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Blue Eyed Bandit

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Chapter 1

It was just another morning for Regina Mills as she stepped into the shower. Letting the steaming water hit her tan skin, Regina closes her eyes and relaxes. Being the mayor of a small town was incredibly exhausting. She had so many responsibilities and people depending on her. It could be overwhelming at times but Regina also loved the power of the job.

She didn't have any family and she didn't have a spouse or kids so this town was what kept her busy. It's all she had. Grabbing her favorite dove soap from a shelf inside of her shower , Regina makes sure to take a special step. To clean behind her ears.

It was especially important and if she had a child she would tell them the same. Sometimes Regina got lonely. Inside of her big house, she was lonely. There was no one to share her riches or fortune with and she had no one to come home to at night. It was just her. It always had been.

Once she was done with her shower, Regina wrapped her long hair into a messy wet bun and slipped on a deep purple silk robe over her underwear.

She padded her wet feet downstairs to make a big pot of coffee. She would need it if she was going to be working from home today. She would always have the urge to follow asleep sometimes it was so boring. Regina makes quick work of pouring herself a cup of her favorite coffee. 2 creams no sugar and scolding hot. That's how she liked it since she was about the age of 21.

Regina steps up the the counter of her kitchen and looks out the window above her sink. She almost drops the coffee mug from her hands at the sight of small feet dangling from her apple tree. Her eyes must be deceiving her. It could not be.

Regina quickly slides on her slippers and sets her coffee down on the counter. She was seething at 7 am this morning. What in the world was this little child doing in her back yard? How did she get through the gate without Regina knowing ? Why was she touching her precious apples? So many questions that needed answers .

Regina stood and watched the little girl jump down from the tree and land on her knees. Regina had no clue where this child had come from but she was determined to send her back.

The little girl had blonde hair that almost reached her bottom. She was wearing denim overalls with a red t-shirt matching red socks and converse. If Regina didn't know any better she would say the little girl was an Olsen twin.

"Got it." The little girl does a little victory dance and whispers to herself, clearly not aware of Regina's presence yet.

"Ahem." Regina clears her throat and raises an amused brow.

The little blonde girl turns around slowly and looks up at Regina. The piercing blue eyes causes Regina to gasp. This child was beautiful .

"hi?!" The blue eyed bandit smiles sheepishly up at Regina.

Even in her silk robe and slippers Regina is the essence of Regal. With her hands on her hip and her mouth curbed into a frown,the little girl is intimidated. She takes a few steps back from Regina.

"May I ask you dear why are you in my garden ?" Regina's voice is soft but stern.

"I-I-I." The little girl can't seem to get a single word out. "I wanted an apple."

"Tell me dear, what is your name ?" Regina crouches down to be eye level with the frightened little girl.

"Emma." Emma muttered and lowered her head. This was the moment the lady yelled at her.

"Emma, give me one good reason why I shouldn't call the police on you right now and have you removed from my back yard?" Regina asks the girl.

"Because I was hungry and I just wanted an apple?" Emma smiles cheekily. It was worth a shot.

"Try again." Regina raised her brow.

"because ...I'm the cutest little girl you ever did see ?" Emma this time made sure her dimples were showing. "I'm 5 years old you know ."

"Do you know you could get into trouble for stealing?" Regina brings this to the 5 year old's attention.

Emma's smile is wiped off of her face. She didn't think she would get into trouble for taking the apple. Her foster brothers would bet her that she couldn't do it. Wanting to be apart of the crowd, Emma was always up for a challenge.

"Come with me." Regina grabs the little girls hand before she has a chance to protests.

"No, wait please don't call my parents." Emma pleads with her as she is lead into the house. "They're going to send me back." Her voice squeaks with terror.

"Well you should have thought about that before you stole from me."

Emma lowers her head and pulls away from Regina. She sniffles a little and closes her eyes. This was it. This would be the final straw that her foster father would talk about. They were going to send her back and she would have to live in another group home for god knows how long.

"Emma?" Regina questions. "I have to call your parents."

"But what if I put the apple back ?" Emma's blue eyes are wide and hopeful. "Then you won't have to call them. Pwease?"

Emma began to get more upset and her speech suffers along with her. She uses her famous pout and hopes that it works on the older woman.

"Emma." Regina leans down. "You have to know that stealing isn't okay."

"But I'll get a spanking and then I won't be able to eat dinner for two days." Emma clasps her hands over her mouth and her eyes widen. She wasn't suppose to say that.

Regina's eyes widen at the confession. Surely the tiny girl was lying. Regina squats down making sure her robe was covering her lady bits. She takes Emma's hands into her own and looks into her eyes that are already filled with tears.

"You were hungry?"Regina speaks up. "That's why you took the apple?"

Emma nods. "My foster brothers told me if I came here you wouldn't find out. They dared me to. They never feed me when Mr. and Mrs. Williams are gone."

Regina's heart almost falls out of her chest. What horrible people did this little girl live with.

"Emma, I have to call someone." Regina sighs. " you can't be left around town like this. You are only five years old."

"I'll be six October 28th." Emma challenges.

"Be as it may, you are still far too young to be alone."

"I'm sorry ." Emma mumbles.

Regina was truly lost on what to do. In her right mind she would call Emma's foster parents and tell them just exactly what their child had done. But looking into Emma's eyes she just couldn't do that.

"How would you like pancakes and eggs?" Regina doesn't exactly know what she is doing but she needs to feed this little girl.

"Really?"Emma asks.

Regina nods and holds out her hand for Emma to shake.

"I'm Regina."

Emma takes the woman's hand and shakes it.

"Thank you Gina."

Regina internally cringes at the nickname. No one has ever called her that and now she knows why. But coming from the blonde it was kind of endearing.

Emma was seated at the counter eating her breakfast when Regina stepped back into the kitchen fully dressed.

"I just got off the phone with your foster parents they are on the way."

"They are really going to send me back now." Emma speaks up.

"I didn't tell them about the apple , Emma." Regina sits next to the girl and speaks softly. Something about this little girl gave Regina chills. She felt for the child.

Emma smiles widely and hugs the brunette. Regina is taken aback for a second before hugging Emma back.

"Tell me Emma, what's it like at your foster home."

"Well I have three older brothers Jackson, Andrew and Steven." Emma scrunches her nose. " They are the Williams real kids. They are all mean to me. All they do is boss me around and tell me what to do all day. When my foster mommy and daddy are away they leave me with the boys but they don't give me food all of the time."

Regina frowns. "Did you tell your parents?"

"They don't believe me." Emma fiddles with the ring on Regina's finger. "In my file, it says I'm a liar. But I don't like to lie ,Gina. In my last foster home my foster dad did some bad things and I told and they called me a didn't believe me. No on does."

Honestly, Regina didn't want to know what those bad things were. She felt for the pint sized blonde. She wanted to hug and hold the little girl forever.

"I believe you." Regina takes Emma into her arms.

"You do ?" Emma looks into her eyes making sure that the Latina want lying herself.

"I don't have a lot of family either Emma."Regina reveals. " my mother ran away when I was 5 and my dad died when I was in college."

"That's sad." Emma pouts.

"It is."Regina agrees. "I've never really had anyone on my team. I've never had a family."

"you aren't married ? " Emma's asks. "You have this big house all to your self?"

Regina laughs at Emma's facial expression. "Yes, I do."

"That's cool." Emma leans into Regina. "I wish I could stay with you ,Gina. Then we could be family."

"That would be nice wouldn't it." Regina smiles a little.

"Emma, promise me that if you get hungry you will call me and I will come and pick you right up and we can eat."

"You'll be my friend?"

"Yes, I'll be your friend."

Emma hugs Regina tightly and jumps a little at the door bell.

"Your parents are here." Emma slides down from Regina's lap.

"Foster parents." Emma mumbles miserably.

They both walk to the front door hand in hand. Regina makes sure Emma is just fine before opening the door to her house.

"Emma." The five year old is picked up by whom Regina assumes is . "Thank you for helping her. When you called I was so afraid she had done something terrible."

"Emma knows our rules about running away."

"She was fine." Regina smiles over to the Williams .

"Well we should get going right Emma ?" Mr. Williams looks over to the little girl.

Emma nods and hides her face into the neck of her foster mother.

Once they are walking down the pathway to their car, Emma lifts her head to take one last look at her new friend. She figured she wouldn't be seeing her for a while.

Regina waves back and slowly closes the door. For almost an hour she had a friend. Granted that friend was 5 years old she had one for an hour.

The blue eyed bandit was her friend.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 Hunger Pains

"I'm not a baby." Emma cried as her foster brothers surrounded her. They were laughing and poking at her as she continued to back away from their prying hands. Jackson, the oldest Williams' son at 16 years old, teased Emma about not wanting to watch the scary movie that they were about to turn on Netflix. The other two Andrew ,14,and Steven ,12,played along with their brother. Emma thought it seemed like they loved torturing her. They were always just so mean to her and she was tired of it.

She rubs at her eyes forcing the tears to stay at bay. Emma hated when people surrounded her and especially hated when they laughed at her. All she had said was that she didn't want to watch the scary movie with them. She was content on playing in her room alone. But her foster brothers wouldn't take no for an answer.

Now here they were teasing her because was afraid of the movie.

"leave me alone !" She cried. Holding onto her bear , Emma backs away from the boys only for her back to hit the wall. She had been cornered.

"Or what you gonna tell our parents?" Andrew laughed. "They won't believe you. They already think you're a big baby anyways."

"I'm not a baby." Emma whimpered out. "I'm 5."

"Since you're not a baby you don't need that bear do you?" Jackson asks her. "Give it to me. You're much too old for a bear."

"No." Emma grips onto her brown bear a little tighter. She'd had the old bear since she was about 2 years old. She had never let anyone touch Mr. Waffle.

"Give it to me or I'll make you." Jackson stood over Emma menacingly.

In that moment all Emma felt like doing was crying. She just wanted them to leave alone. She doesn't know what to do at this point. But one thing she knows is that she refuses to let them see her cry.

"Emma just give it to him." Steven speaks softly to her. He's never been really fond of the little girl but he knows that his brother won't quit.

"No." Emma challenges. "I'm not a baby and I will not give you my bear." She stands up a little straighter and holds her ground. She wasn't afraid of them. She wasn't afraid of anybody, she tried to tell herself.

"Fine, you leave me no choice." Jackson grips onto Emma's arm and pulls her down the hallway.

"Ouch!" Emma cried out as her grip on her arm tightened. "Please let go! I'm sorry. I'll watch the movie with you please leave me alone."

Andrew and Steven followed their brother down the hallway right to where he stopped in front of the hall closet. Opening the door he throws Emma inside and watches as she lands on her bottom with a hard thump. He wasn't going to truly hurt the girl but just scare her a little.

"I'll leave you alone alright." Jackson rips the bear from Emma's arms and quickly closes the closet door. His brothers laugh at the sound of Emma crying inside of the closet. She was being such a baby.

Emma didn't know what to do being in such a small space. Banging on the door, her cries fall on deaf ears as she begs to be released from her confinement.

"Please, I'll be good." Emma begged. She could hear ripping noises from the other side and she just knows that they hurt Mr. Waffle. Why were they so mean to her.

Emma backs away from the door and settles into the ground. She figured that they wouldn't be letting her out for a while. One thing about Emma was that she was deathly afraid of the dark. She did not like it at all and it terrifies her to no end.

"I'll be good." Emma whispers as she tries to focus on her breathing.

For five minutes, five whole minutes Emma is stuck in the closet. For those five minutes Emma accepted her fate. This wasn't the first time the Boys had done this but she surely always hoped it was the last.

She can hear footsteps and the door open before the footsteps run away and the front door slams closed. Emma jumps at that sound. Loud noises were not her thing.

Growing up in foster care, even at five years old Emma had been through a lot. She had endured more than the average five year old. She had gone her whole little life without being loved. Why would this house be any different?Why would she expect for the boys to be good babysitters when the Williams were away?

Slowing peeking out of the closet, Emma spots pieces of Mr. Waffle on the floor. She kneels down beside the torn bear and let's a few tears fall. They were so mean to her and all she wanted was for a family to love her.

They had ripped the only thing she had ever love. Mr. Waffle was the only constant in her life and now he was gone. Emma picks up the detached arm and leg of Mr. Waffle and runs to the kitchen where there is tape.

She climbs on top of the bar stool and finds the tape on a cabinet above the sink. If she fell it would be disastrous so she was being extra careful. After jumping down from the counter, Emma attempts to take the tape and put mr. Waffles together again.

Tears of frustration fall down her cheeks as the five year old realizes that she can't put her beloved bear back together again. Emma doesn't know what to do but she does know that she is hungry. It's almost 2 pm and she hasn't eaten a thing.

It's been two days since she was caught in Gina's backyard. Two days since she met the wonderfully lady. Two days since the last time she had eaten too. The Williams's called it punishments. They didn't allow her to eat because of Regina calling them and her being in a strangers house.

Emma didn't understand it but those were rules. Suddenly an idea pops into her head. Running upstairs , Emma finds her dirty overalls from the other day, Emma finds the small piece of paper with Regina's number. She quickly makes her way downstairs to the house phone.

She didn't really know how to use it but it couldn't be that hard. All she had to do was press the numbers and hope Regina answers.

 

* * *

 

On the other side of town, Regina is just finishing up a town meeting with the council men when her cell phone vibrates in her pocket . Not many people have her personal number so she doesn't know whom it could possibly be.

"Madam Mayor?" Sydney Glass the editor of the town paper interrupted her just as she was about to press answer.

"How can I help you Sydney? "Regina has to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Regina wasn't Blind to see that the man clearly had a crush on her.

The insistent buzzing of her phone in her pocket took Regina away from the conversation at hand. She could not focus.

"Sydney how about we talk about this over the phone another time." Regina held her hand up to stop him from talking.

Sydney nods and walks away. He already knew not to bother the mayor when she was busy or she seems to be. Her phone would not stop ringing and he had to wonder who it was.

Regina breathes a sigh of relief as Sydney walks away and leaves her alone in the conference room. She sits down at the head of the table and pulls out her phone . She has one voicemail from an unknown number.

Typing in her password , Regina quickly unlocks her phone to listen to the is a little rustling before a tiny but strong voice comes through the phone.

"Gina? Gina is this your phone?" Regina quickly recognizes this to be the voice of a certain blue eyed little girl. "Gina you told me I can call you if I was hungry. But I don't know how to use the phone all that good."

Regina smiles down at the tiny voice. A part of her heart is break at the fact that the little girl had to call her on this.

"Gina? If you get this message can you call me back?"Emma rustles again. "My foster brothers left me all alone here and I'm getting hungry. Maybe I can use the microwave but I'm too little. Bye"

"No! Don't use the microwave." Regina finds herself speaking to the phone. She has to call Emma back.

After hanging up the phone, Emma makes her way into the kitchen. She has seen her foster brothers make ramen noodles a million times. She grabs the package of ramen noodles and puts them into a bowl. She is just about to put them into the microwave without water but the phone rings again. Setting the bowl on the counter, Emma can only hope that it's Regina.

"Hello?" Emma answers the phone. "Gina ?"

"Yes, Emma it's Gina."Regina smiles through the phone. She was so relieved to hear from the little girl.

"Gina? I'm hungry." Emma lets out.

"Emma where are your foster parents ?" Regina cuts to the chase. She need to get the answers out of the little girl.

"They are at work." Emma reveals.

"Emma who are you home with ?" Regina keeps the questions going. "Why aren't you in school."

"I don't have school it's summer." Emma smiles. Her friend sure was silly.

"Ok , silly me." Regina smiles also. "Who are you home with Emma ?"

"I don't think I'm supposed to say." Emma's voice lowers. " they will get angry if they find out."

"Emma what if I came over would you like that ?"Regina tries a different way.

"I would." Emma immediately lights up. "Then we can play with my toys."

"I'd love that Emma." Regina didn't know why she felt this way about the young girl. "Do you know the address ?"

"Nope." Emma's little voice rings through the phone. "I can never remember the home numbers. I've been in a lot of foster homes."

Regina's heart breaks at that revelation. The little girl deserves so much better. Regina quickly makes her way into the office where they have a directory of everyone in the small town. Finding the William's home address, Regina quickly grabs her jacket and makes her way out of the office.

"Stay on the phone with me, Emma."

"Okay Gina." Emma agrees.

"What did you do today Emma?" Regina tries to keep up conversation as she drives down the street to the Williams place. They live in a small house over on Donald Street.

"I colored in my book." Emma began to tell her new friend. "I also did play with my toys. But the boys ripped Mr. Waffle."

"I'm sorry to hear that Emma ." Regina turns the corner and parks in front of the house. "Who is Mr. Waffle?"

"He's my bear and bestest friend in the world." Emma explains.

"Emma,when you hang up the phone I want you to come and unlock the front door for ?"

"Okay Gina." Emma agrees and waits for Regina to hang up the phone. Emma quickly runs to the front door and opens it.

"Gina, you're here how did you find me ?" Emma runs and jumps into the woman's arms. Regina is caught off guard a little by the heavy weight or lack thereof Emma . The little girl practically weighed nothing to be five years old.

"I told you whenever you were hungry I would come help you."

"But Gina , can we stay inside I don't want to get in trouble. "Emma pouts .

Regina nods and carries the little girl inside of the house.

"How would you like grilled cheese ?" Emma nods and smiles up at the woman. She wraps her arms around Regina's neck and let's herself be carried into the kitchen.

Regina sets her on top of the counter and begins her work of fixing Emma food. She has no idea how such people could leave a five year old home alone but they would certainly not get away with it.

 

* * *

 

While cooking, Regina spots Emma clutching on to the remains of what looked like a bear.

"Is that Mr. waffle?" Regina asks the tiny girl.

Emma nods sadly.

"I can fix him for you if you'd like." This causes Emma to raise her head and she searches Regina's eyes for a lie.

"Can we watch tv too?" Emma asks hopefully. "They never let me watch tv."

"Yes Emma we can." Regina helps Emma take her plate and Mr. Waffle into the living room. She turns on the tv to a kid friendly channel and makes quick work of sewing up the bear.

"Gina, why don't you have kids you would be a good mommy?" Emma takes a bite of her grilled cheese sandwich. There had been a comfortable silence where they both were in their own worlds. Both comfortable in each other's presence.

"Well, I'm not married and you need to be married to have kids." Regina doesn't look up from the bear.

"But why aren't you married? You are very pretty."

"Thank you Emma." Regina smiles over at the girl. "I think you are very pretty too."

"Really?" Emma's blue eyes widen. No one had ever told her she was pretty before.

"Mhmm." Regina assures the girl. "In fact you are one of the prettiest little girls i ever laid eyes on."

"Thank you." Emma makes good use of her manners.

Regina stops her sewing and hands the bear over to Emma. The amazement on the girls face is priceless.

"Thank you so much you fixed him." Emma quickly hugs Regina. They linger for a little bit longer and Regina figures that the girl craves attention.

What had these people done to her?

"You don't think I'm a big baby for having a bear?" Emma pulls back to look into Regina's brown eyes.

"No, I don't." Regina is saddened by this. She needed this little girl out of this house. "Who told you that ."

"Jackson did and then he locked me in the closet."

"Emma, can you stay here while I make a few phone calls?"

Emma nods and turns back to her grilled cheese and inspects Mr. waffle. Regina must have known magic or something to be able to fix him.

As soon as Regina is off the phone, there is a key turning in the lock and the front door is opening.

"Boys, whose car is that out front ?" Mrs. Williams asks as they step into the kitchen.

"Your boys are not here." Regina scowls at them as they enter deeper into the house.

"You!" Mr . Williams notices Regina first. "What are you doing here? I should have you arrested."

"I'm the mayor I run this town." Regina simply scoffs. "I could also have you arrested for child abandonment and endangering of a minor. I've already called CPS."

"What?" Mrs . Williams seemed to be confused.

"You haven't been feeding that little girl in there. She's been locked in closets you name it."Regina puts her hands on her hips in the most regal way. "Now tell me why I shouldn't kick your asses my self."

"We don't know what you are talking about." Mr . Williams speaks first. "Whatever that little girl has told you is a lie."

"Really because the bruises on her arm says otherwise." Regina's voice booms through the foyer. "I pulled some strings with CPS And I'm taking Emma with me. If you so much as come anywhere near her ,I will destroy you."

"We aren't afraid of you."

"Oh dear, you would do well to be afraid of me." Regina's voice lowers so that Emma can't hear her in the next room. "I'm taking her and don't bother following me."

Regina quickly moves into the living room to take Emma into her arms. The little girl doesn't protests as she is taken out of the house and set inside of Regina's car.

"Gina where are we going ?"

"Some where safe Emma." Regina speaks up.

"But I live here !" Emma was so confused.

"Not anymore you don't." Regina buckles the girl into the seat bet and gets into the front seat of the car.

Emma didn't fully understand what was going on but she didn't protest. She didn't have much of a choice.

Would she be going home with Gina ? Or was Regina taking her back to the group home?

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

The whole way to Regina's house was spent with Regina reassuring Emma that everything would be okay. The five year old didn't fully understand what was going on just yet. She just knew that Regina was taking her away.

Emma didn't know whether to be afraid or relieved. She didn't know what was in store for her as time went pass. At one point, Emma was happy that someone was finally swooping in and saving her. It felt good to be wanted. But at the same time she was afraid on whether or not there would be consequences to pay.

"Gina?" Emma asked from the backseat. She didn't have a booster seat which Regina was very wary of. Looking through her rear-view mirror down at Emma, Regina lets the girl know that she is listening. "Am I in trouble?"

"No!" Regina makes sure to keep her eyes on the road. "Why exactly would you think that?"

"My foster parents are going to be mad that you took me." Emma responds while looking out of the window. "I don't think this was a good idea."

"Emma, you being in that house is not safe for you." Regina began. "No matter how you act you don't deserve to be treated that way."

Emma lowers her head and nods. She kind of understood what Regina was saying. But on the other hand she was used to what she had to deal with in the Williams' house. In all of her 5 years of living, Emma had never known what love felt like. It certainly wasn't something that people around her gave freely. The fact that Regina seemed to care about Emma so much was just a foreign concept to the little girl. She didn't fully understand it.

Emma had gone her whole young life not knowing what love is. She had been from home to home and didn't know which one to call hers. During those times, there were a few homes that she felt could be the one but then there would be something that would show her otherwise.

Emma was too young to really understand anything that was happening. It didn't make sense to her right now. It was all happening so fast. What would happen to her once they got to wherever Regina was taking her? What would happen to Regina? Would her foster parents come looking for her? She had so many questions that she was too afraid to ask.

Being the tiny shrimp that she was, without a booster seat, Emma could barely see out of the window. She couldn't tell by the trees where they were going exactly. Maybe they were going to Gina's house. That would make sense.

Emma simply gets comfortable in the backseat and tries not to worry about where they are going.

Regina drives and has deep sympathy for the little blonde in her backseat. She was just so young and already had a life full of heartache. It angered her too see that people could treat children so horribly. It didn't make much sense to her. Regina ,herself, was in the process of becoming a foster parent before she met Emma.

It was beginning to get lonely in that big house of hers. She wasn't dating anyone at the moment and she didn't see herself dating in the near future. A dog would have been a great companion but Regina found herself wanting more. A child was something Regina had always wanted. In her 32 years of life, she had never wanted anything more.

Being the mayor was definitely a pressing job but she had never experienced motherhood. The job of mayor had practically been handed down to her after running in the election short after her father died. The role of mayor had been handed down from generation to generation in the Mills family. It wasn't a job that Regina had intended on doing in the first place but she enjoyed it nonetheless.

Her squeaky clean background called for Regina being a great candidate for a foster parent. She could provide the love and attention a child wanted and needed. Despite her busy work life, Regina often found herself having a lot of time on her hands. Sure, she had tried dating but it didn't work out so well. She had even tried joining clubs or things like that but she wasn't really great with people. It had been easy to get people to vouch for her regarding the fostering process. She was a very intimidating mayor after all.

Looking back at Emma, Regina realizes why she had begun the process in the first place. With her own mother leaving her when she was very young, Regina knew what it was like not to feel loved. She had grown up with the best of the best but her father didn't always know how to handle her.

Regina was a hotheaded young girl growing up and she often found herself getting into a lot of trouble. With her dad being the mayor she was usually excused with a warning and a pat on the back. She couldn't say the same for a lot of her other friends. It was different now because Regina took things from the past as life lessons.

She had never grown up poor or anything like that but in a way she felt a connection to Emma.

As they finally pulled into the driveway of her home, Regina breathes a sigh of relief. She didn't really know what to do next. After talking on the phone with Child Protective Services, Regina had been nervous. She had definitely lied to the Williams' about being able to remove Emma from their home. It was a split second decision that she did not regret one bit.

When speaking to a representative of Child Services, Regina had been told that someone would be sent to interview the Williams' and Emma on those suspicions. They lady told her that Emma could not be removed based on those suspicions alone. There would have to be proof and investigations and things like that. But Regina was not buying it. In order for all of that to happen, Emma could be hurt again.

Regina had only known what she saw and what Emma told her. There wasn't much time for her to think on what she was doing. Emma was clearly being neglected in that house. She was left home alone at 5 years old and could have gotten into god knows what. It was simply unacceptable. When Emma called her it was a cry for help. The little girl was hungry and she needed someone. The Williams' home was obviously not one of love.

If the bruises on the little girl's arms were anything to go by, then there was definitely something going on in that house. Emma had not revealed everything to Regina and the older woman didn't expect her to. They had only known each other for not even a full twenty-four hours. Regina would probably have to deal with the consequences of her actions later but for now the little girl was safe.

Regina cuts the engine off and takes a second to breathe. How did she find herself in this situation? Opening her eyes, Regina looks into the backseat where little blue eyes meet hers expectantly.

"Come on, Emma." Regina says quietly before helping the little girl out of the car.

"Gina?" Emma speaks just ask quietly as Regina takes her hand in hers.

"Yes, Emma?" Regina leads the little girl to the front of the house. She stops and turns to look towards Emma. Kneeling down, Regina gives the little blonde her full attention. Taking Emma's tiny hands in hers, Regina gives her a reassuring smile.

Emma looks down at their connected hands. She noticed how Regina's hand was at least two shades darker than her own. It was pretty. Their hands fit perfectly together and Emma likes that; Even if hers was a little smaller.

"Gina, do you think I will have to go back?" Emma bites her lip nervously.

Regina can see the worry in the big blue eyes. Emma shouldn't have to worry about things like this. Not now and not ever. Taking a deep breath, Regina waits a second to answer.

"I honestly don't know Emma." Regina pushes a strand of hair out of Emma's face. Her hair was so long and was in desperate need of a cut. "I really hope that this is not the case. "

"I wanna stay with you." Emma lets out. "I promise I'll be good and clean up after myself. I won't wet the bed or anything. I promise."

Regina's heart breaks at what Emma is promising her. She didn't know if Emma's promise of wetting the bed was actually true or not. Her heart felt so much for the tiny girl in front of her. She quickly scoops Emma into her arms and leads her into the house.

"I want that too." Regina doesn't let go of the little girl once they are inside. "I want that so much but I'm not in charge of things like that. I'll try my best."

Emma nods and doesn't seem to let go of Regina. Regina realizes that Emma is sort of reveling in the feel of her. Regina doesn't want to be the one to break the connection. Emma doesn't seem to be letting go anytime soon so she carries her into the den. Regina takes a seat and gets comfortable against the couch.

Emma sits up and studies Regina's face. Her eyes zero in on the necklace Regina was wearing with a ring on it.

"Who gave you this?" Emma delicately touches it.

"It was my father's ring." Regina explains. "He used to wear it all the time. He gave it to me right before he died."

"How did he die?" Emma asks in the most innocent and childlike way.

"He was really sick." Regina didn't know if it was appropriate to explain cancer just yet to a five year old. "He got really sick and he fought really hard but eventually it became too much so he went to heaven."

"Oh." Emma nods seeming to be satisfied with Regina's explanation. "Do you miss him?"

"I do." Regina responds.

"I didn't get to meet my mommy or my daddy." Emma shrugs. "I don't think they wanted me either. They gave me to the home when I was a baby and now I don't know. No one ever wants me."

There was a sense of sadness as Emma spoke but she said it factually. Regina hated that this was reality for the young girl. All she wanted to do was hold her tight and keep her safe forever.

"That's not true, Emma." Regina replies. "I know one person that actually wants you a lot."

"Really?" Emma tilts her head. "Who is it?"

Regina doesn't know whether or not if it's exactly right to get the little girl's hopes up. But she was telling the truth. She had wanted Emma since the moment she met her. It may sound weird but she felt a connection to the blonde that she hadn't felt with anyone else.

"I do." Regina smiled at Emma.

"Really?" Emma bounced excitedly in Regina's lap. "Really and truly?"

"Yes. But Emma I don't know if I will be allowed to keep you." Regina has to tell the truth.

"It's okay if you aren't allowed." Emma's excitement simmers down. "But when I get hungry again can I still call you?"

"Of course you can, sweetheart." Regina didn't know if it would be possible to break ties with Emma after any of this.

"Gina?" Emma finds herself questioning the older lady for the millionth time that day.

Regina nods and signals to the little girl that she can continue on with her question. She loved how curious and unafraid Emma was to ask her things. It wasn't every day that people weren't afraid or intimidated by her. Regina enjoyed having Emma as company.

"Can we watch Cartoons? "Emma looks so hopeful that Regina can't say anything but yes. The five year old had Regina wrapped around her finger already.

"How about you watch Cartoons while I go into my office to make a few phone calls?" Regina suggests. Emma nods and slips off of her lap to turn towards the TV.

Regina clicks through a few channels before she finds a show suitable enough for Emma. She figured that in the William's house, or probably any house that she had been in, Emma didn't get to watch much TV. The way the girl's blue eyes were glued to the TV only confirmed her suspicion.

Regina takes one last glance at Emma before walking down the hall to her office. She had to make a few phone calls to make sure that Emma would be okay. Even if the little girl couldn't stay with her Regina wanted to make sure she was in a good home this time.

Sitting at her desk, Regina takes a moment to decompress. It had been a long day and she still had so much to do regarding Emma and work. She left work early to come to Emma and she would imagine that there would be some questions to answer to come tomorrow morning.

Sweeping her long brunette locks from her face, Regina reminds herself that she is too in need of a haircut. There was always so much going on in her life that she often forgot to take care of herself. There was a whole town depending on her and it could become stressful. Maybe a vacation was in her near future.

Regina takes a deep breath and begins with her first phone call of the day. Surely she could get in touch with Emma's social worker.

Meanwhile back in the den, Emma was still seated while watching cartoons. Regina had been in her office for only ten minutes but the little girl was beginning to get lonely and bored. There was only so much time a cartoon could keep the five year old occupied.

Slipping off the couch, Emma decides to do a little bit of exploring. There are a lot of pictures in the den and she wants to look at every single one of them. Emma spots a few pictures of Regina with a man that must be her dad. Regina couldn't be more than seven in any of those pictures. It was weird to see Regina as a little kid. She looked the same now but different in a way.

Emma spends the next five minutes looking at pictures all around the house. She finally stops in front of what she thinks may be Regina's office. The door is cracked a little and she can hear Regina talking on the phone. Emma does not know if she is allowed to come in so she knocks.

There is a pause in Regina's speaking so Emma waits.

"Come in." Regina calls in confirmation for Emma to come in.

"This is your office? "Emma is in awe as she notices a tall bookshelf full of, well, books.

"Yes, Emma." Regina motions for the girl to come and sit on her lap.

Emma hurries over and takes her seat. Blue eyes wander around the room for a few seconds before stopping on Regina's iMac. It was a big huge computer and many of the homes she had been to lacked computers.

"Emma, I talked to your social worker. "Regina begins. "Mr. August Booth he said was his name. He was really concerned about you. He's going to be coming by soon to talk with you."

"He's going to take me back." Emma frowns. "He's going to take me back or take me away and then I will be in big trouble."

"Emma, listen, sweetie you aren't in trouble." Regina does her best to get her point across. "If anything I will be the one that's in trouble."

"I don't want to go anywhere else." Emma's frown deepens. "I want to stay here with you. I want you to be my Mommy."

"Oh Emma." Regina's heart breaks and soars at the same time. She didn't know what to do in this situation but she knew she would try her best to be able to keep Emma.

There is a moment of silence where Regina does nothing but hold Emma. This was a really tough situation. This wasn't like anything she had ever dealt with before.

Emma wanted to stay and be with her. Not many people wanted to be around Regina for too long. Especially not children but Emma was different. The little girl was quickly becoming attached to her and it was endearing to the older woman.

"Emma, how about we go and get some milk and cookies from the kitchen?" Regina suggests and she only gets an excited nod back.

Making their way to the kitchen, there is excessive knocking coming from the front door. Regina doesn't think it is Emma's social worker because it was going to take him at least two hours for him to get to get to Storybrooke. Regina doesn't get much company and especially not anyone knocking at her door like a maniac.

"Emma you go on and wait for me." Regina directs the girl to the kitchen.

The knocking became louder and louder as Regina approached the front door.

Opening it, Regina is met with none other than Mr. Williams.

"Where is my daughter?"Mr. Williams simply says. "I want my daughter. You have no right to take her from us."

"Your daughter?" Regina simply folds her arms and raises a menacing brow.

"Yes, I'm here to take her home." Mr. Williams's shouts pass Regina. "Emma you get out here right now."

"I would advise you not to do that." Regina speaks lowly.

"I have already called the police and they are on their way to arrest you for kidnapping." Mr. Williams' informs Regina. "and yes she is my daughter. Emma!"

"Well, your daughter has bruises on her arms to signify otherwise." Regina is becoming frustrated with this man and his shouting. "If she was your daughter you would be taking better care of her and not leaving her at home at the age of five. Now you will do best to step off of my proper and wait for the authorities to come."

Ignoring what Regina is saying, Mr. Williams' calls for Emma once again. "Emma you come out here now or I promise there will be a price to pay.

There is only a few seconds after the words register in her head that Emma is standing in the foyer. She looks tiny and afraid.

"Emma, go back into the kitchen please." Regina speaks softly to the little girl despite the situation.

"I will be in trouble." Emma speaks sadly. She can see the anger in Mr. Williams's eyes and she doesn't want him to be angry with her. She didn't want anyone to be angry with her anymore.

"Emma, come on." Mr. Williams speaks.

"That's it." Regina pushes to close the front door but his strength is too much for her.

Barreling through the door, Mr. Williams is inside of the Mills home in a second and gripping onto Emma's forearm tightly. Emma cries out as the already forming bruises on her arm are touched. His grip on her arm is tight and he attempts to pull her out of the door.

Emma doesn't try to fight back one bit knowing where that would get her. In this moment, she was so afraid. She didn't know what to do. He was taking her away from Regina and she felt hopeless.

"What's going on here?" A deep voice interrupts the commotion.

"Sheriff Graham." Regina speaks with a shaky voice.

"Hey, I called you." Mr. Williams speaks. "I'm here trying to take my Foster daughter back and I demand that this lady be arrested for kidnapping."

"Regina?" Graham questions quietly.

Emma silently watches as there is a silent conversation between the police officer and Regina.

"I want him arrested on trespassing and assault." Regina speaks with finality.

Graham nods his head and turns back to Mr. Williams.

"Please let go of the child sir."

"Unbelievable!" He shouts all the while his grip on Emma's forearm becoming tighter.

Emma flinches and lets out a tiny whimper. All she wants is for him to let her go. Her arm was beginning to hurt worse and worse. Emma wondered for a second that if his grip got any tighter if he could break it. She didn't think that she wanted to find out.

Noticing Emma's discomfort, Sheriff Graham holds out and his hands and clears his voice. "Let go of the little girl now."

Mr. William's nods and lets go of Emma. He wipes his hands on his pants and backs away. "So are you going to take her to jail? She had no right to remove her from our home."

Graham stops for a second to think. His eyes flicker from Regina to the little girl who seems to be curling into herself. Those blue eyes plead with him for help.

"I'm going to need the both of you to come to the station actually."

"That's fine with me but I want him arrested as I said earlier, Sheriff." Regina speaks again.

Graham silently nods and continues to arrest Mr. Williams. Graham knew that he would do best not to mess with Regina.

"You're arresting me?" Mr. Williams asks incredulously. "You both will be hearing from my lawyer."

"Be quiet." Graham leads the man out of Regina's house and into his squad car. Regina watches Sherriff Graham lead the man down the walkway. There are several expletives being shouted and they make her cringe. Such poor language coming from a grown adult; but she couldn't' worry about that. There are more pressing matters at hand.

Regina takes a deep breath and turns to Emma. The little girl is silently crying while trying to wipe tears from her eyes. She's cradling her left arm which in turn tells Regina that she is hurt.

"Emma? "Regina leans down to be eye level with the girl. Regina opens her arms motioning for the little girl to hug her.

"No." Emma whimpers taking a few steps back from Regina.

"Emma, it's okay you are safe now." Regina can feel her heart ache for the billionth time that day.

"It hurts, Gina." Emma cries. "It hurts real bad."

"Emma, do you think I can look at it?" Regina speaks softly and doesn't make any move to touch Emma. Clearly this little one needed space.

Emma lets go of her arm and nods. She didn't want to be afraid of Regina.

Regina gently rolls up the sleeve of Emma's t-shirt to see the bruises that were already there topped with a bruise the shape of a hand. It was quickly turning black and blue. Regina internally cringes at the sight.

"Emma, I have to take you to the police station." Regina rolls the sleeve of Emma's shirt back down and looks into her eyes.

"No, no police." Emma whimpers. Her eyes are struck with fear.

"Emma, we have to make a report to make sure you don't have to go back home with that man." Regina tries to explain as best as she could. "How about we go and grab Mr. Waffles from the couch and then we make our way to the station. Everything will be okay, Emma."

"You promise?" Emma goes back to cradling her arm. It was throbbing and she was pretty sure that it would be hurting for a while now.

"I promise." Regina nods. "I'll call Mr. Booth on the way there to tell him where to meet us."

Emma nods. She didn't feel really good about the events of the day. It was becoming too much for the little girl to handle. Emma looks into Regina's eyes and she could tell that the woman was telling the truth. She had so much trust in Regina and she hadn't even known her for that long.

Hopefully Regina's promise would come true.

"Regina, Mr. August Booth." Deputy Nolan introduced Regina to the blue eyed and bearded man in front of her.

They had been at the police station for almost an hour and a half. Statements were taken along with pictures of Emma's injuries. Regina and Emma sat in a room alone while they waited. Currently, the little girl was in her lap fast asleep. When they had arrived to the precinct, Emma did not let go of Regina. She held onto the older woman for dear life.

Regina was the only one the tiny girl had ever trusted wholeheartedly besides Mr. Booth.

"Emma." Regina whispers into the little girl's ear while gently combing her fingers through her long locks. "Emma wake up. Mr. Booth is here to talk with you."

"August?" Emma mumbles. She doesn't want to wake up at all. She was extra tired and Regina was way too comfortable. Sitting up Emma rubs the sleep from her eyes and yawns.

August Booth doesn't miss the way Emma's eyes light up when they focus on Regina. He had observed the pair for quite some time before making his presence known. In his five years of being Emma's social worker he had never known the little girl to be so cozy with someone.

"Hello, we talked on the phone." Regina wipes a hand on her skirt and holds it out for August to shake. "Regina Mills."

"Nice to meet you, I'm August Booth." August takes her hand and gives it a firm shake. "I know we talked on the phone but I want to get an official statement so would you mind?"

He points to the chair right across from Regina. Knowing that Emma would not be moving one bit, Regina tells her story of how she met Emma the other day. August almost laughs at the story but he holds it in.

"I'm so glad that Emma has found someone to help her like you have." August finally speaks. "But before I can remove Emma from the home for good, I have to talk with her alone."

Regina nods and stands. Emma looks up at Regina silently asking her not to leave for too long. Regina nods and walks out of the room.

"Hi Emma." August smiles over at the little girl.

"Hi." Emma greets back.

"How have you been?" August tries to initiate conversation mindful that the five year old only woke up five minutes ago.

Emma shrugs and looks down at her hands.

"Emma, you know that there are a few questions I want to ask you." August tries to gain eye contact.

Emma looks up at him and nods seriously. She sits down in the chair that Regina vacated and waits for him to speak.

"Now Emma, tell me what you do in the William's home." August begins. "Tell me what you do in the days that you are there. From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep."

Emma nods. "When I wake up I make my bed. Sometimes I get in trouble because I made a mess and Mrs. Williams doesn't like it. She says I'm too old to wet the bed."

August listens intently. He knew that Emma still wet the bed sometimes and figured that it was something she would grow out of over time.

"Do you ever get spankings for wetting the bed?"

Emma takes a few seconds before she answers. She knows she is supposed to tell the truth about things like this. August only wanted to help her. She had to tell the truth.

"Yes." Emma is embarrassed by this answer if the pink tinting her cheeks is any indication.

"Who spanks you Emma?" August knew these were tough questions but they had to be answered. "Does he ever use anything other than his hand?

"Mr. Williams." Emma simply answers. "He uses a belt sometimes. When I'm being bad, but not all the time."

"Has he used anything else? "August takes note of what Emma is saying.

"Sometimes he uses a shoe." Emma speaks.

"Can you tell me what else you do throughout the day?" August nods.

"I just play in my room until I'm allowed to come out. Then I go and do chores."

"When do you eat?" August questions. "Do you all eat at the table as a family?"

"No, I only eat leftovers." Emma informs him. "I eat when they say I can."

"What about playing do they let you go outside and play?"

"Not all the time. The other day I was with their kids and we went for a walk and that's how I met Gina." Emma explains. "They dared me to go and find her apple tree."

"Emma does any place on your body hurt right now?" August wanted to ask as little questions as possible. He didn't want this interview to be long. He only needed a few things from Emma to make an official report to remove her from the home.

"My arms." Emma speaks quietly. "Especially this one." Emma points to her left arm.

"Can you explain to me what happened?"

Emma goes on to tell August about the Williams' boys locking her inside of a closet and the grips on her arms and the commotion that happened at Regina's house a few hours earlier. August writes down the most important parts and he knows that the last two questions he has to ask are very important. He hates that he has to ask this type of question.

"Emma, has anyone ever touched you in a way that you didn't like?" August holds his breath as he waits for Emma to answer the questions. He takes note in the way that Emma's whole demeanor changes and her eyes lower to her hands.

Emma bites her bottom lip and shakes her head no. She knew what August meant by touching her in a way she didn't like. The last home she was in she was asked the same question. It always went like this.

"Emma, if anyone has touched you inappropriately I would need to know." August notices the way Emma is shifting in her seat.

"They didn't I swear." Emma finally looks up from the table. "Are we done now?"

"Yes, Emma we are done." August sighs.

"Do you know where I'm going to stay?" This time it is Emma's turn to ask the questions.

"Not yet." August stands. "We are still looking for an emergency placement for you."

"Why can't I stay with Gina?" Emma questions.

"Emma, I don't know if Regina is permitted to keep you." August truthfully replies.

"But she said she wanted to." Emma argues. "We can ask her."

"Emma?" August takes one look at those blue eyes and he can't find it in him to say no. In fact, he already knew that Regina had her fostering license. But he didn't want Emma to get her hopes up in case the woman said no.

"Yes, let's go ask her." Emma quickly leads August out of the room and down to where Regina is sitting.

"Gina, August said I could stay with you if we asked." Emma quickly runs to Regina and crawls into her lap. The woman is surprised and looks up to August in confirmation.

"Is this true?" Regina questions the man. She didn't want Emma's hopes to be crushed.

"It would only be temporary until we can find her a placement." August explains.

"There are only a few papers that you would need to sign."

"Yes, of course." Regina tries to ignore the fact that it would only be temporary. If it was up to her Emma would stay with her for a very long time.

"Yes!" Emma smiles for the first time that day.

Regina can't help but smile back. She would do anything for the tiny child sitting on her lap; absolutely anything

August notices the way Regina is with Emma and vice versa. He has a feeling that this would be more than temporary. Maybe just maybe Emma had found her forever home.

Chapter Text

Trigger warnings: Mentions of abuse and suicide

Chapter 4 The First Night

Regina would be lying if she said she wasn't nervous bringing Emma home. Yes, she was a registered foster parent but she hadn't had a child placed in her home before. A child was something she had wanted for a while. Regina had been alone for years and now someone else would be here with her at all times.

Regina was only just now realizing that she would have to entertain Emma at all times. Bringing the little girl home with her, it showed how little the 5 year old actually owned. Just her teddy bear and a plastic bag full of clothes. Clothes that Regina was almost sure Emma couldn't fit. Regina didn't know much about children but she for sure knew they were always growing.

Emma didn't weigh a lot but the tiny blonde sure was tall. She didn't know how long Emma would be staying but she was determined to make a difference with the time they had.

"Would you like me to show you around?" Regina asked closing the door to the house. She tries to ignore the way Emma jumps. The tiny blonde looked around and truly took in the entirety of the house.

"I don't want to be a burden." Emma only repeated what she had been told many times before.

"You will never be a burden, Emma." Regina smiles and takes Emma's bags. "Let me show you around. It will be fun."

Regina sets Emma's bags on the steps and slips off her own shoes. Emma notes how Regina leaves them on the steps to the side. In case someone were to trip over them. Emma looks down at her own feet with her dirty converse. They hurt her feet a little but they were her favorite shoes.

"Do I have to take off my shoes too?" Emma bites her lips nervously.

"Only if you want to, sweetie." Regina gives a small smile.

"I would like to keep them on for now." Emma noted in case she would have to run. She trusted Regina but in Emma's experience bad things always happened. Especially when people were nice to her. No one was nice to you without wanting something.

Emma clutched onto Mr. Waffles a little tighter and took Regina's offered hand. . Regina's grip wasn't too tight and her hands were very soft.

"This is the dining area, where we will eat most of our meals." Regina spoke first. "I don't really eat anywhere else but here but there will be special nights where we are allowed to eat in the living room."

Emma listened carefully as Regina showed her around the first floor of the house. It was so grand and elegant. Surely, Gina would be afraid to sleep here alone. Emma would be terrified. But then again, there would be no adults here telling her what to do. That sounded a little fun.

"Emma, this is the kitchen." Regina spoke. "The stove is not to be touched at all. I would hate for you to burn yourself. "

Emma turns around slowly and takes it in. Was Regina a queen? She had to be.

"I don't have much food here since I'm usually working." Regina pulls her from her thoughts. "We can do a little grocery shopping tomorrow. Is there anything you like?"

Emma stuffs her face inside of her teddy bear and peeks out from under the fur. "I don't know what I can have."

"Are you allergic to anything?" Regina makes a mental note to read over Emma's file a little more thoroughly once the little girl was in bed.

"Nope." Emma is quieter than Regina has ever heard her.

"Emma, whenever you are hungry just come and ask me." Regina makes it a point to remind Emma of that. "In fact I'll buy a few things that you will be able to make yourself. How does that sound?"

Emma removes Mr. Waffle so that she can smile. Regina was someone she had never encountered before. There were a lot of nice people but no one was ever genuine like the older woman was. Emma really liked it here.

Regina continued to show Emma the rest of the house until they finally reached the room that would be Emma's. The walls were a pale peach and everything was basic. Well, as basic as it gets with Regina Mills. There was a bed and a dresser along with a nightstand and a small outdated TV. Regina hadn't felt the need to update any of this stuff.

"I've never had one of these before." Emma commented as she climbed into the full sized bed. This was the only time she had slid off her shoes since she stepped foot inside of the Mills mansion.

"Your own room?" Regina leaned against a dresser and watched Emma bounce on the bed.

"Yep." Emma commented. In the William's house she shared with their youngest son and he always snored really loud.

"I was thinking that tomorrow we could just make it a shopping day." Regina folded her arms against her chest. "Just us two and we go and get a few things to decorate this room. Maybe get you some clothes and toys."

"Clothes?" Emma's blue eyes widen and she sinks down on the bed. "I don't have money for clothes."

"Well, it's a good thing that I do." Regina winks. "Don't worry about money Emma. You're five years old. I'm the adult and it's my job to buy the clothes."

"Like a mom?" Emma wonders.

"Exactly like a mom." Regina answers. "But, Emma, I am in no way forcing you to call me mom. For now I can just be your Gina. Does that sound good?"

Emma nods her head. "One day, if I want to call you mommy…will I get in trouble? Will you be mad?"

"Absolutely not" Regina comes to sit next to Emma on the bed. The thought of Emma calling her mommy makes her heart soar. But she couldn't get her hopes up. At least not right now.

"Ok." Emma lets this sit in her head a bit before crawling into Regina's lap.

Blue eyes meet brown for a second. Emma studies Regina's face and trails her hand up to the scar on Regina's lip. She uses her index finger to trace over it.

"Did someone hit you?" Emma asks seriously.

"No, Emma." Regina assures her small friend. "I fell off of my horse when I was a little girl and bust my lip open."

"Oh." Emma relaxes. "You have a horse?"

"Yes, he's pretty old now. " Regina lights up at the mention of her horse. "He was just a little foal when my father bought him for me. His name is Rocinante. I fell off of him when I was 8."

"Did it hurt?" Emma asked. "Were you crying?"

"I was crying and screaming." Regina informed the little girl. "But my daddy took me to the doctor and made it all better."

"What about your mommy?" Emma wonders aloud. "Did she kiss it better? I heard Mommies do that."

"My mommy wasn't in my life by then." Regina frowned a little.

"Oh." Emma frowns for a second before thinking of something. She leans up to kiss the top of Regina's lip right where the scar was placed.

"There all better." Emma pulls back and smiles.

The tears that reach Regina's eyes are unstoppable. Emma's innocence and kindness was endearing.

"Oh, Gina, I'm sorry." Emma feels bad. "I didn't mean to make you sad. I know we aren't supposed to kiss people if they don't say yes. But kisses always make it better."

"No, Emma." Regina wipes her tears away. "You made me happy. In fact I feel so much better. Also you are correct, we aren't allowed to kiss or touch people if they don't say we can."

"So you aren't mad?" Emma bites her lip in the way that tells she is nervous.

"Of course not." Regina smiles for what feels like the millionth time that day. "I could never be mad at my friend.

"Gina?' Emma speaks again.

"Yes?"

"Thanks for letting me stay here." Emma gives her the tightest hug her little body could muster.

Regina takes the hug with open arms. Emma was bringing such light into her life. She couldn't bear to think of when the little girl was gone. There is a comforting silence where Regina and Emma just hold each other. Until a certain little girl's tummy begins to growl.

"Someone is hungry." Regina laughs. "I guess it is time for dinner."

"Can I help you?" Emma slides down from Regina's lap. "Please?"

"Do you like spaghetti, Emma?" Regina decides to carry the little girl down stairs. Emma truly weighed next to nothing and she was happy to carry her.

"I love it." Emma commented.

Regina figured that whatever she made Emma would love it.

Emma turned out to be so attentive when it came to cooking. She absolutely loved helping Regina. The tiny blonde insisted on pouring every single ingredient that wasn't too heavy for her. Emma noted how Regina didn't even get angry with her when she spilled something.

Once they were done making the spaghetti, Emma was content on watching the timer as they waited for the garlic bread to come out of the oven. Everything smelled so heavenly. Emma couldn't remember the last time she was able to just sit and feel free.

Regina made their plates and this time they sat in the kitchen across from each other. Emma was so tiny that she had to sit on at least 3 phone books to see over the table. Regina laughed as Emma mentioned that the phone books made her way taller.

"Gina, do you like Snow White?" Emma spoke asked with her mouth half full.

"I do." Regina tapped her own chin to signal for Emma to use her napkin. There was pasta sauce all over her mouth. "I like the Evil queen better."

"Me too." Emma smiled. Another thing she and Regina had in common.

Regina loved having Emma here. This was the first night in a while she didn't have to eat alone. Even though Emma had only been home for a few hours it felt good to have someone else to look after.

"Emma, I thought since were sitting that we could set some ground rules." Regina spoke.

Emma stopped chewing and made sure to sit up so that she was listening. No one had ever given her rules without yelling at her before.

"I would say that my first one is to always tell the truth." Regina spoke. "Lying is bad and if you are in trouble telling the truth will better aid me to help you."

Regina knew that she would have to write her rules down and stick them somewhere. Emma was of course only 5 and there was no telling how much she would remember.

Regina mentioned things about respecting each other; also the basic rules of no screaming, yelling or running in the house. Emma nodded as Regina listed these off. The rules weren't so hard. Regina was super nice to her and Emma didn't want to ruin that. This was only her first night here.

 

* * *

 

"I don't have much bubble bath." Regina commented as she ran a bath for Emma in the master bathroom.

"It's okay!" Emma commented as she examined the size of the tub. It was pretty big and she couldn't swim just yet.

"You can hop right in when you're ready. "Regina stood up and dried her hands. "Yell for me when you're done."

Emma nods and watches Regina leave the room.

"Don't close the door." Emma pleads when she notices what Regina is about to do.

"Okay." Regina leaves it open. She forgot the tiny detail to never leave a child alone with a body of water. "I will just be in my room."

Emma nods and begins to lift up her shirt. She could take a bath on her own.

While Emma bathed, Regina looked through her file a little closer. Emma's last name was Swan. She was taken away from her birth parents at the young age of 8 months old. At age 3, Emma had a long term foster family and was almost adopted until the couple had a child of their own.

Regina skimmed through mentions of child abuse cases and Emma being violent. Regina couldn't imagine the sweet little girl just a few feet away being violent in the slightest.

Something caught Regina's eye. There were mentions of abuse in deeper context. One of Emma's old foster parents was accused of sexual abuse. There were notes that Emma refused to admit she was the one being abused; in the notes, Emma referred to another little girl,in the house at the time, of being abused. But she did reveal she had seen some things. Regina couldn't' even fathom what either of those girls had gone through. Regina said a silent prayer that Emma had been telling the truth that she had never been touched.

Regina decided to keep reading and there were mentions of Emma being put on ADHD medicine in the past and having mentioned suicidal thoughts. This brought tears to her eyes. Surely, at five years old Emma didn't know what suicide entailed? Regina was beginning to figure out just how hard Emma had it.

Regina didn't know how to take all of this in at once. These were only some files that Mr. Booth was allowed to show her. But it was more than enough. She would show Emma the love she never seemed to have. The blonde in her bathroom was the sweetest little girl she ever had the pleasure of meeting. Who would want to hurt her?

"Gina?" Emma called from the bathroom. "I'm done."

Regina grabs a towel and quickly goes to help Emma out of the bathtub.

"You're all clean?" Regina helped Emma to dry off. She was mindful of the still forming bruises on Emma's arms.

"Yep." Emma smiled widely. "I really like the shampoo you use. I washed my hair all by myself."

Emma was proud of herself for the small task. No one ever really helped her wash but she thought she would mention it any way.

"That's great, Emma." Regina smiled and helped Emma into her pajamas. They were at least a size too small. They would definitely be going shopping tomorrow.

Emma followed Regina into her own new bedroom.

Emma climbed into bed and look up at Regina expectantly.

"Oh no." Regina laughed. "We have to brush that wet mop of yours before you catch cold, honey."

"But I don't have a brush." Emma used an excuse as to why she shouldn't have her hair brushed. The truth was she really didn't like it. Her hair was so long and thick. It was always getting tangled and her last foster mother would yank it.

"No problem." Regina went across the hall to get her own brush.

Sitting atop the bed, Regina signals for Emma to come sit on her lap. Emma reluctantly climbs over onto Regina's lap. She flinches when Regina brings the brush to her head but immediately relaxes when Regina brushes gently.

Emma sits patiently as Regina brushes her hair. In fact, it felt so good that she fell asleep in Regina's arms. It had been an eventful day and she couldn't stay awake any longer.

Regina finally stops brushing Emma's hair and lays her under the thick covers properly. Making sure that Mr. Waffles was where Emma could reach him, Regina turns off the light. She lands a small kiss on her forehead and goes to exit the room. Keeping the door cracked, Regina decided against turning off the hallway light.

It was almost two hours later when Regina was finished with her work and showered. She slid into her bed but couldn't find it in herself to go to sleep just yet. Pulling out her iPhone, Regina goes to a children's website. She had so much stuff she needed to order. Including a new bed set. Sure Emma's bed was nice and big but she figured it would be better if the girl had something she could relate to.

