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I'll Be There

Chapter Text

Boston.

It was her home… Well, it was where she lived. Calling it her home was a stretch. She lived in Boston and she had lived there for a while. Longer than she had lived anywhere in her life. It was structure and she liked it, even if the landlord was about as effective as a hose with a hole.

She didn’t think she had ever known what a ‘home’ felt like.

Even though her rent went up every year and living conditions seemed to become worse every time, forcing her to do her own repairs to make her home livable and honestly, she put up with it only because she wanted the stability of staying in a single home for longer than a year.

She knew finding a home here was unlikely but she was in a place where she could put of a good show.

She had a roof over her head. That was something she could appreciate because she knew what it was like not to have a roof over her head.

She was close to the library which offered free courses, allowing her to slowly build up knowledge in her favourite topic: social work. She went there every day and read book after book on the topic. If she had money, she would have a degree by now.

There was so much to study on the topic. Psychology and how economic and area were so closely intertwined.

Of course, her interest in the topic probably had a lot to do with her upbringing. She had spent her whole life in foster care until she was old enough to age out. She’d seen social work at its worse and workers willing to let things slide with the right ‘motivation’. It made her sick.

There was a diner across the street and they knew her name and her allergies. They made her food and had her super ready to go when she arrived at night.

She was a bounty hunter; her work was case by case but she was paid decently when she took work. She was known for her tracking skills, so she was frequently called on for jobs evolving difficult to find people who wanted to stay hidden.

Still, this was the closest thing she had ever had to a home. She had a routine. She had people who knew her name.

Her record had been cleared; expunged. She could no longer be defined or held back because of her past mistakes.

She left her apartment that morning and as she stepped outside, she passed a woman entering the building, looking very lost and quite out of place.

She was wearing an expensive-looking pantsuit and her haircut left Emma with the impression that it probably cost more than her cheap apartment and all of its furniture.

When she arrived at the dinner across the street, her dinner was waiting for her and Mrs Norris handed her her food with a warm smile.

When she made her way across the street, she saw a local punk walking towards a sweet-looking black Mercedes.

She knew the kid, Jimmy, had not won any lotteries and was willing to bet a lot that this car was not his.

“Hey, kid, beat it,” but she took out a five-dollar kill, knowing this kid, she had once been this kid, “go buy yourself a hot meal, kid.”

“Thank you.”

“Besides, an owner of a car like this wouldn’t keep cash,” Emma explained, wondering who would actually bring such an expensive car into this area. Probably the pantsuit lady.

When she went into her lobby, she noticed the woman still there and struggling with the intercom; it had been broken for weeks and the landlord hadn’t been bothered to fix it. He couldn’t afford it, despite everyone’s rent going up a hundred dollars a month.

Not that she personally cared. She didn’t get visitors.

“That your car?”

“Yes.”

“I caught someone attempting to get inside; I’m certain he wasn’t just looking for a selfie,” Emma told her, almost fining it amusing as the posh-looking woman let out an impressive string of curse words.

“This thing isn’t working… dammit! Do you know where I can find an Emma Swan?”

Emma’s brow went up. She hadn’t expected anyone to be looking for her.

“That’s me.”

“Really? Well, I was wondering if we could talk about a very important matter,” Regina explained, “it is of a very sensitive and crucial matter.”

“Okay, sure, do you want to talk in my apartment or outside?”

“Your apartment, please.”

Emma guided the woman upstairs to her apartment, past the elevator which was closed off by tons of ‘do no pass’ tape. Not that anyone could enter the elevator. Some idiot had put what seemed like a bomb inside the elevator and it had been broken ever since. Of course, the landlord was too cheap to fix that too.

Emma’s apartment was… nice. She had a decent assortment of furniture and she was rather proud of it. She had worked hard for it.

But, she was certain this woman had chewed gum that cost more than all of it put together.

“Can I get you a drink? Coffee? Juice? I might have tea from a few months ago…”

“I think I’ll have juice,” the woman’s voice was tired but smokey.

At a closer glance, Emma couldn’t help but wonder when the last time this woman had slept was. She looked so tired and the way she held her hands practically screamed she was stressed.

“I’m Regina Mills.”

“Nice to meet you, you already know my name,” Emma said as she handed the nervous woman a glass of juice.

“I’m very sorry to trudge up old memories but I’ve exhausted all other options and I must come to you for help.”

“Start from the beginning,” Emma said.

“Yes. About ten years ago you gave a baby boy up for adoption,” she started, pausing only when Emma’s frame froze at her words. She wasn’t going to deny having had a child or having given him up but she couldn’t help but feel a sense of anguish and a moment of ‘what if’.

“I… yes. What about him?”

This caused all kinds of questions to flood her mind as she tried to figure out what was going on. But she wanted to hear Regina out.

“I adopted him. His name is Henry Mills. He’s almost ten years old,” Regina told Emma and this made her heart warm. But something felt off. Something was wrong.

“Is everything okay?”

Regina shook her head as a tear slipped down her face.

“I need help and you’re the only one who could help him. You’re our last chance.”

Emma frowned at those words and looked at the woman in front of her. “I’m very confused.”

“He’s dying. Henry is dying and you might be the only one who could save him.”

Chapter Text

Things were perfect when she adopted Henry.

He was a wonderful baby who rarely ever cried. As he grew up, he went from a calm baby to a sweet toddler to a charming little boy with an adorable smile and a big heart.

He liked reading, telling stories and his imagination was something artist and novelists would kill for.

He had done the unimaginable; he had warmed her cold heart. He had shown her love. He had brought her joy and love with his smile and with his shining eyes when she spoke.

He made up such wonderful stories and he loved hugs and smiling. He loved fairy tales, all of them. From Snow White to Beauty and the Beast and he didn't care if he's friends thought they were girl movies; he loved them.

As he got older, she was a social child and he had friends who he cared deeply for and stood up for when they were down.

