about it, but Mama had not forgotten. Mama said it was polite to try things on people gave you at least once and let them see it.

Emma wasn’t sure she understood that idea. But grown-ups were weird, and she wanted to please so she wore the blouse. The only thing that made her outfit even tolerable was her red converse shoes and her French braid. Her fingers played with the end of it now and the bow on her blouse again making it come undone. Mama tisked and fussed over her shirt as the car rolled to a stop at a red light.

“Emma try not to mess with your shirt so much.” Regina gently corrected and retied the bow for the third time.

“Sorry Mama.”

“It’s alright, I know you do not particularly care for the shirt.”

“Then why’d I have to wear it?” Emma asked. “I know its polite cause Nona gave it to me, but...” She stuck her tongue out, glad to see her Mama’s smile back at her jest as her nose was tapped gently.

“My Mother has particular tastes and she wants to spend more time with us. She’s trying and so we need to try too.” Much more to it than that, but Regina hoped her explanation was enough and it seemed to be when Emma nodded.

“It’ll make her happy huh?”

“It will.”

“Then I guess wearing it one time is okay.”

Regina smiled over Emma’s exaggerated sigh and leaned over to kiss a cheek. “Thank you little duck.”

A few minutes later they pulled up to a tall sleek building. David opened the car door and they stepped out. Regina looked up and down the building with an internal sigh. Dark glass and cold marble entry way met their gaze and felt ominous to her. It had since childhood. The building’s interior had been remodeled since then, but the heavy feeling of it felt the same.

Emma scrunched her nose as she stood by her Mama’s side looking up. She had never been here before and she was excited to see where her Mama had grown up. She waved to Charming and tugged on the hand holding hers leading the way to the big doors an old man in a dark red and gold suit opened for them. He smiled at them too and Emma thought he had nice eyes.

“Well, well if it isn’t Regina Mills. How are you miss?”

Regina’s smile bloomed at seeing the doorman that had been tending the building since she could remember. “I am doing well. It’s good to see you Kelly.” He had always been kind to her and Zee. She remembered many a time coming and going as a child and teenager and he always had smile for them or a peppermint treat from his deep pockets.

His eyes wrinkled around twinkling eyes. “And who is this?”

Emma smiled up at him and stuck out her hand. He took it and she pumped his hand twice. “I’m Emma. Did you know my Mama when she was my age?”

Kelly chuckled with raised brows at Regina.

“I am in the process of adopting her.” She clarified for his question with a proud look down at Emma.

His voice cracked in good humor as he answered the child. “I did and I bet…” He reached into his pocket and removed two cellophane wrapped soft peppermint candies as Emma’s eyes grew wide with delight. “That like your Mama, you might fancy one of these.” Kelly handed over the treats, one for each of them.

“Thank you mister!” Emma looked up at her Mama and getting a nod, unwrapped her treat and popped it in her mouth.

“You are very welcome.” Kelly gestured to the elevators. “Mrs. Mills mentioned you would be joining her this evening. She doesn’t usually entertain much these days and between you and me she could use the company.”

Regina nodded slowly taking that fact in. While her Mother had been married to her Father the woman had also been married to the job. For the first time Regina pondered the possibility of her Mother being lonely since her Father’s death. Cora had made arrangements for the funeral, attended and had been right back to work the next day. Regina had never understood and had even resented her Mother’s seemingly lack of care over the loss that still pinched her heart whenever she thought about it.

She thanked Kelly and moved them forward across the vast lobby. Her navy Louboutin heels she had paired with a matching sleeveless pencil dress echoed as they approached the elevator. She had contemplated wearing pants and much preferred them, but Mother was sure to comment and she didn’t want to deal with it. Emma being in pants and not a skirt or a dress for dinner would be just about within her Mother’s tolerance level.

“Mama, can I press the button?”

“Of course you may little duck.” Regina paused as Emma hopped up to do just that and gold double doors opened and were waiting to swallow them up. Her stomach cramped, but she moved into the space and gave Emma a key to fit into the number thirty slot on the gold paneling. Mother owned the entire top floor and the one beneath it which was cleaned regularly but never used other than for extended guests. Cora hated the idea of neighbors too close. As Emma turned the key the doors closed and Regina took the key back to tuck into her clutch and she prompted. “Do you remember what we talked about for dinner tonight?” Hating that she had to even bring it up, but Mother was particular and she found the part of her engrained as a child to please her Mother wanting this evening to go well.

