DISCLAIMER: Once Upon a Time and its characters are the property of ABC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story deals with difficult situations (See Warnings). It is Swan Queen with a lot of twists and turns. Some turns are pleasant while other twists are not. The later chapters of this story are beta read. Huge thanks to Mooglesmuse for beta reading and the support for this story and my others.
WARNING: This story deals with terminal cancer, mentions of rape and murder, as well as possible character death.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To daughter2artemis[at]yahoo.com
This is How It Ends
By In-Betweens (aka Tweenlove-n-hate)
The sun was shining brightly as Emma made her way from the Wolf Lodge Inn towards Granny's Diner. The bright sun did nothing to warm the chill in the morning air. The short walk was enough to bring a red flush on Emma's cheeks. The wind blew against her, her hair billowing behind her. The dying and dead leaves scratched against the surface of the sidewalk as she walked briskly, ignoring the eyes that followed her.
She really hated small towns.
Pulling her leather jacket tighter around her Emma kept her head bowed and her left hand in her pocket. She nearly ran right into Mary Margaret as the school teacher was hurriedly leaving the diner, a Styrofoam cupprobably with her hot chocolate with cinnamonand her small brown bag held protectively in two gloved hands.
"Oh, Emma. Good morning. I-I'm sorry." Emma did her best not to think about how squeaky and mouse like the woman's voice was. She hadn't had her morning coffee yet and hadn't been able to eat anything last night. She was cranky. The moment she thought ill of the woman though she immediately thought of how she had been willing to help save Henry, had donated a part of her liver to him. It made her sound like an angel rather than nails against a chalk board, with or without coffee and food in her system.
"No, it was my fault. Here " Emma held the door open for the woman, her shoulders tense as the wind crashed against her back like waves in a winter storm.
"Thank you." Mary Margaret smiled, ducked her head, and was off down the street, apparently still in a hurry.
Emma watched the raven haired woman until she couldn't see her any longer. Shaking her head at herself she stepped into the warmth of the diner, immediately sighing as the heat of the establishment chased away the chill.
Just like the day before, her entrance into the diner caused a plague of silence to descend on the patrons. Thankfully, it only lasted for a few short minutes before everyone went back to their own business.
Seeing an empty stool at the counter Emma took it, smiling when Ruby bounced over, a cup of steaming coffee in her hands.
Emma was surprised to see the coffee was made just how she'd asked for it yesterday. She wasted little time in picking up the cup and enjoying the first taste of caffeine.
"You really are a god send Lady Red." Emma said over the rim of her coffee, watching as Ruby grinned mischievously at her.
"Surprised to see you here again, Stranger."
"You do know my name now." After all, she'd had to give Granny at least her first name to put on the docket, even if she was paying with cash.
"Of course, but Stranger sounds better." Ruby winked, Emma couldn't help but chuckle.
"Don't like my name?"
"No, it's a fine name. Your parents did right by you with it." Ruby pretended not to notice the slight crease around Emma's eyes, the smallest of cringes, "I just have a thing for nicknames, and besides, Stranger is "
"Mysterious. As you said yesterday." Emma hid behind her cup of coffee again, sighing as the burning liquid slid down her throat and warmed the parts of her that the heat of the diner hadn't yet been able to.
"Ruby " Granny warned, and Ruby rolled her eyes, gave a slight jerk of her head to Emma in apology, before she disappeared to schmooze with some of the other patrons at her matriarch's insistence.
Emma didn't mind. She just enjoyed her cup of coffee and did her best to listen in to the patron's conversations all while appearing as if she was in her own little world. People felt more comfortable divulging information when they thought you weren't interested, at least that's what she'd learned.
There was some talk about the Sherriff and a local woman being seen together last night at dinner, something that apparently didn't happen often. There was also mention of Connor Whale being seen out of his office before midnight, something as equally unheard of. It appeared that the good doctor was a workaholic, which Emma could appreciate since one of his top priorities was Henry.
Thinking about Henry, Emma remembered to pull out the old shoe box in the back of her trunk that housed her comic book collection. She kept it in the car, hidden underneath the spare tire for the long nights she was on stake outs. It looked like they'd come in handy when connecting with her with Henry or so the Mayor had her inclined to believe.
The Mayor Emma had spent a good portion of last night wondering just what the Mayor was like behind closed doors, with Henry. She had seen the photograph of the two of them, Regina kneeling beside Henry as he sat in a wheelchair. The adoration and love that shone clearly in Regina's expression as she stared at Henry and Henry smiled at the camera. It had touched her. Reached right into her chest and yanked metaphysically at her heart. Emma wanted to see that for herself. She didn't want to gaze upon a frozen documented moment in time. She wanted to see the good Mayor with Henry in person.
Did they have snowball fights during the winter before he got sick? Did they have movie nights? Have a special day where they only spent time with each other? What were their routines before and after? What were their inside jokes? When had Henry started crawling, walking, talking? What was their favorite memory together, apart? What was Henry's favorite ice cream? Did he like cinnamon in his hot chocolate too? There were so many things that Emma wanted to know, had thought about a billion times before, but never thought she'd get the chance to have answered. She had that chance now, and it made her a bit anxious. Nervous. It made it imperative that she see Henry.
She wasn't sure why, not fully anyway. A part of her was aware that seeing Regina and Henry together would make this more real for her. Henry wasn't her son. He was Regina's. Emma knew that. Mentally and emotionally she knew that. What she needed now was to see them together. See the easy way they communicated, the easy way Regina touched Henry to calm him, or make him smile, or the looks she sent him to scold him.
There was just a small part of her that needed to see him. She needed that minute connection to him to finally put the last puzzle piece together. It was about reassurement maybe, inspiration, justification for why she was doing this? It was just something inside her that needed to click, and she was sure it would come when she stood in front of her son.
Seeing Henry in person, hearing his voice and being close enough to touch him, smell his hairlike she'd done when he was only an infant that one time she'd held himwould make this real. It would cement everythingbeing here in bumblefuck Maine and introducing herself to her ten year old son who was dying and in need of her liver.
Not that she wasn't already cemented here. Her feet were officially stuck in dry cement for all she cared. Screw whatever pair of shoes she'd been wearing when she got stuck. She wasn't leaving. Not even God himself was going to pull her away from Storybrooke before she had time to save her the kid, Henry.
Emma felt her cellphone vibrate in her pocket. She looked down at the display case and saw the name Ashlynn light up. She shook her head and put the phone back into her pocket letting the call go to voicemail.
"How'd the meeting with the Mayor go?" Ruby leaned on the counter, eager to hear the gossip.
Emma snapped her eyes up, watching as Ruby slid a new cup of coffee with cream and two sugars in front of her while subtly taking her empty cup.
"I'm sorry, what?" Emma blinked, surprised that she had really tuned out while trying to listen to the patrons' conversations.
Behind her Emma heard several conversations halt, the noise level almost dead. Chancing a look over her shoulder she realized the morning rush was already gone. Emma chanced a look down at her watch and realized it was already eight thirty.
"Wow, this town works like clockwork."
"Funny, isn't it? The clock tower only just recently started working again too."
Yeah, that was kind of funny, or ironic, in Emma's opinion.
Ruby disappeared for a minute leaving Emma to sip at her second cup of coffee. The waitress popped up again, sans the empty coffee cup she'd taken, a few moments later, pen and pad in hand. Not that Emma had seen her use it yet. Maybe it was just a habit to carry it around.
Or, as Emma peeked over the edge of the pad, something to keep Ruby busy as the blonde noticed several doddles scattered over the page.
"So, how was that meeting with the Mayor yesterday?" Ruby asked, again.
Emma put her cup down and smiled. "Ah, that's not how our relationship works, is it?" Ruby cocked an eyebrow, intrigued and curious. "I'll tell you something in return for something."
Ruby's eyes sparkled, "I already gave you your coffee, don't you owe me something for that?" She pouted a bit, and Emma found it adorable.
Chuckling, Emma shook her head, because Ruby was right, in a way. "It went well."
"What can I get you then? The directions of someone else in town?" Ruby seemed to appreciate their little game; the girl was practically vibrating with energy, kind of reminded Emma of a puppy.
"Actually, yes, but first maybe you could get me something to eat." Ruby's eyes widened, surprised that she hadn't already offered to take Emma's order. "Recommend anything for breakfast?"
"Well the breakfast special today is two eggs however you like them and a side of ham and toast. But the waffles are really good to."
Emma considered it. "I'll take the breakfast special, over easy on the eggs and whole wheat toast, maybe with that homemade jam your Grandmother is so fond of yelling about."
Ruby laughed a bit too loud, causing Granny to stare at the two of them from the other side of the diner where she was doing some paperwork. Emma ducked her head as Ruby offered a sheepish smile.
"Coming right up. Then I'll be back to give you the directions you're looking for."
"Wonderful." Emma shook her head in amusement as Granny started whispering with Ruby when the younger woman made it to the end of the counter. Shaking her head, Emma looked around her and saw someone had left the morning paper. Shrugging her shoulders she pulled the paper over to her and started to browse through it, sipping at her coffee as she waited for her breakfast.
Emma was immersed in the Wanted section of the Storybrooke Mirror when Ruby put down a plate with steaming food that made Emma's stomach growl aggressively.
"Wow " Ruby's eyes widened at the sound, " you'd think some kind of animal was living in your stomach."
"Oh you have no idea " Emma teased as she took a deep breath, humming in pleasure at the aromas coming off her plate. "Thank you."
"No problem. Enjoy. If you need anything else, let me know."
"Actually, can I get a cup of orange juice?"
"Sure thing." Ruby disappeared after she put down silverware rolled up inside of a napkin.
Unraveling the silverware Emma tucked into her meal.
When she was finished Ruby was back at her side to take her plate immediately. The waitress was apparently bored, as there were only two other patrons in the diner and they seemed content to just read their papers and drink their coffee's.
"You have no .idea." Ruby whined as she cupped her chin and leaned onto the counter. "So, what adventure are you going on today?"
"I don't know if I'd call it an adventure " Emma stopped, thinking about it for a moment. Maybe it was an 'adventure' since she was going to see Cane Man, a.k.a Mr. Gold, the only other lawyer in this town besides Regina. "Maybe it is. I don't know, we'll see. Dealing with snakes comes easily for me, for the most part."
"Ohh .a snake huh? Big snake?"
"Anaconda type big."
Ruby's eyes sparkled again like they seemed to do when she was entertained or happy. Yep, Emma thought nodding internally. Just like a puppy.
Emma finished her coffee and put the cup down on the counter, piling her mess together to make it easier for Ruby to take away. "The Pawn Shop? How does one get there from here?"
The sparkle that was in Ruby's eyes disappeared at the mention of the Pawn shop. Emma had to admit, she'd been expecting that reaction. There was something fishy about Mr. Gold, and her suspicions centered around his interaction with Granny Wolf and Ruby from the night before.
"It's the opposite way you went yesterday. South down the main road, at the very end of the avenue where Trickster lane starts."
"Trickster lane?" Emma had to ask.
Ruby merely shrugged her shoulders. "I just live here, I didn't name the streets."
"No, you wouldn't have. Alright, so ten minute walk again?" For such a 'small' town, Emma realized she was doing a lot of walking around. "How many people live here anyway?"
Ruby still seemed a bit uneasy but was smiling again. "Oh, we may seem like small town but the population is actually relatively large, last time I heard the count, we were at about 65 thousand."
Emma's eyes widened and her jaw went slack. "Wow " She whistled, that was a hell of a lot larger than she thought the town actually was.
"Yeah " Ruby breathed a laugh, her hands nervously picking up Emma's dishes. "Just, be careful today." Ruby lowered her voice. "He really is a snake."
Emma inclined her head twice, taking the serious note of Ruby's voice to heart. She already had planned on it, but this just put her on further edge when it came to Mr. Gold.
"What exactly did I walk in on the other night, Ruby?" Emma asked, apologetic the moment she watched Ruby struggle to keep her grip on the dishes she'd just collected.
"You pay Mr. Gold rent? Why?" Emma asked, believing Ruby, she wasn't lying, it just seemed unbelievable.
"He owns the land."
Emma raised a brow, "What land?"
Ruby chuckled. "All of it."
"All of it, as in "
Ruby nodded. "The whole town, some deal that was made before I can even remember, before we were born for sure. He owns the land and when you want to build something you make a contract with him, he's the land lord."
"Of the whole town."
"Well " Here Ruby paused, thinking about it for a moment. "Mostly just the businesses actually. Not the residential area. That land the Mayor inherited and she doesn't tax anyone for it."
"Jeez " Emma ran her hand through her hair. "Weird."
Ruby shrugged. "I guess it would seem like that, but that's just the way it's always been around here." And seeing as Ruby hadn't ever been anywhere else she could only imagine how it seemed to an outsider.
"Right, in a not-so-small-town in the middle of nowhere." Emma had been in small towns before and she'd even worked on farms where the farmers that worked and lived on the land didn't own the land. It was similar to that, but it seemed unheard of for someone to own the whole town. That was just some 1860s western politics.
"Something like that." Ruby smirked, sparing Emma a wink as she left to get rid of Emma's dishes.
Shaking her head, Emma stood from her seat and pulled out her wallet, unsurprised to see that Ruby had left the check underneath the sugar dispenser on the counter in front of her. Seeing the damage breakfast had done she pulled out a twenty and left it on the counter, leaving Ruby a nice tip again.
Zipping up her jacket Emma made her way out of the diner, offering a short wave to Ruby as she left, and walked into the morning's chill. She had a meeting to get to after all.
Emma found the Pawn shop right at the end of Main Street. Low and behold the crossing block was in fact Trickster lane. Rolling her eyes at the oddity of this place Emma stepped into the shop, noting the open sign on the door.
The shop was empty. Still, the shop felt full as if there were too many people in the area, stifling the very air around her. It didn't surprise Emma that the shop was as unappealing and creepy as the smarmy man who owned it.
There was no sign of Mr. Gold anywhere, but there were the oddest of collectables scattered around. The windmill lawn ornament was interesting, as were some of the knick knacks inside the display case. The puppets in the corner freaked Emma out; she felt as if their eyes were following her as she moved further into the shop. There were ruby slippers on a pedestal next to glass slippers and a collection of what looked like wands.
Emma noticed a shining object on top of the display case on the right wall. It was a conch shell, small enough to be a decorative hair clip. Emma reached out and her fingers brushed over the surface of it. The moment she touched it she pulled her hand back, a shock traveling up from her fingertips. Static electricity, had to be.
Shaking out her hand Emma dropped her hand away from the clip.
"How can I help you?" Emma turned at the sound of Mr. Gold's voice. "Oh, Ms. Swan " He seemed surprised to see her, even though he had been the one to arrange for them to meet this early in the morning.
"Morning " She croaked. Her throat felt a bit raw. She cleared her throat and swallowed, the dust of the shop must be getting to her. "Sorry." Rubbing her hand against her throat she stepped into the midst of the shop, to stand in front of Mr. Gold. "Nice place you've got here." She glanced around at the controlled mess. "Hobby?"