Regina was thankful for having as much money as she did at the moment. With just a few clicks she was able to order Emma a new bed set and even a bike. She was probably in over her head but she couldn't help it. Only 15 minutes ago, did Regina decide that she was going to fight for Emma. She wanted the little girl here.

She wanted Emma to be hers. Satisfied that the furniture would be arriving late tomorrow, Regina shuts off her phone and settles down into bed. She had to get used to having Emma here but that would be just fine.

 

* * *

 

"Gina?"

"Gina?"

Regina groans and rolls over wondering if she was dreaming. She had to be. Opening one eye, Regina's eyes focus on her alarm clock. In bright red numbers it read 2:04 am.

"Gina?" Emma pokes the brunette.

Regina comes out of her foggy haze as she hears Emma's voice. She fully opens her eyes and notes that the little girl is standing beside her bed with Mr. Waffles in one arm. Sitting up, Regina groans and turns on her bedside lamp.

"Emma, is everything okay?" Regina asks worriedly.

"I'm sorry, Gina." It's clear the five year old had been crying.

"What are you sorry for, Emma?" Regina is confused.

"I wet the bed." Emma bursts into tears. She is just waiting for Regina to yell at her for not getting up to go to the bathroom in time. "I'm weally sowwy."

The evidence of Emma wetting the bed isn't lost on Regina. Regina quickly slides out of bed and kneels down in front of the girl. "How about we go get cleaned up?"

"You aren't mad?" Emma is so afraid that she will be sent back now.

"No, Emma, I'm not." Regina led the girl into the bathroom. "Accidents happen. No need to cry."

"So I won't get a spanking?" Emma asked through more tears.

"No." Regina helps Emma into the bath. "Let's clean you really quick and then we can go change the sheets."

Emma is surprised but relieved that Regina won't spank her. She lets Regina clean her and slip her into a giant t-shirt. Regina makes quick work of cleaning and flipping over Emma's mattress and changing the sheets.

"Can I sleep with you?" Emma takes a chance and asks.

"Yes." Regina carries Emma into her bedroom. She knew she shouldn't carry the girl all of the time but right now Emma needed to be comforted.

"I'm sorry for messing your bed and waking you up." Emma whispers tiredly.

"Emma, like I said accidents happen." Regina whispered back. "Sleep now."

Emma nodded and snuggled closer to Regina. At first Regina stiffens and then relaxes. She chuckles when she notices Emma has her thumb in her mouth. Could the little girl be any cuter?

Regina settles into bed and falls asleep again. Her first panic of motherhood was averted. She thinks she did pretty well.

 

* * *

 

"Emma, you can have anything you would like." Regina informs the girl. They have been shopping for the better part of an hour. Mostly it has been Regina picking out things for the little girl.

"Do I have to wear a dress?" Emma scrunches her nose at all of the girly things that were in this store.

"Not it you don't want to." Regina looks over at a small jacket that would be perfect for Emma.

Emma nods and tentatively picks out a few pairs of pants. Regina finds the clothes in the correct size. It was certainly fun shopping for someone else for a change. Emma wasn't a girly girl but she did agree to skorts. Regina was able to slip a few dresses into their shopping. Emma's eyes lit up at the mention of toys.

She was able to also pick out a few dolls and books. No one had really read to her before but Emma insisted that she would teach herself. Regina really spoiled the girl in the couple of stores that they had been to. She didn't blink twice at the price tags either. Money was not a big problem when you came from a wealthy family not to mention she was the mayor.

They were in the final store which was footlocker. They were outside of Storybrooke in a slightly bigger city. Storybrooke was very small and didn't have a lot of stores like this city.

"Emma, are there any shoes you would like?" Regina asked. She could tell that all of this shopping was beginning to overwhelm the little girl. Once they got back to Storybrooke, Regina would take everything home and then they could walk to Granny's.

Emma looks down at her own dirty converse. She really liked those shoes but she also liked the shoes that had Queen Elsa on the side. They also lit up. Regina helped her try them on and quickly bought them.

While everything was being rung up, Emma slipped away for a second to a store across the mall. Regina was busy talking to the cashier so she didn't even notice. There was a small bracelet inside the story that Emma thought was really cute. It would be perfect for Gina.

"Emma!" Regina quickly rushes over to the little girl. "Emma, please don't disappear like that again. I almost had a heart attack."

"Gina, can I get some earrings?" Emma asked suddenly.

"Well, yes but your ears aren't pierced." Regina noted. "How about we go and get clip ons?"

Emma nodded and followed Regina into the store. They picked out a few pairs of earrings and made it back to Storybrooke in record time. Regina carried everything into the house.

They made their way to granny's next. Emma listened quietly as everyone that walked past would either wave to Regina or cower away. Emma had heard stories about Regina being evil from her foster brother's but she didn't believe any of it.

"Hi, Madam Mayor." Ruby Lucas smiled as she approached Emma and Regina at their booth. "What can I get for you and your friend today?"

"I'm Emma." Emma introduced herself. "I live with Gina now."

"She lets you call her Gina?" Ruby smiled even wider. "I'm surprised."

"Yes, well how could I say no to those big blue eyes." Regina gives a smile of her own. "I will have a salad and water and Emma will take a grilled cheese."

"Gina, can we get a milkshake?" Emma pleads.

"Just this once." Regina agrees.

Emma whispers a 'yes' in victory and smiles back up at ruby.

"Coming right up." Ruby chuckles at Emma's enthusiasm.

"Gina, I have something to show you." Emma smiles cheekily.

"Well, what could it be?" Regina wonders. Emma giggles and pulls out the bracelet that she had seen at the store.

"Emma?" Regina frowns. "Where did you get this?"

"Do you like it?"Emma doesn't like the look on Regina's face.

"Did you steal this?" Regina asks.

"I just wanted to buy you something nice because you did." Emma's smile turned. "I didn't think you would be mad. I don't have money."

"Emma, that's sweet but you shouldn't steal."

"I'm sorry." Emma lowers her head. Stealing was the only way she knew how to get what she wanted. She was very good at it. The sensors in the store didn't even go off this time.

"Listen, Emma, I know you wanted it to be nice but that's not okay." Regina explained. "We are going to have to make a trip back to the store after lunch so you can return the bracelet and apologize."

"Okay." Emma nods. "Will you still read to me tonight?"

"Of course I will." Regina sighs. She was beginning to figure out that having a child wasn't as black and white as she thought. "For now let's eat our food and have a good rest of our day."

Emma nodded in agreement. She began to tell Regina a story about fairy-tales then. She was glad that Regina wasn't angry with her. Emma was also beginning to figure out that having Regina as her foster parent was going to be different; A good different.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

 

A/n: I was seriously lost with where I wanted to go with this story. Top that with having to buy a brand new computer I was tapped out. Enjoy the update.

Chapter 5

 

“Gina, Gina!”

Regina groaned and tried to push Emma’s hand away as the little girl attempted to pull her eyelids up. It’s been a month since Emma has been here and it’s almost the same every morning. Every morning, Emma would come and wake her up demanding pancakes or french toast. Regina would moan and groan about lack of sleep before finally waking up. Emma’s energy would bounce off the walls and onto her. It was very hard not to smile when around Emma. She could not complain one bit.

Emma had a difficult time sleeping in her own room because of nightmares but they were progressing. She and Regina agreed that if she went to sleep in her room, if any time of the night she became afraid, she could come and sleep with Regina. Some nights like last night were better than the others and Emma slept in her own bed. She was in love with the designs and decorations in her room.

“Gina, I want pancakes.” Emma smiled when Regina finally opened her eyes.

Adjusting to the sunlight, Regina blinked several times before her eyes focused on blue. Emma looked expectantly waiting for her to respond.

“You always want pancakes.” Regina’s voice was raspy as she chuckled.

“I need my ‘nergy before I can grow up bigger.” Emma giggled. “So I can be like you.”

“Like me?” Regina smiled.

Emma nodded enthusiastically. She hoped to be just like Regina when she grew up. This past month Emma had learned a lot of things. Regina was a very powerful woman and people would usually try hard to be extra nice to her. Everyone always greeted them with a smile when they visited Granny’s.

“Well, since we need to make that happen why don’t I go use the restroom while you make your bed?” Regina suggested running a hand through Emma's messy bedhead.

Emma smiled once again. She was always happy here. Regina was always showing her affection when she didn’t ask for it.

“I didn’t wet the bed too, Gina.” Emma smiled proudly as she slid off of Regina’s king size.

“That’s so great.” Regina stood to stretch. “High five!”

Emma reached up on her tip toes and high-fived her foster mom. Part of her night routine was wearing night undies. Emma cried at first that she was going to look like a baby. It took Regina a whole hour of cuddling and reassuring her before Emma decided to give them a try. Now she woke up with dry sheets and a smiling face. The bed-wetting had become less frequent with the night light in the hallway to lead Emma to the bathroom if she could make it.

Regina watched as Emma ran across the hall. Regina smiled and shook her head. She was always so cute. Regina made up her own bed and used the rest room. By the time she was done, Emma was now in normal underwear and a t-shirt. Regina quickly learned that Emma liked to walk around in her underwear. Something about being in private with no boys around.

Regina noticed a big difference with the little girl over the past 3 weeks. When she first met Emma, the 5 year old was cheeky but reserved. Now she was learning so much and becoming more comfortable with her.

“Gina.” Emma reached her arms up to be carried. Regina quickly complied and scooped her up into her arms. Emma stuck her thumb in her mouth and laid her head on Regina’s shoulder.

“Emma, August is coming over to visit us today.” Regina reminded the blonde.

It was apart of the adoption process; a monthly home study. August had to make sure that Emma was comfortable and well taken care of at all times. Especially since she couldn’t fully adopt Emma until she was in her home for 6 months. It was a going to be a long process but she didn’t plan on letting Emma go with anyone else.

“I don’t want to leave.” Emma spoke in a small voice. It seemed like her grip tightened around Regina’s neck.

“No, Emma, baby you aren’t leaving.” Regina rubbed her back trying to calm her down. “August is just coming to check up on you. Like always.”

Emma relaxed a little as she was carried into the kitchen. Sitting Emma on the counter, Regina puts both arms on each side of the girl. She could see the fear in Emma’s eyes. She could tell that the little girl was afraid of being taken away from a home where she felt so comfortable. This past month Regina had become so much closer to the little girl than she thought she could.

“Listen, Emma, you are not leaving.” Regina assured her. “Remember when I had the meeting at work last week?”

Emma nodded and listened intently to what Regina was trying to tell her. Everything within her was telling her to run away and hide. But with Regina that feeling was starting to dissipate.

“Well, I met with a lawyer.” Regina made sure Emma knew what that meant. “I met with a lawyer and we called August and we talked about what I had to do to adopt you. I want to keep you here with me. If that’s what you want of course?”

“You will be my mommy?”Emma finally understood what she was saying. “For real?”

“Yes, Emma.” Regina had been wanting to break the news to Emma for a while now. The look on Emma’s face was priceless in this moment.“That means you can stay here forever. It’s going to take a while before a judge will say yes. That also means a lot of visits with August. We also have to take you to see a doctor and a dentist. It’s about time you went.”

“No doctors.” that was the only thing Emma took from that sentence. She hated doctors; they absolutely terrified the 5 year old.

“In order for you to grow big and strong you have to see a doctor.” Regina informed her. There were a lot of procedures and she had to follow the rules. Emma also had to meet with a therapist twice a week but she was trying to prolong the inevitable. There were so many guidelines to having a foster child and even more in order to adopt Emma. She wanted to do it right to make sure Emma wasn’t ever taken from her.

“How about we make pancakes now?” She could tell she would be getting nowhere with Emma on the doctors issue. Emma had experienced trauma that she hadn’t even revealed to Regina yet. The night terrors and bed wetting were big signals to that. Regina just didn’t see the point of pushing her and causing her set backs. In time, she hoped, Emma would be comfortable enough to talk to her about it.

“Chocolate chip?” Emma smiled widely. Regina cooked the best pancakes in the world. Regina smiled just as widely and tapped Emma on the nose. Whatever her girl wanted she would get.

Once breakfast was cooked, Regina and Emma sat at the coffee table in the living room. They were watching the animated film “Home” starting Rihanna and that guy from “The Big Bang Theory”. It was about the 5th time Regina watched it with Emma but she wasn’t complaining. It made Emma happy and that was all she wanted.

“Gina?” Emma asked picking up a slice of bacon and tilting it over her head so she could bite it. “Do you think my Mommy was sad when she gave me away?”

Regina was not expecting that question. Emma hadn’t really spoken about her birth parents before. Granted there was so little to be known about them anyways. Regina was able to get a little information from August but no one knew much.

“I think she was extremely sad Emma.” Regina began. She needed to choose her words carefully. “I think that she loved you a lot and she wanted to be able to give you your best chance at life. She couldn’t take care of you so she had to give you to someone who could.”

“Oh.” Emma spoke with a little bit of bacon still in her mouth. “Do you want a baby? When I get bigger I want a baby. I would never give them up!”

Emma spoke with such conviction and finality. Regina wasn’t expecting that question either. Emma was such a smart little girl and she did not want to lie to her at all.

“I did want a baby. One day I may still want one.” Regina shrugged. “For now, I have you. Emma, you make me so happy.”

“I do?” Emma cocked her head and looked at Regina suspiciously. “Why?”

Regina patted her lap and beckoned Emma to come sit. Emma didn’t have to be told twice. It was so comfortable and warming being in Regina’s arms. It was something she never wanted to give up.

“You make me happy and there is no particular reason. You came when I was alone and you became my friend. You are a smart girl, Emma.” Regina pulled Emma closer to her. Emma didn’t protest but quite the opposite actually. “I know that everything isn’t final but I do love you.”

This made Emma gasp. No one had ever told her that before. Yet Regina spoke those words so freely. Regina didn’t know if it was too early to say those words but she didn’t care. Emma needed to know that she was loved at all times. Regina could see how much she craved attention and affection. It was something she was willing to give and more.

“I love you too.” Emma didn’t hesitate to say it back. At 5 years old, Emma couldn’t understand why Regina was so nice to her. Regina never yelled or hit or screamed. She wasn’t an angry foster mom and she would never call Emma a baby for being afraid of a lot of things. Emma felt that she belonged.

“Regina.” Emma suddenly asked. “Do you think I can write a letter to my old Mommy.”

“I think that’s a great idea, Emma.” Regina truly did.If it helped Emma to undertsnad then so be it. Many of the questions Emma was asking were things Regina thoguht no one ever bothered to answer. It was the opposite for her. She wanted Emma to always be comfortable with her.
“Can we do it now before August comes?” Emma was excited now. “Can you write it?”

“Let’s clear the dishes.”Regina nodded again. Emma was quick but careful to sit take her dish and set it into the dishwasher. Finding a piece of paper, Emma quickly sat next to Regina on the couch. Cuddling into her, Emma looked at Regina expectantly.

“Now, what would you like to say?” Regina tapped her pen against the paper preparing to write whatever Emma needed.

“Hi Mommy.” Emma stuck her tongue out to think. “I growed in your tummy a long time ago and you gave me up. It made me kinda sad but that’s okay.”

Regina wrote diligiently as she listened to what emma had to say.

“I met Gina a long time ago. She said she is going to adopt me. That means I’m not gonna be sad no more.” Emma cuddled deeper into Regina. “I want to meet you one day but for now I have Gina. She told me you gave me to the group home because you couldn’t take care of me. I know you were sad.”

Regina could feel tears clouding her eyes as she wrote for Emma. It was so childlike and so innocent what the little girl was saying. She could tell Emma was thinking really hard on what she could say.

“But, you don’t have to be.” Emma smiled a little. “Gina is going to be my new mommy and then I can stay with her forever. That means no more mean kids and no more bad guys. I don’t have to be scared no more.”

Regina felt her breath hitch as Emma spoke about her being her new Mommy.

“She kisses me when I’m scared.” Emma continued. “Like you would. I dream about you. Maybe one day you and Gina could both be my Mommies. Love Emma.”

Regina helped Emma sign the paper and put it into an envelope. There was nowhere to send it as of now but maybe one day Emma could give it to her birth mother. After that was all done, Emma took her usual spot in Regina’s lap and curled up for a nap.

While Emma was sleeping, Regina was able to catch up on a few emails from work. Pretty much grants and the odd email from a citizen. Her schedule was pretty hectic but being Mayor had it’s perks. Like today, she was able to take off work and just be with Emma. Of course August was coming by later but for the rest of the day it could just be them too.

Regina finished her emails and turned on “How to Get Away with Murder.” It was a pretty interesting show. She absentmindedly brushed her fingers through Emma’s hair. When comfortable, Emma was a heavy sleeper.

Regina soon found herself drifting off to sleep too. She thought about how everything was moving so fast yet so slow. She made sure to turn her ringer on in case August called.

“So, Emma can you show me your room?” August asked the little girl. He listened for the better part of a half hour as Emma enthusiastically told him about living with Regina. He never heard the little girl be so open before and he’d been her social worker since she was an infant.

Emma grabbed his hands and quickly led him up the spiraling stairs. Regina lagged a little behind. She knew Emma was comfortable here but hearing her tell someone else how awesome it was warmed her heart.

“This is my room.” Emma turned the knob and pushed open the door. The room was filled with an assortment of colors. Emma pulled him in deeper while showing him little things here and there.

She was most excited to show August all of the books that she had been collecting. Most nights Regina would read to her.

“So, Emma, I take it you like it here?” August leaned against a wall. He watches as she grabbed Mr. Waffle from her bed.

“I do.” Emma smiled.

“Now, Regina, I know you are going to be doing this alone.” August spoke. “But the one thing I want to point out is that you will need some kind of support system. It takes a village to raise a child. Especially one that isn’t quite your own. In cases of emergency, we need to know that Emma will be taken care of and things along those lines.”

“I understand completely.” Regina took a hold of Emma’s hands. The young girl was always looking for some form of touch.

“Now, the new few months.”August began. “ While you are in the process of adopting, there is a high chance of biological parents being contacted and found. Regarding Emma, their rights were never signed away and we could never find them. Probably because they didn’t want to be found.”

Emma had no clue what August was talking about.

“It’s extremely rare that after Emma is adopted and the biological parents could take her back. As for during the process I cannot say.” August hated telling her this but she needed to know. “The odds are in your favor and I have known Emma her whole life. I have never seen her as happy than when she is with you.”

“I hope it stays that way.” Regina was now thinking about Emma’s birth parents somehow taking her away.

She prayed that would never happen.

A/n: Thoughts? This was such a small chapter but I hope you liked.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit
By LockedSoulsAm

A/n: I really enjoy reading your reviews and responses to the chapter.

Trigger warning for mentions of depression and hospitals in general. I hate hospitals. This was painful to write in all honesty. You can skip the entire hospital part if it becomes too much.

Enjoy the chapter =)

Chapter 6

Regina could tell by the way that Emma clung to her that this would be a long visit. Doctors were something she and Emma had spoken about briefly. Emma was never one to hide her dislike for them though she would never tell Regina why. Regina knew that there were things Emma was afraid of. She was five for goodness sake but this seemed like something that ran deeper. Emma had protested the morning of the appointment. She hadn't cried but lagged behind in their entire morning routine.

Regina informed Emma why she had to visit the doctor. School was starting in a few weeks and she needed her vaccinations. There were a lot of things that had to be done and this was just one of them. If they didn’t absolutely have to Regina would have skipped it but she needed to make sure Emma was healthy.

That’s why they were at StoryBrooke General on this bright Monday morning. Regina filled out papers for Emma while making sure to keep the girl close. She could feel the way her foster daughter curled into herself as she looked around and observed.

“Gina, can we go home.” Emma looked up at her with wide eyes. “I promise I’ll eat all my veggies. Can we please go?”
Regina frowned and set down the clipboard. There wasn’t much information left that she needed to fill out. Emma’s health records were provided by August long ago. All she had to do was take care of the technical stuff. Right now none of that mattered when Emma was literally terrified to be there.

“Emma, I’m sorry but we have to do this now.” Regina brushed her hair behind her shoulders. Emma looked smaller than she already was in that moment. Disappointment and fear shown through her eyes as a doctor walked past them in his white coat and scrubs.

“But I don’t want to be here.” Emma pouted sadly. “I want to go home. I want to go to my home. You said I could always go home.”

Regina’s frown deepened as she pulled Emma into her arms. The little girl was shaking like a leaf as she buried her head into Regina’s neck. Regina didn’t quite understand the fear but she tried to provide as much comfort as she could.

“Listen, Emma, I know you hate it here.” Regina began. “I do too but we need to make sure that you’re healthy enough for school.”

“I don’t want to go to school either.” Emma mumbled out. This all was so scary for her. She just wanted them to go home.

“I’ll tell you what, if we can make it through this appointment we can stop at that ice cream shop on Main street.” Regina gently rocked and rubbed Emma’s back to calm her down.

Emma liked the sound of that but it still didn’t make her feel better about being here. Bad things happened in hospitals. Doctors weren’t nice. Especially not to her.

“Emma Swan?” A nurse called into the waiting room causing Emma to freeze up.

“That’s us.” Regina spoke as she helped Emma slide off her lap. Emma took her hand and squeezed tight. If Regina wouldn’t carry her she damn sure wasn’t about to let her leave.

“Come with me?” Emma asked hopefully. She would run if she had to go alone.

“Of course, Emma.”Regina grabbed her purse and clipboard and handed it to the nurse.

Emma’s fearful eyes scoured the rooms and hallways for every possible exit or hiding place she could find. She hadn’t been in a hospital for months. Well, at least not this type of hospital.

“Hi, Emma.” The nurse with red hair smiled down at her. “I’m Delilah and I’m going to be your nurse for today.”

Delilah lead the duo into a small room down the hall. It had stickers and decorations that were supposed to make a child feel welcome. It only made Emma more nervous. Hospitals weren’t supposed to be happy.

“Emma, can you step up on the scale for me?” Delilah asked politely as she scoured over Emma’s chart. She needed to check Emma’s height, weight and then blood pressure. That’s how it always went.

Emma looked up at Regina and then back to Delilah. She wanted to say no but it always got her in trouble. Letting go of Regina’s hands, Emma takes tiny steps towards the scale and then looks up at it. She understood what the numbers meant but she still didn’t know how to use them. The small blonde watched closely as Delilah moved the little black spacer. If that was what it’s called.

“17.9 kg.” Delilah muttered to herself while writing in the chart. “42.5 inches.”

Regina listened to all of this intently. Emma seemed to be at the average weight and height for her age. Though she somehow looked smaller than other children. Maybe it was just the worrying mom in her.

“Emma, would you mind sitting on the bed for me.”

Emma’s eyes quickly flashed to Regina for help.

“You can sit with your Mom.” Delilah suggested recognizing the fear. Not all children were comfortable with doctors. She had seen it all.

Regina sat atop the patient bed and sat Emma on her lap. From there she felt Emma relax just a little. Once her blood pressure was checked, Delilah stated that Dr. Whale would be in to see them at any minute. This didn’t sit well with Emma but she remained quiet. Her eyes scoured over the many children with smiling faces on the posters. Those smiles were fake she could tell.

“When I was little..” Regina knew the silence was killing her. “When I cut my lip falling from my horse, My daddy brought me here and I was so afraid. But he held my hand the entire time and they made it better. You will be fine, Emma, I promise.”

Emma nodded but still didn’t say a word. Regina wishes she knew how to help in this moment. She wishes she knew exactly what Emma’s fear was so she could reassure her.

“AH, Madam Mayor.” Dr. Whale stepped into the room after several long moments of silence. “Who do we have here?” Peeking at the chart, Whale hummed a few times before looking over at the pair. “Hi, Emma, I’m Dr. Whale and I’m going to check your ears, nose and throat if that’s okay with you.”

Emma nodded while blindly reaching out for Regina to hold her a little tighter.

“You know Emma, when I was your age I had a dog.” Dr. Whale began to check Emma’s ears. He could visibly see the tiny girl tense as the cold metal touched the inside of her ear. He continued to talk. “His name was Rocky and every where I went Rocky went.”

Emma’s eyes were tightly shut so that she couldn’t see what the doctor was doing. Regina had never seen the girl so afraid. Not even after the whole incident with Mr. Williams. Regina rubbed Emma’s arms and kissed her head. She needed to keep Emma grounded and here for the time being.

“Now Rocky was a scrappy little thing.” Whale continued with his irrelevant story. “All he did was bark and bite. Open your mouth.”

Emma did as she was told and relaxed as Whale talked about his dog. He was actually being nice about everything.

“Emma, I’m going to listen to your heart beat.” Whale informed her and slipped the cold metal on the inside of her shirt. “I need you to cough for me a few times.”

Emma coughed and she really didn’t even understand why she had to do that. Whale listened for a few seconds before finally pulling his tool back around his neck.

“Well, Madam Mayor, I would say you have a very healthy little girl on your hands.” Dr. Whale smiled and wrote in the chart. “It seems that her vaccines are not up to date so I’m going to send Delilah in here to do those. Make an appointment for 6 months. Hope I don’t have to see you soon.”

Regina asked him a few questions about the vaccines and if she needed to be worried about anything. Typical mom questions. Emma was glad that the appointment was seemingly over. She was really ready to go home. She didn’t understand what the word vaccine was but as long as there were no shots she would be fine.

“Emma, we have to do one more thing and then we will be going to get your ice cream.” Regina applauded her foster daughter for being so well behaved despite her fear.

“Alright, Emma, it looks like here you need to have about four shots.” Delilah came in with a pan holding her band-aids, alcohol pads and four needles.

“No.” Emma spoke with finality while trying to slide off of Regina’s lap. “No! No! No!”

“Emma, you have to.” Regina spoke gently. She could see the struggle Emma was having and the girl immediately tried to pull away from her.

“I don’t want to.” Emma pulled away and only somehow managed to reach the door.

Regina grabbed her and scooped her up into her arms. She could try to schedule the vaccines for another day but it was almost impossible with her current work schedule and with school being so close. There were very strict rules on a child attending school and not being vaccinated. Regina didn’t fully understand it but she did not want Emma missing school.

“No, Gina.” Emma began crying as she struggled to get away from Regina’s tight grip. “I don’t want to. Let me go!”

“Emma, if you let me I'll give you a lollipop after.” Delilah knew that usually worked on children. If even for the first shot.

“I don’t want your stupid candy.” Emma cried harder. She didn’t understand why Regina wouldn’t let her go. She needed to run and hide.

“Okay, Emma, how about I call another nurse in here and she can help me so we can go faster?” Delilah said it more as a statement as she called into the hallway for another nurse.

Emma practically screamed and kicked at Regina as the second nurse came into view. This wasn’t good it wasn’t good at all.

“NO!” Emma screamed. “I’ll be good. I’ll be good I promise.”

Something clicked in Regina’s head and she knelt down in front of the tiny girl. Memories of Emma’s file and having to take medication for ADHD popped into her head. She didn’t need a lot of information to figure out where Emma had been. She put the pieces together as she realized Emma’s fear of hospitals.

“Emma, I’m right here.” Regina spoke softly and calmly. “I’m right here and I’m not leaving you.”

“I don’t want to.” Emma cried as she pulled against Regina’s grip. “I don’t want to take anymore medicine. No more!”

Regina felt a few tears slip from her eyes as she tried to remain calm. The nurses watched in earnest as Regina tried to calm Emma down. Regina pulled Emma into her arms and hugged her. It was the only thing she knew to do in this moment.

Whispering into Emma’s hair, Regina did not loosen the hug despite Emma’s protest. She needed to get through to Emma and now.

“Emma, it’s your Gina, I’m here.” Regina whispered directly into Emma’s ear. “I’m always going to be here and I won’t let anything hurt you.”

“No medicine.” Emma murmured through sobs. “I don’t want to. I’ll be good. I promise, Gina.”

“I know you will and you’re always good.”Regina kissed the top of her head. “I can’t tell you that it won’t hurt but the nurses will be fast and then we can go home.”

“No! You said ice cream. You promised.” Emma cried louder. “You promised!”

“Okay, Emma we can still go for ice cream.” Regina kept her same tone as she took a seat and pulled Emma into her lap. “We can get whatever flavor you want. Two scoops even.”

Emma visibly relaxed but she continued to cry. It seemed like she really didn’t have a choice in the matter. A while ago Emma began to associate medicine with her being a bad child. They told her she had ADHD and it would help her control herself. She didn’t understand it and she didn’t want to have that anymore.

“Gina, I want to leave here.” Emma cried softly. Regina nodded to the nurses and she narrowed her eyes warning them to be quick. She hated this almost as much as Emma did.

Emma laid flax in her arms and tensed when she felt the sleeves of her shirt being rolled up. The bruises were long gone but it didn’t take away the pain she was going to feel. She hissed at the cold alchohol pads and tensed her arms when she feel needle hit skin.

Emma buried her head further into Regina and cried out “Mommy.”

Regina had to keep her own tears at bay as she watched the nurses inject each vaccine. She heard the Mommy come from Emma’s lips and though she wanted to rejoice in it, she didn’t know if Emma was crying out for her or if she said it in moments where she was absolutely terrified and defenseless. Moments like now where Regina began to hate herself for forcing Emma to do something she clearly didn’t want to do.

Soon enough, the nurses were done and band-aids were on each of Emma’s arms. The nurses left the pair alone for privacy. The session was done and it was all over.

Emma continued to cry into Regina’s chest. She just wanted to leave this place and never come back.

“Emma, can you look at me?” Regina asked. She knew Emma’s arms would be sore for a while and she didn’t dare touch them.

Emma raised her head and sniffled.

“You did so well” Regina reached for a hair tie in her purse. She made quick work of tying those curly blonde locks into a ponytail. Emma’s face was red and blotchy from all the crying.

“I was bad.” Emma pouted sadly. “I said mean things.”

“You were afraid, Emma.” Regina carried Emma over to the counter where they held tissues. Like the mother she was, Regina wiped Emma’s face entirely free. “You were afraid and I understand why. Doctors haven’t been so kind to you, huh?”

The 5 year old lowered her head and bit the inside of her cheek. Regina was going to really think she was bad now.

“I had to stay at a hospital once.” The 5 year old began. “Andrew told me it was for crazy people. They said I tried to hurt myself and that I had to go there because that’s where all the crazy kids went. They gave me medicine and I had to see a doctor all the time.”

Regina listened with baited breath as Emma revealed to her one of the many traumas in her life. The horror of what her girl had been through absolutely terrified her. She wished she could have met her sooner. Helped her sooner.

“I had to take medicine at morning and at night.”Emma frowned. “It made me sleepy sometimes but I didn’t want to sleep.”

“Emma, I would never let that happen.” Regina spoke. “I wouldn’t let them hurt you and I sure wouldn’t let them put you to sleep if you didn’t want them to.”

“I don’t want any more medicine.” Emma shook her head. “I don’t want to be bad anymore and then I have to leave. No more please.”

“Emma, no more medicine.” Regina agreed. “No more.”

Emma nodded and looked at the band-aids on her arms. They did look kind of cool. Regina had held her the whole time during the vaccinations too. It had been scary but she did feel a little better when Regina was there.

“Mommy?” Emma tried it out. She hadn’t realized that was what she cried out earlier. But now she knew that Regina was truly her mother. Regina hadn’t left her alone. Regina had wiped away her tears and held her. Regina assured her that everything was going to be okay. She had done everything a Mommy would do.

Regina could feel her heart practically fall out of her chest at Emma calling her Mommy. It was something she never knew she needed until now. She always thought it would be months maybe even years away before Emma felt even remotely comfortable enough to call her that.

“Mommy?” Emma smiled up at her for what seemed like the first time that day. “Can we go get ice cream now?”

“We sure can.” Regina tapped her nose and scooped Emma into her arms. Emma took a deep breath and buried her head in her Mommy’s hair.

Her Mommy. That made her feel so good inside.

Once at the ice cream shop, Regina realized she had never been there before. Not in years actually. She could assume that it had a new owner. It was a quaint little shop with a few tables and chairs. By the time they stepped into the shop, it was empty save for a couple in a corner and the blonde woman behind the counter.

“Well, what do we have here.” The woman’s charming smile is what caught Regina’s eye. “New customers.”

“Hi.” Regina smiled and looked around the store. “You’re correct in believing that it is our first time here. We had sort of a rough morning and I promised Emma ice cream.”

“What would the pretty little lady like?” The woman asked. “You strike me as a strawberry type girl. Am I correct?”

Emma nodded and gave a small smile. Holding up two fingers, she spoke. “Two scoops please.”

“That’s certainly a lot for such a small girl.”She smiled. “Are you sure you can handle it?”

Emma nodded confidently. This woman had a sweet aura to her. Her voice was gentle and her smile and eyes brought you in.

“What about for her equally beautiful Mom?” This time her smile was directed at Regina.

“I would like a scoop of mint chocolate chip.” Regina received a raised brow. “I’m trying to watch my figure.” She joked.

“What a figure it is.”

Regina found herself blushing which was something she never did. She tore her eyes away too look at the menu. It sure was interesting.

“Two scoops of strawberry and one scoop of mint chocolate chip coming right up.” The blonde reached pulled on her apron. “I’m Ingrid by the way. All of my ice cream is organic and made right here in the shop. My nieces help me when they have the free time.”

“That’s wonderful.” Regina watched as the woman scooped ice cream into bowls for them.

“I’m sorry.” Ingrid giggled. “I didn’t even ask you if this was for here or to go.”

“For here.” Regina smiled.

“Great.” Ingrid smiled back and continued to scoop the ice cream. She looked down at Emma and she noticed the band-aids on her arms. “Did you get shots?”

Emma nodded and frowned.

“I remember those days.” Ingrid closed the freezer. “It’s on the house.”

“Really, why?” Regina asked suspiciously.

“It’s not everyday I get the Mayor in my shop.” Ingrid just never stopped smiling. Regina found it endearing. “I want you and Emma to come back. She reminds me of my niece Elsa.”

“Thank you.” Regina grabbed a few napkins.

They went to sit and Ingrid followed. She sat with them but not before asking if it was okay. Emma did not mind one bit as she ate here ice cream. At this moment she didn’t care about what they talked about. Ice cream was brightening her mood.

“Emma’s father must be so proud.” Ingrid commented. “Such a beautiful family he has.”
“Oh, no, it’s not.” Regina was at a loss for words. “I’m not married.”

“Oh my apologies.” Ingrid excused herself.

“It’s fine.” Regina waved it off. “I’m in the process of adopting Emma and I’m sure people will assume worse things than that.”

 

“I feel sorry for them.” Ingrid joked. “You don’t seem like the type to take nonsense.”

“I don’t.” Regina smiled. “Not when it comes to my daughter.”

Regina internally smiled. Her daughter. That’s who Emma was. Her daughter and she was her mommy. Their conversation with Ingrid continued and Emma even chimed in when she could.

It turned out to be a beautiful Monday after all.

A/n: So I would love to hear what you all think. Who do you think Ingrid is or what part she will play in the story? Do you think we are any closer to finding or even hearing about Emma’s biological parents. I love all of your reviews and I can’t wait to read them.

See you next chapter,

-LSAM

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit
By LockedSoulsAm

A/n:
TRIGGER WARNINGS; RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE

In some of my other stories, they were dark and very heavily talked about on abuse of all forms. I do hope that if it triggers you to skip over that part. If not I guess that’s fine too. This will not be the last time it’s mentioned here at all.

Without further ado, enjoy the chapter =)

Chapter 7

“Mommy, mommy.” Emma poked Regina asking for her to wake up. Of course this was how most their mornings started out. Emma didn’t like to sleep in when their was so much to do. The endless opportunities she had here always excited her. Regina was always willing to do anything she wanted within reason. “Mommy?”

Regina has been pretending to be asleep since Emma walked into her room. The little girl could be sneaky and attempted to be quiet but Regina was used to her by now. She couldn’t help but feel warmth spread through her when Emma called her mommy. It’s been almost three weeks since that day at the doctor and she felt she would never get tired of it.

Regina tried not to smile but when Emma continued to say her name she broke.

“Hi.” Regina spoke softly with her sleep filled voice. It was very adorable to see Emma in one of her t-shirts and her hair messy. The big blue eyes stared at her for a second before the small girl pounced on her. “Emma!”

Regina yelped as the little girl landed on her pelvis. It hurt like a bitch and she almost wasn’t expecting it. Emma giggled and settled her chin on Regina’s chest.

“Can we watch cartoons?” Emma spoke softly.

“Yes, we can.” Regina smiled. There was nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than to spend quality time with Emma. In fact, Regina almost can’t remember a time when the blonde wasn’t here. It wasn’t so long ago but she never wanted to have to go back to that time.

“Great!” Emma stood on the bed signaling that she wanted Regina to pick her up. Regina obliged and carried the girl until she got to the bathroom.

Emma was instructed to wait outside while Regina did her business. Regina cracked the door so Emma could still talk to her. As she sat down, Regina didn’t expect for Emma to actually come inside. Emma nonchalantly sat in front of the cabinets and crossed her legs at the ankle. Regina had read stories from other moms on the lack of privacy but she didn’t think she and Emma had gotten to that point yet.

“Mommy?” Emma questioned. “Do boys really pee standing up?”

“Yes, they do.” Regina began. She was noticing that Emma was asking questions more about gender and the differences. It seemed she had a different question every day.

After wiping and flushing, Regina stepped across the room to wash her hands. Emma seemed to be distracted for now digging through a few of the drawers. Emma was taking out cotton swabs and random things she didn’t know she still had. Maybe she should clean those drawers out soon.

Regina figures that Emma is occupied for the next few seconds and she could wash her face before going downstairs. She usually had a whole morning routine which involved a lot of skincare. Today was going to be a pretty relaxed day for them. She didn’t need to do much.

“Mommy?” Emma pulls on the pants of her pajamas.

“Yes, Emma?” Regina rinses her face clean from her facial cleanser. She looks down to see Emma biting her lip and holding a pack of sanitary napkins. “Oh, dear god, please don’t let us have to have this conversation right now.” Regina cringed. Emma was only five and granted it would be a while before Emma actually had a period, Regina didn’t even know how to explain it.

Was there some type of single mom club in Storybrooke? Regina needed to join as soon as possible. Emma was growing and a curious child and granted Regina was very smart she needed to learn as a mother. That was one of the parts of parenthood that Regina was terrified. What if she gave Emma the wrong information? What if Emma needed something that she couldn’t give?

“Did someone hurt you?”Emma suddenly asked with such concern.

“No. Emma, what do you mean?” Regina turned to fully face the little girl.

“Did someone hurt you down there?” Emma began. “You need these? Did a bad man hurt you too?”

Regina became even more confused and terrified at once. What Emma was asking made sense but Regina’s mind immediately went to the negative. Emma had been in several foster homes and had probably seen more than a 5 year old actually should. Her file confirmed that much weeks ago.

Regina gently took deep breaths and lifted Emma onto the counter. Emma never let go of the pack of pads.

“First, no, Emma no one has hurt me down there.”Regina knew for right now she had to get on Emma’s level of thinking. It would be best to teach her to name body parts as they were and soon. She wanted to address the implying too that Emma said. “Sweetie, you know that you can tell me anything right?”
Emma nodded and looked at Regina with wide eyes. Regina took a deep breath and chose her words carefully. With children she had to ask directly or they would essentially get nowhere.

“Emma, what did you mean when you asked did a bad man hurt me?”Regina pushed a stray strand of blonde locks behind Emma’s ear. Emma looked down and then back at Regina.

“You only use these when you bleed down there.” Emma explained in the child lie way that broke Regina piece by piece. “In the foster home, a girl used those after the bad man came into our room at night.”

Regina could feel her heart literally pop out of her chest. She swallowed thickly.

“Emma, the bad man?” Regina made sure she was being heard. “He was your foster father? The home you had before the Williams’?”

“Yes.” Emma nodded.

“Did he ever do anything that made you uncomfortable or scared?” Regina began first. “Did he ever touch you somewhere that he isn’t supposed to? Like your vagina or your chest or your bottom.”

Emma bit her lip for a second and looked down at her hands. She didn’t know how to answer this question. She wished she hadn’t asked about the pads at all.

“No.” Regina was glad that they were close or she wouldn’t have heard her.

“Are you telling the truth?” Regina asked.

Emma nodded and looked back up at Regina. “I’m not lying. He didn’t I swear it.”

Regina breathed a sigh of relief but she was not done with this conversation yet. “When you said he came into your room at night, the other girl was who he touched?”

Emma nodded again. “She was always crying and they thought I was sleeping. He used to say if she said anything that he would touch me next. Then he would give her those diapers so that she could wear when he left. I wasn’t supposed to see but she had it in her bed. I’m sorry.”

In one motion, Regina was cuddling Emma into her arms and sitting on the floor. She could feel Emma shaking and all she wanted was to do was hide her from the world. A world and a system that had let her down.

“Mommy, I promise I’m not lying.” Emma spoke through her tears. “Nobody believed me. Then August took me away. I wasn’t lying and I got in trouble. I don’t want to get in trouble no more.”

“Emma, baby, you are not in trouble.”Regina tried to keep her emotions in check. But how could she when her baby girl was here and crying about something traumatizing? “I’m so glad you told August. I bet the girl that was being hurt was glad too.”

Emma nodded and cuddled deeper into her chest. “She was my big sister. Before I came here. She was the only person that was nice to me.”

Regina closed her eyes and just held her daughter. That’s what Emma was. She had to remind herself that Emma was safe. She was safe and she hadn’t been physically hurt because of this mystery girl.

“I love you so much, Emma.” Regina kissed the top of her head. “You are safe here and I love you.”

“I love you too, Mommy.” Emma replied without missing a beat. “Why do use those then?”

“Emma, When girls grow up into women, this is how their bodies clean themselves out every month.” Regina figured that it was simple enough for right now. Right?

“Ok.” Emma nodded again and stood up. “Can we go watch Cartoons now?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Regina stood along with her.

A/n: This chapter definitely had a different outcome than I originally wrote. Next chapter we will have more of Regina/Emma of course but also a new character or two.

See you next time

-LSAM

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit
By LockedSoulsAM

 

Chapter 8

“Mommy?” Emma called from her place on the patio. She was in a t-shirt and shorts. Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail to keep out of her face. She was sitting with a bunch of gardening tools around her. She didn’t know what any of them were called.

“Hmm?” Regina answered back. She was in similar attire along with a big wicker hat. The sun was brutal this time of day and she’d rather not have a tan that looked extremely misplaced.

“How many flowers are there in the world?”Emma asked.

“I don’t know, baby, a lot.” Regina answered back. Even though the end of summer was quickly approaching, it didn’t mean she would be leaving her garden unattended. It usually kept her busy during the day. Now the activity is something she shared with Emma. The little girl listened to everything with attention that was beyond a five year old.

“Can we pick apples?” Emma stood to come stand beside her. Regina grew a lot of her own vegetables just for fun. She could get them at the grocery store, sure, but this was way more fun. Emma looked over to the apple tree. It was so big and she wondered if Regina would let her climb it.

Regina stood and took her gloves off to look at the apple tree.
“Many of the apples are not ready to be picked.” She decided to step closer to the tree in question. “I guess a few won’t be so bad.”

Emma excitedly stepped up to the tree. Regina scooped her up onto her shoulders and instructed her how to safely pick one. Emma nodded and grabbed three apples before she was set back onto her feet.

“I’m sorry.” Emma spoke as she looked down at the apples in her hands. All those weeks ago she’d tried to steal one from this very spot.

“Emma, what are you sorry for?” A thin brow furrowed as Regina took the apples from Emma’s tiny hands.

“I stole from you remember?” Emma finally raised her gaze. “Stealing is bad.”

Regina sighed and knelt down as best as she could. Putting a single manicured finger under Emma’s chin she made sure the girl was looking at her. Emma’s blue ones looked back at her. That’s when Regina began to notice there was more of a green tint to the normally blue ones. She was beginning to realize that this happened when Emma was afraid or nervous.

“I know you tried to steal the apple.” Regina spoke softy. She was in no way angry about any of the past events. At least not at Emma but at all of the people that hurt the little girl in the past. “You were hungry and not being well taken care of. It brought you to me and without that happening I wouldn’t have met you.”

Emma gave a small smile at that.

“Emma stealing is wrong and we have talked about it a lot after you took that bracelet.” Regina bit her lip. “But I’m not in anyway angry at you.”

Emma nodded and she found herself in Regina’s arms; a place she would rather not leave. Regina closed her eyes and smiled at how well they had been together. At the beginning of the summer when she first met Emma, the little girl was so guarded and always in fight or flight mode. She was still that little girl but Regina could see that Emma was becoming more comfortable with every reassurance.

They would be going to therapy soon and Regina knew that would be a feat within itself. Emma was so afraid of doctors and medicine in general. She just hopes that they could be on the road to helping her heal.

“Now how about some lunch?”Regina suggested as Emma pulled back.

“Can we get the seed chicken, Mommy?” Emma asked as they walked back into the house. “and noodles too!”

Regina began to put away her gardening tools. Carrying them to the garage, she could hear Emma continue on and on about the “seed chicken”. Last week, Regina had let Emma taste sesame seed chicken for the first time. Emma was absolutely in love with it and ended up eating the rest of Regina’s food. Regina was always finding out so much about her little girl and she loved it. At the same time it made her extremely sad and guilty.

Regina spots Emma’s bike in the corner. It was pink and small with training wheels to help her daughter while she learned to ride. It looked so much like her own when she was younger. Her mind goes back to the day she presented the bike to Emma. The amount of screaming and excitement from such a little girl had shaken her.

Emma had grown without the simplest of things. So much she was missing and Regina hoped to give her everything. There was so much Regina was learning too. She had also grown up without a mother and though she and her father were close it wasn’t the same. Regina had to teach herself about makeup, boys, periods and everything else. Sure Regina had a few friends in high school and even college but not anyone she became close to.

After her father died, she’d isolated herself even further and became the witch that everyone was either afraid of or just plain didn’t like. But after running for Mayor, everyone seemed to vote for her because of her family’s history as practically royalty. Regina still hadn’t let people get close to her and though Emma was only 5 she made her life less lonely.

“Mommy?” Emma stepped into the shed. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” Regina moved her eyes over to Emma. She was looking over at her expectantly. She knew her father would have loved Emma and maybe they should go visit him sometime at her vault.

“Can we get the seed chicken?” Emma asked again.

“Yes, of course.” Regina smiled. She would make her father proud. She would raise her little girl to be loved just as much as she was.

“Madam Mayor!”A voice yelled from behind the pair as they walked. It was a much too beautiful day to drive.

Emma suggested they walked to main street where the Chinese restaurant is. Emma had a small purse in the shape of a dog that she took everywhere. It swung against her legs as they turned to see who was calling them.

Regina rolled her eyes in recognition of the voice. She begrudgingly turned around to look at Sydney Glass approaching them.

“Hi, Madam Mayor, I haven’t seen you in a while.” Sydney stepped up. He didn’t acknowledge Emma but instead stepped a little closer. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you. I have a few articles for the paper that I want to write and I wanted your input.”

“Well, Mr. Glass, I think it was safe to assume that you could have emailed me about this matter?”Regina raised a brow. She could feel Emma become impatient beside her. They were both very hungry and Sydney only proved to be in their way.

“I-i could have.” Sydney agreed. “I just thought we were friends and I was wondering if we could have lunch. Just the two of us.”

Regina clenched her jaw and she had to remember that Emma was beside her.

“Mr. Glass, have you forgotten that I am your boss and you are beneath me.”Regina spoke quietly. This man never gave up.

Emma looked between her mother and the man she was talking to. The glass guy was always bothering her mommy when it was clear she didn’t like him. He gave her a creepy vibe and she didn’t like how he always stood so close.

“Mommy?” Emma interrupted putting a hand to her tummy. “I feel sick.”

In that moment, Sydney finally looked down at Emma. The little girl had been a pest and distraction ever since Regina had taken her in. Regina’s attention was always on the kid. He would be damned if she ruined this moment now.

“How sick?” Regina leaned down to look Emma over. The back of her hand went to Emma’s forehead and then to her cheeks. Emma didn’t physically look sick. “Is your tummy okay?”

Emma shook her head and groaned. Regina pulled her into her arms so that Emma could lay her head on her shoulder.

“Madam Mayor, about what I was asking.” Sydney continued. “I that after the child is taken care of we could go and spend some time alone...”

“The child?” Regina could feel herself getting angry. As if he couldn’t get it through his thick skull that Regina didn’t want him. “This child is my daughter and if you haven’t heard she isn’t feeling well. I don’t know if you were dropped on your head as a young infant but I would suggest that you-”

“Is everything alright out here?” Ingrid stepped outside of her shop to interrupt a conversation that seemed to be heated. She had seen inside of her shop that this guy was becoming pushy. She’d seen him around town before but never knew his name.

“No, no problem at all.” Regina calmed. “Mr. Glass was just leaving before he finds himself with a lawsuit for sexual harassment and a line in the unemployment office.”

Sydney nodded and stepped away angrily. He couldn’t understand why Regina kept rejecting him.

Regina didn’t wait until Sydney was fully down the street before turning to Ingrid. She smiled at her apologetically.

“I’m very sorry for causing a scene in front of your shop.”

“Nonsense.” Ingrid waved her hand. “I could see a situation where it could have gotten worse for him.”

“Thank you either way.” Regina tilted her head. “I believe I have a sick little girl to look after.”

“I’m not sick, Mommy.” Emma lifted her head with a mischievous glint in her eye.

“You’re not?” Regina frowned. “What was that back there then?”

“I wanted him to go.” Emma shrugged. “But he talks a lot.”

Regina chuckled and gave Emma’s cheek a kiss. Her own little savior. Emma giggled and turned to Ingrid. The woman was watching them with a small smile on her face. Ingrid seemed to always be a happy person.

“Are you hungry?”Emma asked her. “Me and mommy are going to get seed chicken.”

“Emma, she has a shop to run I don’t think she’s available for lunch.”Regina replied for Ingrid. “I believe she’s a busy woman.”

“Not as busy as the Mayor.” Ingrid raised a brow. She wiped her hands on her apron and beckoned them inside. Emma slipped from Regina’s arms “Besides, I have help for the shop.”

Regina saw two young girls at the counter as they stepped inside. One was blonde and the other was brunette. Regina could only guess that these were Ingrid’s nieces. She and Emma have visited the shop frequently but she hadn’t met the girls just yet.

“Hi.” Emma waved approaching the counter. She pressed her face against the glass and began to salivate at all of the ice cream flavors. They all looked so deliciously good.

“Hi, I’m Anna.” The brunette was very bright and welcoming. “Are you here to get some ice cream?”

“Not today.” Regina answered before Emma could open her mouth to order. Emma pouted but didn’t speak.

“Oh well...” Anna was confused.

“Anna, Elsa, this is my...friend Regina and her daughter Emma.”Ingrid stepped behind the counter so she could take her apron off. “Regina these are my nieces. They help out around the shop like I told you.”

“Yes, of course, nice to meet you.” Anna held out a hand. “Wait is this...her? Like the hot mayor you’ve been telling my mom about?”
“Anna!” Elsa pinched her sister. The blonde was more reserved than her younger sister but it made Regina nod nonetheless.

Regina raised a brow and flicked her eyes over to Ingrid who had the decency to blush. That was interesting.

“Yes, my sweet Anna, this is the Mayor.” Ingrid finally spoke. “I was invited to lunch by her lovely daughter and I was wondering if you girls could watch the shop for a bit? Keep things running.”

“Yes, of course.”Anna smiled down at Emma who was still eyeing the ice cream.

“Mommy, can we get ice cream after?”

“Yes, I suppose.” Regina relented.

Emma clapped excitedly and ran to the door. She looked back impatiently.

“Come on mommy, come on Ms. Ingrid.” Emma called back using the manners that Regina was bestowing upon her.

Regina held the door for Ingrid as they started off down the street. Emma was a few feet ahead of them skipping the whole way. In the middle of her skipping, Emma suddenly stops in front of a woman who looked a little lost.

Emma steps back to take Regina’s hand. She blindly reaches for Ingrid’s too.

“Hi, I was wondering if you could direct me to town hall?” The woman asked.

“Yes, it’s on McKinley a few blocks over.” Regina spoke. “Is there anyone specific that you’re looking for?”

“A woman, her name is Regina Mills, I heard that she’s the mayor.” The woman spoke.

“That’s my mommy.” Emma spoke up.

The woman looked at Regina suspiciously. Regina recognized those eyes from somewhere but she couldn’t quite place them.
“I can’t meet with you right now but here.” Regina pulled out a card from her purse. “If you call and speak with Valerie my secretary she will set you up with an appointment as soon as possible. Tell her I sent you.”

The woman nodded and watched as Regina and the two blondes walked away. She looked down at the card and grinned.

“Well, Regina I think it’s time for us to have a little chat about taking back what’s mine.” The woman stuffed the card into her pocket.

 

The Chinese restaurant wasn’t too busy for the lunch rush. Despite Storybrooke being small it wasn’t too small to not be diverse. This was Regina’s favorite place to come when she was in the mood for Chinese.

“So, what do yo do year round?” Regina asked as they sat waiting for their order.

“I have a diner.” Ingrid answered. “it’s in the next town over. I can admit it’s nothing like Granny’s but it keeps me busy. The girls come to stay with me in the summer to help out. I usually go back home in the winter. My sister is my business partner so she runs the diner when I’m away.”

“That sounds like a lot of work.” Regina brushed a hand over Emma’s now loose ponytail.

“It is but it keeps me busy.” Ingrid smiled.

They both watched as Emma stood up to look at a vending machine full of snacks and drinks.

“You’re not married? No husband or kids?”Regina inquired. She could admit that over the past month she had become interested in Ingrid.

“No kids.” Ingrid was enjoying Regina’s questions. “As for a husband, I prefer more feminine suitors if that’s anything to go by.”

“So you like women?” Regina wanted to make sure that she was understanding the other woman correctly.

“I like one woman.” Ingrid gave that charming smile that made Regina warm. “But yes, I like women. Does that make you uncomfortable?”

“No, not at all.” Regina assures her. “I have never been with a woman but I think that love is blind. I would hate to limit myself or anyone else to one gender.”

Ingrid took this as Regina’s way of saying that she wasn’t straight. This should be fun. She studied the brunette and she knew that Regina was beautiful. That much was apparent. A good mother of course but there was a lot more to her.

“Mommy, our food is ready.” Emma spoke as the woman at the counter gave her a few extra fortune cookies.

They all sat down to eat and Emma was excited to get her chicken and noodles.

“Mommy?” Emma asked suddenly. “Why don’t we ever say grace?”

Regina’s eyes widened like a deer in headlights. She was never big on religion and she certainly didn’t believe in pushing her own beliefs on her child.

“Well, Emma, I think I can speak for your mother when I say it’s never crossed her mind.” Ingrid looked to Regina for assurance that it was okay to speak.

“Do you want to say grace, Emma?” Regina asked.

Emma shrugged and picked up a noodle with her fingers. She held it over her head before eating it.

“We do everything different.” She commented. “I don’t know.”

“You’re right but if it’s something you want to do then we can.” Regina held out a napkin to catch Emma’s fallen noodle. Just like a true mother.

“Can I think about it?” Emma looked over to her seriously.

“Of course.” Regina squeezed Emma’s hand and went back to eating her own food. Throughout the rest of lunch Emma told them the story of Snow White. It was her favorite fairy tale and she’d always been obsessed with it.

Regina and Ingrid listened and laughed at Emma’s theatrics. She was always the star of the show.

Neither mother or daughter knew that their lives were about to get a bit more rocky.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit
By: LockedSoulsAM

 

Enjoy =)

Chapter 9

“Are you sure she’s fine staying here with you all?” Regina asked as she set down Emma’s backpack and juice cup on the table. She was in the back of Ingrid’s ice cream shop with Elsa and Ingrid. Anna was up front with Emma showing her how to make ice cream cups. Regina had to thank her lucky stars that Emma was so comfortable with them. Usually Regina would take her to work with her but today she was swamped with meetings.

Regina mentioned the other night to Ingrid that she was looking for a babysitter and the woman volunteered with enthusiasm. Regina had to admit that she was a little nervous leaving her little girl alone with anyone. She’d grown attached to her daughter and she didn’t trust easily. Emma was good with people for the most part but she could tell they still had a long way to go as far as Emma trusting anyone besides her. That changed with Ingrid and her nieces. Emma seemed to take a liking to them rather quickly.

“Yes, she will be fine.”Ingrid gave her a reassuring smile. “I know how hard it is to leave your child with seemingly complete strangers but I can promise you that she is fine.”