“Uh-huh. I need to use all my bestest manners and try some of everything to eat and use my napkin and not my sleeve and if I don’t know what fork to use to look at you and you’ll help me.” Emma regurgitated the details from their talk after school. “Does she really have her own chief?”

“Chef.” Correcting with a nod. “She does. Granny has been with my family since before I can remember.” She smiled fondly over the memory and was looking forward to seeing the woman once again. Like Kelly, the Italian born woman had been a bright spot in her childhood and who had taught Regina her cooking skills.

“Why does Nona have so many rules for eating?”

The answer Regina wanted to give was not appropriate for little ears and she bit her tongue over the second one that came to mind too. A breath later she replied. “She was raised in a very traditional home where there were a lot of rules to follow. They stuck with her and she prefers things to be formal.”

Emma’s brow scrunched up in thought. “Did you have to follow a lot of rules too when you were little?”

Regina smile grew pained, but she hid it well and absentmindedly straightened the collar on Emma’s shirt once more. “I did. My mother was very strict with Zee and I. She wanted us to behave and present ourselves in a certain way.” Frowning at the idea and then needing something lighter she gave Emma’s hand a squeeze. “And I know just what you are thinking.” Emma’s sly grin beamed up. She cupped a chin and ran her thumb across a dimpled cheek. “The rules we have between us are nothing compared to the ones I was raised with little duck.” Teasing as she tapped a nose.

“I’m lucky then.”

“Oh?” Regina asked as the elevator began slowing. She automatically straightened her spine and lifted her chin in preparedness.

“Yeah ‘cause you don’t make me be something I’m not.”

And the doors opened into a private entry hall right along with Regina’s mouth at that statement and suddenly she was more than sorry about insisting on the blouse. Too late though as her Mother opened the door at the end of the hall. Those hard blue eyes softened just so at the edges in a way Regina wished they had done for her as a child when Mother saw Emma.

Emma started to run toward Cora, but slowed to a walk as she remembered the talk on manners. She was taken in arms for a hug and each of her cheeks, or the air right by them, was kissed as Cora always did when greeting her. “Hi Nona.”

Regina could have sworn her Mother’s face lost ten years of rigidity at that affection from Emma. Blue eyes met hers with a tender question and she nodded once affirming she had heard correctly.

“Oh my darling girl. Hello.” Cora rose back up to her full height and regarded her daughter. “Hello Regina.”

Stiffly Regina accepted the formal kiss greeting and mimicked it in return. “Mother.” Stepping back, she rested her hands on Emma’s shoulders as she waited for her Mother’s lead.

“Dinner is nearly ready.” Cora explained and turned to walk into the foyer. “I do hope you like salmon Emma.”

Emma’s face wrinkled. She gave a pained look up and whispered. “Mama?” She hated fish with a passion and it made her tummy sick whenever she’d been forced to eat it in other foster homes. She got a meaningful look and kept quiet. Her shoulders were guided forward as they followed Cora into the living room.

“Actually Mother, Emma doesn’t eat fish.” Regina began to explain and inwardly cringed when those sharp eyes were on her again. That look made her feel ten years old. “I apologize. I should have told you.”

“Yes, that would have been preferred.” Cora said and sighed. “Still I could have asked on my end too, I suppose.”

Regina’s chin tilted. Mother admitting fault to anything simply did not happen. Maybe this was part of what Mother meant by trying. She could feel Emma relax under her hands at the idea of not having to eat Nemo’s friends.

“You two have a seat and I will go ask to see if Eugenia will have some grilled chicken available as well. Will that be sufficient?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Wine Regina and perhaps milk for Emma?”

Emma watched the adults and heard another yes leave Mama’s mouth. Once Nona left Emma turned to look right up while hugging her Mama’s waist. “You saved me Mama and who is that lady Nona said?”