"One of many." He stepped around from behind the counter. "Not many people need a lawyer in these parts, mostly property disputes, but our lovely Mayor handles most of those."
"Ah, and you handle the adoptions?"
Mr. Gold's lips thinned but there was something about the way he stood and tilted his head to the side that made Emma think he wanted to be smiling. "You could say that." He did, after all, handle Henry's.
"So, is that what you're here for? A consultation about young Henry's adoption?"
Emma bit the inside of her cheek. "You could say that."
"I'm sure I just did." This time Mr. Gold did grin and it was as eerie as he was.
Emma forced a smile as she slipped her hands into her pockets. "I'm just here to see what it would take for the closed adoption to be overturned amicably."
Mr. Gold stared at Emma. She felt his gaze like a physical touch and was disgusted by it. She shivered and pulled her jacket around her tighter. This shop, unlike Granny's, seemed to hold the chill of the morning even if the heat was on.
"Amicably." Mr. Gold nodded his head as he turned and walked around the counter towards a door covered only by hanging beads. He stopped as he made it to the entrance way. "Follow me."
Emma looked around the shop once more before slowly following Mr. Gold into the back of his shop. She was lead past what must have been his workshop into another room behind an actual door. It was an office, decent sized and actually appearing to be fitting for a lawyer for a small town. It didn't hold a candle to the Mayor's office of course, but Emma hadn't seen many offices that did.
"Take a seat." He gestured towards the chair in front the desk as he made his way to sit behind his desk.
Emma thought the controlled chaos of the shop was in stark opposition to the practically empty office and its cleanliness and orderly fashion.
Emma felt incredibly out of place sitting here inquiring about adoption loopholes. Especially since she had yet to discuss any of this with Regina. There might not even be need for a lawyer if Regina was willing to allow her times to see Henry.
Hell, she was really jumping the gun and she knew it. It was why the guilt didn't seem out of place. She hadn't even yet met Henry and she was here talking about getting visitation rights. Without talking to Regina about it. That more than anything was going to backfire on her and she knew it.
Regina didn't seem the type to take well to being blindsided. But neither was Emma. She needed to know what she was getting herself into here.
She needed a lawyer, someone she couldsomewhatcount on to be on her side if things began to get ugly. Situations with women in Emma's life tended to get ugly, and fast, so although she felt the guilt and acknowledged it, she was also compelled to do this. Besides, this was just a consultation. There were no definites about this particular course of action.
"Amicable amendments to a closed adoption require both parties to agree to the amendments. They are relatively simple, if and when the terms have been discussed and agreed upon beforehand." Mr. Gold pulled out a file and was looking over it as he spoke, looking to Emma every few moments to make sure she was following. "You signed away all parental rights to Henry when he was born." Emma nodded. "As you know the six months you were legally granted have long since passed." Emma nodded stiffly again. "So, have you discussed this desire with the Mayor?" Mr. Gold crossed his fingers and leaned his hands on the desk as he stared at her.
"No. But she can't be looking to arrest me for breaking the closed adoption contract I signed, she's the one that invited me here and thought having lunch with the kid would be good for us. All of us."
"Yes, well these are extraordinary circumstances. If she does feel the need to press charges you have the legal standing to fight the charges as she was the one to break the contract first in finding you and then contacting you."
Emma nodded, she knew that already. She'd known that the moment Regina walked into her apartment and told her who she was and what she wanted.
"I'm not here to make anything now."
"A contract or anything."
"Ah," Mr. Gold nodded his head slowly, his gaze telling Emma he thought her to be a bit slow.
Emma didn't try and contradict him. It was better to be the one underestimated. It tended to work in her favor later if people thought she was just some 'dumb blonde'. That still didn't make the looks any less bothersome. She stiffened in her seat and sat up just a bit straighter.
"I just wanted to know if I'd have a case to like, see Henry on weekends and maybe go to the kid's birthday parties. You know. Just, normal stuff."
Normal stuff that Emma wasn't sure Henry had been able to have since finding out he was sick but knew he would get to experience after the transplant. There were no alternatives. Not now that Emma was invested, no matter how long it had taken her to reach this place in herself.
"After donating your kidney "
Mr. Gold waved off the correction, " organ, you will have a substantial claim. Not only to visitation rights but to benefits, living expenses, and health coverage."
"Benefits, living expenses and coverage?"
"Oh yes, our diligent Mayor would, if you so wish, be obligated to cover your health expenses now and anytime in the future should complications arise over time, and also be responsible for comping any of the pay you would be missing while you are recovering."
Emma knew about the possible complications, knew that this operation might mean she was out of her job. Would be a long while before she was able to get back out there and feel confident enough to drop slam someone twice her size after this operation, Dr. Whale and the internet told her so. So she was doing her best to be prepared.
"She's already agreed to pay for home care."
"Yes, well that is the least she should be willing to do." Mr. Gold mumbled, sounding as miffed as Dr. Whale had yesterday afternoon.
"I don't exactly make a steady income."
"If you would bring in some of your W2s I'd be able to give the Mayor an approximate amount for " he flipped a page in the file, "the next three to six months."
Emma winced a bit at that time table. It would be the longest she had gone without a job since she was twelve. Even while she was in the detention center she had a job, 'forced' on her during the rehabilitation process, but it was still a job. Even after she was knocked upside the head with a tire iron she had only been off her feet for two months.
"I'll see if I can get some of them faxed over." Emma offhandedly mentioned, already thinking how this was going to be a pain in the ass. She hadn't come here to get the Mayor to give her money. She didn't want or need the money. She had a nice nest egg of cash in savings she could use while she wasn't working.
"You seem uncomfortable with this."
No shit Sherlock. "That would be because I am."
Mr. Gold studied her over the rim of glasses she hadn't even seen him put on. It made her feel dirty and penetrated in a way that was unpleasant. It was like he could see right through her, read her very thoughts and desires. It was unnerving. Especially from someone she'd already decided was the villain of this town. Or it could be because he was a lawyer. She really hated lawyers.
"I'm not here to take the Mayor's money. Or her son. I'm just looking to do what's best for him, help them both. I don't want to be that person. Okay? I'm already the most interesting person in this town. Last thing I need is for people to think I'm taking advantage of the mayor, who happens to be the mother of a sick kid. Because that's not who I am. I'm not the bad guy."
"No. You're the white knight."
Emma startled at the title, her eyes narrowing at the man across from her. It was the way he said it. The tone of voice and the look in his eyes, the momentary flash of something Emma couldn't place. It set her off.
He merely shrugged, "I'm fond of fairytales."
"Right " Emma whispered the hairs on the back of her neck standing straight and tall and setting off her own spidey sense. "You understand what I'm saying?"
"You are not taking advantage of Mayor Mills. If she does not offer to compensate you for this act of kindness or responsibility as you may see it she is the one taking advantage of you. But, as I am not your lawyer and this is only a consultation the decision is yours. But, should you find you need my assistance, I would be more than willing to take you on as a client."
With that, Emma realized the meeting was over and she couldn't be happier about it. "Yeah, thanks." She stood from her seat and took a hold of Mr. Gold's hand, shaking it. "I'll call you."
She still had his card, the same card Dr. Whale had given her. Why the doctor had the card on him hadn't bothered Emma. Until now, as the very man whose business card it was didn't even offer one or have any readily available on his desk. Nor did he have one available around the shop. She made sure to look as he showed her out. She was observant and anything and everything about this man set her instincts on alert making her more aware of her surroundings. He just, he irked her.
Almost as much as
Emma shook her head, physically trying to wipe away that thought. She wouldn't go there.
Leaving the shop through the door she had entered Emma looked over her shoulder and noticed Mr. Gold watching her walk away. Shaking off the feeling of being watched, since that's all people in this town seemed willing to do, she made her way back to the Inn.
Regina would be there to pick her up within the next half hour. She clearly remembered telling Regina she could drive to the hospital on her own, but she had received a call this morning before leaving for breakfast from Regina calling to confirm the pick up at ten.
Emma had been too tired to argue and had just agreed. She figured she would be caving a lot when it came to Regina and her stubbornness, especially since she would be here in Storybrooke for the next three to six months. It might have been presumptuous of her to think that all the tests would come back positive or however they needed to come back for her to be the perfect transplant candidate but she knew they would.
They already knew she was a good match, they were just waiting for the lasts of the tests to confirm that so they could take the next step. What that next step was, Emma wasn't exactly sure. She assumed it was setting a date for the transplant and having her eat and drink the right way for the next few days or week to make her liver grade A for the procedure.
There were no other alternatives.
'Apprehension Sets In'
Taking her time, Emma walked down Main Street and looked at all the shops. There was a flower shop across the street; a carpenter's shop that caught Emma's eyes as the man was hanging what looked like a fixed sign up. There was the grocery store and what looked like a small pharmacy. Emma wondered if there were any private doctor's offices or if there was just the hospital.
Emma took the time to stop in at the flower shop. She didn't end up buying anything but got directions to the toy store and was told the pharmacy got in a lot of comics. Emma figured she could bring the kid a few comics, and hope he'd never read them before. She'd let him borrow hers of course and she had some great collectables that he'd probably only seen copies of or heard about instead of actually reading a first addition of.
Smiling to herself, Emma found the comics at the toy store alright, nothing she hadn't already seen. She grabbed instead a graphic novel with the first five books. She browsed through the section and decided she'd get a couple. A few for herself to tide her over since she hadn't read the new episode in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer Season 8 and The Walking Dead. She put the Walking Dead back. She'd get that later.
For Henry she got Adventures in Cartooning: How to turn your Doodles into Comics, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Ghostopolis about a boy who was pulled into a world of ghosts and ghouls and had special powers that the bad guy took advantage of. It looked interesting enough, and Emma hoped it would be something he liked.
Having bought the four books, Emma left the book store, her pace brisk and a bit hurried as she realized she was running late.
By the time Emma made it to the Inn Regina's car was already there and the woman was on the phone, and by the looks of it she wasn't happy. Her hand was waving around in the air and her shoulders were stiff as she paced back and forth in front of her car.
Running over to the woman, she caught the tail end of what she was saying, rather loudly, into the phone.
"Her car is still here but she has not been seen for some time. I know it is too early to jump to conclusions, Graham, but I " Regina stopped talking, listening to something that was being said on the other end or rendered speechless by the sight of Emma standing in front of her, arms crossed and eyebrow raised. "I'll call you back." Regina closed her phone and stared at Emma.
Emma wasn't sure if Regina was angrier to have been overheard or to have been kept waiting. "Morning."
"Hmm " Regina's stare was just as penetrating as Mr. Gold's but didn't evoke the same flight instinct that his did. Oh no, on the contrary it made her want to stay and fight, or bicker, whichever.
Regina's eyes stopped on the bag in Emma's hand, noting Martin and Petulant's Toy Store insignia on it.
Emma blushed as Regina looked at her in question and hid the bag a bit behind her back. "Comic books," she answered. "They had some I haven't read yet."
"So there is nothing in there for Henry?" Regina asked, her lips twitching as she attempted not to smirk at Emma's sudden embarrassment.
"Of course, it's just, not all for him."
Regina hummed as her answer and the two stood on the sidewalk staring at each other. Regina seemed fit as a fiddle to remain where she was, trying to figure some puzzle out that revolved around Emma while Emma could hardly stand still. She was swaying her weight back and forth and looking around them, waiting.
"Yes, yes. You are ready now, aren't you?"
"Uhm, actually hold on, for another minute!" Emma held up one finger to stall Regina before she rushed to the parking lot across the street where her yellow bug was parked.
Regina watched, arms crossed over her chest and foot tapping, as Emma found something in the trunk and locked her despicable car before returning to the curb. This time holding an old shoe box under her arm.
Regina rolled her eyes, refusing to ask. She got into her car and was pleased when Ms. Swan got in without being prompted. She even put on her seatbelt directly after storing her shoe box and bag of goodies under the seat.
The ride to the hospital was silent save for the radio giving the local weather report and the ping or ring of Emma's cellphone. The blonde made a show of turning it on silent after Regina had glanced at her one too many times questioningly. Regina had noticed that each time the screen flashed it was the same name that popped up. Something, someone's name that began with an A-S.
According to the weather report it seemed the chill was going to be around for the rest of the week, but the weekend promised to be beautiful. By then, Regina hoped, they would all be in the hospital, both patients recovering in their own rooms. It may be bleak but it was how it was.
While others hoped for good weather to enjoy she hoped that she would miss out on it by being in the hospital. It wasn't a normal aspiration, a normal thing to hope for, but it was something she was hoping for more than anything at the moment. For this to be all over, for her son to have the transplant that would save his life and have his body not reject it this time.
"Henry is looking forward to lunch." Regina finally stated as she arrived at a red light several blocks from the hospital.
Beside her Emma shuffled in her seat and gripped her seatbelt tightly. "I'm looking forward to it too." Emma whispered, her fear translating through the softness of her voice as if speaking about it suddenly made it even more real.
Regina sighed heavily, her entire body slumping forward a bit at the weight of it. She did not know what to say to the blonde. Not about how nervous she had instantly become at the mention of Henry. In her mind they would either get along or they would not. Emma was not Henry's mother. She was his birth mother, yes, but Emma was not his mother.
Regina was his mother. She had raised him. She had been there for every tear, ever fever, every disappointment, every test at school and the hospital. Henry woke to her face after every procedure. He gave her mother's day cards and presents. He was hers.
Emma being here would not change that. It wouldn't.
She had admitted, only once, to Kathryn, how fearful she was that Henry would like Emma better. Emma was not his parent. Emma would not have to tell him no. Emma would be saving his life when Regina herself could not. It would be Emma's liver that gave him a full life, just like it was Emma who gave him life. Emma could take him to the movies and get him ice cream and spoil him. She would not need to scold him or make him go to bed when he did not want to.
Emma would be fun, and Regina.
Regina did not know what she would be.
Because Emma being here did change things.
"He isn't " Regina started the car and stared intently at the road so she did not have to look at the woman beside her as she spoke. "He is very frail. He has lost a lot of weight in the last few weeks." Regina felt the words stiffen in her throat, getting stuck.
She cleared her throat and forced the burn at the back of her eyes to disappear. Everything would be better soon. Very soon. Because of Ms. Swan.
"His skin color and weight may be intimidating. Do not focus on it. He gets very self-conscious over it." There was ice in her warning. She had no threat adequate enough to throw at Ms. Swan were she to inadvertently or advertently hurt Henry.
Emma nodded stiffly, only voicing an "Of course, I-I-I won't." when it became apparent Regina was looking for a verbal confirmation that she understood.
Once again the car was silent. They arrived at the hospital soon after and both exited the car and walked into the hospital as if they had done so together a hundred times before. Regina had, but as this was Emma's second time here the Mayor was surprised that Emma was leading the way. It wasn't an overly large hospital but new comers hardly learned the twists and turns so quickly.
Focusing on Emma's innate ability to recall her previous routes was easier than focusing on her fears, all of them, and there were many.
"You know, a foster sister of mine was sick. Leukemia." Emma's voice startled Regina as it echoed around the small box car of the elevator.