It was three years ago when he came down with the flu… Or so it seemed. But it was a week later and he was still sluggish and still tired. He wasn't eating and he seemed to bruise so easily.

Regina took him to the doctor. They ran tests. Long waits. Painful tests that left Henry crying and upset, resulting in hesitation when going towards the hospital.

There were so many doctor visits and after a long time, diagnoses came.

Leukaemia. Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

This broke Regina's heart completely. Her son was only six years old. He didn't deserve this.

And so treatments began. Long hospital stays while Henry begged to go home because he couldn't understand why he was so sick all the time but he knew it started when he was brought to the hospital.

It wasn't long until he was not only throwing up after his appointments with the hospital but as he walked in the door to the hospital and the doctors said it was normal as it was 'what his body had learned to associate this place with'.

Henry slowly began to understand but he didn't like it.

But Regina was there for everything. The office, who loved Henry, was willing to do everything to accommodate them.

This left her to hold her son through every treatment, every long night laying in the bathroom floor. His hair had fallen out. His skin, his eyes, his body; it all reflected his health and his illness. He lost so much weight and he was always so tired.

But after what seemed like an eternity, they were given the news they had been waiting for.

He was in remission! The cancer was gone.

Regina had fallen to her knees and held her confused son as she sobbed happy tears.

Finally, he grasped that she was happy and he knew.

He got better.

His hair grew back and he gained back his energy slowly.

Eventually, he began to eat more and keep it down. In the years to come, he grew stronger and confident. But he was still so loving.

As weak as his immune system still was because of the medicine to keep his cancer from returning left him, he still enjoyed going to the hospital and playing with the small children who were stuck in the hospital and he even got his friends to join him.

Every Christmas, he would donate his toys and the clothes he had outgrown to them.

Everything was perfect until he turned nine. Just days before his ninth birthday, he had a nosebleed. A bad one.

There had been no other signs that had been noticeable; Regina had been looking but the tests were conclusive.

He was having a relapse.

"So, you can simply do what you did last time?"

"Alas, we can't. Treating cancer a second time around is always more difficult, especially when it returns so aggressively and so quickly. At this stage in the game, your best hope is a bone marrow transplant. As his mother, you…"

"He's adopted," Regina whispered in devastation.

The doctor had sighed and agreed to put him on the donor list.

The doctor also gave Henry a wish. Anything he wanted, they would do their best to make it happen.

Henry had however thrown her for a loop with his request.

It was midnight when he woke up Regina and told her; he wanted to meet her. Spend time with her. Get to know her.

And for Regina, it was her sons wish and potential salvation. Even if it weren't, she could not say no to him when she could barely meet his eyes without sobbing. He was so much weaker this time around.

They could test her to see if she was a match.

That was what brought her to Boston while her sister, Zelena, sat with Henry. She told him she was going to a meeting and it was true.

She had explained this to Emma and she looked devestated.

"I could be a match?"

"You could. And… he wants to get to know you," Regina said, not really wanting to bring her around but if it was what he wanted, she would do it.

She was scared he would choose her or like her more but she knew it wouldn't happen.

Emma was a blonde woman with shining green eyes; clearly, he got his hair from his father… When he had hair.

"Emma, do you have a history of cancer in your family?"

"I… don't know. I was abandoned as a baby. I never knew who my family was. So, I don't know my family medical history," Emma muttered, thinking back to how difficult it had been to piece together her own medical history.

"What should I do?"

"What do you do for work, Miss Swan?"

"I am a bounty hunter… I work as I need to. I have a lot of flexibility and can decline work as I need to," Emma explained.

"I suggest you come to visit in a few days. I'll let you stay at my house if you would like and we can work on introducing you to Henry," Regina began, "as long as you understand that he is my son and if I'm not comfortable or he isn't comfortable, you will be removed from the picture without hesitation."

This at first, provoked an angry reaction but Emma nodded; this was fair and made sense.

"That is agreeable. I'll need to make arrangements here but I can manage that," Emma said with a confident gleam in her eyes. IF the child she gave birth to wanted to get to know her at a time like this, she would do it.

If it meant donating bone marrow to give him life, she would do it as it would more than likely be child's play compared to the first time she gave him life. She doubted it would hurt as much but she didn't care. She did what she did to give him his best chance and she would continue to do so if it meant staying away or taking a huge needle to her hip bone and donating her marrow to him.

She was confused. She didn't know how what to say or do in this situation. She had never been in any situation like this before.

"Should I bring him something? Is there anything he likes? Treats? Toys? Movies? I won't bring any treats that go against his diet."

"Honestly, when it comes to food, while he's taking these treatments, we give him whatever he's willing to eat; those are the things most likely to stay down. If he asks for a hot fudge sundae for dinner that that is what he will get.

So three days later, Emma sat in her yellow bug with a huge box of Timbits, not wanting full doughnuts because she just wanted a small snack as she drove once in a while.

She pulled into the town that had a big sign shaped like an open book and beautiful letters that read 'Welcome to Storybrook, where your story begins!'

"Interesting," Emma muttered to herself as she drove into the town, taking notice of the small-town vibe. It was her first time in a town like this; this was a town she had heard about on TV and she couldn't help but smile as she looked at it.

People were walking on the sidewalks, waving to each other merrily as they went about their day. She passed a park filled with children playing merrily and adults sitting at the tables engaged in conversations and games of chess or reading.

She passed several places and she knew this was the kind of town where everyone knew each other's name and the arrival of a new person in town most likely hadn't gone unnoticed.

She saw a man in a police uniform playing tag with some kids in front of the school.

She followed the directions on the map until she arrived at a large, white house.

Stepping out of her car, she whistled at what had to be the largest house in this town; fitting of the woman who had left a Mercedes unattended in a street like hers.

She left her luggage in the backseat of the car as she made her way to the steps.