“I can’t thank you enough for this.” Regina gave her an apologetic look. “I know this is pretty last minute and I truly didn’t have any other options as of yet.”

“She’s no problem Ms. Mills.” Elsa spoke this time. The teen was usually so quiet and rarely spoke unless she needed to. “Emma is a sweet little girl and Anna will keep her entertained all day.”

Elsa knew her younger sister would have so much fun with Elsa. They got along so well despite their age difference.

“Thank you so much.” Regina nodded and looked down at the watch on her wrists. “She has a change of clothes in her bag along with a few snacks and toys. She should have a nap if she can but I assure you that she will be well behaved. Isn’t that right Emma?”

Regina directed her gaze toward her daughter who was entering the room.

“Yes, Mommy, I’ll be a good girl.” Emma nodded and asked to be picked up. Regina happily obliged and picked her up. She landed a few kisses to Emma’s cheek and with another whisper of her to be good, Regina left.

Regina gave another thank you to Ingrid and she was gone. Ingrid gave Emma a smile before going to the front of the shop to turn on a few lights. Elsa began her usual duties with wrapping up her long platinum blonde hair in a hair net. Anna did the same and turned to Emma. The little girl looked around the kitchen and she could tell that it was pretty cold. There was another room in the back that must be Ingrid’s office but she didn’t want to go back there. Emma bit her lip and she was glad that her mommy dressed her in jeans.

“So, Emma, what do you want to do today?” Anna asked the little girl. She could tell that Emma was nervous being away from Regina.

“Can I help you make ice cream?”Emma shrugged. She didn’t think there was much to do for the day.

“That would be okay.” Anna nodded and lifted Emma to sit on the counter. She studied Emma for a minute and decided that Emma would be cute with pigtails. “Do you mind if I put your hair up? We can’t really have it out around food or anything.”

Emma bit her lip and looked over at Elsa. No one has really touched her hair but her Mommy and she didn’t know if she felt comfortable with Anna touching it.

“Emma, how about I do it?” Ingrid suggested as she stepped into the room. “I’ll take you in the back and we can color for a bit until the store picks up? Maybe we can come back out when we are ready to make the ice cream?”

Emma nodded and slipped off the counter so she could take Ingrid’s hand. Ingrid reminded her in a way of her Mommy. She was always super nice and her voice was softer.

“Can you girls set up while I make sure Emma is okay?” Ingrid knew the answer before she finished her sentence. Though Elsa and Anna were only 17 and 15 respectively, they were very smart girls. They’d been helping with her shop for a few years now and were more than capable of starting on the ice cream.

Anna nodded and gave Emma a big smile. Elsa began to instruct her sister on what they could do. The girls both knew that Emma was Regina’s foster daughter and they knew that Emma probably didn't have an easy life. Top that with her being 5 and away from her mommy and they knew her feelings.

Ingrid lead Emma into her office where the lights were already on. It had a desk along with a table and a couch in the corner. It was nothing like her Mommy’s office in City hall but it was nice.

“Emma, how about we go and sit on the couch?” Ingrid suggested and left the door open. “I think I have just the right tools that can help with your hair.”

Emma slipped on the couch and watched as Ingrid pulled a brush and a few hair bands from her desk drawer.

“A girl has to be prepared.”Ingrid grinned and sat next to Emma. “Now, Emma, you will be going to kindergarten or first grade soon?”

Ingrid knew it was best to start up conversation with the little girl so that she felt comfortable enough to let her touch her hair.

“First grade.” Emma spoke softly. In this moment, she really wanted her Mommy. She did like Ingrid and her nieces but she also wanted her Mommy.

“Can I show you some pictures?” Ingrid offered. “I have a few when Elsa was starting first grade.”

Emma nodded at this. It was weird to think of the tall teen as anything but. Elsa seemed so strong but she was always so quiet.

Ingrid pulled out her phone and opened up an application that she’d used to upload old pictures. There were a few of herself and her sisters but she soon found pictures of Anna and Elsa when they were little. She handed the phone to Emma so that the little girl could see better.

“Wow.” Emma was in awe as she saw how little the girls were. “Elsa looks like me!” Emma noted how similar their blue eye and hair were.

Ingrid had started braiding her hair and she was being gentle just like her mother. Ingrid smiled and looked over Emma’s shoulder to see what picture Emma was speaking of. She grinned as it was Elsa sitting on the front steps of their home in a blue dress and black Mary janes to match. She noted how Emma and Elsa did indeed share similar features.

“She kind of does.” Ingrid agreed. “I think it’s the eyes.”

Emma nodded and flipped through the pictures before she set the phone down.

“Ms. Ingrid do you look like your mommy?” Emma asked.

“I do, but I think my sisters look like her more.” Ingrid smiled in remembrance of her mother.

“I don’t know what my real mommy looks like.” Emma informed her. “I don’t think she is as pretty as my mommy Gina though. She’s the prettiest.”

“I agree.” Ingrid hummed in amusement. She let tied off Emma’s plaits and turned on the camera feature so that Emma could check for herself. Emma giggled and inspected her hair.

“Now I really look like Elsa.” Emma smiled widely. “Can I go show her?”

“Yes, go ahead.” Emma stood and almost ran to the door before turning back to hug Ingrid.

“Thank you for not hurting my head.” Emma smiled and ran out of the office in search for Anna and Elsa.

Ingrid smiled and her heart warmed. In that moment she wondered how it would feel to have a child of her own. Her thoughts go back to Regina mentioning how lonely and quiet her life was before Emma. She listened to Emma’s laughter as the girls spoke to her. Today was going to turn out great.

Regina huffed as her last meeting ended and she stepped into her office to close the door. It was almost lunch time and she was ready to go home. She missed Emma and all she wanted was for her little girl to be with her. She fought the urge to text Ingrid but she decided to and sent her a text anyways.

Settling at her desk, Regina decided to get started on the pile of paperwork she needed to do. So many policies and motions she needed to approve. She oversaw a lot and the meetings with her council gave her ample time to go over a few things. Regina loved her job dearly and being mayor at so young was something that surprised a lot of people. But she was a good mayor and fair to all of her people.

Picking up her pen, Regina rolled her neck a little and picked up the first packet in the file. This would take a while. She was deep into a paper from the fire department when she heard a knock at her door. She assumed it was Valerie and gave her a shout to come in. Valerie was a tiny woman with long wavy hair and glasses. She was maybe the only member in Storybrooke that wasn’t afraid of her.

“Hi, Madam Mayor, you have a woman that insists on seeing you and usually I would send her away but she says its urgent.” Valerie spoke and gestured to the woman standing beside her. Regina’s eyes shifted to said woman and she could recognize her from the other day.

“Usually, visits from citizens are by appointment and are overseen by one of my council members.” Regina sighed with an air of annoyance. “Please do come in.”

“I’m sorry Madam Mayor.” Valerie apologized. “I’ll go pick us up some lunch. Your usual?”

Regina nodded and waited until Valerie was out of the office before turning her gaze back to the woman. The woman was familiar to Regina and she couldn’t pin point why. Regina gave her a once over and the woman was dressed in a pants suit that screamed money. Her hair was in a bun and pulled back to show her brown eyes.

“Hello.” Regina stood up and gave a true politicians smile. She held out a hand for the woman to take and the woman waved her off. Regina frowned and could feel the clock ticking in her head. Who was this woman? “Well, I’m Regina Mills...”

“I know who you are.” The woman stepped a little closer and this time she gave Regina a once over. “It’s as if you don’t even recognize me. But then again, you were such a young thing when I left...”

“Left?” Regina muttered to herself and frowned. “Can I ask who the hell you are?”

All of her professionalism went out the window as the woman walked around her office. She picked up a picture of Emma and ran her fingers over it.

“This is your daughter?” This woman, snarky Regina decided to call her, glanced back at her and then back to the picture. “She’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.” Regina grit her teeth. “But seeing as I have not a single clue who you are. I ask that you stop with whatever game you are playing. As you know I'm the mayor and I do have a town to run.”

“That’s right.” Snarky suddenly stood straight and set the picture back down onto Regina’s desk. “Is that such a way to speak to your mother?”

“My mother?” Regina felt her heart drop into her stomach. “That’s absurd my mother is...”

“Dead?” Snarky left out a deep laugh before wiping a tear from her eye. She looked to Regina’s confused face. “Surely, you don't believe that I’m dead. Look a little closer and you will find yourself in my eyes.”

“Cora?”Regina whispered incredulously. “You. Why and How?”

“How did I find you dear?” Cora stepped over to Regina. “It’s not very hard. You are my daughter after all.”

Regina was shaking and she didn’t know how to control it. She looked into Cora’s eyes and could only see her own. Cora hadn’t been in her life since she was about 6 years old and she didn’t remember the woman at all. Only through stories her father had told her. But now looking into her eyes, the sense of familiarity she had made sense.

“What is it you want?” Regina found herself asking.

“To know my daughter of course.” Cora smiled. “My granddaughter too it seems. She’s blonde so I assume she looks like her father. Assuming she isn’t a bastard child.”

“Don’t you dare speak of Emma that way.” Regina fiercely stood shaking away her nerves. “She is none of your businesses. What makes you think I will let you into my life let alone hers. After all of these years?”

“Every girl deserves to know their mother.” Cora remained calm and almost seemed to enjoy Regina’s anger.

“Not after all of these years.” Regina didn’t even know if she believed this woman. “What makes you think I would want to know you anyways? Not after you left my father and I.”

“Your father?” Cora’s brow quirked and she chuckled. “Oh, my sweet girl.” She reached up to touch Regina’s cheek and for a second Regina let her before she pulled away.

“Yes, my father, he told me you left us.”

“Figures he would tell you that.” Cora rolled her eyes. “Don’t you know dear, your father’s a politician and all they do is lie. How about we get to know each other? I say dinner?”

“No!” Regina bellowed. “You do not get to sit here and make accusations about my father when he isn’t even alive to defend himself. I do not believe anything you are saying. I do not have interests in getting to know you and I certainly will not be having dinner with you.”

“Well, Regina, we all have stories we don’t want to be told.” Cora shrugged in a way that made Regina even angrier. “I think you will like to know that your dad had more of them than you know. Dinner at 8 in that dump Granny’s.”

“Get out!” Regina found herself screaming. “Get out of my office and never come back.” Regina would be damned if this woman stood here and spewed horrible things about the one man that took care of her. The only parent that she had ever known.

“It’s a shame he didn’t teach you manners.” Cora sniffed haughtily and stepped to the door. “It’s fine I know when I am not wanted. Dinner is still on the table and I expect you to be there. Say hello to my grandchild for me.”

Regina gave a snarl and she was just about to give this woman a piece of her mind when Cora slipped out of her office and closed the door. Regina stood a few minutes just watching the door before she dropped into her chair and began to gather her bearings. Her hands were shaking and she couldn’t help but let tears drop. Running her hands through her hair, she tried to make sense of everything that just happened.

This woman was claiming to be her mother. A woman she could not remember for the life of her. Regina always dreamed of this day but she didn’t know it would ever happen and not like this. This woman was not how she imagined. She was cold and snarky and just so not what she expected. One thing she had wrong was the way the woman regarded Emma.

That was one thing she would not allow. Emma was her child and not any of those things she said. Regina shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. She wanted to see Emma now. Her meetings from later would have to be pushed back right now she just couldn't handle being in this office any longer.

Emma smiled and waved as a customer walked out of the shop. She was having so much fun with her friends. Elsa let her take orders and work the register. It was fun recommending ice cream to people and she’d even met a little boy named Roland and his dad.

She helped Elsa count money and her head excitedly went up when the bell at the front gave them notice that someone else had arrived. She immediately grinned when she spotted her mother coming up to the counter.

“Momma!” Emma yelled and ran around the counter so she could hug Regina’s legs. Ingrid came out to see what all of the commotion was about and she was surprised to see Regina.

“Hi, baby.” Regina spoke quietly and ran a hand over Emma’s hair. “I see someone braided your hair.”

Emma nodded enthusiastically and looked into her mother’s eyes.
“Uhuh. Ms. Ingrid braided my hair and she was real nice about it.”

“That’s great baby.” Regina made eye contact with Ingrid and shifted her gaze right back to Emma.

“Emma, how about I take you back to get your stuff?” Elsa suggested.

Emma nodded and instructed for Regina not to leave without her.
Both Ingrid and Regina watched the girls go into the back. Ingrid stepped a little closer to Regina and set a hand on her shoulder.

“Is everything okay?” She tilted her head to catch Regina’s eye. She could see the tear tracks on her face that thankfully Emma hadn’t noticed. “We weren’t expecting you for a few more hours.”

Regina nodded but then sighed. “My mother.. is back in town.”

“I would say that was a good thing but I notice you’ve been crying.”

Regina gave a tight smile and looked to the floor. “My mother hasn’t been here all of my life and she shows up now. I have no clue why but I didn’t think it would affect me like this. I had to leave the office to see Emma and make sure that she...”

Regina couldn’t finish her sentence as she couldn’t figure out what she wanted to say.

“You wanted to make sure she was okay.” Ingrid finished for her. She looked at Regina in sympathy. They could hear Emma’s laughter from the back. “She’s fine Regina and you’re a great mother.”

Regina wasn’t expecting Ingrid to hug her and she stayed tense for a few seconds. But then she relaxed and wrapped her arms around the slightly taller woman. She was warm and her hug wasn’t too tight or restricting. It was just right and Regina didn’t think a hug was what she need until now.

“Regina, I’m your friend and you can always talk to me.” Ingrid whispered into her ear. She loosened her hold and she found that Regina hadn't let go. “Emma is beautiful and she is okay. She loves you and granted I don’t know what happened today I know that she will always love you.”

Regina pulled back but her hand found Ingrid’s. She looked into the other woman’s eyes and only found care and sympathy. Something else she didn’t think she needed. It was nice to have a friend.

“Thank you.” Regina spoke softly. “For taking care of her today and for the hug.”

“There are more where that came from.” Ingrid rubbed her thumb on the back of Regina’s hands re-assuredly.

“Mommy, did you know that Elsa can sing?” Emma broke their little bubble and came to stand in front of them. Regina looked from Emma to Elsa and she smiled.

“I did not know that.” Regina grinned. “Maybe one day I could hear it?”

Elsa smiled back shyly and she averted her gaze down to spot that her aunt and Regina were holding hands. She arched her brow but said nothing.

Regina pulled away and took Emma’s hand instead.

“Emma, let’s go home.”

Emma nodded and waved at Elsa and gave a quick hug to Ingrid. Ingrid waved back and smiled at Regina.

“Don’t be afraid to call me if you need anything.”
Regina nodded and lead Emma out of the shop and into her black Mercedes. Emma chattered about her day with the Fisher’s.

“So, you say the girl is adopted?” Cora inquired as she watched Regina pulled off down the road. They had been watching the family for a while and it was a sight to see.

“Yes, well no, she’s not adopted yet but Regina has become very fond of the brat.” Sydney stood next to Cora looking on in disgust.

“Be careful man.” Cora warned him. “She is still my grandchild. But I think I have a way of changing that.” She looked inside of the shop once last time before walking away.

Things were about to become a little more rocky for the Mills girls.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By LockedSoulsAM

A/N: I love your reviews times a million and if there is anything you would like to see be sure to put it into a review. I also noticed that some of you hate Cora's appearance which is what I intended. I think you will hate her even more in the upcoming chapters.

I also have a few of you asking if Regina could find the girl that Emma spoke about in a previous chapter and it's possible.

Enjoy=)

Chapter 10

An immediate rush of sadness washed over Regina as she stepped into her family's mausoleum. It was a dark, but well lit place that kept the remains of multiple Mills' generations. It's been a while since she's been here and she has excuses for that. Neither of them felt right but in this moment she didn't care. The flowers in her hand kept her from shaking as she stepped deeper into the area she was headed.

The familiarity of the place is settling her saddened spirits. Sometimes she can't believe that her father is gone. His death brought her more than grief as he was the only man she'd ever truly loved. No other could fill that hole in her heart.

Henry Mills' coffin was in the middle of the room just as she wanted it to be. He was her world and as Regina approached it she found herself being overwhelmed with emotion. Her fingers trace across his name before she sets the flowers atop the coffin. She sighs deeply and just tries to remember her father. It had been 10 years but it seemed like so much longer.

"Daddy..." Regina spoke softly. She had so much to tell him. "I know how excited you were for me to be successful. We would always go over my life plans and dreams. It was something we'd talked about for long amounts of time. But something you always said you wanted was grandchildren. I'm upset that I couldn't give one to you before you died. You have one now, her name is Emma and she's five years old and she's so amazing."

Regina smiled and a tear fell from her eye and she quickly wiped it away.

"She quite literally popped up in my life in the most unconventional way. She's such a little light in my life and I've been lost for so long. I didn't give birth to her but she feels as much mine as a child could ever be. You would have loved her Daddy. Just as she would have loved you.."

Regina chuckled as she imagined her father spoiling Emma rotten. Going behind her back to sneak the little girl candy. Emma being in love with him as much as she was. A sense of melancholy filled her as she reminded herself she could never have those moments with the two most important people in her life.

Regina keeps her hands in place as she tries to express how wonderful Emma is. She smiles as she remembers the blue eyes and bright smile that wakes her every morning. Regina had to remind herself that one day she would be the one waking Emma. It would not be fun.

"I want to bring her one day to meet you." Regina nodded as if agreeing with herself. "Many would say she's softening me up. I'm not really the hard mayor when I'm with her."

Regina just stood in silence as her thoughts moved from Emma to Cora.

She'd skipped the dinner that Cora offered last week. It wasn't something she was entirely interested in. Knowing Cora had always been something she's wanted. Growing up, she always felt that there was a missing piece in her life. She'd always imagine what it would be like to have a then Cora waltzed into her office and was the exact opposite of any of her wildest dreams. Her father had told her very little about her mother and only explained that she left of her own accord. Cora's words rung in her ear about him having secrets.

What did that mean exactly? What did any of this mean?

Regina could figure that Cora was back for money. Why else would she come back? After 26 years it just doesn't make sense to her.

"I love you, daddy." Regina kissed her fingertips and set them on the coffin against his name. She let them linger and took one last look before walking away. She was going to pick Emma up from Ingrid's and take her to the park.

Emma was becoming quite attached to the Fisher's. Regina would be lying if she said she wasn't. Ingrid was always so nice to her, very flirty in fact. Regina quite liked it and it's been a while since she's shown any interest in anyone. But that didn't mean she was ready for a relationship or anything. Ingrid hadn't crossed the line so it wasn't something she felt she needed to talk about just yet.

Regina liked that she found a friend in the beautiful woman. Ingrid was about the only person besides maybe Granny Lucas that she would trust in keeping Emma. It would be hard when Emma would have to go back to school just next week. She wasn't ready but she knew Emma needed an education. Plus she couldn't always keep the girl with her all day. It was going to be hard indeed. Regina closed the door to the mausoleum.

It was time to go get her girl.

 

"Hi, Emma!" Roland was surprised to see his friend at the park. When he met her at the ice cream shop she was really funny. They had hit it off instantly and when he left he hoped he would see her again. He smiled widely and flashed his dimples when his friend waved back at him. "Hi, Emma's mommy."

"Hello."Regina thought he had to be the most adorable little boy she's ever met. He was a few inches taller than Emma and looked a little older. Emma obviously knew him from somewhere but she couldn't tell.

"Mommy, this is my friend Roland." Emma introduced him. "He was at the ice cream shop with his daddy. Can we go play?"

"Of course." Regina waved them off. She watched as brunette and blonde hair bounced on each head as they ran to the swings. Emma was more open with other kids and that's something that she loved.

Yes the little girl had been through so much but her spirits never seemed to be broken. Her innocence was what kept Regina going. As long as Emma was happy so was she. It always helped to see that the little girl was so happy here with her.

Regina found herself almost having a heart attack when Emma jumps from the swing and races Roland to the jungle gym. She would have to warn Emma to never do that again. She would go into cardiac arrest if she tried to. With her hand to her heart, Regina tried to control her breathing. Is this what having a child was always like?

"It never gets easier." Regina turns to follow the voice that is speaking to her. "Mal?"

Regina's eyes widen as she recognizes her friend from college. Well actually, back then Mal, short for Maleficent, was more than a friend. But it was in the past and she'd rather not bring up their bad breakup. Regina raises a brow as she tries to guess why in the world Mal was here.

"Regina?" Mal is also surprised to see a familiar face. "What are you doing here? I thought I recognized you but I couldn't be sure."

Regina gives a small smile and nods. "I'm here with my daughter, Emma. She's over there in the green t-shirt." Regina gestures over to where Emma is now playing tag with Roland and another little girl. She sure did make friends fast.

"That's my daughter she's playing with." Mal replied. "Her name is Lily. I didn't know you got married."

Shaking her head, Regina scrunched her nose in a way that wasn't like her. She could tell that Mal was trying to get information out of her and she would supply what she saw fit. It's been years since they have spoken to each other. Almost seven if she counted correctly.

"No, I'm not."

"Oh." Mal simply looked Regina up and down. Her body was the same in a Grey skirt suit that hugged her curves in all the right places. Though she was curvy her body showed no signs of childbirth which was odd to her considering she had a child. Regina subconsciously rubbed her sweaty hands against her skirt and cleared her throat.

"How long have you been back in Storybrooke?" She inquired. She and Mal attended Princeton and met there. Neither knew that the other was from Storybrooke until they started dating. When her father passed, Regina was just on her last year of law school and she would have dropped out if it wasn't for Mal. It was great to see her friend again.

Regina made a joke in her head about people coming back into her life at unwanted times. She snorted and rolled her eyes. It was just her luck. But she realized she was being rude and turned back to Mal who opened her mouth to speak.

"Divorce." Mal shrugged. "I just felt like it was time to be back home. Imagine how proud I was when I found out you had been elected Mayor."

"Yeah, it was something I always wanted to do." Regina frowned at the mention of divorce. She hadn't even known Mal was the type to marry. At least not the Mal she knew. "So your little girl..."

"She's my world." Mal let out a small smile. Regina could tell that there was something different about the woman next to her. She seemed more mature and there wasn't the fire in her eyes that she'd always come to know. "I haven't gone soft though. I hope you haven't either."

"Of course not!" Regina laughed. "I didn't know you even wanted children."

"I didn't either." Mal chuckled. "But life goes on and things change."

Regina wanted to know everything about Mal's life. She was one of her closest friends and they lost touch and it was partly her fault. She isolated herself for so long it was weird to think she was ever close to anyone at all.

Regina stops herself from prying. It wasn't really her business and Mal's closed off answers were unsettling.

"Mommy!" Emma interrupted them before she had time to change the subject. "Mommy!"

"Yes, Emma, don't run." Regina cringed as she watched Emma stumble over her own shoe laces. The little girl didn't fall and kept her momentum. Jumping onto the bench, Emma sits between the two women and smiles widely. "I have two friends now Mommy." Emma held up her hand to show two fingers.

"You do?" Regina suddenly forgot that Mal was there and all of her attention switched to Emma.

"Yep." Emma nodded and brought her leg up to sit on Regina's thigh. Regina didn't even flinch. "But can you tie my shoes? Roland or Lily doesn't know how. I don't either."

Regina took Emma's laces and grinned. "I guess we will have to teach you someday."

"Not today because I want to finish playing though." Emma waited patiently as Regina made sure to double tie her laces.

"I guess you're having fun." Regina finished one shoe and patted Emma's thigh so that she could tie the other. Emma breathed heavily but obliged. Regina could remember when she had that much energy. It looked tiring now. But she knew that Emma would sleep well into the night after her bath.

"I didn't get to go to the park a lot." Emma frowned. "Playing is for good kids."

"Well, you're a great kid." Regina kissed the top of her head. Regina wanted Emma to forget anything anyone had ever said to her before she came into her care. "Now, go and play with your friends. I'll be right here."

Emma hugged Regina quickly and set off to go and play once again. She was having so much fun being with other kids her age. She was still the smallest but it wasn't as scary. No one was pushing her around or being too loud. Roland and Lily were being nice to her and she really liked them both.

"You're great with her." Mal acknowledged. "I always knew you would be a great parent."

"Thank you." Regina brushed invisible dirt from her skirt.

"She's really cute." Mal tilted her head. "but she mentioned not being able to play..."

"Emma, is my foster daughter." Regina sighed. "She came to live with me two months ago. She's lived with horrible people and it's been a long road to even get her as comfortable as she is. Sometimes I still have to reassure her that it's okay to be a kid."

"I'm sorry." Mal sympathetically shook her head. " I didn't know. It must have been tough for her. She's a doll."

"I know." Regina agreed. "I'm trying as best as I can."

"For what it's worth, it seems as though you're doing a great job."

Regina smiled at what her friend was saying. Despite not growing up with a mother, she was turning out to be a great one. It was her biggest insecurity that Emma would hate her for something and not want to live with her. She knew it was far fetched as of right now when the little girl adored her. But it was possible. As a parent it is so easy to make mistakes and Regina was still learning.

She only hoped she was doing well.

"Your mommy is very pretty." Roland expressed as he, Emma, and Lily sat on the jungle gym. His father was over on the other side of the park sitting with his Mommy. They were immersed in a conversation that he knew was probably boring.

"Thank you." Emma nodded as she picked with a piece of string on her shirt.

"You don't look like her." Lily pointed out. "I don't look like my mommy either."

Lily was always told how she looked a lot like her father. She'd inherited his darker features. She thought moving to Storybrooke was going to be a bore and she wouldn't find any friends. Emma and Roland seemed to be proving her wrong.

"Can I tell you a secret?" Emma's blue eyes glanced to each of her friends and then over to where Regina and Lily's mommy were having a conversation.

Roland nodded enthusiastically. He loved secrets. Lily shrugged much like her mother does.

"Regina is not my real mommy." Emma announced. "I was in foster care. But now she's going to adopt me."

"What is foster care?" Roland scrunched up his nose at the phrase. He didn't know what that meant.

"It's when you live in different places until you get a mommy or daddy." Emma tried to explain the best she could. It didn't make much sense to her but it was all she knew.

"What happens if you don't get new ones?" Lily tilted her head. This was interesting to her. She'd never heard of this place.

"Then you get all grown up and people don't want to adopt you anymore." Emma frowned. "I'm glad Gina wants me because those people were really mean. They hit me sometimes and yelled a lot."

"My daddy says you aren't supposed to hit kids."Roland felt bad for his friend. "Where is your real mommy then? You came out of her tummy right? How did she just leave you?"

"I don't know." Emma was filled with sadness as her friend asked questions she never could answer. "My mommy Gina says it's because my real mommy couldn't take care of me. So she gave me away so I could find people that could."

"But what if Ms. Gina doesn't want you anymore?"

All three friends sat in silence as Emma waited to answer. She didn't know what she would do if Regina didn't want her anymore. It probably meant that she had been bad. Emma was always getting into trouble so that time would be soon.

"I will run away." Emma decided. "I will run away and never come back. I'm good at stealing and I can sleep in small places."

"But you can stay with me and my mommy." Lily didn't like the sound of her new friend staying out on the street.

"But, your mommy and my Gina look like they know each other." Emma assumed. "She will tell Gina. Then I will get took to the home again."

"Well, she doesn't know my daddy." Roland volunteered. "You can stay with us. My mommy always says she wants a daughter. You could be my sister."

"That sounds good." Emma nodded. She was glad to have friends that would help her.

Deep inside she hoped that she would never have to leave Regina. Regina promised that she wouldn't kick her out and she wanted it to be true.

She hoped that it was true.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By:LockedSoulsAM

A/n: I hope you all enjoyed your holiday and I didn't plan on updating until at least later on this week but here I am!

Enjoy =)

Chapter 11

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Sydney questioned as they approached a random door. Apartment 22C on the 5th floor of Murphy Manor wasn't hard to find. The apartment building wasn't too shabby and it was a few towns away from Storybrooke. It had only taken him maybe two hours to find the address of Mary Margaret Blanchard.

The drive here had been filled with him asking questions about what they would do upon arrival. Cora was Regina's mother and she told him it was for the best. She approached him that day after the confrontation with Regina. At first he didn't believe her but when he saw the similarities between the two women he couldn't deny it.

When Cora mentioned that she wanted to find the biological mother of the Mayor's foster child he was skeptical. He didn't know much about Cora but she seemed hellbent on helping Regina or at least that's what she called it. Much of it didn't make sense to him but his anger at Regina rejecting him blinded him. So now here they were standing at Mary Margaret Blanchard's door.

"I'm positive." Cora gave him a look. She squared her shoulders and prepared to knock. "All we are doing is letting her know that her child, Emma,is fine and that she needs to sign papers and get the process started for her rights to be taken away. She gave Emma up for some reason. Surely, she doesn't want the child now. It's been years."

This seemed like a far fetched plan that may or may not work. No one even really knew the story of how Emma had become an orphan. He shrugs guessing they would find out soon. He takes a deep breath and gestures for Cora to continue.

Cora knocks twice before stepping back to stand tall. She was confident that what she had planned would work. When coming back to town she hadn't anticipated on the woman being so distracted, especially with a child. She had high hopes for her daughter and a child would only complicate things.

There was rustling behind the door before it quickly opened. A woman with pale skin and ruby red lips gave them a small smile before frowning. She was expecting it to be someone else. Cora seized the woman up before mustering up a smile of her own. Mary Margaret's pixie cut was truly atrocious but she could overlook that.

"Are you Mary Margaret Blanchard?" Cora asked.

"Yes..." Mary Margaret answered with suspicion. She didn't even know who these people were. Never before had she seen them. "Can I help you?"

"I'm Dave and this is Shirley." Sydney introduced them. "We have information regarding the child you abandoned almost six years ago."

Mary Margaret's eyes narrowed and then widened at his words. She took a deep breath almost as if she was deciding on what she should do. Mary Margaret stepped back to allow her guests inside. She quickly closed the door behind them and hurried to collect a few loose items from her couch to make room. Throwing them inside of a room to their left, she closes the door gently. Cora observes the apartment and while it was small it was a big enough for a child.

"So, can I get you anything?" Mary fidgeted with the edge of her skirt waiting for an answer. Cora and Sydney shook their heads in unison. Mary nodded her head and sat in the arm chair across from them.

Cora could tell the woman wasn't well off but she seemed decent enough. Her curiosity was getting the best of her and she wanted to know why the woman gave up such a precious child.

"Can I ask who you are?" Mary Margaret had kept her baby's life a mystery back during the dark times of her life.

"Never mind that dear." Cora waved a hand. "We just have a few questions that need to be answered."

"I'm not in trouble or anything am I?" Mary Margaret bit her lip in anticipation to her answer. She was still very young. Her life had been hard and she didn't need anymore complications. Especially not when she was just becoming sure of herself. "My baby, I mean, the baby, the little girl is she okay? She's not sick or anything is she?"

"Oh, no dear," Cora chuckled trying to ease the younger woman's fear. "We are just people that have to assure Emma's safety. No need to worry."

"Emma?" Mary Margaret muttered trying the name her tongue. It made her smile at the girls name before she looked up. "What exactly do you need to know?"

"You never gave up your rights."Cora began. She and Sydney both agreed on the way there that she would do all of the talking. She hadn't anticipated for the girl to be so young and for lack of a better word, dumb. This would be pretty easy. If the girl was anything like she planned all of this would work. "Emma, she's living with a woman who plans to adopt her soon. While that is amazing Emma can't be adopted until both biological parents sign away their parental rights."

"We need you to contact this person here and tell him the story." Sydney slid August Booth's card across the table. "Tell him that you would like to give up your rights. Let Emma be happy."

"So, my rights, they're still in tact." Mary Margaret said more to herself. "When, I left her at the fire station, I didn't think all of that through. I thought she would be better off without me. I drove for hours to New York and I dropped her off at their fire station. Where is she now?"

"Storybrooke, Maine." Cora supplied. "She's been in a number of foster homes but this one may be it. Now the system is all for reuniting children with their birth parents; within reason of course. I assume you did not want Emma. What about the father?"

Mary Margaret frowned as she tried to make sense of what they were saying. Emma was alive and fine. Granted, she hadn't left her tiny baby in a place where she couldn't be found. But it was still weird for her to hear. She takes the ring on her left hand and twirls it around. It was a telltale sign of her anxiety.

When she gave Emma away she wanted the little girl to find a better home. With two parents that could love and take care of her. At the time she was only a teen herself and didn't plan on keeping the child not without her David.

"He's...dead." Mary Margaret whispered. "You don't need to worry about him. You don't need to worry about either of us."

Cora nodded and stood before Mary Margaret could get a chance to ask more questions. Sydney stood and took one last look at Mary Margaret.

"Is she happy?" Mary Margaret found herself speaking. "Is she well taken care of?"

Cora grinned and looked back over her shoulder. Quickly hiding her excitement she shook her head, "That's not for me to answer. Call the number and sign away your rights. Do what's best for your little girl."

The couple let themselves out and the door closed with a soft click. Mary Margaret let out a sob that she hadn't realized she was holding. Past pain bubbled from the surface as she stood to sit on her couch. She didn't know who those people were or how they knew her little girl. Her Emma. But somehow she couldn't help but believe them in a way.

She found herself wondering what Emma looked like. Did she have blonde hair like her beloved David's? Her eyes? Her chin? Dimples? Was she tall for her age? Did she enjoy dolls or toy soldiers? Her eyes trailed over to the single card that was left on her coffee table. This August Booth could answer all of those questions for her? Maybe even more.

This was all so unexpected and had fallen into her lap out of nowhere. Wiping her tears away, Mary Margaret sits and swiped the card. Her legs take her to the kitchen where she opens the top of her trash and drops the piece of plastic into it.

Emma was happy without her. She was better off without her.

That would be the end of it.

 

Sydney pulled back over the town limits an hour after of driving. He shook his head as they saw the town sign in their view. He didn't really know Cora's angle but he was about to get answers. Pulling over to the side of the road, he cut the engine off and turned in his chair to her. She looked at him bewildered.

"What are you doing?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Sydney countered. "Why did you have me contact that woman? Why did you have me drive us all the way to her home?"

"Oh." Cora deflated. "My daughter, as a little girl, she was always so quiet and not what I wanted her to be. I always saw her potential even when my husband didn't. She's powerful now as Mayor. I came back because the money I was receiving from Henry's estate stopped coming. I had to come back and see why that was. Just my luck that I found out the bastard was dead."

Sydney truly did not understand one word she was saying. She was speaking in circles and seemed to be going everywhere.

"I want my daughter to know me." Cora spoke. "a daughter should know who their mother is."

"But it still doesn't make sense as to why you contacted the Blanchard girl." Sydney knit his brows in confusion.

"My daughter is in love with that little girl. It's clear that she wishes to adopt her." Cora spoke slowly. "That would be fine if the child was hers biologically. But she will only get in the way of what I want."

"You want money?" Sydney concluded. In all honesty, none of this made sense.

"That, and power." Cora agreed. "Regina is a very powerful woman but she doesn't know that she can have it all. I want to show her that she can."

'"But Regina has always wanted a child."Sydney replied matter of factually. "A family. How would potentially comprising Emma's adoption make her turn to you? A complete stranger?"

"Call it mother's intuition"Cora winked. "That Mary girl will do what we told her. But what comes next is entirely up to her. Let's just say I gave her a little push."

"You're one evil witch." Sydney muttered as he turned to look out of his driver's side window. "This will devastate Regina."

From what he was understanding, Cora hoped for Mary Margaret to want to take Emma back. That was a new level of low that he had ever seen in a single person. Why did Cora hate her daughter so much?

"Maybe." Cora shrugged nonchalant. It didn't really matter to her. "But if it does we will be there to pick up the pieces."

Sydney snorted and shook his head. He started up the car and continued to drive down the road. Nothing good could come from this twisted situation. He heard people did crazy things for money and power but sabotaging your own family was outrageous. He was beginning to rethink helping her in the first place.

This was all too much for him. Hurting Regina in that way was something he didn't want to do. The woman was the love of his life for goodness' sake.

Cora just smiled smugly in her seat at her plan. She always got what she wanted in the end.

 

"Emma, how do you like living with Regina?" Archie sat across from the blonde as they colored. Regina was beside them coloring right along with them. It's his first session with Emma and so far they were doing well. The little girl was so perceptive and very childlike in the way she was supposed to be.

Her past records showed a history of violence and ADHD but right now he couldn't see that. Granted this was their first session and he couldn't go off just this one but in his head he was hoping she had just been misdiagnosed.

"I like it." Emma simply spoke. She wasn't very fond of Archie just yet. He was a man and besides August most men were mean and bad. She reached down to stroke Pongo's head that was in her lap. Pongo was Archie's dog and he was very relaxing to the tiny blonde. When she and Regina arrived, he'd licked her face and wagged his tail until she sat down, then he jumped into her lap and didn't leave. He was a huge dog.

"Can you draw me a picture?" Archie began trying to get Emma's attention. She looked over to him with interest. He gave her a small smile before handing her a box of crayons. "These crayons are very special. They help you tell a story. I want you to draw me a picture of your favorite time with Regina. Whether it's playing at the park or sharing your favorite food with her."

"I can draw anything?" Emma examined the box of crayons. It was a 64 pack. An assortment of colors just for her in that moment. Her brows furrowed as she thought of what she wanted to draw.

"Yes, whatever you want." Archie confirmed. "Regina and I will draw our favorite times too. Does that sound good?"

Emma nodded and pulled out her favorite blue crayon. She quickly began to get to work while Regina and Archie gave her a head start.

"My favorite color is blue." Emma spoke aloud as she colored. "It's just like my eyes."

"Really?" Archie made sure to ask questions that would show his interest all the while having her continue to talk.

"Yep." Emma scribbled. Her hand was shaky in the way every 5 year old was as her crayon made contact with paper. She stuck her tongue between her teeth as she tried to focus on what she wanted to do.

"Emma, do you have a favorite food?" Archie asked her.

"I really like grilled cheese." Emma smiled happily. "Mommy makes the best grilled cheese."

This caused Regina to smile. In today's session she would be an observer and supply answers to any questions that Archie had.

"If you had a magic wand, what would you change in your life?" Archie stopped his coloring to look over at Emma. "Regina, how about you go first?"

"Hmm."Regina took her time to form a real answer. "I think I would change having to do laundry. It's the worst thing known to man. I would use my wand to magic my clothes clean."

"I would change having to walk Pongo." Archie chuckled. "I would love if he could take care of himself."

Pongo raises his ears at the mention of his name.

"It's okay Pongo." Emma whispered to the dog quietly.

Pongo whimpered and laid his head back in her lap. She was a really nice little human.

"Emma, what would you change?" Archie questioned.

"I would," Emma drawled as she set down her crayon. She looked over to Regina and then back to Archie. "I would make Gina my real mommy. I want to be from her tummy so no one can ever take me away again. When she adopts me maybe I can stay. But it's a long time from now."

Emma only knew because Regina informed her that if everything went well that in four more months she would be able to be adopted. Emma couldn't really determine how long that actually was but it wasn't soon enough.

Regina's heart warmed at her words. Sometimes Regina wished that too. She wished more than it was possible that Emma was her biological child. It didn't make a difference to her if Emma was or wasn't. But at this point of time she found herself wishing. Just as much as Emma.

"I'm done." Emma announced as she pushed a brown crayon back into the box. She blew across the paper before turning it so that it could be viewed.

Regina looked down at the paper and she could see two stick figures and what looked like a chair of some sorts. Or was it a bed? Or maybe a couch?

"Emma, can you tell me what's happening in the picture?" Archie prodded.

"It's me and mommy." Emma pointed to the slightly taller stick figure with brown hair and then to a smaller one with yellow hair. "Mommy is hugging me. That's my favorite time. When she hugs me I feel real safe. Like no one will hurt me."

"Have a lot of people hurt you, Emma?"

"Yes." Emma nodded. "People are mean and they made me feel sad inside sometimes. Mommy doesn't make me feel sad inside. 'Specially if I wet the bed or I spill something on the floor. Mommy doesn't hit me or make my skin turn colors. Those really hurt."

Regina frowned at what Emma was saying. She felt happy that Emma felt safe with her. Another part felt extremely sad at Emma's mention of being bruised and hurt. She could never physically hurt her little girl. It was a promise she made to herself even before she knew of Emma.

Archie nodded in sympathy as he let Emma take the lead. He knew the little girl was saying more than what anyone would be comfortable supplying.

"That's good Emma." He finally spoke. "I'm happy that your mommy loves you so much and that you love her too. I'm sorry that those people hurt you."

"Mommy says sometimes hurting people hurt people."Emma frowned and averted her gaze so that she was looking down at Pongo's head. "I wished people would stop hurting me and my wish came true. But those people are still sad. Sometimes they are angry and it's scary when they are angry."

"I know it can be scary."Archie agreed. "I'm happy that you're safe now."

"I don't like closets and my foster brothers used to lock me in there." Emma continued. "Then Gina saved me and now I'm safe. But sometimes it's still scary in my head and it hurts sometimes. I wish it would go away."

Emma slipped from under Pongo to crawl into her mother's lap. Her confession was scary to say and she didn't want to talk anymore. She hated thinking about everything in life she had to endure. In Regina's arms she felt safe and warm.

"Emma, when you go home I want you to put a sticker on everything that is your favorite."Archie wanted to lighten up the situation. He couldn't end their session with Emma in a bad head space. Children had hard times expressing themselves at time and he knew it wasn't good for here to go home like this. "Once you do it all I want you to show and share with your Mommy. Can you do that?"

Emma peeked from Regina's chest and looked over at Archie. Nodding her head, she turned so that her face was once again in Regina's chest.

"Thank you." Regina started. "Another appointment? Same time next week?"

"Yes, I'll make sure to mark my calendar." Archie stood. He gave them a moment before letting them out of the room.

"How about we go to Granny's for lunch?" Regina carried Emma down to the car.

"Can I get grilled cheese?" Emma's blue eyes peered up at her. She didn't like talking about her feelings and she told Archie more than she wanted to.

"Grilled cheese and a milkshake." Regina agreed. They both needed one.

 

"Emma, you are the cutest thing on this side of town." Granny smiled as she set both plates in front of the duo. Emma and Regina frequented her diner often and she was enamored with the little girl. Emma seemed to soften up the always hard mayor.

Regina was just about to thank Granny when her phone rang. It was August Booth and she wasn't expecting a call from him. This had to be important.

"Granny, do you mind keeping an eye on Emma while I take this call?" Regina asked while standing. Granny waved her off and sat next to Emma. The elderly woman began to tell Emma about her times as a little girl.

"August, hi, is there something wrong?" Regina stepped just outside of the diner.

"Yes and no." August sighed over the phone. He didn't really want to give her this news but he felt it was better to learn from her rather than if the process was moved farther along.

"What is it?" Regina could feel her stomach drop.

"Emma's biological mother contacted us."August explained. "This is a situation that's extremely rare but she wants to meet with me to know her options. I wanted to inform you before I went any further. I don't want you to panic and to keep taking care of Emma as you would."

"Yes, thank you." Regina frowned and she could almost feel her heart break into two. She knew he said not to panic but she couldn't help it. Emma's birth mother showed up and wanted to know her options. Why now?

"I'll keep you updated and tell Emma I said hi." August could tell how this would effect both of them. Emma was just getting comfortable with Regina and he really didn't see this ending well.

"I will." Regina hung up the phone. Looking down at her phone she tried to will the tears threatening to spill away. This was not happening. She turns back to the diner and takes a deep breath. In that moment she decided not to tell Emma until they knew for sure what was happening.

Stepping back inside the diner was hard for her. Emma's smile lit up even further as she spotted her mother.

"Momma, Granny used to be a girl scout!" Emma enthused as she approached. "That's so cool. Can I be a girl scout? Or a cheerleader? Maybe basketball too? Can I do those Momma?"

Granny noticed Regina's change of demeanor and though she wanted to question it not in front of the girl. She could see Regina reel her emotions back before speaking.

"You can be anything you want baby." Regina smiled. "Now, let's eat before our dinner gets cold."

Emma nodded in agreement and bit into her grilled cheese. She hummed and giggled as the taste filled her mouth. Regina tried to forget the phone call that just happened. For now she wanted to live in the moment with Emma.

For it all could be taken away from them soon.

 

"I like my dolls." Emma began to put stickers on everything she liked. If she had her way everything in her room would be sticker-ed but her Mommy warned her not to. Emma had pouted before finally giving in and only putting a sticker on what she really loved.

She had sticker-ed Mr. Waffles along with a few books Regina always read and a couple more toys. Her bed was a good one too. She loved everything about her room and this house. It was her home.

"Are you ready for bed, baby?" Regina stepped into the room where Emma was sitting on her bed. She grabbed Emma's choice book from the shelf and came to sit next to her.

"Yes." Emma slipped under the cover and leaned her head into Regina's chest also known as her safe spot. Regina wrapped her arm around Emma pulling her closer. Regina opened the book and read softly.

She didn't even make it to she second page before Emma was asleep in her arms. Regina just watched the little girl sleep for a few moments before putting the book aside. She couldn't find it in herself to move and go to her own bed. Instead, she flipped the lamp off and crawled under the covers with the little girl. Emma curled further into her and clutched her night shirt. Regina found it cute and she kissed the top of Emma's head one last time before closing her eyes.

They would get through whatever was coming together.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By: LockedSoulsAM

Chapter 12

Regina couldn't sleep the night after August called her with the news about Emma's birth mother. She'd tossed and turned the whole night as her mind went through every single scenario it could come up with. She finally settled on her back and stared up at the ceiling; a very bland ceiling compared to the walls around her. She almost forgot that she was in Emma's bed until a tiny hand found its way under her shirt to land her on stomach. She smiled at Emma trying to seek out her warmth and comfort even in a deep sleep. The slight tug in her chest becoming stronger as Emma whimpered and rubbed her face into her pillow.

She brushed a few strands from Emma's face and observed the little girl sleeping. Emma's chubby little cheeks were red from sleeping on her hand while her messy bed-head signified her wild sleeping. Her mouth formed into a pout as she tried to get comfortable while subconsciously scooting closer to Regina. Regina had given up on any sort of comfort that could come with sleeping in a twin bed. Both Regina and Emma were pretty tiny people but Emma slept at weird angles. Which Regina's ribs protested many times before.

Regina tried to clear her head and count sheep. She only got to 10 before she could close her eyes. It always worked when she was younger. This time it only seemed to frustrate her more. Regina sighed and opened her eyes to once again stare at the ceiling. This wasn't going to work at all. She quickly slipped out of bed and made sure to put Mr. Waffle in her place. Emma didn't move an inch and Regina internally celebrated her victory on not waking her child.

Bare feet padded along hardwood floors. They were a little cold and she stepped down into the foyer to turn off the air conditioning. It had been a little high throughout the day because of the summer heat. She must have forgotten to turn it off . Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned on a few lights to lead her path into the kitchen. She set about making herself a cup of chamomile tea to try and ease her mind. She needed it right about now.

Regina waited until the kettle was hot and turned it off just before it started to make any form of a squeal. Her eyes zeroed in on the clock hanging on her wall. It was almost 3 am. She rolled her eyes and groaned. Tomorrow would definitely be a rough day. Nothing was planned but the doom of knowing Emma would wake her up as early as possible troubled her.

Finally her tea was done and she carried her mug into the living room. Before she could flop down onto the couch she pulled a cover over her shoulders and tucked her legs under her. Essentially she was in the dark except for one little lamp in the corner she'd forgotten to turn off after putting Emma to bed.

Her gaze lifted to a few items left on the coffee table. There were a few stickers on the items and she chuckled. Emma seemed to love almost everything in this house. It made her happy how happy Emma was here. Her stomach had been in knots since earlier at the idea of Emma being taken away. She always knew there was a possibility of them finding Emma's birth mother before she could finalize the adoption. She knew they were looking for her. But this all seemed so sudden.

August hadn't given her much information but this woman, Emma's birth mother, wanted to weigh her options. Was it even really that hard to think about whether you wanted your child or not? Shaking her head, Regina decided long ago not to be judgmental of this woman. Whomever she was, this woman gave her Emma. Not directly but they'd found their way to each other.

Regina felt selfish in a way. Emma had the right to know who her mother was. Emma had the right to live with someone with her best interests at heart. Regina felt that she had Emma's best interests at heart and so much more. Emma had become her child in these past few months and with how good she was getting along this didn't need to change. Emma was a welcomed stranger in a time where she was alone.

That could all change in the blink of an eye. It physically hurt her heart to think about not waking up to Emma practically bouncing on her bed, or the little girl asking for grilled cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Her life would go back to being the dull life it had always been. Despite her job, Emma gave her a purpose.

"Momma?" Regina startled and turned to see Emma in her green footie pajamas with Mr. Waffle in one hand standing in the door way. She was using her other hand to rub the sleep from her eyes and it made her look so much younger. Regina's heart soared at the name and she beckoned Emma over.

Emma tiredly walked over to Regina where she spent no time thinking about crawling into Regina's lap. Once she was comfortable in Regina's arms she looked up at her sleepily. She snuggled under the cover and opened her mouth to speak.

"Momma, why are you down here?" Emma's raspy sleep filled voice filled her ears. She set her cup of tea down onto the coffee table but Emma held up a hand to stop her. "Can I try some?"

Regina didn't know if she should be letting Emma drink so late in the night but she tipped the mug to Emma's lips with instructions for the little girl to drink it slowly. Emma took a few sips before she found her spot against Regina's chest.

"Warm." Emma whispered and Regina couldn't decipher whether she meant the tea or her. It didn't need to be questioned at this point as Emma was probably half asleep anyways.

"I'm down here because I couldn't sleep." Regina set her mug onto the coffee table. She cradled Emma in one arm and made them both more comfortable against the couch cushions. "Why are you awake Missy? Did you have a nightmare?"

Regina was amazed at how soft she was with emma. Her whole demeanor seemed to change around her. Regina had been around children before and while they were cute none of them were Emma. Regina figured all parent's had this bias when it came to their kids. It was like a second nature to be so motherly and Emma seemed to love it. She craved comfort and Regina was always willing to give it to her.

"I just wanna be with you." Emma mumbled tiredly. Regina didn't like how this sounded and she knew they would be awake for a little while longer. "I'm scared."

"Of what?" Regina frowned. She rubbed Emma's back soothingly.

"I had a bad dream." Emma muttered. Little eyebrows furrowed as Emma tried to recount what she dreamt about. "I was in the hospital again. I woke up all alone and nobody was there. They gave me more medicine and I had to sleep. I don't want anymore. I couldn't find you, Momma."

"I know honey." Regina whispered rocking Emma in her arms. "No one is going to give you anymore medicine and no one is going to take you away. I'm right here and you're safe."

"You promise?"Emma's blue eyes shifted to meet hers. Regina wanted to promise and ease all of her fears but she couldn't. She couldn't promise and it hurt her to no end. So she deflected and began to tell Emma a story of when she was a little girl.

"You know when I was a little girl my daddy used to sing to me when I couldn't sleep?"

This seemed to do the trick and Emma was satisfied for the time being.

"Because your mommy couldn't do it?" Emma questioned.

"That's right." Regina's thoughts flashed to Cora and she shuddered. The few times she'd spoken with that woman she didn't seem to have a motherly bone in her body. "My daddy used to sing to me. He couldn't sing to save his life but it always made me feel better to hear his voice."

"Can you sing to me? Since I'm your baby? Right?" Emma so badly needed the confirmation that she was Regina's child for good. She needed to know that no one was going to take her away from a home she'd finally settled into.

"You are my baby and I can sing to you." Regina smiled. If her council members could see her now they would probably be stuck in between shock and some other emotion that wasn't equivalent to her behavior. Regina's mind drew a blank and while she wasn't a singer she had to think fast. So the first song that came to mind she found herself softly singing the melody.

"It must have been cold there in my shadow,"

Regina cringed as she began to sing Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler. Lord only knows why she chose that song but one look down at Emma and she continued. Blue eyes looked up expectantly and Regina cleared her throat before she began again.

"To never have sunlight on your face.

You were content to let me shine, that's your way.

You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,

While you were the one with all the strength.

A beautiful face without a name for so long,

A beautiful smile to hide the pain."

Thick lashes fluttered and Emma's eyes grew heavier as she let Regina's singing lull her into dreamland. Her singing wasn't as bad as she thought it was. At least not to Emma, but then again everything she did was great to Emma. It felt good to be looked up to in such a way.

It felt great to be a mother when she herself had grown up without one.

"Did you ever know that you're my hero,

and everything I would like to be?

I can fly higher than an eagle,

For you are the wind beneath my wings."

Regina pulled the cover over them even more and laid Emma on her side. Emma quickly pulled back into her and she sighed. Such a precious little girl that changed her life for the better. Regina was forever thankful for that.

A few more song lyrics played inside of Regina's head as she let herself succumb to her own exhaustion.

"It might have appeared to go unnoticed

But I've got it all here in my heart.

I want you to know I know the truth,

of course I know it

I would be nothing without you."

"Can I get two colors?" Emma pressed her face into the glass of the spa. Regina woke up with an idea of Emma's last day out of school to spend it at the spa.

It would be just the two of them on the last day of the summer getting ready for the upcoming school year. Emma didn't really need new clothes but later in the day they would have to do the dreaded school shopping. Emma was always excited about getting new things and Regina spoiled her rotten.

"Yes, you can." Regina put a few quarters into the parking meter. She hoped it was enough but didn't really know a person that would dare give the mayor a parking ticket. Turning to Emma, she winced as Emma's face touched the glass. "Emma, don't put your face on the glass."

"But why?" Emma pulled away to look up at her mother. "I need to see inside."

"There are germs and if you need to see inside your face does not have to touch the glass."Regina gestured that Emma could step inside.

"Will I get sick with germs?" Emma asked. She really didn't even know what germs were.

"You can." Regina replied while stepping up to the counter. Emma looked around at the entire spa. This was just the lobby and she was pretty sure there was more stuff to be seen in the back of the store. "Hi reservations for Mills."

"Hi, Miss Mills, I'm Connie." The girl at the counter smiled up at her. "I just need your ID and credit card."

Emma stood on the tip of her toes but she still couldn't see the person behind the counter. She was going to jump but one look from Regina and she decided not to. Emma was a little girl that didn't get into much trouble but there were still times where Regina found her being mischievous and a little rambunctious.

"Mandy will take you both into the back where you can change into your robes." Connie pointed to her friend that was waiting by a door in the corner. There were many doors but this one must have lead to the locker room.

"Hi, Ms. Mills, and little Miss Mills." Mandy greeted. "I hope you enjoy your visit here today and I'll show you to the locker room where you both can change."

Regina held onto Emma's hand as they were lead through the building and into the locker room. There weren't many other women there on a Sunday and Regina was grateful.

"Mommy, we have to change in front of all these people?"Emma tugged on Regina's hands. She wasn't shy but it was a little weird.

"We have bathrooms where you can change if it makes you more comfortable." Mandy mentioned as she grabbed a few towels and robes. "Since you're doing the mother daughter special I think it would be just fine for you."

"Yes, thank you." Regina rubbed her thumb on the back of Emma's hand. Once they were dressed in their robes(opting to keep their clothes on under) Regina and Emma took their places in a massage chair. Their feet were set in water while their hands were attended.

"Are you excited for school?" Regina felt now was a good time to talk to Emma about the upcoming school year. She didn't know when it would be appropriate to bring up the topic of Emma's birth mother. She didn't want the child to panic especially when she was herself.

"Yep." Emma nodded kicking her feet in the water. She was so tiny that if she sat back her feet wouldn't even touch the water or anything at all. "I'm going to see Roland and Lily there."

"Your friends from the park?"Regina remembered that Lily was Mal's daughter.

Emma nodded her head but never took her eyes away from her nails. She decided on red and green. She said they were Christmas colors and that even though it wasn't Christmas they would make her happy. Regina couldn't deny her after that.

"Mommy, I think Ingrid likes you." Emma commented out of nowhere. This made Regina choke on her own saliva. She looked down at the nail techs that shared looks of amusement and then back to Emma.

"What makes you think that?"

"I heard Elsa and Anna talking." Emma answered matter of factually. "They were teasing Ms. Ingrid and they said how she wanted to kiss you. Then Anna said she wanted to do more than kiss but what do you do that's more than kissing? Hugging?"

Regina's cheeks blushed and she shook her head. Anna was certainly how she imagined herself to be at that age. No filter and she said whatever came to mind. Despite being through trauma of her own, Emma's knowledge of sex seemed to be minor and she was relieved. Regina didn't think this was the appropriate place to answer Emma's questions.