"Yeah " Emma took a deep breathe a shadow passing over her at the memory, not a pleasant one. "I haven't seen Henry or been around sick kids since then but I won't make this harder for him. Or you. I'm here to help." Emma looked up from the floor and met Regina's eyes.
The Mayor was caught off guard by the sincerity in Emma's words and the open vulnerability Emma was exposing for her to see. Thankfully Regina was not required to say anything in response as the elevator doors opened and they once again set off towards Dr. Whale's office.
Regina idly wondered as she followed slightly behind Emma just how many times Ms. Swan would surprise her.
Emma and Regina sat across from Dr. Whale as they had just the day before. The room wasn't as tension filled as it had been just yesterday afternoon, however. Dr. Whale was smiling and seemed excited. It was contagious. Regina was practically vibrating with energy at the good news the Doctor had just delivered.
"The surgery is going to be scheduled for Sunday. We have five days to prepare both. I'd like to start now, just in case." Regina and Emma both cringed at the idea that they'd have to have a 'just in case' back up plan. But they could both live with that. The surgery was a go.
"What do I have to do?" Emma asked.
"I'm going to give you a list of foods you need to stay away from in the next few days. Also the recipe for some cleansing drinks that will clear out any residual toxins. I won't lie. They will taste like paste. But "
"Don't care what they taste like." Emma shook her head, leaning forward in her seat as she stared at Dr. Whale.
He smiled and nodded his head, already knowing she wouldn't care. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you. Besides that I'll need you to come in for another test tomorrow."
"What test? I was under the impression that they had all been run?" Regina suddenly sat straighter in her chair, doing her best to keep from commenting on Emma's slouched shoulders. This woman was going to save her son's life. She would deal with her lack of proper etiquette.
"They have been. This isn't about Emma's liver or blood tests. This is for her rehabilitation."
Emma cringed, she knew this part of the game. "You're going to make me run on a treadmill."
"Yes, record your blood pressure and heart beat, muscle mass, flexibility, the works." Emma nodded as she sat back heavily in her chair. "I presume you've "
"I had physical therapy for two months after an incident with a runner."
Dr. Whale shot a questioning look to Regina as if she might know what a runner was meant to mean. Regina rolled her eyes and rolled her shoulders in answer, as she didn't find it important. However, something came over Dr. Whale's face and he looked through Emma's medical history.
"There isn't mention of this injury in your file?"
Regina stiffened as Emma looked at the Mayor, afraid the woman was going to have a heart attack or a stroke, or both with how pale she had just become. Emma was tempted to grab the file off Dr. Whale's desk and start using it to fan the woman.
"Does that change things?"
Emma stilled, her head slowly turning to look at Dr. Whale herself after the question was voiced. "It shouldn't." Emma was quick to insert, staring longingly, hopefully, at Dr. Whale as he flipped through the file on his desk as if the account would magically appear in it. He was no help.
Emma turned to Regina and waited for the Mayor to look at her, there was an accusation at the tip of the woman's tongue. Emma could see it in the brunette's expression. She was going to blame Emma and her lifestyle, her job, for Henry's death because it would now keep her from being a donor.
Emma knew that, and although it angered her that Regina would even think to say it, she couldn't show her anger over it since the Mayor was doing her best to restrain herself from saying it out loud. Even though the once over she gave Emma made the bounty hunter feel like a worthless peasant before a Queen.
"It was a head injury, I dislocated my shoulder in the fall, had to work on rebuilding a muscle that sprained during it." Emma begged Regina, as if the Mayor herself could make it so her words were true, to believe her.
They both turned towards Dr. Whale as he sighed and remained leaned forward in his chair.
"Why didn't you mention this before?"
"You're the ones that hacked my medical history. It should be therah " Emma groaned as she slapped her hand against her head. It wouldn't be there. Of course it wouldn't be there. She had been going by a different name then, an alias. Emma tried to remember which alias she had been using then. She came up with a blank. There had been too man since then. "Look, there was only that one big incident and the time I was shot."
"SHOT!?" Regina threw herself towards the opposite side of her chair, trying to get as far away from Emma as possible so she could better look at the woman beside her.
Emma groaned again at the decibel level of Regina's shout, and rubbed at her temple. "Look, you have my medical history. I've been shot, stabbed, and bashed over the head by a tire iron. I don't live a nine to five life, okay?" Emma became defensive; it was a habit hard to break after so many years of being judged. "I've gotten in with the wrong crowds and I've gotten out of it and I've had bad things happen to me." Emma chanced a sideways look at Regina. The Mayor seemed uncertain about everything she was mentioning but there was a flash of some recognition when she mentioned bad things happening to her.
With a sigh she stared back down at the floor. "I've lived under different aliases too. But you already know about the stab wound that made me go into labor early with Henry. The shooting was after I got out. It was a drive by shooting that I was in the wrong place at the right time for." Emma explained all of this as she stared down at the tile floor beneath her, wondering why Dr. Whale didn't put in a carpet. It would make the office feel homier. Looking up at the two staring at her she focused on Dr. Whale, afraid to look at Regina.
"You knew about that though. The shooting was to the same shoulder I have trouble with. You did all the other exams, you saw the scars. You did the internal exams. They all came back clean. So do me, us, all of us, a favor and tell her that I'm still a good match for the transplant." Please, please say I still am.
"You're still a good match. This doesn't complicate the surgery. Just, possibly, the rehabilitation."
Emma and Regina both sagged in relief, though Emma was quicker on the uptake. "How much does it complicate the rehabilitation?" Emma asked suddenly fearing she might really and truly be out of job after this.
"May, it may, possibly. We will have to see."
Emma hated doctors sometimes, she really did. "What's the worst case scenario?"
"Emma, we don't want to go into those right now, the good thing is.."
"Look doc, I need to know how long I'm going to be recuperating. I need to make plans for myself, set up my finances, make calls. What's the worst case scenario on me being able to go back to work? You had mentioned three to six months before. What are we talking about now, eight, ten?"
"Possibly a year." He admitted, knowing that there were cases of people needing an entire year, if not more, to recover from this type of surgery. But with the scar tissue that they had already looked at they had tacked on the additional three months to Emma's recovery time.
Emma nodded her head, and stuck her tongue roughly against her cheek as she leaned back into her seat. She went over numbers in her head. How much it cost to stay at the Inn for a night and multiplying that by 364 days, then the cost of food. It would be cheaper if she found an apartment or maybe even leased a place. She sucked in a deep breath, a whistle sound echoing through the room.
Regina sat stock still as she allowed Emma the time to come to her decision. There was still time for her to back out. This was the first time Regina was forced with the knowledge that this procedure might not be so straight forward for the woman sitting beside her. Yes, she knew the recovery would be difficult but she had assumed Ms. Swan would recover similarly to Ms. Blanchard, who had been back to work two months after the surgery. She heard from others that there were times she was still weak but it hadn't yet been six months since the surgery. To think that Ms. Swan would need to be in Storybrooke for a year, recovering from saving her son, put things in a different perspective.
She would do anything to save her son. She would offer her entire fortune to the woman if it made her stay, made her come through with her words that she had only just spoken twenty minutes ago in the elevator. She promised that she was here to help her, to help Henry.
Regina's grip on the arms of her chair tightened, her knuckles flashing from red to white as her grip tightened the longer Ms. Swan remained quiet.
"Alright. Okay." Emma nodded. "You said I have five days ?"
"Ms. Swan if this is "
"Yes. Five days."
Dr. Whale and Regina both stated at the same time.
"If this is about money, I can supplement any lost income you will face."
"Even for a year?" Emma asked surprised, wondering just how affluent the woman was.
"I am quite wealthy." The vein in Regina's neck bulged as her skin became clammy and sweat itched all over her body.
Emma blinked, knowing that Regina was well off, but she really hadn't considered just how well off she was. "I was just thinking that I couldn't afford to stay at the Inn for a year." Emma laughed nervously, "It's probably not the best place to stay anyway, not with the amount of stairs there."
"No, it wouldn't be." Dr. Whale commented, the Inn did not have an elevator, but Mary Margaret's apartment had.
"I was wondering about leasing agreements, places to rent maybe."
"You were still going to..."
"Of course!" Emma snapped her head in Regina's direction. "I'm not heartless, Regina!"
Regina blinked, flashing back to when Mary Margaret made a similar comment to her while they stood in her classroom while informing her she was a match. It silenced the barb that had been moments away from sliding past her lips about how she could not be sure what Ms. Swan was. After all, she had already seen first-hand how deep into denial the woman could go, and how it was easier for her to run, rather than to stand and stay.
Regina was so consumed by the flash back that she failed to comment on Emma's use of her first name instead of her title.
Emma shook her head, disbelieving Regina's audacity. She was here wasn't she? She'd come, and she'd stayed, she was still here! Even now! What more could the woman want from her? Oh right. Her liver.
"I was just trying to figure out a better place to stay. I saw the real estate office on Main Street. I'll stop in there, see if there are available apartments."
"I will sign any leases you might need a second signature on." Regina quickly offered, "I will pay for it. Any and all of your expenses. You need not worry about money while you are here." She quickly spouted off, anything to get Ms. Swan to stay.
Anything and everything.
Regina felt an itch against the side of her neck, making her turn to see Dr. Whale staring at her rather impatiently. Regina looked between Dr. Whale and Emma quickly, deciding to focus on Ms. Swan.
"I've already contacted a home care nurse who will take on your case. She only needs an address."
Dr. Whale sighed and rolled his eyes as he sat back in his chair. He had hoped Regina would open her home to Ms. Swan so that it would mean one less house visit for him to make during the patients' recoveries.
"I will go with you to the real estate office after lunch with Henry." Regina swallowed thickly, her nerves on edge, her body trembling in anxiousness as she stared pleadingly at Emma, unsure she could trust the woman's word. Until Emma was under Dr. Whale's blade there would remain a fear that Emma would disappear and leave her, leave Henry, to their dismal fates.
Emma nodded, her hand twitched to life. It reached across the space between her chair and Regina'swhich wasn't muchand covered Regina's hand as it grasped tightly onto the arm of the chair. She squeezed it gently as she looked into Regina's eyes, trying to convey her conviction to stay, to make the Mayor believe that she wasn't going anywhere.
"I'd appreciate that."
"Well then " Dr. Whale clapped his hands together as he stood from his seat. He went to his bookcase and pulled two marked folders off the shelf. "Ms. Swan, this is yours." He handed Emma a blue folder. "Regina, this is yours and Henry's." He knew that Regina was aware of the procedures for a transplant but he was obligated to give her the list anyway.
Both women stood from their chairs, Regina quickly pulling her hand as close to her body as possible, and as far from Emma as she could, and took the folder.
"Thanks, doc. See you tomorrow?"
"Yes, at two pm."
Emma nodded, noting the time as she briefly looked down at the folder in her grasp. Emma moved towards the door and held it open for Regina, her eyes still on the folder.
"Thank you for your time, Dr. Whale. I will be in contact." Regina shook Dr. Whale's hand and offered him a truly genuine smile. "Thank you " She whispered, heartfelt.
Connor nodded his head and offered Regina a brilliant smile. "This time it'll work, Regina."
Regina's smile faltered for only a moment, she made it stay by sheer will and determination. This time, yes, this time it would work. Regina nodded her head slightly as she released Dr. Whale's hand and walked from the room.
It was only when she was nearing the elevator bay that she turned to see if Emma was following her when she felt the blonde bump right into her. They both tumbled forward, only just managing to stay upright by pushing their arms forward and pressing their weight against the elevator wall. Emma's arms trapped Regina between her and the wall, their folders dropped and papers scattered on the floor.
"Ms. Swan, please, watch where you are going." Emma shivered at the acid that dripped from Regina's warning.
"Hey you're the one that just stopped walking like a freaking tourist." Emma complained, her face a bit flushed in her embarrassment for having been so absorbed in the folder that she had missed Regina's abrupt stop.
Regina sighed and turned around and oddly found herself staring into Emma's eyes as the woman remained in front of her, practically pinning her to the wall. The Mayor cleared her throat and raised her eyebrow in question.
The sound got Emma moving, and she shot away from Regina, a good four feet away, before she dropped down to the floor to pick up their scattered papers mumbling her apologies as she went.
Regina found it rather adorable. The look of shock of being caught doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing was a replica of Henry's. That was the only reason she found it adorable. That. Was. All.
"Sorry " Emma mumbled, her head seemingly permanently bowed as she held both folders and papers against her chest and waited anxiously for the elevator.
Regina smirked, finding it thrilling that she still had the capability to render someone speechless.
The walk to the car was quiet, uncomfortably so.
At least she's not staring at the ground again, Regina thought as she met Emma's eyes over the top of her car.
Once they were seated Regina waited. And waited. Then pointedly cleared her throat and gestured with her eyes to Emma's seat belt.
"Oh, right." Emma didn't fumble with the seatbelt, just quickly snapped it in place and began rubbing her palms against her jeans. "So, lunch with the ki Henry?"
Regina started the car and was mindful of the bystanders around them as she pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.
"Yes. I prepared homemade soup. He can't eat very much or anything too heavy. Now that the surgery is coming he'll need to go on a liquid diet again, as I am sure you will need to begin as well."
Emma nodded slowly again, digesting the news as she stared down at the folders in her hand. Rolling her eyes she began resorting the papers, glad that they had a header with either Mills or Swan at the top and were numbered.
"Here, sorry about that." Emma raised the folder and put it in the back seat.
"Yes, well, what was it you called me?"
A sideways grin pulled across Emma's face. "A tourist."
"Yes, is that an expression commonly used in Boston?"
Emma huffed a laugh, until she realized Regina was serious. "Wow, you're serious. Okay, well yeah, I guess. Not just for Boston, but for any big city. You were like a tourist. You stopped dead in the center of the path, like a tourist does when they see a captivating sight and just needs to stop and take a picture. It's annoying." Emma's eyes sparkled as she saw Regina's truly inquisitive expression, captured by her description.
"What, you can't have only lived here your whole life. As far as I've seen there are no college campuses around here and law school hasn't been moved to the internet just yet."
Regina's innocent intrigue was instantly lost, and Emma almost regretted saying anything.
"Well, no, of course I haven't." Regina looked away from Emma, focusing again on the road. "I went to Brown." Which of course, Emma realized was a lie as soon as Regina said it.
Emma sat up a bit straighter in her chair as she faced Regina. Sure she had to be mistaken. Why would Regina lie about where she had gone to law school? To impress her maybe? The woman was the Mayor of a not so small town in Maine, and from what others had said, a decent lawyer. Why lie about where she went?
"Have I suddenly grown a second head?" Regina asked, noticing Emma's staring.
"No. Just a big nose." She mumbled under her breath.
"What was that?" Regina's eyes hardened as she came to a stop sign and turned once more to look at the blonde in her car.
"Nothing. Just got a bit of dust on your nose." Emma amended quickly. "Here " Emma reached out and brushed the pad of her thumb over the tip of Regina's nose before the woman could look into the mirror and realize she was lying. She pretended to flick the dust particle away as she withdrew her hand. "There. All gone."