Regina smoothed Emma’s bangs back from her face. “Eugenia is Granny’s name.”

“Why doesn’t she call her Granny like you and why did Nona have to ask for chicken? I thought this was her house.”

Her daughter missed nothing and Regina chuckled over the fact. “While this is your Nona’s house, the kitchen has always been Granny’s. That’s the one area where your Nona will follow someone else’s directions.” That and the fact that Mother hated getting her hands dirty, but loved to enjoy the efforts of another’s skill in the kitchen along with a having a hard palette to please. Regina went to sit in one of the winged chairs by the fireplace as she watched Emma take in the room, wondering of the thoughts in Emma’s head now that those questions had been answered.

A large white throw rug sat in the middle of the room over black marble floors. Gold end tables capped each end of the couch with crystal lamps and a family portrait hung on one wall in an elaborate frame bigger than Emma was tall. One that had been taken when Regina had been in primary school. Cora sat regal in a chair with her Father standing just behind. Regina and Zelena stood on either side while Cora reigned front and center with straight mouth. Zee had a smile and her Father a soft hint of one, his hands wrapped around their shoulders while Mother’s were clasped primly in a lap. Regina’s eyes lingered over the child she once was and the forced smile her mouth sported in that picture.

 She remembered the reason clearly as the moment flashed in her mind. The photographer had suggested that Regina, being the smaller of the two children, sit on her Mother’s knee. Cora had firmly put down his suggestion stating Regina much too old for such a thing never mind wrinkling the silk designer suit Mother was wearing. Regina remembered that cool tone and the hurt she felt over it.

She had been six.

And with this thought she forced her eyes away and back to Emma. A wall of floor to ceiling windows ran the length across from them and Emma was drawn like a moth to a flame to the glass to look out at the city lights. Little one kept hands clasped behind a back with wiggling fingers playing with the hem of a shirt. Regina could tell Emma was tempted to press up against the windows for a better look and was proud of her little duck for such efforts in restraint.

Though, the look of horror she imagined on her Mother’s face at having hand prints all over the pristine glass made her smile. After a minute green eyes darted about the room and on the grand piano in the corner. Emma went right to it and couldn’t resist tapping the keys, though fingers did so gently. Little eyes settled on the family portrait for a long time. Then Emma came rushing back over as the rest of the room was given a once over.

“The piano is cool, but there’s no TV… That’s just wrong Mama.” Ever opinionated Emma had no hesitation in sharing her thoughts.

“There is one in the entertainment room down the hall.” Regina explained with a chuckle as Emma crawled up to sit in her lap. She gladly accepted the affection, loving when Emma did so. “This is the formal living room and typically there is just seating and decorations in those.”

Emma thought that was boring but didn’t say so as her Nona came back into the room. Blue eyes swept over them and Emma wondered why they seemed so far away. So she thought she’d try to bring them back closer to right now. “I like all your windows Nona.”

Cora blinked and the corners of her mouth turned up. “Thank you Emma. The view is rather magnificent isn’t it?”

“It’s pretty.” Emma agreed thinking that’s maybe what that big word meant, and her tummy grumbled. “Is it time to eat yet?”

Another blink of blue eyes at the blunt question. “Soon Emma. Why don’t you go down the hall there to the powder room and get ready while Regina and I talk for a moment.”

“Powder what?” Emma asked, but Mama was lifting her up to stand.

“She means to go wash your hands in the bathroom little duck.” Explaining for her Mother and pointing down the far hallway. “It is the third door down that way.”

“Okay.” Emma wondered why Nona hadn’t just said so, but shrugged and ran off to do just that as her shoes squeaked across marble. She paused looking down at her feet while deciding she liked the noise and tried to make her shoes talk the whole way to the bathroom. Then Emma played hopscotch on tile squares all down the hall.

Regina grinned at the happy squeaking noise and then frowned when her Mother’s tongue clicked in a way she well understood was disapproving. Feeling protective over her daughter she met that disapproval head on. “I know what you are going to say.”

“Do you?” Cora asked and crossed her feet at the ankle.

“Go on. Get it out of your system before she comes back.” Direct and the sigh from that mouth had said Regina was right in her thoughts.

