DISCLAIMER: Once Upon a Time and its characters are the property of ABC. No infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the Femslash Advent Calendar: Dead of Winter 2011.
SPOILERS: Up to and including "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter".
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Geekgrrl.lurking[at]gmail.com
When You Wish Upon a Star
Henry Mills reached up and maneuvered the loop of gold thread over the tip of the tree branch, before carefully releasing the ornament, allowing it to swing and dangle freely. The delicate crystal and gold unicorn soon settled, reflecting the twinkling lights around it in its glassy depths. He cocked his head and stared at it for a moment, enjoying the simple beauty of it.
Emma Swan stood watching him, a wide smile gracing her face. If you had asked her a year ago what she would be doing at Christmas, decorating a tree with her son would have never even entered her mind as a possibility. And yet, here she was with him, sharing something so normal and everyday together. Why his adoptive mother, Regina had even allowed it was beyond her, but Emma wouldn't look a gift like this in the mouth.
Truthfully, Emma had been a little shocked when Henry had said that they had never decorated their own Christmas trees. Apparently Regina preferred to bring in her interior decorator to put one up in time for her annual Christmas party and before you knew it, the tree would be up and ready to go. And then, before you could mutter 'Bah Humbug' the Mayor would have all twinkling and blinking remnants of it removed from her home just as quickly, tossing it out before it could drop a single needle onto her pristine white carpets.
"Does it look all right there?" Henry asked, a little unsure of his choice of location, as he turned to face his birth mother, grinning wider when Emma simply nodded and reached out to ruffle his hair.
"It's perfect, kid." Emma moved towards the sofa and dug deeper into the battered cardboard box resting there, pulling out another ornament, a crystal deer this time with golden antlers. She headed back toward the tree, looking for another bare spot to hang it. "Where did you find these anyway?"
"Just poking around the attic," Henry shrugged and burrowed deeper into the box himself. "I had been looking for clues about the curse, and came across these while I was searching. Mom had them stored up there, behind a trunk that has all my old baby stuff in it." Henry found a red glass ball and headed back to the tree. He froze for a moment, a creaking noise from the front foyer catching his attention. No other sounds followed though and he continued towards Emma's side.
"She kept your baby stuff?" Emma's voice grew soft as this little tidbit of news sank in. Well, why wouldn't Regina keep mementos of Henry's babyhood? She was his mother after all. Despite her issues with the snarly mayor, Emma had to admit Regina did seem to genuinely care for the boy, even love him. She might be a bit harsh sometimes, and somewhat controlling ok, a control freak really, but she did believe that Regina had his best interests at heart.
"Yep," Henry sighed and nodded. "My first tooth, my first shoes, my first well, everything." He shrugged a little and turned back to his tree decorating. Behind him the shadows outside the doorway to the living room seemed to lengthen and grow darker. "There's a whole bunch of video tapes too." Henry glanced up again as Emma paused mid-way to the tree branch. "Y'know, all this stuff from when I was little."
Emma swallowed hard and looked away for a moment, wiping at her eye a little, before continuing to place her ornament on the tree. Somewhere stuffed away in the Mayor's huge home, under a layer of dust and grime, kept safe deep within an old trunk was a great treasure, something that she would love to have and yet never would. Memories of Henry's childhood, a childhood she voluntarily gave away and had no right to ask to even see.
The little deer ornament slipped onto the branch as Emma sighed. The trunk of baby items just reinforced her original thoughts that Regina couldn't be a totally heartless bitch if she had kept all these little things from Henry's childhood, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The woman apparently had a heart; it just seemed to be very well guarded.
Besides, what right did she have to see them anyway? Emma knew she had tossed that away so many years ago, when she had given her child away to be cared for by some unknown stranger, letting someone else look after him, to give him a better chance at life than she'd had. She had missed all these little things in his life, but Henry's real mother obviously cared for all those memories and loved him.
Who truly was the evil witch in this story?
Emma shook her head and stepped back from the tree, trying to get her guilty conscience and emotions back into check. There were no evil witches here at all; it was just the way life worked out. Henry had a strict mother who loves him and Emma was on the sidelines just watching.
"I wish " Emma cleared her throat and tried again. "I mean, I wonder if Regina would ever let me take a look at it all sometime. I'd love to see them."