Regina watched Emma's hand, even crossed her eyes to watch as the blonde's thumb brushed over the tip of her nose. "Hmm "
Regina said nothing more on the matter, instead focusing on navigating her way to her home.
As they drove, Emma became visibly more anxious until she was practically unable to sit still in her seat. It almost appeared like the woman was doing her best to keep her bladder under control. The sight actually calmed Regina gave her a small, tiny bit of peace of mind about the upcoming introductions.
Emma Swan may be Henry's birth mother but she was also a stranger to him. A stranger that was going to save his life, thus gaining Regina's unending gratitude, but still a stranger.
There was nothing to fear.
Emma may be the fun one but she would always be the stranger because Regina was Henry's mother.
With that thought in mind Regina pulled the car into the driveway and did her best not to bristle with delight at the wide eyes staring at the luxuriousness of her family mansion.
Emma whistled in astonishment at the immaculate white mansion in front of her. "Jesus H. Christ you really weren't kidding when you said you were wealthy."
"I wish I could say I came by it honestly."
Emma snapped her head to the side and stared at Regina. Regina was surprised to see the harshness behind the blonde's eyes over the statement. It made her uncomfortable.
"An expression for when you inherit the money. Like I did."
Regina raised a brow at the tone, it was heavier than the other times Emma had asked her something. It felt decidedly like she was being interviewed or interrogated.
Emma nodded her head and the Mayor knew even without Emma saying anything, that the woman had filed that information away for later. Why it would be so important Regina couldn't imagine. It was just so rare that anyone ever asked her these types of questions. Then again, Emma was the first stranger that had come and stayed longer than a day for some time.
Watching Emma reach under the chair for the shoe box and the bag from Martin and Petulant's toy shop Regina decided she would give Ms. Swan a free pass. For now. She'd chalk this split in personality to her nervous anticipation of meeting Henry, since Emma suddenly appeared to be a nervous kitten, ready to screech and race away at the slightest of movements or sudden noises.
Regina's theory was proven when she closed the door and Emma jumped at least half a foot in the air.
"He is only a boy. He will not eat you."
"Huh?" Emma asked, meeting Regina's eyes over the top of the car once again.
Regina leaned her hands on the top of her car. "Henry. He's just as nervous as you are. He, he wants you to like him. Just be yourself." Regina advised, walking towards the path that led to the front door before suddenly stopping again.
She turned around, hand raised, and a single finger held up. "Yourself, with a censored vocabulary, okay, Ms. Swan?"
Emma, who'd hardly made it to the front hood of Regina's Benz, nodded her head, not even taking offense to the veiled insult. She did have the mouth of a sailor when she was defensive, angry, or nervous. So she mimed locking her lips and throwing away the key before slowly following Regina to the front door.
This was it.
Now or never Swan, now or never.
'The Needs of the Mills'
The Mayor opened the door, not even needing to use a key to open it. She immediately stepped into her home and moved to the coat rack to hang up her jacket.
"Kathryn, Henry? We're home." Regina called out into the house, sure that Kathryn and Henry were in the living room. She didn't want to surprise them by just walking into the room. It was better to give Henry a moment to prepare himself. She hadn't been trying to comfort Emma when she told the bounty hunter that Henry was nervous as well. He had been incredibly jittery this morning. It made his stomach a bit upset.
Regina hadn't known how to calm him, to ease his fears. They were fears she could not protect him from, though she longed to. She had only been able to assure him that Emma would like him. Would find him worthy. He hadn't used the term worthy. He had just been nervous, was still nervous, about whether or not Emma would like him. It came down to a few simple things. One of which was Henry's desire to be presentable. He wanted to look nice for Emma, wanted his outfit to overshadow what he considered his ugly skinny arms and legs.
When he put the clothes on last night they had practically dwarfed him. He'd insisted on wearing his 'election clothes' or the outfits Regina bought him to wear when Henry joined her at the office. Henry equated them to the 'church clothes' his friends wore, seeing as they did not attend more than a few times a year.
It was the sight of his tears that broke Regina's heart. Henry hadn't been as angry as he'd become last night in months. When Henry first got sick he was very angry about the unfairness of it all and had taken it out on everyone and anything, but mostly Regina. It was why Regina had scheduled him appointments with Dr. Hooper. Henry needed a healthy way to release his fears and anger and frustrations, and Regina needed the help, because she didn't have the healthiest track records when it came to emotional expression.
Last night when Henry became so upset that he threw his clothes about the room, pulled out his IV and knocked over the stand it had all come to a head. It was like returning to the early days of his illness, except the devastation that shook his fragile frame now seemed insurmountable as he'd cried.
Regina had promised Henry, kneeled down in front of him and cupped his cheeks to make sure he was looking into her eyes, that Emma would love him. Emma wouldn't like him. She would fall in love with him. It was impossible not to. He made everyone who met him fall in love with him because he has such a big heart, beautiful soul, and bright smile. It had taken some time to calm him enough for him to fall asleep, and they'd had to reconnect his IV port which had been uncomfortable for him.
But as soon as he had fallen asleep Regina spent the night, with Kathryn's assistance, taking in Henry's pants and shirt to the best of her ability. Thanks to the memory and acquired talent of making her own clothes for some time, she knew how to use a sewing kit but now had the advantages of modern technology and an assistant.
The hard word and the pricks to her fingers had been worth it. The moment Henry woke up and she helped him put on the clotheseven as he tried to push it offand saw how well they fit. The smile. The brilliant breathtaking pure smile that had brightened Henry's face the light of which could lead Regina through her darkest hour was what made it all worth it.
Emma would never know just how much work had gone into this afternoon, and a part of Regina wanted to tell her. Wanted to explain that buying Henry a few comic books and spending a few hours nervous out of her mind was nothing compared to what had taken place in this very house over the last twenty four hours. The last four years, the last ten. But she didn't. She didn't say any of what she wished. What she longed to say so that Ms. Swan might understand.
Regina took a deep breath as she composed herself, her fingers smoothing out the wrinkles on her hung up coat. She decided to focus on how excited Henry was now, not how upset he had been.
The moment Regina took, it would appear, Ms. Swan was in need of as well.
Regina was surprised when she turned to see Ms. Swan still standing in the open doorway staring straight ahead, her face a bit grey.
"Oh " Emma awkwardly stepped aside when Regina tried to close the door behind her.
Emma's grip on the shoe box under her arm tightened and she felt sweaty, her heart racing against her chest, her stomach suddenly a breeding ground for butterflies or bees.
Yes, bees, because they were nastier than butterflies and she felt ill. Oh god, she was going to get sick. Maybe she shouldn't have had such a big breakfast. She always felt nausea when she was nervous and and
"Breathe " Regina advised, taking pity on the woman who seemed about ready to pass out in the foyer of her home.
Emma took in a deep breath as if Regina's command alone made it possible.
"Now out." Emma released the breath while Regina rolled her eyes and shook her head minutely from side to side. "Compose yourself."
Emma snapped her eyes to Regina, quick to anger at Regina's blasé tone.
Regina noticed the shift in Emma's emotions immediately. The woman's gaze hardened and her body tightened, wound up, readying to strike. With a sigh, she touched Emma's shoulder, gently, awkwardly.
"That was unkind." Regina was at a loss for words for a moment as Emma readily agreed.
"Yeah, yeah it was. I'm doing the best I can here."
"As am I, Ms. Swan. This is not easy. For any of us. I understand, in my own way, what you are feeling."
"You do?" Emma tilted her head to the side as if she didn't believe a word Regina was saying.
Regina knew the look of fear well. She had seen it on dozens, hundreds, of faces in her many years of life. She had watched the uncertainty turn into an all-consuming, breath stealing, body freezing fear. There was only one time Regina had ever seen, felt, this same fear herself. It touched her, in a way, that Emma was experiencing this fear over the same matter Regina herself had.
Henry. And it pulled at her, the same way it did when Henry experienced a nightmare and stared at her with hopeful, willful eyes that depended on her to ease away the terror, the fear. How could she not ease Ms. Swan's fear? All she could see when looking into Emma's eyes, beautiful green eyes, was Henry. And she would do anything for Henry. Anything.
"I was terrified before I met him, Ms. Swan. Before they put him in my arms I was a wreck. I ran through a list so long of disastrous things I could do or be as a bad mother that I scared myself into a panic attack. I was worried, and nervous, and incredibly frightened that I wouldn't be a good mother. I worried that he wouldn't take to me. That there would always be something between us ." Regina's words died off as she suddenly couldn't meet Emma's eyes. "You."
"I feared that you would always be between Henry and I. That I, as his adoptive mother, would not be enough for him."
Emma's eyes widened, her mouth opening slightly as if to say something. Nothing came to mind. What was there to say? She could only listen and stare, entranced by the Mayor's show of vulnerability, of brutal honesty.
"But when they put him in my arms. When I looked into his eyes "
Emma was captivated by the gentle smile that spread slowly across Regina's eyes. The Mayor's eyes glazed over as if she no longer saw Emma standing in front of her but the smiling infant she verbally recalled for Emma's imagination.
" when I dried his tears and held him against my chest and soothed him." Regina swallowed thickly, "When he smiled at me for the first time and gripped onto my finger. He stared up at me with such love."
Emma felt her heart clench in her chest. She wondered what that type of love felt like, the unconditional love of a child. She had given up that chance with Henry and in her stead Regina had experienced it. A part of her wanted to be angry, jealous of Regina but the larger part of her was grateful that Henry had that moment and that he had shared it with Regina.
"To him," Regina breathed softly, "to him it did not matter that I was not his biological mother. That I did not carry him. He was an infant," Regina shrugged her shoulders, her thumb moving from side to side against Emma's jacket, Emma watched the movement from the corner of her eyes still unable to truly look away from the open canvas that Regina's countenance had become.
"He did not understand such things. But what he did understand was love and safety and warmth. He understood that I made sure he was fed and warm and held him when he cried."
Regina wiped a single finger under her left eye; it itched. There was no tear. Not a one. She cleared her throat and straightened her shirt, staring at Emma's shoulder and her red leather jacket, where her hand still remained. As she stared at her hand, needing to concentrate to get her thumb to stop brushing sideline over the material.
"It's not the same for you." Regina forced herself to look into Emma's eyes, content to allow her hand to remain where it was for now. "He's not an infant. And he understands much more than any child his age should understand. He's had to handle the pressures not even a grown man should. But none of that matters. His illness, the fate of the next few days, it doesn't matter. Just for today." Because it mattered to them all a great deal. It would always matter, Henry's safety and security would always matter to Regina. And to Emma as well.
"For today. Today he's not the boy you're going to save." Regina refused to blink, trying to instill the importance of her next words with just looking into Emma's shining blue eyes. "He's not the baby you put up for adoption. Today he's a little boy who wants nothing more than to impress you. For you to like him. To tell him he's loved." Regina felt her words stick in her throat as she saw Emma's first tear fall. "Today he needs you to be his mother."
Emma gasped for breath at the title and Regina's fingers gripped onto her shoulder tighter.
"I need you to be strong for him Ms. Swan. Because he needs you in this, almost more than anything else, because saving his life will mean nothing if he does not have your approval. That's the type of person the baby you bore and I raised is. That's the type of person Henry is."
Emma nodded, slowly, tears falling from her eyes one after the other.
Regina released her hold on Emma's shoulder and stepped away from the emotional woman. She cleared her throat again; she must be getting a cold, because the tickle at the back of her throat like the burn at the back of her nose was becoming a persistent nuisance.
"So, prepare yourself Ms. Swan. Because this isn't going to get any easier. And if you have to I expect you to put on the best show of your life because Henry deserves more than just your love. He deserves the love of multitudes."
And just when you thought she was human, Emma thought a bit bitterly as she tried to feebly wipe away her tears, as if Regina hadn't already seen them.
"When you're ready. Come into the living room the second door on your left when you're ready." Regina turned on her heel and fled the foyer, leaving Emma to wipe at her cheeks to erase the evidence of her tears as she saw fit.
Emma watched Regina walk down the hallway, leaving her standing in the midst of the Mayor's open foyer.
Instead of going directly into the living room Regina went to get herself a glass of water. She leaned against the counter in front of the sink, her fingers gripping the marble. Closing her eyes against a sudden sting in them she bowed her head, her hair falling around her face, hiding it from sight as she composed herself. She focused on her breathing trying to slow the rapid rise and fall of her chest as her heart jack hammered against her ribs incessantly.
After a moment she lifted her eyes to stare out the window, where her apple tree stood proud and tall in the backyard.
An echo of her words to Ms. Swan rang out in her ears: I need you to be strong for him Ms. Swan. Because he needs you.
"We both do." She whispered into the empty room.
Releasing her hold on the counter Regina smoothed out invisible wrinkles in her shirt before turning on her heels and proceeding into the living room with as bright a smile as she could muster.
Kathryn and Henry both looked up as she came in through the side doors. Henry's face fell, his eyes narrowing in on her as she entered the room. His hands were rubbing roughly against the arms of his armchair.
"Is she "
"She's just hanging up her coat."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow in question as she turned to her friend. Clearly not believing Regina would have left any guest to hang up their own coat. Peering at Henry, she could see he didn't seem to believe her either.
"She'll be here momentarily," Regina promised as she walked over to Henry and bent down to kiss him on the top of his head.
He grimaced but didn't wave her away. His eye roll and the dramatic way he wiped at his forehead to make sure she didn't get lipstick on him was second nature to him by now and only made Regina smile. It was little things like this, normal actions like this, that brought Regina the tiny slivers of peace and hope. Hope that when this was finished and Henry recovered he could regain a sense of normalcy for boys his age.
"How, how did the meeting with Dr. Whale go, mom?" Henry asked, snapping his head up to look at Regina, appearing surprised he hadn't asked that the moment she'd walked in.
Kathryn held her breath and released it in a happy laugh as a smile as bright as Regina had ever had formed across the brunette's face. It brought tears to Kathryn's eyes and Henry's.
"The surgery is scheduled for this weekend."
Henry tugged on Regina's shirt and pulled her to him. She bent down, kneeling just before the chair to allow him to hug her and hide his face against her neck. She felt his tears against her neck and her grip around him tightened. He instinctually mimicked her actions.
Regina kissed the top of his head, breathed in his scent and relished in his warmth and the happiness settling around her. There would be no talk about rejections. There was no need. Regina had paid her price. So long as it was Emma's liver Henry would live. There would be no need to fear any longer. They could relish every future memory together as he grew up, became a man, and started his own family. It would be a long time before Regina would need to say goodbye to her son and when that day came she would be the one to say goodbye, not him.
Kathryn, seeing the precious moment between mother and son, slipped out of the room. She sent a text message to Graham that spoke of good news. He replied almost instantly that he would be there soon.
As she was slipping her cellphone back into her pocket she noticed Ms. Emma Swan for the first time. She saw the taller muscular woman standing on the stairs looking at one of the many photos on the wall.
Looking back into the living room Kathryn watched as Henry and Regina wiped away at the tears that had fallen from Henry's face, a smile permanently etched over the boy's face.