“I still think attending Trinity would do her well. They have etiquette classes for children her age and Emma needs some polishing if she is to truly feel she belongs in our social circle.”

Your circle you mean.” Regina countered. It was one she had well fought being a part of tooth and nail growing up.

“No that is not what I mean. I only want her to be accepted and have her best chance at success in life Regina. Honestly you are making me out to sound like a prude. You know how the world, our world, works. With wealth and privilege come expectations and responsibility. I only want Emma to feel like she belongs.” Cora assured. She had seen enough of the heartache Regina had gone through by constantly challenging those same expectations.

Shaking her head, Regina tried to keep her tone civil. “She does belong and Emma is exactly fine the way she is. I do not want that life for her.” The social life and country club parties filled with shallowness and fake smiles backed by a ruthless game of one-uping the women in these so called ‘circles’ partook in she did not want for her daughter. Had not wanted for herself, but had been forced to play the part of perfect dutiful daughter in the lifestyle her Mother placed such value on.

“You well know the hardship that comes from certain choices Regina and while that is your prerogative, I do not want my grandchild to experience that alienation because she doesn’t fit in.”

Regina bristled automatically assuming the understated insinuation was about her sexuality and then she remembered Mother’s comment about Daddy from a few weeks ago. “She will not because I do not plan on exposing her to shallow people who care more about if they have the fashion accessory on the latest cover of Vogue than they do about being kind to everyone. I want her to be silly, play in the mud and run around the house in her PJs all day if that makes her happy. And if that makes me like Daddy then good.”

Cora pursed her lips. “When I said that I did not mean it how you took it. I only meant that he had a softness about him that only made living the life we do more difficult than it needs to be.”

“It didn’t need to be difficult Mother.” Regina lost herself to complete honesty in the moment. “You chose to make it that way by cutting him down at every turn and never giving Zee and I room to breathe.”

“I gave you girls everything.” Cora nearly hissed, leaning forward in all seriousness. “And I will not tolerate such disrespect in my home from my own daughter, no less.”

“I’m sorry if what I said hurt your feelings.” Trying for patience Regina took a deep breath to try and explain. “I only meant—” But Mother was not letting her and she inwardly cringed as the ever ready guilt trip in her Mother’s arsenal was laid on thick.

“How do you think the equestrian lessons you loved so much, your top of the line education, your beautiful clothes and traveling was paid for? Your Ivy League degree and all the experiences you had the privilege of having did not grow on trees Regina.”

“Mother I’m grateful for those things. Truly and I respect how hard you work. That’s not what I mean.” They kept missing each other’s intent and had for nearly the whole of her life. It was as if they were speaking two different languages with a faulty lag in translation—and it was exhausting. Regina tried to keep her tone pacifying but it only seemed to increase the heat between them. Then trying one more time as her eyes began to sting from the scolding. Always it made her feel so small, like a kid again in Mother’s disgrace. “I just—”

“Robert was right.” Cora muttered and took a sip of wine.

“Pardon?” But Regina had heard every burning word. “What’s he got to do with anything?” And she got a long hard look before Mother answered.

“This business and you raising Emma is too much for you. Your emotions are getting the better of your good sense.”

“My good sense?” At the audacity Regina shook her head. “Gold is a snake who is looking for any way to come between us and the business. Taking him on as a partner was a big mistake.”

“I am beginning to think taking on one of my partners was a mistake indeed.”

“So we are back to throwing insults about my abilities again.” Regina felt her face redden. “This is exactly why I don’t tell you anything personal about what is going on in my life because you always turn it into something that it is not. Just like when I was a child. You weren’t there for me then and you are not here for me now.”

 “You wanted for nothing.” Hard and quiet in certainty Cora all but slammed her wine glass down on the table between them. “I made sure of that.”