"Maybe," Henry said, blinking up at her with sad eyes, wishing not for the first time that things had been different, that the curse had never happened and that his family had never been split up. He prayed it wasn't too late.
A snapping sound caught their attention, with Henry jumping a little as Emma suddenly turned toward the doorway.
"Did you hear that?" Emma frowned, her eyes scanning the windows and the perimeter of the living room. She was sure she heard something, and took a step towards the door, squinting deeper into the shadows. Henry reached out and pulled her impatiently back to the tree.
"Are you sure it wasn't just the wind? This place creaks and groans all the time, I don't even notice it anymore." Henry smiled as Emma raised an eyebrow with skepticism, but nonetheless turned back to the task at hand. She was beginning to think the boy was up to something; she just wasn't sure what yet.
"Are you sure your mom was okay with me helping you do this?" Emma asked. She was starting to get a bad feeling in her gut and she always trusted her gut. Henry had said he just wanted to spend time with her and that Regina was out of the house anyway at meetings. She had even gotten an email from the mayor's assistant confirming the time, but still something seemed off.
"Erm well," Henry hedged, biting his lower lip and looking away.
Emma frowned. Something was definitely up.
"Ok, kid. Spill it. What are you not telling me?" Emma put her hands on her hips and waited. Henry began flushing slightly and that's when she knew she was right. He was busted and he knew it. Henry sighed and sat down on the couch, time to come clean and hope for the best.
"Mom kinda doesn't know "
"She WHAT?" Emma barked, glaring down at Henry. Running a hand through her long blonde hair, she paced a little, trying to figure out what to do next. She was an idiot, she knew she should have called and confirmed with Regina before doing this. Things had calmed down since their whole fight in the cemetery but the invitation had seemed a little out of left field. And yet, Henry had looked so sad when he said he'd never decorated a tree before. She sighed and looked back down at him. "What were you thinking, Henry?"
"I don't know," Henry grimaced. "I just wanted to spend time with you, I guess, and I thought Mom might like the tree. I wanted to surprise her with it. So I faked the email from her office and sent it to you. Please don't be mad."
"Oh, Henry," Emma blinked at him, his little face so filled with hope that she couldn't stay upset with him. She sighed again, her anger deflating just like that. It would seem Henry had picked up some pointers from his mom on how to manipulate people over the years. Regardless, Regina was going to have a fit, and rightfully so. "You should have cleared it with your mom first. She's gonna be so pissed that I'm here."
"You have no idea, my dear." A cold voice said from the door way, as Regina emerged from the shadows where she had been lurking, silently watching. Dropping her long black coat onto the arm of the sofa, she glanced over at the tree, festively decorated and twinkling away in the corner beside the lit fireplace. It was all quite cozy and homey really. She turned back to watch the two of them squirm. "I see I've missed all the fun."
"Uh surprise, Mom!" Henry said a little weakly, moving a little cautiously towards his mother, still not sure of her mood but not giving up hope yet. Regina glared at Emma for a moment longer before bending down wrap her arms around the boy's narrow shoulders and pulling him towards her for a hug. Henry smiled into her shoulder; his mother had been much more warm and fuzzy since the cave in. Maybe this would turn out okay after all.
"Ms. Swan is right, you should have checked with me first, Henry." Regina said pulling away and meeting his eyes, but she couldn't hold the gruffness and grinned. Standing straighter again, she leveled a more aloof gaze at the blonde standing in the middle of her living room. "So should have you. However, it seems like Henry pulled one over on both of us."
"I'm so sorry," Emma stepped closer, realizing that she had unwittingly gone out of bounds on this one. "I honestly thought you knew " Her voice trailed off as Regina just dismissed her explanation with a wave of her hand. The mayor cocked her head and gave her an odd little smile. It was almost friendly. Their eyes locked, energy sparking between them, confusing and new. Emma swallowed hard and half smiled back. "Sorry."
"Well, you're here now," Regina's eyes narrowed as she took in the tree, almost fully decorated. "And the two of you have done a wonderful job. I'll have to tell Aurora that we won't need her design firm this year. I won't miss those crazy old aunts of hers either. Remember the half pink, half blue tree that one year? " Regina smiled down at Henry, who giggled a little with his mother. It was clearly a shared memory, and made Emma feel a little left out all of a sudden. Regina looked back at her, watching carefully, her eyes narrowing slightly again.