Her stomach twisted in fear and apprehension.

What if Henry hated her?

What if he regretted wanting to meet her when he found out she was nowhere close to being as important of wealthy as his mother?

What if he was ashamed and didn't want anything to do with him?

So many fears and worries flooded her mind, making her fist exceptionally heavy as she made her way to the doorbell.

Finally, the bell was wrung. There was no going back now. She was here and she was going to meet the baby she gave up all those years ago.

When Regina answered the door, Emma's heart gave a leap as she saw the woman in another pantsuit. She felt extraordinarily out of place in her red leather jacket and skinny jeans but she hardly saw the point in dressing up to spend a few hours behind the wheel of her car.

"Hello, Miss Swan, how are you? Pleasant drive?"

"Yes, it was good. My car made it with no trouble," Emma explained, genuinely surprised that her car had breezed through so easily when it was known to have difficulties making it from her house to the grocery store.

"It's… nice. Bold colour choice," Regina said, shifting as though she wasn't sure what to say but Emma could tell she really didn't like the car. Most didn't. It was hardly practical but she only needed it to take herself from place to place.

"Yes, it came into my possession at a time when I needed it the most," Emma said, remembering the way Henry was almost born inside that very car.

"I see. Do you have any luggage to bring in?"

"Yes, I wanted to make sure this was the right place before I brought the bag over," Emma explained dashing to her car and grabbing the bag on wheels.

"Follow me to your room. Once you put your bag in, I'll give you a quick walkthrough," Regina explained, "do you have any allergies I should know about? I was planning on chicken tonight?"

"Oh, well, nuts are a really big no and fish is pretty close up there in what I can't eat. Anything else is fair game."

"Henry has the same allergies, so I'm used to accommodating to those," Regina explained with a small smile as she opened a door to a room easily larger than her entire living room and kitchen combined.

"This is your room, the bathroom is through there," Regina explained.

"Thank you."

After a tour of the house, they quickly went into Regina's car and began the drive to the hospital.

"My sister stayed with him last night. He likes it when she does that because they play pokemon on his switch until he falls asleep. It allows me to shower, brush my hair and actually get our clothes clean. I don't have him wear hospital rags all the time, too depressing. He enjoys wearing his fuzzy pyjamas whenever he can but he needs to change frequently from night sweats and when he's sick."

On Regina's bed were several pairs of Harry Potter and various fairy tale themed pyjamas.

Ravenclaw seemed to be the prominent house that was visible.

"He likes Harry Potter?"

"Oh, yes. He loves all stories but that one is one he goes back to every single time. He is a proud Ravenclaw and I am apparently a Slytherin… It's a compliment I'm told."

"Slytherins are ambitious, cunning and know how to get what they want," Emma shrugged and Regina gave her a positively Slytherin smile.

"Well, then I suppose I meet the description," her smile fell as she chuckled, "I suppose you're into Harry Potter too?"

"I am. Since I was little. When you live in less than ideal situations, it's nice to be able to escape into a fictitious world of someone else creation," Emma replied back with a grim smile, "I've always associated the books with freedom. But enough about that… What do you think he'd prefer for me to bring him? I bought a Mario game and a stuffed animal."

Regina frowned for a moment and contemplated what Emma had just said before she decided to go with a lighter set of questions.

"What kind of animal?"

"Dalmatian puppy."

"Hmm, go for the dalmatian, he loves them and hasn't been able to see Pongo in a while," Regina explained.

"Is there anything I need to know before I see him?"

"He is very sick and very weak. The chemo they are doing is much more aggressive than last time and his body is responding accordingly. He may be sick, it will happen with very little warning, so I hope you don't have a weak stomach," Regina explained grabbing the bag which now contained pyjamas, dressing robe, and a few colouring books."

"I can deal with it."

"Very well. I'm just going to text Zelena that we are on the way and… we'll be taking my car. I wish to arrive at the hospital without requiring medical attention."

Emma suddenly felt nervous beyond words. Beyond comprehension. She was about to meet the child she had given up for the first time.

Chapter Text

Henry Mills was a smart boy. He was good at many things. Reading and writing. So good that his teachers could still give him good grades in his classes despite being sick and unable to go to school because his immune system was weak.

He had trouble with math but Aunt Zelena was able to help him. She used candies and money to help him. His mum hated it, felt like she was bribing him but he didn't complain. He used his money to buy books, candy and pens.

He even liked learning science and history.

But he was smart enough to know he was really sick. And not just the kind of sick that let you drink some orange juice and get a kiss from mom and get better.

He knew he was the kind of sick that killed people. The kind of sickness he had was scary and what was worse was the medicine to make him better made him so sick. It was worse than the flu because it never seemed to go away. It was like being constantly sick to his stomach and constantly tired. All of his friends had the energy to run around and play but he just sat and watched most times.

He played marbles with them and board games. He loved video games too. He loved Animal Crossing, Sims and Fortnite. And Mario Kart.

But he was going to beat it. He knew he would. He wasn't going to let it win.

Dr Hopper came by every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and taught him positive imagery and how to think good thoughts to help beat his cancer.

He told him to picture his cancer as as a bad alien and the chemo as a battleship, shooting lasers at his cancer. He said if you think positive, it helps your body do positive things and so he did.

He pictured the rockets going 'pew pew pew' and taking out the nasty cancer aliens. He drew out the cancer aliens and drew pictures of the medicine rocketships going 'pew pew pew'.

When he asked Dr Hopper why he still got sick, he said that was like the medicine spaceships hitting the wrong things because chemo was to kill bad cancer cells but the chemo didn't know bad cells from good cells, so it made all of them weak.

Dr Hopper also talked to him about how he couldn't always see his friends and how he felt about not being able to go to school or parties with his friends. He told the doctor how he felt about missing the first day of school and Pongo.