"Hugging, yes." Regina thought this would satisfy Emma until she was really able to have a conversation with Emma. At her age she was becoming more curious about her body and she needed to know about good touch and bad touch. They'd briefly talked about the subject all those weeks ago but now was the time to go more in depth. Emma truly needed to understand.

"Okay." Emma nodded.

Regina sighed and let herself relax while she got a pedicure. Emma carried on a conversation with the staff and she was a joy to be around.

Today was a pretty relaxing day.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By LockedSoulsAM

Chapter 13

Regina was almost sure there had to be a manual to parenting. She's read books on top of books since Emma came to live with her. Books on how to get your child to sleep through the night. A book on how to discipline your child. A book on how to listen. None of them seemed to tell her how to be a good parent. Just on how to parent. She quickly found out that those two were not the same.

Parenting wasn't mechanics and science. Though some would argue the whole nature vs. nurture thing. Of course while that held some truth, she was learning that parenting came more from experience. Regina tried her best to not end up like one of those mothers who neglected their children. If her own biological mother was anything to go by she hoped to never take that route.

The self doubt of being what Emma really needed play over and over again in her head. Her nerves were something that got to her when she let it. What if she gave Emma something she was allergic to? What if she didn't discipline her enough? What if she was spoiling her?

None of those questions could be answered by a single person. It does take a village to raise a child or at least they say it does. Emma was more well behaved than most children she had come across in her life time. Though her manners were sometimes to be expected of a five year old. She wasn't being spoiled but rather given the necessities she'd gone without for so long.

Those thoughts plagued Regina's mind when she didn't need them to.

Regina grew up as an only child. She didn't know what it was like to share rooms or basically share anything that you owned. Top that from being moved to multiple houses and Emma had a hard life. Regina wanted to make sure that she gave Emma that sense of stability while she could. Never mind the potential of Emma having to leave lurking in the background.

Starting with school and education. Emma was a bright and curious child. School would hopefully feed and sate her curiosity. Of course Regina would have to watch with a close eye what she was picking up. She'd read in a book that children were like sponges. It was becoming clearer to her every time she slipped up and said a curse word in front of Emma. Emma would giggle and tell Regina that bad words weren't nice to say. Regina would sigh and moan at being scolded by her five year old.

Today is the first day of the new school year. Emma's first day of first grade to be exact. Emma is not yet awake and Regina found it ironic. On the day the little girl was supposed to get up early she didn't. Her bed time was 8:30 and she'd fallen asleep without any protest; only a request for story time with her Momma. Regina happily obliged. Through the second page Emma was out like a light.

The night before they already picked out her outfit and what she was going to wear. Emma even got to choose her favorite clip on earrings. Not yet having her ears pierced. Something Regina hadn't decided on letting her have yet. No matter how much Emma begged her for it.

The joys of motherhood. Something Regina thought she would never experience. At least not so soon anyways.

As she got dressed that morning, she prided herself on being able to avoid Cora in the small town that only seemed to get smaller. Especially when most of her time was spent with Emma. It was weird to have the woman in town. For what... she didn't even know. Something in the back of her mind told her money but was that really it? It had to be but Cora sure as hell wasn't getting money from her.

Henry Mills had been a hardworking man and made his money honestly. When he died all of it went to Regina. All of his accounts were hers now except for one she was assuming had went to charity. But was the charity really Cora all along?

Shaking her head, Regina didn't have time to speculate on all of the things her father had done while he was alive. He was a good man in her memory and no one would ruin that for her.

Not today and not any day.

 

"Up and at em, Missy." Regina sat beside Emma and gently tried to coax her from dreamland. After making Emma breakfast it was finally time to wake her sleeping beauty. Regina may have been more excited for Emma than Emma actually was. It was almost 7 leaving them almost a whole hour before Emma was to arrive at school. Emma wouldn't be riding the school bus just yet this year. Regina didn't feel comfortable with it especially with Emma being so young.

Her fingers fluttered across Emma's face. Emma's brow furrowed and she whimpered but continued to try and sleep.

"Emma, it's time for school." Regina smiled as Emma blindly crawled into her lap and curled into her chest.

"No, I wanna stay here with you." Emma yawned and shivered. She nuzzled her nose against Regina's shoulder and tried to relax enough to fall back asleep. Regina didn't let her as she continued to rub her hands against Emma's back.

"I have pancakes ready for you." Regina teased. "There may also be grilled cheese and apple juice."

Emma peeked one eye open to peer up at Regina.

"You for real?"

"I don't know." Regina played coy. "I guess I'll let you sleep in while I go downstairs and eat it all."

Emma quickly slid from her lap and rushed out of the room. No one would be eating her grilled cheese. Not even her Momma.

"Emma, slow down before you fall down the stairs." Regina chuckled and turned off Emma's nightlight. She turned in the hallway to follow Emma.

"I'm already down!" Emma called back. Emma stepped into the dining area to see there was in fact grilled cheese and apple juice waiting for her. She climbed into her chair and sat patiently.

Regina took her own seat after catching up with Emma.

"What are you going to do all day when I'm at school?" Emma questioned with her mouth full of toast. Regina cringed at the lack of table manners Emma seemed to be using.

"Don't speak with your mouth full." Regina frowned. "I'm going to work and then I'm having lunch with Ingrid."

"Oh, I'm going to miss it." Emma pouted. "I wanna hang out with Ingrid."

"We can see her later after school if she doesn't get sick of me." Regina promised. "Deal?"

"Deal." Emma confirmed brushing her long hair out of her face. "Will it still be hot on the weekend? Can we go to the beach?"

All of her early morning haze seemed to be gone. The excitement of her first day of school finally bubbling at the surface.

"I'll have to see about that." Regina nodded. With it being the beginning of September the weather was still pretty nice out. Regina had a busy week ahead of her and she would have to try and make her schedule clear enough so that they could have a beach day.

Emma nodded happily. She knew Regina was going to say yes anyways.

"Hmm, I think I'd like to go brush my teeth now." Emma pushed away her plate. She ate all of her grilled cheese and even drank her juice. Now she was ready for the day to begin.

"You're excused." Regina began to clear the table. She took the remaining dishes to set into the dishwasher. She listened for Emma's familiar footsteps above her. It wasn't too hard to clear the table with just the two of them. Soon enough the kitchen was done and she was back upstairs.

Emma was still brushing her teeth when Regina entered her room. Regina passed the time by picking up a few of Emma's toys that were strewn every which way. A few Leggos and a random colored dinosaur here and there. Once all of Emma's toys were in the toy box, Regina decided to check inside of Emma's book bag to make sure she had all of her necessary supplies.

The backpack was hanging on Emma's doorknob of her closet. It was disgustingly bright green that Emma seemed to like all too much. My Little Pony adorned the front along with a bunch of stickers. Regina grabbed the bag expecting for it to be light but almost toppled over with how heavy it was. Her brows furrowed and she carried the bag over to Emma's bed. Which had yet to be made.

She unzipped the bag and surprise covered her face. The bag was filled to the brim with things they didn't pack together. One by one Regina emptied the bag so all its contents were scattered across the bed. Her eyes scanned over the mess and she sighed. Lots of canned ravioli, the kind where Emma could open it herself, cookies, a loaf of bread and socks Regina was sure she bought the other day. It was all stuff that Emma sure enough wasn't supposed to have in her backpack.

"Emma?" Regina stood tall. Her hands finding her hip as she gave the items another look.

"Yes Mommy?" Emma's childlike voice filtered through the hallway to Regina's ears. "I'm washing my face."

"Come here for a second." Regina didn't want to sound angry. That was the exact opposite of how she felt. A little confused, hurt maybe, but not angry.

Emma turned the tap off and quickly hung up her face towel just like Regina showed her. She couldn't quite decipher the tone of her mother's voice. But she decided that it must not be good. Emma dragged her feet and took her sweet time getting to her room. Regina was sitting on her bed, all of her contents from her backpack next to her. Emma's eyes widened, panic flooding her chest,clasping her hands together she stepped inside the room.

"Did I do something bad?"She asked curiously. She'd been caught. Technically this was also that wasn't good.

"No, Emma, no." Regina quickly assured her. "Come." She patted the spot on her lap. "Sit and talk to me."

Emma eyed the items once again before taking her spot. Regina figured they might be a little late for school depending on how this talk went.

"Emma, why do you have these things in your bag?"

Emma bowed her head trying to avoid eye contact. A slim finger stopped her,gently forcing her to lift her head, eye contact was frowned and though she wanted to burst into tears she didn't. Regina was really going to be angry now.

"I need it." She decided on. Simple and straight to the point.

"Why do you need it?" Regina could see Emma's fight or flight mode turn on almost instantly. Emma was tense in her lap and Regina took a deep breath. Emma should be anything but nervous right now. "You're only going to school."

"What if you don't pick me up?" Emma voiced her concern. "or what if I get lost? Or what if somebody takes me from my class? Then I'll be hungry."

Regina understood the fear behind these words. Emma had been abandoned before. She'd gone hungry before. It wasn't irrational as Regina tried to be on Emma's level of thinking.

"Emma, sweetie, I can assure you that I will be picking you up from school." Regina ran a hand along her back soothingly. "I also can assure you that your school feeds. You're even allowed to bring a snack, healthy of course, but you can bring one. As for getting lost, your teacher won't allow that to happen. You will be with her ninety percent of the day."

Emma calmed at her words but she wasn't yet satisfied.

"How about we come up with a password?" Regina suggested.

"Password?" Emma's face lit up.

"Something that you and I can use." Regina explained. "Or the people we trust can pick you up from school or any other place. If they don't know the password you don't go with them. No matter what. Only you, and I, your teacher and whomever is picking you up will know. Does that make you feel better?"

"Can I choose?" Emma asked with excitement.

"Be my guest."

"I think I like..." Emma put a tiny finger to her chin and scrunched her nose. Deep in thought, she searched for the perfect password. Her gaze zeroed in on one of her favorite books. "I like Ugly Duckling!"

"Ugly Duckling it is." Regina agreed. "Remember you don't tell anyone the password. If they don't know it already you do not go with them. Understood?"

"Yes." Emma nodded her head. "Can I get dressed now?"

"Yes, after you get dressed, I want this bed made up and you downstairs 10 minutes." Regina stood. She would put all of Emma's items back where they belonged.

Emma hurriedly did what she was told. She scrambled around her room faster than she ever had. Her bed was no easy task as she made up the bed just like she was taught. Emma secretly loved doing it because it was all hers. Her stuffed animals were long forgotten, making her bed seem naked, especially when she was being timed she couldn't do it correctly.

After her bed was made, she slipped on the uniform her school required. A white button up with a navy blue skirt. She grabbed her backpack and ran downstairs where Regina was waiting in the foyer. Regina stood with Emma's shoes in her hand.

Emma sat on the steps and slipped each foot inside of her black Mary Jane's. Regina occupied her extra time by brushing Emma's mane so it wasn't so messy. They had twenty minutes to spare before the bell would ring at Emma's school.

"We are going to have a good day at school right?" Regina held Emma's hand as they walked to her black Mercedes.

"The best!" Emma chirped. Regina held the back door open and Emma slid in. After she was buckled Emma took her bag and held it in her lap.

"When school is over I'll be right to get you." Regina reminded her. She started the engine and chanced a glance back at Emma.

While traveling anywhere Emma always memorized the tops of the trees and some of the buildings. It was her way of remembering her way home if she ever got lost. It wasn't really needed now but she still liked to do it. There were trees with leaves that were starting to turn colors already. A billboard or two. A bunch of houses. Everything Emma knew was a sign that she was on her way home. Well in this case it's school.

They approached Storybrooke Elementary faster than they thought she would. Regina parked her car and unbuckled Emma from her seat. A bricked building with white awnings and steps taller than Emma stood in front of them. There were kids and their parents all around. In every inch of the premise there was a student. Some bigger than Emma by far. Emma looked around there was a playground a few feet back.

"This looks like the school from Matilda." Emma said aloud.

"It looks much better than Matilda." Regina smiled. The proud mayor shown through as she remembered the grant the education system received a while back.

Emma gripped Regina's hand tighter as the approached. Storybrooke Elementary sure was way bigger than she remembered. She definitely could get lost here.

Emma's first grade class was on the second floor. Mrs. Jergens was her teacher. A young woman with fiery red hair and green eyes to match. She was taller than Regina, everyone was taller than Regina, and her frame was a little thicker. Even though Emma's favorite color was yellow she quickly realized that green was becoming her second favorite.

"Hi,Emma." Mrs. Jergens greeted her. "I'm so happy you're here today."

"Hi." Emma looked up at her shyly.

"I love your shoes." Mrs. Jergens smiled at Emma. She could tell the young girl was nervous. As were all her students starting the first grade.

"Thank you."Emma looked down at her shoes. She could hear the children inside of the classroom already playing.

"Would you like to come inside?" Mrs. Jergens gestured to the classroom filled to the brim with chaos.

"Can I say bye to my mommy first?" Emma asked nervously. This entire summer it had been only her. Now she was about to be around several other kids her age. Mrs. Jergens nodded and stepped aside to greet other students.

Regina knelt down the best she could in a pants suit. She took Emma's hands in hers.

"You're gonna come back?" Emma bit her lip.

"Yes, Emma, I promise to come back."

"Password too?" Emma glanced over to her teacher.

"I will tell her the password." Regina assured her.

"Okay." Emma knew it was now time to go in the classroom.

"I love you." Regina left a kiss on her cheek.

"I love you too, Mommy." Emma fell into her arms.

Once Regina let go Emma was lead into her classroom. She was shown the cubby she shared with another little girl named Alice. Mrs. Jergens stepped back out to talk to Regina. Emma was informed that she could sit anywhere she felt comfortable.

"Emma?"

Emma knew that voice as she turned around to find Roland Locksley standing behind her. Her spirits immediately lifted as she found a familiar friend. His grin matched hers as her wore a similar uniform.

"Roland, you're in this class too?"

"Yep!"He beamed. "Come sit next to me."

Emma smiled and followed him to where there was an empty seat. The chairs were tiny enough for first graders. The classroom walls were decorated with everything you could imagine. Posters, artwork, pictures and Emma could spot an American flag in front of the room.

"Okay class, let's play a game." Mrs. Jergens took her spot in front of the classroom. She flickered the lights three times to get their attention. "This is called an icebreaker."

Emma settled into her seat. She didn't feel so nervous after all. Her teacher was easy going and was very pretty. It made her feel better. Gone was her fear of her mommy not coming back. Regina had promised her she would.

A little boy named Jeremy began to speak animatedly about his home. He was from a city called New York. He talked about skyscrapers and Broadway. Emma hadn't heard about that one before. He really piqued her interest when he talked about an underground train. That sounded really cool.

She was beginning to like this first grade thing.

 

"Hi, Regina, you have a few missed calls." Valerie handed her a folder when she stepped in front of her office. "Your meeting for two o'clock is canceled. If you need anything I'll be right out here."

"Thank you so much Valerie." Regina stood next to her desk. "Emma started her first day of school today. I think I was a bit more nervous than she was."

"It's to be expected." Valerie was very fond of Emma. Especially when the little girl softened up her normally hard ass boss. "I bet she misses you. But put it this way, when you pick her up she will be more than excited to jump into your arms."

"You're right." Regina sat at her desk. She probably had loads of paperwork to do. She had two meetings before lunch with Ingrid. Then her schedule was filled with more paperwork. "Can you send out these memos for me?"

"Of course." Valerie took the folder and looked back over to Regina. "I'm right outside if you need anything else."

Regina gave a curt nod and waited until the door was closed. She should really get started on work now. Just as she started up her computer she got a text.

With her glasses perched on her nose, she entered her password. Ingrid's name popped up and she couldn't help but smile.

Are we still on for lunch? -Ingrid

Regina tilted her head and typed back.

Of course! Is there any specific place you wanted to go?

Ingrid's reply came back just as fast.

"Your office would be fine. Chinese?"

"Yes please!" -Regina

"Great! See you then;)"

Regina did a double take as she was sure Ingrid was not winking at her. But then again they always did a little flirting over text. Regina took one last look at the text before setting her phone to vibrate. No more distractions until she got all of this paperwork done.

Hours passed and Regina's stomach growled signaling that it was time for food. Ingrid would be arriving any minute now and Regina was more than ready. She had just come from from a very long meeting where one of the execs tried to get a little mouthy. She had been able to put him in his place with less than a sentence.

She was boss here.

"Madam Mayor?" Valerie's voice filtered through the intercom. "There's a blonde woman here to see you. I don't recognize her but she says you're friends. Should I let her in?"

Usually Valerie would send them to one of the council members, like she was supposed to do with Cora, but Regina was forming a habit of taking unexpected guests.

"Let her in." Regina dismissed thinking that the woman could only be Ingrid.

It was a mere two minutes before the tall figure stood before her door.

"Good god, Regina." Mal stepped into her office. "I didn't expect you to be able to see me today."

"Maleficent." Regina's eyes widened. "Hi, what are you doing here?"

"I wanted to stop by and have a meeting with you." Mal shrugged. Regina didn't take the poised Mal to be so nervous. "I took Lily to school. I'm actually on lunch from work."

"You're working at the law firm?"Regina questioned. They did go to law school together. Regina hoped she was right in her assumptions.

"Seems like I almost work for you." Mal sat. "Though you always were a top."

Regina cringed. She always tried to forget her less than ideal relationship with Mal. Back then it was more about sex than anything else.

"Regina?" Ingrid stepped into the office. "Hi, your secretary let me in. Am I interrupting?"

Ingrid made eye contact with Mal before looking back to Regina. Mal narrowed her eyes as she tried to size Ingrid up. She was pretty and blonde she would give her that. Ingrid stood with the Chinese bags dangling from her hands.

"No, not at all." Regina helped Ingrid to bring the food to her desk. "Ingrid, this is my ex-… my ex best friend. My ex best friend Mal."

"Nice to meet you Mal." Ingrid chose to ignore Regina's stumble.

"I'm the ex alright." Mal mumbled. She stood to shake Ingrid's hand. "Regina, is this your girlfriend? She's very pretty."

Regina could see the wheels turning in Mal's head. Her mind quickly went back to the day she'd told Ingrid she was never with a woman. That was quite obviously a lie but it wasn't something she was proud of just yet. Not that it was anything to be ashamed of. It was the nature of her relationship with Mal that had her trying to erase her sexuality. This was becoming so complicated.

"Yes, she is." Regina found herself saying. Regina internally groaned and in that moment she wanted to bash her head into a brick wall. Why was she so nervous all of a sudden? Her ex and her current not so girlfriend in the same room? This was a recipe for disaster.

"Well, I guess I'll be going." Mal smirked. "It was nice catching up with you Regina. Ingrid."

If Regina could feel the cold shoulder she was sure that Ingrid could feel it too. Mal wasn't always someone nice to play with. Especially over something she felt was hers. Even after all these years, with this interaction, Regina could see where the conversation could have headed.

"Nice meeting you." Ingrid plastered on a genuine smile and waved to Mal.

Regina sank into her chair and plastered her hands to her face. Ingrid gave a look of amusement as she sat across from her.

"I'm so sorry." Regina peeked out from under her hands.

"She's more than just your ex best friend." Ingrid confirmed though she didn't seem angry. Ingrid waited for an answer all the while opening up her Chinese container. "She's very beautiful. I see the allure."

"I lied last time." Regina admitted. "Mal and I dated on and off for quite some time back in college. She helped me through my father's death. Most of the time we were toxic to each other so I lied about ever being with a woman. Our relationship was very...complicated."

"I understand." Ingrid grinned. "Although I would have liked a first date before knowing that I was your girlfriend."

"That- that was..." Regina's eyes widened.

"It's fine." Ingrid shrugged it off. "I quite like the title. It suits me."

Ingrid bit into her egg roll and laughed at the blush quickly adorning Regina's already tan cheeks.

"I was so caught off guard." Regina tried to apologize again. "If I had known she was coming."

"Hey, no harm no foul." Ingrid assured her. "I think I got a win here too. You called me your girlfriend." she teased.

"Stop." Regina groaned. "What are we in fourth grade?"

"I'm pretty sure fourth graders have more game than you." Ingrid just couldn't help herself now. She enjoyed seeing Regina less than put together.

"Okay, I was going to ask you on a date but it seems as though I should probably make a note asking whether you like me and have you check yes or no." Regina smoothed her hands against her pants leg.

"If that would make it easier for you." Ingrid laughed. "At least we already would know the answer."

"Dear god." Regina mumbled. She was still a little flustered by Mal coming in.

"So, did you and Mal ?" Ingrid raised her brows.

"I don't want to know the rest of the question that I would be more than embarrassed to answer." Regina held up a finger.

Ingrid laughed louder this time and Regina couldn't keep the smile from her face. She could thank Mal later for that impromptu session. That's of course if Mal didn't drop back in. Regina shook her head as Ingrid continued to laugh.

What a day.

 

"Mommy, I had so much fun with all of my friends." Emma walked down the steps after being picked up from school. "Can we go see Ingrid now?"

"I did promise." Regina tried to keep up with the bouncing Emma. Wasn't school supposed to tire her out?

"Let's go!" Emma raced the rest of the way to Regina's car.

They both noticed a woman sitting on the hood. Emma recognized her from the day with Ingrid.

"Didn't your mother teach you not to run through parking lots?" Cora questioned.

"We were five feet away from the car." Regina growled. "What are you doing at my daughter's school? I should have you arrested for stalking."

"No need for that dear." Cora shook her head. "I was already passing by when I saw you go into the school. I was waiting out here until you came. It seems you have been ignoring my invitations to dinner. "

"You would think after I said no the first time you would understand." Regina frowned. "What is it that you want from me? Money? You're not going to get it so I suggest you go back where you came from."

"Is that any way to treat your mother?" Cora was being insanely calm.

"Mommy?" Emma tugged on Regina's hands. "Can we go home?"

"Yes, baby, why don't you go ahead and get in the car."

Emma nodded and stepped around Cora. Just like Sydney she didn't like this woman. Once Emma was in the car, Regina turned back to Cora.

"She's cute." Cora commented. "Certainly not what I imagined but she's cute."

"Cora, what do you want?"

"I just want to talk."Cora reasserted. "Money was something I wanted at first. But now I want to get to know you. Every little girl should be allowed to know their mother. Including Emma."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Regina narrowed her eyes. "I quite literally do not want to know you. I suggest you stay away from my daughter and stay the hell away from me."

Regina side stepped her and got into the car without another word.

"You're going to need me Regina." Cora yelled after her. "Your father kept me away from you for too long!"

"Mommy?" Emma finally spoke up form the backseat as they pulled off. "Was that lady your mommy? I thought you didn't know her."

"I don't." Regina tried to keep her emotions in check. Cora put her on edge even showing up at Emma's school. "I want you to run and get help if you ever see her Emma. Is that clear?"

"Yes." Emma frowned. "Can we still go see Ingrid?"

"I don't think now is a good time sweetie." Regina changed her mind. It was time to figure out why the hell Cora was back after now. There was already too much going on with their lives without this woman adding creepiness to it.

Chapter Text

Boxes. Piles and piles of boxes. Stacked high in the attic of her home. Regina didn't come up here too often and there were reasons why. Her father's things had been put up here after a fit of rage shortly after he died. She'd donated loads of his things and kept everything important. The only person who had ever cared for her for as long as she remembered was gone.

Now 8 years later here she was about to go through his things again. It almost felt like an invasion of his privacy. But it had to be done. She couldn't understand why Cora left those years ago. She could barely remember a time when Cora was ever there. Only being 5 years old at the time she could remember bits and pieces of her childhood.

She couldn't remember the little things about Cora. Like the way she smelled or the length of her hair. She couldn't remember how she looked or how she talked. As the years went by her memories of her mother became lost somewhere in the back of her mind.

There were never any pictures of them together or even Cora alone in their home. It was something that always bothered Regina. When she asked for answers from her father he would never give her any. Instead he would occupy her time with lessons. She would be spoiled with the finer things in life once her father became mayor. Her memory of Cora would dissipate but she would never forget the wanting and aching for a mother. But her main concern was with why she is back now?

With her hand on her hips, she uses the other hand to run through her hair. There was so much to look through and she didn't even know where to start.

She pushes a few boxes over and almost knocks down a pair of skis. Maybe she and Emma could come up here and clean one day.

Regina picks up a box to take with her on the carpet but her eyes catch something in the corner. It's old and worn and probably smaller than she remembered. Setting the box down on an old desk Regina goes to look at the suitcase. Her fingers trace over the leather. A few stickers of horses still scattered across the front and back.

She remembers this suitcase. It was one her parents bought for her when she was little. She used to carry it around everywhere with her when she could. It brought back more than just fond memories though. She remembers the day Cora left.

"Mommy, Mommy!" Regina's voice rang through the neighborhood as she pushed the gate leading to their home open with all of her strength. Her pigtails swung behind her in an almost comical manner with each stride she took. She pushed her feet harder against the pavement to get closer to the front door. Surely Cora was waiting inside for her. Regina quickly reached to twist the knob and she impatiently let out a huff when she found it to be locked.

She wiggled where she was standing and excitedly clapped when her nanny finally opened the door. She couldn't wait to tell her mother about her day at school. It was just like she did everyday. Her nanny would come pick her up and her mommy would be inside waiting for her. Usually Cora was getting ready for an event she and Henry would be attending. Other days she would be planning out play dates for Regina.

It was the last week of kindergarten and Regina made a picture for Cora to hang on their fridge. Cora was always so proud of her daughter's work and praised Regina whenever she could. Regina soaked up the attention with a smile and great pride to see her work hanging up.

"Mommy?" Regina's shrill voice echoed as she ran through the halls in search of the one person she couldn't wait to see. She checked each room on the first floor but Cora wasn't in either one. Regina found this odd but she didn't give up. Bailey, Regina's nanny, followed after her picking up her discarded jacket and hanging it on a hook. Regina would be fine for now so she could get started on making her a snack.

Once she figured Cora wasn't on the first floor, Regina moved upstairs to the next. After a lot of searching Regina didn't have much luck. Her spirits were low as she couldn't find either of her parents. She didn't feel as bad not seeing her daddy because sometimes he would work late, but Cora was always there when she got home.

"Where is Mommy?" She frowned before going to her own room. Before Regina reached the door she could hear voices inside. She immediately recognized them as her parents'. But why were they in her room?

"Cora, if you leave she stays."Regina stopped just short of pushing the door open.

"Henry don't do this." Cora pleaded with him. Regina could barely hear their muffled voices but she was even more confused by their topic of discussion. "She needs me. I want to take her with me. You're always busy with work and she needs a stable home. With both parents..."

"and you think tearing her from the only home she knows to go god knows where with you and that man is stable?" Henry's voice boomed in anger.

Regina frowned as she had never heard her daddy so angry before. He was always a soft spoken man and sometimes she thought he was a pushover. What Mommy said always goes...why not now?

"She will be in a good school." Cora didn't have any fight left in her at this point. "I'm unhappy here. I want to leave. I want Regina to come with me."

"You don't get to speak about being unhappy when I have been the one to take care of this family for years."Henry replied. "I have given you everything and so much more. I made a life for us here. You want to throw it all away for some man you met at a coffee shop."

Regina peeked her eyes through the crack. She could see Cora sitting on her bed. Her daddy was out of view but by the look on Cora's face neither of them were happy. Regina's eyes settled on her favorite burgundy suitcase with horse stickers adorned across almost every inch of it. She took it whenever they went on trips. Were they going on another trip?

"If you go...Regina stays."Henry spoke up. "I'm not going to let you ruin this family. You are making a choice right now. Either your daughter or that man. Choose wisely…."

Cora knew the implications behind his words. If she left she wouldn't get to see Regina for a while. Possibly never again. Henry wasn't an evil man but he was powerful and his image was everything to him. They had been high school sweethearts; while Cora was the poor girl from the south side of town, Henry was the rich kid of the mayor who drove a fancy car. He was never arrogant or conceited and they quickly fell in love. 8 years later here they were married with a little girl.

Henry was a successful lawyer and businessman. Intending to work his way up to politician he was always busy. Cora opted to stay home and take care of Regina. It all worked out fine.

For the past few years, Cora became unhappy. Henry was always working or traveling. Leaving her with Regina and the house that was too big for just two people. She started to go out more and one day she met Robert Gold. He was everything in a man that Henry had stopped being. She fell in love with Robert and planned to leave with him. Her only problem was leaving Regina.

She loved her daughter dearly. Regina was her world.

Henry would never let her go.

"Mommy? Daddy?" Regina finally let her presence be known. She slowly pushed open the bedroom door to two sets of eyes looking to her. "Are you fighting?"

"Regina, come here, come sit."Cora quickly wiped away her tears. She patted the seat next to her and put on a smile as Regina quickly came to sit.

"Are we leaving?"Regina asked. She turned to Henry who stood against the wall now. "Why are my bags packed?"

Henry raised a brow. He would let Cora explain on why she was tearing their family apart. She was the one to have an affair. She was the one who could break the news to their 5 year old daughter.

"Regina, Mommy-" Cora's voice broke. Closing her eyes, she counted to ten before speaking again. "Regina, I have to go."

"Go where?" Regina titled her head. She could feel the animosity between her parents along with their previous conversation. But her young mind couldn't quite grasp the situation. "Are you dying? Are you sick?"

"No, I'm not dying."Cora insisted. "I just have to leave for a while. I want you to behave for Bailey and do great in school. Go and do something great. I'll be..."

"Cora." Henry warned. He refused to let her lie to Regina. She wouldn't be back. He knew it.

"But why can't I go?" Regina questioned. "Daddy says I have to stay. Why can't I go?"

Cora tried to keep the frown from her face. Leaving her princess was the hardest thing she would ever have to do. Taking Regina's tiny hand in hers, she kissed her knuckles and smoothed down one of her pigtails.

"This is one of Mommy's special trips." Cora began. She couldn't bring herself to tell Regina the truth. "It's just for me baby. But I love you okay."

"How many sleeps until you come back?" Regina's brown eyes met with her own and Cora almost couldn't hold in the dam that was begging to break.

"I don't know if I'm coming back, p-princess."

"But why are you leaving me? Why are you leaving Daddy?" Regina bombarded her with questions. She really couldn't understand. "You said it's just a trip. I want to go with you. Please let me go."

Regina pleaded with her mother. Cora was becoming more upset by the minute before she pulled away. If she made this goodbye too long she would never leave.

Cora kissed the top of her head. Standing, she avoided Henry's gaze as she began to make her way out of the room.

"Daddy, make her stay!" Regina commanded. "Make her stay here with me." Her pigtails swung as she stomped her foot. Why wasn't he making her stay?

"Regina, I can't do that."Henry reached for her but instead Regina raced down the stairs after her mother. Regina reached the door of the mansion. Her tiny hands struggled with the knob before ripping it open. She was too late and all she could see was the back of Cora's head.

"Mommy, wait for me." Regina raced down the pathway. Her face was full of tears as she finally reached Cora.

"Regina, go back inside please." Cora stopped to turn to her.

"No, you have to stay here." Regina held onto her legs.

"Regina." Cora wanted to cry for what she was about to do. She could see Bailey approaching them. Silently pleading with the young girl, Bailey nodded in agreement. Cora picked her daughter up and held her close. Her hand rubbed soothingly along Regina's back. Just for a second she considered staying. She considered staying just so she could take away all of the pain her baby was feeling right now. But she couldn't. She was truly unhappy here and as hard as she tried to wait it out she couldn't anymore.

"Mommy, stay here." Regina cried into her neck. Her tiny arms holding her in a death grip.

Cora didn't speak as she let Regina settle. It would do neither of them any good to leave like this. It was something she'd been planning for months. She didn't plan for Henry to be home when she took Regina. But now she had to make a choice.

"Shh, my sweet girl." Cora whispered. "I'm here." They stood there for what felt like an eternity. Regina pleading with her mother over and over again before she finally fell asleep in her arms. Cora waited until she could feel Regina's breath even out. She handed her to Bailey and left a tiny kiss to her head. "Tell her I'm sorry and I love her."

Bailey nodded in understanding. She too didn't understand in full detail what was happening. But for now her only care was for Regina. The little brunette in her arms that was pleading for her mother to stay with them not too long ago.

Cora took one final look before walking away. Regina would be asleep for another hour before waking up and finding her mother she would never see again.

It felt like yesterday that all of this had happened. She had unconsciously pushed that day so far back and it felt painful to remember. How she begged and pleaded for Cora to stay. In the following weeks five year old Regina made herself sick. She remembered her father finally taking off of work to go on a vacation. It was like a domino effect as she remembered piece by piece what her childhood was like with Cora.

There wasn't much but it was enough for her to conclude now.

Opening the suitcase, Regina wasn't really expecting anything to be in there. But she's surprised when a few letters fall. Curiosity gets the best of her and she unfolds one of the letters. It's addressed to her father.

Her eyes scanned the letter and they landed on the signature of Cora Mills. There seemed to be about 5 letters there. As she read through them she began to understand a little more. Cora was asking for custody of Regina...looking at the date she may have been 8 years old at the time. The next letter she was 13,another letter aged 16. Regina read through them and soon the letters became addressed to her.

One caught her eye and she sat down to read it.

Dear Regina,

My beautiful princess. I have sent dozens of letters with no reply. One day I hope these get to you. I have tried to contact your father but he's adamant on me staying away. He says you're doing fine without me. I truly want to believe that. He could always give you way more than I ever could.

You probably hate me by now. It will be your 18th birthday soon. I don't even know what to say at this point to make my absence better in your eyes. Many times I have wanted to come back to you. I tried to come see you once. You looked so happy atop your horse. I think you called him Rocinante. It's such a beautiful name.

I hope you're doing well in your studies. I know you will be going off to college soon. Are you going into law like your father? or maybe Fashion?or teaching? Anything you do I want you to be successful. I know I made the biggest mistake of my life leaving you. I never grew up with much of anything and it would have been foolish to take you away from the only home you have ever known.

Maybe one day you will come and find me? I hope so. I miss you princess.

I love you more than words could ever explain.

This letter wasn't signed. Regina felt a surge of anger ignite within her. Had her father been purposely keeping these letters away from her? Did he feel guilty for not letting Cora back into her life? So many things she didn't know the answer to.

Henry Mills was the best father to his daughter. But Regina was now opening her eyes to see that maybe just maybe everything wasn't so black and white that she'd always grown up with.

She stuffed all of the letters back into the suitcase and carried it with her downstairs. She still have an hour until she was able to go and pick up Emma. That gave her plenty of time. With purpose she grabbed her keys and phone and she was out of the door.

Cora was startled to hear a knock at her door. Being at Granny's bed and breakfast wasn't the best way to spend her time in Storybrooke but she really didn't have a choice. With Henry's checks now being done with she didn't have much else.

"Regina?"Cora's look of surprised didn't go unnoticed.

"Why?" The mayor simply asked.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're asking."

"Why didn't you try harder?" Regina held up the letters. "Why didn't you take me with you? Why didn't you visit? Why are you here now? Just why?"

"Why don't you come in." Cora gestured with a sense of calmness.

Regina clenched her jaw and stepped into the room.

"Sit down." Cora instructed and Regina almost snapped at her. All of her anger was seeming to slip away as she stood in front of Cora. This woman who looked so familiar now but yet was still a stranger. Her mother no less.

"Start talking."Regina sat and Cora took a seat next to her.

"I don't even know where to start." Cora frowned. Her usual shady facade was now gone. She didn't have anything to lose.

"How about the beginning? The part where you left?" Regina folded her arms looking more like a petulant teenager than the usual bossy Mayor of Storybrooke. "Or the part where you walked into town like some shady bitch? Or the part where you've basically been stalking my child."

Cora nodded. "It started when I was younger. In high school rather." She began. "My father was the only thing I had. He was very poor and worked hard for his money. He did the best for me he could. I met your father my senior year and it just so happened we went to the same school. He was smooth and cheeky. But he was also way too gentle and quiet. We fell in love."

Cora chuckled. "Or as in love two teenagers could be."

Regina only listened.

"We got married shortly after we graduated college." Cora reminisced. "I worked while he went to law school. We were as happy as can be. He graduated and we were doing so well. About a year later I found out I was pregnant with you. Our pride and joy we were so happy. We decided that I would stay home and take care of you while he worked his way up in the firm. With his father already being so powerful he was too."

Regina remained expressionless as she continued to listen to this story. Cora seemed so different than the woman she'd seen a few weeks ago.

"I enjoyed being home with you but sometimes it got lonely." Cora admitted. "You had a nanny and while most of the time you spent with me you still had her. I was only there for the parties and the events. I began to feel like I was the trophy wife. I didn't mind at first because I was finally not struggling. I was finally powerful."

"But, then I met Gold."

Regina raised a brow. The name didn't seem very familiar to her.

"He made me feel alive again." She smiled. "I didn't feel like a mother or a trophy wife anymore. I didn't feel the need for power or money. that's how I should have felt with your father. The affair went on for two years before I had finally had enough to leave. I wanted to take you with me but Henry wouldn't let me."

Regina looked down at her hands.

"He made me choose." Cora tried to explain. "He made me choose between you and Gold."

"So you chose Gold?" Regina concluded.

"It wasn't easy." Cora defended. "You were a little girl you would forget me. I had hoped not but you would. I sent letters and I signed the divorce papers and he would send money. He didn't want his image to be taken away or tainted. So he kept me quiet. To save him the embarrassment. I sent letters and I wanted to see you but no reply. Eventually I gave up figuring that you would be better off without me."

"But I wasn't." Regina wanted to say but she remained quiet.

"I guess you probably wondered why I was back in town?"

"Well, you did literally barge into my office." Regina muttered.

"I wanted to know you. I wanted to see you."Cora sighed. "Things got out hand when I came. I had other plans. I did a lot that I'm not proud of. But I would like to start over…." The if you let me hung in the air.

Regina tried to go over the new information but she couldn't seem to wrap her head around everything

"I don't know." Regina frowned. "You quite literally were a bitch to me the last few times you saw me. Now you're playing this sympathy card. I don't know about any of it. How do I know this isn't some scheme for money?"

"I don't want it anymore." Cora shook her head. "I see your relationship with your little girl.. with Emma. You're a great mother. I should have been that to you."

"Thank you for telling me all of this." Regina nodded. "But I have to go and pick up my daughter. I don't know if I will ever be okay with you. You quite literally popped back into my life. You were a bitch and you could still be lying for all I know. don't hold it against me for trying to protect my heart. I'm sure you at least thought about that before you left right?"

Regina stood and without another word exited the room. She didn't want Cora to see her so vulnerable. She didn't want to deal with any of this anymore. She just needed a break from everything.

As she sat inside of her car her phone began to ring. Angrily she picked up the phone and held it to her ear.

"I though I said.."

"Regina, this is August."

The next words made Regina's heart stop. She really couldn't register them as the only words she could hear were

"She...wants..Emma."

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 15

"She wants to see Emma." August repeated.

"Excuse me?" Regina almost couldn't believe what she was hearing. "What does it mean that she wants to see Emma?

"Emma's biological mother agreed to some things." August explained. "I probably should have started off the phone call with this information."Regina nodded in agreement. "Now usually the state is for reunification between biological parents and their children. We provide the parent with resources that will aid them in gaining custody of their child. Emma's mother is very young and very reluctant. With Emma, still technically in foster care the mother has every right to come and claim her child. But this seems to not be what she wants. I talked to her for an extensive amount time and her story is different. She would like to sign over her parental rights and allow you to adopt with one condition, that she gets to be in Emma's life."

Regina sat back in her seat with a hand over her mouth. She was still sitting outside of Granny's Bed and Breakfast. Her conversation with Cora sent to the back of her mind with the news of a new situation.

"To my knowledge, she has no intention of gaining custody of Emma. Now the way that she is going, she will be able to put Emma up for adoption. An open adoption with some visitation and as much contact as you will allow. You will be Emma's legal guardian and adoptive parent."

Regina could feel her heart soar at those words. She would be able to keep her little girl!

"How soon? How soon is she willing to sign everything?" Regina asked tentatively.

"As early as this week." August predicted. "But with process and court and a final home study it could take a while. She seems to be on board with everything. Her visits with Emma would be here and supervised. She wants to meet with you too. To see your interaction with Emma and making sure you're the right fit. Make sure that Emma is being taken care of."

"Of course," Regina nodded even though August couldn't see her. "Is there something that I can do? Anything? How should I explain to Emma?"

"I would sit her down and explain to her everything that you know to the best of your knowledge. "August began. "Her mother is someone she's never met and you're the only true home she's ever had. She will be confused and have questions. I know how she gets sometimes. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to call."

"Thank you so much August." Regina immediately hung up the phone and started her engine. Any feelings she had earlier were out of the window. She was getting to keep her little girl. She was going to adopt Emma!

Granted Emma's biological mother would be around she would have her girl. Emma wouldn't be uprooted from a home where she felt secure. Regina grinned at the fact that she was going to keep her baby. A child she did not grow in her own womb but felt more love for than if she had.

Regina tried to focus on her driving as she made her way to Mal's house. She couldn't believe the events of today. After all that Cora told her she was left confused and full. So much was going on in her life right now that she hadn't truly processed what was happening. Finally knowing why her mother left didn't make her feel any different.

Knowing that Cora wanted to take her only hurt even more.

Her image and view of her late Father would not be changed. It couldn't. He was a great man and her best friend. Even if the first few years of her life were spent with him working. Henry never explaining to Regina why she didn't have a mother probably did more harm than good. Regina grew up with little memories of her mother and now she had many. She could remember little moments; like the time she got gum stuck in her hair and Cora cutting it. Or the times she herself was afraid of the dark. Great memories that her mind had long ago set aside. It felt nice to reminisce and remember of such little times with her mother. But she refused to let that hurt go. She refused to be hurt again. Not by Cora and not by anyone.

That went for Emma too. She refused to let anyone hurt her daughter. Emma was becoming hers to keep. Her child. Though she hadn't birthed Emma herself, Regina loved her with all her heart. She didn't think parenthood was on the table for her just yet. But when Emma quite literally fell into her arms, Regina had a feeling. She didn't know that feeling would turn out to be adopting Emma, but the feeling was always there nonetheless. Emma had shown her so much in the little time that they were together. Responsibility Regina didn't even know she didn't have until Emma came along. She was Mayor of an entire town for goodness' sakes and she still was not used to waking up so early.

She was learning to care for another human being. Sure, she was there the last few months before her father died but this was different. Caring for Emma, being Emma's mother, and loving Emma was the greatest gift she could have ever gotten in life.

Adoption. She was adopting her.

Regina grinned as she pulled her car in front of Mal's home. It was on the other side of town as her own. A lovely home for one mother and child. She could hear Emma's tiny voice from the front yard and she could assume the girls were sitting on the porch.

"Girls would you like cookies?" Mal asked as she stepped out onto the porch. She didn't spot Regina until she was quite literally standing on the steps of her home.

"You bake?" Regina smirked. She approached with only the smoothness of a queen like herself. Emma's ears perked up at the sound of the familiar voice. Blue eyes searched for brown before it finally registered who it was.

"Mommy!" She cried out. Leaving her toys behind she quickly ran across the porch. She stopped at the top step only for Regina to signal that she could jump. Without a second thought she jumped right into Regina's waiting arms.

"Oh, Hi, did you have a good day?" Regina tried to breathe through Emma's grip around her neck. Emma fiercely hugged and didn't have any intentions on letting go.

"Yep, Lily played babies with me."

"Isn't that fascinating." Regina smiled. She rubbed Emma's back and warmed at the way Emma clung to her. Sure, she had only been at Mal's for a few hours but it always made her feel safe to be around Regina.

"You two are welcome to stay for cookies." Mal tilted her head. Regina seemed a little happier than normal.

"Maybe some other time. We have a long night ahead of us." Regina settled Emma onto her hip. She weighed practically nothing so even at age 5, almost 6, she could still be carried around. Mal raised a brow and Regina made a face that said they would talk later. Mal quickly understood what her friend was saying.

The two women hadn't had chances to really talk and catch up. Both being busy working moms it was kind of tough. But Mal was her good friend despite their past. Their girls were friends. There couldn't be any avoidance on either side.

"I'll hold you to that."

"Bye Lily." Emma waved to her friend as she was carried down the pathway back to Regina's car.

"Bye Emma, Bye Emma's Mommy." Lily called back from her spot on the stops.

Once in the car and in her seat Emma smiled up at her Mommy.

"What are we going to do today Momma."

Hearing that one word was like music to Regina's ears. She kneeled by Emma's side to help her buckle in. "You and I are going to have a girl's night just the two of us. Does that sound good?"

"Yeah!" Emma cheered.

"How does sesame seed chicken sound?" Regina asked. They didn't eat Chinese food often but when they did Emma was all for it. Already knowing the answer, Regina got into her driver's seat and once again started the engine. "I'll have it delivered this time so that we can play a few games before it gets to us."

Emma clapped excitedly and proceeded to tell her mom about her day. It felt great to finally have someone that would listen to her. Having an adult figure that was truly interested in everything she said meant so much to Emma. More than she could express in her own words.

"I think we should wear these." Emma nodded to herself as she handed a scarf to Regina. They had been playing dress up for what seemed like ages. It was only about 15 minutes.

"These?" Regina questioned as she considered the mirror at herself. "I think these are wonderful." Her cheeks donned blush that she didn't even know she owned. A very bright shade of pink that didn't work well with her tan skin. Her eyes rocked a good red hue of shadow and her lips were blue. She looked crazy. But Emma was enjoying their time together.

Now with Emma more relaxed and calm she could talk with the her. Figuring out where she could continue the conversation only seemed to make her more nervous. There were plenty of articles and books on how to start off a conversation like this. None of them did any justice in this moment.

"Emma look at our hands." Regina gently held Emma's hand in her own. "Do you see a difference?"

Emma stopped rifling through the makeup for a few seconds. She inspected her hands over Regina's and then looked up. "You got longer nails than I do."

Regina let out a breath as that wasn't what she was expecting. Their skin tones were obviously different and being a Hispanic woman with a white child would bring about different reactions from many people. Regina herself had never fit in. She was never just Hispanic or she was never just white. It was always something that she didn't fit in as a child. The same she hoped would not be for Emma.

"Do you see anything else?"

"Your hand is really bigger too." Emma toyed with the ring on Regina's left hand. "Also, really soft. I like when you hold my hand because they are all warm and everything."

"That's a great observation, Emma." Regina praised her. This conversation would be going somewhere she was sure. She needed to make a point before she continued. "Whose hand do you think your birth mother's hand looked like? Mine or yours?"

Emma sat on her knees, biting her lip, she tried to think long and hard about what exactly she wanted to say. "I think she looked like my hand the most."

Regina nodded. "Mhhm." Regina chose her next words carefully. "That's because you were born in her tummy. Remember when we talked about that?"

Emma once again nodded.

"Remember the letter you wrote and how we talked to your birth mommy in it?"

"Yeah, can we do another one?"

Regina loved that Emma was enthusiastic about even doing another letter to her mother.

"In the future, we can." Taking a deep breath, she nodded. "Remember how we talked about how you came from her tummy but I would like to adopt you? That I wanted to be your forever home?"

"Is that for real now?" Emma's eyes had never lit up so fast.

"Soon, sweet pea." Regina rubbed her thumb against the back of Emma's hand. "August called me earlier. He found your birth mother. She wants to meet with you and to see you."

Emma didn't respond for a long second. She didn't really understand. "Is she gonna take me away now? I don't…. I have to go? I..." Her thoughts were racing at the thought of having to leave Regina. But then again, she would be meeting her real mother.

"Emma, no." Regina really didn't know if this conversation was going well or not. She could give council meetings, speak publicly, and put fear into the hearts of many citizens, but right now she couldn't even explain to her five-year-old.

"But she's my mommy." Emma frowned. "I have to go with her right? She wants me?"

"Of course, she wants you." Regina tried to calm that fear.

"But I…" Emma was close to tears. "But I have to leave here too? Then what if she throws me away again? What if she hits me like everybody else? Then I can come back here? You never hit me."

A dam broke just as Regina's heart sunk incredibly low. Emma's past abuse was a topic that they had only discussed briefly. Even with Archie Emma was always very quiet and reluctant to say anything. Regina mentally slapped herself for not explaining correctly. In an instant, she had Emma into her lap with her head against her chest.

"Emma, you are not leaving. Quite the opposite. I'm going to be able to adopt you this time without anyone taking you away." Regina tried to calm her. "I'm sorry that you feel this way."

"But what is August's big boss makes me go with her?" Emma's tears were full force now. She was confused about everything all at once. She was hearing that she could stay with Regina but it was truly not registering to her. If they found her real mommy she could go and stay with her right? She was supposed to be happy but instead anxiety took over all her senses. "The judge always makes me go to places and stay in different houses. I'm scared."

Regina had only ever seen Emma so unguarded and open with her emotions not even a handful of times. At such a young age, she was forced to hold in all her emotions.

"Not this time she just wants to meet you Emma." Regina explained. "She wants to see that you're in a good house. She wants to know if you are safe here. Just like we talked about. She just wants to make sure you're in a safe home and that you have your best chance."

Emma couldn't seem to calm at her words. She knew that Regina was telling the truth but her fear got the best of her. "I don't wanna leave. I like it here. My friends and my school. I like living with you. Safe…here."

Emma mumbled the last part into her chest. Regina almost couldn't understand what she was saying.

"You will always be safe here Emma." Regina rubbed her back soothingly. "We don't have to meet her any time soon if you aren't ready to."

"Can we still give her the letter?" Emma lifted her head hopefully.

"Yes, I think that is a good idea."

"I'm sorry for being a cry baby. "Emma ran her hand across her nose.

"You are not a crybaby." Regina took the end of her scarf to wipe Emma's face. "I think you are a very strong little girl who feels a lot. But you can always come talk to me. If you're scared, if you're angry. You come talk to mommy."

Emma sniffled and turned back to all the makeup. "Can I have some lipstick on too?"

Regina chuckled as their crisis seemed to be averted. For now, at least. Emma was confused but Regina didn't know any other way than to be straightforward. Too many times Emma had been lied to and hurt. Regina didn't want to do that. Not when she knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of those lies.

With Emma, still in her lap she continued to apply the lipstick to her lips. Just a girl's night that could only get better.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

“What am I ‘sposed to take to the beach?” Emma asked her stuffed animals. A duck, a bear, a puppy and a giraffe each in a line across her bed. She inspected each animal without any answer from either of them. She, of course, knew that they couldn’t talk. But sometimes they were her only friends. Mr. Waffle was in the front line, leaning over to the side, his usual signs of wear and tear weighing him down. With a sigh, Emma climbed atop her bed and pulled the stuffed bear into her arms.
She had never been to the beach. She didn’t even know what they were supposed to do there. Besides movies, her exposure to much of the world was limited. Last week she finally discovered what Chuck E. Cheeses’ was. Regina promised that they would go sometime and Emma was holding her to it. That would surely be an interesting place to go to. Pizza and a giant mouse! Who wouldn’t like that?

For many different reasons the beach was a place, Emma was apprehensive about. Her earlier excitement to finally go was masked by anxiety. What if she drowned? What if someone took her? What if there were crabs that could bite her? All thoughts that ran through Emma’s head as she picked pieces of fur from Mr. Waffle’s belly. Her growing knowledge of things never seemed to end. There were always things that she had to learn. Sometimes those things were scary. The constant fear of Regina giving her back was one of them.

Now the beach was the second fear. Emma couldn’t swim. She loved baths but surely it wasn’t the same. She even had to wear a special swimsuit for the beach. When Ingrid suggested that they make a trip to the beach as the last summer hurrah, Emma had been more than excited. Not being able to hold it in she had invited Lily too. Of course, Elsa and Anna would be coming as well. She rarely got to see the teens now that school had started and they were back home.

Elsa and Anna were the coolest big people she knew. The sisters were always nice to her. Not like any of the other fosters homes she’d been to. While Elsa was quiet and calm, Anna reminded Emma of her last foster sister, Addison. Addison was outspoken and eager for everything. Addison used to protect her all the time. With Anna coming to the beach, Emma would feel a little bit of how she used to feel with Addison. Safe and prepared for anything.

“I think I’m ‘sposed to bring a towel.” Emma nodded to herself. There would be water and she would most likely be getting wet.

“I think so too.” Regina stepped into the room. She looked beach ready. She was dressed in a white button-up with black stretch pants. Her bikini was red and could be seen under her shirt. Her feet were bare as she padded across the room to kneel before Emma. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know what to pack.” Emma motioned to her bag that was indeed empty.

“Well, let’s start with your towel.” Regina stepped over to Emma’s dresser to grab the clean beach towel she’d sat there this morning. “What about your sunglasses? Oh! The shovel and pail I bought you.”Emma took the suggestions and hurriedly put each item in her bag.

“Do you think we need anything else?’ Regina asked.

“I don’t know.” Emma shrugged.

Regina tilted her head and motioned to her own body. Emma’s eyes lit up as she ran into her closet. She stood on the tip of her toes to grab a light green bathing suit that had been hanging there for a while.

“I almost forgot.” She stepped out of the closet. “Can you help?”

Regina sat on the bed and helped Emma out of her day clothes. Since they were clean she threw them into Emma’s beach bag. Emma would no doubt be freezing when they left the beach anyways. Emma stood patiently while Regina folded the clothes.
“Do I have to take my panties off too?”
Regina could almost laugh at the look on Emma’s face.

“Not if you don’t want to.” She replied. “But bathing suits are like special underwear. They cover up all the important parts. They are also easier to swim in.”
Emma took a few seconds to think. Wet underwear was not something she was fond of. The swimsuit may have been better. She pulled down her pink Wednesday undies and threw them over to the hamper next to the door of her room. She missed the basket but that didn’t matter to her now. Regina quickly helped her into the green one piece.

“Now that we have everything your friends might be here in a few minutes.” Regina stood. “Would you like to throw on your sandals and go wait for them on the porch?”
Emma grabbed her bag and raced down the steps. Regina wasn’t so fast as she grabbed the forgotten Mr. Waffle and took him into her room. With her beach bag already prepared, she slipped the stuffed toy inside. Once the day was done Emma would be clinging onto her and wanting her bear. Regina smiled at knowing little details like that particular one.

In Emma’s four months of staying with her, she was becoming such a mom. She knew that Emma loved grilled cheese, hated peas, and would eat two whole oranges at times. She also knew that Emma sucked her thumb when she was extremely tired or usually would go searching for her bear.

Emma liked to cuddle even though she was afraid to admit it. It had taken some warming up to even be able to hold her hand for more than a minute. Emma’s lack of trust for anyone plagued Regina’s mind at night. She would stay awake and wonder how anyone could hurt or abandon such a sweet little girl. Any child for that matter. But over time Emma began to trust her more and more. She no longer kept her shoes on in the house and though the food hoarding was a strong habit to break they were getting there.
She could tell when Emma was having one of those days. Though they were rare. Emma’s violent side had yet to show an appearance. If there even was a violent side. Reference to Emma’s files versus what she saw were two entirely different things. She liked to think that Emma’s visits with Archie were helping.

It warmed Regina’s heart that she was so aware of such things. She zipped the bag and grabbed her phone. There were a few messages from Ingrid saying that she was close and one from Mal and the occasional email from work. She replied to Ingrid and text Mal her address for the fifth time.

Making sure she had things like sunscreen, hats and extra towels packed, Regina threw on a pair of shorts before checking herself out in the mirror once more. It wasn’t intentional but she could say the red bikini looked extremely good on her. It fit well and accentuated all of her… assets. This was supposed to be a beach day with friends but that didn’t mean she couldn’t dress nicely. Well, as nice as you could get for the beach. With a few last looks around the room, Regina turned on her bathroom light. It would be time to leave shortly. She stopped at the bottom of the steps to see that Emma had left the front door open.

“Emma come put your sandals on,” Regina called to her.

“Kay.” Emma ran into the house and slipped on her sandals. She looked up at Regina only to receive a thumb up.

Regina was just about to follow Emma out of the door when she received a phone call.

“Mal, I’ve lived here my whole life” Regina began.

“Oh, be quiet Regina.” Mal snorted. “I’m just calling to tell you I have to use the bathroom. Please have the door open.”

Mal hung up and honked the horn as she pulled up.

“Mommy, Lily and her mommy are here,” Emma spoke as Regina stepped out onto the porch.