"I found all these neat old ornaments in the attic," Henry started to explain. He reached into the box and pulled out a crystal horse, mid-gallop with a golden mane and tail flowing behind it. He handed it over to his mother, who seemed to stare at it as if transfixed. A tense moment passed as Regina frowned, lost in her thoughts, before she smiled suddenly again as she held it up to the light and then looked back down at her son.
"They were my father's," Regina closed her eyes briefly, her voice low. "He loved decorating for all the holidays and festivals " She glanced down at her hands, tears stinging her eyes, threatening to fall.
Emma stood there quietly, unsure what to say or do and surprised by the show of emotion. She wanted to reach out but was afraid of being rebuffed, that the comfort would be refused. So she just waited.
"Why don't you help me find the best spot to put it," Regina finally said, smiling warmly as Henry didn't wait to be asked twice and scrambled towards the tree, pulling her with him. Soon they were both laughing, as they kept changing their minds where the ornament should go.
Emma nodded at the warm family moment unfolding before her and realized she had outstayed her welcome. She didn't really belong here, it was Regina's home, and Henry was her son.
"I should go," Emma said, grabbing her red leather jacket from the chair and made her move, ignoring the hurt look Henry shot her way.
"Emma, wait." Regina turned from the tree, her eyes softening. This was one of the best moments she'd had with Henry in a very long time, and she had this woman to thank. Maybe she could let her guard down for one evening where Emma Swan was concerned. "Stay for a while and have a glass of cider?" She cocked her head as Emma seemed to hesitate at her words. Regina took a step closer, her voice dropping ever so slightly, seductively. "Besides, we haven't finished decorating the tree yet. Stay, please."
Henry's eyebrows nearly shot off his forehead in surprise. This was turning out so much better than he had hoped. Emma hadn't been expecting the invitation either, and she wondered briefly if her face looked as shocked as poor Henry's.
"I'd like that, thanks." Emma eased her red leather jacket back down onto the back of the chair and nodded, her eyes locking with the mayor's dark ones for a moment. Despite her better judgment, she did want to spend more time with Henry and if she was honest, getting to know Regina better as well. This time when Regina smiled, Emma noticed that it actually reached her eyes. She smiled back, oddly pleased with this new truce between them.
"Can we have hot cocoa?" Henry asked suddenly from Regina's side, breaking the spell. "I could help make it."
"Sounds like a plan," Regina ran a hand into his hair, her heart all but swelling in her chest at her son's obvious pleasure. A part of her didn't trust this though, didn't trust her feelings, and she waited for the other shoe to drop. And maybe it would, but not here and not now. Not if she had anything to say about it anyway. Tonight Regina would simply enjoy this little slice of happily ever after that she had been given.
"Don't forget the cinnamon," Regina said as she pulled a silver blue star from the box. It needed to be placed on top of the tree. She glanced up into deep blue eyes, eyes she could easily get lost in given half a chance, as Emma carefully watched her. "I hope that's alright with you. Henry and I both like it in our hot chocolate."
"I like it in mine, too." Emma smiled wider as she watched the mayor struggling with the cord. Shaking her head she took it from her and untangled it. "Grab the step stool and I'll hand it to you to put up top."
Henry stood in the doorway of the kitchen, watching his two mothers interact and work together. He smiled to himself. It really was better this way, to develop their relationship at their own pace.
Neither woman was ready for the truth, that true love's kiss would break this curse too. Emma wasn't ready to hear that she was the White Knight come to save the Evil Queen. And his mother certainly wasn't ready to trust anyone with that broken heart of hers yet, but the time would come when she would feel again, when she would want to believe in love and do good again. Henry had faith in the power of love, and knew that it was only a matter of time and the curse would be broken, his family would be complete.
Regina struggled a little but finally placed the star at the top of the tree, Emma steadying the chair she stood on. Stepping down to see how it looked, Regina found herself in Emma's personal space, all but in her embrace. They looked at each other, each breathing the scent of the other in, an awareness sparkling through their veins, awkward and unsure and yet achingly sweet. They slowly moved apart.
Henry chuckled and looked up at the twinkling blue star on the top of the tree, quickly making another wish for good measure, before heading into the kitchen to find three mugs and some cinnamon sticks in the cupboard.
Yes, there was something there that wasn't there before
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