Dr Hopper was created but nurse Kayla was his favourite. She always brought him 7up and the good Gatorade (the orange stuff) when he was feeling really sick and couldn't keep anything down. The other nurses brought him blue which was okay but the orange stuff was better.

He missed going to school but his teacher, Mrs Blanchard, always let him get video recordings of his class and she would do Skype calls with him when he felt up to it so he could still see his friends and take lessons. When he was well enough, he did his lessons on the computer and his friends would hold up notes for him to see when she wasn't looking.

But Henry knew she knew.

They always brought him cards and toys and whenever there was a school trip, they always brought him a treat.

When he was feeling really sick, she would give notes to the nurse to give him when he felt better. She always brought him cherry and grape popsicles which helped settle his stomach and make him feel just a little bit better.

And sometimes, she would sneak him a book from the library because she knew how much he loved reading.

When he couldn't do classes, the nurses always did their best to make sure he felt better and his mom or Aunt Zelena would hold him until he felt better. They didn't care if he threw up or if he was grumpy or just wanted to lay there and listen to them read to him.

They all would give him 7up and wait it out until he felt better.

But Henry always did his best to only miss one day. He didn't like missing stories and seeing his friends in class, even if he couldn't see them in person.

He even got to do recess with them because his friends were given go-pro cameras so he could join in their games. He had a microphone so he could talk to them and they were happy to play as though he was right beside them.

He loved everything everyone did for him.

Zelena was sitting with him and they were going over his English work.

He was the only kid in his school who used British spelling but she made sure he was taught 'proper English'. By the time they had realised what she had done, he had it mastered. Spelling just came easier than numbers for him and once he had it, it was there.

His mother was angry with her but the teachers didn't mind.

Learning to write was easy. Making stories was the reason. The sooner he could learn to spell and write, the sooner he could learn to write his stories.

He learned how to spell and how to sound out words he didn't know.

So Henry made stories. He made fairytales and he made stories about kids who got to run and play and meet wonderful creatures to be friends. He wrote adventures he wished he could be doing. He created wonderful worlds where cancer didn't exist.

His favourite was the enchanted forest.

He turned his mom into the evil queen. He did it when she wouldn't let him play his PlayStation one day because he had been in trouble but then he couldn't change it.

Zelena became the wicked witch when his mom was mad at her for something. She liked it so he let her stay the wicked witch.

In his world, his teacher was Snow White and her husband was Prince Charming.

Even the old man who ran the pawnshop had a character.

It became a wonderful book that was 'well beyond his years'. His reading and writing were advanced.

But he still loved being read to, especially when his eyes were too heavy to read but he felt to sick to go to sleep or talk. Those were days he laid with his eyes closed and listened to the stories.

"I brought soup."

"Thank you, Red."

Ruby smiled widely at Henry as she gave Zelena her onion rings and grinned at Henry who was beaming at her with a wide and knowing smile.

He had one day declared she was Little Red Riding Hood but in his story, she was the wolf. It was adorable and she loved it, especially since his inclusion of Granny and her senses was almost accurate.

Granny loved hearing Henry's stories just as much as many more people.

It was shortly after eating that his mother showed up.

Henry was writing away and smiled as his mother hugged him tightly. She smelled of disinfectant as she had to sanitize before she went into his room.

"Henry, I brought someone for you to meet today. Right now, she's getting a blood test done but when she's done, she will be coming to see you," Regina explained to Henry who looked at her with a tilted head.

Henry knew all of her friends. So who would she need him to meet? And why was she nervous?

"Okay."

"The lady you're going to meet is the lady who gave birth to you. Her name is Emma."

Henry sat up in bed and looked at his mom with a smile but suddenly, a thought crossed his mind and he had to ask.

"You'll still be my mom, right?"

"Always and forever," Regina promised, linking her hand with his and smiled nervously, "even when you're a teenager and hate me for grounding you or catch you snogging someone."

"Gross, why would I want to snog someone. That's gross, mom, even for you."

"And I'll remember this conversation when it happens," Regina taunted, hoping Henry stuck by his no 'gross' snogging rule but she knew she wouldn't be that lucky.

"Will she like me?"

"I think she'll love you. She'd be a fool not to. You are so smart and so kind."

"Is she sick, too? Is that why she's getting blood work?"

"No, the doctor just wants to make sure," Regina explained.

"Okay," Henry explained, "What's her name?"

"Emma."

"Like in my story!" Henry exclaimed excitedly, "Emma is Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter! They put her in a wardrobe to a far away land when the Evil Queen cast her curse on their world!"

"Where did you come up with these things," Regina said, shaking her head as she imagined 'Snow White' Henry's teacher, shoving her daughter into a wardrobe, "I love your imagination, little prince."

* * * * * HALLWAY * * * * *

"I'm Zelena."

The woman had red curly hair and she was staring Emma down with a look that made it clear she had yet to decide whether or not she liked her or not but one wrong move and it would be the latter she went with.

"Emma."

"I know. Regina told me you were coming to see my nephew," Zelena began, "my nephew who has been through a lot."

Suddenly, it became clear where this was going.

And this woman looked more than ready to follow through with the threat that was very evident in her eyes.

She clearly cared deeply about Henry.

"What's he like?"

"The sweetest boy you'll ever meet. When he was three, he found out about the weeping willow tree and he would sing to it until he had decided it had 'stopped crying'. He is so creative and loves writing and he created this storybook world with the people from the town."

"Wow, hard to believe I gave birth to such a wonderful kid. That clearly came from Regina."

"Pfft, that woman has the imagination of an inchworm. She couldn't come up with a good story if it happened right in front of her," Zelena snorted as she pulled out her phone and checked her messages, "they're ready for you. We'll go get you sanitised and we'll go do introductions. I hope things go well… I would hate to have to hurt you."

Getting sanitised was a simple process. She put on a gown which she had to wear as she was a person outside in his circle and she was practically bathed in hand sanitiser and her temperature checked.