Seeing him suddenly become nervous again she decided it was time to get this show on the road. The last thing they needed was for him to make himself sick. They had some celebrating to do after all.
In front of Emma were two open doors that lead into what appeared to be a dining room. Emma had never lived in a house as spacious as this one. The group homes didn't count. Those weren't houses, not in the sense that Emma thought of them. They were always so packed with other kids there didn't seem to be enough room for her.
Emma wondered what it would be like to grow up in a house like this. Henry and Regina, just the two of them. Here. In this beautiful home with its white and black walls and the tile floor.
It seemed so sterile. And yet there was a warmth in the air that the architecture could not give off. The walls in front of her were bare but as she turned to the side and looked up the curling staircase she noticed frames. Looking more closely she saw they were scenic portraits, painted, and there were pictures of Henry. Even some of Henry and Regina together.
Emma stepped slowly into the house, craning her neck to see up the stairs and the photographs of Henry as a toddler. They were professional photos. The kind parents went to the mall to take and waited in line and had the preordered background and amount of copies sorted before the camera even snapped the picture.
In most of the shots Henry was alone or was holding a stuffed animal of some sort. The photos continued up the stairs, a wall of life. Henry's life documented in each snap shot.
Emma found herself drawn to the pictures. She couldn't help it. She had always wondered what Henry had looked like as a toddler, would he look more like her or his fa-father? Emma had always hoped that he would look more like her.
Emma stepped onto the first step, took the second and then a third her hand gliding over the banister. Her eyes riveted at the chronological line of photographs.
There were pictures of Henry in a baseball outfit and as an Indian in what looked like a school play. Then there was a large frame with almost a dozen smaller photos. . It was a collage of sorts with a black background and the word Halloween curved around the top of the frame. Henry was dressed as Tigger, a Dalmatian, a power ranger of some kind in another, Cyclops from X-men, and Spiderman. What fascinated Emma with those pictures more than the characters Henry was dressed as was the woman standing beside him and the characters Regina was portraying.
In one Regina was dressed as Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, an adult female version of the power ranger Henry was dressed as, Storm from X-men, and Cruella with what looked like a real Dalmatian sitting between her and Henry on the stoop.
Emma looked around the house wondering where the dog was now. Henry couldn't be older than four in that photograph and in all honesty Regina didn't seem like a dog person to Emma. Maybe a cat but she had been known to get her wires crossed. After all, she hadn't thought the good Mayor was the type to dress up for Halloween and yet, here was the evidence. It seemed she and Henry dressed up together and took a photo outside on the stoop or in this foyer every year.
They had traditions. Happy looking traditions and memories here in this house that didn't revolve around illness or hospital visits. Emma was glad for that. Glad that Regina had given Henry that for as long as she could. Emma wouldn't have these many memories with Henry. Wouldn't know the kid he had been in these pictures. But she could get to know the kid he was now. Regina was giving her that chance. Life was giving her a second chance to be a part of Henry's life in the cruelest of ways, but it was a second chance. She wouldn't blow it.
She could be whatever Henry needed her to be.
"You must be Ms. Swan." Emma turned to look over her shoulder, startled at the unfamiliar female voice.
Turning around on the steps Emma descended them slowly, eyeing the lithe, well composed blonde in front of her. "Yeah. I prefer to go by Emma though."
Emma watched as the woman looked her over. When her eyes finally came back up to meet her eyes there was a gentle smile on her face. Whatever test she had been unknowingly involved in she apparently passed.
The woman stepped forward and offered her hand, "Kathryn Nolan. I'm a friend of Regina's and Henry's tutor and home health care provider."
Kathryn had short blonde hair, the color darker than Emma's own and elegantly sharp features. She had blue eyes so blue Emma had to look away lest she drown.
"Oh, oh!" Emma shook Kathryn's hand a bit overstatedly. "Dr. Whale and Regina have said, ah, great things about you."
Kathryn's grip wasn't hard but strong and the way she held herself impressed Emma immediately. And worried her, a bit. If Kathryn and Regina were the type of women Henry was surrounded by everyday what chance in hell did she have of impressing him? Henry came from a completely different world than her, had been raised in one that many dream about.
Here Kathryn Nolan was dressed to the nines, as was Regina, and then there was her. In a pair of jeans, the nicest blouse she owned, expensive sneakers, and her red leather jacket. How in the hell was she going to compare to these women? How could she compare to Regina? Who was an accomplished woman, a Mayor and lawyer for goodness sakes, and the type of mom Emma always wanted. Caring, dedicated, present.
Emma released Kathryn's hand and ran her hand against the back of her neck, suddenly extremely nervous again.
"Would you like to join us in the living room?"
Emma nodded, "Yeah, yeah sure."
Kathryn led the way, Emma trailing behind her. She stared once more at the stairwell wall until she could no longer see it.
Kathryn stopped walking in the center of a large open doorway, the two sliding doors pulled open. Emma could hear music coming from the room, it was classical and it sounded soothing.
"Henry?" Kathryn spoke, her voice carrying right to Emma's heart making it pound heavily against her chest. Just inside that room was her was Henry. "There's someone here who'd like to meet you."
With a deep breath Emma stepped into the midst of the doorway, her eyes closed. As she opened them she watched as Regina slowly stood up and beside an armchair. Her eyes moving as if everything around her were in slow motion until they finally found the sight they'd been looking for.
Sitting in an armchair, an IV pole somewhat hidden behind Regina, and a stuffed bear sitting against his side that he clung to tightly. He wore a dark pair of slacks, light blue button up and what looked like a clip on tie. His skin was as gray and pasty as Emma imagined it would be, though there was a soft red tint to his cheeks and just under his eyes. He was skinny, skinnier than she'd thought he'd be, but he was beautiful.
It was when his eyes met hers that she gasped.
She stood there across the full length of a room and stared into her own eyes.
Emma wasn't sure how long she stood staring but it was the sound of someoneKathryn or Regina, she couldn't tell whichclearing their throat that broke the spell she'd gotten trapped within.
"Ah, heya kid. I'm "
Emma felt the skin of her arms prickle with Goosebumps at the sound of his voice. It was soft and airy and made her think about what it would sound like when he reached puberty.
"Yeah, I'm, ah, I'm Emma."
Henry smiled, his head tilted to the side. "You're going to help me."
"You bet I am, kid."
"Good." He nodded slowly. "We've been waiting a long time for you."
There was an awkward silence that filled the room after Henry's statement. Kathryn cleared her throat again to break the staring contest between Henry and his birth mother.
"Can I take your jacket, Ms. Swan?"
Emma turned to her, her movements slow and stiff. Her eyes were glazed over with unshed tears and a fear so profound Kathryn was drawn in immediately. However it was gone as soon as it appeared as the blonde shook her head, clearing her emotions away, while she shrugged out of her jacket.
"It's Emma." The younger woman reminded her gently, her voice softer than it had been when she was addressing Henry.
"Yes, of course. My mistake." Kathryn's smile was disarming and put Emma at ease, at least for a moment. Then she remembered where she was standing, who she was talking to and who was watching her from across the room, and whatever tension she had lost returned.
"Let me," Regina tried to cut in to correct what Kathryn knew the brunette perceived as a mistake in proper etiquette. Kathryn would have none of it. She held up a hand to forestall the woman.
"I'm perfectly capable, Regina. I'll bring in some of the snacks. Let you three talk." The nurse stated as directly as she could while she folded Emma's leather jacket over her arm and offered her friend a reassuring smile.
Regina seemed unsure until Henry's hand reached out and threaded his fingers into hers. Regina stared down at Henry's grasp and squeezed his hand in return. Kathryn watched the silent communication between mother and son with a grin.
She took her leave from the room willing to bet that when she returned Ms. Swan would still be standing and Regina would have taken a seat beside Henry on the love seat.
Emma watched as Regina released Henry's left hand only to pick up his right as she took a seat on a love seat. There was hardly any space between the couch and the armchair that Henry sat in, the large frame of the chair looking like a throne and Henry the image of a regal King anointed long before his time.
A smile played across Emma's lips at the thought. The smile caught Henry and Regina's attention immediately. Henry squeezed Regina's hand while Regina's eyebrow raised in question long before she voiced it.
"Is something funny Ms. Swan?" The Mayor hissed, a warning clear in her tone.
Emma bit her bottom lip and shook her head from side to side. "No, no I just, I understand now."
"Understand what?" Henry asked, his voice much softer than Regina's had been.
Emma turned to look into Henry's eyes, the replica of her own, rather than Regina's. "Why the people of this town consider you a Prince. You have a very regal air about you."
Whatever fears Henry had about what had made Emma smile disappeared instantly and a smile unlike anything Emma had seen spread across his face. It made him seem so much younger than he appeared.
"You think so?" The light in his eyes was like that of any child his age when they found something entertaining.
Emma inclined her head, "I do."
Henry glanced between Regina, his toothy grin making Regina's shoulders lower, her tension dissipating. "I was thinking of going as a Prince for Halloween this year." Henry couldn't decide who to look at, his mom or Emma.
Emma's eyes narrowed in wonderment as Regina groaned and Henry's energy seemed to triple in seconds. The solemn air around him completely disappearing as he grinned slyly at his mother and then looked to her. She recognized that look. The kid had an idea, a sneaky one at that. It reminded her of how she had looked as a teenager and God! His dimples were as deep as the Baltic sea.
"That sounds like a pretty great costume, kid." Emma couldn't help but look to the slightly miffed Mayor. "What Prince did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. I mean, not yet anyway. I still have a while. But I wanted mom to go as Princess Leia."
Ah Emma smirked, that was the reason the Mayor was seemingly beside herself at Henry's choice of discussion.
"I think she'd make a pretty decent Princess Leia, bun hair and all." Emma ignored the Mayor's flaming cheeks as best she could. "But what about Maleficent?"
Regina's gaze snapped up, any amusement lost immediately at the notion that Ms. Swan was casting her as a villain, a witch. Something far too close to who she had once been, and still was. What stung most was Henry's apparent intrigue at the idea.
"How generous of you Ms. Swan. To cast me as an evil "
"Woo, woo I only meant that you'd look better in black and purple than in white. Your skin tone just it would suit you better." Emma stuttered holding up both of her hands to try and stall for time and the scathing rebuttal Regina was moments away from spewing. She fumbled to keep a hold of the shoe box as she did. The bag from the toy store was wrapped around her wrist and rose up with her arms. "Oh crap " Emma muttered as she tried to grab the shoe box.
Taking a step to the right Emma slapped her palms against the bottom and top of the shoebox in order to catch it and keep it from tumbling over and spilling all the contents around them on the floor.
"Everything alright in here?" Kathryn asked having heard the loud echoing bang Emma's catch had released. She looked nervously between Emma and the two Mills sitting beside each other. Emma was still standing in the doorway grasping tightly to a shoe box.
"Yes," Regina assured Kathryn immediately. "Ms. Swan was just demonstrating her ability to save herself." Regina explained.
Regina met Emma's sheepish grin with pursed lips, the only way the Mayor could contain an amused smirk. She would let the blonde off the hook. For now.
Meanwhile Henry was a giggling mess at her side, his eyes widening and zeroing in on the bag from the local toy store immediately. Regina rolled her eyes, her son loved receiving presents and she wasn't averse to giving him them and neither would it seem was anyone else in this town including Ms. Swan.
"What's in the box?" Henry leaned up in his seat in an attempt to get a better look at what Emma was holding.
"Well that's a surprise I brought to show you. It's ah, well you see. You're mom told me that you liked comics too. So I thought " Emma saw Kathryn gesturing to the other arm chair that sat across from Henry's. "Oh, thanks." She bowed her head in thanks as she took the seat, sitting at the very edge of it so that she could reach out and put the shoe box on the coffee table that separated her and Henry. "Anyway, I thought I could bring my collection. Let you borrow a few of them if you found any you liked."
Henry's eyes lit up as he turned to Regina who nodded her head in the briefest of movements before leaning over to take up the shoe box. As her fingers touched the ratty looking box her eyes met Emma's seeking the woman's permission.
"Yeah, yeah, go ahead." Emma nervously rubbed her hands together as Regina put the box on her knees and opened the box. She reached in and took out the first few comics and handed them to Henry.
Emma wondered why Regina didn't just hand Henry the box but didn't have the gall to say anything about it. She just watched Henry look over each of the comics his eyes widening with each title he read and his fingers gently, practically reverently leafing through some of the pages.
"How many do you own?" Kathryn asked as she took the seat on the couch beside Emma's arm chair, closest to her. A strategic move so as not to alienate the blonde from them all even though she would have much preferred to sit next to Regina and offer the brunette silent strength and comfort.
"I probably own over two hundred." Emma admitted with little embarrassment as she watched Kathryn's eyes widen at the number. "There are only about fifty or sixty in that shoe box. The rest I have back at my apartment in Boston. Some in other boxes others in cases."
"Cases?" Kathryn asked while Regina and Henry whispered over one of the comics he'd found.
"Yes, some of them are rare, worth a lot of money now. Most of those ones I could probably sell for a bit of money too, but I didn't keep them in the best conditions. The others I have."
"So they're collectables?"
"Oh yeah." Emma nodded enthusiastically. She didn't have many conversations with other adults about comics, hadn't since the last time she went to a comic con which had been a few years ago. "I'm a bit of a nerd."
"Yes, I can see that." Kathryn grinned, making Emma blush
Emma's attention was quickly diverted to Henry as the boy gasped. For a moment Emma panicked thinking he wasn't feeling well but when she saw the astonishment clearly written across his face she relaxed. Across from her Kathryn did as well.
"Can I get you something to drink, Emma?"
Emma watched Kathryn stand from her seat. "Oh, uhm, water is fine."
"Water as well. Kathryn let me "
"Don't." Kathryn warned and Emma watched in awe as Regina stopped moving and sank back into the couch, her mouth snapping shut.
Emma couldn't help but wonder how long it had taken Kathryn to wield such power and control over the Mayor. How long had the woman been working with Regina? How long had they been friends? When did their relationship change from employee and employer to friends and confidants and how long after that had Kathryn found she could tell the Mayor what to do?
Henry didn't even look up from his comic books. "Me too, please."
"Henry " Regina's tone was low, her gaze disapproving.
Henry looked up from the comics and addressed Kathryn. "Please and thank you, Kathryn."
"Oh, Gina leave the boy alone. He's got his hands on some classics." Kathryn stated even though she knew very little about comic books and her exaggeration made that clear. "He'll need to look at them now before Graham gets here. Then he'll never get them back." The nurse winked as she made her way from the room.
Henry's jaw fell as if he just realized he had a time limit with how long he had the chance to look at the comics.
Emma watched Kathryn leave over her shoulder before she turned to Regina. The name rang a bell but she didn't know from where. Had Regina mentioned a Graham before? As she raked her brain she couldn't pinpoint a moment that she'd mentioned him, no. It was strange for Emma to suddenly consider something she hadn't before.
Regina wasn't married.