“Hi, Emma!” Lily practically jumped from the car as soon as it stopped.

“Wanna see my room before we go?” Emma invites her friend upstairs. Regina watches them go up the stairs before turning back to Mal.

“No time to talk. I need a bathroom.” Mal nods her head to Regina and proceeds to make her way to the downstairs bathroom.

“Hello to you too,” Regina grumbles.

She takes Lily’s bag and sets it next to their own. Mal had work stuff she needed to finish so she wouldn’t be making the beach trip. Regina couldn’t imagine spending an entire day with both Ingrid and Mal. Sure it would be nearly impossible to in the future but she wasn’t ready for it. Ingrid was sweet and kind. Regina could also tell that she could be territorial over what was hers. Was Regina hers? But then again Mal was the same way. What was with her and hot blondes? Ingrid and Regina hadn’t really established their relationship. If there even was one. Besides the endless flirting and upgrade to subtle touching, there was nothing else. Was it because Regina had so much going on? Was it because maybe all the flirting was innocent?

Regina shook her head and went to the kitchen. That couldn’t be the case. She crosses her arms and looks around the kitchen. Packing a few extra water bottles and maybe a first aid kit wouldn’t be too much? This whole first-time mom thing freaked her out sometimes.

“Where did the girls go?” Mal asks. She steps into the kitchen to come and stand across from Regina.

“Emma wanted to show Lily her room,” Regina explained. “They will be down in a few more minutes I’m sure.”

“How are you?” Mal tilted her head. Those beautiful blue eyes looking at her in only a look Mal could pull off. It was sexy and endearing at the same time.

“I could ask the same for you.” Regina counters.

“Mhmm.” Mal steps a little closer and takes a strand of Regina’s hair between her fingers. “You’re growing your hair out. It’s new.”

Regina could feel herself being transported back to law school. Back when she was head over heels in love with the woman standing in front of her. When she would almost bend over backward to please Mal. Not that their relationship was one-sided in any way. Just that Regina was the more innocent and sheltered one in their relationship.

“Yeah.” Regina has no problem with the lack of personal space. It’s how they’ve always been.

“It looks good on you,” Mal says in a voice that is pure liquid sex.

“Mal,” Regina growls, closing her eyes, almost afraid that if she stares into those blue eyes she will be hypnotized.

“I’m not doing anything.” She backs away. “I am well aware that your interests lie with the cute blonde. Doesn’t mean I can’t try to get you riled up.”

“I hate you.” Regina glares.

“I love you back,” Mal smirks. “Now, how are you?”

“Truthfully?” Regina lets her guard down for a brief second. “Stressed. Very stressed. But when have I not been in a constant state of stress?”

“You have a point there.” Mal shrugs. “But there are many ways to relieve that stress. Don’t hold it in for too long? Being mayor and a mom is possible. Only if you take care of yourself first.”Regina takes in her friend’s words. Maleficent was the only person besides her father that knew every single little detail about her. One of the only friends she could confide in.

“Even if it means following your happiness and asking blondie out.”
“Blondie?”

“I’ve seen the way you look at her, Regina. “Mal gives her a head up. “Give it a shot. Everything with Cora and Emma’s adoption will fall through. If a relationship isn’t what you want at least go out and get laid. Lord knows you need it.”

“How did I ever become friends with you?” Regina scoffs.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“Emma, you have an American girl doll?” Lily picked up the doll as if it was made of gold. “I have one too but she’s really old. My toys are at my daddy’s house.”

“Why don’t you go and get it?”

“My momma doesn’t talk to my daddy a lot.” Lily frowns. “He wasn’t really nice all the time.”

“Did he hurt you?” Emma’s curiosity gets the best of her. It didn’t register that as a five-year-old that she should have a filter. That didn’t happen a lot.

“No.” Lily shook her head. “He and Mommy would argue a lot. She said sometimes people just stop loving each other.”

“Oh.” Emma nodded. “Do you still love him?”

“Yep, but sometimes he is too busy for me.” Lily played with the hair on the doll’s head. “I think he will come and get me real soon. Then we could have lots of fun and maybe you can come too?”

“Okay.” Emma isn’t so sure about that but she didn’t know what else to say.
“Girls, Ingrid is here. It’s time to go. “Regina’s voice filtered up to Emma’s room.

Both girls made eye contact before breaking into a run. They both skidded to a halt when they finally got to the stairs.

“Lily, behave for Regina do you understand?”
Lily nodded and gave the sweetest smile that she could. Mal kissed she and Emma on the forehead and left.

“Okay girls are we ready?” Regina asked.

“Yep.” They chorused.

“Grab a bag and let’s go.” Regina laughed at their enthusiasm
.
“Hi, Ingrid!” Emma didn’t waste any time running to the other woman. Ingrid gladly scooped her up.

“Are you ready to hit the beach?”

“I am.” Emma nodded enthusiastically.

“Who is this?” Ingrid shifted Emma on her hip and focused her gaze on Lily.

“This is my best friend in the whole wide world, Lily.” Emma introduced them. “Lily this is Ms. Ingrid. She’s my Mommy’s friend.”

“Nice to meet you, Lily.” Ingrid smiled down at the tiny brunette. Lily’s sudden shyness overtook her and she hid behind Regina’s leg.
“Do you think we can manage to hug with two little monkeys in between us?” Ingrid grinned.

“I think we will do just fine.” Regina held her arms out and had a very awkward hug with Emma and Lily in the middle. It didn’t change the fact that Ingrid’s scent was addicting.
“So, let’s hit the beach!” Ingrid reluctantly lets her go.

xxxxxxx

A few hours later they were finally at the beach. Emma was amazed by all the water. Once they were all out of the car she found herself reaching for Anna’s hand. Anna didn’t even ask why. She enjoyed having Emma as a little friend.

“Aww how cute.” Kristoff, Anna’s boyfriend, teased.

“Oh hush.” Anna stuck out her tongue.

“We need to find somewhere to plant our stuff.” Ingrid stepped out of the car. Lily took Emma’s other hand. They could do that easily
.
Once they were settled on the beach, Elsa sat on her own towel with a book. She was content on tanning and being chill. Anna and Kristoff, on the other hand, decided that being in the water was where they wanted to be. Ingrid and Regina stayed near Elsa but far enough so that she couldn’t’ hear their conversation.
Regina had to say she was almost blushing like a teen to see the swimsuit Ingrid was in. A simple black one piece that was backless. It was decent enough but Regina couldn’t help herself.

“You’re not the only one that looks good in a bathing suit, Madam Mayor.” Ingrid supplied cheekily.

“I have to agree. “Regina laughed.

“I missed you, you know.” Ingrid sat next to her. “We have been very busy in the past week.”

“I know.” Regina agreed. “as the school year goes on we are going to be so much busier. With Emma’s adoption and trying to figure out if my mother has a second motive of some sort.”

“That has to be tough.”

Regina looked over to see Emma chasing Lily against the edge of the water. Not really going in.
“It is. But I’m trying.”

“You don’t have to do it all alone.” Ingrid reached over so that her hand was touching Regina’s. “I’m here for you.”

“You’re so sweet.” Regina smiled. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“Well, you flashed that beautiful smile and called me your girlfriend at one point.”

“About that?” Regina frowned. “I, can we, would you?” Taking a deep breath Regina tried again. “Would you mind going on a date with me? Whenever you’re free.”
Never in her life had Regina Mills been afraid to ask someone out. Ingrid made her feel like a teen again.

“I would love that.” Ingrid beamed. Before she could stand, she leaned over to kiss Regina’s cheek. “Besides, I’ve only been waiting a few years. Even Emma was becoming impatient.”

“She was not!” Regina laughed.

“Oh, I assure you she’s been asking me if we were going to kiss anytime soon. Thank my nieces for putting that notion into her head.”

“It’s not a silly one,” Regina informed her. “I mean kissing you has been the most innocent thing on my mind.”

“That makes two of us.” Ingrid winks.

Before they could say anything else to each other Emma stepped up to them and plopped down on her blanket.

“Emma, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to get in the water.” Emma frowned. “It’s too big and it’s too scary.”

“What if we went with you?” Ingrid suggested.

Emma’s eyes lit up. She was a bit jealous of Lily being able to jump into the water with Kristoff and Anna. She felt like a giant baby for being too afraid to jump in.
“Momma, will you come and hold my hand?”

“Of course,” Regina stood and pulled Emma up. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

With both Ingrid and Regina’s hands in her, they walked to shore. Her feet were the only things to get wet but even that terrified her.
“Want to take a step?”

Emma nodded. She stepped forward. Her tiny fingers tightened around the hands of both older women. Emma looked out at the water and then over to where Anna, Kristoff, and Lily were splashing each other. Kids screaming everywhere, loud noises, boats in the far-off distance.

“No.” She whispered. She didn’t want to do it. “No.”

Regina could see that Emma wasn’t having it this time.

“I don’t want to.” Emma frowned. She didn’t like it. Her bottom lip trembled and with the blink of an eye, she was throwing herself into Regina’s legs.
Regina didn’t even hesitate to pick her up. “Emma, is there something about the water that scares you?”

“Too much,” Emma whispered into her neck. “I can’t swim.”

“You don’t have to swim today if you don’t want to,” Ingrid reassured her. “We would build sandcastles, we can just stay right here, or we can go and find some sea shells. We don’t have to get into the water.”

Emma peeked her head to look at Ingrid.

“Is Lily gonna be mad I didn’t swim with her?”

“No, I don’t think she will be mad. In fact, why don’t we ask her if she wants to help us.”

Emma nodded but didn’t make a move to be out of Regina’s arms. All the while Regina was watching and noticing how good Ingrid was with her. It was very heartwarming to see.
“I think we need a few pictures of this.” Anna laughed as they continued to bury Kristoff in the sand. He could barely move as the sand was buried up to his neck.

“I’m itching in a place I can’t even reach.” Kristoff pouted. “So, if we could just hurry it up here.”

“Don’t move or you’ll mess everything up,” Emma warned him.

“We worked really hard on this.” Lily piped in.

“I’m being bossed around by three women.” He mumbled. “Two of them haven’t even hit double digits.”

“Sucks to be you.” Anna giggled as she snapped more pictures of him than she could count.

“Do you kiss him?” Emma asked suddenly. “You said my mommy and Ingrid can kiss. Do you kiss Kristoff?”

Anna’s eyes widened while Kristoff tried not to burst out in laughter. “I, yeah, Emma I do.”

“Boys are gross.” Emma scrunched her nose and Lily shook her head in agreement.
“Give it ten years and I’ll bet your thoughts have changed.”

“Nope, never.” Emma shook her head. “I never want to kiss anyone.”

“We shall see.” Anna laughed.

“So, college is soon?” Regina approached the topic. Elsa had joined she and Ingrid on their blanket. “Are you looking at any?”

“I don’t know just yet,” Elsa explained. “I just…donot feel like college fits me at all. At least not right now. It’s only senior year. I just hate that everyone pushes college like it’s the best thing in the world.”

“It sure does help.” Ingrid could sympathize. “But if that’s not something you’re interested in no one can force you to go. Just weigh your options. There’s absolutely no rush.”

“I’m glad you understand, Aunt Ingrid.” Elsa crossed her legs at the ankle. “Everyone always expects me to be this perfect person. I’m not interested in dating, I’m not as social as every other teen and I just want to be left alone with my books most of the time. Every guy in all of Maine only wants sex and that’s the farthest thing from my mind. I’m not like any of the other kids. Is something wrong with me?”

“Not at all.”

“Honey, you don’t have to be interested in anything or anyone. Just because you don’t want sex or you don’t want to party or you’d rather be alone it doesn’t make you weird.” Regina stepped in. “It makes you Elsa Fisher. A beautiful and intelligent young woman who will go far in whatever she chooses to do. Whether it be alone or with someone by your side.”

“Thanks, Regina.” Elsa smiled. “I’m happy we started talking to you. You and Aunt Ingrid are so cool.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” Ingrid reminded her.

“Mommy, I’m ready to go home.” They had been there for more than 6 hours. Lounging, tanning, playing, eating and having nothing but fun. A great way to end summer.
Emma was exhausted and curled up in Regina’s lap as everyone else began to pack up everything. Lily was on her side already halfway asleep. Emma stuck her thumb into her mouth and lifted her head from Regina’s chest.

“I want to sleep at home.”

“Here, Emma.” Regina knew what she needed until they could make it home. She reached over to take Mr. Waffle from her bag. Emma’s eyes lit up briefly before taking her beloved toy in her arms. “We will be home soon.”

“I love you, Momma,” Emma whispered before leaning her head back against Regina’s chest. Her thumb never left her mouth as she let Regina’s constant heartbeat lull her to sleep.

“I love you too Emma,” Regina whispered back. She was sure of it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

"Do you think she will like it?" Regina worried her bottom lip as she wrote down different ideas on a legal pad. She had never thrown a birthday party for a child before and it was getting to be stressful. Mayor Regina Mills had hosted plenty of events spanning from galas to conventions in the past. Regina Mills, the mom, had never thrown a children's party. It was turning out to be more stressful than she thought.

"I think she will love the idea." Mal nodded her head. "Trust me, with candy and a cake, what child wouldn't love it."

Regina called Mal in for a quick lunch date so that they could go over party ideas. They'd discussed anything from a fun trip to the zoo to a big birthday party at town hall. In the end, a tiny party at the mansion won out.

Emma would be turning 6 years old the upcoming Saturday. It nearly broke Regina's heart when she learned that Emma never had a party or a birthday cake. She'd only found out when Emma made some backhanded comment while they were watching some Disney show. Regina quickly learned that it was very rare for a foster child to even celebrate their birthdays. So naturally, she decided to throw Emma a party. With everything that was going on with the adoption, work, and caring for Emma, she was finding very little time to plan for a party. Not to mention she had a week to plan.

"But you don't think it's too soon or anything?" Regina frowned. She wanted this party to be perfect.

"I don't think so at all," Mal said. "Emma will love everything you have planned. I don't think it will matter the size of the party. A party full of love and fun will have her ecstatic."

Regina nodded and looked down at the legal pad. She didn't want to overwhelm Emma with a big party. Nothing too extravagant or flashy. Regina did know that she was going to spoil her girl. Emma deserved to have beautiful memories of her birthday. She would make sure of it.

"Are you inviting Cora?" Mal pulled her from her thoughts.

Regina grimaced and sighed. Did she even trust Cora enough to be around her daughter? Emma's only interactions with the woman were anything but nice. Regina didn't even think she, herself, was ready to interact with Cora so deeply. She still didn't know what to make of the older woman. After hearing Cora's story, she felt sympathetic, but that didn't help her when trying to understand.

Cora had come back at this specific time for a reason and she couldn't understand why. Maybe it was just to form a relationship. Maybe it was for money. That didn't mean Regina would be trusting her anytime soon. Especially not around her daughter.

"I'll think about it." Regina mindlessly scribbled on the legal pad.

The truth was she had already thought about it and decided against it. Having Cora around Emma wasn't something she was willing to negotiate now. There was too much at stake when it came to something like this.

The same went for Emma and her birth mother. Regina constantly worried about whether she was doing the right thing. Not that she didn't want to go through with the adoption, far from it but the potential that Emma's birth mother could change her mind. That's what unsettled her about the whole situation. She had Emma's best interest at heart. That was all that mattered.

"So, we need a cake, decorations, food and a guest list all by Friday night so that we can set up by Saturday." Regina made sure she wasn't missing anything. She was thinking of speaking with Emma's teacher about bringing cupcakes and a pizza to class. Emma would be more than excited about that for sure. "Any gift ideas?"

"I'm positive you have spoiled her enough already." Mal joked. "But I do have a few ideas for meaningful gifts."

"I'm all ears." Regina leaned in to listen. Mal's gifts were always sweet but creative. She was interested to see what they were. That's how things went for the next thirty minutes of Regina's hour long lunch break. Regina and Mal planning a birthday party fit for a princess.

Regina spent the rest of her work day with meetings and papers to sign before she toured the town. There were a few property complaints that she had to look into. It was not easy being mayor. Soon enough it was time to pick Emma up from school.

Regina knew she was lucky in being able to get home in time to pick Emma up from school and have dinner with her. Those nights would change in the upcoming months.

"Mommy!" Emma cheered as she spotted Regina waiting for her just beside their car. She'd parked in front of the school today. Emma didn't hesitate when jumping into Regina's arms.

"Did you have fun at school today?" Regina ran her hands through Emma's hair. A mess of blonde waves from a long day of school.

"Yep." Emma chirped. She held up her hand to show a sticker that she got from art class. "We got to paint a lot of things. I painted a flower."

"You did?" Regina enthused only in the way a mother could. "Where is it?"

"It has to dry and then I can take it home," Emma explained as Regina carried her down the rest of the way to the car. Regina gave a wave to Emma's teacher.

"How about we make a trip to Wal-Mart?" Regina suggested. "We can pick up a few toiletries for the house."

"I don't know what toilet trees mean." Emma scrunched her nose. "What are those?"

"Basic things for the house." Regina chuckled. "Like toilet paper, soap, laundry detergent."

"Oh." Emma nodded in understanding. "Can I pick out more stuff?"

"Of course, you can." Regina helped Emma inside of the car. "You're my little helper. What would I do without you?"

Emma smiled as she was buckled into her seat. She had fun when there were just days where she and Regina would do simple things. No one, besides August, had ever paid so much attention to her. Regina smiled before tapping her nose. Emma's smile was always a contagious one. Her little dimples and the way her eyes lit up warmed Regina's, heart.

"Do we need a d-u-s" Emma sounded out the word but she couldn't quite get it yet. She traced her index finger over the word of the packaging. "Momma, what is this word? Can you help?"

Emma looked over to where Regina was looking at mops. Those were boring. She wanted a duster.

"Can you sound it out?" Regina stepped up beside Emma.

"Duh,hmm,duh…s-t-er." Emma's brow crinkled as she tried to think of which sounds to make. "Duster?"

"Excellent job, Missy." Regina smiled using one of the nicknames she had for Emma.

"So, do we need one?" Emma tapped it again.

"No, we have a few at home that I can show you how to use."

"I like cleaning the house with you, Momma." Emma took Regina's hands in hers. She looked up to see Regina looking back down at her.

"Yeah?" Regina questioned as they continued down the aisle.

"Yeah." Emma echoed. "I like going to all the stores with you too."

Regina managed a smile as she realized there was a common denominator to these situations; which was her. Sometimes she didn't realize how much of an impact she had on her daughter. When taking in foster children, foster parents are usually told not to expect their foster child to stay for long. To be prepared for possible reunification with birth parents. Regina hadn't expected to become so attached to Emma.

"I also enjoy spending time with you," Regina replied. She didn't miss the way Emma squeezed her hand a little tighter. Regina couldn't even express how happy she was with Emma. The unconditional love she thought mothers only talked about within books or just to brag. It was real though. She felt that love when she looked at and held Emma.

She was also wondering if she should tell Emma about the party or surprise her. Maybe they could talk about it over dinner. For now, they needed to get the rest of the items on her list.

"One strawberry milkshake with whipped cream on top." Ruby Lucas checked off the things on their order. Emma nodded her head enthusiastically as she couldn't wait for a milkshake. "Anything else for the princess?"

"No that will be all, Ruby, thank you." Regina folded their menus and smiled at the younger woman.

Ruby gave her most genuine smile to Regina. A smile from the mayor used to be rare. Now she seemed to be smiling all the time. She could still be a hard ass at times but it was apparent that Emma was changing her. Ruby didn't complain one bit. Not when she has had the biggest crush on Regina Mills since she was fourteen years old.

"Mommy, can I go say hi to Granny?" Emma tilted her head in the direction of the back of the diner.

"Only if it's okay for you to go."

"Don't worry, I got her," Ruby assured Regina. She held out a freshly manicured hand for Emma to hold.

Regina watched them walk away before pulling out her phone. It wouldn't hurt to check a few work emails. Before Emma, she was married to the money. She would eat, sleep, and breathe at work. It helped her get through the loneliness at times. Of course, she loved her work, but she had always wanted more.

"Madam Mayor." Sidney Glass approached Regina's booth slowly. "How are you today?"

"Sidney, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Regina set her phone face down on the table. She had not seen the man for quite some time. While his constant badgering on courting, her was less than welcome, she could admit he was a good snoop when needed.

"I really haven't been to any of the town meetings." Sidney shrugged. "I figured you've been busy with…other things."

"I have." Regina couldn't find his angle.

"I, um, just wanted to say hello." Sidney nodded. "Just a hello."

"Well, if you are done here, Sidney, my daughter is on the way back with our food." Regina motioned to where Emma was trailing behind Ruby. Ruby was somehow managing a giant tray in her hand with food and a conversation with a fast-talking Emma. This was a sign that Emma was comfortable with others outside of everyone.

"Right." Sidney was surprised to see Emma was still at Regina's home. He almost made a comment on it but he remembers that Regina didn't know of his time with Cora. "See you later."

Regina simply gave him her signature smile.

"Mommy, Granny gave me a sucker." Emma grinned. "But she said to save it for later."

"I should get going." It was only then that Emma noticed Sidney. The smile immediately left her face as she watched him get up and leave. The fact that he didn't even acknowledge Emma wasn't lost on Regina.

"That's great, Missy." Regina watched Sidney leave.

Ruby set their plates down and tapped Emma's nose before attending her other tables.

"I think I don't wanna go to school tomorrow." Emma bit into her chicken fingers.

"And why not?"

"I'm tired of school." Emma shrugged. "It's boring and the kids are always so loud."

"I can agree but you can't miss school."

"Aww…" Emma groaned. "It was worth a shot."

Regina chuckled and stabbed a fork into her own salad.

"Emma, how do you feel about having a birthday party?" Regina decided that asking her was the best option.

"I don't know. "Emma's demeanor suddenly went flat. She shrugged and opted on dipping her fries into her ketchup. "I never had one. I told you already."

"Would you like to have one?"

"Yes." Emma sighed. "But I don't know what to do at a birthday party either. My birthday is coming up too. October 28th."

Regina's mind flashbacked to her and Emma's first meeting. When Emma pointed out her birthday to Regina.

"This Saturday, I want to throw you a birthday party." Regina began. She really didn't know how to have this conversation with Emma. "You can have Roland and Lily there. We can have ice cream and cake too."

"Ingrid? Anna and Elsa?" Emma asked hopefully. "I can have them at my party too?"

Emma's acknowledgment of it being her party warmed her heart.

"Of course." Regina smiled.

"Balloons too?" Emma began to list off all the things she would want at her party. Regina noticed that they were simple necessities that every party should have. "I don't know what to wear."

Regina's chuckle rang through Granny's. Let the chaos begin.

During the week, all Emma talked about was her party. She was over the moon about finally having one. She was even able to give her own input on things she liked and did not like. Regina was impressed with the way she took over and stated her opinion.

"One more day." Regina sighed as she finally laid to rest. She was face timing Ingrid. It was becoming sort of a ritual for them to check in with each other at the end of the day. Regina found that she enjoyed having a friend to talk to. It wasn't always so easy for her to communicate and express her feelings, but with Ingrid, it came naturally.

"How excited is Emma?" Ingrid looked into the camera. "I know we won't get to hear the end of it for weeks."

"I could barely put her to sleep tonight." Regina rolled her eyes. "She was like a live wire. Knowing that her party is tomorrow. I've never seen her so happy."

"You're doing an excellent job with her, Regina," Ingrid assured her. "She adores you. You're giving her the life that every child deserves."

"You really think so?" Regina turned to her side so that she could see Ingrid's face clearly. The blond was make-up free and her smile was contagious.

"I know so." Ingrid grinned. "I see the way she looks at you. When she talks about you."

Regina could only listen with tears in her eyes. She knew that she was helping Emma but it always felt good to be reassured.

"The comfort and love you give to her is amazing." Ingrid continued. "I think that you are a great mother. I really do."

"You're so kind to me." Regina wiped away tears. "I honestly don't know how I got to be so lucky."

"Well, you flashed that pretty smile with those big brown eyes and I was sold."

"Hmm." Regina hummed.

"I can tell that you are tired so I'm going to let you go." Ingrid blew a kiss into the phone. She could swear she felt like a teenager again. "Goodnight girlfriend." She joked.

Regina beamed and raised her hand for a wave. She really loved when Ingrid called her that. Hopefully, soon they could make it official. Regina fell asleep in a matter of seconds. She would need to be awake bright and early to make sure everything was ready for Emma's party.

"It's my birthday," Emma repeated to herself as she arose. It was her 6th birthday. Usually, she would wake up on her birthday alone. The day would be treated just like any other day for her.

Emma slid from her bed and stepped into her batman slippers. They were fuzzy and comfortable. Stepping over piles of dinosaurs and Legos, Emma quickly stopped in the bathroom.

"It's my birthday." She continued to sing as she wiped and flushed. She no longer needed help with that too. Once her hands were washed and dried she ran down the hallway to Regina's room.

She gave three knocks without a reply. Emma was confused since Regina would usually tell her to come in. Most time the door was always cracked in a signal that she could always come in. Emma twisted the knob and slowly pushed the door open. Blue eyes peeked inside to find an empty bedroom.

"Mommy?" Emma called as she stepped deeper into the room. "Are you here?"

Emma reached to scratch her belly as she searched around Regina's room. No signs of her Mommy. She was just about to leave the room when she spotted a green card taped the door.

She stepped up to it. Great! She had to read.

"Today is your birthday and we think you're really sweet." Emma took her time sounding out the words. "so, follow these five clues to find a special birthday treat."

Emma noticed there were tiny letters at the bottom of the card.

"If you're in a hungry mood, go here and find some food." Emma had to think for a second before she realized she had to go to the kitchen. That's where the food was right?

Emma quickly made her way down the steps. Was her mommy playing a trick on her?

"Emma, I see you found the first clue." Regina was waiting at the edge of the table. She'd heard Emma get up and go into her room. "Happy Birthday."

"Grilled cheese!" Emma cheered before climbing into her seat.

"Let's do a treasure hunt." Regina sat next to Emma. "When you get finished with your food. We have to follow the clues and there may be a surprise at the end."

"Really?" Emma almost stuffed an entire piece of bread into her mouth.

"Yes, but little Emma bites." Regina reminded her.

"Oh yeah." Emma blushed.

During the entire breakfast, Emma threw subtle hints at Regina about the party. Regina, of course, knew how to dodge those questions without making Emma think that the party was canceled. She was a politician after all.

Regina traded Emma clue number two for her empty plate.

"Now you're on your second clue, these go on before your shoe." Emma wrinkled her brow and looked over to her mother. "Is that a sock?"

Regina nodded and Emma stood. She didn't wait for Regina as they made their way to the shoe rack. There were about nine more clues that needed to be found. Emma had a wonderful time running around the house and finding clues. Finally, she'd gotten the last clue and was headed to the laundry room.

"Is it a puppy? "Emma asked curiously.

"Oh god no." Regina almost had a heart attack. She didn't know if she could handle taking care of an untrained puppy now.

Emma opened the laundry room door to find a bag sitting in the middle of the room. It was pink and glittery. A balloon attached to the handle.

Emma took no more than two steps before pushing through the gift paper. A tiny black box was the only thing inside. Emma sat on her bottom so that she could concentrate. As if that helped.

"A necklace?" She gasped. "It's an E. For Emma!"

"Do you like it?" Regina kneeled.

"Yes, it's just like your necklace Momma." Emma cried. "Can you help put it on?"

"Come." Regina motioned for her to turn around.

Emma was wriggling in her spot. She couldn't wait to look in the mirror. Once, Regina, had the necklace clasped, she patted Emma's arm. Emma quickly ran to the first-floor bathroom. She struggled to climb the counter but eventually, she got it.

"We match!" Emma giggled.

"That we do." Regina kissed the top of her head. "How about we go get ready for the day."

"My party!" Emma cried. "I almost forgot."

Without any help from Regina, Emma was dressed in her birthday outfit. Regina was taking her to the salon to be given the "princess" treatment.

"Are we getting my nails done?' Emma questioned.

"Yes, and your hair!" Regina unbuckled her seat.

"Cool!"

"So, what are your intentions with my Regina." Mal suddenly inquired. They'd been setting up the decorations for Emma's party for almost an hour now.

"Pardon?" Ingrid stopped with her table setting to look over at Mal.

"Are you trying to date her? Sleep with her? "Mal questioned. With Lily, so close she couldn't truly speak her mind.

"I think that's between Regina and I don't you think." Ingrid raised a brow.

"I'm just trying to make conversation here." Mal shrugged. "You're beautiful. It's clear and you're obviously Regina's type."

"What are you getting at?" Ingrid raised a brow. "I mean you did come back to town so suddenly. Were you hoping to rekindle something with Regina? I'm not here to compete. I enjoy spending time with Regina and that goes for Emma too. Whatever happens between Regina and I is our business, as I earlier stated. Now I do not wish to make enemies but you seem to enjoy pushing buttons. I would like for us to at least be cordial. Regina is not a piece of meat to be fought over by two dogs."

"You're right." Mal nodded. "Doesn't mean I won't push your buttons. Regina is my friend and I love her dearly."

Mal was being nice compared to what she was capable of. If she drove Ingrid away Regina would never forgive her. So, she could be civil with Ingrid for now.

"When I wake up, I'm going to have a party?" Emma asked as Regina cuddled with her for nap time. With a few inches of her hair cut and her nails, all done Emma was all tired out.

"Yes." Regina stroked her back. Emma was fighting her sleep as much as she could. The six-year-old was too afraid to miss something. "Close your eyes and when you wake up we will have fun."

Emma nodded as she snuggled into Regina's chest more. Her safe place.

When Regina could hear Emma's soft snoring she made her way downstairs. Lily was napping on the couch and she didn't understand how the tiny girl could sleep with all the noise going on in the kitchen and backyard.

"Oh, Regina, over here," Mal called to her. Regina couldn't figure out why Mal and Ingrid were giggling but she walked over anyways. "I was just telling Ingrid about the time we went skinny-dipping."

"Maleficent." Regina groaned. "This is not the place to tell our embarrassing college stories."

"Well, she wanted to hear." Mal shrugged.

"Don't worry I think they are awesome stories." Ingrid kissed Regina's cheek. "Besides, it's not every day we get to hear about Regina having a wild side."

"Oh, it was more than a wild side," Mal smirked.

"Okay, that's enough story telling for now." Regina's eyes widened. She did not need Ingrid hearing any more stories about her. "How about we finish decorating for this party yeah?"

Mal laughed as she watched Regina walk away once again. It would be fun to tease her later. In that moment, Mal felt like a parent and not Regina's best friend. It was hilarious.

"Emma, wake up!" Lily tried to rouse her friend. "It's party time."

"Party?" Emma mumbled. "No party."

Emma turned away from Lily. She buried her head under the covers and tried to go back to sleep.

"Emma, your birthday party is downstairs." Lily insisted. "Everybody is here. We are waiting on you."

Hearing those words woke Emma up. She quickly jumped out of bed and dressed again. She couldn't move fast enough as she followed Lily to the backyard.

"Emma's awake," Lily shouted.

"Emma!" Everyone cheered. "Happy birthday, Emma."

Emma was amazed when she saw the decorations of the backyard. It was batman themed along with different touches of American Girl Dolls and Winnie the Pooh. None of it really matched but they were Emma's favorite things. Emma could feel her heart hammering inside of her chest as she looked around. Granny and Ruby were here, along with her friends, everyone she wanted to invite was right here. She'd never felt so loved.

"Happy Birthday, Emma." Regina stepped up behind her.

"Mommy, thank you so much for my party." Emma turned to her. "I really like everything."

"I'm so glad you like it."

"Can I go play now?" Emma asked.

"Yes, baby, go play with your friends."

Emma played until her heart was content. This was the one day that Regina let the children climb all over her apple tree. She snapped pictures and videos of every single moment. Technically this was Emma's first birthday. The first birthday party she had ever had.

Finally, though, Emma sat with her friends under the tree as the drank juices and ate their dinner. Spaghetti is what she decided on. She even managed not to get messy.

"I like Batman better than Superman," Emma commented to Roland. "He's really nice."

"I like the hulk," Roland replied. "He's super strong and can crush a lot of things."

"Happy Birthday, Emma." Elsa and Anna approached the group of children. Anna was holding a gift-wrapped box.

"You came!" Emma stood from her spot. She hugged them both before taking the gift in her hands. "Thank you. Anna, where's your boyfriend?"

"Kristoff had to work," Anna informed her. "But he says he will take you out for a milkshake as soon as he can. Does that sound good?"

"Yeah." Emma nods. She really did like the older boy. "I'm gonna go put this on the table. Your Aunt is here. She's probably with my Mommy."

"Oh, goodie." Elsa snickered.

"Behave." Anna couldn't help but laugh herself. "We will be right over there with them. Happy Birthday again Emma."

Emma smiled and hurried to put her gift on the table. It was an entire table full of gifts. It was almost overwhelming for her as she counted all the bags and boxes on the table. She couldn't wait to open all of them. Maybe she could give some away to the orphanage? She already had a lot of toys anyways.

"August, I'm so glad you could come." Regina hugged the man. There was a young girl with red hair that stood a few feet away from them. Regina simply waved and beamed at her. Regina already knew who she was.

"It's Emma's birthday. It's the least I could do." August smiled. "I have a huge surprise for her. Where is she?"

Regina searched the backyard until she finally found Emma standing at the gift table.

"Thank you." August walked over to where Emma was still counting her gifts. He moves toward her and kneeled. "That is a lot of gifts, kid."

"August! "Emma didn't hesitate to hug him. "Am I going somewhere? Not on my birthday, right?"

"No, no, Emma," August assured her. "I have someone here to celebrate your birthday with you."

"Who is it?" Emma couldn't think of a single person that they were missing. She'd already invited everyone she knew to the party. August motioned his head to where the young girl was still standing next to Regina. She was no older than thirteen and her hair fiery waves down her back.

Emma was frozen for a few moments as she couldn't believe her eyes. She came out of her stupor quickly and without a word ran across the backyard.

"Addison?" Emma stopped just a few short few away. "Addison?"

Emma didn't believe it was real. It couldn't be.

"Hi, Em," Addison spoke quietly.

So many things happened all at once. Addison dropped down to her knees and held out her arms for Emma to hug. Emma's tears of joy didn't go unheard as she slammed into the older girl's arms.

"Sissy." Emma cried into her hair. Her tiny arms wrapped around her neck as she practically tried to melt in her arms. "Sissy, my sissy." were the only words Emma could speak. She sobbed into the only pair of arms she'd known as a haven before Regina. Addison only held back tighter as she tried to calm Emma's cries.

The crowd watched the heartwarming yet heartbreaking scene of two young girls broken reuniting. Regina was too wrapped up in seeing Emma so emotional. She only knew Addison from the stories Emma told her. The girl who protected her in a foster home where even she wasn't safe. A girl who was so young but made Emma her own.

Ingrid snapped a few pictures in the background. She knew this was a moment that both girls would want to remember. Addison was the first to pull back as she wanted to see Emma's face. Emma held on tighter. She never wanted to let Addison go.

"Me, it's okay I'm not leaving," Addison whispered into her ear.

"Sissy, you're here," Emma whined using her nickname for Addison. She stepped back only a bit. "You're really here. How did you know?"

"I couldn't miss your birthday Emma." Addison sniffled. They hadn't seen each other in over a year. Addison was unsure if she was ever going to see Emma again. Not after everything that happened.

"But the bad man…" Emma's voice lowered.

"Don't worry about him. He can't hurt us anymore" Addison spoke with certainty. She seemed so much older than thirteen. "I'm here for your birthday party."

"I missed you, Sissy," Emma informed her.

"I missed you too."

"Are you really staying for my party?" Emma looked over to Regina.

"Yes, I can also spend the night." Addison smiled. "My foster parents aren't so mean. At least not like the others."

"I want you to come meet my Mommy." Emma held her hand.

"I would like that."

Emma stepped back to let Addison stand up taller.

"Mommy, this is Addison." Emma pulled her over to Regina.

The party had continued now that Emma had finished crying. Everyone wanting to give them a little privacy.

"Hello, Addison, I'm Regina." Regina held out her hand for the girl to shake. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Addison avoided eye contact but shyly took Regina's hand.

"Thank you, Ms. Regina."

Emma took her time to introduce her "big sister" to everyone at the party. Regina silently thanked August for doing this for her. Emma's smile had not gone away since. August came to sit next to her as they watched the girls play together. Addison wasn't too shy about running around with them.

Soon it was time to sing "Happy Birthday."

Emma sat at the head of the table as everyone crowded around her. It was a simple cake that read "Happy Birthdays Emma." The s was there on purpose.

"Make a wish," Regina said. Emma simply closed her eyes and thought hard about what she wanted. She had everything she possibly could. Emma finally caught onto what she wanted and blew out the candles.

"Now we have cake." Emma grinned. She stuck her finger on the side and popped it into her mouth. She looked up just in time to see Regina snapping more pictures.

"What did you wish for Emma?" Roland asked her.

"I can't tell or it won't come true. "Emma shook her head.

"Oh right!"

Soon enough the party was over. Emma's presents would be left for the morning as the six-year-old was more than tired out by the time she was done with cake. Emma could wave all her guest's goodbye as they left. August left Regina with emergency numbers for Addison and a backpack. She could stay for one night and then she would be returning to her foster home.

"I had a lot of fun today, Mommy," Emma whispered. "I'm so happy all my friends came. I'm so happy Addison came. You're the best mommy ever. I love you."

Regina tried to blink back the tears that blurred her vision.

"I'm so happy you had fun today and I love you too."

Regina stood to leave the room. Addison was lying in a sleeping bag on the floor. She kissed Emma's forehead and without a second thought also kissed Addison's.

"You two get some sleep," Regina told them. "Maybe tomorrow we can do something else extra special."

"Don't turn the light off please." Addison requested quietly. She didn't speak much but this was surely heard.

Regina nodded and cracked the door a little. She was only halfway down the hallway when she heard both girls giggling.

Regina smiled as she stopped the rest of the way downstairs to clean up. She was proud of herself.

Emma's birthday party was a success

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

Regina didn't know what made her wake up that night, but once she was up she couldn't go back, it was just one of those nights. First, she stepped into the bathroom. Her usual go and flush seeming just that more exhausting tonight. She couldn't even tell what time it was and she truly didn't want to know. It didn't take long before she wrapped her robe around herself and padded silently down the hallway. Emma's bedroom light was no longer on. The door was still ajar and the only light shining was the tiny Princess Nightlight next to her bed. Standing in the doorway, she watched the rise and fall of Emma's chest. Regina didn't do it often but she always checked on Emma. It became routine.

Remembering that they have a guest Regina tiptoes around the room to find Addison's sleeping bag empty. She doesn't panic until she realizes she really doesn't know anything about Addison. The possibility of her being a runaway wasn't something she's gone over. Wouldn't August tell her something like that? Regina quickly exits Emma's bedroom to walk down the hallway where the extra guest bedrooms were. She was only stopped in her tracks when she could hear the living room TV.

That was a good sign, right?

Regina reaches the living room where the TV is exceptionally low. She can only see the back of Addison's head and her wild curls.

"Addison, sweetie, what are you doing up ?" Regina comes to sit across from her on the couch. Fran Drescher's nasally voice filtered through the room. Nick at Nite was always a good channel for passing the time.

"I'm sorry." Addison reaches for the remote on the coffee table. "I know I'm supposed to be asleep but I just ... couldn't."

"No, you aren't in trouble." Regina lets her hand rest above Addison's.

She didn't miss the way Addison flinched away. Regina didn't want to mention that. Not that she would have anyway. The girl had been there no more than twelve hours. Most of her time was spent with the other children or Emma.

Emma hadn't let her "sissy" out of her sight for even a minute. Regina having had minimal conversation with her. Only hearing the stories Emma told her and information from August. Regina had also been nervous about having Addison at the party. She knew Addison's impact on Emma and she didn't know if her foster parents would agree to let her stay over.

This was a chance and Regina only then noticed how tiny she was. She could pass for maybe ten years old at best and not a thirteen-year-old girl. But the look in her eyes expressed years of something Regina couldn't quite decipher. She's seen the same look in Emma's eyes and sometimes even her own.

There's a comfortable silence where they both just look at the tv. Regina can tell when Addison's eyes flicker from her and back to the show. Almost as if she was officially sizing her up.

"I've always loved Fran Drescher," Regina spoke first. "Her clothing has always been quite bold and fancy."

Addison doesn't speak any. She simply keeps her gaze forward. Regina picks up the remote to check the time. It was four am. She seriously needed to stop waking up so late.

"I wish I could wear things like that." Addison finally lets out. Her eyes didn't meet Regina's as she was too focused on picking invisible lint from her shirt. "But I wouldn't look like that."

"Like what?" Regina asks curiously.

"Pretty," Addison said.

"I used to feel that way," Regina says. "When I was in middle school. I was bullied for having this scar on my lip. I hated it all the time. But then I grew up. I realized that my looks were not all I had to offer. My intelligence and determination were."

More silence and Regina was beginning to think Addison was a girl of few words.

"I'm glad that Emma has you." Addison nods almost to herself. "She seems really happy here. I remember when she didn't really talk at all. Not to anyone other than me."

Regina doesn't speak this time. Right now, her only job was to listen.

"She would sing to me at night." Addison managed a smile. "sometimes she would tell me different stories until she would fall asleep. Her biggest dream was that one day we would both get adopted and live together. That we could share rooms. That we would have a mommy to love us and sing to us. Emma was really obsessed with singing back then. At least that dream worked out for her."

Addison didn't know why she was even saying all of this. There was something about Regina that made her easy to talk to. She was truly happy that Emma had found a home that gave her everything she needed.

"Your current foster home now? Are they nice?" Regina began. "Do they treat you well?"

"Most of the time they don't really notice me." Addison shrugs. "I think it's better that way. I can come and go as I please. As long as I'm there for home visits. "

Regina didn't like the sound of that.

"I go to the library and read books. My favorite is the Hunger games. I have the first book. I went to check out the others at the library but I owe too much. I can wait until I get enough money for that though." Regina could see the way she lit up at some of her favorite things.

Addison was only a child herself. The thought of what she'd been through didn't change the tiny light in her eyes.

"Well, whenever you need somewhere to get away. Don't be afraid to come visit Emma and me."

Addison was surprised at that.

"Really? I don't want to be a bother."

"Nonsense. I don't mind and I know Emma certainly would not mind. You're a beautiful young girl and you're intelligent." Regina scooted a little closer. "I want you to know that you're always welcome here."

Addison took a chance and hugged her. Regina hadn't really expected it, wrapping her arms around the girl. She didn't pull back first and simply held her. Addison finally pulled back.

Addison didn't move back to her original seat but opted to stay by Regina's side. The comfortable silence filled the room again and Regina was almost sure she'd watched three episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Addison was leaning against her shoulder now and Regina couldn't find it in her to move

She reached over the back of the couch and pulled a blanket to cover the both of them.

That's how Emma found them the next morning. Addison cuddled up into Regina's side, Regina's head at an awkward angle, both looked more than comfy.

"Sissy, sissy, wake up," Emma whispered. Usually, she would go and make her own breakfast and watch cartoons until Regina awoke. Today was different, her sister was there and she didn't know how long Addison would be staying, or how soon she would be able to come back.

"Em?" Addison mumbled barely able to open her eyes. She moved to sit up but the warm weight against her waist wouldn't let her. She scrunched her brows before looking up to realize she basically fell asleep with Regina's arms around her.

"Can you make me food?" Emma's dependency on Addison suddenly coming back.

"Sure." Addison was still lost on how she'd let herself become so comfortable with Regina. She slipped from her embrace and stood to stretch her muscles. Emma patiently watched as Addison covered Regina a little more with the blanket.

Regina looked peaceful with her legs curled under her and the blanket up to her chin. She must have been super tired from the party.

Emma dragged Addison to the kitchen where she directed her to their pantry. Addison was amazed by the size of their kitchen, only having been able to get a brief look at the house.

"What do you want today Em?"

"I think I want oatmeal!" Emma decided on.

Addison made quick work of fixing their breakfast. She'd even found already cut up strawberries in the fridge. Regina must really be big on healthy foods. Once they were settled down, Addison said her prayers. A force of habit that she's developed in recent foster homes. Emma simply watched her and frowned. Was she supposed to say grace too?

Emma watched her for a few seconds before deciding to bow her head too. She only opened her eyes again when Addison whispered "amen". Emma remembered having to say grace at her other foster homes but not here. Regina never made her say it but others had. That fact confused her but she didn't bother to ask.

"Sissy, I'm so glad you're here," Emma said between slurps of oatmeal.

"I am too Em."

"I wish you could stay here all the time."

Addison nodded, her eyes roaming around the dining room. This was a huge house. Everything was so neat and clean and put together. Even Emma's room was somehow tidy. Addison thinks she remembers August mentioning how Regina was the mayor of Storybrooke. That had to be cool.

"Why did you sleep with my mommy?" Emma asked innocently. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"No, I just couldn't sleep," Addison assured her. "Regina, your mom, she came downstairs in the middle of the night. She's pretty cool."

Emma beamed at the fact that her big sister approved of her mom, as weird as that sounded. It felt good to have her around again.

"Girls?" Regina followed the voices she heard into the dining area. They were already eating and conversing about some cartoon Emma had recently watched. Regina had awoken confused and with slight back pain from sleeping on the couch. The time she sat just listening to Emma and Addison's conversation was brief. The way they interacted with each other was so sweet. She could tell that they both cared for each other deeply.

"Hi, Mommy." Emma's eyes brightened just a little more at seeing her. She kissed the top of Emma's head and looked over to Addison. Last night she'd done it without hesitation but she didn't know if it was fine to do this time.

Addison nodded and didn't flinch when she felt Regina's lips on her forehead. She'd never met someone that was so warm and loving so freely. It was unsettling but heartwarming at the same time.

"Addison made me food," Emma spoke up once Regina sat at the table with them. They were all still in their pajamas.

"I see and it looks great." Regina smiled warmly. It was almost as if they were their own little family this morning.

"I like to cook but I didn't know if I was allowed." Addison's eyes went right back to here bowl. "Emma was hungry."

"That's fine, sweetie," Regina assured her. "I love to cook also."

"You do?" Addison only glanced up for a second.

"Yes, in fact, if you'd like we can bake cookies today."

"Yay cookies." Emma cheered. "My birthday was special and now I get cookies? This is awesome!"

Regina chuckled at her daughter's enthusiasm. She peeled open a banana and sat silently. She watched the way Emma would mimic Addison's movements; From the way, she used her spoon to the way she sat. It was adorable.

"Did you know that I can spell house?" Emma randomly spoke.

"Let me hear?" Addison challenged.

"H-o-u-s-e." Emma stuck her tongue out with pride. "I told you. It's easy."

"I believed you could do it."

"What would you girls like to do today." Regina stood to clear their plates from the table.

"Can we build a fort? And play dress up?" Emma suggested. "Just us three today."

"That sounds lovely. Why don't you two go brush your teeth and we can build that fort."

"Addison, let's go." Emma practically forced her sister from her seat.

Regina could only smile as she thought of how happy Emma was in this moment. She'd never seen her so excited about anything. If a day in the house was what they wanted, then they would make the most out of it.

"Mommy, you have to get inside too!" Emma called from inside their fort. It had taken a matter of five minutes to mess up her otherwise immaculate living room. All the furniture had been moved and rearranged.

"Don't you think I'm a little too old for forts?"

"No, you are never too old to have fun." Addison laughed. "Even I know that."

Both girls continued to beg and plead for Regina to get inside. With two sets of puppy dog eyes looking up at her she couldn't resist. Finally, she got down on her hands and knees to crawl in. It was a pretty small space but big enough for them all to sit.

"Mommy, do you think when I get bigger that I will be like you and Sissy?"

"Hmm, that's a good question." Regina brushed a few stray locks of hair out of Emma's face. "I think you will be Emma. I think you will be an even more amazing little girl than you are now. Don't grow up too fast though okay?"

"I want to be your baby forever." Emma hugged her side. "Then you and sissy will still carry me around everywhere. I think that's fun."

"Well, I know one thing for sure, you will always be my Emma." Regina tapped her nose.

Addison was content on watching the interaction between them both. It was great to see Emma finally having the family she'd always wanted.

Throughout the morning, they played dress up and fairytale games. Addison was having the most fun she had ever had. Regina suggested for them to make sandwiches and bake cookies.

"I like it here," Addison commented once the cookies were inside of the oven.

"I'm really glad that you do. What I said last night was true, you're always welcome in my home."

"If I can come back can you teach me how to cook a little more?" Addison ducked her head shyly.

Regina slipped a finger under her chin and gently forced her to look up at her.

"Yes, of course! I think we all can do to learn a few new recipes." Regina gave her a grin. "Besides, I love to eat."

Addison chuckled and nodded. She knew August would be here after lunch but she didn't want this day to end at all. She wished that she could stay with Emma and Regina and have fun with them. For now, she would enjoy the time she had left. They were going to watch 101 Dalmatians while eating lunch. That was more than enjoyable for her.

"Are you gonna come back?" Emma tightly hugged Addison's midsection. She didn't want to let her sister go just yet. "You have to promise, Sissy."

"I hope I can Emma. If not I'll try and call you." Addison hugged back. "I love you so much and I'm so glad that you're my little sister."

"I love you too." Emma pouted before letting go. She knew that Addison had to leave but didn't mean she had to like it.

"Bye, Addison." It was Regina's turn to hug her next. "I'm so glad you could come and make Emma's birthday so special."

"Thank you." She whispered. "It was special for me too."

Emma took Regina's hand as they watched Addison walk down the pathway and into August's car. He waved to them and they waved back before watching him drive off.

"Mommy, I'm really sad," Emma admitted. "I want her to come back and live with us. Then it would be us all the time."

"I know sweetie." Regina scooped her up into her arms. "I'm sorry she had to go but whenever you want her to come over she can. Is that okay with you?"

Emma nodded sadly and buried her head into Regina's neck.

She missed her Sissy already.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

"What is your angle in this whole ordeal anyways?" Sydney asked Cora. "Why are you doing this whole thing? Finding the kids' birth mother and showing up to town? What is this all about? Why do you need me?"

"I needed you because you're the only one in this town that seems to know my daughter." Cora answered. "I came to this town for my own personal reasons. I wanted to know my daughter and I still do. As for Emma's birth mother…my methods aren't always conventional."

"But why did we have to pretend to be social workers again?" Sydney wasn't exactly following her train of thought.

"I believe that mothers should know their children. Would the woman have believed us if we told her who we really were?" Cora sipped her tea. She always had a nonchalant air about her. It was creepily calm and Sydney didn't necessarily like it. "I think that girl belongs with her mother. My daughter is in a position of power and surely someday they will want a piece of that pie. I'm simply protecting what is mine."

"Right." Sydney said. He looked at Cora as though she had two heads. Could it be possible for her to be plain crazy? From what he'd heard she'd made progress with Regina. Did she truly want to sabotage that? Over her own crazy thoughts.

Was this deeper than what she was letting on? Probably not but he was starting to rethink spending his time with her.

"Can you count to one hundred?" Ingrid asked from behind Emma. She watched with a grin on her face as Emma stepped along the edge of a park bench as though she were on a tightrope. She was babysitting for Regina today while she did her mayoral duties. After picking Emma up from school, Ingrid had brought her to the park to tire her out. The little girl was always full of so much energy and she was sure Regina would appreciate a quiet night.

"Of course, I can." Emma stuck her tongue out in concentration. One foot before the other she walked across the bench. While all the other children played along the jungle gym, Emma was satisfied to spend her time with Ingrid. "I can count to two hundred also." Emma began to count and only got to twenty before Ingrid interrupted.

"Whoa, you're a real Albert Einstein." She joked. She lifted Emma's backpack to her own shoulders. With a coffee in one hand and her car keys in the other, Ingrid tried to stay close in case Emma fell. That would be fun to explain.

Emma swayed back and forth before finding her balance again. She paused and turned to face Ingrid. With a raised brow, she asked "Who is that?"

"He was a, uh, scientist." Ingrid explained. "A very smart one."

"What do scientists do?" Emma jumped down. She walked over to Ingrid to take her hand. "Are they the ones that do experiments? Like we do at school sometimes?"

"Yes, they are." Ingrid said.

They walked along the park until they reached the entrance. Ingrid figured they could go and grab dinner for Regina and then swing by her office. She knew that the other woman would get too into her work and forget to eat. It was the least she could do for her friend. They could walk down Main Street. It was the beginning of November and though it was chilly the cold was not too unbearable. Emma was dressed in a denim jacket with the cutest white beanie and matching white tights to match. Ingrid wondered for a second if that was Regina's choice or her own.

They walked along Main Street and played iSpy with street signs and cars. It was a good learning experience for Emma as she learned the many different names for new things. As they approached Granny's diner, Emma spotted something that unsettled her.

"Ms. Ingrid?" Emma said. "Why is that man homeless?"

She pointed over to where a man was leaning against the side of a building. He seemed to be off in his own world as he sat. Ingrid followed her line of sight and showed off a frown of her own. She was very much used to these questions, having answered the same ones when her nieces were younger.

"Well, Emma, there could be many reasons to contribute to his homelessness." She looked down to see blue eyes looking up at her expectantly. "He could have lost his job or become too sick to take care of himself. We don't always have family to take care of us and we get lost along the way. I would say we should always treat everyone with respect. Even homeless people."

"Oh." Emma was satisfied with this answer. She gripped Ingrid's hand a little tighter but never took her eyes off the man. She only had to look away once they reached the door to Granny's.

"Hiya Emma." Ruby greeted them as they approached the counter. A look of amusement donned her face as she watched Emma struggle to climb onto one of the barstools.

"Hi, Ruby." Emma smiled back once she was settled.

"No Mayor today?" Ruby inquired upon Ingrid's presence.

"Nope but we are going to bring her something to eat," Emma spoke first.

"I'll have a BLT with lemonade, onion rings for Emma and Regina's usual please." Ingrid made sure to order something semi-healthy for their dessert.

"Coming right up."

Ingrid noticed the way Emma continuously looked out at the street. Ingrid figured she was still looking for the homeless man.

"Ruby, will you make that two BLT's and a bottle of water?" Ingrid called after her. Ruby raised her hand in acknowledgment and rang up their order.

Once everything was ready they walked over to the man together. Ingrid handed Emma the sandwich and bottle of water to give to him. He was mumbling to himself and only stopped when he noticed Emma standing before him.

"This is for you." Emma bit her lip nervously. She held out her hands with the hope that he would take the food.

"God bless you, sweetheart." He accepted the sandwich. He looked over to Ingrid and smiled up at her too. "God bless and be safe out here. It's going to be dark soon."

Emma nodded happily and skipped back over to Ingrid. She could remember how hungry she was before coming to live with her mommy. It made her sad to think how others could be going through the same things. She couldn't wait to tell her mother about what just transpired.

"What if she doesn't like me?" Mary Margaret rambled. "W-w-what if I'm a horrible mom?"

Ashley simply watched the way her friend paced the floor. The pacing had been going on for more than a half hour and at this rate, she would burn a hole in the rug.

"I don't think you will be a horrible mother Mary." Ashley tried to assure her friend. "All you have to do is be yourself. She's six. I'm sure she will be very happy to meet you."

"What if she asks about David?" Mary Margaret sits. "How am I supposed to explain that to her?"

"You tell the truth." Ashley reached across space between them to take her hand. "You tell her how great of a man he was and how he loved her so much. How much you love her. I promise everything will be just fine."

"And if I don't like her foster mother?" Mary Margret frowned. "I have only heard good things about her from Mr. Booth. What if I don't get the right impression of her? I can't just rip her from her home. I wanted this to be an open adoption for her to get to know me. I'm just really very apprehensive about if I'll mess this up."

"Those are all valid things to be afraid about but for now let's just get to the meeting. It's next week and you can freak out then." Ashley attempted to calm her down.

"You're right." Mary Margaret nodded. "You're right."

She could only hope that everything would turn out well.

When Regina got a knock at her door she didn't know who to expect. All her meetings for the day were done and she was down to her last few pages of paperwork. Her secretary had gone home for the night and Regina wished that she could follow suit. Before she could ask who it was she heard a familiar voice filter through the door.

"Mommy it's me!" Emma giggled. "And Ingrid too." She decided as an afterthought.

"Come in." Regina called and her smile brightened when she saw two of her favorite people. "What are you guys doing here?"