That cool tone so familiar cut Regina’s heart wide open and the little girl within it spoke. “I wanted my Mother. Just a little of your time and affection.” She met blue eyes after a thick moment of silence. What she expected her Mother to say she was not sure, but something had to be better than the nothing she was on the end of. She expected something other than silence and she could tell by Mother’s eyes a lot wanted to be said. Maybe even something rarely kind and tender for the pain she was in. This raw fullness between them was gutting them both. But that straight mouth did not move. And feeling more than vulnerable Regina closed back up immediately. “This is why we don’t do this.” Arms out gesturing between them. “This was a mistake.” Little squeaky shoes returned and Regina stood as Emma came right up by her side with a question in green eyes over the quiet room. “Say good bye to Nona, Emma.”

“Why?” Emma wondered aloud, but went over to give the woman looking at her Mama in a strange way a hug.

 “Mama isn’t feeling well so we are going to go home.” Truth as her stomach felt permanently knotted. “Mother I’ll see you at the office tomorrow.”

“Regina must you be so dramatic—”

“Don’t.” Her hand went up as Emma took up her other one. “We’ll talk another time.” With her daughter in tow Regina made a beeline for the door. She closed it louder than she meant to behind them as Emma slipped her hand to run along ahead to press the button for the elevator. ‘How could I have been so foolish as to think things could possible change?’ Regina shook her head at her own stupid hope. The sharp ding and gold doors opening made her breath return and she stepped into the elevator with Emma right at her side. ‘She is incapable of seeing my side of things. Why did I agree to this? I should know better than to expect her affection. Why did I even think for one moment she could—’

“Mama?”

That concerned tone broke up Regina’s racing thoughts. “Yes sweetheart.”

“Why are you crying?”

Regina blinked and finally felt the tears on her cheeks for the first time. She wiped at them and bent to pick up Emma to her hip trying to come up with an acceptable answer but came up short. So she said nothing and rested her lips against Emma’s temple. The gold doors opened and she stepped out in pause.

“Mama?”

“Hmm?”

“Is it your tummy?” Emma asked as she rested her head against a shoulder.

“In part.” Regina murmured as Kelly approached with a question in his eyes. She smiled tightly and shook her head.

And he gave her the same soft understanding eyes she remembered from him long ago whenever she had left home after a spat with Mother. “Shall I call your driver for you Miss?”

Regina managed another nod and held Emma closer.

“What’s the other part Mama?”

Sighing and knowing her daughter’s questioning would not cease until she gave a proper answer Regina moved to sit on one of the stone benches in the lobby with Emma sideways on her lap.

“My feelings are hurt.” And as blonde brows joined in confusion Regina clarified. “Nona and I had a little disagreement and it upset me.”

Teeth nibbled on a bottom pink lip. “Was it about me?” Emma asked. Sometimes adults fought over kids and in Emma’s experience many had fought over stuff she had done.

“No little duck.” It truly hadn’t been for the root of what the upset was. “I was upset with a few things Nona said, but her and I will talk and work it out.”

“Why don’t you talk now?”

“Because sometimes adults need some time away to think if we disagree before we try again to make things right.”

Emma brightened thinking she understood. “Like a timeout?”

A soft laugh for a comparison so true. “Yes, like a time out for grown-ups.”

Thinking some more, Emma began to play with the snap on her Mama’s clutch. “I was wondering somethin’ else.”

“And what’s that little duck?”

“The picture in the living room of you and Aunt ZeeZee... How come she was smiling and you weren’t?”

“I was though.”

Blonde curls shook adamantly. “Not like her.”

A sigh. “I was upset with my Mother before that picture was taken.”

“You are upset with Nona a lot huh?”

Put so plainly gave Regina pause and she nodded. “We are very different people.”

That confused Emma. “But she’s your Mom. Shouldn’t you agree more ‘cause she is?”

“It’s not that simple Emma, but disagree or agree we are family. All of us.” She didn’t want Emma to think that changed anything. As frustrating as Mother could be at times Regina would do everything she could to smooth things over. Emma deserved all the family Regina could give her and as long as Mother did not force that lifestyle on her daughter she was more than willing to set aside her past hurt. She just needed some time to figure out how. “Your Nona and I will work this out.” Emma’s tummy growling suddenly made her guilt return. It was well past the time they usually ate and she changed the subject to such. “What would you like for dinner when we get home?”

“Grilled cheese please, but I wanna change into my PJs first.” A grin showed the space in Emma’s bottom teeth. That sounded way better than fancy chicken and fancy manners and too many rules and utensils and the blouse she was wearing.