With a deep breath, she entered the room and immediately found Regina sitting on the bed with a small boy in her arms. He had green eyes and a wide smile on his face as his eyes fell on her.

He looked so wise beyond his years in a way that only happened when a kid was forced to face realities a child shouldn't be faced with.

He looked like his father. Regina probably thought Henry looked like her but Emma knew he took after Neal.

Emma did her best to keep her expression neutral as she looked at the baby she had given up. He was much bigger, obviously and despite the obvious sickness in his whole expression, he was an adorable little boy.

"Are you Emma?"

"I am, kid, and you must be Henry," Emma said, her voice filled with emotion. This as the little boy who wanted to meet her.

"I am. Do you want to sit down?"

"Sure," Emma whispered, sitting in a close chair but far enough away to not be intrusive.

"That's a nice dog," Henry said, pointing to the stuff dalmatian in Emma's hand.

"Oh, yes, I got him for you," Emma replied, handing the toy to Henry whose eyes were impossibly wide at the gesture.

"Really? That's so cool! Dr Hopper has a dalmatian. I can't see him anymore because I'm sick. But Doctor Hopper sends me pictures! Now I can see Pongo all the time!"

Henry takes the dog and immediately tucks it to under the blankets beside him next to a ratty looking blue rabbit and a beat-up looking green frog.

"So, why'd you put me up for adoption?"

"Henry!" Regina scolded Henry for his personal question, shocked that he would ask it so casually as though he was asking for the remote or the butter, "Miss Swan, you don't need to answer that if you're not comfortable."

"No, it's fine, I don't mind. It's an understandable question. Well, Henry, I was very young when I had you and I didn't have money or a stable home. I was on my own and I knew I wouldn't be able to give you the home you deserved. So, I gave you up for adoption so you could have your best chance and everything I could never give to you," Emma explained, meeting both of their eyes and seeing this answer had been acceptable.

"So, did you miss me?"

"Every day but I told myself you had a good home. The adoption was closed but I was told you had found a nice, safe and beautiful home and were doing fine. But a day never went by where I didn't think about you."

"Where's my father?"

"Henry!" Regina scolded again, not knowing whether or not these questions were difficult or hard for Emma to answer.

"I… I don't know. I was young and so was he," Emma started quietly, "but he is a good guy."

It was tempting to make up a story about him being dead but that would bite her in the butt.

"What do you do for work?"

"Well, I'm a bounty hunter, so I…"

"Like Dog the Bountyhunter! That's so cool! Me and Aunt Zelena were watching it yesterday! Do you really chase bad guys? Do you carry a gun?"

"Henry, I thought I told you I didn't want you watching that," Regina told him and he gave her a bashful smile before he shrugged.

"Aunt Zelena said it was okay."

"Well, Henry, it's not as glamorous as TV makes it. For the most part, it's a lot of stakeouts and waiting patiently. TV doesn't show that part but it's really 90% waiting in your car until it's safe to complete the job," Emma explained, finding Henry was still intrigued and listening closely.

"What grade are you in, Henry?"

"I'm in grade four. It's awesome. My teacher lets me go to school on Skype and my friends play with me on the playground with go pros."

"That's amazing, do you like school?"

"Yes! I love school! I love writing so much! I love learning except math. It's hard. The numbers are always jumbled up."

"I'm not sure what he means by that, he's said that since he was little," Regina said with a frown.

"I had the same problem as a kid. I still do. I had a foster family who took me to a special doctor and they helped me a bit but when I got moved to a new home, I didn't get anymore help. I forget why that said it was happening. I think they told me it was a specific form of dyslexia but with numbers instead of letters."

Emma frowned and strained her memory.

"So, there was a reason."

"Yeah."

"Hmm," Regina pondered, "I'll make an appointment with the specialist and see what they say."

"Do you like Harry Potter, Emma?"

"I love it," Emma told him with a wide smile, "I'm a Gryffindor."

"Cool. I'm a Ravenclaw! Do you have any Harry Potter stuff?"

"I have a Gryffindor onesie that I sleep in sometimes. It's got covers the feet too."

"That's awesome! Where did you get that?"

"Amazon. I got it for last winter because it was really cold and my landlord didn't want to fix my heater. I could see my breath in my bedroom and those pyjamas saved my life."

"That's very illegal, Miss Swan," Regina told her with a frown, "I hate people who take on responsibilities they can't carry out. You should speak to someone about that."

"It's not too bad," Emma promised, looking at Regina with an expression of defeated acceptance of what her life would be. It made her sick that Emma simply accepted such subpar living. Living that was beneath what any human should have to endure.

It's probably all she ever knew.

She didn't even want to know what Emma would consider an unacceptable living condition. How much would she tolerate just to have a home of her own? She seemed to have no problem allowing her landlord to walk all over her.

Or she was going out of her way to avoid causing conflict.

"What are you going to do tonight, Emma?"

Henry asked the question as he laid against his thick and heavy pillows.

Emma thought for a second.

But her thoughts were cut off by a knock on the door.

A woman with short dark hair and green eyes stood there, smelling entirely of hand sanitizer.

"Hey, Henry, I brought your homework. Regina, how are you?"

Regina stared at the floor for a few seconds before she looked at the woman with a conflicted look on her face.

"I'm good. How are you?"

"I'm… you know what today is. I just… I needed a distraction," the woman spoke.

"Hey, you have Emma's eyes? Did you know that?" Henry said, looking between Emma and Mary Margaret, unaware of the two brunette women's frowns of shock.

But Mary Margaret simply introduced herself to Emma with a smile.

"Emma is my birth mother. She came to see me," Henry explained happily, "she was just going to tell me what she's doing tonight."

"Oh, well, I was going to find a place to eat supper, buy a cupcake and blow out a candle and go to bed."

"Candle, Miss Swan?"

"It's my birthday, I'm 28 today."