Emma had been able to deduce that from her lack of ring. She hadn't asked around to see if there was any divorce to speak of or a significant other. Hell for all she knew Kathryn was Regina's lover. She certainly wouldn't be surprised, there was something about Regina that prompted Emma to believe the woman didn't strictly date men or hadn't in her past.
Actually, the way Regina held herself and the vibes she gave off Emma couldn't imagine a man at Regina's side. She was a man eater. That was for sure. A strong, confident, intelligent, wealthy, hardworking 'single' mother, oh yeah, she definitely ate men for breakfast if the brunette's heated gazes and demeanor told an accurate story.
So was this Graham, Regina's boyfriend? He spent enough time around everyone in this room, Emma could tell. None of them had even questioned the man's like of comics or of his upcoming appearance. They'd all continued on as if it was a natural occurrence. But for Emma that still left the question. Who was he?
Regina turned away from watching Henry's enthused eyes take in as much of the comics in his lap as he could. It was a wonderful sight to see, for him to be as excited and thrilled as he was in this moment. He radiated happiness and enthusiasm. The question about Graham caught her off guard, startled her even. She had almost forgotten that Emma was present she was so consumed by memorizing Henry's expressions.
"Sherriff Graham." Henry answered before Regina could open her mouth. "He's Kathryn's boyfriend and mom's friend. He loves comics too. He buys me some every once and a while and lets me look at his." Henry answered, never looking away from the page in front of him, his fingers skimming over the images before turning the page. He wasn't so engrossed in the worlds available to him that he wouldn't answer any of Emma's questions.
It was as he thought about answering Emma's questions that he realized he was being rude and his mother wasn't stopping him. He closed the comic he had been looking at and saw how Emma ran her palms up and down her legs like he did when he was nervous since his hands always got sweaty when he was nervous.
Emma blinked as Henry peered up from the collection suddenly more interested in her, than in the classic comics now available to him.
"These are awesome! I can't believe you have some of these. They don't, they don't sell most of these anymore." He gushed glad to see Emma's face brighten at his enjoyment over the comics.
Emma chuckled, "Yeah, well I've been collecting them since I was your age."
"Really?" Emma nodded in answer. "That's cool. What uhm " He licked his lips, his mouth a bit dry. "What else were you into when you were my age?"
Emma looked up at the ceiling, suddenly trying to think of all the things she was interested in when she was ten. "Wow, uhm, let's see. I liked comics, obviously. But I also liked video games. At ah, one of the homes I stayed in, there was this arcade a few blocks away. The foster parents were "
"You were in the foster care system?"
Emma's eyes widened, her mouth hanging open halfway into saying her next word when Henry interrupted her. She clicked her mouth shut and swallowed nervously. Her eyes moved between Regina and Henry, looking for some help, some advice from the Mayor. She hadn't realized he wasn't aware of her time in the system and she really didn't want to tell him much about her bouncing around. The kid had enough to deal with, he didn't need her baggage.
"Yes, Henry," Regina began, "Ms. Swan was in the foster care system until she was sixteen."
Henry nodded his head, trying to understand what that really meant for his for Emma.
"Did, how many, uhm " Henry cleared his throat, his eyes downcast suddenly. "Is that " Henry sighed heavily, "Why did you give me up?"
Emma felt her chest tighten and her body jerk forward then back on it's on accord as if absorbing a blow to the ribs. She saw Regina had stiffened at Henry's question and was holding onto his hand with both of her own.
"Henry that "
"I gave you ." Emma's whisper stopped Regina from continuing. She twisted her head slowly towards Emma. Henry glanced up at her through his eye lashes, putting her on the spot.
"Oh god okay. Uhm " Emma slapped her hands against her thighs and squeezed tightly. She forced herself to stare at Henry. "Henry, I gave you up for adoption so that you might have your best chance. I wasn't, there was a lot going on in my life that made it impossible for me to take care of a child. I wanted to." Emma admitted, her throat closing on her and forcing her to clear it loudly.
"You did?" Henry and Regina both asked at the same time. Mother and son both squeezing tightly onto the other's hand at the news.
It worried Regina immediately. If Emma had wanted to keep Henry before what was to stop her from trying to get her back? What was stopping her from hiring a lawyer and taking Henry from her? Regina couldn't lose Henry. Not to this illness and certainly not to Ms. Swan. She would be damned before she
"Yes, I, wanted to keep you " It pained Emma to admit to her previous desires. "But I wasn't what was best for you, Henry." Emma closed her eyes for a moment. "So I trusted in an adoption agency to find you a good home with people that could take care of you in ways that I couldn't." She opened her eyes and stared directly into Henry's eyes, willing him to understand. "Because I couldn't Henry. I couldn't give you a home or even food. I wasn't capable of being a mother. I couldn't keep you safe and " She stopped herself from saying healthy because that seemed too cruel in their current situation.
"I think. No. No, I know that it was the right thing to do, to put you up for adoption, don't you?" Henry didn't answer and the longer he remained quiet the stiffer and darker Regina's demeanor and expression became.
"You have a mom who loves you more than anything in this world who is willing to do anything for you. You have a whole town who thinks the world of you, a safe house to come home to and a bed to sleep in." Emma blinked away the tears in her eyes. "You wouldn't have had that with me."
Emma swallowed thickly, wondering where Kathryn was with her water. She sure could use some about now. When Henry remained silent Emma noticed how Regina seemed to be shrinking in on herself. The wounded, betrayed, devastated aura began to pulsate around her stronger and stronger the longer Henry remained stoic.
Henry continued to stare at Emma, nibbling at the inside of his cheek like Regina did when she was considering something important.
"You just wanted me to be happy and safe." Henry sounded so confused.
"Yes, I did."
The boy took a deep breath and finally looked away from Emma. He stared down at his right hand, saw how it was covered almost completely by his mother's hands. He felt the warmth of her touch and the tight squeeze of her fear as clearly as he did her fingers. "You are right. I did get all of that, have all of that. Thank you."
Regina sucked in a sharp breath, her eyes brimmed with tears as she tilted her head up to see Henry wasn't looking at Emma any longer but was staring intently at her.
He smiled softly, knowingly, and gazed as Regina with the same love and adoration he had when he was an infant and held onto her finger with his whole hand.
"I got the best mom ever." Henry switched his gaze between his mom and Emma. "I've had an amazing life and I wouldn't have had that anywhere else."
Emma knew what Regina meant when she spoke of how Henry was far older than he seemed. The kid turned to look at her and the gratitude in his eyes was enough to make her tears fall.
"Thank you for giving me my best chance."
"Yeah " Emma croaked, " no problem kid."
Kathryn took that moment to make her way back into the room. A smile plastered on her face even if her cheeks were still a bit damn from the tears that had fallen as she listened to the conversation from just inside the kitchen.
"Lunch is ready."
"Lunch is ready, if you would like to eat now?"
"Yes, I think that would be for the best. Kathryn, would you be so kind as to show Ms. Swan to the private dining room while I help Henry?" Regina stood from the couch and placed the shoe box on the coffee table. She requested Kathryn's help, not for the sake of asking, but so Ms. Swan would be aware that she needed to leave the room. Henry was embarrassed enough as it was, he did not wish for Emma to see how difficult it could be for him to make his way into the dining room with the IV pole attached.
Emma stood up slowly, quickly wiping at her eyes and rubbing at her sides with her sweaty palms. "Yeah, sure. Do you need me to help with anything?"
"No. Mom's got it." Henry was quick to say, his smile tight, hands tightening in trepidation. He didn't want Emma to see him as weak.
"Okay. Well then." Emma turned to Kathryn. "Lead the way."
Kathryn showed Emma into a much smaller dining room then the one the blonde had seen when she'd first walked into the house.
"So ah, which seat should I take?" Emma asked as she stood before the six people table.
"Regina sits here and Henry always sits next to her on the right. Why don't you take the left. And I'll sit next to you. When Graham arrives he'll take the seat next to Henry."
Emma shrugged, not seeing anything wrong with the set up. "Sounds good." She just hadn't wanted to take anyone's assigned seat. That would have been awkward. Emma rolled her eyes at herself, as if everything that had happened in the last two hours hadn't been awkward. Emma saw that on the table there was a basket of what looked like fresh bread and a crockpot of soup.
"Regina and I made it last night."
"Then I bet it tastes just as good as it smells."
Kathryn laughed, "Because I helped or because Regina made it?"
"Uh, both ?" Emma asked with a toothy grin, the sight of which made Kathryn shake her head in wonder at how charming the nervous bounty hunter could become.
"I always wondered where Henry got that cocky grin from."
Emma's grin disappeared almost instantly and her eyes fell down to the table setting in front of her.
Kathryn realized her folly immediately, "I didn't mean it as an "
"No, it's, ah it's fine. I'm just not I'll have to get used to hearing things like that."
Kathryn could only nod. She had no idea what this situation was like for any of them. She sympathized and was concerned for Henry and Regina but it wasn't until she'd heard Emma become chocked up that she realized this wasn't all about Regina and Henry anymore. Emma had a place in this mess just as substantial as Regina and Henry's. This was Emma's life now as well.
"You're doing great." The nurse insisted as she put her hand on Emma's shoulder and squeezed it gently, hoping to convey some form of reassurement to the reeling blonde.
"Right " Emma didn't believe her. How could she be doing great? She'd just ended up crying in front of the kid when he asked her why she'd given him up. She'd watched Regina, one of the most powerful and in control women Emma had ever met, practically retreat into herself at the idea that Henry wasn't happy with his life, with the last ten years of his life with her.
"I wouldn't say it, if I didn't believe it." Kathryn insisted. "You're doing fine. Keep it up for a few more hours. And if you're anything like me you can over analyze everything you said and did. Learn from the mistakes you think you made, the ones you probably will, and move on. Start again tomorrow." Kathryn rubbed Emma's shoulder before releasing it.
Emma nodded once, unable to come up with a verbal response to Kathryn's encouragement. She would go back to Granny's and over analyze everything she said and did today. She would get so uptight over it that she'd probably have another panic attack when she next came to see Henry.
Kathryn left the room but was back within a few seconds with a pitcher of ice water. She saw Emma still fiddling with her fingers nervously and spared one last piece of advice for the woman.
"It's a process, Emma. It's going to take time. And now that you're here, you three will have all the time you need."
This wasn't the first time Emma had noted the optimism that everyone shared. It seemed there was no option, no room for failure here. Everyone believed that she was their saving grace. She would save Henry and this transplant would work.
Emma was of the same opinion. This had to work, this had to. There were no other options, none that any of them wanted to think about anyway. Emma hadn't been here the last time Henry had a transplant. She didn't know the hardships that they had all gone through then. She just hoped, like they all did, that the second time was the charm.
What was that child's rhyme? First is the worst, second is the best, and third is the one with a hairy chest .Emma smirked at the memory.
"What did we miss?" Henry asked.
Emma's head shot up from the table, she was surprised to see Henry already seated across from her. Regina was helping him push in closer to the table. Kathryn was checking the IV as inconspicuously as she could while Henry did his best not to notice. His eyes instead peered into Emma's as if willing his biological mother not to look and ignore the other women's fussing.
Emma recalled Regina's words about his embarrassment and stared right back at the kid.
"I was just remembering a rhyme that some of the kids used to say in one of the foster homes I was in."
"What was it?" Henry asked, instantly interested.
Emma wondered if she'd ever had such a captive audience before. "You know just the one about places, ah, finishing places?" Emma couldn't think of the right word, term for it. "You know, first, second and third, and stuff." She cringed at the word stuff and her lack of available vocabulary.
Henry continued to stare at her and Emma. She was sure Kathryn and Regina were both staring at her too as they took their seats. As if them all staring at her would help. It just made her more nervous.
"Ah, I don't think I do." Henry cringed apologetically, unable to follow Emma's thought process or understand what she was talking about.
"First is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the hairy chest." Emma did her best not to look at either of the adults as she mumbled a recitation of the rhyme. "Or you know something like that." Emma ducked her head as she reached immediately for her glass of water and took a generous gulp, trying to stave off her growing flush.
"I thought it was that third was the one with the treasure chest?" Henry's face went from an 'O' expression to a scrunched up form of concentration. He twisted his lips to the side, his cheek puffed out a bit by his tongue. Something Emma had seen Regina do twice in the last three days.
"I don't know kid, I'm sure it's changed a lot since I was your age."
"If I recall correctly there were three other optionsplaces to come in." Kathryn piped up clearly doing her best to recall them. "Regina, do you remember? I can't put my finger on it. Something about a king a queen and a witch. Or was it a donkey?"
Regina reached across for Henry's bowl and scooped a ladle and a half of soup into his bowl as the three spoke about a playground rhyme. "I have no idea what you three are on about."
"Oh come on mom!" Henry whined a bit but smiled and offered a quick "thank you" when Regina put his bowl in front of him.
"Ms. Swan?" Regina held her hand out for Emma's empty bowl.
"Oh, thanks." Emma quickly offered the bowl to Regina before she addressed Kathryn. "The donkey part I haven't heard. But the witch in a ditch I recall."
Regina's muscles tensed. She cleared her throat loudly and Emma quickly returned her attention to the Mayor. "Be careful it is hot." Regina advised as she handed Emma back her bowl.
"Gotcha. Thank you." Emma took her bowl and put it down in front of her very carefully, doing her best not to spill any of the soup onto the table cloth that probably cost more than her entire outfit.
"Surely you must remember it a bit Regina. Or let me guess, you were always first."
Regina scowled playfully at Kathryn as her friend passed over her empty bowl to be filled as well. "I can assure you I haven't the slightest clue what you mean by that."
"Well she means you'd be the worst, mom." Henry shared a grin with Kathryn before offering Regina a toothy 'innocent' smile.
Regina spared him a glance that indicated he was lucky she loved him as much as she did. She filled her own bowl last and took a seat before addressing the issue Henry had risen.
"The rhyme was meant to accuse the winner of being arrogant. Second the best, merely because they were capable but did not need the attention of first place. The third if they had a hairy chest was meant to symbolize "
Henry groaned, "You're no fun mom." He accused while rolling his eyes at his mother.
"Why I never." Regina gasped, hand pressed up against her chest in mock astonishment.
Henry giggled, and slurped a bit at his soup.
Emma and Kathryn both chuckled at the look shared between mother and son. Henry turned on the charm with a big goofy grin while Regina tried to stare him down. It appeared they were having a staring contest. Henry's eyes drooping lower and lower until they fell closed and he blinked away the moisture in his eyes. Instead of pouting he just grinned.
"First is the worst, second is the best." He chimed merrily.
"I " Regina's mouth fell open. She had been played.
"Oh wow, nice one kid." Emma congratulated from across the table, laughing softly as Henry beamed with pride from his seat.
"Oh Regina, you should be so proud!" Kathryn shook her head good naturedly at the end of the table. "He certainly has picked up your calculating manner."
After that they all shared a comfortable silence as they enjoyed their lunch, Kathryn and Emma passing Regina and Henry some of the freshly baked bread.
"Okay, Ms. Knowledgeable. I have a question." Emma chimed in after stealing another piece of bread and dunking it into the soup in her bowl. "First, this is delicious. Thank you."