Then Kelly waved them over and Regina stood more than ready to go home to cook a meal and eat finger food in the living room wearing PJs as they watched TV with her daughter. David pulled up to the curb just as they exited and Regina got Emma settled in the car seat. The drive home was quiet for Emma had fallen asleep within a few minutes as darkness took over the horizon. When they were nearly home Regina’s phone chimed with Zee’s tone. She set it to vibrate least the noise wake Emma before she swiped to open the screen, eyes rolling over the text.

Zelena: How’s it going with Miss Manners? Figured you’d find an excuse to step out between courses and I’d have a chance to catch you.

Regina’s brows knitted as she typed quickly: Mother called you already?

Zelena: Called? No why?? Please tell me you didn’t blow it?!?!

Regina: Blow what?

Zelena: The dinner. She was hesitant, but I insisted she should reach out to you and start to mend things. You know how hard that is for her GiGi.

Regina: You set this up. Without telling me? Seriously, Zee.

Zelena: She agreed to be on her best behavior and to try and not be so her about the things she knows that drives you bonkers.

Regina: Well then we both failed miserably.

Zelena: Fuck. That bad?

Regina winced as her thumbs flew over the screen: She brought up Trinity school again and had the nerve to say, in so many words, that she understood just how hard being different was for me with my choice to be gay growing up.

Zelena: Ouch. She has steel balls to come at you with Trinity again. Kind of like my favorite sister does when she believes in something with all her heart.

Regina let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding at the comparison as the icon dots flashed on her I-phone waiting for her sister’s next text. She couldn’t respond to that right now, true as it was.

Zelena: She means well, in her old fashioned demented way, you know.

Sighing deeply Regina finally responded: Her way of meaning well is wanting Emma to change and I refuse to allow her to push her views of high society on my daughter.

Zelena: And how can Mother learn to adjust her views to consider yours if you won’t tell her exactly what that did to you as a child?

Regina pulled the screen back and back went her head against the headrest. Zee had been asking her that hard question for years and for years she had pushed off the hard conversation she and Mother needed to have.

She knew what she had to do, but actually doing it was another thing entirely. A little murmur from the seat next to her made her eyes move away from the ceiling of the car. Emma was tucked up sweetly dozing as eyes moved under closed lids back and forth. Regina reached to smooth the bangs she was still getting used to, but finding she liked very much back from Emma’s eyes. Little one leaned into her touch as her phone chimed again. Eyes misting she picked it up and read.

Zelena: I’m sorry for butting in. I thought I was helping.

Thumbs moved slowly as Regina’s thoughts were weighing heavy on the way she had stormed out on Mother: I know and I understand why you did it. I’m not mad at you. I’m upset with Mother.

Zelena: You’re always upset with Mother. Even so, people can’t fix what they don’t know or understand GiGi. Think about it. Kiss Emma for me and I’ll grill you more tomorrow. XOX

Regina watched the screen go black as she thought more on her sister’s words and her Mother’s. What had been said and unsaid between them that night. Then she settled the words she had wanted to say to her Mother for far too long. Had started to say tonight before it became too hard. Then Emma had reminded her of why she had agreed to dinner in the first place and her temper had ruined the evening.

Regina decided to try and apologize again tomorrow for storming out and ask for a chance to really talk, just the two of them on neutral turf away from the past pressing in. Her daughter’s happiness was worth more than her current effort’s today. And as much as she hated to admit it Zee was right. This ongoing battle with Mother was not one sided and it was not going to be fixed overnight. But she was willing to try again to connect with her Mother.

Another text made her phone buzz and she picked it up once more wondering what Zee had forgotten to tell her, but the words on the screen made her blood freeze:

Gold:I received some rather interesting news a few days ago about a long lost family member I didn’t know I had. To my surprise she is currently in your care. After much thought I have made a decision I think is in the best interest of the child given our current situation.

Painstakingly Regina typed as her throat worked to open for air.

Regina: And what is that?

The dots flashed for far too long on her phone screen as Regina waited on edge.

Gold:You’ll know soon enough, dearie.