Mary Margaret let out a gasp as something crossed her mind and for a second, she looked really upset before she excused herself from the room as quickly as she could.

"Did I say something?"

"I… no. Her daughter disappeared when she was a baby, today would have been her 28th birthday… I think her name was Emma too. I hope she doesn't think this is some cruel joke being pulled on her. "

"I think Emma is her daughter! It makes sense!"

Henry said it with so much conviction that Regina could almost think he knew something they didn't. But the chances of such occurrence happening was extremely rare. As freakish a coincidence as it was, it ws very unlikely.

"I doubt it, Henry. Hey, do you want me to bring something here tonight? Whatever your mom approves for a treat, I'll bring it," Emma said, making a point not to overstep any boundaries. As it was, she was lucky to simply be allowed to meet Henry, let alone promise sweet treats that his mother wouldn't allow.

"Sounds fine, Miss Swan. But I think Granny's can do better than a cupcake. How about a chocolate cake. I'll put in the call."

* * * * * ACROSS TOWN * * * * *

"I know he's just a kid but I… felt something when I saw her. She had the same mark on her hairline but… that's crazy, completely and totally crazy, David," Snow White muttered into her husband's chest.

She had known Henry's birth mother was coming to get to know Henry and to get her bone marrow tested, but she didn't know it had been her birthday or that her name was Emma.

Emma, just like her baby.

She hadn't taken Henry's words seriously… at first. But then they found out her name was Emma, she had the same birthday and was the same age as her daughter and the second she saw her, she felt… like she already knew her.

"Well, I can get the doc to run a DNA test with her blood for the stem cell test. You know he always takes more than needed, he'll run the test and we'll find out."

"Is that legal?"

Because it sure as hell didn't feel sane. Checking a complete stranger to see if she was her daughter because of something a ten-year-old had said. Nope, not at all sane. Or rational. Or legal. But… she couldn't ignore the feeling in her gut.

"Maybe, maybe not. But I know you won't be at peace until you find out. And I know you'll drive yourself crazy. But don't be disappointed if she's not her, Mary Margaret."

"I feel wrong about doing this without permission."

"It's more of a police investigation. If she is, then we'll know. It's not like it's a complex thing to do. It's following the first hit to come our way in years. If it's complete nonsense, we'll know."

Chapter Text

Regina Mills was a lot of things. She was a great cook. She was a fair mayor and she did her best to balance her personal life with work.

There was one thing she wasn't and that was trusting. She didn't warm up to new people right away.

Emma Swan was a new person and she was bringing her into her son's life and at a time like this, it was stressful.

There were so many things that could go wrong.

What if Emma backed out?

What if Emma wasn't even a match? The doctor had told her there would be a higher chance of a match if Henry had had a full sibling but from what she gathered, the father was out of the picture before Henry was born.

What if Henry chose her? What if Henry didn't want her as a mother anymore in favour of Emma who was warmer and definitely more cheerful and open?

Regina grew up in a family with a decent income. A large house, everything she could want and a father who doted on her and Zelena's every need, even though Zelena was her mother's from a previous marriage.

They had a house, they went to the best schools and were given the best of everything her parents could afford. Her father, Henry Mills, had been a family doctor who was always home and available but he struggled with two daughters who couldn't understand why their mother wasn't home.

Cora Mills was a Lawyer for major clients. This included celebrities, big CEOs and large corporations that took her all over the country for lengthy periods for high-end court cases.

Regina Mill's had high expectations for her daughters and expected the very best from them. The best grades, proper appearance and don't even think about expressing a desire for a future career with a potential salary of fewer than six figures.

When they 'failed' she expressed it loudly and with contempt, punishing them by taking things away and expressing her utter disappointment. But don't you dare cry or sulk because those behaviours got you nowhere in life.

When they somehow managed to uphold her standards, it was always a quick nod of acknowledgement and that was it. Nothing else. No 'good job' or 'keep up the good work'. Sometimes she would briskly inform them 'it should have been done right the first time'.

They would get lectures about grades, weight, clothes, hair, boys and then after so long… why aren't you dating, it looks bad when you're single for so long.

Regina had found a boy she liked. His name was Daniel, he was in charge of tending to the horses. Regina loves horses and so did he. He, however, was an immigrant and so was his mother.

When her mother found out about their relationship, she had them deported. She didn't even know how serious the relationship was. She had simply walked in on them kissing. Just kissing.

"I'm doing this for you, Regina, he is a distraction. He will ruin your life. You'll thank me later." This was what her mother said as he left. Of course, she revelled in the sweet satisfaction that nothing her mother could do would ever reverse that she had given her virginity to him and the memory of how special he had made her feel.

She found out later that he had died in hospital months later from injuries. His mother had escaped to America from a wartorn country after he was born and things were worse off when they were forced back.

It had been one of the most devastating moments of her life only made worse by how she found out. When she found out he had died, she informed her with a look of smug satisfaction in her mother's eyes as though she had just busted a plan of Regina's.

And Regina refused to forgive her mother. Ever.

She also vowed at that moment to fight her hardest to be nothing like her mother.

But she was so guarded of people she was close to and feared them leaving her.

Bringing Emma into the picture left her feeling raw and exposed because Emma was Henry's biologic mother and… what if Henry wanted Emma over her?

What if Emma took him away?

Sure, Emma had no grounds to do so but… what if she just took him? The reality was, Regina didn't know this woman from a hole in the wall and the who idea of bringing her into Henry's life filled her with worried butterflies and as she got to know Emma, the butterflies became stiller and less frantic but still there, just different.

And as she looked at Emma who was showing Zelena how to set her phone to connect to her Nintendo Switch, she found herself becoming content.

"Let's head back, Zelena is staying with Henry tonight. I'm going to be home, doing some cleaning and pretending I'm unaware of the TV she's going to be feeding him his weight in junk food and playing jokes on the hospital staff," Regina explained as she and Emma walked towards her car that night.