"You're welcome." Regina and Kathryn chorused together. Kathryn winking at Regina as the Mayor raised a questioning eyebrow.
"I may have let it slip that I helped." Kathryn smiled as she ate a spoonful of the soup.
"By cutting the vegetables." Regina stressed, watching Kathryn shrug away the little bit she had done. There was something more there, but Regina decided to let it go.
"Like always!" Henry saw Emma looking curiously between the two of them, obviously feeling a bit left out. "Kathryn and I always help cut up the vegetables." He hadn't yesterday, but he didn't want to mention that. He didn't want to bring up how he hadn't been feeling well enough to help out. He was ashamed of how he'd acted last night. Especially after he'd woken up and Regina had helped put on his clothes and they fit so much better than they had before he'd gone to sleep. He'd seen the Band-Aids and paper towel she'd had wrapped around her fingers this morning and he knew. She had made this day even better for him.
"Oh " Emma nodded slowly, wondering what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of Regina's kitchen as the three cooked together. Maybe one day soon she'd find out first hand without being the fly part.
Silence filled the room.
"What was your question, Ms. Swan?" Regina broke the slightly uncomfortable quiet.
"Yeah, Emma, what's your question?" Henry repeated. He had stopped eating a few minutes ago. Most of the vegetables were still inside his bowl but the broth had been enjoyed. He'd also only eaten a bit of his bread. Something all adults at the table noticed, but did not comment on.
"Oh geeze, put me on the spot why don't ya, kid." Emma winked at Henry, the boy blushing a bit under the attention, before she turned to Regina. "Why is fourth the king, fifth the queen, and sixth the witch in a ditch?" Emma raised a challenging eyebrow, wiggling them both to get a rise out of the woman and a laugh from Henry.
She succeeded in getting the laugh from Henry but Regina hadn't risen to the bait. She had smiled, a kind smile, though. Almost completely genuine. Even if it was a bit stiff, which was surprising enough.
"I haven't the faintest idea why fourth, fifth, and sixth would equate to being royalty and a dead witch."
Emma made a big show of opening her mouth to retort with something when the silence in the room was cut into by the shrill sound of Smooth Criminal by Michal Jackson. It rang through the air obnoxiously.
"I don't know. Annie are you okay? I don't know. Annie are you okay? I don't know why baby. Annie are you okay? Annie are you okay? Annie would you tell us if you're okay?"
Emma sighed as she saw Ashlynn's name on the ID. Emma realized all eyes were on her. Regina's the fiercest, and the only accusing one of the three. Kathryn and Henry just seemed curious.
Sighing heavily, knowing she couldn't ignore this phone call again, Emma slowly stood up from her seat. "I'm sorry. I need to take this." She raised the phone in explanation.
"Now?" Regina questioned darkly.
Emma cringed, "It's important. I wouldn't take it otherwise." Emma tried to justify herself but the continued ring of her phone pulled her attention down to the device. "I'll be right back." She offered an apologetic smile.
"Feel free to sit here and answer it."
"It's ah private." Emma explained before she walked out of the room into the hallway.
"Private " Regina whispered lowly, suspiciously.
Regina glared after the woman. Her expression only softened when she felt Henry touch her hand and pat it. She saw Henry offering her a placating smile, his expression asking her to take it easy on Emma. That only made her angrier, but she did her best not to show it.
"That is why I do not bring my phone to the table."
Henry grinned, "I know, Mom."
"Emma! Emma? My god! Emma, Jesus ! Where the fuck have you been!?" Emma cringed as she fumbled with the phone to take it off speaker phone. She walked farther away from the dining room as she cursed the new device.
From inside the dining room they could hear Emma's voice and the sudden obnoxious sound of an excited woman. Regina's scowl deepened when the other woman's words, curses, were clearly heard. Regina stood up from her seat, gently extracting her hand from Henry's.
"You know better than this. You're not stupid. Where are you? Damn it, Swan. Where the fuck are you hiding yourself? What happened? Do I need to come and get your irresponsible asinine ass?"
Regina closed the dining room doors behind her to block out the rest of Emma's conversation. She saw Henry's worried expression as they closed. She took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself. Her body stiffening tighter and tighter the longer she heard the woman on Emma's phone speak.
For Henry. You're doing this for Henry Regina reminded herself.
"Ash, Ashlynn. Shut up. Shut up!" Emma insisted as she heard the doors to the dining room close and turned to find Regina standing with her back to the hallway.
Regina slowly turned around, her hands gripping onto the handle of the sliding doors as she met Emma's panicking eyes. Emma swallowed nervously at the dangerously flashing brown eyes.
"I Emma " Ashlynn's voice perked up.
"You're on speaker phone, Ash. Shut up." Emma insisted, speaking harshly into the phone. She looked back up to Regina, holding the cell against her chest to try and block out her conversation with Regina. "Look, Regina I'm sorry. It's a new phone. I must have hit something. I'm just going to step outside, okay? I'm sorry. I wouldn't take this unless it was important. I swear."
"Regina? Regina who? Who are you apologizing too? Swan, what the hell is going on?" Came the mumbled voice from against Emma's chest. It seemed her attempt to block out her conversation had failed.
Regina ground her teeth together as she counted to ten in her head. The silence and the longer she remained silent caused Emma to fidget. For Henry became Regina's internal mantra.
"You may use my office." Regina bit out, her movements stiff and jerky as she stepped away from the doors and led Emma down passed the larger dining room into a spacious mahogany themed office. "When you are finished, you may find us in the dining room." Regina's finger nails scraped viciously against her own palms. "Would you like tea or coffee?"
"Coffee, coffee would be great." Emma was quick to agree to anything. She preferred coffee to tea. Lived on it in the morning. Though maybe it would have been a better idea to stick with water with how jittery she already was without the caffeine in her system. "Uh, thanks."
Regina nodded rigidly before she left Emma to her phone call, closing the door behind her.
Emma waited until Regina had left the room, closed the door, and she could hear the click of her heels walking away before she lifted the phone up to her ear. "Ash?"
"Still here." Emma sighed in relief when she finally found the speaker button and took Ashlynn off of it. "Mind telling me what the hell is going on, Swan?"
"It's a long story."
"Well seeing as you missed our meeting, mandatory meeting, I'd say it's better if you tell me this long story before I put an A-P-B out on that shit car of yours."
Emma sighed, the last thing she needed was for Ashlynn to do something like that. She ran her hand through her hair as she paced back and forth in front of Regina's desk. "You know the kid?"
"Yeah " She sounded uncertain suddenly. "What about him?"
"He needs me."
"He contacted you!? Emma you know that that's not"
"I know what it is and isn't, Gerard. Ugh look. He didn't come looking for me."
"He's what, ten now?"
"Yes. And just so you know. The job you and those techs of yours did was lousy. His mother was able to find me."
"What? His mother, I don't, oh hell you don't mean "
"Yeah, I mean she found me. If she can find me how hard do you think it would be for them to find me?"
"Shit. Shit. Okay. Alright I'll uh. I'll get Julie to look into that immediately. That shouldn't happen --ever. Fuck. Okay .damn." Emma imaged the woman running a frustrated hand through her hair as she collected her thoughts. "We practically erased your records Emma. The only way they could get your information is if they hacked us." Which by the way Ashlynn said it, made it seem impossible. But someone had done it. Someone here in Storybrooke, Maine had done it easily enough and given the information to Regina no questions asked. That news scared Emma more than Ashlynn's geek squad being incompetent.
"Well, someone did. They got my medical and juvie records. And were even able to find where I was living." It was frustrating. None of that was supposed to happen, as Ashlynn saidever. "She showed up at my fucking door, Ash." On her birthday no less which had landed at the tail end of Ashlynn's out of country trip.
"She what?!" There was a pause. "You should have called me as soon as she showed up!"
"I'm sorry." Emma sarcastically bit. "I was a little busy at the time."
"Busy doing what? Endangering this entire operation? Uhh God, Swan! You can't be this dense. You're jeopardizing everything we've worked for."
"Yeah, well maybe I am dense." Emma whispered, even as her grip on the phone tightened. "Or I just realized that there are more important things."
"Oh, yeah? What could possibly be more important than this for you?"
"My son." Emma breathed. She could hear Ashlynn's sigh. "He's dying, Ash."
"WHAT?" Ashlynn hissed. "Oh man Ems, I'm shit, I'm sorry." Emma laughed mirthlessly. Ashlynn suddenly sounded human again, capable of having compassion instead of the emotionless drone she became when talking business.
"Yeah, me too." Emma cleared her throat, refusing to tear up over this again. She had cried far too much the last few days.
"Is there anything that can be done?"
"Yeah, there is." Emma cringed, even thinking about how her boss was going to take this.
"I'm not going to like this am I?"
Emma chuckled, "Honestly? I don't care. It's already happening. Whether you like it or not."
Ashlynn sighed. "Fine you just gotta go and play on my human side, don't you Swan. Uhh DAMN it." Ashlynn growled in frustration. "I need to make some calls. Just, just tell me where you are now."
Emma froze at the question, unable to curb her suspicions. "Why?"
"So I at least know where I'm driving."
Emma's eyes widened. "You, you can't come here."
"The hell I can't. I'm not leaving you alone. We're partners in this Emma."
That, almost broke Emma's stubbornness. Almost. It was nice to be considered a part of something, a single unit inside a pair. They worked well together. They always had and even with Ashlynn's gruff manner, Emma considered Ashlynn a close friend. One of the only ones she had. As nice as it would be to have her here for support, it couldn't happen.
"Not in this we're not. If you come here " Emma let the idea of Ashlynn joining her here on Storybrooke sink in for both of them for a moment. "Look, just." Emma took a deep breath, "I'll tell you where I am. Just don't come. Not yet, alright? No one else knows where I am. I didn't tell anyone. I just, I could use your help from that end."
"I'm not happy about this--"
"I know you're not."
"--but alright, shoot. What do you need?"
Emma's shoulders fell with the weight of her relief. "I need my stuff. I'm going to be here for a while." She chewed on her bottom lip.
"How long is a while?"
"A few months."
"Uhh Emmmmaaaa ." Ashlynn whined. Emma knew just how much that information hit home for Ashlynn and how it had to hurt. "Okay. Your stuff. God, why ahughadh alright. Okay. I can handle this." Emma smirked as she imagined how she was 'handling' this news. "I still need an address to send your junk to."
"Hey! It's not junk."
"Oh, it will be when I'm through with it."
"It better arrive in the condition I left it in."
"We'll see how generous I'm feeling." Emma took a moment to look around Regina's office. She was almost startled by Ashlynn's voice when it rang through the speaker. "Emma "
"Oh. Oh, uhm, okay hang on a second." Emma pulled out her wallet and found the receipt from Granny's. "I'm staying at Wolf Lodge Inn 347 Main Street, Storybrooke Maine, 04652."
"Storybrooke, Maine. 347 Main Street Wolf Lodge Inn, area code 04652. Right?"
"Yep. Ash, I am "
"Save it. You're not sorry. And I'm not looking for you to be sorry. Just don't ignore my phone calls again." She wouldn't say it out loud but she had been worried. "Got it?"
"Got it!" Emma felt bad that the woman had worried over her. "I'm sorry I worried you."
"Yeah " It was the pause and the deep breath Ashlynn took that spoke volumes to the depth of the woman's worry. "I'll go to your place and pack your stuff and send it to you. The essentials right?"
"Please. Oh! And my comic collection. The ah, he wants to check it out."
"Only your child .alright. Essentials and your comic collection. I'll express it. They'll be there before the weekend."
"Yeah, yeah. I want the full story when you can spare the time."
"I'll call you tomorrow night."
"Deal. I uh, hope the kid gets better."
"Good, good. Take good care of yourself Swan."
"I " The other end clicked. " will."
Emma stared at her phone for a few seconds more before she turned it off and put it back into her pocket along with her wallet.
Regina was just putting out two cups of coffee, one tea, and one warmed apple juice when Emma stepped back into the dining room. Regina only spared Emma a momentary glance before she focused on her task at hand.
"Good, ah, phone call?" Henry asked, knowing Kathryn and Regina wouldn't say anything since they were so uptight.
"Yeah. My ah, well my boss actually. I gave in my notice since I'll be here for a while. She wasn't happy about it."
Kathryn's eyes widened as she peered between Regina and Emma. She hadn't considered the negative ramifications of this surgery when it came to Emma's life.
"She won't hold the position for you?" Kathryn asked, noticing how stiff Regina had become at the news. They had all just focused on the positive aspects of this surgery, how it would help Henry, save him, give him a life. They hadn't thought about what it would do to Emma, who had a job and a life outside of Storybrooke.
They had lucked out with Mary Margaret. The surgery took place during the late Spring so she only missed two weeks of school and had the summer to heal. Henry had started rejecting the transplant eight weeks after the surgery. Too soon for Mary Margaret to be a viable donor and that was even if there was a chance they could use her as a donor again since Henry's body had already rejected it.
"'Fraid with my type of job there isn't the luxury of holding the position for me." Emma retook her seat.
"I'm sorry." Kathryn genuinely was and Emma could tell.
"Hey, there are other jobs out there. I'm not worried about it." Except, part of her was, but she had already dealt with those fears and concerns. The kid across from her was worth finding a 9 to 5 job, hell even going back to school if she had to.
"What do-did, you do?" Henry asked wincing as he wondered if now wasn't the best time to ask about it since Emma had just lost her job.
"I was a bounty hunter." Emma finished just before Regina could lift her hand up and stop her from saying anything. Emma peered between mother and son and shrugged. She'd already said it. "I find people for a living. It's what I do. I'm good at it."
"Sometimes they're bad. Sometimes. I mean, they're not bad. They've just done bad things. They're just lost, confused."
"So you think people that do bad things aren't always bad?"
Emma stalled for a moment, taking a sip of her black coffee. She winced at the flavor of it but took the time it gave her to think of an appropriate response. She didn't expect to see how interested, invested Henry was in her response as he leaned towards her.
"Yes, Ms. Swan, why do you think that?" Regina's eyes flashed with an emotion Emma could not place.
Whatever ground she had found by stalling, she lost, her footing not just slipping but gone. She was already half way down the hill and had no way to stop herself. The best she could hope for was some kind of soft like landing. Maybe a pile of hay.
"Things aren't black and white. Not even half of the time are they just, ah, cut and dry. Sometimes, sometimes people do bad things. They do them because that's the only option they think they have. And sometimes it is. Other times they do bad things, knowing that it's bad, but they do it anyway. That doesn't make them bad people. It just means they've made bad decisions." Emma swallowed nervously as she couldn't decide who to look at, Henry or Regina. So she didn't pick either of them. She stared down at her coffee. "I've done some bad things in my life. Some really bad things."
"Ms. Swan there is no need to"
"No, no, look just let me finish." Emma pleaded, hoping Regina would give her this chance. She wasn't about to explain anything specific. She just wanted Henry, and maybe Regina, to understand this particular thing about her.