Regina dropped her reading glasses to the desk and stood to hug them both.

"We thought we would bring our favorite hard-working lady food." Ingrid set out each place as they all gathered around the couch. Emma grabbed a pillow and settled on her knees. She quickly dug into her onion rings and didn't leave any room to talk.

"What about the diner?" Regina asked. "I know you're doing a lot of planning for that. How is it going?"

"It's great." Ingrid bit into her sandwich. She waited until her mouth was empty before speaking again. I don't think Granny will like the competition but I'm happy to start the new journey here in Storybrooke. With my sister handling everything on her end, we should be just fine with an opening in a few months."

"I'm so happy for you." Regina squeezed her shoulder. "It does help that you get to stay in town permanently." They shared a look.

"Does that mean she gets to stay forever?" Emma interrupted. "In Storybrooke?"

"Yes, not just for the summer anymore." Ingrid laughed at Emma's newfound eagerness.

"Momma, Ms. Ingrid and I gave a homeless man food today." Apparently, Emma's attention span was that of a goldfish.

"You did?" Regina looked over to Ingrid questioningly.

"It was all Emma's idea." Ingrid gave her credit.

"Well, Emma, I'm very proud of you for helping those in need."

Emma shrugged and bit into another onion ring. It's what you were supposed to do.

They talked for what seemed like more than a few hours. Emma took up most of the conversation with her animation about school and everything in between.

During that time Regina had finished up most of her paperwork and Emma had fallen asleep curled into fetal position on the couch. Once they were done eating, Regina invited Ingrid to come with her into the break room. Rarely did Regina ever eat there but it was the only place with a decent trash can. The maintenance staff would be arriving in less than an hour and Regina never liked to leave anything too messy. She rarely got to see them anymore since Emma came into her care. her late nights at the office were scarce. She prided herself on being nice to all her employees. She wouldn't be a great politician if she wasn't at least a little nice, in her opinion anyways.

"Thank you again for taking Emma today." Regina rinsed her hands and moved to dry them with a paper towel.

"It was no problem honestly." Ingrid leaned against the counter. There was a moment where she and Regina simply looked at each other. Regina wasn't one to back down so she looked away first. It was weird being just the two of them. It didn't happen often but she liked it.

"So, um," Regina blushes and tucks a stray her behind her ear. Regina Mills was not shy. Not even in the slightest. So why was she so afraid to ask for what she wanted? At Ingrid's questioning gaze Regina took a deep breath and took a step closer to Ingrid. She could do it surely. She's kissed millions of people before. Regina internally rolled her eyes, it wasn't millions but a decent amount.

Ingrid could only think one of two things was about to happen. Either Regina was going to give her a hug or she was going to kiss her. For both of their sake, she was hoping for a kiss.

When Regina was close enough that she could feel her breath on hers Ingrid met her halfway. She couldn't tell who had made the first move but she didn't really care when she had Regina's lips against hers.

Regina brought her hand to cradle Ingrid's cheek as she settled deeper into the kiss. All her senses were on overload as she tried to focus on the feel of her lips finally on hers. She mused for a second that Ingrid smelled sweet. Almost like vanilla and rose petals. The only thing keeping her from breaking away from the kiss was the feel of Ingrid's tongue swiping against her bottom lip. Begging for entrance and Regina was more than welcome to grant her access. She could only register Ingrid's hands coming to rest on her hips; soft yet firm as she rubbed her side with her thumbs.

They became incredibly closer as time went past. The kiss felt like ages as their lips and tongues moved against each other. Almost as if they fit. Regina moved them so that Ingrid's back was against the counter. A low moan in the back of her throat as Ingrid used her tongue to massage the roof of her mouth.

What seemed like hours only lasted minutes as Ingrid finally pulled away. She never removed her hands from Regina's side. They both locked eyes before embracing once again. A more chaste kiss this time.

Regina pulled back and sighed. They never broke eye contact and Regina was satisfied with being held.

"Wait until the girls hear about this." Ingrid broke the silence. Her ocean blue eyes were a few shades and her voice hadn't gone above a whisper. Regina chuckled and leaned up to kiss her again. She paused and settled back.

"As much as I would like to continue this," Regina batted her lashes biting her lips for extra effect. She really was laying it on thick. "Emma is right down the hall and I really should get her home."

Ingrid pouted. She didn't want this night to end just yet. Especially not when they had finally kissed.

"Go out with me." She asked. "This Saturday. Dinner, dancing, go out with me."

"Yes." Regina smiled. "It only took us five months to start dating."

"I like to take my time." Ingrid shrugged. The look on her face suggested that there was a double meaning behind her words.

"I'll go and grab Emma and lock up." Regina reluctantly moved from her embrace. "Walk out with me?"

"I would love to," Ingrid said.

Progress had been made.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

"But Mommy, I don't understand why" Emma whined. She sniffled and crossed her arms over her chest. She wanted to stay up past her bedtime. This debate had been going on for longer than ten minutes and she was getting frustrated. She didn't understand why she couldn't stay up just a while longer. She was being forced to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. It wasn't fair that she had to go to bed when her Mommy got to stay up until any time she wanted. Emma was tempted to stomp her foot but one look from Regina told her to think otherwise.

"Emma, you have been up all day. School, a playdate with Roland, and going to work with me." Regina made a quick effort of putting dishes away. It was ten minutes until 8:30 p.m. which was Emma's bedtime. They had a busy day and she knew the girl was more than ready to fall asleep. "I know you're tired and if the whining is any indication you should have been in bed a half hour before your bedtime."

"Momma, Roland says his Mommy lets him stay up." Emma pouted.

"I'm not Roland's mommy, I'm yours." Regina stopped putting away dishes to put a hand on her hip. Emma was rather cute with Regina's sweatshirt on and bare feet. Regina almost caved when she saw the pout but stuck to her guns. "Uncross those arms."

"It's not fair," Emma grumbled. She shook with irritation, her bottom lip jutted out further as she watched Regina clean.

"I know but if you want I could read you a story?" Regina tried to diffuse the situation. She could feel a headache coming on and right now it wasn't needed. Emma had been throwing tantrums all week for seemingly no reason. They weren't full blown but Regina had seen her fair share of crying in the last four days.

"But I don't want to go to sleep." Emma's frown grew deeper. Her eyes darkened a few shades as tears threatened to spill over. "I always have to do what everyone says."

Regina only caught every other word of that sentence with Emma's voice being so rushed and shrill. She had been warned about temper tantrums before but only recently witnessed them with her own child. She didn't exactly know how to handle the tantrums just yet but parenting books were more help than any.

"Emma, it's time for bed." Regina then realized how much she sounded like her old nannies. She tried to hide the cringe she was sporting from that revelation.

Before Regina could say anything else, Emma burst into tears and ran up to her room. Regina couldn't say she quite understood the reason behind Emma's newfound tantrums but she would be getting to the bottom of them soon. With a sigh, Regina used her forefinger and thumb to pinch the bridge of her nose. So much for not having a headache. She went back to cleaning the kitchen as she knew she should give Emma a little time to cool down. Ten minutes passed before Regina thought it was more than enough time. She turned off the kitchen light and made her way upstairs.

"Emma," Regina began only to notice that she wasn't in her bed. Checking Emma's closet, it too was empty. Regina walked down the hall to where her own bedroom was. Sure, enough Emma was laid atop the covers, curled into one of her pillows, with her long hair fanned out around her. Regina sighed and shook her head. Mother knows best.

Emma's crankiness the entire week was unsettling. Usually, Emma was a quiet albeit joyful child. She did as she was told without any complaints. She couldn't tell if Emma was testing her limits or if something else was bothering her. Maybe there were questions Archie could help her get to the bottom of. She sat on the bed next to Emma and watched her sleep. She was always so peaceful and carefree. Having been through more than anyone, Emma remained her childish and innocent self. Regina set about tucking her in and left a kiss on her forehead. Emma didn't awaken but simply crinkled her brow and turned the other way.

Regina turned off the light in her room and stepped into her closet. She quickly stripped down to nothing and slipped into silk pajamas. Tomorrow was Friday and Emma had a half day at school. Regina wanted to plan a day for just she and Emma. It was much needed and with the holidays coming up everything would be hectic around the city. As mayor, Regina would barely have time for anything outside of work. It was a tough time trying to balance life as a mayor and a mom but she was handling it so far. Emma didn't deserve a mother who was only half there.

Regina checked her messages before slipping under the covers next to Emma. She had a date with Ingrid Saturday, and they would finally be meeting Emma's birth mother Tuesday. She was swamped with work all week so she wanted to make it her priority to put Emma first. If something truly was bothering Emma she wanted to know.

With a final click of her phone, she set it down on the nightstand and closed her eyes. She at least owed it to herself to be well rested before she tackled anything tomorrow would bring.

**********************************************

 

Regina was not expecting a grumpy cat when she picked Emma up from school. Emma didn't greet her with her usual scream and hug, but a glance of acknowledgment before she started walking ahead. Regina waved to Emma's teacher and followed Emma to the car. It felt weird to say but she did it anyway.

The car ride home was silent. Regina had plans for them to stay inside and have a movie night or a sleepover. Whichever one Emma picked, though it would be both.

"Emma, how would you like lasagna for dinner?" Regina tried to fill the excruciating silence. Emma was being mute and it was more than unsettling at this point. They were almost home. She looked through her mirror in time to see Emma's shrug. Regina simply sighed before she directed her gaze back to the road.

As soon as the door to their home was unlocked, Emma kicked off her shoes and ran up to her room. Regina tried to tell herself that didn't hurt but she would be lying. This was a new side of Emma that she had never seen. She had always been so open and forthcoming when it came to Regina. None of it made sense. Regina didn't know if she should give her space or not. She wasn't well versed on the silent treatment.

Regina decided to give her a few minutes to herself. That gave her time to whip up a quick snack of peanut butter and apples to bring to her. When Regina stepped upstairs she found Emma quietly playing with Mr. Waffle.

"Come on Missy, here's a snack." Regina beckoned her. Emma dropped her toy to come and sit on the bed with Regina she took the plate and whispered, "Thank you."

Emma silently ate her food before she pushed her plate away.

"Emma, is there something bothering you?" Regina asked. She tilted her head to get blue eyes to meet brown. Emma's frown told it all. Regina nodded and rubbed her hands against her thighs. "Okay, is there someone bothering you? Maybe at school or somewhere else? Tell me what has had you so down this week."

Emma bit her lip, she tried to avoid contact with her mom, but in the end settled on taking her hand.

"Is it true," Emma spoke slowly. She stopped, scrunched her nose, and tried to reword the question she wanted to ask. "If my birth mommy wants to take me back that she can?"

Was that what was bothering her? Regina could see that it clearly had been something festering for a while.

"I don't want to lie to you and say no, Emma." Regina took a breath. How could she explain adoption and what it meant all in one sitting? How could she explain it all to Emma? "I can only hope that she doesn't take you back. I love you a lot. I also know that she loves you quite a big deal."

Emma stopped her fiddling with Regina's ring to listen. She never looked up for one second. Not until a slender finger rested under her chin.

"When your mother, when she gave you away, there is a process." Regina tried not to bring out the politician in her. She needed to be on Emma's level for this conversation. "There are steps legally, that has to be done saying that she no longer has rights to you. Meaning she no longer has a say in what happens in your life."

So far Emma was keeping up.

"When your mother gave you up, she skipped a bunch of those steps."

"Did she not give her rights away?" Emma asked.

"No, she didn't," Regina said. "This means that if she wants to keep you, bring you home to live with her, she can. If people like August and his bosses, and a judge believe she is good for you, she can bring you home."

"What could also happen is that she does give her rights away now …on the condition that she can see you sometimes," Regina informed her. She tried to gauge Emma's reaction. "Would you be okay with that?"

"I don't want to live with her." Emma indignantly puffs out her chest. "I don't want to keep moving and making new friends. I like it here with you and with Ingrid too. Everyone is so nice to me here. What if she's not nice? It's not really fair."

"I know, sweetie." Regina runs a hand through her hair. "I know that you don't like it. I don't like it very much either. Is that the only thing that was bothering you?"

Emma deflates before looking back to Regina. That wasn't all that was bothering her.

"There is this girl at school." Emma droned. "She's really mean to everyone at school. Just because she's a third grader."

Regina almost snickered at the way Emma explained. She didn't because she could see how much it upset her.

"Has she said something to you?"

"No." Emma quickly shot that down. "But she is always picking on Roland. He lost his teeth in the front and Rachel said he looks ugly. I don't think he looks ugly. I just wish she would leave him alone."

"I'll talk to your teacher come Monday," Regina assured her. "I don't like bullying either and I'm sure Rachel's mother wouldn't be happy to know that she's bullying other children."

Emma nodded and slid herself inside of Regina's lap. This week had been rough for her. She wanted to be clingy and in Regina's arms but she didn't think she could. She was nervous about meeting her birth mother. She was afraid that she would have to leave the only home she'd ever felt safe at.

"Can we go for a ride?" Regina suggests. "I think it's time for you to meet Rocinante."

Regina knew now the roots of Emma's problems. Her tantrums were now understandable. They weren't excused but Regina understood. She could tell that Emma was also seeking more attention.

"Who is Roci…that?" Emma didn't even attempt to say his name.

"You'll see." Regina chuckled. "Put on play clothes and meet me downstairs."

Emma jumped from her bed and raced to her closet. She wondered where they were going.

 

******************************

 

"You have a horse?" Emma squealed. She jumped out of the car and up the path of the stables. "How did I not know this?"

"I'm sure I told you before." Regina laughed. She followed Emma to the entrance of the stables. She hadn't been in months and she missed it. She was thankful for the stable hands that helped keep the horses well fed and taken care of.

"Good afternoon Madam Mayor." Kyle greeted her.

"Hi, Kyle, it's been so long." Regina greeted. She gave the man a hug before pulling back.

"Now I know it's been a while but certainly not long enough for you to have a child." Kyle looked over to where Emma was peeking inside of a horses' stall.

"This is my daughter, Emma," Regina called Emma over. "I'm adopting her."

"She's a cutie." Kyle fawned over Emma. "Those eyes. Emma nice to meet you. I can see you have your mother's impeccable fashion sense." He noticed the way they were dressed in appropriate riding clothes. Winter was approaching but it was not too cold out to ride just yet.

Emma waved shyly before looking up at Regina. "Can we see the horses now?"

Kyle laughed at Emma's enthusiasm. "We can, how about I show you one of the ponies?"

Emma grinned and took Kyle's hand. Regina followed behind them. She listened as Kyle informed Emma of the proper terms for horse riding. Kyle had been one of her stable hands for quite a while.

"This is our newest pony." Kyle introduced them to a brown pony with the longest and most beautiful sandy brown hair. "She's kind of our little orphan Annie of the stables. Her owners were unable to take care of her so now we have her."

"Wow, she's nice." Emma was in awe.

"Do you want to help brush her?" Kyle offered.

Emma nodded and never took her eyes from the pony in front of her.

"Regina, I assume you still know where everything is." Kyle grinned. "I'll be doing absolutely nothing if you need anything. Emma take good care of Annie, won't you?"
"For sure." Emma smiled up at him.

"Thank you," Regina said. Regina grabbed the necessary tools and opened up Annie's stall. Annie stood from her resting spot but made no other move. It was almost as if she was waiting for them.

"We have to take her outside and then clean out her stall," Regina instructed. "First we can say hi to her."

Emma was a little apprehensive about getting close to the pony. Now that she was standing she was bigger than Emma expected. Not bigger than the other horses in the stables but big enough. Emma looked back to where Regina was standing for confirmation. Regina nodded that it was okay. Annie didn't seem to be an aggressive horse, she would think Kyle would have told them as much, she was here to make sure of it.

"Hi Annie, I'm Emma." Emma stepped up to the pony. Annie backed up a little but stayed seemingly calm.

"Here Emma, let me show you this." Regina showed Emma a position to show Annie that they could be trusted. She showed Emma the correct way to scratch and not pat her,

"Annie, I think you're really cool," Emma whispered. "Don't worry about being left here. I think this is a really good place. My momma's horse is here too. I can't say his name though because it's a big one."

Regina stood clear as Emma became more relaxed with Annie and vice versa.

"Do you think she will let us take her out now?" Regina asked after a few minutes.

"What do you think Annie?" Emma looked up at her. She knew Annie wouldn't answer back but she thought that it would be nice to talk to her.

Regina helped Emma lead Annie outside. Once outside, Regina tied Annie to a post and set about on grooming her. She showed Emma the proper way to check her hooves, to brush her and clean her face. Next, they cleaned her stall which was one of Emma's least favorite parts. It was quite a process but Emma enjoyed every bit. She could walk Annie around the field for quite a while before she had to go back.

"Now it's time to introduce you to my horse." Regina grinned. She leads Emma to the end of the stables where Rocinante was resting. It took him a little longer to stand up but when he saw Regina the neigh he let out was exciting. Regina loved her stallion with everything in her. He'd been given to her at fifteen and stuck with her through everything.

"Hi boy," Regina smiled. "It's been quite a while but I have a new guest here that is very excited to meet you." Rocinante nuzzled his head into Regina's body.

Emma finally stepped over when Regina signaled her to come. "Can we ride him?"

"I don't see why not." Regina grinned. She was more than ready to ride again. "How about we get him saddled and give him a little exercise."

Emma clapped excitedly and waited for her moment to help saddle Rocinante.

"He's really big." Emma chattered from her spot atop Rocinante. Everything had an amazing view from her atop the horse. Regina was seated behind her directing Rocinante as they wandered a little farther away from the stables.

"That he is." Regina breathed out. "Would you like to go a little faster?"

"You're not going to drop me, are you?" Emma giggled.

"No, I've got you always." Regina made sure that Emma was seated correctly. Emma nodded and they were off.

Gone with the wind.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

"You look fine, Regina," Mal assured her friend as she stepped out of her closet for the fourth time. Each outfit she'd tried on before looked just as great as the last one. It was Regina Mills for crying out loud! She looked good in everything she wore.

"She said casual. Does this seem too much?" Regina frowned as she examined herself in the mirror. She was wearing a gray t-shirt with dark wash jeans and a black vest. It was a change from her usual power suits and fitted dresses. Mal approved of this outfit and made a note that every piece of clothing Regina wore was designer.

"It seems like just enough." Mal sighed. "As did the first three."

"You're no help." Regina narrowed her eyes.

"Well, when you take ten years to get dressed my enthusiasm bleeds out." Mal sat on Regina's king-sized bed. She smoothed her hands out over the fabric of her bedspread. It felt expensive and she wouldn't expect anything less from Regina.

"I resent that," Regina muttered. She was nervous. Why was she nervous? It was Ingrid. The same Ingrid that she had lunch with on Wednesdays and would face time during boring paper work hours, and that would make her laugh until she could no longer. It was also the same Ingrid that was beautiful, gracious and intelligent. Regina knew that she felt something when she was with Ingrid and she wanted to explore that further. That meant getting over her nerves for tonight and leaving her closet.

With a final once over of her outfit, Regina flipped the switch and left her room. Mal was already downstairs cooking dinner for the girls. Emma and Lily were playing with dolls when Regina approached the den. She only saw the tail end of what seemed to be Emma's descent from jumping on the couch. She raised a brow at her daughter and Emma only smiled cheekily before slipping her hands under her butt.

"You look really pretty, Mommy." Emma grinned. "Your hair looks awesome too."

Regina knew Emma was trying to distract her from what she just saw and she wasn't buying it.

"Mmhm, don't let me catch you jumping on my couch again, Missy." Regina leaned over to kiss her forehead. "Behave, bed time at eight-thirty, if you finish your dinner you may get ice cream. Only if you finish. Understood?"

Emma nodded and clapped her hands in excitement. She didn't care about bedtime if she got to have ice cream for dessert. Regina left a kiss on Lily's forehead, much in the same way she did for Emma. Lily was quieter, mischievous, but quiet. She and Emma were a force to be reckoned with and she could only imagine that Mal would be exhausted by the time she put them to bed.

Regina left them to play as she got a notification from Ingrid that she was pulling up.

"Bye," Regina called out to the occupants of her home. She grabbed her purse and walked out of the door. She was just in time to see Ingrid's silver Hyundai Sonata approach the curb.

Regina slipped inside of the car and turned to her date. They greeted each other with a hug.

"You look great," Regina noted Ingrid's attire of choice. A simple t-shirt and jeans but it still looked nice. Regina liked that they weren't trying too hard for this date. She'd done the whole dinner and movie thing before and found it incredibly cliché and overdone. Thankfully so did Ingrid and they'd laughed about it one night over face time.

"Thank you," Ingrid said. "So do you. Very different from the usually stoic and professional Mayor Mills."

"Mayor Mills has been locked up for tonight, along with Mommy." Regina gazed out of the window. "It's time for Regina to have fun. I'll stop speaking in the first person now."

Ingrid giggled before looking back over to Regina. She truly did look beautiful tonight. Putting the car in drive, Ingrid focused her eyes on the road and tried to think of what they could talk about. They talked to each other almost every single day. That might have contributed to their lack of conversation but she was hoping that would change. There was a silence as she approached a stop sign. Almost as if they were thinking the same thing, they spoke.

"So where are we going?"

"I hope you like where we are going."

They shared a smile before deciding on who would speak first. Regina turned to face her date. "It looks like we're both nervous about this impending date."

"I mean, it's not like we haven't technically been dating for the past few months." Ingrid pointed out. "Today, we are just making it an official day. Just you and I. No need for any nervous feelings."

"Does this mean you're going to tell me where we are going," Regina questioned.

"I don't think I will." Ingrid shook her head. "Keep an element of surprise."

"I see."

Regina's curiosity only grew as she saw that they were leaving town. Storybrooke was in the middle of nowhere but not too far away from other civilization. They shared small talk here and there. Regina's eyebrows raised as the car rolled into the parking lot of a roller skating rink. The last time she'd been skating she was fifteen.

"Do you want to exit the car?" Ingrid smirked.

Regina unbuckled her seat belt and gazed at the sign one more time. This certainly wasn't what she expected. Not a dinner date, maybe something a little more formal, but not a roller rink. She was in no way complaining though.

"Aren't we lucky you wore boots." Ingrid took the liberty of taking Regina's hand in hers. That gained Regina's attention and she fixed their position so that they were more comfortable. She tried to ignore the fluttering in her stomach.

"I haven't been to a skating ring in years."

"I guess I have the advantage of keeping you close." Ingrid lead Regina to the ticketing booth. "That is if you can keep up?"

"I am always up for a challenge, dear."

Regina cringed as she put her feet inside of a pair of used skates. Never mind the horrid shade of beige they were, she was thankful that she'd worn her boots and socks. Tying the laces brought back plenty memories of her teen years and she could almost forget that she was wearing rentals. Standing, Regina nearly lost her balance but made her way to the entrance of the rink. Once upon a time, Regina was practically a pro with skating. She'd been one of those teens that spent all her time away from home. She was active and full of energy. Skating was just one of the things to burn that energy.

"Are you having fun yet?" Ingrid called to her as Regina entered the rink. She held onto the bars to regain her balance. Meanwhile, a few teenagers flew right past the two of them almost knocking Regina down. She knew she was small but not invisible. Ingrid laughed at the scowl on Regina's face. "Come on I'll help you?"

Once again Regina's hand was in hers Ingrid felt a sense of warmth wash over her. It was a good feeling and she kind of hoped it never went away. She pulled Regina a little closer. Usually, she was a few inches taller and with their skates, it was no different. Regina found her balance and composed herself before leaving Ingrid to eat her invisible dust.

"What happened to us staying close?" Ingrid shouted over the music.

"Catch me if you can?" Regina was feeling ten years younger as she got more comfortable on her roller skates. She turned to pay attention to where she was going as she whizzed around the rink. Ingrid was on her tail but was holding herself back with her constant bouts of laughter.

Their chase had turned into a little game of tag as they skated for what seemed like hours. It had only been about forty-five minutes. It was time for a food break and Regina was hungry.

They found a little booth in the back of the food court and rolled their way to the table. She'd ordered nachos and a slushie while Ingrid chose a hot dog and Pepsi. They weren't eating the healthiest of foods but it sure was good.

"So, how is this for a gourmet meal?" Ingrid asked before biting into her hot dog.

"It's fine." Regina nodded. "I like it. It has been so long since I have been out and having fun. I'll probably be sore in the morning but I'm really enjoying myself."

"I'm glad." Ingrid returned her smile. "Seeing you fly around the rink was great entertainment."

"Are you sure you weren't watching my ass?" Regina teased. She dipped her nachos, crunching loudly, covering her mouth in hopes of not spilling any food as Ingrid blushed.

"Do you have a nickname?" Ingrid decided to change the subject before she turned as red as a tomato. This was the only question that came to mind.

"I don't actually." Regina wiped her mouth. "Emma gave me one a few months ago. When we'd first met I guess she decided that 'Gina' was an acceptable name to call me. I've always just been Regina. What about you?"

"Well, as you know my sisters and I have less than normal names," Ingrid said. "I mainly got a lot of teasing in school for it. No nicknames really but I certainly caught a lot of slack."

"I think the name suits you just fine," Regina replied.

Just as Regina was about to speak a group of girls approached their table. A young brunette was the brave one to step up first.

"I'm sorry for interrupting but you look a lot like Mayor Mills from Storybrooke." The girl started out with. "Are you her?"

Ingrid was impressed that the girls had recognized Regina here. She wasn't really a famous mayor but everyone knew that Regina was a great politician. She was always making school tours to meet with kids, and helping at local events, even so much as attending the town fair. These girls must have been from Storybrooke.

"I am." Regina looked to Ingrid to make sure that it was okay. Ingrid gave a small nod. She was more than happy to watch Regina do her magic.

"Can we get a picture with you?"

"I'm sorry," Regina whispered to Ingrid before she stood to take pictures with the girls.

Ingrid was in awe as Regina put on her best politician's smile and took a picture with each of the girls. It was a little difficult in skates and clearly, Regina was struggling. She took a few minutes to chat with the girls before dismissing them.

"I'm sorry I would love to talk to you longer but I have to get back to my date." Regina sat in her seat once again.

"Is this your girlfriend?" One of the girls asked.

"I,"

Before Regina got the chance to answer one of the girls shrieked.

"I totally ship it."

"Ship?" Regina glanced over to Ingrid. Ingrid shrugged and laughed as she already knew what shipping was. She had two teenage nieces that kept her up to date on the latest trends and slang.

"Bye Mayor Mills and Mayor Mills' girlfriend."

They both waved one last time before looking back to each other.

"I apologize, that was incredibly rude of me." Regina laid her hand on top of Ingrid's.

"No, don't apologize." Ingrid dismissed what she was sure was a string of apologies. "I'm dating a celebrity. It comes with the job."

"I'm hardly a celebrity." Regina scoffed. "Merely, an influential figure close to home for many of these girls."

"Your council doesn't find offense to you being," Ingrid didn't know how to put it.

"No, no, I'm sure there are a few that agree with my 'lifestyle' as he would call it." Regina rolled her eyes. "But my work and my home life are two separate places and I won't allow anyone else to dictate that."

"I think it's incredible all that you do for Storybrooke." Ingrid continued the conversation. "You were quite young for mayor and I know it took a lot of hard work."

"A lot of schooling, campaigning and fake smiling." Regina joked. "I love my job. I love being in charge."

The conversation could have lasted all night but Regina heard a song that she hadn't heard in a long time.

"This is a couple's skate." The DJ said smoothly into his mic. "Will all couples please enter the rink for a couple's skate?"

"Want to go?" Regina stood and held out her hand for Ingrid to take.

"I'd love to." Ingrid took her hand again. As the song began to play they skated around the rink

You know I've been searching for someone

Who can share that special love with me

And your eyes have that glow

Could it be your face I see on my computer screen?

Need a special girl, ooh yeah

To share in my computer world, my computer world

I no longer need a strategy

Thanks to modern technology

Regina was content on being held as they skated slowly around the rink. She felt like a teenager on her first date with the school jock. This song took her back to those days. The song fits the mood perfectly and Regina danced to it as best she could.

"I truly had a lot of fun tonight," Regina said. They pulled up to her house and Ingrid put her car in park. "and I really want to ask you out on a second date. My treat next time."

"I would love that." Ingrid agreed.

Regina leaned over the console. She gazed into Ingrid's eyes before glancing down at her lips. Regina finally took the plunge and she almost moaned when their lips met. Ingrid didn't hesitate to kiss her back. They got lost in the moment and if it wasn't for the console Regina would have been straddling Ingrid's lap. Regina did moan when Ingrid's tongue slipped inside of her mouth. For a moment, she considered climbing over the console but was stopped when a car drove past. With headlights flashing across her face the moment was ruined.

"I should go inside," Regina said reluctantly.

"Yeah." Ingrid's eyes remained on her lips. She finally looked up and Regina could see that her eyes were a few shades darker and clouded with lust.

"Goodnight." Regina internally pouted as she exited the car. Usually, she would have invited Ingrid in and they could continue where they left off. With her ex-best friend/girlfriend and two children in the house that was a different story. Regina silently cursed herself for not telling Mal to babysit at her own home.

Ingrid waited for Regina to get inside of her door before pulling off. She would text her a final good night before she went to bed a little later.

Regina tiptoed to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. Mal was sitting at the dining table working on some work things she assumed.

"How was it?" Mal asked as she glanced up at Regina. "It must have been good if your lipstick is smeared."

"It was great." Regina offered nothing more. "How was Emma?"

"She was an angel," Mal replied. "I was going to stay over in the guest room and take Lilly to her dad's tomorrow if that's fine with you."

"No, of course, it's fine." Regina grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and practically chugged it. "I'm going to go shower and sleep. It's been a long day."

Regina left with the intention to check on Emma. She and Lily were practically all over each other as they sleep. It couldn't be comfortable but Regina didn't have the energy nor the strength to break them apart.

Tonight, she had fun. She'd let loose and did something outside of her usual comfort zone. Maybe she could plan a few more nights like that. She needed them.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By LockedSoulsAM

"I get to meet her tomorrow?" Emma asked tentatively. She already knew the answer but she wanted to ask again. Her hopeful blue eyes bore into Regina's as she waited for her to speak. She took Regina's hand in her own for comfort. She silently compared them all the while playing with Regina's ring. Her hands were big and warm against her tinier ones.

"Yes, you do. " Regina wouldn't admit she was more nervous than Emma. For the last day, she'd been trying to prep Emma as well as herself for what was to come. They would be meeting Emma's birth mother; Emotions ranging from nervousness to excitement coursed through them both as they days went by. Before they knew it, the meeting was one night away.

They would be meeting at August's office at the adoption agency about an hour's drive. They had to be up quite early but Regina didn't mind. She also wasn't sure that Emma understood the reality and seriousness of this situation. Emma was a very bright six-year-old and she was excited to know where she came from. She was excited to meet the woman who gave her up. Regina knew it wasn't so simple. She understood how hard it would be for this woman to meet the child she'd given up. To suddenly reconnect with someone you didn't imagine seeing for a very long time if ever. Regina could relate to that.

Regina didn't know what to imagine when it came to Mary Margaret Blanchard. She'd been tempted to google the woman once or twice but never gave in. Her curiosity was getting the best of her but she knew not to push too far. She also knew that she didn't want Emma to get her hopes up. There was a chance her birth mother would be far from the princess she'd imagined. Regina only had Emma's best interest at heart. So, she reveled in her daughter's excitement. She humored Emma in her predictions of how the day would go. If Regina knew her daughter she could almost bet that Emma would be a ball of energy for the rest of the night. So, as she tucked her in, Regina talked with her for a few more minutes.

"Don't forget we have to give her the letter too." Emma suddenly sat up. She pressed Regina on her invisible checklist to make sure they had everything prepared.

"Emma?"

"Yes, Mommy?"

"Go to sleep." Regina laid a final kiss to her head. She flicked off the lights, Emma's nightlight turning on automatically before she looked back to her. "I will see you in the morning. I love you."

"Okay," Emma grumbled. She fluffed her pillow and laid her head to rest. "I love you too."

With that, she closed her eyes. It didn't take her longer than ten minutes to fall asleep.

Regina decided to take a long bath that night. Once she reached her bedroom, she stripped and let her clothes hit the floor haphazardly. Her bones ached and her head throbbed as she struggled to relax. Her usual life was stressful and she needed to unwind. She had looked through so much paper work today she didn't think she could see straight. She started Pandora on her iPhone and started to run a bath. She didn't do this often enough during the week but when she got the chance she always took it. With the events of tomorrow looming in the back of her mind she needed to be as relaxed as she could be.

Stepping back into her room, Regina stood at the foot of her bed and tried to remember what she was forgetting. Regina grabbed her robe and wrapped it around her body. She cursed herself as she rushed downstairs after realizing she'd forgotten her wine and glass. She grabbed a few of her favorite Hershey kisses from the freezer and set them on the counter. Opening a cabinet, Regina stood on the tip of her toes as she searched for the perfect glass. It only took her a few seconds to find the right one. As she settled back onto her feet something caught her attention in her peripheral vision. She set the wine glass down and padded over the paper that was sitting on the counter. She hadn't noticed it before.

Regina squinted as she tried to read what the paper said in the low light of the kitchen. It was a drawing. There was a caption below but she wouldn't read it just yet. There were two stick figures, one taller than the other. Her eyes gravitated to what she could assume was little Emma. Her blonde hair fiercely shaded in by a yellow crayon. Regina noticed that Emma made use of a blue crayon and she was confused why the blue was coming from her eyes. Regina studied the drawing for a few seconds before she realized exactly what the blue was. They were tears.

Regina frowned before her eyes scanned over to the taller figure. It was labeled Mommy and she smiled at the backward "y". This figure was wearing a cape and had brown hair. Almost like a superhero. "Don't cry" was in a bubble next to her face. There was a large smile on her face and a tiny pencil mark that was there to signify the scar above her lip.

Regina's fingers traced over the drawing before she finally read the caption.

"Mommy makes me feel safe. She is super woman."

If there was a time to get choked up it was this one. Regina felt hot tears spring to her eyes. Why hadn't Emma shown her earlier? Regina took a few more moments to appreciate the drawing before she took it over to the fridge. She clamped a magnet over it and smiled. There were a couple of drawings and things attached to the fridge and she had picked the right spot. She would never get tired of these.

Emma saw her as the super woman, while the title was terrifying, it made her feel wonderful. Ever since Emma came home with her she'd been worried. She was insecure about if she could raise her correctly. What did she know about mothers right? Time and time again she would beat herself up if she didn't know how to handle a situation. She could handle taxes, grants and anything under the sun. Parenting was a whole new job and she'd been terrified. Moments like this, when she saw how happy Emma was here with her, she knew she was doing something right.

Regina quickly grabbed her wine, glass, and chocolates before she ran back to her room. She caught the bath water just in time for it to be full. She set everything on the edge and draped her robe over the doorknob. The music of Pandora continued to play in the background. She dropped a bath bomb, Vanilla Musk Soother, into the water and delighted at the bubbling. She slipped her underwear off and slid into the tub. Her aching muscles instantly relaxing as she leaned her head back.

Tomorrow, tomorrow would be quite a day.

"I'm freaking out." Mary Margaret shifted her weight against her arms. She took deep breaths and tried to control her breathing. She only lived a half hour away from August Booth's office. She was already dressed and ready to go but something was holding her back. Her impending panic attack took the little breath that she had as she tried to calm down. This was supposed to be easy. She didn't even have any emotional connections to Emma. At least, that's what she tried to convince herself. For six years there had been two holes in her heart. The loss of David permanently leaving her feeling lost. One for Emma that she didn't think would be filled for at least twelve more years.

Mary Margaret finally left her bathroom to sit on her couch. A picture of David sat right in front of her. For just a few seconds she tried to convince herself that she could do it. That she could meet Emma. She was six years old and she was real and she was alive.

Mary Margaret took one last look at David's picture before she stood. She could do this.

"Did you like your breakfast?" Regina helped Emma pull up her tights. "I know it wasn't grilled cheese, but I wanted to try something different."

"Yep." Emma nodded. She held out her feet and wiggled her toes to make it easier for Regina to help with her socks. Emma could dress but somehow, she liked this much better.

"Go grab your shirt and shoes." Regina stood after helping Emma with her socks. "The iPad is all charged for the ride. I have your letter and I have snacks for you downstairs."

Emma nodded and ran to her closet to pick up her favorite pink sneakers. She slipped them on and quickly grabbed a shirt to go over her t-shirt.

Once Emma was fully dressed she ran to her bed where Mr. Waffle was sitting. He was her security toy. There was a little bounce to her step as she followed her mom downstairs. Emma ran to the kitchen to grab her backpack. She stopped when she saw her drawing from yesterday. She beamed at the fact that so many of her artwork crowded the fridge. No one had ever done that for her before.

Emma left the kitchen to meet Regina in the mudroom. She took her time bundling Emma up in a coat and scarf. The middle of November meant it was no longer warm outside. Thanksgiving was around the corner and Regina had no time for either of them to catch a cold.

Regina activated the home security system before she hurried Emma out of the house. Emma skipped the entire way to the garage where the Mercedes waited. Regina clicked the locks and fell into step behind Emma.

"Can we listen to Selena Gomez?" Emma asked as she was strapped into her seat.

"How many times has it been? One thousand?" Regina muttered as she took her spot in the driver's seat. Selena Gomez was a constant in their home and it was driving her insane.

"Nope, only two hundred." Emma grinned cheekily. Regina simply rolled her eyes and started the car.

"I loved your drawing from last night." Regina put the car in reverse and proceeded to back out of the driveway. She made eye contact with Emma. "I thought it was very beautiful. Why didn't you tell me you made it?"

"I don't know." Emma shrugged. She stroked Mr. Waffle's head and focused her attention on the window "My teacher said it was really nice and I should bring it home to show you. We were busy all day and then it was time for bed."

"Well, the next time you would like to show me something I would be happy to see it," Regina assured her.

Emma nodded once but said nothing more. Regina simply turned on Selena Gomez and mentally prepared herself for this hour ride.

Thirty minutes into the ride Regina was granted relief as Emma watched a movie on her iPad. There was no music. Just a calm silence as whatever characters' voices blasted from the iPad to fill the car. Regina glanced into her rearview mirror just in time to see Emma pretend to feed Mr. Waffle popcorn and then put said popcorn into her own mouth. Emma did not look up once from her show. Regina chuckled and turned her eyes back to the road. Emma was a character herself at times.

By the time they'd reached August's office Emma was practically dying of boredom. She'd drank two juice boxes and eaten most of her snacks. She no longer wanted to watch any more tv.

"Mommy, when are we there yet?" Emma whined. "I have to pee and my legs feel all fuzzy."

"Fuzzy?" Regina cocked her brow. She pulled into a parking space and cut the engine.

"Yes, I have been sitting for a really long time." Emma kicked her legs to wake them. "It's been years. I'm ten now."

"Quite the dramatics, dear." Regina grabbed her purse from the passenger seat. "Look around Emma, we have arrived."

Emma frowned before looking out. They were in fact right outside of August's office. She unbuckled herself and waited for Regina to open her car door.

"I'm free!" She cheered before taking a long stretch. "Let's not drive home again okay? We can take a plane."

Regina laughed before taking Emma's hand. They walked through the parking lot in a maze of sorts as they went around each car. "Emma, I don't think a plane will come and get us from here."

"You have lots of money though," Emma said as if that were the obvious solution. "Just give it to the man that flies the plane and then he will come. You can call him, you're the mayor."

"Emma, do you tell people that I have money often?"

"Nope." Emma quipped. "Only the lunch lady and my gym teacher."

Regina didn't even try to fight Emma's logic on that one. She was powerful but not that powerful. Maybe she'd have to teach Emma about being humble. Was she just a child with a lack of filter? Emma's hand slipped from hers as she ran to open the door. She struggled as it proved to be heavier than she and she heaved before giving up. She stepped out of the way and stood tall as Regina finally opened the door for her.

"I almost had it." Emma giggled. "Can we go to the bathroom now?" Emma whispered the last part.

Emma practically rushed Regina into the nearest family bathroom and almost peed her pants with trying to get her coat off. For some reason, Regina suspected she had to use the bathroom far longer than their car ride. Even after she made her go twice before they left home. Once Emma's hands were washed Regina kept her coat hanging over her arm. She let Emma lead the way to August's office.

Emma knocked two times on the open door before stepping inside.

"Emma, hello." August didn't have time to stand before Emma was in his lap hugging him. He'd had many clients but Emma was a special little girl.

"Hi, August." Emma hugged him tightly. "I'm here to meet my birth mommy."

"I can see that." August chuckled. "She's in one of our play rooms waiting for you. Are you ready?"

Emma nodded and slipped from his lap. She fixed her hair behind her ears. She had been waiting a very long time. Regina felt the weight of this day settle at the bottom of her stomach. She followed August and Emma down a long corridor where they reached a door. There was a large window on the other side where anyone could look in if they wanted. The second the door opened Regina knew things were about to change.

Mary Margaret stood from her chair and waited with bated breath for her first sight of Emma. She watched as a woman not much taller than she walked in first followed by a small child and then August. A hand flew to Mary Margaret's chest as she willed herself to keep breathing.

Regina quietly thanked August as they stepped deeper into the room. All of Emma's bubbliness was gone as she gripped Regina's hand in her own. She held Mr. Waffle tighter to her as she studied Mary Margaret. They approached her and stop just a few short feet.

August didn't do any of the talking this time.

"Hello, I hope we didn't have you waiting for too long." Regina held out her hand for Mary Margaret to take. She could see the resemblance between Emma and this woman. Her hair was a bit longer than she imagined and it was brown. Regina then assumed that Emma got her blonde hair from her birth father. "I'm Regina Mills, this is my daughter, Emma."

Mary Margaret took Regina's hand and shook it. She gave a wide smile before she looked down at Emma. She was a school teacher for goodness' sake. She could handle this. "There was no wait at all. Mary Margaret Blanchard"

"Hello, Emma." Mary Margaret kneeled to be eye level. She noticed Emma's blue eyes that were just like David's. Her blonde hair that also belonged to David. Mary Margaret wondered if there was anything of hers until Emma waved. Her heart melted into goo as she finally lived the moment she'd been waiting for.

"Hi," Emma spoke quietly. She raised Mr. Waffle to cover her face a little more. This woman made her nervous. She was very beautiful and just like the princess she'd imagined.

"Do you know who I am?" Mary Margaret continued.

Regina simply rubbed her thumb against the back of Emma's hands. She knew Emma had her shy moments and this was one of them. She simply watched as mother and daughter conversed for the very first time.

"Yeah, you're my mommy." Emma nodded. Her voice was slightly muffled with Mr. Waffle's head to her lips. She only removed him for a few seconds before bringing him right back. "You have brown hair just like Momma's and I have yellow hair."

"I do." Mary Margaret grinned. "I actually like your hair a lot better. It's so beautiful and long."

"Thank you." Emma studied every feature of Mary Margaret's face.

"Can I have a hug, Emma?" Mary Margaret tried. She was prepared for Emma to say no but was surprised when Emma stepped forward. She welcomed her with open arms and Emma didn't shy away. Mary Margaret could have burst into tears right there as she felt something shift inside her. She felt as though she was no longer broken as Emma hugged her. She didn't want to let go as she closed her eyes. She tried to take in what Emma smelled like so she could remember it. Long gone were the days of her new baby smell. "I'm so happy you're here Emma."

"Really?" Emma pulled back. Why would she be happy?

"Yes, I've missed you for quite some time and I was really happy to find out that you are in a loving home." Mary Margaret didn't know if she was overstepping any boundaries when she said that.

"Why don't you all sit?" August broke their little moment. "That way you can talk and catch up. Get to know each other a little better. I'll be back whenever you're ready."

Mary Margaret nodded before she went to sit at a table. Emma looked back to Regina and signaled for her to come too. Regina followed Emma's lead and sat across from her. She didn't expect for Emma to sit in her lap. She made them both comfortable before looking back to Mary Margaret. She was young, quite young, and Regina guessed she couldn't be much older than twenty-five.

"Who do you have there, Emma?" Mary Margaret asked. She noticed the way Emma clung to the bear. She thought it was cute.

"It's my bear, his name is Mr. Waffle." Emma didn't mind giving out this piece of information. Now that she was in Regina's arms she felt safer. She was more comfortable with talking to Mary Margaret.

"I think that's a great name for a bear."

"I've had him since forever." Emma looked down at his fur. "A lot of people hurt him but he's really happy we found Mommy."

Mary Margaret and Regina both knew the truth of those words. They knew where Emma was speaking from and it certainly wasn't the bear.

"Emma, would you like to tell Mary Margaret about school?" Regina wanted to get the ball rolling. She knew Emma wanted to talk about a lot to this woman but she was holding herself back.

"I'm in the first grade." Emma began. "I go to school with Lily and Roland. They're my best friends in the whole wide world. Roland is in my class but Lily isn't so we all play at recess. I can do hopscotch better than anyone in my grade. It's a talent really."

Mary Margaret was enamored with Emma. She listened carefully as Emma talked animatedly about any and everything. Once she got going there was no stopping her. She told Mary Margaret about the class pet and how she'd been a student of the week a few weeks earlier. She was a well-adjusted little girl.

Mary Margaret did not miss the way Emma would seek comfort in Regina through touch. The subtle way she reached back at times to talk or looked up to her for confirmation. Mary Margaret knew Emma was in a good home.

"Where's my daddy?" Emma asked abruptly. Regina didn't scold her because it was a valid question.

"Emma, your father, he died a very long time ago." Mary Margaret cleared her throat. "He had an accident and had to go to heaven. I know that if he were here he would be very proud of you."

"So, you're all alone?" Emma frowned. She didn't like the sound of that. "Who takes care of you? What about your family? Do you have other kids?

Emma fired question after question as curiosity got the best of her. It was quite sad to know that her father had died. That meant she would never get to meet him.

"I take care of myself. Sometimes I have my friend Ashley over to keep me company." Mary Margaret answered with swiftness. "I'm a school teacher and I teach fourth grade. Most days I'm too busy, but I visit my father a couple times a year. He lives in Florida. I do not have any other children."

"Would you like to play blocks with me?" Emma asked. She was quite content with those answers. She no longer was afraid. "August always keeps them on a high shelf and he knows I'm not tall enough. You might be."

Emma pointed to the shelf. She stood and showed that she was in fact too small.

"I'd love to." Mary Margaret took the blocks from their place and dumped them out on the carpet. She settled down across from Emma. She glanced over to Regina who gave her a small smile. Regina was content on watching the two interact.

Mary Margaret simply watched Emma play. She was this little person with a bright smile and she seemed so happy. Mary Margaret knew that it wasn't always like that for her. That was where she would never forgive herself.

"You're staring." Emma pointed out breaking Mary Margaret from her thoughts.

"I'm sorry?" Mary Margaret apologized

"Eh, it's okay." Emma shrugged. Her gaze never left the block castle she was building. "Momma does it when I'm sleeping. I guess you're not as creepy."

"That makes me feel a little bit better." Mary Margaret said. Emma simply handed her a block and waited for her to put it in place.

Regina was in awe as biological mother and daughter interacted. Though Emma was not raised by her they had much of the same mannerisms and facial expressions. She found herself feeling elated and afraid all at the same time. Her notions of Emma leaving her were ridiculous. She'd beat herself up about it plenty of times. Now that she was here in front of them she knew Mary Margaret would have been an excellent mother. She was far from the horrible woman she had imagined in her head. That made her worries much more valid.

"Mommy, you should come play too." Emma turned to Regina. They'd been playing for no longer than ten minutes. "That way I can play with both of my mommies. My heart mommy and my tummy mommy."

Mary Margaret didn't catch the tear that fell from her eyes this time. Hearing Emma say that was music to her ears. She quickly swept the tear away before Emma could look back at her. Regina came to sit next to them.

"I wrote a letter to you," Emma said. She looked up at Mary Margaret and then to Regina. "Well, Mommy helped me write it but I had all the ideas. I thought you looked like a princess. It's what I made up in my head."

"Did I disappoint?"

"Nah, you look better." Emma smiled.

"Emma has a play coming up for Thanksgiving." Regina began. "She's playing a pilgrim in the school play."

"Oh yeah." Emma scrunched her nose. "It's going to be so fun. Can you come?"

"Ah, Emma, Mary Margaret may have plans with her own family for the holidays." Regina didn't want to get her hopes up. This was still only their first meeting.

"I can think about it and I'll tell your mom?" Mary Margaret answered though she wasn't too sure if she should say no just yet. She was glad that Emma was inviting her to something so important to her.

For the next hour, they played. She had learned so much about Emma and her foster mother. She got to see how they worked and she loved what she was seeing. She fell in love with Emma so much more and she didn't even know if that was possible. Soon enough August came knocking to tell them their time was up.

Emma jumped into his arms and continued to tell him about all the things they had talked about. She even asked him how Addison was doing. She missed her sister and couldn't wait to tell her about this moment.

"Mary Margaret, I'm very thankful that you decided to meet with us." Regina took this moment talk to her. "I know that it must have been hard for you to do this. She's happy to be here and to have met you. I certainly didn't expect for you to be so well put together I must admit."

"Neither did I." Mary Margaret agreed. "She's really amazing. I don't really have words to how I feel. It doesn't feel real to see her here. But deep inside I know she's mine."

Regina knew that look. The same exact look donned her own face whenever she looked at Emma. She was truly an amazing little girl. She would give her the world if she could.

"You're great with her too." Mary Margaret added. "I think I can sleep knowing that she's in such a loving home where she can grow. I would love to be in her life."

"Thank you," Regina said sincerely. "Emma's offer still stands for you to come along for Thanksgiving or a holiday after that. You're her birth mother and I never want to keep her from knowing who she is."

"I think Thanksgiving would be great." Mary Margaret smiled. "I can't believe that I'm actually here with her only a few feet away from me. All I ever wanted was for her to live a happy life."

"She is," Regina assured her. "Emma has a letter she wanted to give you." Regina walked over to her purse and pulled out a letter and envelope. "When you have time to read it I know she would love it."

Mary Margaret studied the envelope before she nodded. "Thank you. Regina."

"Mommy, Mommy, August says he has candy in his office. Can I have some?" Emma clasped her hands together and bat her lashes.

"You have snacks in the car, Emma."

"But not those." Emma pleaded. "Just one and I promise I will eat all of my dinner."

Regina couldn't resist so she nodded. "Say goodbye to Mary Margaret first."

Emma jumped into Mary Margaret's arms much like she did August. She wrapped her arms around her neck and squeezed tight.

"Bye Mary, I hope you come see me at my house next time," Emma whispered. "Then I can show you all my toys. Deal?"

"Deal." Mary Margaret gave one last squeeze before she set Emma back on her feet. Emma bounced back over to August where they started walking to his office. Regina gave her a wave before she exited the room after them.

Mary Margaret sighed and sank into a nearby chair.

She was doing the right thing, she reminded herself. It was the best for Emma. So why did she feel like she was missing out? Her fingers traced over the envelope Regina had given and she frowned. Why did she feel this way?

On their way back home Regina was once again bombarded with Selena Gomez. She cringed at the level at which Emma sang. She loved her daughter but dear god she was so close. Did she have to be so loud?

The big day had come and gone and she was feeling so much better about everything. She was no longer afraid of the big bad birth mother that would be coming to take Emma away. She felt at ease with how the day had gone and she could finally be at peace. That was until Mary Margaret signed the papers.

Regina's mind wandered to her own mother and their entire situation. She had her own problems but Regina knew everyone deserved a second chance. Would Cora be willing to take it and not mess up? Regina, much like Emma, wanted to know her mother and where she came from. At what price though? Cora made herself out to be a less than pleasant woman and she knew it would take some work. Maybe inviting her to Thanksgiving dinner would be a good start. Regina could cook for the entire party and it would be a good day. She hoped.

For now, Regina focused on how she could turn Selena Gomez into Frank Sinatra without Emma noticing. It wasn't happening anytime soon.

"Mommy, I have to pee," Emma whined.

Oh boy. Regina rolled her eyes and exited at the nearest ramp. She loved her daughter she truly did.

A/n: So, how did I do? Any thoughts or predictions?

-LSAM

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By LockedSoulsAM

Chapter 23

"Mommy!" Emma cried. "Mommy?"

She clutched Mr. Waffle to her stomach as she attempted to sit up. A wave of nausea hit her suddenly and she plopped back against her pillows with a quiet groan. Waking up in the middle of the night only to find out that you're sick was the worse. Tears flowed freely from her eyes that she didn't even bother to wipe away. She felt terrible and all she wanted was the comfort of her mom.

In previous homes, she'd been sick before and would always try to hide it. Being sick meant people had to take care of her and most people weren't willing. That didn't work well as little as she was. Emma would be given medicine and most of the time sent back to bed. Each home was different but the treatment of their foster children was worrisome. Emma knew that things here were different. She'd been living here almost six months and every second that passed she felt safer.

Emma called out for Regina again before closing her eyes. The entire room began to spin. She didn't think she would be able to make it to the bathroom without puking on everything. She cried a little harder as her stomach churned. It was a nasty feeling and she just wanted it to go away.

"Emma?" Regina flicked on the lights. She wasn't much of a heavy sleeper but she'd heard Emma's calls right away. She knew that it had to be something wrong if Emma was calling out for her in the middle of the night. "What's wrong?" Regina came to sit beside Emma. She could see tears streaming down her face as Emma flinched away from her touch. "Did you have a nightmare?"

Emma moved to shake her head but thought better. She simply trailed her hand over her stomach then weakly dropped it to her side. Regina frowned trying to assess the situation. She raised a hand to feel Emma's forehead. She seemed a little warm but Regina couldn't know for sure if she had a fever. She used her free hand to wipe Emma's tears away.

Regina couldn't process what was happening and unfortunately couldn't move out of the way fast enough as Emma somehow found the energy to sit up and vomited all over her bed. Emma looked down disgustedly before bursting into tears again.

"I'm sorry." She sobbed. "I'm sorry. "

Regina stepped into action swiftly. As much as she wanted to puke herself, things needed to be done. She scooped Emma into her arms holding her close. Carrying her to the bathroom she tried to refrain from any sudden movements that would cause her to puke again.

"Emma, baby, it's okay." She offered as much comfort as she could while covered in vomit. Most of it had gotten on her legs, Emma's covers and Mr. Waffle. She knew she needed to clean everything but she didn't think Emma would be able to part with her bear for as long as it would take to clean him. First, she would need to get Emma into clean pajamas and then take care of everything else.

"Mommy, I'm sorry." Emma sniffled. Regina sat her against the edge of the bathtub. She avoided eye contact and remained motionless aside from the heaving of her chest.

"Emma, there's nothing for you to be sorry for," Regina assured her. She tested the water before flinging her fingers free from any droplets.

"But I threw up on my bed," Emma mumbled. She was still clutching a now stinky Mr. Waffle to her chest. She wasn't worried about how dirty she was in that moment. He brought her great comfort. "I didn't try and go to the bathroom."

"Emma, it's fine you're sick." Regina moved her hair from her face. She ran a quick bath and helped Emma strip. "Do you think you can give yourself a bath while I go and put your things in the washer?"

Emma silently nodded but avoided all contact.

"I'm going to have to take Mr. Waffle and wash him too."

"I don't want him to be washed." New tears threatened to spill from Emma's eyes. "Can't I just clean him in the tub? Please."

Regina sighed. This was going to be a long night. She already knew that by now she would be keeping Emma out of school for the day. In fear of Lily catching whatever sickness she had, Regina would have to find a sitter for Emma instead of calling Mal.

"Emma, I'm going to put him in the washer along with your covers." Regina began. "It won't take long and after your bath, we can go to bed in my room. Does that sound okay?"

"Yeah." Emma sobbed. She really didn't want to do any of this. She hated being sick. If she was really sick she would have to go to the doctor's office. This really sucked.

"Your bath water is ready." Regina stood. She helped Emma inside of her bath while slipping Mr. Waffle from her hands. "I'll be right back."

Regina was internally freaking out. She stepped back into Emma's bedroom to observe the scene. A horrid smell filled her nostrils and she knew she needed to act fast. Her legs were still covered in vomit and she could swear that this bear was entirely covered. She'd never been around a sick child before and she wondered what was to come.

Sweeping Emma's sheets and covers off in one motion, Regina raced downstairs to start the washing machine. She threw Mr. Waffle on top and gently closed the lid. She took five seconds to strip her own clothes and throw them into a pile for the next load. Right about now she didn't have the time to be super neat. She didn't even know what time it was!