Emma was excited to get home that night and looking forward to sleeping at what was probably going to be the most comfortable bed she had ever slept in. It was easily a king-sized bed and the sheets looked a million times more comfortable than anything she had ever slept on.

In the morning, Regina woke up after another restless night. Every time she heard a sound, her eyes would jump to her phone, always expecting the worst.

Regina went downstairs to where Emma was swimming in the basement and found herself mesmerised by the sight in front of her.

The way her water was shining on her pale skin. The way her blonde hair looked as she bobbed out of the water and running down her hair and the way her body looked under the water. This was a sight she could get used to.

"This pool is awesome."

The voice pulled her out of her thoughts and brought her back to reality where Emma and swam over to the edge of the pool where she was and was catching her breath.

Regina shook her own head and mentally scolded herself for getting so distracted by watching her swim. That's all she was doing. Swimming.

"Thank you, Miss Swan. You're good at that."

Her brain came to a screeching halt at her words. Good at that? Well, if that isn't the most stupid and moronic thing to say after practically perving her out in the pool… Go on, Regina, say something more creepy.

Regina just couldn't understand her stupidity and where it was coming from.

"It was one of the few things I could do regardless of what home I was in. If they wouldn't pay for me to go to the pool, I could easily go swim in the lake or ocean. But this is definitely the cleanest pool I've ever swum in."

"Well, considering it's due for a cleaning, that might be more alarming than you know."

"I'm just saying, there were no bandaids, floating tampons or other things you see in public pools. I once found a floating turd."

Regina grimaced violently and shook her head profusely, clearly trying to clear the visual from her mind. Emma frowned, worried that was too far but Regina simply shook her head with a groan.

"And Zelena wonders why I don't let Henry swim in the public pools," Regina muttered to herself.

"Not to mention people who pee in public pools."

"And with that, Henry will never see a public pool as long as I'm here to say anything about it," Regina promised, her eyes once again glancing up and down Emma's slim and tone body. She was thin but not in an unhealthy way.

"Did you sleep well, Emma?"

"It was nice not to wake up to the sound of my window trembling in a light breeze or falling out as it does sometimes," Emma muttered, pulling herself out of the pool and stretching, once again, Regina's eyes dropped against her own accord as Emma began drying her hair.

"You should go to the landlord about that."

"He said it wasn't his job to worry about. Like the heat being broken in the winter or the water only running properly during certain times."

"You could easily sue him, Emma. Those things are his job to make sure your living conditions are healthy. It's the law," Regina told her, forcing herself to keep her eyes on Emma's face. Why was she acting like this? It's not like she had never seen breasts before. If she wanted to, she could go to the bathroom and stare at her own in the mirror for as long as she wanted.

The last time she was like this was with Daniel before he was forced out of her life… minus the breasts. He had rippling abs from his time working and a glorious tan that filled her mind for hours upon hours of daydreams. This was a woman.

She liked men.

She had only ever looked at men. Kissed men… minus a game of spin the bottle when she was eleven. That kiss had been just what a kiss between two eleven-year-olds was.

"If I had the kind of money to afford a lawyer, I would just get a new place. My job pays the bills I have and that's it. I should be happy to have a place at all and food in my stomach."

A wonderful thought crossed Regina's mind. A thought that not only benefited her but Emma too.

"Do you have anyone waiting back home?"

"Besides Garfield, no, I don't. Why?"

"Who's Garfield?"

Regina's mind bitterly began to think about this Garfield. Was he a romantic partner?

"My cat," Emma beamed as she said that, causing relief to flood Regina's confused mind, "cliche, I know, why?"

"I know the Sheriff position is going to be opening up soon because the current Sheriff's wife is pregnant and about to pop any day and he is taking paternity leave and then wants to go down to deputy. If you don't want the job permanently, we can figure something out when he comes back."

"Hmm, can I think about it for a few days?"

This was a big decision to make and Emma wanted to jump all over it the second she heard it. After all, she liked this area. There seemed to be wonderful tranquillity to this town and the people in it.

It was a second chance to get to know the child she had given up but she worried she might overstep boundaries. She didn't know her place in this boy's life. She didn't know what was acceptable to say or do around him. She didn't know what promises she could make to him, gifts he was allowed, places he could go or rules he had to follow. She wanted to stir up as little conflict as possible.

She ran her hands through her dripping hair and thought for a minute or two.

"Sure. But just know, the job includes full benefits, pension and decent pay."

"Could I have my cat, Garfield here until I find a place? I can put the rest of my stuff in storage "

"Sure but you can stay here as long as you need until you decide if you want the job long term. There aren't any rental properties or apartments here."

When Emma went up to shower, Regina finally realised what she had just done. She had just offered this woman a job and an invitation to stay at her house for a long time and why? She didn't know.

She didn't know why but she had done it and she didn't go back on her word. Never. It was extremely unprofessional and poor fashion to go back on one's word.

But a cat? She didn't like cats. And cats hated her. Animals hated her. Except for horses. She loved horses and they loved her. But a cat wasn't a horse. Cats had claws and weren't afraid to use them. They looked you in the eye as they knocked down your things. They shed everywhere and licked their crotches while you ate.

But she promised. Why had she done that? Why did it seem like she was unable to say no to Emma… and offering her things? She never did that. But here she was, offering a job to a woman she had known for a collective total of… 28 hours?

This was not like her. But she wasn't going to go back on any of what she offered. She didn't do that. She never made offers she couldn't keep.

She sighed as she went into the kitchen.

By the time Emma came back, her hair was brushed and pulled back and she was in a sweater and jeans.

"I'm going to go for a drive, is there anything you want me to pick up before I go to the hospital? I just want to get a feel for where things are."

"Oh, well, there is a restaurant called Granny's, Henry adores their bear claws. He might not be able to keep it down because he's getting chemo today but he will still try."