However, Emma waited for Regina's decision. Putting Regina on the spot now as Henry too turned to her, curious eyes following her every movement.
"Very well, explain." It sounded as if the Mayor was hard pressed to allow her this opportunity so she sought not to squander it.
Emma bowed her head in thanks. "I've hurt a lot of people. But I don't see myself as a bad person. Certainly not the villain."
"Of course you're not!" Henry laughed at the absurdity of it.
Emma frowned softly at the boy who she could only hope felt the same way when he was old enough to know what she had done. "It's not always simple Henry."
"I know." He defended himself, suddenly feeling ambushed himself.
"I just had a lot of bad things happen to or around me, Henry. I take full responsibility for my actions though. I've paid for them. I still pay for them. I just, I know the difference now. Besides, everyone deserves a second chance, right?"
"Amen to that." Kathryn quickly agreed, toasting her cup of tea to no one in particular. She, like Regina, knew Emma's background, of her criminal record, and her 'crime'. She thought Emma was handling talking about it very well without actually talking about it at all.
Henry bit the inside of his lip, "You choose to do the right things now."
Emma nodded slowly, unsure if she could consider her actions the right things, even now. "Yeah, you could say that."
"So you're trying to do good. To be a hero?"
Emma laughed softly, "I wouldn't say hero "
"But you know what I mean right?" Henry pressed, leaning forward, his eyes bright and shinning with such excitement that it startled Emma when she noticed the first few drops of blood fall from his nose.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Ah, Henry "
It took Henry a moment too long to notice his nose. By then, Regina had noticed it already.
"Oh, Henry you have a nose bleed." The mayor pointed out unnecessarily as she grabbed for a napkin and stood up to hold the wadded paper up against his nose. She squatted down by his chair.
"Mom " Henry whined in protest, but didn't fight Regina off. He peered over his fussing mother to Emma, a blush forming on his cheeks.
"Hey kid, no worries. One time I got hit in the face with a baseball. Right here " Emma pointed to her cheek, right by her nasal cavity. " blood gushed for hours."
"Didcha break it?" Henry asked his voice a bit nasally now but a smirk had returned to his face.
"No, no breaks thank goodness. But now I get nasty nose bleeds during the spring all the time. Have to have tissues on hand from March to June."
Emma watched Kathryn stand to check something with Henry's IV, the blonde and Regina old pros at something like this it would seem. The only outlier here was her.
Henry grinned and laughed even as Regina reached for another napkin and held it against his nose. "Alright, Mr. Mills. Lean your head back. You know the drill."
Henry did as Regina said and the two began counting to ten. When they reached ten Henry leveled his head and Regina removed the tissue. Regina remained beside Henry's chair for a few more seconds before she stood up. She ran her hand through Henry's thinning hair and kissed the top of his forehead. He ducked away but didn't comment on it. Emma smiled as she watched the maternal show of concern and affection pass between the two.
"Perhaps it's time to rest?" Regina posed it as a question but everyone in the room knew it wasn't just a question or a suggestion, it was an inevitability.
"Yeah, maybe I should get go"
"No, please, just a little while longer." Henry begged.
"Henry, you need your rest and there are many things Ms. Swan needs to do."
"Yeah, kid. I've got a whole bunch of things to do." Emma was quick to agree, nodding her head as she stood up slowly from her seat.
"But but "
"No buts, Henry!"
Henry's head fell in defeat. He crossed his arms and pouted firmly. He was not happy about losing this battle.
Emma ran her hands against her thighs, torn at seeing the start of tears in Henry's eyes. She steeled herself to see the tears and to remain firm. She saw Regina was doing the best she could to do the same, so it wasn't just her. Good. Because making a kid cry was certainly not on Emma's lists of things to do. It certainly didn't make her the hero Henry thought she might be.
"So, how about this. I'll come by in the next few days and collect my comic books from you then. Give you some time to look them over."
Henry looked up, his eyes still shinning with tears and lips drawn down in a pout, but the tears hadn't fallen. He sniffled them back. "Really?"
"Oh yeah. Oh and!" Emma reached down under the table where she'd hidden the bag from the toy store. "I uhm, bought these for you. I wasn't sure if you'd read them or not yet. But they seemed cool."
Emma put the bag down on the table in front of Henry and watched, fidgeting, as he pulled the comics she'd bought him out one at a time. Noting each title, each cover. It wasn't until he'd looked at the last one did he peer back up at Emma, who was shifting her weight back and forth as she swayed to and fro on her heels.
"I haven't read any of these."
"Really!?" Emma cleared her throat embarrassed with how high her voice was. "Good. I mean, yeah. Good."
Regina cleared her throat, looking pointedly at Henry, the comic books, and then over towards Ms. Swan.
"Thank you, Emma. These are great. And thanks for letting me borrow yours."
"No big thing, Henry." It wasn't like she was going on any stake outs and would need them to keep her entertained during the long hours. "I hope you like them. If you don't, you can always return those ones. Not mine, I mean, you know you can give mine back to me not the toy store ones and "
Regina hid a grin as she stepped up beside Emma and touched her shoulder and reminded her to, "Breathe, Ms. Swan."
Emma sucked in a deep breath and blushed as mother and son laughed at her, kindly, but still laughed at her.
"Hello!?" Everyone turned to the dining room doors when the sound of the front door closing reached them. "Ladies, gentleman? I'm home." The male voice was somewhat familiar to Emma but she couldn't place it.
She looked to Henry and leaned slightly over the table as if to share a secret with him, "Graham?"
Henry nodded enthusiastically, "Yep."
"We're in here you big lug." Kathryn called down the hallway as she opened the dining room doors.
Emma watched as the woman was grabbed around the waist and pulled flush against a taller frame that bent down to kiss her. It was as they kissed that she realized Regina's hand was still resting delicately against her shoulder. She stared at the elegant definition of Regina's hand; the smooth olive skin and
Regina cleared her throat as she removed her hand from Emma's shoulder, flexing it at her side as she tried not to acknowledge Emma and the way the blonde's eyes had been devouring her hand as if it were a juicy steak.
Emma turned towards the door, ignoring how close Regina remained, to see Kathryn push the man, who Emma recognized as the Sherriff, away from her. A single solitary disciplinary finger wagged at him.
"Don't you dare. You're late."
Emma cringed dramatically and looked to Henry with an 'ah ohh ' expression that caused the boy to chuckle.
Regina watched the display, the easy camaraderie that took a mere three hours to form, and found she didn't despise it as much as she thought she might. It was even, pleasant.
"They're always like this." Regina commented, rolling her eyes at the two lovers.
Henry and Emma looked as if they couldn't believe she had joined in their impromptu jab session. It made Regina uncomfortable.
Emma was the first to crack a smile and laugh a bit.
"I can only imagine."
"Oh, you do not wish to. Trust me, Ms. Swan."
Emma laughed a bit louder at Regina's mock shiver of revulsion. Henry didn't seem to like how far this was going, until Regina winked at him. Then he relaxed, assured that his mother wasn't actually mad or upset with Kathryn and Graham.
"So, ah, it seems I missed lunch. Afternoon Madam Mayor, young master Henry." Graham awkwardly made his way into the room and stood at the opposite end of the table then Regina and Emma, his thumbs hooked under his belt loops.
"Sheriff Graham." Henry greeted kindly.
"There is plenty left Sherriff. I am sure you had important matters to attend to about town."
Graham grinned at the Mayor, pointedly looking between Kathryn and Regina. Trying to convey something to Kathryn that Regina easily interpreted as; if the hard ass Mayor can give me some slack why can't you?
"I haven't said a word."
"You were thinking about it!" Kathryn rolled her eyes at the down gazed frown Graham took on.
Regina saved them all from hearing the lovers beginning their banter a new. "Graham, this is Emma Swan." Regina gestured to the woman standing directly beside her. "Ms. Swan this is Sheriff Graham."
"Graham Dornan, pleasure to be properly introduced." Graham met Emma half way and shook Emma's hand before his fingers found his belt once again.
"Nice to meet you too." Emma sat back into her chair slowly.
"You two have met?" Regina questioned, ignoring how a chill raised up her side now that Emma was no longer standing beside her.
"Not formally." Graham explained quickly.
"Yeah, we just passed each other by at Granny's."
"Have you had Granny's homemade jam?" Henry piped up, breaking the awkward glancing contest the adults seemed to be having.
"Actually, I have. This morning. It was good."
"Isn't it? It's my favorite. And Granny's homemade chocolate chip cookies! They're delicious. With milk! You have to have it with milk!"
"I'll have to try that." Emma promised, seeing how desperately Henry wanted to continue this 'party' but his eyes were drooping and he looked much paler than he had been when she'd first arrived. It was time to say her goodbyes. She just, she hadn't expected the sudden tightness in her chest to clench so tightly, so painfully.
"Well, I was just leaving." Emma excused herself smiling as she bowed her head to Graham and Kathryn.
"I hope it's not on my behalf ?" Graham asked nervously.
"No, no, she had just been saying her goodbyes before you arrived." Kathryn assured her lover quickly.
"Ah " Graham nodded, relieved that he was not the cause of Emma's quick departure. "Then another time. Yes?"
"Definitely." Emma shuffled her weight. "I hear you like comic books."
Graham peered at Henry for a moment before agreeing, "Yes, I do."
"So does Emma!" Henry piped up, still looking for Emma to stay. "We'll all have something to talk about!"
"Really? You? A comic fan?"
"Full blooded nerd at your service." Emma stood at attention and saluted. Emma internally groaned at her foolishness. She was doing this because things had become awkward again, and she was trying desperately to ignore the pain leaving Henry after just seeing him, meeting him, getting to know him, was causing her.
"I'll show you out." Regina came up behind Emma, her hand warm at Emma's back.
Emma's eyes widened at the touch and she stood just a bit straighter. "It was a pleasure meeting you Kathryn. Graham." Emma looked over her shoulder at Henry and felt a tidal wave of emotional dysphagia. "Hah-Henry."
Henry looked away from her without saying a word and god did it hurt. It was like being stabbed all over again, except this time there were no doctors or pills to ease the pain.
"You as well Emma." Kathryn's hand grazed Emma's shoulder as she passed the other blonde a sympathetic smile thrown in for good measure.
Emma wondered if it was just something people in Storybrooke did, constantly touch people they had just met. Were they all so tactile? It certainly seemed that way. And god was that STILL Regina's hand at the small of her back? The hell! Did the Mayor really think she didn't know how to find her way out? She decided to ignore the touch, as much as she humanly could. Instead she focused on what she had to do the rest of the day.
As they finally made it to the front doorsurely that walk had to have gotten longer since the last time Emma had strolled down itRegina removed her hand from Emma's back and retrieved her red leather jacket.
Regina had to fight the urge to help the blonde put the jacket on over her shoulders. Instead she just handed it to her and watched as Emma shrugged it on expertly. She swallowed, suddenly nervous. She had no reason to be of course. Everything had gone smoothly. Mostly. There were things she wouldn't have wished Henry to hear, things she wished she had not heard, but they could not be taken back now. This is what Henry had wanted, it was what they had all needed, and it was over. Now they were another step closer to their goal.
"I have already made you an appointment with Lucy McGill. She is the best real estate agent in Storybrooke. She will be expecting you at six thirty." Which, Regina gazed down at her wrist watch, gave Emma three and a half hours.
"Ah, well, thanks. Where is she "
Regina stepped over to the coat rack and pushed her coat to the side to show her purse. She dug through it for a few moments before she returned to stand in front of Emma, in her hand a business card extended. "Her information is here. She is expecting a phone call from you beforehand to confirm."
"Well, I don't really have anything else to do tonight. So, thanks. For ah, this." Emma raised the business card before she slipped it into her pocket. Emma suddenly found the floor very interesting. "And, you know. Everything. Thank you for everything."
Emma glanced around the open foyer, her eyes finding the wall of photos before she met Regina's eyes. Her own glazed with tears. The gratitude she wished to express she couldn't dream of finding the right words to say, to convey. How did one express a thankfulness as deep and heartfelt as she wished to? How could she tell Regina that she was grateful that Henry had been raised by her, has lived here, had Regina as a mother? It wasn't something someone did often, there were no guidelines or handbooks or examples she could follow.
She could just be herself and awkwardly pick up Regina's hand, hold it in both of hers, squeeze it and say, "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, Regina. Thank you."
Regina had the good sense to know that Emma was not just talking about the afternoon meal they'd shared. Or even the chance to share this afternoon meal together with Henry. She was speaking of everything. Everything Emma Swan recognized Regina had done for Henry, the life she had given him. The home she had raised him in, the job well done she'd accomplished in raising the baby Emma had given up, but had wanted to keep.
Regina had never needed anyone's stamp of approval. She had wanted approval only twice in her life and she had never been granted it. However she had been judged many times after and always found lacking. She had never allowed those magistrates to stop her, never allowed their opinions to matter.
Regina had always feared that she would become her mother. She would be unable to raise a child in a loving manner. It was one of her worst fears, had been since she'd decided to adopt. She had many people tell her she was a great mother. A town full of people recognized her dedication, devotion, and love she had for her son, for Henry. But she had never let it matter. Until now. Until the woman who had made it possible for her to experience all of Henry's firsts, seconds, thirds, and who was going to be responsible for letting her see him experience the rest of his firsts. It wasn't until Emma Swan that she accepted the approval. Welcomed it. Relished in it, and realized she had been craving it.
It left her speechless. She tried to speak, tried to force the words past her mouth but nothing came. Her head moved from right to left as if trying to shake the words free, but still, nothing.
"That's ah, that's all I wanted to say." Emma released Regina's hand and stepped away from the mayor. "I'll ah, will you be at the meeting? With the realtor?" Emma stared down at her hands, wringing her shirt a bit at the hem as she waited for Regina to respond, to say something, anything. "You don't have to be. I was just, you said that you wanted to be. And I'm just going to go. So, yeah. Thanks."
Emma pointed over her shoulder to the door, walked to it backwards for three steps before she turned and left the Mills mansion.
"Regina?" Nothing, no response. "Regina?" Again nothing. "Regina!" Kathryn grabbed a hold of Regina's shoulders and shook the mayor out of her daze. "Regina are you alright? What happened? Did, did Emma say something to you?" Kathryn didn't think Emma was the type to say something but she didn't know the woman well enough to be sure she wouldn't say something demeaning if given the chance.
Regina blinked away whatever had kept her silent and still. Amazement? Bewilderment? Disbelief? Fulfillment? Whatever it had been she didn't wish to relish in the feeling any longer, it made her feel out of sorts. Unlike herself. "She she said thank you."
"Oh." Kathryn didn't see why that would cause her friend such distress. "Henry is looking for you. He wants to talk."
"Right, right, just give me a moment. I will be right in."
"Sure, sure, take your time." Kathryn walked towards the family room, looking back to make sure Regina was truly alright before she disappeared around the corner to join Graham and Henry.
Regina took a moment to pull herself together before she followed after Kathryn. It wasn't until nearly an hour later, after she had spoken with Henry about the preparations for his upcoming surgery, that she realized she had driven Ms. Swan here.
To Be Continued
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