Back upstairs Emma wasn't any better as she weakly washed. She did her best not to get her hair wet knowing that it would take a while to dry. She played with her hands underneath the water as she kept her head perched upon her knees. She was embarrassed about puking on Regina. Even after Regina had told her it was okay she continued to feel bad about the whole ordeal.

Only ten minutes had passed when Regina came through the bathroom door again. She was clean and vomit free. Emma looked up to meet her eyes.

"Are you ready to get out?"

Emma nodded and stepped out of the tub. She dried off and slipped into a nightgown. She was a little cooler and cleaner and it made her feel a little better. She stood before signaling for Regina to back away. She quickly lifted the lid of the toilet and vomited once again. Regina watched her movements and helped as best as she could. In that moment Emma was so miserable and tired. They needed to get to bed soon. Maybe a doctor's visit was needed.

By the time Emma was finished, she slumped away from the toilet and crawled over to lay her head in Regina's lap. Regina felt her forehead again but still couldn't tell if she was running a fever.

"I don't want to be sick," Emma mumbled. She hid her face deeper in Regina's lap. A pathetic whimper escaped her.

"Let's get you to bed and I'll take your temperature." Regina first helped Emma rinse her mouth.

"Can I sleep with you?" Emma's directed her gaze to their reflections.

Their eyes met in the mirror before Regina nodded. Emma raised her arms, not thinking twice about asking to be picked up, and rocked forward. Regina scooped her up and carried her into her bedroom. Regina's bed was disheveled and messy. The duvet was strewn across the bed and her sheets pulled back further. Emma slipped under the covers taking comfort in Regina's smell filling her nostrils. She looked up expectantly as Regina stood at the foot of the bed.

"Momma, are you going to sleep?" Emma asked.

"Yes, I just need to get a few things." Regina hurriedly grabbed the wastebasket from her bathroom to set on the nightstand. If Emma would be sick again she wanted to be prepared. She grabbed a thermometer from her medicine cabinet and made her way back into her bedroom.

She slipped under the covers beside Emma and pulled her into her arms.

She prompted Emma to raise her armpit for a proper temperature. Emma did as she was told with no protest. Regina ran her fingers through blonde hair as they waited for the beep. The temperature was only 101 degrees. She would be calling Emma's doctor to see if that should raise any concern.

Finally, Regina turned off her bedside lamp. She scooted deeper under the covers and gave a small smile when Emma laid her head on her chest. In the absence of Mr. Waffle, Emma stuck her thumb into her mouth. Regina noticed and felt the movement but didn't scold her for it this time.

Pretty soon she was asleep and Regina was still awake. She prayed to whatever higher being was up there that she did not catch Emma's sickness. A sick Regina was not a pretty one.

Emma's condition had remained stagnant come morning. She didn't feel any better than the night before but her temperature had remained the same. According to Dr. Whale, this was a good thing. Regina was instructed to keep watch on her temperature and to give her lots of fluids. Regina had called her in sick from school. Ingrid had offered to watch her for the day.

"You're sure you can take off work to babysit ?" Regina asked as they entered the kitchen. She was dressed in her usual casual attire with her heels left at the front door. Her stocking covered feet padded across the hardwood floors behind Ingrid.

Ingrid nodded and set her bag of goodies on top of the counter. She put a hand on her hip and turned to Regina.

"I do have employees you know," She grinned at how disheveled Regina was this morning. It was cute. Motherhood was always bringing her great surprises. "I think they can handle the diner without me for a shift. Besides, why would I give up the chance to see my favorite girlfriend?"

"I better be your only girlfriend." Regina raised a brow playfully. She stepped into Ingrid's waiting arms and reveled in her warmth. Their height difference wasn't a massive reach but it was noticeable.

"What if I said you weren't?" Ingrid played along. She knew that was absurd when she only had eyes for Regina. "I kind of think Ruby Lucas is a good match."

"Over my dead body," Regina growled. "Miss Lucas is beautiful but I think I could take her."

"Regina!" Ingrid laughed. "You would not harass that poor girl."

Regina gave a look that said, "try me." Ingrid liked seeing the jealous and possessive side of her girlfriend. She hugged Regina a little tighter.

"Fine, it's you I want anyway." She smiled. "You're so tiny without your heels on. Quite far from the intimidating mayor. It's cute."

"I don't do cute, dear." Regina rolled her eyes.

"Well, if that's the case I guess I can't kiss my cute girlfriend."

"Maybe I'll do cute just this once." Regina relented as she stood a little taller to reach Ingrid's lips. They shared a kiss that could have gone deeper if Regina hadn't remembered. "Aren't you afraid you're going to get sick? You said yes with no hesitation that I didn't have time to think."

"I'm not too concerned." Ingrid shrugged. "Emma and I will hang out and catch up on movies. You will be home in no time and then I can cuddle with you both."

"Let's hope this day goes how it's supposed to." Regina stepped away to look inside of the bag Ingrid brought. "What's all this?"

"A few treats for Emma." Ingrid dumped the contents of the bag out over the counter. "I know she must be feeling miserable and when she wakes up she will have to have a lot of fluids. Pedialyte freezer pops might be her favorite."

"You're so good to us." Regina smiled. "I truly wish I did not have work today. I have to go soon. I'm going to go wake Emma and take her temperature one last time."

Regina landed a kiss on Ingrid's cheek and left the kitchen. Ingrid was left to her own devices to put her things away. She was happy to be here. Regina and Emma made her happy. She was a business owner, while she was naturally always busy, she was also able to make her own schedule. That meant she could be a stand in babysitter whenever Regina needed. Emma was a great child and she knew that Regina was doing her best.

"Emma, it's time to wake-up." Regina gently coaxed Emma from dreamland. "I have to go to work. I'm just here to give your medicine and then I'm leaving. Ingrid is downstairs in case you need anything."

Emma groaned sitting up in her spot.

"I still feel sick." She held her stomach and Regina made sure the basket was in reach in case anything were to come up. All pun intended.

"I know baby," Regina sympathized with her daughter. Emma looked absolutely miserable. She wanted nothing more than to stay home with Emma and nurse her back to health but duty called and she couldn't miss work. She gave Emma her medicine and helped her back under the covers. "I'll be back later. I love you."

Emma nodded weakly before closing her eyes. It took seconds for her to doze off. She was incredibly tired and needed lots of rest if her body was going to fight this bug.

"She's still asleep and should be up in another half hour." Regina sighed. "I hate to leave her so sick. Thank you again for babysitting."

"It's fine." Ingrid held the door open for Regina. "Have a good day at work and make us proud."

Regina stepped out into the cold and shivered. She would much rather stay home and cuddle with Emma. Sometimes adulthood really did suck. There wasn't a classier way to put it.

Four hours into work and Regina was bored out of her mind. She had called Ingrid to check in every break she got. The news had always been the same and Regina couldn't help but feel like she was going insane. Her meeting with Albert Spencer was a drag as always. The man gave her a bad vibe but he was good at his job.

"Miss Mills, you have a Cora Mills asking to see you." Valerie's voice blasted from her phone. Regina was startled, it took her a second to collect herself before she pressed the "speak" button.

"Let her in." Regina didn't really know if she was ready to let Cora fully into their lives but she could take baby steps. A couple minutes passed before Regina could see Cora's figure through her doorway. Regina stood to greet Cora as the door was opened.

"Hello, Regina, it's so nice to see you." Cora smiled as she stepped deeper into the room.

"Likewise," Regina gestured for Cora to sit. There was a small silence that Cora wanted to fill as she waited for Regina to sit across from her.

"I just wanted to say thank you," Cora began. "Another chance is all I've ever wanted. I've been given too many chances. I'm glad that you called. All I have ever wanted was to know you."

"I felt the same," Regina replied. "I came to realize that I at least deserved to know where I come from. My memories of you are vague and distant. I called you because I am willing… to give you another chance."

"I am to blame for that." Cora took responsibility. She took Regina's hand in her own. "I missed so much. I left you without a mother. I can't imagine the hurt you went through. I can't imagine what you missed out on. I do know that I want to make it right. You and I have a lot to talk about. We can be the team that I dreamed of."

If Regina was feeling any emotions she sure wasn't showing them. She did not snatch her hand away as she liked the feel of Cora's hand on her own.

"I want Emma to know her grandmother." Regina tried to gauge Cora's reaction. After their first meeting, she was still wary about letting her around Emma. "I am still quite unsure about you. You did not exactly come into town gracefully. I have questions about that."

"I would be happy to answer them," Cora replied. So, she did, for the next hour, Cora did her best to convince Regina that she was trustworthy. Regina did like what she was hearing but she was a politician and she could tell when someone was bluffing. She had to admit that Cora was good.

"Emma's birth mother will be attending Thanksgiving dinner." Regina missed the way Cora's eyes lit up in wonder. "I wanted to extend the invitation to you if you would like to be in attendance?"

"I would love to." Cora nodded. "I do think it's time I got to know little Emma."

"It's going to take a little while to gain her trust along with mine." Regina reminded her. "I am willing to let you into my home. Something that I would otherwise never do. I do hope that things turn out well."

"You don't have to worry, Regina," Cora promised. "I'll be on my best behavior."

Regina could only pray that this was true. She hoped that she was doing the right thing and that Cora wouldn't be throwing her any curveballs. This would be her first holiday with her daughter and with so much lingering in the background she wanted everything to go right.

"When is Mommy coming home?" Emma asked as she laid her head on Mr. Waffle. She and Ingrid were watching Cinderella and relaxing on the couch. She hadn't thrown up at all today and though she did feel a little better she wasn't ready to hit the playgrounds just yet.

"She should be home very soon."

"Do you think I will have to go to the doctors?" Emma rolled over so that she was facing Ingrid. "I hate doctors."

"Why do you hate doctors?" Ingrid put down the book she was reading to look over at Emma. Compared to how big the couch was Emma seemed miniature under her Little Mermaid covers.

"They made me see a lot of doctors," Emma mumbled. "When I was in foster care. They said I had ADHD but I don't really know what that means. I don't have to take the pills here so do you think I have it? Does that mean I was sick? What if I go to the doctors today and then they make me take them again?"

"Well first, I don't think you have ADHD, "Ingrid said sincerely. "It's when you have trouble focusing or paying attention. It's a behavioral thing. It's not a physical sickness which means it's not like a cold or the flu. I don't think your mommy will be letting you take any medicine if she wasn't sure you needed it. I'm not a doctor but I don't think they will be giving you medicine for it either."

"Oh, so Mommy won't send me away if I get too sick?" Emma cocked her head. "That's what most people do." She liked that Ingrid talked to her like a grown up. She explained things well and she made her feel like her opinion mattered.

"Your mommy loves you," Ingrid assured her. "She will not be sending you away. I know that for a fact."

"Ok." Emma let up from her questions. " Do you think Mommy was sad because she didn't have a mommy to take care of her like I didn't?"

"I don't know." Ingrid shrugged. "I think mothers are very special people and not everyone has one. I think these are good questions to ask your mommy when she gets home."

"Ask me what?" Regina stepped into the living room. She had only heard the tail end of Ingrid and Emma's conversation.

"Momma, you're here." Emma cheered but didn't make any moves to jump into her arms.

Regina leaned over to give Emma a kiss to her forehead. She was no longer warm.

"I have a lot of questions for you." Emma crawled into Regina's lap.

"Oh no, are they good questions or bad questions?" Regina wrapped her arms around Emma's waist. "I'm glad to see you're feeling a bit better."

Emma nodded against her chest. "I feel only a little better. My tummy still feels yucky."

"Poor baby." Regina fake pouted. "Now, tell me about your day and what you and Ingrid did."

"From the beginning?"

"From the beginning." Regina agreed. That's what they did for the rest of the day. She listened to Emma's story of her day as they relaxed. Emma's stomach bug only lasted for twenty-four hours and she was able to attend school the very next morning. Regina felt much lighter after knowing her girl was no longer sick and she couldn't wait for the upcoming holidays.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

The auditorium of Storybrooke Elementary was filled to the brim with people. Thanksgiving was quickly approaching and it was time for the annual Thanksgiving show performed by the first graders. A watered-down rendition of a feast between pilgrims and Indians was going to be performed by every class of first graders. In the audience, parents were filing in and finding their appropriate seats. A few children too young to be in the play chased each other up and down the aisles. Some parents were setting up their camcorders while others were boasting to the people next to them on how great their child was. "Future stars." They called them. The other parent would nod and pretend to listen all the while wishing they could sit somewhere else.

In the front row, there was a seat that was left open and would remain open for quite some time. The Mayor's chair. Regina was a celebrity of sorts when it came to Storybrooke. She was a stern politician who was found to have a heart of gold when it came to her townspeople. Now that she had a child she had become even more of a softie in the eyes of the citizens. She smiled more they'd noticed. With her seat being empty everyone observed that she had yet to arrive; maybe she was fashionably late. Maybe she was stuck in some fancy but boring business meeting. Whatever the case may be one person in the auditorium took the absence of the mayor harder than others.

"Mommy, where are you?" Emma whispered. Biting her lip, she peeked around the big red curtain to consider the crowd. It was averagely sized for an elementary school. To six-year-old Emma, the crowd was way bigger than it needed to be. The loud chatter coming from both sides of the curtain made her uneasy. Behind her, teachers called to their students to take attendance. Emma remained glue in her spot. Her eyes scanned the crowd for one person but she didn't see her. Regina was supposed to be here. She was supposed to be here and sitting in the front row. There was an empty seat waiting just for her.

Kids and teachers continued to hustle around her trying to find their places and slip into their costumes. She was supposed to be over with the other children but she just wanted to take a little peek. She did one more scan of the crowd and spotted Mary Margaret. They made eye contact and waved to each other which made Emma smile. She was happy that Mary Margaret could make it after all. Her stomach fluttered again. Things did not feel the same. She wanted her Momma to be here. She needed her to be sitting in front of her when she said her lines. That's what they practiced. It's what Regina had promised. So why wasn't she here?

"Sydney, honestly, do you really need me to approve this article right this second?" Regina glanced over at the clock hanging on her wall. The hands ticked slowly, almost mockingly. She was late. Later then she would ever like to be if she had a say in things. All signs of the professional and poised Mayor Mills were thrown out of the window. She pinched the bridge of her nose forcing her impending headache away. She was seated at her desk in her office with Sydney Glass right across from her. Most of her staff had gone home but she remained; Well except for Sydney but she wanted to overlook that.

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"It would be great if you could," Sydney said. He was enjoying his time with Regina. He was oblivious to the way she kept glancing at the clock or her subliminal messages.

"It's Thanksgiving, Sydney." Regina reminded him. "I was supposed to be at Emma's play almost twenty minutes ago. Could you email this all to me? Shouldn't you be with your family?"

"I certainly can." Sydney began. "I would love for us to talk about it over dinner if we can do that?" He decided to take his chance. "It would be just the two of us. I value your opinion that's why I want you to help me with this. There's nothing like getting your approval."

He gave her a wide smile. Regina wanted to hurl today's lunch all over her desk but she kept her composer. She did not see Sydney in the way he saw her and he proved that time and time again. Regina knew where this was going and she needed to nip this right in the bud once and for all. She raised a hand to stop him from speaking any further. Shutting him down hadn't been an easy feat in the past but he needed to understand. She was taken and uninterested. What more did he need to realize she truly wasn't on the same page as he was?

"Sydney, I appreciate your kindness." The way Sydney lit up at her praise let Regina know she couldn't hold back. "I wish it did not come with ulterior motives." Regina began. "I am in a relationship. I am with a woman who makes me happy and she's intelligent and funny and sweet. She makes me laugh when I don't want to. She loves my child and I hope to god she loves me. I cannot allow for my relationship with you to be any more than just friends. I am the happiest I have been in a very long time. I really wish you would respect that."

Regina hadn't meant to get sappy but when she thought about her life she knew she was happy. Sydney was a great man but she did not reciprocate his feelings. His advances were unwanted. Regina couldn't digest exactly what she'd said about Ingrid just yet. That was a conversation for another time.

Sydney opened and closed his mouth a few times like a fish out of water. He tried to find the right words to say. He noticed the way Regina described her relationship with that woman. He'd seen them around town plenty of times but he never thought anything of it. He hadn't even known that Regina was gay. Before he made an even bigger ass of himself, Sydney simply watched her speak. He had to admit that happiness looked good on her. She seemed to be truly happy and he didn't want to be the one to ruin that. Not when he was in love with her too. He decided to back off even if it meant letting her go.

After his internal battle, Sydney finally said, "I apologize Regina." He knew this conversation would be going nowhere. Not when her focus was on Emma and Ingrid. "I respect you more than you will ever know. I do not want to lose your friendship. Please have fun with your daughter. I will email you the article." Dejectedly, Sydney grabbed his notepad and stuffed it into his briefcase. He would not give up on her but he would give her space. It was what she asked of him and it was the least he could do.

Regina gave him a small smile as he stood to leave. It seemed like a sincere apology so she thought nothing more of it. She watched the way his shoulders sagged as he left the room. She let out a breath she didn't know she was holding once she heard the door softly click.

Looking back over to the clock she cursed loudly and closed her laptop. She hurriedly slid all her belongings in her bag and shut off the lights. She made sure the doors were locked and waved to the security guard seated at the front. Storybrooke Elementary wasn't too far and she had fifteen minutes to get there.

Just as she reached the Mercedes her iPhone began to ring. She checked caller ID and cursed under her breath. It was Mary Margaret.

"Hi, Mary Margaret, I'm running late but I should be there in no time." Regina set her bags in the passenger seat before buckling up. Starting the car, she didn't put it into drive after hearing what Mary Margaret had to say. "Are you having trouble finding a seat?"

"No, I'm fine. Do you think you could get here faster?" Mary Margaret grimaced. She was pacing in a hallway. It was eerie and silent save for the music coming from the auditorium just a few feet away. "Emma is having a meltdown because you're not here. She sort of locked herself inside of a bathroom stall. Her teacher left a few minutes ago because she had to attend to the other children. I said I would call you."

Mary Margaret stepped into said bathroom. She could see the black Mary Jane's Emma wore and long blonde hair draped around her. Since Emma wasn't too big the stall did not hide her.

"I'm not coming out." Emma sobbed into her legs. Her knees were drawn to her chest as a comforting tactic.

"What?" Regina connected her phone to Bluetooth so she could drive.

"She refuses to come out unless you're here."

"Oh, Emma." Regina sighed. "Is it possible you could give her the phone?" Regina knew the show would be starting in less than ten minutes. If she knew her daughter Emma would wait until she was able to talk to Regina before coming out of the classroom.

"I'll try." Mary Margaret kneeled and lowered her hand into the stall. "Your mom wants to talk to you."

"Ask her why isn't she here?" Emma made no effort to move.

"Mary Margaret, do you mind setting your phone to speaker?" Regina could hear Emma crying in the background and her heart broke in two. There was a rustling noise to which Regina could only assume was Mary Margaret putting her phone on speaker. "Emma, baby, it's Mommy."

"Momma, where are you?" Emma asked. "You said you were going to be here."

"Emma, I am so sorry but I was running a little late at work." Regina pulled onto Lincoln Avenue. She eyed the parking lot of Storybrooke Elementary. There were no open places to park and she was silly to think that she would find a space. She drove a little further down the street and finally found a spot. She quickly parallel parked and cut the engine. She continued to try and soothe Emma.

"We are in the second bathroom by the auditorium, Regina." Mary Margaret informed her. There was no way Emma would be leaving the bathroom until she saw Regina in person.

Regina's 4-inch Manolo's clicked under her as she practically strutted down the school hallway. She kept Emma calm with pointless conversation until she found the bathroom. She stepped in and pressed end on her phone.

"Emma, I would like for you to come out now." Regina gave Mary Margaret a look of acknowledgment.

"Mommy, you're here." Emma cried. She ran to her almost knocking her down in the process. Mary Margaret watched with interest at the way they interacted. Regina didn't hesitate when she pulled Emma into her arms. It looked like they belonged together.

"Emma, what made you think I wasn't coming?" Regina bent as best she could in her pencil skirt.

"You promised and people never keep their promises," Emma mumbled with a shrug of her shoulders. She didn't bother to wipe away the tears that fell from her eyes. "and you were mad this morning when I spilled my apple juice."

Regina felt extremely guilty about her actions earlier in the day. She'd been doing so many things that morning which caused her to be a little short with Emma. She didn't yell but her attitude was less than appropriate. She now felt guilty for how she made Emma feel. Emma had practiced hard to be in the play and she needed her to be there. Well, here, they still had a small amount of time for her to get dressed.

"Emma, I do apologize for being late." Regina cradled Emma's face in her hands. She used her thumbs to wipe a tear-stained cheek. She didn't speak as Emma avoided her gaze. Just for a second, they both forgot that Mary Margaret was a few feet away. Regina's only focus was her daughter. She had to remind herself that Emma grew up in less than loving homes. She'd endured countless acts of betrayal and heartbreak. Her feelings were valid and she needed to know that. "I know that it didn't seem like I was coming but there is nothing in this world that would make me miss this. I even told everyone at my office that my daughter was going to be in a play!"

This confession made Emma crack a smile. "You did?"

"Yes, I did." Regina matched Emma's smile with one of her own. "I know I won't always be able to keep my promises but I do promise that I will always be there for you. No matter how angry or upset I am I will always love you."

Emma sniffled but didn't pull away. She simply listened to what Regina had to say.

"Now, if you are still up to doing the show I know your teacher is waiting." Regina stood dusting off the invisible dirt from her skirt. Emma nodded eagerly. Of course, she still wanted to do the play, she couldn't wait to get up on stage. "But, before you go, I want you to repeat after me."

She took Emma's hands in her own and kissed them both. Making sure she had Emma's attention she said. "No matter what I think,"

Emma parroted those words slowly.

"No matter what I say, no matter what I do, Momma will always love me." Regina wanted her to remember these words. She wanted her to believe that they were true. She was not letting Emma go. They were family.

"I love you too, Momma." Emma's entire demeanor changed. She was more than excited to finally go and perform. Now, can I go find my teacher?"

"Of course, you can." Regina opened the bathroom door. Emma ran out only to return.

"Bye Mary Margaret I'll see you after my show." Emma gave her a hug before quickly running away.

They both stepped out of the bathroom together before Regina turned back to Mary Margaret. Her excitement immediately turned to concern with the look she sported.

"Are you okay?"

"I-I should be ashamed." Mary Margaret stammered.

Regina knew that with one crisis averted she was about to go through another one. "I don't understand what you mean."

"I am the reason she's upset about love." Mary Margaret frowned. "I gave her up and I left her on the side of a road. In front of a fire station. She's six years old and she's insecure about whether people love her or not. She could have been abused sexually or physically or emotionally and I wouldn't know. I caused her so much pain."

"Mary." Regina was interrupted.

"I mean why do you even allow me around her? I should be ashamed."

"Mary Margaret, please listen!" Regina raised her voice to get her attention. Mary Margaret finally stopped talking. "Emma is growing and she's learning, yes that is true. She is very insecure and nervous about an assortment of things. She was not sexually abused thank god. I cannot say that she didn't go through a lot of things even someone my age shouldn't but she's getting better. She's a bright, cheeky and delightful little girl. One thing I can say is that she needs us to be strong. She needs us to be there for us and you're going to have to keep it together even when you don't want to. That's what it means to be a parent."

After a beat, Mary Margaret took a deep breath. "I guess I'm afraid that one day I will wake up and find that you don't want me in her life."

"That's absurd." Regina laughed. "I think the same thing. No matter how much of an influence I have on her I do get nervous that you will see I'm not what she needs and that you won't sign the papers."

"I don't think I could tear her away from the only home she ever knew." Mary Margaret shook her head. "She's happy here with you."

"Why don't we go watch our girl perform?" Regina suggested. The hallway was deserted except for the two of them.

"I would love that." Mary Margaret smiled and Regina admitted that it reminded her of Emma.

With two crises averted she was ready for the show to begin. Everyone was finally seated and Regina was where she was supposed to be. Emma was in her place on stage and when she looked out into the crowd she found her mother. All was well.

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"No way there's ice cream?" Emma cheered as Ingrid stepped into the dining room. Emma's show was a success and dinner was spent with the ones she loved. Thanksgiving was tomorrow and there would be people over to celebrate. At least that's what her mommy said. She didn't really mind if there was food for her.

"There is ice cream for a special little girl." Ingrid laughed. Emma's eyes bulged once she realized she was getting two scoops. "Your mom said you did exceptionally well tonight and I suggested a treat. I hope it makes you happy."

"I am tremendously happy." Emma beamed. She used a word she had heard Regina use during one of her skype meetings at work.

"Wow, that's a lot of happy." Ingrid grinned.

"You also used it in the correct context I'm proud." Regina ate her ice cream.

Emma only responded with a 'thumbs up'. She was too busy stuffing her face with Chunky Monkey. They were all seated in the dining room having family time. Emma had begged for Ingrid to come over for dinner. Chinese takeout and juice boxes were on the menu.

"Momma, what's a lesbian?"

Regina would have choked on her ice cream if she could. She was not expecting this question. Ingrid giggled in response waiting for her to answer the question.

"A lesbian is a woman who likes other women," Regina explained.

"Oh, so you and Ingrid are lesbians." Emma accepted.

"I am not a lesbian," Regina said. "I also like men. It means I am bisexual."

"You can like both?" Emma asked. "That's super cool. So, you can kiss Ingrid and Sherriff Graham at the same time?"

"Now I'd like to hear this one." Ingrid kept her laughter in. She could see that Regina was struggling with having this conversation over ice cream.

"Hush." Regina rolled her eyes. "You can love and kiss who you want. Not until you're sixteen at least. Emma, I just want to know why you would want me to kiss Sherriff Graham?"

"I like Sherriff Graham." She shrugged.

"Well he is a nice man but I will not be kissing him anytime soon." Regina shook her head.

"Okay." Emma scooped her last bit of ice cream into her mouth. "Can I go watch tv now?"

"You sure can." Regina took Emma's bowl to stack over her own. Once Emma was gone she turned back to a laughing Ingrid. "I do not appreciate your heckling." Regina stood to carry the bowls into the kitchen.

"Oh, come on Regina if I'd have known a threesome was on the tables I would have suggested it long ago." She followed Regina into the kitchen and stopped in her tracks at the glare she was given."

"So not funny." Regina shook her head. "Sherriff Graham is an attractive man but no, just no. Maybe in my college days but as of today it's a firm no. Threesomes are also off the table."

"Ah, I see." Ingrid's smirk remained. She stepped up to Regina to wrap her arms around her waist. "I'm sure somewhere across town Mal is crying in disappointment about the threesome."

Regina hummed in agreement. "You're the only one that gets to look and touch." She loved that they were both so secure in their relationship that they could joke about things like this. Dating your best friend had to be one of the greatest things. Regina took a second to just feel her girlfriend's lips on her neck. It felt good. Really good and she didn't want it to stop.

Mindful that Emma could walk in at any moment they tried to keep it PG-13. After a particularly hard nip from Ingrid and a rather loud moan from Regina, they finally pulled away from each other.

"Stay." Regina's voice was huskier than usual and it took a while for Ingrid to realize what was being said.

"What?" Ingrid asked.

"Tonight. Stay the night." Regina finally opened her eyes to meet lust filled blue ones.

"Are you sure? Emma is home and we've never…."

"I am positive." Regina took a deep breath. "I am also positive that if you keep looking at me like that I will take you on whatever surface you back into."

"I'll wash, you dry? "Ingrid gestured to the leftover dishes.

"I'm anything but dry." Regina bit her lip to keep herself from saying it out loud. She needed to get it together. Instead, she gave a curt nod. "Sounds good to me."

So that's what they did. Until their libidos had calmed they washed and dried.

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"Goodnight Momma, good night Ingrid." Emma slipped into her bed. "I love you both."

"We love you too." Regina slipped onto one side of her bed. "Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and we will have lots of fun and food."

"Will there be cake?"

"There will be pie and cake," Regina promised. "Now close your eyes and the day will come faster than you know it."

Emma obeyed with no hesitation which caused her to laugh. She kissed both rosy cheeks before shutting off her lamp. Ingrid followed her to the hallway.

"How does a bath, wine, and chocolate sound to you?"

"That sounds lovely." Ingrid took Regina's hand into her own as she was lead into the bedroom. With the door locked and closed Regina let go of all her frustrations and let herself feel; and boy did she feel.

Wrapped up in each other's arms Ingrid and Regina reveled in their post-coital bliss. Regina took the chance to be the foundation as Ingrid laid on her chest.

"Do you see tomorrow ending well?" Regina suddenly asked. She traced patterns on Ingrid's arm as the soft glow of the moon shone through the window. This night was everything she had wanted it to be.

"I see you slaving over a hot stove for hours and freaking out if the decorations aren't right to please everyone," Ingrid replied. Regina stopped her tracing so that Ingrid could look up at her. "I'm serious, Regina, you work so hard to make everything so perfect. I want you to have fun with what you're doing. Either way it goes your daughter will be happy if it was just us a bucket of fried chicken."

"I would never feed my child friend chicken." Regina raised a brow.

"Besides that, I want you to get the message." Ingrid poked her chest. "You have the biggest heart and behind that armor, I've found a wonderful woman who aims to please everyone. Have fun with your cooking and don't worry if the table isn't set when they arrive or if Emma isn't cooperating. The day should be great for you too."

"You understand me so well." Regina pulled her so that their lips were inches from each other. "Where did I find you?"

"Well you walked into my shop and I just had to have you." Ingrid closed the distance between them. Her right hand slid between tan thighs; her fingers touched right where they needed to causing Regina to arch her back.

"You had me at hello," Regina whispered. She lost herself in Ingrid's touch as they kissed.

Tonight had been a great night. Falling asleep in her lover's arms was just the icing on the cake. She felt wonderful and nothing could bring her down.

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The next morning Regina tried to keep Ingrid's words in mind. Her plate was full today with all the things they would be doing. The day had started with Emma waking her for breakfast. With Ingrid's family an hour away, she'd decided to stay and spend the day with Regina. She cooked breakfast for them all and they'd had it in bed while watching cartoons.

Now was the time to start the preparations for their Thanksgiving dinner. Her cousin Zelena and her husband John were arriving with their two children in a couple of hours. Though they lead very busy lives they always tried to spend the holidays together. Cora would be arriving later in the day and Regina already felt on edge about that. Mary Margaret was already on her way in her offer to help with cooking. Regina was never one to turn anything down.

It was supposed to be a lowkey holiday dinner with the ones she loved most. Regina was doing her cooking in the kitchen with soft music playing in the background. Ingrid and Emma were rearranging furniture around in the dining room so that they could accommodate their guests.

The menu for today was a healthy but tasty selection of Regina's best dishes. Her apple turnovers were to die for and she couldn't wait to make them.

"Momma, are you going to come play soon?" Emma stepped into the kitchen.

"I will as soon as I'm done with this pie." Regina wiped her hands on her apron. For the ones that dared not to like her apple turnovers, she was making pumpkin and apple pie.

"What are your cousin's kid's names again?" Emma asked.

"Rory and Alexis," Regina answered. "You're going to love them."

"Are they both boys?" Emma crinkled her nose. The only boy she could tolerate was Roland Locksley.

"Yes, they are." Regina laughed at Emma's face. "They are well-behaved boys."

"That's not how I would describe them but alas they always are behaved for you."

Regina looked up to see her cousin standing in the doorway.

"Zelena!" Regina slipped off her oven mitts to step around the counter and hug her cousin. "What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you for another three hours."

"John and I decided that we would come and visit with you a little earlier than usual." Zelena took in what Regina was wearing. "You look absolutely fabulous."

"As do you, I've missed you so much." Regina hugged her again. Growing up she and Zelena were almost like sisters. Despite their three-year age difference, they hung out all the time. They were almost inseparable until Zelena's parents moved away when she was sixteen. Then they were forced to keep in contact through phone calls and summer sleepovers.

"Is this Emma?" Zelena finally noticed the tiny girl who had been about to dip her finger inside of Regina's pie. Like a deer in headlights, Emma froze and pulled her hand away.

"Hi, I'm Emma." Emma tried to take the heat off herself. "Where are your kids?"

"They are in the den probably arguing over the tv remote." Zelena waved her hand in the direction of the living room. "You can go in and say hello."

Emma nodded and hurriedly left the room.

"Where's John?" Regina asked as they slipped away.

"He went out to get snacks for the kids." Zelena stopped Regina from protesting. "I know how you feel but it will not spoil their dinner I promise you."

"I sure hope not." Regina stepped back over to the stove. "Did Ingrid answer the door for you?"

"She sure did." Zelena bumped hips with Regina. "She's a hot one, sis."

Zelena studied her cousin. She noticed the way Regina floated around the kitchen. "I leave you for 8 months and you go and get into a relationship and adopt a kid. I'm proud of you."

"Well, what can I say? I move quickly."

"Emma is adorable by the way."

"She's amazing." Regina gushed. "I'm sure she and the boys will get along quite well."

"Let's hope they don't terrorize her first." Zelena chuckled.

Meanwhile, in the living room, Emma was trying to get a feel for her new cousins. They were twins only about two years older than her. The only way she could tell them apart was by their wide smiles. Rory was missing his two front teeth while Alexis had yet to lose any of his also worse glasses. Other than that they had matching brown hair and brown eyes.

"Hi." Emma caught their attention.

"Hey." Alexis pushed the glasses further onto his nose. "Who are you?"

"Emma. My mommy is Regina." She introduced herself.

"No, she's not," Rory questioned. "Regina doesn't have any kids. She's not even married."

Emma frowned. "I am going to be adopted."

"Adopted?" Rory asked incredulously. "So, you're going to be our cousin now?"

"I guess." Emma shrugged. She didn't really know how to feel about these boys.

"Do you…like Pokémon?" The twins were also skeptical of their new cousin.

"Yeah." Emma nodded.

"Cool." They chorused. "Wanna watch it with us?" Alexis asked.

"Okay." Emma smiled as she sat between them. They all sat in silence to watch a brand-new episode of Pokémon. They had decided Emma was cool after all.

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"So, how did you two meet again? Zelena asked as they all sat in Regina's study. John was back from the store and they all decided to catch up.

"Regina and Emma walked into my ice cream shop and the rest is history," Ingrid explained.

"You two are also sickeningly sweet." Zelena scoffed. "I love it."

"How long have you and John been married?" Ingrid inquired. Regina's hand was resting on her lap.

"9 years. The boys just turned eight." John answered.

"Do you plan on having more?"

"Oh god no!" Zelena groaned. "We are however into the idea of adopting an older child. Regina brought that idea to the front of our minds."

"That's great." Regina cheered. "I know any child will be lucky to have you two as parents."

"I think so too." Zelena cheekily agreed. "Now, which one of us is busting out Twister?"

"Zelena, no, we are not playing that." Regina stood to refill her cup. "I refuse to bring out my competitive streak in front of guests. Especially after that one time."

"What happened that one time?" Ingrid was curious now.

"Oh, Ingrid, I bet you will love to know just how flexible your girlfriend is." Zelena leaned closer.

Regina facepalmed as she realized Zelena would be embarrassing her for the rest of the day. There was no getting out of the embarrassing stories that she was going to share. Didn't mean she couldn't drink to it. She sipped her drink a little faster as she listened to Zelena delve into her secrets.

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"I'll get it." Emma ran to the door in hopes of there being a new person that would be attending the dinner. She absolutely loved being surrounded by family. It was the best feeling when everyone was happy and content.

"Emma, I told you not to answer the door." Regina entered the foyer only to see Emma backing away. "Cora, hello, I'm so glad you could make it."

"Hi, Regina, thanks for having me." Cora let Regina take her coat. "Hello, Emma."

"Hi." Emma arched her brow. "Does this mean she's my grandma now? Because you told me to stay away from her."

"We are trying with Cora, Emma." Regina couldn't scold her daughter for her speaking the truth. She just wished she was a little more tactful.

Emma didn't ask any further questions as she walked back to the dinner table.

"Am I late?" Cora asked.

"No, we are just about to cut the turkey." Regina leads her into the dining room. Mary Margaret was seated next to Ingrid while Emma was seated next to her. Regina's chair was at one end of the table while John was at another. The kids fit on the other side with a seat next to her.

Everyone looked up when they saw their new guest. Zelena practically screeched in recognition while John looked over to his wife in confusion. Ingrid already knew of Cora's arrival so she had no reaction. Mary Margaret also sported a look of confusion as Cora seemed oddly familiar to her. She couldn't figure out where she had seen her before.

"Everyone this is Cora Mills." Regina introduced her. "She is my mother."

There was a round of hellos before everyone was finally seated. Zelena mouthed some very colorful words to her cousin as they silently exchanged a conversation.

"Now, before we eat I would like for everyone to go around and say what they are grateful for," Regina announced. "I'll start first. I am grateful for my amazing family and friends that continue to support and uplift me during the times I need it most. I am also grateful for my daughter who had come into my life in one of the most unexpected ways but she continues to show me what unconditional love truly means."

As everyone went around to say what they were thankful for Mary Margaret tried to rack her brain for places she had been recently. She made eye contact with Cora and for a moment she thought Cora recognized her too. Mary Margaret finally figured out where she knew her from. Shirley, the social worker was really Regina's mother. Her name was really Cora but not much had changed. Was she aware of something going on that Mary Margaret didn't know? Was she warning Mary Margaret to take Emma all along?

"I am thankful for…" Emma looked down at her hands before looking back up. "My toys, and my bike, and my iPad, and my room, my school and my teacher. The new shoes my mommy got me I am thankful for. I am also thankful for my new family and my mommy. I'm thankful for my mommy the most. She makes me happy."

Regina could feel herself getting choked up on tears as Emma walked around the table to give her a hug. "I love you, baby."

"I love you too, Mommy," Emma whispered back before giving her a kiss on the cheek. She was back in her chair in no time and the next person in line was ready to share what they were thankful for. Everyone said their thanks and it was time to cut the turkey.

"Zelena it's been so long." Cora tried to make conversation. "It's amazing how much you've grown. Your family is beautiful."

"Yeah," Zelena faked her smile. "It's only been 27 years give or take. How is life treating you?"

Regina noticed the dig and glared at her cousin. She could not deal with any drama today.

"I'm doing well." Cora ignored Zelena's sarcasm. "I came back into town hoping to fix my relationship with Regina. She was very kind in allowing me to come and have dinner with you all."

Zelena almost said something she would not have regretted if there weren't kids in the room. "That must be fun. Do you plan on abandoning her again this time?"

Ingrid choked and John whispered for her to stop. Zelena finally relented. She wished she could dig further but in order not to stress Regina out, she wouldn't.

"This food is really delicious." Mary Margaret spoke up. "I've never had anyone's food that could cook so well."

"Momma's cooking is the best." Emma agreed. "I hope I can cook as good as her one day."

"Well, dear." Regina corrected her.

"I think it's great too Aunt Regina." Rory piped up.

The rest of their dinner was filled with small talk and the children filling up more of their conversation. Once dinner was done the kids had gone to play in the backyard while the adults shared drinks in the living room.

"Emma is a very bright child," Cora commented. "You are doing well with her."

"Thank you." Regina took the compliment.

"Okay, this is boring let's bring out Twister." Zelena had decided that she had no more patience to sit and talk.

"How about something a little less physical like monopoly?" Regina suggested.

"I'm up for it." John stood to find the board game.

Regina narrowed her eyes to get Zelena's attention. "Behave please."

"This is me behaving. What more do you want? A smile?" Zelena snorted. "It's not gonna happen."

"Who wants pie?" Regina suddenly asked.

"I do, I'll help." Mary Margaret offered. She followed Regina to the kitchen where the pie was waiting in the fridge.

Regina began to cut slices as she directed Mary Margaret to the cabinet where the plates were held. They worked in silence as they made slices for each person.

"So, Regina, I didn't know that you were related to your social worker."

"Oh, August, and I aren't related." Regina brushed it off. She handed a bottle of whipped crème to Mary Margaret as she pulled out forks.

"I wasn't talking about August." Mary Margaret began. She realized Regina had no clue what she was talking about. "Never mind."

Mary Margaret didn't know if this was a conversation she wanted to have during Thanksgiving dinner. Regina thought nothing of it as they walked back into the dining room where everyone was once again now seated.

"Momma, can I have extra whipped crème?" Emma begged. "It would taste so very good."

"You can have a little more but not too much." Regina sighed. Emma was surely milking her free will when there were guests.

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There was a monopoly game that lasted for all of three hours before everyone became frustrated. Regina, the mayor, was, of course, winning and buying all the property in their pretend city. Zelena had taken it upon herself to put the kids to bed while John washed the dirty dishes.

Mary Margaret volunteered to take Cora home. Ingrid and Regina were cleaning the rest of the house.

"I'm really glad that you stayed today," Regina admitted. "I don't know if I would have survived it without you."

"It was great and I had fun." Ingrid turned off the last lamp. "You seem really close with your cousin. I really admire that. Especially since you were an only child."

"We are almost like sisters Zelena and I." Regina reminisced. "She was always there for me."

"I'm happy you had someone like that."

"Me too." Regina pulled her up the stairs. She waved to Zelena on her way up the stairs. They only stopped to make sure Emma was sleeping. Soon enough they were both in her bedroom getting ready for bed.

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"You know I thought for a second that Regina was in on your plan." Mary Margaret said. She was parked in front of Cora's house not pulling up thirty seconds ago. "Whatever your plan was but she had no clue what I was talking about. I don't understand how you fit into all of this. Why did you pretend to be a social worker?"

"Dear, when you have the opportunity to take the children you gave away back, you take them." Cora didn't try to deny Mary Margaret's accusation. "Regina is a powerful woman and I want her to be way more than I ever was. It's amazing how far she has become but I want her to be great. I want to be a part of that empire. A child would only get in the way of that. Emma belongs with you. You're her mother."

"Cora, you made a choice to walk out of Regina's life." Mary Margaret argued. "I did not feel like I was good enough for Emma. Two totally different situations. Emma doesn't need me. She's living her life happily and we all see it. You are nothing more than a cold-hearted manipulative bitch who is either money or power hungry. Why should I trust that you're just trying to be the mother of the year? Why are you doing this really? Why are you going through all of this trouble?"

"Honey, if I told you, you wouldn't understand." Cora shook her head. She left Mary Margaret in confusion.

No one would understand why she needed her daughter to be great. No one would understand why she needed Emma to be home with her birth mother. No one ever understood why she did the things she did. Soon they would know why.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

"You're completely sure about this Ms. Blanchard?"

A pale hand moved vigorously across the dotted line. She never lifted her hand from paper. Mary Margaret signed her name and initials on page after page. She pressed firmly and quickly. Making sure to read over every paragraph before continuing with the next sheet. She didn't even register what the woman across from her was asking. As she handed over the last piece of paper and her pen she took a deep breath. She had done a lot of good and a lot of bad in her life. She had made harder decisions than this in the past. Sitting in this office in front of a social worker made all this real. She was deciding on the future of an innocent little girl.

"I've never been so sure in my life." Mary Margaret nodded. "Emma deserves what is best for her."

Mary Margaret hoped that she was doing the right thing. In her heart, she knew that after signing these papers things would change forever. She could only hope that she wouldn't regret this. When she stepped into the office of child services she didn't know what to expect. She came here with a purpose but had changed her mind halfway through once she was sat in the waiting room. She remembered her first meeting with Emma just two weeks ago. She remembered the last few days where she was invited to spend Thanksgiving dinner with an incredible family.

It was amazing and it had opened her eyes. She convinced herself that she was doing this for Emma.

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"Mommy, can we have cookies now?" Emma begged. She held onto the edge of the counter so she could stand on the tip of her toes. She watched as Regina scraped each cookie off the cookie sheet and onto a more presentable plate. They were chocolate chip; Emma's favorite. Each cookie was rounded to perfection and they looked so soft and delectable. Blue eyes peeked up at Regina pleadingly.

"Emma, no, not until after dinner." Regina slipped off her oven mitts. She turned away from her child to avoid the puppy dog eyes and pout. She couldn't resist it. Emma sighed but never looked away from the cookies. Thanksgiving was a mere two days ago and she was becoming sick of apple pies and leftovers.

"Let the girl have a cookie." Zelena waved her hand. It was still the holiday weekend which meant a few extra days off work. She and John were enjoying their time in Storybrooke with Regina and Emma. Rory and Alexis had hit it off with Emma and they never wanted to leave. It was proving to be a great weekend. "If she gets a cavity it's not like you can't afford to pay the bill."

Without asking Regina, Zelena took a cookie and gave half to Emma. She took the other half and bit into it. She quickly spits it out at how hot they were. Emma giggled but never took a bite of her cookie. Regina tried to hide her amused look but failed.

"Momma says no." Emma laughed. "Maybe you should listen to her Big Red."

"Maybe you should listen to Momma, Big Red." Regina teased handing Zelena a napkin.

"Big Red huh?" Zelena questioned.

"Yeah, because you're big and you have red hair," Emma said as though it was obvious.

"You know your mom has a nickname too?" Zelena pointed out. "Back in middle school she got caught with Daniel Colter under the-"

"Okay, Emma, why don't you take a few cookies to Rory and Alexis I'm sure they would love to have some." Regina scraped a few cookies onto a napkin and shoved them into Emma's hand.

Emma simply shrugged and skipped out of the kitchen. She wasn't going to question her newfound cookie privileges.

"Aw, I hadn't even gotten to the best part." Zelena fake pouted.

"I refuse to allow you to fill my daughter's head up with horror stories from my teen years." Regina rolled her eyes. "Didn't you have enough of embarrassing me on Thanksgiving?"

"Speaking of Thanksgiving, are we going to address the giant elephant that was literally sitting across from me or are you going to keep avoiding the conversation?" Zelena came to stand next to her cousin. Regina stopped her cleaning and looked at Zelena.

"I think I'm doing quite well with avoiding the conversation." Regina simply said. She began to wipe down her counters each time stepping a little further away from her. Zelena was having none of it. She set a hand on top of Regina's forcing her to look.

"Why was she here? How is she here?" Zelena questioned. "Why in the world did she come back? Never mind that when were you going to tell me?"

Regina sighed. She really didn't want to be having this conversation right now.

"I honestly cannot tell you a specific reason." Regina folded her arms. She leaned against the counter to look down at her feet. "She was here for a while and she was an absolute bitch. Cora stormed into my office and acted like she owned the place. She was messy but cold. Her outfits were to die for might I add. I didn't like her but I saw myself."

Regina snorted. Which was a very un-Regina like thing. "Since I was five years old I wondered where I came from. The memories of her were few and fleeting. I grew without a mother. You were there. There was something inside of me that wished for a second she had stayed. "

"I was there for you," Zelena confirmed. "When you locked yourself in the bathroom when you got your first period and my mom had to come halfway across town to help. I was there when you got your first bra. First boyfriend. All the major milestones in your life Cora Mills had missed or skipped out on. Whatever. You were struggling with not having a mother."

Regina frowned. She remembered the longing every time she was around Zelena and her mother. She was envious of such a great relationship but her Aunt Sylvia stood in whenever she could.

"I don't want to see you hurt again if she decides to skip town." Zelena sympathized with Regina. She didn't know how it was to grow up without one of her parents. She didn't fully understand Regina's struggle with this.

"She came back and I'm thirty-two years old. I am established. Happy even." Regina explained. "I have a little girl of my own. I don't even know why she is here but I just want to find out? This is not like me at all but I owe it to younger Regina to settle things."

Zelena nodded. "I hope she knows I will run her over with my car if she ever crosses you."

"I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear that." Regina chuckled. "You're the best you know that."

"It's what big cousins are for." Zelena pulled her cousin into a hug.

Regina gladly took the hug. She had many different emotions when it came to Cora. She just needed to figure them out.

"Mommy, there's someone knocking at the door," Emma yelled from the foyer. She stood with Rory and Alexis on the top step watching the door. Emma contently munched on a cookie while waiting for Regina to come.

"Emma, what did I say about yelling in the house?" Regina asked as she stepped into the foyer. She ruffled Rory's hair on the way to the door. "Who is it?"

Emma shrugged offering no help. She stuffed the last cookie into her mouth and waited.

"Who's there?" Regina called through the door.

Regina wondered for a second why this person hadn't used the doorbell but she thought nothing of it. There was no response and Regina arched a brow. This neighborhood didn't have many people that would approach Mayor Mills' door. She sincerely didn't know who was at the door.

Regina unlocked the latch and pulled the door open. She saw a backpack and long red hair peeking out of a brown hoodie and immediately knew who it was. At that time so did Emma.

"Addison?" Emma squealed. She was going to run and hug her sister but stopped when she noticed her demeanor. Said girl stopped in her tracks and turned to the people.

Regina noticed her face first and gasped. "Oh my god."

"Emma, why don't you let your mom talk to… Addison and we can go find the first aid kit." Zelena suggested.

Emma frowned but nodded. She could tell this was serious. Addison wasn't even happy to see her.

"Mommy, make her better," Emma whispered to Regina.

Regina nodded and ushered Emma towards Zelena. Zelena took Emma's hand and lead her into the house. She could busy them with a television show while she found a first aid kit.

"Addison?" Regina stepped forward. The young girl avoided eye contact with Regina. She shifted foot to foot. Once Regina was close enough she saw just how bad her injuries were. Addison was sporting a freshly busted lip and her eyes were red and fatigued from crying. There was a gash on her eyebrow and Regina could only assume that someone had nicked it with something. "Honey, can you tell me what happened?" Regina lifted her chin gently so that they could make eye contact.

"I-I didn't expect you to answer the door." She mumbled. A grimace crossed her face that she quickly tried to hide. "I didn't know where else to go. I couldn't call August. He would make me leave. I just needed time to-."

"Let's go inside." Regina could see how emotional she was getting. "I have cocoa and an ice pack."

Addison nodded. She followed Regina into the house. The tv blared from the living room. She felt guilty about not sharing the same enthusiasm with Emma. Maybe she could make it up to her later. Once they were in the bathroom Regina sat her down on the toilet.

"Are you ready to tell me what happened?" Regina asked. "How did you get here?"

"I walked." Addison shrugged defeated. "I just had to get away for a couple of hours."

"You walked." Regina crouched down. "That's over a half hour away on foot and the sunset two hours ago." She didn't like the idea of a thirteen-year-old walking alone at night.

"I know." Addison frowned. "My foster dad was really angry. He was yelling because I was late coming from the library. He thought I was lying. He accused me of being out with boys. I think he was drunk or something I don't know." She wrapped her arms around herself to feel more secure. "I argued back and he said that I shouldn't lie. Then he hit me twice. He smacked me and his ring cut my eyebrow. It didn't really hurt and then he punched me."

Regina balled her fist in anger unclenching them only to take Addison's hands in hers. She closed her eyes to calm down. She had half a mind to go over there and kick this man's ass herself. Right now, she had other things to tend to.

"You were the first place I could come." Addison kept her gaze on their joined hands.

"You can always come here." Regina reminded her. "I am so sorry that this happened to you."

"I am used to it," Addison revealed. "At least he doesn't touch me like the other guy. I mean other than this." She gestured weakly to her face.

Regina knew what Addison was referring to. Her mind flashed back to a few months in this very bathroom when Emma had been concerned about someone hurting her.

"This is not something you should be used to," Regina said. "This is not something anyone should be used to. I am going to call August in the morning but you are not going back to that house."

"They're the best foster home I've had in a while." Addison protested. "He's never been mean other than this. They don't pay much attention to me and there's food. You don't understand. Kids like me don't get adopted. This is as good as I'm going to get."

"Addison, can I tell you a story?" Regina sat against the tub. She had to figure out a way to get through to her. She wouldn't be able to reach August until morning with the holidays and places being closed. Addison seemed interested enough so she continued. "My second semester of college I met a man. My Economics professor, Leopold."

Addison sat a little taller.

"He was at least thirty years older than me but he was charming." Regina began. Many people didn't know this story as it was more than she was ever willing to share. "He would flirt, invite me to his office after class, he would even buy me extravagant gifts. Leopold was everything I had hoped for and more. I was young and in love."

Regina shook her head and looked over to Addison. "Love is a funny thing and sometimes people disguise their actions as love. His grand gestures and kisses turned to ridicule and bruising. I was going out with my best friend, Maleficent when he got angry the first time. He accused me of cheating. Which was absurd. Naturally, I argued back and he slapped me."

Addison's eyes widened. She hadn't expected this story.

"He became combative and compulsive." Regina frowned. "Everything I did wasn't good enough for him. I began to lie to my friends and myself. My father too. Until one-day Maleficent came to me and she showed me that I was so much more than the man who hurt me. I deserved to be loved and not left with bruises to hide. I am here to say the same to you. You are a brave and kind soul. I want you to know that you deserve so much more. I will help you with whatever you need. I need you to know that you are loved. I also need to make sure that you will not run away in the middle of the night."

Addison remained silent as she let the words sink in. It was hard to believe when her life was nothing but tragedy. When she looked at Regina she saw strength. She saw this big house, her huge career. She wanted to be like Regina. She gave a subtle shake of her head to indicate that she would not run away. She wanted to believe Regina's words.

There was a knock at the bathroom door and Zelena entered once Regina gave her the green light.

"Sorry it took me so long, John was able to get the kids settled with a movie." She set the first aid kit on the counter. She turned to the pair. "I'm Zelena, Regina's cousin. Do you mind letting down your hood so that I can fix you up really quickly?"

Addison nodded and pushed her hood down. Her curls were matted and tangled. Zelena did not comment on the state of her face and neither did Regina. Instead, she quickly got to work. With permission, she took Addison's chin in her hand and lifted her face so she could see better. Addison's blue eyes met Zelena's for a millisecond. She was uncomfortable with the intense eye contact so she focused her gaze instead on a tiny fixture on the wall.

"Lucky for you, you won't need stitches." Zelena cleaned the cut on her lip. "It should heal nicely on its own. I can say the same for your eyebrow. It may scar over."

"Are you a nurse? "Addison asked. She was mesmerized by Zelena. It was like looking at an older version of herself.

"I am," Zelena confirmed. "I am also the mother of two very rowdy little boys."

Regina watched in awe. Zelena was calm and smooth with her movements. She knew exactly what she was doing and Addison hadn't even flinched once. It was almost as if they were mother and daughter they looked so alike. A lightbulb went off in her head and she sat up a little straighter.

"You look like a little me." Zelena joked. "Little Red. Isn't that neat?" She used Emma's nickname from earlier.

"I like it." Addison gave her first smile in a while. "I haven't met a lot of people with natural red hair. It was almost like I was a unicorn."

"Unicorns are pretty awesome." Zelena smiled back. "There all done." She closed the first aid kit. She took a few steps back to allow Addison to check herself in the mirror.

"If you would like to take a shower you can," Regina informed her. "There is an extra towel over on the counter. I will leave clothes on my bed for you. You're a bit taller than me but I think they will fit quite well."

"Thank you, Regina, for everything." Addison hugged her. "Thank you, Mrs. Zelena."

"It's no problem." Zelena waved a hand. "Us gingers have to stick together."

Addison giggled and removed her jacket just as they stepped out of the bathroom. She wondered why none of her foster parents were as great as these two.

"Momma, is she okay?" Emma was impatiently waiting at the bottom of the stairs. "Did someone hurt her?"

"Yes, Addison will be just fine." Regina crouched down to be eye level with Emma. There was a look of worry etched into her face. "Addison's foster dad did a terrible thing but she will not be going back to that home. You are a wonderful little girl. Do you know that?"

"Mhhm." Emma nodded. "Did you make her better?"

"Actually, Zelena did." Regina glanced over to her cousin.

"He didn't hurt her down there did he?" Emma asked. " On her privates? Like the other bad man?"

"No, Emma, no," Regina assured her. She ran her fingers through Emma's hair. Zelena frowned and wondered what that meant. It didn't take her long to understand Emma's words. "He did not."

"Good." Emma nodded. "I'm going to go and watch tv and wait for her okay?"

"You do that," Regina revealed in Emma's innocence. "Dinner will be ready soon."

Regina was sure her knees would give out if she crouched any longer.

"This night." Regina headed for the kitchen knowing that Zelena would follow her.

"These kids have been through a lot," Zelena commented. "I see it every day in the emergency room."

"Emma has suffered from plenty of trauma." Regina agreed. "Addison too. I just wish I would have found them both sooner."