Emma considered that for a moment.

"I know of a couple of things that could help with that, do you mind if I pick them up?"

"Sure, we've tried every medication known to man."

"No medications. All simple and harmless things."

"Very well, just run them by me before you tell him about them," Regina explained, glancing at her watch, "I need to go, I need to be there before they begin the treatments."

Emma went on her mission and gathered everything she would need and got it all prepared.

When she reached Granny's, she found a waitress wearing a vibrant red outfit.

"Hi, I'm Emma. I was told if I told you I was here for Henry's special that you would know what I'm looking for."

The woman's eyes went wide with comprehension as she called something back to the kitchen before she turned to Emma with a smile. A knowing smile.

"You're new. She usually doesn't send people besides Zelena for his food. "

"Oh, well, it's a bit complicated…"

"Wait… are you the birth mother? Regina told me she was going to find you. I'm Ruby or Red as Henry calls me," Ruby explained, "how are you doing? Rough situation."

"Well, I'm…"

The sound of her phone ringing caused her to pause.

Ruby nodded and went off to take someone else's order and Emma answered her phone quickly.

"Hello?"

"Don't you 'hello' me. I came by to watch a movie and you were gone and my boyfriend has your cat because you're in Maine? Care to explain? Or are you having another crisis? Because I swear if you dyed your hair pink and started smoking again you'll find just how far I can stick my heels up your…"

"Lily! Calm down. I'm still blonde, I'm not smoking and before it comes up, I haven't set any pianos on fire either… I was going through a rough phase when I did all of that," Emma explained, noticing the way Ruby's brows went up, "I didn't realise you were back in town yet. I had to go to Maine."

"Okay, why?"

"Remember when I got pregnant."

"Yes, you puked in my car almost religiously through your pregnancy and you never paid for the cleaning I had to get done after you gave birth in there," Lily said, "but continue."

"I told you I was sorry. And the baby I gave up he's got cancer. It's bad. He needs bone marrow and… he wants to get to know me in case…"

"Oh, shit. I was hoping you were going to say you finally got laid because you need it. That's just… Jesus Christ, Em!"

"Yes, well, I'm picking up lunch and I need to tell the waitress what I want because she knows what Henry and his mother eat but if I don't order, they're going to give me a salad."

"Oh, how would your body survive with a vegetable. Your kidneys might go into shock."

"Goodbye, Lily. I might come up for Garfield this weekend. I'll explain tonight but I might be moving here and…"

She half expected Lily to go off about Garfield and how he treated her dog Odie or the way Garfield was always digging into their food when they weren't looking. Emma frowned and braced herself for that.

"Moving! Why?"

"Because I was offered a job. Sheriff. It includes benefits and I'm still considering it but it sounds… like an amazing offer."

It really was an amazing offer. Her current job offered no benefits and only paid enough for her to get by paycheque to paycheque. But she couldn't afford to get medical attention often and she once had to choose between power and food one winter.

So, this job was a blessing. It got her out of her current house which had no heat right before winter could begin. That meant she wouldn't have to spend nights curled up under a million blankets wearing her jacket and sweaters.

"Are you sure this isn't like that town from that movie where everything is all happy and shit but… there's something sinister going on."

"Goodbye, Lily!"

"They might eat your soul!"

"Goodbye, Lily!"

"You watch horror movies, you know what happens in those happy towns… It's not happy Emma."

"Goodbye, Lily," Emma muttered, ignoring her friend's taunts and laughter as she hung up.

"I'm sorry about that. My friend was warning me about the horrors of happy small towns. Tell me, what method does the government use to control you?"

"Oh, well, I can't tell you… I'd have to kill you. Pardon the eavesdropping but… you were offered the sheriff position?"

"Yeah, I'm considering it."

"Well, good. Graham has been stressed out about not having a replacement in time for the baby. So, what will you be getting?"

"Corn chowder and grilled cheese?"

"Hmm, that's Henry's usual."

Emma chuckled, unaware of what his order was as she ordered her favourite foods.

"Orange Crush?"

"Yes," Emma said blushing as she realised how much her son ate like her.

"Granny! Henry's special times two! And Regina's order!"

Ruby lead Emma to a table to sit while they prepared her food. She sat down with her and looked contemplatively at her. The diner was empty, so she didn't have to worry about serving any other customers.

"You have experience? I'm certain Regina wouldn't offer such position to just anyone," Ruby continued with a thoughtful look on her face.

"Bounty hunter in Boston," Emma explained with a shrug as she tapped her foot against the floor.

"Ah, big city bounty hunter. Sounds exciting."

"Not really. Sure, there were some chases but it was mostly steak outs and booting cars; not overly exciting when you think about it," Emma told the woman who laughed.

"Your friend sounds colourful."

"Oh, that's putting it mildly," Emma explained, knowing Lily was a beyond colourful person and to say otherwise meant you didn't know her.

"Those are the best kinds of friends," Ruby said with a smile.

"She's something," Emma began with a small smile, "she was there for some of my darkest hours. She got me through, even when I know she wanted to throttle me."

A small ding cut them off and Ruby stood up and dashed over to the counter, returning with three brown paper bags.

"Alright, Sheriff, the food's ready."

"How much?"

"On the house," Ruby explained with a grin, making Emma frown, "for not setting our piano on fire."

"Okay, I was 18 when I did that and I was going through a rough time," Emma started, with a laugh.

"But seriously, Granny loves Henry and she'd have my tail if I charged you."

"If you're sure."

"Really, Sheriff, on the house."

"I'm not sheriff, yet."

"Yet," Ruby said cheekily as Emma walked out, "you already sound like you've made up your mind."

Emma glanced back at Ruby and found that she was looking rather pointedly at her and it made her realise… she was right. The only reason she hadn't outright said yes was that she was nervous. It was a big change and was she ready for it?