"Well, you're here now." Zelena grabbed plates so that she could set the table. "Where is Addison going to end up? I'm quite familiar with social services but I am curious."

"I have no clue," Regina said. "I can try and pull a couple of strings to help find her a home but ultimately it's not in my hands. I am hoping after taking to her social worker to figure out a few things. I would be willing to let her stay here until they find her a new placement."

"Interesting," Zelena replied. She didn't want this young girl to end up like she saw earlier again.

When Addison was done with her shower she padded downstairs into the den. The children were watching Matilda. Rory and Alexis never looked away from the tv but Emma had noticed her. She sat on the couch and immediately Emma cuddled into her side. Emma let go of Mr. Waffle in her hands and sat him on Addison's lap. No words were exchanged but their mutual comfort was enough.

"Momma, I think when you adopt me I would like to go on a vacation." Emma started the conversation. After their bedtime story, she was not ready to go to bed just yet. Addison was in one of the guest rooms already asleep, exhaustion had hit her hard.

"Hmm, and where should this vacation be?" Regina humored her.

"Paris."

"Paris!" Regina exclaimed. Since when did children get so expensive? She was expecting for Emma to say Disney World or something of that sort.

"Yes, then you and Ingrid can get married under the Eiffel tower." Emma imagined. "I could be the flower girl and wear a pretty dress."

"Wow, you have this all planned out." Regina grinned. "How about you close your eyes and dream of Paris. Then I'll see what I can do about everything else."

"That's fair." Emma settled under the covers.

"Good." Regina gave her a kiss. "I love you."

"I love you too, Momma," Emma whispered before closing her eyes.

The next morning would bring them news that they had been waiting for.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

When Regina awoke that morning, she was greeted by giggling. It was loud and bubbly, and music to her ears. She inhaled through her nose and tried to gather her bearings as the laughter continued. She made no move to leave her bed instead hoping she could fall asleep again. It was just too comfortable. She snuggled deeper into her covers and closed her eyes. She listened intently trying to decipher where exactly the laughter was coming from. There was no denying that the girlish shrieks were from Emma. Her laugh was light and loud. What really caught Regina was the second voice. She hadn't heard Addison laugh much since meeting her. The girl was a quiet yet assertive one. She seemed to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her laugh was rambunctious. It was a beautiful laugh.

Regina finally decided to leave her bed and investigate. She reached for her robe and slipped her arms into the sleeves. She didn't fix her bedhead, not even a glance in the mirror, as she went to investigate just why they were laughing so much this early in the morning. She padded down the short hallway to Emma's room. The hardwood floors felt cool against her bare feet and she wrapped her robe just a bit tighter around her body.

Regina couldn't contain the smile she didn't know she was sporting. She peeked her head inside of Emma's room to see that the girls were having a pillow fight. Emma, being the smaller of the two, was standing on her bed trying her hardest to whack Addison without toppling over.

"I totally have an advantage over you." Addison chuckled as she dodged Emma's swings. She jumped from one side of the room to the other. She did a summersault into the wall and turned back to Emma. Neither girl noticed Regina, too stuck in the moment to see her. Regina covered her mouth to keep in her laugh as Emma threw a stuffed animal hitting Addison square in the face.

"I don't even know what that means but I'm winning." Emma danced around the bed victoriously. "It is I, Emma Swan, the winner." Emma pretended to speak into a mic as though she was announcing herself. She shook her butt in Addison's direction and picked up another pillow. "Do you give up?"

Regina's grin was now wider than the Grand Canyon. She knew she should probably tell Emma to step down from the bed, but she couldn't find it in herself to do so. The girls were having fun and she didn't want to ruin their moment. Not when they both were this unguarded.

Addison simply watched in amusement as she picked up a pillow. Emma was too busy gloating to realize what was about to happen. Addison chucked the pillow, apparently a little too hard as Emma tripped over her covers and fell face first from the bed.

Regina gasped, finally making her presence known. There was a deafening silence as Emma did not stand from the floor. A few long seconds passed as Regina walked over to the side of the bed. She was met with Emma who let out a belly laugh. Her laughter was contagious as she fought for air. She'd landed on a pile of blankets that had been set up. Most likely for breaking a fall. Which made Regina question just how long they had been awake.

"Hi, Mommy." Emma finally got herself under control.

"Good morning to both of you." Regina's voice was raspier than usual.

"Hi, we weren't being too loud, were we?" Addison asked apprehensively.

"No, not for me but I'd like to think Zelena would have complained if she had a problem." Regina held out a hand for Emma to take. Emma didn't hesitate and pulled herself up.

"We were just having a pillow fight where I was winning." Emma stuck her tongue out.

"Oh, you are such a sore winner." Addison rolled her eyes. "I believe I knocked you down."

"Okay, girls, why don't you clean all of this up and I'll go make breakfast," Regina suggested.

Both girls agreed. They quickly got to picking up every pillow in their path. Regina turned to leave and gave one last laugh at the banter that continued between both girls.

"I'm still a winner," Emma whispered. Addison simply replied with one last whack to her head.

Regina made a stop to her bedroom to make herself more presentable. She stepped into her closet and chose what she would wear. She decided on a button up blouse and slacks. She was returning to work for a few hours later in the day. She hated that she had to leave the girls, but time waits for no one.

Once she was dressed, Regina grabbed her phone from the charger and made her way downstairs to prepare breakfast. She checked her emails and messages and smiled when she saw she had a few from Ingrid. They had only been apart a couple of days, but she missed her. Regina shook her head and rolled her eyes. She was becoming a real sap. The family was turning her soft.

"If you're about to trouble yourself with cooking don't," Zelena informed her cousin as she and the boys entered the kitchen. They each had take out bags from Granny's.

"You didn't have to do that." Regina took a bag from Alexis. "I don't mind cooking you know?"

"I do but we were already out, so I wanted to do something." Zelena set her bag on the counter. "Consider it my treat."

"Well, I would love your treat even more if it came with…" Before Regina could finish her sentence Zelena presented her with a foam cup. Her eyes widened with glee as she took the coffee and inhaled it. Now she was truly awake. "Coffee."

"Just like you like it."

"You're a godsend. Can you stay forever?" Regina pouted.

"That may not be as farfetched as you think." Zelena helped the boys with their plates. She set them at the dining room and portioned out food. "Where are Emma and Addison?"

"They should be coming down shortly." Regina followed Zelena back into the kitchen. "Now what did you mean about it not being as farfetched."

"Well," Zelena smirked. "John has been a little MIA around the house this weekend and there's a reason for that." Zelena took a sip of her own coffee. "We have been planning it out for a while and we may have found a house here in Storybrooke."

Regina tried to process this news as best as she could. "No, you're moving back to Storybrooke?"

"Remember the pact we made when we were twelve?" Zelena asked.

"Yeah, it was something about getting married and pregnant at the same time, so our children could grow up together." Regina tried to recall. "Oh god! Are you pregnant too?"

"Dear god no!" Zelena denied. "I was thinking that our children could continue to grow together. John and I have been talking and I do miss this town. I want to be here for you. I also want my boys to know their cousin. We can't do that living in New York."

"I am- I don't even have words." Regina wrapped her arms around Zelena. "This is amazing. Do you guys need a place to stay while you're settling in? What about work?"

"We may need a few more days here but we have everything covered," Zelena informed her. "I already have a job lined up at Storybrooke General. Everything is going to fall into place. For all of us."

Regina hummed in agreement as she sipped from her cup. This was not the only exciting news she would be getting today.

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"Do you believe in fairytales, Addison?"

"Well, yeah, I guess so." Addison shrugged. She was putting the last pillow on top of Emma's bed. "Also, since when did you stop calling me Sissy?"

"I'm older." Emma raised her nose. "I can't call you that anymore."

"Okay." Addison narrowed her eyes. "Why are you asking about fairytales?"

"I think that we are the princesses," Emma explained. She looked up into Addison's eyes. "I think that we will live happily ever after."

"I'd like to believe that Emma." Addison sighed. "How about we go and get breakfast now."

Emma took her hand and pulled her down the stairs. She was elated that her sister was here. She wanted to soak up as much attention from her as she could. This was going to be a fun day. Everything from yesterday was on the backburner as they went to join the rest of their family for breakfast.

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"I'm going to go and call August." Regina closed the kitchen cabinet. She turned to face Addison. "Would you like to be in the room when I speak to him?"

Addison shook her head. She knew how these conversations went. He would be here in a few hours to pick her up. He would ask her a bunch of questions and then she would be placed in the group home until they could find her new placement home. It's how it always went.

Regina understood and offered her a look of sympathy. She went to her office so that she could call August.

"It must be tough moving from house to house." Zelena approached her.

Addison tried to hide her disappointment. "Sort of. When I was younger it was tougher because I was always so attached to people. I always felt so alone. Then Emma and I were placed in the same home and I had someone to protect."

"You did well." Zelena nudged her.

"Do you believe in fairytales?" Addison took a page from Emma's book.

"I do," Zelena said. "Thought I'd like to believe I would be someone cool like the Wicked Witch of The West."

"I love the Wizard of Oz."

"Me too." Zelena smiled. "Why do you ask?"

"I, well Emma, was talking about it earlier." Addison shook her head. "She said she thinks we will both find happiness or something. Do you think there is still hope for me? Even knowing that people don't adopt older kids as much as they do younger?"

"I certainly do," Zelena replied. She laid her hand on top of Addison's to get her undivided attention. "I think there's hope for all of us in this world. Don't tell Regina I said something so cheesy. I really do think you will find a family that loves you."

"Thanks." Addison tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Seriously, you're a bright young girl," Zelena assured her. "I think wherever you go, you will make your new family extremely happy."

Addison beamed and looked down at their hands shyly. She wouldn't give up on hope. Not yet.

"Hello, August, this is Regina Mills." Regina held the phone to her ear.

"Yes, Hi, Regina is everything alright with Emma?" August's concerned voice traveled through the phone.

"Yes, Emma is fine." Regina sighed. "It's Addison. She showed up here last night. Her face was pretty bad, and she informed me about her foster father."

"Crap." August huffed. He rubbed a hand over his face. What was with these foster parents and being abusive assholes? "I'm going to have to report this. I can't make it out to town so another one of our workers would have to come and pick her up. Is she still at your house?"

"Yes, she's still here." Regina tapped her desk. "August, where will she go now?

"I'm sad to say a girl's home." August frowned.

"What if I told you I know someone that would like to adopt her?"

"I would say I was interested in who this person is?" August sat up a little straighter. "Where did you find them?"

"My cousin, Zelena, she and her husband expressed their interest to me last night," Regina explained. "Zelena said she fell in love with Addison from the moment she met her. They are dead set on this decision. I would love for her to contact you with her inquiries."

"That would be lovely." August was hopeful for this. "It is a lengthy process and I truly want this to work out. I would love to speak with them in further detail. I do know until they are approved with a background check and paperwork that Addison would have to stay in the group home."

"Is she allowed to stay here? "Regina asked. "Temporarily that is?"

"I would have to check with my supervisor and see what the options are." August was thinking that Regina was a blessing from God himself.

"I will be at work for a few hours later so you can reach me on my cell," Regina said. "Thank you, August."

"No, Regina, thank you." August. "I will be contacting you later."

Regina said her final goodbye and hung up the phone. When Zelena and John had come to her after dinner expressing their concerns about adoption she had been happy to answer as best she could. When they had made the decision to adopt Addison she thought it was quick. They had only known her for a few hours. Then she thought back to her own encounters with Emma and she understood. When a child finds their way into your heart they never leave.

Regina sat in her chair to reflect on her life. It was indeed a roller coaster.

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Hours later, while Regina was working, Zelena and John were busy entertaining the children. They had turned Regina's entire home into an obstacle course. There were boobie traps in one room and a fort in the other.

"You guys are awesome." Emma cheered as she jumped over a couch cushion. While her mom was fun Zelena and John were a new type of fun. They did not care about rules when it came to playing. They were safe and authoritative but also childlike in their actions. Emma found it impressive.

"You hear that babe, we are cool." John's fist pumped.

"Not doing that you aren't." Zelena cringed. "You're really messing up my rep."

John waved at her to start the timer. "I'm racing Addison correct?"

"I have money on Addison." Alexis cheered. He peered through his glasses at the two. They both stood in position getting ready to race around the house.

"I have my sister too." Emma smiled.

"What that's so unfair." John threw his hands up. "Is anyone on my side?"

"Sorry daddy, she has long legs." Rory agreed.

"Like I said, we gingers stick together." Zelena shrugged.

"Fine." John huffed. "Just start the timer."

Emma ran to stand at the other end of the hallway. She held a cookie in one hand for one of the winners. "Ready, set, go." And with that, they were off. John took the low road and shoved Addison gently.

"Oh, you are such a cheater," Addison screamed. She ran as hard as she could to jump over each of their obstacles. There was a chair, a broomstick, and even a small lamp for them to go around. If Regina came home at this second, she was sure the woman would have an aneurysm. Addison and John were neck and neck as they raced around their course. Just as he sprinted over the chair John felt a cramp spread through his leg and he crumpled to the ground. Addison giggled and jumped over him just in time. She reached Emma first and happily took her cookie.

"I can't believe it." John feigned pain. "I got beat by a twelve-year-old."

"I'm thirteen thank you very much." Addison quipped. She bit into her cookie for extra emphasis. "Who wants to go next?"

"I do!" The children chorused. They set up again and took their places. John limped to the steps where Zelena met him.

"You let her win, didn't you?" Zelena grinned.

"Maybe, maybe not." John held his leg. Zelena sat next to him on the bottom step. Leaning into him, she ran her fingers along the back of his neck. "So how do you feel?"

"I feel that we are making the right decision." Zelena waited for a beat. They watched as Addison danced around the younger children with cookies. They chased her from one end of the hallway to the other. Each of them was too short but Rory had a good jump. They all laughed and screamed with joy. "I think we are giving a little girl a home and a family."

"I think you're amazing." John admired his wife. "I also know that I love you and your big heart."

"So, my breasts have nothing to do with it?" Zelena joked.

"No, I love those too." John joked back. "I just think you are an amazing woman and I'm so in love with you. I love how you can love so easily. I am happy to be expanding our family."

"It's only right." Zelena agreed. "She's a lovely young girl."

"She is," John observed the children. "The boys love her too."

They sat in silence as they watched the children play. Another pillow fight was in its initial stages and it only stopped when one of the children knocked over a lamp. It crashed to the ground and each child pointed a finger at each other.

"It's not broken." Addison had the decency to look guilty as she stood the lamp back into its original place.

"Come on guys, these things are expensive." John scolded.

"Regina's going to kill us," Zelena muttered. They both shook their heads in amusement. Addison would fit into their home perfectly. She already did.

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Regina was checking her phone as she walked up the pathway to her house. She was tired after her couple hours at work and all she wanted to do was cuddle with Emma and sleep.

"Regina?"

Regina looked up from her phone to find Mary Margaret sitting on her porch. This was certainly a surprise. She was holding a bag with what seemed to be a blanket inside of it.

"Mary Margaret, what are you doing here?" Regina questioned. She stuffed her phone inside of her pocket.

"I wanted to come and tell you myself." Mary Margaret stood. She stepped closer to Regina. Slipping the baby blanket out of the bag she took one last look at it. A tear slipped from her cheek and she quickly wiped it away.

"Is everything okay?" Regina asked. "Would you like to come inside?"

"No, no." Mary Margaret shook her head. "I just… I had a friend make this blanket for Emma when I found out I was pregnant."

Regina raised a brow. She couldn't tell where this conversation was headed.

"I was young and my husband, David and I were young." Mary Margaret never looked up from the blanket. "I was going to be a teacher and he was a firefighter. He would come home every night and tell me the horror stories of his day and I would tell him mine. That was our life. I found out I was pregnant after our second year of marriage. I was elated and happy, and so excited to tell David."

Mary Margaret looked down at the blanket. "I had a friend sew this for me. It says, Emma. That was the name he had picked out for our future children one night after work. It was a beautiful name. I was going to surprise him with this blanket. I had a feeling she was a girl. So, I arrived at his station one day. I had it all planned out to surprise him with it."

Regina listened curiously. She had a bad feeling on how this story would end.

"I arrived at the station and," Mary Margaret cried. "I came, and everyone was so sullen and quiet. I asked one of his oldest colleagues and it was like he'd seen a ghost. They had just come from a fire and they were all trying to figure out who would call me. David died that day. He died, and my world came crashing down."

"Mary Margaret," Regina reached out for her.

"No, if I don't get this out now I may never." Mary Margaret pulled away. Her tears were coming faster now. She didn't care to wipe them away. "I was pregnant and alone. I fell into a depression. My husband was gone, and I was alone and pregnant. I only had my memories of him and I had Emma. She was the last piece of him I had in this world. I found myself asking why couldn't god take her and give him back."

Regina's eyes widened.

"It was a selfish thing for me to think and I immediately regretted it." She continued. "I was afraid and devastated. I don't know how I could ever think of something like that. When I gave birth, those feelings lingered, and I resented her. I don't know why. She was his and she was ours. This tiny human was ours. She has his eyes. His beautiful eyes. I gave her up because those eyes haunted me. I gave her up because I knew that somewhere out there someone could give her a better life than I ever could."

Mary Margaret gripped the blanket and finally made eye contact with Regina.

"I gave her up because I was afraid, and I resented her. I couldn't raise a child like that. She deserved so much better than me." Mary Margaret said. "Meeting her now has been a shock. I don't know how or why but I realize what I missed. I gave up my baby and that was my choice. She found a lovely home. A great home with you. I would be a monster to take her away. I don't have that right. I gave that up. I just want to be able to see her sometimes."

"Are you?" Regina couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"I signed the papers." Mary Margaret finally said. "I signed them yesterday. She's yours Regina. You're her mother."

"I don't know what to say." Regina struggled to find her words. "I- Thank you."

"Don't thank me." Mary Margaret shook her head. "I should be thanking you for taking her in. For loving her unconditionally."

Regina was too caught up in her emotions to utter anything.

"I just want you to go in there and hug her as hard as you can and keep her close." Mary Margaret told her. "First, I have to tell you something."

Regina raised a brow curiously. What more was there?"

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Regina kicked off her heels and set them aside. She closed her front door locking it. She leaned her back against the door and took long and deep breaths. She thought of all the events of today and sank to the ground. She sobbed quietly into her hands. A huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She couldn't move as all of her pent-up frustration and fear was let go.

Emma was hers.

"Momma?" Emma tapped her arms. Regina hadn't even noticed she was there. She wiped her eyes and attempted to stop crying.

"Emma, what are you still doing up?" Regina asked. She took Emma's hands into hers. She rubbed the back of Emma's hands with her thumb. They were different but they were family. "You should be asleep."

"I couldn't sleep. I missed you." Emma mumbled. "Why are you crying? Are you sad?"

"No, baby, I'm not sad." Regina looked into blue eyes. "I am happy. I'm more than happy. I love you so much, Emma."

"I love you too." Emma furrowed her brows. Adults were weird. "What are you happy about?"

Regina took a shaky breath to calm herself. "Emma, I, you are getting adopted."

"I am?" Emma beamed. She threw herself into Regina's arms and burst into tears of her own. "I'm going to be adopted? I really don't have to leave?"

"No, baby, you never have to leave." Regina could feel Emma sobbing against her. She couldn't be any happier and full in this moment.

"I'm so happy." Emma sobbed. She now understood the happy crying thing. She curled into Regina deeper. That's how they sat against the door. Crying and laughing and reveling in the comfort of the other.

Regina had her blue-eyed bandit and Emma had her mother. Nothing else in the world mattered.

Not even Cora. Whom she would be dealing with later.

Regina didn't care about that now. She held Emma against her chest and kissed her head.

Emma was home. For good.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

"Quack, quack said the mother." Emma read aloud as she sat atop the dryer in the laundry room. She folded her legs under her and turned to the next page. The book in her lap shifted as she brought it closer to her face. She squinted and scrunched her nose. She didn't know this word. She scanned the page with her finger for context clues before looking up at Regina.

They were reading "The Ugly Duckling." It was a new favorite of Emma's since her teacher read it in class a few weeks ago. Regina was on the other side of the room sorting and folding clothes as tonight was laundry night. Their week had been eventful enough and they needed this bit of normalcy. Addison was upstairs finishing up her homework which left the two to their own devices. Emma was craving Regina's presence, so she decided to read aloud to her.

Regina inspected a shirt that she didn't remember wearing. She folded it and reminded herself to ask Emma if she had been playing dress up again. She glanced over at Emma to see why she stopped reading. "Emma? Why is your face so close?"

"I don't know this word." She pouted. She traced it with her fingers and tried to figure out what it spelled.

Regina frowned and set the article of clothing back in the basket. She stepped over to see which word Emma was talking about before going back to the laundry. "Sound it out."

Emma bit her lip and inspected the word. "V-en" she read it once again before letting out a large huff. "I don't know. It's too hard." Slamming the book closed she folded her arms and looked down to glare at the cover. She suddenly hated the stupid ugly duckling.

"Emma, we don't simply give up because we don't know something and it's too hard." Regina shook her head. "Try again until you get it. Go on." Regina motioned for her to try again.

Emma reluctantly folded her arms and sighed. Tears welled in her eyes as she reopened the book. She read the sentence again when she finally got to the word.

"V-en." Emma took a deep breath and tried once more. "V-en-to-r-ed."

"Now put it all together." Regina encouraged.

Emma read a few more times. "Ventured?" She glanced at her mom for confirmation.

"See a little determination takes us a long way."

Emma continued to read. She didn't hide her smile at learning an unfamiliar word. She enjoyed this book and it was nice having someone to listen. Regina aided her whenever she could. Emma read through the rest of the book with no problems. It gave her something to do until Regina was finally putting their last load in the dryer.

"Momma, do you think when I'm older I will be pretty?"

"I do." Regina didn't know where this conversation would be going. She closed each laundry detergent bottle and set them on a shelf.

"Do you think I will be really tall?"

"Probably. Maybe even taller than me." She helped Emma down from her place on the dryer.

"You're not very tall, Momma." Emma pointed out. "Ingrid is taller than you. Addison is almost taller than you. Cousin Zelena is also taller than. How are you going to hold me if I'm taller than you?"

"I will always find a way to hold my baby girl." Regina tapped her nose. "I guess I have to hold you a lot more now so that I can figure it out."

Emma beamed and seemed satisfied by the answer. Regina grabbed the basket of folded clothes and followed Emma up the stairs. Emma hopped up the to the second first floor hitting the switch on the way completely engulfing the basement in darkness.

"Can Ingrid come over?" Emma asked suddenly. "I really miss her. "

"How about you call her and ask her," Regina suggested. She came around to sit with Addison at the dining room table.

"She works a whole lot," Emma commented. She really had a special bond with Ingrid. Ever since meeting the woman she had liked her. "I wish she could be here with us all the time."

"She owns two different businesses, Emma." Regina sympathized. "I like that you enjoy spending time with her." Regina was being truthful. When it came to her life Emma came first. If Emma had expressed a dislike for Ingrid she would break ties with her. It would hurt her, but she knew that it was a decision that wasn't to be taken lightly. Luckily Emma liked her and got along well with Ingrid.

"Can I call her now?" Emma asked. She was excited to ask her over.

"My phone is in my room. Go and get it." Regina instructed. She watched as Emma set off into a sprint around the table. "No running."

"She has a lot of energy," Addison said. "She's always had a lot of energy. I'm glad she's so happy here."

"I agree." Regina took the notebook Addison offered her. She inspected each math question to make sure they were correct. Addison seemed to be pretty good at algebra as with all her other subjects.

Staying with Regina felt like a breath of fresh air. Addison felt safer here. She was being fed and taken care of. Regina was authoritative with her parenting. She had rules, but she was in no way strict or unfair. Addison truly felt at ease when it came to living in the Mills home. It was a bonus that she got to see Emma every day too. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Addison was holding on to the fact that this joy could be short-lived.

"Has August said anything about where I would be placed?" She asked anxiously.

"Actually, no," Regina spoke tentatively. She knew that Zelena and John were in the process of getting approved for adopting Addison. She didn't know how much she could share when it came to the entire situation. She didn't want to be the one to get Addison's hopes up if things didn't fall through.

"I just hate not knowing." Addison frowned. "I never get any say in my life."

"I am sorry." Regina took her hand. "I do know that you can stay here for as long as they allow you to."

"Why are you so nice to me?" Addison asked confused. She cringed and tried to reword her thoughts. "It's just that you and your cousin were so nice to me. I'm not even really Emma's sister and you took me into your home. I don't understand."

These were valid insecurities. Addison grew up with many people treating her as less than. She was nothing but an orphan in the eyes of so many. Regina's kindness was foreign to her.

"I believe that you deserve a lot of love," Regina said. "I see a very strong and intelligent girl that just needs for people to support her. You are amazing Addison. Blood does not make a family. You always have a home here with Emma and me."

"Thank you," Addison replied. "Can I go watch The Fosters now?"

"Yes, you may." Regina smiled. She hadn't even known what The Fosters was before this week. Addison had taken advantage of her Netflix account and binged the first two seasons in the span of four days. It was an incredibly interesting show. Regina found herself watching a few episodes with Addison when she had time. She could admit that Stef on the show was incredibly attractive.

Addison closed her notebook and slid it inside of her backpack. She stood for a second in thought. Without saying another word, she gave Regina a hug before she walked out of the room. She was still not comfortable with much affection, but Regina was different.

"Momma, Ingrid said she's coming and she's going to bring food." Emma hopped back into the dining room. "Can I go and play with my toys? Addison is watching boring tv."

"Go on. I'll go and finish up some work."

Emma cheered. She raced back up to her room to play with her toys. She was halfway out of the room when she remembered to stop running.

"Oops, sorry Momma." She yelled back to Regina. She walked the rest of the way.

Regina shook her head. She had tons of work still left to do. The situation with Cora weighed heavily on her mind. She wanted nothing more than to go across town and give Cora a piece of her mind. She wasn't going to though. She needed time to think about how she was going to approach her mother. Whether Regina liked it or not the woman was her mother. At least biologically. She didn't know whether she wanted Cora in their lives. Hell, she didn't even know why the woman was still here in town. Regina didn't think for a second that this was about money. Cora hadn't even hinted at it when they met. Was she just bored with her life?

Before Regina could walk the rest of the way to her office there was a knock at the front door. Ingrid was here earlier than she thought. She opened the door only to see someone she didn't want to.

"Regina, hello," Cora smiled. "I was worried. You haven't been returning my calls."

Regina took deep breaths. Every feeling of anger she had for this woman was beginning to resurface.

"What do you want from me?" Regina paused and turned to make sure that neither Emma or Addison would come looking for her.

"What?" Cora can't finish her sentence before Regina is forcing her off the doorstep.

"Why are you here?" Regina asks again. "Don't play me for a fool because that is the last thing I am. I asked you several times what your angle was here. You have lied to my face. To my daughter. Tell me why you are here? Do not lie to me or so help me god."

Regina took a long breath and backed away from her. She did not enjoy being this angry. It was freezing out here but in this moment, she didn't even feel it.

"Regina, I can't say that I have any idea what I'm talking about." Cora furrowed her brow.

"Mary Margaret told me everything," Regina answered for her. "She told me that you pretended to be a social worker to get her to take back Emma. I cannot express how much that makes you look like a psychopath. Before you even knew me or my daughter you were already trying to sabotage my life. Forget not knowing anything about Mary Margaret and what type of person she could have been. Since you arrived you have been keeping secrets and telling half-truths. Right now, I want an explanation."

Cora did not speak for several minutes. She had prepared for this. She did not expect for her deeds to go unnoticed.

"You're so much like your father." Cora shook her head. She didn't seem fazed by the look on Regina's face. "You're always thinking with your heart and not your head just like he did. It doesn't get you anywhere in the end."

"Cora," Regina growled.

"Did you ever truly think before you took that little girl in?" Cora asked. "Did you take time to decide if you wanted her or not? We all get to make a choice in the children we keep and the children we don't. You could be so powerful if you didn't have children. She's a distraction. Think of yourself as senator or governor."

"Is there an actual point in what you're saying or are you just wasting my time?"

Cora reached into her wallet and pulled out a picture. She handed it to Regina.

Regina inspected the picture and the girl in it. She was brunette and brown eyed and looked a lot like her. She looked from the picture up to Cora.

"That is my daughter, Victoria." Cora knew what she was going to ask. "She is graduating from high school next year. She's on the debate team, cheer captain and she also loves horses. She's my pride and joy. My second chance."

The flash of hurt on Regina's face is gone in a second and masked by a look of indifference.

"When I came here I thought that asking you for the money would be too obvious. It shouldn't seem like that. Victoria was accepted into a good school, but my family is not able to afford it. You didn't know me. Seeing you with Emma, my intentions were good. She deserves to be with her mother. She deserves to know where she came from just like you do. I realize that now."

"Once again after you tried to ruin our lives," Regina mutters unbelievably. "You lied to me. Now you expect me to forgive you? You schemed your way into my home. You are a disgusting pathetic excuse for a human being. Your sense of logic is almost as skewed as my views of you. You do not deserve anything from me. Not now and not ever. I suggest you leave my home and stay away from me. Stay away from my daughter. She is my daughter. You had no right to come and do what you did. Leave this town and go back to your family. I have nothing left to say to you."

Regina's voice never waivered once. She did not want to mention Victoria. A young girl who was innocent in all of this. Just like Emma was innocent and didn't deserve the heartbreak that she had received.

"That is fine. I expected this." Cora nodded. "But if I am still your mother. I love you and I want you to be great. I want all my children to be great. Even if I have a funny way of showing it."

"That is not loving. If it is I do not want it." Regina steeled her jaw. She glared and didn't offer any further conversation. She was done.

"She knows who you are." Cora left her with this final piece of information. "Victoria knows who you are."

Regina ignored this and waited for Cora to leave. She stood for a few more seconds to go over what had just happened. Turning back into her home, she dashed into her office. The girls were still occupied, and she needed time. She needed to be alone.

The weight of Cora's words held her down and she sank onto the couch below her. Taking a shaky breath, she tried to will herself not to cry but it was futile. She didn't understand why this was happening and why to her. Her life was going so well before Cora came into her life. She had buried the past hurt and moved on. Cora's narcissistic antics had almost taken away her daughter.

A sob wracked her body as she tried to keep quiet. She didn't need Addison or Emma finding her like this. Torn and broken. She was tired. Wounds freshly reopened and out on the table. A sister. She had a sister. All the times she was younger where she prayed for a sibling and she finally got one. These were shitty circumstances but there was a girl out there that looked just like her. Before she knew it, Regina was openly crying. She cried for the unwanted little girl inside of her. Cora never wanted her and that much was apparent. She just couldn't understand why.

When Ingrid stepped inside of Regina's mansion things felt off. The door was unlocked which was unusual and there was no sign of Emma. Things seemed quiet and in place. Which was odd considering there were two children living here now.

"Emma, Regina?" She called out as she went to the kitchen. She sat takeout on the counter and looked around. Sliding off her jacket, she sat it down on a chair in the dining room and walked a few steps into the living room. Emma and Addison were watching television but didn't seem to be paying attention. "Hey girls, where's your mom?"

"Momma's in her office." Emma began. She looked up to Ingrid. "She went in there after fighting with her mom and then she never came out. I think she's mad."

"They were pretty loud," Addison added.

Ingrid raised a brow. "I'm going to go and check on her. I brought food."

Without waiting for an answer Ingrid went in the direction of Regina's office. She stopped at the door and immediately heard Regina crying. She knocked at the door and for a minute the crying seized.

"Come in."

Ingrid was met with Regina quickly trying to wipe her face and make herself presentable.

"I'm sorry I forgot you were coming." She sounded miserable. "Did Emma open the door?"

"No, it was unlocked." Ingrid tried to assess the situation.

"Oh god, she didn't hear me, did she?" Regina asked wide-eyed.

"No, no, I don't think she did." Ingrid rushed to Regina's side. She took her girlfriend into her arms.

"I can't be out there right now. Not when I feel like this." Regina sighed. "Does that make me a horrible mother?"

"No, babe, of course not." Ingrid brushed a few tears away. "Emma will be fine. Addison is out there with her."

"Cora came by and she told me everything." Regina tried not to sob. She wanted to stop crying but she couldn't. "I, I don't even know what to say. Why did she leave me?"

Ingrid felt her heart sink at how much hurt Regina is feeling.

"Why am I not good enough for her?" Regina burst into tears and Ingrid didn't waste a second to collect her into her arms. Regina was practically wailing at this point. The hurt was unbearable, and she didn't know how to turn her feelings off. Not when it came to this.

Ingrid whispered reassurances to her ear while she held her. She couldn't say that she knew how Regina was feeling but all she could do was be there for her girlfriend. After what seemed like forever Regina's grip on her shirt lessened and her crying died down.

Ingrid peered down to see that the younger woman had fallen asleep. She was empathetic to this entire situation. Pissed at Cora and sorry for Regina. Her girlfriend was one of the most beautiful and caring people she had ever met. Her hard and badass Mayor mask was covering a woman who wanted to be loved. She was in pain and she was battling her own demons. She deserved to rest.

Propping a pillow under her head, Ingrid allowed Regina to sleep. She would go and serve dinner with the girls and keep them distracted. She opened the door only to find Emma on the other side.

"Is Mommy okay?" Emma asked.

Ingrid sighed and kneeled so that she was level with Emma. Emma waited impatiently for an answer. "Momma is hurt. Right now, she needs for us to be patient with her. We have to show her a lot of love."

"Can we make her favorite cake?" Emma asked. "She doesn't eat it all the time. It makes her happy!"

Ingrid wished that things were so simple. She did know that this would give Emma something to and time to nap for Regina.

"That sounds like a great idea." Ingrid smiled.

"Okay, I'm going to go and get my apron and tell Addison we are baking a cake." Emma cheered. This would life her mother's spirits and she knew it.

An hour later Emma was sporting an apron and flour on her cheeks as they began to gather the ingredients to bake a cake. She was sitting in front of the timer waiting for it to go off.

"Do you think my Momma will like the cake?" Emma asked.

"I think she will love it." Regina stepped into the kitchen. She glanced over at Ingrid and back to Emma.

"Momma, are you still sad?" Emma asked. She stepped down from her stool to approach her.

"I am," Regina admits. "But I am a little better with my favorite people here."

Emma beamed up at her before turning back to the timer. The cake would be done any second.

"Good because we are making your favorite cake." Emma danced around the counter. She was innocent and kind and happy.

Everything that Regina wanted her to be. Regina would be alright. Everything would be okay.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

"Addison, do you think Santa is coming to our house?" Emma whispered to her sister. After crawling into bed with her in the middle of the night, neither girl was able to fall asleep. They'd been sent to bed hours ago; the excitement of tomorrow hadn't worn off yet as Emma wondered what gifts they would be getting. Tonight had been the most fun she had in a while. Decorating the tree and getting their own special ornaments. The way they'd been taken in by this family was heartwarming.

Per tradition, they celebrated the holiday together with popcorn, Regina's apple turnovers, and god-awful Christmas sweaters. Emma had eaten more than she could handle and fell asleep in Regina's lap before their Christmas movie was over. She enjoyed spending time with people that cared for her so dearly.

"I don't know." Addison sighed. Since she's known Emma they've had this conversation every year. Emma had been three years old when she learned about Santa. Addison having informed her what the big hype of the holiday was about. She was also the same age when she was disappointed by not receiving gifts like the other kids in the homes. Sure, clothes were nice, but a three-year-old wanted toys. The next year she received Mr. Waffle and held onto him ever since.

Each Christmas after had gotten progressively worse for them. Their foster father hated Christmas and would not allow his family to celebrate it. Emma never lost hope. She was always excited when coming home from preschool to tell Addison about the new Christmas movie they'd watched. From Charlie Brown to Snow Pups. She loved every minute of it.

Emma learned to keep her excitement between them but couldn't help until she came to live with the Mills. She was finally allowed to be a child and happy. She got to write a letter to Santa and leave him cookies by the tree. Regina promised her that Santa would be coming but Emma was skeptical. This was her favorite holiday and she didn't want to be disappointed.

"Just go to sleep and we will find out when we wake up," Addison assured her. There was no guessing but deep down she knew this home was different. She didn't know how much longer she would have here, but she did know that she enjoyed being here. She hadn't felt like she belonged in a very long time. In her thirteen years, she had been through a lot. There were good homes, there were bad homes and then the ones in between. The Mills' were different. She was able to see what a great home could be like and she didn't want to lose it. She knew how things went. For once though this Christmas would be different.

"I think they're going to love everything." Regina put the last present under the tree. After checking to make sure the children were finally asleep the parents got set on wrapping presents. John ate the Christmas cookies and milk that was left out for Santa. Neither woman having the stomach to eat sprinkled sugar cookies so late. As they wrapped presents in Regina's office they talked about any and everything. How much Emma had progressed, the twins schooling and adjusting to Storybrooke, even Addison.

John and Zelena were very adamant about adopting Addison. She fit perfectly in with their boys. She was so trusting of them. Addison was wise beyond her years and they could tell already that it would be a huge adjustment for her. They were both more than willing to make things work.

John picked up random pieces of paper as Zelena and Regina set about cleaning up. Tomorrow would prove to be even more chaotic as they finally realized how many presents were lined under the tree. Regina hadn't gone overboard but she wanted to spoil the girls as best she could. Yes, money wasn't a problem for her, but it didn't mean she would break the bank for Christmas.

"We better get some sleep before the munchkins wake up." Zelena groaned. She stood with a big stretch and scanned her eyes across the living room. The decorations were bright and big, donning every inch of the room. Just how they liked it this time of year.

Regina agreed as she tiredly followed them up to the second floor. If she knew Emma the girl would be knocking at her door as early as she could. She couldn't wait to see her little face light at what she received. Having watched the boys open their presents for the past few years had always given her hope that she would have her own family someday. Now she did.

She changed quickly and slipped under the covers. A fleeting thought crossed her mind. It had been on her mind a few times. Victoria, her younger sister. She hadn't tried to reach out to the girl and as far as Regina knew neither had she. Regina wondered if she was having a good holiday. If Cora was treating her with love. It still hurt to think about, but her curiosity was getting the best of her. She tossed and turned thinking of her sister. They'd never met but Regina wanted to know her. There was someone out there who shared the same DNA.

With a final huff, she reached across her nightstand to unplug her phone from its charger. She was met with the brightness of her wallpaper. It was a picture of Emma and Ingrid that she'd snapped on one of the days they'd hung out at the Ice Cream Shop. Swiping left and entering her password, she quickly opened the Facebook app. She rarely if ever used the social media site. Being a politician, she had both a private and personal account. Using her personal account, Regina scrolled through her feed. She contemplated looking for Victoria's profile but didn't even have a last name for her. She checked a few notifications and went to her messages. There was a new message feature which read requests.

She had a few from people she didn't know. One caught her attention. Victoria Gold. Tapping against the screen, the message was dated back four months ago. Just a little while before Cora had come to town. She read the message with baited breath.

Regina,

I don't know where to start or how to approach you. My mom, Cora Mills, is your mother too. I guess that makes us sisters. She told me about you a short while ago and I've been searching ever since. I know this may seem shocking and you may not want any contact with either of us. I owe it to myself to try. Mom doesn't talk about where she's from so it was hard to find you. I'd like to get to know you if that would be okay. No pressure."

Regina read the message over and over until her eyes crossed. She didn't know what to do about this. She was the adult in this situation. Clearly, Cora couldn't handle that title. She clicked on Victoria's profile and gasped. Tears sprung to her eyes as she found herself looking back at her. Victoria had many of her features which she assumed they inherited from Cora. Chocolate brown eyes that were just as expressive as her own. Regina wanted to do more looking but decided against it. Without a second thought, she sent a friend request and closed the app. There were enough surprises for one night, she hadn't expected to find a message from her sister.

She was going to sleep on this idea and figure something out later. For now, she had Christmas to think about. There was no doubt she would be waking up earlier than she wanted to. She fell asleep quickly and peacefully.

"It's Christmas," Emma whispered into Regina's ear. She didn't remember falling asleep, but it had been some of the best sleep she'd ever had. "Mommy, it's Christmas." Emma nudged her in the usual fashion that told Regina she was becoming impatient.

Regina pretended to be asleep just a little bit longer. Maybe if she ignored Emma she would go back to her own room to play. After a long sigh from said daughter, Regina peeked her eyes open. "Christmas?"

"Yep, come on Momma, we have to go see the presents." Emma pulled her arm. "You have to come see."

"I guess I do, don't I?" Regina lifted. There was no sense in making them wait any longer. Besides, she was also excited to see Emma's reaction. Emma cheered with a fist pump and ran from the room. Regina grabbed her robe, wrapping it around herself in her haste to try and keep up with Emma. She met Addison in the hallway with wild eyes and even wilder hair.

"She has more energy than all of us combined." Addison pouted. She didn't flinch when Regina wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She had become much more comfortable with human contact.

"It's the beauty of being six years old." Regina laughed. Once they reached the living room the boys were already waiting with Zelena and John.

"Look who finally decided to join us." Zelena passed her a cup of coffee knowing her cousin would need it. Regina plopped down onto the opposite couch.

"Yeah, we've been waiting all day." Alexis exaggerated.

"Santa really came," Emma exclaimed. She looked back to Addison. Addison nodding to her that she was right.

"You know you have presents down there too," John said. Addison glanced to him and to the pile of presents that were off to one side.

"Really?" Addison was skeptical. She understood that she wasn't a part of the Mills family. She wouldn't have been angry If she didn't get anything. Regina was letting her stay here and that was more than enough for her.

"Here's for you." Rory read the tag on one of the presents. The wrapping paper had pink candy canes all over it. Addison took it and held it in her hands. She didn't want to seem too excited.

Meanwhile, Emma was ripping the paper off her first present.

"Oh look!" She cried. "It's slime!" She giggled with joy as she inspected the box. Slime was a new thing for every kid to have. Regina wondered If she would regret buying that later when she found slime in the carpet.

Addison tore open her box and couldn't keep the grin off her face. It was a Fujifilm polaroid camera.

"We saw you eyeing it when we went to the mall." Zelena smiled.

"Thank you." Addison inspected the camera. She hadn't noticed that anyone was watching her when she looked. This was incredible."

"Momma, this is so cool." Emma showed her the box full of nail polish. She was so happy as they continued to open gifts. With John recording, they managed to find their own presents and open them all. She'd received so many presents this year she didn't know what to do with herself.

The adults exchanged gifts and present to each other. Regina and Zelena always bought charms for their matching Pandora bracelets every year. It was their thing for the past two years. Regina was more than thankful for their relationship.

As they opened their final presents, Emma stood up and left the room. "Wait, Momma, I have one more present just for you."

Emma grabbed the box she'd been hiding since going to the mall with Mal and Lily. She ran back downstairs only holding onto the rail when Regina warned her.

"I made it just for you." Emma bounced excitedly. As Regina opened the box she could only guess what it was. Tears sprung to her eyes as she read the box. Child's first handprint. She remembered where this came from now. She'd bought Emma this clay for art. Now there were two moldings encased in glass. One of her own hand and one of Emma's. "See our hands are the same. That means we are family."

Emma's logic was the cutest. Addison helped Emma with this present after hearing how much it meant to Emma. As Regina looked over the present again she was overcome with emotion. She didn't know what she had done to deserve so much love, but she would always cherish it.

"Do you like it?"

"I love it, Emma." Regina pulled Emma into her arms and kissed the top of her head. She was raising a thoughtful young woman. "Now how about we go make breakfast?"

Presents were played with all morning as breakfast was served. They enjoyed each other's company for the rest of their Christmas. It was everything Emma had dreamed of and more.

They didn't know that their biggest gift would be coming very soon.

Chapter Text

Blue Eyed Bandit

By LockedSoulsAM

 

They tiptoed into her bedroom as quietly as they could. Regina never letting go of Ingrid's hand as they approached Emma's bed. She was lying peacefully on her back with her eyes closed. Regina could tell that Emma wasn't asleep by her peaceful position. It was too peaceful and after many nights sleeping with a knee in her stomach, she knew her daughter by now. Giggling like school children, Regina moved to the other side of the room so that she was surrounded. Simply watching her, Regina raised a finger to her mouth, signaling for Ingrid to keep quiet. Emma didn't dare open her eyes. She had been awake for a while already before they had come in. She just couldn't contain her own excitement as her eyes fluttered underneath their lids. She couldn't tell what they were whispering about, but she knew they were close.

"Today's your day!" Ingrid cheered jumping atop Emma's bed. Limbs flew, and laughter ensued as they all became tangled into the sheets of Emma's bed. Regina was right beside her as she tickled the girl to get her to open her eyes. Emma writhed and giggled trying to get away from long fingers poking her sides. She coughed but never stopped laughing. Her laugh was music to Regina's ears and she never wanted it to stop.

"I give up!" Emma shrieked. She raised her hands in surrender and laid stock still. The tickling stopped immediately. Both women took to lying on each side of Emma. Careful not to lie on Emma's hair that was getting to be too long, by the way, Regina grinned down at her, trying to catch her breath, Emma looked from Ingrid to Regina and back again. It was morning. Ingrid wasn't usually here in the mornings. "Ingrid, did you spend the night with Momma?"

Ingrid peeked over Emma's head to look at Regina. Once she gave a nod of approval, Ingrid gave out a simple, "I did."

"Oh," Emma grinned. "That's cool. Why wasn't I invited to your sleepover?"

"Well, this kind of sleepover involved grown-up things that you wouldn't be interested in," Regina explained. "A lot of boring grown-up stuff."

"Besides, don't you want to know why today is your day?" Ingrid was an expert at changing the subject. She didn't want them having to explain exactly what kind of grown-up stuff they had been doing. Neither of them could handle Emma's curiosity and her many questions this morning. Seemingly satisfied with her explanation, Emma looked between both and shrugged.

"My day?" Emma questioned. Emma looked at her hands and ticked off all the reasons why it wasn't her day. "Well, it's not my birthday, it's not Christmas or Halloween. I don't know. Are we getting a cat? A dog? A baby?" Of course, she knew what today was. She had even been counting down the days on her very own calendar. It was still fun to guess.

"Neither," Regina shook her head. "Today is your adoption day. Today is the day you become a Mills."

"Really?" Emma stood to her feet. "It's my Adoption Day! Finally?"

"Really," Regina confirmed. "Everyone is waiting downstairs for you to eat breakfast and get dressed." It was then that Emma noticed that her mom and Ingrid were dressed extra special. Not that they didn't dress nicely all the time, but they were dressed especially nice now.

"What are we waiting for?" Emma tripped over a pair of legs and almost fell head first onto the floor. Regina caught her just in time and rolled her eyes at her daughter's clumsiness. It was such an Emma move. "Momma, come on, I'm going to get adopted. Aren't you happy?"

"I am happy," Regina kissed Emma's forehead. "I'd just like to get you there in one piece."

"Right," Emma agreed. She stood once again on solid ground and walked quickly to her closet. She needed a good outfit for today.

"Her excitement is contagious." Ingrid remained in her lying position on Emma's bed. It was quite comfortable.

"I know," Regina said. "I can't believe it's happening."

"Well believe it because in a few hours you will officially be her mom." Ingrid lifted so that her chin rested on Regina's shoulder. She could feel the nervousness practically radiating from Regina in waves. There she was again. Thinking that things could go wrong for them. "Emma has always been yours. From the moment you took her into your home. We see it, she sees it, and the judge obviously sees it. It's okay to feel anxious but doesn't forget to let yourself feel happy. She's yours."

"Momma, I don't know what to wear," Emma called from her closet successfully interrupting Regina from letting her insecurities get to her. When had she become such a little diva?

Regina chuckled looking over to the dress she laid out for Emma the night before. She must have forgotten about it. Standing, she grabbed the dress and went to help Emma inside of the closet. What had been spotless before ten minutes ago was now rattled with clothes. Emma sure did know how to make a mess. She thought for a long minute before handing Emma a long t-shirt instead. With the way she ate, Emma was bound to get the dress dirty before they ever left the house. Regina watched Emma slip the t-shirt onto her body that was practically a dress itself. It was one of her college shirts that Emma continued to wear to bed despite having her own pajamas.

When she'd gotten the email from August explaining the details of Emma's adoption she almost fainted. This day had come sooner than she thought. She was adopting her daughter. Today. They were due at the courthouse in three hours which left them plenty of time to have a family breakfast. She helped Emma make her bed and off they were to the dining area.

"Is this all for me?" Emma's eyes were as wide as saucers as she climbed into her chair. She scanned the table and licked her lips at seeing all her favorite foods on display. Grilled cheese, pancakes, grapes, pineapples, cinnamon rolls (not Regina's favorite idea), and syrup. There was going to be lots and lots of syrup.

"Yep," Addison prepared Emma's plate for her as they waited for everyone else to sit down. "We thought you would never come down."

"We're starving!" Rory agreed.

"Mhmm," Alexis chimed in.

"I'm going to be adopted today did you know that?" Emma asked.

"I did." Addison bit into her bacon.

"We're all happy that you're finally becoming a Mills, Emma." Zelena raised her glass of orange juice. "To Emma and Regina," She toasted. Everyone else raised their glasses in approval. Their girl was getting adopted today.

Things felt different today that was for certain. The entire family was more upbeat and happier than they usually were. Conversation flowed easily across the table. The children would tease each other and laugh about Emma still being the youngest. Addison felt like she was involved as she talked about what they would do later in the day. They wanted to throw a small party at Granny's dinner to celebrate Emma's adoption. A celebration was what they needed.

Emma bounced excitedly in her chair as she asked whether her last name would be changed to Mills. It was a possibility and a question that Regina could not answer. She felt butterflies in her stomach as she tried to picture what the moment would finally feel like when she signed the papers. In the past year, her life had changed for the better.

"So, are you all about ready?" Regina asked as she slipped the last plate into the dishwasher. Though she never really liked to use the thing there was no time for her to hand wash.

"No, Momma, I have to get dressed." Emma hurried to her room. Regina shook her head amusingly. Emma was back in a flash with her shoes in her hand and her new coin purse in the other. "At least she got the dress on" Regina mused as she stopped Emma on the last step. With a whirl of her finger, Regina instructed Emma to turn around. She zipped the dress and fixed pulled Emma's hair over her shoulders.

"We're going to need a brush for that head, Missy." Regina helped Emma with the jewelry that she pulled from inside of the purse. They were a long way from pierced ears, but clips would do just fine.

Emma smiled from ear to ear as her mother helped to make her look presentable. She felt like a princess as she danced around the foyer in her little white heels. She twirled and twirled until she got dizzy and sat down against the steps once again. She waited for Regina to bring a brush and then sat between her legs. It was only the two of them in the foyer as everyone else was waiting in the car for them. Ingrid had left a while ago under the guise of having an emergency at work that she needed to tend to. Emma was disheartened by that but didn't let it show. Regina had promised her that Ingrid would be there as she knew there was a surprise waiting for Emma.

Her painted pink fingers tapped against Regina's knees comfortably. Regina brushing her hair had become one of her favorite things to do with her mom. She remembered the night that she had brushed it for the first time. How afraid she had been. What she remembered most was how gentle she always was. Stopping whenever Emma would feel even the slightest bit of discomfort. Emma could never describe the feeling of being safe, but she always knew that she was. Right there in her mom's arms.

"Are we ready?" Regina patted Emma's arms. They stood together, and Regina gave her a once over.

"Ready." Emma nodded. With her hand in Regina's, they left the house together. Emma was going to get adopted.

The courtroom seemed smaller than she remembered. There was no one standing over her and telling her that she was going to be in a new home. The judge wasn't going to read whatever new thing her current foster parents would say about her. No, this time there would only be good things spoken about Emma in the courtroom. She wasn't alone in this fast. Her eyes scanned the room for the very first time in a while. She spotted August and waived to him excitedly. He waved back but remained professional. She knew how these things went.

What she wasn't expecting was to see Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff sitting right next to Ingrid. She bounced much in the way she had done before and smiled to herself. She wasn't expecting so many people to come into her hearing. Emma sat right next to Regina in her own chair. They were between August, and Selena, Regina's family attorney. She'd met Selena briefly many times. One by one they were sworn in and asked to be seated again. Emma fiddled with the nail polish on her fingers as she listened to the judge ask a bunch of boring questions. She hoped whatever he asked her wouldn't be too hard. She didn't want to mess up and change his mind about the adoption. She briefly zoned out when he asked Regina something and only began to listen again when it was her turn to speak.

"Emma, do you want to be adopted?" Judge Nicholson asked. He looked down his glasses at her to make sure she understood what was happening.

"Yes, sir." Emma nodded enthusiastically. "I want to be adopted more than anything in the entire world."

"Is that right?" He listened carefully.

"Yeah, I've been waiting and waiting for a lot of days." Emma began. "I even counted on my calendar until it was one day and now it's today! Now Regina gets to be my mommy forever."

Judge Nicholson nodded and tried to hide his smile. Emma was just like the other kids he had seen come in and out of the courtroom. They never listened in on the more technical aspects of the hearing. She was excited for this day to finally come and he knew it. Which is why he was getting the meeting going as quickly as possible. He asked Regina one final question before he spoke to Emma again.

"Emma, do you want to come and help me finalize this adoption?"

Emma nodded happily and slid down from her chair. A guard helped her to step up to the podium and she has handled the gavel. She could see Elsa snapping pictures from her seat and smiled widely. The judge lifted her up so that she could reach, and she banged two times. She knew what that meant. Walking back to their table, Emma opted to sit in Regina's lap instead. She admired Regina's handwriting as final papers were signed.

Regina sniffled as she put the pen to paper. This moment was more than she could ever hope for. Emma was finally adopted. The final paper was signed, and she set the pen down again. Now it was time for pictures, Elsa was permitted to step up and snap pictures as they Emma, Regina and Judge Nicholson posed. He shook Emma's hand and smiled one last time before returning to his chambers.

"Emma, why don't you go ahead and say hi to Anna while I finish up some paperwork."

Emma didn't have to be told twice before she was jumping into Anna's arms.

"How's my favorite munchkin?" Anna hugged Emma close to her.

"I'm really good." Emma grinned. "Did you see me getting adopted? How did you get here? Hi, Kristoff."

Kristoff laughed in response as he listened to Emma talk animatedly. It had been so long since any of them had seen each other. With the school year going on they couldn't visit Storybrooke as much as they wanted. Which meant they couldn't see their favorite little person.

"I did and I'm so happy for you." Anna talked back just as animatedly. "Aunt Ingrid came to get us. We've been waiting for this day for a very long time too."

"Are you coming back to Granny's to party with us?"

"We wouldn't miss it for the world." Elsa smiled.

Once the final paperwork was done they all traveled in their respective cars back to Granny's. The diner was nearly empty, and it was a good thing. They pushed multiple tables together so that each of them could sit together as a big family.

"Ruby, Ruby!" Emma tugged on her skirt. "I got adopted. I'm adopted." Ruby apologized to the customers whose order she was taking, and she turned to Emma. They saw no problem as Emma was always well behaved whenever they saw her. The mayor's kid had quickly become Storybrooke's sweetheart.

"That is so cool, Emma." Ruby bent a little. "I'm so happy for you. I'll have the cooks bring you out the biggest slice of chocolate cake."

"Wow, thank you." Emma hugged Ruby before skipping back to her seat. She climbed into her chair and sat patiently. Sharing a few bread rolls with Addison she contributed to a conversation about her favorite Pokémon. It was Pikachu of course. He was the best.

Regina watched proudly from across the table as Emma argued her points. She had been subjected to watching Pokémon plenty of times. She saw so much change in Emma and how she continued to blossom into a happy kid. She was still her same cheeky self, but she was lighter. She seemed lighter. As if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders since the months they had been living together. Regina knew how incredibly lucky she was for this adoption to had gone through so quickly. It hadn't been a straightforward process, but they had finally made it.

Dinner was a hit as they all talked and danced for hours. Emma had practically passed out in her lap after eating cake. She could tell by her breathing that Emma was still awake. Her thumb had found its way into her mouth as they found comfort in one another.

"I love you, Momma," Emma mumbled around her thumb. Regina didn't have the heart to pull it away even though she knew there would be a time when it would have to stop.

"I love you too, my daughter," Regina whispered into her ear. Brushing hair out of her face, she kissed Emma's forehead. Together they watched the rest of their family dance and play games. Today had been the best day of their entire lives.